Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Gotu kola is the Sinhalese name for Centella asiatica (syn. Hydrocotyle asiatica, H. cordifolia, H. erecta, H. repanda and Trisanthus cochinchinensis), also called Asiatic pennywort, brahmi, centella, Indian pennywort, ji xue cao, kodokan, marsh pennywort, pennyweed, sheeprot and thankuni amongst many other names worldwide. It is not related to kola nut or to Bacopa monnieri (also called brahmi).

Gotu kola is a low growing (to 8″, 20cm tall) but wide spreading (up to 3′, 1m) evergreen perennial which will grow in any moist or wet soil, so long as it’s not in full shade. It is native across Asia, Africa, South America, the Pacific islands and Queensland, Australia and is naturalized in Norway, strangely. The reason this is odd is that it will not tolerate frost, but in areas with harsh winters it could be grown in pots under cover during the cold season, if fresh supplies are required all year round. In warmer areas, it can be used as groundcover in moist soil.

Seed can be sown under cover in Spring and grown on indoors for the first Winter, planting out in their permanent position the following Spring after the last frost date. Divide some plants in the Fall and bring the divisions indoors to ensure continued supply even if your outdoor crop is killed by the weather.

You should be able to arrange to have fresh leaves available all year round, and they can be harvested at any time. You can also dry them, but they quickly lose their efficacy so it’s best only to do so when you know you will be using them in a short time – to take on vacation with you, for example. You can also buy in powdered form.

This plant is used in many recipes across its range, including sambola, brahmi tambli (scroll down), Acehnese pennywort salad (near the end) and green Thai tea drink.

It is a traditional herb in Ayurvedic, Chinese and African medicine. However, there are some precautions that you should be aware of before using it:Not suitable for use by children, diabetics, cancer patients (even in remission), or anyone with liver disease. Do not use gotu kola if you’re taking any of the following: green tea, astragalus, ginkgo, valerian, statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs, diuretics, sedatives or any drug (whether conventional or herb-derived) that affects the liver.

The standard recommendations for gotu kola are: Do not use for more than 6 weeks at a time, and then leave at least two weeks before taking it again. Having said all that, it seems strange that all these restrictions are recommended when it seems to be a regular part of the diet in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It is also an important healing herb across Asia including India and China.

A standard infusion can be made in the usual way using 3 handfuls of fresh or 15g dried leaves or powder to 500ml (2 US cups, 8 fl oz) boiling water, brewed for 10-15 minutes and then strained.

A standard extract (should contain 40% asiaticoside, 29-30% asiatic acid, 29-30% madecassic acid, and 1-2% madecassoside) is available in some health outlets. You can also buy or prepare a tincture (full instructions for making tinctures and other types of remedy can be found in my Kindle ebook Home Remedies and How to Make Them which is available for only 99p in Amazon).

Dosage (standard extract): scleroderma 20mg 2 or 3 times a day, venous insufficiency 30-40mg 3 times a day; (standard infusion): 250ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 2 or 3 doses;(tincture): 30-60 drops 3 times a day.

Do not exceed the stated dose. Use half the standard dosage for the elderly.

Gotu kola is a very valuable herb with many healing properties. As well as fighting bacterial and viral infections, it also works against inflammation, rheumatic problems, high blood pressure and ulceration. On the non-physical side, it’s also helpful in improving memory, preventing panic attacks, reducing nervous tension and as a sedative. Recent research shows that when applied topically it stimulates production of collagen and reduces scarring, inflammatory reaction and myofibroblast production – which explains both its reputation as a wound healer and its use in cosmetic masks and creams reputed to increase collagen and firm the skin.

It is a traditional tonic and is used for diarrhea and other digestive problems, as a diuretic and detoxifier, to reduce inflammation and promote healing and also to balance the emotions and improve memory and concentration. Although normally used externally for wounds and skin conditions, it is also taken to speed up the body’s natural repair mechanisms. Other conditions for which gotu kola is used include leprosy, malaria, scleroderma, venereal disease, varicose veins and venous insufficiency. You can use any of the methods described above to treat them.

Externally a cold standard infusion or a poultice of leaves is used for minor burns, psoriasis and other skin conditions, as a wound herb, for hemorrhoids (piles), rheumatic pain and to reduce stretch marks and scarring.

In India gotu kola is mainly used to strengthen memory and nervous function. In Thailand it is used as an opium detox.

I offer dried gotu kola in my online shop.

Avoid using artificial treatments, including pesticides and fertilizers, on your gotu kola, Plants take up chemicals they come in contact with and it’s not so nice to ingest them with your herbal remedies!


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.


Chickweed health benefits: for itching skin conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed, Stellaria media (an old latin name is Alsine media), is such a common weed that you won’t have to do anything to propagate it, unless perhaps you’re a Mars colonist! It’s been used in folk remedies for many years, which may account for its wide distribution.

It’s well known as chickweed or common chickweed, but other names by which it may be known include adder’s mouth, chickenwort, common chickweed, craches, Indian chickweed, maruns, starwort, stitchwort, tongue-grass and winterweed. The name chickweed refers to its popularity as food with chickens and other birds. It’s not related to false unicorn root (sometimes called starwort) or true unicorn root (sometimes called mealy starwort)

It is quite a tiny, groundhugging plant, reaching a height of only about 4 inches (10cm) but spreading over an area of around 20 inches (50cm). It has quite a pretty flower, and these are freely produced all year round. If it wasn’t regarded as a weed, it might even be recommended as a ground cover plant, and will certainly perform this function quite quickly if left to itself.

Chickweed is sometimes confused with other plants which don’t have the same properties, so to double check you have the right weed, take a look at the stem. In chickweed, the furriness of the stem is confined to a line of hair up one side (there’s a really good picture of this at Missouri plants), not all over like its imitators.

Harvest the leaves in spring to early summer for best results. Leaves can be dried by laying out in a single layer in a cool, airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until dried and then storing in a dark coloured container somewhere cool.

Chickweed leaves and seeds are edible, though if you’re eating any quantity of the leaves it is best served cooked, to get rid of the fairly high saponin content. The seeds are produced in small quantities all year round and can be ground and used as a flour substitute, though obtaining sufficient quantities at a time may be difficult.

Turning to its herbal uses, I need to point out that chickweed is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Also, please do not exceed the stated dose, as in excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

You can make a standard infusion by using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Make a decoction using the whole plant: 3 handfuls fresh or 1 ounce dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dose in either case is the same: up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mixing a quantity of the fresh or dried herb with very hot water. Squeeze out the excess and wrap in a bandage, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

To make an ointment, measure one part of fresh or dried leaves to 2 parts of plain cold cream by volume and pound together until well mixed. The traditional tool for this is the pestle and mortar, though I guess you could use a blender – I wouldn’t want to have to do the washing up afterwards, though. To save you the trouble, I offer ready made chickweed ointment for itchy skin in my online shop.

Chickweed is great for reducing inflammation and itching which often works where other treatments have failed, so a poultice or ointment is perfect as an external treatment for any kind of itching skin condition as well as other inflammatory problems: abscesses, boils, bruises, eczema, psoriasis, roseola, external ulcers and urticaria. You can also use the ointment applied on a bandage to help draw splinters.

Use a decoction externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers.

Add a standard infusion to your bath water to reduce inflammation in rheumatism and promote tissue healing. It can also be used to treat vaginitis.

Internally a standard infusion aids digestion and can be used to relieve serious constipation, for internal inflammation and stomach ulcers. A decoction is taken as a tonic after giving birth. It promotes milk production and is a circulatory tonic. It’s also useful in the treatment of chest complaints.

As with all herbal remedies, you should ensure that gardening methods are organic to avoid corrupting or eliminating the properties of the herb. Though you’re unlikely to want to grow it deliberately (it will turn up no matter what you do), if you want to find out more about growing organic herbs in general, visit the Gardenzone.

UPDATE. I found this very interesting article by Learning Herbs which gives information on making a salve from chickweed.


Woad health benefits: for food poisoning and influenza

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Woad, Isatis tinctoria (syn. Isatis canescens or I. indigotica), is also sometimes called asp of Jerusalem, dyer’s woad or Marlahan mustard. In China, the plant is extensively used for medicine, and each part has a different name: the leaves are called da qing ye, the roots ban lang gen and the pigment qing dai.

You may also occasionally come across the name glastum, which was one of the names used by the ancient Romans. Glastonbury is in an area once known for its woad.

At the time of the Roman invasion, Britons used woad to tattoo blue patterns on themselves, which made them appear fearsome in battle (which is why the Romans called them Picti, which means “painted men”). It can also be used to make a blue dye using alum and potash as mordant. The woad dye-production industry continued in Europe from at least the 10th century until the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic dyes became available.

Woad is a class A noxious weed in parts of the USA. It is a biennial or short lived perennial with a taproot which makes it difficult to eradicate. A native of Central and Southern Europe, it is naturalized in many parts of the UK and across much of the USA. It prefers rich neutral to alkaline (even very alkaline) soil which is well drained, and will not grow in full shade. As the plant depletes the soil, it needs to be planted in a new place every couple of years to maintain a good supply. It’s a member of the cabbage family (which is susceptible to clubroot), so should not be preceded or followed by other members of the same family.

Harvest in the summer, preferably before it flowers to avoid self-sowing, and dry in a cool airy place out of the sun before storing in an airtight colored container. If you wish to use the pigment, this can be extracted from fresh leaves following the instructions given here.

To make a standard infusion use 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard. Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup, split into 3 doses.

The leaves have antibacterial, anticancer and antiviral properties, the root is antibacterial and anticancer. Use a standard infusion of leaves to treat viruses and bacterial infections including encephalitis, erysipelas, heat rash, influenza, meningitis and mumps. Use a root decoction to treat fevers, respiratory inflammation in influenza and meningitis, acute infectious diseases including diptheria, dysentery, food poisoning (E.coli and salmonella), streptococcus, typhoid and paratyphoid. The pigment can be used externally as a plaster for inflammation and to staunch bleeding.

Those Picts must have been healthy!

As with all herbs used in remedies, you should grow woad organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or etirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic woad visit the Gardenzone.


Maqui berries health benefits: powerful natural antioxidant

Maqui berry trees are dioecious, so you need both a male and a female tree to produce fruit

Maqui berry trees are dioecious, so you need both a male and a female tree to produce fruit

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Maqui berries grow on a small evergreen, dioecious* tree, Aristotelia chilensis syn. A. macqui, Cornus chilensis or Synaura avia, which reaches a height of about 4-5m (13-16′) and is native to the Andes, mainly Chile and parts of Argentina. The berry is dark purple similar in looks to a small black cherry and has the alternative name Chilean wineberry.
* dioecious – each tree will produce either male or female flowers; you need at least one of each to produce fruit

To grow from seed, sow in Spring in a greenhouse, transplanting into individual pots in Fall, but keeping them indoors for their first Winter. Plant out after the last frost the next Spring and provide frost protection for their first year outdoors. Can also be propagated from cuttings taken in Spring, rooted under cover and planted out the following Spring.

If you don’t want to grow your own, it’s definitely worth adding maqui berry extract to your supplementation regimen because it is a rich source of antioxidants. If you don’t know why antioxidants are so important, let me explain: oxygen may be necessary for life, but it also tends to wear things out by a process called oxidation. Rust on unprotected metal is a graphic example of this. Of course, we don’t go rusty, instead, oxygen produces free radicals in the bloodstream, and these start chain reactions that can have all sorts of damaging effects and contribute to the changes associated with ageing. Maqui berries are more than twice as potent as the açai berry.

It’s been discovered that antioxidants protect against coronary heart disease as well as many types of cancer. They are actually used as a treatment for strokes and diseases that affect the brain and nervous system.

The Mapuche Indians use the maqui berry extract to treat diarrhea, inflammation, and fevers.

If you decide to grow maqui berries at home, remember to adhere to organic methods, so as to avoid noxious chemicals turning up in your berries. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.