Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
I’ve decided to start a series of fruits that are useful medicinally.
Today’s fruit is the apple, Malus domestica, which is a cultivated hybrid. If you find a true apple growing wild, it’s almost certainly an escape.
There are many other Malus species, but the star of them all from a medicinal (and edibility) viewpoint is the apple.
Apples grow on trees, as everybody knows, but these don’t have to be enormous. There are a large number of rootstocks on which apples are grafted to control their eventual size, so if you want to grow a small standard tree, choose one of the dwarfing rootstocks, such as M27 or M26. This will restrict the height to 1-2m or 2-3m respectively. A larger tree can be grown on MM106 or M25. The latter will produce a large vigorous tree which may be difficult to crop.
If you only have a small area available, you can also buy trees prepared for growing in containers or alternatively use a cordon, which is a single stem with no lateral branches (small branches grow each year, produce a crop and are then removed). The yield from a cordon or a containerized plant is less than you would expect from a larger tree, but most people have difficulty coping with a large crop of apples in any case. Using cordons is a great way to grow a large variety of top fruit in a small garden. You can even grow them as a “stepover” or to provide a fence-like division between one part of the garden and another.
Make sure you talk to your supplier to ensure that you have a pollinator nearby – most apples are not self-fertile, so if there isn’t another suitable tree nearby to act as “dad”, you won’t get any apples at all. A crabapple will generally do for this, but it has to be in flower around the same time as the variety you are growing, or it will be no use at all. Some trees are so picky they need two pollinators! You may wish to grow 2 or 3 different compatible apples to ensure a good crop.
Crabapples or crab apples (left), which come in many types, are a different species. Malus pumila nervosa is the true crabapple, but there are various others including Malus angustifolia, M. baccata, M. coronaria, M. floribunda, M. fusca and M. sylvestris. Unfortunately, the crabapple has no documented medicinal purposes, though I’m sure some of your grandparents will testify to its efficacy as a laxative! It is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.
Apple trees are deciduous and are not fussy as to soil, so long as it is moist. They will grow happily in the open or in light woodland. If growing in open ground, keep a circle at least 1 meter in diameter around the trunk clear of grass and weeds for best results.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a well known proverb which carries a lot of truth. A medium sized apple eaten with the skin gives 17% of required fiber, 14% vitamin C, 2% vitamin A and 1% each of calcium and iron (based on the US RDA for an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet).
Apple juice is a popular drink, but should not be taken to excess, as even unsweetened types are high in sugar (most apple juice also contains added sugar), which may lead to weight gain. A whole apple contains useful fiber, which is mostly removed in the juicing process.
Apple wine which is at least 2 years old was recommended as a cure-all by Galen in the second century. I’m not sure what the difference between apple wine and cider is, if any, but either way I advise not drinking it in large quantities. Apple vinegar has a similar reputation in modern times, especially for weight loss.
Apple peel infusion: Use 1-2 tsp dried apple peel to each 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water and prepare in the same way as a bark infusion. Drink a cup as required.
An infusion of bark (especially root bark) can be used as a vermifuge for intestinal parasites, to cool abnormal body heat, induce sleep and to treat nauseous fevers.
The leaves contain phloretin, an antibacterial substance which inhibits the growth of some gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, even at very low concentrations.
The seeds contain hydrogen cyanide which in small quantities stimulates respiration and improves digestion, and may be useful in the treatment of cancer. Large quantities of hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure and death.
The fruit is both astringent (reduces any bodily secretion) and laxative. Ripe raw apples are very easy to digest and combat stomach acidity. Eating an apple raw cleans both the teeth and the gums. Grated unripe apple on a fasting stomach is a good treatment for diarrhea.
Dried apple peel can be used in a standard infusion to treat rheumatic conditions.
The recommended dose of cider vinegar for weight loss and as a general tonic is 2 teaspoons cider vinegar to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water, sipped slowly throughout the day. Earth Clinic also recommend it for treating acid reflux, cough, bronchitis and sore throat using 2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) 3 times a day. Both of these taste pretty sour, so unless you’re using it for weight loss, I recommend stirring in a teaspoon or 2 of honey to take the edge off.
This varied list of applications puts apple among the most useful home remedies. If you can spare a small space for a couple of containerized plants or cordons, it’s definitely worth it.
Apple is not used in aromatherapy, though the fruit and the blossom are both often used in perfumery.
As I always say, try to avoid using chemicals on any plant intended for medicinal use, so as to avoid them ending up in your remedy. Some chemicals may also interfere with the remedy’s properties. For more information on growing organic apples visit the Gardenzone.