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.

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away…

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away….

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.

winter tea to keep those bugs away
Achillea millefolium – yarrow

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)
Method
  • 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.

winter tea to keep those bugs away* 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!

A little change from l’Aude…

A little change from l’Aude

heather-in-the-new-forest-october-2016Road Trip to UK

I haven’t written a post for a couple of weeks. I have been away on a bit of a road trip. The trip included some time in both England and Scotland.

It has been an extremely hot and dry summer here in the Aude. Driving north, first through France and then England, the sharp contrast in the colours of nature was all too apparent. From sun parched yellows and browns in the Aude to glistening bright greens in the wetter Northern climates of Cumbria and on to Scotland.

When living in Scotland I tired of those grey, wet days. I was fortunate to have some glorious days in Scotland this trip, if a little cold particularly in the mornings and evenings. This trip was a reminder of just how important weather is to our health and wellbeing. Plants need water (rain) as well as the sunshine. The abundance of plant life in the UK was astounding compared to my poor, parched, dry medicinal herb garden here in the Aude. Of course, too much rain can be just as damaging as not enough!

Anyway here are a few wonderful photographs from my trip. Some lovely sunny days and some wet and wild days. These photos were taken in Cornwall, East Devon, Cumbria or Scotland. All taken between late September and early October.

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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.

Aphyllanthes of Montpellier

Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

close up Aphyllanthes monspeliensisFamily:

Aphyllanthaceae or Liliaceae (now Asparagaceae)

French Common Name: Aphyllanthe de Montpellier

This pretty little flower grows prolifically here in the Aude.  It seems to prefer stony, dry soil.

The Royal Horticultural Society list the common name as ‘lily pink’. I am not sure where the ‘pink’ is from! The lovely older picture (below left) I sourced online from the Digital Collection of the New York Public Library. The artist was Pierre Joseph Redouté. He lived between 1759-1840. The NY Public Library list the common name as ‘blue grass lily’ which, I think, seems more appropriate.

Aphyllanthes Aude Southern FranceThe French common name tells a little about its indigenous roots as it was initially described by Pena and Lobel when they were studying in Montpellier. It was first documented in one of their publications around 1570. Since then it has moved around botanical families. Initially, it was thought to resemble Caryophyllus sylvestnis. It is now listed by both the Royal Horticultural Society and Kew Royal Botanical Gardens as belonging to the Asparagaceae botanical family.

The Latin name “Aphyllanthes” means ‘virtually leafless plant’.

traditional medicinal plants southern EuropeSome sources suggest it is native to the Mediterranean region (France, Spain, Algeria). However, apparently it can also be found in Portugal. The Royal Horticultural Society consider the plant range to be south west Europe and Morocco.

.. and a little bit of research…

Parada et al studied the ethnobotanical uses of several plants in the Catalonia region. Their results were published in 2011. Aphyllanthes monspeliensis was included in their list of plants researched. Apparently the flowers were eaten raw. Whether this was as a food source or for medicinal reasons seems unknown.

…with a possible traditional medicinal use…

Aphyllanthes monspeliensisAn earlier ethnobotanical study, also based in southern Spain, focused on medicinal uses. This study lists the shoots of Aphyllanthes as being anti-anaemic suggesting a traditional medicinal use (Rivera et al).

The flowers are quite beautiful and even more so with butterflies. A joy to see.

Self-Heal or All-Heal, a little plant with appropriate name!

Prunella vulgaris

self-heal aude franceFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

You will find self-heal flowering virtually continuously from June through to October. The tight cluster of crowded purplish sepals and bracts have been described as resembling a fir cone. It has the typical square stem associated with the Lamiaceae family (Fletcher).

Barker describes self-heal as a short, creeping perennial which is no more than 30 cm in height. He describes the flowers as blue-violet. Found throughout Europe in grassy places or bare waste ground.

This plant seems to have had a wide range of names. Today, more commonly known as self-heal or, occasionally, all-heal or heal-all. However, Culpeper noted it was also known as Prunel, carpenter’s herb, hook-heal and sickle-wort.

Culpeper also added it could sometimes be found in flower as early as April and that it can be found in woods and fields everywhere. If you wish to see Prunella vulgaris growing I am sure you should easily find it somewhere in your garden or certainly very nearby! The photographs in this post were taken in or around my own garden here in the Aude.

Traditional Uses:

self-heal aude southern franceWell it is no surprise one of the common names is all-heal as this little plant certainly seemed to be used to heal many ailments!

Hoffmann tells us it has a long tradition as a wound healing herb.

The common name of self-heal seems to be attributed to this use as according to Culpeper “…when you are hurt you may heal yourself.”

Culpeper described it as a special herb for wounds advising to take as a syrup internally, for internal wounds and externally as an unguent or plaster, for external wounds. Other recommendations included ulcers, wounds, bruises and to cleanse the “foulness of sores” whereby they would be speedily healed.

For headaches he suggested a juice of Prunella with rose oil anointed on the temples and forehead. He added this same combination with rose, albeit rose honey rather than oil, cleanses and heals ulcers in the mouth, throat and secret parts!

It seems that Gerard was in agreement with Culpeper:

“The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water, doth joint together and make whole and sound all wounds both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth.

Brunel bruised with oile of roses and vinegar, and laid to the forepart of the head, swath and helpeth the pain and aking thereof.”

John Gerard, 1636

Mills adds it was a traditional internal remedy for eye problems such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, eye tiredness and strain, inflammation and redness.

The following is from A Curious Herbal. A book illustrated by Elizabeth Blackwell and published in 1737.

self-heal

Medicinal Uses:

Barker notes not much used nowadays. Indeed it was not included in the curriculum for my own herbal training. Barker advises the tannin content provides haemostatic and anti-diarrhoeal actions. He adds it is a useful mouthwash or gargle for infections of the mouth or throat.

self-heal

However, Hoffmann states self-heal is a great spring tonic and useful in convalescence. Fresh leaf aids cleaning of cuts and wounds. A poultice or compress can be made too. Hoffmann adds, as a gentle astringent, it is useful internally for diarrhoea or haemorrhoids. If piles are bleeding he suggests applying externally as a lotion or ointment. Finally he recommends use as a gargle, sweetened with a little honey, for sore throats.

Menzies-Trull lists a number of actions including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal (in particular he includes candida), anti-viral, anti-oxidant, hypotensive, haemostatic and more… He indicates use for ophthalmic inflammation such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis. He also includes sore throats and pharyngitis, hypertension and headaches, glandular fever and mumps.

Mills describes Prunella as having relaxing and restorative properties. He considers it a remedy for the head to relieve tension and inflammation. This, he indicates, makes it useful for headaches and vertigo and also notes modern research into the hypotensive (lowering blood pressure) effects. In addition, he highlights an affinity with the lymphatic system. In particular indicating Prunella for lymphadenopathies, swellings, glandular fever, mumps and mastitis.

… and a little bit of science….

Hoffmann notes constituents include volatile oil, bitter principles and tannins. Bai et al reviewed the plant chemistry and pharmacological actions of Prunella vulgaris. The plant contains triterpenoids and saponins, phenolic acids, sterols and glycosides, flavonoids, organic acids and volatile oil. Modern pharmacological studies have found anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anti-oxidative, anti-tumor, anti-hypertensive and hypoglycaemic actions. These actions are mainly due to the presence of the triterpenoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids and polysaccharides.

This little plant really does seem to be living up to that all-heal name!

… and a bit of energetics…

A herb of Venus (Culpeper). Mills describes the temperament as cool. Holmes also describes it as cool. In fact he highlights it as a ‘refrigerant’ for clearing heat and for hot conditions in general.

… and a Recipe:

On a dry morning* gather enough fresh Prunella blossoms and leaves to fill a jar and cover with oil. You can choose olive oil or sunflower oil, as you prefer. Cover the jar. Check each day or two that all plant material is submerged.

At some stage, usually around two to three weeks, the colour will have drawn from the plant material. Strain, bottle and label.

Apply self-heal oil externally to cuts, scrapes, bruises, sores and swellings. You could add a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender, or even the more expensive rose, if you wished. Not only would this add to the medicinal properties it would also smell gorgeous.

*Note: water content can turn the oil rancid so be sure to collect when the weather is fair.

A simple remedy, ideal for a home first aid kit.

Leuzea sp. a fascinating Asteraceae

Leuzea sp. (conifera)

Leuzea conifera aude southern franceFamily:

Asteraceae

French common name: leuzée conifère

I was fascinated by this plant which I first found growing early June on the Plateau de Bouichet in Aude. I thought it looked similar to artichoke but not quite right. I later discovered it to be a Leuzea sp. It is indeed, an Asteraceae, same family as the artichoke. I have been unable to find any traditional or modern medicinal uses for the species growing here in the Aude.

However, some scientific research to detect the presence of phytoecdysteroids has been conducted on a species known as Leuzea carthamoides.

This species does include phytoecdysteroids. Phytoecdysteroids provide an adaptogenic action.

The L. carthamoides species is indigenous to regions of Siberia, Mongolia, Russia, Slovakia and Poland. It is more commonly known as maral root. It was traditionally used for overstrained muscles, for fatigue and for weakness following illness.

leuzea aude southern franceYou may see pharmaceutically prepared Leuzea extracts. Please note this is not to be confused with the plant images here which were all taken in the Aude, France.

I am not aware of any similar traditional medicinal use for Leuzea conifera.

It is a fascinating plant to see and who knows what secrets it may divulge in the future…

L. carthamoides has since been redefined and is now scientifically known as R. carthamoides.

For anyone near or planning on a visit to Kew Gardens in Richmond, London be sure to check out the fabulous Leuzea conifera in their Davies Alpine House.

Wood Avens a plague prevention remedy

Geum urbanum

Family:

Rosaceae (rose family)

wood avens aude franceHarold Ward described Geum as a slender, sparsely branched plant reaching a height of one to two feet and preferring hedges, woods and shady banks. It has yellow, erect flowers usually found between May and September.

I usually find Geum growing beside grasses or other wild flowers such as nettles, buttercups or herb-robert. This can make it a little more difficult to single out. The flowers turn into slightly prickly seed-heads. If you look closely in the images on this page you should see some seed-heads.

I think of the common name as wood avens but some people call it herb-bennet or colewort. Indeed the common name herb-bennet is derived from an old medieval name ‘Herba benedicta‘. It was reputedly held in high regard in medieval times as a medicinal herb (Hensel).

Traditional Uses:

Geum wood avens aude franceWood avens was predominately used as a digestive herb for toning action on the bowel. The following quote from the Herbal Manual of herbalist Harold Ward was written in 1936. He lived in Suffolk in England.

“The properties of Avens make for success in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The tonic effect upon the glands of the stomach and alimentary tract point to its helpfulness in dyspepsia. In general debility continued use has had good results. The astringent qualities may also be utilized in cases of relaxed throat Although wineglass-ful doses three or four times daily of the 1 ounce to 1 pint infusion are usually prescribed, Avens may be taken freely, and is, indeed, used by country people in certain districts as a beverage in place of tea or coffee.”

Harold Ward, 1936

This last sentence brought a smile as I visualised people sitting chatting round their pot of Geum tea. Ward described the actions of wood avens as astringent, tonic, antiseptic and stomachic.

Medicinal Uses:

leaf shape wood avens herb bennet franceMenzies-Trull notes Geum urbanum contains tannins which give the herb a mild astringency. He adds this is useful for conditions such as dysentery and diarrhoea (as did Ward above). Mills (1993) notes the eugenol content acts as a carminative and antispasmodic in the intestines.

I find this herb to have a slight drying taste in the mouth and this would relate to the tannin content and astringency.

Bremness notes the whole plant is used as quinine substitute. She describes wood avens as useful for fever, diarrhoea, for reducing bleeding and inflammation and as a gargle for sore gums.

and a little bit of energetics…

avens flower aude franceMenzies-Trull describes Geum as a herb of Jupiter. This energy, he describes as providing a soothing warmth to the stomach and intestines.

Being governed by Jupiter, Culpeper described Avens or Herb Bonnet (as he called it) as comforting the heart, good for indigestion, strengthening and warming the stomach and a cold brain! He recommended drinking as a decoction in the springtime to open obstructions of the liver. He also recommended it as a prevention against the plague and other poison! Indeed he said “it is very fit to be kept in every body’s house.”

Red Clover for hormones, skin and so much more

Trifolium pratense

Family:

Trifolium pratense aude franceLeguminosae (pea or bean family)

Bremness describes red clover as having red-purple flowers with leaves of three oval leaflets. Weed suggests it is bright pink rather than red. What do you think – red? purple? bright pink?

The veined oval leaflets often have a white mark on them (as can be seen from the photograph to right). The stipules are attached to the leaf stalk.

Bremness notes it prefers moist, grassy places in cultivated land found throughout Europe. Podlech advises flowering is between May and October. The images in this post were all taken in May in l’Haute-Vallée de l’Aude.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper mentions different types of clover and it is not entirely clear when he is discussing red clover. He found clover to be good for wounds and to be useful if taken long-term for fainting ladies!

Bone lists chronic skin disease, bronchitis, whooping cough and cancer as traditional uses.

Medicinal Uses:

red clover flowers southern franceBone notes skin and respiratory conditions as modern uses too. In particular, he highlights Trifolium for skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis and ulcers and for respiratory conditions with a spasmodic cough. He does not specify whether the herb is better for dry, hot or weeping skin disorders.

Menzies-Trull describes the herb as promoting granulation tissue. He includes many of the traditional and modern day uses adding it supports oestrogen and progesterone balance indicating the herb for menopausal and hormonal imbalance.

Wild Flowers Aude FranceWeed describes red clover as one of the “most cherished fertility increasing plants”. The recommended preparation is an ounce of dried blossoms, placed in a jar and covered with boiling water. Screw the lid on tight and leave to steep for at least four hours although ideally overnight. She recommends up to four cups a day for several months.

Frawley finds it has an action on circulatory, respiratory and lymphatic systems. Ideal for cough, bronchitis, skin eruptions and infections. He is quite specific in preparation method. Advising the herb as a wash for dry, scaly skin conditions and a poultice for healing sores.

Mills describes red clover as an alterative with eliminative properties for use in most skin, connective tissue and joint disease. He suggests it is lymphatic and expectorant in its eliminative action.

some science stuff…

Barker lists the plant as containing flavonoids, salicylic acid, phenolic glycosides and a volatile oil. He suggests these provide mild anti-spasmodic and expectorant actions. However, he finds the key action to be dermatological.

and some more science from a bit of research…

Trifiolium pratense is rich in isoflavone (Dabkeviciene et al., 2012). Used to treat menopausal disorders (Beck et al., 2003).

and a bit of energetics…

Energetically, Holmes recommends Trifolium for a melancholic constitution suggesting the plant has neutral and moist qualities and is possibly more cooling.

He recommends Trifolium for damp cold skin conditions such as skin eruptions and rashes but he also recommends it for damp heat and chronic eczema where there is Yin or blood deficiency.

Deficient Yin is described as empty heat needing an increase in cold. The menopause is often considered a deficient Yin condition, supporting use for menopausal symptoms.

Thyme for the thyme of cold and flu

Thymus vulgaris

thyme thymus vulgaris audeFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

And so to this website’s namesake! During the month of May, the hills around the Aude are covered with the stunning colour of the beautiful thyme flowers. The aroma is luscious.

Bremness describes a woody stemmed, highly aromatic shrub requiring sun and a light, well-drained soil. She notes it more commonly found growing in the Mediterranean. Although Greive notes most countries with a temperate climate now grow thyme.

Traditional Uses:

thyme thymus vulgarisThyme has a lengthy medicinal and folkloric history. Grieve tells of it being one of the flowers forming the fairies favourite playgrounds.

In mediaeval times, it was utilised for invigorating and antiseptic properties. The Romans reputedly used it as flavouring for cheese and liqueurs.

Found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egyptians reputedly used thyme to treat headaches and intestinal complaints (Maniche).

Culpeper also used thyme for headaches (see energetics section below). According to Culpeper thyme killed worms in the belly, expelled wind and ridded the body of phlegm, strengthening the lungs. For children he recommended its use in the disease chin-cough.

Medicinal Uses:

Thyme is strongly antiseptic (Hoffmann). Hoffmann recommends use as a gargle for sore throats, irritable coughs, laryngitis and tonsillitis. He describes further use for the respiratory tract for cases of asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Could whooping cough be the chin-cough from Culpeper’s time?

Weiss actually lists the plant within the respiratory system of his book. He highlights similar actions to Hoffmann adding its use for patients suffering from emphysema.

The action on the respiratory system, especially the lungs, appears to be the main property as Mills too includes it in his list of expectorant herbs. However, Mills also describes an antiseptic effect on the urinary system and an antispasmodic and carminative effect on the digestive tract which is probably why thyme is such a popular culinary herb.

Thyme is also cited by Bartram as being useful for infections of the respiratory and urinary tract and for bedwetting children and overwork.

I find dried thyme a very pleasant winter tea to fight off those winter bugs. To me part of the healing process is inhaling the lovely aroma of the brew. If you are not keen on the taste of the tea consider using in a foot-bath (see below). Even with a foot-bath you would still benefit from that luscious aroma.

a few cautionary words

Bartram contraindicates use in pregnancy although I have found no support for this claim other than the traditional eclectic physicians believing the herb to be an emmenagogue.

thymus vulgaris southern france

Culpeper actually recommended use during labour for speedy delivery and to bring away the afterbirth. He described it “so harmless you need not fear the use of it.”

The World Health Organisation note safety of thyme preparations during pregnancy or lactation has not been established.

Curtis suggests care with the essential oil as it can have an irritant effect on the skin and mucous membranes particularly if high in thymol or carvacrol.

I personally wonder if the pregnancy concerns were originally raised due to use of essential oil rather than the actual herb. Particularly where the thyme essential oil may be high in phenols. The phenol constituents, such as thymol or carvacrol, would naturally be more highly concentrated in the essential oil.

and some science stuff…

A volatile oil is the primary principle with bitters, saponins and tannins making up approximately 10% (Weiss). Mills also includes flavonoids.

Saponins have a pharmacological effect on the respiratory system and bitters on the digestive system. Flavonoids are antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and some are anti-tumour. Thyme oil found to inhibit several different fungi and negative bacteria. The volatile oil contains monoterpenes, thymol and carvacrol (Mills).

wild thyme tincture making aude franceMonoterpenes are generally antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral. Some are also analgesic, expectorant, decongestant and stimulant. Phenols (thymol and carvacrol are generally antiseptic, anti-infectious, bactericidal, stimulating to the immune system, activating healing and stimulating to the nervous system making them effective in some depressive illnesses (Clarke).

and a bit more science with some research…

This study is interesting as it chose to look at the anti-spasmodic and analgesic actions in relation to painful periods. A clinical study conducted on 84 university students with primary dysmenorrhea. Students randomly assigned to three groups. They all received capsules and did not know which group they were in.

Three groups split to receive: thyme essential oil, ibuprofen or placebo. Pain intensity identified with a visual scale. Checked before and one hour after each dose for 48 hours after starting medication. Data collected and analysed. Both thyme and ibuprofen were effective in reducing pain severity and spasms (Salmalian et al, 2014).

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, on arrival at Castle Leoch, Claire boils thyme with garlic cloves. Cloth soaked in this solution makes an antiseptic bandage for Jamie’s wound.

In the herb garden at Castle Leoch it is mentioned again. Mrs Fitz asks Claire to plant garlic between thyme and foxglove on the south side of the garden.

and a wee bit of energetics…

Culpeper described thyme as under the dominion of Venus and under the sign of Aries. Many of Culpeper’s uses have already been mentioned above. The astrological virtues Culpeper believed chiefly appropriated thyme to the head. He said anointing the head with thyme vinegar stopped pains thereof!

and some Recipes…

These recipes are from the famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué.

i ) Liqueur: macerate 3 to 4 fresh or dried sprigs (of thyme) in a quarter of a litre (8 fluid oz) of brandy (a teaspoonful occasionally)

ii) Foot-Baths and Hand-Baths: put two to three handfuls into a litre (1½ pints) of water

I’ve just gathered some (images above in jar) so ‘thyme’ to make a tincture…. and perhaps a vinegar or liqueur too…