Baobab health benefits: the superfood from the savannah

Baobab fruit

The fruit pulp dries naturally inside the husk

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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.


Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

(A video containing the main points outlined here is available here)

The thyme I am talking about here is Thymus vulgaris, the common or garden thyme. It’s a low growing, fairly tough plant that likes a sunny situation. It comes in the standard green leafed and also in variegated forms, which some people consider to be more attractive, but the important thyme oil (which is the source of all thyme’s goodness) is found in both.

Thyme is closely related to lemon thyme, but not to basil thyme.

Remember that if you want to use thyme medicinally it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

Like most herbs, once it is established, it doesn’t like to be moved, although you will probably get away with it if you are moving it to a new position it likes. You will have to water it regularly in dry spells until it starts to put on new growth, showing that the roots have got over the shock of the move. Unless your area suffers from extremely cold winters, it should be perfectly happy to let you pick a few sprigs all year round, although if you want to get the highest concentration of oil, you should harvest as much as you can just before the flowers open.

Thyme is one of those herbs that begs to be touched. Get down close to it and crush a few leaves to savor its rich meaty fragrance. It’s easy to see why it makes such a good herb for meat dishes, particularly beef. You can even use it instead of oregano or marjoram in Italian food, if you like. The fresh herb is so rich, you may prefer to dry it by hanging it up in bunches somewhere with a good air flow and not too humid for culinary use, after which you should strip the leaves off the branches and store them in an airtight jar.

Fresh or dried thyme makes an unusual and tasty tea – use about 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves, or half as much of the dried ones per cup. Make it in a pot and allow the herb to steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before straining it into a cup. You can add a little honey to sweeten it, if you like. Herbal teas are generally not served with milk. (If you are pregnant, please see note below).

Medicinal uses for Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herbal medicine for digestive and respiratory disorders, it’s an anti-fungal, is useful for treating infections (both viral and bacterial), is antiseptic, expectorant, and can be used as a general tonic.

Before you read further it’s important for you to know that thyme should not be used in large amounts, for example for tea or as a herbal remedy, during pregnancy. A little bit used in cooking will do no harm, but for medicinal purposes, you will be using rather more than a pinch.

To make a standard infusion, put 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried into a pot and add 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes and strain into a cup. The infusion does not have to be drunk all in one go, but can be sipped slowly over an hour or so. It can be used hot or cold (probably cold would be best for gargling or as a mouthwash, and hot would be helpful for coughs and catarrh).

Taken internally the standard infusion is very helpful for respiratory complaints, specifically for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis and other coughs, and laryingitis. It may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, etc and as a mouthwash for bad breath and/or gum disease (gingivitis).

The same infusion is also helpful in cases of indigestion, diarrhea and gastritis, and is good for chills, as it has a warming effect. It can also be used externally as a wash for fungal infections, and can be used to make a warm compress for sore throats and tonsillitis. A compress is a clean cloth which is soaked in the infusion and then applied to the area. For a warm compress, the infusion should cool a little before use.

A steam inhalation is helpful in cases of tonsillitis, catarrh and general infections, also to help relieve muscle fatigue for ME sufferers. You can either use a few drops of the essential oil (bought in) or a good handful of fresh herb. Put the oil or crushed herb into a big flat bowl of boiling water and lean over it, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel to help keep the steam in. Another way is to have a hot steamy bath with the oil or herbs added to the water. In this case, put the herbs inside a muslin bag or similar, so that you don’t get covered in little bits of it.

Thymol, the pink mouthwash used by dentists, was originally made from thyme. To make a mouthwash for general use, make a half-strength infusion (2 tsp fresh leaves or 1 tsp dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water), leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, strain and use cold – the whole cupful, one mouthful at a time.

To make a poultice using fresh herbs, you just process them in a food processor to make a pulp. For dried herbs, you need to add hot water and process to a similar state. Wrap the herbs in a piece of gauze and apply to the area. Ideally, this should be as hot as you can bear, so if you’re using fresh herbs, dip the poultice in a bowl of hot water before applying. You can keep refreshing it with the hot water and re-applying it to the area being treated when it cools down too much.

Aromatherapy

For those with children at school, a bottle of dilute thyme oil (add a few drops to a bottle of sweet almond oil) in the cupboard can be used to deter headlice (cooties) – just comb a few drops of the mixture through the hair night and morning. An attack of ringworm (tinea) can be treated with thyme cream applied 3-4 times a day to the affected area. Thyme essential oil is very strong and should not be used apart from the two purposes outlined in this post except by a professional aromatherapist.

I offer various thyme products including essential oil in my online shop.

Like all plants grown for medicinal use, thyme should be grown organically to avoid nasty chemicals ending up in your remedies. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic thyme.


Red Clover health benefits: for headache, nausea and skin care

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Red clover is happy in most places with moist, well drained soil

Red clover is happy in most places with moist, well drained soil

Red clover, Trifolium pratense, is also called Chilean clover, cowgrass clover, mammoth red clover, medium red clover, peavine clover, purple clover and sometimes shamrock (although this name is mainly used for other clovers). It is a member of the same family as beans and peas.

Description

Like most members of Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae), red clover is a useful green manure because it has the ability to “fix” nitrogen with its roots, adding fertility. Popular with bees and other wildlife, it is a good companion plant for apples, but shouldn’t be grown too close to gooseberries.

Red clover is a perennial herb which reaches a height and spread of 2′ (60cm). It requires some sun to survive, but is content with any type of soil, acid, neutral, or aklaline, even nutritionally poor soil, though it likes a well drained moist soil best. It will also put up with strong winds, but doesn’t appreciate maritime exposure.

Cultivation and harvest

Soak seed for 12 hours in warm water before sowing where you want it to grow in Spring. It can also be sown in modules under cover and planted out in Spring. The flowers are the part mostly used in medicine. Young leaves can be collected just before flowering, flowers, leaves, seeds/pods and roots can be harvested as required. All parts can be dried for later use.

Edible uses

The leaves can be used as a spinach substitute and the seeds sprouted for use in salads. Dried flowers and seed pods can be used as a flour substitute, young flowers and cooked roots can be eaten. Fresh or dried flowers make a herbal tea, and dried leaves can be used as a vanilla substitute for cakes etc.

Medicinal uses

To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh flowers or 15g dried to 500ml boiling water. Steep for up to 4 hours, then strain and discard the herb. It may be diluted and/or sweetened with honey if preferred. The dosage is one cup of full strength infusion a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

The standard infusion or tincture is used internally for coughs, gastric problems, headache, neuralgia, nausea, ulcers and to purify the skin. There is no evidence for the often-repeated assertion that it is helpful in treating cancer or conditions associated with the menopause.

Contra-indications and warnings

Red clover is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone with a history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, endometriosis, fibroids or other oestrogen-sensitive conditions. It is also not suitable for anyone taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin. If you are taking prescribed medication please consult your doctor before use, as red clover may interact with certain drugs.

Where to get it

I offer a number of red clover products in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Red clover-infused oil is sometimes available. It is used to treat skin conditions.

Final Notes

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic growing methods to avoid unwanted chemicals (including pesticides) getting into your remedies. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


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. Avoid bilberries altogether during pregnancy, or if you are 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.


Announcing Frann’s Alt.Health Shop

Frann's Alt.Health Shop

Frann’s Alt.Health Shop

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’m pleased to announce that my new online shop, Frann’s Alt.Health Shop is now open for business.

In actual fact, the shop opened on 1 November, but now I’ve added loose herbs, herbal teas and blends, remedies and lots more. I hope you like it.

Why not take a look at my range of herbs and herbal teas or remedies right now?

I’m really excited about this new venture 🙂 I hope you find it useful.


Thorn Apple health benefits: for asthma and Parkinson’s disease

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium syn. D. inermis, D.s. var. chalybea, D.s. var. tatula and D. tatula) is also known as angel’s trumpet, devil’s trumpet, false castor oil, jimson/jamestown weed, man tuo luo, moonflower and purple thorn apple. It is not related to the castor oil plant or other plants called moonflower (all of which are in different families, both to it and to each other). It is in the same family as ashwagandha and deadly nightshade.

Description

It’s a half-hardy annual which can reach a height of 1.5m (4’6″) and spread of 1m (3′) in a single season! It prefers full sun and well drained soil, but it has a very strong unpleasant smell, so it’s best to put it somewhere away from the house and any garden seating areas.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow 3 seeds to a pot in early Spring under cover, and thin to the strongest one. Plant out in late Spring/early Summer leaving space to develop, so at least 1m (3′) apart. Harvest leaves when the plant is in full flower and dry for later use.

Cultivation is restricted as a noxious weed in several US states and certain other countries. Use of this plant is illegal in some countries — check local laws. Keep away from Solanaceae crops (eg. tomato, eggplant/aubergine, sweet pepper, chilli pepper, potato).

Contra-indications and warnings

NB: All parts of this plant are very poisonous. Only suitable for use by registered medical practitioners.

Medicinal uses

Thorn apple is used internally for asthma, fever from inflammations, pain from intestinal parasites, Parkinson’s disease, and externally for abscesses, dandruff, fistulas and severe neuralgia. Use with extreme caution and only if alternative remedies are not available.

Aromatherapy

Not used.

Final Notes

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


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.


Agnus castus health benefits: mainly for women

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Agnus castus (latin for ‘pure lamb’), Vitex agnus-castus, is also sometimes known as chaste berry, chaste tree or lilac chaste tree. It is native to North Africa, parts of Asia from Cyprus to Uzbekistan and much of Europe, and naturalised elsewhere.

Agnus castus is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 3m (9ft). It is hardy in the UK, where it flowers in September to October, but is unlikely to produce fruit here. Of course, this may change with the climate.

Agnus castus should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

Do not exceed the stated dose; reduce the dosage or discontinue if you get a sensation of insects crawling on the skin, a symptom of excessive use.

The name chaste tree comes from the use of this herb by monks, who used to chew it to reduce sexual desire. It is still used for the same purpose, although only in those who have a real problem with this; in those with a low sex drive, it’s likely to have the opposite effect and is sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.

Agnus castus is mainly used to bring female hormones into balance. It has been shown to relieve infertility due to hormonal problems (if used for an extended period). It is also helpful as a birthing aid, for easing the menopause and relieving PMS, regulating heavy periods (menorrhagia) and restoring missing ones (amenorrhea). Men use it to increase urine flow and reduce BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia/enlargement). Please ensure you get a cancer check before using it for the latter purpose.

It’s also used in both sexes for acne, colds, dementia, eye pain, headaches, inflammation and swelling, joint conditions, migraine, nervousness, spleen disorders and upset stomach.

It is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer Periagna® (Agnus castus) 400mg capsules in my online store.

If you are able to produce fruit from the chaste tree, it’s important that you grow it organically to avoid contaminating the fruit with chemicals that you don’t want in your remedies. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.