Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

Mentha sp.

I have written several articles which have included mints but have not, as yet written a profile solely on mint. There are so many different mints and so much I could write….

Most people recognise a mint growing. Certainly if not by look, by crushing and smelling a leaf.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas …

Peppermint and Spearmint are the two utilised medicinally most often. However, there are many others….

The scientific name for peppermint is Mentha x piperita. For spearmint, it is Mentha spicata or, sometimes Mentha viridis. You may also see spearmint called simply garden mint.

Peppermint is actually a hybrid between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint. Incidentally Moroccan mint is also a hybrid of mints, one of which is also spearmint. You will sometimes see it called Mentha spicata ‘Moroccan’ or Mentha spicata var crispa. This is the mint used in the heavily sweetened tea given in Morocco.

If you enjoy a mojito, this probably would originally have included the Mentha x villosa mint variety. A hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. Mentha x villosa more commonly is known as Cuban mint. Cuba being the birthplace of the mojito. As a result many mojito recipes utilise the easier to source spearmint.

You have probably already guessed… Mints are somewhat confusing. How many mint species are there? Well who knows really. They are a somewhat promiscuous bunch and tend to cross-breed quite easily. Some sources report up to 25 species, while others report as low as 14. Certainly there are hundreds of varieties.

… and the origin of the name …

The word ‘mentha’ is Latin origin. However, the word is thought derived from Greek ‘mintha’. In Greek mythology, Mintha is a female deity or nymph. Nymphs give life to lakes and rivers, sources of fresh water. Places where the mint naturally loves to live! In fact water mint can actually grow in water.

Herbal Articles

Mint is particularly easy to grow in the garden, though probably best in a pot! A wonderful first aid remedy to have to hand. Grow peppermint or spearmint or a selection of mints if you have space, separately of course!

In the first aid article (link above) I mention use for aching feet and as a pleasing digestive tonic tea. And, of course, it is also an ingredient in a winter tea to keep the bugs at bay.

As an aromatic water it is a useful cooling spray, particularly for menopausal flushes or hot feet. In addition I sometimes choose peppermint essential oil for patients with sciatic pains.

Traditional Uses

"<yoastmark

In a Modern Herbal, Grieve suggests peppermint first appeared in an English spearmint crop around three hundred years ago. However, there is evidence of peppermint being cultivated in ancient Egypt.

Apparently added to the Pharmacopoeia in 1721. This following identification of its many medicinal properties.

Utilised in a similar method to smelling salts. Also recommended for the head and memory and as a gargle to cure problems of the mouth. Grieve adds in the fourteenth century, it was believed to whiten the teeth. Possibly it was more beneficial as a breath freshener. Certainly it is a popular addition to toothpastes and mouthwashes today.

Bartram adds Dioscorides reputedly wore peppermint on his cloak to raise his spirits.

One of the miracle remedies of the four robbers vinegar.

Anyone for mint sauce with their lamb roast dinner? Mint sauce has long been an important culinary complement with lamb. Why? Traditionally mint sauce is made with spearmint. Was it chosen for its benefit on digestion? This foodie blog, including the comments section, offers a few interesting theories.

Modern Uses

I have never used tincture in my own practice. Preferring tea, aromatic water or essential oil. Some of these uses I have mentioned above.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

carminative and antispasmodic, it is an excellent digestive remedy. Take the tea for difficulties or pain on digestion – colic, indigestion, IBS, flatulence, abdominal cramps. Relieves sickness and nausea. The menthol in the tea helps clear nasal congestion. Be sure to brew the tea in a covered container.

Essential Oil

The essential oil is widely in use within aromatherapy. Some uses include inhalations for respiratory conditions. In addition, in a massage blend the analgesic properties ease the pain of neuralgia and also in abdominal massage for digestive upset or painful periods. The anaesthetic action makes it useful for ‘cooling’ inflamed conditions. Utilised as inhalation or in massage on temples for headaches. Although, I find mint particularly useful in this instance, if the headache is due to digestive upset, as an abdominal massage.

Bartram recommended five to six drops of the essential oil in two teaspoons of massage base oil for muscular aches and pains, stiffness or sport injuries.

Outlander Reference

In Season 1 of the television show and the first book, peppermint makes an entrance when Claire first visits Geillis Duncan. Claire was desperate for a young hungry boy to avoid a severe sentence for theft. She convinced Geillis to speak with her husband. Geillis gave peppermint to her husband for his dyspepsia to make her husband more agreeable to reducing the punishment. I assume she brewed him a peppermint tea here.

Herbal Energetics

Energetically peppermint is a herb of Venus. However, I always find it to have a contradictory warming and cooling effect on the body. Most people find small amounts cool and fresh.

Finally, some people, generally those of Choleric or warmer temperament, can find mint tea uncomfortably heating. If you are one of these people try spearmint. It is milder in action and often better tolerated.

White Dead Nettle without the sting!

Lamium album

Family:

Lamiacaeae

white dead nettleWhite dead nettle is a member of the thyme or mint family. However, as the common name suggests clumps of the herb resembles the stinging nettle. When you look more closely you see the typical labiate flowers (Barker) and there is no sting! White refers to the colour of the flowers in contrast to her cousin the red dead nettle.

The scientific name Lamium is from Greek ‘laimos’ meaning gullet or throat and believed to have been given as the flowers are thought to resemble half-open jaws (Mességué).

Where can you find White Dead Nettle

You will find the white dead nettle growing on waste ground near farmlands and by hedges generally between May and October although it can be found as early as April and as late as December (Barker). McLeod adds it will grow on poor soil.

Although considered a European herb Barker describes it scarce, and sometimes absent, from northern Europe including Scandinavian countries, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and North England. Flowering tops of the herb are utilised medicinally and harvested between April and July.

I have it growing in two areas of my medicinal herb garden. When I lived in Devon it grew wild along the estuary. I think it is a most beautiful flower but sadly underestimated as a wild flower. Personally I believe her to prefer a slightly more moist and cooler climate than the south of France. Although white dead nettle grows well here she flowered much more on the estuary in Devon than she ever has in my garden. The flowers passed over before June was over. However, June was unusually high temperatures.

Some organic gardeners use it in companion planting with potatoes. Apparently it improves growth and flavour of potatoes as well as deterring bugs. However, McLeod suggests caution with this companion as she considers it could easily become invasive. I have not found it invasive neither on the estuary in Devon nor in my garden. However, some Lamiaceae are invasive, consider mint.

Traditional Uses:

white dead nettleLeaves were used for their astringency to staunch wounds in historical times while the flowering tops were used to make a tea for female disorders and also to stimulate the liver (McLeod).

Culpeper knew the herb as ‘white archangel’ although he also discusses a red and a yellow archangel interchangeably. He described it as making the head merry and, as mentioned by McLeod, he too used it to staunch bleeding but he highlights bleeding from the nose and mouth and recommends treatment by application to the nape of the neck.

Culpeper also utilised for old ulcers, bruises, burns and to draw out splinters. Finally, he used it to ease joint pains and in particular mentions gout although he also used it for sciatica. Interestingly, he seemed to use what he called the red archangel for women with heavy menstruation although he noted the chief use of all archangels to be for women.

Mességué also discusses different types of dead nettles and indeed mentions five varieties. It can be difficult to differentiate which species he indicates but lists retention of urine, respiratory tract irritation, painful and/or irregular or heavy periods and vaginal discharge and anaemia. He, like Culpeper, used it to treat wounds as well as for ulcers, burns and gout. Other indications included for varicose veins and ear complaints.

Modern Uses:

Menzies-Trull in the modern-day, indicates it for painful and/or heavy periods, PMS, vaginal discharge as well as gout, sciatica, anaemia and varicose veins. He finds it beneficial for catarrh which can be respiratory, vaginal or urinary. He combines with honey as a wound herb. It seems most of our current day uses have been around for many, many years.

I note both Culpeper (traditionally) and Menzies-Trull indicate for gout. I have to say it is not a herb that I have ever considered. Aware I am going off track, the stinging nettle I have used with much success for patients with gout.

Barker describes it as astringent and haemostatic and particularly indicated as a tonic for uterine circulation. He also notes it to be anti-catarrhal and expectorant, mildly sedative, anti-inflammatory and demulcent.

Barker indicates for painful and heavy periods and vaginal discharge particularly leucorrhoea. Other indications include mild insomnia, benign prostatic hypertrophy, upper respiratory catarrh and bladder disorders.

and a wee bit of science…

An article in Medical Herbalism (1993) lists Lamium album as being high in tannins and flavone glycosides. The article suggests these constituents increase the pelvic circulation with the tannins toning and strengthening endometrial lining. The article believes these actions provide an effective pelvic decongestant which helps regulate menstruation.

Barker also includes tannins as well as the flavone glycoside isoquercitrin. In addition, he notes it has some mucilage, some saponin, amines, volatile oil and some potassium salts which he considers may have a diuretic action.

There seems little research into the medicinal use of Lamium album. A Polish study looked at the constituents and found two phenylpropanoid glycosides, lamalboside and acteoside as well as rutoside and quercetin (BUDZIANOWSKI, J., et al, 1995. Phenylpropanoid esters from Lamium album flowers, Phytochemistry; 1995 Mar;38(4):997-1001 ). The study did not look at the action of these constituents.

how to use white dead nettle…

Mességué recommended a handful of herb infused in 1¾ pints of water and taken at a dose of 2 to 4 cupfuls a day. The same dosage for hand or foot baths though these he recommended twice a day. For wounds he recommended powdering dried flowers and mixing a pinch of this with honey for application directly on external wounds. Of course he lumps all dead nettles together in his book.

Barker suggests tincture as a simple recommending a dose of 2-5mls three times a day of 1:5 in 25% alcohol. If making an infusion he recommends 10-20g of herb to 500ml of water. Take 3 times a day though double the herb content if making a compress for external application.

Herbal Energetics

Culpeper described it as a herb of Venus and therefore proposed it was specific for women. As a student herbalist, when I first tried as a tea, I found the herb to have a protective personality. Indeed one class colleague actually described it as motherly. It is interesting Culpeper associated white dead nettle a female herb. The tea had a mineral taste and came across as being nourishing. Definitely a warm herb.

Herbs hot in the second degree Culpeper chose to break up tough humours. This description works well with the Medical Herbalism describing the tannins of white dead nettle as having a pelvic decongestant action.

I have a printed article titled Energetic Prescribing. For the life of me I cannot remember from where it came. Unfortunately, I have no idea of the author. The article describes Lamium album as one of the stronger tonics. Described as slightly more warming, stimulating and capable of rectifying hypofunction of organs and tissues. I particularly like this statement talking of medicines hot in the second degree.

“…they increase the effect of normal metabolism by their essential force and strength…”

I like Culpeper’s description of “making the head merry”. Whenever I see this plant in flower she does make me merry. A herb I have utilised fairly infrequently in practice. However, although quite specific in mission, I should not like to be without.

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal

Stachys betonica

Family

Lamiaceae

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalWhat is in a name?

Named after its discoverers, the Vettones of Lusitania (Barker). However, de Baïracli Levy suggested the name is derived from Celtic ‘ben’ referring to head and ‘ton’ meaning tonic.

Wood betony can be found growing in common heaths, on grassy banks and edges of woodland apparently preferring lighter soils. Found growing throughout Europe although scarce in the north-west so rarely found in Scandinavian countries, Scotland or Ireland (Barker).

Aerial parts are utilised medicinally. Barker prefers fresh herb, adding it should be harvested during flowering.

Culpeper noted betony seemed to prefer shade and although flowering in July he found it better when harvested in May. This links in with Barker’s modern-day recommendation for harvesting.

I have this medicinal ally growing in my garden in Aude. Flowering in June had just began when I took the above photo. I love this plant. I find simply seeing the flower gives a pleasant feeling. Over the years I have discovered lots of interesting bits and pieces on use.

Traditional Use:
wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal
Delicate Betony flowerhead

Held in high esteem by Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Reputedly a cure for a number of conditions. In addition against sorcery (Barker).

Culpeper (1995) described wood betony as precious and believed every man should have it in his house as a conserve, oil, ointment, plaster and syrup!

Culpeper discusses Stachys in relation to the work of Anthony Musa, a physician to Caesar, whom he seemed to hold in high regard. The herbs use as a bitter was popular. Used to aid digestion, for indigestion and weak stomachs, intestinal worms, colic, jaundice and griping bowel pains. Furthermore it was used for head pains and epilepsy. Powdered herb mixed with honey was used for respiratory problems like coughs, colds, shortness of breath and wheezing. Apparently it would breakdown calculi in the kidney and bladder!

Barker notes Leclerc used it as a wound herb and in particular recommended it for sores and varicose ulcers and Culpeper also used fresh bruised herb or juice for open wounds.

Modern Uses:

wood betony a revered cephalicde Baïracli Levy advises it is a powerful head herb, describing its action as true cephalic. She recommends it for headache and neuralgia of the face and head. She also recommends it for liver and spleen congestion, for jaundice and for expelling worms, indications also provided by Culpeper in his extensive listing.

Riva notes it reputedly relieves toothache!

Barker indicates for any headaches or head pain particularly associated with anxiety or tension. He also notes it to be useful for vertigo as does Menzies-Trull.

Roth indicates it specifically for tension headaches caused by stress as well as for sore, overworked muscles and fibromyalgia pains. Interestingly Menzies-Trull indicates it for myalgic encephalitis.

Burgoyne lists Stachys in her repertoire of herbs for treating insomnia with headaches and stress.

Chanchal Cabrera, described wood betony a gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Quoting Priest and Priest she added especially indicated for hysteria or persistent unwanted thoughts and for nervous debility, anxiety or neuroses.

The title of wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal appears just!

a little bit of science…

Barker (2001) notes tannins and bitter compounds as well as a volatile oil. Also included the alkaloids betonicine and stachydrine.

McIntyre suggests up to 15% of the herb is tannins, adding tannins give the herb its wound healing properties. Astringency stops bleeding which protects the wound in fending off infection and expedites the healing process. In addition, tannins help astringe the gut suggesting benefit in diarrhoea. Finally, the astringency is useful in treating catarrh.

McIntyre advises it also contains saponins and the alkaloid trigonelline. Trigonelline, she notes, lowers blood sugar-making this useful for diabetics.

and a little research…

Muntean et al (2004) studied the constituent content of Stachys species. They noted Stachys species have a high content of iridoids but also found high quantities of flavonoids and phenol-carboxylic acids. They found these compounds to have a relaxant effect on smooth muscle which would link with the indications of fibromyalgia listed by Roth.

Skaltsa et al (2003) analysed the antimicrobial activity of the volatile oil from different Stachys species. The volatile oils were tested against six bacterium and five fungi. Their results showed Stachys had better activity against bacterium although noted Pseudomonas was resistant. Only one species showed any resistance to fungi.

Magic and witchcraft

Barker noted a traditional use against sorcery. However, Riva recommends sprinkling betony near windows and doors inside the home as it forms a protective wall against evil spirits. Worn as an amulet it gives strength to the body.

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, the chapter titled The Gathering, Geillis Duncan discusses wood betony as useful in turning toads into pigeons! Though I can’t personally see any benefit to that transformation myself.

Later in the same chapter Claire requires betony to make up medicines for people with food poisoning. In traditional uses above Culpeper highlights benefit for weak stomachs and griping bowel pains.

Herbal Energetics

Kingsbury relates the herb to the sacral chakra (located below the naval), noting it relaxes and balances this chakra. She finds it stimulates the liver meridian which can help move anger particularly where this is related to sexual organs in either abuse or disease. She believes by balancing this area it allows development of intimacy and companionship. However, Roth relates it to the solar plexus chakra as she believes this chakra the centre for gut instincts and self-confidence. She finds it nurtures and protects.

Culpeper described wood betony a herb of the planet Jupiter and the sign of Aries. Tobyn (1997) notes herbs of Jupiter are warm and moist and Culpeper found betony warming to the head.

Riva agrees with Culpeper that betony is a herb of Jupiter. In addition she describes betony as a herb in harmony with the zodiac signs of Cancer and Sagittarius. Betony is a particularly favourable herb for persons born under either of these two signs.

Culpeper believed difficulty with expectoration and pain on inspiration of cold air were signs of cold lungs and this too would benefit from the warmth of betony. He also used it as a loosening medicine also judged hot and moist. He found these relaxed muscles, tendons and ligaments linking to some of the previous modern-day indications including fibromyalgia.

wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalSo is wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal?

Certainly many practicing herbalists, from both the past and today agree.

Interestingly, Culpeper also described it as a heating diuretic noting these helped the kidneys separate out waste from the blood.

This particular description interested me as the first time I tasted this plant as a herbal tea I noted a warmth in my kidneys. It was a cold January day in Scotland but I specifically remember the pleasant warmth. In addition, I felt it made me feel quite heady. I also remember finding the smell quite off-putting. The smell and then taste seemed contradictory to me.

Motherwort, not only a herb for women

Leonurus cardiaca

Family:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

motherwortCulpeper believed the name (motherwort) was chosen as women are joyful mothers and it settles their wombs. The Latin name ‘cardiaca‘, because it is very useful for a trembling heart and for fainting.

Leonurus‘ is thought from Greek meaning ‘lion tail’. Do you think it resembles the tail of a lion?

Bremness describes motherwort as found in northern temperate areas in woodland and along hedge banks. Barker describes the flowers as pinky-white.

Hoffmann suggests gathering aerial parts when flowering between early summer and early autumn. Barker recommends flowering tops used fresh suggesting it is better to make a tincture rather than drying for tea for use later in the year.

The images here are from my garden in the Aude. Taken late May/ early June.

Traditional Uses:

Leonurus cardiac motherwort flower and leafBone advises traditionally motherwort was used for female reproductive problems.

Culpeper suggested there was no better herb to strengthen and make the heart merry. He recommended motherwort for conditions needing warming and drying. Painful veins, painful joints, cramps and phlegm are included in his list of medicinal uses. He used motherwort for women with period pains and particularly for abnormal absence of periods (amenorrhoea).

Medicinal Uses:

Barker advises motherwort has long traditional use for anxiety in late stages of pregnancy and also in early stages of labour. He highlights use as a cardiac tonic specifically for simple tachycardia and useful in management of hypertension. In addition, he suggests use for nervous indigestion with symptoms of flatulence and/or distension.

Hoffmann agrees and utilises motherwort for over-rapid heartbeat particularly if preceded by anxiety. Describing motherwort as strengthening the heart without straining it and recommends for all heart conditions related to anxiety. Motherwort, in Hoffmann’s book, is under circulatory system and described as nervine.

He indicates for heart weakness, palpitations and angina pectoris describing motherwort as normalising heart activity. He also suggests motherwort be added to a prescription to strengthen the heart of a patient with a cough or for someone who has asthma attacks. These symptoms will cause strain on a weak heart. Nervine properties may also be worth considering with skin conditions brought about by stress and/or anxiety. Motherwort, he describes, invaluable for delayed menstruation and menopausal symptoms as an emotional and endocrine balancer.

Bone specifically indicates Leonurus for amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea and ovarian pain.

Weed describes motherwort as one of her ‘mint goddesses’. Describing motherwort a bitter ‘mint’ rather than an aromatic one. Like Barker, Weed recommends fresh preferably as tincture of fresh flowering tops. Motherwort tones the uterine muscle and will, after taking for four months, stop menstrual cramps. Weed describes it as healing the heart and as one of the best heart tonics.

… not only for the heart and female health…

Weed includes the tincture in her first aid kit and uses it for pain relief. She finds it will help any pain but notes those with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue respond particularly well to motherwort.

… some thoughts on taste…

Grieve, quoting a young unknown writer, advises a conserve of the fresh young tops is best. A decoction, or strong infusion, described as ‘very unpleasant’. Culpeper also recommended taking as a syrup or conserve.

I believe my first taste of this herb, as a herbal infusion, was as a student herbalist. The initial smell of the tea provided a nutty aroma. Although it had a bitter taste I did not find it lingering or particularly ‘unpleasant’.

However, I would certainly agree with Weed that it is a bitter, rather than aromatic, member of the mint/thyme family. Add a little honey to an infusion or include Leonurus in a herbal mix with other less bitter, more palatable herbs if you find it unpleasant. The tincture is certainly easier to take and perhaps a better choice for those with a dislike for bitters.

… and some science stuff…

Hoffmann lists Leonurus as containing bitter glycosides particularly leonurin and leonuridine and alkaloids such as leonuinine and stachydrene. Bartram included flavonoids, iridoids (rutin) and diterpenes in his list of constituents for Leonurus.

Pengelly advises flavonoids have a proven effect on the heart and circulatory system for strengthening the capillaries. They are anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Diterpenes tend to be bitter tasting and are particularly abundant in the Lamiaceae family. Alkaloids have a more prominent effect on the nervous system.

… and a bit of research…

Bone mentions pharmacological research from 1976 and also 1988 on the alkaloid leonurine indicating this particular constituent to be a uterine tonic.

The alkaloids contribute to the activity of motherwort. In particular leonurine, possibly with the aid of stachydrine, is thought to produce the central nervous depressant and hypotensive effects (Blumenthal et al).

Pharmacological studies have confirmed its antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, as well as its effects on the heart and the circulatory system. Sedative and hypotensive activities were demonstrated in clinical trials (Wojtyniak et al).

… and some energetics…

As mentioned Culpeper recommended motherwort for conditions needing warmed and dried up. Motherwort, he described, as herb of Venus in Leo. Tobyn describes Venus as calming and soothing.

Holmes indicates motherwort for Liver Yang rising. This includes palpitations, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, irritability and stress. He provides the following description of motherwort:

“… an important example of a plant that treats both the heart and uterus, tailor-made for women presenting PMS with anxiety, frustration, palpitations and insomnia.”

Holmes highlights the energetic connection between the heart and uterus. In particular, he notes ancient Chinese medical texts with pathology of the Heart-Uterus meridian, Greek medicine and ‘uterus rising’ and Rudolf Steiner discussing a close energetic relation between the two organs in his lectures.

Surely Leonurus, as Weed suggests, has well and truly earned her goddess reputation and her position in the herbal first aid kit!

Self-Heal or All-Heal, a little plant with appropriate name!

Prunella vulgaris

self-heal aude franceFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

You will find self-heal flowering virtually continuously from June through to October. The tight cluster of crowded purplish sepals and bracts have been described as resembling a fir cone. It has the typical square stem associated with the Lamiaceae family (Fletcher).

Barker describes self-heal as a short, creeping perennial which is no more than 30 cm in height. He describes the flowers as blue-violet. Found throughout Europe in grassy places or bare waste ground.

This plant seems to have had a wide range of names. Today, more commonly known as self-heal or, occasionally, all-heal or heal-all. However, Culpeper noted it was also known as Prunel, carpenter’s herb, hook-heal and sickle-wort.

Culpeper also added it could sometimes be found in flower as early as April and that it can be found in woods and fields everywhere. If you wish to see Prunella vulgaris growing I am sure you should easily find it somewhere in your garden or certainly very nearby! The photographs in this post were taken in or around my own garden here in the Aude.

Traditional Uses:

self-heal aude southern franceWell it is no surprise one of the common names is all-heal as this little plant certainly seemed to be used to heal many ailments!

Hoffmann tells us it has a long tradition as a wound healing herb.

The common name of self-heal seems to be attributed to this use as according to Culpeper “…when you are hurt you may heal yourself.”

Culpeper described it as a special herb for wounds advising to take as a syrup internally, for internal wounds and externally as an unguent or plaster, for external wounds. Other recommendations included ulcers, wounds, bruises and to cleanse the “foulness of sores” whereby they would be speedily healed.

For headaches he suggested a juice of Prunella with rose oil anointed on the temples and forehead. He added this same combination with rose, albeit rose honey rather than oil, cleanses and heals ulcers in the mouth, throat and secret parts!

It seems that Gerard was in agreement with Culpeper:

“The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water, doth joint together and make whole and sound all wounds both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth.

Brunel bruised with oile of roses and vinegar, and laid to the forepart of the head, swath and helpeth the pain and aking thereof.”

John Gerard, 1636

Mills adds it was a traditional internal remedy for eye problems such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, eye tiredness and strain, inflammation and redness.

The following is from A Curious Herbal. A book illustrated by Elizabeth Blackwell and published in 1737.

self-heal

Medicinal Uses:

Barker notes not much used nowadays. Indeed it was not included in the curriculum for my own herbal training. Barker advises the tannin content provides haemostatic and anti-diarrhoeal actions. He adds it is a useful mouthwash or gargle for infections of the mouth or throat.

self-heal

However, Hoffmann states self-heal is a great spring tonic and useful in convalescence. Fresh leaf aids cleaning of cuts and wounds. A poultice or compress can be made too. Hoffmann adds, as a gentle astringent, it is useful internally for diarrhoea or haemorrhoids. If piles are bleeding he suggests applying externally as a lotion or ointment. Finally he recommends use as a gargle, sweetened with a little honey, for sore throats.

Menzies-Trull lists a number of actions including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal (in particular he includes candida), anti-viral, anti-oxidant, hypotensive, haemostatic and more… He indicates use for ophthalmic inflammation such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis. He also includes sore throats and pharyngitis, hypertension and headaches, glandular fever and mumps.

Mills describes Prunella as having relaxing and restorative properties. He considers it a remedy for the head to relieve tension and inflammation. This, he indicates, makes it useful for headaches and vertigo and also notes modern research into the hypotensive (lowering blood pressure) effects. In addition, he highlights an affinity with the lymphatic system. In particular indicating Prunella for lymphadenopathies, swellings, glandular fever, mumps and mastitis.

… and a little bit of science….

Hoffmann notes constituents include volatile oil, bitter principles and tannins. Bai et al reviewed the plant chemistry and pharmacological actions of Prunella vulgaris. The plant contains triterpenoids and saponins, phenolic acids, sterols and glycosides, flavonoids, organic acids and volatile oil. Modern pharmacological studies have found anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anti-oxidative, anti-tumor, anti-hypertensive and hypoglycaemic actions. These actions are mainly due to the presence of the triterpenoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids and polysaccharides.

This little plant really does seem to be living up to that all-heal name!

… and a bit of energetics…

A herb of Venus (Culpeper). Mills describes the temperament as cool. Holmes also describes it as cool. In fact he highlights it as a ‘refrigerant’ for clearing heat and for hot conditions in general.

… and a Recipe:

On a dry morning* gather enough fresh Prunella blossoms and leaves to fill a jar and cover with oil. You can choose olive oil or sunflower oil, as you prefer. Cover the jar. Check each day or two that all plant material is submerged.

At some stage, usually around two to three weeks, the colour will have drawn from the plant material. Strain, bottle and label.

Apply self-heal oil externally to cuts, scrapes, bruises, sores and swellings. You could add a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender, or even the more expensive rose, if you wished. Not only would this add to the medicinal properties it would also smell gorgeous.

*Note: water content can turn the oil rancid so be sure to collect when the weather is fair.

A simple remedy, ideal for a home first aid kit.

Thyme for the thyme of cold and flu

Thymus vulgaris

thyme thymus vulgaris audeFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

And so to this website’s namesake! During the month of May, the hills around the Aude are covered with the stunning colour of the beautiful thyme flowers. The aroma is luscious.

Bremness describes a woody stemmed, highly aromatic shrub requiring sun and a light, well-drained soil. She notes it more commonly found growing in the Mediterranean. Although Greive notes most countries with a temperate climate now grow thyme.

Traditional Uses:

thyme thymus vulgarisThyme has a lengthy medicinal and folkloric history. Grieve tells of it being one of the flowers forming the fairies favourite playgrounds.

In mediaeval times, it was utilised for invigorating and antiseptic properties. The Romans reputedly used it as flavouring for cheese and liqueurs.

Found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egyptians reputedly used thyme to treat headaches and intestinal complaints (Maniche).

Culpeper also used thyme for headaches (see energetics section below). According to Culpeper thyme killed worms in the belly, expelled wind and ridded the body of phlegm, strengthening the lungs. For children he recommended its use in the disease chin-cough.

Medicinal Uses:

Thyme is strongly antiseptic (Hoffmann). Hoffmann recommends use as a gargle for sore throats, irritable coughs, laryngitis and tonsillitis. He describes further use for the respiratory tract for cases of asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Could whooping cough be the chin-cough from Culpeper’s time.

Weiss actually lists the plant within the respiratory system of his book. He highlights similar actions to Hoffmann adding its use for patients suffering from emphysema.

The action on the respiratory system, especially the lungs, appears to be the main property as Mills too includes it in his list of expectorant herbs. However, Mills also describes an antiseptic effect on the urinary system and an antispasmodic and carminative effect on the digestive tract which is probably why thyme is such a popular culinary herb.

Thyme is also cited by Bartram as being useful for infections of the respiratory and urinary tract and for bedwetting children and overwork.

a few cautionary words

Bartram contraindicates use in pregnancy although I have found no support for this claim other than the traditional eclectic physicians believing the herb to be an emmenagogue.

thymus vulgaris southern france

Culpeper actually recommended use during labour for speedy delivery and to bring away the afterbirth. He described it “so harmless you need not fear the use of it.”

The World Health Organisation note safety of thyme preparations during pregnancy or lactation has not been established.

Curtis suggests care with the essential oil as it can have an irritant effect on the skin and mucous membranes particularly if high in thymol or cavacrol.

and some science stuff…

A volatile oil is the primary principle with bitters, saponins and tannins making up approximately 10% (Weiss). Mills also includes flavonoids.

Saponins have a pharmacological effect on the respiratory system and bitters on the digestive system. Flavonoids are antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and some are anti-tumour. Thyme oil found to inhibit several different fungi and negative bacteria. The volatile oil contains monoterpenes, thymol and carvacrol (Mills).

wild thyme tincture making aude franceMonoterpenes are generally antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral. Some are also analgesic, expectorant, decongestant and stimulant. Phenols (thymol and carvacrol are generally antiseptic, anti-infectious, bactericidal, stimulating to the immune system, activating healing and stimulating to the nervous system making them effective in some depressive illnesses (Clarke).

and a bit more science with some research…

This study is interesting as it chose to look at the anti-spasmodic and analgesic actions in relation to painful periods. A clinical study conducted on 84 university students with primary dysmenorrhea. Students randomly assigned to three groups. They all received capsules and did not know which group they were in.

Three groups split to receive: thyme essential oil, ibuprofen or placebo. Pain intensity identified with a visual scale. Checked before and one hour after each dose for 48 hours after starting medication. Data collected and analysed. Both thyme and ibuprofen were effective in reducing pain severity and spasms (Salmalian et al, 2014).

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, on arrival at Castle Leoch, Claire boils thyme with garlic cloves. Cloth soaked in this solution makes an antiseptic bandage for Jamie’s wound.

In the herb garden at Castle Leoch it is mentioned again. Mrs Fitz asks Claire to plant garlic between thyme and foxglove on the south side of the garden.

and a wee bit of energetics…

Culpeper described thyme as under the dominion of Venus and under the sign of Aries. Many of Culpeper’s uses have already been mentioned above. The astrological virtues Culpeper believed chiefly appropriated thyme to the head. He said anointing the head with thyme vinegar stopped pains thereof!

and some Recipes…

These recipes are from the famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué.

i ) Liqueur: macerate 3 to 4 fresh or dried sprigs (of thyme) in a quarter of a litre (8 fluid oz) of brandy (a teaspoonful occasionally)

ii) Foot-Baths and Hand-Baths: put two to three handfuls into a litre (1½ pints) of water

I’ve just gathered some (images above in jar) so ‘thyme’ to make a tincture…. and perhaps a vinegar or liqueur too…

Red Dead-Nettle loved by bees

Lamium purpureum

red-dead-nettle-Lamium-purpureumFamily:

Lamiaceae (mint or thyme family)

This little purple annual tricks us into thinking she is a cousin of the stinging nettle. Even the common name suggests this. Lamium purpureum has no sting and is actually related to mint and thyme.

The common name and Latin name disagree too on the colour. Are the heart shaped leaves red or purple tinged?

Red-Dead-Nettle FlowerIt is a fairly common annual starting from seed every year. Typically found flowering between March and October.

Found growing year round in milder climates. This particular plant photographed in the Aude in February.

Unfortunately, red dead-nettles are often dug up or pulled out of gardens. The bees love them!

Medicinal Uses:

Lamium purpureum does not have as many documented medicinal uses as Lamium album (white dead-nettle). However, Mrs Grieve advises leaves and flowers are a useful decoction for haemorrhage. Barker lists styptic and astringent as medicinal actions. Both, Grieve and Barker, recommend the tea for ‘a chill’ suggesting a febrifuge action.

Recipes:

Susun Weed uses Lamium purpureum leaves and flowers in two different salads. One she calls a green salad. The green salad includes leaves of chickweed, garlic mustard and dandelion. The other is fairy salad. Sure to look gorgeous as it includes violet, periwinkle and dandelion flowers.