Natural remedies for anxiety/depression

Get on top of anxiety and depression in your life

Photo by Cat from Sevilla, Spain

There are many natural remedies for anxiety and depression. This post only covers readily available products which will help with both problems.

Anxiety and depression are closely related and often occur together. Anxiety is generally associated with stress or fear, whereas depression is often considered to be a result of suppressed anger. Both are linked to serotonin levels in the brain.

Anxiety, depression and deficiency

There are strong indications that both depression and anxiety are at least partly deficiency diseases.

Deficiencies in vitamin B, vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and tryptophan (an amino acid which is involved in the production of serotonin) have been linked to symptoms of anxiety.

Depression has been linked to deficiencies in Omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, vitamin B, vitamin D, folate, chromium, iron, magnesium, zinc, iodine or selenium.

Note: Gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley and some other closely-related grains as well as foods made from these, eg. pasta, bread and pastry) is also sometimes associated with depression. If you discover this link affects you, you should ask your doctor for a test for celiac disease.
 

An Epsom salt bath will give you a lift

Epsom salts (Magnesium sulphate) added to your bath are a simple and easy way to relieve emotional stress and depression. As a nice side effect, it will also help flush toxins, ease muscle pain and give your skin a new smooth softness.

Originally discovered as a component of healing springs in Epsom, Surrey, England, these salts have been used for centuries for their rejuvenating properties. Magnesium is involved in many of the body’s functions including energy production, the ability to utilise B vitamins and transmission of nervous impulses. It is readily absorbed using this method.

A balanced diet helps keep anxiety/depression at bay

The first step in fighting off the symptoms of anxiety and depression is to ensure that you are getting a really good balanced diet with all the relevant nutrients.

As a short term fix, a good one-a-day supplement such as Quest Super Once a Day and a high dose (1000mg or more) fish oil supplement will reinstate your nutrient levels quickly.

Foods which help keep your emotions on an even keel

Bee pollen is rich in nutrients are essential for a healthy brain and nervous system including vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C and the minerals iron and zinc. Adding bee pollen to your breakfast cereal or smoothie may help to reduce anxiety and stress.

Chia seeds contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and tryptophan.

Omega-3 is also found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. (Unfortunately, the omega-3 found in non-vegan sources is not bio-available.)

Tryptophan is found in dairy products, soy milk, meat, seafood, avocados, winter squash, nuts, and legumes (peas, beans and lentils).

 

Herbal infusions for anxiety and depression

Chamomile tea is well known to be calming and relaxing, but lemon balm, also called melissa, is helpful both for anxiety and also depression. Two other alternatives you might have in your kitchen cupboard are sage and turmeric. In each case, you can make tea using a teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of boiling water. Brew for at least 5 minutes and strain before you drink it. You can add honey to sweeten if you like. Some of these herbs are also available in tea bags.

Turmeric is easier to drink as golden milk: stir into a cup of dairy or non-dairy milk in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and serve. You can add ginger, honey or black pepper to this mixture. It’s very good for you, not just on the emotional front but also as an anti-inflammatory and to boost your immune system.

Essential oils for anxiety and depression

There’s a wide range of essential oils which can be used to fight off blues and angst. You can either add them to a massage blend, put a few drops in the bath or use them in an oil burner or electric diffuser.

There are professional blends such as De-Stress blend, or if you prefer to use single oils or make your own blend, you can choose from sweeter oils like bergamot, rose geranium, jasmine grandiflorum or officinale, lavender, neroli and ylang ylang or more “masculine” ones such as Virginian cedarwood, Roman chamomile, rosewood, sandalwood and turmeric.

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 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.
 

Exercise raises your spirits

I’ve left exercise till last for two reasons. The first one is, as anyone who has suffered from depression will tell you, getting the motivation together even just to crawl out of bed is a major undertaking when you are dealing with the ‘black dog’. The other is that some people are physically unable to exercise because of underlying health conditions that may themselves contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.

However, if you are more at the anxiety end of this spectrum and are able, a bike ride, a run, a workout at your local gym, or whatever your preferred form of heartbeat raising activity will increase endorphins and your confidence, both of which will help to make you feel better.

Recent research also indicates that long walks where the mind is allowed to wander and take in the scenery are helpful for depression.

 


Chia seeds health benefits: a superfood worthy of the name

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

The chia plant (sometimes Mexican chia), Salvia hispanica, is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was one of the staples eaten by ancient Aztecs. It is related to sage, clary sage and Spanish sage.

Chia is an annual plant which reaches a height of around 1m (3′), but is frost tender. However, as it flowers in July and August, the seed crop can easily be harvested before frost strikes. It prefers well drained, light to medium rich soil and a sunny position. Sow under cover in March-April, prick out and pot on as necessary, then plant in their final position in late Spring/early Summer. You can also sow direct, but may not achieve a mature crop if the Summer is poor.

Chia seeds can be different colours, depending on variety, ranging from off white through various shades of brown to black. They are shaped like miniature pinto beans, but only about 1mm in diameter.

Chia is a good plant for attracting bees, and is apparently unpopular with deer, which may be useful in areas close to forests.

Chia seeds are usually mixed with water to make a jelly, and once gelled added to fruit juice. You could also use them to make a pudding. Sprouting the seeds is difficult, due to the gel, but you can use a porous clay base to achieve this with some experimentation. Sprouted seeds can be eaten like other sprouts in salad, sandwiches, and added to breakfast cereal and recipes. A teaspoon of chia seeds mixed into orange juice and allowed to soak for 10 minutes will produce a refreshing drink that will stop you feeling hungry for several hours. You can also grind the seeds and mix with other flours for bread, biscuits and other baked goods. Chia seed is of course gluten free, since it is not a member of the Gramineae/Poaceae family.

Chia seed nutrition tableA well known superfood, chia seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (see table). On top of this, 100g chia seed provides 91% of the adult recommended daily intake of fibre. Most amazing is the 17.5g Omega-3 oil and 5.8g Omega-6 oil per 100g, which along with the other nutrients makes it a true star.

The high antioxidant content from vitamins A, C and E plus selenium, ferulic acid, caffeic acid and quercetin helps to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. The high niacin content (almost twice that of sesame seeds) gives it the property of helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and enhancing GABA activity in the brain, reducing anxiety.

Chia seed has a good level of potassium, very much higher than its sodium content. Potassium helps to counteract the bad effects of sodium in the body and is involved in regulating fluid levels and enhancing muscle strength.

It has to be said that chia is probably one of the better candidates for the label “superfood”.

A chia leaf infusion made with just a few chopped leaves to a cup of boiling water is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, sore throat and mouth ulcers, for respiratory problems, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also helpful for relieving hot flushes during the menopause. Chia seed can be chewed to help relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer a wide range of chia seed and products in my online store.

If you decide to grow your own chia seed, please remember that for safety’s sake it’s best to use organic methods, to avoid high concentrations of nasty chemicals ending up in your stomach. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Ylang ylang essential oil, benefits and uses

Ylang ylang is used in perfumes as well as aromatherapy

Ylang ylang is used in perfumes as well as aromatherapy

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Ylang ylang essential oil is extracted from the freshly picked flowers of Cananga odorata, a tropical tree which is native to Indo-China, Malaysia and Queensland, Australia.

As with all essential oils, ylang ylang oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.
 

The oil is extracted by water or steam distillation, and like olive oil pressings there are different grades depending on when the distillates are collected. These grades are: extra, grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3. You may also find 2 or more grades mixed together and sold as “ylang ylang complete”. A concrete and absolute are also produced.

Extra grade ylang ylang oil is the first distillate and is generally used for top class perfumery because it has the most full-bodied scent. Grade 3 is the fourth distillate, used commercially as a fragrance in soap, shampoo and similar purposes. Grade 1, the second distillate, is most frequently offered for use in aromatherapy, though other grades are found. Complete ylang ylang oil is either a blend of all the distillates or a distillate which has just continued from start to finish, without fractionating.

The cheapest ylang ylang essential oil on sale is likely to be an imitation/fake oil or a mixture of ylang ylang and other ingredients, neither of which is suitable for aromatherapy. Remember to check that the oil offered is 100% pure essential oil and always buy from a reputable supplier, not just someone online with no provenance.

Cautions: Not suitable for use on children under 13 years of age. May reduce concentration. Use in moderation. Excessive use may cause headache or nausea, even though it’s used as an ingredient in some motion-sickness remedies.

When mixing an ylang ylang massage oil, you may want to reduce the quantity of oil used from the normal 5 drops per 10ml to, say, 3 drops. As it is such a strongly fragrant oil, when making a mixed blend, you may wish to use less ylang ylang in proportion to other oils in the mixture so as to avoid the ylang ylang overpowering the other scents.

Despite its heady fragrance, ylang ylang is a cooling oil and makes a good general tonic. It’s also used to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension), over-breathing (hyperpnea) and palpitations (tachycardia).

Ylang ylang oil is used topically to treat irritated skin, acne, insect bites and for general skin care. It normalizes sebum production which makes it useful as a skin softener for both dry and oily skin-types. It’s also used as a hair rinse and rubbed into the scalp to promote hair growth. To treat split ends, massage the ends of the hair with a blend of ylang ylang oil in apricot or jojoba base oil.

On the non-physical side, ylang ylang essential oil is calming and sedative, recommended for treating anger, anxiety, depression, detachment, fear of failure, guilt, impatience, insomnia, irritability, jealousy, nervous tension, panic attacks, mood swings caused by PMS*, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, selfishness, shock, shyness, stress and stubbornness.

*A mixture of ylang ylang, clary sage and neroli is also recommended for PMS.

Ylang ylang has a reputation as an aphrodisiac and for treating what used to be called frigidity, which is probably why the marital bed was customarily spread with ylang ylang flowers on Indonesian wedding nights. In the Philippines, it is one of the flowers used to make a lei (necklace) both for humans and religious images.

I offer
Ylang Ylang Extra Essential Oil (1st distillate)
Ylang Ylang I Essential Oil (2nd distillate)
Ylang Ylang III Essential Oil (4th distillate for soaps, etc.) and
Ylang Ylang Complete Essential Oil, Organic (blend of all fractions)
in my online shop.


Sandalwood essential oils, benefits and uses

Santalum album is now a protected species

Santalum album is now a protected species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Traditionally, sandalwood essential oil, also sometimes called sandalwood Mysore, is extracted from the heartwood of East Indian sandalwood trees (Santalum album). The oil is present in trees of 10 years and older, but the trees are only regarded as mature between the ages of 40 and 80 years.

The tree is a native of India and Indonesia, but unfortunately has been harvested at unsustainable levels in its natural habitat and is a protected species. However, as sandalwood oil is so popular, not just for aromatherapy, but also for Ayurvedic medicine and sacred uses, other areas have established Santalum sp. plantations, including Australia and many parts of Southeast Asia.

As with all essential oils, sandalwood oils 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.

Three varieties of sandalwood are now used for extracting oil, Santalum austrocaledonicum (Sandalwood Vanuatu), Santalum ellipticum (the Hawaiian sandalwood), which are both regarded as high quality, and Santalum spicatum (the Australian sandalwood), which is not. There is also another oil which is sometimes labelled Sandalwood AmyrisAmyris balsamifera, which is unrelated.

Sandalwood oil has a nutty or woody fragrance which is popular with men, even though it has sweet overtones. It is often used commercially as an ingredient in aftershave. The color of the oil ranges from pale yellow to pale gold.

Shavings of sandalwood are sometimes used as incense for calming the mind during meditation, amongst other purposes. You can also use the oil in a burner to achieve the same effect.

Sandalwood essential oil should never be used undiluted. It is not suitable for use on children under 12 years or anyone with a kidney disorder. It may reduce the ability to concentrate.

Sandalwood oil is regarded as soothing, calming and grounding. It is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, burnout, confusion, cynicism, depression, recurring dreams, exhaustion, failure, fatigue, fear, grief, insecurity, irritability, listlessness, stress, worry and to promote happiness, intuition and perseverance; for skin care, including dry eczema, blemished, scarred and sensitive skin; to treat tinnitis, sinusitis, chest and urinary tract infections, sore throat, laryngitis and as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, emollient and insect repellent. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for itching and gastritis.

Sandalwood Amyris, or simply Amyris, has antiseptic and sedative properties. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy.

I offer sandalwood essential oil and sandalwood amyris essential oil in my online shop.

It’s always important to ensure that any oil you purchase is 100% pure essential oil, but this is even more vital with rarer oils and those which are in danger of extinction because of over-harvesting. Disreputable suppliers are often tempted to adulterate with potentially dangerous fake chemically-derived products in the name of the quick buck. Make sure that you choose a reputable supplier to be sure that you are getting what you pay for.


Geranium essential oil, benefits and uses

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

As with all essential oils, geranium 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.

Geranium essential oil is offered in two types. Rose geranium oil (which you will often find called just geranium essential oil), Pelargonium graveolens, is the one most easily sourced, and also the most expensive. You may also find a product called geranium essential oil which is actually the essential oil of the apple geranium, Pelargonium odoratissimum. This is cheaper, but also does not have all the same properties.

Both types are extracted from the leaves and stalks of the appropriate plant by steam distillation, and range in color from colorless through to a light green. They are quite thin oils, so care must be taken when using them not to add too much to your carrier oil or other base by accident.

Cautions: Do not use either type of geranium essential oil during pregnancy or on sensitive skin. Not suitable for use by diabetics or anyone else who suffers from hypoglycemia. Not suitable for use on children under 1 year old. Avoid use when studying or taking exams, as it may lower concentration.

As already mentioned, the two types have different properties.

Rose geranium essential oil is often used for skin care both for dry and oily skins; it’s astringent, so it balances sebum production while simultaneously soothing and softening the skin, and is helpful for treating acne, eczema and psoriasis. Because of its antiseptic and cytophylactic (promotes healing) properties, it’s also useful for cuts, burns and external ulcers and its antifungal qualities make it an excellent topical treatment for candida (thrush) and other fungal conditions. It’s also styptic – which means it helps to stop bleeding.

Rose geranium oil’s balancing properties aren’t just restricted to the skin. It also helps to balance the mind, emotions and hormonal system. Of course, though conventional medicine tends to treat these as entirely separate, in fact they are quite closely interlinked. We all know how our emotions seem to affect everything, and PMS (a hormonal condition) is well known to cause severe dysfunction both of mental and emotional health. It’s no surprise, then, that this oil works to relax, reduce anxiety/depression and stress, stabilize the emotions and restore mental balance. As a hormonal regulator, it is useful for treating menopausal problems, menorrhagia (heavy periods) and PMS.

And that’s not all. Rose geranium oil is also an adrenal stimulant, deodorant, diuretic (useful in treating edema), a lymphatic stimulant, and a good general tonic and detoxing agent. It can be used to treat gallstones and jaundice (only after consultation with your regular physician) and cellulite. Finally, it is a lice (cootie) repellent, mosquito repellent, general insect repellent and anti-parasitic.

Phew.

I offer rose geranium essential oil and organic rose geranium essential oil in my online shop as well as a range of other products derived from them.

Apple geranium essential oil has many, but not all, of the same properties (and a few extra ones of its own): acne, adrenal stimulant, anxiety, astringent, improves circulation, cytophylactic (promotes healing), diuretic, deodorant, dry skin, eczema, edema, hemorrhoids, hormone regulator, lice repellent, lymphatic stimulant, menopause, mental balance, mosquito repellent, neuralgia, oily skin, PMS, skin care, stress, styptic (stops bleeding), tonic, ulcers, vermifuge (anti-parasitic), vulnerary (treats cuts and wounds).

For most of these conditions, use geranium oil diluted in the usual way either directly on the area to be treated or for massage, or add 4-5 drops to your bath. For emotional and mental difficulties, it can also be used in an oil diffuser.


Frankincense essential oil, benefits and uses: oil with a sacred pedigree

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Frankincense oil has an attractive scent I always associate with High Anglican churches, which I attended as a child. Frankincense is used in Roman Catholic and other “high” churches, and apparently in Lutheran ones as well. It was also used in ancient Judaism alongside the sacrifices in the Temple. Ancient Egyptians, by contrast, used it for cosmetics, perfumes, and rejuvenating face masks.

Well known in Christian circles as one of the gifts given to the infant Jesus by the three wise men along with gold and myrrh, frankincense is a resin which is collected from several different trees in the Boswellia genus (mainly B. sacra) several times a year. The trunk of the trees is slashed, the sap oozes out and congeals and is then collected.

Unfortunately, this has become unsustainable in recent years. Trees which are used for resin collection produce seed which has only 16% viability, in comparison with trees left alone, which have 80% or more viable seeds.

Frankincense is distantly related to Elemi.

As with all essential oils, frankincense 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.

Frankincense essential oil is made by steam distillation from the resin. It’s also sometimes called olibanum oil. It is a yellow or greenish liquid with a rich, balsamic scent and a fresh top note.

Frankincense oil should not be used during pregnancy (except during labor) or for children under 6 years of age. As with all essential oils, ensure that the oil you buy is pure frankincense oil, and not wholly or partly fake, or adulterated with chemicals. Even if they smell similar, oils which are not 100% pure essential oil will not have the same therapeutic effects, and may be dangerous when used in medicinal amounts.

Please note that in spite of widespread disinformation to the contrary, Frankincense essential oil does not cure cancer, despite a single anecdotal report of a skin cancer cure. The claim is based on the presence of boswellic acid in frankincense gum resin. However, it is not present in the essential oil, and the tumour-fighting benefits of boswellic acid are therefore not available to anyone using frankincense essential oil. Source

Frankincense is traditionally associated with spirituality. Used in an oil burner or diffuser, frankincense oil is an aid to meditation, calms anxiety of the mind, helps reduce the tendency to live in the past and encourages grounding and a feeling of inner peace. On the physical side, it is also useful for respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis, coughs and colds, laryngitis and shortness of breath.

In a blend of 5 drops to 10ml carrier oil, frankincense oil is a good general tonic and helpful for respiratory conditions, rheumatism, poor circulation, exhaustion, nightmares, heavy periods, delayed periods or the menopause. You could also add a few drops of oil (up to 5) to the bath for the same purposes. On top of all that, it’s great for dry and mature skin, scars, wounds and any disfiguring skin problems including wrinkles. The Egyptians knew a thing or two about beauty!Continuing on the beauty front, adding a few drops of frankincense to a base cream or lotion makes a great skin tonic which will rejuvenate, reduce oiliness, gradually reduce wrinkles, stretch marks and old scars and help with healing of general skin problems such as sores.

You can also use a few drops of frankincense in the water used to clean cuts as an antiseptic and to help prevent scarring, or to make a compress for cracked skin and bed sores. A compress is a clean bandage which is soaked in liquid (in this case warm), wrung out and applied to the area to be treated.

I offer pure frankincense essential oil and dilute frankincense essential oil in my online shop.


Lavender essential oil, benefits and uses 3

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia

Lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia

I’ve already discussed the different types of lavender aromatherapy oil available in my first post in this little series, and in the second post I went into the uses of lavender aromatherapy oils on the skin. This post covers other uses.

As I already said, lavender is so incredibly versatile that it really should be included in everybody’s aromatherapy kit. Great for emergencies such as burns, it’s also useful for calming and relaxing both mind, body and doubtless spirit too (though there isn’t any way of proving the last of these)! This is not just a nebulous “oh it makes me feel good” thing I’m talking about. Lavender essential oil is well known for dealing with anxiety and mood swings, as well as nervous tension.

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.
 

Looking at this in more detail, it helps to relieve symptoms of fear, including apprehension, negative thoughts, panic attacks, paranoia, post traumatic stress, stage fright and worry of all kinds. Since bed wetting is often caused by underlying anxiety it’s not surprising that lavender is often used to treat this, as well.

Lavender also helps to get strong emotions under control, such as hysteria, impatience and irritability. Its general relaxation properties make it useful for treating insomnia and an aid to restful sleep, also for exhaustion and overwork; on the physical side it can also help to soothe and relax stiff, swollen and painful joints.

Migraine is a very variable condition which seems to be caused by a narrowing of the arteries in the head, though the underlying reasons are still not definite. Lavender has been shown to help in many cases, and with a condition as debilitating as this, it’s definitely worth trying, though as causes seem to differ from person to person, it’s obviously not possible to guarantee it 100%. You can either use it in an oil burner, on a handkerchief or the pillow, or dab it neat direct onto the temples.

For most of the other conditions mentioned here, you can use your lavender aromatherapy oil either in an oil burner or electric diffuser or by adding drops to your bath. For a standard oil burner, I would recommend 5-6 drops of lavender essential oil, or a similar quantity added to your bath. Don’t forget that when using essential oils in the bath, it should be added after the bath is ready to get into, as otherwise all the fragrance will have dissipated before you get the opportunity to benefit by it.

Even though in most cases described here you wouldn’t be using lavender essential oil directly on the skin, it’s still important that you obtain 100% pure essential oil, as the therapeutic properties are not delivered by the fragrance alone, but by volatile components which come along with it. To get the benefit of real lavender essential oil, you have to use real lavender essential oil, not a man-made substitute that smells similar to it.

I offer true lavender essential oil and organic true lavender essential oil in my online shop.


Hops health benefits: sedative and traditional beer flavoring

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Hops, Humulus lupulus, are also called the common hop to distinguish the plant from the related but not very medicinally active Japanese hop (H. japonicus). It is the plant most often used as a base for beer until barley malt took over – but as it is gluten free, is suitable for celiacs, which beers based on barley are not. Hops are also often grown as an ornamental – particularly the golden hop, H. lupulus ‘Aureus’.

The term “hops” is properly used for the female fruits, but is also often used to refer to the plant itself.

The hop is a European native climber. The leaf is variable, depending on maturity. Pictures a-d inset on the main photo show different stages. It is a hardy perennial, not fussy about soil type, dry or moist soil, and even surviving drought, growing well in any situation so long as it is not in full shade.

Hop flowers

Hop flowers

Hops are not self-fertile because you need both male and female plants to produce fruit (sometimes called flower cones), which appear on the female plants. Male flowers are inset as e in the main picture, with cones at f. Do not confuse the fruits with the flowers, illustrated on the left, which are different on male and female plants. It is the fruits which are used in making beer.

A note of caution: Up to 3% of people may be sensitive to hops, resulting in red or purple eruptions on hands, face and even legs. If you experience this problem, it’s best to use other remedies. Whether or not you suffer from dermatitis from handling hops, if hairs from the plant get in your eyes, you are likely to experience irritation.

Hops are easily propagated from seed sown in spring and potted on until they are large enough to plant out in summer. Provide support, as this is a climbing plant which can reach a height of 20 feet (6m). You will need to grow both male and female plants, as the fruits are the main part used in herbal medicine, and these will not be produced if you only grow plants of a single sex. You can also divide established plants or take basal cuttings in spring, planting out immediately into their final position.

Besides their use in brewing, hops can also be used for other purposes in the kitchen: young leaves in salad, shoots, young leaves and rhizomes (underground stems) can be cooked, and the leaves used for tea. Extracts from the plant are used commercially for flavoring non-alcoholic beverages, candy and dessert foods of various types. The seeds are a source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

Hops are useful medicinally in those who are not sensitive to them (see note of caution above). Prolonged use is bad for you – so although you might already have considered having a couple of beers every day as a tonic, this is not an option from the health point of view.

Hop pillows (a small cushion stuffed with flowers) are often used as an anti-insomnia device. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of hops to your evening bath for the same purpose.

Hops have been used for many purposes, in particular as a sedative and digestive aid. The ability to improve digestion is a function which hops share with other bitter herbs. Female fruits can also be used as a tonic and to reduce fevers. The hairs on the fruits contain a substance which has been shown to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Make an infusion of the fruits using 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried fruits to 120ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) of boiling water. This can be taken hot or cold.

A poultice made from fruits can be used to treat to treat boils and other skin eruptions, and is also said to relieve the pain of external tumors. To make a poultice, make a paste of the fruits mixed with hot water, wrap in a bandage and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in hot water as required.

A standard infusion of leaves, shoots and female flowers can be used for anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and premature ejaculation, or externally as a wash for external ulcers and skin conditions such as eczema, herpes and skin infections. Make this with 30g (an ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh mixture as described to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining for use.

As with all plants used for herbal medicine, hops should be grown organically to avoid corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic hops visit the Gardenzone.


Musk Mallow health benefits: sweetens breath and spices up your love life

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Musk mallow comes from south east Asia

Musk mallow comes from south east Asia

Musk mallow, Abelmoschus moschatus (syn. Hibiscus abelmoschus), has a huge number of other common names, including abelmosk, ambrette, annual hibiscus, bamia moschata, galu gasturi, muskdana, musk okra, muskseed, ornamental okra, rose mallow (which is also used for hollyhock), syrian mallow, target-leaved hibiscus, tropical jewel hibiscus, water mallow and yorka okra. Having this number of common names generally means that a plant has been known as a folk remedy, food source or both for a very long time. It is closely related to okra (or gumbo), and more distantly to hollyhock, rosella and marsh mallow.

A native of south east Asia, the musk mallow has been imported across the world as an ornamental, often used for summer bedding. Despite being sometimes called the annual hibiscus, it is in fact a half hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of around 6-7′ (2m) by 3′ (1m). It’s easily propagated from seed sown in heat in spring, or semi-ripe cuttings in summer. In cooler climates such as the UK, it is best grown in large pots if you wish to overwinter it, so that it can be moved into a conservatory or frost free greenhouse in the winter months.

Most parts of musk mallow are edible. Unripe seed pods can be used as a substitute for okra, young shoots and leaves added to soups or used as a vegetable, and the seed can be used as a substitute for sesame seeds. Both the seed and the essential oil are used for flavoring, believed to be one of the ingredients used in the manufacture of Benedictine liqueur, but as the recipe is a trade secret it’s impossible to be sure.

The main part used medicinally is the seeds, which are chewed whole as a breath sweetener and to treat digestive problems including griping pain, to soothe nerves, as a diuretic and also (mainly in Egypt), an aphrodisiac. Ground to a paste and mixed to an emulsion with water, they can be used to treat wounds, or an emulsion made with milk can be used to treat itching skin.

A paste made from ground bark can also be used to treat cuts and wounds.

As with all plants grown medicinally, musk mallow should be grown organically to ensure the purity of its effective constitutents. To find out more about growing organic musk mallow visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil has been used in aromatherapy to treat anxiety and depression, but should be used with care as it can cause photosensitivity. It can also be used topically to treat joint pain, cramp and poor circulation.

As with all essential oils, musk mallow 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.

Poppy health benefits: for anxiety and insomnia

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Poppy flowers are beautiful and fragile

Poppy flowers are beautiful and fragile

The poppy, Papaver rhoeas, also called the red poppy, field poppy, corn poppy or Flanders poppy has become synonymous in the UK with the annual Remembrance Day celebrations. Each year, millions of imitation poppies are made and sold in aid of retired and injured soldiers, sailors and airmen and their families, as well as those who have been killed in combat. The poppy was chosen because after the First World War was over, the fields of battle at Flanders were a sea of red poppies, as if seeded by the blood of the fallen.

Until agriculture turned industrial in the middle of the 20th century, cornfields used to be much prettier than they are now, as they were dotted with poppies and cornflowers. Poppies thrive where the soil is disturbed by cultivation or other causes, but farmers use selective weedkillers to protect the purity of their crop. In my view we lose more than we gain by this practice.

The name red poppy is used to distinguish this plant from the closely related opium poppy, which is sometimes called the white poppy. Although the wild poppy is naturally red (though there are occasional whites and bicolors), cultivated poppies are available in many combinations and shades of red and white, some with black markings.

The poppy is a hardy annual plant which reaches a height of about 2 feet (60cm). Sow it once, and even if you deadhead religiously, you are likely to find that it selfseeds, and you will never need to buy seeds again. Poppies require moist but well drained soil, but are not fussy as to type. They will not grow in the shade.

Poppy is not suitable as a herbal remedy during pregnancy.

Medicinally, poppy has a long history of use, particularly for children and the elderly. The petals and leaves are a good general tonic, and is useful as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia, as an expectorant and to relieve minor pains and sore throat. It also promotes menstruation and fights cancer.

For all these purposes make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh petals and leaves or 1 ounce of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours then strain before use. The daily dosage is up to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) split into 3 doses.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, poppies must be grown organically to avoid their active constituents being masked or changed by the effects of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic poppies visit the Gardenzone.