Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
     
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
     
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
     
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
     
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe for pregnant women and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zinc

Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • AMD/ARMD
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources

foods_high_in_zinc2

Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.

zinc-content2

Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.


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Lemon and Orange Peels: Don’t throw them away

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

If you’ve bought a lemon or two to make your own lemon meringue pie filling, or to use the juice some other way, don’t throw away the peel – it’s full of nutrition. The same goes for oranges, both the sweet ones we eat from the fruit bowl and the bitter ones used for marmalade.

OK. I understand that you might already use orange peel in your marmalade, if that’s why you bought the oranges. Personally I prefer mine shredless, but we’re all different. It may be, also, that you buy your lemons to slice up and put in drinks. Or you may just never buy either of these fruits, so you don’t have any peel that you can put to good use. No problem! You can buy dried lemon and orange peels in some health stores and herbalists.

Description

I hope that you are careful about the oranges and lemons that you buy, particularly if you’re using the peel in cooking or adding it to drinks, because commercial citrus growers aren’t picky about using chemicals, many of which are extremely bad for you. Obviously, a lot of these end up on the skin. So as you are probably accustomed to me saying in every post, it’s important that the peel you use comes from organically grown oranges or lemons (or other citrus fruit).

So why should you go to the trouble of rescuing your citrus peels, or even buying them in? You’ll be amazed just how good for you these little bits of detritus actually are!

Nutrients

First off, there’s a lot more nutrition in lemon and orange peel than you might expect from something you would normally throw away. Here’s a breakdown:

Nutrition per 100g    
Nutrient Lemon Peel Orange Peel
Vitamins  
Vitamin C 129mg 136mg
Thiamin 0.06mg 0.12mg
Riboflavin 0.08mg 0.09mg
Niacin 0.4mg 0.9mg
Vitamin B6 0.172mg 0.176mg
Folate 13µg 30µg
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin A 50IU 420IU
Vitamin E 0.25mg 0.25mg
Minerals  
Calcium 134mg 161mg
Iron 0.8mg 0.8mg
Magnesium 15mg 22mg
Phosphorus 12mg 21mg
Potassium 160mg 212mg
Sodium 6mg 3mg
Zinc 0.25mg 0.25mg
Other  
saturated fat 0.039g 0.024g
monounsaturated fat 0.011g 0.036g
polyunsaturated fat 0.089g 0.04g
trans fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting you start eating orange peel by the bowlful. This is just to illustrate that it’s not rubbish, by any means.

Medicinal uses

But the nutrients are only half the story. There’s also evidence that components not listed in this table, for example bioflavonoids, have health benefits that have little to do with vitamin and mineral content (so far as we know). One of these interesting substances is d-limonene, found in all citrus peel, which is used to treat GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It also dissolves cholesterol – even when it’s formed into gallstones. Another property of limonene is as a preventive against colorectal, breast and some other cancers. Useful indeed!

Lemon peel also contains a flavonoid called naringin, a powerful antioxidant. Another flavonoid called hesperidin is found in the white pith of lemons, and this may be helpful for menopausal women by inhibiting bone loss (osteoporosis).

Recent research indicates that citrus peel may also help to prevent diabetes, obesity and heart disease by reducing TG and cholesterol.

Great! I hear you saying. But if I don’t have to eat it, how do I get these amazing benefits? Easy. Either stick it through a blender or juicer to get it really fine so you can add it to food, smoothies and so on or make an infusion, or both. You can also use it in larger size pieces (remove the pith to reduce bitterness) in recipes using grains and rice.

To make a standard infusion you would use about 15-30g fresh peel or a teaspoon or two of dried peel to each cup of boiling water. Leave it to brew for 5-15 minutes (the longer you leave it, the more beneficial the resulting tea). Sweeten to taste, and enjoy.

Aromatherapy

Lemon, sweet and bitter orange are all used to make essential oil, extracted from the peel. Like all citrus oils, they are photo-sensitising, so you should avoid tanning beds and sunshine for 48 hours after use.

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.

Final Notes

If you are lucky enough to live in an appropriate climate and have a large enough garden to grow your own lemons and oranges, please bear in mind that organic is best, because that way you know what you’re getting is pure and unadulterated with chemicals.


Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon health benefits: super spice, but not superfood

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon, the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree (syn. Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Laurus cinnamomum), is a spice used for many centuries throughout the world – originally only by royalty, due to the price. The origin was kept secret from the West until the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders landed in Sri Lanka.

Although cinnamon trees are grown commercially in many parts of the East, even as recently as 2006 90% of the production of cinnamon was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Obviously, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas with a similar climate, you won’t be growing your own cinnamon tree. But you can still use it by purchasing good quality cinnamon, which is easy to tell from the inferior cassia if you buy it in “quills” rather than ground (see picture left). It keeps better like this as well.

If you do live in a cinnamon-producing area, you are still probably better off purchasing rather than growing your own, which involves coppicing cinnamon trees, removing the bark from the resulting branches, immediately discarding the outer bark and drying the inner, which rolls up as it dries to form the characteristic quills.

Edit: I just came across this YouTube video on Reddit, which seems to demonstrate beyond any doubt that cinnamon works as an effective ant-repellent.

Don’t believe propaganda that says a teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries or a whole cup of pomegranate juice. This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I researched the actual nutrient content of each. I’m afraid that you still have to eat those blueberries or drink that pomegranate juice. Cinnamon does contain quite a lot of nutrients, for sure, in particular manganese, calcium and iron, but a teaspoonful a day is not going to fulfil your antioxidant requirements, or go anywhere near doing that, sorry.

Having shot that fox, there is strong research evidence that cinnamon is very helpful to people suffering from diabetes – as little as a half teaspoonful a day lowers blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride in Type 2 diabetics not taking insulin. Other studies show the same quantity can lower LDL cholesterol in the general population.

Cancer patients would also do well to supplement with cinnamon: studies have shown that it is active against colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. In my view, it’s worth supplementing with cinnamon whatever type of cancer you may have, given the broad spread represented by the ones researched so far.

Copenhagen researchers gave arthritis patients a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey for breakfast every day, and within a week, their pain was significantly reduced – after a month they could walk without pain.

It’s also prescribed in Germany for appetite loss and indigestion.

Other conditions which are helped by cinnamon include COPD, poor circulation in hands and feet, all kinds of digestive disorders including infantile diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, athlete’s foot and medication-resistant yeast infections.

For athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections you can use a wash – make a standard infusion using a half teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to cool before use. For other purposes, you can add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to honey (like the Danish study did), or you could just chew the powder and swallow it (as Chinese herbalists often recommend), or make a standard infusion and drink it (hot or cold). Another method would be to obtain empty capsules from a herbal supplier and fill each one with a quarter or half teaspoon of cinnamon so that you can take one or two in the morning or at night along with your regular supplementation. There are also ready made cinnamon capsules available, see below.

I offer powdered cinnamon, cinnamon bark and cinnamon bark 350mg capsules in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

There are two types of cinnamon essential oil: bark oil, which is toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy under any circumstances, and leaf oil which can be used diluted with carrier oil for skin infections and as a stimulant to increase blood flow and sexual appetite. Do a patch test before using on the skin and use in moderation. It can also be used neat (wear gloves) to kill mosquitoes and their larvae, and in an oil burner as a room freshener and mosquito repellent. Even the leaf oil is irritant and should be avoided by pregnant women. Never use internally, even in cooking.

As with all essential oils, cinnamon 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.

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea health benefits: for auto-immune conditions, the heart and tooth decay

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea, which grows as a bush and is cultivated in many parts of the East, is familiar to everyone. The tea plant is sometimes called Assam tea, black tea, China tea and green tea, though these names are usually reserved for the various beverages made from the leaves (which also include sencha, matcha, oolong tea, white tea and pu-erh tea), and often to the processes used in production. The latin name is Camellia sinensis (syn. Camellia bohea, C. thea, C. theifera and Thea sinensis). It is not related to the tea tree.

The tea bush is an evergreen shrub, reaching a height of 13 feet (4m) and spreading over 8 feet wide. However, as it is only the tips which are used, it is usually kept trimmed to a more manageable size.

In common with other Camellias it will not grow in alkaline soil and is virtually allergic to lime and chalk, to such an extent that care must be taken when sourcing water to be used for it. It prefers a semi-shady position on well drained moist soil. It is not very hardy, surviving at temperatures as low as -20ºC (-4ºF) – zone 8 – in its native area, but only down to around -10ºC (-4ºF) elsewhere.

The parts used are the very young leaves and leaf buds of bushes over 3 years old, which can be harvested throughout the growing season and dried for later use. This is called green tea. You can also use good quality commercial green tea, which is readily available.

Green tea is different from other kinds of tea on the market, because the leaves are not fermented during processing. This makes green tea the most natural type of tea, and it is also the one which contains the highest levels of antioxidants (polyphenols) and other constituents.

To make tea using loose leaves, allow 1 teaspoon per person plus “one for the pot” in a pre-warmed teapot. Cover with boiling water and leave to stand for several minutes before use. Many people add milk and sugar, or a slice of lemon to black tea, but green tea is usually served without milk. Do not use artificial sweeteners as these contain noxious chemicals.

Tea is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbalism. Studies have shown that regular tea drinking protects against heart disease and also tooth decay! Use internally to treat diarrhea, amebic and bacterial dysentery, hepatitis and gastro-enteritis, as a diuretic, stimulant and heart tonic. You can use the leaves or teabags as a poultice to treat cuts, burns, bruises, insect bites, swellings, tired eyes etc. Cold tea can be used as a wash for the same purposes and for sunburn.

There have been many studies into the properties of green tea, and these indicate that green tea is effective against auto-immune conditions including ALS (Lou Gehrig`s disease), cancer and heart disease. Anybody suffering from an auto-immune condition (which includes many chronic diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as more serious problems) would probably find that drinking 2-4 cups of green tea a day will help. It certainly can’t hurt!

I offer many types of tea, including supplements in my online shop.

If you wish to grow it yourself for herbal use do ensure that you follow organic methods to avoid the corruption of its intrinsic components by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet Flag health benefits: is a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag, Acorus calamus, is also known by many other names, including calamus, calamus root, flag root, muskrat root, myrtle flag, rat root, sweet calomel, sweet rush and sweet sedge. It is found growing all over the world, though it is believed to have originated in Asia. It is not related to the blue flag, bog myrtle, common myrtle, lemon myrtle or allspice (sometimes called myrtle pepper).

Sweet flag is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of 1m (3 feet). It grows in wet soil or in water. Type of soil is not important, but the plant will not grow in full shade. It can be propagated from seed, which should be surface sown onto moist or wet soil as soon as the seeds are available and not allowed to dry out. Once plants are big enough to handle they can be moved to a sheltered area, but must be kept moist or wet at all times until they are transplanted to their final position, on the edge or in the margins of a pond, where the soil is always moist or even flooded.

The American poet Walt Whitman wrote 39 poems about the sweet flag, known as the Calamus poems, in his book Leaves of Grass, and it was also a favorite of the naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

Sweet flag is the favorite food of the American musk rat and perhaps because of this, as well as its use in medicine, native Americans planted it everywhere they went. It’s now found across North America in water close to former native American settlements, camping areas and trails.

Blue flag is unrelated to sweet flag, and POISONOUSTake care not to confuse this plant with the poisonous blue flag, left (sometimes called poison flag), a species of Iris which grows in the same habitat. If either plant is in flower, this is easy to achieve, but otherwise you can tell them apart by fragrance. Sweet flag has a pleasant, sweet fragrance, whereas blue flag does not. If there is any doubt, it is wise not to harvest the plant, as an error may prove fatal. However, if you are able to grow sweet flag, this difficulty can be avoided (so long as you don’t also grow its poisonous namesake).

Acorus calamus and derivatives, as well as products containing them, were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1968 for use in food or food supplements offered for sale. The reason given relates to tests done on rats fed with large quantities of an extract (beta-asarone) of the tetraploid form of the plant (found in East Asia, India and Japan), which is not found in the diploid and triploid forms which grow in Europe and North America (even though beta-asarone is not found in European and North American plants). For this reason, the essential oil (which is a highly concentrated extract) is not recommended for medicinal use, because it may be dangerous. It’s possible that the real reason for this ban is the plant’s hallucinogenic properties. The 60s were a time when natural hallucinogens were popular for recreational purposes, much to the annoyance of Western governments.

There is no regulation prohibiting personal use of sweet flag in the US. There may be regulations in other countries, so it is best to check the law in the country where you live.

The part used in herbal medicine is the rhizome (an underground stem, often mistakenly called a root), which should be harvested in late fall or early spring when plants are no more than 3 years old and used immediately or dried for later use. Other parts may be used in the kitchen – the leaves to flavor custard (by immersion in the milk while it is heating, removed before serving), young leaves can be cooked, and the peeled stems used uncooked in salad. Young flowers are sweet, and can also be eaten uncooked.

Don’t store dried roots for more than a few months, as they deteriorate quickly.

Sweet flag is an amazingly versatile addition to the herbal medicine cabinet. However, it is definitely not suitable for use during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage.

Historically, sweet flag has been used all over the world for many different purposes. It was listed in the US National Formulary for medicinal use on humans until 1950. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. In Ayurvedic medicine it is valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system, and as a remedy for digestive disorders. The Dakotas used it to treat diabetes.

If you’ve never used sweet flag before, start with a low dose. If this does not work, increase the dose but don’t overdo it. Taking too large a dose can cause nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. Do not use sweet flag for a long period. Alternate with other remedies for longstanding conditions.

The most common way of using sweet flag is by chewing it; a normal dose is about 5cm (2 inches). Normally, you chew it without swallowing until you feel you’ve had enough (this may sound a bit hit and miss, but isn’t unusual with folk remedies, which are generally milder than the chemicals used in conventional medicine). Try not to swallow the chewed root, as it may cause a stomach upset. Dispose of the chewed root in the trash.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 tsp of dried rhizome to 120ml (half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water, leaving it to steep for 5 minutes before straining for use. A decoction can be made by adding 1 tbsp of dried rhizome to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water, bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then strain. The dosage for the standard infusion or decoction is up to 240ml/1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Another way to use it is as a herbal bath: add 450gm (1lb) of dried rhizome to 5 litres (5 US quarts, 1 UK gallon) of cold water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat, steep for 5 minutes, strain off the herb and throw away, then add the liquid to the bath water. Check that the bath water has not been made too hot by the addition of such a large quantity of very hot water before getting in!

There are so many uses, I’ve split them up as follows:

Anodyne:
soothes and relieves pain (mainly toothache, sore gums and sore throat).
Anti-smoking:
chew the rhizome to kill the taste for tobacco (may induce nausea)
Aphrodisiac:
Arabic, Ancient Roman and traditional European herbals recommend it as an aphrodisiac which increases sexual desire. The traditional treatment for this purpose is a herbal bath.
Appetizer:
stimulates and restores the appetite, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
Aromatic:
stimulant and mild tonic, especially useful when you don’t feel you have enough energy to finish a job which must be completed before you can rest.
Carminative:
expels excessive gas (and reduces its production) and relaxes the bowel, useful for digestive problems such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), bloating and colic.
Diaphoretic:
promotes perspiration.
Emmenagogue:
promotes menstruation.
Expectorant:
promotes flow of mucus from respiratory passages and makes tickly coughs productive. Also relieves sinusitis by acting on the mucous membranes.
Febrifuge:
reduces or eliminates fevers.
Hypotensive:
lowers blood pressure.
Odontalgic:
treats toothache and other tooth and gum problems, chewing the root alleviates toothache.
Stomachic:
remedy for digestive disorders; small doses reduce stomach acidity; larger doses increase stomach secretions. It also stimulates the salivary glands.
Sedative:
has a calming effect and can be used to treat panic and anxiety attacks, or for shock. Chew a piece of the rhizome and breathe slowly and deeply while doing so.
Tonic:
for brain and nervous system to manage neuralgia and epilepsy and treat memory loss.
Vermifuge:
destroys intestinal parasites.

It is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow sweet flag organically, and this is particularly the case for herbs which grow in water. If you have fish, then you will probably already be avoiding chemicals in the water, but in any case if you have trouble with algae, it’s important that you find an organic treatment, because chemicals will find their way into the plants and dilute or entirely eliminate the active constituents.To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Do not use the essential oil except under medical supervision and advice. As with all essential oils, sweet flag essential oil should also 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.

Turmeric is related to ginger

Turmeric health benefits: a treasure chest of healing

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Turmeric is related to ginger

Turmeric is related to ginger

Strictly speaking, turmeric is a spice rather than a herb, as is ginger which is in the same family. However, when it comes to its value as a remedy, turmeric is a star, and I’ve therefore given it honorary herbal status!

Turmeric is also known as haldi and has also been called Indian saffron (though it is not related to any other plant that bears the name saffron), because it gives a yellow color to food, and is/was used as a cheap saffron alternative. The latin name is Curcuma longa (sometimes Curcuma domestica).

Turmeric requires a temperature of 20-30º C to do well, and to be kept moist, which is a difficult thing to achieve unless you live in the tropics. However, it is possible to grow it in pots. Plants are available from specialist nurseries or you can plant a few fresh rhizomes obtained from an Asian grocer.

Choose rhizomes that look juicy (as ones that are dried out probably won’t grow) with a bud on one side. Plant them in a tray with the bud facing upwards in very gritty compost (mix horticultural or undyed aquarium grit with ordinary potting compost), just covered. Water and put inside a plastic bag out of direct sunlight, preferably with bottom heat. They need a minimum temperature of 20 degrees, as already stated.

Once shoots emerge, you can remove the bag, but make sure you keep the temperature up and the compost moist. At around 6″ (15cm) you can pot them on into individual pots (as rhizomes grow, you will probably need to pot on to allow room for them to develop). Put them on a tray full of pebbles or shingle, and keep the tray topped up with water (but not high enough so that the pot is sitting in it), to keep the atmosphere around the plant moist. Make sure the compost in the pot doesn’t dry out completely between waterings.

Although I’ve given instructions for growing, it’s not really practical to convert the resulting crop into the turmeric powder we are familiar with, because it’s a long process involving boiling them for several hours, drying them in an oven, and then grinding to a powder. Turmeric is cheap enough (especially in Asian stores) to make all this effort seem a bit of a waste – although do be careful that what you’re buying isn’t too cheap, as there have been cases of cheap (and sometimes dangerous) fillers being substituted for some of the yellow powder that is sold. The leaves can be used in Indonesian cooking, in particular beef rendang, the plant and the flowers are attractive, and it’s unusual enough to provoke comments from visitors, so you may agree with me that it’s probably worth growing just as an ornamental.

As you no doubt know, turmeric powder is used extensively in Asian cooking and also apparently to make tea in Okinawa! It’s also used by food processors in the West to color many food products where you would not expect to find it, from cheese, butter and margarine to salad dressings, mustard and chicken broth, amongst other things.

Turning to its medicinal value, there are a couple of contra-indications. Do not use in medicinal amounts if you have gallstones or any gallbladder or bile duct disorder. Turmeric is also not suitable for use as a herbal remedy by pregnant women, although it’s safe enough in the levels found in food.

Apparently, taking turmeric in combination with black pepper (more correctly piperine, which is a component of black pepper) increases its effects 20-fold, so if you’re making a meal which includes turmeric, adding 20g of black pepper (or long pepper, Piper retrofractum, a close relative) would turn it into a remedy!

Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use across Asia. In China, it is prescribed as an anti-depressant, but mostly its uses relate to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, glucose metabolism stimulating, cholesterol-lowering and liver detox/tonic effects. It is effective in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis – more so than many proprietary anti-inflammatory drugs – and also has a reputation for preventing metastasis in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer, preventing the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, and preventing melanoma from increasing. Though it seems incredible, it has also been found to be a natural anti-venom effective for bites of the King Cobra. Finally, research seems to indicate that it can both put off and possibly repair damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. And this is just a quick overview. It’s truly a treasure chest of healing in a single spice.

Chronic low level inflammation is a major component of almost all Western chronic diseases. This may be why turmeric, a very potent anti-inflammatory with few side effects, is beneficial for so many conditions. Turmeric is the subject of numerous research studies, which find that it is almost a miracle spice, effective for many conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It has even been shown to help regenerate the liver.

Drink a teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a cup of yogurt, milk or fruit juice to treat indigestion and bloating, to normalize blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and to strengthen the immune system. Add a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper to combat colds and respiratory infections.

A condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa or Acne inversa, a very unsightly type of acne, has responded well (even in patients who have suffered from the condition for many years) to a dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric mixed with 60ml (1/4 US cup, 2 fl oz) warm water, taken three times a day. To treat any of the other conditions given, try starting off with a dose about half as strong as this, increasing if necessary. However, if you or your patient are suffering from a serious illness, do not neglect to take and follow medical advice as well.

Cuts, burns and bruises can be treated with a paste made by mixing turmeric powder with water and applying on a bandage to the affected area (or without a bandage, if this is feasible – however, turmeric will stain any fabric it comes into contact with permanently, so the bandage is probably a useful precaution).

I offer various turmeric products in my online shop.

I doubt you will be growing turmeric at home for medicinal use, however, if you do wish to, it should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not masked or completely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Ramsons grow wild in damp woodland

Ramsons health benefits: potent remedy growing wild all over

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ramsons grow wild in damp woodland

Ramsons grow wild in damp woodland

Ramsons (always in the plural, presumably because of its invasive tendencies), Allium ursinum, also known as wild garlic, bear’s garlic and stinkin’ ingins (a Scots’ name meaning stinking onions), is a common sight in damp woodlands, where it carpets the ground if left to its own devices. When not in flower, it’s sometimes confused with lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), which is poisonous, but easily distinguished by the strong garlicky scent which arises if you crush one of ramsons’ leaves. It is a useful addition to the salad bowl and for use in soups during the winter, and dormant in the summer months.

Ramsons is quite closely related to the cultivated garlic (even though they are completely different in appearance), and is a member of the onion family, all of which are well known for their health-giving properties.

The most important active constituent is not destroyed by conventional cooking but does not survive microwave cooking.

Boosts the immune system. Promotes general health. Medicinally, the bulb is the most active, although all parts of the plant can be used. Ramsons is antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and a good anti-oxidant. Useful as a tonic to prevent infection and for colds, coughs, flu and gastroenteritis. It also slows arteriosclerotic deterioration and lessens the risk of a heart attack. It’s very effective in reducing high blood pressure and lowering LDL cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetes, for digestive disorders including diarrhea, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), colic, loss of appetite, and respiratory problems from asthma to bronchitis and COPD. It can also be used to treat threadworms. Use externally for skin problems, including fungal infections.

Ramsons can be mistaken for poisonous plants when not in flower

Ramsons can be mistaken for poisonous plants when not in flower

The juice can be used as a rub to treat joint pain, and can also apparently be used to aid weight loss, although how it is utilized for this purpose is not clear.

If you do not live close to woodland, or cannot make a confident identification – it is sometimes mixed up with Lily of the Valley or Meadow Saffron when not in flower, both of which are poisonous – you should ensure that you grow it organically, to avoid taking in concentrations of chemicals along with your remedy. For more information on growing organic Ramsons, visit the Gardenzone.


Holy basil is sacred to Hindus

Holy Basil (Tulsi) health benefits: raises your spirits, immunities and appetites

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Holy basil is sacred to Hindus

Holy basil is sacred to Hindus

Holy or sacred basil, otherwise known as tulsi or tulasi, Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum, is a sacred herb in the Hindu faith, the story being that a peasant girl fell in love with Krishna and was cursed by his consort, turning her into a tulasi plant. There are holy days on which tulasi is the central focus, and some Hindus will not use it even for medicine, out of reverence, although the majority do.

There seems to be some confusion between this herb and Thai basil, which is a variety of sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, and is used in cooking. The difference, according to Wikipedia, is that Thai basil smells strongly of liquorice or aniseed, tastes slightly of liquorice or mint, and is hairless, while holy basil has hairy leaves and a warmer, spicy fragrance and tastes similar to cloves. So if you see a herb offered for sale as holy basil which does not have hairy leaves, by all means buy it for use in Thai cooking, but not for medical use. You will also have to be quite careful if buying seeds, choosing a specialist herb seed supplier which lists both types, if at all possible.

Holy basil is related to sweet basil but not to wild basil or basil thyme.

Holy basil is an antioxidant and boosts the immune system. It’s also been shown to be helpful for diabetics, because it lowers blood sugar levels, and it also lowers levels of cholesterol in the blood, which may explain its Ayurvedic use as a treatment for heart disease. It is used as a tonic to raise the spirits and increase sexual appetite, to treat colds, flu, headaches and digestive disorders, as well as rheumatism and arthritis. For these purposes, the herb can either be included in food, or used in a standard infusion. Add 1 cup of boiling water to 3-4 teaspoonfuls of chopped fresh herb, or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried. Allow to stand for around 10 minutes, strain and use. It can be sipped over the course of an hour or so, if preferred.

The same infusion can be used cold as a wash for skin infections and fungal conditions.

I offer a wide range of tulsi teas in my online shop.

In common with all herbs used for medicinal purposes, it’s important that Holy basil is grown organically, so that it is not adulterated by noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic holy basil, visit the Gardenzone.