Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks to cleanse and purify

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks to cleanse and purify …

Smudging and Smudge Sticks

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks

Many sources consider smudging an ancient tradition of indigenous American Indians. Some believe smudging was just as prevalent in ancient European cultures too.

The idea of smudging is to burn herbs to produce a smoke, no flame, to cleanse and purify. They have many uses. Some utilise them to cleanse rooms, homes or buildings. Others to cleanse and purify the aura or in meditation.

Artemisia or Salvia Smudge Sticks

Smudge sticks known as ‘sage smudge sticks’ are most popular. You will always find these sticks for sale in new age stores. Sometimes white sage (Salvia apiana) is utilised in these sticks. However, it is more often a species of Artemisia and not, botanically speaking, a true sage speciesSeveral different Artemisia species are used.

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticksArtemisia californica more commonly known as sagebrush apparently has aromatic sage-like foliage. Another species, is A. tridentata or big sagebrush. Perhaps the name ‘sage’ stuck due to the common names rather than scientific.

Another species commonly called California mugwort is Artemisia douglasiana. Occasionally utilised in smudge sticks. Known as mugwort or black sage smudge sticks. 

A newsletter from the Aromatic Plant Project suggest the common name for A. douglasiana is blue or green sage. They mention the herb for smudge sticks too. However, they add use ceremonially in sweat lodges.

The three Artemisia species, mentioned above, and Salvia apiana grow in North America. Of course, it is possible some of these plants were included in indigenous American Indian sacred ceremonies.

in the UK …
Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks
Mugwort – Artemisia vulgaris

The common mugwort growing in the UK, and indeed here in the Aude, is Artemisia vulgaris. There are many ancient superstitions around it. Travellers carried it to ward of fatigue, wild beasts and evil spirits in the middle ages.

Often considered a herb of magic. A favoured ingredient for dream pillows. In addition a popular smudging herb for clearing negative or stuck energy. Best gathered on a full moon apparently, particularly in June, if using for visions.

Finally, you can make your own smudge sticks and choose any herbs you like. So what would be your preference Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks ? Perhaps you prefer other plants, like purifying rosemary ?

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

In the first Outlander book, and the first TV series, Claire is taken by Colum MacKenzie to Davie Beaton’s dank surgery. The surgery is located in the basement of fictional Castle Leoch.

Last we saw of Claire in the TV show she had returned to her own time. With less than a month until Season 3 of the popular series airs, one wonders if Claire shall return to Castle Leoch at any point in the future, or should I say past!

In Season 1 Claire makes many interesting discoveries in the surgery of Davie Beaton and not all of them useful.

Davie Beaton’s Patient Log Book

It seems Davie Beaton, in life, was unfortunately not the best healer. Incidentally, he died of fever.

On browsing his log book, Claire reads an entry for a female patient with a thumb injury. Sarah had the misfortune of catching her thumb in a spinning wheel.

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium

Treatment involved application of boiled pennyroyal followed by a poultice of one part each of yarrow, St John’s wort, ground slaters and mouse-ear. This combination was mixed in a base of fine clay.

The first two are reasonable choices. Yarrow stanches bleeding. St John’s wort aids wound healing.

However, it is not entirely clear if the last ingredient refers to a plant or not. Cerastium fontanum is a type of chickweed. Commonly called mouse-ear. However, Hieracium pilosella, from the same family as the common dandelion, is commonly known as hawkweed and also mouse ear.

The fictitious treatment of Sarah may well have included one of these two herbs. H. pilosella was indeed traditionally utilised as an astringent, albeit more frequently as an expectorant. It had use in treatment of whooping cough.

Unfortunately, it is also possible the recipe actually means a mouse ear! What is certain? That third ingredient of ground woodlice is definitely not of plant origin!

Consequently the treatment was unsuccessful. Although some potential beneficial herbs in the treatment regime it was seriously in need of a powerful antiseptic and strict hygiene would have been paramount and highly unlikely in poor Sarah’s case.

Davie Beaton’s Recipe Book

In addition the discovery of a book of recipes included some further bizarre and obscure remedies.

A recipe for headache recommended drying one ball of horse dung and pounding this to a powder. The resulting powder mixed in hot ale. Surely that would give you a headache rather than cure it. Perhaps the smell made one vomit. As a result of which there may have been some relief if a digestive headache or migraine.

The recipe for treating children with convulsions was five leeches behind the ear. Poor kids.

Another recipe for jaundice used decoctions of roots of celandine and turmeric. Seems reasonable. However, the addition of the juice of 200 slaters not so much! Beneficial as plant medicines. However, the cause of the jaundice would need sought for best treatment. And the inclusion of the juice of 200 woodlice – erm?

Supplies in the Surgery of Davie Beaton

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Wormwood – Artemisia absinthium

There were many jars and vials. While some of the jars contained useful ingredients such as angelica, rosemary and wormwood. Others contained dried toads packed in moss, dried snails, oil of earthworms and, of course, horse dung and slaters!

As a result, Claire certainly had her work cut out finding the useful remedies in that surgery.

 

Botanical members of the Fagaceae family

Botanical members of the Fagaceae family

Botanical members of the Fagaceae family
autumnal oak leaf

Often, on herb walks, people are surprised to discover beech and oak trees are related. Both the beech and oak are botanical members of the Fagaceae family. The scientific name Fagaceae means beech family.

Whenever I add a new medicinal plant profile to the blog I include the botanical family and scientific name. That way readers can easily identify other plants within the same family.

The plant scientific name generally includes two names, the Genus and the Species. Medicinally it is important you have the correct Genus and often, species. That being said, for some plants similar Species are used medicinally interchangeably. Others not. For example if we look at the lime flower or linden blossom tree medicinal use of three different Tilia species is interchangeable.

However, today we discuss some of the Fagaceae or beech family.

Fagaceae botanical features

Members of this family

  • Are trees or shrubs and either deciduous or evergreen.
  • They have single nuts attached to scaly or spiny caps.
  • Leaves are simple, alternate and often toothed or lobed.
Fagaceae medicinal properties

Members of this family

  • Contain varying amounts of tannic acid – astringent and diuretic.

Genus and Species

The following are some of the more common examples of botanical members of the Fagaceae family with Genus and species scientific names provided. Common names included within brackets.

  • Fagus sylvatica (European beech)
  • Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut)
  • Quercus robur (pedunculate or common or European oak or English oak)
  • Quercus petraea (sessile oak)

In addition, botanical features and medicinal properties break down further within the Genus and sometimes species too. You can see from the examples below the similarities and the differences between each medicinally.

Genus – Fagus

Medicinally utilised historically. However, beech is now generally out of favour. Branches or bark of 2-3 year old branches were utilised. A decoction was brewed as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash and gargle. Some older sources suggest use as a quinine substitute.

Beech nuts, or masts, contain high saponins and an alkaloid called fagin. Therefore, in quantity, they can make you feel unwell although pigs seem to thrive on them. Horses are particularly susceptible to beech nuts.

Beech nuts are becoming quite popular in wild foraging courses. Remember not to eat in quantity and perhaps avoid if you are prone to an upset stomach.

Genus – Castanaea

Botanical members of the Fagaceae familyLeaves, bark and the nuts of the sweet chestnut can be utilised. Leaves are expectorant and sedative. Historical use of leaves for coughs particularly whopping cough. In addition also for dandruff. The bark is antidiarrhoeal and febrifuge. Therefore, traditionally utilised for dysentery.

As we know chestnuts are nutritious eating. Another popular find on a wild foraging course. Traditionally decocted for mild diarrhoea.

Genus – Quercus
Oaks and alcohol…

Botanical members of the Fagaceae familyFinally the oaks. There are lots of different oaks within Europe. As a result of my living in one of the largest wine regions in Europe a mention of oak in the wine making industry is pertinent.

Wine makers prefer sessile oak (Q. petraea) for casks. While the peduculate (Q. robur) is preferable for cognac. However, the sherry makers choose the Portuguese oak (Q. pyrenaica) for their casks.

Finally, last but not least, one needs a cork for that wine bottle, not a nasty screw top, and that is from the cork oak (Q. suber).

Oaks medicinally…

Pedunculate and sessile are the native oak trees in the UK. The medicinal uses of these two species are interchangeable. The dried inner bark and dried leaves are medicinal. Medicinal use, as with most of the Fagaceae family, is predominately externally.

Traditionally used topically for haemorrhoids in an ointment, or in a lotion for cuts and abrasions. Also used as a douche for leucorrhoea or a gargle for tonsillitis and chronic sore throat. The gargle use similar to the beech above.

Internally both oaks were used, like sweet chestnut, for dysentery. In addition, Maud Grieve recommended as a quinine substitute, again a similarity with beech.

The above gives an indication into the benefits of learning a little about a botanical plant family. Furthermore, in the above example, you can clearly see some similarities within the botanical members of the Fagaceae family. In conclusion, medicinally, this is largely due to the astringency (tannins) generally toning and beneficial for conditions ranging from sore throats to diarrhoea.

St Lizier Apothecary in the Ariege Department

St Lizier Apothecary in the Ariege Department

The History of the St Lizier Apothecary

St Lizier Apothecary Recently on a visit to a neighbouring department Ariege, I visited an 18th century apothecary in St Lizier. The hospital was funded by a wealthy bishop with a personal fortune. The Sisters of Nevers became the nurses.

The Sisters of Nevers were from a religious institute founded in 1680 to minister to the sick and poor. In St Lizier they took in the sick and wounded, beggars and elderly.

In addition they took in abandoned children. A special opening remains visible to the left of the hospital main entrance. The abandoned baby entrance. After baptism, every child took the surname DeDieu, meaning from God. Apparently a common surname in the area to this day.

The St Lizier Apothecary

St Lizier apothecaryThe Apothecary was a step back in time to 1764. It is quite small. The woodwork is from fruit trees, I believe it was pear and cherry trees.

Behind the glass doors are shelves for jars and vials, liquid contents. Furthermore there are 50 drawers for storing dried herbs. Each drawer numbered with a copper plate. Hence some of the drawers still had labels inside detailing the original contents. The example in the image (slideshow below) is guimauve or Althea officinalis. The English common name is marshmallow.

Behind the glass fronted doors there are a wide of array of glass vials and jars and ceramic pots. Often the contents are on the container. For example ‘H. de Chamomille’ is oil of chamomile. Those with ‘H’ is for huile whereas ‘S’ is for syrup. There are also aromatic waters for example ‘Eau de Menthe’ is peppermint aromatic water.

Other cabinets contained ceramic pots, no doubt used for storing unguents. The small ceramic dishes, like odd shaped egg cups, are eye baths.

Interestingly I assumed the ceramic canards (ducks in English) probably containers for treating the nasal cavity for infections. However, the guide described them as possibly early beakers for giving medicines to weak, infirm or children.

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Although a short tour, at around 20 minutes, it was extremely interesting. Furthermore, St Lizier itself is very beautiful. In conclusion, a wonderful way to spend a morning, particularly with a visit to the St Lizier apothecary.

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal Itching

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal Itching

This post is the fourth in the menopause series of articles. While the advice is predominately natural remedies to help with menopausal itching it may be helpful for any itchy skin conditions. If your menstrual cycle is beginning to change and your skin starts to itch it is often an indicator of approaching menopause, the peri-menopause phase.

The medical term for itchy skin is pruritus. It may be mild or may be severe enough to disrupt sleep. It can be due to any number of factors or medical conditions. Sourcing the cause is equally important in treatment.

If your itching skin is due to peri-menopause or menopause it can cause misery especially if coinciding or aggravating other menopausal symptoms. In addition, if you have previously struggled with problem skin the onset of the menopause often aggravates this.

So why does your flesh feel like it is crawling?

Peri-menopausal or menopausal itching skin is unfortunately, still not completely understood. What is known? There are a variety of changes to the skin due to declining hormone levels. The main declining hormone being oestrogen.

Scientific studies of post-menopausal women found a lack of oestrogen associated with atrophy, dryness and poor wound healing. This reduction in moisture and elasticity of the skin, also unfortunately, leads to those dreaded wrinkles!

So … the natural remedies to help with menopausal itching

First up dietary …

Many of these have been covered in an earlier nutrition based article for menopause. Certainly reduce ‘drying’ alcohol and increase ‘moisturising’ water. Drinking a glass of water with some added freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning rouses the liver. This can be warm water, after boiling, if preferred.

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal ItchingIncreasing omega 3 in the diet is another important one for skin health. Foods to increase include salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.

These are great sources of omega 3 but not so great if you don’t like fish or choose not to due to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are other sources.

I would also include avocados or avocado oil in the diet. Although not an ‘essential’ omega, avocado does contain omega 9 and vitamin E. Both have an important role in skin health.

and herbal remedies to help with menopausal itching …

There are several natural remedies to help with menopausal itching that spring to mind. The following are some of the more effective and easily obtainable.

The humble dandelion. Often neglected as a garden weed, dandelion is a wonderful herbal ally. Taking two or three cupfuls of a dandelion root decoction each day supports the liver aiding the natural cleansing processes of the body.

Red clover is a herb I initially studied for the skin. It is so much more. A herbal lymphatic best taken as a herbal tea for fluid retention. I also included it in an earlier article for menopausal hot flushes. Make up as a herbal infusion, allow to cool, strain and soak a flannel in the liquid and dab over itchy skin.

Stellaria media (chickweed) is frequently used by medical herbalists in a lotion, cream or ointment to help with itching skin. It is a common wild medicinal. If you know the plant you can gather and harvest yourself.

Alternatively you will often find pre-made products available to purchase from herbal stores online (Neal’s Yard Remedies are one of the larger stores) or from your local medical herbalist. Here in France there are some consultants selling Neal’s Yard Remedies Stellaria cream.

Coconut oil is utilised in Ayurvedic medicine for persons of a Pitta constitution. In some individuals it can bring a cool relief to an itching skin or scalp. Source good quality coconut oil. Melt the coconut oil in your warm palms and massage into your skin.

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal ItchingAny keen porridge eaters are certain to have oats (Avena sativa) in their kitchen cupboard. Oats naturally moisturise the skin, remove dead skin cells and are effective in healing and relieving dry and itchy skin.

Take a bath with a handful of oats in a cotton sock or tied in a muslin cloth. Squeeze the sock in the water over the skin to soothe the itch.

Showers have often become more popular than baths. As a result many homes no longer have a bathtub. Alternatively use a warm basin of water and apply to the skin.

some final suggestions to reduce that itch …

Soaking in a warm bath with two cupfuls of Epsom salts is an age old remedy for relief of itching sunburn or insect bites. It works equally well for relief of any itchy skin conditions including those of a peri-menopausal or menopausal origin.

In addition, Epsom salts baths soften skin, reduces stress and eases sore, aching muscles. It is important to avoid the use of any soaps or body wash products which may interfere with the benefits of the salt bath.

However, remember that overly hot showers and baths can aggravate itchy skin and hot flushes. Ensure the water is warm but not hot.

Many synthetic highly perfumed products may also aggravate the skin. Products containing SLS (sodium laurel sulphate) are widely known to cause skin sensitivity and dermatitis in some individuals. It is best to avoid shower gels and lotions containing SLS with any skin conditions. Should you suffer with an itchy scalp seek out shampoos without SLS.

The above are a few natural remedies to help with menopausal itching. A combination of the above factors will bring welcome relief. If your problem is more severe or persistent you would be well advised to consult with a medical herbalist or your family physician.

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

 

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden
lemon balm

It has been an extremely dry summer so far. Very little rain. My poor garden has been struggling this year and I fear I shall have some losses…

The beautiful icy pink of Althea officinalis (marshmallow) flowers were quite beautiful but they are now fading fast in the hot summer sun. A fabulous cooling herb. Both leaf and root have medicinal virtues.

Atropa belladonna better known as deadly nightshade has now changed from her flowers, initially to the green berry, and now covered in those shiny black berries.

Last year Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) succumbed to black fly. With the help of some ladybirds, lady Artemisia survived. This year she has not grown so tall and bushy. Next year I hope she will strengthen for harvesting. I do love her silvery foliage. An excellent digestive remedy, and not just for worms! Talking of lady Artemisia, I have both southernwood and mugwort growing in the garden too.

My golden Solidago canadensis initially coped admirably with the hot sun and glowed just as bright. Solidago virgurea looks a little different. Both commonly known as goldenrod and medicinal uses are interchangeable. A wonderful ally for the urinary tract.

Stacys betonica was quite stunning in June. Such beauty inspired me to post a plant profile. I often return to plant profiles to add some more thoughts or findings. I’m sure this is one I shall frequently return to update.

and so on to the images …

All images taken over June and July. Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

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Elizabeth Blackwell, Botanical Illustrator: A Curious Herbal

Elizabeth Blackwell, Botanical Illustrator: A Curious Herbal

Elizabeth Blackwell may seem a fairly ordinary sort of name. However, historically, not one but two dynamic women carried this name. Both were British born.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first physician

The most recent Elizabeth Blackwell was actually the first female physician. She was born in February 1821 in Bristol in England. The first woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States, in 1849, and the first woman on the UK medical register. Quite a feat. Several educational institutions resisted before one finally admitted her to study.

She wrote a number of books. Furthermore she was instrumental in the education of women in medicine. Incidentally her younger sister Emily was the third female to obtain a medical degree.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the botanical illustrator

Elizabeth Blackwell Botanical Illustrator A Curious HerbalAn earlier Elizabeth Blackwell born, Elizabeth Blachrie, in Scotland in 1707 was yet another strong female figure.

Her book, A Curious Herbal published in 1737, was designed to aid physicians and apothecaries in plant identification. It contains several beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants. The book is quite beautiful and of particular interest to me.

Her husband, a doctor, was a somewhat lavish spender. In addition, he had accrued a few fines. He ended up in a debtor’s prison. Consequently leaving poor Elizabeth destitute with no income and a child to feed.

Discovering a need for such an illustrated book, Elizabeth relocated to near the Chelsea Physic Garden. From there she was able to draw the plants from life.

Finally she accrued sufficient funds for her husbands release from prison. This was largely due to the income from A Curious Herbal. However, once again he accrued debts. Eventually he left his family for Sweden. He was later executed for conspiracy. Elizabeth died in 1758. She is buried in Chelsea, London.

Although Elizabeth was not a physician her book is a remarkable record of medicinal plants in use during that time period.

Death by Gold Ring – Pretty Poisonous Potion!

Death by Gold Ring

Death by Gold Ring
Inverary Castle

On a brief trip to Scotland last week, I visited Inverary Castle. A cousin was visiting from Australia and he was keen to visit the ancestral home of the chief of the Clan Campbell.

Although the site of an earlier castle, certainly since the 1400’s, building began on this particular castle in 1743. There are some later additions. The conical roofs of the corner towers are such an addition from 1877.

I personally have always thought this particular building more French château than Scottish castle. The interior continues this theme with French-influenced rooms with Beauvais tapestries. The castle also boasts paintings by French artists Girard and Guinand.

However, for me, I found two particular pieces most fascinating. One was a rubbing stone and the other a poison ring!

Rubbing Stone

Death by Gold RingThe rubbing stone, as you can see, apparently cured colic.

Of course, in some cases a mild colic benefits from a gentle massage, or rubbing, over the tummy area. Perhaps in some cases the rubbing stone was helpful! I can think on several much more effective digestion remedies though.

Poison Ring

Death by Gold RingI would have loved a closer look at the poison ring but unfortunately it was safely stored within the glass display cabinet.

The particular example in the castle is Italian but it seems these were quite popular throughout Europe in the 16th century.

Any fans of singer, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, may remember she used a poison ring to eliminate some of her competitors in the Murder on the Dance Floor video. A lady determined to win that dance competition.

Downtown Abbey

The castle may look familiar to Downtown Abbey fans. The Christmas 2012 episode was filmed in and around Inverary Castle. It served as the fictional Duneagle Castle. Duneagle Castle was the home of cousins young Lady Rose and her parents. Thankfully there was no death by gold ring in that episode!

Herbs and Gardens of Ancient Egypt – a new discovery

Herbs and Gardens of Ancient Egypt

Herbs and Gardens of Ancient Egypt - a new discoveryLast month archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council discovered an ancient funerary garden while excavating near Luxor in Egypt.

The garden is thought to be 4,000 years old.

Childhood Desires

As a child I had a fascination for ancient Egypt. I would watch every television documentary and read anything I could about it. I remember my excitement when my aunt Yvonne gave me a gift of a Nefertiti pendant which I still have and often wear today. Another time my mother went on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to Edinburgh. There was some Egyptian display on at the time. As a result, one of my Christmas gifts was three papyrus pictures. These I had framed and still have.

Eventually I was fortunate enough to visit Egypt on a few separate occasions when I was in my twenties. This long held desire of mine since childhood was finally accomplished, for the first time, when I was 21 years of age. Oh what a long time ago. I remember on arrival I was so excited I was actually shaking and was physically sick.

Over my visits I have travelled from Cairo to Abu Simbel and there is so much more I would still love to visit.

Funerary Garden

There are many tomb paintings and papyri depicting the importance of herbs and gardens of ancient Egypt. However, few actual discoveries. This recent find of an actual funerary garden is particularly exciting.

Researchers found evidence of a Tamarisk shrub in the garden. They have also found some seeds from other plants which they plan to have analysed.

Tamarix nilotica

There are some tomb paintings which include the tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica). These trees or shrubs are indigenous to Egypt so it is no surprise to find remains of one in a funerary garden. Commonly known as the Nile Tamarisk.

Tamarisk is mentioned in some medical papyri too. The ancient Egyptians used it in a medicinal remedy for drawing out inflammation. In addition, it was considered aphrodisiac and sudorific. There is some evidence the ancient Egyptians used the wood in carpentry.

More recent traditional medicinal uses include relieving headaches, reducing inflammation and as an antiseptic.

Research conducted by Ahmed Abdelgawad (Tamarix nilotica (Ehrenb) Bunge: A Review of Phytochemistry and Pharmacology) was published early in 2017 in the Journal of Microbial & Biochemical Technology. Abdelgawad found major constituents of flavonoids, tannins and phenolics in T. nilotica. The leaves exhibited significant antioxidant, anti-viral, hepatoprotective and anti-tumour activities.

One can’t help but wonder how much medicinal knowledge the Ancient Egyptians understood about the Tamarisk.

Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime

Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime

Over the springtime I am frequently asked about plants for wild foraging.  Free food foraging of wild edible plants is a popular pastime.

Naturally my main interest lies in the medicinal properties of plants. However, often there is overlap where these plants have nutritional virtues. Wild flowers in foraging recipes may be added for nutritional value, colour or texture.

Free food foraging of wild edible plantsSome more common wild foraged foods such as dandelion many have heard of adding flowers, or particularly leaves, to a salad. The leaves are rich in potassium. A favourite diuretic herb of many herbalists. There is a reason the French common name is pissenlit!

Also well-known, the humble nettle. A great spring time tonic whether prescribed by a herbalist, added to soups or cooked similarly to spinach in a recipe.

I have added a wild foraging tag. Although these are not, strictly speaking, wild foraging posts some such as elderflower and red dead nettle include forage recipes.

Common sense must prevail. Be a courteous and cautious forager. Check out the rules of your own country. Ensure you have the correct plant. If even the slightest doubt, leave it. Never pull roots. Take care where you gather plants from.

Most importantly free food foraging of wild edible plants is fun, a popular pastime so, enjoy!