Sage is helpful for the menopause

Sage health benefits: versatile multi-purpose herb

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

(A video covering the main points in this post can be found at Sage Health Benefits)

Sage (Garden or Kitchen Sage), Salvia officinalis, is the last member of the big four immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel (based on a folk song of unknown age). Leaf colors vary from green to greenish gray, which are most likely to be seen, and purplish-red (var. purpurascens). The red variety is traditionally preferred for use in herbal medicine, but you can use green sage if that is all you have. It is closely related to clary sage, Chinese red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) , the sacred white sage (Salvia apiana) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia), as well as various ornamental sages grown in the flower garden. These are not covered here, as they do not necessarily share the same properties.

Sage is often used in cooking, so you may well have some in the kitchen cupboard, which you can use if you don’t have any in the garden, but it’s very easy to grow from seed, and well worth the effort – or just buy in a plant or two from your local nursery, if you don’t want dozens of sage plants to give away. You can pick leaves any time of year in most parts, even if you have to brush off the snow first. The main thing to watch out for when planting is to put it in a sunny position, and to make sure it has good drainage, as it won’t stand waterlogging.

If you wish to grow it from seed, soak the seed for an hour or so in warm water before sowing direct in Spring. Thin gradually to 45cm (18″) apart. Thinnings can be transplanted or used in the kitchen. Harvest leaves June and August for drying. Prune out straggly growth and trim to a neat shape in October or November. Can also be propagated by cuttings in Spring and Summer. Pick leaves as required for immediate use and the main crop of leaves just before flowering for drying or distillation of oil.

Left to its own devices, Sage is a straggly bush, but gardeners usually trim it back to a pleasing shape in mid-Autumn. The trimmings are ideal for drying for the kitchen, where it is a popular ingredient in stuffing, particularly suitable for fatty meats like pork, though there are many other uses. The easiest way to dry the leaves is to hang them up in bunches somewhere nice and airy (not too humid, or they will go moldy and be useless for anything), and then strip the leaves off once they have dried.

Remember that, if you want to use sage 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.

At this point, I need to warn you that sage is toxic in large amounts, and that it is not suitable for use as a herbal medicine by anyone who is pregnant or suffering from epilepsy.

Make a standard infusion with 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water in a pot, leave to stand for 10 minutes and strain into a cup, adding some lemon and/or honey if you wish. You can drink this hot or cold, but for relieving sweating or hot flushing, it is better drunk cold. Limit intake to one cup a day.

Sage is antibiotic, anti-fungal, astringent, anti-spasmodic and a good nerve tonic. Sage is also well known for its estrogenic properties, which makes it useful for regulating periods, reducing milk production, and as a treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Recent research indicates that patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who drink a cup of sage tea a day may experience improved brain function. Alzheimer’s is such a debilitating disease that this is well worth trying, on the principle of “it can’t hurt”.

The same infusion is good for colds, anxiety/depression, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”) and indigestion. Used at half strength it is good as a gargle for sore throat, as a mouthwash to treat ulcers and sore gums, and as a douche to treat vaginal discharges. It’s also useful as a wash for bites and stings (remove the sting first if necessary), and for skin infections.

Visit the gardenzone for more information about growing organic sage.

I offer various sae products in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Sage essential oil is toxic. Do not use under any circumstances.

As with all essential oils, sage 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.

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Rosemary health benefits: for pain, depression and many other uses

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a pretty little bush from the Mediterranean. There’s also a prostrate form, var. prostratus. Both types can be used in the same ways.

Description

Rosemary is quite tender, and has a tendency to keel over without warning, so it’s best to have a couple of plants, although you can go the gardener’s route of taking cuttings regularly – I guess it depends on how many friends you are likely to be able to pass any extras on to!Because it is from the Med, it likes hot sunny positions with a bit of shelter, and does not like frost or cold wet winters at all. It grows best in poor light alkaline soil with ample lime.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow indoors March to June, barely cover seed, transplant to 8cm (3″) pots, or outdoors May to June 1cm (½”) deep, thin to 15cm (6″) apart. Put in final position Fall or Spring when there is no risk of frost. Pick a sheltered spot, if possible. Tidy the plants in Spring, and after a cold wet Winter take cuttings, as the plant may die unexpectedly. Prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth.

If you can bring it into a porch or conservatory in the winter (a full sized plant will be in a pretty big pot), it will appreciate it, or you can cover it with fleece or a cloche – or rely on the aforementioned cuttings. It doesn’t like having its roots disturbed, so if you will be bringing it indoors, grow it in a pot from the get-go.

Collect leaves and flowering tops in Spring and early Summer for immediate use, drying or distillation for oil.

Edible uses

Traditional gardening advice is to prune back to stop it getting straggly after it has flowered, and this would be a good opportunity to get some drying material for use in the kitchen. It’s a slightly bitter herb but makes a great addition to lamb or chicken if used fairly sparingly, as well as lots of other uses.

Contra-indications and warnings

Rosemary is one of the best herbal remedies, but before I go on, I need to point out that anybody who suffers from high blood pressure or epilepsy should not use rosemary in large amounts or as herbal medicine. You should be fine using it sparingly in cooking, though.

Rosemary is pregnancy safe with a maximum dose of 1 cup a day of half-strength standard infusion. However, it’s best to avoid using rosemary oil maceration during pregnancy.

Medicinal uses

A standard infusion made from 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves steeped in 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water for 15 minutes to 4 hours, before straining and use, is the normal way to use Rosemary. You can add honey to make it sweeter, if you prefer. It’s used for depression, headaches, migraine, nervous exhaustion, indigestion and other digestive problems including gall bladder disorders, and for PMS. Pregnant women should restrict intake of this infusion to no more than one cup a day, diluted half and half with water.

You can also use the infusion as a mouthwash, and as a final rinse when washing your hair to treat dandruff and as a hair tonic for dark hair (blondes should use Roman chamomile for this instead). The same infusion can be used externally for muscle pain, arthritis, rheumatism and as a skin tonic.

A cold compress, made by dipping clean cloth into a cooled standard infusion, and putting it over the affected area, will help to ease the pain of neuralgia, although it is unlikely to provide a complete cure.

You can make a rosemary oil maceration by filling an airtight jar with fresh rosemary and covering it with good quality oil (olive oil is good, go for the cheapest variety for medicinal purposes). Cover and leave it on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks, shaking it every day, then strain it and store in brown glass bottles, making sure to label it. This oil would be great for a hot oil treatment for your hair. You can also use rosemary essential oil diluted at a rate of 1 drop essential oil to 2ml carrier oil (15 drops to 1/8 US cup). Warm up the oil (not too much – despite the name, hot oil treatments actually use warm oil) and apply it after washing your hair, massaging it well into the scalp. Wrap your head in a towel and leave it for 2-3 hours (or overnight), then wash out with a mild (non-medicated) shampoo. You can use the same method to treat cooties (headlice) if necessary. The oil will suffocate the little blighters, and the rosemary aroma is also a deterrent.

Where to get it

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

Aromatherapy

Rosemary essential oil is not suitable for use by pregnant women, children under 6 years, or anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy. Rosemary essential oil is used in aromatherapy to stimulate the lymphatic system, for mental and physical fatigue and to soothe osteoarthritis and rheumatism.

It can either be used by adding a few drops to a hot bath or mixed with a carrier oil as described already and massaged into the skin – but don’t use it on inflamed areas. You could also use a muslin bag of crushed fresh herb in the bath instead of buying essential oil. The massage oil can also be used to help ease the pain of RSI. However, this is not a cure, and you should discontinue the activity that caused the condition, if at all possible, or find a new way of doing it that does not use the same movements.

Final Notes

Remember that, if you want to use rosemary 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. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic rosemary.


Curled parsley is often used for garnish (flat leaf is inset bottom left)

Parsley health benefits: for pain and halitosis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

A video outlining the main points in this article is available on Youtube here: Parsley Health Benefits

Curled parsley is often used for garnish (flat leaf is inset bottom left)

Curled parsley is often used for garnish (flat leaf is inset bottom left)

Most people have parsley (Petroselinum crispum) growing in their gardens somewhere – it can be quite invasive if allowed to set seed, so if you’re starting from scratch with this herb, it’s best in a large pot, rather than sown directly in the ground. This will also help to prevent attacks from the carrot root fly (carrots are a close relative), if you plant it about halfway down, leaving the rest of the pot empty, and put it on a wall or pot holder. It’s said that carrot flies travel about a foot above the ground, sniffing out their prospects, so the higher the walls around the plant, and the higher up the pot is, the less likely you are to suffer from this pest.

Parsley is biennial, so you can either buy plants from the nursery or sow seed in April and August for a year-round crop. The seeds take some time to germinate, so soak the seeds overnight before sowing and don’t give up if your seedlings don’t show for a couple of months. If growing in the ground or a large container, allow 9″ (22cm) between plants. Wherever you grow it, try and find it a semi-shaded area in rich soil (unlike most herbs), and water in dry weather. If you want to collect the seeds, allow the plants to flower, otherwise, cut off flowering stems as soon as they appear. Either bring pots indoors or provide protection in the winter months if you live in an area with cold winters.

Remember that, if you want to use parsley 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.

Before I go any further, you need to know that parsley is not suitable for use in large amounts or as a herbal remedy by pregnant women or anyone suffering from a kidney disorder.

Parsley comes in several varieties, either curled (Petroselinum crispum) or flat leaved (Petroselinum crispum latifolium). There’s also a tuberous rooted variety, but it’s not generally used as a herb, although the leafy part could be if nothing else is available. The curly type is the one most often seen, but the flat types are supposed to have the best flavor, so are the best for salads. The parts of the plant normally used for herbal medicine are the seeds and leaves. You can store the leaves in the freezer, or dry them.

Make a standard infusion by putting 2-4 teaspoonfuls of chopped fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoons of dried in a pot, adding 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water and leaving to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining and drinking. Take no more than 1 cup of this per day.

Parsley is carminative and diuretic, and a good source of iron, and vitamins C and A. Adding the leaves to salads is helpful for those suffering from anemia or in need of a general tonic. You can also chew the leaves to guard against bad breath, especially after eating onions or garlic.

The standard infusion is useful for anemia, arthritis, painful periods, fluid retention and urinary disorders (not kidney disorders).

To treat coughs, bronchitis and asthma, you can make a parsley tincture. To make this, you need a bottle of vodka or other white alcoholic spirit (of the type you might buy to drink, not surgical spirit). Measure out 670ml of vodka and add 330ml of water to make 1 litre. Put 200g of chopped parsley into an airtight container and pour over the vodka/water mixture. Seal tightly and put in a cool place. You need to shake the mixture once or twice a day for 2 weeks, then strain to remove the herbs, squeezing them so as to get as much of the liquid out as you can. Store in brown glass bottles, and make sure you label them. The dosage is 1 teaspoon/5ml three times a day.

If you suffer from flatulence (“gas” or “wind”), chewing a teaspoonful of seeds will help. Don’t use seeds from a seed packet, as these may have been dressed with chemicals.

I offer dried parsley in my online shop.

As with all herbs and other medicinal plants, it’s vital that parsley intended for this purpose is grown organically so that your remedy isn’t tainted with nasty chemicals. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic parsley.

Aromatherapy

There are 2 types of parsley essential oil, one produced from the whole herb which is toxic and should not be used, and the other from the seed, which should only be used under the supervision of a professional aromatherapist.

As with all essential oils, parsley essential oils 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.

The variegated form of lemon thyme is usually grown

Lemon Thyme health benefits: great for herb pillows

The variegated form of lemon thyme is usually grown

The variegated form of lemon thyme is usually grown

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lemon thyme is sometimes known as citrus thyme and, as you would expect, is a member of the thyme family. It’s often found in gardens, but frequently overlooked as a medicinal herb. If you are looking for it in a catalogue or garden centre, the label should say Thymus x citriodorus, though it might have the older names Thymus serpyllum citratus or Thymus serpyllum citriodorum. It is not related to basil thyme.

Like garden thyme, lemon thyme prefers a sunny position. It is a low growing bush, like common thyme, and comes in green and variegated varieties. If you are growing variegated lemon thyme, watch out for plain green stems and remove them, as if they are left on the plant, they will take over, and you will end up with no variegation at all – unless you would prefer a plain green plant. (Of course, having removed them, you can strip off the leaves and make yourself a nice cup of tea, or use them in the kitchen.)

If you crush the leaves and take a whiff, the fragrance of lemon will come to you. This lemony smell matches the taste, which goes well with fish and can be added to salad or stuffing. You can also make a refreshing lemony tea with the leaves. Use 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves or half a teaspoonful of dried, add to a pot and pour over a cup of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes, strain and drink either alone or with a little honey for sweetening.

Make a standard infusion using 1 teaspoon fresh or half teaspoon dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water left to steep for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) and strained before use. This may be sweetened with honey if preferred.

Lemon thyme contains high quantities of anti-oxidants, so the fresh leaves can give you a quick health boost. The standard infusion is relaxing and a good decongestant, which along with the anti-oxidants, makes it a helpful tonic for when you’re feeling a bit under the weather or feel a cold coming on.

One of the best uses for lemon thyme is to make a herb pillow. This is much smaller than a normal bed pillow, of course, and would be placed under your pillow at night to help you sleep, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory problems.

Herb pillows are usually made out of a double layer of loose-weave material. This helps prevent the herb from escaping from the pillow, while allowing the scent to escape freely. To make a herb pillow, you first need to dry the leaves. This is best achieved by hanging up bunches of the herb somewhere nice and airy and not too humid (steamy kitchens or laundry rooms are best avoided). After the leaves have dried they can be stripped off the branches and used to stuff your pillow, or as part of a mixture of other herbs. (You can also use them in the kitchen as a flavoring, of course.)

Remember that, if you want to use lemon 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. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic lemon thyme.

Aromatherapy

Lemon thyme essential oil is used to treat asthma, respiratory complaints and breathing disorders and as a post-sports rub.

As with all essential oils, lemon thyme 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.

This is wild sage (not common sage), but many herbs are still quite close to the wild forms

Herbal medicines from your garden – or windowsill

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

This is wild sage (not common sage), but many herbs are still quite close to the wild forms

This is wild sage (not common sage), but many herbs are still quite close to the wild forms

This blog is about herbal medicine, or you might call them herbal remedies, from herbal pain relief to herbal hemorrhoids cream you can make at home. Not pills and potions from your doctor, or even your local health practitioner or store, but herbs you probably have growing in your garden or on your kitchen windowsill right now.

Not everybody realizes that one of the reasons why people started to use herbs in the first place was because of their medicinal properties. The taste was just a bonus. At a time when refrigeration would have seemed like black magic, they were important ingredients, not just disguising an “off” flavor in the main ingredients, but also fighting the organisms present in the food, which were responsible for producing that unpleasant taste.

In this blog, I will be giving information on different herbs which you can use to fight infection in your own body (rather than food) or as a tonic, as well as treating various day-to-day symptoms like headaches. It’s not a substitute for your MD, though. If you have the odd headache, by all means treat it with herbs rather than some generic pain relief tablet. But if you are getting headaches every day, it’s time to visit your local quack and see what he has to say. The same applies to any other symptom.

Herbal medicine is useful, but nothing in this blog is intended to encourage you to put your health at risk by ignoring symptoms that may be indicative of some underlying problem that should be dealt with. Your health is important. Don’t ignore it: if you find you are treating the same problem on a regular basis, CONSULT YOUR GP.

Most of the herbs I will be covering are not known to cause problems, but there are always exceptions. If you happen to be in the very tiny percentage of people who are allergic or have a bad reaction to a particular herb, then you should not use it, whether as a remedy or a cooking ingredient.

It’s important that the herbs you use for herbal medicine are grown organically, so that they have not been contaminated by noxious chemicals. These may not matter so much if you’re just using a little in cooking, as they are diluted by all the other ingredients. But when using herbs for medicine, the amount you use, and the high concentration means that they should be pure, so that the qualities of the herb are not masked or the herb may even become toxic. Visit the gardenzone for more information about growing organic herbs and other uses for them.

Update

Because it’s not everyone who has the space, time and patience to grow their own remedies, and in any case, some grow in cool temperate areas, others in hot tropical conditions, and so on, I’ve set up a shop where you can buy a selection of dried herbs which are medicinally active, as well as ready made herbal tinctures and other herbal remedies. I hope you find it useful.