Garcinia cambogia Health Benefits: for weight loss?

Garcinia fruit is usually yellow or greenish and looks like a small pumpkin

Garcinia fruit is usually yellow or greenish and looks like a small pumpkin

Although still called Garcinia cambogia (or just Garcinia) in the popular press, this old botanical name has been revised to Garcinia gummi-gutta, though you might still find it labelled as Garcinia cambogia, Cambogia gummi-gutta or Mangostana cambogia. So far as common names go, it is also known as brindleberry, gambooge fruit and Malabar tamarind.

Description

Garcinia is a tropical tree which reaches a height of 12m and is native to the Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats (West coast) of India. The fruit is yellow/green sometimes with a reddish tinge, about the size of an orange and pumpkin shaped.

Edible uses

In India and Southeast Asia, the rind and extracts of Garcinia are used in cooking, particularly in southern Thai kaeng som (fish curry). It is also used for curing fish in Sri Lanka and South India.

Medicinal uses

Garcinia rind was formerly used to treat gastric ulcers, diarrhea and dysentery. It was promoted by Dr Oz, a US celebrity doctor, as a weight loss supplement some years ago. It’s also used in Ayurveda as a digestive aid.

A compound found in the rind called hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is believed to boost fat burning during exercise and reduce appetite by raising serotonin levels and blocking ATP citrate lyase, an enzyme involved in the production of fat. It is also believed to increase endurance in female athletes, but with no similar effect on men. It’s also used to lower cholesterol, manage stress and level out mood swings.

Research has found that the type of HCA used affects the result. Calcium hydroxycitrate on its own is mainly ineffective, but a mixture of calcium and potassium or magnesium HCA works well. You should always check that the supplement you are using contains either potassium or magnesium, and preferably a low lactone content.

Take about 1.5g three times a day, 30-60 minutes before a meal. If taken with food, the HCA can bind to some of the components in the food and become inactive.

Contra-indications and warnings

At least one supplement containing Garcinia has been withdrawn because of reported side effects including hepatotoxicity and gastrointestinal problems.

High doses may lead to nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and headaches. Discontinue use if affected.

Consult your doctor before taking Garcinia if you are currently taking prescribed medication, particularly SSRIs, anti-depressants, dextromethorphan, pethidine, pentazocine or tramodol.

Do not use during pregnancy/breastfeeding, if you have existing liver or kidney damage, diabetes, dementia or are taking blood thinners such as warfarin.

Where to get it

I offer various Garcinia products in my online store.

Aromatherapy

Garcinia is not used in aromatherapy.

Final Notes

Unless you live in its native area or a similar climate, it’s unlikely you will want to grow Garcinia, but if you do decide to, remember that to ensure that any remedy to extract from it is safe, it is essential to follow organic growing techniques. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


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

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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aromatherapy

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

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

As with all essential oils, cotton essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

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

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


Sacred Lotus health benefits: for men’s problems and women’s problems

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera (syn. N. caspica, N. komarovii, N. nelumbo, N. speciosum and Nymphaea nelumbo), is also known as East Indian lotus, lian, lotus, lotusroot, oriental lotus and sacred water lotus. It is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. The Buddhist mantra “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus” (Om Mani Padme Hum) has many meanings, but the lotus referred to is this one.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, this plant is really just a “posh” waterlily, and requires similar growing conditions, though warmer. It will survive in water from 30cm (1′) up to 2.5m (8′) deep, but in cooler climates it should be grown in water at the shallower end of this range, as it will warm up quicker. Requires a five month growing season and prefers a water temperature of 23-27ºC. Plant them about 1m (3′) each way. In areas with frosty Winters, plant in aquatic containers and move the roots into a frost-free place after the leaves have died down in Fall; store in a tub of water or in moist sand. On the other hand, in favorable conditions where they stay out all year they can become invasive.

Lift roots in Fall or Winter and dry for later use . Collect other parts as required when they become available.

To make a decoction add 30g fresh/15g dried root or other parts to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the water is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the source material. You can take up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

It’s not at all surprising that this plant was considered sacred, as there are just so many uses. It must truly have seemed like a gift from the gods.

All parts are edible. The roots can be pickled, stored in syrup or cooked Chinese-style giving a result like water chestnut. They are also a source of starch. Young leaves can be used in salad, cooked as a vegetable or used in the same way as vine leaves are used for dolmades. Stems can also be peeled and cooked. The seeds contain a bitter embryo (which can be removed before eating), and are pretty nutritious, containing 16% protein and only 3% fat. They can be popped like corn, ground for making bread, eaten raw or cooked, or roasted to use as a coffee substitute. The petals are used as garnish and floated in soups. Finally, the stamens are used as a flavoring additive for tea.

Attractive to bees and has been used for honey production. Also, of course, it makes a very ornamental water plant.

Every little piece of this plant has been used either in medicine or as food. Because there are so many uses, I’ve broken it down to a quick reference –

leaf juice: diarrhea;
decoction of leaves with liquorice (Glycyrrhiza): sunstroke;
decoction of flowers: premature ejaculation;
decoction of floral receptacle: abdominal cramps;
decoction of fruit: agitation, fever, heart problems;
seed: lowers cholesterol levels, digestive aid, bloody discharges;
flowers: heart tonic;
flower stalk: bleeding gastric ulcers, post-partum hemorrhage, heavy periods;
stamens: chronic diarrhea, premature ejaculation, enteritis, hemolysis, insomnia, leukorrhea, palpitations, spermatorrhea, urinary frequency and uterine bleeding;
plumule and radicle: hypertension (high blood pressure), insomnia and restlessness;
root: general tonic;
root starch: diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhage, heavy periods and nosebleed;
root starch paste: externally for tinea (ringworm) and other skin conditions;
root nodes: blood in the urine, hemoptysis, nosebleed and uterine bleeding.

According to research, the plant also contains anticancer compounds.

Aromatherapy

NB: Lotus essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy. It must be diluted before use. It is used for cholera, epilepsy, fever, fungal infections, jaundice, kidney and bladder complaints, skin conditions and as an aphrodisiac.

As with all essential oils, lotus 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.

Final Notes

It’s always important to grow medicinal plants organically, to avoid the active constituents being masked or destroyed by foreign chemicals. With water plants like the lotus, this is even more important. For example, do not use chemicals to kill algae – use barley straw instead.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Sacred Herbs for Healing”, 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 Sacred Herbs for Healing or search for it by putting B00ASMJFR4 in your local Amazon’s search box.


Rose health benefits: many types, many uses, but all are beautiful

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The rose which according to Shakespeare “by any other name would smell as sweet” comes in so very many types that it’s difficult to do it justice. Most of us just call any rose we come across “a rose”, and yet there are about 150 species, and that’s not taking into account the very many varieties and named cultivars.

What I’ve decided to do is just cover a selection. These are the Californian rose, the dog rose, the cabbage rose, the damask rose, the French rose, the Cherokee rose, the chestnut rose, the sweet briar and the Ramanas rose. Of these, the dog rose, sweet briar and Cherokee rose are most useful in the herbalist’s stores; the cabbage rose and the damask rose are the ones used in aromatherapy.

For information on alternative and scientific names, see the table below:

Latin name Common name Other names
Cabbage rose Rosa x centifolia syn. R. gallica centifolia. R. provincialis cabbage rose Burgundy rose, Holland rose, moss rose, pale rose, Provence rose
Californian rose Rosa californica Californian rose
Cherokee rose Rosa laevigata syn. R. cherokeensis Cherokee rose Chinese jin ying zi
Chestnut rose Rosa roxburghii syn. R. hirtula, R. microphylla chestnut rose chinquapin rose, sweet chestnut rose; Chinese ci li
Damask rose Rosa x damascena syn. R. gallica f. trigintipetala damask rose four seasons rose, Portland rose, York and Lancaster rose
Dog rose Rosa canina syn. R. bakeri, R. lutetiana, R. montivaga dog rose common briar
French rose Rosa gallica syn. R. provincialis French rose apothecary rose, Hungarian rose, officinal rose, Provins rose, red rose of Lancaster
Ramanas rose Rosa rugosa Ramanas rose hedgehog rose, Japanese rose, rugosa rose, tomato rose, Turkestan rose; Chinese mei gui
Sweet briar Rosa rubiginosa syn. R. eglanteria sweet briar Eglantine rose

Roses are not related to rose root, rose geranium, Guelder rose or hollyhock (also called althaea rose).

All roses with single or semi-double flowers produce rose hips (see picture inset into main picture), which vary in size and color, but are otherwise pretty similar from one type to another. These have been used for many years as a food source and also to produce rosehip syrup. Rose hips are rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C and E, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids. Rose hips are currently being studied to see if they are effective as an anti-cancer food.

Take care if you decide to harvest your own rose hips: there are hairs inside which can cause serious irritation, not just to your mouth, but your entire digestive tract. You need to use a very fine filter to remove these when extracting the juice.

Cabbage rose (Rosa x centifolia)
This is a hybrid and is only found in cultivated form. Numerous cultivars are found throughout the world. On the alternative medicine front, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

The powdered root is astringent and can be used to stop bleeding. A standard infusion of petals is used as a gentle laxative. Follow this link for information on rose in aromatherapy.

I offer dried Rosa centifolia petals in my online shop.

Californian rose (Rosa californica)
As you might expect, this rose is native to California, but is also found in Oregon and northern Mexico (Baja Norte). Its very restricted range has made it a candidate for conservation status in the US. Do not collect from the wild.

Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat pain and fever in infants. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat stomach disorders. A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) is used internally for colds, fevers, indigestion, kidney disorders, rheumatism and sore throats or externally as a wash on sores and old wounds.

Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata)
The range of this plant is restricted to China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which makes the name a little strange. However, an explanation is found in Wikipedia. Apparently, it was introduced to the southern United States in the late eighteenth century, where it gained its English name. “The flower is forever linked to the Trail of Tears and its petals represent the women’s tears shed during the period of great hardship and grief throughout the historical trek from the Cherokees’ home to U.S. forts such as Gilmer among others. The flower has a gold center, symbolizing the gold taken from the Cherokee tribe.” It’s also the state flower of Georgia, USA. In China, it is called jin ying zi.

A standard infusion of leaves is used for wounds. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat dysentery and as a hair restorative. A decoction of dried fruits (see note above about filtering) is used internally in the treatment of chronic diarrhea, infertility, seminal emissions, uncontrolled urination (urorrhea), urinary disfunction and vaginal discharge (leukorrhea). A root decoction is used to treat prolapsed uterus. A decoction of root bark can be used for diarrhea and excessively heavy periods (menorrhagia).

Chestnut rose (Rosa roxburghii)
Another attractive rose native to China and Japan.The plant is rich in tannins and is used as an astringent. In China (where it is called ci li) the hips are used to treat indigestion (see note above about filtering).

Damask rose (Rosa x damascena)
Like the cabbage rose, this is a hybrid found only in cultivated form. Again, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

Make a standard infusion of petals for use internally to treat diarrhea or externally as an astringent. A preserve of petals can be used as a tonic and for weight gain. Follow this link for information on rose essential oil.

As with all essential oils, rose 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.

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Native to Europe, including Britain, north Africa and southwest Asia, but found in Australia, New Zealand and the USA by naturalization.

A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) can be used to treat colds, diarrhea, gastritis, influenza, minor infectious diseases and scurvy (as it is rich in vitamin C). Commercial rose water made from the plant is used as a gently astringent lotion for delicate skin. The plant is also used in Bach flower remedies.

I offer various Rosa canina products in my online shop.

French rose (Rosa gallica)
Native to Europe, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

A standard infusion of petals can be used internally to treat bronchial infections, colds, depression, diarrhea, gastritis and lethargy or externally for eye infections, minor injuries, skin problems and sore throat.

Ramanas rose (Rosa rugosa)
Native to northern China, Japan and Korea but naturalized in Europe including Britain, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In China it is called mei gui.

A standard infusion of leaves can be used to treat fevers. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat poor appetite, indigestion and menstrual complaints, to improve blood circulation, and as a spleen and liver tonic. A root decoction is used to treat coughs.

Sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa)
The wild form is native to Europe including Britain, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It’s also found naturalized in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and South America.

Make a standard infusion of dried rose petals to treat headaches and dizziness, add honey for use as a heart and nerve tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction of petals is used to treat mouth ulcers.

If you’re a regular reader you won’t be surprised when I tell you that, like all other plants grown for medicinal purposes, roses should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents aren’t masked or changed by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing roses 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.


Woad health benefits: for food poisoning and influenza

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Woad, Isatis tinctoria (syn. Isatis canescens or I. indigotica), is also sometimes called asp of Jerusalem, dyer’s woad or Marlahan mustard. In China, the plant is extensively used for medicine, and each part has a different name: the leaves are called da qing ye, the roots ban lang gen and the pigment qing dai.

You may also occasionally come across the name glastum, which was one of the names used by the ancient Romans. Glastonbury is in an area once known for its woad.

At the time of the Roman invasion, Britons used woad to tattoo blue patterns on themselves, which made them appear fearsome in battle (which is why the Romans called them Picti, which means “painted men”). It can also be used to make a blue dye using alum and potash as mordant. The woad dye-production industry continued in Europe from at least the 10th century until the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic dyes became available.

Woad is a class A noxious weed in parts of the USA. It is a biennial or short lived perennial with a taproot which makes it difficult to eradicate. A native of Central and Southern Europe, it is naturalized in many parts of the UK and across much of the USA. It prefers rich neutral to alkaline (even very alkaline) soil which is well drained, and will not grow in full shade. As the plant depletes the soil, it needs to be planted in a new place every couple of years to maintain a good supply. It’s a member of the cabbage family (which is susceptible to clubroot), so should not be preceded or followed by other members of the same family.

Harvest in the summer, preferably before it flowers to avoid self-sowing, and dry in a cool airy place out of the sun before storing in an airtight colored container. If you wish to use the pigment, this can be extracted from fresh leaves following the instructions given here.

To make a standard infusion use 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard. Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup, split into 3 doses.

The leaves have antibacterial, anticancer and antiviral properties, the root is antibacterial and anticancer. Use a standard infusion of leaves to treat viruses and bacterial infections including encephalitis, erysipelas, heat rash, influenza, meningitis and mumps. Use a root decoction to treat fevers, respiratory inflammation in influenza and meningitis, acute infectious diseases including diptheria, dysentery, food poisoning (E.coli and salmonella), streptococcus, typhoid and paratyphoid. The pigment can be used externally as a plaster for inflammation and to staunch bleeding.

Those Picts must have been healthy!

As with all herbs used in remedies, you should grow woad organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or etirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic woad visit the Gardenzone.


Spiny Amaranth health benefits: best amaranth for hot sunny places

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth, Amaranthus spinosus, is also known as prickly amaranth or thorny amaranth. In some areas where it has been introduced it is regarded as a noxious weed. If you live in one of those places, then choose the closely related Prince’s feather instead, as it looks better and is unlikely to cause problems with your neighbors!

It is a native of tropical America which grows well in hot, sunny positions with some shelter. Reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm) it is not fussy about soil type, but likes moist well drained areas best of all.

Spiny amaranth is edible, like most members of the genus, though it must be grown organically to prevent the build-up of nitrates which is typical of all of them. In addition, if you’re using it for food, it’s important to remove the spines first. See the entry for Prince’s feather for more information on toxicity.

Medicinally, spiny amaranth is used in the same ways as Prince’s feather: To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb.

Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

Remember to ensure that organic methods are used when growing this or any other medicinal plant, to avoid the properties being changed or completely removed by the presence of foreign chemicals. In the case of amaranths, this is particularly important, as heavily (chemically) fertilized soil contains large quantities of nitrates, which will be concentrated in the tissues of the plant if present, making them potentially dangerous to eat. For more information on growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Prince’s Feather health benefits: attractive food plant and astringent

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

Prince’s feather or Prince of Wales feather, Amaranthus hypochondriacus (syn. Amaranthus hybridus erythrostachys and A.h. hypondriachus) is also known as lady bleeding, lovely bleeding, Mercado grain amaranth, pilewort, red coxscomb, spleen amaranth and sometimes just amaranth – but many other members of this genus are sometimes referred to in this way, so it’s a remarkably useless designation if you’re looking for a herbal medicine (but anybody who reads this blog regularly will probably realize that I regard common names more as pitfalls than any indication of identity).

It shares the name Prince’s feather with a close relative, Amaranthus cruentus, which is not medicinally active. Another close relative is A. caudatus, more commonly known as love lies bleeding, also not useful medicinally. All three plants are used for the production of grain in many parts of the world including Mexico. In fact, virtually all members of this genus are edible, some more than others. and the plant we are discussing here is one of the most useful for food. The only other medicinally useful member is the spiny amaranth. The unrelated lesser celandine is also sometimes known as pilewort.

NB. Although all amaranths are edible, it’s also known that they tend to concentrate nitrates in their foliage. As yet there’s no proof that they are the culprit, but nitrates are implicated in various health problems in children and stomach cancer. This isn’t a problem in most areas where they are grown, as the ground tends to be poor and chemical fertilizers are too expensive to be used unless absolutely necessary. In the developed world, it’s important to grow amaranth organically if it’s intended to use it for food or medicine. Medicinally, organic growing is important in any case, but particularly for members of the Amaranth genus because of this tendency.

Prince’s feather is a half hardy annual which reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm). It is not fussy as to soil so long as it is moist but well drained and not in full shade. Propagation is by sowing seed into warm soil, either in late spring or earlier under cover, transplanting when all risk of frost has passed. It also takes well from cuttings. Harvest the main part of the crop in July as it comes into flower and dry for later use.

All parts of the plant are used in medicine for various purposes.

To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb. Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

In Nepal, the juice extracted from the roots is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, fever and urinary problems. It can also be used to treat indigestion and vomiting.

As I’ve already mentioned it’s vital to ensure that Prince’s feather is grown organically to avoid corruption of its properties by the presence of foreign chemicals and excessive nitrates. To find out more about growing organic Prince’s feather visit the Gardenzone.


Pleurisy Root health benefits: for pleurisy and other chest conditions

Pleurisy root is the food of Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae

Pleurisy root is the food of Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa, is also known by many other names including butterfly weed (it is the food of both Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae), Canada root, chigger flower, flux root, Indian paintbrush, Indian posy, orange milkweed, orange swallow-wort, silky swallow-wort (also used for the closely related common milkweed), tuber root, white root, wind root and yellow milkweed – there is also a yellow-flowered variety. It is not related to greater celandine (also sometimes called swallow wort).

Pleurisy root is an attractive plant which is found from Ontario in Canada to Southern Florida. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2.5 feet (80cm). It does not like heavy soil, but is otherwise happy in any well drained soil not in full shade.

Like its close relative, most parts of this plant are edible once thoroughly cooked. Take care if you decide to use the shoots that they are really from this plant, as there are much more dangerous plants whose shoots look very similar: Apocynum cannabinum (Common Dogbane) and Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading Dogbane) – click on the names to find out how to distinguish them. It is inadvisable to eat large quantities, and you should never eat it raw because it contains toxins which are destroyed by cooking.

Propagation is the same as for a half-hardy annual: start the seeds off at about 65ºF (18ºC) under cover in spring, transplant into pots and plant out after all risk of frost has passed. Pleurisy root resents root disturbance, so if you can use rootrainers instead of regular pots, this would probably be helpful. It’s also prone to slug damage, so provide some protection if possible – for example surround with fresh wood ashes (which will need to be topped up regularly) or a copper collar.

Roots are harvested from 2 year old plants in the fall and dried for later use: cut into evenly sized pieces (it’s used a teaspoonful at a time) and lay out in a single layer in a dry airy place out of the sun. Turn regularly until completely desiccated, then store in dark colored airtight containers in a cool place.

Pleurisy root is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Do not exceed the stated dose. An overdose may cause vomiting, diarrhea and even poisoning if sufficiently large quantities are ingested.

As is fairly obvious from the name, the part used is the root, either fresh or dried. Make a decoction using 1 teaspoon of root to 475ml (2 US cups, 0.75 UK pint) in a pan of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid reduces by half. The dosage is up to 1 cup per day, which can be split into 3 separate doses. Dried powdered root is used to make a poultice, by mixing it with very hot water and wrapping closely in a bandage, which is applied to the area to be treated and refreshed in hot water as required.

Pleurisy root is mainly used for disorders and infections of the respiratory system, for colds, bronchial conditions such as pneumonia and pleurisy, and as an expectorant. It is also sometimes used to treat rheumatism, dysentery, diarrhea and feverish conditions.

Externally a poultice is used to treat bruises, external ulcers, and similar problems.

It’s important to grow pleurisy root organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Slippery Elm health benefits: for boils and splinters

Slippery elm has quite craggy bark

Slippery elm has quite craggy bark

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Slippery elm, Ulmus rubra (syn. Ulmus fulva), is also known as American elm (though the true American elm is Ulmus americana), gray elm, Indian elm, moose elm, red elm, rock elm, soft elm, sweet elm and winged elm. It’s native to central and southern North America, although it may be found in other parts of the world by naturalization. Unfortunately, it’s not immune to Dutch elm disease, so numbers are much reduced.

This stunning picture shows the craggy bark from the most likely viewpoint unless you’re lucky enough to find one standing alone somewhere that hasn’t been hit by the Nederlandische beetles. A tree is a tree unless you can see the leaves, flowers, bark and so on, so take a look at the picture below where you can see the slightly furry twigs, a leafbud and a flower. Disappearing off to the right is a bud which has not yet opened, looking a bit like an unkempt tribble. The leaves are slightly lopsided, fairly typical elm leaves.

Slippery Elm twig with flowers

Slippery Elm twig with flowers

Obviously, unless you have a really big garden and are planning for your grandchildren, you can’t grow slippery elm for medicinal use from scratch (especially since gathering the bark is almost certain to kill the tree). If you do decide to invest for the future, it requires moist soil, but is otherwise not fussy at all so long as it’s not in full shade. However, powdered slippery elm bark is available for sale in most herbalists (probably not Chinese herbalists) and health stores. This is the inner bark, not the craggy outer bark visible in the picture above.

The main reason that slippery elm is included here is that it is the fourth and last major ingredient of the anti-cancer mixture, essiac. (The others are sheep’s sorrel, great burdock and Chinese rhubarb.) I have no opinion as to the value of this mixture, as there have been no double-blind tests, so far as I am aware.

Slippery elm is an old folk remedy which has been used for many purposes over the years, so let’s look at the various uses to which it was put before the tree was in danger of extinction.

Slippery elm food, a commercial mixture, was recommended as a first solid food for babies who had difficulties with milk. It makes up to a gruel which you can make as thick as you like, is much more easily digested than baby rice, and less likely to cause digestive problems than products based on wheat like baby rusks (babies under 6 months should never be introduced to wheat or any other gluten-containing grain, in any case, because it can cause long term problems if introduced too young). Having looked it up, I would not recommend slippery elm food for young babies, unless you use the 100% pure slippery elm powder sold in my store, as much of the product available is flavored with barley malt, another grain which may cause difficulties in the very young and also a gluten source, so unsuitable for celiacs and anyone with gluten intolerance. It can be used as a food for the elderly, invalids and convalescents, however. And there’s nothing to stop you making a very similar food from natural slippery elm (get the coarser variety if you have a choice), which you can flavor as you wish.

To make a cold infusion, mix 30g (1 ounce) of slippery elm bark with 480 ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water and allow to stand for at least an hour. The dose is 1 tsp, which can be repeated every 30 minutes as required.

A poultice (made by mixing 1 tsp with enough hot water to make a thick paste applied on a bandage) can be used to treat boils, wounds and scalds, soothe irritated skin and to “grease” splinters to make them easier to remove. A cold infusion can be used internally to treat heartburn, gastritis, peptic ulcers, sore throat, indigestion, diarrhea and dysentery.

Trees prefer organic cultivation, which is also important for any plant being grown for medicinal purposes. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.