Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

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

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

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

Remember that if you want to use thyme medicinally it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

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

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

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

Medicinal uses for Thyme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aromatherapy

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

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

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


Stevia health benefits: to regulate blood sugar levels

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia is a frost tender annual

The herb known as stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (syn. Eupatorium rebaudianum), is actually only one species in the genus Stevia, many of which also have similar sweetening capabilities. However, S. rebaudiana is the plant commonly referred to as stevia, and the one that I’m covering in this post. Other names by which it is known include candy leaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf.

Stevia is a native of Brazil and Paraguay, and is cultivated elsewhere. It is a half hardy annual (cannot survive temperatures below 20ºF, -7ºC) which reaches a height of around 50cm (20″). It is best sown under cover in temperate areas, pricking out, potting on, hardening off and transplanting like any other half hardy annual. Extra protection from fleece or cloches may be helpful at the beginning of the season if the weather is poor. Stevia is not fussy as to pH and tolerates poor soil well, but prefers light to medium soil. It must be kept moist and will not grow in shade. Leaves should be harvested when the plants come into flower and dried for future use.

Once dried, the leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener. Be cautious with it until you are used to it, as it is around 15-30 times as sweet as sugar. This must be a lot easier to deal with than commercial powdered stevia, though, which is based on a refined product 300 times as sweet as sugar! In my view the commercial product is not suitable for use in a weight loss diet because it is often blended with maltodextrin (mostly made by processing GMO corn) which is high in fructose, itself strongly associated with obesity.

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Stevia has been used in its native habitat for hundreds of years both medicinally and as a sweetener, and for the past 30 years in Japan where it is used in place of aspartame, which is banned in Japan and in my view [aspartame] should be banned everywhere. Studies have shown that stevia has no damaging effects in the body.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are usually dried and can be used to sweeten beverages or food. Research has shown that it is useful for regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, fighting tooth decay and gum disease, and as a craving suppressant. It is particularly useful for anyone suffering from obesity as it provides sweetness without calories, and for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels, possibly improves glucose tolerance and acts as a pancreatic tonic.

Stevia is not used in aromatherapy.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, organic growing methods are preferred to avoid corrupting the essential components which provide the healing with foreign, and potentially toxic chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Stevia has been used by the Guarani Paî Tavytera and Kaiowa people for thousands of years.


Marsh Mallow health benefits: for open sores and external ulcers

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The marsh mallow or marshmallow, Althaea officinalis, is also called althea, common marshmallow, mortification root, sweet weed and wymote. It is in the same family (Malvaceae) as musk mallow and hollyhock.

The name “mortification root” refers to the use of the root as a poultice for infected wounds; it is said to heal the most stubborn infections, and thus prevent gangrene. I have not been able to find any explanation for the name wymote.

Marshmallow the herb is the origin of the sweet of the same name, although the stuff you buy in sweet shops nowadays never gets a sniff of the plant. Marshmallow the sweet was once made by drying and powdering the roots, then making the powder into a paste and roasting it.

Marsh mallow is a hardy perennial reaching about 4 feet (1.2m) in height by 2’6″ (75cm) across, a native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. It is not fussy as to soil, and can even grow in saline conditions, but prefers a moist situation. It will not grow in shade. It’s an attractive plant, worthy of a place in any ornamental or herb garden and could also be used in a sensory garden because of its downy leaves..

In many parts of the world, marshmallow roots are used as food, particularly during food shortages. All parts of the plant are edible, though all are also mucilaginous (you might say slimy) when cooked, and although the leaves can be used in salads, because they are fibrous and downy, they need to be finely chopped to be palatable. The water used for cooking marsh mallow can be reduced (by boiling) until it has a similar consistency to egg whites, and used as a substitute after cooling – even for things like meringues. This is obviously of most interest to people who are allergic to eggs, and to vegans. The flowers can also be used for tea.

Marshmallow has been used medicinally for centuries. All parts of the plant are active, in particular the roots.

A standard infusion of leaves uses 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours (the longer it infuses, the longer it can be kept in a refrigerator), strain and take up to 3 cups a day, sweetened with honey if liked. It can also be used externally when cool.

The least slimy of the medicinal preparations is the cold extract, which is made by steeping 1-2 tbsp chopped root or whole plant in 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water for 8 hours, after which it is strained. The dosage is 1 cup a day (which can be split into 3 doses).

A decoction is made by adding 1 tsp of chopped root to 1 cup cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-30 minutes, then strain. Use the same dosage as for cold extract.

A poultice is made by mixing chopped root with honey and wrapping in a closely woven bandage. Apply to the area to be treated for 2-3 hours, then replace with a new one as required.

Internally, use the cold extract, standard infusion or decoction to treat chest infections, pleurisy, tickly coughs and catarrh, cystitis or urinary tract infections. Use externally to treat gum disease, as an eye bath for sore and infected eyes, and as a vaginal douche for bacterial vaginitis (bv). Use a poultice to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, splinters, open sores and ulcers, insect bites and gangrene. Give a piece of peeled root to teething infants to chew on.

As I always recommend with plants destined for the medicine chest, marsh mallow should be grown organically to avoid corruption or elimination of the active constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals.

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Common Myrtle health benefits: for UTIs, BV and internal ulcers

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The common myrtle, Myrtus communis, is also called true myrtle or just myrtle. Despite the similar name, it’s not related to the bog myrtle – they’re not even in the same botanical family – and not closely related to the lemon myrtle.

Myrtle is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of around 14 feet (4.5m) after some years and is happy pretty much anywhere well drained and not in the shade, even on sites exposed to sea winds. It is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. As myrtle is self-fertile you only need one, even if you intend to use the fruit, which is helpful if you only have a small garden! If you do want fruit, be careful to pick a single-flowered cultivar, as the doubles may not produce as much (or any) fruit.

Leaves and fruit are used in different ways. The leaves can be picked for use as required, or dried for later use. The fruits are available in Fall, and can be gathered for immediate use – or again, dried. Leaves and fruits should be dried separately. To dry leaves or fruits, lay them out in a single layer somewhere out of the sun and with a free flow of air. Check then every day or so, turning them over regularly until they are completely dry, then store in an airtight container, in a colored jar and/or in a dark place. Leaves can be crumbled before storage.

To make a standard infusion of leaves, use 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain before use. A standard infusion of fruit is made in the same way but using 3 tsp fruit, fresh or dried. The dose in either case is 80ml (1/3 US cup) up to 3 times a day.

The infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat urinary tract infections, indigestion, bacterial vaginosis, coughs and sinusitis, as a mouthwash for gum disease and a wash for skin infections. The fruit infusion is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, internal ulcers and externally for hemorrhoids.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, Myrtle should be grown organically so as to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or corrupted by the presence of non-native substances. To find out more about growing organic myrtle visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil can be used as a topical treatment for acne, as a rub for rheumatic pain and as a general antiseptic.

As with all essential oils, myrtle 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.

Vervain health benefits: for pain relief and as a birthing aid

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Vervain, Verbena officinalis, is also known as European vervain, common vervain, common verbena, enchanter’s plant, herb of the cross, holy herb, Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, mosquito plant (which is a name also used for American pennyroyal), and (in common with blue vervain) simpler’s joy and wild hyssop. It is not related to hyssop or lemon verbena. I’ve also seen it called blue vervain, but the true blue vervain is a related, but different plant. Even more confusing, blue vervain is sometimes just called vervain. Take my advice, and always stick to the Latin name!

Vervain is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia (as far as the Himalayas). It is a hardy perennial, reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm), which requires well drained soil, but is otherwise not fussy as to type. It will grow anywhere except in the shade, and will tolerate wind, but not sea winds. Harvest the aerial parts of the plant in Summer as it comes into flower, and dry for later use by spreading in a single layer and leaving somewhere out of the sun and with some air flow (not enough to blow it around). Turn the herbs over now and then until completely dried, then crumble and store in a labeled, airtight container.

Vervain is sacred to both Jupiter and Venus, and was once strewn on Jupiter’s altars, used in love rites and worn for protection in High Magic evocations. The druids also regarded it as a sacred herb. It has a very long pedigree as a herbal remedy.

As it is listed in Chinese herbalism as the 12th most potent anti-fertility herb (out of 250), don’t take it if you are trying for a baby, and as it is a uterine stimulant, vervain is best avoided during pregnancy until close to term or preferably actually in labor.

Vervain is an incredibly useful herb with many useful properties. It is a stimulant, tonic and detoxing agent, enabling it to treat nervous exhaustion, depression and anxiety. It removes blood clots. It is antibacterial (can be used to treat infections), analgesic and effective against certain cancers (according to preliminary research).

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves, flowers and stems or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to infuse for 3-4 hours. Strain and store in an airtight, dark-colored container in a cool place or refrigerator. Label the bottle, but do not keep for more than 2-3 days before use. Take 85ml (one third of a US cup) in the morning on waking to treat any of the conditions mentioned previously.

The same infusion can also be used externally to treat eczema and rashes, wounds, neuralgia, cuts and sores and as a mouthwash or gargle to treat gum disease or sore throat.

Vervain’s most important use is for matters connected with the reproductive system: to encourage menstruation, to increase lactation, and as a birthing aid (both by stimulating contractions and acting to reduce the pain). This seems entirely appropriate for a herb dedicated to Venus, the goddess of love.

The Bach Flower Remedy vervain is used for over-enthusiasm.

I offer vervain Bach flower remedy in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, vervain must be grown organically to prevent adulteration of its intrinsic properties by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic vervain visit the Gardenzone.


Herb Fennel health benefits: for cough, cold, sore throat and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Feathery fennel is an attractive herb

Feathery fennel is an attractive herb

Fennel, or herb fennel as it is sometimes called to distinguish it from its larger relative sweet (or Florence) fennel grown as a vegetable, Foeniculum vulgare (although you might find it labelled as Foeniculum officinale), is an attractive herb which comes in both green and maroony-red forms. Other common names by which it is known include aniseed weed, herb fennel and hui xiang. It is one of the sacred herbs of Wicca.

Fennel is a member of the family of Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) – which includes several very poisonous species including Hemlock – so for safety’s sake it is not a good idea to gather it from the wild.

Fennel is a perennial, although as a Mediterranean and African native (naturalized all over the place, including the UK and the USA) it’s only half-hardy, but if you give it a warm, sheltered position it will probably survive all but the worst winter. However, it does not like to be moved, so if you are growing it from seed, you need to sow it where you want it to end up, for best results. In colder climates, it would probably do best in a conservatory or greenhouse.

A standard infusion is made from 2 teaspoonfuls of seeds, fresh or dried, to 1 cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before straining for use. Use it as a treatment for colic, coughs, flatulence (“gas” or “wind”) and indigestion, also as a laxative and tonic. A cold infusion can be used as a mouthwash for gum disease and a gargle for sore throats.

You can make a decoction of the chopped roots, using 30g (1oz) of fresh or 15g (½oz) of dried root to 570ml (1 UK pint, 2½ US cups) of cold water. Put them in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower the temperature to a simmer and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain before using hot or cold to treat urinary disorders.

Fennel is used by the Navajo to make lip balm.

As with all herbs grown for use as herbal remedies, it’s important that fennel is grown organically, so as to reduce the risk of ingesting large quantities of chemicals with your remedy. For more information about growing herb fennel organically, visit the Gardenzone.

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

Aromatherapy

Sweet fennel essential oil is used mainly for respiratory and digestive conditions, including improving appetite. It’s not suitable for children, during pregnancy or for anyone suffering from epilepsy, cancer, or taking prescribed blood thinners. It should not be used on sensitive skin.

As with all essential oils, fennel 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.