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.


Melilot health benefits: for milk knots, palpitations and insomnia

Melilot can be safely used fresh, but not dried

Melilot can be safely used fresh, but not dried

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Melilot, Melilotus officinalis (syn. Melilotus arvensis), is also called common melilot, hart’s tree, hay flowers, king’s clover, ribbed melilot, sweet clover, sweet lucerne, wild laburnum, yellow melilot and yellow sweet clover (there is also a white sweet clover, M. albus, which is very similar in appearance but with white flowers). In some parts of the world it is considered invasive, though as it is annual/biennial, this should not be too much of a problem with proper cultivation.

It is not closely related to red clover and other clovers or to alfalfa (sometimes called lucerne), although it is in the same family, Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae). All the members of this family have the ability to fix nitrogen with their roots, and are used both as green manures and cattle fodder.

Melilot is quite a tall plant, a native of Europe and East Asia, reaching around 4 feet (1.2m) in height. It will grow in any soil, so long as it is well drained, even heavy clay, and tolerates drought. It will not grow in full shade.

The root, shoots, leaves and seedpods are all edible, and the dried leaves were once used as a vanilla-like flavoring, but this is inadvisable because of the high coumarin content if dried incorrectly, though the fresh herb is quite safe. Use it immediately it has been gathered, as the chemical reaction which makes the coumarin starts when it begins to spoil. Coumarin is used in rat poison, and is best left for that purpose.

Do not dry your own melilot for use medicinally. If you must use it dried, buy supplies from a registered herbalist. Melilot is not suitable for anyone on anti-coagulants or with poor blood clotting. Caution: do not take more than the stated dose. Overdosing may cause vomiting/other symptoms of poisoning.

Melilot was used in the past to make herb pillows, but due to the notes above about dried melilot, I do not advise this usage.

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of the whole fresh herb to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Leave to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours then strain off and discard the herb.

To make a poultice, wrap a quantity of the fresh herb in a bandage and soak in very hot water. Wring out and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the water (which needs to be kept hot) whenever it grows cold.

Internally, a standard infusion is used to treat COPD, colic, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), hemorrhoids (“piles“), insomnia, intestinal disorders, painful congestive menstruation, nervous tension, neuralgia, palpitations, varicose veins and stomach problems. Externally it can be used as an astringent, an eyewash for inflammation, and a wash for wounds, to treat boils, erysipelas (inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes), rheumatic pains, severe bruising and swollen joints. An infusion made from flowering tops is effective against conjunctivitis. Finally, a poultice can be used to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, headaches, milk knots and rheumatic/arthritic pain.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, melilot must be grown organically to ensure the purity of the active constituents. To find out more about growing organic melilot visit the Gardenzone.