'Thyme' with medicinal plants in the south of France…
Any post including a recipe. This may be culinary or medicinal use or a product recipe. Recipes are usually added at the end of individual posts and will have a “Recipe” heading to make them easier to scroll too.
I have previously written about my visit to the wonderful ancient pharmacy of St Lizier. The guide for the apothecary had many tales to tell. One of the apothecary anecdotes refers to the famous four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients.
The story goes thus …
It was the time of a plague. A highly contagious, epidemic disease with a high degree of mortality. Characterised by high fever, often with delirium, swollen lymph nodes and infectious lungs.
Any unfortunate soul found dead during this plague had their body stripped by the four robbers.
Bizarrely the thieves never fell ill with this highly contagious disease!
Eventually the Sisters discovered the thieves’ identity. Following capture, their sentence was death. However, in exchange for their freedom they were asked to divulge their secret for plague protection.
And so, the four robbers secret ingredients?
Their secret was a strong smelling remedy of five medicinal plants in vinegar.
Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime
Over the springtime I am frequently asked about plants for wild foraging. Free food foraging of wild edible plants is a popular pastime.
Naturally my main interest lies in the medicinal properties of plants. However, often there is overlap where these plants have nutritional virtues. Wild flowers in foraging recipes may be added for nutritional value, colour or texture.
Some more common wild foraged foods such as dandelion many have heard of adding flowers, or particularly leaves, to a salad. The leaves are rich in potassium. A favourite diuretic herb of many herbalists. There is a reason the French common name is pissenlit!
Also well-known, the humble nettle. A great spring time tonic whether prescribed by a herbalist, added to soups or cooked similarly to spinach in a recipe.
I have added a wild foraging tag. Although these are not, strictly speaking, wild foraging posts some such as elderflower and red dead nettle include forage recipes.
Common sense must prevail. Be a courteous and cautious forager. Check out the rules of your own country. Ensure you have the correct plant. If even the slightest doubt, leave it. Never pull roots. Take care where you gather plants from.
Most importantly free food foraging of wild edible plants is fun, a popular pastime so, enjoy!
Some years back I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans. A fabulous fun place of blues and jazz. In addition, and right up my street, there are fascinating weird and wonderful herbs and voodoo and New Orleans spells. In fact it is one of the most enjoyable places I have been fortunate enough to visit. Blues, jazz, voodoo, weird and wonderful herbs and fascinating characters – what’s not to like?
Cemeteries and Voodoo
I was there at Halloween so partook in a Cemetery and Voodoo trip. We met at a French cafe. The guide was an entrancing character full of interesting anecdotes with long hair of a similar length and colour to my own. He commented on this to which I replied “Yes, grey”. I still laugh when I hear in my head his response in that New Orleans southern drawl
No honey youse and me just natural platinum blonds.
On the cemetery tour we visited the future pyramidal tomb of actor Nicholas Cage and the tomb of the legendary Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess.
The tour ended with a visit to a present day, and living, voodoo priestess. I was in a group of perhaps a dozen people. She singled me out asking where I was from. I have to confess I was somewhat unsure what she was going on about but I think she liked me and I had no intention of upsetting a voodoo priestess so happily agreed with whatever she said.
At the end of the trip I felt obliged to purchase some items from her spellbinding wares of herbs, voodoo and New Orleans spells. This brings me on to the focus for this post as one of the items I purchased was a modern herbal spell book!
Tidying the bookcase…
We’ve had some tremendous heat, in the 30’s, this last 10 days or so. This is quite high for this time of year and the garden has required watering most days particularly my small vegetable patch. My water butts for rainwater harvesting are very low.
While tidying my bookcase I came across my New Orleans purchase. Tidying the bookcase is often a lengthy process as I invariably come across a book I haven’t read for sometime and the tidying gets forgotten about for another few hours, days or weeks… and so the book…
Voodoo and New Orleans spells
And so to a make rain spell…
Quite apt for my poor draining water butts I thought!
Fill a large pan with water and add a handful each of sulphur, sea wrack and valerian.
As you put in each of the ingredients repeat the passage from Deuteronomy 11:14.
I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.
This spell should be performed on a Monday, the day ruled by the Moon which is the planet controlling weather.
So there you have if it. Should you ever require a bit of rain you could always try the above spell, on a Monday. Good luck.
When making a tincture, alcohol is used to extract the medicinal properties of the plant material. Tinctures are ideal for herbs you may wish to gather in spring time for use over the winter months.
Herbal tinctures are made with either fresh or dried plant material. If using fresh plant the water content of the fresh plant needs to be taken into account. The quantity of marc (plant material) and menstrum (liquid/alcohol) determines the tincture strengthen*. For some herbs a stronger alcohol is necessary. Important to know as a medical herbalist prescribing herbs on a regular basis.
Don’t panic! For the lay person making herbal remedies, for personal use, there are many herbs that can be extracted well with a 40% vodka. Elderflowers being one. You don’t need to worry too much about the menstrum/marc ratio.
Harvesting and Drying Elderflowers
The following tincture recipe uses Sambucus nigra (elderflowers). These are usually in bloom from mid-May to early July. June is often the best time to harvest.
To avoid difficulties with water content, which can ruin your tincture, collect on a bright and sunny morning. Once you have gathered the flowers lay them out on brown paper. This needs to be somewhere which is warm and dry, out of direct sun and with good air circulation. Once the flowers dry out they will easily rub free from the stems.
25 g chopped dried (Sambucus nigra flos) elderflowers (MARC)
200 ml 40% vodka (MENSTRUM)
measuring scales (to measure out dry plant material),
measuring jug or container (to measure vodka),
clean sterilised jar with lid and label,
and a bottle with lid and label (after decanting)
Place 25 g of chopped dried herb into a jar and cover with the menstrum (in this case vodka). Plant material must be completely covered. If you need to add more vodka do.
Seal the jar and label with date and contents.
Shake daily for two weeks.
Decant and press out marc (plant material), bottle and label with date and contents.
*For information, as a guideline, if you have used the exact quantities above this would make a 1:8 at 40% herbal tincture.
Elderflower is indicated for sinusitis, rhinitis and other respiratory tract infections. A wonderful immune booster. Ideal to make now and keep for the winter or those spring time allergies!
Recently I wrote about fighting winter chills with kitchen herbs. For this post I thought I would share a popular herbal tea for winter colds and sniffles.
The tea contains three herbs: yarrow, mint and elderflower. The scientific names for these medicinal plants are: Achillea millefolium, Mentha piperita, Sambucus nigra flos.
This combination of herbs is best taken as a warm infusion. Generally peppermint (Mentha piperita) would be the mint of choice although you could substitute this with milder spearmint (Mentha spicata) if you prefer.
So to make the tea…
Ideally you would gather the herbs in the spring time and dry for winter use as tea. You can also buy small amounts dried from your local medical herbalist. Alternatively stores like Woodland Herbs and Neal’s Yard Remedies, both UK based, offer online shopping options. Whereas in France, you can generally find these dried herbs for sale at local markets or bio shops.
Herbal Infusion Recipe
Ingredients for a winter tea to keep those bugs away
a teaspoonful of dried peppermint
a teaspoonful of dried yarrow
and a teaspoonful of elderflower
2 cups of boiling water
1 pinch of powdered ginger or other powdered or ground warming spice (optional)
Combine all the herbs and pour over boiling water.
Infuse* the herbs in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes, ideally 10.
Strain. Drink freely every few hours until symptoms abate.
* when choosing highly aromatic herbs, such as these, for an infusion the herbs must be covered to avoid escape of volatile components.
Use a teapot or, if making a single cup, you can often purchase cups with inbuilt tea strainers and lids specifically for infusing aromatic plants. The lid and ceramic infuser can be removed to enjoy the tea when ready.
Benefits of a winter tea to keep those bugs away with mint, yarrow and elderflower
The combined benefit of this pleasant blend helps induce gentle perspiration to reduce fever.
Mentha piperita, or mint, is a popular herbal tea. Many people enjoy the taste. There are many traditional uses for peppermint. One use is alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu. For the respiratory tract, it is particularly beneficial for both bronchial and nasal catarrh, for the common cold and for breathing difficulties (Hoffmann). Mint is highly aromatic in nature. Inhalation of the aroma between sips of the tea provides further health benefits. The benefit of keeping the lid on it during infusion.
Sambucus nigra is the elder tree, or shrub. Both flowers and berries have medicinal properties. Elderflowers are used in this tea blend. However both elderberry and elderflower have a lengthy use in traditional medicine for febrile illnesses such as influenza (more commonly known as flu). Research has found it particularly effective clinically for influenza. In fact it inhibited at least ten strains of influenza (Zakay-Rones).
Last though not least, Achillea millefolium, more commonly known as yarrow. Yarrow is a circulatory stimulant. It really gets things shifting. It is also an astringent. This gives the plant drying and toning properties, ideal for drying up mucous loaded coughs and runny noses.
I would also add a little pinch of powdered ginger or another tasty, warming spice. This not only adds to the flavour, it provides its own medicinal kick. A delicious warming winter tea to keep those bugs away!
Winter time brings cooler weather and with it a number of infectious and viral conditions ranging from the common cold or flu to sinusitis or chest infections.
In today’s modern world we have reached a turning point. Antibiotics revolutionised the world and saved many, many lives. However, we have over-used these miracle medicines to our own detriment. Antibiotic-resistant organisms are on the increase.
We can help ourselves by turning to the plant world. The following are some of the more simple remedies we can turn to from our own kitchen.
It is worth noting the constituent allicin breaks down on cooking. It is best to eat garlic raw. Ideally toss some chopped garlic into a stir fry and mix through just before serving to preserve the medicinal benefits. Be sure to include lots of dark green leafy vegetables in the stir fry too. Green leafy vegetables are full of essential vitamins and minerals to help ward off those winter bugs.
Some people find garlic too strong on the stomach. If garlic is not for you then both onion and leek are in the same family. They too possess the benefits of garlic albeit in a milder form.
Mustard – Synapsis alba/nigra
Have you heard of a mustard foot bath? There is nothing better for your cold feet than a mustard foot bath.
Grind some mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle and add two teaspoons with two litres of warm water to a basin. Sit back, relax and soothe those feet.
It is a wonderful comfort after that ache in the bones of your feet and toes from the cold. A treat after a tiring day Christmas shopping or working.
Mességué suggested black mustard was more powerful in action than white mustard though both can be used. Mabey recommends Synapsis nigra (black mustard) footbaths for chilblains and poor circulation.
Culpeper assigned mustard a herb of Mars although Aries, he suggested, laid a claim on it which he indicated would strengthen the heart. It certainly is a well known circulatory stimulant.
Ginger – Zingiber officinale
The root (rhizome) is used in herbal medicine. Fresh or dried root.
Ginger root can be infused as a herbal tea if the root is sliced finely. One or two slices per teapot will suffice, if you are using it as a flavouring only. In this way it imparts a warm, delicate flavour.
However, for medicinal use it is best to decoct and 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient time for simmering. Once strained you can add some lemon juice or honey for a warm, healing drink. Easily added to a flask to take to work and sip throughout the day.
As a winter evening drink, before bed, I like to add a wee tot of whisky too. Not a recommended addition to the work flask though!
Ginger has many medicinal properties. It will induce sweating in a fever to lower body temperature so it excellent for general chesty conditions. Being a peripheral circulatory stimulant it is a wonderful regular winter drink for poor circulation where one has cold hands and feet.
Both ginger and mustard are rubefacient. Rubefacients are excellent to fight winter chills. When used externally (such as the mustard bath) they draw the blood supply to the skin. This action increases heat in the tissue. This action is beneficial for cold conditions particularly rheumatic aches and pains as well as muscle aches and pains. Also used for poor circulation as they increase circulation.
The above are a few simple ways to fight winter chills with herbs from the kitchen.
Thyme is another excellent winter remedy and Elecampane too. You can read more about these two herbs from their medicinal plant profiles.
Finally if you would like to learn more about using herbs to fight winter chills and boost immunity look out for future Thyme Breaks courses.
Herbal ointments or salves differ from creams and lotions in that the basic ingredients are oil based. Ointments or salves are simpler to make than creams and lotions as there is no requirement to emulsify water and oil.
The simple basic herbal ointment recipe below is vegetarian but, due to the use of beeswax, it is not vegan.
For the purposes of this particular herbal ointment recipe we will choose a calendula infused oleum (oil) as a base.
This recipe will not work with aromatic waters or infusions but will work very well with oils such as sweet almond and wheatgerm or an infused oleum (oil) of comfrey or marigold. A few drops of essential oils can also be added.
calendula infused oil
saucepan, bowl, measuring scales, measuring jug or container, clean sterilised jar with lid and label
Measure out the appropriate beeswax and infused oleum in relation to the size of the jar(s) for the finished product i.e. approximately 2½ g beeswax and 20ml of oil for a 30g jar.
As a general rule of thumb you use one part beeswax to 8 parts oil. If your ointment sets too firm you have used too much beeswax.
Melt the beeswax using the bain marie method (a bowl over a saucepan of water will work well). Beeswax granules are easier. However, if you have a large piece of beeswax it is quicker to break it up first by chopping or grating.
Once the beeswax has began to melt, stir in the oil(s) slowly and turn off the heat. Note: you don’t want to boil the oil and risk losing the medicinal properties.
Add any essential oil(s) if desired.
Decant into clean, sterilised jar(s) with screw top lids.
Allow to cool, seal, label and date.
Some other ideas:
Once you have mastered the basic ointment you can elaborate on this by adding in essential oils simply for aroma or for therapeutic and/or cosmetic properties.
An ointment could also contain a combination of two or even three infused oils. For example a combination of infused oils of Lavandula (lavender) and Calendula (marigold) as a healing skin ointment. Infused oils of Zinger (ginger) and Symphytum (comfrey) for arthritic aches and pains. Using an infused oil of Hypericum (St John’s wort) makes a great simple lip balm for chapped or cracked lips.
Adding wheatgerm oil and/or essential oils can help preserve an ointment or salve.
As a basic preparation ointments or salves are generally soothing and healing. They can also be used as a protective barrier.
Simple Herbs for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Baby Care
The following five herbs are easily obtained either from the garden or your local health food store or medical herbalist.
Money is frequently tight at this time. All that saving for baby accessories! The remedies listed are free or at slight cost should you choose to purchase.
Urtica dioica – nettle
Urtica dioica is indicated for iron deficiency anaemia and useful for women experiencing this problem in pregnancy. There are no contraindications to the use of this herb in pregnancy. The herb is best taken as a tea (one teaspoon of herb per cup of boiled water infused for up to fifteen minutes) and drunk three times a day. Alternatively take the fresh juice from leaves in a dosage of one to two teaspoons or cook the leaves, like spinach, or include them in soup.
This herb is highly nutritious as it is extremely efficient in extracting minerals from the soil. It contains minerals (including iron and calcium) and vitamins (particularly vitamin C). These vitamins and minerals are absorbed into the blood stream and transported around the body. Urtica dioica was known traditionally as a ‘blood cleanser’.
Urticia dioica stimulates milk production in nursing mothers after giving birth. This is believed to be due to the herbs hormonal action. Drink as herbal tea.
Note: nettles – collect fresh (best in spring), though watch out for sting (free) or purchase dried herb
Calendula officinalis – marigold
Calendula officinalis is a gentle wound healer and is useful for nappy rash. In this situation the calendula is best applied topically in a cream. The easiest way to do this is to make an infusion (herb tea) or an infused oil of Calendula officinalis and add this to a natural cream base.
Marigold ointment works well as a barrier to help protect the skin from nappy rash. For a recipe to make an ointment click here.
Recipe for infused oil…
Make an infused oil using 250g of dried herb to 500 ml of oil such as olive or sunflower. Personally I prefer sunflower here as it is a lighter oil. In addition it extracts the beautiful orange colour from the marigolds. Simmer on a low heat for approximately an hour to allow the oil to absorb the constituents and healing properties from the herb. Strain and bottle.
An alternative method of making an infused (or macerated) oil is to place the herbs and oil (cold) into a jar and cover over. This solution is shaken daily until the oil is saturated. This takes longer than the previous method. Infused oils made with this method take approximately two to three weeks, depending on the herb used and the warmth of the location of the jar. Some sources recommend straining and replenishing with fresh material.
The herb contains resins, flavonoids and mucilage. Resins seal the tissues against the effect of further damage. They can also be astringent meaning they will help dry a wet weeping wound. Flavones are typically found in flowers. The word ‘flavus’ means yellow. They are more often antiseptic in their action and will reduce any inflammation. Mucilaginous plants are typical would healers and will soothe pain, irritation and itching and aid in binding damaged tissue.
Haemorrhoids are common during pregnancy. They are caused by an overload on the liver. The body is producing many additional hormones during pregnancy which the liver has to filter and deal with accordingly. Apply Calendula officinalis ointment, cream or oil to the anal area to promote healing.
Sore, inflamed nipples from breast-feeding are soothed by infused oil or cream of Calendula officinalis. An alternative treatment would be to infuse a handful of herb in boiling water for fifteen minutes. The herb is then placed in a muslin cloth (or handkerchief) also pre-soaked in the herb water and placed over the area.
Note: marigolds – grow in garden and purchase sunflower oil to make your own infused oil (cheap) or purchase pre-prepared infused oil or cream
Salvia officinalis – sage
Salvia officinalis is contraindicated by many sources during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The herb contains the constituent thujone within the volatile oil. It is antiseptic, but is also thought to stimulate smooth muscle and has an oestrogenic property giving this herb the traditional reputation of an abortifacient. Its contraindication in breastfeeding is due to the unknown affect the herb may have on the baby.
However, the herb can arrest lactation when breast-feeding has ceased. Use the essential oil externally at a three percent dilution in a vegetable carrier oil and massage into the skin. Alternatively, or in addition, drink an infusion of sage tea three times daily.
Note: sage – grow in garden and use fresh leaf (free) or purchase essential oil or dried herb
Zingiber officinale – ginger
Use Zinger officinale for morning sickness in pregnancy. The anti-emetic action is possibly due to the constituent shogaol. Some sources suggest caution in pregnancy at a maximum daily dose of 2 g of dried herb. Make a tea from the powdered dried root or grated fresh root or decoction from sliced fresh root.
Note: ginger – grow in a pot in kitchen (free) or purchase root
Tilia europoea – lime-flower
Note: This is a European tree. It is not related to the lime fruit tree.
During pregnancy some women have problems with high blood pressure. In such cases, it is extremely important to have regular monitoring of your blood pressure by your GP, obstetrician or midwife.
Rutin, a flavonoid in Tilia europoea in research was effective in lowering blood pressure. Lime flower also has diuretic properties and an ability to replace potassium loss making this a good all-rounder for high blood pressure. This is best taken as a tea three times daily. There are no contraindications or cautions for using this herb during pregnancy.
There are other benefits to drinking lime flower tea during pregnancy. Oedema (fluid retention) is helped by the diuretic property of the herb.
Another bonus, it can help ease headaches or migraines, if related to high blood pressure. Also it relieves anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and palpitations.
Varicose veins may also occur during pregnancy and taking Tilia europoea tea during pregnancy may prevent this. Saponins are believed to be helpful in vascular disorders.
Breastfeeding and Baby Care
As a mother take the tea to treat a breast-feeding baby. Tilia is beneficial for a baby having developed a cold or for a restless baby. Baby would receive a proportionate dose of any remedy mother takes due to the high perfusion of lactating mammary glands.
Note: there are many lime-flower trees growing in parks and green spaces where you can gather leaves and blossom (free) or purchase dried herb.
There are any number of herbs that would work very well in a herbal first aid kit. The following simple everyday uses are for some more well-known garden herbs. These include lavender, sage, peppermint and marigolds.
Lavandula angustifolia – lavender
The healing effect on burns for lavender essential oil was discovered by French chemist Gatefosse quite by accident. He was working in his laboratory. When his arm caught fire he quickly plunged his arm into a vat of neat lavender oil. To his amazement, not only was the fire extinguished, his burns healed without scarring.
We may not all have a vat in our kitchen but a bottle of lavender essential oil is a herbal first aid necessity in every home for burns. It is also very useful for sunburn, bites and stings.
Salvia officinalis – sage
So many of us have sage growing in our gardens. We love it to accompany our Sunday roast potatoes or roast pork dinner. A wonderful culinary herb but a great medicinal ally too.
Infuse sage leaves as you would making herbal tea. Allow to cool for use as an antiseptic gargle for sore throats or as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers.
Sage leaves chewed help alleviate the pain of a tooth abscess until you reach the dentist.
Peppermint plants often take over the garden. Definitely best grown in a pot! Make a refreshing herbal tea, great for digestion, from the leaves.
Peppermint leaves added to a foot bath ease tired, hot feet after a long day at work. The essential oil provides a temporary anaesthetising action. A few drops of peppermint essential oil added to a basic or plain lotion or oil for aching muscles is a welcome, and cooling, relief. Ideal for post exercise use.
An ointment, infused oil or cream made with marigolds is a useful household remedy for rashes, wounds, cuts and grazes.
But what if you run out of cream or oil? Not enough time to make a new batch?
Bartram recommended adding a handful of petals and florets to a pint of boiling water and leaving this to infuse for 15 minutes. Use as a poultice on broken skin to aid healing.
A few drops of tea-tree essential oil added to the marigold cream or oil is useful for cradle cap and ringworm.
Oops we sneaked in another plant there. Okay the Melaleuca alternifolia tree isn’t likely to be in your garden. Unless you live in Australia! The essential oil is easy to come by though and relatively cheap.
The sunflower needs little introduction. Same family as the daisy and the dandelion among others.
The Aude is full of fields of sunflowers at the moment. A joy to see.
Van Gogh painted his famous sunflowers when based in the Languedoc.
The scientific name is derived from Greek, ‘Helios’ meaning sun and ‘anthos’ for flower. ‘Annus’ is Latin for yearly or annual (Price).
Sunflower oil is produced from the seeds. Sunflower oil has always been popular in cooking. Better quality sunflower oils are usually higher in linoleic acid. Those oils higher in linoleic acid are preferred for medicinal use or in cosmetics.
Preparing Calendula (marigold) for an infused oil, I prefer to use sunflower oil. It beautifully extracts the brilliant orange colour of the Calendula. And it is light enough for direct skin application. A slight digression…. so what of the medicinal benefits?
Murray et al tell of an old Russian medicinal folk recipe. Sunflower heads chopped up with soap chips and vodka. Well it is a Russian recipe! After the mixture was sun aged for 9 days, it was applied topically for rheumatism.
Kusmirek highlights the traditional use for rheumatic joint aches and pains. He describes it as one of nature’s most useful plants. The sunflower has had a wide and varied vocation. Used in lamp oil and paper making.
… some nutritional content…
Sunflower seeds are a source of protein. Minerals found in the seed include magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, copper, iron, folic acid and iron. The vitamin content includes B1, B5, B6 and E. Vitamin E is highest in sunflower oil, more than any other vegetable oil (Murray et al).
… suggestions for use…
Easily add the oil to salad dressings or use externally on the skin. The seeds have a nutty flavour and texture. Add to breakfast muesli or porridge oats or a rice dish. Blend seeds to make a healthy dip.
… and a little research…
Vitamin E has been researched extensively. There is some merit to the traditional use for rheumatism, albeit excluding the vodka! Research has found it can reduce pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis. Increasing dietary intake of vitamin E in the older population improves physical performance.
Painful periods and PMS are eased with vitamin E intake and pain severity is reduced. Progression of some types of dementia and memory loss is slowed down.