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.


Agnus castus health benefits: mainly for women

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Agnus castus (latin for ‘pure lamb’), Vitex agnus-castus, is also sometimes known as chaste berry, chaste tree or lilac chaste tree. It is native to North Africa, parts of Asia from Cyprus to Uzbekistan and much of Europe, and naturalised elsewhere.

Agnus castus is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 3m (9ft). It is hardy in the UK, where it flowers in September to October, but is unlikely to produce fruit here. Of course, this may change with the climate.

Agnus castus should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

Do not exceed the stated dose; reduce the dosage or discontinue if you get a sensation of insects crawling on the skin, a symptom of excessive use.

The name chaste tree comes from the use of this herb by monks, who used to chew it to reduce sexual desire. It is still used for the same purpose, although only in those who have a real problem with this; in those with a low sex drive, it’s likely to have the opposite effect and is sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.

Agnus castus is mainly used to bring female hormones into balance. It has been shown to relieve infertility due to hormonal problems (if used for an extended period). It is also helpful as a birthing aid, for easing the menopause and relieving PMS, regulating heavy periods (menorrhagia) and restoring missing ones (amenorrhea). Men use it to increase urine flow and reduce BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia/enlargement). Please ensure you get a cancer check before using it for the latter purpose.

It’s also used in both sexes for acne, colds, dementia, eye pain, headaches, inflammation and swelling, joint conditions, migraine, nervousness, spleen disorders and upset stomach.

It is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer Periagna® (Agnus castus) 400mg capsules and Agnus Castus seed in my online store.

If you are able to produce fruit from the chaste tree, it’s important that you grow it organically to avoid contaminating the fruit with chemicals that you don’t want in your remedies. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Acerola cherries health benefits: for colds, hay fever and dental conditions

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Acerola or acerola cherry, Malpighia emarginata (syn. Malpighia glabra, M. punicifolia or M. retusa), is also known as Antilles cherry, Barbados cherry, Puerto Rican cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crape (or crepe) myrtle. It is a fast growing deciduous sub-tropical tree native to northern South America, Central America and the Caribbean (but cultivated in many other places), some varieties of which can reach a height of 20′ in their native habitat.

Because acerola has large glossy leaves and attractive five-petalled pink or white flowers followed by fruit, it is sometimes grown as an ornamental in areas where temperatures do not drop below 30ºC (86ºF). It can be kept pruned as a bush no more than 5′ tall and grown in a pot, so it is suitable for conservatories in cooler climates. A dwarf variety is available which only reaches 2′ and can even be grown in a hanging basket! Many cultivated varieties produce fruit without pollination. Acerola is also sometimes grown as a bonsai – though fruiting is unlikely in this case.

The acerola tree will tolerate occasional drought, but not waterlogging. Fruit production will occur throughout the year in the right conditions so long as there is regular irrigation. Acerola should be planted in well drained soil of pH6.5-7.5 and prefers a position in full sun. It needs regular feeding (foliar feeds are usually used) and annual liming. As it has shallow roots which are not as extensive as most other trees, other crops may be interplanted more closely than with most fruit trees. On the other hand, this also makes the trees more likely to be uprooted by strong wind.

If you are growing acerolas, do not be concerned if most (up to 90%) of the flowers fall off. This is normal, and a full size tree 8 years old can still produce up to 60 pounds of fruit.

Cautions: the minute hairs on acerola leaves may cause irritation in some people. Eating acerola cherries may increase both effects and side effects of estrogen. Acerola may decrease the effectiveness of fluphenazine (Prolixin) and warfarin (Coumadin). The dose of any of these three medications might need to be changed if you make acerola a regular part of your diet.

Although superficially similar to regular cherries, the acerola cherry is divided into 3 segments, each of which contains a winged seed, forming a triangle. When well cultivated, acerola cherries are sweet, though often the ones sold in the market are quite sharp. Their main benefit is the extremely high vitamin C content (up to 65 times that of an orange), which is highest in unripe (green) cherries. Other nutrients found in acerola cherries include vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Vitamin C content is lost quickly, so fruit should be eaten as soon as possible after picking and kept in the refrigerator until then.

There is no need to make an infusion or anything, just eating the cherries or juicing them will give you all the benefits it provides, though they can also be cooked or used to make jellies and similar preserves. As mentioned already, the main benefits are from the vitamin C content. These include:

  • treating the common cold
  • treating pressure sores – up to 2g of vitamin C a day has been shown to aid recovery
  • reducing tooth decay and gum infections
  • fighting hay fever – taking plenty of vitamin C with bioflavonoids reduces histamine levels
  • increasing collagen production – vitamin C is a co-factor in the production of collagen, which is an essential part of almost every part of the body, from blood vessels to tendons and including the cornea (in the eyes) and the disks in your spine
  • treating clinical depression – depletion of norepinephrine can result in poor memory, loss of alertness and clinical depression. A shortage of vitamin C limits production of norepinephrine. Large doses of vitamin C have shown striking success in reversing depression

I offer a range of acerola products in my online shop.

As with all fruit, to avoid eating chemicals you would be best advised to use organic growing methods. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.

This article about acerola cherries also has some recipes for using fresh and frozen acerola cherries.


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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

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

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

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

Frankincense is distantly related to Elemi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Peppermint essential oil, benefits and uses

Peppermint is a familiar garden herb

Peppermint is a familiar garden herb

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

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.


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.

Helichrysum essential oil, benefits and uses

Helichrysum aka Immortelle and Everlasting

Helichrysum aka Immortelle and Everlasting

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Unlike many other sources of essential oil, the helichrysum plant is not used in herbal medicine, though helichrysum oil is extremely useful therapeutically.

The plant is Helichrysum italicum (syn. H. angustifolium), a very attractive evergreen shrub sometimes used for hedging or as everlasting flowers. It has a strong curry scent, and is often called the curry plant for this reason, though the essential oil smells entirely different – more like honey.

As with all essential oils, helichrysum 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.

In aromatherapy, you may find helichrysum referred to as Immortelle, St John’s Herb and Everlasting or Italian Everlasting.

Helichrysum essential oil is extracted from the fresh flowers or flowering tops of Helichrysum italicum ssp. serotinum. Check the source, and only buy if it is from Corsica, as this is far more effective than oil from other places. It is one of the safer essential oils, as it is non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing.

Helichrysum oil is antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal which makes it valuable for any rash, acne, eczema, skin infection, dermatitis and other allergic conditions, spots, abscesses and boils, and it’s also helpful for burns and inflammation of any kind. Some call it the boxer’s essential oil, but really it is a must for any athlete because it is so useful for bruises, cuts, wounds, sprains, strained muscles and other muscular aches and pains, including rheumatism. There’s also anecdotal evidence of its amazing ability to speed healing of broken bones.

Helichrysum’s antibacterial and anti-viral properties make it an ideal massage oil for bacterial infections, respiratory problems, colds, flu, fever, bronchitis, COPD and whooping cough. It also works well in cases of depression, debility, weakness, lethargy, nervous exhaustion, neuralgia and stress related conditions.

Helichrysum essential oil is one of the safest and most useful essential oils, and well worth including in any home aromatherapy kit, from beginner to professional.

I’m very please to offer helichrysum essential oil in my online shop.


Grapefruit, Lime and Mandarin essential oils, benefits and uses

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

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

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.