We so do not need the knotweed… Fallopia japonica

Fallopia japonica or Reynoutria japonica or Polygonum cuspidatum

Family Name: Polygonaceae

French Name: Renouée du Japon

not need the knotweedThis plant is native to East Asia predominately Japan, Taiwan and northern China.

In its natural habitat it has predator plant louse to keep it under control. Unfortunately elsewhere it has earned the reputation as the world’s worst invasive species. More commonly known as Japanese Knotweed.

We so do not need the knotweed!

What’s the problem?

Well those little louse critters unfortunately, are also non-native to the rest of the world too. So Japanese knotweed is causing a whole host of problems. It is outcompeting native flora and a contributor to river bank erosion which increases the likelihood of flooding.

In the UK the plant has caused significant delays and cost to development and structural damage. In fact in some cases mortgages have been refused where it has been found in gardens. You can begin to see why we so do not need the knotweed!

Where can you find it?

It is now becoming common in urban areas, on waste land, railways, road sides and river banks. When back in Devon last September I was horrified to find it growing along an estuary where I often went herb walks. In the UK they are attempting to introduce the louse in the hopes of controlling the plant.

I have now found it growing on the riverbank here in France, some three kilometres from where I live. Apparently in the Parc de Saint Périer, Morigny-Champigny, Essonne (south of Paris) they are working with goats to control plant growth.

Medicinal Uses:

I remembered some years back it mentioned in a class or lecture that it did indeed have medicinal properties.

Use in TCM…

Known as Hu Zhang in China. The dried root and leaf are utilised. It apparently has a bitter taste. Energetically described cold and dry.

In traditional Chinese medicine it is utilised to eliminate damp heat and for pain relief. Some recommended conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, trauma injuries, bronchitis, pleurisy and other damp heat lung infections.

Use in Japan…

Wild foraged as a wild edible spring vegetable in Japan. Known as Itadori which apparently means ‘pain relieving’. In addition to use as a medicinal in some areas.

a bit of science…

Constituents include anthraquinones and anthraglycosides primarily emodin. In addition there are tannins and resveratrol. Emodin and resveratrol have shown anti-tumour activity in research.

… the future

In conclusion it seems highly unlikely Japanese knotweed will ever be eradicated. Resilient to cutting. Roots can be 10 feet down and some 23 feet across. Furthermore even the tiniest piece of root remaining can return.

For the moment we so do not need the knotweed. It is hoped a way of controlling this plant is discovered before it outcompetes some of our native medicinals. And causes other damage.

Hopefully a way of controlling growth will be discovered. Perhaps then it may well become a useful medicinal ally.

Finally, I would advise against use as a medicinal in countries where it is non native. It is probable there is contamination with pesticides in the role of control.

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree though not a citrus…

Tilia sp.

Family:

Tilioideae (formally Tiliaceae) Tilioideae is a sub-family of Malvaceae.

French common name: Tilleul

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree

linden blossom or lime flowerSo is it a linden blossom or lime flower tree? Both names appear to be used interchangeably. One thing for certain it is not a citrus tree and bears no edible lime-like fruit. It is however a very beautiful tree and definitely one of my favourites.

Scientifically there are several species. The small-leaved lime, Tilia cordata, grows up to a height of 30m. Tilia platyphyllos, or large-leaved lime, grows up to a height of 40m. Both Tilia x vulgaris and Tilia x europaea are found as scientific names for the common lime. The common lime is a naturally occurring hybrid between the small and large-leaved lime. All the above are used interchangeably medicinally.

In English you may find the common name written as large or small-leaved or common linden blossom or lime flower.

Mills (1993) advises there is a difference in leaf size between the species but no known differences in therapeutic activity.

The leaves are often described as heart-shaped although occasionally slightly asymmetrical at the base.

Linden blossom or lime flower – how to use and dosage

linden blossom or lime flowerThe dried flowers are used in an infusion with one teaspoon of the herb per cup of boiling water. Two to three spoonfuls are recommended in cases of fever (Hoffmann).

Mills (1993) recommends 1 to 4g of flowers three times a day.

Mills (1993) advises the tree is found throughout the temperate world growing in large parks, gardens and in the wild. He recommends drying the flowers quickly after picking as they spoil quite easily.

Barker notes bark is sometimes used though adds externally as an anti-inflammatory poultice. Fresh leaves can be eaten. He advises harvesting early in flowering for medicinal use.

A popular infusion in France and often found dried for sale at French markets. Trees frequently found in France in school playgrounds or village squares. Believed to be popular in these areas to promote relaxation.

This tea almost immediately makes me feel calm and very relaxed with a most pleasant, warm and comfortable feeling. I like the taste which I would describe as a combination of light, sweet, floral and with a subtle fruity, slightly astringent flavour.

Traditional Uses:

This wonderful tree has countless examples of traditional use.

The wood was used for detailed carvings. Supposedly easier to work with than other woods when minute detail is required. Traditionally popular for detailed carvings. Reputedly there are many lime wood carvings in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and in Windsor Castle. Apparently the lightest wood produced by any European tree and said to never get woodworm. Used for clogs and cuckoo clocks as well as musical instruments. Also used in sounding boards for organs and pianos.

A honey is produced from the flowers (Grieve).

Bartram advises once utilised to reduce severity of epileptic seizures. While Ward (1936) noted it a popular remedy for chronic catarrhal conditions following colds. Given for nervous headaches and hysterical tendencies. Recommended as an infusion of 1 drachm in 1 pint of boiling water or in bed-time baths, in equivalent strength, for those suffering from insomnia.

Modern Uses:

Mills (2001) indicates lime flowers for any acute infections particularly if accompanied by fever. These include common colds, bronchitis and influenza. Further described as being antispasmodic and relaxant and indicated for anxiety, intestinal colic, irritability, restlessness and sleeplessness and tension headaches and migraines.

Barker suggests combining with Elder for the common cold with fever. In addition, he recommends with Hawthorn and Yarrow for poor peripheral circulation. Furthermore, like Mills, he recommends for headaches and insomnia from nervous tension. Finally he combines with hawthorn for hypertension (high blood pressure). I have often combined hawthorn and lime flower in herbal prescriptions.

Hoffmann advises use as a prophylactic particularly for arteriosclerosis and recommends it specifically in the use of high blood pressure with arteriosclerosis. He recommends combining it with hops for nervous tension.

Mills (2001) describes lime flowers as a herbal aquaretic meaning the herb is a diuretic that excretes water from the body. He recommends its use as a decoction for hypertension. Herbal aquaretics are believed to benefit in replacing potassium lost through the use of modern diuretic prescriptions.

Recommended for phlebitis and varicose veins. Believed to have a restorative effect following auto-immune attacks such as arteritis, a condition involving inflammation of artery walls. One of the first herbs of choice, along with chamomile, for illness in babies and children (Mills, 1993).

Some science stuff…

Listed active ingredients, for medicinal purposes in phytotherapy, are flavonoids, volatile oil and mucilage components (Toker et al, 2001).

Mills (1993) advises lime flowers contain flavonoids, mucilage, saponins and tannins. The volatile oil includes farnesol. Flavonoids predominately work on the vascular system. However, they are usually diuretic and some may well be anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-spasmodic. Saponins will also work on the vascular system. He describes these two constituents as having a synergistic effect on the blood vessels.

Mucilage protects against infections and neutralises toxins while tannins astringe membranes making them less sensitive to bacteria. Some saponins also have an effect on the female hormone system and can regulate steroidal activity.

Farnesol in volatile oil is anti-inflammatory, bacteriostatic and deodorant (Clarke, 2002).

… and a bit of research…

Weiss (2001) describes a study conducted by two paediatricians on children with influenza type symptoms. The children on lime blossom tea and bed-rest recovered much more quickly and with fewer complications than those given orthodox medications.

I did read a review of scientific evidence sourced into linden blossom absolute on an aromatherapy site some years back. Essential oil of Tilia cordata, and two of its components benzaldehyde and benzyl alcohol, were tested in inhalation experiments.

T. cordata produced a significant decrease for traditional indications such as headaches, migraine and anxiety. It was concluded that this justified use in aroma-therapeutical applications. The quoted study was from 1992, Arch. Pharm. Apr. 325(4):247-8.

Herbal Energetics

Linden blossom or lime flower is described as having a warm temperament (Mills, 1993).

Holmes describes linden energetically as a bit pungent, sweet and astringent. In Ayurvedic energetics he describes it as decreasing Pitta and Kapha.

He finds it beneficial for several conditions. External wind heat includes fever and unrest. Other indications include lung wind heat which covers thirst, dry cough, red sore throat. Both lung wind heat and external wind heat cause irritability. Headache and nervous tension are kidney Qi stagnation.

Finally further reading including linden blossom or lime flower:

 

Cedarwood of the Atlas mountains

Cedrus atlantica

Family:

Pinaceae

French: cèdre de l’atlas

The Pinaceae family are resin producing trees (Barker).

This magnificent tree is not native to Europe. I did not study this as part of my herbal degree. However, I did cover the essential oil in my aromatherapy diploma training. I love the smell of this oil and find it very grounding.

The first two photographs were taken at the Aude Arboretum, where there is a very large cedarwood tree. The other photographs were taken in the Forêt Domaniale de Callong-Mirailles, where there are a group of planted, smaller cedarwood trees.

As mentioned, it is not a native European tree. The common name ‘atlas cedarwood’ gives a clue to the origin, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Traditional Uses:

cedarwood essential oilCedarwood oil was utilised by the Egyptians in mummification and the wood from the tree, as well as cypress wood, was used for building sarcophagi.

Frankincense, myrrh and cedarwood were used as temple incense aromatics and as offerings to the Gods.

It is probable, in Egypt, this was the Lebanon cedar rather than the Atlas Cedar.

Therapeutic Uses:

Cedarwood oil is, described by Price et al, as a lymph tonic and a particularly good choice for lymphatic circulatory problems. West (2003) notes cedarwood beneficial for skin degeneration which can be a problem in oedema cases. Cedarwood is high in terpenes. Terpenes are hydrophobic, meaning they aid removal of excess fluid from tissues (Price, 2004).

I wrote the following summary of cedarwood oil some years ago when I was regularly working with the oil particularly in aromatherapy therapeutic massage.

Physical Uses: More useful for long standing chronic conditions rather than acute ones. Tonic for the glandular and nervous systems regulating homeostasis. Expectorant properties make it effective for the respiratory tract in easing bronchitis, coughs and catarrh. It is also of benefit for genito-urinary tract problems such as cystitis. Good for the skin particularly oily skins and pus conditions and eczema and psoriasis. Excellent hair tonic particularly useful for dandruff and alopecia. The regenerative properties make this oil useful for conditions such as arthritis.

Emotional Uses: Calming and soothing action makes this of benefit for nervous tension and anxious states. Uplifting. Regenerating. Gives strength in times of emotional crisis. Steadies the conscious mind. Can ‘buck-up’ the ego when in a strange or unfamiliar situation.

and a bit about the chemical constituents …

Cedarwood contains many constituents. Among these are the sesquiterpenes, cedrene and terpene. Sesquiterpenes are antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, calming and slightly hypotensive and some may be analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-allergic and anti-oxidant.

The essential oil also contains atlantone, a ketone. Ketones are calming and sedative, mucolytic (some ketones are expectorant), analgesic, digestive and encourage wound healing.

Finally a mighty tree producing the wonderful therapeutic essential oil of cedarwood.

May Violets Spring! Sweet Violets in February

Viola odorata

Family

may Violets springViolaceae

This beautiful little flower is a welcome sight in my garden at this time of year.

Flowering is from February to May (Barker). The photos here taken in my own garden in February.

So why the title “may violets spring”?

Sweet violets do make me think spring is near as they spring up so early in the year. However “may violets spring” is from Shakespeare.

Any reader of Shakespeare, or Hamlet in particular, may remember this on the death of Ophelia.

Lay her in the earth;

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I – A Churchyard (on death of Ophelia)

may Violets springSweet violet is a flower many will know. They prefer growing in damp woods or shady spots. In my own garden they are flourishing under a tree. Leaves heart shaped.

In herbal medicine leaves either fresh or dried. However, flowers preferred fresh. Harvesting during flowering.

Barker adds the rhizome can also be utilised but points out underground parts are stronger and are more likely to provoke emesis. I have personally only ever utilised aerial parts.

Early in flowering, leaves and flowers make a pretty addition in a wild foraged salad.

Traditional Uses:

The following excerpt is from Harold Ward’s Herbal Manual.

Remarkable claims have been made for violet leaves in the treatment of malignant tumours. The case of Lady Margaret Marsham, of Maidstone, was reported in the Daily Mail for November 14th, 1901. This lady, suffering from cancer of the throat, used an infusion, which was left to stand for twelve hours, of a handful of fresh violet leaves to a pint of boiling water. After a fortnight of warm fomentations with this liquid the growth was said to have disappeared.

The same newspaper, under date March 18th, 1905, told its readers that violet leaves as a cure for cancer were advocated in the current issue of the Lancet, where a remarkable case was reported by Dr. William Gordon, M.D. Such accounts as these, although interesting, should be read with considerable reserve.

Harold Ward, 1936

Barker suggests interest in Viola odorata has maintained due to the plants reputation as an anti-neoplastic.

Indeed in more recent years, research has found a cyclotide from Viola odorata to have antitumor effects. Research in this area continues.

Modern Uses:

may violets springViola odorata has a strong affinity with the respiratory system.

Mabey (1988) suggests the combination of saponin and mucilage make Viola odorata a soothing expectorant. It has a cooling nature used for hot headaches and feverish colds. Finally he adds the mild sedative nature makes it useful where there is accompanied insomnia or anxiety.

Tobyn (1997) notes sweet violet will cool over-heated lungs. Barker (2001) describes it has having expectorant action useful for cough but finds it soothing rather than sedative. I would tend to agree myself and believe it soothing rather than sedative.

Menzies-Trull agrees it is a demulcent expectorant. He also highlights Viola as an anti-neoplastic particularly for malignancy of breast and intestine.

… and some energetics…

may violets springUnder the dominion of Venus, and utilised by Culpeper for purging the body of excess choleric humours. Leaves, he reported, stronger for this purpose although flowers also used. The choleric humour is hot and dry.

Menzies-Trull adds it moderates anger. Anger is generally, like the choleric humour, heating.

Viola odorata is cold in the 1st degree and moist in the 2nd degree and under the dominion of Venus (Tobyn, 1997). Culpeper prescribed this as a cooling cordial. Today this herb described as emollient (Barker, 2001) confirming its traditional moist attribute.

Violets may see the start of warmer weather. However, the humble little “may violets spring” is definitely a soothing, cool friend.

European Ash – an ancient tree

Fraxinus excelsior

Family:

Oleaceae

European AshAt this time of year there is less variety of plant life. However, whatever the season thankfully we always have the trees.

The European ash, or common ash, is one of the easiest trees to identify in winter with those black velvet buds and ‘keys’ (see images).

The Oleaceae contains mostly trees and shrubs such as the European ash, olive and privet. Jasmine is also in this botanical family.

Traditional Uses:

For the bitings of venomous beasts, Culpeper advised using the young tender tops and leaves taken inwardly and applied outwardly. Dropsy and “to abate the greatness of those that are too gross or too fat” were treated with a small quantity of distilled water every morning. Decoctions of leaves in white wine he recommended to break and expel stones and cure jaundice. It is not clear where the stones are though I would presume, based on the jaundice reference, the gallbladder?

Fraxinus-common-european-ash-keysThe bark he used instead of leaves in winter time. Interestingly ash keys, usually also found in winter, he used for stitches and pains in the sides from wind and for removing stones by provoking urine. One assumes he refers to kidney stones here. He noted keys easily kept all year.

Culpeper added he could justify all, one assumes from personal experience, except for the bitings of venomous beasts. Whether these venomous beasts were mythical creatures such as werewolves or more likely snakes who knows? However, I guess they were few venomous snakes (or beasts) in Culpepers 1650’s London as he had never had cause to try it!

Barker notes its use as a litholytic in Renaissance times, pre-Culpeper. An indispensable timber. Everything from furniture, spears and walking sticks, carts and oars were made from the ash. A tree of magic and mythology.

David Winston, an American herbalist, lists the American or white ash (Fraxinus americana) in the American Extra Pharmacopoeia. Both Cherokee and eclectics uses included for pelvic congestion and uterine fibroids.

Modern Uses:

This well known tree was not included in my own herbal training. Leaves and winged fruits are utilised in modern herbal medicine. As is bark, from two to three year old twigs, and the sap too (Barker).

Leaflets are harvested without the petiole while young, ideally before the end of June. Harvest bark, from young twigs, in April. Leaves are prepared as infusion and the bark a cold maceration followed by infusion. A syrup of fruits is advised.

Barker describes the European ash as a diuretic and anti-rheumatic. Beneficial for rheumatism, gout and oedema. As a febrifuge, for fevers, fruit or bark are used. He describes it a mild laxative although adds not the bark. It is also astringent, here, he notes mainly the bark. Leaves are chewed for bad breath. Barker suggests combining with some peppermint or lemon balm leaves.

Menzies-Trull lists many of the same indications as Barker; halitosis, fevers, oedema, gout and rheumatism particularly highlighting it a uric acid eliminator. In addition, he describes ash a slow and persistent remedy.

Similar to the American ash, Menzies-Trull, describes the European ash as toning the uterus and indicates ash for uterine prolapse, endometriosis with oedema and enlarged cervix.

some pharmacology…

Coumarins, flavone glycosides, resins, tannins and vitamins are included constituents listed by Barker. The resins and tannins are probably highest in the bark and relate to the astringent action.

and a bit of research…

A German study from 1995 investigated the pharmacological properties of a compound used as an anti-rheumatic. It contains a combination of Populus tremula, Solidago virgaurea and Fraxinus excelsior (European ash). The team conducted various studies. They noted little previous research into Fraxinus excelsior itself however, they found its coumarin components to have a variety of pharmacological properties. The combination of the three herbs was comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) without the side effects (von Kruedener, 1995).

and finally some energetics…

Governed by the sun (Culpeper). Both Cherokee and eclectics described the bark energetically as bitter and acrid (Winston).