Meadow Saffron health benefits: Not Suitable for Home Use

Meadow saffron is highly poisonous

Meadow saffron is highly poisonous

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Meadow Saffron, Colchicum autumnale, is also known as Autumn crocus, naked ladies, colchicum and upstart. It is not related to ordinary crocuses, nor is it related either to true saffron or false saffron.

I’m only listing it here so as to tell you not to use it for home remedies. Even a small amount of this plant can kill.

Meadow saffron is often used as an ornamental. As you might expect from the name Autumn crocus it flowers in the Fall, and the name naked ladies refers to the fact that the flowers appear after the leaves have died away. It’s a great ornamental, so long as you keep your toddlers away from it.

Meadow saffron leaves could be mistaken for ramsonsThe picture on the left shows the plant in Spring. At this stage, it has sometimes been mistaken for ramsons (wild garlic). However, ramsons has a strong garlicky smell, which this plant lacks. If you are foraging for ramsons and you find a plant without the characteristic smell, give it a wide berth.

I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous Colchicum autumnale is if eaten. It has a similar effect to arsenic, and there is NO antidote.

This plant is not suitable for home remedies under any circumstances.


Bishops Weed health benefits: the herbal morning after remedy

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The true Bishop's weed, Ammi majus

The true Bishop’s weed, Ammi majus

Bishops weed, Ammi majus, is also known as bullwort, and in the UK is most commonly known as Queen Anne’s lace. It’s a very pretty plant with an unfortunate resemblance to hemlock, so should not be collected from the wild.

Some countries have legal restrictions affecting this plant.

Two other plants are also sometimes called bishops weed: ajowan and ground elder. The name Queen Anne’s lace is also used for Daucus carota, also known as the wild carrot. All three plants are in the same family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae) but not closely related.

Bishops weed is a hardy annual and can reach a height of 3 feet (1m). It can be found from Africa to the UK in moist soil, in sun or semi-shade. Some people may experience photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis if their skin comes into direct contact with the sap.

In India, Bishops weed is used to treat vitiligo (piebald skin) and psoriasis.

The part used in medicine is the seeds. A standard infusion is made by putting 2 tsp of crushed seeds in a pot and covering with 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, then allowing it to stand for 15 minutes – 3 hours before straining. A decoction is made by putting 2 tsp of crushed seed in a pan containing 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water, bringing to a boil and simmering until the liquid has reduced by half, then straining before use. The dose in each case would be up to 250ml per day, taken in 3 separate doses of around 75-80ml.

A standard infusion is used to treat asthma, angina, “gippy tummy” (that sort of stomach-churning sensation), and as a diuretic and tonic. A decoction is said to be the herbal equivalent of the “morning after pill“, preventing fertilized eggs from being implanted in the womb. Avoid overdosing, as this can cause nausea, diarrhea and headache.

As with all herbs used for medicinal purposes, Bishops weed should be grown organically to avoid adulteration of the active constituents by unnatural chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Lemon Verbena health benefits: for gas/wind, acid reflux and depression

Lemon verbena is a pretty, but tender shrub

Lemon verbena is a pretty, but tender shrub

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lemon verbena, Aloysia citrodora, is also known as lemon beebrush. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a favorite target for taxonomists, because over the years it has been renamed several times, so it’s possible that you may find it labeled with any of the following latin names instead: Aloysia triphylla, Lippia citrodora, Lippia triphylla, Verbena triphylla and Zappania citrodora.

Also confusing is the fact that, although the common name is “lemon verbena” it is not a verbena from the scientific point of view. So it is not related to two plants which are: vervain (aka common verbena) and blue vervain (aka swamp verbena).

Lemon verbena is a tender shrub, reaching a height of 9 feet (3m) when full grown. In countries like the UK, where winters include a strong possibility of frost and snow, it is best grown in a large container, so that it can be put in a cool greenhouse or conservatory before frost occurs. The plant repels midges and other insects, and the essential oil can be used in dilute form (no more than 2% lemon verbena oil to the mixture) as an insecticide.

Lemon verbena is not fussy as to soil type or acidity, is happy with either dry or moist soil, so long as it is well drained, and will grow in full sun or partial shade. As already stated, it should be brought indoors or otherwise protected from frost, though there are surviving plants as far north as Northumberland in the UK, in a coastal garden. If you wish to try it outdoors, a position at the foot of a South facing wall will help a great deal, and a good mulch in the Fall will provide extra protection for the roots.

Lemon verbena leaves can be used in the salad bowl and for tea (it’s a common ingredient in commercially produced herbal tea blends). Dried leaves will keep their aroma for many years, and are therefore often used for pot pourri.

Medicinally, it’s surprising that lemon verbena is not used as often as might be expected. However, please note that prolonged use or large doses should be avoided, as this can cause gastric irritation.

Make a standard infusion from leaves or leaves and flowering tops, using 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 500 ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 3-4 hours, then strain before use.

Use a standard infusion internally for heavy colds, as a mild natural sedative, and to treat digestive disorders such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and acid reflux, to lift the spirits and fight depression.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, lemon verbena should be grown organically so that its active constituents are not adulterated or eliminated entirely by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic lemon verbena visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is both a bactericide and an insecticide: used for acne, boils and cysts, and for nerve problems. Also used in dilute form (no more than 2% lemon verbena oil) as an insecticide.

I offer lemon verbena essential oil in my online shop.

As with all essential oils, lemon verbena essential oil should never 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.

Violet health benefits: for kidney stones, cancer and bronchitis

Violets make great Mothers Day posies

Violets make great Mothers Day posies

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The violet or sweet violet, Viola odorata, is also known as the garden violet (a name which is also sometimes used for heartsease, to which it’s closely related), English violet and common violet.

When I was a child, a basket or posy* of violets was a traditional Mother’s Day gift, but nowadays they’ve been overtaken by more commercial gift ideas.
*This is a term which, according to the dictionary, means a small bunch of flowers. I’ve only ever heard it applied to violets, and the posies I remember were trimmed with a stiff paper collar and ribbons, so that they appeared much more than a simple bunch of flowers.

The violet is a very small evergreen perennial, almost unnoticeable when not in flower in its natural woodland habitat. It reaches a height of 4-6 inches (10-15cm) and is happy in any well drained soil, in full sun or semi-shade. A native of Europe and Asia, it is naturalized in the USA and Australia. Although the flowers are usually a deep shade of violet (or blue), white and rose-colored forms also exist.

Violet is not suitable for use by anyone who cannot take aspirin and other salicylates.

Violet is a remedy with a long history, which is particularly valued for its ability to dissolve stones and to treat cancers of the breast, lung and digestive tract. It is also used to treat bronchitis and congestion of the lung, and as a pain killer (it contains salicylic acid), useful for headache.

Make a standard infusion using 2 teaspoonfuls of chopped leaves and flowers to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining for use. The maximum dose for internal use is one cup a day, which should be split into 3 separate doses of one third of a cup.

The standard infusion can also be used as a gargle or mouthwash to relieve soreness of mouth and throat.

A poultice made from fresh leaves mashed up in a little hot water and wrapped in a piece of muslin or other closely woven material can be used to treat boils and other excrescences of the skin.

All herbs grown for use as herbal remedies need to be grown organically, so that their properties are not altered or entirely removed by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic violets visit the Gardenzone.


Heartsease health benefits: for eczema, asthma and rheumatism

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Heartsease or wild pansies have been extensively hybridized

Heartsease or wild pansies have been extensively hybridized

Heartsease or wild pansy, Viola tricolor, is also sometimes called garden violet (which is a name also sometimes used for the sweet violet), johnny jumper and stepmother herb. It’s closely related to the sweet violet.

The characteristic shape of the heartsease is familiar in extensive hybridized forms sold as bedding plants in all the colors of the rainbow. They are popular with children, who like the fact that the flowers look like faces. Although usually grown as an annual, wild pansies are hardy perennials. As they only reach a height and spread of around 6 inches (15cm) they are ideal candidates for the front of borders and beds.

Heartsease does not like alkaline soil, and will not grow in full shade, but is otherwise happy in most places, so long as the soil is moist.

All parts above the soil are edible and can be used in salads, added to soup (where they will serve as a thickener) and the leaves used to make tea.

A popular herbal remedy which goes back a long way, many of the uses to which it has been put are to treat what we now know as auto-immune disorders: eczema and other skin complaints, asthma and rheumatism. It is an anti-inflammatory, a good general tonic, an expectorant, diuretic and laxative. It can also be used to treat bronchitis and other chest complaints, cystitis and bedwetting.

For all these purposes, use a standard infusion made from 30g (1 oz) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and allowed to steep for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strained. Take a tablespoonful 2-3 times a day. The standard infusion can also be used as a lotion for skin conditions.

As with all plants used in herbal remedies, heartsease should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents are not masked or entirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic heartsease visit the Gardenzone.


Echinacea health benefits: boosts the immune system

Echinacea purpurea is the plant usually sold in herbal remedies

Echinacea purpurea is the plant usually sold in herbal remedies

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Echinacea is a well known herbal remedy, but there is some confusion as to the correct plant. The plant usually used to produce remedies sold over the counter is Echinacea purpurea, the (Eastern) purple coneflower, shown here. However, the plant originally used by the native Americans and later adopted by settlers was Echinacea angustifolia, the narrow leaf coneflower or Sampson root (shown below), which as you can see has a less pronounced “cone”, and in my view is more attractive, although I believe it is more difficult to cultivate – and you may have difficulty in obtaining seeds or plants.

Echinacea angustifolia is the plant used by native Americans

Echinacea angustifolia is the plant used by native Americans

Both E. purpurea (top) and E. angustifolia (left) are perennials about 4′ (1.2m) tall when full grown. They require well drained soil in full sun. E. angustifolia isn’t fussy about soil, but E. purpurea doesn’t like heavy soil. They’re both pretty tough and will withstand frost. E. angustifolia has edible leaves.

The rootstock is the part of the plant used, and this can be lifted in Fall (or as required). When the roots lose their distinctive smell, you should throw them away, as they are no longer useful.

Echinacea is mostly used to boost the immune system, so is often used for infections – but not for disorders of the respiratory system, such as coughs and colds. It’s also useful as a tonic in times of stress, helping the body to adapt. E. purpurea is also said to have aphrodisiac effects, a property often attributed to tonic herbs. Echinacea can be used to cleanse the body of toxins (which may explain its use by native Americans to treat snakebite, as well as bites and stings of all kinds) and is a natural antiseptic.

For all the purposes mentioned, make a decoction using 1 tsp of rootstock to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Take 1 tbsp up to 6 times a day.

I offer a number of Echinacea products in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, echinacea must be grown organically so that the properties are not changed or destroyed by garden chemicals. To find out more about growing organic echinacea visit the Gardenzone.


Flax (Linseed) health benefits: for constipation, gallstones and coughs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Flax has been cultivated and used since ancient times

Flax has been cultivated and used since ancient times

Flax or linseed, Linum usitatissimum, has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years, mainly for linen production from the fibrous stems, although linseed oil and the actual seeds were also used for other purposes. The plant is an annual, reaching a height of a little over 2′ (70cm). It is not fussy about soil, so long as it is moist, and it needs full sun. It is not related to the New Zealand flax.

Although flax seed is often spoken of as a superfood, it is important not to go overboard with it, as although small quantities are helpful for digestion, very large quantities can be fatal. You do have to eat a lot of it for this to happen, though, so as long as you’re not the type of person who takes things to extremes and eats a particular food all day and every day, you will be safe. (I once heard of a man who ate carrots and drank carrot juice, and nothing else, for months. He finally died of it – and just like mum always said, “You eat too many of those, and you’ll turn into one!” – he had turned orange.) Anyway, flax will give you gas/wind, if you eat a lot of it, so that’s probably another reason not to.

Having said that, the oil is a very good source of omega-3 for vegetarians (although research seems to show this will not be as well absorbed as omega-3 from fish, possibly not at all). It can be used in many recipes from smoothies to salads and as a substitute for olive oil in pasta dishes.

I offer a wide range of flax/linseed products including oil, seed and supplements in my online shop.

Apart from its culinary uses (for example vegans use flax seeds boiled in water as a substitute for eggs), flax seed and the oil, which may be called linseed oil, has a number of useful medicinal uses. One thing to be careful about is to make sure that the seeds are ripe before using them. Leave the pods on the plant until they start to shrivel and dry, then gather them and remove the seeds.

For constipation, you should swallow 1-2 tbsp of seeds with plenty of water. They will swell in the gut, and should solve the problem for you. If this does not work, follow up with prune juice or some liquorice, but you should find that this is unnecessary.

To treat gallstones, take 1-2 tbsp of the oil and lie down on your left hand side for 30 minutes. The stones will be expelled into the gut and leave the body in the usual way. Obviously, you don’t use this remedy if you are constipated. Get that sorted out first.

You can use a poultice to treat pleurisy and other chest complaints. Cook the seed in boiling water for a few minutes until soft, wrap in a linen bag and apply to the chest. Do allow it to cool a little before use, but it should be used as hot as you can stand (just don’t scald yourself).

Finally, you can make a decoction from 1 tablespoon of seed boiled in a liter (4 US cups, 32 fl oz) of water until the liquid has reduced by half. The 2 cups of liquid that remain should be taken during the course of the day to treat catarrh, coughs and digestive complaints.

Flax is also used commercially to make yarn, linen, sacking and rope.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal remedies, flax should be grown organically to avoid its active constituents are not changed by the addition of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic flax visit the Gardenzone.


Winter Savory health benefits: for nausea and diarrhea

Strong enough to survive most Winters

Strong enough to survive most Winters

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Winter savory, Satureja montana, is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of around 40 cm (16″), and a close relative of Summer savory, which which it shares many properties. It is not related to Spring savory (another name for basil thyme).

Winter savory needs well drained soil and will not grow in the shade, but otherwise is not a fussy plant, tolerating poor soil, drought and even very alkaline soil.

Winter savory is usually seen as a culinary herb, and is used in the kitchen in the same ways as Summer savory, when that herb is not available.

Savory is not suitable for use as a remedy during pregnancy.

A standard infusion is made from 2 teaspoons of fresh herb to 250 ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, which is allowed to steep for at least 10 minutes (up to 3 hours), before straining. The dose is up to 1 cup a day, taken in small sips.

The standard infusion can be used to treat colic and flatulence (“wind“) or (“gas“), nausea, indigestion and lack of appetite, diarrhea, and as a gargle for a sore throat. An ointment made from winter savory is used to treat painful joints.

In common with other herbs grown for use as herbal remedies, winter savory should be grown organically so that its constituents are not contaminated by chemicals and their value removed. To find out more about growing organic winter savory visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Winter savory essential oil is toxic. Do not use under any circumstances.

As with all essential oils, winter savory essential oil should never 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.

French Tarragon health benefits: for insomnia

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

French tarragon is sterile, and cannot be grown from seed

French tarragon is sterile, and cannot be grown from seed

French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, is also sometimes called estragon, little dragon or dragonwort (a name which is also used by 2 other plants, the dragon drum, Dracunculus vulgaris and bistort — yet another illustration of the importance of using latin names for correct identification).

French tarragon cannot be grown from seed. Any tarragon seeds you find on sale will be for Russian tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus dracunculoides, a subspecies which is not medicinally useful and not regarded as being of value in cooking either! French tarragon is always propagated by means of division or cuttings, because it rarely produces viable seed. It grows best in poor, dry soil, which is not unusual with herbs.

French tarragon is well known as a culinary herb, having a liquorice-like flavor. It is often used to make tarragon vinegar and as a constituent of tartare sauce.

Unfortunately, because it can cause miscarriage in early pregnancy, French tarragon is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying for a baby.

To make a standard infusion, use 1 teaspoon fresh or a half teaspoon of dried herb in 125ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz) of water and allow to brew for 15 minutes to 4 hours, before straining. This should be used unsweetened at a dosage of up to a cup a day, and can be used to treat digestive problems, to stimulate the appetite, as a diuretic and to promote the onset of menstruation (an emmenagogue). Taken at bedtime, it also helps to overcome insomnia.

I offer French tarragon leaves in my online shop.

With all herbs used for medicinal purposes, it is vital to avoid changing their properties by the use of chemicals of any kind, and it’s therefore important to grow them organically. To find out more about growing organic French tarragon visit the Gardenzone.


Safflower health benefits: helps prevent painful periods

Safflower is used as a saffron substitute

Safflower is used as a saffron substitute

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The safflower, Carthamus tinctorius (though an n is often inserted, so you may find it with the label Carthamnus tinctorius) goes by a number of other names, including saffron thistle, dyer’s saffron, false saffron and American saffron. As one of the names suggests, it’s a type of thistle, but of a luscious orange color which is very attractive. It is not related to the true saffron or to the meadow saffron.

Safflower is a fast growing annual, reaching a height of 1m (3 feet). It requires full sun all day, and must not be planted in even partial shade. If your garden is in the UK or somewhere with a similar climate, it is best to sow the seed indoors in early Spring, potting on as necessary until late Spring/early Summer, when you can plant them out, keeping them away from Solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines) and Cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers).  It needs a long season to successfully produce seeds, and does not stand competition, so you need to keep the area well weeded.

Once it’s in flower, let the bees do their work, then remove the flowers (leaving the seed capsule behind if you are harvesting the seeds) and either use fresh or dry for later use. You may think all this is a lot of work for a plant without a huge range of medicinal uses – but you can also use the flowers for coloring as a substitute for saffron (which is extremely expensive), add shoots to the salad bowl and even use the plant as a vegetarian rennet substitute.

Use a standard infusion made from 1 teaspoon of flowers to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water – allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, up to 4 hours, then strain for use – for painful periods, colds and flu and externally for bruises and joint pain.

An infusion made from 2 teaspoons of seeds to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) water and made in the same way as above can be used externally to treat rheumatism and joint pain.

As with all plants intended for use as herbal remedies (well, really anything you’re going to eat), it’s important that Safflower is grown organically to avoid its active chemicals being adulterated by foreign substances. To find out more about growing organic safflower visit the Gardenzone.