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.


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

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to research, the plant also contains anticancer compounds.

Aromatherapy

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

As with all essential oils, lotus essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Final Notes

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

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


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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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.


Spiny Amaranth health benefits: best amaranth for hot sunny places

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth, Amaranthus spinosus, is also known as prickly amaranth or thorny amaranth. In some areas where it has been introduced it is regarded as a noxious weed. If you live in one of those places, then choose the closely related Prince’s feather instead, as it looks better and is unlikely to cause problems with your neighbors!

It is a native of tropical America which grows well in hot, sunny positions with some shelter. Reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm) it is not fussy about soil type, but likes moist well drained areas best of all.

Spiny amaranth is edible, like most members of the genus, though it must be grown organically to prevent the build-up of nitrates which is typical of all of them. In addition, if you’re using it for food, it’s important to remove the spines first. See the entry for Prince’s feather for more information on toxicity.

Medicinally, spiny amaranth is used in the same ways as Prince’s feather: To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb.

Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

Remember to ensure that organic methods are used when growing this or any other medicinal plant, to avoid the properties being changed or completely removed by the presence of foreign chemicals. In the case of amaranths, this is particularly important, as heavily (chemically) fertilized soil contains large quantities of nitrates, which will be concentrated in the tissues of the plant if present, making them potentially dangerous to eat. For more information on growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Prince’s Feather health benefits: attractive food plant and astringent

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

Prince’s feather or Prince of Wales feather, Amaranthus hypochondriacus (syn. Amaranthus hybridus erythrostachys and A.h. hypondriachus) is also known as lady bleeding, lovely bleeding, Mercado grain amaranth, pilewort, red coxscomb, spleen amaranth and sometimes just amaranth – but many other members of this genus are sometimes referred to in this way, so it’s a remarkably useless designation if you’re looking for a herbal medicine (but anybody who reads this blog regularly will probably realize that I regard common names more as pitfalls than any indication of identity).

It shares the name Prince’s feather with a close relative, Amaranthus cruentus, which is not medicinally active. Another close relative is A. caudatus, more commonly known as love lies bleeding, also not useful medicinally. All three plants are used for the production of grain in many parts of the world including Mexico. In fact, virtually all members of this genus are edible, some more than others. and the plant we are discussing here is one of the most useful for food. The only other medicinally useful member is the spiny amaranth. The unrelated lesser celandine is also sometimes known as pilewort.

NB. Although all amaranths are edible, it’s also known that they tend to concentrate nitrates in their foliage. As yet there’s no proof that they are the culprit, but nitrates are implicated in various health problems in children and stomach cancer. This isn’t a problem in most areas where they are grown, as the ground tends to be poor and chemical fertilizers are too expensive to be used unless absolutely necessary. In the developed world, it’s important to grow amaranth organically if it’s intended to use it for food or medicine. Medicinally, organic growing is important in any case, but particularly for members of the Amaranth genus because of this tendency.

Prince’s feather is a half hardy annual which reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm). It is not fussy as to soil so long as it is moist but well drained and not in full shade. Propagation is by sowing seed into warm soil, either in late spring or earlier under cover, transplanting when all risk of frost has passed. It also takes well from cuttings. Harvest the main part of the crop in July as it comes into flower and dry for later use.

All parts of the plant are used in medicine for various purposes.

To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb. Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

In Nepal, the juice extracted from the roots is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, fever and urinary problems. It can also be used to treat indigestion and vomiting.

As I’ve already mentioned it’s vital to ensure that Prince’s feather is grown organically to avoid corruption of its properties by the presence of foreign chemicals and excessive nitrates. To find out more about growing organic Prince’s feather visit the Gardenzone.


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

Sheep's sorrel or sour weed

Sheep’s sorrel or sour weed

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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.


Bethroot health benefits: for hemorrhage, ulcers and gangrene

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The bethroot flower consists of 3 petals and 3 sepals

The bethroot flower consists of 3 petals and 3 sepals

Bethroot, Trillium erectum, is also known as beth root, birthroot, birth root, purple trillium, red trillium, stinking Benjamin and wake robin. It is sometimes incorrectly given as a synonym of T. pendulum, a close relative from Central and Western USA with white pendulous (drooping) flowers which is much less useful. As you may guess from the name, T. erectum has erect flowers; it is also taller than T. pendulum. The confusion may arise from the existence of a white flowered form, T. erectum f. albiflorum, which was preferred by native Americans for medicinal use.

Be careful to buy seeds or plants labeled with the latin name, Trillium erectum, as many other trilliums share common names with this one, but they don’t have the same properties.

Bethroot is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 16″ (40cm), a native of the Eastern United States, and can be found growing in areas where the soil is reliably moist. It’s a very adaptable plant, able to cope with soil of any type (though it prefers soil on the acid side), and isn’t put out by sun or shade. The soil needs to be moist throughout the summer, but well drained and not boggy. Don’t grow it too near to the house or seating areas in the garden as unfortunately the flowers smell like rotting meat, attracting flies to act as pollinators, although the white flowered form apparently is virtually scentless.

If growing from seed, you need to be aware that germination can take anything up to 3 years! and this is only the beginning, as seedlings may suffer from damping off (a fungus which kills almost instantly). Sow in a shaded cold frame or shaded area in a cold greenhouse as soon as the seed ripens, or in late winter/early spring if you buy the seeds in. It’s important that you water with great care and ensure they get plenty of air until they are big enough to plant out in their permanent positions, although they must be kept in shade. Established plants can be divided and if small grown on in pots. If transplanting bethroot it is best to do so when the plant is in flower. The rhizomes are harvested by digging them up in late summer after the leaves have died away (mark plants with a stick before this happens, so you can find them) and dried for later use.

Bethroot was sought out by native Americans and used for many female difficulties ranging from sore nipples to heavy periods. Herbalists today use it for many of the same purposes, and others. As you would expect from the name, the main part used for medicine is the root (actually a rhizome, which is technically an underground stem), but the whole plant is used for poultices. Bethroot should not be used during pregnancy except under medical supervision, though it can be used in labor as a birthing aid.

Make a decoction using 1 teaspoon of dried rhizome to every 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain out and discard the herb. The dosage is 120-240ml (half to 1 US cup, 4-8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. You can also boil the rhizome in milk (using the same amounts), without reduction, to treat diarrhea; the dosage in this case is 240-480ml (1-2 US cups, 8-16 fl oz) a day.

To make a poultice, chop the leaves, stem and flowers, add to a pan of boiling water in which the rhizome has been heated until softened. Wrap the mxture in a closely woven cloth and wring out excess liquid, then apply to the area to be treated. Leave the liquid over a low flame to keep hot so that the poultice can be refreshed as it goes cold.

Use a decoction internally to treat hemorrhage, especially from the genito-urinary system and lungs, heavy periods and post partum hemorrhage. Externally it is used to treat sore nipples, skin infections, insect bites and stings, gangrene and vaginal discharge (bv). A decoction made with milk is used to treat diarrhea. A poultice is used for ulcers, tumors, insect bites and stings.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important that bethroot is grown organically so as to avoid adulteration of its active constituents with foreign chemicals which might prevent them being effective. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Goldenseal health benefits: for peptic ulcer

Goldenseal is found in moist shady places

Goldenseal is found in moist shady places

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, is also called eye balm, eye root, ground raspberry, Indian plant, jaundice root, orange root, turmeric root, yellow puccoon and yellow root. It is not related to turmeric or to bloodroot (also called Indian paint). Due to excessive collection during the twentieth century, it has become scarce in parts of its natural range, and is now a protected species, which may not be collected from the wild.

Goldenseal is a hardy perennial about a foot high. It does not like alkaline soil, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is moist. It grows best in shade, like American ginseng, and was often found growing in the same areas as that plant, and harvested by the same collectors, leading to the scarcity which now exists. If you have a nice moist shady area in the garden, you may wish to grow goldenseal there (as well as American ginseng). It can be grown from seed (which is slow to germinate), and also propagated by division, or by root cuttings. Probably the best way to start would be to obtain 2 or 3 plants from a specialist nursery and plant them out in a moist shady area – as long as you do not garden on chalk or lime, in which case you may need to create a pocket of acid soil by sinking a container of ericaceous compost into the ground and planting it into that.

One of the references I’ve consulted says that goldenseal is poisonous, but none of the other authorities (including RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs) makes any mention of this, so I’m not sure whether to accept this. However, goldenseal should only be used internally for short periods (no more than 3 months), as it will destroy friendly bacteria along with the rest. This herb should not be used at all during pregnancy, nor by anyone with high blood pressure.

The part used is the rhizome (an underground stem, though some call it a root), harvested in fall once the top part of the plant has died away (Tip: Mark the position of the plants with canes in late summer/early fall, so that you can find them). Cut it into slices and dry in a single layer in an airy place with low humidity, turning the slices every day or two until they are ready to store in a labeled, airtight container kept in a cool dark place.

A standard infusion is made with a teaspoon of dried rhizome to 480ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water, which is left to go cold before straining. The dose is 1-2 tsp 3-6 times a day.

You can also make a soothing eyebath by adding a teaspoon of boric acid (as a preservative) to the standard infusion, again allowed to go cold before straining. Use 1 teaspoon of this mixture to 120ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz). Store the unused portion in the fridge in a labeled, sealed, dark-colored container.

Goldenseal was used by native Americans to treat sore eyes and digestive problems. Modern herbalists prescribe it for peptic ulcers and other digestive problems, nasal congestion and sinusitis, heavy and painful periods and excessive bleeding after childbirth. John Lust recommends powdering the root and using like snuff to treat nasal congestion and catarrh. The standard infusion can also be used externally to treat skin infections, sore and infected gums, and as a douche for BV.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, goldenseal should be grown organically to avoid corrupting or evcn eliminating its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Bistort health benefits: a useful wound herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bistort grows best in moist soil

Bistort grows best in moist soil

Bistort, Polygonum bistorta but sometimes labeled Bistorta major or Persicaria bistorta, is also known as dragonwort (a name which is also used for French tarragon) or snakeweed. It’s unusual in its requirement for moist or even wet soil, so may form part of a bog garden, perhaps, so long as it is not in full shade. If it’s happy it will reach a height of 50cm (20″), spreading over about 45cm (18″).

The first leaves should be available from late Winter, so it makes a useful vegetable during the “hungry season” and can be used like spinach. Don’t overdo it, though, as it may cause photo-sensitivity if eaten to excess. It contains quite high levels of oxalic acid, so anyone suffering from rheumatism, gout, arthritis or hyperacidity should probably stick to using it medicinally, rather than eating it as a vegetable.

Bistort is a strong natural astringent. The leaves can be applied to wounds to stop bleeding. Make a decoction using 15g (half an ounce) of dried root to a pint of cold water. Put these into a pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then strain for use. The dose is up to 1 cupful per day. You can use this to treat heavy periods, diarrhea, cystitis and catarrh. You can also use it as an external wash for vaginal discharge, cuts and grazes, and as a mouthwash for disorders of the soft palate, tongue and gums such as mouth ulcers.

As with all herbal remedies, it’s important that the active constituents are not contaminated by foreign chemicals, so they should always be grown organically. To find out more about growing organic bistort, visit the Gardenzone.