Plantain health benefits: for wounds and bronchitis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain is a well known weed

The plantain, Plantago major (syn. P. borysthenica, P. dregeana, P. latifolia and P. sinuata), is a weed in many places around the world. It is not related to the cooking plantain, a type of banana. Other names by which it is known include broadleaf plantain, common plantain, greater plantain and large plantain.

Plantain is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Plantain is a well known weed, often found in lawns. It’s a hardy perennial which can reach a height of anything from 15-75cm (6-30″) including the flower spikes, flowering in every season apart from Winter. Ripe seeds can be harvested from July to October. It is attractive to wildlife.

Don’t exceed the stated dose: excess amounts may cause a drop in blood pressure, or diarrhea. Susceptible people might experience contact dermatitis, so wear gloves when handling unless you know you’re ok. Plantain should not be used by people suffering from intestinal obstruction or abdominal pain.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) dried or three handfuls of fresh chopped leaves to 560ml (1 UK pint, 2.5 US cups) boiling water. Leave to steep for 3-4 hours, then strain off the leaves and discard. Take up to 1 cup a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

You can heat up fresh plantain leaves in hot water and apply direct to make a useful treatment for swellings and wounds, which stops bleeding and also encourages tissue repair. A standard infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, cystitis, diarrhea, gastritis, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, (“piles“), hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers and sinusitis, as a diuretic and to reduce fevers, or applied externally for cuts, external ulcers, inflammation of the skin and stings.

Plantain seeds are used to treat internal parasites and as a laxative.

A treatment for rattlesnake bite uses 50:50 plantain and horehound. However, it is best to get straight to a qualified medical practitioner, or preferably your local emergency clinic, in cases of snake bite.

Though you may not need to cultivate plantains, if you decide to do so, please remember that it’s important to use organic growing methods to avoid contaminating your remedies with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Gotu kola is the Sinhalese name for Centella asiatica (syn. Hydrocotyle asiatica, H. cordifolia, H. erecta, H. repanda and Trisanthus cochinchinensis), also called Asiatic pennywort, brahmi, centella, Indian pennywort, ji xue cao, kodokan, marsh pennywort, pennyweed, sheeprot and thankuni amongst many other names worldwide. It is not related to kola nut or to Bacopa monnieri (also called brahmi).

Gotu kola is a low growing (to 8″, 20cm tall) but wide spreading (up to 3′, 1m) evergreen perennial which will grow in any moist or wet soil, so long as it’s not in full shade. It is native across Asia, Africa, South America, the Pacific islands and Queensland, Australia and is naturalized in Norway, strangely. The reason this is odd is that it will not tolerate frost, but in areas with harsh winters it could be grown in pots under cover during the cold season, if fresh supplies are required all year round. In warmer areas, it can be used as groundcover in moist soil.

Seed can be sown under cover in Spring and grown on indoors for the first Winter, planting out in their permanent position the following Spring after the last frost date. Divide some plants in the Fall and bring the divisions indoors to ensure continued supply even if your outdoor crop is killed by the weather.

You should be able to arrange to have fresh leaves available all year round, and they can be harvested at any time. You can also dry them, but they quickly lose their efficacy so it’s best only to do so when you know you will be using them in a short time – to take on vacation with you, for example. You can also buy in powdered form.

This plant is used in many recipes across its range, including sambola, brahmi tambli (scroll down), Acehnese pennywort salad (near the end) and green Thai tea drink.

It is a traditional herb in Ayurvedic, Chinese and African medicine. However, there are some precautions that you should be aware of before using it:Not suitable for use by children, diabetics, cancer patients (even in remission), or anyone with liver disease. Do not use gotu kola if you’re taking any of the following: green tea, astragalus, ginkgo, valerian, statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs, diuretics, sedatives or any drug (whether conventional or herb-derived) that affects the liver.

The standard recommendations for gotu kola are: Do not use for more than 6 weeks at a time, and then leave at least two weeks before taking it again. Having said all that, it seems strange that all these restrictions are recommended when it seems to be a regular part of the diet in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It is also an important healing herb across Asia including India and China.

A standard infusion can be made in the usual way using 3 handfuls of fresh or 15g dried leaves or powder to 500ml (2 US cups, 8 fl oz) boiling water, brewed for 10-15 minutes and then strained.

A standard extract (should contain 40% asiaticoside, 29-30% asiatic acid, 29-30% madecassic acid, and 1-2% madecassoside) is available in some health outlets. You can also buy or prepare a tincture (full instructions for making tinctures and other types of remedy can be found in my Kindle ebook Home Remedies and How to Make Them which is available for only 99p in Amazon).

Dosage (standard extract): scleroderma 20mg 2 or 3 times a day, venous insufficiency 30-40mg 3 times a day; (standard infusion): 250ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 2 or 3 doses;(tincture): 30-60 drops 3 times a day.

Do not exceed the stated dose. Use half the standard dosage for the elderly.

Gotu kola is a very valuable herb with many healing properties. As well as fighting bacterial and viral infections, it also works against inflammation, rheumatic problems, high blood pressure and ulceration. On the non-physical side, it’s also helpful in improving memory, preventing panic attacks, reducing nervous tension and as a sedative. Recent research shows that when applied topically it stimulates production of collagen and reduces scarring, inflammatory reaction and myofibroblast production – which explains both its reputation as a wound healer and its use in cosmetic masks and creams reputed to increase collagen and firm the skin.

It is a traditional tonic and is used for diarrhea and other digestive problems, as a diuretic and detoxifier, to reduce inflammation and promote healing and also to balance the emotions and improve memory and concentration. Although normally used externally for wounds and skin conditions, it is also taken to speed up the body’s natural repair mechanisms. Other conditions for which gotu kola is used include leprosy, malaria, scleroderma, venereal disease, varicose veins and venous insufficiency. You can use any of the methods described above to treat them.

Externally a cold standard infusion or a poultice of leaves is used for minor burns, psoriasis and other skin conditions, as a wound herb, for hemorrhoids (piles), rheumatic pain and to reduce stretch marks and scarring.

In India gotu kola is mainly used to strengthen memory and nervous function. In Thailand it is used as an opium detox.

I offer dried gotu kola in my online shop.

Avoid using artificial treatments, including pesticides and fertilizers, on your gotu kola, Plants take up chemicals they come in contact with and it’s not so nice to ingest them with your herbal remedies!

Common Larkspur health benefits: for cooties (head lice)

However attractive, larkspur is a poisonous plant

However attractive, larkspur is a poisonous plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common larkspur, Consolida ajacis syn. C. ambigua, Delphinium ajacis, D. ambiguum and D. gayanum, is also known as Eastern larkspur and rocket larkspur. It is an attractive hardy annual, reaching a height and spread of 1m (3′) x 30cm (1′) and is frequently grown as an ornamental. It requires full sun and a moist soil. Larkspur is useful to organic gardeners, as it functions as a trap plant for Japanese beetles.

Sow the fresh seed successionally from Spring to early Summer direct into moist soil, barely cover seed, thin to 23cm (9″). Seedlings do not transplant well.

Pick leaves as required for medicinal use. The juice of the flowers can be mixed with alum to make ink.

Poisonous – do not use internally.

A tincture of the seeds can be used to kill head lice (cooties). To be honest, it’s probably easier to buy this than make it yourself.


Consolida ajacis is not used in aromatherapy. The oil sometimes called yellow larkspur is in fact nasturtium (Tropaeolum), which is not even related.

I’d advise growing this organically if you wish to make your own tincture. But then again, I’m a strong organic gardening advocate. In this specific case, since it is only used externally, you could probably get away with using conventional gardening methods. But all your other herbs are most likely also to be affected by proximity, so I still say organic is best.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Unusual Medicinal Herbs”, 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 download your copy of Unusual Medicinal Herbs here.

Teasel health benefits: for congested liver and jaundice

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food

Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food

The teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, is also known as fuller’s teasel or Venuscup teasle. It’s not a plant one would normally associate with herbal medicine, but is surprisingly useful. It is not related to thoroughwort (also sometimes called teasel).

Normally, you would expect to see teasel used as an ornamental and everlasting. Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food and attractive to butterflies, teasel is a hardy biennial – which means that most of the time, it’ll be 2 years from sowing before you get those statuesque seed heads. If you want them every year, you’ll need to sow 2 years in a row, and hope that the birds carry the work on for you from then on.

Teasel reaches a height of 2m (6′) and a spread of 80cm (28″). It prefers full sun and deep rich moist soil, preferably clay. May become invasive in open ground. Sow in Spring in containers for best results.

Pick leaves as required and use fresh, or dry for later use. Lift roots in early Fall and dry for later use.

Make a standard infusion using i. 30g (1 ounce) fresh or 15g dried root or ii. 3 handfuls fresh or 30g dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water. Dosage is up to 1 cup a day.

It has to be said that teasel is rarely used nowadays. Traditionally it was used to treat cancer and conditions such as warts.

An infusion of leaves can be used externally to treat acne.

The root induces sweating and is diuretic. A root infusion strengthens the stomach, improves appetite and is used to treat congested liver and jaundice.

An ointment made from the roots can be used to treat warts, swollen sebacious glands and similar skin conditions.

A homeopathic remedy is used to treat skin diseases.

The hook spined teasel was once used for napping cloth. It can also be used to make a blue dye (a substitute for indigo) from the whole dried plant, and a yellow dye using alum as mordant.


Not used.

If you’re growing teasel to add to your remedy arsenal, then it’s important to use organic methods to prevent its medicinal components being altered or obliterated by the presence of foreign chemicals. Growing organic teasel on the Gardenzone.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden or search for it by putting B00A9HJ3QQ in your local Amazon’s search box.

Queen Anne’s Lace health benefits: for genito-urinary conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Queen Anne's lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or QAL, Daucus carota (syn. D. abyssinicus, D. aegyptiacus, D. azoricus, D. bocconei, D. gingidium, D. glaberrimus, D. gummifer, D. halophilus, D. hispanicus, D. hispidus, D. maritimus, D. mauritanicus, D. maximus, D. micranthus, D. parviflorus, D. polygamus and D. rupestris!), is also known as eastern carrot, hu luo bo, Mediterranean carrot, Queen’s lace, salosi, sea carrot and wild carrot. Although it is extremely pretty in its second year when it flowers, it should never be collected from the wild, because like all umbelliferous plants (family Apiaceae) it is easy to mistake for hemlock, which is very poisonous.

The name Queen Anne’s lace is also used for Bishop’s weed, which is in the same family but not closely related.

QAL is a hardy biennial but is almost always treated as an annual. It can reach a height of 1m (3′) and a spread of 30cm (1′). It requires full sun, and should be sown in rich soil fertilized for the previous crop. Sow direct very thinly in v-shaped trenches any time from early Spring to mid-Fall. An alternative method is station sowing (sowing 2 or 3 seeds at the desired final spacing). Final spacing is 10cm (4″) x 15cm (6″). Keep well weeded and thin to a single plant per station (or thin to final spacing). Foliar feed twice a week with half-strength seaweed fertilizer for the best results.

Avoid growing at the same time as other Apiaceae grown for seed production, eg. fennel, dill, coriander. If you don’t want seed, the flowers should be removed. I guess you could use them for flower arrangements, but I don’t know how long they keep in water.

Cut one or two leaves per plant as required for medicinal use. Pull up whole plants for dye 4-5 months after sowing, or in July for remedies. Can be dried for later use.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace may cause allergic reactions and sap may cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. Handling carrot leaves, especially when wet, can cause irritation or even blisters. According to Plants for a Future, “sensitized photosensitive persons may get an exact reproduction of the leaf on the skin by placing [it] on the skin for awhile, followed by exposure to sunshine.”

The roots can be cooked, but don’t come close to cultivated carrots either for tenderness or size. Deep fried flowerheads apparently produce a gourmet’s delight. The seed can be used as a flavoring for soups and stews. Dried powdered roots have been used as a coffee substitute.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace is not a suitable remedy during pregnancy or for anyone trying for a baby.

Make a standard infusion using 30 g (1 ounce) dried whole plant or leaves/3 handfuls of fresh whole plant or leaves/1 ounce of seeds (not from a packet, as these are usually treated with fungicide) to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water. The dosage is up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz).

Queen Anne’s lace is a diuretic and cleansing medicine which soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the uterus. It supports the liver and stimulates the genito-urinary system.

An infusion of the whole plant is used as a diuretic, to clear obstructions and treat digestive disorders, edema (oedema), eye complaints, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), kidney and bladder disorders and to promote milk flow in nursing mothers.

An infusion of the leaves has been used to help prevent kidney stone formation, to reduce existing stones, to stimulate the pituitary gland (and increase sex hormone levels) and for cystitis.

Grated raw root (also grated cultivated carrot) is used to expel threadworms and to induce menstruation and uterine contractions.

A root infusion is diuretic and can be used to treat kidney stones.

The seeds are diuretic and can be used to treat flatulence, promote menstruation and expel parasites. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat edema, indigestion and menstrual problems.

Carrot seed blocks progesterone synthesis. Carrot seed tincture and carrot flower tincture (3 doses consisting of 15 drops of each every 8 hours) have been tested as a contraceptive. Although only around 95% effective, this may well be helpful in the absence of any other method, for example for preppers. There was no reduction in fertility after the trial was completed.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important that organic growing methods re used, to avoid the active constituents from being destroyed or adulterated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


The essential oil is extracted from the seed and is usually labeled Carrot or Wild Carrot. NB: Carrot seed essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy. A single drop taken by mouth once a day is sometimes prescribed to aid liver regeneration. Apart from this and similar specific recommendations no essential oil product should be used internally.

Carrot seed oil is mainly used for skin rejuvenation and for dry and mature skin. It is also said to relieve fatigue. It is used commercially in anti-wrinkle creams, in perfumery and as flavoring.

As with all essential oils, carrot seed 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 “Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden or search for it by putting B00A9HJ3QQ in your local Amazon’s search box.

Sacred Lotus health benefits: for men’s problems and women’s problems

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera (syn. N. caspica, N. komarovii, N. nelumbo, N. speciosum and Nymphaea nelumbo), is also known as East Indian lotus, lian, lotus, lotusroot, oriental lotus and sacred water lotus. It is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. The Buddhist mantra “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus” (Om Mani Padme Hum) has many meanings, but the lotus referred to is this one.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, this plant is really just a “posh” waterlily, and requires similar growing conditions, though warmer. It will survive in water from 30cm (1′) up to 2.5m (8′) deep, but in cooler climates it should be grown in water at the shallower end of this range, as it will warm up quicker. Requires a five month growing season and prefers a water temperature of 23-27ºC. Plant them about 1m (3′) each way. In areas with frosty Winters, plant in aquatic containers and move the roots into a frost-free place after the leaves have died down in Fall; store in a tub of water or in moist sand. On the other hand, in favorable conditions where they stay out all year they can become invasive.

Lift roots in Fall or Winter and dry for later use . Collect other parts as required when they become available.

To make a decoction add 30g fresh/15g dried root or other parts to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the water is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the source material. You can take up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

It’s not at all surprising that this plant was considered sacred, as there are just so many uses. It must truly have seemed like a gift from the gods.

All parts are edible. The roots can be pickled, stored in syrup or cooked Chinese-style giving a result like water chestnut. They are also a source of starch. Young leaves can be used in salad, cooked as a vegetable or used in the same way as vine leaves are used for dolmades. Stems can also be peeled and cooked. The seeds contain a bitter embryo (which can be removed before eating), and are pretty nutritious, containing 16% protein and only 3% fat. They can be popped like corn, ground for making bread, eaten raw or cooked, or roasted to use as a coffee substitute. The petals are used as garnish and floated in soups. Finally, the stamens are used as a flavoring additive for tea.

Attractive to bees and has been used for honey production. Also, of course, it makes a very ornamental water plant.

Every little piece of this plant has been used either in medicine or as food. Because there are so many uses, I’ve broken it down to a quick reference –

leaf juice: diarrhea;
decoction of leaves with liquorice (Glycyrrhiza): sunstroke;
decoction of flowers: premature ejaculation;
decoction of floral receptacle: abdominal cramps;
decoction of fruit: agitation, fever, heart problems;
seed: lowers cholesterol levels, digestive aid, bloody discharges;
flowers: heart tonic;
flower stalk: bleeding gastric ulcers, post-partum hemorrhage, heavy periods;
stamens: chronic diarrhea, premature ejaculation, enteritis, hemolysis, insomnia, leukorrhea, palpitations, spermatorrhea, urinary frequency and uterine bleeding;
plumule and radicle: hypertension (high blood pressure), insomnia and restlessness;
root: general tonic;
root starch: diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhage, heavy periods and nosebleed;
root starch paste: externally for tinea (ringworm) and other skin conditions;
root nodes: blood in the urine, hemoptysis, nosebleed and uterine bleeding.

According to research, the plant also contains anticancer compounds.


NB: Lotus essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy. It must be diluted before use. It is used for cholera, epilepsy, fever, fungal infections, jaundice, kidney and bladder complaints, skin conditions and as an aphrodisiac.

As with all essential oils, lotus 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.

Final Notes

It’s always important to grow medicinal plants organically, to avoid the active constituents being masked or destroyed by foreign chemicals. With water plants like the lotus, this is even more important. For example, do not use chemicals to kill algae – use barley straw instead.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Sacred Herbs for Healing”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Sacred Herbs for Healing or search for it by putting B00ASMJFR4 in your local Amazon’s search box.

Good King Henry health benefits: nutritious and easy to grow

Good King Henry has been eaten for centuries

Good King Henry has been eaten for centuries

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Good King Henry, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, is also known as allgood, Lincolnshire spinach, mercury, perennial goosefoot, poor man’s asparagus and wild spinach. It’s closely related to fat hen and wormseed (aka goosefoot) but not related to spinach or asparagus.

Good King Henry is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of 65cm (2’6″). It grows best in  fertile humus-rich soil and prefers a semi-shady position. Virtually pest and disease free, it is a very versatile plant historically used as a perpetual vegetable. About 30 plants will feed a family of four.

Sow seeds in  May ½cm (¼”) deep, and transplant at a spacing of about 45cm x 38cm (18″ x 15″). Lift and divide when new growth occurs in Spring if individual plants are getting unwieldy, replanting at the same spacings as before.

Harvest leaves as required for use as a spinach substitute (soak in salt water for half an hour first, discarding the water before cooking in the regular way for spinach); small quantities can also be used chopped in salads. Flower buds harvested in March are used like sprouting broccoli and blanched shoots (harvested from April to June) can be used as a substitute for asparagus.

NB: Good King Henry is not suitable for people suffering from kidney complaints or rheumatism.

The standard infusion is made using 3 handfuls fresh herb to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to infuse for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb. It can be used at a dosage of up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses as a laxative, suitable for children.

Use a poultice of leaves for chronic sores, boils and abscesses.

Good King Henry is not used in aromatherapy.

Adding Good King Henry to your regular diet will provide iron, calcium, vitamin B, and vitamin C in useful quantities.

You won’t be surprised that Good King Henry, like other plants used for making home remedies, should be grown organically to avoid the addition of noxious chemicals to your medicine.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Natural Remedies from Salad Herbs”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Natural Remedies from Salad Herbs or search for it by putting B009XTMZYS in your local Amazon’s search box.

Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Do not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea during pregnancy, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

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 (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.

I offer uva ursi leaves in my online shop.

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.

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 during pregnancy or by 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 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.