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.
Tilioideae (formally Tiliaceae)Tilioideae is asub-family of Malvaceae.
French common name: Tilleul
Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree
So 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. Tilia x vulgaris and Tilia x europaea are both applied as scientific names for 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 often described as heart-shaped are occasionally slightly asymmetrical at the base.
Linden blossom or lime flower – how to use and dosage
The 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.
This wonderful tree has countless examples of traditional use.
The wood was used for detailed carvings. Easier to work with than other woods particularly for minute detail. 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.
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. Even today many herbalists utilise lime flower for insomnia.
Mills (2001) indicates lime flowers for any acute infections particularly if accompanied by fever. Thus indicating 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 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 particularly like lime flower for children. It is quite possibly one of my favourite herbs for them.
I did read a review of scientific evidence sourced into linden blossom absolute on an aromatherapy site some years back. Inhalation experiments tested essential oil of Tilia cordata and two of its components, benzaldehyde and benzyl alcohol.
T. cordata produced a significant decrease for traditional indications such as headaches, migraine and anxiety. In conclusion use is justified in aroma-therapeutical applications. The quoted study was from 1992, Arch. Pharm. Apr. 325(4):247-8.
Energetically, linden blossom or lime flower has a warm temperament (Mills, 1993).
While Holmes describes linden energetically as a bit pungent, sweet and astringent. In Ayurvedic energetics he describes it as decreasing Pitta and Kapha.
Furthermore, 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:
The Pinaceae family are resin producing trees (Barker).
This magnificent tree is not native to Europe. I did not study this as part of my herbal degree. However, I did cover the essential oil in my aromatherapy diploma training. I love the smell of this oil and find it very grounding.
The first two photographs were taken at the Aude Arboretum, where there is a very large cedarwood tree. The other photographs were taken in the Forêt Domaniale de Callong-Mirailles, where there are a group of planted, smaller cedarwood trees.
As mentioned, it is not a native European tree. The common name ‘atlas cedarwood’ gives a clue to the origin, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
Cedarwood oil was utilised by the Egyptians in mummification and the wood from the tree, as well as cypress wood, was used for building sarcophagi.
Frankincense, myrrh and cedarwood were used as temple incense aromatics and as offerings to the Gods.
It is probable, in Egypt, this was the Lebanon cedar rather than the Atlas Cedar.
Cedarwood oil is, described by Price et al, as a lymph tonic and a particularly good choice for lymphatic circulatory problems. West (2003) notes cedarwood beneficial for skin degeneration which can be a problem in oedema cases. Cedarwood is high in terpenes. Terpenes are hydrophobic, meaning they aid removal of excess fluid from tissues (Price, 2004).
I wrote the following summary of cedarwood oil some years ago when I was regularly working with the oil particularly in aromatherapy therapeutic massage.
Physical Uses: More useful for long standing chronic conditions rather than acute ones. Tonic for the glandular and nervous systems regulating homeostasis. Expectorant properties make it effective for the respiratory tract in easing bronchitis, coughs and catarrh. It is also of benefit for genito-urinary tract problems such as cystitis. Good for the skin particularly oily skins and pus conditions and eczema and psoriasis. Excellent hair tonic particularly useful for dandruff and alopecia. The regenerative properties make this oil useful for conditions such as arthritis.
Emotional Uses: Calming and soothing action makes this of benefit for nervous tension and anxious states. Uplifting. Regenerating. Gives strength in times of emotional crisis. Steadies the conscious mind. Can ‘buck-up’ the ego when in a strange or unfamiliar situation.
and a bit about the chemical constituents …
Cedarwood contains many constituents. Among these are the sesquiterpenes, cedrene and terpene. Sesquiterpenes are antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, calming and slightly hypotensive and some may be analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-allergic and anti-oxidant.
The essential oil also contains atlantone, a ketone. Ketones are calming and sedative, mucolytic (some ketones are expectorant), analgesic, digestive and encourage wound healing.
Finally a mighty tree producing the wonderful therapeutic essential oil of cedarwood.
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)
Sweet 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.
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.
Viola 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…
Under 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.
At this time of year there is less variety of plant life. However, whatever the season thankfully we always have the trees.
The European ash, or common ash, is one of the easiest trees to identify in winter with those black velvet buds and ‘keys’ (see images).
The Oleaceae contains mostly trees and shrubs such as the European ash, olive and privet. Jasmine is also in this botanical family.
For the bitings of venomous beasts, Culpeper advised using the young tender tops and leaves taken inwardly and applied outwardly. Dropsy and “to abate the greatness of those that are too gross or too fat” were treated with a small quantity of distilled water every morning. Decoctions of leaves in white wine he recommended to break and expel stones and cure jaundice. It is not clear where the stones are though I would presume, based on the jaundice reference, the gallbladder?
The bark he used instead of leaves in winter time. Interestingly ash keys, usually also found in winter, he used for stitches and pains in the sides from wind and for removing stones by provoking urine. One assumes he refers to kidney stones here. He noted keys easily kept all year.
Culpeper added he could justify all, one assumes from personal experience, except for the bitings of venomous beasts. Whether these venomous beasts were mythical creatures such as werewolves or more likely snakes who knows? However, I guess they were few venomous snakes (or beasts) in Culpepers 1650’s London as he had never had cause to try it!
Barker notes its use as a litholytic in Renaissance times, pre-Culpeper. An indispensable timber. Everything from furniture, spears and walking sticks, carts and oars were made from the ash. A tree of magic and mythology.
David Winston, an American herbalist, lists the American or white ash (Fraxinus americana) in the American Extra Pharmacopoeia. Both Cherokee and eclectics uses included for pelvic congestion and uterine fibroids.
This well known tree was not included in my own herbal training. Leaves and winged fruits are utilised in modern herbal medicine. As is bark, from two to three year old twigs, and the sap too (Barker).
Leaflets are harvested without the petiole while young, ideally before the end of June. Harvest bark, from young twigs, in April. Leaves are prepared as infusion and the bark a cold maceration followed by infusion. A syrup of fruits is advised.
Barker describes the European ash as a diuretic and anti-rheumatic. Beneficial for rheumatism, gout and oedema. As a febrifuge, for fevers, fruit or bark are used. He describes it a mild laxative although adds not the bark. It is also astringent, here, he notes mainly the bark. Leaves are chewed for bad breath. Barker suggests combining with some peppermint or lemon balm leaves.
Menzies-Trull lists many of the same indications as Barker; halitosis, fevers, oedema, gout and rheumatism particularly highlighting it a uric acid eliminator. In addition, he describes ash a slow and persistent remedy.
Similar to the American ash, Menzies-Trull, describes the European ash as toning the uterus and indicates ash for uterine prolapse, endometriosis with oedema and enlarged cervix.
Coumarins, flavone glycosides, resins, tannins and vitamins are included constituents listed by Barker. The resins and tannins are probably highest in the bark and relate to the astringent action.
and a bit of research…
A German study from 1995 investigated the pharmacological properties of a compound used as an anti-rheumatic. It contains a combination of Populus tremula, Solidago virgaurea and Fraxinus excelsior (European ash). The team conducted various studies. They noted little previous research into Fraxinus excelsior itself however, they found its coumarin components to have a variety of pharmacological properties. The combination of the three herbs was comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) without the side effects (von Kruedener, 1995).
and finally some energetics…
Governed by the sun (Culpeper). Both Cherokee and eclectics described the bark energetically as bitter and acrid (Winston).