Plantain though not the banana, the white man’s foot

Plantago major / Plantago lanceolata

Family:

Plantaginaceae

common plantain or ribwortThe Plantaginaceae is a family of 253 species, 250 are Plantago species. Plantago herbs are perennial with small flowers and generally parallel veins (Barker).

Plantago is the scientific name for plantain. Common on bare ground and grassland either as P. lanceolata or major species. The wider leaved variety is major. The P. lanceolata species is more commonly known as ribwort. Mabey describes Plantago major as the broad-leaf or common variety while Plantago lanceolata he calls the long-leaved variety.

Medical herbalists can, and do, use both of these species. A survivor of trampling. Hence, known to Native American Indians as ‘white man’s foot’.

Where does it grow? Everywhere!

common plantain or ribwortPodlech advises the small seeds are spread by feet of animals and people. And we return to the white man’s foot! Distributed throughout Europe although it has spread worldwide.

Barker tells us Plantago major grows on paths and roadsides, in town or country. Also found in gardens and waste grounds on disturbed soils. You are certain to have it growing nearby. It often pops up in my own garden. Generally considered a weed the gardener prefers to kill.

Traditional Uses:

Nicholas Culpeper used plantain for consumption of the lungs, consumption being the old name for tuberculosis. He noted it particularly useful for coughs from heat. He recommended drinking the juice for catarrhal discharges or heavy menstruation. Probably leaves although he utilised roots, leaves and seeds. Root he powdered or decocted. Seed he preferred for dropsy, epilepsy and jaundice.

Finally, he noted any plantain for healing wounds and sores either applied externally or taken internally.

Modern Uses:

Used today by medical herbalists for its wound healing properties and its soothing effect on the body which includes coughs.

Mabey describes a drying action. For wound healing properties he suggests crushed leaves applied directly to skin to stop bleeding. He finds it a soothing expectorant and recommends for many lung conditions.

Barker finds leaf of Plantago lanceolata far more useful for pulmonary conditions than the major variety. However, he prefers the major variety for wound healing, benefiting skin complaints such as acne rosacea, and for its diuretic properties, in treating conditions such as cystitis particularly with associated haematuria.

Personal thoughts and uses…

I find common plantain or ribwort extremely versatile plants. Plantago has an affinity with mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are throughout the body protecting our digestive, urinary and respiratory tracts.

Plantain is particularly useful in many herbal prescriptions. Perhaps with Horsetail or Cornsilk for a urinary tract infection. With Elderflower and Eyebright for hay fever or sinus problems or with Thyme for a chesty cough. Or combined with Meadowsweet or Chamomile to soothe and tone the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Endless combinations…

I generally find plantain cooling and soothing so in general I would select this for a prescription where someone may have irritated sinuses or a red raw sore throat.

In addition, it makes for a wonderful first aid ointment. A wonderful ally to find immediately after attack by an insect! Rub the crushed, or chewed, leaf directly on insect or bee stings.

… and some constituents in common plantain or ribwort …

Mabey notes a combination of silica and tannin make plantain useful in treatment of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. In addition, he adds silica strengthens the lungs.  

Menzies-Trull discusses the iridoid glycoside, aucubin, as antiseptic particularly for infections of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition he adds antimicrobial saponins, allantoin and the minerals potassium and zinc.  He considers the stimulating effect on the immune system attributable to the polysaccharide content.

Another herbalist, Chevallier, describes aucubin a strong urinary antiseptic linking with Barker’s cystitis use. Allantoin, he describes, a potent tissue healer.

… and some research on common plantain or ribwort …

Research supports use in chronic bronchitis and chronic cough.

A Bulgarian study (Matev et al, 1982) aimed to ascertain if Plantago major had expectorant and anti-phlogistic (i.e. reducing inflammation and/or fever) actions. They reported favourable results following treatment of 25 patients with chronic bronchitis for a 25 to 30 day period with Plantago major.

A German article published in Wein Med Wochenschr reviewed clinical data and confirmed Plantago lanceolata to be anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic and an immune stimulant. They particularly highlighted the use of Plantago for chronic cough (Wegener et al, 1999).

Herbal Energetics

I have already mentioned I personally find plantain cooling. Culpeper believed it a herb of Venus.

Frawley et alsuggest bitterness and astringency combine to give this herb its diuretic action. Furthermore, this combination of bitters and astringency, they find better for a Pitta constitution. These actions cool blood and energy thereby reducing Pitta. Finally, Frawley et al describe plantain a cooling alterative.  

so what is Herbal Energetics ? Warm Cold Moist Dry ?

so what is Herbal Energetics ?

In many of the individual medicinal plant profiles on this blog I often include a small section on the plant energetics. So exactly what is herbal energetics ?

Well, at the very basic level, it is how to best match a herb or selection of herbs to an individual patient rather than solely looking at the disease state.

Putting this in very simple terms. Lets make up a person called Joe Blog. Joe has painful joints. He is always cold. Joe never leaves the house without a jacket or warm layer, even in summer. He prefers summer and hates the winter. Joe needs warming herbs. He needs spices such as black pepper, ginger or even chilli to warm up those cold joints.

Our second made up person is Joan Blog. Joan also has painful joints. She likes the cool, fresh winter. Joan switches off the central heating after Joe has switched it on. She prefers the bedroom window open at night. Her painful joints are hot to touch and she describes them as burning. She needs cooler herbs like willow bark and comfrey.

Constitution

Whether a person is warm or cold, dry or moist is part of their constitution. Their vitality, strengthen and very nature are all important in correct herb selection. Equally the energy of the herbs chosen is important. In the example above black pepper and ginger are warming and chillies especially so!

There are several constitutional frameworks recognised worldwide. You may have heard of humoral medicine, Ayurvedic medicine or traditional Chinese medicine. They all have similarities and, of course, differences.

As a student herbalist we undertook a module on each of these three systems. We were very fortunate to have three incredible teachers. All medical herbalists and all experts in their chosen system. The following is a brief description of each of these.

Humoral Medicine

Relates to the four bodily humors – phlegm, black bile, blood and yellow bile. Phlegmatic constitution is moist and cold whereas Melancholic is dry and cold. Sanguine is moist and warm and Choleric dry and warm.

what is Herbal Energetics astrologySanguine relates to Air, Melancholic is Earth, Choleric is Fire and Phlegmatic naturally, is water. An individual may predominate in one constitution, although they may have elements of others.

This system is of Greek origin. It is the basis of Unani Medicine. Often astrological influences are incorporated.

If we look again at Joan Blog above Salix alba (willow bark) is a herb of the moon. Where does it grow? Frequently found growing by the water. Willow bark is cool and moist. The London herbalist Nicholas Culpeper followed this method. I have a personal preference for humoral medicine.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Whereas humoral medicine has four constitutions, Ayurvedic looks at three doshas and most importantly your prakruti. The three doshas are Pitta, Kapha and Vata. Your prakruti is the balance of these three doshas when you were born into the world.

This system is of Asian origin, popular in India. There are similarities with both humoral medicine and TCM. The Pitta constitution is warm, Vata is cold and dry and Kapha is moist.

If we look at ginger, black pepper and chilli, mentioned above for Joe, in Ayurvedic medicine they all reduce Vata and Kapha and increase Pitta.

Furthermore, if we incorporate preparation in more detail you can enhance specific qualities. For example dry ginger is hotter and drier than fresh ginger.

Going back to Joe. If he is slightly more Kapha than Vata and has fluid accumulation in the joints dried ginger would be preferred. However, if Joe is more Vata than Kapha, perhaps with dry scaling skin around the painful joints, he would fair better with fresh ginger root.

Ayurveda is probably the most popular method. Of the three here, I believe it is possibly the more straightforward and easiest to grasp.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

what is Herbal Energetics Yin YangTCM has a wider range of ‘constitutions’. Everyone has heard of Yin and Yang. Yin is cold whereas Yang is warm.

A Yin deficient person tends to prefer cold drinks, often complains of warm hands or feet. They are uncomfortable in a hot and dry environment. They don’t have enough cold. The menopause is often considered Yin deficient. I mention Yin deficiency in the red clover profile.

The Yang deficient person has a dislike for wind and cold. They have cold hands and feet. They don’t have enough warm. There are many more terms in TCM such as Qi stagnation and Qi deficient. Diseased states also have descriptions and may be described as due to wind heat or kidney Qi stagnation.

This method is naturally of Chinese origin. Although I find TCM fascinating it is the one I find most difficult to understand. I find it quite a complex system.

So what is herbal energetics ?

Often, I feel, we are bogged down by science. While it is interesting to know salicin, a constituent of willow bark, is pain relieving no individual constituent within a plant can give the full picture or true nature of that plant.

The above is simply a basic guideline in answer to so what is herbal energetics. If you are interested in learning a little more please do contact me. If this subject is of particular interest I offer a half day course looking at herbal energetics in a little more detail. Please feel free to contact me for further information.

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 he lists as 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.

 

Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica

Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica

Earlier in the week I was contacted and asked for advice on sciatica. As sciatica affects so many people I decided it was worth a post. So here is a posting on using herbal medicine and natural methods for sciatica.

Sciatica – what is it?

The term sciatica actually means pain in the sciatic nerve. It is a symptom and not the cause of the pain. Ideally for the best treatment of the symptom, sciatica, you need to ascertain the cause.

The sciatic nerve runs from the back (lower lumbar region) through the buttock and thigh and down the leg. People can experience pain anywhere along the nerve, even down to the toes.

The pain may be described as burning, searing, tingling, sharp, shooting or cramping. It may cause weakness or numbness. Pain may be sudden onset or gradual. It can be intermittent or persistent.

The cause may be due to any number of factors although it is usually due to pressure on the nerve. This pressure may be caused by a slipped disc or a tight piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is located deep in the buttock and is important in hip rotation.

It can be very difficult to ascertain the cause and often after a month the pain subsides. The cause remains unknown. In the meantime life can be a misery. Even simple things can exacerbate sciatica. Avoid keeping objects like mobile phones and wallets in the back pocket as this adds more pressure.

Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica

Natural Methods

There are many natural methods for dealing with the pain. If mobility is an issue then seeing an acupuncturist and or osteopath is essential. You may need to find someone to help you get to the appointment but it will be worth it when you gain some mobility back.

If you have some mobility yoga is an excellent route. The pigeon pose and cow’s face pose both work on stretching the piriformis muscle. You can find information on these poses online but it would be advisable to seek out a qualified yoga teacher to ensure you are carrying out the stretches correctly. In addition, if you find the poses too difficult, a yoga teacher would be able to provide simpler poses and would work with you and your limitations.

Herbal Medicine

Finally help from the plant world. First off some people find using ice packs (or a bag of frozen peas) helps ease the pain. Others find a hot water bottle better. And others find alternating between hot and cold to be most beneficial. Whatever is better for you determines the best herbs for you.

For example if you find heat to help then using warming or heating herbs will be most beneficial.

Two popular herbs with a relaxing effect on the nerves are Hypericum perforatum and Passiflora incarnata. Both of these herbs would be popular choices combined with other herbs depending on the individual.

Topical Use: Hypericum perforatum – St John’s Wort

Anyone knowing this particular plant usually know it as an anti-depressant. Any herbalist will tell you it is so much more. In this post we will focus on its remarkable nerve anodyne action. Hypericum has a longstanding use topically as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic particular for nerve pains such as sciatica.

For sciatic pain, massage with some Hypericum infused oil daily. A few drops of essential oil, or combination of essential oils, added to this will further enhance the properties. For example should you find a hot water bottle eases your sciatica then warm the painful areas first. Follow this immediately by massaging with Hypericum infused oil with a few added drops of a warming spicy essential oil like Piper nigrum (black pepper) or Zingiber officinale (ginger).

If an ice pack helps your pain more than heat then use a few drops of Mentha piperita (peppermint) essential oil in the Hypericum oil for massage.

In addition, add some cold water and ice cubes to a shallow dish. Then add two or three drops of peppermint essential oil. Oil and water do not mix so the oil will ‘sit’ on top of the water. Disperse the oil through the water as much as is possible. Place a flannel on top of the dish and soak up the ice water and oil mixture and place the flannel over the painful area.

Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica
Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile)

Chamomile essential oils are also beneficial for nerve pain. Unfortunately both of these essential oils are more expensive to purchase than the three essential oils mentioned above.

Matricaria chamomilla (blue or German chamomile) is particularly expensive. Anthemis nobilis (Roman chamomile) is the least expensive of the two. So if budget is a factor source the Roman chamomile.

Herbal Tea: Passiflora incarnata – passionflower

A common problem with sciatica is poor sleep. Ngan et al investigated the effects of a Passiflora herbal tea on sleep quality in a clinical trial and found passionflower significantly improved sleep quality. Passionflower has a long traditional use in herbal medicine as a sedative. It is also a nerve analgesic and anti-inflammatory.

Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica
Melissa officinalis (lemon balm)

Passiflora tea is a little bitter for some palates if you find it is not your cup of tea then try blending with another more palatable herb.

Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) is a particularly pleasant tasting herb and would enhance the overall action when combined with Passiflora.

Matricaria chamomilla herb (mentioned as essential oil above) would also blend very well with the Passiflora in a herbal tea.

Zingiber officinale – ginger

Herbs with an anti-inflammatory action are of benefit here. An easy one to use from home is ginger. Simply slice some ginger root and add to pot of water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for approximately 20 minutes. This tea can be sipped freely during the day. You can also make sufficient quantity for a flask to take to work.

The young bark or leaves and young twigs of Salix alba, or willow, is another anti-inflammatory. Whereas ginger is warming, Salix is cooling. It is energetically a herb of the moon.

As always, anyone on medications would be advised to seek advice from their local medical herbalist prior to self medication. Salix is one herb where this is important as it may accentuate blood thinning medications such as Warfarin, Clopidogrel, Heparin or Aspirin.

The above are a few suggestions in using herbal medicine and natural methods for sciatica. The herbs and oils recommended are easy to source for self use.

May Violets Spring! Sweet Violets in February

Viola odorata

Family

may Violets springViolaceae

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

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

So why the title “may violets spring”?

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

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

Lay her in the earth;

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

Harold Ward, 1936

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

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

… and some energetics…

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

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

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

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

European Ash – an ancient tree

Fraxinus excelsior

Family:

Oleaceae

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

some pharmacology…

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

and a bit of research…

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

and finally some energetics…

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