Frosty Floral February
Well we may have had some cold and frosty mornings but there is still colour to be found in nature. And even some signs that Spring is on the way….
Some images taken in frosty floral February.
French common name: cardabelle
If you have ever visited the villages of Saint Guilhem-le-Désert or La Couvertoirade you may have noticed the above dried flowerhead nailed to many doors. Known locally as the cardabelle. I saw the cardabelle door charm in both villages mentioned. However, apparently it is common to see on doors in many small villages throughout the area.
The leaves have a similar resemblance to a thistle. Indeed it is in the same botanical family as the thistle and the sunflower. A member of the Asteraceae botanical family. A fascinating flower.
It is native to Southern Europe preferring stoney or rocky places on poorer soils in mountainous areas.
Our guide, Nicholas, informed us the cardabelle is hanging on doors for two very different reasons. First of all it is a bringer of good luck. A protector against evil spirits. A reason one might expect. Secondly it is a useful instrument for weather forecasting!
Yes, you read correctly. Apparently it curls inward when bad weather is due. The images here are from Saint Guilhem-le-Désert on 8th December. It was a particularly cold day there but not wet. The following day was also cold and dry.
Unfortunately it is now an endangered species. Collection of this cardabelle door charm from the wild is now forbidden. However, our guide assures us the same flower-heads have been hanging on these doors in Saint Guilhem for years.
Apparently Carlina species were traditionally cooked and eaten as a globe artichoke substitute. It appears to have had medicinal use for spasms in the digestive tract, gall bladder and liver. Furthermore reputedly an aphrodisiac.
Finally if you are ever in the vicinity of either village they are well worth a visit to see. Both villages have fascinating history with the added bonus of seeing the cardabelle door charms in situ.
My friend Sue, who happens to be an ecologist, recently attended a tree seminar. She mentioned the London Tree Officers are planting non-native weird and wonderful trees in Hackney. The magnificent London plane trees are suffering with Massaria, a fungal disease.
Of course, Massaria is not the only tree disease and the London plane is not the only native tree to be suffering. Consider the damage caused to native trees from Dutch Elm Disease and Chalara, more commonly known as ash dieback.
Hence, finding trees that will grow and will “thrive and survive” is becoming difficult for the London Tree Officers. And so, the weird array of non-natives in Hackney. These include trees known commonly as the Paper Mulberry and the Bee-Bee Tree. Apparently “people like them and we have to adapt”. Incidentally both are Asian species.
This raised a little debate between two friends. Sue, the ecologist, and Ian, our tree-hugging, Woodland Trust loving, nature photographer guru friend. Ian was definitely in the pro-native tree group.
The problem is we have so many non native alien plant species in Europe now. Some pose no major issues and blend in like they have always belonged… others… well.
My house here in France had a maturely planted garden when I bought it. Some 40+ trees. It’s not a big garden. Too many large trees. Some had to go. I’ve always liked a ‘practical’ rather than ‘pretty’ garden. That’s not to say something can’t be both but things growing ought to serve a purpose – food, medicine… I decided if not native, nor practical, it could go on the “to go” list. But it was difficult.
Right at front of the house was a very large false acacia. Non-native. In flower it was beautiful. However, I couldn’t park my car as ants, covering the tree for the sweet flowers, fell in the car. Suffice to say driving with ants crawling up your legs is not good. The acacia was working its way toward the chopping list. I kept thinking I can’t really put it on the list because it inconveniences me, right?
Then I got a crack right through the floor of the house. The acacia had to go before any serious structural damage occurred. That was nearly 5 years ago. I still cannot get rid of it. It pops up everywhere. During the summer it was so dry everything was dying. That bloody acacia kept on appearing.
I’ve searched internet, forums, gardening groups, you-name-it trying to find a solution to no avail. I was disheartened further when one woman advised she had been trying to eradicate it for 17 years!!!!
It is on the non-European and non U.K. invasive species list. Not to be planted. I can see why. My house is near the river and there are some growing there. I wonder did previous owners plant in my garden or did it move in to my garden of its own accord?!? Someone planted it somewhere near to start this alien attack!
the Japanese knotweed!
There is a patch some 3 km from my house. Having written about this previously I won’t go into too much detail again. However, every time I walk past this patch of knotweed my heart sinks. I decided I had to start thinking more positively about these aliens 👽. They are after all going nowhere. I started to look at the knotweed in particular.
The trouble is many of these invasive species cannot be removed. We need to hope that somehow a way of control is found. They are affecting structures, and more importantly, our native plant species.
I love the smell of broom. It is scrumptiously sweet. A native European shrub and, of course, a native medicinal. However, in the States it is commonly called Scotch Broom because those first Scottish immigrants decided to bring it with them. Consequently it is on the invasive non native alien plant species list in the States. It is not a problem in Europe. They have no idea what controls growth in Europe. We, us humans, are the bampots that keep doing this.
That being said we have some non-natives that have lived here merrily, blending in for years. Some have become very useful. Thinking of medicinal plants… echinacea springs to mind. Everyone knows it. It grows very happily here in Europe and hasn’t caused any problem. Have I used it medicinally – yes. However it is not my first port of call. I prefer to choose European natives.
Nicholas Culpeper, a London herbalist, from mid 1600’s famously believed the medicinals we need grow nearby. I have always found this to be true. It helps immensely, in practice, if you know the area where your patient lives and what grows abundantly there.
That’s my rant on non native alien plant species over for the day….
White dead nettle is a member of the thyme or mint family. However, as the common name suggests clumps of the herb resembles the stinging nettle. When you look more closely you see the typical labiate flowers (Barker) and there is no sting! White refers to the colour of the flowers in contrast to her cousin the red dead nettle.
The scientific name Lamium is from Greek ‘laimos’ meaning gullet or throat and believed to have been given as the flowers are thought to resemble half-open jaws (Mességué).
You will find the white dead nettle growing on waste ground near farmlands and by hedges generally between May and October although it can be found as early as April and as late as December (Barker). McLeod adds it will grow on poor soil.
Although considered a European herb Barker describes it scarce, and sometimes absent, from northern Europe including Scandinavian countries, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and North England. Flowering tops of the herb are utilised medicinally and harvested between April and July.
I have it growing in two areas of my medicinal herb garden. When I lived in Devon it grew wild along the estuary. I think it is a most beautiful flower but sadly underestimated as a wild flower. Personally I believe her to prefer a slightly more moist and cooler climate than the south of France. Although white dead nettle grows well here she flowered much more on the estuary in Devon than she ever has in my garden. The flowers passed over before June was over. However, June was unusually high temperatures.
Some organic gardeners use it in companion planting with potatoes. Apparently it improves growth and flavour of potatoes as well as deterring bugs. However, McLeod suggests caution with this companion as she considers it could easily become invasive. I have not found it invasive neither on the estuary in Devon nor in my garden. However, some Lamiaceae are invasive, consider mint.
Leaves were used for their astringency to staunch wounds in historical times while the flowering tops were used to make a tea for female disorders and also to stimulate the liver (McLeod).
Culpeper knew the herb as ‘white archangel’ although he also discusses a red and a yellow archangel interchangeably. He described it as making the head merry and, as mentioned by McLeod, he too used it to staunch bleeding but he highlights bleeding from the nose and mouth and recommends treatment by application to the nape of the neck.
Culpeper also utilised for old ulcers, bruises, burns and to draw out splinters. Finally, he used it to ease joint pains and in particular mentions gout although he also used it for sciatica. Interestingly, he seemed to use what he called the red archangel for women with heavy menstruation although he noted the chief use of all archangels to be for women.
Mességué also discusses different types of dead nettles and indeed mentions five varieties. It can be difficult to differentiate which species he indicates but lists retention of urine, respiratory tract irritation, painful and/or irregular or heavy periods and vaginal discharge and anaemia. He, like Culpeper, used it to treat wounds as well as for ulcers, burns and gout. Other indications included for varicose veins and ear complaints.
Menzies-Trull in the modern-day, indicates it for painful and/or heavy periods, PMS, vaginal discharge as well as gout, sciatica, anaemia and varicose veins. He finds it beneficial for catarrh which can be respiratory, vaginal or urinary. He combines with honey as a wound herb. It seems most of our current day uses have been around for many, many years.
I note both Culpeper (traditionally) and Menzies-Trull indicate for gout. I have to say it is not a herb that I have ever considered. Aware I am going off track, the stinging nettle I have used with much success for patients with gout.
Barker describes it as astringent and haemostatic and particularly indicated as a tonic for uterine circulation. He also notes it to be anti-catarrhal and expectorant, mildly sedative, anti-inflammatory and demulcent.
Barker indicates for painful and heavy periods and vaginal discharge particularly leucorrhoea. Other indications include mild insomnia, benign prostatic hypertrophy, upper respiratory catarrh and bladder disorders.
An article in Medical Herbalism (1993) lists Lamium album as being high in tannins and flavone glycosides. The article suggests these constituents increase the pelvic circulation with the tannins toning and strengthening endometrial lining. The article believes these actions provide an effective pelvic decongestant which helps regulate menstruation.
Barker also includes tannins as well as the flavone glycoside isoquercitrin. In addition, he notes it has some mucilage, some saponin, amines, volatile oil and some potassium salts which he considers may have a diuretic action.
There seems little research into the medicinal use of Lamium album. A Polish study looked at the constituents and found two phenylpropanoid glycosides, lamalboside and acteoside as well as rutoside and quercetin (BUDZIANOWSKI, J., et al, 1995. Phenylpropanoid esters from Lamium album flowers, Phytochemistry; 1995 Mar;38(4):997-1001 ). The study did not look at the action of these constituents.
Mességué recommended a handful of herb infused in 1¾ pints of water and taken at a dose of 2 to 4 cupfuls a day. The same dosage for hand or foot baths though these he recommended twice a day. For wounds he recommended powdering dried flowers and mixing a pinch of this with honey for application directly on external wounds. Of course he lumps all dead nettles together in his book.
Barker suggests tincture as a simple recommending a dose of 2-5mls three times a day of 1:5 in 25% alcohol. If making an infusion he recommends 10-20g of herb to 500ml of water. Take 3 times a day though double the herb content if making a compress for external application.
Culpeper described it as a herb of Venus and therefore proposed it was specific for women. As a student herbalist, when I first tried as a tea, I found the herb to have a protective personality. Indeed one class colleague actually described it as motherly. It is interesting Culpeper associated white dead nettle a female herb. The tea had a mineral taste and came across as being nourishing. Definitely a warm herb.
Herbs hot in the second degree Culpeper chose to break up tough humours. This description works well with the Medical Herbalism describing the tannins of white dead nettle as having a pelvic decongestant action.
I have a printed article titled Energetic Prescribing. For the life of me I cannot remember from where it came. Unfortunately, I have no idea of the author. The article describes Lamium album as one of the stronger tonics. Described as slightly more warming, stimulating and capable of rectifying hypofunction of organs and tissues. I particularly like this statement talking of medicines hot in the second degree.
“…they increase the effect of normal metabolism by their essential force and strength…”
I like Culpeper’s description of “making the head merry”. Whenever I see this plant in flower she does make me merry. A herb I have utilised fairly infrequently in practice. However, although quite specific in mission, I should not like to be without.
The scientific name ‘cannabinum’ means hemp-like and refers to the leaves of this plant thought to resemble Cannabis sativa.
Common names include holy rope, hemp-agrimony, again due to the leaves, and raspberries and cream. The latter, probably due to the pinkish or light purple colouring of the flowers.
However, a number of species of Eupatorium are medicinal. Boneset and gravel root are both indigenous to North America. E. cannabinum is a European species. It is a vigorous plant in the Aude. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and hemp-agrimony appear to have similar medicinal uses.
Although E. cannabinum grows and spreads quickly, at least in my garden here in the Aude, it is worth planting as it is loved by the insect world, particularly butterflies. It is a beautiful, tall plant.
In the UK you will find hemp-agrimony in bloom from around June to September. The photographs are from my own garden in the Aude or the surrounding countryside. It is still blooming here at present.
Culpeper called it bastard agrimony, bastard hemp, water agrimony or water hemp. He utilised it for the drying, cleansing and strengthening properties. A blood purifier. He described it
“… healeth and drieth, cutteth and cleanseth, thick and tough tumours … It helps the cachexia or evil disposition of the body … “
Maud Grieve recommends a tea of dry leaves for prompt relief, if taken hot at the onset, of influenza or feverish chills.
Interestingly, an ethnobotanical study, in 2007, on the usage of wild medicinal herbs in the high mountains of central Serbia included Eupatorium cannabinum. Researchers were surprised to discover E. cannabinum utilised for influenza-like illnesses.
Reputedly, leaves were wrapped around bread to prevent it turning mouldy.
Barker suggests Eupatorium cannabinum is best fresh. Leaves, root and flower-heads used in herbal medicine. It has aperitif, cholagogue and laxative actions as well as being diaphoretic and expectorant. Furthermore, he particularly indicates it for flu with digestive upset and loss of appetite. E. cannabinum strengthens and tones the liver.
This is a plant I have grown to understand much more since growing in my own garden. My first tasting of this plant, as a dried tea, was as a student herbalist. I found it to have a sour but refreshing and cleansing taste linking with the actions. I remember some of the other students found it stimulating to the upper mucous membranes.
It appears to have dropped out-of-favour with many herbalists today. This could be due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids although it is not a herb one would consider for long-term use. Perhaps it is due to a preference for more exotic medicinals.
As a result of the research conducted on E. cannabinum several pharmacological constituents are noted. Constituents discovered include pyrrolizidine alkaloids, flavonoids and volatile oils (including thymol).
In particular research has studied polysaccharides for the immuno-stimulant action and, sesquiterpene lactones in relation to anti-tumour activity. Furthermore a study in 2014 researched this latter activity against colon cancer cells.
Finally, the research into the anti-tumour activity I find particularly interesting. I wonder if the “cachexia or evil disposition” of Culpeper’s time was, in fact, cancer? We can only surmise.
So why dandelion? I have sat down to write this post for a friend. Ian is a fantastic photographer. Frequently his stunning photographs include trees, squirrels or his pet rabbit.
This time, he emailed through this most beautiful photograph of a dandelion ‘clock’ or seed head. He described it as looking “like a lampshade from Habitat”!
Nature is often far more beautiful than any manmade product and, albeit his photograph is manmade, he has captured the beauty of nature perfectly.
And so my reason for this post? I threatened to bore him with the medicinal properties. He assured me he would not be bored. We shall see! I have brewed a cup of dandelion root and sat down to commence… He has no idea of the documentary I am about to provide. It is certainly one medicinal ally I could not be without in my herbal dispensary.
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.
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).
Podlech tells us dandelion is throughout Europe and also in the west of Asia. Common in meadows, pastures, fields and waste ground. He describes the humble Taraxacum officinale a solitary yellow flower-head on a long leafless stem with ray florets.
The leaves are in a basal rosette and are long, narrow and lobed with the lobes pointing back toward the base. The hollow stems exude a milky white juice.
Interestingly, Messéngué believes the Greeks and Romans didn’t know it and therefore it was brought to Europe perhaps by barbarian invaders.
In one of his many herbals, Mills seemingly agrees. He believes dandelion originates from central Asia. Although now found growing in northern hemispheres it is in most parts of the world and even arctic regions. He adds, dandelion prefers moist soil in pastures, meadows, lawns, and waysides. Easily propagated from root division or sowing the seeds. He advises it quickly spreads, as we well know. To contain dandelion he recommends picking the flowers before they seed.
Unfortunately, in the garden lawn, it is all to often attacked by vicious herbicides.
I love this quote from Judith Berger taken from her book Herbal Rituals.
“… we imagine that the cures for our ills are complicated, exotic, and expensive, often the plants which are meant to be our constant companions love to settle at our feet. These plants are extremely beneficial to our vitality and resiliency. In the case of dandelion, nature has placed in our midst an exceptionally healing food and medicine plant.”
Traditional prescribing and research suggest the root has the stronger choleretic and cholagogue activities and the leaf has the stronger diuretic properties. Traditionally, the root and leaf were utilised for similar conditions albeit the leaf was considered weaker than the root except in its diuretic action (Bone). Personally I would agree and would choose the leaf for a diuretic action. Remember that French name.
Dandelion was traditionally used for cholecystitis, gallstones, jaundice, dyspepsia with constipation, enlargement of the liver or spleen, dropsy and uterine obstruction (Bone).
Nicolas Culpeper utilised for obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen. He found it had a cleansing property and suggested the herb for the passage of urine in both young and old. Also recommended for jaundice, fever, to procure rest and sleep and, for washing sores.
Messéngué advised eating as much dandelion salad as you liked as it would do “a power of good”. He also utilised the young buds as a substitute for capers. However, he particularly highlighted the medicinal properties, describing it a whole pharmacy of gold.
Many of the traditional uses remain today. Mills recommends dandelion as tonic for the liver and hepato-biliary functions. It supports and encourages these areas to adapt when under stress.
As a cooling bitter it has a gentle but strong ability to reduce fever with the additional advantage of stimulating the digestive system and useful in convalescence. As a result of the gentle eliminative properties it is recommended for constipation. Mills describes dandelion a choleretic herb improving bile production and cholagogic stimulating bile flow. Ideal for bilious conditions such as heaviness in the epigastrium possibly with nausea. Don’t you just love that word ‘bilious’.
Also recommended in treatment of arthritic disease to help remove toxic waste from the affected joints through the urine. And so we go back to Culpeper and his cleansing description.
Hoffmann recommends for congestive cases of jaundice and congestion of the liver and gallbladder suggesting dandelion has an ability to move things on.
Bone indicates dandelion for jaundice, gallstones, constipation, dyspepsia, flatulence, loss of appetite and intestinal bloating. Recommended for muscular rheumatism, chronic skin diseases and cystitis in combination with uva ursi. I imagine the cystitis use refers to the leaf. Certainly I would add dandelion leaf to most prescriptions for urinary tract infections.
Bone recommends caution in using the root if gallstones are present. His reasoning is not clear, nor is it clear if he meant you could use the leaf. I assume his caution relates to the possibility of moving the gallstones thereby obstructing the digestive tract. Personally I have not heard nor found evidence of this.
At the very least, I hope by now, you have grasped dandelion is probably a first port of call for happy kidney, liver and digestive function.
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.
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.
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.
Personally I prefer fresh tincture of leaf rather than a dried leaf tea. I very much enjoy a brew of the root and also use root in tincture form. When prescribing for patients tinctures are often easiest. The following lists dosage methods from some well-known herbalists.
Mills utilises root and/or the leaves. Roots prepared by decoction and the leaves by infusion. He recommends dosage of 2 to 8 g dried root or 4 to 10 g of dried leaf three times a day. If requiring the cholagogue or choleretic properties take thirty minutes before eating (Mills).
Hoffmann recommends tincture at a dose of 5 to 10 ml three times a day and leaves eaten raw in salads.
Roast and ground the roots to take freely as a coffee. Eat leaves raw in salads or cooked as spinach. Liquidise fresh plant and take as a juice at a dose of 1 to 4 teaspoons (Bartram).
Bone recommends a dose of 6 to 11.5 ml of 1:1 liquid extract of the leaf per day and 40 to 80 ml per week. For the root, 3 to 6 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per day and 20 to 40 ml per week.
Boil briefly a tea containing 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of water of dried chopped root and leaf and leave for 15 minutes. Take every morning and evening for 4 to 6 weeks as a treatment in those with a tendency to form gallstones (Weiss).
Dandelion is a cooling herb. In the time of Culpeper, choler in the body was believed to cause conditions such as ‘dry scabbing’. Today believed to be eczema. Dry bowels with constipation, large hard veins suggested an excessively hot and dry liver. Dandelion, as a cooling herb was indicated.
Attenuating or discutient herbs were used for cutting and thinning humours. Discutients were cooler in action than attenuating herbs. These herbs have a dilating rather than astringent action. Dandelion is a discutient herb. Dandelion is also considered a cooling diuretic (Tobyn).
Energetically ruled by Jupiter cold and dry in the second degree. Cooling stomach and liver. Opening, cleansing, healing and diuretic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
de 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Elderflowers are in full beautiful bloom. My mind is currently a spinning wondering what delicacies I can make. Do I opt for more tincture or elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?
Incidentally I cannot abide the smell of elderflowers. In saying that, they are still one of my favourite trees to see in bloom at this time of year. The medicinal virtues far outweigh my dislike for the smell.
Earlier in the month I posted a basic tincture recipe. An easily adapted recipe for other medicinal plants. However, I suggested collecting and drying elderflowers. Ideal to keep as a winter tonic to boost immunity or a hay fever tonic for next spring.
Now I am wondering should I make elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?
Non alcoholic versus alcoholic I hear you ask?
And so on to my dilemma.
Anyone knowing me, or even following my blogs, know I LOVE books. So pondering what to do with all the beautiful elderflowers I turned to one of my books – The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.
My best friend Sharon has always enjoyed a Sambuca after a meal. She believes it helps her digestion. Sambucus nigra is the scientific name for the elderflower tree. Although this thought had crossed my mind I did not realise any part of the plant was an ingredient. Anyone having tried Sambuca will probably agree it is a more aniseed based flavour.
However, in The Drunken Botanist, Amy explains that although artificial flavours and colours are occasionally used some black sambucas actually owe that deep purple-black colour to the crushed skins of the elderberries. So there we have it.
Everyone loves a bit of elderflower wine or liqueur. But you don’t always want the alcohol. Sometimes you have to work, write blogs or prepare herbal events!
Amy’s elderflower cordial sounds absolutely delicious. One obvious difficulty for me is she recommends gathering those fresh flowers on a warm afternoon when THAT fragrance is strongest. Oh dear!
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.
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.
*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!