Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
     
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
     
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
     
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
     
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe for pregnant women and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobab health benefits: the superfood from the savannah

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

The baobab tree is also sometimes called the upside down tree because it is leafless for much of the year and people say it looks as if its roots are in the air. Other names include monkey bread tree (because monkeys feast on the fruit), dead rat tree (because ripe fruits look like rats hung up by their tails), cream of tartar tree (the fruit pith can be used as a substitute), Judas fruit, cork tree and Ethiopian sour gourd tree. There are also many other non-English names. The latin name is Adansonia digitata.

The tree grows in hot, dry savannah in tropical Africa. They can be used to locate water from a distance. They are also naturalised in many similar areas in Asia. It isn’t feasible to grow one for yourself unless you live in that sort of area, and in any case it would take too long to get a crop to be of any use, though it might be good for your children or subsequent occupants.

Almost every part of a baobab can be used, but it is the fruit which is the superfood familiar in the West, though you’re unlikely to find the actual fruit on sale, because when it ripens, it falls apart. The fruit pulp dries naturally inside the husk and this powder is then packed and sent around the world for sale.

When made into a drink with water or milk, baobab powder has a taste like lemonade. As well as using it in smoothies and other drinks, it can also be used to thicken sauces, dressings and other recipes.

It is very nutritious: 100g contains less than 1g of fat, but 39g carbohydrate. 47g fibre all for only 253 calories. A 10g serving provides 33% of your daily nutritional requirement of vitamin C and 10% of the potassium requirement.

On top of being a great nutritional source, baobab is also a prebiotic which nourishes the “good” gut bacteria, and may be helpful for chronic digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases. It’s also rich in antioxidants and, of course, is naturally vegan and gluten free.

I offer baobab products in my online shop.


Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

Bilberry health benefits: for circulation and eye health

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus syn. V. m. oreophilum, V. oreophilum and V. yatabei), is also known as blaeberry (mainly in Scotland), dwarf bilberry, European blueberry, whinberry or whortleberry. It’s closely related to various blueberries, cranberries and some huckleberries.

Description

Bilberries grow on a deciduous shrub which reaches a height of about 20cm (8in) and a spread of 30cm (1ft), prefering moderate shade and moist soil, though it will tolerate full sun and any well drained light to medium, acid or even very acid soil. As a member of the Ericaceae family it will not tolerate lime. It also won’t tolerate maritime exposure, but strong wind is no bother, in fact it is said that bilberries prefer a bit of a buffeting. It will also survive grazing or even being burnt to the ground!

As well as providing fruit and medicine, leaves and fruit have been used for dying: the leaves for green, and the fruit for blue or black. Fruit juice has also been used as ink. On top of all this, the plant is attractive to wildlife, in particular bees.

The bilberry is native to temperate areas across Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Japan, Mongolia, Europe including the UK, USA, Canada and even Greenland, flowering from April to June and producing small bluish black fruit 5-10mm in diameter with dark red, strongly fragrant flesh in September. Bilberry has red juice that stains hands, teeth and tongues deep blue or purple when eaten. It is sometimes confused with the blueberry, which has white or translucent flesh but is neither as fragrant nor as likely to stain the mouth.

Edible uses

Bilberries have been a traditional wild food, eaten raw or cooked. The raw berries are slightly acidic, but the cooked berries make excellent jam and are also used for pies, cakes, biscuits (cookies), sauces, syrups, candies and for juice. They are also dried and used like currants, and the leaves are sometimes used to make a herbal tea.

Contra-indications and warnings

Due to the high tannin content, it’s best to avoid excessive quantities or regular consumption to avoid digestive problems. Pregnant women should avoid bilberries altogether, as should anyone who is taking a prescribed anticoagulant such as Warfarin.

Medicinal uses

The parts used in medicine are the leaves, bark and fruit.

Standard infusion: 15g dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours and strain.

Berry infusion: 1 tbsp dried berries to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes and strain.

Decoction: Put 15g dried leaves or bark in a ceramic, glass or enamel saucepan, cover with 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 15 minutes, strain.

Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. Do not use for more than 3 weeks at a time.

A berry infusion can be used as a gargle or mouthwash to soothe sore throats and gums.

The decoction is used externally for ulcerated wounds and for mouth and throat ulcers.

Dried bilberries are used as medicine just by eating them. You can also use bilberry powder mixed with water, fruit juice or in a smoothie etc for the same purposes. The recommended daily dose of berries is 20-60g, or 2-5g of powder. They are high in antioxidant anthocyanins and used to treat diarrhea in both adults and children, and as a treatment for high blood pressure, varicose veins, hemorrhoids (piles) and broken capillaries. It also has anti-aging effects on collagen structures, and is very helpful for the eyes, improving night vision, slowing macular degeneration and helping to prevent cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Studies have shown that bilberry extract has potential in anti-cancer, circulatory disorders, angina, stroke and atherosclerosis treatments.

Aromatherapy

Bilberry is not used in aromatherapy.

Where to get it

I offer dried wild bilberries in my online shop.

Final Notes

As regular readers will know, if you are growing plants for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic methods and avoid chemicals so that your remedy isn’t polluted by chemicals which may stop them working or even cause damage in the concentrations usually found in remedies. Bilberries are tough and resistant to many pests and diseases, so there’s no need to use chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


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Lemon and Orange Peels: Don’t throw them away

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

If you’ve bought a lemon or two to make your own lemon meringue pie filling, or to use the juice some other way, don’t throw away the peel – it’s full of nutrition. The same goes for oranges, both the sweet ones we eat from the fruit bowl and the bitter ones used for marmalade.

OK. I understand that you might already use orange peel in your marmalade, if that’s why you bought the oranges. Personally I prefer mine shredless, but we’re all different. It may be, also, that you buy your lemons to slice up and put in drinks. Or you may just never buy either of these fruits, so you don’t have any peel that you can put to good use. No problem! You can buy dried lemon and orange peels in some health stores and herbalists.

Description

I hope that you are careful about the oranges and lemons that you buy, particularly if you’re using the peel in cooking or adding it to drinks, because commercial citrus growers aren’t picky about using chemicals, many of which are extremely bad for you. Obviously, a lot of these end up on the skin. So as you are probably accustomed to me saying in every post, it’s important that the peel you use comes from organically grown oranges or lemons (or other citrus fruit).

So why should you go to the trouble of rescuing your citrus peels, or even buying them in? You’ll be amazed just how good for you these little bits of detritus actually are!

Nutrients

First off, there’s a lot more nutrition in lemon and orange peel than you might expect from something you would normally throw away. Here’s a breakdown:

Nutrition per 100g    
Nutrient Lemon Peel Orange Peel
Vitamins  
Vitamin C 129mg 136mg
Thiamin 0.06mg 0.12mg
Riboflavin 0.08mg 0.09mg
Niacin 0.4mg 0.9mg
Vitamin B6 0.172mg 0.176mg
Folate 13µg 30µg
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin A 50IU 420IU
Vitamin E 0.25mg 0.25mg
Minerals  
Calcium 134mg 161mg
Iron 0.8mg 0.8mg
Magnesium 15mg 22mg
Phosphorus 12mg 21mg
Potassium 160mg 212mg
Sodium 6mg 3mg
Zinc 0.25mg 0.25mg
Other  
saturated fat 0.039g 0.024g
monounsaturated fat 0.011g 0.036g
polyunsaturated fat 0.089g 0.04g
trans fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting you start eating orange peel by the bowlful. This is just to illustrate that it’s not rubbish, by any means.

Medicinal uses

But the nutrients are only half the story. There’s also evidence that components not listed in this table, for example bioflavonoids, have health benefits that have little to do with vitamin and mineral content (so far as we know). One of these interesting substances is d-limonene, found in all citrus peel, which is used to treat GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It also dissolves cholesterol – even when it’s formed into gallstones. Another property of limonene is as a preventive against colorectal, breast and some other cancers. Useful indeed!

Lemon peel also contains a flavonoid called naringin, a powerful antioxidant. Another flavonoid called hesperidin is found in the white pith of lemons, and this may be helpful for menopausal women by inhibiting bone loss (osteoporosis).

Recent research indicates that citrus peel may also help to prevent diabetes, obesity and heart disease by reducing TG and cholesterol.

Great! I hear you saying. But if I don’t have to eat it, how do I get these amazing benefits? Easy. Either stick it through a blender or juicer to get it really fine so you can add it to food, smoothies and so on or make an infusion, or both. You can also use it in larger size pieces (remove the pith to reduce bitterness) in recipes using grains and rice.

To make a standard infusion you would use about 15-30g fresh peel or a teaspoon or two of dried peel to each cup of boiling water. Leave it to brew for 5-15 minutes (the longer you leave it, the more beneficial the resulting tea). Sweeten to taste, and enjoy.

Aromatherapy

Lemon, sweet and bitter orange are all used to make essential oil, extracted from the peel. Like all citrus oils, they are photo-sensitising, so you should avoid tanning beds and sunshine for 48 hours after use.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Final Notes

If you are lucky enough to live in an appropriate climate and have a large enough garden to grow your own lemons and oranges, please bear in mind that organic is best, because that way you know what you’re getting is pure and unadulterated with chemicals.


Olives can be grown in containers

Olive health benefits: relieves bites, stings, itching and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives are the fruit of the tree Olea europaea, also sometimes called oliveleaf, and mu xi lian in Chinese. Green and black olives are different stages of ripeness, though some varieties are always picked green.

There are 6 subspecies: Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis aka O. europaea var. cerasiformis or O. europaea var. maderensis; Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (African, brown or wild olive) aka O. africana, O. chrysophylla, O. cuspidata, O. europaea subsp. africana, O. ferruginea, O. sativa var. verrucosa or O. verrucosa; Olea europaea subsp. europaea aka O. europaea subsp. oleaster or O. oleaster; Olea europaea subsp. guanchica; Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei aka O. laperrinei; and Olea europaea subsp. maroccana aka O. maroccana.

The olive has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is now naturalized across much of the planet and widely grown commercially. It is best suited to a Mediterranean climate with cool winters. To provide a decent crop, olive trees require 2-300 hours of dormancy at temperatures between 7.5°C/45°F and 10°C/50°F (easily provided by a UK winter), during which time day and night temperatures must be distinctly different. Unless you have a room where you can let the ambient temperature fluctuate naturally, you’re unlikely to get fruit from an indoor grown tree. On the other hand, if your outdoor tree is subjected to long periods below -10°C/14°F, it will be damaged and produce a smaller crop, although it should recover the following year.

Olives can be grown in containers, otherwise plant them in well drained soil which isn’t too rich, preferably against a south- or west-facing wall. Water weekly until established and keep weed free for the first few years. Pinch out container-grown trees at about 1.5m (5′) to encourage bushiness.

Water fortnightly with seaweed fertilizer during spring and summer (May to September in the UK). Prune in spring and early- to mid-summer; just thin out the branches to allow air flow, remove dead and diseased branches and any that spoil the shape of the tree.

Depending on the age of the tree you have purchased, you can expect fruit 3-5 years after planting. It will start to appear in late Summer. Most varieties can be picked green or left to turn black. In any case, it’s best to take what remains before the cold, wet days of Fall set in. Pick leaves as required for remedial use, and take small quantities of bark, being careful not to ring the tree, in early Fall for drying.

Before they can be eaten, olives must be processed by pickling for several weeks and then marinating. Green and black olives are dealt with separately. Full instructions for one method are given on Big Plant Nursery’s article, “Preparation of your olive harvest“.

Olives and olive oil are superfoods, but they are also extremely high in calories, so regular snacking on olives may be impractical. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, as it does not turn to trans-fats when heated. It is sometimes used for making margarine, and often in preparing Italian and other Mediterranean-style food, so can easily be included in your daily diet. Extracting the oil from olives is impractical at home without special equipment capable of crushing the olive pit/stone.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed bark or chopped leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water in a non-metallic pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating for 10-15 minutes, strain off root and use the liquid hot or cold. Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Olive oil is a laxative, promotes bile production and is soothing to mucous membranes and skin. It also helps combat hyperacidity and treats peptic ulcers. Externally it can be used to treat stings, burns and itchy skin, also as a base for liniment and ointment.

A decoction of leaves is used to treat fever, nervous tension, high blood pressure and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat cuts and grazes.

A decoction of bark has been used as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.

Recent research has found that olive leaf extract is very beneficial for preventing and treating high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteaoarthritis and lowering blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels.

The gum which collects in warm countries is used to treat cuts and grazes.

You can make a hair tonic by mixing olive oil with alcohol.

In Bach flower remedies Olive is used for exhaustion and mental fatigue.

I offer olive Bach flower remedy, olive leaf extract 6750mg capsules and cosmetic grade olive oil in quantities up to 5 litres in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Olive oil is used as a base oil in aromatherapy. One application is with rosemary, for dandruff. Find out more about olive oil in aromatherapy.

If you decide to grow olives, as with all remedies grown at home, I recommend that you use organic methods, so as to be sure that you don’t end up ingesting lots of chemicals along with your food or medicine. General articles on organic methods can be found on our sister site, the Garden Zone.


Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Pregnant women should not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco health benefits: great fruit for low sodium diet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

The babaco or mountain papaya, Vasconcellea ×heilbornii (syn. Carica chrysopetala, C. xheilbornii or C. pentagona) is also known as the champagne fruit because of its “effervescent” flavor. A native of Ecuador, but cultivated successfully even in comparatively cool places, like Guernsey, Channel Islands.

The shrubby tree is smaller than its lowland relative, reaching a height of around 2m (6′), which makes it more suitable for growing in containers. As it is seedless, it is propagated using foot long sections of trunk as cuttings. After leaves and roots appear, it is planted out in its final position, and will produce fruit in about 15 months.

Choose a sheltered position, preferably sunny, with light, well drained but fertile soil and attach to a stake. Babaco should be protected from frost, as otherwise it may suffer from root rot, and also from deer and strong winds. Remove all but a single main stem until September, when a second shoot can be allowed to grow. After fruiting, cut back the old fruiting stem to the stump. The new stem will produce fruit for the following year. Mulch/feed with well rotted chicken manure or similar every month during the growing season and keep well watered. Do not allow to dry out. and provide humidity to encourage fruit set, but not too much, as this may encourage mildew.

The percentage of papain in the babaco is higher than in the papaya after which it got its name. It is the high papain content which probably accounts for the fizzy taste. However, if you are allergic to papain or latex, you should not eat babaco, use it medicinally or even touch the flesh. Note that the FDA has banned all medical use of papain.

Babaco is a pleasant tasting fruit with similarities to strawberry, pineapple and papaya. It should be kept at room temperature until all traces of green are gone, when it is ready to eat. Once ripe, it needs careful handling to avoid bruising, but can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or frozen. The whole fruit can be eaten, including the skin. Try it on its own, as an ingredient in fruit salad, or made into a smoothy with a little honey or sugar.

Nutrients in babaco include useful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. It’s a good addition to a low-sodium diet because potassium content is around 100 times as much as sodium. Other nutrients include Vitamins A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), Niacin (B3), phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and iron.

It’s worth trying to grow your own babaco, if you live in the right sort of area or can provide a greenhouse or conservatory. Each plant can produce 38-100 fruits a year, so one is probably all you will need.

If you wish to grow babaco at home, stick to organic methods for your health’s sake. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Apricots are attractive trees

Apricot health benefits: help prevent Macular Degeneration (AMD/ARMD)

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Apricots are attractive trees

Apricots are attractive trees

The apricot, Prunus armeniaca syn. Amygdalus armeniaca, Armeniaca ansu, Armeniaca vulgaris and Prunus ansu, really has no other English names, although there are a few varieties: the Tibetan apricot (P.a. var armeniaca) and the ansu apricot (P.a. var ansu). The regular apricot is also sometimes called the Siberian apricot. It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tibet but cultivated almost all over the world.

Some people believe that the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve was actually an apricot. The original Hebrew word means “fragrant fruit”, and since apples are not native to Israel, whereas apricots are, it is at least possible that apricots were the forbidden fruit. It also has to be said that a good apricot definitely tastes good enough to be sinful.

Apricots are closely related to almonds, plums and peaches.

The apricot is a deciduous tree which reaches a height of around 30 feet (9m). It does not like heavy clay, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade.

Apricots are amazingly versatile. The fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked or made into juice or jam/jelly, and dried apricots are available in most good food stores. Canned apricots are also sometimes offered, though in my experience these are not as readily found as they once were. The fresh fruit is sometimes used in green salad or you can add slices of apricot to your morning cereal. Dried apricots make a good snack. When chopped they make a great addition to muesli and can also be used in Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Note: dried apricots are often treated with sulphur dioxide as an aid to preservation. Unfortunately, even though only 1% of the general population and 5% of asthmatics get an obvious bad reaction to this chemical, it’s not very good for you. If you can’t find any information on the pack, I’d advise you to stick to certified organic dried apricots, as the organic code does not permit the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ll probably be brown rather than bright orange. This is a good sign, though they may look a little odd until you are used to them.

Alternatively, you can dry apricots at home. This article on eHow gives excellent instructions on how to do this.

Standard infusion: 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, strain off and discard flowers before drinking. Dose: 1 cup a day, sipped slowly warm or cold.

Decoction: 15g (a half ounce) shredded bark to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and continue heating until liquid is reduced by half.

An infusion of apricot flowers can be used as a tonic.

A decoction of apricot bark can be used to soothe irritated or inflamed skin.

Apricot fruits contain xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), so eating them regularly will help to protect you against age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) and may also slow the development of this disease (other helpful foods include green leafy veg like kale, spinach and turnip greens, canned peas and corn). They are useful as a mild laxative and are also very nutritious. Just three apricots (about 100 grams or 1½ ounces) contain 64% of required daily vitamin A intake, 16% of required vitamin C and almost twice the required beta-carotene for an adult, plus an ORAC value of 1115 umol, which is at least one fifth of the daily recommended antioxidant intake – and all this for a calorie cost of only 50! Many other nutrients are present in smaller quantities. For the full list see the table at nutrition-and-you.com.

If you remove the flesh and crack open the stone in the middle, the nut-like kernel (called xing ren in Chinese herbalism) can be used to lower high temperatures (antipyretic), aid breathing, particularly in asthmatics, as an expectorant and cough reliever and to treat internal parasites.

Apricot kernels have also received a lot of attention as a cancer cure, because they contain large quantities of amygdalin (sometimes called laetrile or vitamin B17 – although strictly speaking, it isn’t a vitamin). This is a revival of an old experiment, abandoned in 1892 because it was not only ineffective but also highly toxic! According to Cancer Research UK: “If simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us.”

When amygdalin breaks down in the gut, it produces cyanide, which as most people know is absolutely deadly in quite small amounts. For this reason, the US Government and UK Food Standards Authority recommend that no more than two apricot kernels are eaten a day (although sites offering them for sale say 6-10 a day is the right amount, thus increasing potential profit by 300-500%). Personally, I would go with the authorities on this one! There have been some quite nasty health problems reported in people who had been snacking on them ad lib.

On the other hand, cooked apricot kernels lose much of their toxicity, so snacking on amaretti cookies (the main ingredient of which is ground apricot kernels) or the occasional nip of Amaretto liqueur will probably not do you any harm.

I offer many apricot products including organic dried apricots in my online shop.

If you grow an apricot tree which you wish to use for medicinal purposes, use organic methods to avoid contaminating the crop with foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Apricot kernel oil is used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive recommended for dehydrated and mature skin.


Almonds are closely related to apricots

Almond health benefits: help digestion and breathing

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Almonds are closely related to apricots

Almonds are closely related to apricots

The almond tree, Prunus dulcis (syn. Prunus amygdalus, P. communis, Amygdalus communis and A. dulcis) is usually thought of as a nut tree, but in fact the nuts are the kernel of a sour but edible stone fruit, closely related to peaches, apricots and plums.

There are two well known kinds of almond: the sweet almond we find in stores and which is used to make sweet almond oil, marzipan and so on, and the bitter almond, P. dulcis var. amara, which contains cyanide and is therefore poisonous (Bitter almonds are still used commercially, but only after they have been detoxified). It’s interesting to know that the bitter almond is the original almond tree; the sweet almond is a mutant which has been cultivated since its discovery. The effect of this is that even sweet almond trees bear a few bitter almonds along with the rest, so if you’re working your way through a batch of almonds and find one that’s bitter, don’t eat it! Even sweet almonds can be toxic in quantity – apparently anything over 900 is enough to kill an adult. But if you manage to eat that many without popping, I’d be very surprised.

Almonds are native to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan and naturalized in Iran and the Mediterranean. They are cultivated in many places, including the Med. and California.

From all this you will gather that you probably need to live somewhere fairly warm to successfully grow your own almonds. If you don’t have at least warm temperate conditions, it’s probably not worth growing it as a major crop, though they are cultivated in temperate areas. Mind you, with global warming, you might not have to wait too long to get the chance!If you can provide the appropriate climate conditions, the soil needs to have well drained but moisture-retaining loamy soil with a moderate amount of lime. Choose a sunny position for the best crop, but it can stand semi-shade if there is no other option. If you have space, you will get heavier crops by growing two different cultivars.

It is better to buy trees from your nearest nursery, as they will be suitable for local conditions, but almonds can also be raised from whole seed after 2-3 months of cold stratification. Even then, they can take up to 18 months to germinate, and need coddling in a cold frame, potting on and kept in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter in cooler areas.

Plant them out in late spring or early summer, remembering to water them regularly for their first season. After 4 or 5 years, you will start to get a crop.

Almonds can cause allergic reactions in those who are susceptible. Even though almonds are not technically nuts, if you have a nut allergy, you should not eat them or products made with them (eg. marzipan). The same applies to those who are allergic to peaches.

For the rest of us, almonds are a very nutritious food. A 3.5 ounce (100 g) serving contains almost twice the daily requirement of vitamin E and more than half that of Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Magnesium and Phosphorus. Other nutrients found in useful quantities include Thimine (vitamin B1), Niacin (vitamin B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Vitamin B6, Folate (vitamin B9), Laetrile (vitamin B17), Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Zinc. Almonds in their skins are also a source of dietary fiber, more than 50% by weight.

As a food, almonds are used in many ways, from a popular Christmas snack (both as nuts and marzipan) to a peanut butter substitute. I offer a range of almond products in my online store. In the Middle East, whole green almonds with the flesh still on are sometimes eaten dipped in salt, before the husk has hardened.

Sweet almond oil extracted from the nuts is often used in aromatherapy as a carrier (bitter almond oil is poisonous and not interchangeable) and can also be used to soothe cradle capdermatitis, eczema and similar skin conditions. The nuts themselves (and most products made from them) are laxative (probably due to the high fiber content) and improve both digestion and respiration.

Like all plants used for medicinal purposes, if you decide to grow your own almonds, it’s important to stick to organic methods, so as to ensure that no foreign substances are present. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola cherries health benefits: vitamin C booster

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola or acerola cherry, Malpighia emarginata (syn. Malpighia glabra, M. punicifolia or M. retusa), is also known as Antilles cherry, Barbados cherry, Puerto Rican cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crape (or crepe) myrtle. It is a fast growing deciduous sub-tropical tree native to northern South America, Central America and the Caribbean (but cultivated in many other places), some varieties of which can reach a height of 20′ in their native habitat.

Because acerola has large glossy leaves and attractive five-petalled pink or white flowers followed by fruit, it is sometimes grown as an ornamental in areas where temperatures do not drop below 30ºC (86ºF). It can be kept pruned as a bush no more than 5′ tall and grown in a pot, so it is suitable for conservatories in cooler climates. A dwarf variety is available which only reaches 2′ and can even be grown in a hanging basket! Many cultivated varieties produce fruit without pollination. Acerola is also sometimes grown as a bonsai – though fruiting is unlikely in this case.

The acerola tree will tolerate occasional drought, but not waterlogging. Fruit production will occur throughout the year in the right conditions so long as there is regular irrigation. Acerola should be planted in well drained soil of pH6.5-7.5 and prefers a position in full sun. It needs regular feeding (foliar feeds are usually used) and annual liming. As it has shallow roots which are not as extensive as most other trees, other crops may be interplanted more closely than with most fruit trees. On the other hand, this also makes the trees more likely to be uprooted by strong wind.

If you are growing acerolas, do not be concerned if most (up to 90%) of the flowers fall off. This is normal, and a full size tree 8 years old can still produce up to 60 pounds of fruit.Cautions: the minute hairs on acerola leaves may cause irritation in some people. Eating acerola cherries may increase both effects and side effects of estrogen. Acerola may decrease the effectiveness of fluphenazine (Prolixin) and warfarin (Coumadin). The dose of any of these three medications might need to be changed if you make acerola a regular part of your diet.

Although superficially similar to regular cherries, the acerola cherry is divided into 3 segments, each of which contains a winged seed, forming a triangle. When well cultivated, acerola cherries are sweet, though often the ones sold in the market are quite sharp. Their main benefit is the extremely high vitamin C content (up to 65 times that of an orange), which is highest in unripe (green) cherries. Other nutrients found in acerola cherries include vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Vitamin C content is lost quickly, so fruit should be eaten as soon as possible after picking and kept in the refrigerator until then.

There is no need to make an infusion or anything, just eating the cherries or juicing them will give you all the benefits it provides, though they can also be cooked or used to make jellies and similar preserves. As mentioned already, the main benefits are from the vitamin C content. These include:

  • treating the common cold
  • treating pressure sores – up to 2g of vitamin C a day has been shown to aid recovery
  • reducing tooth decay and gum infections
  • fighting hay fever – taking plenty of vitamin C with bioflavonoids reduces histamine levels
  • increasing collagen production – vitamin C is a co-factor in the production of collagen, which is an essential part of almost every part of the body, from blood vessels to tendons and including the cornea (in the eyes) and the disks in your spine
  • treating clinical depression – depletion of norepinephrine can result in poor memory, loss of alertness and clinical depression. A shortage of vitamin C limits production of norepinephrine. Large doses of vitamin C have shown striking success in reversing depression

I offer a range of acerola products in my online shop.

As with all fruit, to avoid eating chemicals you would be best advised to use organic growing methods. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.