Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa health benefits: to stimulate appetite and lower cholesterol

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.

Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.

Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not for use by pregnant women or anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.

Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.

To make a standard infusion use 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.

I offer alfalfa seeds and alfalfa 500mg tablets in my online shop.

Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.


American Basswood health benefits: for migraine and arteriosclerosis

American basswood is a large tree

American basswood is a large tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American basswood, Tilia americana (formerly Tilia caroliniana, T. glabra, T. heterophylla and T. mexicana), is also sometimes called American lime, American linden, basswood, bast tree, beetree, Caroline basswood, linden, Mexican basswood, spoonwood, white basswood and wycopy. It’s closely related to the common lime/linden, the small leaved lime/linden and the large leaved lime/linden but not to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia.

American basswood is a full size tree, so if you don’t already have one, it’s probably going to take quite a while to grow one – though you may be able to source a sapling from a local grower. It’s not terribly fussy about location, dappled woodland shade or full sun is fine, and soil is not a problem so long as it’s moist. It won’t put up with maritime winds.

Parts used in medicine are the inner bark, bark, roots, leaves and flowers.

You can make a standard infusion of bark, inner bark, newly opened flowers, leaves, or flowers and leaves together. Use 30g (1 ounce) of bark, inner bark or leaves, 15g (a half ounce) of flowers or 15g (a half ounce) each of flowers and leaves to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water as appropriate. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the solid matter and discard.

A decoction can be made with roots and bark either together or alone. In each case, use 30g (1 ounce) of material to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half then strain off and discard the solids.

To make a bark poultice, make a decoction of bark in the same way and using the same quantities, mixing this with cornmeal after straining while it’s still hot.

A poultice of leaves is made by mixing the leaves with very hot water.

Poultices are wrapped in fine bandage and applied to the area to be treated, refreshed in hot water as required.

Dosage for both infusions and decoctions taken internally is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses. Please note that an infusion using flowers is only for occasional use, as prolonged use can damage the heart.

All these remedies are used for different purposes:

An inner bark infusion is used externally for burns and irritated skin and internally for dysentery, heartburn (reflux) and lung complaints.

Use a bark infusion as a diuretic. A bark poultice can be used to draw out boils.

A flower infusion is used for arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure (hypertension), feverish colds, bronchial congestion, migraine and nervous stomach.

An infusion of leaves is used externally as an eyewash. A leaf poultice can be used to treat broken bones, burns, scalds and to reduce swellings.

An infusion of leaves and flowers is taken for colds, coughs, nervous headache, indigestion and sore throat.

A decoction of roots and bark is taken for internal bleeding.

A decoction of the roots is used to expel internal parasites.

If you have this in your garden, or you intend to grow one, please ensure that you use organic methods, to avoid the corruption of the essential constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening methods, visit the Gardenzone.


Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime or Linden health benefits: for colds and coughs

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lime or linden is a group of trees which mostly have the same properties. The ones I’m dealing with here are: the common lime (European lime or European linden), Tilia x europaea (syn. Tilia intermedia, T. officinarum); the small leaved lime or small leaved linden, Tilia cordata (syn. Tilia microphylla, T. parvifolia, T. ulmifolia); and the large leaved lime or large leaved linden, Tilia platyphyllos (syn. Tilia grandifolia, T. officinarum). Another tree is closely related, but has different properties, the American basswood.

Despite the name, the lime is not related to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia, which originates from the West Indies.

Lime trees are a familiar sight lining the sides of roads across England, as they are fairly resistant to city pollution. The trees are native to Europe (the common lime is a natural hybrid of the other two).

The leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though the description “mucilaginous” doesn’t appeal to me that much. Immature fruit and flowers ground into a paste is supposed to make a chocolate substitute, but it has to be used straight away as it goes off quickly.

The part used medicinally is the flowers, which can be used fresh or dried. It is worth pointing out that these should not be collected from the highway, as apart from the danger of passing traffic, the flowers will have been polluted by the fumes. If you wish to use them, pick flowers from trees in an area well away from the road, as in a back yard or in the middle of a large park not crossed by roads.

It is said that older flowers may produce a narcotic effect, but as they have to get old in the course of being dried, this is probably not something to worry about overmuch. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you intend to drive or operate machinery after using this remedy.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for 15-120 minutes before straining off the herb and discarding. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Make an oil maceration by filling a jar with flowers, covering with light olive oil and adding 1 tablespoon of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar). Seal tightly and place on a sunny windowsill. Shake the bottle well every day for 2-3 weeks, and then strain off the herb and discard (use a cloth inside the strainer, so you can squeeze out as much of the oil as possible).

Use a standard infusion internally to treat anxiety-induced indigestion or vomiting, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disorders, catarrh (congestion of the nasal passages), feverish colds, dry stubborn coughs, headache, hypertension, influenza, migraine and urinary infections, to calm nerves and promote restful sleep.

Externally it can also be used as a lotion to condition the hair and scalp. An oil maceration can also be used for this purpose. A charcoal made from lime wood has been used internally for digestive disorders and externally in powder form as a treatment for burns and sore skin.

Tilia platyphyllos flowers can also be used as a vasodilator.

As lime/linden is a full size tree, you are unlikely to be growing it from scratch for use in remedies. If you have one in your garden that you wish to use remedially, please avoid treating it with anything not organic, to avoid contamination of your remedies with foreign chemicals.


Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed health benefits: for itching skin conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed, Stellaria media (an old latin name is Alsine media), is such a common weed that you won’t have to do anything to propagate it, unless perhaps you’re a Mars colonist! It’s been used in folk remedies for many years, which may account for its wide distribution.

It’s well known as chickweed or common chickweed, but other names by which it may be known include adder’s mouth, chickenwort, common chickweed, craches, Indian chickweed, maruns, starwort, stitchwort, tongue-grass and winterweed. The name chickweed refers to its popularity as food with chickens and other birds. It’s not related to false unicorn root (sometimes called starwort) or true unicorn root (sometimes called mealy starwort)

It is quite a tiny, groundhugging plant, reaching a height of only about 4 inches (10cm) but spreading over an area of around 20 inches (50cm). It has quite a pretty flower, and these are freely produced all year round. If it wasn’t regarded as a weed, it might even be recommended as a ground cover plant, and will certainly perform this function quite quickly if left to itself.

Chickweed is sometimes confused with other plants which don’t have the same properties, so to double check you have the right weed, take a look at the stem. In chickweed, the furriness of the stem is confined to a line of hair up one side (there’s a really good picture of this at Missouri plants), not all over like its imitators.

Harvest the leaves in spring to early summer for best results. Leaves can be dried by laying out in a single layer in a cool, airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until dried and then storing in a dark coloured container somewhere cool.

Chickweed leaves and seeds are edible, though if you’re eating any quantity of the leaves it is best served cooked, to get rid of the fairly high saponin content. The seeds are produced in small quantities all year round and can be ground and used as a flour substitute, though obtaining sufficient quantities at a time may be difficult.

Turning to its herbal uses, I need to point out that chickweed is not suitable for internal use by pregnant women. Also, please do not exceed the stated dose, as in excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

You can make a standard infusion by using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Make a decoction using the whole plant: 3 handfuls fresh or 1 ounce dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dose in either case is the same: up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mixing a quantity of the fresh or dried herb with very hot water. Squeeze out the excess and wrap in a bandage, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

To make an ointment, measure one part of fresh or dried leaves to 2 parts of plain cold cream by volume and pound together until well mixed. The traditional tool for this is the pestle and mortar, though I guess you could use a blender – I wouldn’t want to have to do the washing up afterwards, though. To save you the trouble, I offer ready made chickweed ointment for itchy skin in my online shop.

Chickweed is great for reducing inflammation and itching which often works where other treatments have failed, so a poultice or ointment is perfect as an external treatment for any kind of itching skin condition as well as other inflammatory problems: abscesses, boils, bruises, eczema, psoriasis, roseola, external ulcers and urticaria. You can also use the ointment applied on a bandage to help draw splinters.

Use a decoction externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers.

Add a standard infusion to your bath water to reduce inflammation in rheumatism and promote tissue healing. It can also be used to treat vaginitis.

Internally a standard infusion aids digestion and can be used to relieve serious constipation, for internal inflammation and stomach ulcers. A decoction is taken as a tonic after giving birth. It promotes milk production and is a circulatory tonic. It’s also useful in the treatment of chest complaints.

As with all herbal remedies, you should ensure that gardening methods are organic to avoid corrupting or eliminating the properties of the herb. Though you’re unlikely to want to grow it deliberately (it will turn up no matter what you do), if you want to find out more about growing organic herbs in general, visit the Gardenzone.

UPDATE. I found this very interesting article by Learning Herbs which gives information on making a salve from chickweed.


Rose root is sometimes called rhodiola

Rose root or rhodiola health benefits: for recovery from stress and overwork

Rose root is sometimes called rhodiola

Rose root is sometimes called rhodiola

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Rose root or roseroot, Rhodiola rosea, is also known as Aaron’s rod, arctic root, golden root, king’s-crown, Leedy’s roseroot, orpin rose or just rhodiola (sometimes rhodiola root). It is not related to goldenrod (which is also sometimes called Aaron’s rod) or to the rose.

It is a plant which has many latin names; just a sampling of names you might find it listed as are: Rhodiola atropurpurea, R. integrifolia, R. neomexicana, Sedum atropurpureum, S. integrifolium, S. rhodiola, S. rosea and S. rosea var. leedyi. Other names have also been used, but I feel this sampling is quite enough!

Unlike many of the herbs I’ve covered so far, roseroot is found mainly in colder parts of the world, and often on mountains. I mention Siberia, Kamchatka, Mongolia and Iceland as examples, but the plant is not limited to these areas, being found across Eastern Asia, Europe including the UK, as well as North America. It’s sometimes grown as an ornamental, which may explain some of the areas in which it is found.

Roseroot is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of about 12 inches (30cm). It is not fussy about soil type or acidity and can cope with sea winds and drought, but will not grow in the shade. Easy from seed sown on the surface of moist compost (not allowed to dry out) in early spring in a cool greenhouse or similar without any heat – germination will take place in 2-4 weeks at 10ºC, which is pretty cold. Pot them on as normal, keeping them in a cold frame or similar if possible, and plant out when large enough in late spring or early summer. You can also propagate by division from late summer to early fall.

The part used mainly in herbal medicine is the root, which should be dug up in fall before the ground freezes too hard and dried for later use.

Make a decoction using 1 ounce (30g) of the part to be used (root/flowers, see uses below) in 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating until the liquid has reduced by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dosage is up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Used for over 3,000 years as a tonic, the Vikings used it to enhance physical strength and endurance. Roseroot improves neurotransmitter activity; studies show it can increase brain serotonin by up to 30% making it helpful for depression. Use a root decoction as a general tonic, to increase resistance to and recovery from stress/overwork, enhance physical endurance and sexual potency and as an anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression. You can also use a decoction of flowers to treat indigestion and intestinal discomfort.

I offer extract of rhodiola root in my online shop.

As with all plants used for herbal remedies, it’s important to grow roseroot organically to avoid corruption of the constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad health benefits: for food poisoning and influenza

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Woad, Isatis tinctoria (syn. Isatis canescens or I. indigotica), is also sometimes called asp of Jerusalem, dyer’s woad or Marlahan mustard. In China, the plant is extensively used for medicine, and each part has a different name: the leaves are called da qing ye, the roots ban lang gen and the pigment qing dai.

You may also occasionally come across the name glastum, which was one of the names used by the ancient Romans. Glastonbury is in an area once known for its woad.

At the time of the Roman invasion, Britons used woad to tattoo blue patterns on themselves, which made them appear fearsome in battle (which is why the Romans called them Picti, which means “painted men”). It can also be used to make a blue dye using alum and potash as mordant. The woad dye-production industry continued in Europe from at least the 10th century until the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic dyes became available.

Woad is a class A noxious weed in parts of the USA. It is a biennial or short lived perennial with a taproot which makes it difficult to eradicate. A native of Central and Southern Europe, it is naturalized in many parts of the UK and across much of the USA. It prefers rich neutral to alkaline (even very alkaline) soil which is well drained, and will not grow in full shade. As the plant depletes the soil, it needs to be planted in a new place every couple of years to maintain a good supply. It’s a member of the cabbage family (which is susceptible to clubroot), so should not be preceded or followed by other members of the same family.

Harvest in the summer, preferably before it flowers to avoid self-sowing, and dry in a cool airy place out of the sun before storing in an airtight colored container. If you wish to use the pigment, this can be extracted from fresh leaves following the instructions given here.

To make a standard infusion use 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard. Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup, split into 3 doses.

The leaves have antibacterial, anticancer and antiviral properties, the root is antibacterial and anticancer. Use a standard infusion of leaves to treat viruses and bacterial infections including encephalitis, erysipelas, heat rash, influenza, meningitis and mumps. Use a root decoction to treat fevers, respiratory inflammation in influenza and meningitis, acute infectious diseases including diptheria, dysentery, food poisoning (E.coli and salmonella), streptococcus, typhoid and paratyphoid. The pigment can be used externally as a plaster for inflammation and to staunch bleeding.

Those Picts must have been healthy!

As with all herbs used in remedies, you should grow woad organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or etirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic woad visit the Gardenzone.


Sweet woodruff was once used to stuff mattresses

Sweet Woodruff health benefits: for migraine and nervous tension

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet woodruff was once used to stuff mattresses

Sweet woodruff was once used to stuff mattresses

Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum (maybe labelled Asperula odorata), is also known as master of the wood, Our Lady’s lace, sweetscented bedstraw, wild baby’s breath, woodward or just woodruff. It’s closely related to goosegrass and lady’s bedstraw, and all three were once used as bedding material. Perhaps disappointingly, the name wild baby’s breath has nothing to do with wild babies but refers to the ornamental annual plant known as baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans), to which it is not related.

Sweet woodruff is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 8 inches (20cm) and spreads over an area of around 18 inches (50cm).  A woodland plant, it can grow in virtually any soil, even very acid and very alkaline soil, and can even tolerate atmospheric pollution. As an added bonus, it’s one of the few plants which can cope with shade (except deep shade), and cannot be grown in sunny places.

Harvest as it comes into flower or just before, around May. Can be dried for later use by hanging in bunches or laying out in a single layer on trays in an airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until completely dry, then store in an airtight dark colored container somewhere cool.

  • Not suitable for use by pregnant women or anyone receiving treatment for circulatory disorders
  • Contains coumarin: DO NOT EXCEED THE STATED DOSE!

To make a standard infusion use 2 tsp dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allow to brew for 15-30 minutes then strain off and discard the herb. The dose is up to 1 cup a day.

In the Middle Ages, sweet woodruff was used externally for wounds and also taken for digestive and liver problems. Modern herbalists use it mainly as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and tonic. It can also be used to treat hepatitis (jaundice),  for bladder and kidney stones, insomnia, to relieve migraine and nervous tension and to treat varicose veins.

As with all herbal remedies, it’s important to grow sweet woodruff organically to retain its essential properties. To find out more about growing organic sweet woodruff visit the Gardenzone.


Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Watercress health benefits: lowers blood sugar and cholesterol

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Watercress, Nasturtium officinale, is a well known salad vegetable, though when I was a kid it was mainly used as a garnish – added for decorative purposes and rarely eaten. It’s another plant which has been the subject of attention from the taxonomists. Former latin names which it might be labelled with include: Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, Radicula nasturtium, Radicula nasturtium-aquaticum, Rorippa nasturtium, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, Sisymbrium nasturtium and Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum. Other common names which are sometimes used for it include brooklime, brown cress, cresson and true watercress.

Watercress is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Despite the latin name, watercress is not related to the flower called nasturtium, but it is closely related to horseradish and is also related to (land) cress and other members of the cabbage family such as broccoli and turnips.

Unfortunately, in many places watercress and a closely related plant often also called watercress (or one-row watercress), Nasturtium microphyllum, have escaped into the wild and being extremely vigorous plants are now regarded as noxious weeds of the waterways. One-row watercress is not useful either medicinally or as food, as the incredibly rich nutrient content of the true watercress is missing.

Even if your area is one in which growing watercress outdoors is prohibited, you can still grow it yourself at home in a pot! You need to stand the pot in a bowl of water which you have to change every day, and this will give it sufficient water for its needs. Pinch out the tops to make it grow bushy. Obviously, if you grow it indoors you can have supplies all year round – and you don’t have to cook it to avoid liver fluke, as you must if you collect from the wild, or anywhere there may be contamination from animals.

If intended for the salad bowl, try not to allow plants to flower, because this makes it bitter. However, if you are collecting seeds you will have to let at least some of the flowers remain.

If you can’t get seeds, it’s easy to grow from cuttings out of a salad bag, just let them sit in water until they are well rooted and then plant them. However, this is only suitable for eating, not remedies, as you may not be getting the true watercress if you do this; a hybrid between this and the one-row watercress (N. x. sterilis) is sometimes grown commercially.

There are a great many medical studies into watercress. One of them shows that it has the highest concentration of bioflavonoids in a comparison with salad rocket, wild rocket and mizuna. Another showed that watercress consumption lowers the (bad) LDL cholesterol and raises the (good) HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. I can’t keep on listing all the findings, there are too many of them, so I will leave it there.

Watercress also contains high levels of the anti-oxidant vitamins A and C, as well as significant quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and folic acid. It is very low in calories, and makes a great addition to the diet year round, particularly for anyone suffering from anemia.

Although it is very good for you, I’ve discovered warnings that watercress should not be used as an internal medicine over a period of more than 4 weeks, and even this should be restricted to every other day. Not suitable for use by pregnant women.

Medicinally, both seeds and leaves are used.

To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh chopped watercress to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, standing for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining off and discarding the watercress. The dosage is 125 ml (half a US cup, 4 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.

To make a poultice, mix a quantity of chopped fresh leaves with a little hot water, wrap in a bandage and gently squeeze out excess liquid, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

A dessertspoonful (2 teaspoons, 12 ml) of seeds eaten on their own on an empty stomach can be used to cleanse the system and will also kill internal parasites.

The leaves can also be used in a standard infusion to cleanse the system, as a diuretic and strong laxative, to lower blood sugar levels, to relieve toothache and as a tonic to strengthen eyes, nerves and heart.

Fresh watercress juice was once used as a treatment for tuberculosis. It is often prescribed for chest complaints, as it is an excellent expectorant. However, it’s important that the juice is always diluted with water before drinking it, as otherwise it can cause inflammation of the throat and stomach. Take 1 teaspoonful in milk or water up to 3 times a day.

Externally, the juice is sometimes used as a hair tonic, which may restore hair growth where the cause of loss was a fungal infection. It’s also used to treat stiffness, rheumatic pain and cramp. You could also use a poultice for these three ailments.

David Conway says that watercress is “a reliable dissolver of all cysts, swellings and tumours [sic]”, for which purpose a poultice of leaves should be used.

As a water plant, it’s even more important to ensure that watercress is grown without the addition of man-made chemicals. To find out more about growing organic watercress visit the Gardenzone.


If you like thistles, this one's a beauty!

St Benedict’s Thistle health benefits: for anorexia and poor appetite

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

If you like thistles, this one's a beauty!

If you like thistles, this one’s a beauty!

St Benedict’s thistle, Centaurea benedicta, is another of those plants which has received a lot of attention from taxonomists, so you may find it labelled as Carbenia benedicta, Carduus benedictus or Cnicus benedictus. Other common names by which it is known include bitter thistle, blessed thistle, cardin, holy thistle and spotted thistle.

It shares the names blessed thistle and holy thistle with the milk thistle, but it is quite easy to tell them apart, even when neither is in flower, as you can see by just comparing the photograph on this page with the one on the previous post. The milk thistle has leaves which are marked along the veins with a milky color, whereas the St Benedict’s thistle does not.

St Benedict’s thistle is a hardy annual which reaches a height of around 2 feet, native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. It requires well drained soil and will not grow in shade but is otherwise unfussy as to situation. Because of this it has become known as a noxious weed in parts of the world where it has been introduced, including North America. It may therefore be best to grow it in containers, and to remove flowers before they turn to seed.

The root and flower buds of St Benedict’s thistle are edible – the flower buds like tiny globe artichokes and the roots boiled as a vegetable.

St Benedict’s thistle should not be used by pregnant women (especially in the first trimester) or those trying to become pregnant.

Once seen as a cure-all, St Benedict’s thistle is less often used nowadays, though it has a wide range of applications. It is used internally as a herbal tonic; to treat anorexia; to promote appetite in cases of depression; for many digestive disorders including indigestion, colic and flatulence (“gas” or “wind“); to stimulate the gall bladder and treat disorders of both gall bladder and liver; to promote milk production in nursing mothers (recommended by the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation); to promote menstruation; to promote sweating; and in large doses to induce vomiting. Externally it is used to treat wounds and external ulcers.

For all these uses, make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of chopped herb to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water; leave to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard. Do not sweeten. Use the infusion warm for promoting lactation. The dose is half a cup sipped slowly up to 3 times a day, which should be increased if the intention is to induce vomiting.

As with all herbal remedies, care should be taken to avoid using man-made chemicals on these plants so as to ensure that the active ingredients are not corrupted by them. As a thistle, there is no need to fertilize in any case, and it is unlikely to be seriously attacked by predators in a well stocked garden. To find out more about growing organic St Benedict’s Thistle visit the Gardenzone.


The milk thistle is associated with the Virgin Mary

Milk Thistle health benefits: for liver regeneration and mushroom poisoning

The milk thistle is associated with the Virgin Mary

The milk thistle is associated with the Virgin Mary

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Milk thistle, Silybum marianum (syn. Carduus marianus), is also known as blessed thistle, blessed milk thistle, gundagai thistle, holy thistle, lady’s thistle, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, St Mary’s thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle and variegated thistle. It shares the names blessed thistle and holy thistle with St Benedict’s thistle.

The name milk thistle comes from the white pattern on the leaves (inset), said to be caused by the Virgin Mary’s milk having been spilt on them in the mythic past. It does make them easy to recognize, though.

A native of Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, milk thistle has been introduced successfully into many other parts of the world, so much so that it is considered an invasive weed in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. For this reason, it’s best to check local laws before starting to grow it.

Milk thistle is quite a large plant which can reach a height of 4 feet (120cm) and a spread of 3 feet+ (1m). It is a biennial and will need to be sown every year, but cannot be harvested for use in remedies until the seeds have ripened in August-October of the second year. The seeds are important, medicinally speaking. Milk thistle is not fussy about soil, so long as it is well drained, and will cope with very alkaline soil and exposure to strong winds (not sea winds), but not full shade.

Milk thistle used to be grown as a vegetable; flower buds, leaves (after removal of the thorns), young stems (usually soaked and peeled before use) and roots are all edible by humans*, though they are poisonous to ruminants (eg. cows, sheep, goats and other animals which chew the cud). *If you intend to use milk thistle for food, avoid growing it on rich soil, as it tends to concentrate nitrates in the leaves in these circumstances and it is perfectly happy in poor soil.

According to Wikipedia, an extract is used in Rockstar energy drink.

The seeds are the part usually used medicinally, particularly useful in treating or preventing liver damage, being prescribed for liver regeneration. They have a long history of use to treat disorders of the liver including cirrhosis and hepatitis (jaundice), and are also used for gall bladder diseases, to boost the  immune system and to treat poisoning. German research confirmed by an American study shows that a chemical in the seed can protect against liver damage caused by eating Amanita muscaria (the fly agaric).

To treat these conditions, make a standard infusion of seeds using 30g (1 ounce) of seed to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Steep for from 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the seeds and discard. The dosage is up to 375ml (1.5 US cups, 12 fl oz) per day, in single mouthfuls.

A standard infusion of leaves, made with similar quantities of leaves and water as given in the recipe for seeds above, is used to treat depression, lack of appetite and indigestion. The dosage is up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) per day, split into 3 doses.

I offer various milk thistle products in my online shop.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, milk thistle should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. As it will grow happily in poor soil and is not generally subject to attack by pathogenic organisms, this should be easy enough. To find out more about growing organic milk thistle visit the Gardenzone.