Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe during pregnancy and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?

Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral


Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources


Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.


Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.

5 Must-Try Essential Oils

Many essential oils have an aroma that’s soothing, but they are also used for many other purposes. Here are five essential oils that you may find useful.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

Lemon (Citrus limon)

lemonLemon is one of the most effective essential oils, and can be used for many purposes. It’s also one of the few essential oils that is safe to use without dilution. Use it straight out of the bottle on a finger or cotton bud to treat boils, cold sores (fever blisters/HSV) and verrucas (plantar warts). Blend with a carrier oil for skin care, to tone and condition nails and to bleach discoloured skin.

Lemon oil can also be mixed with aloe gel to create a hand sanitizer. Moreover, lemon oil added to shampoo can help alleviate dandruff. However, keep in mind that lemon essential oil can make your skin photosensitive. Therefore, avoid contact with sunlight or tanning beds after applying it to your body.

Lemon essential oil can also be used around the home. For example, mix a few drops of lemon essential oil with olive oil to make a cost-effective furniture polish.


Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

peppermintMake a blend of peppermint essential oil with your favourite carrier oil or add a few drops to the bath to treat acne, dermatitis, indigestion and flatulence (gas or wind), itchy skin, muscle pain and neuralgia. It’s also helpful in an oil burner or electric diffuser for relieving respiratory conditions like coughs and colds.

Peppermint essential oil can also be mixed with eucalyptus and a carrier oil to relieve congestion. You need to apply the mixture over your chest. Another way you can use it is to add peppermint oil to a bowl of water to relax tired feet. It is also an effective essential oil to eliminate odour.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)

clovesClove essential oil is used to treat minor dental problems like toothache. It’s best left to professionals apart from this use. However, if you want to use it at home, you can diffuse the oil in various rooms to repel mosquitoes and flies.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

tea-treeTea tree oil can be used to treat many common ailments. It’s another oil that can be used straight out of the bottle – in fact, that’s the way most people use it all the time.

You can use it to treat boils, psoriasis, eczema, athlete’s foot, cold sores, nail fungus, insect bites and warts. In addition, you can add tea tree drops to a shampoo to get rid of dandruff.

I regard tea tree oil as essential first aid for any skin condition, whether caused by bacteria, viruses or a fungal infection. Many people use tea tree oil without realising they’re using an aromatherapy product.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

lavenderLavender essential oil is used for health and homecare purposes. Like lemon, it’s safe to use without dilution. It is a versatile essential oil, which is used in blends to improve acne, insect bites and rashes but its most important use is to treat burns. Apply straight from the bottle on a finger or cotton wool ball to the burn and surrounding area, several times a day if you need to.

Lavender oil in a burner or electric diffuser helps relax an anxious mind, promote sleep and relieve headaches.

Lavender oil can also be added to a paste of baking soda and water to make an underarm deodorant. Furthermore, you can add a few drops of lavender oil to your laundry to eliminate odors from sweaty clothes.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.

These are the best essential oils that you must try today to treat a variety of common issues. I offer an extensive selection of essential oils in my online shop.

Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offer dried gotu kola in my online shop.

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

Avocado Oil – not just a carrier oil additive

Avocado oil

There are cosmetic grades of avocado oil as well as those intended for cooking

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Avocado oil is cold-pressed from the fruit of Persea americana, (often referred to in the 1970s as an avocado pear). Despite this, it is classed as a vegetable oil.

This oil additive is used in aromatherapy massage oils and is particularly recommended for people with stretch marks, dry, fragile, itchy or mature skin or who suffer from eczema or psoriasis. It is also useful for sun-damaged skin, rehydrating and helping to regenerate the skin.

Avocado oil’s seemingly viscous and heavy character contributes to its hydrating properties. Although it’s theoretically possible to use on its own as a carrier oil, it is probably best used as an additive to Almond or Grapeseed oil at 20% or to Jojoba oil at 10%, even on dry skin.

100% avocado oil is completely natural, non-irritant and there are no known cases of allergic reaction (please comment if you know different), but it is not suitable for oily skin, for fairly obvious reasons. It is available in virgin and refined form, but the additional expense of refinement is probably unnecessary in most cases, unless you have a particular aversion to the color green.

Avocado is a rich, heavy mono-unsaturated oil which is easily absorbed by the skin. It is rich in vitamins A, D and E, lecithin, potassium and essential fatty acids including oleic acid (65%), linoleic acid (15%), palmitic acid (14%) and palmitoleic acid (6%) – all figures approximate.

Avocado oil is also used in cosmetics and for lubrication, and has recently emerged into the culinary world, where it is marketed as a high quality oil which can be used as a roughly comparable substitute for olive oil. Of course, all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients then become available in the diet.

It also contains Omega-3 oil, which makes it useful for protecting against sunburn and skin cancer if appled to the skin. It is not known whether the Omega-3 in avocado oil is available for use by the body as a nutrient (recent research has indicated that Omega-3 oils can only be absorbed if sourced from fish or meat, not vegetable oils).

I offer avocado oil in sizes from 100ml to 5 litres in my online shop.

Greater Celandine health benefits: for corns and cancer

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, is also known as chelidonium, garden celandine, great celandine, nipplewort, swallow wort, tetterwort or just celandine, and bai qu cai in Chinese herbalism. It is not closely related to the lesser celandine, in fact it is closer to bloodroot (with which it shares the alternative name tetterwort). It’s also not related to the common milkweed (also called swallow-wort) or pleurisy root (aka orange or silky swallow-wort).

In comparison with its smaller namesake, greater celandine is quite a large plant, reaching 20 inches (a half meter) in height and spreading over an area of about 16 inches (40cm). It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial happy in any soil, and will grow anywhere from full sun to deep woodland so long as the soil is moist. However, this versatility makes it an agressive invader which is difficult to eradicate once established. The best way to control it is to pull plants up before seeds start to ripen around July. As it’s also a common weed for the same reason, you may prefer to gather plants from the wild, taking care to avoid areas close to heavy traffic.

For herbal use, harvest leaves just as they come into flower, for use fresh or dried. Roots should be lifted in fall and dried before use. Latex (sap) needs to be collected from freshly cut stems at the time it is needed.

Greater celandine is mildly poisonous and should not be used at doses or in quantities greater than those stated here. The latex may cause allergic reaction or paralysis, and should therefore only be used externally and with caution. Greater celandine is not suitable for use during pregnancy. A side effect of taking greater celandine is that the urine turns bright yellow, but this is nothing to worry about.

To make a standard infusion use 1 level teaspoon of chopped root or leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allowing to stand for 30 minutes before straining off and discarding the herb. This is taken cold at a dosage of no more than a half cup (125ml, 4 fl oz) a day.

The infusion is used internally for arthritis and rheumatism, asthma, skin cancer and stomach cancer, bronchitis and other coughs, inflammation of the gall bladder and bile duct, gout and hepatitis (jaundice). The bright orange latex should be mixed with vinegar before using it externally for corns, psoriasis, ringworm, warts and cancerous tumors – treat no more than 3 warts or small areas at one time, applying the lotion no more than 2-3 times a day.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, greater celandine should be grown organically to avoid corrupting its essential constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Chickweed health benefits: for itching skin conditions

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed is a common weed

Chickweed, Stellaria media (an old latin name is Alsine media), is such a common weed that you won’t have to do anything to propagate it, unless perhaps you’re a Mars colonist! It’s been used in folk remedies for many years, which may account for its wide distribution.

It’s well known as chickweed or common chickweed, but other names by which it may be known include adder’s mouth, chickenwort, common chickweed, craches, Indian chickweed, maruns, starwort, stitchwort, tongue-grass and winterweed. The name chickweed refers to its popularity as food with chickens and other birds. It’s not related to false unicorn root (sometimes called starwort) or true unicorn root (sometimes called mealy starwort)

It is quite a tiny, groundhugging plant, reaching a height of only about 4 inches (10cm) but spreading over an area of around 20 inches (50cm). It has quite a pretty flower, and these are freely produced all year round. If it wasn’t regarded as a weed, it might even be recommended as a ground cover plant, and will certainly perform this function quite quickly if left to itself.

Chickweed is sometimes confused with other plants which don’t have the same properties, so to double check you have the right weed, take a look at the stem. In chickweed, the furriness of the stem is confined to a line of hair up one side (there’s a really good picture of this at Missouri plants), not all over like its imitators.

Harvest the leaves in spring to early summer for best results. Leaves can be dried by laying out in a single layer in a cool, airy place out of the sun, turning regularly until dried and then storing in a dark coloured container somewhere cool.

Chickweed leaves and seeds are edible, though if you’re eating any quantity of the leaves it is best served cooked, to get rid of the fairly high saponin content. The seeds are produced in small quantities all year round and can be ground and used as a flour substitute, though obtaining sufficient quantities at a time may be difficult.

Turning to its herbal uses, I need to point out that chickweed is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Also, please do not exceed the stated dose, as in excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

You can make a standard infusion by using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to brew for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard.

Make a decoction using the whole plant: 3 handfuls fresh or 1 ounce dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce by half, then strain off and discard the herb. The dose in either case is the same: up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Make a poultice by mixing a quantity of the fresh or dried herb with very hot water. Squeeze out the excess and wrap in a bandage, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.

To make an ointment, measure one part of fresh or dried leaves to 2 parts of plain cold cream by volume and pound together until well mixed. The traditional tool for this is the pestle and mortar, though I guess you could use a blender – I wouldn’t want to have to do the washing up afterwards, though. To save you the trouble, I offer ready made chickweed ointment for itchy skin in my online shop.

Chickweed is great for reducing inflammation and itching which often works where other treatments have failed, so a poultice or ointment is perfect as an external treatment for any kind of itching skin condition as well as other inflammatory problems: abscesses, boils, bruises, eczema, psoriasis, roseola, external ulcers and urticaria. You can also use the ointment applied on a bandage to help draw splinters.

Use a decoction externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers.

Add a standard infusion to your bath water to reduce inflammation in rheumatism and promote tissue healing. It can also be used to treat vaginitis.

Internally a standard infusion aids digestion and can be used to relieve serious constipation, for internal inflammation and stomach ulcers. A decoction is taken as a tonic after giving birth. It promotes milk production and is a circulatory tonic. It’s also useful in the treatment of chest complaints.

As with all herbal remedies, you should ensure that gardening methods are organic to avoid corrupting or eliminating the properties of the herb. Though you’re unlikely to want to grow it deliberately (it will turn up no matter what you do), if you want to find out more about growing organic herbs in general, visit the Gardenzone.

UPDATE. I found this very interesting article by Learning Herbs which gives information on making a salve from chickweed.

Goosegrass (Cleavers) health benefits: for dandruff, glandular fever and ME

Goosegrass clings to everything it touches

Goosegrass clings to everything it touches

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Goosegrass, Galium aparine, is also known by many other names including bedstraw (which is also sometimes used for the closely related lady’s bedstraw), catchweed, cleavers, cleaverwort, clivers, coachweed, gosling weed, hedge-burs, loveman, robin-run-the-hedge, stickaback, stickyleaf, stickyweed, sticky willy and sweethearts. It is quite definitely a weed, and will almost certainly be familiar to you if you live in Europe, and my guess is that it will be just as familiar to my American readers. It’s a close relative of sweet woodruff.

Many of the names given to this plant refer to its ability to stick fast to your legs or whatever other portion of your anatomy comes into contact with it – leading to the evident joy that the young and not-so-young gain from throwing it at each other! This is its tactic for spreading from places where it’s already well-established to other areas.

According to most of the literature, this plant is tall, reaching 4 feet in height, though I’ve only really noticed it as a ground hugging plant. Perhaps it grows better where it’s left alone, and hugs the ground in places where it’s unwelcome and frequently removed – my garden, for instance. Whatever the case, it is inadvisable, in my view, for anyone to try and cultivate it, as it will just take over. You won’t likely have any difficulty sourcing plenty of material to use for medicine should you decide to do so, without running this risk. Look for it in moist grassy areas and on riverbanks if you don’t find it right away. Just try and avoid gathering it in areas right next to a main road, of course. The correct time for this is May or June, as the plant comes into flower, and you can dry it for later use by laying it out in a thin layer on trays somewhere airy and out of the sun, turning regularly until it is ready for storage.

Despite its weedy nature, goosegrass is amazingly useful.

The young shoots can be used as a potherb, the seeds as a coffee substitute, and the whole dried plant as a tea substitute. A thick (3 to 4 inch) layer of the herb in a sieve can be used to filter liquids, and a red dye can be made from the roots.

Turning to medicinal uses, a standard infusion is made by using just 2 handfuls of freshly chopped herb to a pint of boiling water, leaving it to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining off the solid matter and disposing of it.

A poultice is made by mixing chopped fresh or dried herb with hot water and wrapping in medical gauze, then applying to the area to be treated (refreshing with more hot water as required).

You can also make a salve by mixing freshly squeezed juice with butter, according to John Lust. However, sensitive people may find that contact with the juice causes dermatitis, so be careful until/unless you know that you are not one of them.

Goosegrass infusion is used externally to treat dandruff and other types of seborrhea, eczema, psoriasis and skin cancer. It is also used internally to treat the same conditions, as well as cystitis, glandular fever, hepatitis, ME and tonsillitis. It’s also useful as a diuretic and to lower temperature in feverish conditions. As a poultice it is used to treat wounds, external ulcers and other skin problems, and the salve is also used to treat skin conditions.

Not bad for an annoying weed, eh? On top of which, if you get tar on yourself, you can get rid of it, apparently, by rubbing it with some of the fresh herb. Not something I’ve tried, but I guess it may come in useful in some parts. Does it grow in Louisiana? I have no idea.

Since I don’t recommend growing it deliberately, I won’t bother telling you about the necessity of growing medicinal herbs organically, which in my view pretty much goes without saying anyway. But when you’re gathering it, try and avoid areas where it may have been polluted by traffic fumes or agricultural chemicals.

Bishops Weed health benefits: the herbal morning after remedy

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The true Bishop's weed, Ammi majus

The true Bishop’s weed, Ammi majus

Bishops weed, Ammi majus, is also known as bullwort, and in the UK is most commonly known as Queen Anne’s lace. It’s a very pretty plant with an unfortunate resemblance to hemlock, so should not be collected from the wild.

Some countries have legal restrictions affecting this plant.

Two other plants are also sometimes called bishops weed: ajowan and ground elder. The name Queen Anne’s lace is also used for Daucus carota, also known as the wild carrot. All three plants are in the same family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae) but not closely related.

Bishops weed is a hardy annual and can reach a height of 3 feet (1m). It can be found from Africa to the UK in moist soil, in sun or semi-shade. Some people may experience photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis if their skin comes into direct contact with the sap.

In India, Bishops weed is used to treat vitiligo (piebald skin) and psoriasis.

The part used in medicine is the seeds. A standard infusion is made by putting 2 tsp of crushed seeds in a pot and covering with 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, then allowing it to stand for 15 minutes – 3 hours before straining. A decoction is made by putting 2 tsp of crushed seed in a pan containing 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water, bringing to a boil and simmering until the liquid has reduced by half, then straining before use. The dose in each case would be up to 250ml per day, taken in 3 separate doses of around 75-80ml.

A standard infusion is used to treat asthma, angina, “gippy tummy” (that sort of stomach-churning sensation), and as a diuretic and tonic. A decoction is said to be the herbal equivalent of the “morning after pill“, preventing fertilized eggs from being implanted in the womb. Avoid overdosing, as this can cause nausea, diarrhea and headache.

As with all herbs used for medicinal purposes, Bishops weed should be grown organically to avoid adulteration of the active constituents by unnatural chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Evening Primrose health benefits: high in GLA

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Evening primrose is high in GLA

Evening primrose is high in GLA

Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis (sometimes labeled Onagra biennis), is not related to the common or wild primrose, despite the name. It’s biennial, so to ensure a continuous supply, you need to sow or plant it 2 years in a row, after which it will self-seed if it is happy. Don’t try to grow it in the shade or on heavy soil, but poor soil is fine.

Once grown mainly as a root vegetable or a decorative “wild” plant, evening primrose came to prominence as a source of Gamma linolenic acid (GLA, an Omega 6 oil) in the 1980s, and oil of evening primrose or “EPO” (extracted from the seeds) is sold in capsules.

EPO is used as a topical treatment (or as a component of a massage oil blend) for eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Taken as a supplement it is used as a prophylactic and treatment for PMS, endometriosis, diabetic nerve damage, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, hyperactivity, ADHD, obesity, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and schizophrenia.

Make a standard infusion from the leaves and bark, 2-3 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried, to a cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, strain and sip slowly to treat gastro-intestinal disorders and asthma. The oil extracted from evening primrose seeds is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, liver damage caused by alcohol abuse, and to reduce both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. An infusion made from crushed roots (using the same quantities and method given above) is used as a treatment for bowel pain. The crushed roots can be made into a poultice to treat piles and bruises.

I offer EPO in my online shop.


Evening primrose oil is used as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive, mainly in blends intended for skin care, acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and also in hair products to help prevent dandruff.

As with all herbs grown for use as remedies, organic growing methods are important to avoid harmful chemicals being absorbed along with the remedy. To find out more about growing organic evening primrose, visit the Gardenzone.