Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

Mentha sp.

I have written several articles which have included mints but have not, as yet written a profile solely on mint. There are so many different mints and so much I could write….

Most people recognise a mint growing. Certainly if not by look, by crushing and smelling a leaf.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas …

Peppermint and Spearmint are the two utilised medicinally most often. However, there are many others….

The scientific name for peppermint is Mentha x piperita. For spearmint, it is Mentha spicata or, sometimes Mentha viridis. You may also see spearmint called simply garden mint.

Peppermint is actually a hybrid between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint. Incidentally Moroccan mint is also a hybrid of mints, one of which is also spearmint. You will sometimes see it called Mentha spicata ‘Moroccan’ or Mentha spicata var crispa. This is the mint used in the heavily sweetened tea given in Morocco.

If you enjoy a mojito, this probably would originally have included the Mentha x villosa mint variety. A hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. Mentha x villosa more commonly is known as Cuban mint. Cuba being the birthplace of the mojito. As a result many mojito recipes utilise the easier to source spearmint.

You have probably already guessed… Mints are somewhat confusing. How many mint species are there? Well who knows really. They are a somewhat promiscuous bunch and tend to cross-breed quite easily. Some sources report up to 25 species, while others report as low as 14. Certainly there are hundreds of varieties.

… and the origin of the name …

The word ‘mentha’ is Latin origin. However, the word is thought derived from Greek ‘mintha’. In Greek mythology, Mintha is a female deity or nymph. Nymphs give life to lakes and rivers, sources of fresh water. Places where the mint naturally loves to live! In fact water mint can actually grow in water.

Herbal Articles

Mint is particularly easy to grow in the garden, though probably best in a pot! A wonderful first aid remedy to have to hand. Grow peppermint or spearmint or a selection of mints if you have space, separately of course!

In the first aid article (link above) I mention use for aching feet and as a pleasing digestive tonic tea. And, of course, it is also an ingredient in a winter tea to keep the bugs at bay.

As an aromatic water it is a useful cooling spray, particularly for menopausal flushes or hot feet. In addition I sometimes choose peppermint essential oil for patients with sciatic pains.

Traditional Uses

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In a Modern Herbal, Grieve suggests peppermint first appeared in an English spearmint crop around three hundred years ago. However, there is evidence of peppermint being cultivated in ancient Egypt.

Apparently added to the Pharmacopoeia in 1721. This following identification of its many medicinal properties.

Utilised in a similar method to smelling salts. Also recommended for the head and memory and as a gargle to cure problems of the mouth. Grieve adds in the fourteenth century, it was believed to whiten the teeth. Possibly it was more beneficial as a breath freshener. Certainly it is a popular addition to toothpastes and mouthwashes today.

Bartram adds Dioscorides reputedly wore peppermint on his cloak to raise his spirits.

One of the miracle remedies of the four robbers vinegar.

Anyone for mint sauce with their lamb roast dinner? Mint sauce has long been an important culinary complement with lamb. Why? Traditionally mint sauce is made with spearmint. Was it chosen for its benefit on digestion? This foodie blog, including the comments section, offers a few interesting theories.

Modern Uses

I have never used tincture in my own practice. Preferring tea, aromatic water or essential oil. Some of these uses I have mentioned above.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

carminative and antispasmodic, it is an excellent digestive remedy. Take the tea for difficulties or pain on digestion – colic, indigestion, IBS, flatulence, abdominal cramps. Relieves sickness and nausea. The menthol in the tea helps clear nasal congestion. Be sure to brew the tea in a covered container.

Essential Oil

The essential oil is widely in use within aromatherapy. Some uses include inhalations for respiratory conditions. In addition, in a massage blend the analgesic properties ease the pain of neuralgia and also in abdominal massage for digestive upset or painful periods. The anaesthetic action makes it useful for ‘cooling’ inflamed conditions. Utilised as inhalation or in massage on temples for headaches. Although, I find mint particularly useful in this instance, if the headache is due to digestive upset, as an abdominal massage.

Bartram recommended five to six drops of the essential oil in two teaspoons of massage base oil for muscular aches and pains, stiffness or sport injuries.

Outlander Reference

In Season 1 of the television show and the first book, peppermint makes an entrance when Claire first visits Geillis Duncan. Claire was desperate for a young hungry boy to avoid a severe sentence for theft. She convinced Geillis to speak with her husband. Geillis gave peppermint to her husband for his dyspepsia to make her husband more agreeable to reducing the punishment. I assume she brewed him a peppermint tea here.

Herbal Energetics

Energetically peppermint is a herb of Venus. However, I always find it to have a contradictory warming and cooling effect on the body. Most people find small amounts cool and fresh.

Finally, some people, generally those of Choleric or warmer temperament, can find mint tea uncomfortably heating. If you are one of these people try spearmint. It is milder in action and often better tolerated.

Garlic and the Outlander Medicinal Uses

Garlic and the Outlander Medicinal Uses

At Castle Leoch Mrs Fitz brings Claire some garlic bulbs, bags of herbs and cloth strips. Claire has Mrs Fitz peel the cloves. Several cloves of peeled garlic with thyme are added to boiling water to decoct. She is making an antiseptic wash for Jamie’s wounds. Claire drops the cloth strips in the boiling liquid too.

Okay so Mrs. Fitz, Claire and Jamie are fictional characters from the Outlander book and television show. But is this use of garlic so crazy?

Historically garlic does certainly have a long history of medicinal use. However, nowadays Allium sativum (garlic) is the subject of much investigation. Research studies have found our ancestors were right to use garlic. It is indeed anti-microbial.

Garlic Research

A recently published paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology actually looked at historical use of medicinal plants. In particular the study investigated the activity of medicinal plants used by the Physicians of Myddvai from the 14th century. Over 67 historical plants had detectable levels of antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (Gram-positive) and Escherichia coli (Gram-negative). One of the medicinals tested was garlic.

A study by Roshan et al published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology earlier in 2017 included garlic. They tested twenty products, one of which was garlic juice, against four different strains of Clostridium difficile. In conclusion the garlic juice had the highest anti-microbial activity.

Furthermore a later study by Sheppard et al in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, found garlic effective against multi drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

A Kitchen Medicinal

It is a medicinal I always have to hand. The above are some of the benefits. It has many more uses. I have included some of these in Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen.

Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies

Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies

Well after a long Droughtlander… Season 3 eventually hit our television screens in September. The following is the Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies.

Episode 3 – All Debts Paid

Murtagh and Jamie

Finally in episode 3 a medicinal plant, milk thistle, enters a scene and Murtagh is back!

Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant RemediesHowever, Jamie and Murtagh are in Ardmuir prison and Murtagh is poorly. He has had enough dam thistles. They chat about Claire. Click here to read more about milk thistle or Carduus marianus. 

Claire and Jamie are yet to be reunited. Consequently, Claire is still in Boston, in the future, though her life is just about to change…

Episode 6 – A. Malcolm

Claire with Dorcas, Peggy and Mollie

Probably, the most eagerly anticipated episode. Claire and Jamie reunited after 20 years.

The morning after, Claire is sitting in the brothel parlour eating breakfast. Due to mistaking Claire as the new girl, Dorcas offers to show Claire where the tubs are

“…ye can soak yer parts in warm water”. – Dorcas

“Make sure ye show the jars of sweet herbs. Put them in the water. Madame Jeanne likes us to smell sweet”. – Peggy

Sweet herbs are most probably aromatic plants from the Lamiaceae botanical family. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, perhaps mint too.

Mollie suggests a warm bath helps stop a bairn from coming. As a result, Claire sees the opportunity to utilise her herbal knowledge

“Actually, mugwort is quite effective for stopping pregnancy. You take it as a warm infusion” – Claire

Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies
Mugwort – Artemisia vulgaris

You may remember in Season 2, Episode 2 titled “Not in Scotland Anymore”, Claire visits an apothecary store in France. There she meets and befriends Master Raymond.

After discovering Suzette (the lady’s maid) and Murtagh together, Claire returns to the apothecary in Episode 3. As a result, she asks Master Raymond’s help for birth control for Suzette. Master Raymond recommends mugwort.

Episode 7 – Crème De Menthe

Claire with Archibald Campbell and the apothecary

Wow that was a bit of rollercoaster episode…. Claire rushes off to the apothecary for plant medicines to try to save the exciseman from his severe head wound.

While there she meets Archibald Campbell asking advice for his sister Margaret. His request is for anything that might calm her nerves. In particular he mentions mandrake root and hemlock.

Mandrake root (Atropa mandragora) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are out of modern use. Hemlock is sedative to the motor nerves and muscles (Menzies-Trull). In Margaret’s case, her brother Archibald, probably heard of its use for excitability and mania. Hemlock is on the poison schedule.

Mandrake root had many traditional uses. Also believed sedative. Podophyllum peltatum is the American mandrake. A different species. I understand this is digestive in action.

Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies
Achillea millefolium (yarrow)

For the exciseman, Claire purchases a bottle of laudanum, some ground yarrow root and tormentil. Claire would select laudanum, opium based, as a painkiller.

Herbalists today prefer the aerial parts of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) rather than the root. It is astringent so Claire probably would have decocted the root to use to reduce bleeding. In addition, tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla or P. erecta) is also an astringent wound healer. It is high in tannins.

Thereafter, upon returning to the brothel and the ailing exciseman, she tries her hand at trepanation! Although Claire successfully releases the clot the exciseman inevitably ends up Crème de Menthe!

Claire with Archibald and Margaret Campbell
Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies
Valeriana officinalis – valerian

Later Claire visits Margaret Campbell. Her brother had given her a few drops of laudanum to keep her calm prior to Claire’s arrival. Poor Margaret certainly is very sombre, at least initially!

Margaret has trouble sleeping and has nightmares. She sits staring at the wall. Claire diagnoses a mental disorder.

She recommends mistletoe tea with a few drops of tansy oil. In addition she proposes valerian tea to help her sleep. Finally she insists no more laudanum!

Claire would have recommended the combination of Viscum album (mistletoe) and Valerian officinalis (valerian) for Margaret’s nervous disposition. Mistletoe is a sedative and tonic for anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks. Valerian is a muscle relaxant and sedative for anxiety, nervous tension and excitability. Both herbs very much still in use by herbalists today.

Keen Outlander fans may remember Claire gave Angus her port which included valerian. This was the episode titled The Gathering and before her marriage to Jamie. She planned to make Agnus sleepy. Unconscious he would miss her escape from Castle Leoch. Fortunately she tripped over a sleeping Jamie in the stables before being able to steal away with a horse.

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations

As a special halloween treat, or perhaps trick, I thought we would look at a macabre medley of medical ministrations! Some of the gory ancient medical treatments in the search for good health!

First up, mind your brain…

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations
crankshaft for trepanation from St Lizier apothecary

There is centuries of evidence of our ancestors boring into skulls (trepanation).

Many theories abound as to why this was done. While some consider a ritualistic cause the general belief is medical intervention.

Seems likely this was for pain relief perhaps following trauma. A release of pressure from headaches and other neurological conditions such as epileptic convulsions.

Creepy crawly blood suckers …

Any Outlander fans, of books or TV series, may remember Jamie Fraser bloodied and battered, after taking punishment for Laoghaire at Castle Leoch. Mrs Fitz brought leeches for reducing swelling. She pointed out to Claire they were of no use after the bruising has set.

Although the above is a fictional account, leeches were used. Most commonly utilised in cleaning wounds to avoid infection.

Oil of what for sciatica ??

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations
old oil jars from St Lizier apothecary

I learnt of one ancient treatment, which I found particularly horrific, at the apothecary of St Lizier.

This treatment, utilised to treat sciatica, contained dog oil and 500 g of worms marinated in hot oil.

The dog oil recipe contained four small puppies! In the image of the old oil jars you can just see to the left the word ‘chien’. The jar reads ‘H. de chien’ translating as oil of dog. Poor puppies. I cannot imagine this treatment of worms and puppies provided any benefit to the sciatica patient. Certainly no life for the poor puppies or indeed, the worms!

Thankfully the above treatments have fallen out of favour.

Milk Thistle not more of your dam thistles…

Carduus (or Silybum) marianus

Family:

Asteraceae

First of all… Outlander…

Well I have been avidly watching Outlander Season 3 waiting for some of my medicinal friends to arrive. I know many are longing for the print shop reunion of Jamie and Claire. I, however, was beginning to wonder if we would ever hear from the plant world in Outlander again.

Finally in episode 3 Jamie gives Murtugh milk thistle and they discuss Claire, though not by name.

Jamie is using mashed leaves and stems. Murtugh is poorly with a chronic cough. His skin is broken. He has been bitten by rats. They are in prison.

“You’ve been bitten again” – Jamie

“Och, not more of your dam thistles” – Murtugh

Traditionally all parts were utilised medicinally. These were eaten raw or boiled. Modern use tends to use the seeds.

Where does it grow?

milk thistle not more of your dam thistlesIt is a fairly obvious looking thistle flowerhead. However, it is easily identified from other thistles by the leaves.

Native to the south west of Europe and introduced to northern areas. In the British Isles its appearance decreases further north although it is found along the east coast of Scotland. It can be found growing on waste ground and cultivated grounds but seems to prefer the coast (Barker).

So the name…

Coombes believes the scientific name means Our Lady’s Milk Thistle. This relates to the Virgin Mary said to have dropped milk on the leaves causing the white mottling.

Traditional & Modern Use (compare & contrast)

Leading on from the discussion above of traditional versus modern plant part used I thought I would compare and contrast the usage.

milk thistle not more of your dam thistlesCulpeper chose milk thistle to prevent and cure infection of the plague. He described milk thistle as opening obstructions of the liver and spleen and useful for jaundice.

In addition, he believed it provoked urine and could break and expel urinary stones. Incidentally he utilised the seed in distilled water. In addition to internal use he applied externally with sponges or cloths to the liver area or the heart area to cool. Another recommendation was to boil the plant having removed the prickles to avoid choking on them. This he believed was an excellent blood cleanser.

Moving forward to Mills he advised traditionally widely used in Europe to stimulate the flow of milk in nursing mothers and also as a general digestive tonic. However, he states that in more recent years following extensive research in Germany, the herb has increased in popularity for liver disorders.

lost and found again…

It appears the uses for liver in Culpeper’s era dwindled. Thereafter, for a period of time, considered more of a bitter remedy. That is until more recently, re-discovered by modern research. Traditional use for expelling urinary stones appears to be a thing of the past.

Modern day herbalist Mills describes milk thistle a galactogogue, digestive tonic and specifically a liver protector. While Menzies-Trull describes the key actions as hepatic trophorestorative, cholagogue and choleretic.

Menzies-Trull indicates the herb for varicose veins, to reduce biliary cholesterol, for hepatitis, jaundice, spleen enlargement, pruritus (itchy skin), haemorrhoids, and alcohol abuse and for the fatty liver of cirrhosis (action of the constituent silymarin). In addition he recommends milk thistle for dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and ulcers.

Menzies-Trull’s recommendations for the skin seem to link in with Culpeper’s belief in using the herb as a blood cleanser.

Interestingly, David Hoffmann recommends, in combination with other herbs, for hyperactivity in children. He adds as chemical irritants such as pollutants (heavy metals) or artificial food additives (colourings, flavourings) have a role in hyperactivity, aiding liver detoxification is essential.

My own thoughts and use…

I do find milk thistle of enormous benefit in liver conditions. I have used it combined, with other herbs, for menopause. Too many wandering hormones, itching skin, general liver-ishness and lethargy. However, I sometimes prefer dandelion depending on the patient.

I have also prescribed in tincture or decoction for haemorrhoids in conjunction with an ointment for external use.

Useful in a herbal blend for headaches caused by digestive upset too. This includes those caused by partaking in a little too much alcohol!

The use of the plant as a bitter rather than specifically for the liver I find intriguing. I personally find the taste sweet rather than bitter.

Preparation and Dosage

I most often use fresh plant tincture. I have found it easier for patients. Occasionally I have used decoctions.

Barker asks his patients to powder the whole fruits in a coffee grinder and sprinkle into a glass of water.

One of my tutors, I believe if may have been Maureen Robertson, recommended grinding the seeds and adding to porridge. I particularly like the above two seed preparations. However, I have found, in practice it is often impractical for most patients.

Alternatively Barker suggests an infusion of the powder or a decoction of the whole fruits. If tincture preferred Barker recommends 2ml three times a day of a 1:5 in 25% alcohol. For tincture use I personally prefer 45% alcohol.

A little bit of science…

Approximately 3% of milk thistle is the constituent silymarin, a flavanone lignan. A known anti-oxidant (Menzies-Trull). He describes the herb as having an ability to increase production of hepatocytes and to stabilise the outer membrane of the hepatocytes which thereby increases antioxidant levels by 35% aiding the liver in ridding the body of free radicals. Phew! He believes it also increases liver enzymes and blocks the release of histamine. This would suggest a possible use in allergic reactions.

Silymarin stimulates liver cell regeneration. Used as a liver protector and in treatment of liverish conditions like hepatitis and cirrhosis. No known side effects. A safe herb to use for pregnant women, as well as children and the elderly (Chevallier).

Clinical data supports use in treatment of acute or chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis induced by alcohol, drugs or toxins (WHO Monographs).

and some energetics…

Culpeper described milk thistle a temperate herb. This generally means it is closest to our own body. I believe this highlights the general safety of this particular medicinal ally.

Culpeper associated this herb with the plant Jupiter with a cooling effect externally. However, Tobyn describes Jupiter hot and moist. Perhaps milk thistle works by drawing the heat thereby providing the cooling effect. Tobyn also notes Jupiter specifically acts on the blood and liver relating back to Culpeper’s use as a blood cleanser and his indication for liver obstructions. It is also specific to the sense of taste, once again being hot and moist.

Doctrine of Signatures links the leaves, breast milk and the galactagogue action. The galactagogue use may well explain how the plant got its name.

A very useful medicinal ally even though Murtugh has clearly had enough of those dam thistles!

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

In the first Outlander book, and the first TV series, Claire is taken by Colum MacKenzie to Davie Beaton’s dank surgery. The surgery is located in the basement of fictional Castle Leoch.

Last we saw of Claire in the TV show she had returned to her own time. With less than a month until Season 3 of the popular series airs, one wonders if Claire shall return to Castle Leoch at any point in the future, or should I say past!

In Season 1 Claire makes many interesting discoveries in the surgery of Davie Beaton and not all of them useful.

Davie Beaton’s Patient Log Book

It seems Davie Beaton, in life, was unfortunately not the best healer. Incidentally, he died of fever.

On browsing his log book, Claire reads an entry for a female patient with a thumb injury. Sarah had the misfortune of catching her thumb in a spinning wheel.

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium

Treatment involved application of boiled pennyroyal followed by a poultice of one part each of yarrow, St John’s wort, ground slaters and mouse-ear. This combination was mixed in a base of fine clay.

The first two are reasonable choices. Yarrow stanches bleeding. St John’s wort aids wound healing.

However, it is not entirely clear if the last ingredient refers to a plant or not. Cerastium fontanum is a type of chickweed. Commonly called mouse-ear. However, Hieracium pilosella, from the same family as the common dandelion, is commonly known as hawkweed and also mouse ear.

The fictitious treatment of Sarah may well have included one of these two herbs. H. pilosella was indeed traditionally utilised as an astringent, albeit more frequently as an expectorant. It had use in treatment of whooping cough.

Unfortunately, it is also possible the recipe actually means a mouse ear! What is certain? That third ingredient of ground woodlice is definitely not of plant origin!

Consequently the treatment was unsuccessful. Although some potential beneficial herbs in the treatment regime it was seriously in need of a powerful antiseptic and strict hygiene would have been paramount and highly unlikely in poor Sarah’s case.

Davie Beaton’s Recipe Book

In addition the discovery of a book of recipes included some further bizarre and obscure remedies.

A recipe for headache recommended drying one ball of horse dung and pounding this to a powder. The resulting powder mixed in hot ale. Surely that would give you a headache rather than cure it. Perhaps the smell made one vomit. As a result of which there may have been some relief if a digestive headache or migraine.

The recipe for treating children with convulsions was five leeches behind the ear. Poor kids.

Another recipe for jaundice used decoctions of roots of celandine and turmeric. Seems reasonable. However, the addition of the juice of 200 slaters not so much! Beneficial as plant medicines. However, the cause of the jaundice would need sought for best treatment. And the inclusion of the juice of 200 woodlice – erm?

Supplies in the Surgery of Davie Beaton

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Wormwood – Artemisia absinthium

There were many jars and vials. While some of the jars contained useful ingredients such as angelica, rosemary and wormwood. Others contained dried toads packed in moss, dried snails, oil of earthworms and, of course, horse dung and slaters!

As a result, Claire certainly had her work cut out finding the useful remedies in that surgery.

 

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.

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal Knowledge

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal Knowledge

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal KnowledgeTwenty years ago I began reading the Outlander series of books. Helen DuFriend, an American friend and work colleague, was engrossed in the Outlander books. She thought I would be interested in reading them as they are based in Scotland.

Another Scottish friend, Anne McOmish also read the books and we had great deliberations and musings over them. Mainly relating to the rather dashing Jamie.

Of course, one could not help but fall for Jamie Fraser, even from the pages of a book. However, Claire’s interest in healing herbs also sparked my interest. Indeed Claire’s medical and botanical knowledge certainly aided her survival, in more ways than one, at that time in history. And so Outlander Claire Frasers herbal knowledge was an integral part of the story.

Outlander? more books and a TV show…

Recently I discovered there are several more books in the Outlander series and a television production to boot!

My sister-in-law, Shirley and I sat engrossed for several evenings glued to way too many episodes. Yes, we had square eyes. The TV series is fabulous. However, as is often the case with books versus TV shows there are slight changes. Unfortunately it is not possible to include all details. Some things are cut out.

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal KnowledgeEven with the first books there are differences. In the UK the first book was titled Cross Stitch. Across the pond it was titled Outlander. I first read Outlander when given it by an American friend. I did not know of Cross Stitch at that time.

Cross Stitch, the UK version, is different. Although the main story remains Cross Stitch includes some changes and some deletions from the version across the pond. I believe new prints in the UK still contain the content of Cross Stitch albeit with the name change to Outlander to link with the television series.

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal Knowledge

Wow, there are so many medicinal plants in Outlander. The TV series unfortunately could not possibly cover all the healing plants included in the corresponding novels. Only a few pages into the first book Claire mentions comfrey as

“good for haemorrhoids”.

after her husband Frank Randall asks about a dried plant in his copy of Tuscum and Banks.

“that horrible crumbly brown stuff”

Personally I’d have to say I would much prefer the crumbly comfrey to what must surely be a thoroughly boring book with such a title of Tuscum and Banks!

This is the first mention of Claire’s interest in healing plants and botany in the book. However, excluded from the TV show.

Furthermore in the book version she first visits Craigh na Dun with Mr Crook, a local herbalist. Her second visit is with Frank. In the television series her first visit is with Frank. Poor Mr Crook doesn’t even get a mention in the TV episode.

After passing through the stones …

At Castle Leoch, comfrey makes a further entrance in the book and a first introduction in the TV show in episode one.

Mrs FitzGibbons brings Claire garlic, witch hazel, comfrey and cherry bark for Jamie’s painful shoulder and gunshot wound. However, in the book the medicinal plants are garlic, thyme, comfrey and willow bark.

Witch hazel is a shrub or small tree. It is not native to Scotland or even the UK. The wild cherry tree would have grown in Scotland but it is rarer in the north of the country and south west. In fact in Highland folklore it was believed a witches tree!

It is possible the medicinal plants were changed for the TV show. Produced by an American cable company, initially for an American audience. However, it is also probable the television series is based on Outlander, the first book. Not the UK version, Cross Stitch.

Garlic is a powerful antiseptic, as is thyme. Chosen, in the book, for wound cleansing. Comfrey aids wound healing. Mrs Fitz brought comfrey and willow bark to ease Jamie’s pain. Willow bark is a source of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid perhaps better known today as the pharmaceutical preparation Aspirin.

Growing in the Castle Leoch Herb Garden

Outlander Claire Frasers Herbal KnowledgeIn the herb garden at Castle Leoch Claire finds fennel and mustard on the west side and chamomile on the more sunny south side.

Other medicinal allies growing include foxglove, sweet violet, fumitory, thyme, marigolds and yarrow. If interested click those underscored to learn more about their medicinal uses.

First Meeting with Geillis Duncan

In the UK book version Claire finds wood sorrel beneath roots of an alder. She searches for more. Apparently in the Outlander book she seeks a mushroom that is poisonous if prepared inappropriately. She is looking at mushrooms in the TV series too.

Geillis Duncan, talking of wood sorrel.

“Those are good for helping the monthlies”

Consequently startled Claire stands up and bangs her head on a pine branch.

A Battered and Bruised Jamie

After Jamie takes a punishment for Laoghaire he is once again battered and bruised. Willow bark again makes an appearance. Given as a tea to rinse his mouth and cleanse the cuts and ease the pains.

Claire asks Mrs Fitz about the increased chance of bleeding. Claire, from the future, probably knew about the blood thinning properties of aspirin. Mrs Fitz recommends following the tea rinse with St John’s Wort soaked in vinegar. She stipulates St John’s Wort is ground up well. After gathering under a full moon. St John’s Wort is wound healing and helpful to staunch bleeding.

And as for the surgery of the late Davie Beaton! That is a real challenge for Outlander Claire Frasers herbal knowledge. A story for another day.

I could write forever about the many healing plants from Outlander Claire Frasers herbal knowledge.

Thyme for the thyme of cold and flu

Thymus vulgaris

thyme thymus vulgaris audeFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

And so to this website’s namesake! During the month of May, the hills around the Aude are covered with the stunning colour of the beautiful thyme flowers. The aroma is luscious.

Bremness describes a woody stemmed, highly aromatic shrub requiring sun and a light, well-drained soil. She notes it more commonly found growing in the Mediterranean. Although Greive notes most countries with a temperate climate now grow thyme.

Traditional Uses:

thyme thymus vulgarisThyme has a lengthy medicinal and folkloric history. Grieve tells of it being one of the flowers forming the fairies favourite playgrounds.

In mediaeval times, it was utilised for invigorating and antiseptic properties. The Romans reputedly used it as flavouring for cheese and liqueurs.

Found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egyptians reputedly used thyme to treat headaches and intestinal complaints (Maniche).

Culpeper also used thyme for headaches (see energetics section below). According to Culpeper thyme killed worms in the belly, expelled wind and ridded the body of phlegm, strengthening the lungs. For children he recommended its use in the disease chin-cough.

Medicinal Uses:

Thyme is strongly antiseptic (Hoffmann). Hoffmann recommends use as a gargle for sore throats, irritable coughs, laryngitis and tonsillitis. He describes further use for the respiratory tract for cases of asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Could whooping cough be the chin-cough from Culpeper’s time.

Weiss actually lists the plant within the respiratory system of his book. He highlights similar actions to Hoffmann adding its use for patients suffering from emphysema.

The action on the respiratory system, especially the lungs, appears to be the main property as Mills too includes it in his list of expectorant herbs. However, Mills also describes an antiseptic effect on the urinary system and an antispasmodic and carminative effect on the digestive tract which is probably why thyme is such a popular culinary herb.

Thyme is also cited by Bartram as being useful for infections of the respiratory and urinary tract and for bedwetting children and overwork.

a few cautionary words

Bartram contraindicates use in pregnancy although I have found no support for this claim other than the traditional eclectic physicians believing the herb to be an emmenagogue.

thymus vulgaris southern france

Culpeper actually recommended use during labour for speedy delivery and to bring away the afterbirth. He described it “so harmless you need not fear the use of it.”

The World Health Organisation note safety of thyme preparations during pregnancy or lactation has not been established.

Curtis suggests care with the essential oil as it can have an irritant effect on the skin and mucous membranes particularly if high in thymol or cavacrol.

and some science stuff…

A volatile oil is the primary principle with bitters, saponins and tannins making up approximately 10% (Weiss). Mills also includes flavonoids.

Saponins have a pharmacological effect on the respiratory system and bitters on the digestive system. Flavonoids are antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and some are anti-tumour. Thyme oil found to inhibit several different fungi and negative bacteria. The volatile oil contains monoterpenes, thymol and carvacrol (Mills).

wild thyme tincture making aude franceMonoterpenes are generally antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral. Some are also analgesic, expectorant, decongestant and stimulant. Phenols (thymol and carvacrol are generally antiseptic, anti-infectious, bactericidal, stimulating to the immune system, activating healing and stimulating to the nervous system making them effective in some depressive illnesses (Clarke).

and a bit more science with some research…

This study is interesting as it chose to look at the anti-spasmodic and analgesic actions in relation to painful periods. A clinical study conducted on 84 university students with primary dysmenorrhea. Students randomly assigned to three groups. They all received capsules and did not know which group they were in.

Three groups split to receive: thyme essential oil, ibuprofen or placebo. Pain intensity identified with a visual scale. Checked before and one hour after each dose for 48 hours after starting medication. Data collected and analysed. Both thyme and ibuprofen were effective in reducing pain severity and spasms (Salmalian et al, 2014).

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, on arrival at Castle Leoch, Claire boils thyme with garlic cloves. Cloth soaked in this solution makes an antiseptic bandage for Jamie’s wound.

In the herb garden at Castle Leoch it is mentioned again. Mrs Fitz asks Claire to plant garlic between thyme and foxglove on the south side of the garden.

and a wee bit of energetics…

Culpeper described thyme as under the dominion of Venus and under the sign of Aries. Many of Culpeper’s uses have already been mentioned above. The astrological virtues Culpeper believed chiefly appropriated thyme to the head. He said anointing the head with thyme vinegar stopped pains thereof!

and some Recipes…

These recipes are from the famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué.

i ) Liqueur: macerate 3 to 4 fresh or dried sprigs (of thyme) in a quarter of a litre (8 fluid oz) of brandy (a teaspoonful occasionally)

ii) Foot-Baths and Hand-Baths: put two to three handfuls into a litre (1½ pints) of water

I’ve just gathered some (images above in jar) so ‘thyme’ to make a tincture…. and perhaps a vinegar or liqueur too…