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.  

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients
St Lizier apothecary

I have previously written about my visit to the wonderful ancient pharmacy of St Lizier. The guide for the apothecary had many tales to tell. One of the apothecary anecdotes refers to the famous four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients.

The story goes thus …

It was the time of a plague. A highly contagious, epidemic disease with a high degree of mortality. Characterised by high fever, often with delirium, swollen lymph nodes and infectious lungs.

Any unfortunate soul found dead during this plague had their body stripped by the four robbers.

Bizarrely the thieves never fell ill with this highly contagious disease!

Eventually the Sisters discovered the thieves’ identity. Following capture, their sentence was death. However, in exchange for their freedom they were asked to divulge their secret for plague protection.

And so, the four robbers secret ingredients?

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

Their secret was a strong smelling remedy of five medicinal plants in vinegar.

Those famous plague prevention plants ?

Thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint and sage.

I am not sure if they drank this remedy or covered their skin and clothing in it. Perhaps a combination of the two?

All five plants grow wonderfully well in this region. A wonderful story. So it seems the four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients is no longer quite so secret.

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.

Hemp-Like Immune Boost or Raspberries and Cream ??

Eupatorium cannabinum

Family:

Asteraceae

What’s in a name?
Eupatorium cannabinum
Eupatorium cannibinum – hemp agrimony

The scientific name ‘cannabinum’ means hemp-like and refers to the leaves of this plant thought to resemble Cannabis sativa.

Common names include holy rope, hemp-agrimony, again due to the leaves, and raspberries and cream. The latter, probably due to the pinkish or light purple colouring of the flowers.

However, a number of species of Eupatorium are medicinal. Boneset and gravel root are both indigenous to North America. E. cannabinum is a European species. It is a vigorous plant in the Aude. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and hemp-agrimony appear to have similar medicinal uses.

Although E. cannabinum grows and spreads quickly, at least in my garden here in the Aude, it is worth planting as it is loved by the insect world, particularly butterflies. It is a beautiful, tall plant.

In the UK you will find hemp-agrimony in bloom from around June to September. The photographs are from my own garden in the Aude or the surrounding countryside. It is still blooming here at present.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper called it bastard agrimony, bastard hemp, water agrimony or water hemp. He utilised it for the drying, cleansing and strengthening properties. A blood purifier. He described it

“… healeth and drieth, cutteth and cleanseth, thick and tough tumours … It helps the cachexia or evil disposition of the body … “

Maud Grieve recommends a tea of dry leaves for prompt relief, if taken hot at the onset, of influenza or feverish chills.

Interestingly, an ethnobotanical study, in 2007, on the usage of wild medicinal herbs in the high mountains of central Serbia included Eupatorium cannabinum. Researchers were surprised to discover E. cannabinum utilised for influenza-like illnesses.

Reputedly, leaves were wrapped around bread to prevent it turning mouldy.

Medicinal Uses:

Eupatorium cannabinum – hemp agrimony

Barker suggests Eupatorium cannabinum is best fresh. Leaves, root and flower-heads used in herbal medicine. It has aperitif, cholagogue and laxative actions as well as being diaphoretic and expectorant. Furthermore, he particularly indicates it for flu with digestive upset and loss of appetite. E. cannabinum strengthens and tones the liver.

This is a plant I have grown to understand much more since growing in my own garden. My first tasting of this plant, as a dried tea, was as a student herbalist. I found it to have a sour but refreshing and cleansing taste linking with the actions. I remember some of the other students found it stimulating to the upper mucous membranes.

It appears to have dropped out-of-favour with many herbalists today. This could be due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids although it is not a herb one would consider for long-term use. Perhaps it is due to a preference for more exotic medicinals.

… a little bit of science…
Eupatorium cannabinum
Eupatorium cannabinum – hemp agrimony

As a result of the research conducted on E. cannabinum several pharmacological constituents are noted. Constituents discovered include pyrrolizidine alkaloids, flavonoids and volatile oils (including thymol).

In particular research has studied polysaccharides for the immuno-stimulant action and, sesquiterpene lactones in relation to anti-tumour activity. Furthermore a study in 2014 researched this latter activity against colon cancer cells.

some final thoughts …

Finally, the research into the anti-tumour activity I find particularly interesting. I wonder if the “cachexia or evil disposition” of Culpeper’s time was, in fact, cancer? We can only surmise.

How to make… Basic Herbal Tincture Recipe

How to make …

Basic Herbal Tincture Recipe

When making a tincture, alcohol is used to extract the medicinal properties of the plant material. Tinctures are ideal for herbs you may wish to gather in spring time for use over the winter months.

Herbal tinctures are made with either fresh or dried plant material. If using fresh plant the water content of the fresh plant needs to be taken into account. The quantity of marc (plant material) and menstrum (liquid/alcohol) determines the tincture strengthen*. For some herbs a stronger alcohol is necessary. Important to know as a medical herbalist prescribing herbs on a regular basis.

Don’t panic! For the lay person making herbal remedies, for personal use, there are many herbs that can be extracted well with a 40% vodka. Elderflowers being one. You don’t need to worry too much about the menstrum/marc ratio.

Harvesting and Drying Elderflowers

The following tincture recipe uses Sambucus nigra (elderflowers). These are usually in bloom from mid-May to early July. June is often the best time to harvest.

To avoid difficulties with water content, which can ruin your tincture, collect on a bright and sunny morning. Once you have gathered the flowers lay them out on brown paper. This needs to be somewhere which is warm and dry, out of direct sun and with good air circulation. Once the flowers dry out they will easily rub free from the stems.

Ingredients:
  • 25 g chopped dried (Sambucus nigra flos) elderflowers (MARC)
  • 200 ml 40% vodka (MENSTRUM)
other items:
  • measuring scales (to measure out dry plant material),
  • measuring jug or container (to measure vodka),
  • clean sterilised jar with lid and label,
  • and a bottle with lid and label (after decanting)
Method:
  • Place 25 g of chopped dried herb into a jar and cover with the menstrum (in this case vodka). Plant material must be completely covered. If you need to add more vodka do.
  • Seal the jar and label with date and contents.
  • Shake daily for two weeks.
  • Decant and press out marc (plant material), bottle and label with date and contents.

*For information, as a guideline, if you have used the exact quantities above this would make a 1:8 at 40% herbal tincture.

Elderflower is indicated for sinusitis, rhinitis and other respiratory tract infections. A wonderful immune booster. Ideal to make now and keep for the winter or those spring time allergies!

 

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:

 

Nosey Problems? Hay Fever or Infection?

Natural Advice for Rhinitis

I had the following article published when I was practicing in the UK. I just came across it in my files and thought well hay fever season shall soon be upon us!

Nosey Problems!

Rhinitis is defined as an inflammatory condition of the lining of the nose. It is characterised by nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, sneezing and itching.

Rhinitis may be perennial (all year), seasonal (hay fever) or infective (acute or chronic).

Both perennial and seasonal rhinitis can be caused by allergens. Seasonal rhinitis may be due to grass pollen or certain trees. Perennial allergens could be cats or house dust mites. Nutritional deficiencies and imbalances may also aggravate, or even promote, an allergic response. Acute infections with the common cold or chronic sinusitis are other triggers.

There are other non-allergic and non-infective reasons for rhinitis. In some instances the cause may be emotional or hormonal although there are others.

Herbal treatment begins by considering the cause or trigger. 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.

Symptoms may be dry nose and dry eyes while others may complain of constant nasal discharge. Remedies with moistening or toning actions would be selected accordingly. Other patients may describe congestion as hot or burning requiring cooling and soothing remedies.

Boost the Lymphatic System…

Often, with rhinitis, the lymphatic system requires a boost. This can be achieved by using herbs or alternatively with a course of manual lymph drainage.

Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a specialised therapy which is designed to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system.

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.

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away…

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away….

Recently I wrote about fighting winter chills with kitchen herbs. For this post I thought I would share a popular herbal tea for winter colds and sniffles.

winter tea to keep those bugs away
Achillea millefolium – yarrow

The tea contains three herbs: yarrow, mint and elderflower. The scientific names for these medicinal plants are: Achillea millefolium, Mentha piperita, Sambucus nigra flos.

This combination of herbs is best taken as a warm infusion. Generally peppermint (Mentha piperita) would be the mint of choice although you could substitute this with milder spearmint (Mentha spicata) if you prefer.

So to make the tea…

Ideally you would gather the herbs in the spring time and dry for winter use as tea. You can also buy small amounts dried from your local medical herbalist. Alternatively stores like Woodland Herbs and Neal’s Yard Remedies, both UK based, offer online shopping options. Whereas in France, you can generally find these dried herbs for sale at local markets or bio shops.

Herbal Infusion Recipe

Ingredients for a winter tea to keep those bugs away
  • a teaspoonful of dried peppermint
  • a teaspoonful of dried yarrow
  • and a teaspoonful of elderflower
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of powdered ginger or other powdered or ground warming spice (optional)
Method
  • Combine all the herbs and pour over boiling water.
  • Infuse* the herbs in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes, ideally 10.
  • Strain. Drink freely every few hours until symptoms abate.

winter tea to keep those bugs away* when choosing highly aromatic herbs, such as these, for an infusion the herbs must be covered to avoid escape of volatile components.

Use a teapot or, if making a single cup, you can often purchase cups with inbuilt tea strainers and lids specifically for infusing aromatic plants. The lid and ceramic infuser can be removed to enjoy the tea when ready.

Benefits of a winter tea to keep those bugs away with mint, yarrow and elderflower

The combined benefit of this pleasant blend helps induce gentle perspiration to reduce fever.

Mentha piperita, or mint, is a popular herbal tea. Many people enjoy the taste. There are many traditional uses for peppermint. One use is alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu. For the respiratory tract, it is particularly beneficial for both bronchial and nasal catarrh, for the common cold and for breathing difficulties (Hoffmann). Mint is highly aromatic in nature. Inhalation of the aroma between sips of the tea provides further health benefits. The benefit of keeping the lid on it during infusion.

Sambucus nigra is the elder tree, or shrub. Both flowers and berries have medicinal properties. Elderflowers are used in this tea blend. However both elderberry and elderflower have a lengthy use in traditional medicine for febrile illnesses such as influenza (more commonly known as flu). Research has found it particularly effective clinically for influenza. In fact it inhibited at least ten strains of influenza (Zakay-Rones).

Last though not least, Achillea millefolium, more commonly known as yarrow. Yarrow is a circulatory stimulant. It really gets things shifting. It is also an astringent. This gives the plant drying and toning properties, ideal for drying up mucous loaded coughs and runny noses.

I would also add a little pinch of powdered ginger or another tasty, warming spice. This not only adds to the flavour, it provides its own medicinal kick. A delicious warming winter tea to keep those bugs away!

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the KitchenWinter time brings cooler weather and with it a number of infectious and viral conditions ranging from the common cold or flu to sinusitis or chest infections.

In today’s modern world we have reached a turning point. Antibiotics revolutionised the world and saved many, many lives. However, we have over-used these miracle medicines to our own detriment. Antibiotic-resistant organisms are on the increase.

We can help ourselves by turning to the plant world. The following are some of the more simple remedies we can turn to from our own kitchen.

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen!

Garlic – Allium sativum

One such medicinal plant we can all easily take is garlic. Garlic has proven effective in laboratory testing against many pathogens. Increasing our dietary intake of garlic over the winter months can help strengthen our immunity. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, expectorant and a circulatory stimulant. All the actions we need over the winter months.

It is worth noting the constituent allicin breaks down on cooking. It is best to eat garlic raw. Ideally toss some chopped garlic into a stir fry and mix through just before serving to preserve the medicinal benefits. Be sure to include lots of dark green leafy vegetables in the stir fry too. Green leafy vegetables are full of essential vitamins and minerals to help ward off those winter bugs.

Some people find garlic too strong on the stomach. If garlic is not for you then both onion and leek are in the same family. They too possess the benefits of garlic albeit in a milder form.

Mustard – Synapsis alba/nigra

Have you heard of a mustard foot bath? There is nothing better for your cold feet than a mustard foot bath.

Footbath Recipe

Grind some mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle and add two teaspoons with two litres of warm water to a basin. Sit back, relax and soothe those feet.

It is a wonderful comfort after that ache in the bones of your feet and toes from the cold. A treat after a tiring day Christmas shopping or working.

Mességué suggested black mustard was more powerful in action than white mustard though both can be used. Mabey recommends Synapsis nigra (black mustard) footbaths for chilblains and poor circulation.

Culpeper assigned mustard a herb of Mars although Aries, he suggested, laid a claim on it which he indicated would strengthen the heart. It certainly is a well known circulatory stimulant.

Ginger – Zingiber officinale

The root (rhizome) is used in herbal medicine. Fresh or dried root.

Ginger root can be infused as a herbal tea if the root is sliced finely. One or two slices per teapot will suffice, if you are using it as a flavouring only. In this way it imparts a warm, delicate flavour.

However, for medicinal use it is best to decoct and 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient time for simmering. Once strained you can add some lemon juice or honey for a warm, healing drink. Easily added to a flask to take to work and sip throughout the day.

As a winter evening drink, before bed, I like to add a wee tot of whisky too. Not a recommended addition to the work flask though!

Ginger has many medicinal properties. It will induce sweating in a fever to lower body temperature so it excellent for general chesty conditions. Being a peripheral circulatory stimulant it is wonderful regular winter drink for poor circulation where one has cold hands and feet.

Both ginger and mustard are rubefacient. Rubefacients are excellent to fight winter chills. When used externally (such as the mustard bath) they draw the blood supply to the skin. This action increases heat in the tissue. This action is beneficial for cold conditions particularly rheumatic aches and pains as well as muscle aches and pains. Also used for poor circulation as they increase circulation.

The above are a few simple ways to fight winter chills with herbs from the kitchen.

Thyme is another excellent winter remedy and Elecampane too. You can read more about these two herbs from their medicinal plant profiles.