Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking

Sweet Basil essential oil, benefits and uses

Description

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking


Sweet basil essential oil has a refreshing aroma similar to the herb used in Italian cooking – as it is, in fact, extracted from the same herb, when it is in flower. The botanical name is Ocimum basilicum. Be careful not to mix it up with Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum aka Tulsi.

Sweet basil is available in several chemotypes, the primary one may have the label Ocimum basilicum ct. linalool, whereas so-called exotic basil, which should be handled with caution, has the botanic name O. basilicum ct. methyl chavicol.

I offer sweet basil essential oil in my online shop.

Contra-indications and warnings

As with all essential oils, sweet basil 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.


Blending: Undiluted basil oil is likely to cause irritation if applied directly to skin. It’s important to dilute basil oil for use in massage or other topical applications with an appropriate carrier oil or other base at a rate of no more than 1 drop to each 2ml carrier before use. Bear in mind that this amount refers to the total eg. if you’re making an equal blend of basil, rosemary and peppermint, you would use a maximum of 1 drop of each to 6ml base.

May cause sensitisation. Do not use on sensitive skin. Not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children under 13 years of age. Consult your doctor before using basil essential oil if you are currently being treated for a chronic condition.

Therapeutic uses

Basil is a good expectorant. Use it in an oil burner or electric oil warmer for breathing disorders including COPD, bronchitis and other coughs, sinusitis, catarrh, colds and flu. Diffused basil oil is also helpful as an aid to concentration and mental clarity and for nervous conditions including anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue.

Use in a massage blend for rheumatism, cramps, muscle pain, gout, indigestion, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”), abdominal cramp and for migraine. It is also helpful used in this way for infections and to lower high temperatures. You can also use blended oil to treat earache.

Other Notes

Basil blends well with bergamot, clary sage, geranium, lavender, peppermint and rosemary. See note above as to proportions.


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.


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.


Ashwagandha health benefits: for infertility, impotence and premature ageing

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pleurisy Root health benefits: for pleurisy and other chest conditions

Pleurisy root is the food of Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae

Pleurisy root is the food of Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa, is also known by many other names including butterfly weed (it is the food of both Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae), Canada root, chigger flower, flux root, Indian paintbrush, Indian posy, orange milkweed, orange swallow-wort, silky swallow-wort (also used for the closely related common milkweed), tuber root, white root, wind root and yellow milkweed – there is also a yellow-flowered variety. It is not related to greater celandine (also sometimes called swallow wort).

Pleurisy root is an attractive plant which is found from Ontario in Canada to Southern Florida. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2.5 feet (80cm). It does not like heavy soil, but is otherwise happy in any well drained soil not in full shade.

Like its close relative, most parts of this plant are edible once thoroughly cooked. Take care if you decide to use the shoots that they are really from this plant, as there are much more dangerous plants whose shoots look very similar: Apocynum cannabinum (Common Dogbane) and Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading Dogbane) – click on the names to find out how to distinguish them. It is inadvisable to eat large quantities, and you should never eat it raw because it contains toxins which are destroyed by cooking.

Propagation is the same as for a half-hardy annual: start the seeds off at about 65ºF (18ºC) under cover in spring, transplant into pots and plant out after all risk of frost has passed. Pleurisy root resents root disturbance, so if you can use rootrainers instead of regular pots, this would probably be helpful. It’s also prone to slug damage, so provide some protection if possible – for example surround with fresh wood ashes (which will need to be topped up regularly) or a copper collar.

Roots are harvested from 2 year old plants in the fall and dried for later use: cut into evenly sized pieces (it’s used a teaspoonful at a time) and lay out in a single layer in a dry airy place out of the sun. Turn regularly until completely desiccated, then store in dark colored airtight containers in a cool place.

Pleurisy root is not suitable for internal use during pregnancy. Do not exceed the stated dose. An overdose may cause vomiting, diarrhea and even poisoning if sufficiently large quantities are ingested.

As is fairly obvious from the name, the part used is the root, either fresh or dried. Make a decoction using 1 teaspoon of root to 475ml (2 US cups, 0.75 UK pint) in a pan of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid reduces by half. The dosage is up to 1 cup per day, which can be split into 3 separate doses. Dried powdered root is used to make a poultice, by mixing it with very hot water and wrapping closely in a bandage, which is applied to the area to be treated and refreshed in hot water as required.

Pleurisy root is mainly used for disorders and infections of the respiratory system, for colds, bronchial conditions such as pneumonia and pleurisy, and as an expectorant. It is also sometimes used to treat rheumatism, dysentery, diarrhea and feverish conditions.

Externally a poultice is used to treat bruises, external ulcers, and similar problems.

It’s important to grow pleurisy root organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Lady’s Mantle health benefits: to stop bleeding and vaginal discharge

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lady's mantle, a herb for women of all classes

Lady’s mantle, a herb for women of all classes

Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla xanthochlora (very likely labeled with one of its synonyms, Alchemilla vulgaris or Alchemilla speciosa), is unfortunately one of several plants all of which are commonly referred to by this name, all closely related. These include the garden lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, a popular ornamental which has little medicinal value, and the Alpine lady’s mantle.

There seems to be some confusion between the garden lady’s mantle and this plant. A. mollis is sometimes given as a synonym of A. vulgaris (or vice versa), but this is incorrect. Because of this, if you are purchasing this plant, you may get the wrong one if you buy a plant labeled Alchemilla vulgaris so take care. Probably your best bet is to buy from a specialist herb supplier – and to discuss the nomenclature with them at the time so that you know that they know what they are selling. Do not assume they are experts.

The plant discussed here (A. xanthochlora) is also called the intermediate lady’s mantle or lion’s foot. It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial with a height and spread of about a foot (30cm). It will grow in any neutral or alkaline soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade. Harvest leaves and flowering stems as the plant comes into flower around June for use when fresh herbage is not available.

Both leaves and roots are edible when cooked, and the leaves can also be used raw. Both are said to have an astringent flavour, so you may prefer to give them a miss.

Medicinally, lady’s mantle’s main use is in staunching bleeding. Externally it can be used as a mouthwash after an extraction and a douche for abnormal vaginal discharges (leukorrhea/leucorrhoea). Internally it is used as a tonic and a treatment for poor appetite, diarrhea, rheumatism and internal bleeding. It can also be used as a poultice to treat wounds.

Make a standard infusion by adding 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh chopped herb to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard. The dosage is one third of a cup, up to 3 times a day.

To make a poultice, mix chopped leaves with a little hot water and wrap in a gauze bandage. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in hot water as required.

As I’ve always emphasized, herbs grown for medicinal use must be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents are not diluted or masked by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic lady’s mantle visit the Gardenzone.


Alpine Lady’s Mantle health benefits: for vaginal discharge and internal bleeding

The Alpine lady's mantle

The Alpine lady’s mantle

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alpine lady’s mantle, Alchemilla alpina, is also called mountain lady’s mantle and silvery lady’s mantle. It is a native of western and northern europe mainly found at higher elevations, but has been found growing wild in Utah, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington state, probably as a garden escape.

The plant itself is like a small version of garden lady’s mantle attaining a height and spread of only 6 inches (15 cm), but with white edging to the leaves, as can be clearly seen in the photograph. It’s closely related both to the regular lady’s mantle and the garden lady’s mantle.

If you have alkaline soil, you will have to grow alpine lady’s mantle in a container and water with rain water (unless you are sure that your water is not also alkaline). It does not mind about the structure of the soil, even coping with heavy clay so long as it is well drained, and will grow either in full sun or semi shade.

Like most alpine plants, it is quite slow growing and will not spread quickly. It doesn’t require pollination, so you can just buy a single plant and still end up with viable seeds.

If you have a problem with rabbits in the garden, the lady’s mantles may be useful to you, as rabbits don’t seem to harm them.

Alpine lady’s mantle is used in the same ways as lady’s mantle: mainly in staunching bleeding. Externally it can be used as a mouthwash after an extraction and a douche for abnormal vaginal discharges (leukorrhea/leucorrhoea). Internally it is used as a tonic and a treatment for poor appetite, diarrhea, rheumatism and internal bleeding. It can also be used as a poultice to treat wounds.

Make a standard infusion by adding 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh chopped herb to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the herb and discard. The dosage is one third of a cup, up to 3 times a day.

To make a poultice, mix chopped leaves with a little hot water and wrap in a gauze bandage. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in hot water as required.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, you should ensure that you avoid the use of chemicals and stick to organic methods, so as to avoid contaminating your remedy with foreign substances which may alter or completely eliminate their efficacy. For more information on growing organic herbs, visit our sister site, the Gardenzone.


Horseradish health benefits: for congestion and tumors

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Horseradish was once a popular accompaniment for beef

Horseradish was once a popular accompaniment for beef

Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana (and the following synonyms: Armoracia lapathifolia, Cochlearia armoracia, Nasturtium armoracia and Rorippa armoracia), is sometimes split into two words: horse radish. Apart from foreign ones, I haven’t been able to find any other names for this plant. As you can see, despite its ferocity, it’s quite an attractive plant particularly when in flower. There is also a variegated form with yellow streaked leaves, which to my mind looks as if it has some sort of disease, but to each his own.

It is one of the five bitter herbs which should be eaten at Passover in the Jewish religion (the others are coriander, horehound, lettuce and nettles).

Horseradish is in the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, turnips, swede and ordinary radishes – the brassica family (variously called Cruciferae and Brassicaceae). Because of this it cannot be grown on any land infested with club root, although its persistence makes it almost impossible to include in a rotation. It would probably be best, therefore, to designate a clean bed for permanent use as a horseradish bed, and take steps to isolate it to prevent invasion of the surrounding area.

It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2’6″. It requires moist well-drained soil, but is otherwise unfussy as to type, even surviving in very alkaline soil. It will not grow in full shade.

Although the root is the part mostly used, the leaves are edible and generally used raw – very hot, so only add a little to your salad bowl until you are familiar with it. You will have to get them before the caterpillars do, anyway! But the most important product of this plant is the roots (inset in the picture), which are dug as required, and the remainder in Autumn after the foliage has died down (another good reason for designating a permanent position, as you’re unlikely to lose it). Try not to break the roots, which look a bit like parsnips or mooli radish. Leave a few pieces about 8 inches (20cm) long nicely spaced out for next year’s crop, and dig up and discard any woody roots you find.

John Lust gives this caution in his Herb Book: Do not take large quantities of horseradish at one time. Stop taking it if diarrhea or night sweating occurs.

Horseradish root can be stored in damp sand, apparently, but the traditional way is to grate it and store it in sealed jars with vinegar. Mash the root down as firmly as you can, then top off with whatever variety of vinegar you prefer. Some people add honey to this. In the UK, the results are served with roast beef as horseradish sauce, although in the US, horseradish sauce is made from grated horseradish mixed with mayonnaise which would make it a lot less pungent. Fresh British horseradish sauce must definitely be approached with caution, as even in small quantities it makes your eyes water and your nose run.

Horseradish is not just a pungent condiment, but is also antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-tumor. It is used internally for bronchial and nasal congestion, kidney and bladder problems, internal growths and tumors, gout and rheumatism and externally as a poultice (just wrap grated root in a thin bandage and apply) for arthritis and chilblains. Used externally, horseradish sometimes causes blisters. Discontinue use if this occurs.

There are various ways of preparing horseradish for medicinal use, but the simplest is just to put it in a sandwich. The addition of some beef would make it really nice! Alternatively, you can make horseradish vinegar by covering grated root with vinegar and leaving to stand for 10 days. Strain off and discard the root. The dosage is 1 tsp in water 2-3 times a day, sweetened with honey or sugar if preferred. Another option is horseradish syrup which is made by pouring 120ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water over 1 tsp horseradish root and standing for 2 hours. Strain off the root and discard, then add enough sugar to turn it into a syrup (you will probably need to heat it back up to dissolve the sugar). I don’t have a dosage for this, so you will need to experiment if you decide to use it.

Being a root, organic methods of cultivation are a must, as otherwise you may get unhealthy amounts of noxious chemicals mixed in with your remedies. To find out more about growing organic horseradish visit the Gardenzone. You might also like to take a look at FoodAI’s great post on cooking with horseradish.


Allspice health benefits: for rheumatism, exhaustion – and jerk cooking

Allspice is a large tree

Allspice is a large tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Allspice, Pimenta dioica syn. P. officinalis, is also called clove pepper, Jamaica pepper, kurundu, myrtle pepper, pimenta and pimento (unrelated to the fleshy sweet pepper of the same name). It is not related to costmary, which is also sometimes called allspice.

Allspice is a tree native to South America and the West Indies, the fruits of which are an essential ingredient in Jamaican cooking. Berries which have reached full size but are not yet ripe are collected and dried, then usually ground to a powder.

It cannot be grown from seed, but if you can obtain a plant you can grow it in the garden if you are in a tropical or subtropical area (as it reaches a height of 50 feet/15m, it will need to be a large garden), otherwise grow it in a pot in a greenhouse or as a houseplant. In order to obtain the fruit, you will need two, one male and one female.

Allspice was imported to the West in the 1600s, and is still sometimes used in cooking (especially for cooking in the style of the areas where it grows naturally, and also puddings). I don’t have any in my kitchen, but it apparently tastes like a cross between cloves, juniper berries, cinnamon and pepper. Supplies should be available from large supermarkets or specialist spice suppliers.

Most medicinal uses call for the use of fresh berries, so are only suitable for those who live in areas where it grows naturally. For example, you can make a plaster to treat rheumatism and neuralgia by boiling fresh berries to a pulp, then spreading them on a linen cloth which is placed over the area to be treated. Adding up to 1gm (10-15 grains) of powdered allspice to a laxative is said to reduce griping pains. You can also add it to food or a hot drink to treat indigestion, flatulence (“gas” or “wind”) or diarrhea and to relieve nervous exhaustion.

I offer ground allspice in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, allspice should be grown organically to avoid the essential ingredients being masked or eliminated by the presence of other chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Chicory health benefits: for gout, gravel and gastritis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chicory flowers are pretty

Chicory flowers are pretty

Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is also sometimes called blue sailors, wild chicory, succory, wild succory, coffeeweed or cornflower – but it is not the same plant as the one generally called cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, nor is it closely related.

Chicory is a hardy perennial which can reach a height of 4’6″ if allowed to flower. It’s a native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, but can also be found growing wild in the US, probably as an escape from cultivation. It is not at all fussy as to soil, able to survive in very acid or very alkaline soil so long as it is both well drained and moist. It needs full sun or partial shade.

There’s a lot of confusion between chicory and endive, which is not helped by the fact that in the US, some varieties of chicory are called endive, in particular “Belgian endive”, “French endive” and “red endive” (radicchio), all of which are in fact chicory varieties. To further add to the confusion the plant called by the French chicorée frisée is the curly endive, which is called chicory in US grocery stores.

To be honest, what you choose to call these 2 closely related plants is fairly irrelevant, so long as you always go by the Latin name when checking remedial uses. In addition, if you decide to grow both of them, you will need to label them, as there is a striking similarity between some varieties, particularly when in flower. If you do decide to grow both, the seeds should not be used for propagation, as they are likely to produce hybrids, which would confuse the issue even further.

chiconsIn France the ground root is often added to coffee, but the leaves of chicory are generally reserved for the salad bowl (in the form of chicons – see picture left – which are grown in the dark during Winter – to find out more, visit the chicory page in the crops section of the Gardenzone), though they can also be cooked.

Apparently, in Turkey, chicory sap is used to make chewing gum, though I expect you would need a fair number of plants to produce this in any quantity. The root is the source of inulin, which is often touted as a diabetic food, but as it is indigestible to humans, is not of any real value as such. However, it can be used as a safe diabetic sweetener.

Medicinally, the main parts used are the root and the leaves. The root is more active medicinally and is usually lifted in the Fall and dried. The leaves are gathered as the plants come into flower, and can be dried for later use.

To dry the roots, cut into small pieces and lay the pieces out in a single layer on a tray or other flat surface somewhere airy and out of the sun. Leaves can also be dried in a similar way. In both cases, check the trays every couple of days and turn the contents over until they are well dried and ready to be stored. Store in airtight containers, preferably dark in color, label with the description and the date, and put them somewhere cool and dry.

Do not use this herb in large quantities over a long period, as it may have damaging effects on the retina.

You can make a poultice by boiling a quantity of fresh leaves and flowers in a little water until soft, then wrapping in a fine cloth. Squeeze out excess water and use to soothe painful inflammations by applying directly and holding in place until cool, then refresh with the remaining hot liquid in the pan, squeeze out and re-apply ad lib.

Make a standard decoction by adding 15g (half an ounce) of dried root or twice the quantity of fresh to a saucepan containing 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain before use. A decoction of the whole plant is made in the same way, using a couple of handfuls of the plant, roughly chopped.

A standard infusion is made by adding 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water and allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining.

The dosage in either case is 75ml (1/3 US cup, 3 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.

The standard decoction can be used to treat jaundice and other liver conditions, gout and rheumatism, and may also be helpful as a heart tonic. The whole plant decoction can be used to treat gravel (small stones in the kidney or gall bladder). The infusion is helpful for gastritis and other digestive complaints, and to improve the appetite.

It’s important that chicory, like all herbs intended for medicinal use, should be grown organically to avoid foreign chemicals corrupting or eliminating its beneficial properties. To find out more about growing organic chicory visit the Gardenzone.