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.

Artemisia medicinal herbs from a busy lady !

Artemisia spp.

And the name

The scientific name Artemisia is often ascribed from the name of the goddess Artemis. You may see Artemis listed as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, of hills, mountains and wilderness, of childbirth and relieving disease in women or of virginity and protection of young girls. Artemis is a busy lady!

Artemisia species
Artemisia medicinal herbs
the wormwood Artemisia

There are several Artemisia species. In fact there are way too many to write about in one little post.

My training as a medical herbalist included four Artemisia medicinal herbs. Since qualifying I have used two of these, both common European species, quite frequently.

Of the four Artemisia I studied I have three of them growing in my medicinal herb garden.

  • A. arbrotanum – southernwood
  • A. absinthum – wormwood
  • A. annua – sweet wormwood or sweet annie
  • A. vulgaris – mugwort
Artemisia medicinal herbs
the mugwort Artemisia

Therapeutically the above Artemisia medicinal herbs all have actions relevant to digestive and nervous systems, particularly wormwood and mugwort. Having more personal experience in use of both wormwood and mugwort I shall write about them separately.

Artemisia annua I shall also write about independently. This plant has much research for use as an anti-malarial. Although I haven’t used it personally it is worthy of a separate write-up.

Artemisia arbrotanum

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the southernwood Artemisia

I have this growing in the garden. I rather humbly confess to remembering little from my studies of this plant other than one thing!

The one thing I remembered quite clearly was the smell is offensive to moths and, if hung in the wardrobe, would drive them away. Hence the reason it is growing in my medicinal herb garden.

I do remember my student tasting of herbal tea and it smelling minty fresh almost like toothpaste. The taste I thought quite drying. Our tutor that day, Maureen Robertson, told us it was high in volatile oils. I guess this is why I remember the smell from my initial herb tasting.

I have a sprig from the garden as I am writing this. It does have such a lovely fresh smell although I no longer would describe it as minty fresh. As she is growing in the garden I really ought to get to know her better.

… moths again ??

Anyway back to moths … Having, extremely unwillingly, succumbed to moths eating some of my best clothes. Consequently I planted it in the garden. I hope I shall never have need of it my wardrobe. A lovely addition to the garden.

Menzies-Trull mentions the moths too. In addition to aromatic, bitter and carminative, those digestive actions, he also includes nervine tonic.

Indications include peripheral vascular disease, anorexia, flatulent dyspepsia, muscle cramps and spasms, sciatica and rheumatism. Amenorrhoea is another indication and surely under one of the many duties of the goddess Artemis! Externally in lotions for scalp and skin lice and as an insect repellent.

Energetically a herb of Mercury. Mercurial herbs have a tendency to be dry, perhaps the dry taste I remember.

And a few other species

Some of the other Artemisia species you may come across. I am less familiar with this group having never used them medicinally.

  • A. arborescens – giant mugwort or blue Artemis
  • A. californica – sagebrush
  • A. douglasiana – Californian mugwort or blue/green sage
  • A. tridentata – big sagebrush or white sage

Artemisia arborescens

Artemisa arborescens, I confess, I have no practical knowledge. However, I understand it is one of the Artemisia medicinal herbs as I read about therapeutic use for both essential oil and hydrosol. It is high in chamazulene.

A little science …

Chamazulene is a constituent. Found in a few Asteraceae botanical family plants. Commonly known ones are yarrow and chamomile. German chamomile essential oil has the most beautiful blue colour due to the chamazulene. This constituent is largely found attributable for the anti-inflammatory action in these plants. In some cases, particularly in German chamomile, it is also anti-allergenic.

essential oil use

Jeanne Rose, an American aromatherapist, highlights use of A. arborescens for sensitive skins, skin infections, eczema and psoriasis. I assume these indications refer to blending essential oil in a carrier oil or cream for external skin application.

and a little confusion …

Apparently Robert Tisserand, a well-known UK aromatherapist, advises against use in therapy due to high thujone content.

However, I read an interesting article in the Aromatic Newsletter of The Aromatic Plant Project from Spring 2005. Interestingly, their article disputes this. They advise both essential oil and hydrosol of Californian Blue Artemis, Artemisa arborescens, are free of thujone. It seems probable this tarnished reputation is due to mis-identity. The essential oil of a camphor Artemisia, commonly known as Moroccan Blue Artemis, is particularly high in thujone.

hydrosol use

Incidentally the hydrosol is apparently a gorgeous sky blue colour, naturally lighter than the essential oil. The hydrosol indicated, as essential oil, for damaged skin. In particular the Aromatic Plant Project recommend hydrosol as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever following face lifts and other surgeries.

A. californica, A. douglasiana and A. tridentata

The above three are utilised in smudge sticks and incense. I shall write about smudge sticks separately.

further Artemisia medicinal herbs ?

Artemisia douglasiana

Seems like A douglasiana has some medicinal uses too, certainly the essential oil and hydrosol.

The Aromatic Plant Project advise A. douglasiana is a beneficial wash to ease the pain of aching muscles and joints. I assume they mean the hydrosol as they later advise massage with the essential oil in carrier oil for aching muscles and pain on the surface of the body.

In addition, for mental clarity and ease of mental distress, inhalation of essential oil is recommended. The hydrosol is also recommended added to the bath and for a tonic drink.

Artemisia tridentata

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the big sagebrush or white sage Artemisia

Menzies-Trull includes in his herbal. The primary action antimicrobial although he also includes anti-fungal and anti-protozoal. He suggests burning the herb in the sick room.

There is some overlap in indications with wormwood, mugwort, sweet annie and southernwood. Some digestive indications include dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, gastroenteritis, colic and worms.

The goddess of childbirth and relieving disease in women once again makes her appearance as this Artemisia is indicated for amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea and postpartum haemorrhage.

Final Artemis thoughts …

The above includes eight of the more common Artemisia species you are likely to come across. It seems that seven are Artemisia medicinal herbs. Three, of which, I have no personal medicinal knowledge. Although some are utilised in smudge sticks.

Finally, there are so many Artemisia species and this highlights the differences within Genus. Particularly important when one considers the differences between both the Californian and Moroccan Artemis Blue species and the potentially toxic high thujone content. In conclusion, one should always be cautious and ensure they have the correct Artemisia species particularly for therapeutic use. If in doubt, seek out your local medical herbalist.

Dandelion teeth of the lion – for kidney, liver and digestive function

Taraxacum officinale

Family:

Asteraceae

So why dandelion? I have sat down to write this post for a friend. Ian is a fantastic photographer. Frequently his stunning photographs include trees, squirrels or his pet rabbit.

dandelion Taraxacum

This time, he emailed through this most beautiful photograph of a dandelion ‘clock’ or seed head. He described it as looking “like a lampshade from Habitat”!

Nature is often far more beautiful than any manmade product and, albeit his photograph is manmade, he has captured the beauty of nature perfectly.

And so my reason for this post? I threatened to bore him with the medicinal properties. He assured me he would not be bored. We shall see! I have brewed a cup of dandelion root and sat down to commence… He has no idea of the documentary I am about to provide. It is certainly one medicinal ally I could not be without in my herbal dispensary.

going back to my roots… a little…

Thinking of Ian’s rabbit I do wonder if Boz likes dandelions. My own childhood rabbit loved them. Thoughts have now moved from rabbits to chickens. My neighbours have six chickens. They love dandelion leaves.

I mentioned above the ‘clock’ or seed head. The proper name is pappus. I know some children used to play ‘clock’, however, I believed when I blew the pappus I was releasing captured fairies. I would make a wish and set them free to fairy land to make my wish come true, completely unaware in the process I was scattering seeds into any neighbouring garden lawns. Oh dear!

As I child I also remember the ‘ginger van’. This was a weekly van selling bottles of carbonated soft drinks, I guess it was run by Barr. Barr are now better known for Irn Bru. However, as a child the van had an array of soft drinks from cream soda or red cola to dandelion and burdock! We used to get to choose a bottle every week and you got money back the following week for returning your empty bottle. Recycling at its best!

Back to dandelion and burdock, I doubt very much the soft drink from the ginger van actually contained dandelion or burdock. It was probably flavourings and way too much sugar. A wonderful weekly childhood treat no less. I guess at some stage in history it probably stemmed from these two plant roots. Both excellent liver tonics.

The image of the dandelion pappus below is actually from my first website when I lived in Devon in the UK. I chose this as I liked the way the dandelion stood out strong and defiant against the blue backdrop.

First of all we ought to mention the name…

Taraxacum officinale dandelion pappus

Here we go a little French. The name dandelion is possibly derived from ‘dent de lion’. This basically translates as ‘tooth of the lion’. Barker suggests this given name was possibly due to the jagged leaf edge. However, I recall the root was thought to resemble the white tooth of a lion although I cannot remember where I read this or where I heard it. Who knows?

And so do the French call it dent de lion? Well no. They call it ‘pissenlit’. So if I tell you ‘en lit’ translates as ‘in bed’. I’m guessing you’ll get the general idea. It is indeed a diuretic, particularly the leaf. Another good choice for a common name.

The scientific name, Taraxacum, probably stems from Greek. Grieve notes ‘taraxos’ is Greek for disorder and ‘akos’ for remedy. Although Barker notes it may also stem from Arabic referring to eyesight as it was apparently recommended in the Middle Ages for eye conditions (Barker).

Where to find a dandelion… Really?

Podlech tells us dandelion is throughout Europe and also in the west of Asia. Common in meadows, pastures, fields and waste ground. He describes the humble Taraxacum officinale a solitary yellow flower-head on a long leafless stem with ray florets.

The leaves are in a basal rosette and are long, narrow and lobed with the lobes pointing back toward the base. The hollow stems exude a milky white juice.

Interestingly, Messéngué believes the Greeks and Romans didn’t know it and therefore it was brought to Europe perhaps by barbarian invaders.

In one of his many herbals, Mills seemingly agrees. He believes dandelion originates from central Asia. Although now found growing in northern hemispheres it is in most parts of the world and even arctic regions. He adds, dandelion prefers moist soil in pastures, meadows, lawns, and waysides. Easily propagated from root division or sowing the seeds. He advises it quickly spreads, as we well know. To contain dandelion he recommends picking the flowers before they seed.

Unfortunately, in the garden lawn, it is all to often attacked by vicious herbicides.

I love this quote from Judith Berger taken from her book Herbal Rituals.

“… we imagine that the cures for our ills are complicated, exotic, and expensive, often the plants which are meant to be our constant companions love to settle at our feet. These plants are extremely beneficial to our vitality and resiliency. In the case of dandelion, nature has placed in our midst an exceptionally healing food and medicine plant.”

Traditional Uses:

Traditional prescribing and research suggest the root has the stronger choleretic and cholagogue activities and the leaf has the stronger diuretic properties. Traditionally, the root and leaf were utilised for similar conditions albeit the leaf was considered weaker than the root except in its diuretic action (Bone). Personally I would agree and would choose the leaf for a diuretic action. Remember that French name.

Dandelion was traditionally used for cholecystitis, gallstones, jaundice, dyspepsia with constipation, enlargement of the liver or spleen, dropsy and uterine obstruction (Bone).

Nicolas Culpeper utilised for obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen. He found it had a cleansing property and suggested the herb for the passage of urine in both young and old. Also recommended for jaundice, fever, to procure rest and sleep and, for washing sores.

Messéngué advised eating as much dandelion salad as you liked as it would do “a power of good”. He also utilised the young buds as a substitute for capers. However, he particularly highlighted the medicinal properties, describing it a whole pharmacy of gold.

Modern Uses:

Taraxacum officinale dandelion leaves and flowerMany of the traditional uses remain today. Mills recommends dandelion as tonic for the liver and hepato-biliary functions. It supports and encourages these areas to adapt when under stress.

As a cooling bitter it has a gentle but strong ability to reduce fever with the additional advantage of stimulating the digestive system and useful in convalescence. As a result of the gentle eliminative properties it is recommended for constipation. Mills describes dandelion a choleretic herb improving bile production and cholagogic stimulating bile flow. Ideal for bilious conditions such as heaviness in the epigastrium possibly with nausea. Don’t you just love that word ‘bilious’.

Also recommended in treatment of arthritic disease to help remove toxic waste from the affected joints through the urine. And so we go back to Culpeper and his cleansing description.

Hoffmann recommends for congestive cases of jaundice and congestion of the liver and gallbladder suggesting dandelion has an ability to move things on.

Bone indicates dandelion for jaundice, gallstones, constipation, dyspepsia, flatulence, loss of appetite and intestinal bloating. Recommended for muscular rheumatism, chronic skin diseases and cystitis in combination with uva ursi. I imagine the cystitis use refers to the leaf. Certainly I would add dandelion leaf to most prescriptions for urinary tract infections.

Bone recommends caution in using the root if gallstones are present. His reasoning is not clear, nor is it clear if he meant you could use the leaf. I assume his caution relates to the possibility of moving the gallstones thereby obstructing the digestive tract. Personally I have not heard nor found evidence of this.

At the very least, I hope by now, you have grasped dandelion is probably a first port of call for happy kidney, liver and digestive function.

…kidney stone preventive and a bit of arthritic nutrition…

Weiss recommends taking high intake of dandelion tea once a week to stimulate diuresis and prevent recurrence of kidney stones. I assume he refers to the leaf here.

He also has a spring and autumn treatment regime for chronic arthritics where he suggests taking dandelion in salad, sandwiches and soup, as a tea and in fresh juice. This increases mobility and reduces stiffness.

I assume he means the leaf when discussing salad, sandwiches and fresh juice too. I have included dandelion, in combination with other herbs, in many prescriptions for arthritis.

and some other thoughts…

Duke recommends using dandelion as a preventive to osteoporosis. He describes dandelion as containing boron, calcium and silicon to strengthen the bone. Boron apparently works by increasing oestrogen levels in the blood.

He is not alone in this recommendation. Susun Weed uses “calcium and mineral-rich” dandelion in a vinegar for bone health. At a mere 5ft in height, and watching my mother, aunt and grandmother shrink, I’m all for the dandelion!

Weed utilises dandelion to ease hot flushes too. She prefers fresh leaf tincture. The root she uses fresh or dried in tincture form. She adds eating fresh dandelion leaves or drinking dandelion flower wine is also effective. Dandelion aids the liver in processing those menopausal hormones. Carrying along on the menopausal theme, Weed recommends dandelion tincture for those with itchy, sensitive skin and light-headedness. Common menopausal symptoms.

Duke adds the Chinese reputedly simmer the root in two or three cups of water until only half the liquid remains and use this remaining syrup mixture for tonsillitis. The Chinese also use the root as a compress to treat mastitis.

A bit of science…

The constituents include bitter glycosides, triterpenoids, tannins, volatile oil, inulin and potassium salts (Mills). Podlech also includes bitters, tannins and essential oils as the key constituents in addition to flavonoids. Bartram adds carotenoids and sesquiterpene lactones.

Hoffmann (1999) states up to 5% of dandelion is potassium, although it is not clear if he is referring to the root, leaf or the herb as a whole. He advises dandelion is one of the best natural sources of potassium. In addition to potassium, he includes glycosides, choline and triterpenoids in the constituent listing.

Weiss concludes that it is the sum of a large quantity of different constituents that give dandelion its real value and that it contains bitters, vitamins and enzyme acting substances that simulate the kidneys and liver function.

Cardiac glycosides may give dandelion its diuretic use in heart conditions and its ability to increase potassium levels in the blood. Iridoids and sesquiterpene lactones are bitter principles and bitters have a similar action to gastrin increasing hepatic bile flow and the appetite (Mills).

The leaf has a more pronounced diuretic effect and recommended for premenstrual fluid retention. However, root is preferred where additional signs of a sluggish liver, including constipation.

The leaf also has the higher content of potassium making it useful in the treatment of elevated systolic blood pressure. The root is indicated rather than leaf for cirrhosis of the liver. Also root as a hepato-protective agent to minimise damage to the liver when exposed to toxins. For severe morning sickness, in the first trimester of pregnancy, root is indicated (Mills).

Mills adds the leaf has so much potassium it increases blood potassium levels. Due to this it should be used as a diuretic in cases of heart failure.

Dosage in herbal medicine

Personally I prefer fresh tincture of leaf rather than a dried leaf tea. I very much enjoy a brew of the root and also use root in tincture form. When prescribing for patients tinctures are often easiest. The following lists dosage methods from some well-known herbalists.

Mills utilises root and/or the leaves. Roots prepared by decoction and the leaves by infusion. He recommends dosage of 2 to 8 g dried root or 4 to 10 g of dried leaf three times a day. If requiring the cholagogue or choleretic properties take thirty minutes before eating (Mills).

Hoffmann recommends tincture at a dose of 5 to 10 ml three times a day and leaves eaten raw in salads.

Roast and ground the roots to take freely as a coffee. Eat leaves raw in salads or cooked as spinach. Liquidise fresh plant and take as a juice at a dose of 1 to 4 teaspoons (Bartram).

Bone recommends a dose of 6 to 11.5 ml of 1:1 liquid extract of the leaf per day and 40 to 80 ml per week. For the root, 3 to 6 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per day and 20 to 40 ml per week.

Boil briefly a tea containing 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of water of dried chopped root and leaf and leave for 15 minutes. Take every morning and evening for 4 to 6 weeks as a treatment in those with a tendency to form gallstones (Weiss).

Herbal Energetics

Dandelion is a cooling herb. In the time of Culpeper, choler in the body was believed to cause conditions such as ‘dry scabbing’. Today believed to be eczema. Dry bowels with constipation, large hard veins suggested an excessively hot and dry liver. Dandelion, as a cooling herb was indicated.

Attenuating or discutient herbs were used for cutting and thinning humours. Discutients were cooler in action than attenuating herbs. These herbs have a dilating rather than astringent action. Dandelion is a discutient herb. Dandelion is also considered a cooling diuretic (Tobyn).

Energetically ruled by Jupiter cold and dry in the second degree. Cooling stomach and liver. Opening, cleansing, healing and diuretic.

Magic and Witchcraft

Riva includes dandelion in her list of Herbs and Roots for Power. Take a handful of herb in a small bag and place in the tub for a herb bath. She describes this as stimulating and particularly beneficial for those with psychic talents or those wishing to summon spirits.

In addition, Riva adds, as a herb of Jupiter, Thursday is the best day for conducting spells with dandelion. She finds it a particularly favourable herb for those born under Sagittarius or Taurus.

Finally she recommends a cup of dandelion tea overcomes despondency and keeps you protected from disease.

A few more words…

Before I studied herbal medicine I often drank roasted dandelion root as a coffee substitute. I quite enjoyed it.

My first tasting of dandelion root as a decoction was as a student herbalist. It was a blind tasting. The smell reminded me of potatoes boiling but with a sweet-smelling undertone. I remember finding the taste sweet and, I felt, quite cooling.

At the time I imagined giving this herb to a person who was a bit floaty and in need of grounding, a little airy-fairy and dreamy. Someone always on the go, I felt it would help to ground them. My brother came to mind. When he was younger he was certainly a dreamer. He was, and still is, always on the go and never seems to have time to stop, sit-down and eat.

We tasted the leaf tea later in class. The smell of the leaf was similar to damp grass, though not quite as strong. The taste was slightly more metallic than the root.

Since qualifying I have used tinctures more than teas and probably root more than leaf. However, I do find the leaf has found its way into many prescriptions for urinary tract infections and fluid retention. I have also included it in some herbal prescriptions for high blood pressure.

If you ever meet Ian either in his capacity as a photographer or one of his many Woodland Trust ventures you can ask him about his knowledge of the humble dandelion. I’ll be eager to hear if I did indeed bore him with this rather lengthy narrative.

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.

Voodoo and New Orleans Spells with Herbs

Voodoo and New Orleans Spells

Some years back I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans. A fabulous fun place of blues and jazz. In addition, and right up my street, there are fascinating weird and wonderful herbs and voodoo and New Orleans spells. In fact it is one of the most enjoyable places I have been fortunate enough to visit. Blues, jazz, voodoo, weird and wonderful herbs and fascinating characters – what’s not to like?

Cemeteries and Voodoo

I was there at Halloween so partook in a Cemetery and Voodoo trip. We met at a French cafe. The guide was an entrancing character full of interesting anecdotes with long hair of a similar length and colour to my own. He commented on this to which I replied “Yes, grey”. I still laugh when I hear in my head his response in that New Orleans southern drawl

No honey youse and me just natural platinum blonds.

Voodoo and New Orleans spellsOn the cemetery tour we visited the future pyramidal tomb of actor Nicholas Cage and the tomb of the legendary Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess.

The tour ended with a visit to a present day, and living, voodoo priestess. I was in a group of perhaps a dozen people. She singled me out asking where I was from. I have to confess I was somewhat unsure what she was going on about but I think she liked me and I had no intention of upsetting a voodoo priestess so happily agreed with whatever she said.

At the end of the trip I felt obliged to purchase some items from her spellbinding wares of herbs, voodoo and New Orleans spells. This brings me on to the focus for this post as one of the items I purchased was a modern herbal spell book!

Tidying the bookcase…

We’ve had some tremendous heat, in the 30’s, this last 10 days or so. This is quite high for this time of year and the garden has required watering most days particularly my small vegetable patch. My water butts for rainwater harvesting are very low.

While tidying my bookcase I came across my New Orleans purchase. Tidying the bookcase is often a lengthy process as I invariably come across a book I haven’t read for sometime and the tidying gets forgotten about for another few hours, days or weeks… and so the book…

Voodoo and New Orleans spells

And so to a make rain spell…

Quite apt for my poor draining water butts I thought!

  • Fill a large pan with water and add a handful each of sulphur, sea wrack and valerian.
  • As you put in each of the ingredients repeat the passage from Deuteronomy 11:14.

I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

This spell should be performed on a Monday, the day ruled by the Moon which is the planet controlling weather.

So there you have if it. Should you ever require a bit of rain you could always try the above spell, on a Monday. Good luck.

 

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.

Marigold my favourite drop of golden sun

Calendula officinalis

Family:

Calendula officinalis-Flower-Heads-marigoldsAsteraceae

French common name: souci

Regular readers will no doubt have guessed Calendula officinalis (marigold) is a particular personal favourite. I have mentioned this medicinal ally so many times. It seems about time I gave this particular beauty her own post.

Usually named pot or garden marigold (Bremness). Medicinal marigold should not be confused with the garden variety commonly also known as marigold with the scientific name Tagetes.

Calendula-officinalis-marigoldIt is a particularly easy ally to grow. Bremness advises the preferred habitat is wasteland in a fine loam soil in the Mediterranean. Hey suggests the plant prefers a sunny position in a well-drained soil growing best in Southern Europe. She advises germination is rapid and the plant will flower for most of the year if the weather is mild. Grieve recommends growing from seeds which will germinate in any soil in a sunny or half-sunny location.

My own personal experience here in France is that it will indeed grow for most of the year. It can lose flowers in particularly hot, dry weather so I find it best to harvest early summer here. The image above was taken on the outskirts of a French village in March.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper mixed juice of marigold leaves with vinegar for bathing hot swellings and it reputedly provided instant ease. Flowers were used in broth or tea to comfort the heart expelling any malignant or pestilential quality.

Cultivated in kitchen gardens and used in cookery and medicine. Given as a cure for headache, red eyes and toothache (Grieve).

Medicinal Uses:

Calendula-officinalisWhere to start?? This medicinal ally has so many uses.

Bone, Mills, Hoffmann and Bartram all discuss use of flowerhead or petals.

Mills advises if the tincture has a high resin content it will have a strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action. This he recommends for treating infections particularly those of the mouth and throat. The astringency of the herb makes it effective to stop bleeding. Infection of the digestive tract is a further indication.

Extraction of the resinous properties for tincture of marigold requires  90% alcohol.

Hoffmann recommends externally for bleeding, bruising, minor burns, skin inflammation, strains and wounds and internally to relieve the gall bladder or indigestion and for gastric or duodenal ulcers. He further recommends the herb for painful periods but in particular for delayed menstruation.

Marigold has a healing and protective effect beneficial taken internally for food allergies or intolerance. The depurative effect is cleansing for blood and tissues. Topical uses of Calendula in a cream include for varicose veins or application around ulcers (Mills).

Bartram suggested Calendula following all surgical operations. I imagine this indication similar to orthodox antibiotic prophylaxis. Bartram also used for many enlarged, inflamed conditions including those of the lymphatic glands. Externally he recommended use for nose bleeds, abscesses, chilblains and stings.

Weiss found Calendula useful in wound healing although inferior to echinacea and arnica but always well tolerated. I personally would not consider it inferior preferring to say it is different in indication and use.

Bone indicates Calendula for internal treatment of ulcers, enlarged or inflamed lymph nodes, acne and sebaceous cysts and also for spasmodic conditions such as dysmenorrhoea. Topically the indications include eczema, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, acne and wounds.

and some science stuff…

The constituents include bitter glycosides, carotenoids, essential oil, flavonoids, mucilage, resin, sterols and triterpenoid saponins.

Bitters have similar actions to gastrin and therefore protect digestive tract tissues, promoting bile flow and enhancing pancreatic function. Flavonoids provide some of the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties and the mucilage soothes the digestive, urinary and respiratory tracts helping to calm irritation.

Resins contribute to the acrid, astringent taste but resins also have strong antiseptic properties. Saponins are anti-inflammatory (Mills).

a wee bit of research…

Polysaccharides from a few herbs including Calendula officinalis have been shown to increase phagocytosis (Bergner).

The World Health Organisation summarise some studies which highlight the actions. A tincture of flowers suppressed the replication of herpes simplex and influenza viruses in vitro studies. Flowers inhibited growth in vitro of Trichomonas vaginalis. Oxygenated terpenes appear responsible for the antimicrobial activity.

and some energetics…

James notes the sun ruled the heart, circulation, and the vertebral column. All plants that appeared solar, such as Calendula fell under the influence of the sun.

Tobyn notes Calendula energetically is moistening in the 1st degree. Such herbs soften, smooth and soothe.

and finally some herbal articles including marigold…

Purslane for a cooling, healing salad

Portulaca oleracea

Family:

Portulacaceae

Barker describes purslane as a creeping annual which can spread from 10-30 cm. The end of the stems are much leafier. Here you may find a few yellow flowers. The leaves are waxy and smooth.

It is often an escape of vineyards in France especially in the south and east. Easily tolerates poor soils and drought.

The name is believed to derive from the word ‘porcelain’.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper advised it could be used as a salad herb. Good for cooling heat in the liver, blood and stomach. He described the seeds as more effective than the leaves particularly where there was heat and sharpness in the urine. The seeds he advised, should be bruised and boiled in wine and given to children to expel worms.

Purslane seemed also to be considered a contraceptive! Culpeper added it would extinguish the heat and virtue of natural procreation.

Bruised herb was applied to the forehead for any excessive heat hindering rest and sleep. Application to the eyes, or any wheals and pimples, reduced redness and inflammation. Bruised leaves mixed with honey and laid on the neck would take away pains and a crick!

The juice too was used. This Culpeper particularly recommended to stop vomiting or, mixed with a little honey, for an old, dry cough. Juice was advised for inflammations of secret parts of man or woman!

Finally he advised application on gout where it would ease pain so long as the gout was not caused by cold.

The leaves contain high amounts of Vitamin C. Used as a remedy against scurvy (Barker).

Holmes notes appreciated for millenniums and traditionally used in Europe for thickening soups and stews and hot-pots. He believes it the Western equivalent of okra, or lady’s fingers.

Holmes quotes two historical sources, Jean Fernel

“…it has the unique property of tempering and containing burning and flaming bile, resisting toxin to prevent its further spread”

Jean Fernel (1508)

and the Book of Experiences.

“It quenches thirst caused by stomach, heart, liver and kidney fire.”

Book of Experiences (1225)

Medicinal Uses:

Barker notes purslane is used as a salad herb around the world. He also describes it as cooling. As an emollient it has a vulnerary action on the skin. The leaves are mucilaginous and diuretic providing a soothing action on both digestive and urinary tracts. Like Culpeper, Barker too describes the seeds as vermifuge though gentle enough for children.

Holmes, like Barker, notes the Vitamin C content. He adds some minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.

Holmes lists several indications for purslane. He describes it a moist, cooling, demulcent herb.  His indications include painful boils, carbuncles, localised purulent infections, chronic loose stools with blood and pus, frequent burning bowel movements, intestinal parasites, burning urination and thirst.

As a vegetable he recommends eating raw, lightly steamed or pickled.

and some energetics…

Not surprisingly, due to the obvious cool nature of purslane, Culpeper ascribed it a herb of the Moon. He recommended purslane for all hot, choleric conditions.

Holmes discusses it energetically as clearing toxic heat, blood heat, intestinal damp heat and bladder damp heat.

Elecampane for coughs and chest complaints

Inula helenium

Family:

Asteraceae

elecampane medicinal garden Thyme Breaks
Inula helenium – elecampane

The name is thought to derive from Greek ‘helenion’ meaning ‘Helen’ possibly from Helen of Troy. One story describes the plants growth from her tears. The common name is derived from two Latin words ‘inula campane’ meaning ‘of the fields’ (Phillips).

Podlech describes the natural habitat as fields and rough ground. Elecampane can be found growing throughout Western and Central Asia and Europe. It can also be found in the British Isles. Bremness suggests the plant prefers damp meadows and shady soils. It can grow up to 10ft.

Personally I think it will probably grow in most ground with a preference for damp soil and some shade. My own plant in the garden is around 5ft tall. It is in full sun for most of the day. I believe flowering would have lasted longer had my plant had a damper, slightly more shady spot. The flowers in this post are all from my garden in early July.

Traditional Uses:
elecampane
Elecampane tall and proud

Manniche notes the Ancient Egyptians called species of Inula ‘fleabane’ and used it to combat fleas. They found it disliked by most animals. Mentioned in the Book of the Dead to drive away crocodiles. Pliny tells it was an antidote to poison. Apicius recommended elecampane as a condiment for digestion. Dioscorides mentions Egyptians used the root in a wine as a snake bite remedy.

Culpeper described Elecampane as hot and dry and wholesome for the stomach advising it would kill all worms in the belly. He described it as poison resistant and recommended it for shortness of breath and coughs. Used in an ointment for scabs and itching. Culpeper noted it would make the skin clear.

The Shakers called the herb Scabwort. They used the herb for itching as well as weakness in digestion. However, use was mainly for coughs and lung disease (Miller).

Mességué believes it one of the oldest plants used in healing noting it used in the Middle Ages in Athens and Rome for many respiratory conditions. The Germans reputedly made elecampane wine, an effective plague remedy, which they called ‘St Paul’s Potion’.

Mességué talks of being a child and his father using elecampane to treat and cure a child of whooping cough. A simple treatment with baths and infusions of elecampane. A wonderful example of the power of nature.

Modern Uses:

Many traditional uses relating to the respiratory and digestive systems are still common today. Bone includes asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, infections and influenza as indications. Elecampane, he describes, as a possible treatment for peptic ulcer disease and intestinal worms.

Frawley lists analgesic, antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant and rejuvenative in the list of actions. He indicates the herb for pleurisy, dyspepsia and nervous debility. If using as a diaphoretic expectorant he recommends combining use with ginger, cinnamon or cardamom. As a rejuvenating tonic he suggests combining with ashwagandha, comfrey root or marshmallow.

Indeed, Mességué too found elecampane to ease heartburn. He also found it sudorific.

and a little bit of science…
Golden Inula flowerhead
Elecampane sunshine

The root contains sesquiterpene lactones including alantolactone and isoaltantolactone (Bone). Menzies-Trull includes 44% inulin, terpenoids, sterols, resin, mucilage and up to 4% of volatile oil.

Pengelly states inulin helps stabilise blood sugar suggesting this herb may be useful in cases of hypoglycaemia. The constituent also has diuretic and immuno-stimulating properties. Alantolactone has an antibiotic action.

Bone quotes a favourable clinical study where children were given between 9-200 mg of alantolactone for Ascaris infestation. Ascaris is the common small roundworm. Culpeper did say it would kill all worms in the belly! It would be interesting to see a similar study using the whole herb rather than an extracted constituent. However I always enjoy finding an old traditional remedy backed up with some modern scientific evidence.

Mills highlights an investigation of essential oils from 22 plants. All had relaxant effects on tracheal smooth muscle. One of the most potent was the root of elecampane highlighting the antispasmodic property of the herb.

… and a word of caution…

Sesquiterpene lactones are believed to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Care should be taken when collecting this plant. These constituents are more common in the Asteraceae family.

Patients with hypoglycaemia or diabetes are well advised to seek the advice of a medical herbalist prior to taking this plant medicine.

… and some energetics…

Culpeper described Elecampane a herb of Mercury and hot and dry in the third degree. However, Tobyn interprets Culpeper as finding it to be a hot and moist loosening medicine with a relaxing effect on membranes and ligaments, muscles and tendons. I would agree that it is definitely more moistening rather than drying.

Frawley describes Elecampane as Kapha reducing. He cautions use in high Pitta conditions, presumably due to the heating effect of the herb. Energetically he describes elecampane as pungent, bitter and heating and indeed there is a slight pungent bitter taste which may possibly relate to its effect on the digestive system. The pungency most likely adds to the general warmth of this herb.

Simply looking at the flowerhead of elecampane, like a large sunshine and rays, gives a warm, relaxing feeling. Don’t you agree?

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!