Common or garden thyme in flower

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, by pregnant women. 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.


sc

Scots Pine health benefits: for respiratory conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

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 is a well known weed

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.

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.


Apples come in many varieties

Apple health benefits: they really do keep the doctor at bay

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Apples come in many varieties

Apples come in many varieties

I’ve decided to start a series of fruits that are useful medicinally.

Today’s fruit is the apple, Malus domestica, which is a cultivated hybrid. If you find a true apple growing wild, it’s almost certainly an escape.

There are many other Malus species, but the star of them all from a medicinal (and edibility) viewpoint is the apple.

Apples grow on trees, as everybody knows, but these don’t have to be enormous. There are a large number of rootstocks on which apples are grafted to control their eventual size, so if you want to grow a small standard tree, choose one of the dwarfing rootstocks, such as M27 or M26. This will restrict the height to 1-2m or 2-3m respectively. A larger tree can be grown on MM106 or M25. The latter will produce a large vigorous tree which may be difficult to crop.

If you only have a small area available, you can also buy trees prepared for growing in containers or alternatively use a cordon, which is a single stem with no lateral branches (small branches grow each year, produce a crop and are then removed). The yield from a cordon or a containerized plant is less than you would expect from a larger tree, but most people have difficulty coping with a large crop of apples in any case. Using cordons is a great way to grow a large variety of top fruit in a small garden. You can even grow them as a “stepover” or to provide a fence-like division between one part of the garden and another.

Make sure you talk to your supplier to ensure that you have a pollinator nearby – most apples are not self-fertile, so if there isn’t another suitable tree nearby to act as “dad”, you won’t get any apples at all. A crabapple will generally do for this, but it has to be in flower around the same time as the variety you are growing, or it will be no use at all. Some trees are so picky they need two pollinators! You may wish to grow 2 or 3 different compatible apples to ensure a good crop.

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples or crab apples (left), which come in many types, are a different species. Malus pumila nervosa is the true crabapple, but there are various others including Malus angustifolia, M. baccata, M. coronaria, M. floribunda, M. fusca and M. sylvestris. Unfortunately, the crabapple has no documented medicinal purposes, though I’m sure some of your grandparents will testify to its efficacy as a laxative! It is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Apple trees are deciduous and are not fussy as to soil, so long as it is moist. They will grow happily in the open or in light woodland. If growing in open ground, keep a circle at least 1 meter in diameter around the trunk clear of grass and weeds for best results.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a well known proverb which carries a lot of truth. A medium sized apple eaten with the skin gives 17% of required fiber, 14% vitamin C, 2% vitamin A and 1% each of calcium and iron (based on the US RDA for an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet).

Apple juice is a popular drink, but should not be taken to excess, as even unsweetened types are high in sugar (most apple juice also contains added sugar), which may lead to weight gain. A whole apple contains useful fiber, which is mostly removed in the juicing process.

Apple wine which is at least 2 years old was recommended as a cure-all by Galen in the second century. I’m not sure what the difference between apple wine and cider is, if any, but either way I advise not drinking it in large quantities. Apple vinegar has a similar reputation in modern times, especially for weight loss.

Bark infusion: Put 30g (1 ounce) of chopped bark or root bark into a warmed pot, pour over 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water, allow to infuse for 20 minutes, then strain off bark and discard. Dosage is one third of a cup up to 3 times a day.

Apple peel infusion: Use 1-2 tsp dried apple peel to each 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water and prepare in the same way as a bark infusion. Drink a cup as required.

An infusion of bark (especially root bark) can be used as a vermifuge for intestinal parasites, to cool abnormal body heat, induce sleep and to treat nauseous fevers.

The leaves contain phloretin, an antibacterial substance which inhibits the growth of some gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, even at very low concentrations.

The seeds contain hydrogen cyanide which in small quantities stimulates respiration and improves digestion, and may be useful in the treatment of cancer. Large quantities of hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure and death.

The fruit is both astringent (reduces any bodily secretion) and laxative. Ripe raw apples are very easy to digest and combat stomach acidity. Eating an apple raw cleans both the teeth and the gums. Grated unripe apple on a fasting stomach is a good treatment for diarrhea.

Dried apple peel can be used in a standard infusion to treat rheumatic conditions.

The recommended dose of cider vinegar for weight loss and as a general tonic is 2 teaspoons cider vinegar to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water, sipped slowly throughout the day. Earth Clinic also recommend it for treating acid reflux, cough, bronchitis and sore throat using 2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) 3 times a day. Both of these taste pretty sour, so unless you’re using it for weight loss, I recommend stirring in a teaspoon or 2 of honey to take the edge off.

I offer organic apple cider vinegar and apple cider vinegar 150mg Tablets in my online shop.

This varied list of applications puts apple among the most useful home remedies. If you can spare a small space for a couple of containerized plants or cordons, it’s definitely worth it.

Apple is not used in aromatherapy, though the fruit and the blossom are both often used in perfumery.

As I always say, try to avoid using chemicals on any plant intended for medicinal use, so as to avoid them ending up in your remedy. Some chemicals may also interfere with the remedy’s properties. For more information on growing organic apples visit the Gardenzone.


Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice health benefits: for peptic, duodenal and mouth ulcers

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice root is available in health stores

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 anyone suffering from high blood pressure or kidney disease, pregnant women (because it has a hormonal effect) 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.


The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Rose health benefits: many types, many uses, but all are beautiful

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

The rose which according to Shakespeare “by any other name would smell as sweet” comes in so very many types that it’s difficult to do it justice. Most of us just call any rose we come across “a rose”, and yet there are about 150 species, and that’s not taking into account the very many varieties and named cultivars.

What I’ve decided to do is just cover a selection. These are the Californian rose, the dog rose, the cabbage rose, the damask rose, the French rose, the Cherokee rose, the chestnut rose, the sweet briar and the Ramanas rose. Of these, the dog rose, sweet briar and Cherokee rose are most useful in the herbalist’s stores; the cabbage rose and the damask rose are the ones used in aromatherapy.

For information on alternative and scientific names, see the table below:

Latin name Common name Other names
Cabbage rose Rosa x centifolia syn. R. gallica centifolia. R. provincialis cabbage rose Burgundy rose, Holland rose, moss rose, pale rose, Provence rose
Californian rose Rosa californica Californian rose
Cherokee rose Rosa laevigata syn. R. cherokeensis Cherokee rose Chinese jin ying zi
Chestnut rose Rosa roxburghii syn. R. hirtula, R. microphylla chestnut rose chinquapin rose, sweet chestnut rose; Chinese ci li
Damask rose Rosa x damascena syn. R. gallica f. trigintipetala damask rose four seasons rose, Portland rose, York and Lancaster rose
Dog rose Rosa canina syn. R. bakeri, R. lutetiana, R. montivaga dog rose common briar
French rose Rosa gallica syn. R. provincialis French rose apothecary rose, Hungarian rose, officinal rose, Provins rose, red rose of Lancaster
Ramanas rose Rosa rugosa Ramanas rose hedgehog rose, Japanese rose, rugosa rose, tomato rose, Turkestan rose; Chinese mei gui
Sweet briar Rosa rubiginosa syn. R. eglanteria sweet briar Eglantine rose

Roses are not related to rose root, rose geranium, Guelder rose or hollyhock (also called althaea rose).

All roses with single or semi-double flowers produce rose hips (see picture inset into main picture), which vary in size and color, but are otherwise pretty similar from one type to another. These have been used for many years as a food source and also to produce rosehip syrup. Rose hips are rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C and E, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids. Rose hips are currently being studied to see if they are effective as an anti-cancer food.

Take care if you decide to harvest your own rose hips: there are hairs inside which can cause serious irritation, not just to your mouth, but your entire digestive tract. You need to use a very fine filter to remove these when extracting the juice.

Cabbage rose (Rosa x centifolia)
This is a hybrid and is only found in cultivated form. Numerous cultivars are found throughout the world. On the alternative medicine front, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

The powdered root is astringent and can be used to stop bleeding. A standard infusion of petals is used as a gentle laxative. Follow this link for information on rose in aromatherapy.

I offer dried Rosa centifolia petals in my online shop.

Californian rose (Rosa californica)
As you might expect, this rose is native to California, but is also found in Oregon and northern Mexico (Baja Norte). Its very restricted range has made it a candidate for conservation status in the US. Do not collect from the wild.

Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat pain and fever in infants. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat stomach disorders. A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) is used internally for colds, fevers, indigestion, kidney disorders, rheumatism and sore throats or externally as a wash on sores and old wounds.

Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata)
The range of this plant is restricted to China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which makes the name a little strange. However, an explanation is found in Wikipedia. Apparently, it was introduced to the southern United States in the late eighteenth century, where it gained its English name. “The flower is forever linked to the Trail of Tears and its petals represent the women’s tears shed during the period of great hardship and grief throughout the historical trek from the Cherokees’ home to U.S. forts such as Gilmer among others. The flower has a gold center, symbolizing the gold taken from the Cherokee tribe.” It’s also the state flower of Georgia, USA. In China, it is called jin ying zi.

A standard infusion of leaves is used for wounds. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat dysentery and as a hair restorative. A decoction of dried fruits (see note above about filtering) is used internally in the treatment of chronic diarrhea, infertility, seminal emissions, uncontrolled urination (urorrhea), urinary disfunction and vaginal discharge (leukorrhea). A root decoction is used to treat prolapsed uterus. A decoction of root bark can be used for diarrhea and excessively heavy periods (menorrhagia).

Chestnut rose (Rosa roxburghii)
Another attractive rose native to China and Japan.The plant is rich in tannins and is used as an astringent. In China (where it is called ci li) the hips are used to treat indigestion (see note above about filtering).

Damask rose (Rosa x damascena)
Like the cabbage rose, this is a hybrid found only in cultivated form. Again, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

Make a standard infusion of petals for use internally to treat diarrhea or externally as an astringent. A preserve of petals can be used as a tonic and for weight gain. Follow this link for information on rose essential oil.

As with all essential oils, rose 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.

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Native to Europe, including Britain, north Africa and southwest Asia, but found in Australia, New Zealand and the USA by naturalization.

A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) can be used to treat colds, diarrhea, gastritis, influenza, minor infectious diseases and scurvy (as it is rich in vitamin C). Commercial rose water made from the plant is used as a gently astringent lotion for delicate skin. The plant is also used in Bach flower remedies.

I offer various Rosa canina products in my online shop.

French rose (Rosa gallica)
Native to Europe, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

A standard infusion of petals can be used internally to treat bronchial infections, colds, depression, diarrhea, gastritis and lethargy or externally for eye infections, minor injuries, skin problems and sore throat.

Ramanas rose (Rosa rugosa)
Native to northern China, Japan and Korea but naturalized in Europe including Britain, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In China it is called mei gui.

A standard infusion of leaves can be used to treat fevers. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat poor appetite, indigestion and menstrual complaints, to improve blood circulation, and as a spleen and liver tonic. A root decoction is used to treat coughs.

Sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa)
The wild form is native to Europe including Britain, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It’s also found naturalized in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and South America.

Make a standard infusion of dried rose petals to treat headaches and dizziness, add honey for use as a heart and nerve tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction of petals is used to treat mouth ulcers.

If you’re a regular reader you won’t be surprised when I tell you that, like all other plants grown for medicinal purposes, roses should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents aren’t masked or changed by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing roses visit the Gardenzone.


Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

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

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

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 by pregnant women (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.

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

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 by pregnant women. 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.


Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo health benefits: improves sperm production and treats alcohol addiction

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo biloba, usually just called ginkgo but otherwise the maidenhair tree, is a living fossil dating back 270 million years. It is a large tree which can attain a height of 30 meters (almost 100′), and as it’s also dioecious (has male and female flowers on separate plants), it’s not something you can grow in your own garden if you need the seeds for medicinal use – unless you happen to own a large estate or perhaps if several neighbors also grow one, and are lucky (or possibly unlucky) enough to get a female.

The ginkgo tree is revered as a symbol of the sacred life force in China.

Another problem with ginkgo is that many people find the smell of the fruit offensive (descriptions of the smell range from rotten eggs to vomit), so male trees are often preferred. Obviously, if everyone grows males, there won’t be any fruit at all.

All is not lost, however, as many remedies are based on the leaves, rather than the seed.

Ginkgo is not related to the maidenhair fern, or indeed any other living plant.

Ginkgo used to grow in many more areas than it does now. Fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic have been found in England, for example. Ginkgo trees were the only trees which survived the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nowadays, though, ginkgo is only found growing wild in two places, both of which are in China.

It’s quite surprising that its habitat has been reduced so much, because it is an incredibly tolerant tree, accepting any soil, moist or dry, and not being noticeably put out by drought, atmospheric pollution, sea winds and temperatures as low as -35ºC. It won’t grow in full shade, but few trees will, if any. Harvest leaves in late summer or early fall before they change color and dry for later use.

Ginkgo is readily available as a remedy from health stores and also from Chinese herbalists where it is called Bai Guo.

Ginkgo is not suitable for anyone on blood thinners, such as coumarin or Warfarin. Anyone with a history of strong allergic reactions to poison ivy, mangoes and other plants which contain similar chemicals should also avoid using it. The raw seed is toxic if consumed in large quantities over a long period.

Parts used are leaves, fruit pulp oil maceration, raw seeds and cooked seeds.

The leaves are the part mostly studied and used in the West. Ginkgo leaf stimulates the circulation even in peripheral arteries and fine capillaries, which helps to reduce lethargy and give a feeling of well-being. They contain ginkgolides which inhibit allergic responses and are used to treat eg. asthma. They can be used to help ameliorate intermittent claudication. They are also used to treat glaucoma and help preserve vision in adult macular degeneration (ARMD/AMD). They have been shown to improve function in MS patients. Ginkgo also protects against free radicals and reduces the effect of platelet-activating factor (which affects blood clotting). A study in 2008 found that it is of no more value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease than placebo, and another study has found the same with regard to tinnitus, but a dosage of at least 240mg/day may support memory function.

To make an oil maceration of the fruit, pulp them and cover with oil, shaking every day for 100 days. The pulp can then be used to treat respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and TB.

The cooked seed can be used to treat tickly coughs, asthma, phlegmy coughs and urinary incontinence, as a sedative and to improve sperm production.

Raw seed is used to treat cancer and also addiction to alcohol. See note above about toxicity.

I offer ginkgo capsules and tincture in my online shop.

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


Peppermint is a familiar garden herb

Peppermint essential oil, benefits and uses

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Peppermint is a familiar garden herb

Peppermint is closely related to spearmint

Peppermint is a familiar garden herb, though it may be confused with spearmint, a close relative. In aromatherapy as in herbal medicine, the two plants are treated quite distinctly.

The mints are a large family, and other members for which you may also find essential oils on sale include Cornmint, which is used mainly by the food, pharmaceutical and hygiene industries, rarely in aromatherapy; and European Pennyroyal or American Pennyroyal which are not used at all because they are toxic.

Peppermint essential oil is one of those which can be included in an aromatherapy starter kit, because although it should be treated with some caution it is reasonably safe in use. It is produced by steam distillation from the flowering herb of Mentha piperita, and excess menthol is then removed to obtain a liquid (otherwise it would be solid in form).

As with all essential oils, peppermint 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.

As stated, peppermint oil needs some care in use. Points to note when considering use of this oil are:
— not suitable for use during pregnancy
— not suitable for use on sensitive skin
— not suitable for use on children under 6 years old
— not suitable for use by anyone suffering from a heart condition
— never use undiluted, as it can cause irritation
— reduces effectiveness of homeopathic remedies; do not use in combination with homeopathy.

These precautions and contra-indications are the reason why I don’t include peppermint in my recommendations for absolute beginners. However, peppermint oil is so useful that it is worth keeping in stock, even so. It is very strong, and if it is to be used on the skin it needs to be diluted to a maximum of 1% , which is 6 drops to 30ml/1 fluid ounce of carrier oil. In a bath, add no more than 3 drops of peppermint oil (a single drop if you are using it to treat itchy skin) to avoid irritation.

Peppermint essential oil cools, restores and refreshes the body and is mentally stimulating, useful for students. As a massage blend or added to bathwater it is helpful for refreshing tired feet, and to treat acne, dermatitis, fevers, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion, itchy skin, muscular pain, neuralgia, ringworm and scabies. As an inhalation it is useful for asthma, colds, bronchitis, tickly cough, cramp, flu, nausea, fainting, headache, mental fatigue, migraine, sinusitis and nervous stress. Inhale direct from the bottle or put one drop on a handkerchief to carry with you for nausea, travel sickness or vertigo and as a reviver for long journeys. Putting a few drops on the dashboard of your car will help you to stay alert and clear thinking.

Peppermint is an extremely useful essential oil and worthy of inclusion in any aromatherapy kit.

I offer peppermint essential oil and organic peppermint essential oil in my online shop, as well as a range or products based on peppermint.