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.

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.

Marsh Mallow health benefits: for open sores and external ulcers

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The marsh mallow or marshmallow, Althaea officinalis, is also called althea, common marshmallow, mortification root, sweet weed and wymote. It is in the same family (Malvaceae) as musk mallow and hollyhock.

The name “mortification root” refers to the use of the root as a poultice for infected wounds; it is said to heal the most stubborn infections, and thus prevent gangrene. I have not been able to find any explanation for the name wymote.

Marshmallow the herb is the origin of the sweet of the same name, although the stuff you buy in sweet shops nowadays never gets a sniff of the plant. Marshmallow the sweet was once made by drying and powdering the roots, then making the powder into a paste and roasting it.

Marsh mallow is a hardy perennial reaching about 4 feet (1.2m) in height by 2’6″ (75cm) across, a native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. It is not fussy as to soil, and can even grow in saline conditions, but prefers a moist situation. It will not grow in shade. It’s an attractive plant, worthy of a place in any ornamental or herb garden and could also be used in a sensory garden because of its downy leaves..

In many parts of the world, marshmallow roots are used as food, particularly during food shortages. All parts of the plant are edible, though all are also mucilaginous (you might say slimy) when cooked, and although the leaves can be used in salads, because they are fibrous and downy, they need to be finely chopped to be palatable. The water used for cooking marsh mallow can be reduced (by boiling) until it has a similar consistency to egg whites, and used as a substitute after cooling – even for things like meringues. This is obviously of most interest to people who are allergic to eggs, and to vegans. The flowers can also be used for tea.

Marshmallow has been used medicinally for centuries. All parts of the plant are active, in particular the roots.

A standard infusion of leaves uses 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours (the longer it infuses, the longer it can be kept in a refrigerator), strain and take up to 3 cups a day, sweetened with honey if liked. It can also be used externally when cool.

The least slimy of the medicinal preparations is the cold extract, which is made by steeping 1-2 tbsp chopped root or whole plant in 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water for 8 hours, after which it is strained. The dosage is 1 cup a day (which can be split into 3 doses).

A decoction is made by adding 1 tsp of chopped root to 1 cup cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-30 minutes, then strain. Use the same dosage as for cold extract.

A poultice is made by mixing chopped root with honey and wrapping in a closely woven bandage. Apply to the area to be treated for 2-3 hours, then replace with a new one as required.

Internally, use the cold extract, standard infusion or decoction to treat chest infections, pleurisy, tickly coughs and catarrh, cystitis or urinary tract infections. Use externally to treat gum disease, as an eye bath for sore and infected eyes, and as a vaginal douche for bacterial vaginitis (bv). Use a poultice to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, splinters, open sores and ulcers, insect bites and gangrene. Give a piece of peeled root to teething infants to chew on.

As I always recommend with plants destined for the medicine chest, marsh mallow should be grown organically to avoid corruption or elimination of the active constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals.

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

Asafoetida health benefits: herbal anti-viral being tested on Pandemic Flu

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Asafoetida or asafetida, Ferula assa-foetida (syn. Ferula scorodosma), is also called devil’s dung and food-of-the-gods.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia it is “probably the most foul-smelling of all herbs” (Plants for a Future describes the smell as “like stale fish”), which accounts for the first two common names. The third may refer to its use in Hindu cooking instead of onions and garlic – where food is cooked which is to be used as puja (an offering to the gods), onions and garlic may not be used, but a little asafoetida (called hing) is added instead, which once cooked apparently tastes quite similar to the banned alliums.

Asafoetida is a half-hardy perennial which reaches a height of 6’6″ (2m) and a spread of 5′ (1.5m). Soil type is unimportant, so long as it is well drained and not shaded.

Collecting the resin from the root for medicinal use involves scraping, slicing and scraping again. Although I’ve given information about the plant, since it is so foul-smelling and so difficult to extract the active portion, you may wish instead to buy your hing ready prepared. It is sold in airtight containers so as to prevent the smell escaping (!) in many Asian grocers. If you can’t find it, you may be able to find a supplier by asking at a Hare Krishna temple, if there is one in your area (they use it as a substitute for onions and garlic, for religious reasons). You can then add it to a curry or other meal, and take your medicine that way!

Alternatively, I’ve done a bit of research, and found out that asafoetida tablets are sold under the name “Candida Digest” manufactured by Planetary Herbals – which is available on both sides of the Atlantic. You can order it from at a good price (they also ship to international addresses) – and if you haven’t shopped there before use the discount code SEQ765 to save $5 off your order. This is probably the best option – you don’t have to cope with the smell, and you can take it at any time of day, not just dinnertime!

So what is asafoetida used for? Like many of the herbs I’ve covered so far, it has many uses, but the one that is most interesting is its use against pandemic flu. It was used in 1918 to fight Spanish flu, and now scientists are testing it against H1N1. Poorer countries were worried that they would not be able to obtain sufficient supplies of the antivirals Tamiflu and so on, so they started looking into other possibilities. A research team at Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan headed by Yang-Chang Wu has discovered that asafoetida contains compounds which kill the virus in test tubes. Further work is needed before it is certain that it will work as effectively in the human body.

Other uses for asafoetida include treating chest infections, whooping cough, asthma and bronchitis, flatulence (“wind” or “gas“) and lowering blood pressure.