Remedy for aches and pains

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Whatever the time of year, aches and pains can plague us from time to time, and this only gets worse as the weather turns from the cool days of autumn to the frost and snow of winter.

Of course, aching joints and muscles aren’t all created equal but although they can often be quelled by taking over-the-counter painkillers, many people prefer to use more natural methods.

When looking for a remedy for aches and pains,, the first step is to try and work out the cause, as it’s helpful in working out the best treatment to use and where to apply it (if it’s topical). So if you don’t already know what’s going on, take a bit of time to visually check out the area affected to see if there’s anything obvious.

Severe unexplained pain in the leg, foot or ankle, accompanied by one sided swelling, areas that are higher in temperature to the touch and/or a change in skin colour is a possible sign of DVT which is a medical emergency requiring Urgent Medical Care. If this is you, take immediate steps to get treatment.

Possible causes of aches and pains

Pain in the legs, joints or muscles can be caused by arthritis, varicose veins, sciatica, injury, a sprain or other muscular strain. All pain in bones and muscles may also be associated with a zinc deficiency.

  • Arthritis occurs mainly around the joints, which are often swollen, though there may be some transference. There are several types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis seem to be auto-immune disorders, sometimes triggered by gluten.
  • Varicose veins are usually visible as blue lines under the skin. They can make your legs feel uncomfortable, heavy and aching, possibly accompanied by a burning or throbbing sensation. They are a result of failure of the valves which normally prevent blood flowing in the wrong direction.
  • Sciatica is caused by a compressed or irritated sciatic nerve (in the lower back), but the pain generally travels down from there and can reach as far as the toes, though usually only affecting one leg.
  • Sprains and other injuries such as torn ligaments are generally caused by an accident of some kind, though some injuries may be the result of over-enthusiastic exercise.
  • Muscular strain is caused by exercise which is heavier than you’re used to – especially at the start of a new exercise regimen.
Pains in any part of the body can be a symptom of serious disease, so if they are severe and longstanding, or if they don’t improve with the use of the remedies suggested here within a few days, please consult your doctor to ensure that you aren’t ignoring a potentially life threatening condition.

Remedies for aches and pains

Remedy for aching joints

If you suffer from aching joints, this is generally caused by some form of arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, which as mentioned above may be related to gluten or other foods in the diet. To test this, take your medical practitioner’s advice or you could try eliminating gluten from your diet for 3 weeks (it takes this long for gluten to leave your system) and keep an eye on your symptoms. An improvement is an indication of a possible link, but you can check this by going on a gluten-rich binge the day after the three weeks is up, and see what happens.

If you’re coping with any joint pain (even osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear) you can obtain some pain relief and reduction of inflammation using topical remedies either alone or in conjunction with prescribed medication.

A zinc supplement may also be helpful, particularly if you’re suffering from RA. You can talk to your doctor about this or read my article about zinc for information on other symptoms that may indicate you’re deficient in zinc.

Another well known supplement used by many people with RA is evening primrose oil (EPO). This contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and trials indicate that a dose of 6g (6000mg) EPO a day is helpful in relieving both pain and morning stiffness in the vast majority of users.

If you have holly or even nettles in the garden you can make a home remedy:

Holly home remedy

Make a holly leaf decoction using 2-4 tablespoonfuls of leaves. Put them into 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) cold water in a small pan, bring to a boil then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Nettles home remedy

Make a nettle infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh nettles. Put them in a teapot or other container, add 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) boiling water, cover and leave to brew for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before use.

The dosage in each case is up to 1 cup a day.

Although the other remedies recommended for general aches and pains below can also be used (in particular helichrysum), lavender essential oil blended with your favourite carrier oil is specifically recommended for massaging into painful and swollen joints.

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.

Psoriatic arthritis may benefit from adding avocado carrier oil additive to the lavender oil blend. Eating avocadoes or using avocado oil in salad dressings etc. may also be helpful.

There is also a wide range of specific remedies for arthritis, many of which I offer in my online shop.

Remedy for aching legs

Varicose veins may benefit from a home remedy made from alkanet: put 15g (half an ounce) of dried root in a small saucepan with 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, strain and allow to cool before use. Apply to the area affected and allow to dry.

If your legs ache due to muscular pain read the next section.

Remedy for aching muscles and sciatica

There are several essential oils which are good for massage blends for muscle pain, including all varieties of eucalyptus oil, lemongrass oil and rosemary oil, but the real star for this purpose is helichrysum which is perfect for any type of musculo-skeletal pain, including sciatica.

Helichrysum is very expensive to produce and therefore usually sold in a ready diluted form, but the others need to be diluted with a carrier oil before use. Add 1 drop to each 2ml of carrier oil and shake well before use.

Note that rosemary oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, for children under 6 years, or by anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy.
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.

I hope that this post has given you some insight into natural ways of dealing with general aches and pains to help you avoid just reaching for the pain killers.

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.

Basil Thyme health benefits: for toothache and rheumatic pain

Basil thyme tastes like a milder version of thyme

Basil thyme tastes like a milder version of thyme

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Basil thyme, Acinos arvensis (formerly named A. thymoides, Calamintha acinos, Clinopodium acinos and Satureja acinos), is also known as basil balm, dandy, mother of thyme and Spring savory. It is not closely related to sweet basil, holy basil, thyme, lemon thyme, Summer savory, Winter savory or lemon balm. it is said to taste like a mild version of common thyme.

Basil thyme is an attractive hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 6 inches (15cm) and spreads over about a foot (30cm). It is a European native, though it’s also found wild in some parts of the USA. It likes well drained, light to medium soil, though it’s not fussy as to acidity levels. It will grow in poor soil, dry or moist soil, in full sun or semi-shade.

It is not a long-lived plant, but if it is happy will self-seed, so you are unlikely to have to replace an older plant. To propagate, you can grow it from seed, divide established plants in Spring or take basal cuttings, also in Spring.

Basil thyme was once a very popular medicinal herb, but is not much used in herbal medicine nowadays. The whole plant can be used to make infusions, usually prepared from fresh herb, and the essential oil is also used.

As I have failed in a search online to find the essential oil on sale, I will give instructions on how to make a usable approximation (although genuine essential oil is prepared by distillation, a technique which uses equipment not available in the average home). You will need:

  • an airtight clear glass jar (a small preserving jar is ideal),
  • enough of the fresh chopped herb to fill the jar,
  • enough olive oil to cover the herb, and
  • some spirit vinegar to act as a preservative.

The olive oil is being used as a carrier, and should be the lightest you can find. If you can’t find light olive oil you could substitute sweet almond oil, although this is likely to be more expensive.

  1. Fill the jar with the chopped herb, pushing it down so that you can get as much in as possible.
  2. Add 1 tablespoonful of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar)
  3. Cover with the oil
  4. Seal tightly and put it on a sunny windowsill.
  5. Every day or so, turn the jar round so that a different part faces outward, and give it a little shake.
  6. After 2-3 weeks, strain off the herb:
    • put some cheesecloth into a colander on top of a large jug
    • pour the oil through the cheesecloth into the jug
    • let it stand for half an hour or so to get as much of the oil out as possible
    • twist the cheesecloth with the herbs inside it to squeeze out the last drops
  7. Transfer the oil to a smaller dark-colored airtight glass container.
  8. Label it “Basil Thyme essential oil. Made on ” and the date.
  9. Store it somewhere cool.

This will keep for at least 6 months, but it’s best not to make more than you think you will get through in this time. If you’re still using it after the 6 months is up, always check that the oil smells good before use.

This oil can be used as an external rub for rheumatic pain, sciatica, neuralgia and bruises. A single drop on a piece of cotton wool can be used to help alleviate a toothache.

A standard infusion can be made by using 3 handfuls of fresh basil thyme to 2.5 US cups (570ml, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Strain after 15 minutes to 4 hours for use. The dosage is 75ml (1/3 US cup) up to 3 times a day. This can be used as a diuretic and to aid digestion.

As with all herbs used for medicinal purposes, basil thyme should be grown organically so as to avoid foreign chemicals being taken in along with your remedy. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Fenugreek health benefits: to reduce labor pains

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Fenugreek is an ancient herb

Fenugreek is an ancient herb

Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum is an ancient herb which appears to have few other names, although I have come across Greek clover as a synonym. In the Indian subcontinent, it is extensively used in cooking, either as ground seed or fresh leaves, under the name methi. Dried leaves are also used – the name of these is kazuri methi.

Don’t feed fenugreek seeds to fish, as it may kill them.

Seeds of fenugreek have been found in the tombs of the Pharoahs in Egypt, and the latin name means “Greek hay”, as it was one of the herbs used by the ancient Greeks to feed cattle. It’s rarely used in Western cooking, but the leaves are a delicious ingredient in such Indian dishes as Methi Chicken. The seed can also be soaked in warm water for 12 hours and then sprouted – which takes 3-5 days – as an ingredient in salads and so on.

Fenugreek is a member of the Leguminosae family, which is mostly peas, beans and clover. All members of this family have the ability to fix nitrogen with their roots (in the presence of the correct soil organisms), making it available for use by plants which follow them in the rotation, and are therefore useful as green manures – crops which are grown and simply dug into the soil. However, not all soils contain the correct diazotrophs for fenugreek, as it has not historically been grown in quantity in much of “the West”. Inoculated seed, if available, would overcome this problem.

It is the seeds which are mainly used for medicinal purposes, and although it is possible to grow fenugreek to this stage in warmer parts, I have not managed to achieve this in the UK (which is not to say it can’t be done). However, a visit to a decent Asian (Indian subcontinent) grocer will most likely yield a source of fenugreek seeds in any quantity you could wish for at a good price, either whole for preference or ground as a last resort. If you can’t find them, ask the store owner for Methi seed (pronounced “metty”). He may have it, or he may even order it for you. It should be popular enough with his regular customers that he won’t incur any loss.

As an aside, the seeds themselves are rhombic, very unusual, and almost look as if they have been manufactured in a sweet factory or something. They are usually amber in color.

Fenugreek is not suitable for use during pregnancy except during labor, as it can induce uterine contractions.

Fenugreek seed, like most beans and peas, contain saponins, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Since they are rather bitter, this is unlikely to be a problem, and cooking or running under cold water for a time will remove much of them. The quantities used for medicine should not be a problem for most people – unless you are a mermaid!According to Plants for a Future “Research has shown that the seeds can inhibit cancer of the liver, lower blood cholesterol levels and also have an antidiabetic effect”.

A standard infusion is made from 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, left to stand for at least 10 minutes and then strained.

To make a decoction soak 2 tsp of seeds in 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water for 5 hours or overnight, bring to a boil and boil for one minute, then strain. The dose for either is 500-600ml (2-3 US cups,  1.25 UK pints) a day. It will almost certainly need a fair amount of honey, sugar, or other sweetener added to make it palatable.

During labor either an infusion or a decoction will help to reduce pain. Period pains, indigestion, and bronchitis can be treated in the same way. You can also use either an infusion or a decoction as a gargle for a sore throat.

A poultice can be made from the leaves or seed. In the case of fresh leaves, just chop them up and mix with a little hot water, wrap in a cloth and apply to the area to be treated. To make a poultice from dried leaves, soak them in boiling water, then strain off most of the water, wrap the leaves and use in the same way. Seeds will need to be boiled for several minutes to soften them, then mashed up as much as you can. Use to treat gout pains, neuralgia, sciatica, swollen glands, boils and other skin eruptions, and skin infections.

I offer fenugreek leavesfenugreek seed and fenugreek seed 550mg capsules in my online shop.

If you grow your own fenugreek, it’s important that it is grown organically, so as to eliminate possible corruption of its properties by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic fenugreek visit the Gardenzone.

Guelder Rose health benefits: anti-spasmodic and nerve tonic

Guelder rose is usually grown as an ornamental

Guelder rose is usually grown as an ornamental

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, is a large and attractive shrub/small tree, a native of the Netherlands, usually grown as an ornamental. The standard variety reaches a height and spread of 15 feet (5m), but there is a more compact form, var. ‘Compactum’, of around 6′ (2m) maximum. Other names by which it is known include water elder, European cranberry, cramp bark and snowball bush (this last refers to the variety ‘Sterile’, which has white flowers in round clusters like lollipops – or snowballs). It is not related to the rose or the cranberry, and although in the same family as the uva ursi (aka upland cranberry) and elder, is not closely related, nor is it related to ground elder.

The common names for the Guelder rose give more information than is often the case: water elder refers to the fact that this plant requires wet, or at least moist soil; European cranberry indicates that the fruit is sometimes used as a substitute for cranberries in jellies and preserves; and cramp bark is an almost perfect description of its properties, and the part used.

It’s worth pointing out that eating large quantities of the berries – or unripe berries – can cause diarrhea and vomiting. They are fine in the sort of amount usually used as relish with a meal, though.

If you have a wet patch in sun or semi-shade in your garden, you would go far to find a plant to put in it as ornamental as the Guelder rose. The attractive flowers in June and July are followed by bunches of berries which range in color (depending on variety) from translucent red to darker red or rich yellow. They don’t smell too good, so birds avoid them, which means they generally remain throughout the winter. In autumn, the leaves turn a beautiful mixture of shades of red. All in all, if you have the necessary conditions, this is a plant worthy of a place in any garden.

There’s really only one fly in the ointment – the broad bean aphid (a nasty little beast), which uses this plant as an alternative host when beans are not available. This is fine if you don’t grow broad beans (fava beans) – but if your neighbors do, they might be less than pleased (if they’re aware of the fact – I won’t tell them if you don’t!).

Medicinally, the bark is the main part used. This is collected in the early fall, before the leaves turn color, or in spring before the leaves unfurl. Remember, the bark is a vital part of any shrub/tree. Don’t take the bark off all the way round the trunk or any branch you want to keep, as it will stop the plant’s circulation, and the branch will die (or the whole plant, if you did this to the main trunk). However, though you should not do this, Guelder rose will often survive being chopped right down to ground level, and come back the following year, so you may be lucky and still end up with a (smaller) Guelder rose bush next year.

Cut the collected bark into small pieces and lay out in a single layer somewhere warm and dry until it has dried completely, then store in a jar for later use. It will keep for up to 4 years.

To make a decoction put 2 teaspoonfuls of crushed bark into a small pan with 250 ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn down, simmer for 10-15 minutes and strain. Drink hot up to 3 times a day to treat any pain caused by cramps or muscle spasms, as well as uterine cramps (painful periods* or after childbirth), as a birthing aid, for sciatica and other “trapped nerve” injuries. It is also beneficial as a nerve tonic. Unlike anti-spasmodic drugs available from your doctor, there are no side effects – you should still be able to drive while you are using it.

*Guelder rose is often used with dill to treat painful periods.

All plants used for medicinal purposes should be grown organically, as otherwise their properties may be reduced or entirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Nettles health benefits: for arthritis, eczema and heavy periods

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Nettles are very good for wildlife

Nettles are very good for wildlife

Unless you’ve led an extraordinarily sheltered life, I would say that you will probably have little difficulty in recognising the common or stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, though you might mistake the unrelated white deadnettle for it – but not when you see them side by side.

Nettles are one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Organic gardeners may have patches of nettles dotted around because of the benefits to wildlife, and possibly also as a companion plant for soft fruit. However, nettles can be invasive, spreading mainly by underground rhizomes, although there is also some seedling growth which can be removed by hoeing.

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

Though it might seem like an urban myth, young nettle tops really do make a good substitute for spinach, though you need to be quite skilful to gather enough without getting stung! Older nettles are no longer suitable for eating, because they contain cystoliths which cause irritation of the kidneys.

An infusion is made from 3 handfuls of fresh nettles to 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of boiling water, allowed to stand for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before use. This can be used at a dosage of between 150-225ml (two-thirds to 1 US cup) a day as a treatment for heavy periods, arthritis, rheumatism and haemorrhoids. It can also be used externally as a rub for neuralgia, sciatica and arthritis, and to treat eczema and dandruff.

Being beaten with nettles is an old remedy for rheumatism and similar conditions.

A decoction can be made by putting 15g (half an ounce) of dried or 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root into a pan containing 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of water, bringing to a boil, then lowering to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. This is used to treat an enlarged prostate gland at a dosage of 225ml (1 US cup) a day.

I offer various nettle products in my online shop.

As I’ve made plain throughout this blog, herbs grown for use as herbal remedies should be grown organically, to avoid the active ingredients being altered or drowned out by foreign chemicals. Although nettles are probably fairly easy to find in the wild, it’s difficult to be certain that they haven’t been sprayed with something or other by some well-meaning person (unless it is truly a wilderness area), so despite the fact that you may not really want nettles growing in your garden, it is best to have them there somewhere – perhaps behind the shed – where you can keep your eye on them, if you wish to use them for herbal medicine. There are other valuable uses for nettles in the organic garden.

To find out more about nettles in the organic garden visit the Gardenzone.