Chia seeds health benefits: a superfood worthy of the name

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

The chia plant (sometimes Mexican chia), Salvia hispanica, is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was one of the staples eaten by ancient Aztecs. It is related to sage, clary sage and Spanish sage.

Chia is an annual plant which reaches a height of around 1m (3′), but is frost tender. However, as it flowers in July and August, the seed crop can easily be harvested before frost strikes. It prefers well drained, light to medium rich soil and a sunny position. Sow under cover in March-April, prick out and pot on as necessary, then plant in their final position in late Spring/early Summer. You can also sow direct, but may not achieve a mature crop if the Summer is poor.

Chia seeds can be different colours, depending on variety, ranging from off white through various shades of brown to black. They are shaped like miniature pinto beans, but only about 1mm in diameter.

Chia is a good plant for attracting bees, and is apparently unpopular with deer, which may be useful in areas close to forests.

Chia seeds are usually mixed with water to make a jelly, and once gelled added to fruit juice. You could also use them to make a pudding. Sprouting the seeds is difficult, due to the gel, but you can use a porous clay base to achieve this with some experimentation. Sprouted seeds can be eaten like other sprouts in salad, sandwiches, and added to breakfast cereal and recipes. A teaspoon of chia seeds mixed into orange juice and allowed to soak for 10 minutes will produce a refreshing drink that will stop you feeling hungry for several hours. You can also grind the seeds and mix with other flours for bread, biscuits and other baked goods. Chia seed is of course gluten free, since it is not a member of the Gramineae/Poaceae family.

Chia seed nutrition tableA well known superfood, chia seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (see table). On top of this, 100g chia seed provides 91% of the adult recommended daily intake of fibre. Most amazing is the 17.5g Omega-3 oil and 5.8g Omega-6 oil per 100g, which along with the other nutrients makes it a true star.

The high antioxidant content from vitamins A, C and E plus selenium, ferulic acid, caffeic acid and quercetin helps to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. The high niacin content (almost twice that of sesame seeds) gives it the property of helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and enhancing GABA activity in the brain, reducing anxiety.

Chia seed has a good level of potassium, very much higher than its sodium content. Potassium helps to counteract the bad effects of sodium in the body and is involved in regulating fluid levels and enhancing muscle strength.

It has to be said that chia is probably one of the better candidates for the label “superfood”.

A chia leaf infusion made with just a few chopped leaves to a cup of boiling water is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, sore throat and mouth ulcers, for respiratory problems, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also helpful for relieving hot flushes during the menopause. Chia seed can be chewed to help relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer a wide range of chia seed and products in my online store.

If you decide to grow your own chia seed, please remember that for safety’s sake it’s best to use organic methods, to avoid high concentrations of nasty chemicals ending up in your stomach. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Hawthorn health benefits: for angina and heart problems

Hawthorn will survive almost anywhere, and wildlife loves it

Hawthorn will survive almost anywhere, and wildlife loves it

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna (occasionally incorrectly labelled Crataegus oxyacantha), is also sometimes called English hawthorn, haw, may, mayblossom, maythorn, motherdie, quickthorn, red hawthorn or whitethorn. Its close relative, the Midland hawthorn, is C. laevigata which has most of the same synonyms and can be used for all the same purposes.

Both the common and the Midland hawthorn are large deciduous shrubs, the former reaching a height of 5-14m with thorns where present up to 1.5cm long and leaves 2-4cm long, while the Midland hawthorn reaches a height and spread of around 5m and has leaves up to 6cm long.

Hawthorn is a very tough plant which will happily put up with almost any conditions, not fussy as to soil – it can grow even in heavy clay or nutritionally poor soil, and will tolerate both very acid and very alkaline soil. It prefers moist or wet soil, but will tolerate drought, and it will also put up with maritime exposure and atmospheric pollution. The only thing that will discourage it is full shade, but there are few green plants that can cope with that.

It flowers from May to June and the fruit ripens from September to November. Wildlife loves it, and if you’re looking for something to eat yourself, the fruit is edible, as are the young shoots — which can be used in salad — and the flowers can be used in syrups and sweet puddings. You can make a substitute for China tea from the dried leaves, and a coffee substitute from the roasted seeds. Most people are unaware of all this, but as you can see, hawthorn can be an amazingly useful plant, even discounting the medicinal benefits!

Hawthorn is used mainly for treating disorders of the heart and circulation system, especially angina. The fruit contains bioflavonoids which increase blood flow to the heart, restore normal heartbeat and help prevent or reduce degeneration of the blood vessels. Both fruit and flowers can be used to treat high blood pressure, for arteriosclerosis and for nervous heart problems. However, prolonged use is necessary for the treatment to be effective. Make a standard infusion of flowers or fruit for any of these uses.

Hawthorn can also be combined with ginkgo to improve memory.

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

As I’ve said numerous times before, when growing for medicinal use, it’s important to use organic methods, to avoid adulteration of the final remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Sacred Lotus health benefits: for men’s problems and women’s problems

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera (syn. N. caspica, N. komarovii, N. nelumbo, N. speciosum and Nymphaea nelumbo), is also known as East Indian lotus, lian, lotus, lotusroot, oriental lotus and sacred water lotus. It is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. The Buddhist mantra “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus” (Om Mani Padme Hum) has many meanings, but the lotus referred to is this one.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, this plant is really just a “posh” waterlily, and requires similar growing conditions, though warmer. It will survive in water from 30cm (1′) up to 2.5m (8′) deep, but in cooler climates it should be grown in water at the shallower end of this range, as it will warm up quicker. Requires a five month growing season and prefers a water temperature of 23-27ºC. Plant them about 1m (3′) each way. In areas with frosty Winters, plant in aquatic containers and move the roots into a frost-free place after the leaves have died down in Fall; store in a tub of water or in moist sand. On the other hand, in favorable conditions where they stay out all year they can become invasive.

Lift roots in Fall or Winter and dry for later use . Collect other parts as required when they become available.

To make a decoction add 30g fresh/15g dried root or other parts to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the water is reduced by half. Strain off and discard the source material. You can take up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

It’s not at all surprising that this plant was considered sacred, as there are just so many uses. It must truly have seemed like a gift from the gods.

All parts are edible. The roots can be pickled, stored in syrup or cooked Chinese-style giving a result like water chestnut. They are also a source of starch. Young leaves can be used in salad, cooked as a vegetable or used in the same way as vine leaves are used for dolmades. Stems can also be peeled and cooked. The seeds contain a bitter embryo (which can be removed before eating), and are pretty nutritious, containing 16% protein and only 3% fat. They can be popped like corn, ground for making bread, eaten raw or cooked, or roasted to use as a coffee substitute. The petals are used as garnish and floated in soups. Finally, the stamens are used as a flavoring additive for tea.

Attractive to bees and has been used for honey production. Also, of course, it makes a very ornamental water plant.

Every little piece of this plant has been used either in medicine or as food. Because there are so many uses, I’ve broken it down to a quick reference –

leaf juice: diarrhea;
decoction of leaves with liquorice (Glycyrrhiza): sunstroke;
decoction of flowers: premature ejaculation;
decoction of floral receptacle: abdominal cramps;
decoction of fruit: agitation, fever, heart problems;
seed: lowers cholesterol levels, digestive aid, bloody discharges;
flowers: heart tonic;
flower stalk: bleeding gastric ulcers, post-partum hemorrhage, heavy periods;
stamens: chronic diarrhea, premature ejaculation, enteritis, hemolysis, insomnia, leukorrhea, palpitations, spermatorrhea, urinary frequency and uterine bleeding;
plumule and radicle: hypertension (high blood pressure), insomnia and restlessness;
root: general tonic;
root starch: diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhage, heavy periods and nosebleed;
root starch paste: externally for tinea (ringworm) and other skin conditions;
root nodes: blood in the urine, hemoptysis, nosebleed and uterine bleeding.

According to research, the plant also contains anticancer compounds.

Aromatherapy

NB: Lotus essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy. It must be diluted before use. It is used for cholera, epilepsy, fever, fungal infections, jaundice, kidney and bladder complaints, skin conditions and as an aphrodisiac.

As with all essential oils, lotus 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.

Final Notes

It’s always important to grow medicinal plants organically, to avoid the active constituents being masked or destroyed by foreign chemicals. With water plants like the lotus, this is even more important. For example, do not use chemicals to kill algae – use barley straw instead.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Sacred Herbs for Healing”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Sacred Herbs for Healing or search for it by putting B00ASMJFR4 in your local Amazon’s search box.


Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Do not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea during pregnancy, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Paliasa health benefits: for scabies, cooties and liver problems

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Paliasa is an attractive tropical tree

Paliasa is an attractive tropical tree

Paliasa, Kleinhovia hospita (syn. Kleinhovia serrata, Grewia meyeniana), is also known as the guest tree. It is a very attractive tropical tree native across much of Asia and grown there as an ornamental and shade tree. It is also found in Fiji, French Polynesia and Queensland, Australia.

Paliasa can reach a height of up to 20m (65′) and has large heart shaped leaves which can reach a size of 20cm (8 inches) in length. The flowers are a soft pink, and are followed by fruit in the form of a capsule (inset).

As a tropical tree, it may be possible to grow paliasa in a large container in the greenhouse, which can be moved outside when the weather is warmest. If you live in the tropics and have a large enough garden, then obviously you can plant it outside.

The parts used medicinally are the leaves and sometimes the bark. If you are growing in a pot, leaves only should be used.

Paliasa should not be used during pregnancy.

To make a decoction, put 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or 15g (½ ounce) of paliasa leaves into 500ml cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes before straining off and discarding the leaves. Cool before use.

In Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, the extracted juice of the leaves is used as an eyewash. A decoction is also used in these areas to treat scabies and cooties (lice).

In South Sulawesi, the decoction has been used for generations to cure liver disorders including hepatitis and there is recent research by Hasanuddin University in Makassar which supports this use.

Paliasa is also used to normalize blood pressure, both by lowering hypertension and working to improve hypotension.

There is also research showing that a leaf extract in mice with sarcoma has an anti-tumor effect. No details as to the method used is available.

Paliasa capsules manufactured under licence from Hasanuddin University are available in Malaysia and possibly elsewhere.

Aromatherapy

Paliasa is not used in aromatherapy.

To avoid corruption of the essential components, organic growing methods should be used exclusively. To find out more about organic gardening techniques visit the Gardenzone.


American Basswood health benefits: for migraine and arteriosclerosis

American basswood is a large tree

American basswood is a large tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American basswood, Tilia americana (formerly Tilia caroliniana, T. glabra, T. heterophylla and T. mexicana), is also sometimes called American lime, American linden, basswood, bast tree, beetree, Caroline basswood, linden, Mexican basswood, spoonwood, white basswood and wycopy. It’s closely related to the common lime/linden, the small leaved lime/linden and the large leaved lime/linden but not to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia.

American basswood is a full size tree, so if you don’t already have one, it’s probably going to take quite a while to grow one – though you may be able to source a sapling from a local grower. It’s not terribly fussy about location, dappled woodland shade or full sun is fine, and soil is not a problem so long as it’s moist. It won’t put up with maritime winds.

Parts used in medicine are the inner bark, bark, roots, leaves and flowers.

You can make a standard infusion of bark, inner bark, newly opened flowers, leaves, or flowers and leaves together. Use 30g (1 ounce) of bark, inner bark or leaves, 15g (a half ounce) of flowers or 15g (a half ounce) each of flowers and leaves to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water as appropriate. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the solid matter and discard.

A decoction can be made with roots and bark either together or alone. In each case, use 30g (1 ounce) of material to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half then strain off and discard the solids.

To make a bark poultice, make a decoction of bark in the same way and using the same quantities, mixing this with cornmeal after straining while it’s still hot.

A poultice of leaves is made by mixing the leaves with very hot water.

Poultices are wrapped in fine bandage and applied to the area to be treated, refreshed in hot water as required.

Dosage for both infusions and decoctions taken internally is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses. Please note that an infusion using flowers is only for occasional use, as prolonged use can damage the heart.

All these remedies are used for different purposes:

An inner bark infusion is used externally for burns and irritated skin and internally for dysentery, heartburn (reflux) and lung complaints.

Use a bark infusion as a diuretic. A bark poultice can be used to draw out boils.

A flower infusion is used for arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure (hypertension), feverish colds, bronchial congestion, migraine and nervous stomach.

An infusion of leaves is used externally as an eyewash. A leaf poultice can be used to treat broken bones, burns, scalds and to reduce swellings.

An infusion of leaves and flowers is taken for colds, coughs, nervous headache, indigestion and sore throat.

A decoction of roots and bark is taken for internal bleeding.

A decoction of the roots is used to expel internal parasites.

If you have this in your garden, or you intend to grow one, please ensure that you use organic methods, to avoid the corruption of the essential constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening methods, visit the Gardenzone.


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.


Asafoetida health benefits: herbal anti-viral being tested on Pandemic Flu

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Asafoetida or asafetida, Ferula assa-foetida (syn. Ferula scorodosma), is also called devil’s dung and food-of-the-gods.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia it is “probably the most foul-smelling of all herbs” (Plants for a Future describes the smell as “like stale fish”), which accounts for the first two common names. The third may refer to its use in Hindu cooking instead of onions and garlic – where food is cooked which is to be used as puja (an offering to the gods), onions and garlic may not be used, but a little asafoetida (called hing) is added instead, which once cooked apparently tastes quite similar to the banned alliums.

Asafoetida is a half-hardy perennial which reaches a height of 6’6″ (2m) and a spread of 5′ (1.5m). Soil type is unimportant, so long as it is well drained and not shaded.

Collecting the resin from the root for medicinal use involves scraping, slicing and scraping again. Although I’ve given information about the plant, since it is so foul-smelling and so difficult to extract the active portion, you may wish instead to buy your hing ready prepared. It is sold in airtight containers so as to prevent the smell escaping (!) in many Asian grocers. If you can’t find it, you may be able to find a supplier by asking at a Hare Krishna temple, if there is one in your area (they use it as a substitute for onions and garlic, for religious reasons). You can then add it to a curry or other meal, and take your medicine that way!

Alternatively, I’ve done a bit of research, and found out that asafoetida tablets are sold under the name “Candida Digest” manufactured by Planetary Herbals – which is available on both sides of the Atlantic. You can order it from iHerb.com at a good price (they also ship to international addresses) – and if you haven’t shopped there before use the discount code SEQ765 to save $5 off your order. This is probably the best option – you don’t have to cope with the smell, and you can take it at any time of day, not just dinnertime!

So what is asafoetida used for? Like many of the herbs I’ve covered so far, it has many uses, but the one that is most interesting is its use against pandemic flu. It was used in 1918 to fight Spanish flu, and now scientists are testing it against H1N1. Poorer countries were worried that they would not be able to obtain sufficient supplies of the antivirals Tamiflu and so on, so they started looking into other possibilities. A research team at Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan headed by Yang-Chang Wu has discovered that asafoetida contains compounds which kill the virus in test tubes. Further work is needed before it is certain that it will work as effectively in the human body.

Other uses for asafoetida include treating chest infections, whooping cough, asthma and bronchitis, flatulence (“wind” or “gas“) and lowering blood pressure.


American Valerian health benefits: soothes nerves and brings sleep

American valerian or Sitka valerian

American valerian or Sitka valerian

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, is also known as Sitka valerian. It’s closely related to valerian. Another plant sometimes called American valerian, Cypripedium calceolus pubescens, the nerve root is not related, nor is Jacob’s ladder (sometimes called Greek valerian). It’s very easy to tell these plants apart, particularly when in flower. The plant I’m covering in this post has tiny white flowers which are in clusters or even balls of many flowers on a single stem, whereas the nerve root is an orchid with fairly typical orchid foliage and large flowers in bright colors on individual stems and Jacob’s ladder has clusters of dark blue flowers. The plants are almost impossible to mix up unless you are going purely by the common name.

American valerian is a perennial which has male and female flowers on separate plants, so if you want to produce seed (so that you can replace plants you have dug up, for example), you will need several plants, to be sure of getting viable seed. The plant reaches a height of about 4 feet (120cm) and is happy in almost any soil, so long as it is moist. It will not grow in the shade.

American valerian should not be used by anybody suffering from liver disorders of any kind.

The part used in medicine is the root. Dig up 2 year old plants after the leaves have fallen for use either fresh, or after drying by laying out in a single layer on kitchen paper somewhere out of the sun which is dry and airy. Turn the roots over every day or so until they are completely dry and store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. However, fresh root is 3 times more effective than dried.

Make a decoction from 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or dried root to 570ml (2½ US cups or 1 UK pint) of water. Place the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. The correct dose is 1 tablespoonful a day maximum, and it is used for anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cramps including those associated with menstruation and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used externally to treat eczema, ulcers, cuts and grazes.

You will not be surprised that in common with all plants grown for use as herbal remedies, American valerian should be grown organically so as to avoid the active constituents being adulterated or completely negated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


German chamomile health benefits: for teething and digestive ills

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

A tea made from German chamomile flowers helps teething

A tea made from German chamomile flowers helps teething

German chamomile (sometimes spelt the way it sounds: camomile), Matricaria recutita (sometimes labeled Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita), also known as wild chamomile or chamomilla, is a hardy annual, and a much bigger plant than the Roman chamomile, reaching a height of 18 inches (50cm), and a spread of only 9 inches.

This is not a plant you would try to make into a lawn, although you might find it growing in one as a weed. Roman chamomile and German chamomile are only distantly related, as both are members of the Compositae (Daisy) family. Another distantly related plant, Moroccan chamomile is used only for aromatherapy.

I’ve seen Roman and German chamomile lumped together in herbals, but in reality their properties are quite distinct.

In addition, unlike its namesake, the only part of German chamomile which is used in herbal medicine is the flowers, which can be used fresh or gathered and dried for later use. To achieve this, you should cut the flowers early in the morning when the flowers are open and completely dry, with about 2-3 inches (5-8cm) of stem attached. You can remove and discard the rest of the stem as well, which will encourage the plants to flower again. Tie the flowers in bunches and hang them up in a warm, dark and dry place. This is important, or they will attract molds and be useless. Check them every day or so and when they have dried completely, remove and discard the stems and store the flowers in an airtight jar. Try to keep the flowers intact if possible.

German chamomile is considered to be safe for young children, even babies. As with all medicines, prolonged use at frequent intervals is not recommended – if intake is frequent over a long period or the dose is too high, it may cause vomiting or worsen the symptoms it is intended to cure.

German chamomile has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used as a pain reliever. It’s also a vasodilator, which means it widens the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. The most common use for this herb is for disorders of the digestive system, ranging from indigestion, colic and flatulence to irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, peptic ulcers and hiatus hernia. It’s also used for its sedative effect, particularly useful in teething infants.

For all these purposes, a standard infusion should be made with 1 tablespoonful of fresh or dried flowers to a cup (8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes, then strain and use.

A mouthful of the standard infusion held in the mouth will help a toothache. The cooled infusion can also be used as a wash for external ulcers, wounds, sunburn and hemorrhoids (piles).

You can also treat hemorrhoids by sitting in a bath of hot water with the addition of an infusion made with 1 pound (450g) of flowers to 5 quarts (8 UK pints, 4.5 litres) of boiling water, infused for 10 minutes. This quantity is for a full sized bath, adjust accordingly if you want to use it as a footbath to treat tired, sweaty feet.

I offer German chamomile 250mg capsules in my online shop.

Plants used for herbal medicine must be grown organically to avoid adulteration with foreign chemicals, and German chamomile is no exception to this rule. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

German chamomile is used in aromatherapy in the form of essential oil, which is blue. It is used for skin care, hemorrhoids (“piles”), sore breasts, leg ulcers, itchy skin and other skin conditions, nervous tension, migraine headache, PMT, insomnia and stress. It is safe for children, but not during pregnancy.

As with all essential oils, German chamomile 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.