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.


Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

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

The thyme I am talking about here is Thymus vulgaris, the common or garden thyme. It’s a low growing, fairly tough plant that likes a sunny situation. It comes in the standard green leafed and also in variegated forms, which some people consider to be more attractive, but the important thyme oil (which is the source of all thyme’s goodness) is found in both.

Thyme is closely related to lemon thyme, but not to basil thyme.

Remember that if you want to use thyme 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. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

Like most herbs, once it is established, it doesn’t like to be moved, although you will probably get away with it if you are moving it to a new position it likes. You will have to water it regularly in dry spells until it starts to put on new growth, showing that the roots have got over the shock of the move. Unless your area suffers from extremely cold winters, it should be perfectly happy to let you pick a few sprigs all year round, although if you want to get the highest concentration of oil, you should harvest as much as you can just before the flowers open.

Thyme is one of those herbs that begs to be touched. Get down close to it and crush a few leaves to savor its rich meaty fragrance. It’s easy to see why it makes such a good herb for meat dishes, particularly beef. You can even use it instead of oregano or marjoram in Italian food, if you like. The fresh herb is so rich, you may prefer to dry it by hanging it up in bunches somewhere with a good air flow and not too humid for culinary use, after which you should strip the leaves off the branches and store them in an airtight jar.

Fresh or dried thyme makes an unusual and tasty tea – use about 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves, or half as much of the dried ones per cup. Make it in a pot and allow the herb to steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before straining it into a cup. You can add a little honey to sweeten it, if you like. Herbal teas are generally not served with milk. (If you are pregnant, please see note below).

Medicinal uses for Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herbal medicine for digestive and respiratory disorders, it’s an anti-fungal, is useful for treating infections (both viral and bacterial), is antiseptic, expectorant, and can be used as a general tonic.

Before you read further it’s important for you to know that thyme should not be used in large amounts, for example for tea or as a herbal remedy, during pregnancy. A little bit used in cooking will do no harm, but for medicinal purposes, you will be using rather more than a pinch.

To make a standard infusion, put 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried into a pot and add 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes and strain into a cup. The infusion does not have to be drunk all in one go, but can be sipped slowly over an hour or so. It can be used hot or cold (probably cold would be best for gargling or as a mouthwash, and hot would be helpful for coughs and catarrh).

Taken internally the standard infusion is very helpful for respiratory complaints, specifically for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis and other coughs, and laryingitis. It may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, etc and as a mouthwash for bad breath and/or gum disease (gingivitis).

The same infusion is also helpful in cases of indigestion, diarrhea and gastritis, and is good for chills, as it has a warming effect. It can also be used externally as a wash for fungal infections, and can be used to make a warm compress for sore throats and tonsillitis. A compress is a clean cloth which is soaked in the infusion and then applied to the area. For a warm compress, the infusion should cool a little before use.

A steam inhalation is helpful in cases of tonsillitis, catarrh and general infections, also to help relieve muscle fatigue for ME sufferers. You can either use a few drops of the essential oil (bought in) or a good handful of fresh herb. Put the oil or crushed herb into a big flat bowl of boiling water and lean over it, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel to help keep the steam in. Another way is to have a hot steamy bath with the oil or herbs added to the water. In this case, put the herbs inside a muslin bag or similar, so that you don’t get covered in little bits of it.

Thymol, the pink mouthwash used by dentists, was originally made from thyme. To make a mouthwash for general use, make a half-strength infusion (2 tsp fresh leaves or 1 tsp dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water), leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, strain and use cold – the whole cupful, one mouthful at a time.

To make a poultice using fresh herbs, you just process them in a food processor to make a pulp. For dried herbs, you need to add hot water and process to a similar state. Wrap the herbs in a piece of gauze and apply to the area. Ideally, this should be as hot as you can bear, so if you’re using fresh herbs, dip the poultice in a bowl of hot water before applying. You can keep refreshing it with the hot water and re-applying it to the area being treated when it cools down too much.

Aromatherapy

For those with children at school, a bottle of dilute thyme oil (add a few drops to a bottle of sweet almond oil) in the cupboard can be used to deter headlice (cooties) – just comb a few drops of the mixture through the hair night and morning. An attack of ringworm (tinea) can be treated with thyme cream applied 3-4 times a day to the affected area. Thyme essential oil is very strong and should not be used apart from the two purposes outlined in this post except by a professional aromatherapist.

I offer various thyme products including essential oil in my online shop.

Like all plants grown for medicinal use, thyme should be grown organically to avoid nasty chemicals ending up in your remedies. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic thyme.


Queen Anne’s Lace health benefits: for genito-urinary conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Queen Anne's lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or QAL, Daucus carota (syn. D. abyssinicus, D. aegyptiacus, D. azoricus, D. bocconei, D. gingidium, D. glaberrimus, D. gummifer, D. halophilus, D. hispanicus, D. hispidus, D. maritimus, D. mauritanicus, D. maximus, D. micranthus, D. parviflorus, D. polygamus and D. rupestris!), is also known as eastern carrot, hu luo bo, Mediterranean carrot, Queen’s lace, salosi, sea carrot and wild carrot. Although it is extremely pretty in its second year when it flowers, it should never be collected from the wild, because like all umbelliferous plants (family Apiaceae) it is easy to mistake for hemlock, which is very poisonous.

The name Queen Anne’s lace is also used for Bishop’s weed, which is in the same family but not closely related.

QAL is a hardy biennial but is almost always treated as an annual. It can reach a height of 1m (3′) and a spread of 30cm (1′). It requires full sun, and should be sown in rich soil fertilized for the previous crop. Sow direct very thinly in v-shaped trenches any time from early Spring to mid-Fall. An alternative method is station sowing (sowing 2 or 3 seeds at the desired final spacing). Final spacing is 10cm (4″) x 15cm (6″). Keep well weeded and thin to a single plant per station (or thin to final spacing). Foliar feed twice a week with half-strength seaweed fertilizer for the best results.

Avoid growing at the same time as other Apiaceae grown for seed production, eg. fennel, dill, coriander. If you don’t want seed, the flowers should be removed. I guess you could use them for flower arrangements, but I don’t know how long they keep in water.

Cut one or two leaves per plant as required for medicinal use. Pull up whole plants for dye 4-5 months after sowing, or in July for remedies. Can be dried for later use.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace may cause allergic reactions and sap may cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. Handling carrot leaves, especially when wet, can cause irritation or even blisters. According to Plants for a Future, “sensitized photosensitive persons may get an exact reproduction of the leaf on the skin by placing [it] on the skin for awhile, followed by exposure to sunshine.”

The roots can be cooked, but don’t come close to cultivated carrots either for tenderness or size. Deep fried flowerheads apparently produce a gourmet’s delight. The seed can be used as a flavoring for soups and stews. Dried powdered roots have been used as a coffee substitute.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace is not a suitable remedy during pregnancy or for anyone trying for a baby.

Make a standard infusion using 30 g (1 ounce) dried whole plant or leaves/3 handfuls of fresh whole plant or leaves/1 ounce of seeds (not from a packet, as these are usually treated with fungicide) to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water. The dosage is up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz).

Queen Anne’s lace is a diuretic and cleansing medicine which soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the uterus. It supports the liver and stimulates the genito-urinary system.

An infusion of the whole plant is used as a diuretic, to clear obstructions and treat digestive disorders, edema (oedema), eye complaints, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), kidney and bladder disorders and to promote milk flow in nursing mothers.

An infusion of the leaves has been used to help prevent kidney stone formation, to reduce existing stones, to stimulate the pituitary gland (and increase sex hormone levels) and for cystitis.

Grated raw root (also grated cultivated carrot) is used to expel threadworms and to induce menstruation and uterine contractions.

A root infusion is diuretic and can be used to treat kidney stones.

The seeds are diuretic and can be used to treat flatulence, promote menstruation and expel parasites. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat edema, indigestion and menstrual problems.

Carrot seed blocks progesterone synthesis. Carrot seed tincture and carrot flower tincture (3 doses consisting of 15 drops of each every 8 hours) have been tested as a contraceptive. Although only around 95% effective, this may well be helpful in the absence of any other method, for example for preppers. There was no reduction in fertility after the trial was completed.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important that organic growing methods re used, to avoid the active constituents from being destroyed or adulterated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is extracted from the seed and is usually labeled Carrot or Wild Carrot. NB: Carrot seed essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy. A single drop taken by mouth once a day is sometimes prescribed to aid liver regeneration. Apart from this and similar specific recommendations no essential oil product should be used internally.

Carrot seed oil is mainly used for skin rejuvenation and for dry and mature skin. It is also said to relieve fatigue. It is used commercially in anti-wrinkle creams, in perfumery and as flavoring.

As with all essential oils, carrot seed 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.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden or search for it by putting B00A9HJ3QQ in your local Amazon’s search box.


Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Do not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea during pregnancy, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


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 during pregnancy. 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.

Star Anise health benefits: for digestive problems and cold-related conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chinese star anise is an ingredient of Five Spice powder

Chinese star anise is an ingredient of Five Spice powder

Star anise, Illicium verum, should properly be called Chinese star anise. It’s important to distinguish it from Japanese star anise, Illicium anisatum, which is highly toxic. However, it is so difficult to achieve this that it is best not to rely on a seed merchant or nursery (who may be selling it is an ornamental, where toxicity is fairly irrelevant), but instead to source supplies from a Chinese herbalist (where it may be known as ba jiao hui xiang), who presumably can be relied on to know the difference.

Star anise is not related to the common anise, Anisum vulgare.

Star anise is so called because the fruit is star shaped. (The seeds are held individually in the “points”, so if you would really like to grow your own star anise, you can use seeds obtained as already suggested.) Chinese star anise fruits are larger and paler in color than the Japanese, and have a more marked aniseed fragrance; it is said that the Japanese star anise smells less like aniseed and more like a cardamom.

If you do wish to grow it, sow seeds in spring under cover and pot on, growing on in the greenhouse until at least the following year. Plant out into the most sheltered spot you can find, as it cannot take temperatures lower than about -5ºC (23ºF). Alternatively you could try growing it in a container, which can be moved under cover when the weather is too cold. It is a small tree, but many trees grow happily in containers.

Star anise is often used in Chinese, Vietnamese and Malay cooking, and is an ingredient of Five Spice powder. Unripe fruit is also chewed after meals, to sweeten the breath. However, if you do this, take some care, as large quantities can lead to trembling and convulsions. So long as dosage is kept to normal levels, it can be safely given to children, and is often included in cough remedies targeted to them, because of its pleasant taste.

The part used in herbal medicine is the dried ripe fruit, usually powdered. An essential oil is also extracted from the ripe fruit for use in aromatherapy, while the seed is used for homeopathy. This is easily obtained from Chinese herbalists or Chinese/Malay/Vietnamese grocers. Do not buy from a Japanese store, as they sell the poisonous Japanese star anise to be burnt as incense.

Make a standard infusion using 1 tsp crushed star anise to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, leaving to stand for at least 10 minutes before straining off the herb and discarding. The dosage is 250-500ml (1-2 US cups, 8-16 fl oz) per day.

Star anise is antibacterial and is used to promote appetite, to treat abdominal pain, digestive disturbances including colic, complaints caused by cold weather such as lumbago, and to relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, avoid chemicals in cultivation, including weed killers, to ensure that the active constituents are not corrupted or masked by the presencfe of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Star anise essential oil is mainly used for aches and pains, respiratory and digestive complaints. Use in moderation only; overuse may have cerebral effects. Do not drive or operate machinery when using this essential oil. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by cancer patients.

As with all essential oils, star anise 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.

Lime or Linden health benefits: for colds and coughs

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lime or linden is a group of trees which mostly have the same properties. The ones I’m dealing with here are: the common lime (European lime or European linden), Tilia x europaea (syn. Tilia intermedia, T. officinarum); the small leaved lime or small leaved linden, Tilia cordata (syn. Tilia microphylla, T. parvifolia, T. ulmifolia); and the large leaved lime or large leaved linden, Tilia platyphyllos (syn. Tilia grandifolia, T. officinarum). Another tree is closely related, but has different properties, the American basswood.

Despite the name, the lime is not related to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia, which originates from the West Indies.

Lime trees are a familiar sight lining the sides of roads across England, as they are fairly resistant to city pollution. The trees are native to Europe (the common lime is a natural hybrid of the other two).

The leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though the description “mucilaginous” doesn’t appeal to me that much. Immature fruit and flowers ground into a paste is supposed to make a chocolate substitute, but it has to be used straight away as it goes off quickly.

The part used medicinally is the flowers, which can be used fresh or dried. It is worth pointing out that these should not be collected from the highway, as apart from the danger of passing traffic, the flowers will have been polluted by the fumes. If you wish to use them, pick flowers from trees in an area well away from the road, as in a back yard or in the middle of a large park not crossed by roads.

It is said that older flowers may produce a narcotic effect, but as they have to get old in the course of being dried, this is probably not something to worry about overmuch. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you intend to drive or operate machinery after using this remedy.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for 15-120 minutes before straining off the herb and discarding. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Make an oil maceration by filling a jar with flowers, covering with light olive oil and adding 1 tablespoon of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar). Seal tightly and place on a sunny windowsill. Shake the bottle well every day for 2-3 weeks, and then strain off the herb and discard (use a cloth inside the strainer, so you can squeeze out as much of the oil as possible).

Use a standard infusion internally to treat anxiety-induced indigestion or vomiting, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disorders, catarrh (congestion of the nasal passages), feverish colds, dry stubborn coughs, headache, hypertension, influenza, migraine and urinary infections, to calm nerves and promote restful sleep.

Externally it can also be used as a lotion to condition the hair and scalp. An oil maceration can also be used for this purpose. A charcoal made from lime wood has been used internally for digestive disorders and externally in powder form as a treatment for burns and sore skin.

Tilia platyphyllos flowers can also be used as a vasodilator.

As lime/linden is a full size tree, you are unlikely to be growing it from scratch for use in remedies. If you have one in your garden that you wish to use remedially, please avoid treating it with anything not organic, to avoid contamination of your remedies with foreign chemicals.


Sweet Woodruff health benefits: for migraine and nervous tension

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet woodruff was once used to stuff mattresses

Sweet woodruff was once used to stuff mattresses

Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum (maybe labelled Asperula odorata), is also known as master of the wood, Our Lady’s lace, sweetscented bedstraw, wild baby’s breath, woodward or just woodruff. It’s closely related to goosegrass and lady’s bedstraw, and all three were once used as bedding material. Perhaps disappointingly, the name wild baby’s breath has nothing to do with wild babies but refers to the ornamental annual plant known as baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans), to which it is not related.

Sweet woodruff is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 8 inches (20cm) and spreads over an area of around 18 inches (50cm).  A woodland plant, it can grow in virtually any soil, even very acid and very alkaline soil, and can even tolerate atmospheric pollution. As an added bonus, it’s one of the few plants which can cope with shade (except deep shade), and cannot be grown in sunny places.

Harvest as it comes into flower or just before, around May. Can be dried for later use by hanging in bunches or laying out in a single layer on trays in an airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until completely dry, then store in an airtight dark colored container somewhere cool.

  • Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone receiving treatment for circulatory disorders
  • Contains coumarin: DO NOT EXCEED THE STATED DOSE!

To make a standard infusion use 2 tsp dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allow to brew for 15-30 minutes then strain off and discard the herb. The dose is up to 1 cup a day.

In the Middle Ages, sweet woodruff was used externally for wounds and also taken for digestive and liver problems. Modern herbalists use it mainly as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and tonic. It can also be used to treat hepatitis (jaundice),  for bladder and kidney stones, insomnia, to relieve migraine and nervous tension and to treat varicose veins.

As with all herbal remedies, it’s important to grow sweet woodruff organically to retain its essential properties. To find out more about growing organic sweet woodruff visit the Gardenzone.


St Benedict’s Thistle health benefits: for anorexia and poor appetite

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

If you like thistles, this one's a beauty!

If you like thistles, this one’s a beauty!

St Benedict’s thistle, Centaurea benedicta, is another of those plants which has received a lot of attention from taxonomists, so you may find it labelled as Carbenia benedicta, Carduus benedictus or Cnicus benedictus. Other common names by which it is known include bitter thistle, blessed thistle, cardin, holy thistle and spotted thistle.

It shares the names blessed thistle and holy thistle with the milk thistle, but it is quite easy to tell them apart, even when neither is in flower, as you can see by just comparing the photograph on this page with the one on the previous post. The milk thistle has leaves which are marked along the veins with a milky color, whereas the St Benedict’s thistle does not.

St Benedict’s thistle is a hardy annual which reaches a height of around 2 feet, native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. It requires well drained soil and will not grow in shade but is otherwise unfussy as to situation. Because of this it has become known as a noxious weed in parts of the world where it has been introduced, including North America. It may therefore be best to grow it in containers, and to remove flowers before they turn to seed.

The root and flower buds of St Benedict’s thistle are edible – the flower buds like tiny globe artichokes and the roots boiled as a vegetable.

St Benedict’s thistle should not be used during pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) or those trying to become pregnant.

Once seen as a cure-all, St Benedict’s thistle is less often used nowadays, though it has a wide range of applications. It is used internally as a herbal tonic; to treat anorexia; to promote appetite in cases of depression; for many digestive disorders including indigestion, colic and flatulence (“gas” or “wind“); to stimulate the gall bladder and treat disorders of both gall bladder and liver; to promote milk production in nursing mothers (recommended by the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation); to promote menstruation; to promote sweating; and in large doses to induce vomiting. Externally it is used to treat wounds and external ulcers.

For all these uses, make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of chopped herb to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water; leave to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard. Do not sweeten. Use the infusion warm for promoting lactation. The dose is half a cup sipped slowly up to 3 times a day, which should be increased if the intention is to induce vomiting.

As with all herbal remedies, care should be taken to avoid using man-made chemicals on these plants so as to ensure that the active ingredients are not corrupted by them. As a thistle, there is no need to fertilize in any case, and it is unlikely to be seriously attacked by predators in a well stocked garden. To find out more about growing organic St Benedict’s Thistle visit the Gardenzone.


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.