The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

Açai berries health benefits: probably not that super

The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

The açaí berry, fruit of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea syn. E. badiocarpa, E. edulis) hit the news a few years back and has been popular ever since as a superfood. Other common names for the açaí palm include assai palm, cabbage palm, jussara and pina palm.

The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems, reaching a height of 15-25m (50-90′). As it is a native of the Amazon, it is not suitable for most other areas (unless you live in a rainforest), but may survive in a pot if you give it the conditions it likes. Producing fruit in these circumstances is extremely unlikely, so you should regard it as a novelty, rather than a source of food.

The açaí is adapted to survive flooding several times a year, and in order to germinate the seeds, the soil must be kept wet and at a temperature of at least 70ºF (21ºC) day and night. To ensure the soil doesn’t dry out while the seed is germinating, put the whole pot inside a sealed plastic bag, only removing it when the seedling appears. Alternatively, you could use capillary matting and a reservoir. Keep it in an area out of direct sunlight (filtered light is what it is used to in its native habitat), watering regularly to keep the soil moist. Pot on as required, but be prepared to dispose of it if it starts touching the ceiling.If you live in an area where temperatures don’t often fall below 45ºF (7ºC), you can transplant the tree when it’s growing strongly, choosing a location with enough space for it to reach its full height. It needs a pH of 6-6.5 and plenty of organic matter. It will also need daily watering – an automated solution would be ideal provided it can deliver sufficient water for the tree’s needs. Provide protection (fleece, etc) if the weather forecast predicts temperatures below 45ºF (7ºC).

My advice to anyone growing crops of any type is to grow them organically, so that you don’t end up eating chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.

Açaí berries are about 1-2cm in diameterThe fruit grows in huge bunches of up to 1,000 fruits that look a lot like bunches of black grapes, though the fruit is smaller – about the size of a blueberry. There is also a green or white variety, but in tests these were found to contain little or no antioxidants, so if you’re growing for fruit, go for the purple ones. As both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant, you can probably get away with a single specimen, as just one bunch can weigh up to 120 pounds! Someone, somewhere is making a fortune out of these things, and I kinda doubt it’s the local population.

Unless you are in the right area, you will probably need to buy your açaí berries. These are in season from July to March, and the fresher they are, the better, as the nutritional value deteriorates fairly quickly. (Alternatively, freeze dried berries probably retain more nutrition than fresh berries which have been transported over long distances.) Another product of the açaí palm is “heart of palm” (actually immature leaf shoots), a popular ingredient in salads.

As you might expect, there is much more hype about açaí than it is really worth. Touted as a rich source of antioxidants, commercial juices rank lower for these than pomegranate juice, grape juice, blueberry juice and red wine, roughly equal to black cherry and cranberry juice, but higher than orange juice, apple juice and tea.

There are many false claims made about açaí, which range from reversing diabetes and other chronic disorders, to increasing penis size, virility and attractiveness to women, to promoting weight loss and suchlike. No scientific studies have been made to support any of these claims and it is extremely doubtful that they have any validity at all.

Having said that, there may be some minor benefit for the overweight in consuming small quantities of açaí berries, according to an uncontrolled pilot study by Jay K Udani, Betsy B Singh and Vijay J Singh of Medicus Research, Northridge and Marilyn L Barrett of Pharmacognosy Consulting, Mill Valley. An uncontrolled study is one where there is no control group (eg. a group of people who didn’t eat açaí) for comparison. The study found that eating açai fruit pulp (from an Açai Smoothie Pack manufactured by Sambazon) “reduced levels of selected markers of metabolic disease risk in overweight adults”. There’s a big difference between removing “markers” of risk and removing the risk itself, obviously. It would require a much longer controlled study to test for this.

Açaí berries are quite high in calories (according to Wikipedia, 100g of freeze dried açaí fruit contains 533.9 calories, 52.2g carbohydrates, 8.1g protein, and 32.5g total fat), so dieters should definitely keep intake low.

Nutrients found in açaí (per 100g freeze dried açaí) include 260 mg calcium, 4.4 mg iron, and 1002 IU vitamin A.I offer a range of acai products in my online shop.


Apples come in many varieties

Apple health benefits: they really do keep the doctor at bay

Apples come in many varieties

Apples come in many varieties

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve decided to start a series of fruits that are useful medicinally.

Today’s fruit is the apple, Malus domestica, which is a cultivated hybrid. If you find a true apple growing wild, it’s almost certainly an escape.

There are many other Malus species, but the star of them all from a medicinal (and edibility) viewpoint is the apple.

Apples grow on trees, as everybody knows, but these don’t have to be enormous. There are a large number of rootstocks on which apples are grafted to control their eventual size, so if you want to grow a small standard tree, choose one of the dwarfing rootstocks, such as M27 or M26. This will restrict the height to 1-2m or 2-3m respectively. A larger tree can be grown on MM106 or M25. The latter will produce a large vigorous tree which may be difficult to crop.

If you only have a small area available, you can also buy trees prepared for growing in containers or alternatively use a cordon, which is a single stem with no lateral branches (small branches grow each year, produce a crop and are then removed). The yield from a cordon or a containerized plant is less than you would expect from a larger tree, but most people have difficulty coping with a large crop of apples in any case. Using cordons is a great way to grow a large variety of top fruit in a small garden. You can even grow them as a “stepover” or to provide a fence-like division between one part of the garden and another.

Make sure you talk to your supplier to ensure that you have a pollinator nearby – most apples are not self-fertile, so if there isn’t another suitable tree nearby to act as “dad”, you won’t get any apples at all. A crabapple will generally do for this, but it has to be in flower around the same time as the variety you are growing, or it will be no use at all. Some trees are so picky they need two pollinators! You may wish to grow 2 or 3 different compatible apples to ensure a good crop.

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples or crab apples (left), which come in many types, are a different species. Malus pumila nervosa is the true crabapple, but there are various others including Malus angustifolia, M. baccata, M. coronaria, M. floribunda, M. fusca and M. sylvestris. Unfortunately, the crabapple has no documented medicinal purposes, though I’m sure some of your grandparents will testify to its efficacy as a laxative! It is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Apple trees are deciduous and are not fussy as to soil, so long as it is moist. They will grow happily in the open or in light woodland. If growing in open ground, keep a circle at least 1 meter in diameter around the trunk clear of grass and weeds for best results.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a well known proverb which carries a lot of truth. A medium sized apple eaten with the skin gives 17% of required fiber, 14% vitamin C, 2% vitamin A and 1% each of calcium and iron (based on the US RDA for an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet).

Apple juice is a popular drink, but should not be taken to excess, as even unsweetened types are high in sugar (most apple juice also contains added sugar), which may lead to weight gain. A whole apple contains useful fiber, which is mostly removed in the juicing process.

Apple wine which is at least 2 years old was recommended as a cure-all by Galen in the second century. I’m not sure what the difference between apple wine and cider is, if any, but either way I advise not drinking it in large quantities. Apple vinegar has a similar reputation in modern times, especially for weight loss.

Bark infusion: Put 30g (1 ounce) of chopped bark or root bark into a warmed pot, pour over 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water, allow to infuse for 20 minutes, then strain off bark and discard. Dosage is one third of a cup up to 3 times a day.

Apple peel infusion: Use 1-2 tsp dried apple peel to each 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water and prepare in the same way as a bark infusion. Drink a cup as required.

An infusion of bark (especially root bark) can be used as a vermifuge for intestinal parasites, to cool abnormal body heat, induce sleep and to treat nauseous fevers.

The leaves contain phloretin, an antibacterial substance which inhibits the growth of some gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, even at very low concentrations.

The seeds contain hydrogen cyanide which in small quantities stimulates respiration and improves digestion, and may be useful in the treatment of cancer. Large quantities of hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure and death.

The fruit is both astringent (reduces any bodily secretion) and laxative. Ripe raw apples are very easy to digest and combat stomach acidity. Eating an apple raw cleans both the teeth and the gums. Grated unripe apple on a fasting stomach is a good treatment for diarrhea.

Dried apple peel can be used in a standard infusion to treat rheumatic conditions.

The recommended dose of cider vinegar for weight loss and as a general tonic is 2 teaspoons cider vinegar to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water, sipped slowly throughout the day. Earth Clinic also recommend it for treating acid reflux, cough, bronchitis and sore throat using 2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) 3 times a day. Both of these taste pretty sour, so unless you’re using it for weight loss, I recommend stirring in a teaspoon or 2 of honey to take the edge off.

I offer organic apple cider vinegar and apple cider vinegar 150mg Tablets in my online shop.

This varied list of applications puts apple among the most useful home remedies. If you can spare a small space for a couple of containerized plants or cordons, it’s definitely worth it.

Apple is not used in aromatherapy, though the fruit and the blossom are both often used in perfumery.

As I always say, try to avoid using chemicals on any plant intended for medicinal use, so as to avoid them ending up in your remedy. Some chemicals may also interfere with the remedy’s properties. For more information on growing organic apples visit the Gardenzone.


Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice (Licorice) health benefits: for peptic, duodenal and mouth ulcers

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Liquorice or licorice in the USA, Glycyrrhiza glabra (a subspecies, Glycyrrhiza glandulifera or Glycyrrhiza glabra var. glandulifera is grown in Russia), is well known to everybody as a common sweet or candy, though you can’t guarantee that all liquorice candies actually have very much liquorice in them. Liquorice is not related to anise hyssop (sometimes called liquorice mint).

When I was a kid, we used to buy sticks of liquorice root in the local sweet shop, and chew them, discarding the woody fibers once the taste was all gone. They lasted for a very long time, partly I suppose, because we couldn’t do a whole stick at once, unless we wanted to experience one of the most well known results of eating liquorice – diarrhea! There are other far more serious possible consequences of an overdose, see below.

Though you’d never guess to look at it, liquorice is a member of the same family as peas, beans and lentils, which means that in areas where the appropriate soil organisms are present, it should fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making the soil richer as a result. Of course, if you’re going to use it, digging it up will probably remove most of this bounty.

Not a particularly stunning plant, but as the part used is the root, there’s no reason why you can’t tuck it away somewhere out of the limelight until it’s time to dig it up.

Liquorice is a perennial which reaches a height of 4′ (1.2m) and spreads over an area of about 3′ (1m). It needs fertile, moist but well drained soil on the sandy side, and prefers alkaline soil.

Pick off the flowers as they occur for the biggest crop of roots.

It takes 4 years to produce a quantity of roots worth digging, but as well as growing from seed you can propagate new plants from root cuttings (each of which needs to have at least one growth bud). These should be brought on in pots in a cold frame until growing away well, then transplanted to their permanent positions in Spring.

Liquorice can be invasive once established.

Although it is possible to grow this plant, given the length of time required before you can harvest it, it’s probably easier to buy liquorice root from a health store (see below). So far as I know, sweet shops no longer sell it.

Liquorice can be used as a flavoring and/or sweetener, and the leaves are used as a tea substitute in Mongolia. The root fibers can apparently be used for making wallboards and similar products!

Liquorice is not suitable for anyone suffering from high blood pressure or kidney disease, pregnant women (because it has a hormonal effect) or anyone currently using digoxin-based medication. Take care not to exceed the stated dose (or eat too many liquorice candies). A large overdose can cause edema, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

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

Liquorice is a soothing herb and powerfully anti-inflammatory. In Japan, it is prescribed to control chronic viral hepatitis, and there is research evidence to show its effectiveness to protect the liver in mice. It inhibits Helicobacter pylori, which makes it a useful aid in the treatment of both duodenal ulcers and peptic ulcers. It is also antispasmodic, tonic, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. Mainly used in herbal medicine to treat coughs and other bronchial conditions including asthma and bronchitis, it is also useful for allergic complaints, to help the body recover from steroid treatments, treat urinary tract infections, bladder and kidney complaints and stomach problems. As already mentioned, it’s also a pretty good laxative. It is also sometimes used to treat Addison’s disease. Externally, a root decoction can be used to treat herpes, eczema and shingles. Use as a mouthwash to treat canker sores (mouth ulcers).

Liquorice is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer a selection of liquorice products in my online shop.

If you decide to grow your own liquorice, follow the rules of organic gardening. Since the part used is the root, this is especially important to avoid foreign chemicals ending up in your remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia health benefits: to regulate blood sugar levels

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia is a frost tender annual

The herb known as stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (syn. Eupatorium rebaudianum), is actually only one species in the genus Stevia, many of which also have similar sweetening capabilities. However, S. rebaudiana is the plant commonly referred to as stevia, and the one that I’m covering in this post. Other names by which it is known include candy leaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf.

Stevia is a native of Brazil and Paraguay, and is cultivated elsewhere. It is a half hardy annual (cannot survive temperatures below 20ºF, -7ºC) which reaches a height of around 50cm (20″). It is best sown under cover in temperate areas, pricking out, potting on, hardening off and transplanting like any other half hardy annual. Extra protection from fleece or cloches may be helpful at the beginning of the season if the weather is poor. Stevia is not fussy as to pH and tolerates poor soil well, but prefers light to medium soil. It must be kept moist and will not grow in shade. Leaves should be harvested when the plants come into flower and dried for future use.

Once dried, the leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener. Be cautious with it until you are used to it, as it is around 15-30 times as sweet as sugar. This must be a lot easier to deal with than commercial powdered stevia, though, which is based on a refined product 300 times as sweet as sugar! In my view the commercial product is not suitable for use in a weight loss diet because it is often blended with maltodextrin (mostly made by processing GMO corn) which is high in fructose, itself strongly associated with obesity.

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Stevia has been used in its native habitat for hundreds of years both medicinally and as a sweetener, and for the past 30 years in Japan where it is used in place of aspartame, which is banned in Japan and in my view [aspartame] should be banned everywhere. Studies have shown that stevia has no damaging effects in the body.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are usually dried and can be used to sweeten beverages or food. Research has shown that it is useful for regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, fighting tooth decay and gum disease, and as a craving suppressant. It is particularly useful for anyone suffering from obesity as it provides sweetness without calories, and for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels, possibly improves glucose tolerance and acts as a pancreatic tonic.

Stevia is not used in aromatherapy.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, organic growing methods are preferred to avoid corrupting the essential components which provide the healing with foreign, and potentially toxic chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Stevia has been used by the Guarani Paî Tavytera and Kaiowa people for thousands of years.


Paliasa is an attractive tropical tree

Paliasa health benefits: for scabies, cooties and liver problems

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Paliasa is an attractive tropical tree

Paliasa is an attractive tropical tree

Paliasa, Kleinhovia hospita (syn. Kleinhovia serrata, Grewia meyeniana), is also known as the guest tree. It is a very attractive tropical tree native across much of Asia and grown there as an ornamental and shade tree. It is also found in Fiji, French Polynesia and Queensland, Australia.

Paliasa can reach a height of up to 20m (65′) and has large heart shaped leaves which can reach a size of 20cm (8 inches) in length. The flowers are a soft pink, and are followed by fruit in the form of a capsule (inset).

As a tropical tree, it may be possible to grow paliasa in a large container in the greenhouse, which can be moved outside when the weather is warmest. If you live in the tropics and have a large enough garden, then obviously you can plant it outside.

The parts used medicinally are the leaves and sometimes the bark. If you are growing in a pot, leaves only should be used.

Paliasa should not be used by pregnant women.

To make a decoction, put 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or 15g (½ ounce) of paliasa leaves into 500ml cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes before straining off and discarding the leaves. Cool before use.

In Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, the extracted juice of the leaves is used as an eyewash. A decoction is also used in these areas to treat scabies and cooties (lice).

In South Sulawesi, the decoction has been used for generations to cure liver disorders including hepatitis and there is recent research by Hasanuddin University in Makassar which supports this use.

Paliasa is also used to normalize blood pressure, both by lowering hypertension and working to improve hypotension.

There is also research showing that a leaf extract in mice with sarcoma has an anti-tumor effect. No details as to the method used is available.

Paliasa capsules manufactured under licence from Hasanuddin University are available in Malaysia and possibly elsewhere.

Aromatherapy

Paliasa is not used in aromatherapy.

To avoid corruption of the essential components, organic growing methods should be used exclusively. To find out more about organic gardening techniques visit the Gardenzone.


Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi health benefits: for UTIs and E.coli

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Uva ursi, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (syn. Arctostaphylos officinalis, Arbutus uva-ursi, Uva-ursi procumbens and Uva-ursi uva-ursi), is also known as arberry, bearberry, bear grape, hogberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, manzanita, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, pinemat manzanita, red bearberry, rockberry, sagackhomi, sandberry and upland cranberry. It is distantly related to the cranberry and Guelder rose (also called the European cranberry). Manzanita is a generic name for the whole of Arctostaphylos.

Bees are attracted to the flowers, and bears to the fruit in those countries where bears roam free. It is often used as an ornamental, sometimes also to combat soil erosion.

It’s known as a “pioneer plant”, because it’s often among the first to colonize an area which has been burnt to the ground, even on poor soils. It is an evergreen, only about 4 inches tall but spreading over an area of around 3 feet across and has pretty flowers which can range in color from white to pink. It bears quantities of mealy fruit, which while not very tasty (better if cooked), is high in carbs and makes this a good plant to have around in areas where food shortages might be a problem – so long as you don’t mind the odd bear popping in for a snack.

It’s native to Europe, the Russian Federation, Guatemala, the US and Canada and is naturalized in many other places. The further south it is found, the higher the altitude.

Uva ursi is a member of the family Ericaceae, which includes heather and various other fairly tough plants, but almost all are lime-hating and like acid soil best. This plant is exceptional, because it is not infrequently found growing in limestone areas, where calcifuges (lime haters) generally don’t survive for very long.

Uva ursi requires moist, well drained, light to medium soil, and although it prefers an acid soil, it can cope if this is impossible. It will grow in full sun, semi shade or even full shade. This makes it especially useful in gardens and reclamation areas where there are low light levels.

It will succeed best in relatively acidic but poor soil. If you buy plants in, try to disturb the roots as little as possible when planting out, and do not attempt to move them once established. Though it will succeed in shade, there will be more fruit on plants in sunnier areas. The main supply of leaves for medicinal use should be collected in the fall, picking only leaves which are green, and dried in a warm place.

As mentioned already, the fruit may be eaten and can also be added to stews. In the past, the leaves have been used for tea, but I advise against this, in the light of the toxicity problem discussed later on.

Native Americans used uva ursi extensively to treat various problems, and it has been used in herbalism for centuries. However, the leaves (which are the part used for most purposes) contain hydroquinone, which is toxic in high doses and should not be taken for long periods. It should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding or by anyone suffering from a kidney infection or kidney disease. Take no more than 10g (a third of an ounce) of dried leaf daily and do not exceed the stated dose. It is best to use uva ursi no more than 5 times a year (but if you’re getting UTIs or E.coli more frequently than this, you should be consulting a physician in any case). Discontinue use if the symptoms being treated do not go away after a week (48 hours for urinary tract infections) or if you develop a high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or severe back pain and seek immediate medical assistance.

Despite all these warnings, uva ursi is a sovereign remedy for urinary tract infections and E.coli, best used in combination with a vegetarian diet to ensure that the urine is alkaline (otherwise the reaction in the kidneys which releases the active ingredient will not take place). For the same reason, do not combine its use with cranberry juice, as this makes the urine acidic.

The method for making an infusion is unusual. Soak the dried leaves from a few hours up to a week in alcohol (brandy is best), then use a teaspoon (5ml) of the soaked leaves to each cup (250ml, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Allow to stand in the usual way before straining off the leaves and discarding them. You can drink up to 3 cups a day of this infusion, but stick to the time limits mentioned previously.

You may come across instructions for using uva ursi in poultices. However, the hydroquinone is easily absorbed by the skin, so rather than waste your 5 doses a year on stuff you can treat with other things, my advice is to save them up for UTIs and E.coli, which are much more difficult to find remedies for.

A recipe for lung repair recommended by Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com (sadly now defunct) /contains 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi to 2 parts great mullein by volume. Take 2 cups of an infusion made from a teaspoonful of this mixture to a cup a day.

Uva ursi is not used in aromatherapy.

Uva ursi doesn’t need a great deal of attention, so it should be easy enough to ensure that organic cultivation methods are used. This will also avoid diluting or corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Vanilla is an orchid, and also a vine

Vanilla health benefits: anti-cancer and antioxidant

Vanilla is an orchid, and also a vine

Vanilla is an orchid, and also a vine

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Vanilla is extracted from the beans produced by the orchid Vanilla planifolia (syn. Myrobroma fragrans, Vanilla fragrans). This is an unusual plant, because as well as being an orchid, it’s also a vine! The vanilla orchid also has other names, including Bourbon vanilla, flat-leaved vanilla, Tahitian vanilla and West Indian vanilla (the latter name is shared with Vanilla pompona). It requires a minimum temperature of 10ºC (50ºF) day and night to survive, so in temperate regions must be grown in a greenhouse or in a pot indoors for at least part of the year. Although it does require support for the vine, it can be grown successfully in a large pot in a similar way to the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), see picture below.

Vanilla can be grown successfully in a pot with supportIt will take up to 5 years for the first flowers to be produced, and if you want to get any crop, you will have to perform the actions of a Mexican bee and pollinate the flowers (which only open for a single day) by transferring the pollen grains from the male part of the flower onto the female part. You can use a good quality artist’s paintbrush to do this. If you manage to get your plant to produce some beans, you need to harvest them when they are light yellow and about 12-20cm (5-8″) long, blanch them briefly in boiling water, dry them and put them in a sunny position, turning now and then until they go dark brown and wrinkly.

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices, almost as expensive as saffron. For this reason, the vanilla you buy as essence may well be fake, so is not suitable for use as a remedy, although you can buy genuine vanilla pods from upmarket grocers and some of the larger supermarkets. This is probably a more practical way of obtaining supplies for use in remedies. You can also get some benefit by using genuine vanilla in recipes. The old way to make custard, for example, involved boiling a vanilla pod in the milk to flavor it (you could also use vanilla sugar, made by storing your vanilla pods in the sugar for several weeks). Vanilla pods were often used over and over again, simply rinsing, drying and storing to be used again next time. A vanilla pod will keep its flavor for at least 3 years.

Vanilla should be avoided by anyone suffering from Gilbert’s syndrome (chronic fatigue syndrome/CFS, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome/CFIDS or myalgic encephalomyelitis/ME).

Traditionally, vanilla was used to treat insomnia and stomach ulcers and as an aphrodisiac. Vanillin, the active ingredient in vanilla, has been shown to prevent DNA mutations that lead to cancer and inhibit growth of cancer cells. A study in mice showed that it prevents metastasis of breast cancer cells.

Vanillin is antioxidant and research shows that it may reduce the occurrence of damage in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; studies are still ongoing. If you have 100% natural vanilla essence, a few drops in soda or milk will calm an upset stomach. Another way, if you only have the pods, is to warm some milk with a vanilla pod in it and drink. Rinse off, dry and return the vanilla pod to its storage jar after use.

If you’re growing it yourself, remember to follow organic methods to avoid contaminating the vanilla, although because it’s an orchid, you probably wouldn’t get it to grow any other way anyway.

Aromatherapy
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, depression, insomnia and also as an aphrodisiac.

As with all essential oils, vanilla 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.

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Rose health benefits: many types, many uses, but all are beautiful

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The rose which according to Shakespeare “by any other name would smell as sweet” comes in so very many types that it’s difficult to do it justice. Most of us just call any rose we come across “a rose”, and yet there are about 150 species, and that’s not taking into account the very many varieties and named cultivars.

What I’ve decided to do is just cover a selection. These are the Californian rose, the dog rose, the cabbage rose, the damask rose, the French rose, the Cherokee rose, the chestnut rose, the sweet briar and the Ramanas rose. Of these, the dog rose, sweet briar and Cherokee rose are most useful in the herbalist’s stores; the cabbage rose and the damask rose are the ones used in aromatherapy.

For information on alternative and scientific names, see the table below:

Latin name Common name Other names
Cabbage rose Rosa x centifolia syn. R. gallica centifolia. R. provincialis cabbage rose Burgundy rose, Holland rose, moss rose, pale rose, Provence rose
Californian rose Rosa californica Californian rose
Cherokee rose Rosa laevigata syn. R. cherokeensis Cherokee rose Chinese jin ying zi
Chestnut rose Rosa roxburghii syn. R. hirtula, R. microphylla chestnut rose chinquapin rose, sweet chestnut rose; Chinese ci li
Damask rose Rosa x damascena syn. R. gallica f. trigintipetala damask rose four seasons rose, Portland rose, York and Lancaster rose
Dog rose Rosa canina syn. R. bakeri, R. lutetiana, R. montivaga dog rose common briar
French rose Rosa gallica syn. R. provincialis French rose apothecary rose, Hungarian rose, officinal rose, Provins rose, red rose of Lancaster
Ramanas rose Rosa rugosa Ramanas rose hedgehog rose, Japanese rose, rugosa rose, tomato rose, Turkestan rose; Chinese mei gui
Sweet briar Rosa rubiginosa syn. R. eglanteria sweet briar Eglantine rose

Roses are not related to rose root, rose geranium, Guelder rose or hollyhock (also called althaea rose).

All roses with single or semi-double flowers produce rose hips (see picture inset into main picture), which vary in size and color, but are otherwise pretty similar from one type to another. These have been used for many years as a food source and also to produce rosehip syrup. Rose hips are rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C and E, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids. Rose hips are currently being studied to see if they are effective as an anti-cancer food.

Take care if you decide to harvest your own rose hips: there are hairs inside which can cause serious irritation, not just to your mouth, but your entire digestive tract. You need to use a very fine filter to remove these when extracting the juice.

Cabbage rose (Rosa x centifolia)
This is a hybrid and is only found in cultivated form. Numerous cultivars are found throughout the world. On the alternative medicine front, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

The powdered root is astringent and can be used to stop bleeding. A standard infusion of petals is used as a gentle laxative. Follow this link for information on rose in aromatherapy.

I offer dried Rosa centifolia petals in my online shop.

Californian rose (Rosa californica)
As you might expect, this rose is native to California, but is also found in Oregon and northern Mexico (Baja Norte). Its very restricted range has made it a candidate for conservation status in the US. Do not collect from the wild.

Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat pain and fever in infants. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat stomach disorders. A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) is used internally for colds, fevers, indigestion, kidney disorders, rheumatism and sore throats or externally as a wash on sores and old wounds.

Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata)
The range of this plant is restricted to China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which makes the name a little strange. However, an explanation is found in Wikipedia. Apparently, it was introduced to the southern United States in the late eighteenth century, where it gained its English name. “The flower is forever linked to the Trail of Tears and its petals represent the women’s tears shed during the period of great hardship and grief throughout the historical trek from the Cherokees’ home to U.S. forts such as Gilmer among others. The flower has a gold center, symbolizing the gold taken from the Cherokee tribe.” It’s also the state flower of Georgia, USA. In China, it is called jin ying zi.

A standard infusion of leaves is used for wounds. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat dysentery and as a hair restorative. A decoction of dried fruits (see note above about filtering) is used internally in the treatment of chronic diarrhea, infertility, seminal emissions, uncontrolled urination (urorrhea), urinary disfunction and vaginal discharge (leukorrhea). A root decoction is used to treat prolapsed uterus. A decoction of root bark can be used for diarrhea and excessively heavy periods (menorrhagia).

Chestnut rose (Rosa roxburghii)
Another attractive rose native to China and Japan.The plant is rich in tannins and is used as an astringent. In China (where it is called ci li) the hips are used to treat indigestion (see note above about filtering).

Damask rose (Rosa x damascena)
Like the cabbage rose, this is a hybrid found only in cultivated form. Again, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

Make a standard infusion of petals for use internally to treat diarrhea or externally as an astringent. A preserve of petals can be used as a tonic and for weight gain. Follow this link for information on rose essential oil.

As with all essential oils, rose 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.

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Native to Europe, including Britain, north Africa and southwest Asia, but found in Australia, New Zealand and the USA by naturalization.

A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) can be used to treat colds, diarrhea, gastritis, influenza, minor infectious diseases and scurvy (as it is rich in vitamin C). Commercial rose water made from the plant is used as a gently astringent lotion for delicate skin. The plant is also used in Bach flower remedies.

I offer various Rosa canina products in my online shop.

French rose (Rosa gallica)
Native to Europe, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

A standard infusion of petals can be used internally to treat bronchial infections, colds, depression, diarrhea, gastritis and lethargy or externally for eye infections, minor injuries, skin problems and sore throat.

Ramanas rose (Rosa rugosa)
Native to northern China, Japan and Korea but naturalized in Europe including Britain, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In China it is called mei gui.

A standard infusion of leaves can be used to treat fevers. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat poor appetite, indigestion and menstrual complaints, to improve blood circulation, and as a spleen and liver tonic. A root decoction is used to treat coughs.

Sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa)
The wild form is native to Europe including Britain, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It’s also found naturalized in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and South America.

Make a standard infusion of dried rose petals to treat headaches and dizziness, add honey for use as a heart and nerve tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction of petals is used to treat mouth ulcers.

If you’re a regular reader you won’t be surprised when I tell you that, like all other plants grown for medicinal purposes, roses should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents aren’t masked or changed by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing roses visit the Gardenzone.


The name great mullein is not undeserved

Great Mullein health benefits: for respiratory complaints, frostbite and chilblains

The name great mullein is not undeserved

The name great mullein is not undeserved

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, has a huge number of other names including Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, beggar’s blanket, beggar’s stalk, blanket herb, bullock’s lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown’s lungwort, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, Cuddy’s lungs, duffle, feltwort, flannel mullein, flannel plant, fluffweed, golden rod, hag’s taper, hare’s beard, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff, molene, Moses’ blanket, mullein, mullein dock, old man’s flannel, Our Lady’s flannel, Peter’s staff, rag paper, shepherd’s clubs, shepherd’s staff, torches, velvet dock, velvet plant, white mullein, wild ice leaf, woollen and woolly mullin. It’s not related to lungwort, nor to the plant normally called goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea, which incidentally is another plant also known as Aaron’s rod) nor rose root (also sometimes called Aaron’s rod), all of which belong to different botanical families.

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein is a biennial which reaches a height of 2m (6′) or more in the second year, thoroughly deserving the name, though in the first year it has a totally different form and apparently different leaves, as they are thickly coated in fuzz, see picture left, rather like lamb’s ears (also unrelated). This must be where all the names about blankets, flannel, velvet and wool come from, as the full grown plant gives very little clue to this (although the hairs are still present, they are not so obvious). In fact, it’s quite a brute, isn’t it?

Given its appearance, this is not a plant anyone is likely to grow as an ornamental, despite the fact that the flowers (as well as the size) are similar to hollyhocks (unrelated, lol). I guess since it is so big it could be tucked at the back of a border with something in front to conceal the unattractive foliage, though this will leave the first year form (which is a lot prettier) hidden. This may not work in any case, because it is insistent on living in full sun, and will not thrive in shady areas. Perhaps it is best relegated to the allotment or bought dried from your friendly local herbalist.

Great mullein is found growing wild all over the temperate world, having been introduced to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand from its native Europe, Africa and Asia. Although unlikely to become invasive except in areas with little competition or after forest fires, it is listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Hawaii and Victoria, Australia. Because each plant produces a huge number of seeds which can lie dormant for up to 100 years, it is very difficult to eradicate completely.

If you decide to grow it, you will find that it is completely unconcerned about soil type or acidity and will thrive in moist or dry conditions, though it does prefer chalky, well drained soil. As already mentioned it needs full sun. It will not tolerate maritime winds (despite the fact that it is often found growing in coastal areas). Sow in a cold frame from late Spring to early Summer, barely covering the seed. Pot on as required until late Summer, when they can be planted out in their final positions.

The leaves contain the natural insecticide, rotenone. Do not grow great mullein close to ponds which contain fish, or allow the leaves or seeds to fall into the water. Both leaves and seeds contain compounds that cause breathing problems and consequent death in fish.

The name torches comes from the old custom of dipping dried stems into wax or suet to make torches. Dried leaves were also used as candle wicks and can be used as tinder. Leaves were put into shoes to provide insulation.

Flowers produce a yellow dye without mordant, green with dilute sulphuric acid, brown with alkalis. An infusion of the flowers with caustic soda was used by Romans to dye their hair blonde.

Due to hormonal effects, great mullein is not suitable for use by pregnant women or anyone trying for a baby.

The parts used in medicine are the juice, leaves, flowers and roots. The seeds are not used, as they are toxic to humans as well as fish. If using great mullein juice, leaves or flowers internally in liquid form, it must be carefully strained through a fine filter to remove the irritating hairs (a “quick and dirty” method would be to put a layer of clean kitchen towel in a tea strainer and pour it through that).

Great mullein has been used in medicine for at least 2,000 years, when it was recommended by Dioscorides for chest complaints. After its introduction into the US, native Americans used it to make syrup for treating croup (an acute inflammatory condition of the airways often characterized by a barking cough). It was once listed as a medicine in the German Commission E document to treat catarrh, and in the National Formularies of the US and UK. Even today, its main use is for coughs and other respiratory disorders. The dried leaves were once smoked to relieve asthma, croup, TB cough and spasmodic coughs in general.

Properties given for this herb are: analgesic, anodyne, anti-cancer, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bactericide, cardio-depressant, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, estrogenic, expectorant, fungicide, hypnotic, narcotic, nervine, odontalgic, sedative and vulnerary. This list refers to the whole plant. Different parts of the plant have different properties.

To make a standard infusion, use 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to infuse for a minimum of 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain carefully as described previously before use. The flowers are also sometimes used in the same way. The dose is a third of a cup, taken up to 3 times a day.

A decoction of roots is made by putting 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried chopped root in a small saucepan, adding 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water and bringing to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and continue heating until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard.

To make an oil maceration of mullein flowers, fill a bottle with as many flowers as will fit, cover with olive oil and seal, then shake thoroughly. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake thoroughly once a day for 3 weeks, then strain off and discard the flowers using a fine filter to remove all hairs, as described above. Reseal and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

To make a poultice, mix fresh or dried chopped leaves with very hot water and mash up, then wrap in a piece of gauze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water when it cools.

The standard infusion reduces mucus production and is expectorant. It is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints, including bronchitis, mild catarrh and sore throat. Its demulcent and astringent properties make it a good treatment for colic, diarrhea and hemorrhoids (if blood was found in the diarrhea, a decoction of leaves boiled in milk for 10 minutes was traditionally used instead, but my advice is to visit the doctor as this can be an early warning sign of more serious illness). It can also be used as a treatment for internal parasites (vulnerary).

An infusion made using 1 teaspoonful per cup of a mixture containing 2 parts of great mullein to 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi by volume, taken twice a day, is recommended for lung repair by  Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com. According to eHow Health, the expulsion of a black tar-like substance after several days of use is an indication of this mixture’s effectiveness.

A decoction of the roots is analgesic and anti-spasmodic and can be used to treat toothache, cramps and convulsions. It can also be used to treat migraine.

Grind up dried roots and mix with strained mullein juice to make a topical treatment for boils, chilblains, hemorrhoids and warts. It is said to work only on rough warts, not smooth warts, though as all warts are caused by HPV, this seems strange. It’s probably worth trying even on a smooth wart, for this reason.

A poultice of leaves can be used to treat hemorrhoids, external ulcers, splinters, sunburn and tumors.

Studies have found that great mullein flowers have a bactericidal action and may also be effective against tumors. A flower maceration is used externally to treat bruises, chilblains, eczema, frostbite, hemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and ringworm. It can also be used in the ear to treat earache (2-3 drops at a time, up to 3 times a day).

A homoeopathic tincture of mullein is used to treat long-standing migraine.

As with all herbs used as remedies, great mullein should be grown organically to avoid corrupting your remedy with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic great mullein visit the Gardenzone.


The maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Maidenhair Fern health benefits: for hair loss, coughs and colds

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

There are several maidenhair ferns. The one known in Britain by this name is Adiantum capillus-veneris. It is also called avenca (a name also used for the Northern maidenhair and the fan maidenhair), black maidenhair fern, ladies’ hair, Southern maidenhair, Venus maidenhair and Venus’ hair fern. It is a true fern, even though it bears little resemblance to ferns like bracken. It is not related to ginkgo, sometimes called the maidenhair tree because of a superficial resemblance of the leaves.

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum, is also sometimes called the five-fingered fern or rock fern. It’s a much more familiar fernlike shape, as can be seen from the second picture.

The fan maidenhair, Adiantum tenerum, is also called the brittle maidenhair and has leaflets which are very roughly diamond or fan-shaped, quite similar to the black maidenhair, but lighter in colour.

There are many other maidenhair ferns in the genus Adiantum, but the one covered in this post is the black maidenhair fern (top), which is the most useful from a medicinal viewpoint and will be referred to simply as maidenhair fern from now on. It is a small plant, and slow growing, and reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) or a little more, though individual fronds can reach a length of 50cm (20″). These have been used as a garnish for sweet food, and also dried for tea.

Maidenhair fern is found growing wild across many continents, including North and South America, Africa, south eastern Europe and the Ukraine, Nepal and Turkey. Though not listed as a habitat in GRIN Taxonomy, it’s also found in Britain and many other warm temperate and tropical places, including Australia. It likes to grow on cliffs, rocks or in rocky crevices, often by the sea. It requires a semi-shady position and well drained neutral to alkaline soil.

Maidenhair fern is not frost tolerant and prefers a humid atmosphere, but it is often grown as a houseplant. If you choose to do this, stand the pot on a tray of shingle or large gravel, which you can keep topped up with water to provide the humidity it requires.

Both leaves (fronds) and roots (rhizomes) are used. Leaves are best used fresh, but can be dried for later use.

Many ferns contain toxic substances, but there is no record of toxicity relating to the maidenhair fern. However, due to the family history, it may be best for anyone suffering from a life-threatening condition to avoid using it. It is in any case not suitable for use by pregnant women. However, maidenhair fern is one of the oldest recorded herbal remedies, and it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t have noticed if there was a problem, given that it has been used across the planet for thousands of years and is still used in many places today, though rarely in modern Western herbalism.

To make a standard infusion, put 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried into a warmed pot. Pour over about 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Put the lid on and stand for at least 10 minutes up to 4 hours. Strain before use.

To make a decoction, use about 15 grams (a half ounce) of grated rhizome to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain before use.

To make a poultice, crush the herb to a paste, adding hot water if necessary. To make the necessary pulp, you can add flour, cornflour or bread, mixing well so that the herbs are evenly distributed. Moisten a bandage in hot water and wring out, then spread the surface with the pulp and apply this to the area to be treated.

The fresh or dried leafy fronds are antibacterial, anticandidal, antidandruff, anti-fertility, antitussive, antiviral, astringent, contraceptive, demulcent, depurative, diuretic, emetic, weakly emmenagogue, emollient, weakly expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycemic, laxative, pectoral, refrigerant, stimulant, sudorific and tonic.

Research in the 1980s found an anti-fertility (contraceptive) effect in rats; an extract prevented implantation, and thus conception. A 1989 study in Iraq showed that maidenhair fern is effective against E. coli, Staphylococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas and Candida. A French study demonstrated its antiviral properties atainst Vesicular stomatitis. A study in Belgium in 1993 confirmed earlier research which showed that a water extract had an anti-hyperglycemic effect (lowered blood sugar levels).

The tea or syrup is used across the world as a soothing expectorant to treat bronchitis and respiratory disorders in general including colds and asthma. Another use which seems almost universal is as a treatment for hair loss (alopecia) and dandruff. Throat conditions such as laryngitis are also treated with maidenhair fern in many places. It is also used to promote or regulate menstruation, and in Brazil, as a childbirth aid.

A decoction is used in the Peruvian Andes for alopecia, gallstones, and jaundice.

Externally, it is used as a poultice on boils, bee stings, eczema, snake bites, and wounds. A paste made from the leaves is used in Nepal to treat headaches and chest pains by applying it directly to the area; a poultice would seem to be the easiest way to achieve this to avoid a potential mess!

As usual (even though you probably won’t be growing it yourself), if you do have the facilities and decide to grow this plant, avoid chemicals and other non-organic methods, so you can ensure that your remedy is not contaminated. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.