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.

Agnus castus health benefits: mainly for women

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Agnus castus is sometimes called the lilac chaste tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Agnus castus (latin for ‘pure lamb’), Vitex agnus-castus, is also sometimes known as chaste berry, chaste tree or lilac chaste tree. It is native to North Africa, parts of Asia from Cyprus to Uzbekistan and much of Europe, and naturalised elsewhere.

Agnus castus is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 3m (9ft). It is hardy in the UK, where it flowers in September to October, but is unlikely to produce fruit here. Of course, this may change with the climate.

Agnus castus should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

Do not exceed the stated dose; reduce the dosage or discontinue if you get a sensation of insects crawling on the skin, a symptom of excessive use.

The name chaste tree comes from the use of this herb by monks, who used to chew it to reduce sexual desire. It is still used for the same purpose, although only in those who have a real problem with this; in those with a low sex drive, it’s likely to have the opposite effect and is sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.

Agnus castus is mainly used to bring female hormones into balance. It has been shown to relieve infertility due to hormonal problems (if used for an extended period). It is also helpful as a birthing aid, for easing the menopause and relieving PMS, regulating heavy periods (menorrhagia) and restoring missing ones (amenorrhea). Men use it to increase urine flow and reduce BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia/enlargement). Please ensure you get a cancer check before using it for the latter purpose.

It’s also used in both sexes for acne, colds, dementia, eye pain, headaches, inflammation and swelling, joint conditions, migraine, nervousness, spleen disorders and upset stomach.

It is not used in aromatherapy.

I offer Periagna® (Agnus castus) 400mg capsules and Agnus Castus seed in my online store.

If you are able to produce fruit from the chaste tree, it’s important that you grow it organically to avoid contaminating the fruit with chemicals that you don’t want in your remedies. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.

Alfalfa health benefits: to stimulate appetite and lower cholesterol

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.

Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.

Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.

Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.

To make a standard infusion use 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.

I offer alfalfa seeds and alfalfa 500mg tablets in my online shop.

Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.

False Unicorn Root health benefits: for women and to improve fertility in both sexes

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root, Chamaelirium luteum (syn. C. carolinianum, Helonias dioica, H. lutea, Melanthium dioicum and Veratrum luteum), is sometimes called just false unicorn; other names include blazing star, devil’s bit, fairy wand, helonias and starwort. It is called false unicorn root to distinguish it from another plant, the (true) unicorn root, which is in the same botanical family. It shares the names blazing star aqnd devil’s bit with another unrelated plant with mauve/purple flowers, Liatris spicata, the gay feather. False unicorn root is not related to chickweed (sometimes called starwort) or to the devil’s bit scabious.

To distinguish the false unicorn root from the true unicorn root, check the flowers. False unicorn root has tiny flowers tightly arranged in a spike as shown in the picture here. True unicorn root has much larger flowers, individually shaped a bit like bluebells but bright white, seemingly coated in flour, and placed some distance apart around the flower stem, sticking out horizontally.

False unicorn root is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 20 inches (50cm). A native of the Eastern US, it’s found growing in moist areas such as meadows and woodland where the soil is rich and full of humus. Because it requires moist acid soil, it can be difficult to grow. It can cope with very acid soil, so if you have this and are able to find or make a moist area in which to grow it, you should be successful so long as it is not in full shade. Dappled shade is fine.

This plant is dioecious, a technical term which means that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This does not matter unless you wish to produce seed for propagation. If you do, you will need to ensure that you grow both male and female plants. However, as germination can take up to 6 months, you may find it easier to propagate by division.

The part used in medicine is the root (or rhizome), which can be harvested in fall before the ground gets too hard and dried in the usual way, by chopping into small pieces, laying out in a single layer somewhere airy and out of the sun, and turning daily until ready to store in a dark colored airtight container.

Do not exceed the stated dose of this herb, because large amounts can damage the heart, Patients with any heart problems might be better off using other remedies. Not suitable for use during pregnancy,

To make a decoction, put 2 teaspoons of root in a pan with 250ml (1 cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes, then strain off the root and discard. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Traditional uses for false unicorn root are mainly related to what used to be called women’s problems: vaginal discharge, painful periods, to promote delayed menstruation, and to treat ovarian cysts and symptoms occurring at the menopause. In addition it can be used to expel internal parasites, as a prostate tonic, a general fertility enhancer in both sexes and a diuretic.

As with any herb grown for use medicinally, false unicorn root must be grown organically to ensure that its active constituents remain uncorrupted by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Clary Sage health benefits: once called Cleareye

Clary is an attractive member of the Sage genus

Clary is an attractive member of the Sage genus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cleareye is a less common name for the herb usually known as clary or clary sage (Salvia sclarea). It’s a close relative of the common sage, as you might expect, and is not generally used for cooking, although in the past the leaves were sometimes dipped in batter and used to make fritters, and you can use it in soups and stews like sage. The flowers can also be used in salad or for making tea. Other close relatives are Spanish sage and Chia seeds.

Clary grows to about 1 metre (3 feet) in height, and is found growing wild in a wide area ranging from Southern Europe to Syria. It likes a sunny position, well drained but not too dry (though it will most likely cope, if needs must). If it is in a position it likes, it will self-seed, so you will never need to sow it again after the first couple of years. As it’s a biennial, it’s best to start plants off two years in a row, and if it’s happy you will have supplies every year after that with no further intervention on your part.

Clary sage is one of the herbs which is not suitable for use as an internal remedy during pregnancy, because it has strong hormonal effects.

Make a standard infusion using 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried herb to 250ml (1 US cups, 8 fl oz) boiling water, left to stand for 10 minutes and strained.  The dose is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Clary has an estrogenic action. Use the standard infusion to help relieve period pains, PMS, hot flushes and other problems relating to the menopause. It’s also a good anti-spasmodic, so can be used to treat other types of cramps and muscle spasms, including those caused by flatulence (“gas” or “wind“). In fact, clary is useful for many types of digestive disorder, from indigestion to kidney problems.

The seeds which you harvest from the plant (not ones from a packet, as they will most likely have been dressed with chemical preservatives) can be soaked in water for a few minutes to make a slimey liquid. This glop is very good for washing small particles of dust and so on from the eyes – so the reason for the name Cleareye becomes… er… clear.

Like other herbs used medicinally, clary is best grown organically, so that you don’t end up ingesting unacceptably large quantities of chemicals in with your remedy. For more information about growing organic clary sage and other uses for this herb, visit the Gardenzone.


Clary sage essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years. It is used for many purposes, but in particular to balance the hormones, increasing both libido and fertility in both sexes.

As with all essential oils, clary sage 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.

Sage health benefits: versatile multi-purpose herb

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

(A video covering the main points in this post can be found at Sage Health Benefits)

Sage (Garden or Kitchen Sage), Salvia officinalis, is the last member of the big four immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel (based on a folk song of unknown age). Leaf colors vary from green to greenish gray, which are most likely to be seen, and purplish-red (var. purpurascens). The red variety is traditionally preferred for use in herbal medicine, but you can use green sage if that is all you have. It is closely related to clary sage, Chinese red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) , the sacred white sage (Salvia apiana) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia), as well as various ornamental sages grown in the flower garden. These are not covered here, as they do not necessarily share the same properties.

Sage is often used in cooking, so you may well have some in the kitchen cupboard, which you can use if you don’t have any in the garden, but it’s very easy to grow from seed, and well worth the effort – or just buy in a plant or two from your local nursery, if you don’t want dozens of sage plants to give away. You can pick leaves any time of year in most parts, even if you have to brush off the snow first. The main thing to watch out for when planting is to put it in a sunny position, and to make sure it has good drainage, as it won’t stand waterlogging.

If you wish to grow it from seed, soak the seed for an hour or so in warm water before sowing direct in Spring. Thin gradually to 45cm (18″) apart. Thinnings can be transplanted or used in the kitchen. Harvest leaves June and August for drying. Prune out straggly growth and trim to a neat shape in October or November. Can also be propagated by cuttings in Spring and Summer. Pick leaves as required for immediate use and the main crop of leaves just before flowering for drying or distillation of oil.

Left to its own devices, Sage is a straggly bush, but gardeners usually trim it back to a pleasing shape in mid-Autumn. The trimmings are ideal for drying for the kitchen, where it is a popular ingredient in stuffing, particularly suitable for fatty meats like pork, though there are many other uses. The easiest way to dry the leaves is to hang them up in bunches somewhere nice and airy (not too humid, or they will go moldy and be useless for anything), and then strip the leaves off once they have dried.

Remember that, if you want to use sage medicinally, it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident.

At this point, I need to warn you that sage is toxic in large amounts, and that it is not suitable for use as a herbal medicine by anyone who is pregnant or suffering from epilepsy.

Make a standard infusion with 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons dried herb to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water in a pot, leave to stand for 10 minutes and strain into a cup, adding some lemon and/or honey if you wish. You can drink this hot or cold, but for relieving sweating or hot flushing, it is better drunk cold. Limit intake to one cup a day.

Sage is antibiotic, anti-fungal, astringent, anti-spasmodic and a good nerve tonic. Sage is also well known for its estrogenic properties, which makes it useful for regulating periods, reducing milk production, and as a treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Recent research indicates that patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who drink a cup of sage tea a day may experience improved brain function. Alzheimer’s is such a debilitating disease that this is well worth trying, on the principle of “it can’t hurt”.

The same infusion is good for colds, anxiety/depression, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”) and indigestion. Used at half strength it is good as a gargle for sore throat, as a mouthwash to treat ulcers and sore gums, and as a douche to treat vaginal discharges. It’s also useful as a wash for bites and stings (remove the sting first if necessary), and for skin infections.

Visit the gardenzone for more information about growing organic sage.

I offer various sae products in my online shop.


Sage essential oil is toxic. Do not use under any circumstances.

As with all essential oils, sage 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.