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.
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.
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 it was officially added to the Pharmacopoeia in 1721. This was following the identification of 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.
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.
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
A 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 to retain the volatile components.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Plantaginaceae is a family of 253 species, 250 are Plantago species. Plantago herbs are perennial with small flowers and generally parallel veins (Barker).
Plantago is the scientific name for plantain. Common on bare ground and grassland either as P.lanceolata or major species. The wider leaved variety is major. The P.lanceolata species is more commonly known as ribwort. Mabey describes Plantago major as the broad-leaf or common variety while Plantago lanceolata he calls the long-leaved variety.
Medical herbalists can, and do, use both of these species. A survivor of trampling. Hence, known to Native American Indians as ‘white man’s foot’.
Where does it grow? Everywhere!
Podlech advises the small seeds are spread by feet of animals and people. And we return to the white man’s foot! Distributed throughout Europe although it has spread worldwide.
Barker tells us Plantago major grows on paths and roadsides, in town or country. Also found in gardens and waste grounds on disturbed soils. You are certain to have it growing nearby. It often pops up in my own garden. Generally considered a weed the gardener prefers to kill.
Nicholas Culpeper used plantain for consumption of the lungs, consumption being the old name for tuberculosis. He noted it particularly useful for coughs from heat. He recommended drinking the juice for catarrhal discharges or heavy menstruation. Probably leaves although he utilised roots, leaves and seeds. Root he powdered or decocted. Seed he preferred for dropsy, epilepsy and jaundice.
Finally, he noted any plantain for healing wounds and sores either applied externally or taken internally.
Used today by medical herbalists for its wound healing properties and its soothing effect on the body which includes coughs.
Mabey describes a drying action. For wound healing properties he suggests crushed leaves applied directly to skin to stop bleeding. He finds it a soothing expectorant and recommends for many lung conditions.
Barker finds leaf of Plantago lanceolata far more useful for pulmonary conditions than the major variety. However, he prefers the major variety for wound healing, benefiting skin complaints such as acne rosacea, and for its diuretic properties, in treating conditions such as cystitis particularly with associated haematuria.
Personal thoughts and uses…
I find common plantain or ribwort extremely versatile plants. Plantago has an affinity with mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are throughout the body protecting our digestive, urinary and respiratory tracts.
Plantain is particularly useful in many herbal prescriptions. Perhaps with Horsetail or Cornsilk for a urinary tract infection. With Elderflower and Eyebright for hay fever or sinus problems or with Thyme for a chesty cough. Or combined with Meadowsweet or Chamomile to soothe and tone the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Endless combinations…
I generally find plantain cooling and soothing so in general I would select this for a prescription where someone may have irritated sinuses or a red raw sore throat.
In addition, it makes for a wonderful first aid ointment. A wonderful ally to find immediately after attack by an insect! Rub the crushed, or chewed, leaf directly on insect or bee stings.
… and some constituents in common plantain or ribwort …
Mabey notes a combination of silica and tannin make plantain useful in treatment of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. In addition, he adds silica strengthens the lungs.
Menzies-Trull discusses the iridoid glycoside, aucubin, as antiseptic particularly for infections of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition he adds antimicrobial saponins, allantoin and the minerals potassium and zinc. He considers the stimulating effect on the immune system attributable to the polysaccharide content.
Another herbalist, Chevallier, describes aucubin a strong urinary antiseptic linking with Barker’s cystitis use. Allantoin, he describes, a potent tissue healer.
… and some research on common plantain or ribwort …
Research supports use in chronic bronchitis and chronic cough.
A Bulgarian study (Matev et al, 1982) aimed to ascertain if Plantago major had expectorant and anti-phlogistic (i.e. reducing inflammation and/or fever) actions. They reported favourable results following treatment of 25 patients with chronic bronchitis for a 25 to 30 day period with Plantago major.
A German article published in Wein Med Wochenschr reviewed clinical data and confirmed Plantago lanceolata to be anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic and an immune stimulant. They particularly highlighted the use of Plantago for chronic cough (Wegener et al, 1999).
I have already mentioned I personally find plantain cooling. Culpeper believed it a herb of Venus.
Frawley et al suggests bitterness and astringency combine to give this herb its diuretic action. Furthermore, this combination of bitters and astringency, they find better for a Pitta constitution. These actions cool blood and energy thereby reducing Pitta. Finally, Frawley et al describe plantain a cooling alterative.
Fallopia japonica orReynoutria japonica or Polygonum cuspidatum
Family Name: Polygonaceae
French Name: Renouée du Japon
This plant is native to East Asia predominately Japan, Taiwan and northern China.
In its natural habitat it has predator plant louse to keep it under control. Unfortunately elsewhere it has earned the reputation as the world’s worst invasive species. More commonly known as Japanese Knotweed.
We so do not need the knotweed!
What’s the problem?
Well those little louse critters unfortunately, are also non-native to the rest of the world too. So Japanese knotweed is causing a whole host of problems. It is outcompeting native flora and a contributor to river bank erosion which increases the likelihood of flooding.
In the UK the plant has caused significant delays and cost to development and structural damage. In fact in some cases mortgages have been refused where it has been found in gardens. You can begin to see why we so do not need the knotweed!
Where can you find it?
It is now becoming common in urban areas, on waste land, railways, road sides and river banks. When back in Devon last September I was horrified to find it growing along an estuary where I often went herb walks. In the UK they are attempting to introduce the louse in the hopes of controlling the plant.
I have now found it growing on the riverbank here in France, some three kilometres from where I live. Apparently in the Parc de Saint Périer, Morigny-Champigny, Essonne (south of Paris) they are working with goats to control plant growth.
I remembered some years back it mentioned in a class or lecture that it did indeed have medicinal properties.
Use in TCM…
Known as Hu Zhang in China. The dried root and leaf are utilised. It apparently has a bitter taste. Energetically described cold and dry.
In traditional Chinese medicine it is utilised to eliminate damp heat and for pain relief. Some recommended conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, trauma injuries, bronchitis, pleurisy and other damp heat lung infections.
Use in Japan…
Wild foraged as a wild edible spring vegetable in Japan. Known as Itadori which apparently means ‘pain relieving’. In addition to use as a medicinal in some areas.
a bit of science…
Constituents include anthraquinones and anthraglycosides primarily emodin. In addition there are tannins and resveratrol. Emodin and resveratrol have shown anti-tumour activity in research.
… the future
In conclusion it seems highly unlikely Japanese knotweed will ever be eradicated. Resilient to cutting. Roots can be 10 feet down and some 23 feet across. Furthermore even the tiniest piece of root remaining can return.
For the moment we so do not need the knotweed. It is hoped a way of controlling this plant is discovered before it outcompetes some of our native medicinals. And causes other damage.
Hopefully a way of controlling growth will be discovered. Perhaps then it may well become a useful medicinal ally.
Finally, I would advise against use as a medicinal in countries where it is non native. It is probable there is contamination with pesticides in the role of control.
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?
It 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.
Culpeper 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!
White dead nettle is a member of the thyme or mint family. However, as the common name suggests clumps of the herb resembles the stinging nettle. When you look more closely you see the typical labiate flowers (Barker) and there is no sting! White refers to the colour of the flowers in contrast to her cousin the red dead nettle.
The scientific name Lamium is from Greek ‘laimos’ meaning gullet or throat and believed to have been given as the flowers are thought to resemble half-open jaws (Mességué).
Where can you find White Dead Nettle
You will find the white dead nettle growing on waste ground near farmlands and by hedges generally between May and October although it can be found as early as April and as late as December (Barker). McLeod adds it will grow on poor soil.
Although considered a European herb Barker describes it scarce, and sometimes absent, from northern Europe including Scandinavian countries, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and North England. Flowering tops of the herb are utilised medicinally and harvested between April and July.
I have it growing in two areas of my medicinal herb garden. When I lived in Devon it grew wild along the estuary. I think it is a most beautiful flower but sadly underestimated as a wild flower. Personally I believe her to prefer a slightly more moist and cooler climate than the south of France. Although white dead nettle grows well here she flowered much more on the estuary in Devon than she ever has in my garden. The flowers passed over before June was over. However, June was unusually high temperatures.
Some organic gardeners use it in companion planting with potatoes. Apparently it improves growth and flavour of potatoes as well as deterring bugs. However, McLeod suggests caution with this companion as she considers it could easily become invasive. I have not found it invasive neither on the estuary in Devon nor in my garden. However, some Lamiaceae are invasive, consider mint.
Leaves were used for their astringency to staunch wounds in historical times while the flowering tops were used to make a tea for female disorders and also to stimulate the liver (McLeod).
Culpeper knew the herb as ‘white archangel’ although he also discusses a red and a yellow archangel interchangeably. He described it as making the head merry and, as mentioned by McLeod, he too used it to staunch bleeding but he highlights bleeding from the nose and mouth and recommends treatment by application to the nape of the neck.
Culpeper also utilised for old ulcers, bruises, burns and to draw out splinters. Finally, he used it to ease joint pains and in particular mentions gout although he also used it for sciatica. Interestingly, he seemed to use what he called the red archangel for women with heavy menstruation although he noted the chief use of all archangels to be for women.
Mességué also discusses different types of dead nettles and indeed mentions five varieties. It can be difficult to differentiate which species he indicates but lists retention of urine, respiratory tract irritation, painful and/or irregular or heavy periods and vaginal discharge and anaemia. He, like Culpeper, used it to treat wounds as well as for ulcers, burns and gout. Other indications included for varicose veins and ear complaints.
Menzies-Trull in the modern-day, indicates it for painful and/or heavy periods, PMS, vaginal discharge as well as gout, sciatica, anaemia and varicose veins. He finds it beneficial for catarrh which can be respiratory, vaginal or urinary. He combines with honey as a wound herb. It seems most of our current day uses have been around for many, many years.
I note both Culpeper (traditionally) and Menzies-Trull indicate for gout. I have to say it is not a herb that I have ever considered. Aware I am going off track, the stinging nettle I have used with much success for patients with gout.
Barker indicates for painful and heavy periods and vaginal discharge particularly leucorrhoea. Other indications include mild insomnia, benign prostatic hypertrophy, upper respiratory catarrh and bladder disorders.
and a wee bit of science…
An article in Medical Herbalism (1993) lists Lamium album as being high in tannins and flavone glycosides. The article suggests these constituents increase the pelvic circulation with the tannins toning and strengthening endometrial lining. The article believes these actions provide an effective pelvic decongestant which helps regulate menstruation.
Barker also includes tannins as well as the flavone glycoside isoquercitrin. In addition, he notes it has some mucilage, some saponin, amines, volatile oil and some potassium salts which he considers may have a diuretic action.
There seems little research into the medicinal use of Lamium album. A Polish study looked at the constituents and found two phenylpropanoid glycosides, lamalboside and acteoside as well as rutoside and quercetin (BUDZIANOWSKI, J., et al, 1995. Phenylpropanoid esters from Lamium album flowers, Phytochemistry; 1995 Mar;38(4):997-1001 ). The study did not look at the action of these constituents.
how to use white dead nettle…
Mességué recommended a handful of herb infused in 1¾ pints of water and taken at a dose of 2 to 4 cupfuls a day. The same dosage for hand or foot baths though these he recommended twice a day. For wounds he recommended powdering dried flowers and mixing a pinch of this with honey for application directly on external wounds. Of course he lumps all dead nettles together in his book.
Barker suggests tincture as a simple recommending a dose of 2-5mls three times a day of 1:5 in 25% alcohol. If making an infusion he recommends 10-20g of herb to 500ml of water. Take 3 times a day though double the herb content if making a compress for external application.
Culpeper described it as a herb of Venus and therefore proposed it was specific for women. As a student herbalist, when I first tried as a tea, I found the herb to have a protective personality. Indeed one class colleague actually described it as motherly. It is interesting Culpeper associated white dead nettle a female herb. The tea had a mineral taste and came across as being nourishing. Definitely a warm herb.
Herbs hot in the second degree Culpeper chose to break up tough humours. This description works well with the Medical Herbalism describing the tannins of white dead nettle as having a pelvic decongestant action.
I have a printed article titled Energetic Prescribing. For the life of me I cannot remember from where it came. Unfortunately, I have no idea of the author. The article describes Lamium album as one of the stronger tonics. Described as slightly more warming, stimulating and capable of rectifying hypofunction of organs and tissues. I particularly like this statement talking of medicines hot in the second degree.
“…they increase the effect of normal metabolism by their essential force and strength…”
I like Culpeper’s description of “making the head merry”. Whenever I see this plant in flower she does make me merry. A herb I have utilised fairly infrequently in practice. However, although quite specific in mission, I should not like to be without.
The scientific name Artemisia is often ascribed from the name of the goddess Artemis. You may see Artemis listed as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, of hills, mountains and wilderness, of childbirth and relieving disease in women or of virginity and protection of young girls. Artemis is a busy lady!
There are several Artemisia species. In fact there are way too many to write about in one little post.
My training as a medical herbalist included four Artemisia medicinal herbs. Since qualifying I have used two of these, both common European species, quite frequently.
Of the four Artemisia I studied I have three of them growing in my medicinal herb garden.
A. arbrotanum – southernwood
A. absinthum – wormwood
A. annua – sweet wormwood or sweet annie
A. vulgaris – mugwort
Therapeutically the above Artemisia medicinal herbs all have actions relevant to digestive and nervous systems, particularly wormwood and mugwort. Having more personal experience in use of both wormwood and mugwort I shall write about them separately.
Artemisia annua I shall also write about independently. This plant has much research for use as an anti-malarial. Although I haven’t used it personally it is worthy of a separate write-up.
I have this growing in the garden. I rather humbly confess to remembering little from my studies of this plant other than one thing!
The one thing I remembered quite clearly was the smell is offensive to moths and, if hung in the wardrobe, would drive them away. Hence the reason it is growing in my medicinal herb garden.
I do remember my student tasting of herbal tea and it smelling minty fresh almost like toothpaste. The taste I thought quite drying. Our tutor that day, Maureen Robertson, told us it was high in volatile oils. I guess this is why I remember the smell from my initial herb tasting.
I have a sprig from the garden as I am writing this. It does have such a lovely fresh smell although I no longer would describe it as minty fresh. As she is growing in the garden I really ought to get to know her better.
… moths again ??
Anyway back to moths … Having, extremely unwillingly, succumbed to moths eating some of my best clothes. Consequently I planted it in the garden. I hope I shall never have need of it my wardrobe. A lovely addition to the garden.
Menzies-Trull mentions the moths too. In addition to aromatic, bitter and carminative, those digestive actions, he also includes nervine tonic.
Indications include peripheral vascular disease, anorexia, flatulent dyspepsia, muscle cramps and spasms, sciatica and rheumatism. Amenorrhoea is another indication and surely under one of the many duties of the goddess Artemis! Externally in lotions for scalp and skin lice and as an insect repellent.
Energetically a herb of Mercury. Mercurial herbs have a tendency to be dry, perhaps the dry taste I remember.
And a few other species
Some of the other Artemisia species you may come across. I am less familiar with this group having never used them medicinally.
A. arborescens – giant mugwort or blue Artemis
A. californica – sagebrush
A. douglasiana – Californian mugwort or blue/green sage
A. tridentata – big sagebrush or white sage
Artemisa arborescens, I confess, I have no practical knowledge. However, I understand it is one of the Artemisia medicinal herbs as I read about therapeutic use for both essential oil and hydrosol. It is high in chamazulene.
A little science …
Chamazulene is a constituent. Found in a few Asteraceae botanical family plants. Commonly known ones are yarrow and chamomile. German chamomile essential oil has the most beautiful blue colour due to the chamazulene. This constituent is largely found attributable for the anti-inflammatory action in these plants. In some cases, particularly in German chamomile, it is also anti-allergenic.
essential oil use
Jeanne Rose, an American aromatherapist, highlights use of A. arborescens for sensitive skins, skin infections, eczema and psoriasis. I assume these indications refer to blending essential oil in a carrier oil or cream for external skin application.
and a little confusion …
Apparently Robert Tisserand, a well-known UK aromatherapist, advises against use in therapy due to high thujone content.
However, I read an interesting article in the Aromatic Newsletter of The Aromatic Plant Project from Spring 2005. Interestingly, their article disputes this. They advise both essential oil and hydrosol of Californian Blue Artemis, Artemisa arborescens, are free of thujone. It seems probable this tarnished reputation is due to mis-identity. The essential oil of a camphor Artemisia, commonly known as Moroccan Blue Artemis, is particularly high in thujone.
Incidentally the hydrosol is apparently a gorgeous sky blue colour, naturally lighter than the essential oil. The hydrosol indicated, as essential oil, for damaged skin. In particular the Aromatic Plant Project recommend hydrosol as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever following face lifts and other surgeries.
A. californica, A. douglasiana and A. tridentata
The above three are utilised in smudge sticks and incense. I shall write about smudge sticks separately.
further Artemisia medicinal herbs ?
Seems like A douglasiana has some medicinal uses too, certainly the essential oil and hydrosol.
The Aromatic Plant Project advise A. douglasiana is a beneficial wash to ease the pain of aching muscles and joints. I assume they mean the hydrosol as they later advise massage with the essential oil in carrier oil for aching muscles and pain on the surface of the body.
In addition, for mental clarity and ease of mental distress, inhalation of essential oil is recommended. The hydrosol is also recommended added to the bath and for a tonic drink.
Menzies-Trull includes in his herbal. The primary action he lists as antimicrobial although he also includes anti-fungal and anti-protozoal. He suggests burning the herb in the sick room.
There is some overlap in indications with wormwood, mugwort, sweet annie and southernwood. Some digestive indications include dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, gastroenteritis, colic and worms.
The goddess of childbirth and relieving disease in women once again makes her appearance as this Artemisia is indicated for amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea and postpartum haemorrhage.
Final Artemis thoughts …
The above includes eight of the more common Artemisia species you are likely to come across. It seems that seven are Artemisia medicinal herbs. Three, of which, I have no personal medicinal knowledge. Although some are utilised in smudge sticks.
Finally, there are so many Artemisia species and this highlights the differences within Genus. Particularly important when one considers the differences between both the Californian and Moroccan Artemis Blue species and the potentially toxic high thujone content. In conclusion, one should always be cautious and ensure they have the correct Artemisia species particularly for therapeutic use. If in doubt, seek out your local medical herbalist.
The scientific name ‘cannabinum’ means hemp-like and refers to the leaves of this plant thought to resemble Cannabis sativa.
Common names include holy rope, hemp-agrimony, again due to the leaves, and raspberries and cream. The latter, probably due to the pinkish or light purple colouring of the flowers.
However, a number of species of Eupatorium are medicinal. Boneset and gravel root are both indigenous to North America. E. cannabinum is a European species. It is a vigorous plant in the Aude. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and hemp-agrimony appear to have similar medicinal uses.
Although E. cannabinum grows and spreads quickly, at least in my garden here in the Aude, it is worth planting as it is loved by the insect world, particularly butterflies. It is a beautiful, tall plant.
In the UK you will find hemp-agrimony in bloom from around June to September. The photographs are from my own garden in the Aude or the surrounding countryside. It is still blooming here at present.
Culpeper called it bastard agrimony, bastard hemp, water agrimony or water hemp. He utilised it for the drying, cleansing and strengthening properties. A blood purifier. He described it
“… healeth and drieth, cutteth and cleanseth, thick and tough tumours … It helps the cachexia or evil disposition of the body … “
Maud Grieve recommends a tea of dry leaves for prompt relief, if taken hot at the onset, of influenza or feverish chills.
Interestingly, an ethnobotanical study, in 2007, on the usage of wild medicinal herbs in the high mountains of central Serbia included Eupatorium cannabinum. Researchers were surprised to discover E. cannabinum utilised for influenza-like illnesses.
Reputedly, leaves were wrapped around bread to prevent it turning mouldy.
Barker suggests Eupatorium cannabinum is best fresh. Leaves, root and flower-heads used in herbal medicine. It has aperitif, cholagogue and laxative actions as well as being diaphoretic and expectorant. Furthermore, he particularly indicates it for flu with digestive upset and loss of appetite. E. cannabinum strengthens and tones the liver.
This is a plant I have grown to understand much more since growing in my own garden. My first tasting of this plant, as a dried tea, was as a student herbalist. I found it to have a sour but refreshing and cleansing taste linking with the actions. I remember some of the other students found it stimulating to the upper mucous membranes.
It appears to have dropped out-of-favour with many herbalists today. This could be due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids although it is not a herb one would consider for long-term use. Perhaps it is due to a preference for more exotic medicinals.
… a little bit of science…
As a result of the research conducted on E. cannabinum several pharmacological constituents are noted. Constituents discovered include pyrrolizidine alkaloids, flavonoids and volatile oils (including thymol).
In particular research has studied polysaccharides for the immuno-stimulant action and, sesquiterpene lactones in relation to anti-tumour activity. Furthermore a study in 2014 researched this latter activity against colon cancer cells.
some final thoughts …
Finally, the research into the anti-tumour activity I find particularly interesting. I wonder if the “cachexia or evil disposition” of Culpeper’s time was, in fact, cancer? We can only surmise.
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.