Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use during pregnancy.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint 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.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

(A video containing the main points outlined here is available here)

The thyme I am talking about here is Thymus vulgaris, the common or garden thyme. It’s a low growing, fairly tough plant that likes a sunny situation. It comes in the standard green leafed and also in variegated forms, which some people consider to be more attractive, but the important thyme oil (which is the source of all thyme’s goodness) is found in both.

Thyme is closely related to lemon thyme, but not to basil thyme.

Remember that if you want to use thyme medicinally it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

Like most herbs, once it is established, it doesn’t like to be moved, although you will probably get away with it if you are moving it to a new position it likes. You will have to water it regularly in dry spells until it starts to put on new growth, showing that the roots have got over the shock of the move. Unless your area suffers from extremely cold winters, it should be perfectly happy to let you pick a few sprigs all year round, although if you want to get the highest concentration of oil, you should harvest as much as you can just before the flowers open.

Thyme is one of those herbs that begs to be touched. Get down close to it and crush a few leaves to savor its rich meaty fragrance. It’s easy to see why it makes such a good herb for meat dishes, particularly beef. You can even use it instead of oregano or marjoram in Italian food, if you like. The fresh herb is so rich, you may prefer to dry it by hanging it up in bunches somewhere with a good air flow and not too humid for culinary use, after which you should strip the leaves off the branches and store them in an airtight jar.

Fresh or dried thyme makes an unusual and tasty tea – use about 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves, or half as much of the dried ones per cup. Make it in a pot and allow the herb to steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before straining it into a cup. You can add a little honey to sweeten it, if you like. Herbal teas are generally not served with milk. (If you are pregnant, please see note below).

Medicinal uses for Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herbal medicine for digestive and respiratory disorders, it’s an anti-fungal, is useful for treating infections (both viral and bacterial), is antiseptic, expectorant, and can be used as a general tonic.

Before you read further it’s important for you to know that thyme should not be used in large amounts, for example for tea or as a herbal remedy, during pregnancy. A little bit used in cooking will do no harm, but for medicinal purposes, you will be using rather more than a pinch.

To make a standard infusion, put 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried into a pot and add 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes and strain into a cup. The infusion does not have to be drunk all in one go, but can be sipped slowly over an hour or so. It can be used hot or cold (probably cold would be best for gargling or as a mouthwash, and hot would be helpful for coughs and catarrh).

Taken internally the standard infusion is very helpful for respiratory complaints, specifically for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis and other coughs, and laryingitis. It may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, etc and as a mouthwash for bad breath and/or gum disease (gingivitis).

The same infusion is also helpful in cases of indigestion, diarrhea and gastritis, and is good for chills, as it has a warming effect. It can also be used externally as a wash for fungal infections, and can be used to make a warm compress for sore throats and tonsillitis. A compress is a clean cloth which is soaked in the infusion and then applied to the area. For a warm compress, the infusion should cool a little before use.

A steam inhalation is helpful in cases of tonsillitis, catarrh and general infections, also to help relieve muscle fatigue for ME sufferers. You can either use a few drops of the essential oil (bought in) or a good handful of fresh herb. Put the oil or crushed herb into a big flat bowl of boiling water and lean over it, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel to help keep the steam in. Another way is to have a hot steamy bath with the oil or herbs added to the water. In this case, put the herbs inside a muslin bag or similar, so that you don’t get covered in little bits of it.

Thymol, the pink mouthwash used by dentists, was originally made from thyme. To make a mouthwash for general use, make a half-strength infusion (2 tsp fresh leaves or 1 tsp dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water), leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, strain and use cold – the whole cupful, one mouthful at a time.

To make a poultice using fresh herbs, you just process them in a food processor to make a pulp. For dried herbs, you need to add hot water and process to a similar state. Wrap the herbs in a piece of gauze and apply to the area. Ideally, this should be as hot as you can bear, so if you’re using fresh herbs, dip the poultice in a bowl of hot water before applying. You can keep refreshing it with the hot water and re-applying it to the area being treated when it cools down too much.

Aromatherapy

For those with children at school, a bottle of dilute thyme oil (add a few drops to a bottle of sweet almond oil) in the cupboard can be used to deter headlice (cooties) – just comb a few drops of the mixture through the hair night and morning. An attack of ringworm (tinea) can be treated with thyme cream applied 3-4 times a day to the affected area. Thyme essential oil is very strong and should not be used apart from the two purposes outlined in this post except by a professional aromatherapist.

I offer various thyme products including essential oil in my online shop.

Like all plants grown for medicinal use, thyme should be grown organically to avoid nasty chemicals ending up in your remedies. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic thyme.


Thorn Apple health benefits: for asthma and Parkinson’s disease

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium syn. D. inermis, D.s. var. chalybea, D.s. var. tatula and D. tatula) is also known as angel’s trumpet, devil’s trumpet, false castor oil, jimson/jamestown weed, man tuo luo, moonflower and purple thorn apple. It is not related to the castor oil plant or other plants called moonflower (all of which are in different families, both to it and to each other). It is in the same family as ashwagandha and deadly nightshade.

Description

It’s a half-hardy annual which can reach a height of 1.5m (4’6″) and spread of 1m (3′) in a single season! It prefers full sun and well drained soil, but it has a very strong unpleasant smell, so it’s best to put it somewhere away from the house and any garden seating areas.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow 3 seeds to a pot in early Spring under cover, and thin to the strongest one. Plant out in late Spring/early Summer leaving space to develop, so at least 1m (3′) apart. Harvest leaves when the plant is in full flower and dry for later use.

Cultivation is restricted as a noxious weed in several US states and certain other countries. Use of this plant is illegal in some countries — check local laws. Keep away from Solanaceae crops (eg. tomato, eggplant/aubergine, sweet pepper, chilli pepper, potato).

Contra-indications and warnings

NB: All parts of this plant are very poisonous. Only suitable for use by registered medical practitioners.

Medicinal uses

Thorn apple is used internally for asthma, fever from inflammations, pain from intestinal parasites, Parkinson’s disease, and externally for abscesses, dandruff, fistulas and severe neuralgia. Use with extreme caution and only if alternative remedies are not available.

Aromatherapy

Not used.

Final Notes

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Scots Pine health benefits: for respiratory conditions

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris syn. P. rubra, is a tall tree which is unsuitable for all but the largest garden, reaching a height and spread of 30mx10m (82ft x 32ft). Despite its name, it is native across Europe and Eastern Asia from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and parts of the old USSR to Turkey, and from France and Spain to Finland. Even so, the only name by which it is known in English is Scots pine (sometimes “Scotch” pine, but we won’t say any more about that).

Scots pine grows best in cool areas on light to medium well drained soil. It grows well on poor soil and is not fussy about pH, growing happily in both very acid and very alkaline soil, but it does not like calcareous (chalky or limey) soils.

Various medicinal products made from Scots pine are available to buy which is generally a good thing as, due to the height of the tree, collection by non-professionals is not recommended. Needles, pollen and young shoots are collected in Spring and dried for medicinal use. Seeds are collected when ripe. The resin is extracted either by tapping or by distillation of the wood and further processed to produce turpentine.

Scots pine should not be used by anyone with a history of allergic skin reactions.

Pine pollen is sold as a men’s tonic, as it contains some testosterone, but this is only present in very small quantities and is unlikely to have anything more than a placebo effect. The turpentine is used in remedies for kidney and bladder disorders, and for respiratory complaints. Externally it is used as an inhaler for respiratory disorders. Shoots and needles can be added to bath water to help with insomnia and nervous exhaustion. Remedies made from them are used for chest infections. A decoction of seeds is used as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

Aromatherapy
As with remedies, Scots pine essential oils should not be used by anyone prone to allergic skin conditions. Never use Scots pine internally except under professional supervision.

Two types of essential oil are available: from the seeds and from the needles. Both require dilution at a rate of 10 drops essential oil to 1 ounce (30ml) carrier oil. Essential oil from seeds is used as a diuretic and to stimulate respiration. Essential oil from needles is used for respiratory infections, asthma, bronchitis and also for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer Scots pine essential oil from needles in my online shop.

There is also a pine Bach Flower Remedy used for feelings of guilt and self-blame.

As stated, I don’t advise growing Scots pine in the average garden, or doing your own collection unless you’re a skilled climber with all the appropriate kit. Scots pine does not generally need much looking after, and doesn’t need to be given chemical fertiliser. In particular, organic growing methods are essential if you’re collecting for medicinal use, to avoid adulteration with noxious chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Plantain health benefits: for wounds and bronchitis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain is a well known weed

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

Plantain is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ravensara and Ravintsara essential oils, benefits and uses

Cinnamomum camphora trees in Madagascar produce ravintsara essential oil

Cinnamomum camphora trees in Madagascar produce ravintsara essential oil

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

There are a number of potential sources of confusion in the aromatherapy pharmocopeia, but one that really stands out as an ongoing problem is the distinction between ravensara and ravintsara.

At first glance, you would most likely assume that ravintsara is just an alternative spelling for ravensara, or vice versa. It’s obvious from some of the information online about these two oils that this assumption has resulted in the wrong descriptions of uses in certain places, so there’s no need to be ashamed if you’re one of those that has fallen into this trap. I freely admit that I originally believed the same thing. But it’s not true.

As with all essential oils, neither ravensara essential oil nor ravintsara essential oil 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’ve always advised that anyone using essential oils or herbs for medicinal purposes should pay more attention to the scientific or Latin name than to the English one. Different places have common names for particular herbs and plants that may be used for a completely different species elsewhere. Oils are extracted from these plants, and it’s not surprising of they end up being labeled with the common name local to the place where the oil was extracted. This case is just one example of the difficulties that can arise when the common, rather than the scientific name is used for identification.

So let’s try and clear this up.

Ravensara

A botanical illustration from 1829

Ravensara essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from the leaf of Cryptocarya agathophylla (syn. Agathophyllum aromaticum, Ravensara aromatica and R. anisata). It is also sometimes called clove nutmeg oil. Another essential oil, Havozo, is extracted from the bark of the same plant.

Ravensara essential oil is not often used, as most of the oil bearing this English name is in fact ravintsara. However, Nature’s Gift recommends it for treating shingles, herpes and other viral infections, either topically or in a diffuser. It is often used with calophyllum for external use.

I offer Ravensara essential oil in my online shop.

Ravintsara essential oil is an extract of Cinnamomum camphora– but only from trees grown in Madagascar. The scientific name on the label must say “Cinnamomum camphora ct. 1,8-cineole” to indicate it is the correct extract. If you find a Cinnamomum camphora oil which does not have “ct. 1,8-cineole” on the label, then it is some type of Camphor or Ho oil, which is toxic and not to be used under any circumstances.

Ravintsara is best used to ease breathing in asthmacoughs (including whooping cough), colds and other respiratory problems.


Apricot health benefits: help prevent Macular Degeneration (AMD/ARMD)

Apricots are attractive trees

Apricots are attractive trees

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The apricot, Prunus armeniaca syn. Amygdalus armeniaca, Armeniaca ansu, Armeniaca vulgaris and Prunus ansu, really has no other English names, although there are a few varieties: the Tibetan apricot (P.a. var armeniaca) and the ansu apricot (P.a. var ansu). The regular apricot is also sometimes called the Siberian apricot. It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tibet but cultivated almost all over the world.

Some people believe that the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve was actually an apricot. The original Hebrew word means “fragrant fruit”, and since apples are not native to Israel, whereas apricots are, it is at least possible that apricots were the forbidden fruit. It also has to be said that a good apricot definitely tastes good enough to be sinful.

Apricots are closely related to almonds, plums and peaches.

The apricot is a deciduous tree which reaches a height of around 30 feet (9m). It does not like heavy clay, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade.

Apricots are amazingly versatile. The fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked or made into juice or jam/jelly, and dried apricots are available in most good food stores. Canned apricots are also sometimes offered, though in my experience these are not as readily found as they once were. The fresh fruit is sometimes used in green salad or you can add slices of apricot to your morning cereal. Dried apricots make a good snack. When chopped they make a great addition to muesli and can also be used in Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Note: dried apricots are often treated with sulphur dioxide as an aid to preservation. Unfortunately, even though only 1% of the general population and 5% of asthmatics get an obvious bad reaction to this chemical, it’s not very good for you. If you can’t find any information on the pack, I’d advise you to stick to certified organic dried apricots, as the organic code does not permit the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ll probably be brown rather than bright orange. This is a good sign, though they may look a little odd until you are used to them.

Alternatively, you can dry apricots at home. This article on eHow gives excellent instructions on how to do this.

Standard infusion: 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, strain off and discard flowers before drinking. Dose: 1 cup a day, sipped slowly warm or cold.

Decoction: 15g (a half ounce) shredded bark to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and continue heating until liquid is reduced by half.

An infusion of apricot flowers can be used as a tonic.

A decoction of apricot bark can be used to soothe irritated or inflamed skin.

Apricot fruits contain xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), so eating them regularly will help to protect you against age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) and may also slow the development of this disease (other helpful foods include green leafy veg like kale, spinach and turnip greens, canned peas and corn). They are useful as a mild laxative and are also very nutritious. Just three apricots (about 100 grams or 1½ ounces) contain 64% of required daily vitamin A intake, 16% of required vitamin C and almost twice the required beta-carotene for an adult, plus an ORAC value of 1115 umol, which is at least one fifth of the daily recommended antioxidant intake – and all this for a calorie cost of only 50! Many other nutrients are present in smaller quantities. For the full list see the table at nutrition-and-you.com.

If you remove the flesh and crack open the stone in the middle, the nut-like kernel (called xing ren in Chinese herbalism) can be used to lower high temperatures (antipyretic), aid breathing, particularly in asthmatics, as an expectorant and cough reliever and to treat internal parasites.

Apricot kernels have also received a lot of attention as a cancer cure, because they contain large quantities of amygdalin (sometimes called laetrile or vitamin B17 – although strictly speaking, it isn’t a vitamin). This is a revival of an old experiment, abandoned in 1892 because it was not only ineffective but also highly toxic! According to Cancer Research UK: “If simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us.”

When amygdalin breaks down in the gut, it produces cyanide, which as most people know is absolutely deadly in quite small amounts. For this reason, the US Government and UK Food Standards Authority recommend that no more than two apricot kernels are eaten a day (although sites offering them for sale say 6-10 a day is the right amount, thus increasing potential profit by 300-500%). Personally, I would go with the authorities on this one! There have been some quite nasty health problems reported in people who had been snacking on them ad lib.

On the other hand, cooked apricot kernels lose much of their toxicity, so snacking on amaretti cookies (the main ingredient of which is ground apricot kernels) or the occasional nip of Amaretto liqueur will probably not do you any harm.

I offer many apricot products including organic dried apricots in my online shop.

If you grow an apricot tree which you wish to use for medicinal purposes, use organic methods to avoid contaminating the crop with foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Apricot kernel oil is used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive recommended for dehydrated and mature skin.


Liquorice (Licorice) health benefits: for peptic, duodenal and mouth ulcers

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Liquorice or licorice in the USA, Glycyrrhiza glabra (a subspecies, Glycyrrhiza glandulifera or Glycyrrhiza glabra var. glandulifera is grown in Russia), is well known to everybody as a common sweet or candy, though you can’t guarantee that all liquorice candies actually have very much liquorice in them. Liquorice is not related to anise hyssop (sometimes called liquorice mint).

When I was a kid, we used to buy sticks of liquorice root in the local sweet shop, and chew them, discarding the woody fibers once the taste was all gone. They lasted for a very long time, partly I suppose, because we couldn’t do a whole stick at once, unless we wanted to experience one of the most well known results of eating liquorice – diarrhea! There are other far more serious possible consequences of an overdose, see below.

Though you’d never guess to look at it, liquorice is a member of the same family as peas, beans and lentils, which means that in areas where the appropriate soil organisms are present, it should fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making the soil richer as a result. Of course, if you’re going to use it, digging it up will probably remove most of this bounty.

Not a particularly stunning plant, but as the part used is the root, there’s no reason why you can’t tuck it away somewhere out of the limelight until it’s time to dig it up.

Liquorice is a perennial which reaches a height of 4′ (1.2m) and spreads over an area of about 3′ (1m). It needs fertile, moist but well drained soil on the sandy side, and prefers alkaline soil.

Pick off the flowers as they occur for the biggest crop of roots.

It takes 4 years to produce a quantity of roots worth digging, but as well as growing from seed you can propagate new plants from root cuttings (each of which needs to have at least one growth bud). These should be brought on in pots in a cold frame until growing away well, then transplanted to their permanent positions in Spring.

Liquorice can be invasive once established.

Although it is possible to grow this plant, given the length of time required before you can harvest it, it’s probably easier to buy liquorice root from a health store (see below). So far as I know, sweet shops no longer sell it.

Liquorice can be used as a flavoring and/or sweetener, and the leaves are used as a tea substitute in Mongolia. The root fibers can apparently be used for making wallboards and similar products!

Liquorice is not suitable for use during pregnancy (because it has a hormonal effect), by anyone suffering from high blood pressure or kidney disease, or anyone currently using digoxin-based medication. Take care not to exceed the stated dose (or eat too many liquorice candies). A large overdose can cause edema, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed root to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water in a non-metallic pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating for 10-15 minutes, strain off root and use the liquid hot or cold. Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Liquorice is a soothing herb and powerfully anti-inflammatory. In Japan, it is prescribed to control chronic viral hepatitis, and there is research evidence to show its effectiveness to protect the liver in mice. It inhibits Helicobacter pylori, which makes it a useful aid in the treatment of both duodenal ulcers and peptic ulcers. It is also antispasmodic, tonic, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. Mainly used in herbal medicine to treat coughs and other bronchial conditions including asthma and bronchitis, it is also useful for allergic complaints, to help the body recover from steroid treatments, treat urinary tract infections, bladder and kidney complaints and stomach problems. As already mentioned, it’s also a pretty good laxative. It is also sometimes used to treat Addison’s disease. Externally, a root decoction can be used to treat herpes, eczema and shingles. Use as a mouthwash to treat canker sores (mouth ulcers).

Liquorice is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer a selection of liquorice products in my online shop.

If you decide to grow your own liquorice, follow the rules of organic gardening. Since the part used is the root, this is especially important to avoid foreign chemicals ending up in your remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


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

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

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

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

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

Frankincense is distantly related to Elemi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Maidenhair Fern health benefits: for hair loss, coughs and colds

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

There are several maidenhair ferns. The one known in Britain by this name is Adiantum capillus-veneris. It is also called avenca (a name also used for the Northern maidenhair and the fan maidenhair), black maidenhair fern, ladies’ hair, Southern maidenhair, Venus maidenhair and Venus’ hair fern. It is a true fern, even though it bears little resemblance to ferns like bracken. It is not related to ginkgo, sometimes called the maidenhair tree because of a superficial resemblance of the leaves.

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum, is also sometimes called the five-fingered fern or rock fern. It’s a much more familiar fernlike shape, as can be seen from the second picture.

The fan maidenhair, Adiantum tenerum, is also called the brittle maidenhair and has leaflets which are very roughly diamond or fan-shaped, quite similar to the black maidenhair, but lighter in colour.

There are many other maidenhair ferns in the genus Adiantum, but the one covered in this post is the black maidenhair fern (top), which is the most useful from a medicinal viewpoint and will be referred to simply as maidenhair fern from now on. It is a small plant, and slow growing, and reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) or a little more, though individual fronds can reach a length of 50cm (20″). These have been used as a garnish for sweet food, and also dried for tea.

Maidenhair fern is found growing wild across many continents, including North and South America, Africa, south eastern Europe and the Ukraine, Nepal and Turkey. Though not listed as a habitat in GRIN Taxonomy, it’s also found in Britain and many other warm temperate and tropical places, including Australia. It likes to grow on cliffs, rocks or in rocky crevices, often by the sea. It requires a semi-shady position and well drained neutral to alkaline soil.

Maidenhair fern is not frost tolerant and prefers a humid atmosphere, but it is often grown as a houseplant. If you choose to do this, stand the pot on a tray of shingle or large gravel, which you can keep topped up with water to provide the humidity it requires.

Both leaves (fronds) and roots (rhizomes) are used. Leaves are best used fresh, but can be dried for later use.

Many ferns contain toxic substances, but there is no record of toxicity relating to the maidenhair fern. However, due to the family history, it may be best for anyone suffering from a life-threatening condition to avoid using it. It is in any case not suitable for use during pregnancy. However, maidenhair fern is one of the oldest recorded herbal remedies, and it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t have noticed if there was a problem, given that it has been used across the planet for thousands of years and is still used in many places today, though rarely in modern Western herbalism.

To make a standard infusion, put 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried into a warmed pot. Pour over about 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Put the lid on and stand for at least 10 minutes up to 4 hours. Strain before use.

To make a decoction, use about 15 grams (a half ounce) of grated rhizome to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain before use.

To make a poultice, crush the herb to a paste, adding hot water if necessary. To make the necessary pulp, you can add flour, cornflour or bread, mixing well so that the herbs are evenly distributed. Moisten a bandage in hot water and wring out, then spread the surface with the pulp and apply this to the area to be treated.

The fresh or dried leafy fronds are antibacterial, anticandidal, antidandruff, anti-fertility, antitussive, antiviral, astringent, contraceptive, demulcent, depurative, diuretic, emetic, weakly emmenagogue, emollient, weakly expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycemic, laxative, pectoral, refrigerant, stimulant, sudorific and tonic.

Research in the 1980s found an anti-fertility (contraceptive) effect in rats; an extract prevented implantation, and thus conception. A 1989 study in Iraq showed that maidenhair fern is effective against E. coli, Staphylococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas and Candida. A French study demonstrated its antiviral properties atainst Vesicular stomatitis. A study in Belgium in 1993 confirmed earlier research which showed that a water extract had an anti-hyperglycemic effect (lowered blood sugar levels).

The tea or syrup is used across the world as a soothing expectorant to treat bronchitis and respiratory disorders in general including colds and asthma. Another use which seems almost universal is as a treatment for hair loss (alopecia) and dandruff. Throat conditions such as laryngitis are also treated with maidenhair fern in many places. It is also used to promote or regulate menstruation, and in Brazil, as a childbirth aid.

A decoction is used in the Peruvian Andes for alopecia, gallstones, and jaundice.

Externally, it is used as a poultice on boils, bee stings, eczema, snake bites, and wounds. A paste made from the leaves is used in Nepal to treat headaches and chest pains by applying it directly to the area; a poultice would seem to be the easiest way to achieve this to avoid a potential mess!

As usual (even though you probably won’t be growing it yourself), if you do have the facilities and decide to grow this plant, avoid chemicals and other non-organic methods, so you can ensure that your remedy is not contaminated. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.