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Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use by pregnant women.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint 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.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Red clover is happy in most places with moist, well drained soil

Red Clover health benefits: for headache, nausea and skin care

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Red clover is happy in most places with moist, well drained soil

Red clover is happy in most places with moist, well drained soil

Red clover, Trifolium pratense, is also called Chilean clover, cowgrass clover, mammoth red clover, medium red clover, peavine clover, purple clover and sometimes shamrock (although this name is mainly used for other clovers). It is a member of the same family as beans and peas.

Description

Like most members of Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae), red clover is a useful green manure because it has the ability to “fix” nitrogen with its roots, adding fertility. Popular with bees and other wildlife, it is a good companion plant for apples, but shouldn’t be grown too close to gooseberries.

Red clover is a perennial herb which reaches a height and spread of 2′ (60cm). It requires some sun to survive, but is content with any type of soil, acid, neutral, or aklaline, even nutritionally poor soil, though it likes a well drained moist soil best. It will also put up with strong winds, but doesn’t appreciate maritime exposure.

Cultivation and harvest

Soak seed for 12 hours in warm water before sowing where you want it to grow in Spring. It can also be sown in modules under cover and planted out in Spring. The flowers are the part mostly used in medicine. Young leaves can be collected just before flowering, flowers, leaves, seeds/pods and roots can be harvested as required. All parts can be dried for later use.

Edible uses

The leaves can be used as a spinach substitute and the seeds sprouted for use in salads. Dried flowers and seed pods can be used as a flour substitute, young flowers and cooked roots can be eaten. Fresh or dried flowers make a herbal tea, and dried leaves can be used as a vanilla substitute for cakes etc.

Medicinal uses

To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh flowers or 15g dried to 500ml boiling water. Steep for up to 4 hours, then strain and discard the herb. It may be diluted and/or sweetened with honey if preferred. The dosage is one cup of full strength infusion a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

The standard infusion or tincture is used internally for coughs, gastric problems, headache, neuralgia, nausea, ulcers and to purify the skin. There is no evidence for the often-repeated assertion that it is helpful in treating cancer or conditions associated with the menopause.

Contra-indications and warnings

Red clover is not suitable for use by pregnant women or anyone with a history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and other oestrogen-sensitive conditions. It is also not suitable for anyone taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin. If you are taking prescribed medication please consult your doctor before use, as red clover may interact with certain drugs.

Where to get it

I offer a number of red clover products in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Red clover-infused oil is sometimes available. It is used to treat skin conditions.

Final Notes

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic growing methods to avoid unwanted chemicals (including pesticides) getting into your remedies. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


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

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

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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aromatherapy

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offer dried Rosa centifolia petals in my online shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offer various Rosa canina products in my online shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

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 by pregnant women. 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.


Even after years stored in an airtight container, cloves still work on toothache!

Cloves health benefits: for toothache, bad breath and morning sickness

Even after years stored in an airtight container, cloves still work on toothache!

Even after years stored in an airtight container, cloves still work on toothache!

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cloves, from the clove tree Syzygium aromaticum (syn. Caryophyllus aromaticus, Eugenia aromitica, E. caryophyllata and E. caryophyllus), don’t really have any other names in English. They are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tropical tree which reaches a height of up to 12 metres, and is not really suitable for growing in any garden, even in the tropics, unless it is particularly large. However, they are easy to find in food stores in the spice section.

People who suffer from dermatitis of the hands should avoid prolonged or frequent handling without gloves.

To make a standard infusion use 2 tsp whole cloves or 1-1½ teaspoons (3-5g) powdered cloves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allow to stand for 10 minutes, strain off whole cloves and drink (if used hot) or allow to cool before use. Take 1 cup up to 3 times a day.

Research has shown that cloves have antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antispasmodic properties. They can be used both internally and externally.

Internal use

In Ayurvedic medicine they are used extensively under the name Lavanga to improve appetite, promote digestion, and as a treatment for hyperacidity (in particular using a preparation called Avipattikara curna), flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), nausea, vomiting and as a mild anti-colic and anti-diarrheal remedy. An infusion is used to relieve indigestion. Another first aid remedy recommended for acidity is to suck a clove. A cold infusion is used to control nausea and vomiting, including morning sickness during pregnancy, where it’s often mixed with pomegranate juice. Another recommended recipe is a mixture of ground cloves with honey to be licked when nausea strikes.

Cloves are frequently used in Ayurveda to alleviate coughs and colds. An infusion mixed with honey taken 3 times a day is often used for this or a preparation called Lavangadi vati also mixed with honey. The infusion is even used to treat tuberculosis, where it is said to have the dual benefit of treating both cough and lack of appetite. Clove lozenges are used for sore throats and colds.

External use

Cloves are probably best known in the West for their use in treating toothache, either in the form of clove oil or toothache tincture (which is often based on clove oil, but rather less strong). This is usually applied direct to the site of the pain on a cotton bud as necessary, but will only work for a short time before further applications will cease to be effective. A quick first aid method is to put a clove on the area and suck or gently chew it, where other options are not to hand. You can also use a cold infusion as a mouthwash to relieve mild toothache. However, none of these is a permanent cure, and a trip to the dentist will definitely be necessary in the short term.

Chewing a clove or using an infusion as a mouthwash and gargle is effective in the treatment of bad breath (halitosis). A paste made by mixing ground cloves with milk or honey can be used as a local painkiller. Used on the forehead it can alleviate headache. The honey paste can also be used to treat skin diseases, including acne.

A cold infusion can be dabbed on a sty (hordeolum or stye) both to treat the infection and to relieve the pain.

I offer dried cloves in my online shop.

Although this is a large tree which few people will be growing in their garden, if you do grow it for medicinal use, it’s important to avoid using chemicals of any kind, but to follow organic methods of cultivation. This is to avoid the transfer of noxious chemicals into your remedies. For information on growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Clove bud essential oil is used in aromatherapy, but apart from use as a toothache tincture is best reserved for professionals.

As with all essential oils, clove 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.

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime or Linden health benefits: for colds and coughs

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lime or linden is a group of trees which mostly have the same properties. The ones I’m dealing with here are: the common lime (European lime or European linden), Tilia x europaea (syn. Tilia intermedia, T. officinarum); the small leaved lime or small leaved linden, Tilia cordata (syn. Tilia microphylla, T. parvifolia, T. ulmifolia); and the large leaved lime or large leaved linden, Tilia platyphyllos (syn. Tilia grandifolia, T. officinarum). Another tree is closely related, but has different properties, the American basswood.

Despite the name, the lime is not related to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia, which originates from the West Indies.

Lime trees are a familiar sight lining the sides of roads across England, as they are fairly resistant to city pollution. The trees are native to Europe (the common lime is a natural hybrid of the other two).

The leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though the description “mucilaginous” doesn’t appeal to me that much. Immature fruit and flowers ground into a paste is supposed to make a chocolate substitute, but it has to be used straight away as it goes off quickly.

The part used medicinally is the flowers, which can be used fresh or dried. It is worth pointing out that these should not be collected from the highway, as apart from the danger of passing traffic, the flowers will have been polluted by the fumes. If you wish to use them, pick flowers from trees in an area well away from the road, as in a back yard or in the middle of a large park not crossed by roads.

It is said that older flowers may produce a narcotic effect, but as they have to get old in the course of being dried, this is probably not something to worry about overmuch. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you intend to drive or operate machinery after using this remedy.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for 15-120 minutes before straining off the herb and discarding. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Make an oil maceration by filling a jar with flowers, covering with light olive oil and adding 1 tablespoon of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar). Seal tightly and place on a sunny windowsill. Shake the bottle well every day for 2-3 weeks, and then strain off the herb and discard (use a cloth inside the strainer, so you can squeeze out as much of the oil as possible).

Use a standard infusion internally to treat anxiety-induced indigestion or vomiting, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disorders, catarrh (congestion of the nasal passages), feverish colds, dry stubborn coughs, headache, hypertension, influenza, migraine and urinary infections, to calm nerves and promote restful sleep.

Externally it can also be used as a lotion to condition the hair and scalp. An oil maceration can also be used for this purpose. A charcoal made from lime wood has been used internally for digestive disorders and externally in powder form as a treatment for burns and sore skin.

Tilia platyphyllos flowers can also be used as a vasodilator.

As lime/linden is a full size tree, you are unlikely to be growing it from scratch for use in remedies. If you have one in your garden that you wish to use remedially, please avoid treating it with anything not organic, to avoid contamination of your remedies with foreign chemicals.


A white mustard plant in flower

Mustard health benefits: for arthritis, sciatica and tired feet

A white mustard plant in flower

A white mustard plant in flower

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

There are three main kinds of mustard: black, white and brown. White mustard, Sinapis alba (syn. Brassica alba and Brassica hirta), is also occasionally called yellow mustard (though most people mean the condiment when they say this). White mustard can indeed be used to make the mustard we eat with hot dogs and roast beef, but that is not its only purpose in life… if plants can be said to have a purpose. It’s a member of the cabbage family, as is its namesake black mustard (Brassica nigra syn. Sinapis nigra) which is in the same genus white mustard was in before it was moved to Sinapis (black mustard has also moved – from Sinapis to Brassica!) and brown mustard (Brassica juncea).

Clockwise from 12 o'clock: black, brown and white mustard leaves
Clockwise from 12 o’clock: black, brown and white mustard leaves

To distinguish between white mustard, black mustard and brown mustard, you need to look at the leaves. As you can see from the photo, white mustard has deeply cut lobes and are quite spikey – in comparison with black mustard which has a much more rounded shape, but still spikey-looking. Brown mustard (or red mustard or mustard greens) has leaves which are neither lobed nor spikey to look at and often have a reddish cast to them. White and black mustard are generally cultivated for their seeds, whereas brown mustard is more of a leaf vegetable and will not be discussed further here.

Mustards are closely related to salad rocket.

Both black and white mustard are European natives, but naturalized in most parts of the world. Both are hardy perennials; white mustard reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm) while black mustard reaches around 4 feet (1.2m). They require moist well drained soil but are otherwise unfussy. Black mustard is tolerant of sea air. Neither will grow in full shade.

Mustard is one of the components of mustard and cress – though much of what is sold is, in fact rape seed sprouts. To grow mustard and cress sow the mustard seed thinly on moist blotting paper (or several layers of kitchen towel) and then sow the cress seeds on top about 3-4 days later. Keep the blotting paper/kitchen towel moist and cut with scissors when the sprouts are about 1-2 inches tall. Lovely in sandwiches with egg. Ensure you buy seeds marked as suitable for sprouting, as seeds meant for outdoors may be dressed with stuff you don’t want to eat.

Do not use mustard if you have sensitive skin, as it may cause blistering. (Heaven only knows what it does to our insides – when I get a chance at a salt beef sandwich I literally plaster the stuff on.)

Both black and white mustard seeds are generally used externally, usually ground to a powder before use. Mustard powder is often sold in food stores, though it’s generally not possible to tell whether the powder is from white, black or a mixture of seeds. However, you can use them interchangeably in most cases.

Mustard oil is said to be a hair restorative – however, it must be diluted with some other oil, as it will burn the scalp otherwise (and may do so in any case). Never allow neat mustard oil to come into contact with the skin. I don’t have the dilution details, but for making liniment, the mix is 1 part mustard oil to 40 parts alcohol, so I would go with 1 part in 40 to start with, and amend from there. Use the liniment for rheumatic pain, sciatica, lumbago and gout.

To make a mustard plaster, mix 1 part of mustard powder to 2 parts of wheat or rice flour by volume (to reduce burning), then make a fairly stiff paste with cold water. Take a piece of linen and spread it with a layer of the mixture. Cover the area to be treated with gauze, then apply the plaster and secure. Remove as soon as the burning becomes unbearable and wash the area thoroughly to remove all traces of residue. Powder with rice flour and wrap in a clean dry cotton cloth. This is used to treat congestion of the lungs, pleurisy, arthritic joints, chilblains, skin conditions such as boils, and fungal infections. It must not be used on sensitive areas.

To make a footbath, steep a bag containing 1-2 ounces of crushed seed/powder for 10-15 minutes in hot water then add the liquid to a large bowl of hot water, adjust the temperature, put your feet in it and leave them there until the water cools (you can extend the time by carefully adding boiling water). This is used to help relieve tired feet, and also for colds, feverish conditions and headaches.

To make a stimulating bath, use the same method as for a footbath, but increase the quantities to around 8 ounces of mustard powder.

You can also use mustard to make a steam inhalation for colds and nasal congestion.

A mixture of whole black mustard seed and molasses (called treacle in the UK) is laxative, though I would try other remedies first.

It will probably be no surprise that as with all other plants grown for use in medicine, mustard should be grown organically to retain its efficacy. To find out more about growing organic white mustard or organic black mustard visit the Gardenzone.


Melilot can be safely used fresh, but not dried

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.


Rosella or Jamaican sorrel

Roselle (Hibiscus) health benefits: thins blood and lowers blood pressure

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa sabdariffa, is known by a huge number of names including: asam paya, asam susur, bissap, chin baung, dah bleni, flor de Jamaica, gongura, Guinea sorrel, hibiscus, Jamaica sorrel, karkadé, luo shen hua,  meshta, omutete, rosel(l)a, saril, sorrel (which is also used for a completely unrelated herb, Rumex acetosa), sour-sour, tengamura, wild hibiscus, wonjo and zobo. As you might expect from the number of common names, it is a very useful herb, not just for remedies, but also for food, and as a source of fiber (called rosella hemp). The type usually grown for fiber is H. s. altissima.

Roselle is a native of the tropics and grows best outdoors in subtropical and tropical areas, reaching a height and spread of 10’x6′ (3m x 2m). In cooler parts it can be grown as a greenhouse plant, but if grown as a perennial, the greenhouse will need to be kept warm (at least 12.5ºC) during the winter. It’s not suitable as a pot plant, because it has a long tap root.

Calyces, leaves and seeds are all used for food in its native area.

The flower calyx† is a part often used in remedies, but roselle will not flower when the day length is longer than 13 hours. It can be propagated easily either by semi-ripe cuttings taken in July or August or from seed sown in heat in early spring and planted out (in a greenhouse border or under cloches outdoors in cooler climates) in early summer at a spacing of 2’x3′ (60x90cm). Protection can be removed once the plants are well established.

Illustration showing calyx

The calyx of a flower (see left) is the part which encloses the flower bud before it opens. Usually cup shaped, it becomes the outer part of the flower when it opens – you might call it the bottom, back or outside of the flower. It is made up of sepals which are usually green, but roselle calyxes may also be red (the type generally used in medicine and for food) or yellow. The plural is calyces or calyxes.

Roselle should not be used by anybody with thinning of the blood, or anybody who is on blood thinning medication.

Every part of roselle has medicinal uses. Leaves, fruit and ripe calyxes† are rich in vitamin C and can be used to combat scurvy (the deficiency disease caused by lack of vitamin C). Leaves are used to make a soothing cough mixture, as a diuretic, sedative and as a treatment to lower abnormal temperature. Leaves and flowers together are used to treat digestive and kidney disorders, to thin the blood and lower blood pressure, and to stimulate intestinal peristalsis. The ripe calyxes are used as a diuretic and as a treatment for headache, giddiness and vomiting associated with digestive disturbance (commonly called a bilious attack). The seeds are used as a tonic to treat lack of energy, and also as a diuretic and laxative. The root is used to increase appetite and as a tonic.

To use leaves or leaves and flowers, you would make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried material or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for at least 15 minutes, and up to 4 hours, then strain.

Calyxes are used as a decoction prepared by boiling 30g (1 ounce) of dried calyxes in 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of water until the water goes red. Strain out the calyxes and discard. You will definitely need to sweeten the result, as it will be very sharp. It’s often used as a tea, mixed with other ingredients such as lemongrass, chamomile, orange peel and licorice root (these are the ingredients recommended by Jim Long, to make a tea called Red Zinger).

To use seeds or roots, crush or chop, add 30g (1 ounce) to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a small pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain out and discard the material.

In all cases, the dosage is 1 cup a day, which can be split into 3 doses.

As with all plants grown for use in home remedies, roselle should be grown organically to ensure that its effective constituents are retained. To find out more about growing organic rosella visit the Gardenzone.