Guest Post: Top 5 Medicinal Herbs in Costa Rica

With the cost of healthcare increasing, medical tourism is on the rise. It is now a well-known fact that Costa Rica is a medical-treatment destination for many people from the USA, Canada and beyond.

However, what is less well-known, is that Costa Rica has many indigenous herbs and plants that provide medicinal qualities. This natural side of Costa Rica medicine is often overlooked. It provides a perfect balance to the modern high-tech medical facilities in the country.

Let us take a look at the top 5 medicinal herbs in Costa Rica, and get a better understanding of the power of nature’s healthcare system.

Lippia alba. Photo by Dianakc

1. Lippia alba

The common name of this plant is juanilama [ed: it is closely related to lemon verbena]. It is a short shrub-like plant with small purple or white flowers. It has a brown stem which produces light green serrated leaves.

Juanilama is very common across all of Costa Rica and has been used by Costa Ricans as an herbal medicine for hundreds of years. It is best taken as a tea, which can be prepared by placing the leaves and stems of the plant in boiling water.

It is said to aid digestion, depression and arthritis, and can also be used as a remedy for influenza. It is sometimes used in an herbal bath to cure fevers and stomach pain.

Satureja viminea. Photo by TopTropicals.com

2. Satureja viminea

Also known as a Jamaican Mint Tree, this bush-like plant is found across Costa Rica. [ed: It is closely related to Summer savory, Winter savory, common calamint, lesser calamint, Alpine calamint, showy calamint and basil thyme] Its leaves are small and oval-shaped, and this lime green foliage has a very strong spearmint taste.

The leaves contain menthol oil which can aid in many ways – such as fighting bacteria, calming nerves and helping digestion. It is also used in mouth washes to help prevent cavities in teeth.

The well-known brand, Kama Sutra Luxury Mint Tree Bath Gel and Body Wash, is made from this plant.

Justicia pectoralis. Photo by Scott Zona from Miami, Florida, USA

3. Justicia pectoralis

Also known as Carpenter’s Bush, this plant is grown in Costa Rica at lower levels in fields and gardens. It can reach between 15 – 200 cm in height and has small purple flowers with light-green oval leaves.

For medicinal use, the plant is often used as an antiemetic. In other words, it is effective against nausea and vomiting – often used to cure motion sickness.

It can be used as an infusion to treat headaches, influenza, whooping cough and fever. There is even evidence of it being used on the scalp to treat hair loss.

Costus spicatus. Photo by Joan Simon from Barcelona, España

4. Costus spicatus

This plant is more commonly known as Spiked Spiralflag Ginger [ed: It is closely related to Crepe Ginger]. It has a distinctive look with flowers which emerge from a tall red cone. Under the cone, there are large green leaves.

The seeds, fruits, leaves and rhizomes can all be used for medicinal purposes. It is most frequently used as a diuretic (commonly known as water pills).

However, it can also be used as an anti-inflammatory, stimulant, anthelmintic and antiseptic.

Piper auritum. Photo by Jim Conrad

5. Piper auritum

This plant is known locally in Costa Rica as Hoja Santa (Sacred Leaf). It is a large plant with heart-shaped leaves that can grow up to 2 meters in height. This plant can grow very quickly, and in a native forest can quickly form large thickets with a dense canopy.

The large leaves can be crushed and applied to the skin to relieve the discomfort of skin irritations, bites and wounds.

It is also commonly infused as a tea for pain relief and to ease bronchial conditions.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, Costa Rica has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to natural medicinal herbs.

You may think that this country has moved away from its traditional roots. That it is now simply concerned with providing cheap medical solutions to people from other countries.

But, if you look a bit closer, you will find Costa Rica has a long tradition of using nature for medicinal purposes. And that these are still important and useful today.

About the Author
Paul Taylor is a contributor to welovecostarica.com. He loves traveling off the beaten track and exploring the less well-known parts of a country. That is, when he remembers to take his passport to the airport.

References:
http://tropical.theferns.info/
http://www.cabi.org/isc/
http://www.guanacastecostarica.com/medicinal_plants.html

Costa Rica’s Most Magical Plants


Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zinc

Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • AMD/ARMD
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources

foods_high_in_zinc2

Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.

zinc-content2

Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.


5 Herbal Remedies that work really well

Nature has bestowed humans with unlimited treasures, including traditional herbs. Herbs offer effective solutions to common ailments. They are also generally safer as compared to conventional medicines.

From Aloe vera to peppermint, here are 5 herbal wonders that really work:

Aloe vera

Cross section of Aloe vera leaf

Cross section of Aloe vera leaf

Aloe vera contains more than 75 active healing ingredients, including enzymes, salicylic acid, lignin, saponins, and amino acids. It also has essential antioxidant vitamins A, C, and beta-carotene (Vitamin A) as well as folic acid.

Most people use Aloe vera gel for cosmetic use. It may be used to treat sunburn, acne marks and restore lost skin elasticity.

It is a natural moisturiser for dry and damaged hair. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, it helps keep your hair smooth and healthy. Due to Aloe vera’s antiseptic and antibacterial properties, it also helps rid the scalp of dandruff.

Check out the range of Aloe vera products in my online shop.

Aside from the plant’s cosmetic and beauty applications, aloe vera contains strong anti-inflammatory components. Some people recommend its juice as a digestive aid, but I advise caution: it’s a very strong purgative, which is fine, so long as you stay near a bathroom for the next few hours.

Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is a well known spice

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a well-known spice that improves the flavour of dishes. It’s also an antioxidant and has proven medicinal value.

Turmeric contains antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory molecules called curcumin, which makes it particularly useful to arthritis patients.

If you have a cold, you can eat a teaspoon of honey mixed with turmeric powder to help drive it away.

Be careful to buy good quality turmeric, as some of the cheaper types are bulked out with other ingredients that at best aren’t medicinally active and at worst may be actively dangerous in medicinal quantities.

There is also a turmeric essential oil which is mainly used tor skin conditions, stress and fatigue.

I offer a range of turmeric products including supplements in my online shop.

Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek (methi) seeds

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an Asian herb. It has been used for decades to address blood pressure and appetite issues.

Studies have found that consuming 2 ounces of fenugreek seed each day can reduce cholesterol levels.

It contains high antioxidant levels, but is mainly used for period pains, indigestion, for bronchitis and as a gargle for sore throat. Make a decoction using 4 teaspoonfuls seeds soaked overnight in 2 cups of cold water, then boil for one minute and strain off the seeds. You can take up to 2 cups a day of this.

I offer fenugreek, loose and in capsules in my online shop.

 Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint is a useful herb

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita officinalis) contains phyto-nutrients that fight diseases. This herb has strong anti-oxidant properties. It also contains important oils such as menthone, menthol and menthol acetate.

Peppermint helps alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn/acid reflux. For indigestion, griping pains or symptoms of IBS, have a cup of peppermint infusion (use 1-2 teaspoons dried herb to a cup of water, brew for at least 10 minutes, then strain off the herb and drink hot or cold).

In aromatherapy, the oil is sometimes used to relieve tension headaches.

As with all essential oils, peppermint 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.
 

I offer a range of peppermint herb products in my online shop.

Lavender

Lavender

There’s much more to lavender than just scent

Aside from its enchanting aroma, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) also offers optimal health benefits. A lavender infusion made in the same way as described under peppermint is helpful for anxiety and depression. You can drink up to 1 cup a day, usually split into 3 doses.

Lavender exudes a soothing smell that calms down an anxious mind and helps you sleep. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil or some lavender flowers in a cotton bag to your bath to de-stress after a long day. Lavender is also used in creams to treat skin conditions like acne.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.
 
As with all essential oils, none of the lavender essential oils should 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.
 

You’ll find a wide range of lavender-based products in my online shop.

These five herbs offer optimal health benefits. You may find some of them in your garden. But, if you are looking for something extra, make sure to check out Frann’s Alt.Health Shop.


Frankincense health benefits: ancient antibacterial and antifungal

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

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 during pregnancy (except during labor) or for 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.

I offer frankincense essential oil in my online shop.

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.


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.


Essential oils from Scarborough Fair: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, benefits and uses

Clockwise from 12 o'clock: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

The essential oils I’m covering today, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, are often associated with the folk song “Scarborough Fair” popularized in the sixties by Simon and Garfunkel. Other people may think of them as kitchen herbs, but they have come down to us as common herbs because they were grown for use not just in cooking, but also medicinally.

Unfortunately, although all four of these herbs are safe enough when used as herbal remedies or in cooking, it is a different matter when we consider their essential oils. Sage essential oil and parsley herb essential oil are toxic and should not be used under any circumstances, and both common thyme* (including sweet thyme, white and red thyme) and parsley seed essential oils should only be used under the direction of a professional aromatherapist. Clary sage, Spanish sage, rosemary and lemon thyme essential oils are safe enough for home use.
*…apart from using thyme oil in a treatment for cooties/head lice. Just a few drops added to any carrier oil (almond oil, grapeseed oil or similar is fine), massaged into the hair and left on for 20 minutes or so, then wash out. I offer thyme essential oil in my online shop for just this purpose.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

Clary sageClary sage essential oil
Clary sage oil is extracted by steam distillation from the flowering tops and leaves of Salvia sclarea. You may also find it called just clary essential oil.

Do not drive or take alcohol within 48 hours of using clary sage essential oil.

Mix with a carrier oil at standard dilution (1 drop essential oil to each 2ml of carrier oil) for massage or add up to 4 drops to a hot bath. Not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years.

Clary essential oil is anticonvulsive, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, bactericidal, deodorant, sedative and tonic, useful for skin and hair conditions including acne, boils, dandruff, hair loss, inflamed skin, oily skin and hair, external ulcers and wrinkles; respiratory and other infections: asthma, eye inflammation, muscular aches, throat infections, whooping cough and digestive disorders including colic, cramp, dyspepsia and flatulence (“gas” or “wind”). It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac for both sexes, as it works to balance the hormones, and is used to treat frigidity, impotence, labour pains, painful periods, missing periods and vaginal discharge. Finally, it’s also used for addiction, claustrophobia, depression, exhaustion, hypertension, insomnia, negativity, nervous tension, OCD, overwork, PMT, recurring dreams and stress related conditions.

I offer clary sage essential oil and organic clary sage essential oil in my online shop.

Spanish sageSpanish sage essential oil
Spanish sage oil is extracted by steam distillation from the leaves of Salvia lavandulifolia. The bulk of production is used commercially as a flavoring, so you may have difficulty getting hold of it.

Mix with a carrier oil at standard dilution (1 drop essential oil to each 2ml of carrier oil) for massage or add up to 4 drops to a hot bath. Not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years.

Spanish sage is antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, deodorant, expectorant and tonic and is used for skin care: acne, dry skin, greasy skin, as a moisturizer, and to treat shaving rash; for respiratory disorders including bronchitis, catarrh, dry cough, laryngitis and sore throat; for diarrhea, cystitis and nausea. It’s also used in cases of depression, insomnia, nervous tension and stress related conditions.

RosemaryRosemary essential oil
The best quality rosemary oil is extracted by steam distillation from the fresh flowering tops of Rosmarinus officinalis. A lower quality essential oil is produced in Spain by steam distillation of the whole plant.

Mix with a carrier oil at standard dilution (1 drop essential oil to each 2ml of carrier oil) and massage into the skin – but don’t use it on inflamed areas – or add up to 4 drops to a hot bath. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 6 years, or by anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy.

Rosemary essential oil is antiseptic, calming, energizing, penetrating and stimulating and is useful for circulatory problems including chilblains, hypotension (low blood pressure), migraine and varicose veins; menstrual problems including painful periods; respiratory disorders and other infections including asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu, sneezing, vaginal discharge and whooping cough. It’s also used to treat hair conditions: baldness (as a hair growth stimulant), alopecia, dandruff, greasy hair and seborrhea and as a general scalp stimulant; as a skin conditioner and to treat acne, dermatitis and eczema and a sports rub and muscle relaxant, useful for ligament strain, muscular aches and strained tendons, also for arteriosclerosis, gout, neuralgia, osteoarthritis pain and RSI. It is a mental stimulant, improves mental clarity and is helpful in cases of bad memory, exhaustion, disorientation, hangover, headache, indecisiveness, lethargy, Monday morning feeling and stress related conditions. Finally, it is an insect repellant and can be used to treat scabies.

I offer rosemary essential oil and organic rosemary essential oil, as well as various other rosemary products, in my online shop.

Lemon thymeLemon thyme essential oil
Lemon thyme oil is extracted from the leaves and flowering tops of Thymus citriodorus. It is not readily available, but all its uses can be duplicated by other essential oils. It is safe for use on the skin and for children.

Lemon thyme oil should not be used on the skin undiluted, but mixed with a suitable carrier at a dilution of no more than 5% by volume (which is 1 drop essential oil to each millilitre of carrier oil). Alternatively, add a few drops to your bath water.

Lemon thyme essential oil is antiseptic and antibacterial, and useful for preventing insect bites becoming infected. It also works as a mosquito repellent. It is warming and relaxing, good for massage after sport and also added to bath water, used as a chest rub or in an oil diffuser during winter months, and is also recommended for asthma and other respiratory conditions.


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 AllExperts.com. According to eHow Health, the expulsion of a black tar-like substance after several days of use is an indication of this mixture’s effectiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rose essential oils, benefits and uses

This beautiful damask rose is Quatre Saisons

This beautiful damask rose is Quatre Saisons

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Rose oil comes in two main types, rose absolute and rose otto. They are both used for the same purposes.

Because rose essential oils are costly, you may find that they are offered diluted. These are usable, but they will not keep for any length of time. If you are likely to use them up in 6 months, by all means buy the diluted variety, otherwise bite the bullet, buy the undiluted, and look on it as an investment.

You should take especial care to ensure that the rose oil you buy (or the rose oil content of a blend) is 100% pure, because there are very many cheaper products which smell like rose oil, but have more association with the factory than the garden. Additives and substitutes intended to bulk up or replace rose essential oil while maintaining a high scent impact may be actively dangerous in oils intended for therapeutic use.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

Rose essential oil is not the same as rose geranium oil, though both are attributed to Venus in the tables of correspondences used for centuries, before what we now consider conventional medicine arrived.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, rose otto is the more expensive of the two. sometimes called attar of roses, it has been used since ancient times. It is usually extracted by steam distillation from Rosa damascena, the Damask Rose (occasionally Rosa centifolia, sometimes called Rose Maroc) and is a pale yellow or olive green oil with a very rich, spicy floral scent. 100% pure rose otto will keep for as long as you need it, provided you keep it in a cool dark place. There are reports of rose otto produced in the 1940s which is still good.

Rose otto is the best type of rose essential oil for aromatherapy, though because of the cost, some people use rose absolute instead. On the other hand, rose otto is extremely heady, and you will probably find that you need to use much less in a blend than is normal with other essential oils.

Rose absolute is extracted by solvent extraction. This yields a reddish orange or olive green oil with a lighter floral scent, more like you would instinctively expect from a rose oil. It is much more viscous than rose otto and solidifies at quite high temperatures, so much so that you may need to warm it in your hands before use.

You might come across two other rose oils, rose leaf absolute, which is used purely for flavor and fragrance, and rosehip oil, a carrier oil effective in treating burns, scars and wrinkles, and promotes tissue regeneration. Rosehip oil has recently become popular after Kate Middleton revealed she uses it for her stretch marks. I offer rosehip oil in my online shop.

Both rose otto and rose absolute are used for the same purposes.

Uses of rose essential oil

Rose oil is often said to be mainly used in skin care, but I’ll give you the list and you can decide:

Skin care: ageing skin, broken capillaries, cold sores, combination skin, dry skin, eczema, elasticity, herpes, mature skin, rejuvenation, sensitive skin, thread-veined skin, toning, wrinkles.

Other: addiction, allergic headache/migraine, allergies, anger, antibacterial, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, anxiety, aphrodisiac, astringent, balancing, bereavement, calming, circulatory disorders, cooling, decongestant, detoxifier, digestive tonic, diuretic, emmenagogic, endocrine system, fear, grief, hangover, hay fever, heart tonic, hepatic, labor, laxative, menopause, menstrual disorders, pmt, regret, rejuvenating, relaxing, sadness, sedative, stress, tension, terror, tonic, uplifting, uterine tonic, well-being, worry about the past.

I offer a wide range of rose aromatherapy products including several different types of essential oil in my online shop.


5 different Eucalyptus essential oils, benefits and uses

There are many varieties of eucalyptus oil

There are many varieties of eucalyptus oil. This is E. citriodors

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Eucalyptus oil is a misleading label, because there are in fact several different kinds of eucalyptus essential oil extracted from various species of eucalyptus tree.

The five types you are most likely to come across are the Blue Gum, the Broad Leaved Peppermint, the Narrow Leaved Peppermint, the Lemon Scented Eucalyptus and the Lemon Scented Ironbark. Any of these (and others) may be sold labeled simply eucalyptus oil. This is unfortunate, as the different types don’t all have the same properties.

Some properties are common to all four types of eucalyptus essential oil. All are antifungal, antiseptic, antiviral, expectorant and can be used to treat congestion (catarrh), coughs, colds, flu and other viral infections, aches and pains, rheumatism, cuts and wounds.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

Blue Gum Eucalyptus is extracted from Eucalyptus globulus, one of the tallest trees in the world. There is a tree in Tasmania recorded at 90.7m (or more than 297 feet) in height! Like all eucalyptus, these trees are native to Australia, although most of the cultivation for commercial use is in Spain and Portugal.

Additional properties listed for Blue Gum are as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, deodorant, insect repellent, soothing agent and vermifuge used to treat asthma, blisters, burns, catarrh, chicken pox, cystitis, debility, headaches, herpes, insect bites, leucorrhea, lice, measles, neuralgia, poor circulation, sinusitis, skin infections, sore throats and external ulcers.

I offer Eucalyptus (blue gum) essential oil and organic Eucalyptus (blue gum) essential oil in my online shop.

Broad Leaved Peppermint Eucalyptus is an extract of Eucalyptus dives and is sometimes referred to as dives eucalyptus. The tree is much smaller than the blue gum and most cultivated trees are produced in South Africa.

It is no longer generally used medicinally except by veterinarians. However, it can be used for broadly the same uses as blue gum.

Lemon Scented Eucalyptus is an extract of Corymbia citriodora (formerly called Eucalyptus citriodora), which reaches the same sort of height as the narrow leaved peppermint. Cultivated trees are mainly grown in China and Brazil.

In addition to the properties common to all four, it is bactericidal, insecticidal, an insect repellent and is used to treat asthma, athlete’s foot, candida, chicken pox, dandruff, fevers, fungal infections, herpes, infectious diseases, laryngitis, skin infections, sore throats and specifically to treat Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph“).

I offer Eucalyptus citriodora (Lemon-scented) Essential Oil in my online shop.

Narrow Leaved Peppermint Eucalyptus is extracted from Eucalyptus radiata, which is tall (up to 5om), but doesn’t reach the same heights as the blue gum. This was the tree from which eucalyptus oil was first extracted by Joseph Bosisto in 1854, though it is less frequently used nowadays.

In addition to the common properties listed earlier, it is anti-infectious, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antispasmodic and can be used to treat bronchitis, fever, herpes, nervous exhaustion, poor circulation, sinusitis and sore throats. It’s also listed in at least one place to treat whooping cough but it must be stressed that in this case it should only be used as an addition to orthodox medical treatment, as this is a serious disease which requires immediate medical attention. Narrow leaved peppermint is also said to be supportive and uplifting and can be used as a concentration aid, to improve mental clarity and promote a positive outlook.

I offer Eucalyptus radiata (narrow-leaved peppermint) essential oil and organic Eucalyptus radiata (narrow-leaved peppermint) essential oil in my online shop.

Lemon-Scented Ironbark Eucalyptus essential oil comes from Eucalyptus staigeriana. It is uplifting to both mind and body, a natural immune system booster. Use in blends to boost the immune system, for wounds, abscesses, burns, external ulcers, veruccas (plantar warts), insect bites and for muscle, nerve and joint pain. Use in a burner or diffuser to gain the benefit of its uplifting, antidepressant and stress-relieving qualities. It is safe for use with children.

Eucalyptus oils should always be mixed with a carrier before using them on the skin. They can also be used in an essential oil diffuser, a steam inhalation, or a few drops can be added to a bath after it has been filled. Never take eucalyptus oils internally except as part of a prescribed medication.

Eucalyptus oil deserves a place in every home, and the choice of variety is up to you. Blue gum is the most frequently offered, but you may want to choose one of the others if available from your supplier, for the additional properties which it confers.


The three chamomile essential oils, benefits and uses

All chamomiles look very similar to each other

All chamomiles look very similar to each other

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Chamomile essential oils come in three distinct types. German chamomile and Roman chamomile are those generally used in aromatherapy.

Maroc or Moroccan chamomile is also available, but this is said not to be a “true chamomile”, and has completely different properties, though they are all members of the same botanical family. If you are starting out in aromatherapy, you should probably buy either the German or Roman type.

Confusingly, both Moroccan and German chamomile are sometimes called wild chamomile, so as with remedial herbs, it’s best to check the latin name in this case and also where the label just says “chamomile”.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

So here’s a breakdown of the three types and their properties:

German chamomile essential oil is extracted from the flowers of Matricaria recutita (previously called Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita). Most of the plants cultivated for extraction are grown in Hungary and eastern Europe, rather than in Germany.

It can be used for acne, allergies, arthritis, boils, burns, chilblains, dermatitis, earache, eczema, inflammation, inflammatory diseases, insomnia, menstrual problems, migraine, muscle pain, nervous tension, psoriasis, sprains, toothache and small wounds.

I offer German chamomile essential oil in my online shop.

Roman chamomile essential oil is an extract from the flowers of Chamaemelum nobile (previously called Anthemis nobilis). The plant can be found growing wild across Europe and North America, although it is native to southern and western Europe.

It is used for all the same purposes as German chamomile.

I offer Roman chamomile essential oil, Roman chamomile 5% essential oil and organic Roman chamomile essential oil in my online shop.

Moroccan chamomile essential oil is extracted from the flowering tops of Ormenis multicaulis (sometimes called Ormenis mixta or Anthemis mixta). Plants used for extraction mainly come from north west Africa and southern Spain.

It is used for amenorrhea (no periods), colic, colitis, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), headache, insomnia, irritability, liver congestion, menopause, migraine, sensitive skin, spleen congestion and sunburn.

Moroccan chamomile essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 13 years of age, or by anyone trying for a baby.

As you can see, it’s not really worth buying both the German and Roman types, though you could add Moroccan chamomile essential oil if you wish to treat the conditions it is used for (if you can find a reliable source).