For St Andrews Day we’ll have a little look at Hypericum hypericoides, a little plant more commonly known as St Andrews Cross. I wonder why!
It’s not a European species but it does have a rather well-known native European relative, Hypericum perforatum. More commonly known as St John’s wort.
St Andrews Cross does have some old medicinal uses. These are a little different to the better known relative. A medicinal utilised by native American Indians. If ever bitten by a rattlesnake you may want to find one of these plants, dig it up and chew the root. Apparently it is antidote. You’d probably want to be quick and fairly good at botany!
Both root and leaves were utilised. Both brewed into tea. The root decocted for dysentery and also for pain in childbirth. The leaves for kidney and bladder problems. Finally an infusion of leaves was brewed for sore eyes.
H. hypericoides, St Andrews Cross, does not seem to be as pharmaceutically active as H. perforatum. However it is still an interesting plant and a lovely flower.
My friend Sue, who happens to be an ecologist, recently attended a tree seminar. She mentioned the London Tree Officers are planting non-native weird and wonderful trees in Hackney. The magnificent London plane trees are suffering with Massaria, a fungal disease.
Of course, Massaria is not the only tree disease and the London plane is not the only native tree to be suffering. Consider the damage caused to native trees from Dutch Elm Disease and Chalara, more commonly known as ash dieback.
Hence, finding trees that will grow and will “thrive and survive” is becoming difficult for the London Tree Officers. And so, the weird array of non-natives in Hackney. These include trees known commonly as the Paper Mulberry and the Bee-Bee Tree. Apparently “people like them and we have to adapt”. Incidentally both are Asian species.
This raised a little debate between two friends. Sue, the ecologist, and Ian, our tree-hugging, Woodland Trust loving, nature photographer guru friend. Ian was definitely in the pro-native tree group.
The problem is we have so many non native alien plant species in Europe now. Some pose no major issues and blend in like they have always belonged… others… well.
more alien trees…
My house here in France had a maturely planted garden when I bought it. Some 40+ trees. It’s not a big garden. Too many large trees. Some had to go. I’ve always liked a ‘practical’ rather than ‘pretty’ garden. That’s not to say something can’t be both but things growing ought to serve a purpose – food, medicine… I decided if not native, nor practical, it could go on the “to go” list. But it was difficult.
Right at front of the house was a very large false acacia. Non-native. In flower it was beautiful. However, I couldn’t park my car as ants, covering the tree for the sweet flowers, fell in the car. Suffice to say driving with ants crawling up your legs is not good. The acacia was working its way toward the chopping list. I kept thinking I can’t really put it on the list because it inconveniences me, right?
Then I got a crack right through the floor of the house. The acacia had to go before any serious structural damage occurred. That was nearly 5 years ago. I still cannot get rid of it. It pops up everywhere. During the summer it was so dry everything was dying. That bloody acacia kept on appearing.
I’ve searched internet, forums, gardening groups, you-name-it trying to find a solution to no avail. I was disheartened further when one woman advised she had been trying to eradicate it for 17 years!!!!
It is on the non-European and non U.K. invasive species list. Not to be planted. I can see why. My house is near the river and there are some growing there. I wonder did previous owners plant in my garden or did it move in to my garden of its own accord?!? Someone planted it somewhere near to start this alien attack!
There is a patch some 3 km from my house. Having written about this previously I won’t go into too much detail again. However, every time I walk past this patch of knotweed my heart sinks. I decided I had to start thinking more positively about these aliens 👽. They are after all going nowhere. I started to look at the knotweed in particular.
The trouble is many of these invasive species cannot be removed. We need to hope that somehow a way of control is found. They are affecting structures, and more importantly, our native plant species.
I love the smell of broom. It is scrumptiously sweet. A native European shrub and, of course, a native medicinal. However, in the States it is commonly called Scotch Broom because those first Scottish immigrants decided to bring it with them. Consequently it is on the invasive non native alien plant species list in the States. It is not a problem in Europe. They have no idea what controls growth in Europe. We, us humans, are the bampots that keep doing this.
are there any friendly aliens ?
That being said we have some non-natives that have lived here merrily, blending in for years. Some have become very useful. Thinking of medicinal plants… echinacea springs to mind. Everyone knows it. It grows very happily here in Europe and hasn’t caused any problem. Have I used it medicinally – yes. However it is not my first port of call. I prefer to choose European natives.
Nicholas Culpeper, a London herbalist, from mid 1600’s famously believed the medicinals we need grow nearby. I have always found this to be true. It helps immensely, in practice, if you know the area where your patient lives and what grows abundantly there.
That’s my rant on non native alien plant species over for the day….
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.
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…
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 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.
Many 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).
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.
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’.
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)
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.
The name is thought to derive from Greek ‘helenion’ meaning ‘Helen’ possibly from Helen of Troy. One story describes the plants growth from her tears. The common name is derived from two Latin words ‘inula campane’ meaning ‘of the fields’ (Phillips).
Podlech describes the natural habitat as fields and rough ground. Elecampane can be found growing throughout Western and Central Asia and Europe. It can also be found in the British Isles. Bremness suggests the plant prefers damp meadows and shady soils. It can grow up to 10ft.
Personally I think it will probably grow in most ground with a preference for damp soil and some shade. My own plant in the garden is around 5ft tall. It is in full sun for most of the day. I believe flowering would have lasted longer had my plant had a damper, slightly more shady spot. The flowers in this post are all from my garden in early July.
Manniche notes the Ancient Egyptians called species of Inula ‘fleabane’ and used it to combat fleas. They found it disliked by most animals. Mentioned in the Book of the Dead to drive away crocodiles. Pliny tells it was an antidote to poison. Apicius recommended elecampane as a condiment for digestion. Dioscorides mentions Egyptians used the root in a wine as a snake bite remedy.
Culpeper described Elecampane as hot and dry and wholesome for the stomach advising it would kill all worms in the belly. He described it as poison resistant and recommended it for shortness of breath and coughs. Used in an ointment for scabs and itching. Culpeper noted it would make the skin clear.
The Shakers called the herb Scabwort. They used the herb for itching as well as weakness in digestion. However, use was mainly for coughs and lung disease (Miller).
Mességué believes it one of the oldest plants used in healing noting it used in the Middle Ages in Athens and Rome for many respiratory conditions. The Germans reputedly made elecampane wine, an effective plague remedy, which they called ‘St Paul’s Potion’.
Mességué talks of being a child and his father using elecampane to treat and cure a child of whooping cough. A simple treatment with baths and infusions of elecampane. A wonderful example of the power of nature.
Many traditional uses relating to the respiratory and digestive systems are still common today. Bone includes asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, infections and influenza as indications. Elecampane, he describes, as a possible treatment for peptic ulcer disease and intestinal worms.
Frawley lists analgesic, antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant and rejuvenative in the list of actions. He indicates the herb for pleurisy, dyspepsia and nervous debility. If using as a diaphoretic expectorant he recommends combining use with ginger, cinnamon or cardamom. As a rejuvenating tonic he suggests combining with ashwagandha, comfrey root or marshmallow.
Indeed, Mességué too found elecampane to ease heartburn. He also found it sudorific.
and a little bit of science…
The root contains sesquiterpene lactones including alantolactone and isoaltantolactone (Bone). Menzies-Trull includes 44% inulin, terpenoids, sterols, resin, mucilage and up to 4% of volatile oil.
Pengelly states inulin helps stabilise blood sugar suggesting this herb may be useful in cases of hypoglycaemia. The constituent also has diuretic and immuno-stimulating properties. Alantolactone has an antibiotic action.
Bone quotes a favourable clinical study where children were given between 9-200 mg of alantolactone for Ascaris infestation. Ascaris is the common small roundworm. Culpeper did say it would kill all worms in the belly! It would be interesting to see a similar study using the whole herb rather than an extracted constituent. However I always enjoy finding an old traditional remedy backed up with some modern scientific evidence.
Mills highlights an investigation of essential oils from 22 plants. All had relaxant effects on tracheal smooth muscle. One of the most potent was the root of elecampane highlighting the antispasmodic property of the herb.
… and a word of caution…
Sesquiterpene lactones are believed to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Care should be taken when collecting this plant. These constituents are more common in the Asteraceae family.
Patients with hypoglycaemia or diabetes are well advised to seek the advice of a medical herbalist prior to taking this plant medicine.
… and some energetics…
Culpeper described Elecampane a herb of Mercury and hot and dry in the third degree. However, Tobyn interprets Culpeper as finding it to be a hot and moist loosening medicine with a relaxing effect on membranes and ligaments, muscles and tendons. I would agree that it is definitely more moistening rather than drying.
Frawley describes Elecampane as Kapha reducing. He cautions use in high Pitta conditions, presumably due to the heating effect of the herb. Energetically he describes elecampane as pungent, bitter and heating and indeed there is a slight pungent bitter taste which may possibly relate to its effect on the digestive system. The pungency most likely adds to the general warmth of this herb.
Simply looking at the flowerhead of elecampane, like a large sunshine and rays, gives a warm, relaxing feeling. Don’t you agree?
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.
The 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?
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 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.
Harold Ward described Geum as a slender, sparsely branched plant reaching a height of one to two feet and preferring hedges, woods and shady banks. It has yellow, erect flowers usually found between May and September.
I usually find Geum growing beside grasses or other wild flowers such as nettles, buttercups or herb-robert. This can make it a little more difficult to single out. The flowers turn into slightly prickly seed-heads. If you look closely in the images on this page you should see some seed-heads.
I think of the common name as wood avens but some people call it herb-bennet or colewort. Indeed the common name herb-bennet is derived from an old medieval name ‘Herba benedicta‘. It was reputedly held in high regard in medieval times as a medicinal herb (Hensel).
Wood avens was predominately used as a digestive herb for toning action on the bowel. The following quote from the Herbal Manual of herbalist Harold Ward was written in 1936. He lived in Suffolk in England.
“The properties of Avens make for success in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The tonic effect upon the glands of the stomach and alimentary tract point to its helpfulness in dyspepsia. In general debility continued use has had good results. The astringent qualities may also be utilized in cases of relaxed throat Although wineglass-ful doses three or four times daily of the 1 ounce to 1 pint infusion are usually prescribed, Avens may be taken freely, and is, indeed, used by country people in certain districts as a beverage in place of tea or coffee.”
Harold Ward, 1936
This last sentence brought a smile as I visualised people sitting chatting round their pot of Geum tea. Ward described the actions of wood avens as astringent, tonic, antiseptic and stomachic.
Menzies-Trull notes Geum urbanum contains tannins which give the herb a mild astringency. He adds this is useful for conditions such as dysentery and diarrhoea (as did Ward above). Mills (1993) notes the eugenol content acts as a carminative and antispasmodic in the intestines.
I find this herb to have a slight drying taste in the mouth and this would relate to the tannin content and astringency.
Bremness notes the whole plant is used as quinine substitute. She describes wood avens as useful for fever, diarrhoea, for reducing bleeding and inflammation and as a gargle for sore gums.
and a little bit of energetics…
Menzies-Trull describes Geum as a herb of Jupiter. This energy, he describes as providing a soothing warmth to the stomach and intestines.
Being governed by Jupiter, Culpeper described Avens or Herb Bonnet (as he called it) as comforting the heart, good for indigestion, strengthening and warming the stomach and a cold brain! He recommended drinking as a decoction in the springtime to open obstructions of the liver. He also recommended it as a prevention against the plague and other poison! Indeed he said “it is very fit to be kept in every body’s house.”