Dandelion teeth of the lion – for kidney, liver and digestive function

Taraxacum officinale

Family:

Asteraceae

So why dandelion? I have sat down to write this post for a friend. Ian is a fantastic photographer. Frequently his stunning photographs include trees, squirrels or his pet rabbit.

dandelion Taraxacum

This time, he emailed through this most beautiful photograph of a dandelion ‘clock’ or seed head. He described it as looking “like a lampshade from Habitat”!

Nature is often far more beautiful than any manmade product and, albeit his photograph is manmade, he has captured the beauty of nature perfectly.

And so my reason for this post? I threatened to bore him with the medicinal properties. He assured me he would not be bored. We shall see! I have brewed a cup of dandelion root and sat down to commence… He has no idea of the documentary I am about to provide. It is certainly one medicinal ally I could not be without in my herbal dispensary.

going back to my roots… a little…

Thinking of Ian’s rabbit I do wonder if Boz likes dandelions. My own childhood rabbit loved them. Thoughts have now moved from rabbits to chickens. My neighbours have six chickens. They love dandelion leaves.

I mentioned above the ‘clock’ or seed head. The proper name is pappus. I know some children used to play ‘clock’, however, I believed when I blew the pappus I was releasing captured fairies. I would make a wish and set them free to fairy land to make my wish come true, completely unaware in the process I was scattering seeds into any neighbouring garden lawns. Oh dear!

As I child I also remember the ‘ginger van’. This was a weekly van selling bottles of carbonated soft drinks, I guess it was run by Barr. Barr are now better known for Irn Bru. However, as a child the van had an array of soft drinks from cream soda or red cola to dandelion and burdock! We used to get to choose a bottle every week and you got money back the following week for returning your empty bottle. Recycling at its best!

Back to dandelion and burdock, I doubt very much the soft drink from the ginger van actually contained dandelion or burdock. It was probably flavourings and way too much sugar. A wonderful weekly childhood treat no less. I guess at some stage in history it probably stemmed from these two plant roots. Both excellent liver tonics.

The image of the dandelion pappus below is actually from my first website when I lived in Devon in the UK. I chose this as I liked the way the dandelion stood out strong and defiant against the blue backdrop.

First of all we ought to mention the name…

Taraxacum officinale dandelion pappus

Here we go a little French. The name dandelion is possibly derived from ‘dent de lion’. This basically translates as ‘tooth of the lion’. Barker suggests this given name was possibly due to the jagged leaf edge. However, I recall the root was thought to resemble the white tooth of a lion although I cannot remember where I read this or where I heard it. Who knows?

And so do the French call it dent de lion? Well no. They call it ‘pissenlit’. So if I tell you ‘en lit’ translates as ‘in bed’. I’m guessing you’ll get the general idea. It is indeed a diuretic, particularly the leaf. Another good choice for a common name.

The scientific name, Taraxacum, probably stems from Greek. Grieve notes ‘taraxos’ is Greek for disorder and ‘akos’ for remedy. Although Barker notes it may also stem from Arabic referring to eyesight as it was apparently recommended in the Middle Ages for eye conditions (Barker).

Where to find a dandelion… Really?

Podlech tells us dandelion is throughout Europe and also in the west of Asia. Common in meadows, pastures, fields and waste ground. He describes the humble Taraxacum officinale a solitary yellow flower-head on a long leafless stem with ray florets.

The leaves are in a basal rosette and are long, narrow and lobed with the lobes pointing back toward the base. The hollow stems exude a milky white juice.

Interestingly, Messéngué believes the Greeks and Romans didn’t know it and therefore it was brought to Europe perhaps by barbarian invaders.

In one of his many herbals, Mills seemingly agrees. He believes dandelion originates from central Asia. Although now found growing in northern hemispheres it is in most parts of the world and even arctic regions. He adds, dandelion prefers moist soil in pastures, meadows, lawns, and waysides. Easily propagated from root division or sowing the seeds. He advises it quickly spreads, as we well know. To contain dandelion he recommends picking the flowers before they seed.

Unfortunately, in the garden lawn, it is all to often attacked by vicious herbicides.

I love this quote from Judith Berger taken from her book Herbal Rituals.

“… we imagine that the cures for our ills are complicated, exotic, and expensive, often the plants which are meant to be our constant companions love to settle at our feet. These plants are extremely beneficial to our vitality and resiliency. In the case of dandelion, nature has placed in our midst an exceptionally healing food and medicine plant.”

Traditional Uses:

Traditional prescribing and research suggest the root has the stronger choleretic and cholagogue activities and the leaf has the stronger diuretic properties. Traditionally, the root and leaf were utilised for similar conditions albeit the leaf was considered weaker than the root except in its diuretic action (Bone). Personally I would agree and would choose the leaf for a diuretic action. Remember that French name.

Dandelion was traditionally used for cholecystitis, gallstones, jaundice, dyspepsia with constipation, enlargement of the liver or spleen, dropsy and uterine obstruction (Bone).

Nicolas Culpeper utilised for obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen. He found it had a cleansing property and suggested the herb for the passage of urine in both young and old. Also recommended for jaundice, fever, to procure rest and sleep and, for washing sores.

Messéngué advised eating as much dandelion salad as you liked as it would do “a power of good”. He also utilised the young buds as a substitute for capers. However, he particularly highlighted the medicinal properties, describing it a whole pharmacy of gold.

Modern Uses:

Taraxacum officinale dandelion leaves and flowerMany of the traditional uses remain today. Mills recommends dandelion as tonic for the liver and hepato-biliary functions. It supports and encourages these areas to adapt when under stress.

As a cooling bitter it has a gentle but strong ability to reduce fever with the additional advantage of stimulating the digestive system and useful in convalescence. As a result of the gentle eliminative properties it is recommended for constipation. Mills describes dandelion a choleretic herb improving bile production and cholagogic stimulating bile flow. Ideal for bilious conditions such as heaviness in the epigastrium possibly with nausea. Don’t you just love that word ‘bilious’.

Also recommended in treatment of arthritic disease to help remove toxic waste from the affected joints through the urine. And so we go back to Culpeper and his cleansing description.

Hoffmann recommends for congestive cases of jaundice and congestion of the liver and gallbladder suggesting dandelion has an ability to move things on.

Bone indicates dandelion for jaundice, gallstones, constipation, dyspepsia, flatulence, loss of appetite and intestinal bloating. Recommended for muscular rheumatism, chronic skin diseases and cystitis in combination with uva ursi. I imagine the cystitis use refers to the leaf. Certainly I would add dandelion leaf to most prescriptions for urinary tract infections.

Bone recommends caution in using the root if gallstones are present. His reasoning is not clear, nor is it clear if he meant you could use the leaf. I assume his caution relates to the possibility of moving the gallstones thereby obstructing the digestive tract. Personally I have not heard nor found evidence of this.

At the very least, I hope by now, you have grasped dandelion is probably a first port of call for happy kidney, liver and digestive function.

…kidney stone preventive and a bit of arthritic nutrition…

Weiss recommends taking high intake of dandelion tea once a week to stimulate diuresis and prevent recurrence of kidney stones. I assume he refers to the leaf here.

He also has a spring and autumn treatment regime for chronic arthritics where he suggests taking dandelion in salad, sandwiches and soup, as a tea and in fresh juice. This increases mobility and reduces stiffness.

I assume he means the leaf when discussing salad, sandwiches and fresh juice too. I have included dandelion, in combination with other herbs, in many prescriptions for arthritis.

and some other thoughts…

Duke recommends using dandelion as a preventive to osteoporosis. He describes dandelion as containing boron, calcium and silicon to strengthen the bone. Boron apparently works by increasing oestrogen levels in the blood.

He is not alone in this recommendation. Susun Weed uses “calcium and mineral-rich” dandelion in a vinegar for bone health. At a mere 5ft in height, and watching my mother, aunt and grandmother shrink, I’m all for the dandelion!

Weed utilises dandelion to ease hot flushes too. She prefers fresh leaf tincture. The root she uses fresh or dried in tincture form. She adds eating fresh dandelion leaves or drinking dandelion flower wine is also effective. Dandelion aids the liver in processing those menopausal hormones. Carrying along on the menopausal theme, Weed recommends dandelion tincture for those with itchy, sensitive skin and light-headedness. Common menopausal symptoms.

Duke adds the Chinese reputedly simmer the root in two or three cups of water until only half the liquid remains and use this remaining syrup mixture for tonsillitis. The Chinese also use the root as a compress to treat mastitis.

A bit of science…

The constituents include bitter glycosides, triterpenoids, tannins, volatile oil, inulin and potassium salts (Mills). Podlech also includes bitters, tannins and essential oils as the key constituents in addition to flavonoids. Bartram adds carotenoids and sesquiterpene lactones.

Hoffmann (1999) states up to 5% of dandelion is potassium, although it is not clear if he is referring to the root, leaf or the herb as a whole. He advises dandelion is one of the best natural sources of potassium. In addition to potassium, he includes glycosides, choline and triterpenoids in the constituent listing.

Weiss concludes that it is the sum of a large quantity of different constituents that give dandelion its real value and that it contains bitters, vitamins and enzyme acting substances that simulate the kidneys and liver function.

Cardiac glycosides may give dandelion its diuretic use in heart conditions and its ability to increase potassium levels in the blood. Iridoids and sesquiterpene lactones are bitter principles and bitters have a similar action to gastrin increasing hepatic bile flow and the appetite (Mills).

The leaf has a more pronounced diuretic effect and recommended for premenstrual fluid retention. However, root is preferred where additional signs of a sluggish liver, including constipation.

The leaf also has the higher content of potassium making it useful in the treatment of elevated systolic blood pressure. The root is indicated rather than leaf for cirrhosis of the liver. Also root as a hepato-protective agent to minimise damage to the liver when exposed to toxins. For severe morning sickness, in the first trimester of pregnancy, root is indicated (Mills).

Mills adds the leaf has so much potassium it increases blood potassium levels. Due to this it should be used as a diuretic in cases of heart failure.

Dosage in herbal medicine

Personally I prefer fresh tincture of leaf rather than a dried leaf tea. I very much enjoy a brew of the root and also use root in tincture form. When prescribing for patients tinctures are often easiest. The following lists dosage methods from some well-known herbalists.

Mills utilises root and/or the leaves. Roots prepared by decoction and the leaves by infusion. He recommends dosage of 2 to 8 g dried root or 4 to 10 g of dried leaf three times a day. If requiring the cholagogue or choleretic properties take thirty minutes before eating (Mills).

Hoffmann recommends tincture at a dose of 5 to 10 ml three times a day and leaves eaten raw in salads.

Roast and ground the roots to take freely as a coffee. Eat leaves raw in salads or cooked as spinach. Liquidise fresh plant and take as a juice at a dose of 1 to 4 teaspoons (Bartram).

Bone recommends a dose of 6 to 11.5 ml of 1:1 liquid extract of the leaf per day and 40 to 80 ml per week. For the root, 3 to 6 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per day and 20 to 40 ml per week.

Boil briefly a tea containing 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of water of dried chopped root and leaf and leave for 15 minutes. Take every morning and evening for 4 to 6 weeks as a treatment in those with a tendency to form gallstones (Weiss).

Herbal Energetics

Dandelion is a cooling herb. In the time of Culpeper, choler in the body was believed to cause conditions such as ‘dry scabbing’. Today believed to be eczema. Dry bowels with constipation, large hard veins suggested an excessively hot and dry liver. Dandelion, as a cooling herb was indicated.

Attenuating or discutient herbs were used for cutting and thinning humours. Discutients were cooler in action than attenuating herbs. These herbs have a dilating rather than astringent action. Dandelion is a discutient herb. Dandelion is also considered a cooling diuretic (Tobyn).

Energetically ruled by Jupiter cold and dry in the second degree. Cooling stomach and liver. Opening, cleansing, healing and diuretic.

Magic and Witchcraft

Riva includes dandelion in her list of Herbs and Roots for Power. Take a handful of herb in a small bag and place in the tub for a herb bath. She describes this as stimulating and particularly beneficial for those with psychic talents or those wishing to summon spirits.

In addition, Riva adds, as a herb of Jupiter, Thursday is the best day for conducting spells with dandelion. She finds it a particularly favourable herb for those born under Sagittarius or Taurus.

Finally she recommends a cup of dandelion tea overcomes despondency and keeps you protected from disease.

A few more words…

Before I studied herbal medicine I often drank roasted dandelion root as a coffee substitute. I quite enjoyed it.

My first tasting of dandelion root as a decoction was as a student herbalist. It was a blind tasting. The smell reminded me of potatoes boiling but with a sweet-smelling undertone. I remember finding the taste sweet and, I felt, quite cooling.

At the time I imagined giving this herb to a person who was a bit floaty and in need of grounding, a little airy-fairy and dreamy. Someone always on the go, I felt it would help to ground them. My brother came to mind. When he was younger he was certainly a dreamer. He was, and still is, always on the go and never seems to have time to stop, sit-down and eat.

We tasted the leaf tea later in class. The smell of the leaf was similar to damp grass, though not quite as strong. The taste was slightly more metallic than the root.

Since qualifying I have used tinctures more than teas and probably root more than leaf. However, I do find the leaf has found its way into many prescriptions for urinary tract infections and fluid retention. I have also included it in some herbal prescriptions for high blood pressure.

If you ever meet Ian either in his capacity as a photographer or one of his many Woodland Trust ventures you can ask him about his knowledge of the humble dandelion. I’ll be eager to hear if I did indeed bore him with this rather lengthy narrative.

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal

Stachys betonica

Family

Lamiaceae

Wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalWhat is in a name?

Named after its discoverers, the Vettones of Lusitania (Barker). However, de Baïracli Levy suggested the name is derived from Celtic ‘ben’ referring to head and ‘ton’ meaning tonic.

Wood betony can be found growing in common heaths, on grassy banks and edges of woodland apparently preferring lighter soils. Found growing throughout Europe although scarce in the north-west so rarely found in Scandinavian countries, Scotland or Ireland (Barker).

Aerial parts are utilised medicinally. Barker prefers fresh herb, adding it should be harvested during flowering.

Culpeper noted betony seemed to prefer shade and although flowering in July he found it better when harvested in May. This links in with Barker’s modern-day recommendation for harvesting.

I have this medicinal ally growing in my garden in Aude. Flowering in June had just began when I took the above photo. I love this plant. I find simply seeing the flower gives a pleasant feeling. Over the years I have discovered lots of interesting bits and pieces on use.

Traditional Use:
wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal
Delicate Betony flowerhead

Held in high esteem by Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Reputedly a cure for a number of conditions. In addition against sorcery (Barker).

Culpeper (1995) described wood betony as precious and believed every man should have it in his house as a conserve, oil, ointment, plaster and syrup!

Culpeper discusses Stachys in relation to the work of Anthony Musa, a physician to Caesar, whom he seemed to hold in high regard. The herbs use as a bitter was popular. Used to aid digestion, for indigestion and weak stomachs, intestinal worms, colic, jaundice and griping bowel pains. Furthermore it was used for head pains and epilepsy. Powdered herb mixed with honey was used for respiratory problems like coughs, colds, shortness of breath and wheezing. Apparently it would breakdown calculi in the kidney and bladder!

Barker notes Leclerc used it as a wound herb and in particular recommended it for sores and varicose ulcers and Culpeper also used fresh bruised herb or juice for open wounds.

Modern Uses:

wood betony a revered cephalicde Baïracli Levy advises it is a powerful head herb, describing its action as true cephalic. She recommends it for headache and neuralgia of the face and head. She also recommends it for liver and spleen congestion, for jaundice and for expelling worms, indications also provided by Culpeper in his extensive listing.

Riva notes it reputedly relieves toothache!

Barker indicates for any headaches or head pain particularly associated with anxiety or tension. He also notes it to be useful for vertigo as does Menzies-Trull.

Roth indicates it specifically for tension headaches caused by stress as well as for sore, overworked muscles and fibromyalgia pains. Interestingly Menzies-Trull indicates it for myalgic encephalitis.

Burgoyne lists Stachys in her repertoire of herbs for treating insomnia with headaches and stress.

Chanchal Cabrera, described wood betony a gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Quoting Priest and Priest she added especially indicated for hysteria or persistent unwanted thoughts and for nervous debility, anxiety or neuroses.

The title of wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal appears just!

a little bit of science…

Barker (2001) notes tannins and bitter compounds as well as a volatile oil. Also included the alkaloids betonicine and stachydrine.

McIntyre suggests up to 15% of the herb is tannins, adding tannins give the herb its wound healing properties. Astringency stops bleeding which protects the wound in fending off infection and expedites the healing process. In addition, tannins help astringe the gut suggesting benefit in diarrhoea. Finally, the astringency is useful in treating catarrh.

McIntyre advises it also contains saponins and the alkaloid trigonelline. Trigonelline, she notes, lowers blood sugar-making this useful for diabetics.

and a little research…

Muntean et al (2004) studied the constituent content of Stachys species. They noted Stachys species have a high content of iridoids but also found high quantities of flavonoids and phenol-carboxylic acids. They found these compounds to have a relaxant effect on smooth muscle which would link with the indications of fibromyalgia listed by Roth.

Skaltsa et al (2003) analysed the antimicrobial activity of the volatile oil from different Stachys species. The volatile oils were tested against six bacterium and five fungi. Their results showed Stachys had better activity against bacterium although noted Pseudomonas was resistant. Only one species showed any resistance to fungi.

Magic and witchcraft

Barker noted a traditional use against sorcery. However, Riva recommends sprinkling betony near windows and doors inside the home as it forms a protective wall against evil spirits. Worn as an amulet it gives strength to the body.

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, the chapter titled The Gathering, Geillis Duncan discusses wood betony as useful in turning toads into pigeons! Though I can’t personally see any benefit to that transformation myself.

Later in the same chapter Claire requires betony to make up medicines for people with food poisoning. In traditional uses above Culpeper highlights benefit for weak stomachs and griping bowel pains.

Herbal Energetics

Kingsbury relates the herb to the sacral chakra (located below the naval), noting it relaxes and balances this chakra. She finds it stimulates the liver meridian which can help move anger particularly where this is related to sexual organs in either abuse or disease. She believes by balancing this area it allows development of intimacy and companionship. However, Roth relates it to the solar plexus chakra as she believes this chakra the centre for gut instincts and self-confidence. She finds it nurtures and protects.

Culpeper described wood betony a herb of the planet Jupiter and the sign of Aries. Tobyn (1997) notes herbs of Jupiter are warm and moist and Culpeper found betony warming to the head.

Riva agrees with Culpeper that betony is a herb of Jupiter. In addition she describes betony as a herb in harmony with the zodiac signs of Cancer and Sagittarius. Betony is a particularly favourable herb for persons born under either of these two signs.

Culpeper believed difficulty with expectoration and pain on inspiration of cold air were signs of cold lungs and this too would benefit from the warmth of betony. He also used it as a loosening medicine also judged hot and moist. He found these relaxed muscles, tendons and ligaments linking to some of the previous modern-day indications including fibromyalgia.

wood betony a revered cephalic medicinalSo is wood betony a revered cephalic medicinal?

Certainly many practicing herbalists, from both the past and today agree.

Interestingly, Culpeper also described it as a heating diuretic noting these helped the kidneys separate out waste from the blood.

This particular description interested me as the first time I tasted this plant as a herbal tea I noted a warmth in my kidneys. It was a cold January day in Scotland but I specifically remember the pleasant warmth. In addition, I felt it made me feel quite heady. I also remember finding the smell quite off-putting. The smell and then taste seemed contradictory to me.

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree though not a citrus…

Tilia sp.

Family:

Tilioideae (formally Tiliaceae) Tilioideae is a sub-family of Malvaceae.

French common name: Tilleul

Linden Blossom or Lime Flower Tree

linden blossom or lime flowerSo is it a linden blossom or lime flower tree? Both names appear to be used interchangeably. One thing for certain it is not a citrus tree and bears no edible lime-like fruit. It is however a very beautiful tree and definitely one of my favourites.

Scientifically there are several species. The small-leaved lime, Tilia cordata, grows up to a height of 30m. Tilia platyphyllos, or large-leaved lime, grows up to a height of 40m. 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

linden blossom or lime flowerThe dried flowers are used in an infusion with one teaspoon of the herb per cup of boiling water. Two to three spoonfuls are recommended in cases of fever (Hoffmann).

Mills (1993) recommends 1 to 4g of flowers three times a day.

Mills (1993) advises the tree is found throughout the temperate world growing in large parks, gardens and in the wild. He recommends drying the flowers quickly after picking as they spoil quite easily.

Barker notes bark is sometimes used though adds externally as an anti-inflammatory poultice. Fresh leaves can be eaten. He advises harvesting early in flowering for medicinal use.

A popular infusion in France and often found dried for sale at French markets. Trees frequently found in France in school playgrounds or village squares. Believed to be popular in these areas to promote relaxation.

This tea almost immediately makes me feel calm and very relaxed with a most pleasant, warm and comfortable feeling. I like the taste which I would describe as a combination of light, sweet, floral and with a subtle fruity, slightly astringent flavour.

Traditional Uses:

This wonderful tree has countless examples of traditional use.

The wood was used for detailed carvings. 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.

Modern Uses:

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.

Herbal Energetics

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:

 

Cedarwood of the Atlas mountains

Cedrus atlantica

Family:

Pinaceae

French: cèdre de l’atlas

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.

Traditional Uses:

cedarwood essential oilCedarwood 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.

Therapeutic Uses:

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.

May Violets Spring! Sweet Violets in February

Viola odorata

Family

may Violets springViolaceae

This beautiful little flower is a welcome sight in my garden at this time of year.

Flowering is from February to May (Barker). The photos here taken in my own garden in February.

So why the title “may violets spring”?

Sweet violets do make me think spring is near as they spring up so early in the year. However “may violets spring” is from Shakespeare.

Any reader of Shakespeare, or Hamlet in particular, may remember this on the death of Ophelia.

Lay her in the earth;

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I – A Churchyard (on death of Ophelia)

may Violets springSweet violet is a flower many will know. They prefer growing in damp woods or shady spots. In my own garden they are flourishing under a tree. Leaves heart shaped.

In herbal medicine leaves either fresh or dried. However, flowers preferred fresh. Harvesting during flowering.

Barker adds the rhizome can also be utilised but points out underground parts are stronger and are more likely to provoke emesis. I have personally only ever utilised aerial parts.

Early in flowering, leaves and flowers make a pretty addition in a wild foraged salad.

Traditional Uses:

The following excerpt is from Harold Ward’s Herbal Manual.

Remarkable claims have been made for violet leaves in the treatment of malignant tumours. The case of Lady Margaret Marsham, of Maidstone, was reported in the Daily Mail for November 14th, 1901. This lady, suffering from cancer of the throat, used an infusion, which was left to stand for twelve hours, of a handful of fresh violet leaves to a pint of boiling water. After a fortnight of warm fomentations with this liquid the growth was said to have disappeared.

The same newspaper, under date March 18th, 1905, told its readers that violet leaves as a cure for cancer were advocated in the current issue of the Lancet, where a remarkable case was reported by Dr. William Gordon, M.D. Such accounts as these, although interesting, should be read with considerable reserve.

Harold Ward, 1936

Barker suggests interest in Viola odorata has maintained due to the plants reputation as an anti-neoplastic.

Indeed in more recent years, research has found a cyclotide from Viola odorata to have antitumor effects. Research in this area continues.

Modern Uses:

may violets springViola odorata has a strong affinity with the respiratory system.

Mabey (1988) suggests the combination of saponin and mucilage make Viola odorata a soothing expectorant. It has a cooling nature used for hot headaches and feverish colds. Finally he adds the mild sedative nature makes it useful where there is accompanied insomnia or anxiety.

Tobyn (1997) notes sweet violet will cool over-heated lungs. Barker (2001) describes it has having expectorant action useful for cough but finds it soothing rather than sedative. I would tend to agree myself and believe it soothing rather than sedative.

Menzies-Trull agrees it is a demulcent expectorant. He also highlights Viola as an anti-neoplastic particularly for malignancy of breast and intestine.

… and some energetics…

may violets springUnder the dominion of Venus, and utilised by Culpeper for purging the body of excess choleric humours. Leaves, he reported, stronger for this purpose although flowers also used. The choleric humour is hot and dry.

Menzies-Trull adds it moderates anger. Anger is generally, like the choleric humour, heating.

Viola odorata is cold in the 1st degree and moist in the 2nd degree and under the dominion of Venus (Tobyn, 1997). Culpeper prescribed this as a cooling cordial. Today this herb described as emollient (Barker, 2001) confirming its traditional moist attribute.

Violets may see the start of warmer weather. However, the humble little “may violets spring” is definitely a soothing, cool friend.

European Ash – an ancient tree

Fraxinus excelsior

Family:

Oleaceae

European AshAt 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.

Traditional Uses:

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?

Fraxinus-common-european-ash-keysThe 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.

Modern Uses:

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.

some pharmacology…

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).

Marigold my favourite drop of golden sun

Calendula officinalis

Family:

Calendula officinalis-Flower-Heads-marigoldsAsteraceae

French common name: souci

Regular readers will no doubt have guessed Calendula officinalis (marigold) is a particular personal favourite. I have mentioned this medicinal ally so many times. It seems about time I gave this particular beauty her own post.

Usually named pot or garden marigold (Bremness). Medicinal marigold should not be confused with the garden variety commonly also known as marigold with the scientific name Tagetes.

Calendula-officinalis-marigoldIt is a particularly easy ally to grow. Bremness advises the preferred habitat is wasteland in a fine loam soil in the Mediterranean. Hey suggests the plant prefers a sunny position in a well-drained soil growing best in Southern Europe. She advises germination is rapid and the plant will flower for most of the year if the weather is mild. Grieve recommends growing from seeds which will germinate in any soil in a sunny or half-sunny location.

My own personal experience here in France is that it will indeed grow for most of the year. It can lose flowers in particularly hot, dry weather so I find it best to harvest early summer here. The image above was taken on the outskirts of a French village in March.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper mixed juice of marigold leaves with vinegar for bathing hot swellings and it reputedly provided instant ease. Flowers were used in broth or tea to comfort the heart expelling any malignant or pestilential quality.

Cultivated in kitchen gardens and used in cookery and medicine. Given as a cure for headache, red eyes and toothache (Grieve).

Medicinal Uses:

Calendula-officinalisWhere to start?? This medicinal ally has so many uses.

Bone, Mills, Hoffmann and Bartram all discuss use of flowerhead or petals.

Mills advises if the tincture has a high resin content it will have a strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action. This he recommends for treating infections particularly those of the mouth and throat. The astringency of the herb makes it effective to stop bleeding. Infection of the digestive tract is a further indication.

Extraction of the resinous properties for tincture of marigold requires  90% alcohol.

Hoffmann recommends externally for bleeding, bruising, minor burns, skin inflammation, strains and wounds and internally to relieve the gall bladder or indigestion and for gastric or duodenal ulcers. He further recommends the herb for painful periods but in particular for delayed menstruation.

Marigold has a healing and protective effect beneficial taken internally for food allergies or intolerance. The depurative effect is cleansing for blood and tissues. Topical uses of Calendula in a cream include for varicose veins or application around ulcers (Mills).

Bartram suggested Calendula following all surgical operations. I imagine this indication similar to orthodox antibiotic prophylaxis. Bartram also used for many enlarged, inflamed conditions including those of the lymphatic glands. Externally he recommended use for nose bleeds, abscesses, chilblains and stings.

Weiss found Calendula useful in wound healing although inferior to echinacea and arnica but always well tolerated. I personally would not consider it inferior preferring to say it is different in indication and use.

Bone indicates Calendula for internal treatment of ulcers, enlarged or inflamed lymph nodes, acne and sebaceous cysts and also for spasmodic conditions such as dysmenorrhoea. Topically the indications include eczema, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, acne and wounds.

and some science stuff…

The constituents include bitter glycosides, carotenoids, essential oil, flavonoids, mucilage, resin, sterols and triterpenoid saponins.

Bitters have similar actions to gastrin and therefore protect digestive tract tissues, promoting bile flow and enhancing pancreatic function. Flavonoids provide some of the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties and the mucilage soothes the digestive, urinary and respiratory tracts helping to calm irritation.

Resins contribute to the acrid, astringent taste but resins also have strong antiseptic properties. Saponins are anti-inflammatory (Mills).

a wee bit of research…

Polysaccharides from a few herbs including Calendula officinalis have been shown to increase phagocytosis (Bergner).

The World Health Organisation summarise some studies which highlight the actions. A tincture of flowers suppressed the replication of herpes simplex and influenza viruses in vitro studies. Flowers inhibited growth in vitro of Trichomonas vaginalis. Oxygenated terpenes appear responsible for the antimicrobial activity.

and some energetics…

James notes the sun ruled the heart, circulation, and the vertebral column. All plants that appeared solar, such as Calendula fell under the influence of the sun.

Tobyn notes Calendula energetically is moistening in the 1st degree. Such herbs soften, smooth and soothe.

and finally some herbal articles including marigold…

Purslane for a cooling, healing salad

Portulaca oleracea

Family:

Portulacaceae

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

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

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

Traditional Uses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmes quotes two historical sources, Jean Fernel

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

Jean Fernel (1508)

and the Book of Experiences.

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

Book of Experiences (1225)

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

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

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

and some energetics…

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

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

Elecampane for coughs and chest complaints

Inula helenium

Family:

Asteraceae

elecampane medicinal garden Thyme Breaks
Inula helenium – elecampane

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.

Traditional Uses:
elecampane
Elecampane tall and proud

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.

Modern Uses:

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…
Golden Inula flowerhead
Elecampane sunshine

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?

Sunflower or tournesol – nutty nutritional benefits

Helianthus annuus

Family:

sunflower Helianthus annuus tournesol audeAsteraceae

French common name: tournesol

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.

sunflower Helianthus annuus languedocThe 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?

Traditional Uses:

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 tournesol oil seed nutritionSunflower 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.

Add a little sunshine to your diet!