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.


Thorn Apple health benefits: for asthma and Parkinson’s disease

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The thorn apple flower is decidedly weird

The Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium syn. D. inermis, D.s. var. chalybea, D.s. var. tatula and D. tatula) is also known as angel’s trumpet, devil’s trumpet, false castor oil, jimson/jamestown weed, man tuo luo, moonflower and purple thorn apple. It is not related to the castor oil plant or other plants called moonflower (all of which are in different families, both to it and to each other). It is in the same family as ashwagandha and deadly nightshade.

Description

It’s a half-hardy annual which can reach a height of 1.5m (4’6″) and spread of 1m (3′) in a single season! It prefers full sun and well drained soil, but it has a very strong unpleasant smell, so it’s best to put it somewhere away from the house and any garden seating areas.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow 3 seeds to a pot in early Spring under cover, and thin to the strongest one. Plant out in late Spring/early Summer leaving space to develop, so at least 1m (3′) apart. Harvest leaves when the plant is in full flower and dry for later use.

Cultivation is restricted as a noxious weed in several US states and certain other countries. Use of this plant is illegal in some countries — check local laws. Keep away from Solanaceae crops (eg. tomato, eggplant/aubergine, sweet pepper, chilli pepper, potato).

Contra-indications and warnings

NB: All parts of this plant are very poisonous. Only suitable for use by registered medical practitioners.

Medicinal uses

Thorn apple is used internally for asthma, fever from inflammations, pain from intestinal parasites, Parkinson’s disease, and externally for abscesses, dandruff, fistulas and severe neuralgia. Use with extreme caution and only if alternative remedies are not available.

Aromatherapy

Not used.

Final Notes

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


Patchouli essential oil, benefits and uses

Patchouli

Patchouli

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

If you were an adult in the 1960s and 1970s you’re almost certain to be familiar with the smell of patchouli oil. Like it or loathe it, on every High Street it would drift from the doors of boutiques that stocked clothes from the Indian subcontinent, and was also used almost universally as scent by the more hippy-minded of that era.

While the hippies probably didn’t realize it, the reason their preferred clothes outlets smelled so strongly of this herb was not because the owners of the shop wanted it to, but because fabrics from Asia were routinely packed with dried patchouli leaves as an insect repellent. But the smell of patchouli became entwined with the whole “head shop” experience, and even today, a waft of patchouli takes me back to those days when love was assumed to be free of consequence and the universal peace of the Age of Aquarius was expected any day.

As with all essential oils, patchouli 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.

Patchouli essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the tropical herb Pogostemon cablin (syn. P. patchouli), or at least the best quality type is. Extraction is by steam distillation, either from fresh or dried leaves. Dried leaves are sometimes fermented before being processed. There is some dispute as to which is the best method, but this is unlikely to be a problem as you will probably only be offered the type preferred by your supplier. The oil produced is thick, sticky, extremely strongly scented and colored from yellow/amber to dark orange. The color deepens with age, but the scent does not dissipate.

There are other plants which are more or less closely related also used to produce (inferior quality) patchouli oil, including P. heyneanus (Java or false patchouli), P. benghalensis syn. P. plectranthoides, Microtoenia insuavis syn. Gomphostemma insuave (Chinese or khasia patchouli) and Plectranthus patchouli. If you get patchouli oil that doesn’t almost knock your head off, it’s either fake, very dilute, or has been extracted from one of these plants.

If you don’t already know what it smells like, all I can really say is that it is a sweet, heady and musky scent which hangs around for a very long time – much to the dislike of many of my friends’ mothers in the early 1980s, when it was still in common use amongst certain groups.

Because of its persistence, it’s often used by perfumiers as a base for their fragrances, though it’s often quite difficult to pick it out (probably intentionally, as it can provoke quite violent reactions in people who don’t like it).

It’s generally recommended to avoid using patchouli on the skin during pregnancy.

For me, patchouli brings connotations of innocence which are wholly at odds both with its scent and with its properties. It has a reputation for increasing both energy and sex drive. However, it is mainly used in aromatherapy for skin and hair care, specifically acne, athlete’s foot, chapped skin, cracked skin, dandruff, dermatitis, fungal infections, impetigo, insect bites, oily hair, oily skin, open pores, sores, weeping eczema, wounds and wrinkles. It’s also useful for non-physical conditions such as apprehension, improving mental clarity, depression, frigidity, nervous exhaustion and stress. Finally, it’s useful to help the overweight, both by reducing water retention and helping to break down cellulite. As previously mentioned it’s also a useful insect repellent.

I offer a range of patchouli aromatherapy products 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.


Tea Tree Oil, benefits and uses

teatree-infographic-sm

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

History of
tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is the essential oil extracted from the Australian tea tree (or ti tree), Melaleuca alternifolia. Don’t confuse this with manuka, sometimes called the New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), nor with the tea bush from which we get our daily cuppa (Camellia sinensis). Manuka is a member of the same family as the tea tree, but the tea bush is not.

Tea tree leaves were actually being used as a healing tea by native Australians (as well as for other remedies) even before the continent was first colonized by Europeans. With typical arrogance, this knowledge was ignored until the early 1920s, when an Australian chemist called Arthur Penfold first extracted the essential oil and discovered that it was not only a very effective way to disinfect wounds, but that it stopped fungal infections in their tracks.

Tea tree oil became a worldwide success until the start of the Second World War, when supplies were diverted for use by field hospitals and civilian use virtually ceased. By the time the war was over tea tree oil had been forgotten, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was rediscovered and again started to be used around the world.

More recent studies have shown that tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal, that works even at fairly low dilution levels (5%). It’s even been shown to work against MRSA. Partly because of its strong fragrance, which is similar to eucalyptus, it has also become popular as a treatment for respiratory problems.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.
 
As with all essential oils, tea tree 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.
 

Tea tree oil uses

As you might expect, tea tree is often used on skin infections and pimples, but it is much more useful than that. Acne, which is caused by a bacteria which is resistant to many other treatments, responds well to tea tree oil ointment. Burns are another application, and because of its anti-viral properties, tea tree oil is often used undiluted for herpes/cold sores, warts and plantar warts (verrucas), all of which are caused by viruses.

Fungal infections such as ringworm (tinea), nail fungus, athlete’s foot, foot rot in animals and candida (thrush) can also be treated with tea tree oil or products based on it.

One of the most important uses from a parent’s point of view is to treat and prevent diaper rash (nappy rash). Many moms swear by it and say that it works much better than any conventional remedy they’ve tried, and carries on working, unlike some treatments.

In an emergency, tea tree oil can be used neat, but otherwise for these purposes you can use the oil diluted at 1 drop of tea tree to every 2 ml of your preferred base oil. This will avoid any problems with sensitivity to the neat oil, which is in any case quite unusual so long as you make sure to buy tea tree oil of good quality.

As a hair treatment, tea tree oil not only helps prevent dandruff but also kills cooties (head lice). For the former, tea tree oil shampoo used regularly is probably all you need, while to treat the cooties, just mix a teaspoon of tea tree oil with one of the heavier carrier oils like grape seed (cheapest) or olive oil, warm it up (I stand it on the radiator for 20 minutes or so) and then apply carefully, making sure that the entire scalp and every hair is coated. Wrap the treated head up in a towel and leave it for a couple of hours, then wash it out. You will probably need to wash it at least twice to get all the oil out, but you shouldn’t find any live critters after you’re done.

You can also use tea tree oil to treat canker sores (mouth ulcers), if you can stand the taste. Just dab the sore with a little tea tree oil on a cotton tip swab, but try not to swallow too much oil as it isn’t good for you. Alternatively, try using a mouthwash that contains tea tree oil, which is likely to be a lot less overpowering.

To treat bacterial vaginosis (BV), use a douche made from 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of tea tree oil to 2 cups (475 ml/16 fl oz) of water daily for 6 weeks.

Use tea tree oil in a diffuser, in the bath, or a few drops on the pillow or a tissue to treat colds, flu and respiratory infections.

I offer many tea tree products, from oils to ointments and more in my online shop.


Lavender essential oil, benefits and uses 2

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

True lavender, Lavandula angustifolia

True lavender, Lavandula angustifolia

Lavender aromatherapy extracts are incredibly useful, which is why I recommend it as one of the first two essential oils you should buy.

In my previous post, I discussed the differences between the different types of lavender products used in aromatherapy. As mentioned in that post, for most purposes the three essential oils are interchangeable, though lavandin is the best one to choose for respiratory. circulatory and muscular disorders, if available.

Lavender is also used in herbal medicine, and was a favorite with grannies when I was a kid to scent the underwear drawer. When my own son was in nursery, one of the things he made me for Mothers Day was a little bag stuffed full of lavender, for just this purpose. I still have it, and amazingly, some 16+ years later, if you put it to your nose and sniff, you can still catch the scent of lavender!Lavender is quite good at holding its scent, as this true story illustrates, but when we are talking about essential oil for therapeutic use, it’s important to store it correctly, inside the dark colored glass bottle in which you purchased it, somewhere cool and out of the sun. This way it will retain its usefulness for at least 6 months, and possibly longer. Even though aromatherapy sounds like it’s all about the scent, there are other components which may be lost if any oil is kept for too long, or in the wrong conditions.

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

When buying any aromatherapy oil, it’s very important to ensure that what you are buying is 100% pure essential oil, and even though there’s no real shortage of lavender it’s still necessary to check the label to make sure this is so, because not all manufacturers adhere to the best quality standards. You don’t want something that has been adulterated with fake products, because it will most likely not work correctly, and may be dangerous if used therapeutically. Don’t expect anything called a “fragrance oil” to be useful for aromatherapy.

Lavender is one of the very few essential oils which can be used directly on the skin without diluting it with a carrier oil first. Of course, it’s going to work out a lot cheaper if you do take the time to make a blend before use, but in an emergency – for example if you need to treat a burn or an insect sting quickly – you can use it neat with no worries. The chemist who brought aromatherapy to the modern world actually discovered the value of essential oils when he suffered severe burns and plunged his arm into the nearest liquid to hand – a vat of lavender essential oil – subsequently noticing that the burns healed much more quickly than usual and with virtually no scarring.

You will have gathered from this that one of the uses for lavender oil is to treat burns, for which it is usually used undiluted. Other uses which might come under the heading of “skin care” include abscesses, acne, allergic reactions, athlete’s foot, boils, bruises, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, inflammation, insect bites and stings, lice (cooties), psoriasis, scabies, sunburn, small cuts and wounds, and zits. For most of these, you would make a blend with a suitable carrier oil and apply it directly to the area to be treated.

I recommend one of the lighter carrier oils, such as sweet almond oil, for most of these blends, though olive oil would be a better choice for a dandruff cure or to treat head lice/cooties. If you want to keep the blend for more than a few days, you will need to use a dark colored glass bottle, brown or blue, to make it in (you can get these in various sizes from most good suppliers of essential oils). Plastic bottles are not suitable for this purpose, because the oil breaks down the plastic, and the contents end up being contaminated by nasty chemicals.

Measure the quantity of carrier oil for the size of bottle you’re using in millilitres (if you don’t have a metric measuring beaker, you should get one of these when you buy your first mixing bottles, as in general aromatherapy is based on the metric system because of its European origins). Pour it into the bottle and then add up to 1 drop of lavender essential oil for every 2ml of carrier oil. eg. if you have a 50ml bottle, measure out 50ml of carrier oil and add up to 25 drops of lavender oil. Put the lid on and give it a good shake to mix before using it.

In my next post I will list the other uses for lavender aromatherapy oils.

I offer various types of true lavender essential oil in my online shop.


Southernwood health benefits: wakes you up and perks you up as well

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Southernwood is often grown as an ornamental

Southernwood is often grown as an ornamental

Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum (syn. Artemisia procera), is also sometimes known as appleringie, boy’s love, European sage, garderobe, garden sagebrush, lad’s love, lemon plant, lover’s plant, maid’s ruin, old man, oldman wormwood, our Lord’s wood, slovenwood or Southern wormwood. It’s a close relative of wormwood and sage brush, but is not related to sage.

The names lad’s love, lover’s plant, maid’s ruin, and possibly old man all refer to the belief that it increases virility, a belief that goes back as far as Ancient Greece where they used to put it under the mattress to increase lust. Garderobe refers to its function as an insect repellent possibly used as a moth proofer. It’s called lemon plant because of its use for lemon flavoring. If you know the origin of appleringie, our Lord’s wood or slovenwood, please let me know.

Southernwood is a herb of cultivation and is not found in the wild. It is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height of around 4 feet (1.2m). It’s not fussy about soil – even poor soil is fine so long as it is well drained – and will tolerate drought. It will not grow in full shade.

Southernwood is not suitable for use during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester (when you may not even be aware that you are pregnant), so if you are trying for a baby do not use this herb.

Southernwood is not much used nowadays except in Germany, which is a surprise, as it has many uses. However, it should not be taken over an extended period or in large doses, because it is after all a member of the wormwood family (which has a reputation for toxicity).

To make a standard infusion add 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water to 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a poultice, mix chopped fresh or dried leaves with some hot water to moisten, wrap in a fine bandage and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water (which should be kept hot) as required.

Taken internally, southernwood is particularly useful for disorders affecting the digestive system. Not only does it remove obstructions and function as a mild laxative, but it stimulates the production of bile and improves liver function. It also destroys intestinal worms. It also stimulates the uterus and encourages menstruation, while on the male side of the equation it has a reputation stretching back thousands of years as a protection against impotence. All these benefits probably account for its recommendation as a good general tonic.

Externally, a poultice is used in Germany for frostbite, skin conditions, splinters and wounds. A standard infusion can be used as a hair rinse to treat dandruff and as an insect repellent if applied to the skin. Adding the leaves to the bath is used to counter sleepiness. Finally, it is reputed to stimulate hair growth, once used by young men in Southern Europe to encourage beard growth by rubbing the leaves on their faces.

I almost forgot to mention that southernwood is also an antiseptic.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, southernwood should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic Southernwood visit the Gardenzone.


Goosegrass (Cleavers) health benefits: for dandruff, glandular fever and ME

Goosegrass clings to everything it touches

Goosegrass clings to everything it touches

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Goosegrass, Galium aparine, is also known by many other names including bedstraw (which is also sometimes used for the closely related lady’s bedstraw), catchweed, cleavers, cleaverwort, clivers, coachweed, gosling weed, hedge-burs, loveman, robin-run-the-hedge, stickaback, stickyleaf, stickyweed, sticky willy and sweethearts. It is quite definitely a weed, and will almost certainly be familiar to you if you live in Europe, and my guess is that it will be just as familiar to my American readers. It’s a close relative of sweet woodruff.

Many of the names given to this plant refer to its ability to stick fast to your legs or whatever other portion of your anatomy comes into contact with it – leading to the evident joy that the young and not-so-young gain from throwing it at each other! This is its tactic for spreading from places where it’s already well-established to other areas.

According to most of the literature, this plant is tall, reaching 4 feet in height, though I’ve only really noticed it as a ground hugging plant. Perhaps it grows better where it’s left alone, and hugs the ground in places where it’s unwelcome and frequently removed – my garden, for instance. Whatever the case, it is inadvisable, in my view, for anyone to try and cultivate it, as it will just take over. You won’t likely have any difficulty sourcing plenty of material to use for medicine should you decide to do so, without running this risk. Look for it in moist grassy areas and on riverbanks if you don’t find it right away. Just try and avoid gathering it in areas right next to a main road, of course. The correct time for this is May or June, as the plant comes into flower, and you can dry it for later use by laying it out in a thin layer on trays somewhere airy and out of the sun, turning regularly until it is ready for storage.

Despite its weedy nature, goosegrass is amazingly useful.

The young shoots can be used as a potherb, the seeds as a coffee substitute, and the whole dried plant as a tea substitute. A thick (3 to 4 inch) layer of the herb in a sieve can be used to filter liquids, and a red dye can be made from the roots.

Turning to medicinal uses, a standard infusion is made by using just 2 handfuls of freshly chopped herb to a pint of boiling water, leaving it to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining off the solid matter and disposing of it.

A poultice is made by mixing chopped fresh or dried herb with hot water and wrapping in medical gauze, then applying to the area to be treated (refreshing with more hot water as required).

You can also make a salve by mixing freshly squeezed juice with butter, according to John Lust. However, sensitive people may find that contact with the juice causes dermatitis, so be careful until/unless you know that you are not one of them.

Goosegrass infusion is used externally to treat dandruff and other types of seborrhea, eczema, psoriasis and skin cancer. It is also used internally to treat the same conditions, as well as cystitis, glandular fever, hepatitis, ME and tonsillitis. It’s also useful as a diuretic and to lower temperature in feverish conditions. As a poultice it is used to treat wounds, external ulcers and other skin problems, and the salve is also used to treat skin conditions.

Not bad for an annoying weed, eh? On top of which, if you get tar on yourself, you can get rid of it, apparently, by rubbing it with some of the fresh herb. Not something I’ve tried, but I guess it may come in useful in some parts. Does it grow in Louisiana? I have no idea.

Since I don’t recommend growing it deliberately, I won’t bother telling you about the necessity of growing medicinal herbs organically, which in my view pretty much goes without saying anyway. But when you’re gathering it, try and avoid areas where it may have been polluted by traffic fumes or agricultural chemicals.


Nettles health benefits: for arthritis, eczema and heavy periods

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Nettles are very good for wildlife

Nettles are very good for wildlife

Unless you’ve led an extraordinarily sheltered life, I would say that you will probably have little difficulty in recognising the common or stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, though you might mistake the unrelated white deadnettle for it – but not when you see them side by side.

Nettles are one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Organic gardeners may have patches of nettles dotted around because of the benefits to wildlife, and possibly also as a companion plant for soft fruit. However, nettles can be invasive, spreading mainly by underground rhizomes, although there is also some seedling growth which can be removed by hoeing.

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

Though it might seem like an urban myth, young nettle tops really do make a good substitute for spinach, though you need to be quite skilful to gather enough without getting stung! Older nettles are no longer suitable for eating, because they contain cystoliths which cause irritation of the kidneys.

An infusion is made from 3 handfuls of fresh nettles to 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of boiling water, allowed to stand for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before use. This can be used at a dosage of between 150-225ml (two-thirds to 1 US cup) a day as a treatment for heavy periods, arthritis, rheumatism and haemorrhoids. It can also be used externally as a rub for neuralgia, sciatica and arthritis, and to treat eczema and dandruff.

Being beaten with nettles is an old remedy for rheumatism and similar conditions.

A decoction can be made by putting 15g (half an ounce) of dried or 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root into a pan containing 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of water, bringing to a boil, then lowering to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. This is used to treat an enlarged prostate gland at a dosage of 225ml (1 US cup) a day.

I offer various nettle products in my online shop.

As I’ve made plain throughout this blog, herbs grown for use as herbal remedies should be grown organically, to avoid the active ingredients being altered or drowned out by foreign chemicals. Although nettles are probably fairly easy to find in the wild, it’s difficult to be certain that they haven’t been sprayed with something or other by some well-meaning person (unless it is truly a wilderness area), so despite the fact that you may not really want nettles growing in your garden, it is best to have them there somewhere – perhaps behind the shed – where you can keep your eye on them, if you wish to use them for herbal medicine. There are other valuable uses for nettles in the organic garden.

To find out more about nettles in the organic garden visit the Gardenzone.


Rosemary health benefits: for pain, depression and many other uses

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

(A video containing the main points outlined here is available here)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a pretty little bush from the Mediterranean. There’s also a prostrate form, var. prostratus. Both types can be used in the same ways.

Description

Rosemary is quite tender, and has a tendency to keel over without warning, so it’s best to have a couple of plants, although you can go the gardener’s route of taking cuttings regularly – I guess it depends on how many friends you are likely to be able to pass any extras on to!

Because it is from the Med, it likes hot sunny positions with a bit of shelter, and does not like frost or cold wet winters at all. It grows best in poor light alkaline soil with ample lime.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow indoors March to June, barely cover seed, transplant to 8cm (3″) pots, or outdoors May to June 1cm (½”) deep, thin to 15cm (6″) apart. Put in final position Fall or Spring when there is no risk of frost. Pick a sheltered spot, if possible. Tidy the plants in Spring, and after a cold wet Winter take cuttings, as the plant may die unexpectedly. Prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth.

If you can bring it into a porch or conservatory in the winter (a full sized plant will be in a pretty big pot), it will appreciate it, or you can cover it with fleece or a cloche – or rely on the aforementioned cuttings. It doesn’t like having its roots disturbed, so if you will be bringing it indoors, grow it in a pot from the get-go.

Collect leaves and flowering tops in Spring and early Summer for immediate use, drying or distillation for oil.

Edible uses

Traditional gardening advice is to prune back to stop it getting straggly after it has flowered, and this would be a good opportunity to get some drying material for use in the kitchen. It’s a slightly bitter herb but makes a great addition to lamb or chicken if used fairly sparingly, as well as lots of other uses.

Contra-indications and warnings

Rosemary is one of the best herbal remedies, but before I go on, I need to point out that anybody who suffers from high blood pressure or epilepsy should not use rosemary in large amounts or as herbal medicine. You should be fine using it sparingly in cooking, though.

Rosemary is pregnancy safe with a maximum dose of 1 cup a day of half-strength standard infusion. However, it’s best to avoid using rosemary oil maceration during pregnancy.

Medicinal uses

A standard infusion made from 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves steeped in 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water for 15 minutes to 4 hours, before straining and use, is the normal way to use Rosemary. You can add honey to make it sweeter, if you prefer. It’s used for depression, headaches, migraine, nervous exhaustion, indigestion and other digestive problems including gall bladder disorders, and for PMS. If you are pregnant, restrict intake of this infusion to no more than one cup a day, diluted half and half with water.

You can also use the infusion as a mouthwash, and as a final rinse when washing your hair to treat dandruff and as a hair tonic for dark hair (blondes should use Roman chamomile for this instead). The same infusion can be used externally for muscle pain, arthritis, rheumatism and as a skin tonic.

A cold compress, made by dipping clean cloth into a cooled standard infusion, and putting it over the affected area, will help to ease the pain of neuralgia, although it is unlikely to provide a complete cure.

You can make a rosemary oil maceration by filling an airtight jar with fresh rosemary and covering it with good quality oil (olive oil is good, go for the cheapest variety for medicinal purposes). Cover and leave it on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks, shaking it every day, then strain it and store in brown glass bottles, making sure to label it. This oil would be great for a hot oil treatment for your hair. You can also use rosemary essential oil diluted at a rate of 1 drop essential oil to 2ml carrier oil (15 drops to 1/8 US cup). Warm up the oil (not too much – despite the name, hot oil treatments actually use warm oil) and apply it after washing your hair, massaging it well into the scalp. Wrap your head in a towel and leave it for 2-3 hours (or overnight), then wash out with a mild (non-medicated) shampoo. You can use the same method to treat cooties (headlice) if necessary. The oil will suffocate the little blighters, and the rosemary aroma is also a deterrent.

Where to get it

I offer a number of rosemary products in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Rosemary essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 6 years, or anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy. Rosemary essential oil is used in aromatherapy to stimulate the lymphatic system, for mental and physical fatigue and to soothe osteoarthritis and rheumatism.

It can either be used by adding a few drops to a hot bath or mixed with a carrier oil as described already and massaged into the skin – but don’t use it on inflamed areas. You could also use a muslin bag of crushed fresh herb in the bath instead of buying essential oil. The massage oil can also be used to help ease the pain of RSI. However, this is not a cure, and you should discontinue the activity that caused the condition, if at all possible, or find a new way of doing it that does not use the same movements.

Final Notes

Remember that, if you want to use rosemary medicinally, it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic rosemary.