Bilberry health benefits: for circulation and eye health

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

Bilberries are a wild relative of the blueberry

The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus syn. V. m. oreophilum, V. oreophilum and V. yatabei), is also known as blaeberry (mainly in Scotland), dwarf bilberry, European blueberry, whinberry or whortleberry. It’s closely related to various blueberries, cranberries and some huckleberries.

Description

Bilberries grow on a deciduous shrub which reaches a height of about 20cm (8in) and a spread of 30cm (1ft), prefering moderate shade and moist soil, though it will tolerate full sun and any well drained light to medium, acid or even very acid soil. As a member of the Ericaceae family it will not tolerate lime. It also won’t tolerate maritime exposure, but strong wind is no bother, in fact it is said that bilberries prefer a bit of a buffeting. It will also survive grazing or even being burnt to the ground!

As well as providing fruit and medicine, leaves and fruit have been used for dying: the leaves for green, and the fruit for blue or black. Fruit juice has also been used as ink. On top of all this, the plant is attractive to wildlife, in particular bees.

The bilberry is native to temperate areas across Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Japan, Mongolia, Europe including the UK, USA, Canada and even Greenland, flowering from April to June and producing small bluish black fruit 5-10mm in diameter with dark red, strongly fragrant flesh in September. Bilberry has red juice that stains hands, teeth and tongues deep blue or purple when eaten. It is sometimes confused with the blueberry, which has white or translucent flesh but is neither as fragrant nor as likely to stain the mouth.

Edible uses

Bilberries have been a traditional wild food, eaten raw or cooked. The raw berries are slightly acidic, but the cooked berries make excellent jam and are also used for pies, cakes, biscuits (cookies), sauces, syrups, candies and for juice. They are also dried and used like currants, and the leaves are sometimes used to make a herbal tea.

Contra-indications and warnings

Due to the high tannin content, it’s best to avoid excessive quantities or regular consumption to avoid digestive problems. Avoid bilberries altogether during pregnancy, or if you are taking a prescribed anticoagulant such as Warfarin.

Medicinal uses

The parts used in medicine are the leaves, bark and fruit.

Standard infusion: 15g dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours and strain.

Berry infusion: 1 tbsp dried berries to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes and strain.

Decoction: Put 15g dried leaves or bark in a ceramic, glass or enamel saucepan, cover with 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 15 minutes, strain.

Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. Do not use for more than 3 weeks at a time.

A berry infusion can be used as a gargle or mouthwash to soothe sore throats and gums.

The decoction is used externally for ulcerated wounds and for mouth and throat ulcers.

Dried bilberries are used as medicine just by eating them. You can also use bilberry powder mixed with water, fruit juice or in a smoothie etc for the same purposes. The recommended daily dose of berries is 20-60g, or 2-5g of powder. They are high in antioxidant anthocyanins and used to treat diarrhea in both adults and children, and as a treatment for high blood pressure, varicose veins, hemorrhoids (piles) and broken capillaries. It also has anti-aging effects on collagen structures, and is very helpful for the eyes, improving night vision, slowing macular degeneration and helping to prevent cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Studies have shown that bilberry extract has potential in anti-cancer, circulatory disorders, angina, stroke and atherosclerosis treatments.

Aromatherapy

Bilberry is not used in aromatherapy.

Where to get it

I offer dried wild bilberries in my online shop.

Final Notes

As regular readers will know, if you are growing plants for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic methods and avoid chemicals so that your remedy isn’t polluted by chemicals which may stop them working or even cause damage in the concentrations usually found in remedies. Bilberries are tough and resistant to many pests and diseases, so there’s no need to use chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Plantain health benefits: for wounds and bronchitis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain is a well known weed

The plantain, Plantago major (syn. P. borysthenica, P. dregeana, P. latifolia and P. sinuata), is a weed in many places around the world. It is not related to the cooking plantain, a type of banana. Other names by which it is known include broadleaf plantain, common plantain, greater plantain and large plantain.

Plantain is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Plantain is a well known weed, often found in lawns. It’s a hardy perennial which can reach a height of anything from 15-75cm (6-30″) including the flower spikes, flowering in every season apart from Winter. Ripe seeds can be harvested from July to October. It is attractive to wildlife.

Don’t exceed the stated dose: excess amounts may cause a drop in blood pressure, or diarrhea. Susceptible people might experience contact dermatitis, so wear gloves when handling unless you know you’re ok. Plantain should not be used by people suffering from intestinal obstruction or abdominal pain.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) dried or three handfuls of fresh chopped leaves to 560ml (1 UK pint, 2.5 US cups) boiling water. Leave to steep for 3-4 hours, then strain off the leaves and discard. Take up to 1 cup a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

You can heat up fresh plantain leaves in hot water and apply direct to make a useful treatment for swellings and wounds, which stops bleeding and also encourages tissue repair. A standard infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, cystitis, diarrhea, gastritis, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, (“piles“), hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers and sinusitis, as a diuretic and to reduce fevers, or applied externally for cuts, external ulcers, inflammation of the skin and stings.

Plantain seeds are used to treat internal parasites and as a laxative.

A treatment for rattlesnake bite uses 50:50 plantain and horehound. However, it is best to get straight to a qualified medical practitioner, or preferably your local emergency clinic, in cases of snake bite.

Though you may not need to cultivate plantains, if you decide to do so, please remember that it’s important to use organic growing methods to avoid contaminating your remedies with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offer dried gotu kola in my online shop.

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


Melilot health benefits: for milk knots, palpitations and insomnia

Melilot can be safely used fresh, but not dried

Melilot can be safely used fresh, but not dried

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Melilot, Melilotus officinalis (syn. Melilotus arvensis), is also called common melilot, hart’s tree, hay flowers, king’s clover, ribbed melilot, sweet clover, sweet lucerne, wild laburnum, yellow melilot and yellow sweet clover (there is also a white sweet clover, M. albus, which is very similar in appearance but with white flowers). In some parts of the world it is considered invasive, though as it is annual/biennial, this should not be too much of a problem with proper cultivation.

It is not closely related to red clover and other clovers or to alfalfa (sometimes called lucerne), although it is in the same family, Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae). All the members of this family have the ability to fix nitrogen with their roots, and are used both as green manures and cattle fodder.

Melilot is quite a tall plant, a native of Europe and East Asia, reaching around 4 feet (1.2m) in height. It will grow in any soil, so long as it is well drained, even heavy clay, and tolerates drought. It will not grow in full shade.

The root, shoots, leaves and seedpods are all edible, and the dried leaves were once used as a vanilla-like flavoring, but this is inadvisable because of the high coumarin content if dried incorrectly, though the fresh herb is quite safe. Use it immediately it has been gathered, as the chemical reaction which makes the coumarin starts when it begins to spoil. Coumarin is used in rat poison, and is best left for that purpose.

Do not dry your own melilot for use medicinally. If you must use it dried, buy supplies from a registered herbalist. Melilot is not suitable for anyone on anti-coagulants or with poor blood clotting. Caution: do not take more than the stated dose. Overdosing may cause vomiting/other symptoms of poisoning.

Melilot was used in the past to make herb pillows, but due to the notes above about dried melilot, I do not advise this usage.

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of the whole fresh herb to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Leave to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours then strain off and discard the herb.

To make a poultice, wrap a quantity of the fresh herb in a bandage and soak in very hot water. Wring out and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the water (which needs to be kept hot) whenever it grows cold.

Internally, a standard infusion is used to treat COPD, colic, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), hemorrhoids (“piles“), insomnia, intestinal disorders, painful congestive menstruation, nervous tension, neuralgia, palpitations, varicose veins and stomach problems. Externally it can be used as an astringent, an eyewash for inflammation, and a wash for wounds, to treat boils, erysipelas (inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes), rheumatic pains, severe bruising and swollen joints. An infusion made from flowering tops is effective against conjunctivitis. Finally, a poultice can be used to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, headaches, milk knots and rheumatic/arthritic pain.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, melilot must be grown organically to ensure the purity of the active constituents. To find out more about growing organic melilot visit the Gardenzone.


Mexican Marigold health benefits: for gastritis and infested gardens

Mexican marigold deals with eelworms and ground elder

Mexican marigold deals with eelworms and ground elder

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Mexican marigold, Tagetes minuta syn. T. glandulifera and T. glandulosa, is also known as chinchilla, giant marigold, little marigold, mint marigold, muster John Henry, stinking Roger and wild marigold, though UK gardeners almost always refer to it by its latin name. It is closely related to the French marigold and the African marigold, less closely to the English marigold. It is not related to mint. It has tiny flowers (inset), hence the specific name minuta.

Mexican marigold is a native of South America naturalized in Southern Europe and parts of the US, including California. It is usually classified as a half-hardy annual and can reach a height of 4 feet (1.2m). It’s not fussy about soil, even surviving in heavy clay, though good drainage is required. It will not grow in full shade. In areas with a cool temperate climate like the UK, it will need to be sown under cover in early spring and transplanted after all risk of frost has passed, as it requires a long season.

The flowers are small in comparison with related plants

The flowers are small in comparison with related plants

It is not particularly attractive, neither is it amazingly useful medicinally, but if you have ground that is infested by certain weeds or pests, it is a great way to deal with the situation, and would make a good first crop that is also usable for medicine, amongst other things. The pests it is said to deal with are nematodes/eelworms and keeled slugs; the weeds are lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), couch grass (Agropyron repens), field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and horsetail (Equisetum arvense). It does this by producing secretions from the roots about 3 or 4 months after sowing. Harvest as much as you need for medicine as required, and when flowering to be dried for later use.

Here are some suggestions for other uses to which you can put the undoubtedly huge quantities of material produced by using the plant in this way: as a dye (unfortunately, I have no information as to what color this produces or whether or not it requires a mordant); as a flavoring apparently similar to apples; to repel insects, either by hanging up dried plants or extracting the essential oil. It’s also supposed to deter moles and mice, and doubtless it will make a great contribution to the compost heap as well.

If you have sensitive skin, avoid contact with the sap, as it may cause dermatitis.

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard. This can be used internally to treat colds and other respiratory infections, gastritis, indigestion and as a vermifuge. Externally it can be used to treat hemorrhoids (piles) and skin infections.

Plants grown as natural soil treatments, as well as those used for medicine, should be grown organically to avoid changing the chemical constituents in a way that masks or removes the essential properties. To find out more about growing organic Mexican marigolds visit the Gardenzone.


Rose Geranium health benefits: for PMS and mood swings

Not to be confused with the cultivar 'Graveolens'

Not to be confused with the cultivar ‘Graveolens’

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Rose geranium, Pelargonium graveolens but possibly labeled as P. terebinthinaceum or Geranium terebinthinaceum, is also sometimes called old fashioned rose geranium or rose scent geranium. It should not be confused with the similarly named rose scented geranium (P. capitatum), though in the world of Pelargoniums, there is so much hybridization that finding a true species can sometimes be difficult.

For example, the species I’m covering here is P. graveolens, as already mentioned. However, as well as the species there is also a cultivar (cultivated variety): Pelargonium ‘Graveolens’ – also called rose geranium – which is believed to be a cross between the species P. capitatum, P. graveolens and P. radens. By the rules of nomenclature, such similar names would not be allowed, but unfortunately cultivar names seem to be a law unto themselves, which can make for confusion.

Rose geranium is closely related to the rose scented geranium and the apple geranium, and less closely to the spotted cranesbill (sometimes called wood geranium). It is not related to the rose.

Rose geranium is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 4 feet (120cm), although it is frost tender. It is not fussy as to soil, whether dry or moist, but will not grow in the shade. Gardeners in areas where winter is cold and frosty may prefer to grow it in pots which can be brought into a cool greenhouse, porch or conservatory for the winter so as to have leaves available for picking all year round. Like its close relative the rose scented geranium, it will fill the space where it is kept with fragrance, and the dried leaves are often used in pot pourri because of this fragrance. You can also use the leaves to flavor food, or for tea.

Although the species has a roselike scent, there are also cultivars with scents ranging from mint to citrus and even coconut and nutmeg!

Rose geranium is one of the few herbs which is safe to use in pregnancy – even in the form of essential oil. Do not use the essential oil to treat babies under a year old.

You can make a standard infusion using the whole plant or just the leaves. Use 3 handfuls of fresh leaves, chopped, or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570 ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand 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.

The standard infusion can be used internally to treat PMS, nausea, poor circulation and also tonsillitis. It’s used externally for acne and eczema, parasites such as ringworm and lice, and for hemorrhoids (piles).

I offer a range of rose geranium products in my online shop.

As with all herbs grown for use in remedies, rose geranium must be grown organically to avoid its properties being changed or completely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is used topically in China to treat cervical cancer, though how it is applied is not clear. In aromatherapy, geranium oil is used to treat depression and mood swings.

As with all essential oils, rose geranium 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.

Common Myrtle health benefits: for UTIs, BV and internal ulcers

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The common myrtle, Myrtus communis, is also called true myrtle or just myrtle. Despite the similar name, it’s not related to the bog myrtle – they’re not even in the same botanical family – and not closely related to the lemon myrtle.

Myrtle is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of around 14 feet (4.5m) after some years and is happy pretty much anywhere well drained and not in the shade, even on sites exposed to sea winds. It is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. As myrtle is self-fertile you only need one, even if you intend to use the fruit, which is helpful if you only have a small garden! If you do want fruit, be careful to pick a single-flowered cultivar, as the doubles may not produce as much (or any) fruit.

Leaves and fruit are used in different ways. The leaves can be picked for use as required, or dried for later use. The fruits are available in Fall, and can be gathered for immediate use – or again, dried. Leaves and fruits should be dried separately. To dry leaves or fruits, lay them out in a single layer somewhere out of the sun and with a free flow of air. Check then every day or so, turning them over regularly until they are completely dry, then store in an airtight container, in a colored jar and/or in a dark place. Leaves can be crumbled before storage.

To make a standard infusion of leaves, use 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain before use. A standard infusion of fruit is made in the same way but using 3 tsp fruit, fresh or dried. The dose in either case is 80ml (1/3 US cup) up to 3 times a day.

The infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat urinary tract infections, indigestion, bacterial vaginosis, coughs and sinusitis, as a mouthwash for gum disease and a wash for skin infections. The fruit infusion is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, internal ulcers and externally for hemorrhoids.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, Myrtle should be grown organically so as to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or corrupted by the presence of non-native substances. To find out more about growing organic myrtle visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil can be used as a topical treatment for acne, as a rub for rheumatic pain and as a general antiseptic.

As with all essential oils, myrtle 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.

Tormentil health benefits: for toothache and mouth ulcers

Tormentil can ease toothache

Tormentil can ease toothache

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Tormentil or common tormentil, Potentilla erecta but possibly labeled as Tormentilla erecta or Potentilla tormentilla, is also known as bloodroot, shepherd’s knot, septfoil and upright septfoil.

There are several plants which may be confused with the tormentil I’m talking about in this post. The spotted cranesbill, Geranium maculata, is sometimes called tormentil in the US. Other members of the Potentilla genus are also called tormentil, so it’s important to be sure which one you have, by reference to the latin name. The name bloodroot is also used for an unrelated herb native to Eastern North America.

Tormentil is a not particularly attractive hardy perennial found growing wild all over Europe and Asia in clearings, open fields and moorland, even on sand dunes (and gardens, if not weeded out), reaching a height of around a foot (30cm), and a spread of about 8 inches (20cm). It will grow in full sun or partial shade, and is not fussy as to soil so long as it is well drained.

The root is the part normally used for herbal medicine, and this should be gathered in Spring or Fall and dried for later use. However, the whole plant has the same useful properties (to a lesser degree), so if you don’t have any of the root (actually a rhizome) to hand, you can use the top growth instead.

A decoction is made with 15g (a half ounce) of dried root added to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, and strain. An infusion would be made by adding 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water to 3 handfuls of the plant and allowing to stand for 3-4 hours before straining.

Tormentil is best known as a toothache remedy, but can also be used to treat diarrhea and all intestinal problems, sore throat and bacterial infections, and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat mouth ulcers, gum infections and hemorrhoids (piles). The juice can be used to stop bleeding (styptic), and to treat cracked nipples and cracks in the anus.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, tormentil should be grown organically to avoid adulterating or eliminating entirely its intrinsic properties by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic tormentil visit the Gardenzone.


Sesame health benefits: for hair loss and a herbal sunscreen

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sesame, Sesamum indicum but sometimes labeled Sesamum orientale, is a tropical plant which originates from India, although it is found across most of Africa and Asia. It is a tender annual which requires full sun and reaches a height of around 3 feet (1m), bearing yellow, blue or purple flowers in July.

In Britain, it is difficult to grow to maturity, although the variety “90 Day” is more likely to succeed, at least in Southern counties. It may do better under cover. It grows well in Southern United States, and is grown commercially there, principally in Texas, but as it needs moist soil, requires irrigation.

Sesame has a long history of use in Indian medicine, and is regarded as a holy plant representing Vishnu’s consort, Devi. Although we normally see creamy-white seeds on sale in the West, the color can range through to charcoal, which is the color preferred in the Far East. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone who is diagnosed as obese.

Medicinally, the leaves, seed and oil are all used for various purposes.

Mixing the leaves with water produces mucilage which can be used to treat diarrhea and bladder problems, and is safe for infants.

The seed is very rich in nutrients, but unfortunately also in calories. A quarter of a US cup (2 fl oz, 60ml) provides 206 calories, almost 75% of the adult daily requirement of copper, and useful quantities of manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber. In addition sesame seeds contain lignans which act as an antioxidant, lowering cholesterol and  protecting against high blood pressure.

When eaten the seed acts as a diuretic and liver/kidney tonic, promotes milk flow in nursing mothers, and is used to treat premature hair loss, constipation and osteoporosis. Externally, in the form of a poultice (made by crushing the seed and mixing with very hot water, then wrapping in a finely woven cloth), it is used to treat hemorrhoids and external ulcers.

Sesame oil, which is difficult to produce at home but can be purchased in many larger supermarkets and in some Asian grocers, can be used to promote menstruation, as a laxative and externally to treat rough skin and act as a protection against UV light.

I offer dark sesame tahini in my online shop.

Although many gardeners will have difficulty growing this plant, if you decide to do so, it’s important that you use organic methods, so that the intrinsic properties are not destroyed by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic sesame visit the Gardenzone.


Witch hazel health benefits: for bruises, itching and soreness

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, more properly the Virginian witch hazel, is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 16′ (5m). I’ve discovered some alternative names, many of which are confusing (stick to Latin to be sure you have the right plant): spotted alder, striped alder, hazel nut, snapping hazel, pistachio, tobacco wood, winterbloom. It is not related to the alder, the hazel, the true pistachio or tobacco!

Witch hazel has unusual flowers in Fall, which place it and other members (and former members) of its genus in a family all of their own, Hamamelidaceae. Twigs and branches can be harvested in Spring, and the leaves in Summer to use fresh or dried for use later in the year.

When I was a child, mothers and dinner ladies (who doubled up as playground supervisors) kept a bottle of witch hazel in the cupboard to put on bruises. If we fell down or banged our heads, we would run to mum (or the dinner lady if we were at school), and they would soothe us, then get out the bottle and put some of the sweet smelling liquid on a piece of cotton wool, which they dabbed on the bruise. I have no idea how useful this was, but it made us feel better, and the smell was gorgeous. At the very least, I guess the smell was enough to alert teachers to the need to watch out for any symptoms of concussion. Because fragrance is one of the best triggers to memory — if you have similar memories, they are likely to come flooding back every time you pass close to a witch hazel in bloom.

Witch hazel is not fussy as to soil type, preferring well drained, moist soil and a position in full sun or semi-shade. The part mainly used in medicine is the bark. If you are going to harvest bark from your own shrub, bear these things in mind:

– bark is part of the circulatory system of the plant, so it’s important never to take bark all the way round (called ringing), or you will kill every part of the plant beyond that point;
– for the same reason, don’t take more than 20% of the bark from the main stem, and allow at least a year for this to heal before taking any more;
– bark can be taken from prunings by splitting them in half and removing the central part, or for larger branches, using a sharp knife to pare it away;
– twigs too small to be treated in this way can be dried whole;
– dry bark and twigs by laying them out in a single layer somewhere that is dry and preferably with a through draft. Turn it over now and then until it is crisp and dry, then store in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark.

As already mentioned, you can buy bottles of “witch hazel water” in drugstores, which is made by distillation of bark and twigs, and is lacking the tannins which are the most active components of remedial witch hazel. However, witch hazel water on cotton wool or similar can be used as a soothing wipe for the vaginal area, in particular during pregnancy.

Witch hazel is one of the ingredients of gripe water, from which you can take it that it is safe for children, and even infants. Although I can find no contra-indications in pregnancy, I would advise only using it externally during this time.

A decoction is made from 1 teaspoon of dried bark or twigs to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, turn right down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain and cool. Take 1 mouthful at a time, up to 1 cup a day.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 teaspoon of dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, leaving it to infuse for 10-15 minutes before straining. This can be used at a dose of 1 cup up to 3 times a day.

The decoction is used to treat colitis, diarrhea, hemorrhoids (piles), excessive menstruation, internal bleeding, vaginal discharge and prolapse. It can also be used externally to treat bruises, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, insect bites and stings, sore nipples, irritable skin, minor burns and poison ivy, as a gargle for sore throat and a douche for vaginitis. An infusion can also be used in the same ways, if the decoction is not available.

Witch hazel liquid, available in health stores and pharmacies, is used for irritated skin from a multitude of causes, including acne, bruises, cuts and grazes, eczema, infections, insect bites, piles/hemorrhoids, shaver burn, sprains, sunburn and ingrown toenails.

I offer several witch hazel products in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, organic growing methods are essential to prevent adulteration of the active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic witch hazel visit the Gardenzone.