Cascara health benefits: intestinal tonic and laxative

Fruit. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Fruit. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Bark. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Bark. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Cascara, Frangula purshiana syn. Rhamnus purshiana, is also known as bearberry, cascara buckthorn, cascara sagrada, chittem, chitticum and Western buckthorn. It is not related to Uva ursi (also called bearberry). It is closely related to other buckthorns, including common buckthorn.

The name cascara comes from cáscara sagrada, Spanish for sacred bark, a name coined in the 17th century. It has been used for centuries by native Americans, and was “discovered” by Dr JH Bundy in 1877, subsequently marketed internationally, which resulted in the plant becoming endangered. Even today, 20% of laxatives sold in the US contain cascara extract.

Cascara is an evergreen tree native to North America which reaches a height of 10m (30′) and a spread of 6m (20′). It is not fussy as to soil type or pH but prefers moist soil. Like all trees, it will not grow in full shade.

Cascara sagrada can be used as a garden shrub which is attractive to wildlife, particularly bees. It is useful for areas where the soil is a bit too wet for other plants.

A green dye can apparently be made from the bark, but I don’t have any information as to the mordant to be used. The wood is soft, but sometimes used to make small tool handles and similar things.

Cultivation from seed requires stratification for 1-2 months, then sowing in early Spring in a cold frame. Pot on and grow on in a greenhouse until the following Summer, when plants can be ptaced in their final position. Alternatively take semi-ripe cuttings in July or August, or layer existing plants in Spring.

Although some people eat the fruit, some say it is (mildly) toxic. An extract from the bark is sometimes used as a flavouring for soft drinks (soda), baked goods and ice cream.

Cascara is not suitable for use by children, pregnant or nursing women, patients with intestinal obstruction or injuries, or anyone suffering from Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, hemorrhoids, appendicitis, or kidney problems.

Do not use cascara for more than 10 days in a row.

The part used is the bark. This must be dried in the shade for at least 1 year and up to 3 years before use, or you can dry it out in a very cool oven for a few hours. Don’t use fresh bark, as it will cause diarrhea and vomiting. To make a decoction of bark: Put 30g dried aged bark in a small saucepan and add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the bark and take the liquid either as a single dose or split into three. Max. 1 cup a day.

The decoction is used as a gentle laxative especially suitable for elderly and delicate constitutions, also as an intestinal tonic. It is also sometimes painted on fingernails to discourage nail biting. It is approved for use in Germany for constipation.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow cascara organically. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Fruit. Photo by Xemenendura

Common buckthorn health benefits: for constipation

Fruit. Photo by Xemenendura

Fruit. Photo by Xemenendura

Flowers. Photo by Radio Tonreg from Vienna, Austria

Flowers. Photo by Radio Tonreg from Vienna, Austria

Bark. Photo by TeunSpaans

Bark. Photo by TeunSpaans

Common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, is also known as purging buckthorn and European buckthorn, or just buckthorn. It is a shrub or small tree which reaches a height of up to 6-10m (18-30′) and a spread of 3m (9′). It is attractive to wildlife.

Buckthorn is a close relative of the shrub known as Cascara sagrada (Spanish for “sacred bark”), Rhamnus purshiana.

Buckthorn will grow in any soil, even very alkaline soil, and anywhere not in complete shade. It’s happy in dry or moist soil, so it is a good survivor in most conditions.

The part most often used in medicine is the fruit, although the bark can be used instead. As it’s dioecious, to obtain fruit you will need at least two plants, one male and one female.

The specific name cathartica and the name purging buckthorn refer to its use as a purgative (a strong laxative). This is virtually its only medicinal use, though it is also diuretic, but this probably goes unnoticed alongside the laxative effect.

Please note that buckthorn is not suitable for use by children, pregnant or nursing women, also people suffering from Crohn’s disease or obstructions of the bowel.

Do not take buckthorn for more than 7 days in a row.

Adults can eat 8-15 ripe fruits to benefit from the effects, but these can be quite violent. For a more manageable result, you can make a standard infusion using 15g (a half ounce) crushed semi-ripe fruits to 250ml (1 US cup) boiling water. Leave to infuse for 30-60 minutes, then drain off and discard the fruit before use. Up to 1 cup a day is the maximum dosage, which may be split into 3 individual doses.

You can also use the bark for the same purpose. This must be dried in the shade for at least 1 year and up to 3 years before use, or you can dry it out in a very cool oven for a few hours.  Don’t use fresh bark, as it will cause diarrhea and vomiting. To make a decoction of bark: Put 30g dried aged bark in a small saucepan and add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the bark and take the liquid either as a single dose or split into three. Max. 1 cup a day.

Buckthorn is native to the UK and across Europe, but it was taken to the USA by settlers, apparently for use in landscaping and has subsequently been so successful that it’s become an invasive weed, and therefore banned in some states and in Ontario, Canada.

Various dyes can be obtained from the bark, but I have no information on the mordants you need to use, though it would probably be interesting to experiment if you like natural dyes.

Remember that if you’re growing herbs for medicinal use, it’s important to use organic growing methods to ensure that you don’t accidentally include noxious chemicals in your remedies. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobab health benefits: the superfood from the savannah

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The baobab tree is also sometimes called the upside down tree because it is leafless for much of the year and people say it looks as if its roots are in the air. Other names include monkey bread tree (because monkeys feast on the fruit), dead rat tree (because ripe fruits look like rats hung up by their tails), cream of tartar tree (the fruit pith can be used as a substitute), Judas fruit, cork tree and Ethiopian sour gourd tree. There are also many other non-English names. The latin name is Adansonia digitata.

The tree grows in hot, dry savannah in tropical Africa. They can be used to locate water from a distance. They are also naturalised in many similar areas in Asia. It isn’t feasible to grow one for yourself unless you live in that sort of area, and in any case it would take too long to get a crop to be of any use, though it might be good for your children or subsequent occupants.

Almost every part of a baobab can be used, but it is the fruit which is the superfood familiar in the West, though you’re unlikely to find the actual fruit on sale, because when it ripens, it falls apart. The fruit pulp dries naturally inside the husk and this powder is then packed and sent around the world for sale.

When made into a drink with water or milk, baobab powder has a taste like lemonade. As well as using it in smoothies and other drinks, it can also be used to thicken sauces, dressings and other recipes.

It is very nutritious: 100g contains less than 1g of fat, but 39g carbohydrate. 47g fibre all for only 253 calories. A 10g serving provides 33% of your daily nutritional requirement of vitamin C and 10% of the potassium requirement.

On top of being a great nutritional source, baobab is also a prebiotic which nourishes the “good” gut bacteria, and may be helpful for chronic digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases. It’s also rich in antioxidants and, of course, is naturally vegan and gluten free.

I offer baobab products in my online shop.


Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

Bilberry health benefits: for circulation and eye health

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus syn. V. m. oreophilum, V. oreophilum and V. yatabei), is also known as blaeberry (mainly in Scotland), dwarf bilberry, European blueberry, whinberry or whortleberry. It’s closely related to various blueberries, cranberries and some huckleberries.

Description

Bilberries grow on a deciduous shrub which reaches a height of about 20cm (8in) and a spread of 30cm (1ft), prefering moderate shade and moist soil, though it will tolerate full sun and any well drained light to medium, acid or even very acid soil. As a member of the Ericaceae family it will not tolerate lime. It also won’t tolerate maritime exposure, but strong wind is no bother, in fact it is said that bilberries prefer a bit of a buffeting. It will also survive grazing or even being burnt to the ground!

As well as providing fruit and medicine, leaves and fruit have been used for dying: the leaves for green, and the fruit for blue or black. Fruit juice has also been used as ink. On top of all this, the plant is attractive to wildlife, in particular bees.

The bilberry is native to temperate areas across Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Japan, Mongolia, Europe including the UK, USA, Canada and even Greenland, flowering from April to June and producing small bluish black fruit 5-10mm in diameter with dark red, strongly fragrant flesh in September. Bilberry has red juice that stains hands, teeth and tongues deep blue or purple when eaten. It is sometimes confused with the blueberry, which has white or translucent flesh but is neither as fragrant nor as likely to stain the mouth.

Edible uses

Bilberries have been a traditional wild food, eaten raw or cooked. The raw berries are slightly acidic, but the cooked berries make excellent jam and are also used for pies, cakes, biscuits (cookies), sauces, syrups, candies and for juice. They are also dried and used like currants, and the leaves are sometimes used to make a herbal tea.

Contra-indications and warnings

Due to the high tannin content, it’s best to avoid excessive quantities or regular consumption to avoid digestive problems. Pregnant women should avoid bilberries altogether, as should anyone who is taking a prescribed anticoagulant such as Warfarin.

Medicinal uses

The parts used in medicine are the leaves, bark and fruit.

Standard infusion: 15g dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours and strain.

Berry infusion: 1 tbsp dried berries to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes and strain.

Decoction: Put 15g dried leaves or bark in a ceramic, glass or enamel saucepan, cover with 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 15 minutes, strain.

Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. Do not use for more than 3 weeks at a time.

A berry infusion can be used as a gargle or mouthwash to soothe sore throats and gums.

The decoction is used externally for ulcerated wounds and for mouth and throat ulcers.

Dried bilberries are used as medicine just by eating them. You can also use bilberry powder mixed with water, fruit juice or in a smoothie etc for the same purposes. The recommended daily dose of berries is 20-60g, or 2-5g of powder. They are high in antioxidant anthocyanins and used to treat diarrhea in both adults and children, and as a treatment for high blood pressure, varicose veins, hemorrhoids (piles) and broken capillaries. It also has anti-aging effects on collagen structures, and is very helpful for the eyes, improving night vision, slowing macular degeneration and helping to prevent cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Studies have shown that bilberry extract has potential in anti-cancer, circulatory disorders, angina, stroke and atherosclerosis treatments.

Aromatherapy

Bilberry is not used in aromatherapy.

Where to get it

I offer dried wild bilberries in my online shop.

Final Notes

As regular readers will know, if you are growing plants for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic methods and avoid chemicals so that your remedy isn’t polluted by chemicals which may stop them working or even cause damage in the concentrations usually found in remedies. Bilberries are tough and resistant to many pests and diseases, so there’s no need to use chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


sc

Scots Pine health benefits: for respiratory conditions

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris syn. P. rubra, is a tall tree which is unsuitable for all but the largest garden, reaching a height and spread of 30mx10m (82ft x 32ft). Despite its name, it is native across Europe and Eastern Asia from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and parts of the old USSR to Turkey, and from France and Spain to Finland. Even so, the only name by which it is known in English is Scots pine (sometimes “Scotch” pine, but we won’t say any more about that).

Scots pine grows best in cool areas on light to medium well drained soil. It grows well on poor soil and is not fussy about pH, growing happily in both very acid and very alkaline soil, but it does not like calcareous (chalky or limey) soils.

Various medicinal products made from Scots pine are available to buy which is generally a good thing as, due to the height of the tree, collection by non-professionals is not recommended. Needles, pollen and young shoots are collected in Spring and dried for medicinal use. Seeds are collected when ripe. The resin is extracted either by tapping or by distillation of the wood and further processed to produce turpentine.

Scots pine should not be used by anyone with a history of allergic skin reactions.

Pine pollen is sold as a men’s tonic, as it contains some testosterone, but this is only present in very small quantities and is unlikely to have anything more than a placebo effect. The turpentine is used in remedies for kidney and bladder disorders, and for respiratory complaints. Externally it is used as an inhaler for respiratory disorders. Shoots and needles can be added to bath water to help with insomnia and nervous exhaustion. Remedies made from them are used for chest infections. A decoction of seeds is used as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

Aromatherapy
As with remedies, Scots pine essential oils should not be used by anyone prone to allergic skin conditions. Never use Scots pine internally except under professional supervision.

Two types of essential oil are available: from the seeds and from the needles. Both require dilution at a rate of 10 drops essential oil to 1 ounce (30ml) carrier oil. Essential oil from seeds is used as a diuretic and to stimulate respiration. Essential oil from needles is used for respiratory infections, asthma, bronchitis and also for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer Scots pine essential oil from needles in my online shop.

There is also a pine Bach Flower Remedy used for feelings of guilt and self-blame.

As stated, I don’t advise growing Scots pine in the average garden, or doing your own collection unless you’re a skilled climber with all the appropriate kit. Scots pine does not generally need much looking after, and doesn’t need to be given chemical fertiliser. In particular, organic growing methods are essential if you’re collecting for medicinal use, to avoid adulteration with noxious chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


hawthorn

Hawthorn health benefits: for angina and heart problems

Hawthorn will survive almost anywhere, and wildlife loves it

Hawthorn will survive almost anywhere, and wildlife loves it

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna (occasionally incorrectly labelled Crataegus oxyacantha), is also sometimes called English hawthorn, haw, may, mayblossom, maythorn, motherdie, quickthorn, red hawthorn or whitethorn. Its close relative, the Midland hawthorn, is C. laevigata which has most of the same synonyms and can be used for all the same purposes.

Both the common and the Midland hawthorn are large deciduous shrubs, the former reaching a height of 5-14m with thorns where present up to 1.5cm long and leaves 2-4cm long, while the Midland hawthorn reaches a height and spread of around 5m and has leaves up to 6cm long.

Hawthorn is a very tough plant which will happily put up with almost any conditions, not fussy as to soil – it can grow even in heavy clay or nutritionally poor soil, and will tolerate both very acid and very alkaline soil. It prefers moist or wet soil, but will tolerate drought, and it will also put up with maritime exposure and atmospheric pollution. The only thing that will discourage it is full shade, but there are few green plants that can cope with that.

It flowers from May to June and the fruit ripens from September to November. Wildlife loves it, and if you’re looking for something to eat yourself, the fruit is edible, as are the young shoots — which can be used in salad — and the flowers can be used in syrups and sweet puddings. You can make a substitute for China tea from the dried leaves, and a coffee substitute from the roasted seeds. Most people are unaware of all this, but as you can see, hawthorn can be an amazingly useful plant, even discounting the medicinal benefits!

Hawthorn is used mainly for treating disorders of the heart and circulation system, especially angina. The fruit contains bioflavonoids which increase blood flow to the heart, restore normal heartbeat and help prevent or reduce degeneration of the blood vessels. Both fruit and flowers can be used to treat high blood pressure, for arteriosclerosis and for nervous heart problems. However, prolonged use is necessary for the treatment to be effective. Make a standard infusion of flowers or fruit for any of these uses.

Hawthorn can also be combined with ginkgo to improve memory.

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

As I’ve said numerous times before, when growing for medicinal use, it’s important to use organic methods, to avoid adulteration of the final remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Olives can be grown in containers

Olive health benefits: relieves bites, stings, itching and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives are the fruit of the tree Olea europaea, also sometimes called oliveleaf, and mu xi lian in Chinese. Green and black olives are different stages of ripeness, though some varieties are always picked green.

There are 6 subspecies: Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis aka O. europaea var. cerasiformis or O. europaea var. maderensis; Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (African, brown or wild olive) aka O. africana, O. chrysophylla, O. cuspidata, O. europaea subsp. africana, O. ferruginea, O. sativa var. verrucosa or O. verrucosa; Olea europaea subsp. europaea aka O. europaea subsp. oleaster or O. oleaster; Olea europaea subsp. guanchica; Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei aka O. laperrinei; and Olea europaea subsp. maroccana aka O. maroccana.

The olive has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is now naturalized across much of the planet and widely grown commercially. It is best suited to a Mediterranean climate with cool winters. To provide a decent crop, olive trees require 2-300 hours of dormancy at temperatures between 7.5°C/45°F and 10°C/50°F (easily provided by a UK winter), during which time day and night temperatures must be distinctly different. Unless you have a room where you can let the ambient temperature fluctuate naturally, you’re unlikely to get fruit from an indoor grown tree. On the other hand, if your outdoor tree is subjected to long periods below -10°C/14°F, it will be damaged and produce a smaller crop, although it should recover the following year.

Olives can be grown in containers, otherwise plant them in well drained soil which isn’t too rich, preferably against a south- or west-facing wall. Water weekly until established and keep weed free for the first few years. Pinch out container-grown trees at about 1.5m (5′) to encourage bushiness.

Water fortnightly with seaweed fertilizer during spring and summer (May to September in the UK). Prune in spring and early- to mid-summer; just thin out the branches to allow air flow, remove dead and diseased branches and any that spoil the shape of the tree.

Depending on the age of the tree you have purchased, you can expect fruit 3-5 years after planting. It will start to appear in late Summer. Most varieties can be picked green or left to turn black. In any case, it’s best to take what remains before the cold, wet days of Fall set in. Pick leaves as required for remedial use, and take small quantities of bark, being careful not to ring the tree, in early Fall for drying.

Before they can be eaten, olives must be processed by pickling for several weeks and then marinating. Green and black olives are dealt with separately. Full instructions for one method are given on Big Plant Nursery’s article, “Preparation of your olive harvest“.

Olives and olive oil are superfoods, but they are also extremely high in calories, so regular snacking on olives may be impractical. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, as it does not turn to trans-fats when heated. It is sometimes used for making margarine, and often in preparing Italian and other Mediterranean-style food, so can easily be included in your daily diet. Extracting the oil from olives is impractical at home without special equipment capable of crushing the olive pit/stone.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed bark or chopped leaves 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.

Olive oil is a laxative, promotes bile production and is soothing to mucous membranes and skin. It also helps combat hyperacidity and treats peptic ulcers. Externally it can be used to treat stings, burns and itchy skin, also as a base for liniment and ointment.

A decoction of leaves is used to treat fever, nervous tension, high blood pressure and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat cuts and grazes.

A decoction of bark has been used as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.

Recent research has found that olive leaf extract is very beneficial for preventing and treating high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteaoarthritis and lowering blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels.

The gum which collects in warm countries is used to treat cuts and grazes.

You can make a hair tonic by mixing olive oil with alcohol.

In Bach flower remedies Olive is used for exhaustion and mental fatigue.

I offer olive Bach flower remedy, olive leaf extract 6750mg capsules and cosmetic grade olive oil in quantities up to 5 litres in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Olive oil is used as a base oil in aromatherapy. One application is with rosemary, for dandruff. Find out more about olive oil in aromatherapy.

If you decide to grow olives, as with all remedies grown at home, I recommend that you use organic methods, so as to be sure that you don’t end up ingesting lots of chemicals along with your food or medicine. General articles on organic methods can be found on our sister site, the Garden Zone.


Flowers of the frankincense or olibanum tree

Frankincense health benefits: ancient antibacterial and antifungal

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Flowers of the frankincense or olibanum tree

Flowers of the frankincense or olibanum tree

Frankincense, Boswellia sacra syn. B. carteri and  undulato crenata, is also called the olibanum tree and ru xiang shu. It is a tender tree, usually with multiple stems, which reaches a height of 8m (25′). It requires full sun and prefers an alkaline soil.

The resin was one of the gifts given to the infant Jesus Christ by the wandering magi, and it has traditionally been used in (high) churches and other places of worship as a fumigant. It is still used in religious rituals by Parsees. It was also one of the ingredients used in the Temple incense described in the Bible. It is also used in perfumery and to contribute fragrance to pot pourri.

Frankincense is a tree with an ancient history going back into the mists of time. This is appropriate, as it grows naturally in “fog oases” in desert areas like Oman, Yemen and other parts of the Arabian peninsula, though it is cultivated in other parts. It will not tolerate frost, so can only be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11 or warmer places. However, it can be grown in a container in a frost-free conservatory/sun room, and given some air in the warmer months of the year.

The resin (which is also called frankincense) is collected by making 5cm (2″) slashes in the bark (being careful not to ring the tree) and scraping off what accumulates after it has hardened for about two weeks, then storing for a further 12 weeks before use. The lighter the color, the better quality it is.

It is not the most attractive plant, but does have peeling bark a bit like the paper birch, and would make a good conversation piece, especially at Christmas time.

Frankincense is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.

Powdered frankincense can be made into a paste and used to treat wounds.

In Arab communities, frankincense resin is chewed (like chewing gum) for gastrointestinal complaints, for mouth and gum infections and to strengthen teeth and gums. NB: Do not swallow, as this may lead to stomach problems.

All trees prefer organic treatment, and if you’re planning on using any part of a tree for medicinal purposes (or even just to eat) it’s definitely preferable to cultivate with organic-approved materials, rather than risking potentially toxic chemicals from affecting the resulting crop.

Aromatherapy

NB: Frankincense essential oil should not be used by pregnant women (except during labor) or children under 6 years. It is antiseptic and is used for respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis and other coughs and colds, for mature, dry or wrinkled skin and to remove scars. It is also used as a uterine tonic, for heavy periods, to induce menstruation (emmenagogue) and as a birthing aid.

As with all essential oils, frankincense 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 post is a slightly adapted extract from “Sacred Herbs for Healing”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to get your own copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Sacred Herbs for Healing.


Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco health benefits: great fruit for low sodium diet

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The babaco or mountain papaya, Vasconcellea ×heilbornii (syn. Carica chrysopetala, C. xheilbornii or C. pentagona) is also known as the champagne fruit because of its “effervescent” flavor. A native of Ecuador, but cultivated successfully even in comparatively cool places, like Guernsey, Channel Islands.

The shrubby tree is smaller than its lowland relative, reaching a height of around 2m (6′), which makes it more suitable for growing in containers. As it is seedless, it is propagated using foot long sections of trunk as cuttings. After leaves and roots appear, it is planted out in its final position, and will produce fruit in about 15 months.

Choose a sheltered position, preferably sunny, with light, well drained but fertile soil and attach to a stake. Babaco should be protected from frost, as otherwise it may suffer from root rot, and also from deer and strong winds. Remove all but a single main stem until September, when a second shoot can be allowed to grow. After fruiting, cut back the old fruiting stem to the stump. The new stem will produce fruit for the following year. Mulch/feed with well rotted chicken manure or similar every month during the growing season and keep well watered. Do not allow to dry out. and provide humidity to encourage fruit set, but not too much, as this may encourage mildew.

The percentage of papain in the babaco is higher than in the papaya after which it got its name. It is the high papain content which probably accounts for the fizzy taste. However, if you are allergic to papain or latex, you should not eat babaco, use it medicinally or even touch the flesh. Note that the FDA has banned all medical use of papain.

Babaco is a pleasant tasting fruit with similarities to strawberry, pineapple and papaya. It should be kept at room temperature until all traces of green are gone, when it is ready to eat. Once ripe, it needs careful handling to avoid bruising, but can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or frozen. The whole fruit can be eaten, including the skin. Try it on its own, as an ingredient in fruit salad, or made into a smoothy with a little honey or sugar.

Nutrients in babaco include useful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. It’s a good addition to a low-sodium diet because potassium content is around 100 times as much as sodium. Other nutrients include Vitamins A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), Niacin (B3), phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and iron.

It’s worth trying to grow your own babaco, if you live in the right sort of area or can provide a greenhouse or conservatory. Each plant can produce 38-100 fruits a year, so one is probably all you will need.

If you wish to grow babaco at home, stick to organic methods for your health’s sake. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Apricots are attractive trees

Apricot health benefits: help prevent Macular Degeneration (AMD/ARMD)

Apricots are attractive trees

Apricots are attractive trees

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The apricot, Prunus armeniaca syn. Amygdalus armeniaca, Armeniaca ansu, Armeniaca vulgaris and Prunus ansu, really has no other English names, although there are a few varieties: the Tibetan apricot (P.a. var armeniaca) and the ansu apricot (P.a. var ansu). The regular apricot is also sometimes called the Siberian apricot. It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tibet but cultivated almost all over the world.

Some people believe that the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve was actually an apricot. The original Hebrew word means “fragrant fruit”, and since apples are not native to Israel, whereas apricots are, it is at least possible that apricots were the forbidden fruit. It also has to be said that a good apricot definitely tastes good enough to be sinful.

Apricots are closely related to almonds, plums and peaches.

The apricot is a deciduous tree which reaches a height of around 30 feet (9m). It does not like heavy clay, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade.

Apricots are amazingly versatile. The fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked or made into juice or jam/jelly, and dried apricots are available in most good food stores. Canned apricots are also sometimes offered, though in my experience these are not as readily found as they once were. The fresh fruit is sometimes used in green salad or you can add slices of apricot to your morning cereal. Dried apricots make a good snack. When chopped they make a great addition to muesli and can also be used in Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Note: dried apricots are often treated with sulphur dioxide as an aid to preservation. Unfortunately, even though only 1% of the general population and 5% of asthmatics get an obvious bad reaction to this chemical, it’s not very good for you. If you can’t find any information on the pack, I’d advise you to stick to certified organic dried apricots, as the organic code does not permit the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ll probably be brown rather than bright orange. This is a good sign, though they may look a little odd until you are used to them.

Alternatively, you can dry apricots at home. This article on eHow gives excellent instructions on how to do this.

Standard infusion: 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, strain off and discard flowers before drinking. Dose: 1 cup a day, sipped slowly warm or cold.

Decoction: 15g (a half ounce) shredded bark to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and continue heating until liquid is reduced by half.

An infusion of apricot flowers can be used as a tonic.

A decoction of apricot bark can be used to soothe irritated or inflamed skin.

Apricot fruits contain xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), so eating them regularly will help to protect you against age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) and may also slow the development of this disease (other helpful foods include green leafy veg like kale, spinach and turnip greens, canned peas and corn). They are useful as a mild laxative and are also very nutritious. Just three apricots (about 100 grams or 1½ ounces) contain 64% of required daily vitamin A intake, 16% of required vitamin C and almost twice the required beta-carotene for an adult, plus an ORAC value of 1115 umol, which is at least one fifth of the daily recommended antioxidant intake – and all this for a calorie cost of only 50! Many other nutrients are present in smaller quantities. For the full list see the table at nutrition-and-you.com.

If you remove the flesh and crack open the stone in the middle, the nut-like kernel (called xing ren in Chinese herbalism) can be used to lower high temperatures (antipyretic), aid breathing, particularly in asthmatics, as an expectorant and cough reliever and to treat internal parasites.

Apricot kernels have also received a lot of attention as a cancer cure, because they contain large quantities of amygdalin (sometimes called laetrile or vitamin B17 – although strictly speaking, it isn’t a vitamin). This is a revival of an old experiment, abandoned in 1892 because it was not only ineffective but also highly toxic! According to Cancer Research UK: “If simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us.”

When amygdalin breaks down in the gut, it produces cyanide, which as most people know is absolutely deadly in quite small amounts. For this reason, the US Government and UK Food Standards Authority recommend that no more than two apricot kernels are eaten a day (although sites offering them for sale say 6-10 a day is the right amount, thus increasing potential profit by 300-500%). Personally, I would go with the authorities on this one! There have been some quite nasty health problems reported in people who had been snacking on them ad lib.

On the other hand, cooked apricot kernels lose much of their toxicity, so snacking on amaretti cookies (the main ingredient of which is ground apricot kernels) or the occasional nip of Amaretto liqueur will probably not do you any harm.

I offer many apricot products including organic dried apricots in my online shop.

If you grow an apricot tree which you wish to use for medicinal purposes, use organic methods to avoid contaminating the crop with foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Apricot kernel oil is used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive recommended for dehydrated and mature skin.