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Scots Pine health benefits: for respiratory conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris syn. P. rubra, is a tall tree which is unsuitable for all but the largest garden, reaching a height and spread of 30mx10m (82ft x 32ft). Despite its name, it is native across Europe and Eastern Asia from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and parts of the old USSR to Turkey, and from France and Spain to Finland. Even so, the only name by which it is known in English is Scots pine (sometimes “Scotch” pine, but we won’t say any more about that).

Scots pine grows best in cool areas on light to medium well drained soil. It grows well on poor soil and is not fussy about pH, growing happily in both very acid and very alkaline soil, but it does not like calcareous (chalky or limey) soils.

Various medicinal products made from Scots pine are available to buy which is generally a good thing as, due to the height of the tree, collection by non-professionals is not recommended. Needles, pollen and young shoots are collected in Spring and dried for medicinal use. Seeds are collected when ripe. The resin is extracted either by tapping or by distillation of the wood and further processed to produce turpentine.

Scots pine should not be used by anyone with a history of allergic skin reactions.

Pine pollen is sold as a men’s tonic, as it contains some testosterone, but this is only present in very small quantities and is unlikely to have anything more than a placebo effect. The turpentine is used in remedies for kidney and bladder disorders, and for respiratory complaints. Externally it is used as an inhaler for respiratory disorders. Shoots and needles can be added to bath water to help with insomnia and nervous exhaustion. Remedies made from them are used for chest infections. A decoction of seeds is used as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

Aromatherapy
As with remedies, Scots pine essential oils should not be used by anyone prone to allergic skin conditions. Never use Scots pine internally except under professional supervision.

Two types of essential oil are available: from the seeds and from the needles. Both require dilution at a rate of 10 drops essential oil to 1 ounce (30ml) carrier oil. Essential oil from seeds is used as a diuretic and to stimulate respiration. Essential oil from needles is used for respiratory infections, asthma, bronchitis and also for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer Scots pine essential oil from needles in my online shop.

There is also a pine Bach Flower Remedy used for feelings of guilt and self-blame.

As stated, I don’t advise growing Scots pine in the average garden, or doing your own collection unless you’re a skilled climber with all the appropriate kit. Scots pine does not generally need much looking after, and doesn’t need to be given chemical fertiliser. In particular, organic growing methods are essential if you’re collecting for medicinal use, to avoid adulteration with noxious chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Queen Anne's lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s Lace health benefits: for genito-urinary conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Queen Anne's lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot

Queen Anne’s lace or QAL, Daucus carota (syn. D. abyssinicus, D. aegyptiacus, D. azoricus, D. bocconei, D. gingidium, D. glaberrimus, D. gummifer, D. halophilus, D. hispanicus, D. hispidus, D. maritimus, D. mauritanicus, D. maximus, D. micranthus, D. parviflorus, D. polygamus and D. rupestris!), is also known as eastern carrot, hu luo bo, Mediterranean carrot, Queen’s lace, salosi, sea carrot and wild carrot. Although it is extremely pretty in its second year when it flowers, it should never be collected from the wild, because like all umbelliferous plants (family Apiaceae) it is easy to mistake for hemlock, which is very poisonous.

The name Queen Anne’s lace is also used for Bishop’s weed, which is in the same family but not closely related.

QAL is a hardy biennial but is almost always treated as an annual. It can reach a height of 1m (3′) and a spread of 30cm (1′). It requires full sun, and should be sown in rich soil fertilized for the previous crop. Sow direct very thinly in v-shaped trenches any time from early Spring to mid-Fall. An alternative method is station sowing (sowing 2 or 3 seeds at the desired final spacing). Final spacing is 10cm (4″) x 15cm (6″). Keep well weeded and thin to a single plant per station (or thin to final spacing). Foliar feed twice a week with half-strength seaweed fertilizer for the best results.

Avoid growing at the same time as other Apiaceae grown for seed production, eg. fennel, dill, coriander. If you don’t want seed, the flowers should be removed. I guess you could use them for flower arrangements, but I don’t know how long they keep in water.

Cut one or two leaves per plant as required for medicinal use. Pull up whole plants for dye 4-5 months after sowing, or in July for remedies. Can be dried for later use.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace may cause allergic reactions and sap may cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. Handling carrot leaves, especially when wet, can cause irritation or even blisters. According to Plants for a Future, “sensitized photosensitive persons may get an exact reproduction of the leaf on the skin by placing [it] on the skin for awhile, followed by exposure to sunshine.”

The roots can be cooked, but don’t come close to cultivated carrots either for tenderness or size. Deep fried flowerheads apparently produce a gourmet’s delight. The seed can be used as a flavoring for soups and stews. Dried powdered roots have been used as a coffee substitute.

NB: Queen Anne’s lace is not a suitable remedy for pregnant women or anyone trying for a baby.

Make a standard infusion using 30 g (1 ounce) dried whole plant or leaves/3 handfuls of fresh whole plant or leaves/1 ounce of seeds (not from a packet, as these are usually treated with fungicide) to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water. The dosage is up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz).

Queen Anne’s lace is a diuretic and cleansing medicine which soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the uterus. It supports the liver and stimulates the genito-urinary system.

An infusion of the whole plant is used as a diuretic, to clear obstructions and treat digestive disorders, edema (oedema), eye complaints, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), kidney and bladder disorders and to promote milk flow in nursing mothers.

An infusion of the leaves has been used to help prevent kidney stone formation, to reduce existing stones, to stimulate the pituitary gland (and increase sex hormone levels) and for cystitis.

Grated raw root (also grated cultivated carrot) is used to expel threadworms and to induce menstruation and uterine contractions.

A root infusion is diuretic and can be used to treat kidney stones.

The seeds are diuretic and can be used to treat flatulence, promote menstruation and expel parasites. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat edema, indigestion and menstrual problems.

Carrot seed blocks progesterone synthesis. Carrot seed tincture and carrot flower tincture (3 doses consisting of 15 drops of each every 8 hours) have been tested as a contraceptive. Although only around 95% effective, this may well be helpful in the absence of any other method, for example for preppers. There was no reduction in fertility after the trial was completed.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important that organic growing methods re used, to avoid the active constituents from being destroyed or adulterated by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is extracted from the seed and is usually labeled Carrot or Wild Carrot. NB: Carrot seed essential oil is Not suitable for pregnant women. A single drop taken by mouth once a day is sometimes prescribed to aid liver regeneration. Apart from this and similar specific recommendations no essential oil product should be used internally.

Carrot seed oil is mainly used for skin rejuvenation and for dry and mature skin. It is also said to relieve fatigue. It is used commercially in anti-wrinkle creams, in perfumery and as flavoring.

As with all essential oils, carrot seed 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.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden”, 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 Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden or search for it by putting B00A9HJ3QQ in your local Amazon’s search box.


Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

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.

Pregnant women should not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea, 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.


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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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.


Meadowsweet is a useful dye plant

Meadowsweet health benefits: for gout, diarrhea and fever

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Meadowsweet is a useful dye plant

Meadowsweet is a useful dye plant

Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria (syn. Spiraea ulmaria and Ulmaria pentapetala – meaning five petaled), is also sometimes called bridewort, brideswort, dolloff, English meadowsweet, European meadowsweet, lady of the meadow, meadsweet (from its use to flavor mead), meadow queen, meadow-wort, pride of the meadow and queen of the meadow – which last name is shared with the totally unrelated gravel root.

Meadowsweet is a native of Europe, where it is usually found growing in wet areas, even boggy ones, though not on acid peat soils. It makes a good candidate for a bog garden, as it will grow in any neutral or alkaline soil, even heavy clay, so long as it is wet, or at least moist. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 4 feet (1.2m). It won’t grow in full shade, but then again, few plants do.

Meadowsweet is a good bee plant and seems to be offensive to deer.

Meadowsweet is an extremely useful dye plant, yielding no less than 3 different colors: use the tops with alum to produce a greenish-yellow; the roots with no mordant for black; or stems and leaves for blue (fixed by boiling the item with sorrel root after dying). It’s probably more often used in pot pourri, imparting an almond-like fragrance, and in the days when strewing was common, it was one of the herbs used for this purpose, particularly in the apartments of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

You can also use it to make meadowsweet beer: use equal quantities of meadowsweet and dandelion, double the quantity of water and boil for 20 minutes. Strain and measure the liquid, adding 900g sugar, 15g (1 ounce) yeast and the juice of 1 lemon to each 1.5L (2 lbs/19 US cups or 1 UK gallon). Ferment in the usual way.

Anybody who has a sensitivity to aspirin should not use this plant – even for beer – except under qualified supervision!A standard infusion is made using 30g (1 ounce) of the whole dried herb (3 handfuls of fresh) to 425ml (1.75 US cups, 0.75 UK pints) of boiling water, allowing to stew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the solid matter.

Because of the aspirin content, meadowsweet can be used internally to treat any condition that produces a fever including colds and other respiratory infections, also for inflammatory conditions like gout and rheumatic pain. It’s also useful for water retention, hyperacidity, heartburn, kidney and bladder disorders and is a well known treatment for diarrhea, particularly in children. Externally, it makes a useful wash for minor wounds and sore eyes. Registered practitioners use this plant to treat gastric and peptic ulcers, but I don’t recommend this use by amateurs.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, Meadowsweet must ge grown organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic meadowsweet visit the Gardenzone.


Gravel root lives up to one of its other names, Queen of the meadow

Gravel Root health benefits: for kidney and urinary problems

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Gravel root lives up to one of its other names, Queen of the meadow

Gravel root lives up to one of its other names, Queen of the meadow

Gravel root’s latin name is Eutrochium purpureum, though you are more likely to find it labeled Eupatorium purpureum, which is one of its synonyms; the other is Eupatoriadelphus purpureus. It is also known as Joe-Pye weed, kidney root, purple boneset, Queen of the meadow, sweet Joe-Pye weed, sweet-scented Joe-Pie weed and trumpet weed. It is closely related to thoroughwort, which is also sometimes called boneset.

The name “Joe Pye” was given to the plant after a New England native American of that name who apparently used it to cure typhus fever.

Gravel root is native to the Eastern United States, and is a large plant which can reach a height of 10 feet (3m) if happy. A large plant looks stately and quite magnificent, living up to its alternative name Queen of the Meadow. It requires moist, well drained soil but is otherwise unfussy as to type. It will grow anywhere not in full shade. Propagation is by seed sown in spring or division of existing plants in spring or fall. Harvest flower buds and leaves in spring, roots in fall and dry for later use.

The part usually used is the rootstock, though the above ground parts also have medicinal properties, instructions for preparation follow. The dosage in both cases is up to 240 ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Use the root to make a decoction by adding 15g of dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water, then bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half and strain off and discard the root.

You can also make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to a pint of boiling water. Leave to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Gravel root is useful for cystitis, gout, kidney stones and other kidney problems, rheumatoid arthritis, urethritis and other urinary disorders, and as a diuretic and general tonic. It was an important native American treatment to reduce fevers.

As with all medicinal plants, gravel root must be grown organically to avoid corruption of its essential ingredients by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic gravel root visit the Gardenzone, where it’s called Sweet Joe Pye weed.


Horseradish was once a popular accompaniment for beef

Horseradish health benefits: for congestion and tumors

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Horseradish was once a popular accompaniment for beef

Horseradish was once a popular accompaniment for beef

Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana (and the following synonyms: Armoracia lapathifolia, Cochlearia armoracia, Nasturtium armoracia and Rorippa armoracia), is sometimes split into two words: horse radish. Apart from foreign ones, I haven’t been able to find any other names for this plant. As you can see, despite its ferocity, it’s quite an attractive plant particularly when in flower. There is also a variegated form with yellow streaked leaves, which to my mind looks as if it has some sort of disease, but to each his own.

It is one of the five bitter herbs which should be eaten at Passover in the Jewish religion (the others are coriander, horehound, lettuce and nettles).

Horseradish is in the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, turnips, swede and ordinary radishes – the brassica family (variously called Cruciferae and Brassicaceae). Because of this it cannot be grown on any land infested with club root, although its persistence makes it almost impossible to include in a rotation. It would probably be best, therefore, to designate a clean bed for permanent use as a horseradish bed, and take steps to isolate it to prevent invasion of the surrounding area.

It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2’6″. It requires moist well-drained soil, but is otherwise unfussy as to type, even surviving in very alkaline soil. It will not grow in full shade.

Although the root is the part mostly used, the leaves are edible and generally used raw – very hot, so only add a little to your salad bowl until you are familiar with it. You will have to get them before the caterpillars do, anyway! But the most important product of this plant is the roots (inset in the picture), which are dug as required, and the remainder in Autumn after the foliage has died down (another good reason for designating a permanent position, as you’re unlikely to lose it). Try not to break the roots, which look a bit like parsnips or mooli radish. Leave a few pieces about 8 inches (20cm) long nicely spaced out for next year’s crop, and dig up and discard any woody roots you find.

John Lust gives this caution in his Herb Book: Do not take large quantities of horseradish at one time. Stop taking it if diarrhea or night sweating occurs.

Horseradish root can be stored in damp sand, apparently, but the traditional way is to grate it and store it in sealed jars with vinegar. Mash the root down as firmly as you can, then top off with whatever variety of vinegar you prefer. Some people add honey to this. In the UK, the results are served with roast beef as horseradish sauce, although in the US, horseradish sauce is made from grated horseradish mixed with mayonnaise which would make it a lot less pungent. Fresh British horseradish sauce must definitely be approached with caution, as even in small quantities it makes your eyes water and your nose run.

Horseradish is not just a pungent condiment, but is also antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-tumor. It is used internally for bronchial and nasal congestion, kidney and bladder problems, internal growths and tumors, gout and rheumatism and externally as a poultice (just wrap grated root in a thin bandage and apply) for arthritis and chilblains. Used externally, horseradish sometimes causes blisters. Discontinue use if this occurs.

There are various ways of preparing horseradish for medicinal use, but the simplest is just to put it in a sandwich. The addition of some beef would make it really nice! Alternatively, you can make horseradish vinegar by covering grated root with vinegar and leaving to stand for 10 days. Strain off and discard the root. The dosage is 1 tsp in water 2-3 times a day, sweetened with honey or sugar if preferred. Another option is horseradish syrup which is made by pouring 120ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water over 1 tsp horseradish root and standing for 2 hours. Strain off the root and discard, then add enough sugar to turn it into a syrup (you will probably need to heat it back up to dissolve the sugar). I don’t have a dosage for this, so you will need to experiment if you decide to use it.

Being a root, organic methods of cultivation are a must, as otherwise you may get unhealthy amounts of noxious chemicals mixed in with your remedies. To find out more about growing organic horseradish visit the Gardenzone.


Sheep's sorrel or sour weed

Sheep’s sorrel health benefits: high in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sheep's sorrel or sour weed

Sheep’s sorrel or sour weed

Sheep’s sorrel, Rumex acetosella. is also called field sorrel, red sorrel and sour weed. It is a close relative of sorrel, and that plant is sometimes called sheep’s sorrel as well. It’s also closely related to curled dock and French sorrel.

Sheep’s sorrel is a hardy perennial which only reaches a height of around a foot (30cm), but spreads over an area of up to 3 feet (1m). If seeds are required, you need to ensure that you grow both male and female plants, as plants are dioecious. The seeds are not used medicinally, though you may want them for sowing next year. Propagation is by sowing direct or division of existing plants in spring, although it’s highly likely that you will find it growing as a weed somewhere in the garden.

Sheep’s sorrel will grow pretty much anywhere that the soil is moist, and is not fussy as to soil. It will even grow in very acid soil and in areas exposed to maritime winds.

As with all plants in this genus, sheep’s sorrel contains high levels of oxalic acid, so although it is edible, large quantities are best avoided, and in particular if you suffer from rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity. Small quantities are fine, though, and they make a lemony addition to a mixed salad, though they are a bit overpowering on their own. You can also make a drink like lemonade by boiling the leaves in water.

As well as its use in medicine on its own, sheep’s sorrel is one of the four herbs which make up essiac, a cancer remedy. The other three are great burdock root, Chinese rhubarb (aka Turkish rhubarb) root and slippery elm bark.

The parts of sheep’s sorrel used in medicine are: leaves, roots and juice extracted from leaves.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Leave to stand for between 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off and discard the leaves.

A decoction is made by putting 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root into 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water, bringing to a boil and then simmering until the liquid is reduced by half.

In both cases, the dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mashing up the leaves and mixing with boiling water, then wrapping in a closely woven bandage and apply to the area to be treated. Keep the water hot to refresh the bandage when it goes cold.

Sheep’s sorrel is high in vitamin C and an infusion can be used as a treatment for scurvy, and also to treat inflammation and lower temperature. A decoction is used for diarrhea and heavy periods. The juice is a strong diuretic, and is also used to treat kidney and urinary disorders. A poultice is used to treat cysts and tumors.

To ensure the efficacy of the active constituents, as with all plants grown for medicinal purposes, sheep’s sorrel should be grown organically. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Rosella or Jamaican sorrel

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

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.


The rose scented geranium

Rose Scented Geranium health benefits: for cracked skin and callouses

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The rose scented geranium

The rose scented geranium

Rose scented geranium, Pelargonium capitatum (syn. P. drummondii), is also called wild rose geranium and must not be confused with the similarly named rose geranium (P. graveolens) and in fact, neither plant is in the genus Geranium, despite the common name.

Rose scented geranium is an evergreen (though frost tender) shrub which reaches a height and spread of 2 feet (60cm). It will grow in any type of soil so long as it is well drained, whether moist or dry. It will not grow in the shade.

The whole plant or just leaves are used for home remedies; leaves can be picked whenever needed. If you live in an area where winter is prolonged and frosty, you may wish to grow it in a pot, so that you can bring it into a cool greenhouse, porch or conservatory during the coldest months and use the leaves when they would otherwise be unavailable because of snow. The whole plant, in particular the leaves, is rose scented, so this would add fragrance to the area where you keep it (you can also dry the leaves to use in pot pourri).

Make a standard infusion from 3 handfuls of fresh leaves (in extremis you could use 30g/1 oz of dried leaves instead) added to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain before use. The dose for internal use is up to 1 US cup (240 ml, 8 fl oz) per day, split into 3 doses.

You can use the standard infusion to treat minor digestive problems, kidney and bladder disorders. Externally, it can be used to treat rashes, callouses and cracked skin.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal remedies, rose scented geranium should be grown organically to prevent any adulteration of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.