Geranium essential oil, benefits and uses

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

As with all essential oils, geranium 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.

Geranium essential oil is offered in two types. Rose geranium oil (which you will often find called just geranium essential oil), Pelargonium graveolens, is the one most easily sourced, and also the most expensive. You may also find a product called geranium essential oil which is actually the essential oil of the apple geranium, Pelargonium odoratissimum. This is cheaper, but also does not have all the same properties.

Both types are extracted from the leaves and stalks of the appropriate plant by steam distillation, and range in color from colorless through to a light green. They are quite thin oils, so care must be taken when using them not to add too much to your carrier oil or other base by accident.

Cautions: Do not use either type of geranium essential oil during pregnancy or on sensitive skin. Not suitable for use by diabetics or anyone else who suffers from hypoglycemia. Not suitable for use on children under 1 year old. Avoid use when studying or taking exams, as it may lower concentration.

As already mentioned, the two types have different properties.

Rose geranium essential oil is often used for skin care both for dry and oily skins; it’s astringent, so it balances sebum production while simultaneously soothing and softening the skin, and is helpful for treating acne, eczema and psoriasis. Because of its antiseptic and cytophylactic (promotes healing) properties, it’s also useful for cuts, burns and external ulcers and its antifungal qualities make it an excellent topical treatment for candida (thrush) and other fungal conditions. It’s also styptic – which means it helps to stop bleeding.

Rose geranium oil’s balancing properties aren’t just restricted to the skin. It also helps to balance the mind, emotions and hormonal system. Of course, though conventional medicine tends to treat these as entirely separate, in fact they are quite closely interlinked. We all know how our emotions seem to affect everything, and PMS (a hormonal condition) is well known to cause severe dysfunction both of mental and emotional health. It’s no surprise, then, that this oil works to relax, reduce anxiety/depression and stress, stabilize the emotions and restore mental balance. As a hormonal regulator, it is useful for treating menopausal problems, menorrhagia (heavy periods) and PMS.

And that’s not all. Rose geranium oil is also an adrenal stimulant, deodorant, diuretic (useful in treating edema), a lymphatic stimulant, and a good general tonic and detoxing agent. It can be used to treat gallstones and jaundice (only after consultation with your regular physician) and cellulite. Finally, it is a lice (cootie) repellent, mosquito repellent, general insect repellent and anti-parasitic.

Phew.

I offer rose geranium essential oil and organic rose geranium essential oil in my online shop as well as a range of other products derived from them.

Apple geranium essential oil has many, but not all, of the same properties (and a few extra ones of its own): acne, adrenal stimulant, anxiety, astringent, improves circulation, cytophylactic (promotes healing), diuretic, deodorant, dry skin, eczema, edema, hemorrhoids, hormone regulator, lice repellent, lymphatic stimulant, menopause, mental balance, mosquito repellent, neuralgia, oily skin, PMS, skin care, stress, styptic (stops bleeding), tonic, ulcers, vermifuge (anti-parasitic), vulnerary (treats cuts and wounds).

For most of these conditions, use geranium oil diluted in the usual way either directly on the area to be treated or for massage, or add 4-5 drops to your bath. For emotional and mental difficulties, it can also be used in an oil diffuser.


Great Mullein health benefits: for respiratory complaints, frostbite and chilblains

The name great mullein is not undeserved

The name great mullein is not undeserved

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, has a huge number of other names including Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, beggar’s blanket, beggar’s stalk, blanket herb, bullock’s lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown’s lungwort, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, Cuddy’s lungs, duffle, feltwort, flannel mullein, flannel plant, fluffweed, golden rod, hag’s taper, hare’s beard, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff, molene, Moses’ blanket, mullein, mullein dock, old man’s flannel, Our Lady’s flannel, Peter’s staff, rag paper, shepherd’s clubs, shepherd’s staff, torches, velvet dock, velvet plant, white mullein, wild ice leaf, woollen and woolly mullin. It’s not related to lungwort, nor to the plant normally called goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea, which incidentally is another plant also known as Aaron’s rod) nor rose root (also sometimes called Aaron’s rod), all of which belong to different botanical families.

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein is a biennial which reaches a height of 2m (6′) or more in the second year, thoroughly deserving the name, though in the first year it has a totally different form and apparently different leaves, as they are thickly coated in fuzz, see picture left, rather like lamb’s ears (also unrelated). This must be where all the names about blankets, flannel, velvet and wool come from, as the full grown plant gives very little clue to this (although the hairs are still present, they are not so obvious). In fact, it’s quite a brute, isn’t it?

Given its appearance, this is not a plant anyone is likely to grow as an ornamental, despite the fact that the flowers (as well as the size) are similar to hollyhocks (unrelated, lol). I guess since it is so big it could be tucked at the back of a border with something in front to conceal the unattractive foliage, though this will leave the first year form (which is a lot prettier) hidden. This may not work in any case, because it is insistent on living in full sun, and will not thrive in shady areas. Perhaps it is best relegated to the allotment or bought dried from your friendly local herbalist.

Great mullein is found growing wild all over the temperate world, having been introduced to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand from its native Europe, Africa and Asia. Although unlikely to become invasive except in areas with little competition or after forest fires, it is listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Hawaii and Victoria, Australia. Because each plant produces a huge number of seeds which can lie dormant for up to 100 years, it is very difficult to eradicate completely.

If you decide to grow it, you will find that it is completely unconcerned about soil type or acidity and will thrive in moist or dry conditions, though it does prefer chalky, well drained soil. As already mentioned it needs full sun. It will not tolerate maritime winds (despite the fact that it is often found growing in coastal areas). Sow in a cold frame from late Spring to early Summer, barely covering the seed. Pot on as required until late Summer, when they can be planted out in their final positions.

The leaves contain the natural insecticide, rotenone. Do not grow great mullein close to ponds which contain fish, or allow the leaves or seeds to fall into the water. Both leaves and seeds contain compounds that cause breathing problems and consequent death in fish.

The name torches comes from the old custom of dipping dried stems into wax or suet to make torches. Dried leaves were also used as candle wicks and can be used as tinder. Leaves were put into shoes to provide insulation.

Flowers produce a yellow dye without mordant, green with dilute sulphuric acid, brown with alkalis. An infusion of the flowers with caustic soda was used by Romans to dye their hair blonde.

Due to hormonal effects, great mullein is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying for a baby.

The parts used in medicine are the juice, leaves, flowers and roots. The seeds are not used, as they are toxic to humans as well as fish. If using great mullein juice, leaves or flowers internally in liquid form, it must be carefully strained through a fine filter to remove the irritating hairs (a “quick and dirty” method would be to put a layer of clean kitchen towel in a tea strainer and pour it through that).

Great mullein has been used in medicine for at least 2,000 years, when it was recommended by Dioscorides for chest complaints. After its introduction into the US, native Americans used it to make syrup for treating croup (an acute inflammatory condition of the airways often characterized by a barking cough). It was once listed as a medicine in the German Commission E document to treat catarrh, and in the National Formularies of the US and UK. Even today, its main use is for coughs and other respiratory disorders. The dried leaves were once smoked to relieve asthma, croup, TB cough and spasmodic coughs in general.

Properties given for this herb are: analgesic, anodyne, anti-cancer, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bactericide, cardio-depressant, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, estrogenic, expectorant, fungicide, hypnotic, narcotic, nervine, odontalgic, sedative and vulnerary. This list refers to the whole plant. Different parts of the plant have different properties.

To make a standard infusion, use 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to infuse for a minimum of 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain carefully as described previously before use. The flowers are also sometimes used in the same way. The dose is a third of a cup, taken up to 3 times a day.

A decoction of roots is made by putting 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried chopped root in a small saucepan, adding 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water and bringing to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and continue heating until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard.

To make an oil maceration of mullein flowers, fill a bottle with as many flowers as will fit, cover with olive oil and seal, then shake thoroughly. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake thoroughly once a day for 3 weeks, then strain off and discard the flowers using a fine filter to remove all hairs, as described above. Reseal and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

To make a poultice, mix fresh or dried chopped leaves with very hot water and mash up, then wrap in a piece of gauze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water when it cools.

The standard infusion reduces mucus production and is expectorant. It is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints, including bronchitis, mild catarrh and sore throat. Its demulcent and astringent properties make it a good treatment for colic, diarrhea and hemorrhoids (if blood was found in the diarrhea, a decoction of leaves boiled in milk for 10 minutes was traditionally used instead, but my advice is to visit the doctor as this can be an early warning sign of more serious illness). It can also be used as a treatment for internal parasites (vulnerary).

An infusion made using 1 teaspoonful per cup of a mixture containing 2 parts of great mullein to 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi by volume, taken twice a day, is recommended for lung repair by  Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com. According to eHow Health, the expulsion of a black tar-like substance after several days of use is an indication of this mixture’s effectiveness.

A decoction of the roots is analgesic and anti-spasmodic and can be used to treat toothache, cramps and convulsions. It can also be used to treat migraine.

Grind up dried roots and mix with strained mullein juice to make a topical treatment for boils, chilblains, hemorrhoids and warts. It is said to work only on rough warts, not smooth warts, though as all warts are caused by HPV, this seems strange. It’s probably worth trying even on a smooth wart, for this reason.

A poultice of leaves can be used to treat hemorrhoids, external ulcers, splinters, sunburn and tumors.

Studies have found that great mullein flowers have a bactericidal action and may also be effective against tumors. A flower maceration is used externally to treat bruises, chilblains, eczema, frostbite, hemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and ringworm. It can also be used in the ear to treat earache (2-3 drops at a time, up to 3 times a day).

A homoeopathic tincture of mullein is used to treat long-standing migraine.

As with all herbs used as remedies, great mullein should be grown organically to avoid corrupting your remedy with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic great mullein visit the Gardenzone.


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

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tea 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.


Alfalfa health benefits: to stimulate appetite and lower cholesterol

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.

Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.

Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.

Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.

To make a standard infusion use 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.

I offer alfalfa seeds and alfalfa 500mg tablets in my online shop.

Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.


American Basswood health benefits: for migraine and arteriosclerosis

American basswood is a large tree

American basswood is a large tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American basswood, Tilia americana (formerly Tilia caroliniana, T. glabra, T. heterophylla and T. mexicana), is also sometimes called American lime, American linden, basswood, bast tree, beetree, Caroline basswood, linden, Mexican basswood, spoonwood, white basswood and wycopy. It’s closely related to the common lime/linden, the small leaved lime/linden and the large leaved lime/linden but not to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia.

American basswood is a full size tree, so if you don’t already have one, it’s probably going to take quite a while to grow one – though you may be able to source a sapling from a local grower. It’s not terribly fussy about location, dappled woodland shade or full sun is fine, and soil is not a problem so long as it’s moist. It won’t put up with maritime winds.

Parts used in medicine are the inner bark, bark, roots, leaves and flowers.

You can make a standard infusion of bark, inner bark, newly opened flowers, leaves, or flowers and leaves together. Use 30g (1 ounce) of bark, inner bark or leaves, 15g (a half ounce) of flowers or 15g (a half ounce) each of flowers and leaves to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water as appropriate. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the solid matter and discard.

A decoction can be made with roots and bark either together or alone. In each case, use 30g (1 ounce) of material to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half then strain off and discard the solids.

To make a bark poultice, make a decoction of bark in the same way and using the same quantities, mixing this with cornmeal after straining while it’s still hot.

A poultice of leaves is made by mixing the leaves with very hot water.

Poultices are wrapped in fine bandage and applied to the area to be treated, refreshed in hot water as required.

Dosage for both infusions and decoctions taken internally is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses. Please note that an infusion using flowers is only for occasional use, as prolonged use can damage the heart.

All these remedies are used for different purposes:

An inner bark infusion is used externally for burns and irritated skin and internally for dysentery, heartburn (reflux) and lung complaints.

Use a bark infusion as a diuretic. A bark poultice can be used to draw out boils.

A flower infusion is used for arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure (hypertension), feverish colds, bronchial congestion, migraine and nervous stomach.

An infusion of leaves is used externally as an eyewash. A leaf poultice can be used to treat broken bones, burns, scalds and to reduce swellings.

An infusion of leaves and flowers is taken for colds, coughs, nervous headache, indigestion and sore throat.

A decoction of roots and bark is taken for internal bleeding.

A decoction of the roots is used to expel internal parasites.

If you have this in your garden, or you intend to grow one, please ensure that you use organic methods, to avoid the corruption of the essential constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening methods, visit the Gardenzone.


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.


Watercress health benefits: lowers blood sugar and cholesterol

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Watercress, Nasturtium officinale, is a well known salad vegetable, though when I was a kid it was mainly used as a garnish – added for decorative purposes and rarely eaten. It’s another plant which has been the subject of attention from the taxonomists. Former latin names which it might be labelled with include: Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, Radicula nasturtium, Radicula nasturtium-aquaticum, Rorippa nasturtium, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, Sisymbrium nasturtium and Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum. Other common names which are sometimes used for it include brooklime, brown cress, cresson and true watercress.

Watercress is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Despite the latin name, watercress is not related to the flower called nasturtium, but it is closely related to horseradish and is also related to (land) cress and other members of the cabbage family such as broccoli and turnips.

Unfortunately, in many places watercress and a closely related plant often also called watercress (or one-row watercress), Nasturtium microphyllum, have escaped into the wild and being extremely vigorous plants are now regarded as noxious weeds of the waterways. One-row watercress is not useful either medicinally or as food, as the incredibly rich nutrient content of the true watercress is missing.

Even if your area is one in which growing watercress outdoors is prohibited, you can still grow it yourself at home in a pot! You need to stand the pot in a bowl of water which you have to change every day, and this will give it sufficient water for its needs. Pinch out the tops to make it grow bushy. Obviously, if you grow it indoors you can have supplies all year round – and you don’t have to cook it to avoid liver fluke, as you must if you collect from the wild, or anywhere there may be contamination from animals.

If intended for the salad bowl, try not to allow plants to flower, because this makes it bitter. However, if you are collecting seeds you will have to let at least some of the flowers remain.

If you can’t get seeds, it’s easy to grow from cuttings out of a salad bag, just let them sit in water until they are well rooted and then plant them. However, this is only suitable for eating, not remedies, as you may not be getting the true watercress if you do this; a hybrid between this and the one-row watercress (N. x. sterilis) is sometimes grown commercially.

There are a great many medical studies into watercress. One of them shows that it has the highest concentration of bioflavonoids in a comparison with salad rocket, wild rocket and mizuna. Another showed that watercress consumption lowers the (bad) LDL cholesterol and raises the (good) HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. I can’t keep on listing all the findings, there are too many of them, so I will leave it there.

Watercress also contains high levels of the anti-oxidant vitamins A and C, as well as significant quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and folic acid. It is very low in calories, and makes a great addition to the diet year round, particularly for anyone suffering from anemia.

Although it is very good for you, I’ve discovered warnings that watercress should not be used as an internal medicine over a period of more than 4 weeks, and even this should be restricted to every other day. Not suitable for use during pregnancy.

Medicinally, both seeds and leaves are used.

To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh chopped watercress to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, standing for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining off and discarding the watercress. The dosage is 125 ml (half a US cup, 4 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.

To make a poultice, mix a quantity of chopped fresh leaves with a little hot water, wrap in a bandage and gently squeeze out excess liquid, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

A dessertspoonful (2 teaspoons, 12 ml) of seeds eaten on their own on an empty stomach can be used to cleanse the system and will also kill internal parasites.

The leaves can also be used in a standard infusion to cleanse the system, as a diuretic and strong laxative, to lower blood sugar levels, to relieve toothache and as a tonic to strengthen eyes, nerves and heart.

Fresh watercress juice was once used as a treatment for tuberculosis. It is often prescribed for chest complaints, as it is an excellent expectorant. However, it’s important that the juice is always diluted with water before drinking it, as otherwise it can cause inflammation of the throat and stomach. Take 1 teaspoonful in milk or water up to 3 times a day.

Externally, the juice is sometimes used as a hair tonic, which may restore hair growth where the cause of loss was a fungal infection. It’s also used to treat stiffness, rheumatic pain and cramp. You could also use a poultice for these three ailments.

David Conway says that watercress is “a reliable dissolver of all cysts, swellings and tumours [sic]”, for which purpose a poultice of leaves should be used.

As a water plant, it’s even more important to ensure that watercress is grown without the addition of man-made chemicals. To find out more about growing organic watercress visit the Gardenzone.


False Unicorn Root health benefits: for women and to improve fertility in both sexes

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root, Chamaelirium luteum (syn. C. carolinianum, Helonias dioica, H. lutea, Melanthium dioicum and Veratrum luteum), is sometimes called just false unicorn; other names include blazing star, devil’s bit, fairy wand, helonias and starwort. It is called false unicorn root to distinguish it from another plant, the (true) unicorn root, which is in the same botanical family. It shares the names blazing star aqnd devil’s bit with another unrelated plant with mauve/purple flowers, Liatris spicata, the gay feather. False unicorn root is not related to chickweed (sometimes called starwort) or to the devil’s bit scabious.

To distinguish the false unicorn root from the true unicorn root, check the flowers. False unicorn root has tiny flowers tightly arranged in a spike as shown in the picture here. True unicorn root has much larger flowers, individually shaped a bit like bluebells but bright white, seemingly coated in flour, and placed some distance apart around the flower stem, sticking out horizontally.

False unicorn root is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 20 inches (50cm). A native of the Eastern US, it’s found growing in moist areas such as meadows and woodland where the soil is rich and full of humus. Because it requires moist acid soil, it can be difficult to grow. It can cope with very acid soil, so if you have this and are able to find or make a moist area in which to grow it, you should be successful so long as it is not in full shade. Dappled shade is fine.

This plant is dioecious, a technical term which means that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This does not matter unless you wish to produce seed for propagation. If you do, you will need to ensure that you grow both male and female plants. However, as germination can take up to 6 months, you may find it easier to propagate by division.

The part used in medicine is the root (or rhizome), which can be harvested in fall before the ground gets too hard and dried in the usual way, by chopping into small pieces, laying out in a single layer somewhere airy and out of the sun, and turning daily until ready to store in a dark colored airtight container.

Do not exceed the stated dose of this herb, because large amounts can damage the heart, Patients with any heart problems might be better off using other remedies. Not suitable for use during pregnancy,

To make a decoction, put 2 teaspoons of root in a pan with 250ml (1 cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes, then strain off the root and discard. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Traditional uses for false unicorn root are mainly related to what used to be called women’s problems: vaginal discharge, painful periods, to promote delayed menstruation, and to treat ovarian cysts and symptoms occurring at the menopause. In addition it can be used to expel internal parasites, as a prostate tonic, a general fertility enhancer in both sexes and a diuretic.

As with any herb grown for use medicinally, false unicorn root must be grown organically to ensure that its active constituents remain uncorrupted by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Meadowsweet health benefits: for gout, diarrhea and fever

Meadowsweet is a useful dye plant

Meadowsweet is a useful dye plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria (syn. Spiraea ulmaria and Ulmaria pentapetala – meaning five petaled), is also sometimes called bridewort, brideswort, dolloff, English meadowsweet, European meadowsweet, lady of the meadow, meadsweet (from its use to flavor mead), meadow queen, meadow-wort, pride of the meadow and queen of the meadow – which last name is shared with the totally unrelated gravel root.

Meadowsweet is a native of Europe, where it is usually found growing in wet areas, even boggy ones, though not on acid peat soils. It makes a good candidate for a bog garden, as it will grow in any neutral or alkaline soil, even heavy clay, so long as it is wet, or at least moist. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 4 feet (1.2m). It won’t grow in full shade, but then again, few plants do.

Meadowsweet is a good bee plant and seems to be offensive to deer.

Meadowsweet is an extremely useful dye plant, yielding no less than 3 different colors: use the tops with alum to produce a greenish-yellow; the roots with no mordant for black; or stems and leaves for blue (fixed by boiling the item with sorrel root after dying). It’s probably more often used in pot pourri, imparting an almond-like fragrance, and in the days when strewing was common, it was one of the herbs used for this purpose, particularly in the apartments of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

You can also use it to make meadowsweet beer: use equal quantities of meadowsweet and dandelion, double the quantity of water and boil for 20 minutes. Strain and measure the liquid, adding 900g sugar, 15g (1 ounce) yeast and the juice of 1 lemon to each 1.5L (2 lbs/19 US cups or 1 UK gallon). Ferment in the usual way.

Anybody who has a sensitivity to aspirin should not use this plant – even for beer – except under qualified supervision!

A standard infusion is made using 30g (1 ounce) of the whole dried herb (3 handfuls of fresh) to 425ml (1.75 US cups, 0.75 UK pints) of boiling water, leaving to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the solid matter.

Because of the aspirin content, meadowsweet can be used internally to treat any condition that produces a fever including colds and other respiratory infections, also for inflammatory conditions like gout and rheumatic pain. It’s also useful for water retention, hyperacidity, heartburn, kidney and bladder disorders and is a well known treatment for diarrhea, particularly in children. Externally, it makes a useful wash for minor wounds and sore eyes. Registered practitioners use this plant to treat gastric and peptic ulcers, but I don’t recommend this use by amateurs.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, Meadowsweet must ge grown organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic meadowsweet visit the Gardenzone.