Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zinc

Some zinc-rich foods

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

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

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

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

Zinc overview

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

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

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

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

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

Zinc requirement

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

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

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

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

Zinc sources

foods_high_in_zinc2

Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

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

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

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

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

zinc-content2

Click for larger image

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

Zinc supplements

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

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

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

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

Zinc deficiency

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

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

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

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

Research into the effects of zinc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zinc and medication

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

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


4 cedarwood essential oils, benefits and uses

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

cedarwood oil sources

4 trees which are used to produce cedarwood essential oils

There are four main types of cedarwood essential oil, from two different plant families. Atlas Cedarwood and Himalayan Cedarwood are from the Pinaceae family, while Virginian Cedarwood and Texas Cedarwood are from Cupressaceae. Atlas cedarwood and Virginian cedarwood are the oils which are most frequently offered for sale.

All types of cedarwood are generally safe for use in aromatherapy, but none of them should be used during pregnancy or for children under 12 years of age. As with most essential oils, they should be used diluted with a carrier oil for use on the skin. Use a rate of 5 drops essential oil to each 10ml carrier oil or other base.

Cedarwood oils blend well with essential oils from herbs and spices: aniseed, angelica, basil, bay, black pepper, cardamom, carrot seed, celery, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, coriander, dill, fennel, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, peppermint, rosemary and thyme. Remember to use no more than 4 essential oils to a blend, and that the total number of drops should be the normal 5 drops to each 10ml carrier oil. eg. if you’re blending cedarwood and rosemary into 20ml carrier oil, you would use no more than 5 drops of cedarwood and 5 of rosemary (or 6 and 4, or whatever blend you prefer that adds up to 10, since there’s 20ml carrier oil).

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Atlas cedarwood essential oil is also called Atlantic cedar, African cedar, Moroccan cedarwood and libanol. It’s extracted by steam distillation from the wood of Cedrus atlantica. You might also see an absolute or a concrete on sale.

Himalayan cedarwood is extracted from the leaves, twigs and branches of Cedrus deodara by steam distillation. The Himalayan cedar is also called deodar cedar and considered sacred. Because of this, the oil is sometimes used for spiritual purposes.

Atlas and Himalayan cedarwood essential oils are helpful for skin conditions like greasy skin, spots, zits, acne, eczema and dermatitis, also for fungal infections. It is also helpful for dandruff and to help prevent hair loss*. Massage into affected areas to relieve arthritis pain, or over the whole body for stress and nervous tension. In an oil burner or electric diffuser, atlas cedarwood is helpful for coughs including bronchitis, catarrh and congestion. You could also use it as a chest rub for the same purposes.

More information on cedar wood oil for hair growth

Texas cedarwood essential oil is extracted from the heartwood and shavings of a felled Juniperus ashei tree (syn. J. mexicana), also called mountain cedar, Mexican cedar and Mexican juniper. The fragrance is like a harsher variant of Virginian cedarwood.

Virginian cedarwood essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from the timber waste of Juniperus virginiana, and is also known as red cedar and Bedford cedarwood.

Texas and Virginian cedarwood oils are used for the same purposes as Atlas and Himalayan cedarwood, but can also be used to treat psoriasis, added to shampoo for greasy hair and used as an insect repellent.

I offer both Atlas cedarwood essential oil and Virginian cedarwood essential oil in my online shop.


Herbal Remedies for Eczema

Herbal Remedies

Eczema is unsightly and can be painful

Eczema is a common skin disorder that affects adults as well as children. According to the latest research, this skin disorder affects an estimated one in five children, and one in 12 adults in the UK.There is no single cause for eczema but your genes are one of the most important factors. Although there are plenty of conventional medications available to alleviate eczema, many people prefer to use natural remedies, which are usually gentler and frequently more effective as well.

Why should you use herbal remedies to treat eczema?

The use of herbal medication for eczema isn’t something new. Herbs have been widely used for years to address a number of skin ailments, including eczema. The herbs used vary, depending on the severity of the case. Please be advised though that single-herb remedies are probably only suitable for mild to moderate cases.Remember, everybody’s body chemistry is slightly different, so we all reach differently to different things. Always do a patch test on a small area of skin like the inside of the elbow and leave for 24 hours before using a new remedy on a larger area.If you find that your symptoms are getting worse with a particular remedy, discontinue use and allow the skin to rest for at least 48 hours before trying anything else. If improvement doesn’t occur, consult your GP.

Herbal remedies for eczema

Here are some single-herb remedies you can try for mild eczema:

Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)

coconutIf you are not allergic to coconut, try coconut oil. Rub coconut oil onto the affected areas and let it dry. You can apply it before going to bed and leave on overnight.Coconut oil has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. It contains caprylic acid, capric acid and vitamin E and K that help to prevent itching, flaking and inflammation and prevents your skin from drying out.

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

chamomileGerman chamomile (Matricaria recutita) soothes dry skin. It contains bisabolol or alpha-bisabolol – a natural alcohol – that helps ease irritation and inflammation. German chamomile has strong anti-microbial properties that may ward off germs. The best way to use German chamomile is to add a few drops of German chamomile essential oil to a bath and have a good soak.

Aloe vera

aloe-veraKnown as the wonder plant, Aloe vera is used to treat eczema, and to heal scars, burns and wrinkles. Aloe vera is often included in creams and ointments, or can be used just on its own.This succulent plant contains 75 different components which include vitamins A, C and F, amino acids, minerals, zinc, magnesium, enzymes and more. Aloe vera also contains a vital enzyme known as carboxy-peptidase, which has an anti-inflammatory effect.Although these single herb solutions may be effective, there are a number of professionally formulated herbal remedies for eczema which are likely to be more effective, in particular if you’ve been suffering from eczema for a long time without getting any relief from the usual prescribed medication. I offer a number of these in my shop in the Remedies section (or just search for eczema).Herbal remedies are often an effective solution to reduce or treat eczema. Alongside skin treatment, you also need to take care of your diet. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and try to get a balanced diet. If you don’t like fruit and veg, you can use fruit and vegetable powders to hide the nutrients and fibre you’re missing in your normal food or in smoothies and juices.


5 Must-Try Essential Oils

Many essential oils have an aroma that’s soothing, but they are also used for many other purposes. Here are five essential oils that you may find useful.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.
 

Lemon (Citrus limon)

lemonLemon is one of the most effective essential oils, and can be used for many purposes. It’s also one of the few essential oils that is safe to use without dilution. Use it straight out of the bottle on a finger or cotton bud to treat boils, cold sores (fever blisters/HSV) and verrucas (plantar warts). Blend with a carrier oil for skin care, to tone and condition nails and to bleach discoloured skin.

Lemon oil can also be mixed with aloe gel to create a hand sanitizer. Moreover, lemon oil added to shampoo can help alleviate dandruff. However, keep in mind that lemon essential oil can make your skin photosensitive. Therefore, avoid contact with sunlight or tanning beds after applying it to your body.

Lemon essential oil can also be used around the home. For example, mix a few drops of lemon essential oil with olive oil to make a cost-effective furniture polish.

 

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

peppermintMake a blend of peppermint essential oil with your favourite carrier oil or add a few drops to the bath to treat acne, dermatitis, indigestion and flatulence (gas or wind), itchy skin, muscle pain and neuralgia. It’s also helpful in an oil burner or electric diffuser for relieving respiratory conditions like coughs and colds.

Peppermint essential oil can also be mixed with eucalyptus and a carrier oil to relieve congestion. You need to apply the mixture over your chest. Another way you can use it is to add peppermint oil to a bowl of water to relax tired feet. It is also an effective essential oil to eliminate odour.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)

clovesClove essential oil is used to treat minor dental problems like toothache. It’s best left to professionals apart from this use. However, if you want to use it at home, you can diffuse the oil in various rooms to repel mosquitoes and flies.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

tea-treeTea tree oil can be used to treat many common ailments. It’s another oil that can be used straight out of the bottle – in fact, that’s the way most people use it all the time.

You can use it to treat boils, psoriasis, eczema, athlete’s foot, cold sores, nail fungus, insect bites and warts. In addition, you can add tea tree drops to a shampoo to get rid of dandruff.

I regard tea tree oil as essential first aid for any skin condition, whether caused by bacteria, viruses or a fungal infection. Many people use tea tree oil without realising they’re using an aromatherapy product.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

lavenderLavender essential oil is used for health and homecare purposes. Like lemon, it’s safe to use without dilution. It is a versatile essential oil, which is used in blends to improve acne, insect bites and rashes but its most important use is to treat burns. Apply straight from the bottle on a finger or cotton wool ball to the burn and surrounding area, several times a day if you need to.

Lavender oil in a burner or electric diffuser helps relax an anxious mind, promote sleep and relieve headaches.

Lavender oil can also be added to a paste of baking soda and water to make an underarm deodorant. Furthermore, you can add a few drops of lavender oil to your laundry to eliminate odors from sweaty clothes.

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

These are the best essential oils that you must try today to treat a variety of common issues. I offer an extensive selection of essential oils in my online shop.


Avocado Oil – not just a carrier oil additive

Avocado oil

There are cosmetic grades of avocado oil as well as those intended for cooking

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Avocado oil is cold-pressed from the fruit of Persea americana, (often referred to in the 1970s as an avocado pear). Despite this, it is classed as a vegetable oil.

This oil additive is used in aromatherapy massage oils and is particularly recommended for people with stretch marks, dry, fragile, itchy or mature skin or who suffer from eczema or psoriasis. It is also useful for sun-damaged skin, rehydrating and helping to regenerate the skin.

Avocado oil’s seemingly viscous and heavy character contributes to its hydrating properties. Although it’s theoretically possible to use on its own as a carrier oil, it is probably best used as an additive to Almond or Grapeseed oil at 20% or to Jojoba oil at 10%, even on dry skin.

100% avocado oil is completely natural, non-irritant and there are no known cases of allergic reaction (please comment if you know different), but it is not suitable for oily skin, for fairly obvious reasons. It is available in virgin and refined form, but the additional expense of refinement is probably unnecessary in most cases, unless you have a particular aversion to the color green.

Avocado is a rich, heavy mono-unsaturated oil which is easily absorbed by the skin. It is rich in vitamins A, D and E, lecithin, potassium and essential fatty acids including oleic acid (65%), linoleic acid (15%), palmitic acid (14%) and palmitoleic acid (6%) – all figures approximate.

Avocado oil is also used in cosmetics and for lubrication, and has recently emerged into the culinary world, where it is marketed as a high quality oil which can be used as a roughly comparable substitute for olive oil. Of course, all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients then become available in the diet.

It also contains Omega-3 oil, which makes it useful for protecting against sunburn and skin cancer if appled to the skin. It is not known whether the Omega-3 in avocado oil is available for use by the body as a nutrient (recent research has indicated that Omega-3 oils can only be absorbed if sourced from fish or meat, not vegetable oils).

I offer avocado oil in sizes from 100ml to 5 litres in my online shop.


Almond health benefits: help digestion and breathing

Almonds are closely related to apricots

Almonds are closely related to apricots

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The almond tree, Prunus dulcis (syn. Prunus amygdalus, P. communis, Amygdalus communis and A. dulcis) is usually thought of as a nut tree, but in fact the nuts are the kernel of a sour but edible stone fruit, closely related to peaches, apricots and plums.

There are two well known kinds of almond: the sweet almond we find in stores and which is used to make sweet almond oil, marzipan and so on, and the bitter almond, P. dulcis var. amara, which contains cyanide and is therefore poisonous (Bitter almonds are still used commercially, but only after they have been detoxified). It’s interesting to know that the bitter almond is the original almond tree; the sweet almond is a mutant which has been cultivated since its discovery. The effect of this is that even sweet almond trees bear a few bitter almonds along with the rest, so if you’re working your way through a batch of almonds and find one that’s bitter, don’t eat it! Even sweet almonds can be toxic in quantity – apparently anything over 900 is enough to kill an adult. But if you manage to eat that many without popping, I’d be very surprised.

Almonds are native to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan and naturalized in Iran and the Mediterranean. They are cultivated in many places, including the Med. and California.

From all this you will gather that you probably need to live somewhere fairly warm to successfully grow your own almonds. If you don’t have at least warm temperate conditions, it’s probably not worth growing it as a major crop, though they are cultivated in temperate areas. Mind you, with global warming, you might not have to wait too long to get the chance!If you can provide the appropriate climate conditions, the soil needs to have well drained but moisture-retaining loamy soil with a moderate amount of lime. Choose a sunny position for the best crop, but it can stand semi-shade if there is no other option. If you have space, you will get heavier crops by growing two different cultivars.

It is better to buy trees from your nearest nursery, as they will be suitable for local conditions, but almonds can also be raised from whole seed after 2-3 months of cold stratification. Even then, they can take up to 18 months to germinate, and need coddling in a cold frame, potting on and kept in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter in cooler areas.

Plant them out in late spring or early summer, remembering to water them regularly for their first season. After 4 or 5 years, you will start to get a crop.

Almonds can cause allergic reactions in those who are susceptible. Even though almonds are not technically nuts, if you have a nut allergy, you should not eat them or products made with them (eg. marzipan). The same applies to those who are allergic to peaches.

For the rest of us, almonds are a very nutritious food. A 3.5 ounce (100 g) serving contains almost twice the daily requirement of vitamin E and more than half that of Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Magnesium and Phosphorus. Other nutrients found in useful quantities include Thimine (vitamin B1), Niacin (vitamin B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Vitamin B6, Folate (vitamin B9), Laetrile (vitamin B17), Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Zinc. Almonds in their skins are also a source of dietary fiber, more than 50% by weight.

As a food, almonds are used in many ways, from a popular Christmas snack (both as nuts and marzipan) to a peanut butter substitute. I offer a range of almond products in my online store. In the Middle East, whole green almonds with the flesh still on are sometimes eaten dipped in salt, before the husk has hardened.

Sweet almond oil extracted from the nuts is often used in aromatherapy as a carrier (bitter almond oil is poisonous and not interchangeable) and can also be used to soothe cradle capdermatitis, eczema and similar skin conditions. The nuts themselves (and most products made from them) are laxative (probably due to the high fiber content) and improve both digestion and respiration.

Like all plants used for medicinal purposes, if you decide to grow your own almonds, it’s important to stick to organic methods, so as to ensure that no foreign substances are present. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Liquorice (Licorice) health benefits: for peptic, duodenal and mouth ulcers

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Liquorice root is available in health stores

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Liquorice or licorice in the USA, Glycyrrhiza glabra (a subspecies, Glycyrrhiza glandulifera or Glycyrrhiza glabra var. glandulifera is grown in Russia), is well known to everybody as a common sweet or candy, though you can’t guarantee that all liquorice candies actually have very much liquorice in them. Liquorice is not related to anise hyssop (sometimes called liquorice mint).

When I was a kid, we used to buy sticks of liquorice root in the local sweet shop, and chew them, discarding the woody fibers once the taste was all gone. They lasted for a very long time, partly I suppose, because we couldn’t do a whole stick at once, unless we wanted to experience one of the most well known results of eating liquorice – diarrhea! There are other far more serious possible consequences of an overdose, see below.

Though you’d never guess to look at it, liquorice is a member of the same family as peas, beans and lentils, which means that in areas where the appropriate soil organisms are present, it should fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making the soil richer as a result. Of course, if you’re going to use it, digging it up will probably remove most of this bounty.

Not a particularly stunning plant, but as the part used is the root, there’s no reason why you can’t tuck it away somewhere out of the limelight until it’s time to dig it up.

Liquorice is a perennial which reaches a height of 4′ (1.2m) and spreads over an area of about 3′ (1m). It needs fertile, moist but well drained soil on the sandy side, and prefers alkaline soil.

Pick off the flowers as they occur for the biggest crop of roots.

It takes 4 years to produce a quantity of roots worth digging, but as well as growing from seed you can propagate new plants from root cuttings (each of which needs to have at least one growth bud). These should be brought on in pots in a cold frame until growing away well, then transplanted to their permanent positions in Spring.

Liquorice can be invasive once established.

Although it is possible to grow this plant, given the length of time required before you can harvest it, it’s probably easier to buy liquorice root from a health store (see below). So far as I know, sweet shops no longer sell it.

Liquorice can be used as a flavoring and/or sweetener, and the leaves are used as a tea substitute in Mongolia. The root fibers can apparently be used for making wallboards and similar products!

Liquorice is not suitable for use during pregnancy (because it has a hormonal effect), by anyone suffering from high blood pressure or kidney disease, or anyone currently using digoxin-based medication. Take care not to exceed the stated dose (or eat too many liquorice candies). A large overdose can cause edema, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed root to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water in a non-metallic pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating for 10-15 minutes, strain off root and use the liquid hot or cold. Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Liquorice is a soothing herb and powerfully anti-inflammatory. In Japan, it is prescribed to control chronic viral hepatitis, and there is research evidence to show its effectiveness to protect the liver in mice. It inhibits Helicobacter pylori, which makes it a useful aid in the treatment of both duodenal ulcers and peptic ulcers. It is also antispasmodic, tonic, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. Mainly used in herbal medicine to treat coughs and other bronchial conditions including asthma and bronchitis, it is also useful for allergic complaints, to help the body recover from steroid treatments, treat urinary tract infections, bladder and kidney complaints and stomach problems. As already mentioned, it’s also a pretty good laxative. It is also sometimes used to treat Addison’s disease. Externally, a root decoction can be used to treat herpes, eczema and shingles. Use as a mouthwash to treat canker sores (mouth ulcers).

Liquorice is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer a selection of liquorice products in my online shop.

If you decide to grow your own liquorice, follow the rules of organic gardening. Since the part used is the root, this is especially important to avoid foreign chemicals ending up in your remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


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.


Chickweed health benefits: for itching skin conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed, Stellaria media (an old latin name is Alsine media), is such a common weed that you won’t have to do anything to propagate it, unless perhaps you’re a Mars colonist! It’s been used in folk remedies for many years, which may account for its wide distribution.

It’s well known as chickweed or common chickweed, but other names by which it may be known include adder’s mouth, chickenwort, common chickweed, craches, Indian chickweed, maruns, starwort, stitchwort, tongue-grass and winterweed. The name chickweed refers to its popularity as food with chickens and other birds. It’s not related to false unicorn root (sometimes called starwort) or true unicorn root (sometimes called mealy starwort)

It is quite a tiny, groundhugging plant, reaching a height of only about 4 inches (10cm) but spreading over an area of around 20 inches (50cm). It has quite a pretty flower, and these are freely produced all year round. If it wasn’t regarded as a weed, it might even be recommended as a ground cover plant, and will certainly perform this function quite quickly if left to itself.

Chickweed is sometimes confused with other plants which don’t have the same properties, so to double check you have the right weed, take a look at the stem. In chickweed, the furriness of the stem is confined to a line of hair up one side (there’s a really good picture of this at Missouri plants), not all over like its imitators.

Harvest the leaves in spring to early summer for best results. Leaves can be dried by laying out in a single layer in a cool, airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until dried and then storing in a dark coloured container somewhere cool.

Chickweed leaves and seeds are edible, though if you’re eating any quantity of the leaves it is best served cooked, to get rid of the fairly high saponin content. The seeds are produced in small quantities all year round and can be ground and used as a flour substitute, though obtaining sufficient quantities at a time may be difficult.

Turning to its herbal uses, I need to point out that chickweed is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Also, please do not exceed the stated dose, as in excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

You can make a standard infusion by using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Make a decoction using the whole plant: 3 handfuls fresh or 1 ounce dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dose in either case is the same: up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mixing a quantity of the fresh or dried herb with very hot water. Squeeze out the excess and wrap in a bandage, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

To make an ointment, measure one part of fresh or dried leaves to 2 parts of plain cold cream by volume and pound together until well mixed. The traditional tool for this is the pestle and mortar, though I guess you could use a blender – I wouldn’t want to have to do the washing up afterwards, though. To save you the trouble, I offer ready made chickweed ointment for itchy skin in my online shop.

Chickweed is great for reducing inflammation and itching which often works where other treatments have failed, so a poultice or ointment is perfect as an external treatment for any kind of itching skin condition as well as other inflammatory problems: abscesses, boils, bruises, eczema, psoriasis, roseola, external ulcers and urticaria. You can also use the ointment applied on a bandage to help draw splinters.

Use a decoction externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers.

Add a standard infusion to your bath water to reduce inflammation in rheumatism and promote tissue healing. It can also be used to treat vaginitis.

Internally a standard infusion aids digestion and can be used to relieve serious constipation, for internal inflammation and stomach ulcers. A decoction is taken as a tonic after giving birth. It promotes milk production and is a circulatory tonic. It’s also useful in the treatment of chest complaints.

As with all herbal remedies, you should ensure that gardening methods are organic to avoid corrupting or eliminating the properties of the herb. Though you’re unlikely to want to grow it deliberately (it will turn up no matter what you do), if you want to find out more about growing organic herbs in general, visit the Gardenzone.

UPDATE. I found this very interesting article by Learning Herbs which gives information on making a salve from chickweed.