Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil benefits and uses

Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil is extracted from fermented pods of the vanilla orchid vine

There are three types of vanilla essential oil*, which are:

  • extracted from Vanilla planifolia, sometimes labelled Bourbon vanilla,
  • extracted from V. pompona, sometimes labelled West Indies vanilla, and
  • extracted from V. tahitensis (which is not often used, due to the low vanillin content), sometimes called Tahitian vanilla.

You may also come across an oil called Mexican vanilla, which is also extracted from V. planifolia like Bourbon vanilla, but unfortunately is often adulterated with oil from the tonka bean (which contains coumarin, a dangerous substance which can cause damage to the liver amongst other things), so anything with the label Mexican vanilla is best avoided.

Vanilla is a vine in the Orchid family. All three types of vanilla plant are closely related, and production of the vanilla pods from which the oil is derived requires careful attention, involving fermentation for 6 months in order to develop the actual vanilla flavour/fragrance.

How vanilla essential oil is produced

Though you may see pages which purport to tell you how to make your own vanilla essential oil, what you actually get by following the instructions is not essential oil but more like some of the cheap (fake) vanilla essential oils on the market. Technically it is an infusion or maceration, not an essential oil.

*In fact, although there is a vanilla resinoid (produced by solvent extraction from cured vanilla beans), what is sold by reputable aromatherapy suppliers as “essential oil” is either the absolute (which requires further extraction from the resinoid) or a diluted absolute. Given that vanilla itself is the second most expensive spice (after saffron), the absolute is far too expensive for most of us to consider, which is why it’s normally sold diluted. However, although not technically an essential oil, that’s what most people call it so from here on that is how I will be referring to it in this post.

Due to its high price and the length and complexity of its production, vanilla essential oil is one of those oils that are often counterfeit. This sham vanilla oil might be an oil infusion, or some vanilla extract diluted in a carrier oil, or even a completely synthetic oil – which may smell ok, but will not have any of the healing properties of the genuine article and might be actively dangerous. So if you see vanilla oil that seems inexpensive – or you find it on the shelves of a pound shop or grocery store, you can pretty much assume that it’s fake.

Properties of Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla oil is antibiotic, anticarcinogenic (particularly for prostate and colon cancers), antidepressant, antifungal (active against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans), anti-nausea, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, mood enhancing, mosquito repellent, relaxant, a sedative and tranquiliser.

Uses of Vanilla Essential Oil

Because of its property as an emmenagogue, vanilla oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy in the first trimester, and therefore cannot be used for morning sickness.

If using the absolute for massage etc., dilute in a suitable carrier oil at a rate of 5 drops to each 10ml of carrier. You may prefer to use this dilution for oil burners as well.

For use in the bath, mix 3-4 drops of the oil with a little milk to form an emulsion and stir in to the water once the bath is ready. Please be careful when using essential oils in the bath, and bear in mind when getting in and out that it will make the area more slippery than usual.

Vanilla can be used for massage to fight depression, ease stress, calm the mind and increase libido. It’s also helpful for relieving muscle and joint pain, cramped muscles or cramps associated with menstruation, to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. It can be used direct on acne, eczema, itching, burns, cuts and inflamed skin to soothe, promote healthy skin, to reduce cellulite and also on the scalp to encourage hair growth. It’s also beneficial for regulating menstruation.

It can be used in a burner, electric diffuser or in the bath for stress, nervous tension, insomnia, coughs and other respiratory problems. It is said to encourage sweet dreams if used in the bedroom, as well as having a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Diffused vanilla oil is a mosquito repellent, which makes it very helpful in bedrooms in countries where mosquitoes are a problem. To avoid the danger of fire while you sleep, you could use an electric diffuser or put the oils onto a cloth which is laid over a radiator instead of using a candle-based oil burner.

I offer Vanilla Essential Oil in my online shop.

Agnus castus health benefits: mainly for women

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Agnus castus (latin for ‘pure lamb’), Vitex agnus-castus, is also sometimes known as chaste berry, chaste tree or lilac chaste tree. It is native to North Africa, parts of Asia from Cyprus to Uzbekistan and much of Europe, and naturalised elsewhere.

Agnus castus is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 3m (9ft). It is hardy in the UK, where it flowers in September to October, but is unlikely to produce fruit here. Of course, this may change with the climate.

Agnus castus should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

Do not exceed the stated dose; reduce the dosage or discontinue if you get a sensation of insects crawling on the skin, a symptom of excessive use.

The name chaste tree comes from the use of this herb by monks, who used to chew it to reduce sexual desire. It is still used for the same purpose, although only in those who have a real problem with this; in those with a low sex drive, it’s likely to have the opposite effect and is sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.

Agnus castus is mainly used to bring female hormones into balance. It has been shown to relieve infertility due to hormonal problems (if used for an extended period). It is also helpful as a birthing aid, for easing the menopause and relieving PMS, regulating heavy periods (menorrhagia) and restoring missing ones (amenorrhea). Men use it to increase urine flow and reduce BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia/enlargement). Please ensure you get a cancer check before using it for the latter purpose.

It’s also used in both sexes for acne, colds, dementia, eye pain, headaches, inflammation and swelling, joint conditions, migraine, nervousness, spleen disorders and upset stomach.

It is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer Periagna® (Agnus castus) 400mg capsules and Agnus Castus seed in my online store.

If you are able to produce fruit from the chaste tree, it’s important that you grow it organically to avoid contaminating the fruit with chemicals that you don’t want in your remedies. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Vanilla health benefits: anti-cancer and antioxidant

Vanilla is an orchid, and also a vine

Vanilla is an orchid, and also a vine

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Vanilla is extracted from the beans produced by the orchid Vanilla planifolia (syn. Myrobroma fragrans, Vanilla fragrans). This is an unusual plant, because as well as being an orchid, it’s also a vine! The vanilla orchid also has other names, including Bourbon vanilla, flat-leaved vanilla, Tahitian vanilla and West Indian vanilla (the latter name is shared with Vanilla pompona). It requires a minimum temperature of 10ºC (50ºF) day and night to survive, so in temperate regions must be grown in a greenhouse or in a pot indoors for at least part of the year. Although it does require support for the vine, it can be grown successfully in a large pot in a similar way to the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), see picture below.

Vanilla can be grown successfully in a pot with supportIt will take up to 5 years for the first flowers to be produced, and if you want to get any crop, you will have to perform the actions of a Mexican bee and pollinate the flowers (which only open for a single day) by transferring the pollen grains from the male part of the flower onto the female part. You can use a good quality artist’s paintbrush to do this. If you manage to get your plant to produce some beans, you need to harvest them when they are light yellow and about 12-20cm (5-8″) long, blanch them briefly in boiling water, dry them and put them in a sunny position, turning now and then until they go dark brown and wrinkly.

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices, almost as expensive as saffron. For this reason, the vanilla you buy as essence may well be fake, so is not suitable for use as a remedy, although you can buy genuine vanilla pods from upmarket grocers and some of the larger supermarkets. This is probably a more practical way of obtaining supplies for use in remedies. You can also get some benefit by using genuine vanilla in recipes. The old way to make custard, for example, involved boiling a vanilla pod in the milk to flavor it (you could also use vanilla sugar, made by storing your vanilla pods in the sugar for several weeks). Vanilla pods were often used over and over again, simply rinsing, drying and storing to be used again next time. A vanilla pod will keep its flavor for at least 3 years.

Vanilla should be avoided by anyone suffering from Gilbert’s syndrome (chronic fatigue syndrome/CFS, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome/CFIDS or myalgic encephalomyelitis/ME).

Traditionally, vanilla was used to treat insomnia and stomach ulcers and as an aphrodisiac. Vanillin, the active ingredient in vanilla, has been shown to prevent DNA mutations that lead to cancer and inhibit growth of cancer cells. A study in mice showed that it prevents metastasis of breast cancer cells.

Vanillin is antioxidant and research shows that it may reduce the occurrence of damage in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; studies are still ongoing. If you have 100% natural vanilla essence, a few drops in soda or milk will calm an upset stomach. Another way, if you only have the pods, is to warm some milk with a vanilla pod in it and drink. Rinse off, dry and return the vanilla pod to its storage jar after use.

If you’re growing it yourself, remember to follow organic methods to avoid contaminating the vanilla, although because it’s an orchid, you probably wouldn’t get it to grow any other way anyway.

The essential oil is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, depression, insomnia and also as an aphrodisiac.

As with all essential oils, vanilla 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.

Jasmine essential oils, benefits and uses

Jasminum officinale, the most useful type in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding it

Jasminum officinale, the most useful type in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding it

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one type of jasmine essential oil available. In fact, there are at least four (possibly three, see comment by Geoff)! All of them are reputed to have aphrodisiac properties, which may account for their popularity, even though jasmine oil is one of the costliest essential oils.

It is said that Napoleon presented Josephine with a large bottle of jasmine oil. Though it has a scent which some find overpowering, there’s no denying, taking into account the fragrance, the price and the aphrodisiac reputation, that it makes a great aromatherapy gift, particularly for lovers.

As with all essential oils, jasmine 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.

Jasmine oils you may find on offer include:

Jasmine absolute
Extracted from the flowers of Jasminum officinale, this is the jasmine aromatherapy product most often referred to in the literature, though you may have difficulty finding it on sale. It is a dark orangey brown liquid, which is quite viscous. The absolute is produced by separating a concrete (produced by solvent extraction) using alcohol. Further processing by steam distillation produces an essential oil. Check the label to find out if this is, in fact, an extract from J. officinale as most of the jasmine absolute I’ve found on sale is actually extracted from J. grandiflorum.

Jasmine Grandiflorum absolute
This is often labelled simply “Jasmine Absolute”, although checking the latin name of the plant from which it has been extracted will reveal the truth if it is Jasminum grandiflorum. Other names by which it is known include Royal, Spanish or Catalonian jasmine, or jati.

Jasmine Sambac absolute
This is also called Arabian or Tuscan jasmine, zambac or mogra. It’s extracted from Jasminum sambac.

Jasmine Auriculatum absolute
Not often found, this is also sometimes called juhi and is extracted from Jasminum auriculatum flowers. It has a lighter fragrance, often appreciated by those who find other jasmines overpowering.

Note: Jasmine hair oil

There are a number of products on the market offering jasmine oil for hair treatments. Though I have tried to find some rationale for this, the only explanation I have been able to find is that, because jasmine absolute oils are used for skin care, if rubbed into the scalp this will contribute to the health of the hair.

However, I think this is very unlikely since, despite all the claims by manufacturers of various hair products, nothing put on the hair from the outside (as opposed to a change in diet on the inside) can have any lasting beneficial effect beyond the purely cosmetic. This has been proved by research and has been well known for decades. It’s true that aromatherapy products are absorbed by the skin, but as jasmine is not known to have any properties relating to hair health, it seems to me that this is just a ploy like so many others, designed to sell anything at all so long as a profit can be made.


Benefits of Jasmine Oil

Jasmine oil benefits vary slightly according to the type used, as you might expect. However, it’s important that you purchase pure jasmine oil (or absolute), and avoid anything that doesn’t state that the bottle contents are 100% pure jasmine essential oil/absolute. Using jasmine fragrance oil for anything other than as a perfume may be dangerous, and is very unlikely to have a positive effect of any kind (except perhaps on your mood, if you like the scent).

Jasmine absolutes, of whatever type, are extremely strong and should be used in a low dilution, starting with a single drop to each 20ml (2/3 oz) of carrier oil, and only increasing this if you find that you need to. This will give you a dilution of around a half of one percent, which may sound light – but as I said, jasmine oils are very strong. This is great news, as they’re also very expensive.

None of the jasmine oils/absolutes should be used during pregnancy except during labor.

Jasminum officinale
It’s unfortunate that this type of jasmine essential oil is so difficult to find, as it seems to have the widest range of uses, including skin care, musculo-skeletal problems, respiratory disorders and genito-urinary difficulties as well as emotional and nervous conditions.

Jasminum officinale absolute or essential oil is antiseptic, antispasmodic, emollient, relaxing and soothing. Used as an ingredient in a massage blend, or a single drop added to the bath it is useful in the care of all types of skin: dry, normal, greasy and combination skins, as well as irritated and sensitive skin. It’s also helpful in the treatment of muscle strain and muscular spasms (muscle cramps), dysmenorrhea (painful periods), labor pains and uterine disorders. It’s also believed to have aphrodisiac properties, as already mentioned.

Used in a diffuser, J. officinale oil can be used to treat catarrh, coughs, hoarseness and laryngitis.

Either method can be used to help alleviate anger, apathy, burnout, lack of confidence, depression, detachment, exhaustion, fatigue, fear of the future, indifference, insecurity, jealousy, lethargy, listlessness, nervous tension, mental rigidity, sadness, shyness and many other stress-related conditions.

I offer jasmine officinale absolute essential oil and jasmine officinale 10% essential oil in my online shop.

Jasminum grandiflorum
Jasmine grandiflorum absolute rivals the previously discussed oil in its range of properties.

J. grandiflorum is calming, relaxing, soothing and releases inhibitions. In the area of skin care it is used in a massage blend for dry, greasy and sensitive skin. It also enjoys a reputation as an aphrodisiac, stimulates both contractions and menstruation, and is helpful for controlling labor pains, as well as being a male reproductive tonic and helpful in alleviating an enlarged prostate. It can be used either in massage oil or in a diffuser to help mental and emotional conditions including anxiety, cold-heartedness, lack of confidence, depression, distrust, listlessness and stress.

I offer pure Jasmine grandiflorum absolute and dilute Jasmine grandiflorum 5% essential oil in my online shop.

Jasminum sambac
J. sambac is antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balancing, enlightening, relaxing and sedative. It’s used in a massage blend for blemishes, to improve complexion and reduce stretch marks, and generally for dry, irritated and sensitive skin. It’s also useful for muscle pain, muscle spasms (cramps) and to stimulate contractions in labor. It can be used in the same way or in a diffuser to help alleviate lack of confidence, depression and selfishness, to release inhibitions and stimulate the senses.

Jasminum auriculatum
J. sambac is aphrodisiac, calming and soothing and is used for infertility, depression, emotional trauma, insomnia and nervous tension.

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.

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.


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.

Chinese ginseng on the left, American on the right

Ginseng and American Ginseng health benefits: to improve your sex life

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chinese ginseng on the left, American on the right

Chinese ginseng on the left, American on the right

Oriental or Chinese ginseng, Panax ginseng (syn. P. schinseng), acquired an almost mystical reputation in the 1970s and ’80s, though it has fallen out of fashion somewhat since then. Other names by which it is known include Asiatic ginseng and wonder of the world, or just ginseng. American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius (syn. Aralia quinquefolia), is also known as five-fingers, five-leafed ginseng and redberry. It  is very similar in both appearance and efficacy to Chinese ginseng, the leaf shape being the only obvious difference, as you can see from the picture, though the Chinese reaches a height of around 2’6″ (80cm), whereas the American has a maximum height of around 12-18″ (30-45cm). Chinese ginseng is shown on the left of the picture, and the American ginseng on the right.

There are many other plants which are sometimes called ginseng including ashwagandha (“Indian ginseng”), which has similar properties but is unrelated. None of the others has the same properties as these two, and most are completely unrelated.

Both species of ginseng require moist shade to grow. The part used is the root, which ideally should be 6-7 years old, although commercially grown ginseng is usually harvested at 3-4 years. Commercial quantities of Chinese ginseng are grown in Korea, and American ginseng in Wisconsin and Minnesota in the USA and Ontario and British Columbia in Canada. Although it is possible to grow it in the garden if you have a suitably moist, shaded area, the long growing period to harvest makes this difficult, and it is probably better to buy it in your nearest Asian supermarket or Chinese herbalists. On the other hand, if you do have a shady area it may be worth growing as a conversation piece, as not much else will grow in shade apart from ferns.

Ginseng leaves are sometimes used for tea, but this has little or no medicinal effect (though commercial products may claim or imply otherwise).

Chinese herbalists distinguish between the two plants as follows: the Chinese ginseng is regarded as yang (male) and the American as yin (female). The American is preferred for younger patients (under 40). There are also two different ways that Panax ginseng may be preserved: either peeled and air dried (white ginseng), or steamed without peeling and then dried (red ginseng). The difference in preparation results in different properties.

To use ginseng, put 30g (1 oz) dried ginseng root slices in a small pan with 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid reduces by half, then strain before use. The dose is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses.

In the West, both types of ginseng are used as a tonic for any age group, although in China, Oriental ginseng is not prescribed during pregnancy, for anyone under 40, or anybody suffering from acute depression, anxiety or inflammatory disease. Chinese ginseng is used to treat disorders caused by old age, and is also protective against the effects of gamma radiation, prevents the buildup of cholesterol, lowers blood sugar and acts as an expectorant. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer properties. Red ginseng improves the effect of anti-virals in HIV. It has been found that both Chinese and American types have aphrodisiac effects, improving both libido and performance, according to research by the South Illinois University School of Medicine in 2002. American ginseng is used to treat chronic cough and night sweats, but is generally regarded as interchangeable with Chinese ginseng for most purposes.

I offer Korean ginseng as tea and in capsules in my online shop.

Though it’s unlikely that you will choose to grow either of these plants for use as medicine, if you do, you should ensure that you use organic methods to avoid the active constituents being altered or eliminated by chemicals. To find out more about growing organic American ginseng visit the Gardenzone.

Sweet Flag health benefits: for anorexia, pain and to stop smoking

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag, Acorus calamus, is also known by many other names, including calamus, calamus root, flag root, muskrat root, myrtle flag, rat root, sweet calomel, sweet rush and sweet sedge. It is found growing all over the world, though it is believed to have originated in Asia. It is not related to the blue flag, bog myrtle, common myrtle, lemon myrtle or allspice (sometimes called myrtle pepper).

Sweet flag is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of 1m (3 feet). It grows in wet soil or in water. Type of soil is not important, but the plant will not grow in full shade. It can be propagated from seed, which should be surface sown onto moist or wet soil as soon as the seeds are available and not allowed to dry out. Once plants are big enough to handle they can be moved to a sheltered area, but must be kept moist or wet at all times until they are transplanted to their final position, on the edge or in the margins of a pond, where the soil is always moist or even flooded.

The American poet Walt Whitman wrote 39 poems about the sweet flag, known as the Calamus poems, in his book Leaves of Grass, and it was also a favorite of the naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

Sweet flag is the favorite food of the American musk rat and perhaps because of this, as well as its use in medicine, native Americans planted it everywhere they went. It’s now found across North America in water close to former native American settlements, camping areas and trails.

Blue flag is unrelated to sweet flag, and POISONOUSTake care not to confuse this plant with the poisonous blue flag, left (sometimes called poison flag), a species of Iris which grows in the same habitat. If either plant is in flower, this is easy to achieve, but otherwise you can tell them apart by fragrance. Sweet flag has a pleasant, sweet fragrance, whereas blue flag does not. If there is any doubt, it is wise not to harvest the plant, as an error may prove fatal. However, if you are able to grow sweet flag, this difficulty can be avoided (so long as you don’t also grow its poisonous namesake).

Acorus calamus and derivatives, as well as products containing them, were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1968 for use in food or food supplements offered for sale. The reason given relates to tests done on rats fed with large quantities of an extract (beta-asarone) of the tetraploid form of the plant (found in East Asia, India and Japan), which is not found in the diploid and triploid forms which grow in Europe and North America (even though beta-asarone is not found in European and North American plants). For this reason, the essential oil (which is a highly concentrated extract) is not recommended for medicinal use, because it may be dangerous. It’s possible that the real reason for this ban is the plant’s hallucinogenic properties. The 60s were a time when natural hallucinogens were popular for recreational purposes, much to the annoyance of Western governments.

There is no regulation prohibiting personal use of sweet flag in the US. There may be regulations in other countries, so it is best to check the law in the country where you live.

The part used in herbal medicine is the rhizome (an underground stem, often mistakenly called a root), which should be harvested in late fall or early spring when plants are no more than 3 years old and used immediately or dried for later use. Other parts may be used in the kitchen – the leaves to flavor custard (by immersion in the milk while it is heating, removed before serving), young leaves can be cooked, and the peeled stems used uncooked in salad. Young flowers are sweet, and can also be eaten uncooked.

Don’t store dried roots for more than a few months, as they deteriorate quickly.

Sweet flag is an amazingly versatile addition to the herbal medicine cabinet. However, it is definitely not suitable for use during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage.

Historically, sweet flag has been used all over the world for many different purposes. It was listed in the US National Formulary for medicinal use on humans until 1950. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. In Ayurvedic medicine it is valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system, and as a remedy for digestive disorders. The Dakotas used it to treat diabetes.

If you’ve never used sweet flag before, start with a low dose. If this does not work, increase the dose but don’t overdo it. Taking too large a dose can cause nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. Do not use sweet flag for a long period. Alternate with other remedies for longstanding conditions.

The most common way of using sweet flag is by chewing it; a normal dose is about 5cm (2 inches). Normally, you chew it without swallowing until you feel you’ve had enough (this may sound a bit hit and miss, but isn’t unusual with folk remedies, which are generally milder than the chemicals used in conventional medicine). Try not to swallow the chewed root, as it may cause a stomach upset. Dispose of the chewed root in the trash.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 tsp of dried rhizome to 120ml (half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water, leaving it to steep for 5 minutes before straining for use. A decoction can be made by adding 1 tbsp of dried rhizome to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water, bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then strain. The dosage for the standard infusion or decoction is up to 240ml/1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Another way to use it is as a herbal bath: add 450gm (1lb) of dried rhizome to 5 litres (5 US quarts, 1 UK gallon) of cold water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat, steep for 5 minutes, strain off the herb and throw away, then add the liquid to the bath water. Check that the bath water has not been made too hot by the addition of such a large quantity of very hot water before getting in!

There are so many uses, I’ve split them up as follows:

soothes and relieves pain (mainly toothache, sore gums and sore throat).
chew the rhizome to kill the taste for tobacco (may induce nausea)
Arabic, Ancient Roman and traditional European herbals recommend it as an aphrodisiac which increases sexual desire. The traditional treatment for this purpose is a herbal bath.
stimulates and restores the appetite, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
stimulant and mild tonic, especially useful when you don’t feel you have enough energy to finish a job which must be completed before you can rest.
expels excessive gas (and reduces its production) and relaxes the bowel, useful for digestive problems such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), bloating and colic.
promotes perspiration.
promotes menstruation.
promotes flow of mucus from respiratory passages and makes tickly coughs productive. Also relieves sinusitis by acting on the mucous membranes.
reduces or eliminates fevers.
lowers blood pressure.
treats toothache and other tooth and gum problems, chewing the root alleviates toothache.
remedy for digestive disorders; small doses reduce stomach acidity; larger doses increase stomach secretions. It also stimulates the salivary glands.
has a calming effect and can be used to treat panic and anxiety attacks, or for shock. Chew a piece of the rhizome and breathe slowly and deeply while doing so.
for brain and nervous system to manage neuralgia and epilepsy and treat memory loss.
destroys intestinal parasites.

It is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow sweet flag organically, and this is particularly the case for herbs which grow in water. If you have fish, then you will probably already be avoiding chemicals in the water, but in any case if you have trouble with algae, it’s important that you find an organic treatment, because chemicals will find their way into the plants and dilute or entirely eliminate the active constituents.To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Do not use the essential oil except under medical supervision and advice. As with all essential oils, sweet flag essential oil should also 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.

Cumin health benefits: for digestive problems and griping pains

Cumin seed is used in Indian food

Cumin seed is used in Indian food

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cumin, Cuminum cyminum syn. Cuminum odorum, is also known as cummin and jeera. It is not closely related to anise (sometimes called sweet cumin) and not related to Roman coriander (sometimes called black cumin) at all. Another plant also sometimes called black cumin is the black caraway, which is not closely related.

Cumin is another member of the huge family which includes the carrot and hemlock, and should always be grown from seed bought from a reputable seed merchant. It is a half-hardy annual which reaches a height of about a foot (30cm) and will grow in any medium to light soil, so long as it is well drained, but not in full shade. Sow the seeds under cover in early Spring or direct after all danger of frost has passed, transplanting to their permanent positions in late Spring after the last frost date.

Cumin is not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy.

The seed (generally crushed just before use) is the part used in remedies.

A standard infusion is made using 1-2 teaspoons of crushed seed to 250ml 1 US cups, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. The infusion should be allowed to brew for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strained. The dosage is 75ml (1/3 US cup, 3 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.

The standard infusion can be used to treat flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), stomach/intestinal cramps and general digestive problems, coughs and to increase milk production in nursing mothers and externally for muscle spasms. It can also be used as a general tonic, and is regarded in many places as a sexual stimulant (aphrodisiac).

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, cumin must be grown organically to avoid its essential oils (which are the medicinally active constituents) from being adulterated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic cumin visit the Gardenzone.


An essential oil is produced from the seeds. It is phototoxic (so you should avoid sun and tanning beds for 48 hours after using it on the skin) and is not suitable during pregnancy, for children under 13 years or anyone who has sensitive skin or suffers from skin cancer/melanoma. The essential oil is a natural antibacterial and will kill larvae of, for example, head lice (cooties). It is used for circulatory, digestive and nervous disorders.

As with all essential oils, cumin 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.

Echinacea health benefits: boosts the immune system

Echinacea purpurea is the plant usually sold in herbal remedies

Echinacea purpurea is the plant usually sold in herbal remedies

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Echinacea is a well known herbal remedy, but there is some confusion as to the correct plant. The plant usually used to produce remedies sold over the counter is Echinacea purpurea, the (Eastern) purple coneflower, shown here. However, the plant originally used by the native Americans and later adopted by settlers was Echinacea angustifolia, the narrow leaf coneflower or Sampson root (shown below), which as you can see has a less pronounced “cone”, and in my view is more attractive, although I believe it is more difficult to cultivate – and you may have difficulty in obtaining seeds or plants.

Echinacea angustifolia is the plant used by native Americans

Echinacea angustifolia is the plant used by native Americans

Both E. purpurea (top) and E. angustifolia (left) are perennials about 4′ (1.2m) tall when full grown. They require well drained soil in full sun. E. angustifolia isn’t fussy about soil, but E. purpurea doesn’t like heavy soil. They’re both pretty tough and will withstand frost. E. angustifolia has edible leaves.

The rootstock is the part of the plant used, and this can be lifted in Fall (or as required). When the roots lose their distinctive smell, you should throw them away, as they are no longer useful.

Echinacea is mostly used to boost the immune system, so is often used for infections – but not for disorders of the respiratory system, such as coughs and colds. It’s also useful as a tonic in times of stress, helping the body to adapt. E. purpurea is also said to have aphrodisiac effects, a property often attributed to tonic herbs. Echinacea can be used to cleanse the body of toxins (which may explain its use by native Americans to treat snakebite, as well as bites and stings of all kinds) and is a natural antiseptic.

For all the purposes mentioned, make a decoction using 1 tsp of rootstock to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Take 1 tbsp up to 6 times a day.

I offer a number of Echinacea products in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, echinacea must be grown organically so that the properties are not changed or destroyed by garden chemicals. To find out more about growing organic echinacea visit the Gardenzone.