Artemisia medicinal herbs from a busy lady !

Artemisia spp.

And the name

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

Artemisia species
Artemisia medicinal herbs
the wormwood Artemisia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artemisia arbrotanum

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the southernwood Artemisia

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

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

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

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

… moths again ??

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

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

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

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

And a few other species

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

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

Artemisia arborescens

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

A little science …

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

essential oil use

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

and a little confusion …

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

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

hydrosol use

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

A. californica, A. douglasiana and A. tridentata

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

further Artemisia medicinal herbs ?

Artemisia douglasiana

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

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

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

Artemisia tridentata

Artemisia medicinal herbs
the big sagebrush or white sage Artemisia

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

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

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

Final Artemis thoughts …

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

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

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

Taraxacum officinale

Family:

Asteraceae

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

dandelion Taraxacum

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

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

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

going back to my roots… a little…

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

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

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

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

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

First of all we ought to mention the name…

Taraxacum officinale dandelion pappus

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

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

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

Where to find a dandelion… Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

Modern Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…kidney stone preventive and a bit of arthritic nutrition…

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

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

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

and some other thoughts…

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

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

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

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

A bit of science…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dosage in herbal medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbal Energetics

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

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

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

Magic and Witchcraft

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

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

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

A few more words…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal

Stachys betonica

Family

Lamiaceae

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalWhat is in a name?

Named after its discoverers, the Vettones of Lusitania (Barker). However, de Baïracli Levy suggested the name is derived from Celtic ‘ben’ referring to head and ‘ton’ meaning tonic.

Wood betony can be found growing in common heaths, on grassy banks and edges of woodland apparently preferring lighter soils. Found growing throughout Europe although scarce in the north-west so rarely found in Scandinavian countries, Scotland or Ireland (Barker).

Aerial parts are utilised medicinally. Barker prefers fresh herb, adding it should be harvested during flowering.

Culpeper noted betony seemed to prefer shade and although flowering in July he found it better when harvested in May. This links in with Barker’s modern-day recommendation for harvesting.

I have this medicinal ally growing in my garden in Aude. Flowering in June had just began when I took the above photo. I love this plant. I find simply seeing the flower gives a pleasant feeling. Over the years I have discovered lots of interesting bits and pieces on use.

Traditional Use:

wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal
Delicate Betony flowerhead
Held in high esteem by Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Reputedly a cure for a number of conditions. In addition against sorcery (Barker).

Culpeper (1995) described wood betony as precious and believed every man should have it in his house as a conserve, oil, ointment, plaster and syrup!

Culpeper discusses Stachys in relation to the work of Anthony Musa, a physician to Caesar, whom he seemed to hold in high regard. The herbs use as a bitter was popular. Used to aid digestion, for indigestion and weak stomachs, intestinal worms, colic, jaundice and griping bowel pains. Furthermore it was used for head pains and epilepsy. Powdered herb mixed with honey was used for respiratory problems like coughs, colds, shortness of breath and wheezing. Apparently it would breakdown calculi in the kidney and bladder!

Barker notes Leclerc used it as a wound herb and in particular recommended it for sores and varicose ulcers and Culpeper also used fresh bruised herb or juice for open wounds.

Modern Uses:

wood betony a revered cephalicde Baïracli Levy advises it is a powerful head herb, describing its action as true cephalic. She recommends it for headache and neuralgia of the face and head. She also recommends it for liver and spleen congestion, for jaundice and for expelling worms, indications also provided by Culpeper in his extensive listing.

Riva notes it reputedly relieves toothache!

Barker indicates for any headaches or head pain particularly associated with anxiety or tension. He also notes it to be useful for vertigo as does Menzies-Trull.

Roth indicates it specifically for tension headaches caused by stress as well as for sore, overworked muscles and fibromyalgia pains. Interestingly Menzies-Trull indicates it for myalgic encephalitis.

Burgoyne lists Stachys in her repertoire of herbs for treating insomnia with headaches and stress.

Chanchal Cabrera, described wood betony a gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Quoting Priest and Priest she added especially indicated for hysteria or persistent unwanted thoughts and for nervous debility, anxiety or neuroses.

The title of wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal appears just!

a little bit of science…

Barker (2001) notes tannins and bitter compounds as well as a volatile oil. Also included the alkaloids betonicine and stachydrine.

McIntyre suggests up to 15% of the herb is tannins, adding tannins give the herb its wound healing properties. Astringency stops bleeding which protects the wound in fending off infection and expedites the healing process. In addition, tannins help astringe the gut suggesting benefit in diarrhoea. Finally, the astringency is useful in treating catarrh.

McIntyre advises it also contains saponins and the alkaloid trigonelline. Trigonelline, she notes, lowers blood sugar-making this useful for diabetics.

and a little research…

Muntean et al (2004) studied the constituent content of Stachys species. They noted Stachys species have a high content of iridoids but also found high quantities of flavonoids and phenol-carboxylic acids. They found these compounds to have a relaxant effect on smooth muscle which would link with the indications of fibromyalgia listed by Roth.

Skaltsa et al (2003) analysed the antimicrobial activity of the volatile oil from different Stachys species. The volatile oils were tested against six bacterium and five fungi. Their results showed Stachys had better activity against bacterium although noted Pseudomonas was resistant. Only one species showed any resistance to fungi.

Magic and witchcraft

Barker noted a traditional use against sorcery. However, Riva recommends sprinkling betony near windows and doors inside the home as it forms a protective wall against evil spirits. Worn as an amulet it gives strength to the body.

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, the chapter titled The Gathering, Geillis Duncan discusses wood betony as useful in turning toads into pigeons! Though I can’t personally see any benefit to that transformation myself.

Later in the same chapter Claire requires betony to make up medicines for people with food poisoning. In traditional uses above Culpeper highlights benefit for weak stomachs and griping bowel pains.

Herbal Energetics

Kingsbury relates the herb to the sacral chakra (located below the naval), noting it relaxes and balances this chakra. She finds it stimulates the liver meridian which can help move anger particularly where this is related to sexual organs in either abuse or disease. She believes by balancing this area it allows development of intimacy and companionship. However, Roth relates it to the solar plexus chakra as she believes this chakra the centre for gut instincts and self-confidence. She finds it nurtures and protects.

Culpeper described wood betony a herb of the planet Jupiter and the sign of Aries. Tobyn (1997) notes herbs of Jupiter are warm and moist and Culpeper found betony warming to the head.

Riva agrees with Culpeper that betony is a herb of Jupiter. In addition she describes betony as a herb in harmony with the zodiac signs of Cancer and Sagittarius. Betony is a particularly favourable herb for persons born under either of these two signs.

Culpeper believed difficulty with expectoration and pain on inspiration of cold air were signs of cold lungs and this too would benefit from the warmth of betony. He also used it as a loosening medicine also judged hot and moist. He found these relaxed muscles, tendons and ligaments linking to some of the previous modern-day indications including fibromyalgia.

wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalSo is wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal?

Certainly many practicing herbalists, from both the past and today agree.

Interestingly, Culpeper also described it as a heating diuretic noting these helped the kidneys separate out waste from the blood.

This particular description interested me as the first time I tasted this plant as a herbal tea I noted a warmth in my kidneys. It was a cold January day in Scotland but I specifically remember the pleasant warmth. In addition, I felt it made me feel quite heady. I also remember finding the smell quite off-putting. The smell and then taste seemed contradictory to me.

Sunflower or tournesol – nutty nutritional benefits

Helianthus annuus

Family:

sunflower Helianthus annuus tournesol audeAsteraceae

French common name: tournesol

The sunflower needs little introduction. Same family as the daisy and the dandelion among others.

The Aude is full of fields of sunflowers at the moment. A joy to see.

Van Gogh painted his famous sunflowers when based in the Languedoc.

sunflower Helianthus annuus languedocThe scientific name is derived from Greek, ‘Helios’ meaning sun and ‘anthos’ for flower. ‘Annus’ is Latin for yearly or annual (Price).

Sunflower oil is produced from the seeds. Sunflower oil has always been popular in cooking. Better quality sunflower oils are usually higher in linoleic acid. Those oils higher in linoleic acid are preferred for medicinal use or in cosmetics.

Preparing Calendula (marigold) for an infused oil, I prefer to use sunflower oil. It beautifully extracts the brilliant orange colour of the Calendula. And it is light enough for direct skin application. A slight digression…. so what of the medicinal benefits?

Traditional Uses:

Murray et al tell of an old Russian medicinal folk recipe. Sunflower heads chopped up with soap chips and vodka. Well it is a Russian recipe! After the mixture was sun aged for 9 days, it was applied topically for rheumatism.

Kusmirek highlights the traditional use for rheumatic joint aches and pains. He describes it as one of nature’s most useful plants. The sunflower has had a wide and varied vocation. Used in lamp oil and paper making.

… some nutritional content…

sunflower tournesol oil seed nutritionSunflower seeds are a source of protein. Minerals found in the seed include magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, copper, iron, folic acid and iron. The vitamin content includes B1, B5, B6 and E. Vitamin E is highest in sunflower oil, more than any other vegetable oil (Murray et al).

… suggestions for use…

Easily add the oil to salad dressings or use externally on the skin. The seeds have a nutty flavour and texture. Add to breakfast muesli or porridge oats or a rice dish. Blend seeds to make a healthy dip.

… and a little research…

Vitamin E has been researched extensively. There is some merit to the traditional use for rheumatism, albeit excluding the vodka! Research has found it can reduce pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis. Increasing dietary intake of vitamin E in the older population improves physical performance.

Painful periods and PMS are eased with vitamin E intake and pain severity is reduced. Progression of some types of dementia and memory loss is slowed down.

Add a little sunshine to your diet!

Motherwort, not only a herb for women

Leonurus cardiaca

Family:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

motherwortCulpeper believed the name (motherwort) was chosen as women are joyful mothers and it settles their wombs. The Latin name ‘cardiaca‘, because it is very useful for a trembling heart and for fainting.

Leonurus‘ is thought from Greek meaning ‘lion tail’. Do you think it resembles the tail of a lion?

Bremness describes motherwort as found in northern temperate areas in woodland and along hedge banks. Barker describes the flowers as pinky-white.

Hoffmann suggests gathering aerial parts when flowering between early summer and early autumn. Barker recommends flowering tops used fresh suggesting it is better to make a tincture rather than drying for tea for use later in the year.

The images here are from my garden in the Aude. Taken late May/ early June.

Traditional Uses:

Leonurus cardiac motherwort flower and leafBone advises traditionally motherwort was used for female reproductive problems.

Culpeper suggested there was no better herb to strengthen and make the heart merry. He recommended motherwort for conditions needing warming and drying. Painful veins, painful joints, cramps and phlegm are included in his list of medicinal uses. He used motherwort for women with period pains and particularly for abnormal absence of periods (amenorrhoea).

Medicinal Uses:

Barker advises motherwort has long traditional use for anxiety in late stages of pregnancy and also in early stages of labour. He highlights use as a cardiac tonic specifically for simple tachycardia and useful in management of hypertension. In addition, he suggests use for nervous indigestion with symptoms of flatulence and/or distension.

Hoffmann agrees and utilises motherwort for over-rapid heartbeat particularly if preceded by anxiety. Describing motherwort as strengthening the heart without straining it and recommends for all heart conditions related to anxiety. Motherwort, in Hoffmann’s book, is under circulatory system and described as nervine.

He indicates for heart weakness, palpitations and angina pectoris describing motherwort as normalising heart activity. He also suggests motherwort be added to a prescription to strengthen the heart of a patient with a cough or for someone who has asthma attacks. These symptoms will cause strain on a weak heart. Nervine properties may also be worth considering with skin conditions brought about by stress and/or anxiety. Motherwort, he describes, invaluable for delayed menstruation and menopausal symptoms as an emotional and endocrine balancer.

Bone specifically indicates Leonurus for amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea and ovarian pain.

Weed describes motherwort as one of her ‘mint goddesses’. Describing motherwort a bitter ‘mint’ rather than an aromatic one. Like Barker, Weed recommends fresh preferably as tincture of fresh flowering tops. Motherwort tones the uterine muscle and will, after taking for four months, stop menstrual cramps. Weed describes it as healing the heart and as one of the best heart tonics.

… not only for the heart and female health…

Weed includes the tincture in her first aid kit and uses it for pain relief. She finds it will help any pain but notes those with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue respond particularly well to motherwort.

… some thoughts on taste…

Grieve, quoting a young unknown writer, advises a conserve of the fresh young tops is best. A decoction, or strong infusion, described as ‘very unpleasant’. Culpeper also recommended taking as a syrup or conserve.

I believe my first taste of this herb, as a herbal infusion, was as a student herbalist. The initial smell of the tea provided a nutty aroma. Although it had a bitter taste I did not find it lingering or particularly ‘unpleasant’.

However, I would certainly agree with Weed that it is a bitter, rather than aromatic, member of the mint/thyme family. Add a little honey to an infusion or include Leonurus in a herbal mix with other less bitter, more palatable herbs if you find it unpleasant. The tincture is certainly easier to take and perhaps a better choice for those with a dislike for bitters.

… and some science stuff…

Hoffmann lists Leonurus as containing bitter glycosides particularly leonurin and leonuridine and alkaloids such as leonuinine and stachydrene. Bartram included flavonoids, iridoids (rutin) and diterpenes in his list of constituents for Leonurus.

Pengelly advises flavonoids have a proven effect on the heart and circulatory system for strengthening the capillaries. They are anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Diterpenes tend to be bitter tasting and are particularly abundant in the Lamiaceae family. Alkaloids have a more prominent effect on the nervous system.

… and a bit of research…

Bone mentions pharmacological research from 1976 and also 1988 on the alkaloid leonurine indicating this particular constituent to be a uterine tonic.

The alkaloids contribute to the activity of motherwort. In particular leonurine, possibly with the aid of stachydrine, is thought to produce the central nervous depressant and hypotensive effects (Blumenthal et al).

Pharmacological studies have confirmed its antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, as well as its effects on the heart and the circulatory system. Sedative and hypotensive activities were demonstrated in clinical trials (Wojtyniak et al).

… and some energetics…

As mentioned Culpeper recommended motherwort for conditions needing warmed and dried up. Motherwort, he described, as herb of Venus in Leo. Tobyn describes Venus as calming and soothing.

Holmes indicates motherwort for Liver Yang rising. This includes palpitations, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, irritability and stress. He provides the following description of motherwort:

“… an important example of a plant that treats both the heart and uterus, tailor-made for women presenting PMS with anxiety, frustration, palpitations and insomnia.”

Holmes highlights the energetic connection between the heart and uterus. In particular, he notes ancient Chinese medical texts with pathology of the Heart-Uterus meridian, Greek medicine and ‘uterus rising’ and Rudolf Steiner discussing a close energetic relation between the two organs in his lectures.

Surely Leonurus, as Weed suggests, has well and truly earned her goddess reputation and her position in the herbal first aid kit!