Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

(A video containing the main points outlined here is available here)

The thyme I am talking about here is Thymus vulgaris, the common or garden thyme. It’s a low growing, fairly tough plant that likes a sunny situation. It comes in the standard green leafed and also in variegated forms, which some people consider to be more attractive, but the important thyme oil (which is the source of all thyme’s goodness) is found in both.

Thyme is closely related to lemon thyme, but not to basil thyme.

Remember that if you want to use thyme medicinally it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

Like most herbs, once it is established, it doesn’t like to be moved, although you will probably get away with it if you are moving it to a new position it likes. You will have to water it regularly in dry spells until it starts to put on new growth, showing that the roots have got over the shock of the move. Unless your area suffers from extremely cold winters, it should be perfectly happy to let you pick a few sprigs all year round, although if you want to get the highest concentration of oil, you should harvest as much as you can just before the flowers open.

Thyme is one of those herbs that begs to be touched. Get down close to it and crush a few leaves to savor its rich meaty fragrance. It’s easy to see why it makes such a good herb for meat dishes, particularly beef. You can even use it instead of oregano or marjoram in Italian food, if you like. The fresh herb is so rich, you may prefer to dry it by hanging it up in bunches somewhere with a good air flow and not too humid for culinary use, after which you should strip the leaves off the branches and store them in an airtight jar.

Fresh or dried thyme makes an unusual and tasty tea – use about 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves, or half as much of the dried ones per cup. Make it in a pot and allow the herb to steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before straining it into a cup. You can add a little honey to sweeten it, if you like. Herbal teas are generally not served with milk. (If you are pregnant, please see note below).

Medicinal uses for Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herbal medicine for digestive and respiratory disorders, it’s an anti-fungal, is useful for treating infections (both viral and bacterial), is antiseptic, expectorant, and can be used as a general tonic.

Before you read further it’s important for you to know that thyme should not be used in large amounts, for example for tea or as a herbal remedy, during pregnancy. A little bit used in cooking will do no harm, but for medicinal purposes, you will be using rather more than a pinch.

To make a standard infusion, put 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried into a pot and add 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes and strain into a cup. The infusion does not have to be drunk all in one go, but can be sipped slowly over an hour or so. It can be used hot or cold (probably cold would be best for gargling or as a mouthwash, and hot would be helpful for coughs and catarrh).

Taken internally the standard infusion is very helpful for respiratory complaints, specifically for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis and other coughs, and laryingitis. It may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, etc and as a mouthwash for bad breath and/or gum disease (gingivitis).

The same infusion is also helpful in cases of indigestion, diarrhea and gastritis, and is good for chills, as it has a warming effect. It can also be used externally as a wash for fungal infections, and can be used to make a warm compress for sore throats and tonsillitis. A compress is a clean cloth which is soaked in the infusion and then applied to the area. For a warm compress, the infusion should cool a little before use.

A steam inhalation is helpful in cases of tonsillitis, catarrh and general infections, also to help relieve muscle fatigue for ME sufferers. You can either use a few drops of the essential oil (bought in) or a good handful of fresh herb. Put the oil or crushed herb into a big flat bowl of boiling water and lean over it, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel to help keep the steam in. Another way is to have a hot steamy bath with the oil or herbs added to the water. In this case, put the herbs inside a muslin bag or similar, so that you don’t get covered in little bits of it.

Thymol, the pink mouthwash used by dentists, was originally made from thyme. To make a mouthwash for general use, make a half-strength infusion (2 tsp fresh leaves or 1 tsp dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water), leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, strain and use cold – the whole cupful, one mouthful at a time.

To make a poultice using fresh herbs, you just process them in a food processor to make a pulp. For dried herbs, you need to add hot water and process to a similar state. Wrap the herbs in a piece of gauze and apply to the area. Ideally, this should be as hot as you can bear, so if you’re using fresh herbs, dip the poultice in a bowl of hot water before applying. You can keep refreshing it with the hot water and re-applying it to the area being treated when it cools down too much.

Aromatherapy

For those with children at school, a bottle of dilute thyme oil (add a few drops to a bottle of sweet almond oil) in the cupboard can be used to deter headlice (cooties) – just comb a few drops of the mixture through the hair night and morning. An attack of ringworm (tinea) can be treated with thyme cream applied 3-4 times a day to the affected area. Thyme essential oil is very strong and should not be used apart from the two purposes outlined in this post except by a professional aromatherapist.

I offer various thyme products including essential oil in my online shop.

Like all plants grown for medicinal use, thyme should be grown organically to avoid nasty chemicals ending up in your remedies. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic thyme.


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

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

The sacred lotus of Buddhists and Hindus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to research, the plant also contains anticancer compounds.

Aromatherapy

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

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

Final Notes

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

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


Great Mullein health benefits: for respiratory complaints, frostbite and chilblains

The name great mullein is not undeserved

The name great mullein is not undeserved

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, has a huge number of other names including Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, beggar’s blanket, beggar’s stalk, blanket herb, bullock’s lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown’s lungwort, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, Cuddy’s lungs, duffle, feltwort, flannel mullein, flannel plant, fluffweed, golden rod, hag’s taper, hare’s beard, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff, molene, Moses’ blanket, mullein, mullein dock, old man’s flannel, Our Lady’s flannel, Peter’s staff, rag paper, shepherd’s clubs, shepherd’s staff, torches, velvet dock, velvet plant, white mullein, wild ice leaf, woollen and woolly mullin. It’s not related to lungwort, nor to the plant normally called goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea, which incidentally is another plant also known as Aaron’s rod) nor rose root (also sometimes called Aaron’s rod), all of which belong to different botanical families.

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein is a biennial which reaches a height of 2m (6′) or more in the second year, thoroughly deserving the name, though in the first year it has a totally different form and apparently different leaves, as they are thickly coated in fuzz, see picture left, rather like lamb’s ears (also unrelated). This must be where all the names about blankets, flannel, velvet and wool come from, as the full grown plant gives very little clue to this (although the hairs are still present, they are not so obvious). In fact, it’s quite a brute, isn’t it?

Given its appearance, this is not a plant anyone is likely to grow as an ornamental, despite the fact that the flowers (as well as the size) are similar to hollyhocks (unrelated, lol). I guess since it is so big it could be tucked at the back of a border with something in front to conceal the unattractive foliage, though this will leave the first year form (which is a lot prettier) hidden. This may not work in any case, because it is insistent on living in full sun, and will not thrive in shady areas. Perhaps it is best relegated to the allotment or bought dried from your friendly local herbalist.

Great mullein is found growing wild all over the temperate world, having been introduced to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand from its native Europe, Africa and Asia. Although unlikely to become invasive except in areas with little competition or after forest fires, it is listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Hawaii and Victoria, Australia. Because each plant produces a huge number of seeds which can lie dormant for up to 100 years, it is very difficult to eradicate completely.

If you decide to grow it, you will find that it is completely unconcerned about soil type or acidity and will thrive in moist or dry conditions, though it does prefer chalky, well drained soil. As already mentioned it needs full sun. It will not tolerate maritime winds (despite the fact that it is often found growing in coastal areas). Sow in a cold frame from late Spring to early Summer, barely covering the seed. Pot on as required until late Summer, when they can be planted out in their final positions.

The leaves contain the natural insecticide, rotenone. Do not grow great mullein close to ponds which contain fish, or allow the leaves or seeds to fall into the water. Both leaves and seeds contain compounds that cause breathing problems and consequent death in fish.

The name torches comes from the old custom of dipping dried stems into wax or suet to make torches. Dried leaves were also used as candle wicks and can be used as tinder. Leaves were put into shoes to provide insulation.

Flowers produce a yellow dye without mordant, green with dilute sulphuric acid, brown with alkalis. An infusion of the flowers with caustic soda was used by Romans to dye their hair blonde.

Due to hormonal effects, great mullein is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying for a baby.

The parts used in medicine are the juice, leaves, flowers and roots. The seeds are not used, as they are toxic to humans as well as fish. If using great mullein juice, leaves or flowers internally in liquid form, it must be carefully strained through a fine filter to remove the irritating hairs (a “quick and dirty” method would be to put a layer of clean kitchen towel in a tea strainer and pour it through that).

Great mullein has been used in medicine for at least 2,000 years, when it was recommended by Dioscorides for chest complaints. After its introduction into the US, native Americans used it to make syrup for treating croup (an acute inflammatory condition of the airways often characterized by a barking cough). It was once listed as a medicine in the German Commission E document to treat catarrh, and in the National Formularies of the US and UK. Even today, its main use is for coughs and other respiratory disorders. The dried leaves were once smoked to relieve asthma, croup, TB cough and spasmodic coughs in general.

Properties given for this herb are: analgesic, anodyne, anti-cancer, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bactericide, cardio-depressant, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, estrogenic, expectorant, fungicide, hypnotic, narcotic, nervine, odontalgic, sedative and vulnerary. This list refers to the whole plant. Different parts of the plant have different properties.

To make a standard infusion, use 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to infuse for a minimum of 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain carefully as described previously before use. The flowers are also sometimes used in the same way. The dose is a third of a cup, taken up to 3 times a day.

A decoction of roots is made by putting 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried chopped root in a small saucepan, adding 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water and bringing to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and continue heating until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard.

To make an oil maceration of mullein flowers, fill a bottle with as many flowers as will fit, cover with olive oil and seal, then shake thoroughly. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake thoroughly once a day for 3 weeks, then strain off and discard the flowers using a fine filter to remove all hairs, as described above. Reseal and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

To make a poultice, mix fresh or dried chopped leaves with very hot water and mash up, then wrap in a piece of gauze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water when it cools.

The standard infusion reduces mucus production and is expectorant. It is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints, including bronchitis, mild catarrh and sore throat. Its demulcent and astringent properties make it a good treatment for colic, diarrhea and hemorrhoids (if blood was found in the diarrhea, a decoction of leaves boiled in milk for 10 minutes was traditionally used instead, but my advice is to visit the doctor as this can be an early warning sign of more serious illness). It can also be used as a treatment for internal parasites (vulnerary).

An infusion made using 1 teaspoonful per cup of a mixture containing 2 parts of great mullein to 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi by volume, taken twice a day, is recommended for lung repair by  Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com. According to eHow Health, the expulsion of a black tar-like substance after several days of use is an indication of this mixture’s effectiveness.

A decoction of the roots is analgesic and anti-spasmodic and can be used to treat toothache, cramps and convulsions. It can also be used to treat migraine.

Grind up dried roots and mix with strained mullein juice to make a topical treatment for boils, chilblains, hemorrhoids and warts. It is said to work only on rough warts, not smooth warts, though as all warts are caused by HPV, this seems strange. It’s probably worth trying even on a smooth wart, for this reason.

A poultice of leaves can be used to treat hemorrhoids, external ulcers, splinters, sunburn and tumors.

Studies have found that great mullein flowers have a bactericidal action and may also be effective against tumors. A flower maceration is used externally to treat bruises, chilblains, eczema, frostbite, hemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and ringworm. It can also be used in the ear to treat earache (2-3 drops at a time, up to 3 times a day).

A homoeopathic tincture of mullein is used to treat long-standing migraine.

As with all herbs used as remedies, great mullein should be grown organically to avoid corrupting your remedy with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic great mullein 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.


Great Burdock health benefits: for sciatica and skin problems

One of the ingredients of the old soft drink, Dandelion & Burdock

One of the ingredients of the old soft drink, Dandelion & Burdock

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great or greater burdock, Arctium lappa (syn. Arctium majus and Lappa major), is also known as bardana (in Italy, Portugal and Brazil), beggar’s buttons, burdock, burr seed, clotbur, cocklebur, edible burdock, gobo (in Japan), grass burdock, hardock, hareburr, hurrburr, Japanese burdock, lappa, lappa burdock, niúpángzi (in China), turkey burrseed, and ueong (in Korea).

It is mainly grown as a food plant, particularly in Japan, but is also a valuable medicinal plant, and a source of inulin, a sweetener suitable for diabetics. All parts of the plant are edible, including the seeds if sprouted. Take care not to inhale the seeds accidentally, as they are covered in tiny hairs which are toxic if inhaled.

Great burdock is a hardy biennial, a native of Europe and the Northern US, which reaches a height of 6 feet (2m) and spreads over an area of about 3 feet (1m). It will grow in any soil, but does prefer a chalky or limey one. It will not grow in full shade.

Sow seeds in late Autumn or Spring in groups of 2 or 3 about 6 inches (15cm) apart, and thin to a single plant when these germinate and are growing strongly. As the plants grow, you will need to dig up some of them to allow the others to reach full size, but you can use the roots in the kitchen – very young roots can be used raw, or add them to casserole, stew or curry (they will take up the flavor of whatever they are cooked with). Leaves can also be used for food (when cooked they are mucilaginous, like gumbo/okra), or for medicine. The seeds won’t be produced until the second year, so if you want to use them, you’ll need to leave some of the plants to grow on. These plants will also produce more leaves, as younger plants only produce basal leaves.

The parts used are one-year-old roots, fresh leaves, seeds and juice.To extract the juice, grate the root and add half a cup of water to each cup of root, then squeeze out the liquid by wrapping in a cloth and wringing it out. This juice can be used as a topical treatment which is used to prevent baldness.

Fresh leaves are used to make a standard infusion, using 3 handfuls of chopped leaves to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours and strain. This is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and is also an excellent tonic, particularly in cold weather, as well as a diuretic – so don’t take more than 80ml (1/3 US cup) up to 3 times a day unless you actually require this effect.

To make a decoction add 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried roots to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and then strain. Use the same dose as for the standard infusion. This is used to stimulate the production of bile, to induce sweating and as a diuretic. Externally it is used as a wash for skin infections, acne, boils, bites, eczema, herpes, impetigo, rashes and ringworm and as a gargle for sore throat.

Grind the seeds and mix with jam or honey (or just chew them on their own) as a treatment for sciatica. Don’t breathe them in (see note above), though why anyone would want to is beyond me.

The leaves can be used for poison ivy and poison oak, like dock leaves for nettles.

One of the effects of great burdock differs from person to person: in some people a root decoction can be used as a mild laxative, but others will find it has the reverse effect. The laxative properties may account for some people’s reported problems with diarrhea when using inulin as a sweetener, though chicory is the usual source for this.

Great burdock is also one of the main ingredients of essiac along with sheep’s sorrel, Chinese rhubarb and slippery elm.

I offer great burdock root and great burdock seed in my online shop.

As I always say, herbs used for medicinal purposes must be grown organically to ensure they retain their properties, and great burdock is no exception to this rule. To find out more about growing organic great burdock visit the Gardenzone.


Sorrel health benefits: for liver and kidney disorders

Sorrel is a familiar weed

Sorrel is a familiar weed

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, is also known as common sorrel, garden sorrel, meadow sorrel, narrow leaved dock (which is also used for the curled dock), sheep’s sorrel (which is properly used for a different plant, R. acetosella), sourgrass and spinach dock. If you garden, it’s quite likely you’ve dug up and thrown a number of sorrel plants on the compost heap over the years.

Sorrel is native to Europe, and is also found in temperate parts of Asia, North America and even Greenland! It’s closely related to curled dock, sheep’s sorrel and French or buckler’s sorrel, which is often grown as a salad crop. It is not related to roselle (which is also sometimes called sorrel).

Sorrel is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of 2′ (60cm) and will grow in any soil, even very acid soil, so long as it is moist and not in full shade. Plants are either male or female so if you wish to collect seeds you will need to ensure that you have some of each. If you don’t want the seeds or flowers, remove flowers as soon as you see them, as leaf production will stop otherwise. All parts are edible, and leaves will be available for salad or medicinal purposes all year round if you prevent flowering (especially if you provide some protection in the winter months) and can also be dried for later use.

Small quantities are an excellent addition to the diet as a salad vegetable or pot herb. Don’t overdo it, though. Sorrel is high in oxalates (as is spinach), which can prevent absorption of calcium, and also cause a flare up of existing rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity if eaten in large amounts.

The parts used in medicine are the leaves, juice (extracted from fresh leaves) and root. The juice is usually mixed with that of another plant, fumitory, and used to treat itchy skin and ringworm.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, strain and discard the herb.

A decoction is made using 30g (1 ounce) of chopped/crushed root to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Dosage in either case is a cup a day, which can be split into 3 doses.

The infusion is a cooling drink (the medicinal term for this is “refrigerant“), rich enough in vitamin C to treat scurvy, and can be used internally as a diuretic and laxative, for disorders of the liver, to dissolve kidney stones, expel parasites and treat stomach/duodenal ulcers. Externally, it can be used as a lotion for boils, abscesses and sores.

You can also make a poultice from the leaves by mashing them up, mixing with boiling water, wrapping in a bandage and applying to the area to be treated. This is used mainly for inflammation. As the poultice cools off, refresh by dipping into the remaining liquid (which should be kept hot) and replace.

Use a root decoction to treat jaundice and kidney stones.

Sorrel, like all plants grown for medicinal purposes, must be grown organically to ensure its active ingredients remain efficacious.To find out more about growing organic herbs 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.

Lemongrass health benefits: anti-parasitic and anti-fungal

Lemongrass is used in Thai cooking

Lemongrass is used in Thai cooking

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus (syn. Andropogon citratus), is also known as West Indian lemon grass and oil grass. It is a true grass, but has been so extensively cultivated over centuries that it rarely flowers.

In its natural habitat in tropical rainforests it can reach a height of 5 feet (1.5m), but in cultivation in less favorable conditions it is unlikely to exceed 18″ (45cm) in height. It will not withstand frost, so is best grown in a large pot which can be taken indoors for the cooler months of the year. Stand the pot in a tray of biggish shingle which you should keep topped up with water to help provide a humid atmosphere for the plant, and try not to let the soil in the pot dry out completely. Of course if you live in a tropical area yourself then you can just grow it in your back yard.

Lemongrass will be familiar to anyone who likes Thai food, as it is a common ingredient. The bulbous base is the part used for this, the leaves normally being discarded, though they are sometimes used for tea.

Medicinally, the leaves and stem are used, as well as the essential oil. You can make a standard infusion from the leaves using 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) and strain before use. When cutting the leaves, leave around 6″ to encourage regrowth.

The standard infusion can be used to treat nausea and other digestive problems, headache, tickly coughs and mild fevers. Externally, the infusion (or the essential oil, diluted with a suitable carrier oil) can be used as a lotion to treat ringworm, lice, scabies, athletes foot, acne and arthritis.

Although lemongrass is often used in some parts (such as Brazil) to treat depression, a scientific study has not found any evidence that the plant is effective for this purpose.

Aromatherapy

Lemongrass essential oil is extracted from Cymbopogon flexuosus or C. citratus. It is used for skin conditions, muscle pain and fungal infections.

As with all essential oils, neither 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.

As with all plants grown for medicinal purposes, lemongrass must be grown organically to avoid its properties being altered by the presence of foreign substances. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Borage health benefits: cheers you up and benefits heart and kidneys

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Borage is sometimes called starflower

Borage is sometimes called starflower

Borage, Borago officinalis, is also known as starflower, (common) bugloss and burrage. It is related, though not closely, to alkanet (also called Spanish or dyer’s bugloss) and viper’s bugloss. It’s a hairy annual with very pretty flowers which reaches a height of about 1ft (30cm), and although if it’s happy it will self-seed all over the place, it is unlikely to become invasive, as the plants are very easy to pull up.

Borage leaves are sometimes used in salad, and are supposed to taste like cucumber, but since they are so hairy they have never appealed to me, so I’ve never tried them, even chopped up as is usually suggested. The flowers are edible, and make a great addition to salads (just on account of their attractiveness), whether fruit or vegetable based, and can also be frozen individually in ice cubes, to add to cocktails or other drinks.

Borage is grown commercially for the sake of the oil produced in its seeds, which is very high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA). However, as the seeds are very small, it requires huge quantities to obtain a usable quantity of oil, and this is not practicable for the home grower.

Flowers and leaves can be gathered in late Spring and Summer as the plants come into flower, and may be dried for later use, but will not retain their medicinal properties beyond a year.

Borage leaves and flowers should not be used by anyone suffering from disorders of the liver.

Medicinally, borage has long been used in folk medicine to dispel melancholy. Make a standard infusion using 2 tsp dried/4 tsp fresh flowers or 2-3 tsp dried/a handful of fresh leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Stand for 5-15 minutes and drain before use to treat nervous conditions, and also for pleurisy and other types of inflammation, and as a digestive tonic with beneficial effects on the kidneys, heart and adrenal glands. The same tonic can also be used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. In all cases, one cup night and morning is the standard dose. As it may have sedative effects, it’s best to avoid driving or operating machinery while taking borage medicinally.

Ringworm can be treated by extracting the juice from fresh leaves and applying to the affected area. However, contact with the leaves may cause dermatitis in susceptible individuals.

I offer borage oil, which can be used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy and is also excellent used alone for skin care, particularly for dry, mature or damaged skin, and starflower (borage) oil 500mg capsules in my online shop.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, borage should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not changed by the uptake of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic borage visit the Gardenzone.