Botanical members of the Fagaceae family

Botanical members of the Fagaceae family

Botanical members of the Fagaceae family
autumnal oak leaf

Often, on herb walks, people are surprised to discover beech and oak trees are related. Both the beech and oak are botanical members of the Fagaceae family. The scientific name Fagaceae means beech family.

Whenever I add a new medicinal plant profile to the blog I include the botanical family and scientific name. That way readers can easily identify other plants within the same family.

The plant scientific name generally includes two names, the Genus and the Species. Medicinally it is important you have the correct Genus and often, species. That being said, for some plants similar Species are used medicinally interchangeably. Others not. For example if we look at the lime flower or linden blossom tree medicinal use of three different Tilia species is interchangeable.

However, today we discuss some of the Fagaceae or beech family.

Fagaceae botanical features

Members of this family

  • Are trees or shrubs and either deciduous or evergreen.
  • They have single nuts attached to scaly or spiny caps.
  • Leaves are simple, alternate and often toothed or lobed.
Fagaceae medicinal properties

Members of this family

  • Contain varying amounts of tannic acid – astringent and diuretic.

Genus and Species

The following are some of the more common examples of botanical members of the Fagaceae family with Genus and species scientific names provided. Common names included within brackets.

  • Fagus sylvatica (European beech)
  • Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut)
  • Quercus robur (pedunculate or common or European oak or English oak)
  • Quercus petraea (sessile oak)

In addition, botanical features and medicinal properties break down further within the Genus and sometimes species too. You can see from the examples below the similarities and the differences between each medicinally.

Genus – Fagus

Medicinally utilised historically. However, beech is now generally out of favour. Branches or bark of 2-3 year old branches were utilised. A decoction was brewed as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash and gargle. Some older sources suggest use as a quinine substitute.

Beech nuts, or masts, contain high saponins and an alkaloid called fagin. Therefore, in quantity, they can make you feel unwell although pigs seem to thrive on them. Horses are particularly susceptible to beech nuts.

Beech nuts are becoming quite popular in wild foraging courses. Remember not to eat in quantity and perhaps avoid if you are prone to an upset stomach.

Genus – Castanaea

Botanical members of the Fagaceae familyLeaves, bark and the nuts of the sweet chestnut can be utilised. Leaves are expectorant and sedative. Historical use of leaves for coughs particularly whopping cough. In addition also for dandruff. The bark is antidiarrhoeal and febrifuge. Therefore, traditionally utilised for dysentery.

As we know chestnuts are nutritious eating. Another popular find on a wild foraging course. Traditionally decocted for mild diarrhoea.

Genus – Quercus
Oaks and alcohol…

Botanical members of the Fagaceae familyFinally the oaks. There are lots of different oaks within Europe. As a result of my living in one of the largest wine regions in Europe a mention of oak in the wine making industry is pertinent.

Wine makers prefer sessile oak (Q. petraea) for casks. While the peduculate (Q. robur) is preferable for cognac. However, the sherry makers choose the Portuguese oak (Q. pyrenaica) for their casks.

Finally, last but not least, one needs a cork for that wine bottle, not a nasty screw top, and that is from the cork oak (Q. suber).

Oaks medicinally…

Pedunculate and sessile are the native oak trees in the UK. The medicinal uses of these two species are interchangeable. The dried inner bark and dried leaves are medicinal. Medicinal use, as with most of the Fagaceae family, is predominately externally.

Traditionally used topically for haemorrhoids in an ointment, or in a lotion for cuts and abrasions. Also used as a douche for leucorrhoea or a gargle for tonsillitis and chronic sore throat. The gargle use similar to the beech above.

Internally both oaks were used, like sweet chestnut, for dysentery. In addition, Maud Grieve recommended as a quinine substitute, again a similarity with beech.

The above gives an indication into the benefits of learning a little about a botanical plant family. Furthermore, in the above example, you can clearly see some similarities within the botanical members of the Fagaceae family. In conclusion, medicinally, this is largely due to the astringency (tannins) generally toning and beneficial for conditions ranging from sore throats to diarrhoea.

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.

Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime

Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime

Over the springtime I am frequently asked about plants for wild foraging.  Free food foraging of wild edible plants is a popular pastime.

Naturally my main interest lies in the medicinal properties of plants. However, often there is overlap where these plants have nutritional virtues. Wild flowers in foraging recipes may be added for nutritional value, colour or texture.

Free food foraging of wild edible plantsSome more common wild foraged foods such as dandelion many have heard of adding flowers, or particularly leaves, to a salad. The leaves are rich in potassium. A favourite diuretic herb of many herbalists. There is a reason the French common name is pissenlit!

Also well-known, the humble nettle. A great spring time tonic whether prescribed by a herbalist, added to soups or cooked similarly to spinach in a recipe.

I have added a wild foraging tag. Although these are not, strictly speaking, wild foraging posts some such as elderflower and red dead nettle include forage recipes.

Common sense must prevail. Be a courteous and cautious forager. Check out the rules of your own country. Ensure you have the correct plant. If even the slightest doubt, leave it. Never pull roots. Take care where you gather plants from.

Most importantly free food foraging of wild edible plants is fun, a popular pastime so, enjoy!

Elderflower Cordial, Wine or Liqueur ?

Eldeelderflower cordial, wine or liqueurrflower Cordial, Wine or Liqueur ?

Elderflowers are in full beautiful bloom. My mind is currently a spinning wondering what delicacies I can make. Do I opt for more tincture or elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?

Incidentally I cannot abide the smell of elderflowers. In saying that, they are still one of my favourite trees to see in bloom at this time of year. The medicinal virtues far outweigh my dislike for the smell.

Earlier in the month I posted a basic tincture recipe. An easily adapted recipe for other medicinal plants. However, I suggested collecting and drying elderflowers. Ideal to keep as a winter tonic to boost immunity or a hay fever tonic for next spring.

Now I am wondering should I make elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?

Non alcoholic versus alcoholic I hear you ask?

The Drunken Botanist

And so on to my dilemma.

Anyone knowing me, or even following my blogs, know I LOVE books. So pondering what to do with all the beautiful elderflowers I turned to one of my books – The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.

Anyone for Sambuca?

My best friend Sharon has always enjoyed a Sambuca after a meal. She believes it helps her digestion. Sambucus nigra is the scientific name for the elderflower tree. Although this thought had crossed my mind I did not realise any part of the plant was an ingredient. Anyone having tried Sambuca will probably agree it is a more aniseed based flavour.

However, in The Drunken Botanist, Amy explains that although artificial flavours and colours are occasionally used some black sambucas actually owe that deep purple-black colour to the crushed skins of the elderberries. So there we have it.

… and back to my dilemma…

Everyone loves a bit of elderflower wine or liqueur. But you don’t always want the alcohol. Sometimes you have to work, write blogs or prepare herbal events!

Amy’s elderflower cordial sounds absolutely delicious. One obvious difficulty for me is she recommends gathering those fresh flowers on a warm afternoon when THAT fragrance is strongest. Oh dear!

 

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:

 

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.

Purslane for a cooling, healing salad

Portulaca oleracea

Family:

Portulacaceae

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmes quotes two historical sources, Jean Fernel

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

Jean Fernel (1508)

and the Book of Experiences.

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

Book of Experiences (1225)

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

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

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

and some energetics…

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

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

Red Dead-Nettle loved by bees

Lamium purpureum

red-dead-nettle-Lamium-purpureumFamily:

Lamiaceae (mint or thyme family)

This little purple annual tricks us into thinking she is a cousin of the stinging nettle. Even the common name suggests this. Lamium purpureum has no sting and is actually related to mint and thyme.

The common name and Latin name disagree too on the colour. Are the heart shaped leaves red or purple tinged?

Red-Dead-Nettle FlowerIt is a fairly common annual starting from seed every year. Typically found flowering between March and October.

Found growing year round in milder climates. This particular plant photographed in the Aude in February.

Unfortunately, red dead-nettles are often dug up or pulled out of gardens. The bees love them!

Medicinal Uses:

Lamium purpureum does not have as many documented medicinal uses as Lamium album (white dead-nettle). However, Mrs Grieve advises leaves and flowers are a useful decoction for haemorrhage. Barker lists styptic and astringent as medicinal actions. Both, Grieve and Barker, recommend the tea for ‘a chill’ suggesting a febrifuge action.

Recipes:

Susun Weed uses Lamium purpureum leaves and flowers in two different salads. One she calls a green salad. The green salad includes leaves of chickweed, garlic mustard and dandelion. The other is fairy salad. Sure to look gorgeous as it includes violet, periwinkle and dandelion flowers.