Artemisia medicinal herbs from a busy lady !

Artemisia spp.

And the name

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

Artemisia species
Artemisia medicinal herbs
the wormwood Artemisia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artemisia arbrotanum

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the southernwood Artemisia

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

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

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

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

… moths again ??

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

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

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

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

And a few other species

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

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

Artemisia arborescens

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

A little science …

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

essential oil use

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

and a little confusion …

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

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

hydrosol use

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

A. californica, A. douglasiana and A. tridentata

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

further Artemisia medicinal herbs ?

Artemisia douglasiana

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

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

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

Artemisia tridentata

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the big sagebrush or white sage Artemisia

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

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

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

Final Artemis thoughts …

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

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

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

Taraxacum officinale

Family:

Asteraceae

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

dandelion Taraxacum

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

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

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

going back to my roots… a little…

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

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

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

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

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

First of all we ought to mention the name…

Taraxacum officinale dandelion pappus

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

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

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

Where to find a dandelion… Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…kidney stone preventive and a bit of arthritic nutrition…

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

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

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

and some other thoughts…

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

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

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

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

A bit of science…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dosage in herbal medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbal Energetics

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

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

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

Magic and Witchcraft

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

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

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

A few more words…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marigold my favourite drop of golden sun

Calendula officinalis

Family:

Calendula officinalis-Flower-Heads-marigoldsAsteraceae

French common name: souci

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

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and some science stuff…

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

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

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

a wee bit of research…

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

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

and some energetics…

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

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

and finally some herbal articles including marigold…

Tummy Trouble? Using Natural Therapies

Using Natural Therapies for Digestive Problems

This is an article I wrote and had published back in August 2010. Although some years have passed since publication the information is just as relevant today. It provides a good understanding of how herbal medicine works.

Published Article:

Tummy Trouble

Readers of the Daily Telegraph may have read “Herbal Remedy for Digestive Disorder” in the 9th August edition.

The article highlighted the plight of Nikki Page and her troublesome digestion.

Nikki’s problems included a bloated and upset stomach, multiple sensitivities and allergies to a large number of foods, fatigue, acid reflux, lethargy and pains in muscles and joints.

After many years of misery Nikki consulted with a Medical Herbalist and Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH).

Following a consultation, Nikki was prescribed a herbal tincture and commenced on treatment. She described the treatment as “life-transforming” advising she now has more energy and is no longer permanently bloated. In addition, she stated she could have a glass of wine, eat out without worrying and visit friends without rattling off a list of foods she couldn’t eat.

Herbal Medicine for Digestion

Effective herbal treatment begins by considering the cause or trigger of symptoms. Treatment is tailored to each individual. No two people would present with exactly the same symptoms or trigger(s) and so no two people can be treated with the same herbs.

Herbs are excellent for improving absorption of nutrients from food and toning and strengthening the digestive tract.

Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) for Digestion

Manual lymph drainage (MLD) can also help with digestive disturbance particularly where there is abdominal discomfort or fluid imbalance. MLD is a specialised therapy which is designed to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system. It is relaxing and soothing to receive and can help reduce fluid retention.

… and a further note…

We are, of course, all responsible for our own health. It is wonderful to be  in a position where we can grow, collect and prepare our own medicines. We are very fortunate to be able to use nature to do this.

However, the above is a reminder sometimes we may not have the knowledge to treat ourselves effectively. Often at this stage I hear “I tried such-and-such and herbs don’t work”. It may simply be a selection of the wrong plant or plants.

Consider this, if a fuse blows in a plug for a table lamp, you may fix this yourself. If a bulb blows, of course, you replace and essentially, fix it yourself. However, if you have a more serious problem you would automatically call for a professional electrician rather than risk a house fire.

Particularly in a more complex case like Nikki above, seeking professional help is paramount. In this case Nikki achieved a successful outcome with the help and advice of a professional medical herbalist.

Purslane for a cooling, healing salad

Portulaca oleracea

Family:

Portulacaceae

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmes quotes two historical sources, Jean Fernel

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

Jean Fernel (1508)

and the Book of Experiences.

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

Book of Experiences (1225)

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

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

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

and some energetics…

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

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

Elecampane for coughs and chest complaints

Inula helenium

Family:

Asteraceae

elecampane medicinal garden Thyme Breaks
Inula helenium – elecampane

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:
elecampane
Elecampane tall and proud

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and a word of caution…

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

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

… and some energetics…

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

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

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

Self-Heal or All-Heal, a little plant with appropriate name!

Prunella vulgaris

self-heal aude franceFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

You will find self-heal flowering virtually continuously from June through to October. The tight cluster of crowded purplish sepals and bracts have been described as resembling a fir cone. It has the typical square stem associated with the Lamiaceae family (Fletcher).

Barker describes self-heal as a short, creeping perennial which is no more than 30 cm in height. He describes the flowers as blue-violet. Found throughout Europe in grassy places or bare waste ground.

This plant seems to have had a wide range of names. Today, more commonly known as self-heal or, occasionally, all-heal or heal-all. However, Culpeper noted it was also known as Prunel, carpenter’s herb, hook-heal and sickle-wort.

Culpeper also added it could sometimes be found in flower as early as April and that it can be found in woods and fields everywhere. If you wish to see Prunella vulgaris growing I am sure you should easily find it somewhere in your garden or certainly very nearby! The photographs in this post were taken in or around my own garden here in the Aude.

Traditional Uses:

self-heal aude southern franceWell it is no surprise one of the common names is all-heal as this little plant certainly seemed to be used to heal many ailments!

Hoffmann tells us it has a long tradition as a wound healing herb.

The common name of self-heal seems to be attributed to this use as according to Culpeper “…when you are hurt you may heal yourself.”

Culpeper described it as a special herb for wounds advising to take as a syrup internally, for internal wounds and externally as an unguent or plaster, for external wounds. Other recommendations included ulcers, wounds, bruises and to cleanse the “foulness of sores” whereby they would be speedily healed.

For headaches he suggested a juice of Prunella with rose oil anointed on the temples and forehead. He added this same combination with rose, albeit rose honey rather than oil, cleanses and heals ulcers in the mouth, throat and secret parts!

It seems that Gerard was in agreement with Culpeper:

“The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water, doth joint together and make whole and sound all wounds both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth.

Brunel bruised with oile of roses and vinegar, and laid to the forepart of the head, swath and helpeth the pain and aking thereof.”

John Gerard, 1636

Mills adds it was a traditional internal remedy for eye problems such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, eye tiredness and strain, inflammation and redness.

The following is from A Curious Herbal. A book illustrated by Elizabeth Blackwell and published in 1737.

self-heal

Medicinal Uses:

Barker notes not much used nowadays. Indeed it was not included in the curriculum for my own herbal training. Barker advises the tannin content provides haemostatic and anti-diarrhoeal actions. He adds it is a useful mouthwash or gargle for infections of the mouth or throat.

self-heal

However, Hoffmann states self-heal is a great spring tonic and useful in convalescence. Fresh leaf aids cleaning of cuts and wounds. A poultice or compress can be made too. Hoffmann adds, as a gentle astringent, it is useful internally for diarrhoea or haemorrhoids. If piles are bleeding he suggests applying externally as a lotion or ointment. Finally he recommends use as a gargle, sweetened with a little honey, for sore throats.

Menzies-Trull lists a number of actions including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal (in particular he includes candida), anti-viral, anti-oxidant, hypotensive, haemostatic and more… He indicates use for ophthalmic inflammation such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis. He also includes sore throats and pharyngitis, hypertension and headaches, glandular fever and mumps.

Mills describes Prunella as having relaxing and restorative properties. He considers it a remedy for the head to relieve tension and inflammation. This, he indicates, makes it useful for headaches and vertigo and also notes modern research into the hypotensive (lowering blood pressure) effects. In addition, he highlights an affinity with the lymphatic system. In particular indicating Prunella for lymphadenopathies, swellings, glandular fever, mumps and mastitis.

… and a little bit of science….

Hoffmann notes constituents include volatile oil, bitter principles and tannins. Bai et al reviewed the plant chemistry and pharmacological actions of Prunella vulgaris. The plant contains triterpenoids and saponins, phenolic acids, sterols and glycosides, flavonoids, organic acids and volatile oil. Modern pharmacological studies have found anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anti-oxidative, anti-tumor, anti-hypertensive and hypoglycaemic actions. These actions are mainly due to the presence of the triterpenoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids and polysaccharides.

This little plant really does seem to be living up to that all-heal name!

… and a bit of energetics…

A herb of Venus (Culpeper). Mills describes the temperament as cool. Holmes also describes it as cool. In fact he highlights it as a ‘refrigerant’ for clearing heat and for hot conditions in general.

… and a Recipe:

On a dry morning* gather enough fresh Prunella blossoms and leaves to fill a jar and cover with oil. You can choose olive oil or sunflower oil, as you prefer. Cover the jar. Check each day or two that all plant material is submerged.

At some stage, usually around two to three weeks, the colour will have drawn from the plant material. Strain, bottle and label.

Apply self-heal oil externally to cuts, scrapes, bruises, sores and swellings. You could add a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender, or even the more expensive rose, if you wished. Not only would this add to the medicinal properties it would also smell gorgeous.

*Note: water content can turn the oil rancid so be sure to collect when the weather is fair.

A simple remedy, ideal for a home first aid kit.

Wood Avens a plague prevention remedy

Geum urbanum

Family:

Rosaceae (rose family)

wood avens aude franceHarold Ward described Geum as a slender, sparsely branched plant reaching a height of one to two feet and preferring hedges, woods and shady banks. It has yellow, erect flowers usually found between May and September.

I usually find Geum growing beside grasses or other wild flowers such as nettles, buttercups or herb-robert. This can make it a little more difficult to single out. The flowers turn into slightly prickly seed-heads. If you look closely in the images on this page you should see some seed-heads.

I think of the common name as wood avens but some people call it herb-bennet or colewort. Indeed the common name herb-bennet is derived from an old medieval name ‘Herba benedicta‘. It was reputedly held in high regard in medieval times as a medicinal herb (Hensel).

Traditional Uses:

Geum wood avens aude franceWood avens was predominately used as a digestive herb for toning action on the bowel. The following quote from the Herbal Manual of herbalist Harold Ward was written in 1936. He lived in Suffolk in England.

“The properties of Avens make for success in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The tonic effect upon the glands of the stomach and alimentary tract point to its helpfulness in dyspepsia. In general debility continued use has had good results. The astringent qualities may also be utilized in cases of relaxed throat Although wineglass-ful doses three or four times daily of the 1 ounce to 1 pint infusion are usually prescribed, Avens may be taken freely, and is, indeed, used by country people in certain districts as a beverage in place of tea or coffee.”

Harold Ward, 1936

This last sentence brought a smile as I visualised people sitting chatting round their pot of Geum tea. Ward described the actions of wood avens as astringent, tonic, antiseptic and stomachic.

Medicinal Uses:

leaf shape wood avens herb bennet franceMenzies-Trull notes Geum urbanum contains tannins which give the herb a mild astringency. He adds this is useful for conditions such as dysentery and diarrhoea (as did Ward above). Mills (1993) notes the eugenol content acts as a carminative and antispasmodic in the intestines.

I find this herb to have a slight drying taste in the mouth and this would relate to the tannin content and astringency.

Bremness notes the whole plant is used as quinine substitute. She describes wood avens as useful for fever, diarrhoea, for reducing bleeding and inflammation and as a gargle for sore gums.

and a little bit of energetics…

avens flower aude franceMenzies-Trull describes Geum as a herb of Jupiter. This energy, he describes as providing a soothing warmth to the stomach and intestines.

Being governed by Jupiter, Culpeper described Avens or Herb Bonet (as he called it) as comforting the heart, good for indigestion, strengthening and warming the stomach and a cold brain! He recommended drinking as a decoction in the springtime to open obstructions of the liver. He also recommended it as a prevention against the plague and other poison! Indeed he said “it is very fit to be kept in every body’s house.”