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

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.


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 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.


Costa Rica’s Most Magical Plants

Please note that publication of guest posts does not imply endorsement.

Remedy for aches and pains

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Whatever the time of year, aches and pains can plague us from time to time, and this only gets worse as the weather turns from the cool days of autumn to the frost and snow of winter.

Of course, aching joints and muscles aren’t all created equal but although they can often be quelled by taking over-the-counter painkillers, many people prefer to use more natural methods.

When looking for a remedy for aches and pains,, the first step is to try and work out the cause, as it’s helpful in working out the best treatment to use and where to apply it (if it’s topical). So if you don’t already know what’s going on, take a bit of time to visually check out the area affected to see if there’s anything obvious.

Severe unexplained pain in the leg, foot or ankle, accompanied by one sided swelling, areas that are higher in temperature to the touch and/or a change in skin colour is a possible sign of DVT which is a medical emergency requiring Urgent Medical Care. If this is you, take immediate steps to get treatment.

Possible causes of aches and pains

Pain in the legs, joints or muscles can be caused by arthritis, varicose veins, sciatica, injury, a sprain or other muscular strain. All pain in bones and muscles may also be associated with a zinc deficiency.

  • Arthritis occurs mainly around the joints, which are often swollen, though there may be some transference. There are several types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis seem to be auto-immune disorders, sometimes triggered by gluten.
  • Varicose veins are usually visible as blue lines under the skin. They can make your legs feel uncomfortable, heavy and aching, possibly accompanied by a burning or throbbing sensation. They are a result of failure of the valves which normally prevent blood flowing in the wrong direction.
  • Sciatica is caused by a compressed or irritated sciatic nerve (in the lower back), but the pain generally travels down from there and can reach as far as the toes, though usually only affecting one leg.
  • Sprains and other injuries such as torn ligaments are generally caused by an accident of some kind, though some injuries may be the result of over-enthusiastic exercise.
  • Muscular strain is caused by exercise which is heavier than you’re used to – especially at the start of a new exercise regimen.
Pains in any part of the body can be a symptom of serious disease, so if they are severe and longstanding, or if they don’t improve with the use of the remedies suggested here within a few days, please consult your doctor to ensure that you aren’t ignoring a potentially life threatening condition.

Remedies for aches and pains

Remedy for aching joints

If you suffer from aching joints, this is generally caused by some form of arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, which as mentioned above may be related to gluten or other foods in the diet. To test this, take your medical practitioner’s advice or you could try eliminating gluten from your diet for 3 weeks (it takes this long for gluten to leave your system) and keep an eye on your symptoms. An improvement is an indication of a possible link, but you can check this by going on a gluten-rich binge the day after the three weeks is up, and see what happens.

If you’re coping with any joint pain (even osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear) you can obtain some pain relief and reduction of inflammation using topical remedies either alone or in conjunction with prescribed medication.

A zinc supplement may also be helpful, particularly if you’re suffering from RA. You can talk to your doctor about this or read my article about zinc for information on other symptoms that may indicate you’re deficient in zinc.

Another well known supplement used by many people with RA is evening primrose oil (EPO). This contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and trials indicate that a dose of 6g (6000mg) EPO a day is helpful in relieving both pain and morning stiffness in the vast majority of users.

If you have holly or even nettles in the garden you can make a home remedy:

Holly home remedy

Make a holly leaf decoction using 2-4 tablespoonfuls of leaves. Put them into 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) cold water in a small pan, bring to a boil then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Nettles home remedy

Make a nettle infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh nettles. Put them in a teapot or other container, add 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) boiling water, cover and leave to brew for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before use.

The dosage in each case is up to 1 cup a day.

Although the other remedies recommended for general aches and pains below can also be used (in particular helichrysum), lavender essential oil blended with your favourite carrier oil is specifically recommended for massaging into painful and swollen joints.

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.

Psoriatic arthritis may benefit from adding avocado carrier oil additive to the lavender oil blend. Eating avocadoes or using avocado oil in salad dressings etc. may also be helpful.

There is also a wide range of specific remedies for arthritis, many of which I offer in my online shop.

Remedy for aching legs

Varicose veins may benefit from a home remedy made from alkanet: put 15g (half an ounce) of dried root in a small saucepan with 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, strain and allow to cool before use. Apply to the area affected and allow to dry.

If your legs ache due to muscular pain read the next section.

Remedy for aching muscles and sciatica

There are several essential oils which are good for massage blends for muscle pain, including all varieties of eucalyptus oil, lemongrass oil and rosemary oil, but the real star for this purpose is helichrysum which is perfect for any type of musculo-skeletal pain, including sciatica.

Helichrysum is very expensive to produce and therefore usually sold in a ready diluted form, but the others need to be diluted with a carrier oil before use. Add 1 drop to each 2ml of carrier oil and shake well before use.

Note that rosemary oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 6 years, or by anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy.
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.

I hope that this post has given you some insight into natural ways of dealing with general aches and pains to help you avoid just reaching for the pain killers.

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.

Vitamin D Health Benefits: The Sunshine Vitamin

Sunbathing is a well known way of "taking" vitamin D - don't overdo it, though!

Sunbathing is a well known way of “taking” vitamin D – don’t overdo it, though!

Recent studies have found that vitamin D is an important aid in the prevention of colon cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Vitamin D has long been known to be essential for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth – a lack of vitamin D causes rickets in children and osteoporosis or osteomalacia in adults.


UK Government admits supplementation with vitamin D may be necessary

In a study performed at Osteoporosis Research Center, Creighton University, Omaha, published in June 2007, researchers found that adults will use 3,000 to 5,000 units of vitamin D per day, if it is available. This is between 7 and 12 times the recommended daily intake.

A study published in March, 2007 had already shown that 60% of British adults suffer from hypovitaminosis D, and 90% have below optimal levels in Winter and Spring. The British Government finally admitted that supplementation “may be necessary” to combat rising levels of rickets (caused by Vitamin D deficiency) in the general population.


Cochrane Research has found that taking 35-50mcg (1400-2000 IU) vitamin D a day reduced the risk of severe asthma attacks requiring a hospital admission or a visit to A&E from 6% to 3%. The number of asthma attacks requiring steroid also dropped.

Another study by the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

In 2017 the TEDDY: The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young study found that low levels of vitamin D in childhood is associated with the development of Type I diabetes. The authors believe that supplementation from an early age may help to prevent Type I diabetes developing altogether.


Vitamin D may be called cholecalciferol or D3, which is found in foods of animal origin. Ergocalciferol (D2) is produced by the action of light on yeast. You may also find calcitriol (1-25 dihydroxy vitamin D, or ‘activated’ vitamin D). This form is made in the body from standard vitamin D by the liver and kidneys, so people with liver or kidney problems are not able to use vitamin D in the standard form, and would need to take this type instead (although it is likely that it will be prescribed by their doctors).

Recent research shows improved outcomes in patients taking vitamin D3. The same research showed that patients taking vitamin D2 (sourced from vegetables) actually had worse outcomes than patients who took no vitamin D supplement at all.

Sources of vitamin D

The body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so until recently the medical profession has been of the opinion that it is not necessary to supplement in most cases. Unfortunately, in areas where the weather is cool, many people do not get sufficient sunlight on the skin to provide a decent level of vitamin D in the system, at least for the most part.

“It’s not possible to make up for 50 weeks without vitamin D by taking two weeks holiday in the sun,” a nutritionist told me. “And even if it was possible, vitamin D is only stored for 60 days, meaning almost 300 days without sufficient vitamin D available.”

The problem is made worse because most city dwellers rarely see the sun during the winter months at all, while people in areas where outdoor life is the norm have taken to covering up to avoid skin cancer.

Apart from sunlight, which produces 10 micrograms (400IU) in 3 hours shining on the face during the summer (only a tenth as much in winter), other sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, kippers, mackerel, tinned salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs and milk.

What does it do?

  • lowers blood pressure
  • controls levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body
  • regulates the immune system
  • maintains healthy lung tissue
  • also used in the breasts, sex organs, the stomach, pancreas, skin, hair follicles, brain and prostate gland (each of these organs has a vitamin D receptor).

Vitamin D is also needed to make calcium and phosphates from food available to the body. The calcium is used for:

  • formation and maintenance of bones and teeth
  • regulating heart rhythm
  • strengthening muscles
  • lowering insulin resistance (one of the major factors leading to heart disease)
  • regulating cell production (and protecting against uncontrolled growth, ie. cancer)
  • by the parathyroids to regulate blood pressure by controlling calcium levels

Professor Michael Holick of Boston University School of Medicine believes that the skin’s ability to make vitamin D from sunlight was evolution’s response to the move from the calcium-rich environment of the sea onto the land, because so many systems in the body use it.

How much do you need? More than you might think

The RDA for vitamin D in Europe is 5 mcg, in the US it is 400IU, and in the UK, there is no RDA at all. 1 mcg is equal to 40IU, so the European RDA is half that of the US. However, neither comes close to the recommendations by Professor Cedric Garland and his team after their exhaustive review into studies of vitamin D between 1966 and 2004.

“We now have proof that the incidence of colon, breast and ovarian cancer can be reduced dramatically by increasing the public’s intake of vitamin D,” Professor Garland said.

He recommends a daily dose of 25mcg (1000IU). “A glass of milk, for example, has only 100IU. Other foods, such as orange juice, yoghurt and cheese are now beginning to be fortified, but you have to work fairly hard to reach 1000IU a day,” he added. “The easiest and most reliable way of getting the appropriate amount is from food and a daily supplement.”

I will refer to the study mentioned above as “the Garland study”. It was published in the December 2005 Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The authors are well respected: Cedric F. Garland, Edward D. Gorham, Sharif B. Mohr and Frank C. Garland, affiliated with the Moores Cancer Center and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UCSD School of Medicine; Martin Lipkin of Strang Cancer Prevention Center, New York; Harold L. Newmark, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey; and Michael F. Holick, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.

Reclassifying cancer, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis as deficiency diseases?

It seems that clinicians have been underestimating the body’s true requirement for vitamin D to an enormous extent, and that many disorders, including cancers, are in fact deficiency diseases. They may take a lot longer to manifest than the ‘classic’ deficiency disorders discovered around the 1900s, but this only highlights the importance of good nutrient levels throughout life, even when there are no obvious immediate benefits.

More than just your bones and teeth


  • The Garland study showed a massive reduction in the incidence of breast, ovarian and colon cancer in test participants who took 1000IU (25mcg) of vitamin D daily.
  • Professor Johan Moan of the Institute for Cancer Research, Oslo found that diagnoses of cancer made in the summer (when blood levels of vitamin D are highest) have a 50% higher survival rate when compared with winter diagnoses.
  • In a 2005 report by Oliver Gillie of Britain’s Health Research Forum (“the Gillie report”), a lack of vitamin D was linked with sixteen different cancers,
  • Studies published in the Journal of Molecular Biology in January-March 2001 and in the Journal of Andrology in January-February 2002 show a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and prostate cancer.
  • Two studies in 2000 and two in 2001 showed a link between vitamin D deficiency and colorectal cancer.

Other disorders:

  • High rates of heart disease in Scotland may be caused as much by the weak sunlight and short summers in the north, which lead to low levels of vitamin D, as by diet.
  • Peter N. Black and Robert Scragg of the University of Auckland have published a report stating that getting ample vitamin D helps people to breathe easier and more deeply. The study, published in December 2005 shows that high levels of vitamin D help to prevent COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. “We were taken aback at how large the effect was,” Professor Black said.
  • Research by Professor Michael Holick of Boston shows that topical vitamin D in the form of calcitriol can be used to treat psoriasis.
  • Studies in 2000 and 2001 show a link between vitamin D deficiency and obesity. Another, in August 2001 showed that vitamin D lowers leptin production (which is a hormone produced by fat deposits in the body).
  • Disorders which involve the immune system, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, thyroiditis, Crohn’s disease and probably others are improved by supplements of vitamin D (but not so much by eating food containing vitamin D, surprisingly). This study was carried out at the University of Alabama, Birmingham USA and published in late 2003.
  • The Gillie report found links between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes, polycystic ovary disease and dental decay.

As if all this weren’t enough, there’s more:

Nervous system:

  • The Gillie report also showed deficiency may be a contributory factor in several diseases of the nervous system including schizophrenia, as well as multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure.
  • Professor Rebecca Mason of Sydney University has discovered that vitamin D deficiency can lead to a lack of co-ordination and balance – so that an elderly person deficient in vitamin D is more likely to fall over, and as their bones will also be brittle (because vitamin D deficiency causes bone loss), they are also more likely to suffer a broken bone as a result.
  • In 2002, the New Scientist published research which suggests that lack of sunlight (and hence vitamin D) during pregnancy greatly increases the child’s risk of developing schizophrenia in later life. This research was endorsed by the Queensland Centre of Schizophrenia Research, Brisbane, Australia.
  • A 1999 study by Alam W. Hollis showed that vitamin D supplementation was a better treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder than light boxes.
  • The November 2000 edition of the Proceeds of the Nutrition Society contains a study by CE Hayes showing that Vitamin D is a natural inhibitor of multiple sclerosis. Another study, published by Kassandra Munger of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston in 2004, confirms this link.

Absolutely incredible stuff, which has led many scientists to state that vitamin D is more than just a vitamin, it’s a hormone. Thankfully, you can still get it without prescription.

Who needs it?

These people are most likely to be vitamin D deficient (though it isn’t an exhaustive list):

Who Why
vegetarians, especially vegans almost all good dietary sources are animal products
the elderly the body’s ability to metabolise vitamin D is much reduced
people with kidney or liver problems both organs are needed to make the form used by the body, calcitriol
obese patients vitamin D may be trapped (because it is fat-soluble), rather than being available for use
anyone who doesn’t spend much time in the sun, or who wears sunscreen or covers up whenever they’re outdoors screening the skin from UV light prevents vitamin D production by the body
dark-skinned people the skin pigment reduces vitamin D production in a similar way to sunscreen
anyone taking steroids on a regular basis steroids inhibit the calcium metabolism
anybody who lives in countries North of latitude 35ºN or South of latitude 35ºS – and during the Winter months, anybody who lives in countries North of latitude 50ºN (this includes the whole of the UK) or South of latitude 50ºS sunlight levels are too weak

It’s important to prevent deficiency in pregnant and nursing mothers

  • As mentioned above, low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are linked with a much increased risk of schizophrenia in the child.
  • Breast milk often contains less vitamin D than bottle feeding milk (perhaps the only nutritional advantage of bottle feeding).

“1000IU dose is safe,” says UK Food Standards Agency

Although the dose recommended in the Garland study (25mcg or 1000IU) may seem high, the UK Food Standards Agency has said that taking a vitamin D supplement of 1,000IU a day is “unlikely to cause harm”.

Clinicians recommend that the daily dose should not exceed 5,000IU (125 mcg). That’s five times the quantity recommended here. Even so, you should know that exceeding this dosage for an extended length of time can lead to thirst, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness and abdominal pain.

Where can I get it?

I offer vitamin D3 1,000iu (this is the type of vitamin D which is most easily absorbed by the body) in my online shop.

Cinnamon health benefits: super spice, but not superfood

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon, the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree (syn. Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Laurus cinnamomum), is a spice used for many centuries throughout the world – originally only by royalty, due to the price. The origin was kept secret from the West until the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders landed in Sri Lanka.

Although cinnamon trees are grown commercially in many parts of the East, even as recently as 2006 90% of the production of cinnamon was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Obviously, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas with a similar climate, you won’t be growing your own cinnamon tree. But you can still use it by purchasing good quality cinnamon, which is easy to tell from the inferior cassia if you buy it in “quills” rather than ground (see picture left). It keeps better like this as well.

If you do live in a cinnamon-producing area, you are still probably better off purchasing rather than growing your own, which involves coppicing cinnamon trees, removing the bark from the resulting branches, immediately discarding the outer bark and drying the inner, which rolls up as it dries to form the characteristic quills.

Edit: I just came across this YouTube video on Reddit, which seems to demonstrate beyond any doubt that cinnamon works as an effective ant-repellent.

Don’t believe propaganda that says a teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries or a whole cup of pomegranate juice. This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I researched the actual nutrient content of each. I’m afraid that you still have to eat those blueberries or drink that pomegranate juice. Cinnamon does contain quite a lot of nutrients, for sure, in particular manganese, calcium and iron, but a teaspoonful a day is not going to fulfil your antioxidant requirements, or go anywhere near doing that, sorry.

Having shot that fox, there is strong research evidence that cinnamon is very helpful to people suffering from diabetes – as little as a half teaspoonful a day lowers blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride in Type 2 diabetics not taking insulin. Other studies show the same quantity can lower LDL cholesterol in the general population.

Cancer patients would also do well to supplement with cinnamon: studies have shown that it is active against colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. In my view, it’s worth supplementing with cinnamon whatever type of cancer you may have, given the broad spread represented by the ones researched so far.

Copenhagen researchers gave arthritis patients a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey for breakfast every day, and within a week, their pain was significantly reduced – after a month they could walk without pain.

It’s also prescribed in Germany for appetite loss and indigestion.

Other conditions which are helped by cinnamon include COPD, poor circulation in hands and feet, all kinds of digestive disorders including infantile diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, athlete’s foot and medication-resistant yeast infections.

For athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections you can use a wash – make a standard infusion using a half teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to cool before use. For other purposes, you can add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to honey (like the Danish study did), or you could just chew the powder and swallow it (as Chinese herbalists often recommend), or make a standard infusion and drink it (hot or cold). Another method would be to obtain empty capsules from a herbal supplier and fill each one with a quarter or half teaspoon of cinnamon so that you can take one or two in the morning or at night along with your regular supplementation. There are also ready made cinnamon capsules available, see below.

I offer powdered cinnamon, cinnamon bark and cinnamon bark 350mg capsules in my online shop.


There are two types of cinnamon essential oil: bark oil, which is toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy under any circumstances, and leaf oil which can be used diluted with carrier oil for skin infections and as a stimulant to increase blood flow and sexual appetite. Do a patch test before using on the skin and use in moderation. It can also be used neat (wear gloves) to kill mosquitoes and their larvae, and in an oil burner as a room freshener and mosquito repellent. Even the leaf oil is irritant and should be avoided during pregnancy. Never use internally, even in cooking.

As with all essential oils, cinnamon 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.

Greater Celandine health benefits: for corns and cancer

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, is also known as chelidonium, garden celandine, great celandine, nipplewort, swallow wort, tetterwort or just celandine, and bai qu cai in Chinese herbalism. It is not closely related to the lesser celandine, in fact it is closer to bloodroot (with which it shares the alternative name tetterwort). It’s also not related to the common milkweed (also called swallow-wort) or pleurisy root (aka orange or silky swallow-wort).

In comparison with its smaller namesake, greater celandine is quite a large plant, reaching 20 inches (a half meter) in height and spreading over an area of about 16 inches (40cm). It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial happy in any soil, and will grow anywhere from full sun to deep woodland so long as the soil is moist. However, this versatility makes it an agressive invader which is difficult to eradicate once established. The best way to control it is to pull plants up before seeds start to ripen around July. As it’s also a common weed for the same reason, you may prefer to gather plants from the wild, taking care to avoid areas close to heavy traffic.

For herbal use, harvest leaves just as they come into flower, for use fresh or dried. Roots should be lifted in fall and dried before use. Latex (sap) needs to be collected from freshly cut stems at the time it is needed.

Greater celandine is mildly poisonous and should not be used at doses or in quantities greater than those stated here. The latex may cause allergic reaction or paralysis, and should therefore only be used externally and with caution. Greater celandine is not suitable for use during pregnancy. A side effect of taking greater celandine is that the urine turns bright yellow, but this is nothing to worry about.

To make a standard infusion use 1 level teaspoon of chopped root or leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allowing to stand for 30 minutes before straining off and discarding the herb. This is taken cold at a dosage of no more than a half cup (125ml, 4 fl oz) a day.

The infusion is used internally for arthritis and rheumatism, asthma, skin cancer and stomach cancer, bronchitis and other coughs, inflammation of the gall bladder and bile duct, gout and hepatitis (jaundice). The bright orange latex should be mixed with vinegar before using it externally for corns, psoriasis, ringworm, warts and cancerous tumors – treat no more than 3 warts or small areas at one time, applying the lotion no more than 2-3 times a day.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, greater celandine should be grown organically to avoid corrupting its essential constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

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).

Ashwagandha health benefits: for infertility, impotence and premature ageing

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is also called Winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is not related to Chinese or American ginseng. It is the premier sacred Ayurvedic herb of Hinduism.

A native of Asia and Africa, it is also found growing wild in Southern Europe though it is best known for its medicinal properties in India, where it is as well regarded as ginseng in China.

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 3 feet (1m) but is not hardy, only able to withstand temperatures down to about freezing point.  In temperate areas, it should be grown as an annual or as a subject for the conservatory (though the roots will require a deep pot). It is a member of the same family as the potato, tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper, which also includes deadly nightshade. Do not eat any part of the plant.

Harvest the roots in fall, pare off the bark (discard the inner part )  and dry for later use by laying out in a single layer and placing it somewhere cool, dry and out of the sun. Check after a couple of days, and if not completely dry, turn over. Store in an airtight jar somewhere cool and dark.

Caution: do not use in large amounts. Toxic if eaten. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

To make a decoction, use about a teaspoonful of root bark to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then strain off and discard the herb. Use a dose of up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Ashwagandha is a natural tranquillizer because of its strong sedative effect, used to treat chronic fatigue, debility, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It is a very good adaptogen (tonic) particularly effective for reproductive problems (impotence, infertility, spermatorrhea, and also for difficulties arising from birth or miscarriage) and is also used for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, bone weakness, constipation, failure to thrive in children, loose teeth, memory loss,  multiple sclerosis, premature ageing, muscle weakness, rheumatism, senility, tension, tumors, wasting diseases and to aid recovery after illness. The most important use is to increase the amount of hormones secreted by the thyroid, and it can also be used to support the adrenals.

Update: A long term study is currently underway in Kolar, India. Led by Dr. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chair of the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Neuroscience, it follows tests in mice which showed a reduction in amyloid plaques in the brain accompanied by memory improvement in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease and given ashwagandha.

As with all herbs used medicinally, it’s important to grow ashwagandha organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Grapefruit, Lime and Mandarin essential oils, benefits and uses

Clockwise from 12 o'clock: Grapefruit, Mandarin, Lime

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Grapefruit, Mandarin, Lime

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

The last three citrus essential oils are grapefruit, lime and mandarin (see picture right). There’s also red mandarin, which is used in the same ways as mandarin. I’m sure you’re familiar with grapefruits and limes from the local market. Mandarin is the name used in aromatherapy for the type of easy-peel orange you used to get only around Christmas time.

Grapefruit essential oil
This is extracted from the outer skin of Citrus x paradisi. The X means it is a hybrid – between the pomelo and the sweet orange. As both parents are sweet, the result is unexpectedly bitter, not that this has any relevance to its therapeutic value.

Grapefruit is energizing and is used mainly to treat psychological conditions such as bitterness, confusion, depression, despondency, envy, frustration, indecisiveness, jealousy, nervous exhaustion, performance stress, procrastination, worry about the past and to aid clarity of mind, but is also used for chills, colds and flu and to treat cellulitis, headaches, obesity, water retention and as a sports aid for use before exercise, and afterwards to treat stiffness and muscle fatigue.

Grapefruit essential oil is not suitable for use with children under five years old.

Phototoxic: don’t use on skin that will be exposed to the sun or tanning beds in the following 48 hours.

I offer grapefruit essential oil and organic grapefruit essential oil in my online shop.

Lime essential oil
This oil is extracted from the outer peel of unripe fruit of Citrus aurantifolia. This tropical tree is not related to the Common Lime or Linden found in many parks and alongside highways.

Lime essential oil is uplifting and energizing and is used like lemon oil: undiluted to treat boils, herpes (cold sores), warts and plantar warts (verrucas), and diluted for skin care, especially for oily skin, to tone and condition nails, and for bleaching discolored areas of skin.

Use at a 1% dilution as a massage oil to treat acne, anemia, arthritis, cellulitis and skin blemishes such as spots.

You can also use lime essential oil in a diffuser or add up to 3 drops to the bath to help clear up respiratory infections like colds and flu.

Phototoxic: don’t use on skin that will be exposed to the sun or tanning beds in the following 48 hours.

I offer lime essential oil and distilled lime essential oil in my online shop.

Mandarin and Red Mandarin essential oils
Mandarin is extracted from the outer skin of Citrus reticulata while red mandarin comes from Citrus nobilis. Both are used for the same purposes. Mandarin is also sometimes called Tangerine essential oil.

Mandarins/tangerines used to be a special treat looked forward to around Christmas each year, but are now available all year round under the name satsuma. The clementine is a variety of the same tree whose fruit has a tougher skin.

Mandarin essential oil is known as the children’s remedy in France and is useful for treating children and pregnant people with digestive disorders such as hiccups, gripes and indigestion as well as sleep difficulties and restlessness. Other uses include general skin care for oily skin, and as a treatment for acne and other blemishes, stretch marks, fluid retention and obesity.

Mandarin essential oil is generally regarded as not phototoxic. However, it’s probably wise to take some care about sun bathing or tanning beds within 48 hours of use.

I offer mandarin (tangerine) essential oil and red mandarin essential oil in my online shop.

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.

Lemon essential oil, benefits and uses

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Lemon oil is extracted from the zest of the lemon

Lemon oil is extracted from the zest of the lemon

Lemon essential oil is sometimes called cedro oil, though you should be careful if buying oil with this name, as it’s also used for a type of cedar. It is extracted from the zest of the lemon by cold pressing or steam distillation.

Like other citrus oils, lemon is photo-sensitizing, and anyone using it on exposed skin should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun or use of tanning beds for 48 hours after use.

Lemon is a good choice for inclusion in a starter kit, because it can be used neat (undiluted) without any worries. In fact, one of the main uses of lemon oil is to treat boils, herpes (cold sores), warts and plantar warts (verrucas), for which it is always applied directly to the area to be treated in undiluted form.

As with all essential oils, lemon 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.

Lemon is highly regarded for skin care, particularly for oily skin, and is also used to tone and condition nails, and to bleach discolored areas of skin.

Use at a 1% dilution as a massage oil to treat acne, anemia, arthritis, cellulitis and skin blemishes such as spots.

You can also use it in a diffuser or add up to 3 drops to the bath to help clear up respiratory infections like colds and flu (a drink of lemon juice or home made lemonade would also be helpful for this, as lemons are high in vitamin C, which helps to ward off infection).

Lemon oil blends well with almost all other aromatherapy oils and is a natural disinfectant.

I offer lemon essential oil and organic lemon essential oil in my online shop.