Borage health benefits: cheers you up and benefits heart and kidneys

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Borage is sometimes called starflower

Borage is sometimes called starflower

Borage, Borago officinalis, is also known as starflower, (common) bugloss and burrage. It is related, though not closely, to alkanet (also called Spanish or dyer’s bugloss) and viper’s bugloss. It’s a hairy annual with very pretty flowers which reaches a height of about 1ft (30cm), and although if it’s happy it will self-seed all over the place, it is unlikely to become invasive, as the plants are very easy to pull up.

Borage leaves are sometimes used in salad, and are supposed to taste like cucumber, but since they are so hairy they have never appealed to me, so I’ve never tried them, even chopped up as is usually suggested. The flowers are edible, and make a great addition to salads (just on account of their attractiveness), whether fruit or vegetable based, and can also be frozen individually in ice cubes, to add to cocktails or other drinks.

Borage is grown commercially for the sake of the oil produced in its seeds, which is very high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA). However, as the seeds are very small, it requires huge quantities to obtain a usable quantity of oil, and this is not practicable for the home grower.

Flowers and leaves can be gathered in late Spring and Summer as the plants come into flower, and may be dried for later use, but will not retain their medicinal properties beyond a year.

Borage leaves and flowers should not be used by anyone suffering from disorders of the liver.

Medicinally, borage has long been used in folk medicine to dispel melancholy. Make a standard infusion using 2 tsp dried/4 tsp fresh flowers or 2-3 tsp dried/a handful of fresh leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Stand for 5-15 minutes and drain before use to treat nervous conditions, and also for pleurisy and other types of inflammation, and as a digestive tonic with beneficial effects on the kidneys, heart and adrenal glands. The same tonic can also be used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. In all cases, one cup night and morning is the standard dose. As it may have sedative effects, it’s best to avoid driving or operating machinery while taking borage medicinally.

Ringworm can be treated by extracting the juice from fresh leaves and applying to the affected area. However, contact with the leaves may cause dermatitis in susceptible individuals.

I offer borage oil, which can be used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy and is also excellent used alone for skin care, particularly for dry, mature or damaged skin, and starflower (borage) oil 500mg capsules in my online shop.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, borage should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not changed by the uptake of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic borage visit the Gardenzone.


Bay leaves health benefits: for indigestion, gas and colic

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bay trees are popular in pots

Bay trees are popular in pots

Bay leaves are a well known herb in the kitchen, and bay trees are often grown in pots as ornamentals. The bay tree, Laurus nobilis, is an evergreen tree which reaches a height of 35 feet (12m) plus, if not restricted in this way.

Grow in a 40-45cm (15-18″) tub to restrict height. Trim to shape 2 or 3 times during Summer. However, growing it in a pot does mean that it will need frequent watering during the warmer months, even up to twice a day! You can pick leaves as you need them, and take the main crop in Fall before they change color, as they will only fall off anyway. Don’t take them all, however. Trees take back nutrients from their leaves before they shed them, which is why the color changes.

The bay tree goes by many names: bay laurel, Grecian laurel, Indian bay, laurel, Roman laurel, sweet bay and very likely other names as well. Although the berries can be used in herbal medicine, you are unlikely to get any of these, as the bay tree has male and female forms (which can’t be distinguished until they flower), and you need one of each to get fruit. It’s just as well that the leaves have similar properties.

Bay leaves are often used in cooking, for stews and casseroles as well as occasionally in sweet dishes. Many Indian dishes also make use of this herb for seasoning, and it’s not unusual to find a bay leaf or two, along with the obligatory lump of cinnamon bark, in a good quality Indian take away.

If you have a large number of bay leaves available, you may be able to extract sufficient oil to use as a liniment (a pretty difficult job if you don’t have your own distillation equipment) – or you could make an oil maceration by soaking them in light olive oil for a few weeks in a sealed bottle on a sunny windowsill, shaking every day, to produce a quite strongly scented oil which can be used in the same way. Throw the oil-soaked leaves away after straining them off, as all their goodness will have transferred to the oil.

Although using a couple of leaves in cooking is unlikely to do any harm, bay leaves are not suitable for use as a herbal medicine during pregnancy.

Make a decoction of leaves by putting 30g (1 oz) of fresh leaves in a small saucepan and covering with 600ml (1¼ US pints, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the leaves and discard. Mix this with honey to make a paste which can be rubbed on the chest and throat to treat colds and catarrh (best done at bedtime).

A standard infusion, made from 30g (1 oz) of fresh leaves to each 600ml (1¼ US pints, 1 UK pint) of boiling water and allowed to stand for at least 10 minutes, can be used as a treatment for indigestion, colic and flatulence (“gas” or “wind“). Take 75ml (one-third US cup) up to 3 times a day.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is generally labeled bay laurel to distinguish it from another oil, West Indian bay (Pimenta racemosa). It is used for dyspepsia, flatulence, loss of appetite and viral infections including colds, flu and tonsillitis. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy, by children, cancer patients or anyone with sensitive skin.

As with all essential oils, bay laurel 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.

As with all plants grown for medicinal purposes, it’s important to grow bay trees organically if you are going to use them for remedies. To find out more about growing organic bay visit the Gardenzone.


Sunflower health benefits: big smiley faces for coughs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Just looking at a sunflower makes you feel better

Just looking at a sunflower makes you feel better

Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus but sometimes labeled Helianthus giganteus, are one of those flowers that make you feel better just by looking at them, but despite this, they are not often thought of as remedial plants.

Sunflowers are semi-hardy annuals. They won’t survive frost, but since they will almost certainly have done their thing by the time this occurs, it doesn’t really matter in most years. There are numerous varieties available from any seed merchant, some growing to a height of 12 feet (4 meters), although dwarf varieties have been bred which reach a mere 18″ (45cm). The idea of a dwarf sunflower seems to me to take most of the fun out of this plant, but I guess there must be a market for them somewhere.

Most gardeners just grow them and then pull them up and stick them on the compost heap after the flowers die off, but this is really not making the most of this amazing plant. For a start, birds love sunflower seeds, so if you can possibly bring yourself to allow them to ripen and leave them through the winter months, your green credentials will be improved immensely. The tall varieties need some support unless they are grown in a very sheltered spot, as otherwise they can get knocked down by the wind, which is a shame.

The seeds themselves (if you grow plenty, you can take some for yourself as well as feeding the birds) are incredibly nutritious, and have a potassium to sodium ratio of 920:30. That’s 920 mg of potassium per 100g of seeds – though unfortunately this amount carries an energy content of 560 calories, so small quantities are the order of the day (and in any case, it’s pretty difficult to eat 100g at a time). Don’t consume seeds bought from a seed merchant, as it’s very likely that they will have been dressed with some chemical or other to help with storage. You can also make a standard infusion from crushed seeds (about 1 oz per pint of boiling water), strained for use after standing for at least 10 minutes. This can be used as an expectorant to treat coughs.

However, it is the leaves that are mainly used in herbal remedies. These are picked just before the flowers open, and can be used fresh or dried for later use. Use them crushed with a little hot water as a poultice to treat bites, sores and skin eruptions.You can also make a standard infusion of leaves – 3 handfuls of fresh or 1 ounce of dried to 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes and up to 4 hours before straining for use. This is used to treat disorders of the lung.

All plants used for herbal remedies must be grown organically, and this is particularly important in the case of sunflowers as their fast growth means that they absorb chemicals very readily and in large amounts. To find out more about growing organic sunflowers visit the Gardenzone.


Globe Artichoke health benefits: for liver disease

Globe artichokes are usually grown for their flower buds

Globe artichokes are usually grown for their flower buds

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Globe artichokes (so called to distinguish them from the unrelated Jerusalem artichoke), Cynara scolymus, is also known as the garden artichoke or just artichoke. It’s a hardy perennial and will reach a height of 6′ (2m) by about 4′ (130cm). Most people who have it in their garden grow it for the flower buds, which are eaten petal by petal with melted butter or other dipping sauces.

Globe artichoke is a big strong, sturdy perennial plant which is reputed to be invasive, though I think you would need to be a bit unobservant to allow that to happen! It will grow almost anywhere where there is good drainage, even saline soil, so long as it is not in the shade or exposed to maritime winds.

It can be propagated by suckers in Spring or Fall or from seed purchased from a reputable supplier. Deadhead to prevent self-sowing.

The leaves are the part used for herbal medicine, and these should be harvested just before flowering (which takes place from around August to September). They can be used fresh or dried.

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh chopped leaves or 1 oz (30g) of dried to 600ml (2½ US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain for use. The dosage is one third US cup (75ml) two or three times a day.

The standard infusion is used to treat chronic liver disease, jaundice, hepatitis, gall bladder problems and as a tonic to stimulate liver and gall bladder, and lower blood cholesterol levels.

I offer several artichoke supplements in my online shop.

As you are no doubt tired of reading, if you are going to use any herb for medicinal purposes, it’s important that it is grown organically, so as not to adulterate the active constituents with chemicals that have no business there. To find out more about growing organic globe artichokes visit the Gardenzone.

Globe artichoke is not used in aromatherapy.


Cotton Lavender (Santolina) health benefits: for bites, stings and a moth proofer

Santolina is sometimes used as a hedge

Santolina is sometimes used as a hedge

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus (sometimes labeled Santolina incana) is also known as santolina. It’s usually grown as an ornamental, or for use as an everlasting, and even sometimes as a low hedge. Cotton lavender is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of 1m (3′) by 60cm (2′). It is not related to lavender.

Although not often found in the herbal medicine cabinet, cotton lavender is a very useful moth proofer, which benefits from a less pungent smell than the traditional moth balls (if you can even get these any more). It is also useful for treating insect bites and stings – grind to a fine powder and apply directly on a bandage to relieve pain and aid healing.

As with all plants used as herbal remedies, cotton lavender should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents are not corrupted by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic cotton lavender visit the Gardenzone.


Lavender health benefits: for anxiety, depression and bad breath

Lavender is popular in English gardens

Lavender is popular in English gardens

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The main points outlined here are covered in my video Lavender Health Benefits on YouTube.

The English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia (but may be labeled Lavandula officinalis, L. vera or L. spica), usually just called lavender, is a popular plant in English gardens, often planted near paths so as to give off its heady scent when it brushes against visitors as they pass by. There are many varieties, some of which have been bred as dwarfs, such as the Hidcote varieties. It is a tough, hardy perennial, which will cope with drought, salt winds and even alkaline or saline soil with good drainage, so long as it is not in the shade.

The French lavender, Lavandula stoechas is closely related but although it can be used for the same purposes, it is much weaker and of lower quality, from the medicinal viewpoint. Neither the French nor the English lavender are related to the cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus.

Most people are familiar with lavender, and may even have made lavender bags in nursery school as a gift for Mother’s Day. These make a welcome gift, and add a pleasant scent to underwear if placed in the drawer where it is kept – I have one made by my daughter some 15 or so years ago, still faintly scented with lavender.

Although it is well known as a very gentle herb, it is listed in many places as not safe in pregnancy. However, the most authoritative source, the German Commission E Monograph for lavender, lists it as approved for use in pregnancy, including the essential oil. It looks like we have a case of Chinese whispers here. Personally, I’ll go by the German recommendation.

Make a standard infusion from about 3 handfuls of fresh flowering sprigs or 30gm/1 ounce dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave it to stand for at least 10 minutes and strain before use. This can be used at a dose of 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day split into 2 or 3 doses to treat anxiety/depression and indigestion, and also as a mouthwash or gargle for halitosis. It can also be used as a wash for muscle pain, bites and sores, and as a douche for vaginal discharge.

To ensure that the active ingredients are not adulterated by foreign chemicals, it is essential that lavender intended for medicinal use is grown organically. To find out more about growing organic lavender visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Lavender essential oil is often used externally to treat headache by rubbing a couple of drops into the temples. Either the herb or the oil can be added to bathwater to treat depression and insomnia.

I offer dried lavender flowers and a selection of other lavender-based products including essential oils in my online shop.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.
 
As with all essential oils, none of the lavender essential oils 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.
 

Foxglove health benefits: pretty but best not to touch

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Foxgloves are poisonous, don't touch

Foxgloves are poisonous, don’t touch

The common or purple foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, goes by many other names, including American foxglove (although it used to be found growing wild, not just in North America but also Europe), dead men’s bells and fairy gloves. It’s very poisonous, containing a drug which is used in treating heart disease, although it is the woolly foxglove (or Grecian foxglove), Digitalis lanata which is the source of the Digoxin used in medicine.

It’s been known for people to get rashes, headaches and nausea just from touching it with the bare hands, and it is not suitable for use in herbal medicine by anyone without a practitioners’ certificate. If you have children, it’s wise to remove any foxgloves you may have in your garden, at least until the children reach double figures and can understand the danger when it is explained to them.

More information about the common foxglove and the woolly foxglove can be found in the Gardenzone.


Angelica health benefits: mainly for digestive disorders

Angelica is easily mixed up with Hemlock

Angelica is easily mixed up with Hemlock

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Angelica, Angelica archangelica (but may be labeled Archangelica officinalis), is also known as European angelica, garden angelica, angelique and archangel. There is another herb also sometimes called archangel, the white deadnettle.

It’s important to grow angelica using seed from a reputable source, and never collect from the wild, as it is easily mixed up with hemlock, which is deadly.

When I was a child, angelica stems were often candied and used to decorate cakes and confectionery. It’s much less commonly seen today, but you may still be able to buy candied angelica from supermarkets or suppliers of cake decorations. The raw uncandied stems are sometimes chopped and mixed with cream cheese to make an unusual tasting spread.

As a remedy, angelica is mainly used for disorders of the digestive system, such as flatulence (“wind” or “gas”), heartburn (acid reflux), indigestion, colic and intestinal cramps associated with diarrhea. It should not be taken in large doses, as it can have unwanted side effects on respiration and blood pressure. Given these effects, it may be better to use some other remedy internally, unless you don’t have another remedy to hand.

A standard infusion is made from 30g (1 ounce) of chopped leaves and stems to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, left to stand for at least 10 minutes before straining for use. For internal use, the maximum dose is 75ml (one third of a US cup) up to 3 times a day.

The same infusion can be used after cooling as a gargle to help relieve the pain of sore throats and tonsillitis.

As with all herbs used for medicinal purposes, angelica should be grown organically to ensure that its active constituents are not diluted by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic angelica visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Angelica essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone with sensitive skin. There are 2 different essential oils: angelica seed essential oil and angelica root essential oil. Angelica root oil is phototoxic; do not use if you suffer from skin cancer/melanoma.

As with all essential oils, angelica 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.

Pot marjoram health benefits: great for coughs and indigestion

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Pot marjoram is an old wives' remedy

Pot marjoram is an old wives’ remedy

Pot marjoram, Origanum onites, is also known as rhigani and Cretan oregano. It is closely related to the true oregano and sweet marjoram.

Pot marjoram is a hardy perennial which will grow almost anywhere except in full shade or where it can be blasted by winds from the sea. It reaches a height and spread of about 60cm (2′).

Sow under cover in early Spring, prick out into individual pots and grow on. Plant out in early Summer into well drained soil. Can also be propagated by division. Cut back to the ground when it starts to get woody and it should regrow. Cut leaves as required for use fresh, dried or for distillation. Harvest whole plants just before flowering.

The leaves can be used to make tea, or as flavoring in similar ways to oregano, sweet marjoram or thyme, and also in salads and sandwiches.

As it is very similar to sweet marjoram, it is best avoided for use as a remedy during pregnancy.

Medicinally, a standard infusion made from 30g (1 ounce) dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves and flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water of boiling water and allowed to stand between 10 minutes and 4 hours can be used to treat coughs, headache and indigestion, as a mouthwash for disorders of the mouth and gums, and as a general tonic. Externally, the same wash can be used to treat skin infections. It can also be used as a disinfectant.

As with all herbs used as remedies, pot marjoram should be grown the organic way, to avoid the essential components becoming corrupted by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic pot marjoram visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Pot marjoram is not used in aromatherapy. If you do find essential oil labeled “marjoram” it is probably sweet marjoram or possibly Spanish marjoram (which is more closely related to thyme than marjoram).


Hyssop health benefits: Biblical herb great for bruised eyes

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Hyssop is attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies

Hyssop is attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies

Hyssop has been in use so long, that it’s mentioned in the Bible, in Psalm 51, though I guess there’s no certainty that the same herb is referred to.

Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, has certainly been in use a very long time, and was once seen as a virtual cure-all, although it’s not used so much nowadays. However, it’s still a popular home remedy, used mainly for chest and stomach complaints. Despite the name, it’s not closely related to anise hyssop. There don’t seem to be any other English-language common names, but the Chinese call it shen xiang cao.

Hyssop is a hardy shrub, reaching a height of up to 60cm (2′) and can spread over an area of  90cm (3′), so give it plenty of room to expand. It can be grown from seed sown in Spring or Autumn, or by means of cuttings in the Summer months. It has the benefit of attracting beneficial creatures, such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies, while deterring pests. It’s also a natural antiseptic.

Hyssop should not be used during pregnancy or by epileptics.

Make a standard infusion by pouring 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water over 30g of chopped dried leaves and stem, or 3 handfuls of fresh. Leave to stand for at least ten minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain and store in a dark cool place for use. This infusion can be used internally to treat bronchitis and as a stomach tonic at a dose of 75ml (1/3 US cup, 5 tablespoonfuls) two or three times a day.

Externally, the infusion can be used as a lotion for inflamed skin and bruises. It’s said to be particularly beneficial for black eyes (bruising around the eye). A poultice made from chopped fresh leaves mixed with a little hot water can be used to treat wounds.

As I’ve said before, herbs used for medicinal purposes should not be subjected to “conventional” gardening methods involving chemicals, so as not to interfere with their properties, but should be grown organically. To find out more about growing organic hyssop visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Hyssop is used in aromatherapy, but its use is best restricted to professionals. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 13 years old, by epileptics or anyone suffering from hypertension. I do offer hyssop essential oil for use under professional instruction in my online store.

As with all essential oils, hyssop 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.