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.


Cloves health benefits: for toothache, bad breath and morning sickness

Even after years stored in an airtight container, cloves still work on toothache!

Even after years stored in an airtight container, cloves still work on toothache!

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cloves, from the clove tree Syzygium aromaticum (syn. Caryophyllus aromaticus, Eugenia aromitica, E. caryophyllata and E. caryophyllus), don’t really have any other names in English. They are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tropical tree which reaches a height of up to 12 metres, and is not really suitable for growing in any garden, even in the tropics, unless it is particularly large. However, they are easy to find in food stores in the spice section.

People who suffer from dermatitis of the hands should avoid prolonged or frequent handling without gloves.

To make a standard infusion use 2 tsp whole cloves or 1-1½ teaspoons (3-5g) powdered cloves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allow to stand for 10 minutes, strain off whole cloves and drink (if used hot) or allow to cool before use. Take 1 cup up to 3 times a day.

Research has shown that cloves have antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antispasmodic properties. They can be used both internally and externally.

Internal use

In Ayurvedic medicine they are used extensively under the name Lavanga to improve appetite, promote digestion, and as a treatment for hyperacidity (in particular using a preparation called Avipattikara curna), flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), nausea, vomiting and as a mild anti-colic and anti-diarrheal remedy. An infusion is used to relieve indigestion. Another first aid remedy recommended for acidity is to suck a clove. A cold infusion is used to control nausea and vomiting, including morning sickness during pregnancy, where it’s often mixed with pomegranate juice. Another recommended recipe is a mixture of ground cloves with honey to be licked when nausea strikes.

Cloves are frequently used in Ayurveda to alleviate coughs and colds. An infusion mixed with honey taken 3 times a day is often used for this or a preparation called Lavangadi vati also mixed with honey. The infusion is even used to treat tuberculosis, where it is said to have the dual benefit of treating both cough and lack of appetite. Clove lozenges are used for sore throats and colds.

External use

Cloves are probably best known in the West for their use in treating toothache, either in the form of clove oil or toothache tincture (which is often based on clove oil, but rather less strong). This is usually applied direct to the site of the pain on a cotton bud as necessary, but will only work for a short time before further applications will cease to be effective. A quick first aid method is to put a clove on the area and suck or gently chew it, where other options are not to hand. You can also use a cold infusion as a mouthwash to relieve mild toothache. However, none of these is a permanent cure, and a trip to the dentist will definitely be necessary in the short term.

Chewing a clove or using an infusion as a mouthwash and gargle is effective in the treatment of bad breath (halitosis). A paste made by mixing ground cloves with milk or honey can be used as a local painkiller. Used on the forehead it can alleviate headache. The honey paste can also be used to treat skin diseases, including acne.

A cold infusion can be dabbed on a sty (hordeolum or stye) both to treat the infection and to relieve the pain.

I offer dried cloves in my online shop.

Although this is a large tree which few people will be growing in their garden, if you do grow it for medicinal use, it’s important to avoid using chemicals of any kind, but to follow organic methods of cultivation. This is to avoid the transfer of noxious chemicals into your remedies. For information on growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Clove bud essential oil is used in aromatherapy, but apart from use as a toothache tincture is best reserved for professionals.

As with all essential oils, clove 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.

Caraway health benefits: great general digestive remedy

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Caraway roots can be cooked like parsnips

Caraway roots can be cooked like parsnips

Caraway, Carum carvi, is a hardy biennial which reaches a height of about 2′ (60cm). It’s a member of the Umbellifer family, and should not be collected from the wild because of its superficial resemblance to Hemlock. It’s sometimes called Persian cumin or meridian fennel, but is not closely related to either cumin or fennel.

If grown for medicinal use, it will be necessary to sow seeds 2 years in a row, after which the plant will most likely self-seed. DO NOT use seeds bought for the garden in herbal remedies or cooking, as they will almost certainly have been dressed with a fungicide or other chemical.

Caraway seeds are an important ingredient in Hungarian goulash, and also used for caraway cake. The leaves can be used in salads or as a spinach substitute. The roots are used in some countries as a substitute for parsnips, although even more highly flavored.

Medicinally, it is the seeds which are used. As the plant is a biennial, the seeds will be produced in the second year after the flowers have been pollinated by bees. The easiest way to collect them is to enclose the flowers after pollination (as they fade) in paper bags, so that the seeds do not get lost, then cut the flowers off with the stalk attached and hang them up somewhere dry (still inside the bags) until the seeds fall naturally or with some assistance into the bag. The flowers and stalks can then be disposed of and the seeds picked over to remove debris and poured into a storage jar.

Caraway should not be used during pregnancy or by those trying to become pregnant. It is safe for children and infants.

Make a decoction by boiling 1 teaspoonful of crushed seeds to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water or milk for a minute or two, then allow to stand for at least 10 minutes and strain. The dose is a third of a cup (about 85ml) up to three times a day.

Caraway seeds are mainly used for digestive disorders, although they have other properties, as outlined here. Chewing a small quantity after a meal will both sweeten the breath and help to prevent indigestion. A decoction can be used to improve the appetite, to treat indigestion, nausea, flatulence and colic, as a mild expectorant for coughs, to promote menstruation and also to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.

As is common to all herbal remedies, and in particular where the seeds are used, it is important that caraway for use medicinally is grown organically, so as not to ameliorate its properties with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic caraway visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Caraway essential oil is used for respiratory and digestive disorders. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy and should only be used on the recommendation of a professional aromatherapist.

As with all essential oils, caraway 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.

Lavender health benefits: for anxiety, depression and bad breath

Lavender is popular in English gardens

Lavender is popular in English gardens

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The main points outlined here are covered in my video Lavender Health Benefits on YouTube.

The English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia (but may be labeled Lavandula officinalis, L. vera or L. spica), usually just called lavender, is a popular plant in English gardens, often planted near paths so as to give off its heady scent when it brushes against visitors as they pass by. There are many varieties, some of which have been bred as dwarfs, such as the Hidcote varieties. It is a tough, hardy perennial, which will cope with drought, salt winds and even alkaline or saline soil with good drainage, so long as it is not in the shade.

The French lavender, Lavandula stoechas is closely related but although it can be used for the same purposes, it is much weaker and of lower quality, from the medicinal viewpoint. Neither the French nor the English lavender are related to the cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus.

Most people are familiar with lavender, and may even have made lavender bags in nursery school as a gift for Mother’s Day. These make a welcome gift, and add a pleasant scent to underwear if placed in the drawer where it is kept – I have one made by my daughter some 15 or so years ago, still faintly scented with lavender.

Although it is well known as a very gentle herb, it is listed in many places as not safe in pregnancy. However, the most authoritative source, the German Commission E Monograph for lavender, lists it as approved for use in pregnancy, including the essential oil. It looks like we have a case of Chinese whispers here. Personally, I’ll go by the German recommendation.

Make a standard infusion from about 3 handfuls of fresh flowering sprigs or 30gm/1 ounce dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave it to stand for at least 10 minutes and strain before use. This can be used at a dose of 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day split into 2 or 3 doses to treat anxiety/depression and indigestion, and also as a mouthwash or gargle for halitosis. It can also be used as a wash for muscle pain, bites and sores, and as a douche for vaginal discharge.

To ensure that the active ingredients are not adulterated by foreign chemicals, it is essential that lavender intended for medicinal use is grown organically. To find out more about growing organic lavender visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Lavender essential oil is often used externally to treat headache by rubbing a couple of drops into the temples. Either the herb or the oil can be added to bathwater to treat depression and insomnia.

I offer dried lavender flowers and a selection of other lavender-based products including essential oils in my online shop.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.
 
As with all essential oils, none of the lavender essential oils should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.
 

Coriander (Cilantro) health benefits: aids digestion

Coriander is often used in Asian cooking

Coriander is often used in Asian cooking

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, is also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley – though the only thing it has in common with parsley, another Umbellifer, is a superficial resemblance of the leaves. It’s not related to Roman coriander either. It is a hardy annual, and prefers a warm sheltered position with not too much sun in the middle of the day, or the plants will quickly run to seed.

Coriander is one of the five bitter herbs which should be eaten at Passover in the Jewish religion (the others are horehound, horseradish, lettuce and nettles).

If you decide to grow coriander for leaves, make sure you get the right variety. Different types are sold for seed and leaf production (although you will obviously get a certain amount of leaf from seed varieties and vice versa).

Coriander seed was used in the West as a spice mainly for baked goods, and ground seed is also sometimes used (as dhaniya) in recipes from the Indian subcontinent, but it is the leaves, finely chopped and added at the last minute, which are the part most used in cooking across the East. The leaves have a striking flavor, and bring simple rice dishes to life.

Coriander leaf does not retain its flavor if dried, but can be frozen very successfully.

Medicinally, coriander is used as an appetite stimulant, a treatment for indigestion, diarrhea, colic and flatulence ( “gas” or “wind”), and an expectorant for coughs. For these purposes, make a standard infusion with 2-3 teaspoonfuls of chopped leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes before straining for use.

Chew a few seeds to counter bad breath, and to sweeten the breath after eating garlic. Don’t overdo the dose, though, as it is said that large quantities have a narcotic effect.

To avoid getting noxious chemicals in any remedies you make with coriander, it’s important to grow it organically. To find out more about growing Coriander organically, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Coriander essential oil has many uses, from anorexia to musculo-skeletal problems. It is not suitable for use in the first 3 months of pregnancy, by children under the age of 3 years, kidney patients or anyone undergoing homeopathic treatment. May cause drowsiness in large amounts.

As with all essential oils, criander 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.

Anise health benefits: for coughs, colds and gas

Anise has a strong flavor

Anise has a strong flavor

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Anise, also known as aniseed or sweet cumin, Pimpinella anisum (sometimes labelled Anisum vulgare), is the herb from which aniseed is collected. It’s a member of the same family as cumin, but that’s about as far as it goes. It is not related to anise hyssop or anise root (another name for the American sweet cicely) or to star anise.

Back in the days when herbalists used to make sweets from local herbs (possibly to deliver medicine in a tasty form), aniseed would be boiled in sugar to make aniseed balls, though you will have great difficulty in finding a recipe for these. There must be one, though, as they are still sold in the UK, and very nice they are too (I have a couple in my mouth as I type this).

Anise is a member of the family of Umbellifers, which all have very similar looking flowers (and often similar foliage as well). If you look at the picture, you will see that the inflorescence, as it is technically called, is made up of a number of florets. The stalks of these florets all come from the same point on the flower stem, and spread out like the spokes of an umbrella. I’m not sure whether the name came from this habit, or the umbrella was named after the family. But I guess it doesn’t matter all that much, anyway.

What does matter is that the Umbellifer family contains several very poisonous members, including Hemlock. For this reason, you should never pick plants which you think are anise (or any other umbelliferous plant) from the wild, nor should you collect seed from wild plants. Instead, buy your seeds from a reputable seedsman and grow them yourself. They are pretty easy to grow, generally, so it’s really not worth the risk.

Anise is generally grown as a half hardy annual, so you can start the seeds off indoors if you are in a cooler part of the world, and plant them out after all risk of frost has passed about 12-15″ (30-38cm) apart each way. You can use all parts of the plant medicinally, either fresh or dried. Oil can also be distilled from the seeds and roots, although it’s unlikely you will want to do this at home. The leaves and seeds are also sometimes used in the kitchen, particularly in Oriental cooking, and for tea.

Medicinally, anise is one of the safest herbs in the herbalists’ armory, suitable for young and old, but unfortunately not safe during pregnancy, due to its estrogenic effects.

Make a standard infusion from a mixture of seeds and leaves, using 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes, then strain and use. You can also make a decoction of the roots, using 15g (half an ounce) of dried or 30g (1 ounce) of fresh chopped root to 600ml (2½ US cups, 1 UK pint) of water. Put them in a pan and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Take a cup of either the infusion or decoction to treat coughs, sore throat and asthma. It’s also helpful for indigestion, colic and flatulence (“wind” or “gas”). You can also chew the seeds to tackle bad breath.

If you have plenty of this herb growing in the garden, you can make an oil which is useful for treating scabies or lice (cooties), and also as a chest rub for coughs and colds. It only takes a few minutes to make, but it has to stand for about 3 weeks before you can use it. You need a clear glass bottle with an airtight lid, some good quality vegetable oil, some finely ground aniseed, some spirit vinegar or vodka and a sunny windowsill. Put about 2 tablespoonfuls of crushed seeds into the bottle and add 200ml (a little over ¾ US cup, 6½ fl oz) of oil and a tablespoonful of spirit vinegar or vodka. Cork the bottle or screw on the lid and put it on a sunny windowsill. Shake the bottle every day for three weeks, then strain and throw the herbs away. In cold weather, you can help the process work better by putting the bottle into hot water for an hour every day.

Aniseed is fairly easy to grow in a sunny position, but like all herbs grown for medical use, it’s important that it is grown organically, so that you don’t end up with noxious chemicals in your remedies. To find out more about how to grow organic anise, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Aniseed essential oil is irritant and sensitizes skin. It should only be used by professional practitioners. Not suitable during pregnancy, by cancer patients or anyone with sensitive skin.


Bergamot health benefits: for digestive problems and bad breath

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bergamot is popular with bees

Bergamot is popular with bees

Bergamot is another of those herbs occasionally mistaken for a mint, one of its alternative names being bergamot mint, but it’s not closely related, although it does share the mint genus’s habit of being invasive. Other names by which it is known are crimson or scarlet bee balm – it’s not closely related to lemon balm either – and Oswego tea. The latin name is Monarda didyma, and it is no relation to bergamot orange (from which bergamot essential oil is produced, which is used to flavor Earl Grey Tea, amongst other things).

Bergamot likes rich, moist soil in dappled shade, although it will cope with full sun. It’s a perennial, so to keep it from getting out of hand, it’s useful to cut the plant right back when it flowers (which is when the therapeutic properties are strongest), which also stops it self-seeding all over the place. The flowers are quite pretty, though, and the source of its attraction to bees, so you may decide just to harvest leaves as you need them. They can be used in salads and other dishes both raw and cooked, and for tea either alone or as an addition to China tea.

For medicinal use, prepare a standard infusion using 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried to 1 cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes, strain before use. This infusion can be used to treat painful gas (“wind”) or nausea and other digestive disorders, including parasitic worms and as a diuretic. Bergamot is a good source of thymol, a natural antiseptic, so the infusion can also be used as a mouthwash or gargle for infections of the throat and mouth, and as a breath sweetener. It’s also good for cleaning cuts and grazes.

Aromatherapy

This herb is completely unrelated to bergamot essential oil, which is produced from the skin of a citrus fruit.

To avoid dosing yourself with noxious chemicals, it’s important that all herbs used as remedies including bergamot are grown organically. To find out more about growing organic bergamot, visit the Gardenzone.


Parsley health benefits: for pain and halitosis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

A video outlining the main points in this article is available on Youtube here: Parsley Health Benefits

Curled parsley is often used for garnish (flat leaf is inset bottom left)

Curled parsley is often used for garnish (flat leaf is inset bottom left)

Most people have parsley (Petroselinum crispum) growing in their gardens somewhere – it can be quite invasive if allowed to set seed, so if you’re starting from scratch with this herb, it’s best in a large pot, rather than sown directly in the ground. This will also help to prevent attacks from the carrot root fly (carrots are a close relative), if you plant it about halfway down, leaving the rest of the pot empty, and put it on a wall or pot holder. It’s said that carrot flies travel about a foot above the ground, sniffing out their prospects, so the higher the walls around the plant, and the higher up the pot is, the less likely you are to suffer from this pest.

Parsley is biennial, so you can either buy plants from the nursery or sow seed in April and August for a year-round crop. The seeds take some time to germinate, so soak the seeds overnight before sowing and don’t give up if your seedlings don’t show for a couple of months. If growing in the ground or a large container, allow 9″ (22cm) between plants. Wherever you grow it, try and find it a semi-shaded area in rich soil (unlike most herbs), and water in dry weather. If you want to collect the seeds, allow the plants to flower, otherwise, cut off flowering stems as soon as they appear. Either bring pots indoors or provide protection in the winter months if you live in an area with cold winters.

Remember that, if you want to use parsley 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.

Before I go any further, you need to know that parsley is not suitable for use in large amounts or as a herbal remedy during pregnancy or by anyone suffering from a kidney disorder.

Parsley comes in several varieties, either curled (Petroselinum crispum) or flat leaved (Petroselinum crispum latifolium). There’s also a tuberous rooted variety, but it’s not generally used as a herb, although the leafy part could be if nothing else is available. The curly type is the one most often seen, but the flat types are supposed to have the best flavor, so are the best for salads. The parts of the plant normally used for herbal medicine are the seeds and leaves. You can store the leaves in the freezer, or dry them.

Make a standard infusion by putting 2-4 teaspoonfuls of chopped fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoons of dried in a pot, adding 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water and leaving to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining and drinking. Take no more than 1 cup of this per day.

Parsley is carminative and diuretic, and a good source of iron, and vitamins C and A. Adding the leaves to salads is helpful for those suffering from anemia or in need of a general tonic. You can also chew the leaves to guard against bad breath, especially after eating onions or garlic.

The standard infusion is useful for anemia, arthritis, painful periods, fluid retention and urinary disorders (not kidney disorders).

To treat coughs, bronchitis and asthma, you can make a parsley tincture. To make this, you need a bottle of vodka or other white alcoholic spirit (of the type you might buy to drink, not surgical spirit). Measure out 670ml of vodka and add 330ml of water to make 1 litre. Put 200g of chopped parsley into an airtight container and pour over the vodka/water mixture. Seal tightly and put in a cool place. You need to shake the mixture once or twice a day for 2 weeks, then strain to remove the herbs, squeezing them so as to get as much of the liquid out as you can. Store in brown glass bottles, and make sure you label them. The dosage is 1 teaspoon/5ml three times a day.

If you suffer from flatulence (“gas” or “wind”), chewing a teaspoonful of seeds will help. Don’t use seeds from a seed packet, as these may have been dressed with chemicals.

I offer dried parsley in my online shop.

As with all herbs and other medicinal plants, it’s vital that parsley intended for this purpose is grown organically so that your remedy isn’t tainted with nasty chemicals. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic parsley.

Aromatherapy

There are 2 types of parsley essential oil, one produced from the whole herb which is toxic and should not be used, and the other from the seed, which should only be used under the supervision of a professional aromatherapist.

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