Cascara health benefits: intestinal tonic and laxative

Fruit. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Fruit. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Bark. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Bark. Photo by Jesse Taylor

Cascara, Frangula purshiana syn. Rhamnus purshiana, is also known as bearberry, cascara buckthorn, cascara sagrada, chittem, chitticum and Western buckthorn. It is not related to Uva ursi (also called bearberry). It is closely related to other buckthorns, including common buckthorn.

The name cascara comes from cáscara sagrada, Spanish for sacred bark, a name coined in the 17th century. It has been used for centuries by native Americans, and was “discovered” by Dr JH Bundy in 1877, subsequently marketed internationally, which resulted in the plant becoming endangered. Even today, 20% of laxatives sold in the US contain cascara extract.

Cascara is an evergreen tree native to North America which reaches a height of 10m (30′) and a spread of 6m (20′). It is not fussy as to soil type or pH but prefers moist soil. Like all trees, it will not grow in full shade.

Cascara sagrada can be used as a garden shrub which is attractive to wildlife, particularly bees. It is useful for areas where the soil is a bit too wet for other plants.

A green dye can apparently be made from the bark, but I don’t have any information as to the mordant to be used. The wood is soft, but sometimes used to make small tool handles and similar things.

Cultivation from seed requires stratification for 1-2 months, then sowing in early Spring in a cold frame. Pot on and grow on in a greenhouse until the following Summer, when plants can be ptaced in their final position. Alternatively take semi-ripe cuttings in July or August, or layer existing plants in Spring.

Although some people eat the fruit, some say it is (mildly) toxic. An extract from the bark is sometimes used as a flavouring for soft drinks (soda), baked goods and ice cream.

Cascara is not suitable for use by children, pregnant or nursing women, patients with intestinal obstruction or injuries, or anyone suffering from Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, hemorrhoids, appendicitis, or kidney problems.

Do not use cascara for more than 10 days in a row.

The part used is the bark. This must be dried in the shade for at least 1 year and up to 3 years before use, or you can dry it out in a very cool oven for a few hours. Don’t use fresh bark, as it will cause diarrhea and vomiting. To make a decoction of bark: Put 30g dried aged bark in a small saucepan and add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the bark and take the liquid either as a single dose or split into three. Max. 1 cup a day.

The decoction is used as a gentle laxative especially suitable for elderly and delicate constitutions, also as an intestinal tonic. It is also sometimes painted on fingernails to discourage nail biting. It is approved for use in Germany for constipation.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow cascara organically. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Common buckthorn health benefits: for constipation

Fruit. Photo by Xemenendura

Fruit. Photo by Xemenendura

Common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, is also known as purging buckthorn and European buckthorn, or just buckthorn. It is a shrub or small tree which reaches a height of up to 6-10m (18-30′) and a spread of 3m (9′). It is attractive to wildlife.

Buckthorn is a close relative of the shrub known as Cascara sagrada (Spanish for “sacred bark”), Rhamnus purshiana.

Buckthorn will grow in any soil, even very alkaline soil, and anywhere not in complete shade. It’s happy in dry or moist soil, so it is a good survivor in most conditions.

The part most often used in medicine is the fruit, although the bark can be used instead. As it’s dioecious, to obtain fruit you will need at least two plants, one male and one female.

The specific name cathartica and the name purging buckthorn refer to its use as a purgative (a strong laxative). This is virtually its only medicinal use, though it is also diuretic, but this probably goes unnoticed alongside the laxative effect.

Please note that buckthorn is not suitable for use by children, pregnant or nursing women, also people suffering from Crohn’s disease or obstructions of the bowel.

Do not take buckthorn for more than 7 days in a row.

Flowers. Photo by Radio Tonreg from Vienna, Austria

Flowers. Photo by Radio Tonreg from Vienna, Austria

Bark. Photo by TeunSpaans

Bark. Photo by TeunSpaans

Adults can eat 8-15 ripe fruits to benefit from the effects, but these can be quite violent. For a more manageable result, you can make a standard infusion using 15g (a half ounce) crushed semi-ripe fruits to 250ml (1 US cup) boiling water. Leave to infuse for 30-60 minutes, then drain off and discard the fruit before use. Up to 1 cup a day is the maximum dosage, which may be split into 3 individual doses.

You can also use the bark for the same purpose. This must be dried in the shade for at least 1 year and up to 3 years before use, or you can dry it out in a very cool oven for a few hours.  Don’t use fresh bark, as it will cause diarrhea and vomiting. To make a decoction of bark: Put 30g dried aged bark in a small saucepan and add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the bark and take the liquid either as a single dose or split into three. Max. 1 cup a day.

Buckthorn is native to the UK and across Europe, but it was taken to the USA by settlers, apparently for use in landscaping and has subsequently been so successful that it’s become an invasive weed, and therefore banned in some states and in Ontario, Canada.

Various dyes can be obtained from the bark, but I have no information on the mordants you need to use, though it would probably be interesting to experiment if you like natural dyes.

Remember that if you’re growing herbs for medicinal use, it’s important to use organic growing methods to ensure that you don’t accidentally include noxious chemicals in your remedies. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Constipation Remedies for Quick Relief and Long Term Control


Beat constipation the natural way

Although constipation is something people don’t generally talk about, and may even be the subject of humour, it’s no joke. Mild constipation is easily dealt with, but severe blockage (or faecal impaction) can be dangerous and if you can’t sort it out, will require urgent medical attention.

Links to all the recommended remedies are at the end.

If you’re suffering from acute severe constipation, you don’t have time to add enough fibre to deal with it in the long term (that’s for later), and you absolutely have to get rid of the blockage right now, or as quickly as possible, you need the type of constipation remedy called a purgative. Otherwise one of the milder remedies for constipation will most likely meet your needs.

Quick Fix

A purgative is a very strong laxative, suitable only for occasional use when the situation is serious. It will completely empty your bowels, and there may well be cramping pains as the process takes place. Stay near a toilet once you’ve taken these until you’re sure the problem has been completely eliminated! I recommend LAXPure Rapid capsules, but if you prefer a single herb, you might choose Aloe vera or Cascara Sagrada.

Milder Solutions

If you just want a good general laxative, there are a number of these, including Cassilax®, Cleansing Herbs, Cleansing Herb tablets, Col-Flush Ultra Capsules, Col-Flush Vegecaps, Consti-Cleanse Extreme Powder, Oxy Kalm Cleanser Vegecaps and Oxy Powder Capsules. If you prefer single herbs choose from liquorice root and Manna Fig Syrup.

Please note that whether you’re using a mild laxative or a stronger purgative, treatment should never be continued for longer than 7 days, and if the problem isn’t solved by then, you need to visit your doctor right away.

Long Term Control

The best way to deal with constipation is by avoidance. A diet that includes plenty of fibre (what they used to call roughage) will keep your elimination system working right. Lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains is the easiest way to achieve this; peas, beans, lentils and celery are particularly good sources of fibre.

If you don’t eat fruit and vegetables, you won’t just be missing out on the important fibre that keeps your digestive system in the best of health, but also essential nutrients that are difficult to get any other way.

Lack of fruit and veg is also linked to some types of cancer, so it’s best to make sure to eat plenty on a regular basis. Laxatives may relieve the situation in the short term, but, like any other medication resorted to for long periods, their effect will gradually reduce, leaving you back where you started, but without a solution. There are also other health implications resulting from overuse of laxatives.

Clay_SoilIf you’ve ever had to garden on clay, you’ll know how hard it gets. The solution is to add fibrous humous, which over time turns it into more usable soil. The same sort of thing happens in the gut when you eat more fibre, only thankfully the process is a lot quicker. An alternative for people who can’t eat fruit and vegetables is to add fibre in some other form. Traditionally this would probably have been wheat bran, but psyllium husks, chia seeds and baobab powder are more recent introductions.

For each 100g, wheat bran provides 15g fibre, chia seeds 34g, baobab powder 47g, and psyllium husks 67g soluble and 33g insoluble fibre! The fibre helps to absorb excess liquid and also bulks out the stool, making it softer and easier to eliminate.

It’s important to drink plenty of water along with any fibre supplement. For example, you might take 1-2 tsp psyllium husks stirred into a large glass of water once or twice a day (you can also mix it into a smoothie or other drink). If you have an ongoing problem with constipation, it’s a good idea to start off with about half the maximum dose, and reduce or increase it until you find the right level for you.

Keep your fibre levels high and you need never worry about constipation ever again.

Quick Fix

LAXPure Rapid Capsules
Aloe Vera Juice (Unflavoured)
Cascara Sagrada capsules

Milder Solutions

Cleansing Herbs, *Cleansing Herb tablets
Col-Flush VegecapsCol-Flush Ultra Capsules
Consti-Cleanse Extreme Powder
Oxy Kalm Cleanser Vegecaps
Oxy Powder Capsules
various Liquorice products
Manna Fig Syrup, Organic

*These products cannot be supplied to customers in the USA.

Long Term Control

Baobab powder
Chia seeds


Cotton herb health benefits: for women’s problems and a men’s contraceptive

Popular with women in the know for much more than cosmetic use

Popular with women in the know for much more than cosmetic use

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cotton (also called American cotton, American upland cotton, Bourbon cotton, upland cotton and lu di mian), scientifically Gossypium hirsutum syn. G. jamaicense, G. lanceolatum, G. mexicanum, G. morrillii, G. palmeri, G. punctatum, G. purpurascens, G. religiosum, G. schottii, G. taitense and G. tridens, is a tender annual which can reach a height of 1.5m (5′). It requires a sunny position and rich, well-cultivated acid to neutral soil.

Some cultivars require 2-3 months dormancy before sowing. All types need a growing season of at least 180-200 days at around 21ºC (70ºF) and will not survive frost. Sow seed in Spring 2.5cm (1″) deep at a minimum temperature of 18ºC (65ºF). Cotton will be ready to pick 24-27 weeks after sowing. The seeds should be removed for medicinal use, sowing or storage. The roots should be dug up after the cotton has been collected, the bark pared off and dried for later use, and the remainder discarded.

NB: Not suitable for use during pregnancy except during labor. Only for use by professional herbal practitioners.

Make a decoction using 1 tsp dried root bark to 750ml (3 US cups, 24 fl oz) water boiled in a covered container for 30 minutes. The dosage is 250-500ml (1-2 US cups, 8-16 fl oz) per day, taken cold (sip it, don’t drink it all down in one go).

The decoction has been used by women at almost every stage of their reproductive life to induce periods (emmenagogue), for painful periods (dysmenorrhea), irregular periods, as a birthing aid (used by the Alabama and Koasati tribes to relieve labor pain), to expel the afterbirth, increase milk production (galactagogue) and for menopausal problems. Other uses include constipation, coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, nausea, urethritis, fever, gonorrhea, headache, hemorrhage and general pain relief.

It contains gossypol, which at low doses acts as a male contraceptive (see next paragraph), a fact which was discovered because Chinese peasants in Jiangxi province used cottonseed oil for cooking — and had no children.

Cotton seed extract (gossypol) is used as a male contraceptive in China. A study followed 15 men who took gossypol 15mg/day for 12 weeks and 10mg/day for 32 weeks. The outcomes showed a 92% infertility rate from low dose gossypol, reversible after discontinuation of treatment.

Cotton seed cake is often used for animal fodder. However, because of the gossypol content long-term feeding may lead to poisoning and death, and will definitely reduce fertility.

Oil extracted from cotton seed is used in the manufacture of soap, margarine and cooking oil. Fuzz not removed in ginning is used in felt, upholstery, wicks, carpets, surgical cotton and for many other purposes.


Cotton aromatherapy oil is difficult to find. Don’t confuse this with ‘clean cotton’ or ‘fine cotton’ fragrance oils. Check the latin name. Even if you do find it, the uses are unknown – unless you know better (if so, please contact me).

NB: Cotton essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, or by children under 12 years or anyone suffering from epilepsy or high blood pressure. Never use it undiluted (dilute 3 drops to 10ml carrier oil). It is a photosensitizer (makes skin sensitive to sunlight).

As with all essential oils, cotton 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.

As I always point out, any herb intended for medicinal use including cotton should be grown organically to avoid foreign chemicals from destroying or masking the important constituents which make it work. Organic gardening is the subject of my sister site The Gardenzone, if you need help with this.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Herbs from Native American Medicine”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to get your own copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to .

Ashwagandha health benefits: for infertility, impotence and premature ageing

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is also called Winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is not related to Chinese or American ginseng. It is the premier sacred Ayurvedic herb of Hinduism.

A native of Asia and Africa, it is also found growing wild in Southern Europe though it is best known for its medicinal properties in India, where it is as well regarded as ginseng in China.

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 3 feet (1m) but is not hardy, only able to withstand temperatures down to about freezing point.  In temperate areas, it should be grown as an annual or as a subject for the conservatory (though the roots will require a deep pot). It is a member of the same family as the potato, tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper, which also includes deadly nightshade. Do not eat any part of the plant.

Harvest the roots in fall, pare off the bark (discard the inner part )  and dry for later use by laying out in a single layer and placing it somewhere cool, dry and out of the sun. Check after a couple of days, and if not completely dry, turn over. Store in an airtight jar somewhere cool and dark.

Caution: do not use in large amounts. Toxic if eaten. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

To make a decoction, use about a teaspoonful of root bark to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then strain off and discard the herb. Use a dose of up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Ashwagandha is a natural tranquillizer because of its strong sedative effect, used to treat chronic fatigue, debility, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It is a very good adaptogen (tonic) particularly effective for reproductive problems (impotence, infertility, spermatorrhea, and also for difficulties arising from birth or miscarriage) and is also used for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, bone weakness, constipation, failure to thrive in children, loose teeth, memory loss,  multiple sclerosis, premature ageing, muscle weakness, rheumatism, senility, tension, tumors, wasting diseases and to aid recovery after illness. The most important use is to increase the amount of hormones secreted by the thyroid, and it can also be used to support the adrenals.

Update: A long term study is currently underway in Kolar, India. Led by Dr. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chair of the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Neuroscience, it follows tests in mice which showed a reduction in amyloid plaques in the brain accompanied by memory improvement in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease and given ashwagandha.

As with all herbs used medicinally, it’s important to grow ashwagandha organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Chickweed health benefits: for itching skin conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed, Stellaria media (an old latin name is Alsine media), is such a common weed that you won’t have to do anything to propagate it, unless perhaps you’re a Mars colonist! It’s been used in folk remedies for many years, which may account for its wide distribution.

It’s well known as chickweed or common chickweed, but other names by which it may be known include adder’s mouth, chickenwort, common chickweed, craches, Indian chickweed, maruns, starwort, stitchwort, tongue-grass and winterweed. The name chickweed refers to its popularity as food with chickens and other birds. It’s not related to false unicorn root (sometimes called starwort) or true unicorn root (sometimes called mealy starwort)

It is quite a tiny, groundhugging plant, reaching a height of only about 4 inches (10cm) but spreading over an area of around 20 inches (50cm). It has quite a pretty flower, and these are freely produced all year round. If it wasn’t regarded as a weed, it might even be recommended as a ground cover plant, and will certainly perform this function quite quickly if left to itself.

Chickweed is sometimes confused with other plants which don’t have the same properties, so to double check you have the right weed, take a look at the stem. In chickweed, the furriness of the stem is confined to a line of hair up one side (there’s a really good picture of this at Missouri plants), not all over like its imitators.

Harvest the leaves in spring to early summer for best results. Leaves can be dried by laying out in a single layer in a cool, airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until dried and then storing in a dark coloured container somewhere cool.

Chickweed leaves and seeds are edible, though if you’re eating any quantity of the leaves it is best served cooked, to get rid of the fairly high saponin content. The seeds are produced in small quantities all year round and can be ground and used as a flour substitute, though obtaining sufficient quantities at a time may be difficult.

Turning to its herbal uses, I need to point out that chickweed is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Also, please do not exceed the stated dose, as in excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

You can make a standard infusion by using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Make a decoction using the whole plant: 3 handfuls fresh or 1 ounce dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dose in either case is the same: up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mixing a quantity of the fresh or dried herb with very hot water. Squeeze out the excess and wrap in a bandage, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

To make an ointment, measure one part of fresh or dried leaves to 2 parts of plain cold cream by volume and pound together until well mixed. The traditional tool for this is the pestle and mortar, though I guess you could use a blender – I wouldn’t want to have to do the washing up afterwards, though. To save you the trouble, I offer ready made chickweed ointment for itchy skin in my online shop.

Chickweed is great for reducing inflammation and itching which often works where other treatments have failed, so a poultice or ointment is perfect as an external treatment for any kind of itching skin condition as well as other inflammatory problems: abscesses, boils, bruises, eczema, psoriasis, roseola, external ulcers and urticaria. You can also use the ointment applied on a bandage to help draw splinters.

Use a decoction externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers.

Add a standard infusion to your bath water to reduce inflammation in rheumatism and promote tissue healing. It can also be used to treat vaginitis.

Internally a standard infusion aids digestion and can be used to relieve serious constipation, for internal inflammation and stomach ulcers. A decoction is taken as a tonic after giving birth. It promotes milk production and is a circulatory tonic. It’s also useful in the treatment of chest complaints.

As with all herbal remedies, you should ensure that gardening methods are organic to avoid corrupting or eliminating the properties of the herb. Though you’re unlikely to want to grow it deliberately (it will turn up no matter what you do), if you want to find out more about growing organic herbs in general, visit the Gardenzone.

UPDATE. I found this very interesting article by Learning Herbs which gives information on making a salve from chickweed.

Hollyhock health benefits: for cystitis and for sore mouth and throat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Hollyhocks come in many colors including black

Hollyhocks come in many colors including black

The hollyhock, Alcea rosea (syn. Althaea chinensis, Althaea ficifolia and Althaea rosea), was a favorite of Victorian gardeners. The name hollyhock is derived from the Old English holy hoc – the old word hoc meaning mallow. Other names by which this plant is known include Althaea rose, malva flowers and rose mallow (a name which is also used for the related musk mallow). It is not related to the rose.

It’s believed that the hollyhock, a native of the Middle East, was introduced by returning Crusaders, which may explain how it came by the name “holy hoc”. They look great thrusting towards the sky in the flower garden, and come in very many different colors, in both single and double flowered forms.

Hollyhocks are usually treated as biennials – plants which take 2 years to reach flowering stage, although they are in fact short-lived perennials. However, if you want to be sure to have them in the garden every year, it will be best to sow 2 years in a row, after which you may well find that self seeding has occurred.

The hollyhock is a tall thin plant, and can reach a height of 8 feet (2.5m), though 6-7 feet is more usual. I like them scattered about in the middle of smaller plants as they are thin enough not to block the view of other plants behind them, but if you prefer your plantings graded by height, put them near the back.

All parts of the hollyhock are edible, though the leaves are not very palatable. Flowers, flowerbuds and peeled stems can be used in salads, and tea made from petals. The roots can be used as a starchy vegetable.

Hollyhocks are also very useful medicinally, although often overlooked in favor of the related marsh mallow, which has similar properties.  However, as this is a plant often grown just because it is so different, for ornamental purposes, it’s worth including – personally I prefer it to the true marsh mallow in the flower garden, and I expect others agree with me in this. There’s just something about a hollyhock in flower that brings a smile to one’s lips and lightens the heart, rather like enormous sunflowers – is it to do with height? Perhaps they make us feel like children again, who knows.

Flowers, collected when open, shoots, roots and seeds are all used medicinally for various purposes.

Flowers can be used to make:

a standard infusion
Add 30g of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain.
a decoction
Add 30g of dried flowers to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then strain.

Make a standard infusion of seeds using 2 tsp to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz), boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours and strain.

Finally a poultice can be made using crushed roots or a mixture of crushed roots and flowers mixed with boiling water and wrapped in a closely woven bandage (wrung out), which is applied to the area to be treated. Keep the liquid on the heat and refresh the bandage by dipping it into the liquid and squeezing out excess liquid and reapplying.

Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat chest complaints and topically to reduce inflammations of the mouth and throat (swish the liquid around the mouth, or gargle with it, as appropriate), cystitis and gastritis. Use a decoction of flowers to treat painful periods, constipation and poor circulation.

Shoots are supposed to be helpful as a birthing aid, but how to use them I have no idea – perhaps an infusion.

A standard infusion of seeds is used as a diuretic and to reduce fevers.

The poultice is used to treat open sores and external ulcers.

As you can see, hollyhocks are a useful remedy, but as with all medicinal plants, they must be grown organically to ensure that their constituents are not corrupted or entirely eliminated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic hollyhocks visit the Gardenzone.

Mountain Cornflower health benefits: for eye infections and bleeding gums

The mountain cornflower is a perennial cornflower

The mountain cornflower is a perennial cornflower

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Mountain cornflower, Centaurea montana, is also sometimes called perennial cornflower, bachelor’s button (a name which is also used for the common cornflower), montane knapweed or mountain bluet. It’s closely related to the common cornflower, greater knapweed and black knapweed.

Mountain cornflower is a hardy perennial which will reach a height of around 18 inches (45cm) and spread over an area of 3 feet (1m). It will grow in any soil, so long as it is well drained, and will tolerate both drought and very alkaline soil. It will not grow in full shade.

Unlike its annual sibling, mountain cornflower has no uses in the kitchen. Medicinally, most of the uses to which it can be applied are similar to those of the common cornflower, though it is less often used. Like common cornflower, mountain cornflower is not suitable for use during pregnancy.

A standard infusion can be made from 30g (1oz) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh flowerheads to 2.5 US cups (1 UK pint, 570ml) of boiling water. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain before use.

The standard infusion can be used to treat tickly coughs, constipation and edema, to induce menstruation, as a mild diuretic and tonic. It can also be used externally as an astringent, as an eye bath for eye infections such as conjunctivitis or for sore eyes, and as a mouthwash to treat bleeding gums.

In common with all other herbal remedies, mountain cornflower should be gtrown organically to avooid corruption or elimination of its medicinal properties by adulteration with foreign elements. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Cornflower health benefits: for tickly coughs and eye infections

Corn fields used to be full of cornflowers

Corn fields used to be full of cornflowers

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, used to be a common sight in cornfields (as were poppies) before modern agricultural methods virtually eliminated it. The flowers are pretty, and they are often grown as ornamentals, particularly in the double form. Perhaps because of its popularity, the cornflower has many other names including common cornflower (to distinguish it from other cornflowers, and also from chicory which is sometimes called cornflower), bachelor’s button (a name which it shares with the mountain cornflower), bluebonnet, bluebottle, blue centaury, cyani, boutonniere flower and hurtsickle. A member of the knapweed genus, it is closely related to the mountain cornflower, but not to chicory or the centaury.

Cornflowers are less often seen growing wild nowadays, despite the fact that they will grow in any kind of soil, even very alkaline soils, and can survive drought. The wild cornflower can reach a height of 3 feet (1m), though many ornamental cultivars are bred to be much shorter.

Cornflowers are hardy annuals and very attractive to wildlife. Other members of this genus are food plants for various types of butterfly and moth. As may be expected from their original cornfield habitat, cornflowers prefer cultivated soil and full sun, making them ideal candidates for a well-tended garden.

Cornflowers were once used for many other purposes besides medicine. The flowers are edible and can be used raw in salads or cooked. They were also used as food coloring, mainly for confectionery. The petals can also be used to make ink or a blue dye, mixed with alum water, and dried flowers are often added to pot pourri to add color.

Cornflower is not suitable as a herbal remedy during pregnancy.

The flowers are the part used in medicine. Make a standard infusion by pouring 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water over 1 ounce (30g) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain. This infusion can be used as a remedy for tickly coughs and a weak diuretic. It can also be used as a treatment for mild constipation. Externally, it can be used as an astringent, to treat minor woundseye infections and mouth ulcers and to soothe itchy skin.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal remedies, cornflower must be grown organically to avoid its active ingredients being altered or eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Sesame health benefits: for hair loss and a herbal sunscreen

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sesame, Sesamum indicum but sometimes labeled Sesamum orientale, is a tropical plant which originates from India, although it is found across most of Africa and Asia. It is a tender annual which requires full sun and reaches a height of around 3 feet (1m), bearing yellow, blue or purple flowers in July.

In Britain, it is difficult to grow to maturity, although the variety “90 Day” is more likely to succeed, at least in Southern counties. It may do better under cover. It grows well in Southern United States, and is grown commercially there, principally in Texas, but as it needs moist soil, requires irrigation.

Sesame has a long history of use in Indian medicine, and is regarded as a holy plant representing Vishnu’s consort, Devi. Although we normally see creamy-white seeds on sale in the West, the color can range through to charcoal, which is the color preferred in the Far East. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone who is diagnosed as obese.

Medicinally, the leaves, seed and oil are all used for various purposes.

Mixing the leaves with water produces mucilage which can be used to treat diarrhea and bladder problems, and is safe for infants.

The seed is very rich in nutrients, but unfortunately also in calories. A quarter of a US cup (2 fl oz, 60ml) provides 206 calories, almost 75% of the adult daily requirement of copper, and useful quantities of manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber. In addition sesame seeds contain lignans which act as an antioxidant, lowering cholesterol and  protecting against high blood pressure.

When eaten the seed acts as a diuretic and liver/kidney tonic, promotes milk flow in nursing mothers, and is used to treat premature hair loss, constipation and osteoporosis. Externally, in the form of a poultice (made by crushing the seed and mixing with very hot water, then wrapping in a finely woven cloth), it is used to treat hemorrhoids and external ulcers.

Sesame oil, which is difficult to produce at home but can be purchased in many larger supermarkets and in some Asian grocers, can be used to promote menstruation, as a laxative and externally to treat rough skin and act as a protection against UV light.

I offer dark sesame tahini in my online shop.

Although many gardeners will have difficulty growing this plant, if you decide to do so, it’s important that you use organic methods, so that the intrinsic properties are not destroyed by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic sesame visit the Gardenzone.