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 your local Amazon store).

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!


Ginkgo health benefits: improves sperm production and treats alcohol addiction

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo biloba, usually just called ginkgo but otherwise the maidenhair tree, is a living fossil dating back 270 million years. It is a large tree which can attain a height of 30 meters (almost 100′), and as it’s also dioecious (has male and female flowers on separate plants), it’s not something you can grow in your own garden if you need the seeds for medicinal use – unless you happen to own a large estate or perhaps if several neighbors also grow one, and are lucky (or possibly unlucky) enough to get a female.

The ginkgo tree is revered as a symbol of the sacred life force in China.

Another problem with ginkgo is that many people find the smell of the fruit offensive (descriptions of the smell range from rotten eggs to vomit), so male trees are often preferred. Obviously, if everyone grows males, there won’t be any fruit at all.

All is not lost, however, as many remedies are based on the leaves, rather than the seed.

Ginkgo is not related to the maidenhair fern, or indeed any other living plant.

Ginkgo used to grow in many more areas than it does now. Fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic have been found in England, for example. Ginkgo trees were the only trees which survived the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nowadays, though, ginkgo is only found growing wild in two places, both of which are in China.

It’s quite surprising that its habitat has been reduced so much, because it is an incredibly tolerant tree, accepting any soil, moist or dry, and not being noticeably put out by drought, atmospheric pollution, sea winds and temperatures as low as -35ºC. It won’t grow in full shade, but few trees will, if any. Harvest leaves in late summer or early fall before they change color and dry for later use.

Ginkgo is readily available as a remedy from health stores and also from Chinese herbalists where it is called Bai Guo.

Ginkgo is not suitable for anyone on blood thinners, such as coumarin or Warfarin. Anyone with a history of strong allergic reactions to poison ivy, mangoes and other plants which contain similar chemicals should also avoid using it. The raw seed is toxic if consumed in large quantities over a long period.

Parts used are leaves, fruit pulp oil maceration, raw seeds and cooked seeds.

The leaves are the part mostly studied and used in the West. Ginkgo leaf stimulates the circulation even in peripheral arteries and fine capillaries, which helps to reduce lethargy and give a feeling of well-being. They contain ginkgolides which inhibit allergic responses and are used to treat eg. asthma. They can be used to help ameliorate intermittent claudication. They are also used to treat glaucoma and help preserve vision in adult macular degeneration (ARMD/AMD). They have been shown to improve function in MS patients. Ginkgo also protects against free radicals and reduces the effect of platelet-activating factor (which affects blood clotting). A study in 2008 found that it is of no more value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease than placebo, and another study has found the same with regard to tinnitus, but a dosage of at least 240mg/day may support memory function.

To make an oil maceration of the fruit, pulp them and cover with oil, shaking every day for 100 days. The pulp can then be used to treat respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and TB.

The cooked seed can be used to treat tickly coughs, asthma, phlegmy coughs and urinary incontinence, as a sedative and to improve sperm production.

Raw seed is used to treat cancer and also addiction to alcohol. See note above about toxicity.

I offer ginkgo capsules and tincture in my online shop.

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Ashwagandha health benefits: for infertility, impotence and premature ageing

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is also called Winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is not related to Chinese or American ginseng. It is the premier sacred Ayurvedic herb of Hinduism.

A native of Asia and Africa, it is also found growing wild in Southern Europe though it is best known for its medicinal properties in India, where it is as well regarded as ginseng in China.

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 3 feet (1m) but is not hardy, only able to withstand temperatures down to about freezing point.  In temperate areas, it should be grown as an annual or as a subject for the conservatory (though the roots will require a deep pot). It is a member of the same family as the potato, tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper, which also includes deadly nightshade. Do not eat any part of the plant.

Harvest the roots in fall, pare off the bark (discard the inner part )  and dry for later use by laying out in a single layer and placing it somewhere cool, dry and out of the sun. Check after a couple of days, and if not completely dry, turn over. Store in an airtight jar somewhere cool and dark.

Caution: do not use in large amounts. Toxic if eaten. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

To make a decoction, use about a teaspoonful of root bark to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then strain off and discard the herb. Use a dose of up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Ashwagandha is a natural tranquillizer because of its strong sedative effect, used to treat chronic fatigue, debility, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It is a very good adaptogen (tonic) particularly effective for reproductive problems (impotence, infertility, spermatorrhea, and also for difficulties arising from birth or miscarriage) and is also used for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, bone weakness, constipation, failure to thrive in children, loose teeth, memory loss,  multiple sclerosis, premature ageing, muscle weakness, rheumatism, senility, tension, tumors, wasting diseases and to aid recovery after illness. The most important use is to increase the amount of hormones secreted by the thyroid, and it can also be used to support the adrenals.

Update: A long term study is currently underway in Kolar, India. Led by Dr. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chair of the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Neuroscience, it follows tests in mice which showed a reduction in amyloid plaques in the brain accompanied by memory improvement in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease and given ashwagandha.

As with all herbs used medicinally, it’s important to grow ashwagandha organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Betony health benefits: for when you’re feeling tense

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Betony is an attractive plant

Betony is an attractive plant

Betony or wood betony is also called bishopswort or lousewort. The latin name is Stachys officinalis, but it’s also sometimes found with the label Stachys betonica or even Betonica officinalis. A hardy perennial, it prefers neutral to acid soils in full sun or partial shade. It’s closely related to Lambs’ ears and is attractive to bees.

Dried betony leaves can be used as tea, which apparently has all the qualities of ordinary black tea, but without the caffeine. Another use is as an ingredient of herbal tobacco, and when finely ground, as herbal snuff. Apparently this induces violent sneezing – and was used as a treatment for headaches. Kill or cure seemingly!

Betony is one of the sacred herbs of Wicca and was once used extensively as a treatment for many conditions including anxiety, nervous headache, and as a treatment for wounds. The whole plant is used, collected when in flower, and dried if not needed straight away.

Make a standard infusion from 2-3 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried herb to a cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before use. This infusion can be used to treat pms and nervous tension, nosebleeds and also as a general tonic which is said to improve memory. It can also be used externally when cool to treat bruises and wounds and as a gargle to treat sore throat and sore gums.

Like all herbs used for medicinal purposes, it’s important that Betony is grown organically, to avoid dilution of the herbal properties by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic betony, visit the Gardenzone.


Lemon Balm (Melissa) health benefits: for infections, fevers and insomnia

Lemon balm is safe during pregnancy

Lemon balm is safe during pregnancy

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lemon balm is also known by a number of other names, including bee herb, sweet balm and melissa. Another name by which it is sometimes known is balm mint, but this is a misnomer, as it is not closely related to the mint genus, though it is similar in appearance. It’s also not related to basil balm (another name for basil thyme). The latin name is Melissa officinalis, the second part (‘officinalis’) indicating that it was in use as a herbal remedy at the time it was named.

One thing lemon balm does share with the mint family is its tendency to be invasive. At least this means that you are unlikely to run out if you have it in your garden! It will be happy in full sun or partial shade in most soils that are not too heavy, whether dry or moist, and can tolerate drought and frost without keeling over.

The leaves can be used to make a tasty lemon tea on their own or added to China tea, and as a lemon flavoring in cooking. They’re also used as a flavoring in the liqueurs Chartreuse and Benedictine.

Lemon balm can be used in quite large quantities without any worries, in fact recent research has found that taking 1.5g of dried leaves a day improves memory. Normally, it is used as a standard infusion, made with 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried leaves and/or flowering tops to 1 cup of boiling water. Allow to infuse for about 10 minutes and strain before use hot or cold.

A standard infusion can be used internally as a tonic and to treat both viral and bacterial infection, anxiety, depression, and other nervous disorders, headache, insomnia and migraine and to regulate temperature. Use a cooled infusion externally for insect bites – and also as an insect repellent. Lemon balm is also very helpful in combating cold sores, according to research. All in all, lemon balm is a very useful addition to the herbal medicine cabinet.

I offer 400mg melissa capsules and melissa essential oil in my online shop.

Like all herbal remedies, to avoid ingesting large quantities of nasty chemicals, it’s important that lemon balm grown for medicinal use is grown organically. To find out more about growing organic lemon balm, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Lemon Balm/Melissa essential oil is used for cold sores (herpes), fungal infections, fatigue, depression, anxiety, trauma and shock. It may cause sensitisation or irritation and is not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years of age.

As with all essential oils, Melissa/lemon balm 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.