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.

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal Itching

Natural Remedies to Help with Menopausal Itching

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

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

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

So why does your flesh feel like it is crawling?

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

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

So … the natural remedies to help with menopausal itching

First up dietary …

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

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

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

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

and herbal remedies to help with menopausal itching …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

some final suggestions to reduce that itch …

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

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

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

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

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

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree though not a citrus…

Tilia sp.

Family:

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

French common name: Tilleul

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree

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

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

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

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

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

Linden blossom or lime flower – how to use and dosage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

This wonderful tree has countless examples of traditional use.

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

A honey is produced from the flowers (Grieve).

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

Some science stuff…

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

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

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

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

… and a bit of research…

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

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

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

Herbal Energetics

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

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

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

Finally further reading including linden blossom or lime flower:

 

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?