Olive health benefits: relieves bites, stings, itching and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives are the fruit of the tree Olea europaea, also sometimes called oliveleaf, and mu xi lian in Chinese. Green and black olives are different stages of ripeness, though some varieties are always picked green.

There are 6 subspecies: Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis aka O. europaea var. cerasiformis or O. europaea var. maderensis; Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (African, brown or wild olive) aka O. africana, O. chrysophylla, O. cuspidata, O. europaea subsp. africana, O. ferruginea, O. sativa var. verrucosa or O. verrucosa; Olea europaea subsp. europaea aka O. europaea subsp. oleaster or O. oleaster; Olea europaea subsp. guanchica; Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei aka O. laperrinei; and Olea europaea subsp. maroccana aka O. maroccana.

The olive has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is now naturalized across much of the planet and widely grown commercially. It is best suited to a Mediterranean climate with cool winters. To provide a decent crop, olive trees require 2-300 hours of dormancy at temperatures between 7.5°C/45°F and 10°C/50°F (easily provided by a UK winter), during which time day and night temperatures must be distinctly different. Unless you have a room where you can let the ambient temperature fluctuate naturally, you’re unlikely to get fruit from an indoor grown tree. On the other hand, if your outdoor tree is subjected to long periods below -10°C/14°F, it will be damaged and produce a smaller crop, although it should recover the following year.

Olives can be grown in containers, otherwise plant them in well drained soil which isn’t too rich, preferably against a south- or west-facing wall. Water weekly until established and keep weed free for the first few years. Pinch out container-grown trees at about 1.5m (5′) to encourage bushiness.

Water fortnightly with seaweed fertilizer during spring and summer (May to September in the UK). Prune in spring and early- to mid-summer; just thin out the branches to allow air flow, remove dead and diseased branches and any that spoil the shape of the tree.

Depending on the age of the tree you have purchased, you can expect fruit 3-5 years after planting. It will start to appear in late Summer. Most varieties can be picked green or left to turn black. In any case, it’s best to take what remains before the cold, wet days of Fall set in. Pick leaves as required for remedial use, and take small quantities of bark, being careful not to ring the tree, in early Fall for drying.

Before they can be eaten, olives must be processed by pickling for several weeks and then marinating. Green and black olives are dealt with separately. Full instructions for one method are given on Big Plant Nursery’s article, “Preparation of your olive harvest“.

Olives and olive oil are superfoods, but they are also extremely high in calories, so regular snacking on olives may be impractical. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, as it does not turn to trans-fats when heated. It is sometimes used for making margarine, and often in preparing Italian and other Mediterranean-style food, so can easily be included in your daily diet. Extracting the oil from olives is impractical at home without special equipment capable of crushing the olive pit/stone.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed bark or chopped leaves 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.

Olive oil is a laxative, promotes bile production and is soothing to mucous membranes and skin. It also helps combat hyperacidity and treats peptic ulcers. Externally it can be used to treat stings, burns and itchy skin, also as a base for liniment and ointment.

A decoction of leaves is used to treat fever, nervous tension, high blood pressure and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat cuts and grazes.

A decoction of bark has been used as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.

Recent research has found that olive leaf extract is very beneficial for preventing and treating high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteaoarthritis and lowering blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels.

The gum which collects in warm countries is used to treat cuts and grazes.

You can make a hair tonic by mixing olive oil with alcohol.

In Bach flower remedies Olive is used for exhaustion and mental fatigue.

I offer olive Bach flower remedy, olive leaf extract 6750mg capsules and cosmetic grade olive oil in quantities up to 5 litres in my online shop.


Olive oil is used as a base oil in aromatherapy. One application is with rosemary, for dandruff. Find out more about olive oil in aromatherapy.

If you decide to grow olives, as with all remedies grown at home, I recommend that you use organic methods, so as to be sure that you don’t end up ingesting lots of chemicals along with your food or medicine. General articles on organic methods can be found on our sister site, the Garden Zone.

Watercress health benefits: lowers blood sugar and cholesterol

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

Watercress is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicinally, both seeds and leaves are used.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosemary health benefits: for pain, depression and many other uses

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Rosemary comes from the Mediterranean

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a pretty little bush from the Mediterranean. There’s also a prostrate form, var. prostratus. Both types can be used in the same ways.


Rosemary is quite tender, and has a tendency to keel over without warning, so it’s best to have a couple of plants, although you can go the gardener’s route of taking cuttings regularly – I guess it depends on how many friends you are likely to be able to pass any extras on to!

Because it is from the Med, it likes hot sunny positions with a bit of shelter, and does not like frost or cold wet winters at all. It grows best in poor light alkaline soil with ample lime.

Cultivation and harvest

Sow indoors March to June, barely cover seed, transplant to 8cm (3″) pots, or outdoors May to June 1cm (½”) deep, thin to 15cm (6″) apart. Put in final position Fall or Spring when there is no risk of frost. Pick a sheltered spot, if possible. Tidy the plants in Spring, and after a cold wet Winter take cuttings, as the plant may die unexpectedly. Prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth.

If you can bring it into a porch or conservatory in the winter (a full sized plant will be in a pretty big pot), it will appreciate it, or you can cover it with fleece or a cloche – or rely on the aforementioned cuttings. It doesn’t like having its roots disturbed, so if you will be bringing it indoors, grow it in a pot from the get-go.

Collect leaves and flowering tops in Spring and early Summer for immediate use, drying or distillation for oil.

Edible uses

Traditional gardening advice is to prune back to stop it getting straggly after it has flowered, and this would be a good opportunity to get some drying material for use in the kitchen. It’s a slightly bitter herb but makes a great addition to lamb or chicken if used fairly sparingly, as well as lots of other uses.

Contra-indications and warnings

Rosemary is one of the best herbal remedies, but before I go on, I need to point out that anybody who suffers from high blood pressure or epilepsy should not use rosemary in large amounts or as herbal medicine. You should be fine using it sparingly in cooking, though.

Rosemary is pregnancy safe with a maximum dose of 1 cup a day of half-strength standard infusion. However, it’s best to avoid using rosemary oil maceration during pregnancy.

Medicinal uses

A standard infusion made from 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves steeped in 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water for 15 minutes to 4 hours, before straining and use, is the normal way to use Rosemary. You can add honey to make it sweeter, if you prefer. It’s used for depression, headaches, migraine, nervous exhaustion, indigestion and other digestive problems including gall bladder disorders, and for PMS. If you are pregnant, restrict intake of this infusion to no more than one cup a day, diluted half and half with water.

You can also use the infusion as a mouthwash, and as a final rinse when washing your hair to treat dandruff and as a hair tonic for dark hair (blondes should use Roman chamomile for this instead). The same infusion can be used externally for muscle pain, arthritis, rheumatism and as a skin tonic.

A cold compress, made by dipping clean cloth into a cooled standard infusion, and putting it over the affected area, will help to ease the pain of neuralgia, although it is unlikely to provide a complete cure.

You can make a rosemary oil maceration by filling an airtight jar with fresh rosemary and covering it with good quality oil (olive oil is good, go for the cheapest variety for medicinal purposes). Cover and leave it on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks, shaking it every day, then strain it and store in brown glass bottles, making sure to label it. This oil would be great for a hot oil treatment for your hair. You can also use rosemary essential oil diluted at a rate of 1 drop essential oil to 2ml carrier oil (15 drops to 1/8 US cup). Warm up the oil (not too much – despite the name, hot oil treatments actually use warm oil) and apply it after washing your hair, massaging it well into the scalp. Wrap your head in a towel and leave it for 2-3 hours (or overnight), then wash out with a mild (non-medicated) shampoo. You can use the same method to treat cooties (headlice) if necessary. The oil will suffocate the little blighters, and the rosemary aroma is also a deterrent.

Where to get it

I offer a number of rosemary products in my online shop.


Rosemary essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 6 years, or anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy. Rosemary essential oil is used in aromatherapy to stimulate the lymphatic system, for mental and physical fatigue and to soothe osteoarthritis and rheumatism.

It can either be used by adding a few drops to a hot bath or mixed with a carrier oil as described already and massaged into the skin – but don’t use it on inflamed areas. You could also use a muslin bag of crushed fresh herb in the bath instead of buying essential oil. The massage oil can also be used to help ease the pain of RSI. However, this is not a cure, and you should discontinue the activity that caused the condition, if at all possible, or find a new way of doing it that does not use the same movements.

Final Notes

Remember that, if you want to use rosemary 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. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic rosemary.