Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offer dried gotu kola in my online shop.

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


Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Do not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea during pregnancy, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


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.


Ginkgo health benefits: improves sperm production and treats alcohol addiction

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years

Ginkgo biloba, usually just called ginkgo but otherwise the maidenhair tree, is a living fossil dating back 270 million years. It is a large tree which can attain a height of 30 meters (almost 100′), and as it’s also dioecious (has male and female flowers on separate plants), it’s not something you can grow in your own garden if you need the seeds for medicinal use – unless you happen to own a large estate or perhaps if several neighbors also grow one, and are lucky (or possibly unlucky) enough to get a female.

The ginkgo tree is revered as a symbol of the sacred life force in China.

Another problem with ginkgo is that many people find the smell of the fruit offensive (descriptions of the smell range from rotten eggs to vomit), so male trees are often preferred. Obviously, if everyone grows males, there won’t be any fruit at all.

All is not lost, however, as many remedies are based on the leaves, rather than the seed.

Ginkgo is not related to the maidenhair fern, or indeed any other living plant.

Ginkgo used to grow in many more areas than it does now. Fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic have been found in England, for example. Ginkgo trees were the only trees which survived the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nowadays, though, ginkgo is only found growing wild in two places, both of which are in China.

It’s quite surprising that its habitat has been reduced so much, because it is an incredibly tolerant tree, accepting any soil, moist or dry, and not being noticeably put out by drought, atmospheric pollution, sea winds and temperatures as low as -35ºC. It won’t grow in full shade, but few trees will, if any. Harvest leaves in late summer or early fall before they change color and dry for later use.

Ginkgo is readily available as a remedy from health stores and also from Chinese herbalists where it is called Bai Guo.

Ginkgo is not suitable for anyone on blood thinners, such as coumarin or Warfarin. Anyone with a history of strong allergic reactions to poison ivy, mangoes and other plants which contain similar chemicals should also avoid using it. The raw seed is toxic if consumed in large quantities over a long period.

Parts used are leaves, fruit pulp oil maceration, raw seeds and cooked seeds.

The leaves are the part mostly studied and used in the West. Ginkgo leaf stimulates the circulation even in peripheral arteries and fine capillaries, which helps to reduce lethargy and give a feeling of well-being. They contain ginkgolides which inhibit allergic responses and are used to treat eg. asthma. They can be used to help ameliorate intermittent claudication. They are also used to treat glaucoma and help preserve vision in adult macular degeneration (ARMD/AMD). They have been shown to improve function in MS patients. Ginkgo also protects against free radicals and reduces the effect of platelet-activating factor (which affects blood clotting). A study in 2008 found that it is of no more value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease than placebo, and another study has found the same with regard to tinnitus, but a dosage of at least 240mg/day may support memory function.

To make an oil maceration of the fruit, pulp them and cover with oil, shaking every day for 100 days. The pulp can then be used to treat respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and TB.

The cooked seed can be used to treat tickly coughs, asthma, phlegmy coughs and urinary incontinence, as a sedative and to improve sperm production.

Raw seed is used to treat cancer and also addiction to alcohol. See note above about toxicity.

I offer ginkgo capsules and tincture in my online shop.

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.


Hops health benefits: sedative and traditional beer flavoring

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Hops, Humulus lupulus, are also called the common hop to distinguish the plant from the related but not very medicinally active Japanese hop (H. japonicus). It is the plant most often used as a base for beer until barley malt took over – but as it is gluten free, is suitable for celiacs, which beers based on barley are not. Hops are also often grown as an ornamental – particularly the golden hop, H. lupulus ‘Aureus’.

The term “hops” is properly used for the female fruits, but is also often used to refer to the plant itself.

The hop is a European native climber. The leaf is variable, depending on maturity. Pictures a-d inset on the main photo show different stages. It is a hardy perennial, not fussy about soil type, dry or moist soil, and even surviving drought, growing well in any situation so long as it is not in full shade.

Hop flowers

Hop flowers

Hops are not self-fertile because you need both male and female plants to produce fruit (sometimes called flower cones), which appear on the female plants. Male flowers are inset as e in the main picture, with cones at f. Do not confuse the fruits with the flowers, illustrated on the left, which are different on male and female plants. It is the fruits which are used in making beer.

A note of caution: Up to 3% of people may be sensitive to hops, resulting in red or purple eruptions on hands, face and even legs. If you experience this problem, it’s best to use other remedies. Whether or not you suffer from dermatitis from handling hops, if hairs from the plant get in your eyes, you are likely to experience irritation.

Hops are easily propagated from seed sown in spring and potted on until they are large enough to plant out in summer. Provide support, as this is a climbing plant which can reach a height of 20 feet (6m). You will need to grow both male and female plants, as the fruits are the main part used in herbal medicine, and these will not be produced if you only grow plants of a single sex. You can also divide established plants or take basal cuttings in spring, planting out immediately into their final position.

Besides their use in brewing, hops can also be used for other purposes in the kitchen: young leaves in salad, shoots, young leaves and rhizomes (underground stems) can be cooked, and the leaves used for tea. Extracts from the plant are used commercially for flavoring non-alcoholic beverages, candy and dessert foods of various types. The seeds are a source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

Hops are useful medicinally in those who are not sensitive to them (see note of caution above). Prolonged use is bad for you – so although you might already have considered having a couple of beers every day as a tonic, this is not an option from the health point of view.

Hop pillows (a small cushion stuffed with flowers) are often used as an anti-insomnia device. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of hops to your evening bath for the same purpose.

Hops have been used for many purposes, in particular as a sedative and digestive aid. The ability to improve digestion is a function which hops share with other bitter herbs. Female fruits can also be used as a tonic and to reduce fevers. The hairs on the fruits contain a substance which has been shown to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Make an infusion of the fruits using 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried fruits to 120ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) of boiling water. This can be taken hot or cold.

A poultice made from fruits can be used to treat to treat boils and other skin eruptions, and is also said to relieve the pain of external tumors. To make a poultice, make a paste of the fruits mixed with hot water, wrap in a bandage and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in hot water as required.

A standard infusion of leaves, shoots and female flowers can be used for anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and premature ejaculation, or externally as a wash for external ulcers and skin conditions such as eczema, herpes and skin infections. Make this with 30g (an ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh mixture as described to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining for use.

As with all plants used for herbal medicine, hops should be grown organically to avoid corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic hops visit the Gardenzone.


Roselle (Hibiscus) health benefits: thins blood and lowers blood pressure

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

Roselle or Jamaican sorrel

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa sabdariffa, is known by a huge number of names including: asam paya, asam susur, bissap, chin baung, dah bleni, flor de Jamaica, gongura, Guinea sorrel, hibiscus, Jamaica sorrel, karkadé, luo shen hua,  meshta, omutete, rosel(l)a, saril, sorrel (which is also used for a completely unrelated herb, Rumex acetosa), sour-sour, tengamura, wild hibiscus, wonjo and zobo. As you might expect from the number of common names, it is a very useful herb, not just for remedies, but also for food, and as a source of fiber (called rosella hemp). The type usually grown for fiber is H. s. altissima.

Roselle is a native of the tropics and grows best outdoors in subtropical and tropical areas, reaching a height and spread of 10’x6′ (3m x 2m). In cooler parts it can be grown as a greenhouse plant, but if grown as a perennial, the greenhouse will need to be kept warm (at least 12.5ºC) during the winter. It’s not suitable as a pot plant, because it has a long tap root.

Calyces, leaves and seeds are all used for food in its native area.

The flower calyx† is a part often used in remedies, but roselle will not flower when the day length is longer than 13 hours. It can be propagated easily either by semi-ripe cuttings taken in July or August or from seed sown in heat in early spring and planted out (in a greenhouse border or under cloches outdoors in cooler climates) in early summer at a spacing of 2’x3′ (60x90cm). Protection can be removed once the plants are well established.

Illustration showing calyx

The calyx of a flower (see left) is the part which encloses the flower bud before it opens. Usually cup shaped, it becomes the outer part of the flower when it opens – you might call it the bottom, back or outside of the flower. It is made up of sepals which are usually green, but roselle calyxes may also be red (the type generally used in medicine and for food) or yellow. The plural is calyces or calyxes.

Roselle should not be used by anybody with thinning of the blood, or anybody who is on blood thinning medication.

Every part of roselle has medicinal uses. Leaves, fruit and ripe calyxes† are rich in vitamin C and can be used to combat scurvy (the deficiency disease caused by lack of vitamin C). Leaves are used to make a soothing cough mixture, as a diuretic, sedative and as a treatment to lower abnormal temperature. Leaves and flowers together are used to treat digestive and kidney disorders, to thin the blood and lower blood pressure, and to stimulate intestinal peristalsis. The ripe calyxes are used as a diuretic and as a treatment for headache, giddiness and vomiting associated with digestive disturbance (commonly called a bilious attack). The seeds are used as a tonic to treat lack of energy, and also as a diuretic and laxative. The root is used to increase appetite and as a tonic.

To use leaves or leaves and flowers, you would make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried material or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for at least 15 minutes, and up to 4 hours, then strain.

Calyxes are used as a decoction prepared by boiling 30g (1 ounce) of dried calyxes in 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of water until the water goes red. Strain out the calyxes and discard. You will definitely need to sweeten the result, as it will be very sharp. It’s often used as a tea, mixed with other ingredients such as lemongrass, chamomile, orange peel and licorice root (these are the ingredients recommended by Jim Long, to make a tea called Red Zinger).

To use seeds or roots, crush or chop, add 30g (1 ounce) to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a small pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain out and discard the material.

In all cases, the dosage is 1 cup a day, which can be split into 3 doses.

As with all plants grown for use in home remedies, roselle should be grown organically to ensure that its effective constituents are retained. To find out more about growing organic rosella visit the Gardenzone.


Marijuana (Hemp) health benefits: a panacea, but often prohibited

Cultivation, possession or use of Marijuana is currently prohibited in most Western countries

Cultivation, possession or use of Marijuana is currently prohibited in most Western countries

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Marijuana, Cannabis sativa and C indica, is also known by many other names including cannabis, dope, ganja, hemp (usually used for varieties with low THC content), pot, skunk (a particularly smelly and oil-rich variety), weed and so on. It’s likely that I could fill this post just with different names which have been used for the plant, as it unfortunately has suffered greatly from prohibition in many parts of the world, leading to hundreds if not thousands of different “code names” being invented to avoid attention from the authorities. It is not related to hemp agrimony.

Marijuana is sacred to Rastafari.

Update: I’m pleased to report that the prohibition wall is showing signs of crumbling. Already quasi-legal in the Netherlands and parts of Denmark, it has now been legalised in the US States of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington and the US cities of Maine, Portland and South Portland for recreational purposes, and 25 US states have legalised medical use, with others looking to “go legal” in the near future. Possession for medicinal use has been decriminalised in an enormous number of places around the world including parts of Europe, sometimes with a limit on quantity. In Australia it has been decriminalised for personal use in the Northern Territory, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory and is legal for medicinal purposes in Victoria and New South Wales. Some states in India, including West Bengal, Gujarat, Bihar, Orissa and the North East tolerate it, although the country as a whole deems it illegal. Portugal legalised some time ago, and some parts of South America have either legalised or ceased enforcement. If you want to check the country you’re in, or the one you’re visiting, go see this article in Wikipedia. This whole thing is in flux, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the good old USA decided to throw in the towel completely in the next few years. Once more than half the states have legalised, it all begins to seem pointless (even to the diehard anti-having-fun crew).

It seems to be the case that all places that legalise and tax never turn back; the savings in unnecessary law enforcement and the increase in tax income just speak for themselves, particularly in places where Mammon is the god of the ruling classes (pretty much everywhere nowadays).

An interesting historical note: George Washington wrote about cultivating the females separately – was he maximising the resin content? And if so, why?

Marijuana is a large hardy annual which is native to Asia and Europe. It reaches a height of at least 3 feet tall, up to 15 feet in Nepal, and has male and female plants, both of which are required if seeds are to be produced. There are several varieties, some of which are low in resin and grown mainly for the fibers which the males produce, and others which have been bred for females high in resin for recreational use. As it is the resinous extract which contains the medicinally active constituents, this is the type preferred for use in remedies.

Marijuana grows wild naturally in most parts of the world, including the UK, although most wild plants have been eliminated in the parts of the West where it is prohibited – though there’s an underground guerrilla movement which actively encourages or even propagates wild plants as well. Occasionally, otherwise law-abiding citizens have been caught out by a wild plant seeding itself (perhaps with the help of some local joker) in their garden, unrecognized until the local police call round with an arrest warrant.

In case you are in that group of people who cannot recognize marijuana by sight and smell, check the picture shown here, which shows a young plant, before the flowers which enable distinction between the male and female forms have appeared. Rub the leaves and sniff the distinctive aroma, which should be easy to recall, even if you’ve only smelt it at outdoor music events. If you discover that you are unwittingly growing a plant which may not be cultivated in your country, or not without a licence which you don’t have, then the best thing to do is to uproot it and put it on the compost heap. Until it flowers, the resin which contains most of the medicinal value of the plant is in very short supply, so it’s not worth keeping unless you can allow it to reach this stage.

Although it’s been grown indoors by many users over the years to avoid detection, marijuana is definitely an outdoor plant, although new strains developed by hybridization in the Netherlands are frequently grown hydroponically, an expensive and difficult process, though much faster than natural methods. If you live in an area where marijuana is outlawed, my advice is not to grow it. Should you wish to use it medicinally, it’s almost ridiculously easy to obtain supplies despite all the efforts of the authorities, and a lot less risky. Most states come down far more heavily on growers than on people caught with “a bit of personal,” especially if it is for medicinal use.

Marijuana is sold in several different forms. You will probably not be offered cannabis oil; the most likely types you will find on sale are the dried flowering tops (called “green”, “grass” or “bush”) or resin (“hash” or “solids”). Because the plant is mostly sold illegally, it is also sometimes offered in opiated form (Thai sticks, temple balls), which is not what you want for medicine, and is in any case much more expensive because of its relative rarity. You might also be offered something called Spice, which is a synthetic drug which has similar effects recreationally to cannabis, but is not suitable for medicinal purposes. Go for bush if you can get it, or resin otherwise. According to http://www.safeaccessnow.net the average dose is 8g medical marijuana (“cured, mature female flowers of high-potency strains of cannabis”) per day. This works out to 2 ounces a week, which seems a bit high to me.

It’s difficult to give instructions on how to make a standard infusion, as due to its underground status it is very variable in strength. However, it seems that the majority of grass offered nowadays (if the UK Government is correct) is skunk or “superskunk”, an extremely potent variety. It’s easy to recognize, as it has an almost overpowering aroma even when wrapped in several layers of material. If this is what you have, you need only use a teaspoonful to a US cup (240ml, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allowing it to stand for a minimum of 15 minutes, before straining for use. If the potency of the herb doesn’t leap out and grab you by the nostrils, increase the quantity used. Sweeten with honey if you don’t like the taste. The dose would be 1-3 cups a day, less on work days. Don’t drive while you’re using it. It’s much too easy to get distracted, which can be dangerous when you’re at the controls of a very large metal box on wheels.

Hash is more difficult to use, and is probably best ground up and added to food in small, measured quantities. Be very sparing with this until you are familiar with the correct quantities (again, different batches are likely to be of different strengths; in general the stronger types are stickier). The effects will take some time to occur, but will last for quite a while.

Marijuana has so many uses it reads like a whole cupboard full of remedies. The most important of these, however are as a treatment for anorexia nervosa, a treatment helpful to multiple sclerosis patients both to relax spasms in muscles and to relieve a constant unproductive urge to urinate, and as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients. It’s also used to treat glaucoma, as a tonic which combats nausea in chemotherapy patients and helps them to remain positive and eat properly, and is extremely effective as a treatment for alcoholics who wish to give up the drink. It’s also antibacterial, expels parasites from the gut, reduces fevers, treats cancer, acts as a painkiller and has well known sedative and sleep-inducing effects. Before it was banned in 1951 (in the US) it was often used in tincture form as a cough medicine.

Hemp seeds have gained a reputation recently as a superfood.

I offer a wide range of hemp products in my online shop, all of which are THC-free, sadly.

A very comprehensive guide to growing marijuana can be found on Wikipedia. If you are going to grow it, organic is the best way, closely followed by hydroponics, either of which should avoid contamination of the active constituents. To find out more about growing organic marijuana, visit the Gardenzone.

Update:

The NIH has finally admitted that marijuana kills cancer cells. An interesting article explaining how it does this is here.

As marijuana progresses slowly towards full global legalisation, there are many myths promoted by the anti-marijuana lobby. 8 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Marijuana’s Key Medical Ingredient.

Interesting article: Cannabis Use During Pregnancy: Is It Safe? tl;dr: probably. Vape rather than smoke.


Sweet Flag health benefits: for anorexia, pain and to stop smoking

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag, Acorus calamus, is also known by many other names, including calamus, calamus root, flag root, muskrat root, myrtle flag, rat root, sweet calomel, sweet rush and sweet sedge. It is found growing all over the world, though it is believed to have originated in Asia. It is not related to the blue flag, bog myrtle, common myrtle, lemon myrtle or allspice (sometimes called myrtle pepper).

Sweet flag is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of 1m (3 feet). It grows in wet soil or in water. Type of soil is not important, but the plant will not grow in full shade. It can be propagated from seed, which should be surface sown onto moist or wet soil as soon as the seeds are available and not allowed to dry out. Once plants are big enough to handle they can be moved to a sheltered area, but must be kept moist or wet at all times until they are transplanted to their final position, on the edge or in the margins of a pond, where the soil is always moist or even flooded.

The American poet Walt Whitman wrote 39 poems about the sweet flag, known as the Calamus poems, in his book Leaves of Grass, and it was also a favorite of the naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

Sweet flag is the favorite food of the American musk rat and perhaps because of this, as well as its use in medicine, native Americans planted it everywhere they went. It’s now found across North America in water close to former native American settlements, camping areas and trails.

Blue flag is unrelated to sweet flag, and POISONOUSTake care not to confuse this plant with the poisonous blue flag, left (sometimes called poison flag), a species of Iris which grows in the same habitat. If either plant is in flower, this is easy to achieve, but otherwise you can tell them apart by fragrance. Sweet flag has a pleasant, sweet fragrance, whereas blue flag does not. If there is any doubt, it is wise not to harvest the plant, as an error may prove fatal. However, if you are able to grow sweet flag, this difficulty can be avoided (so long as you don’t also grow its poisonous namesake).

Acorus calamus and derivatives, as well as products containing them, were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1968 for use in food or food supplements offered for sale. The reason given relates to tests done on rats fed with large quantities of an extract (beta-asarone) of the tetraploid form of the plant (found in East Asia, India and Japan), which is not found in the diploid and triploid forms which grow in Europe and North America (even though beta-asarone is not found in European and North American plants). For this reason, the essential oil (which is a highly concentrated extract) is not recommended for medicinal use, because it may be dangerous. It’s possible that the real reason for this ban is the plant’s hallucinogenic properties. The 60s were a time when natural hallucinogens were popular for recreational purposes, much to the annoyance of Western governments.

There is no regulation prohibiting personal use of sweet flag in the US. There may be regulations in other countries, so it is best to check the law in the country where you live.

The part used in herbal medicine is the rhizome (an underground stem, often mistakenly called a root), which should be harvested in late fall or early spring when plants are no more than 3 years old and used immediately or dried for later use. Other parts may be used in the kitchen – the leaves to flavor custard (by immersion in the milk while it is heating, removed before serving), young leaves can be cooked, and the peeled stems used uncooked in salad. Young flowers are sweet, and can also be eaten uncooked.

Don’t store dried roots for more than a few months, as they deteriorate quickly.

Sweet flag is an amazingly versatile addition to the herbal medicine cabinet. However, it is definitely not suitable for use during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage.

Historically, sweet flag has been used all over the world for many different purposes. It was listed in the US National Formulary for medicinal use on humans until 1950. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. In Ayurvedic medicine it is valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system, and as a remedy for digestive disorders. The Dakotas used it to treat diabetes.

If you’ve never used sweet flag before, start with a low dose. If this does not work, increase the dose but don’t overdo it. Taking too large a dose can cause nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. Do not use sweet flag for a long period. Alternate with other remedies for longstanding conditions.

The most common way of using sweet flag is by chewing it; a normal dose is about 5cm (2 inches). Normally, you chew it without swallowing until you feel you’ve had enough (this may sound a bit hit and miss, but isn’t unusual with folk remedies, which are generally milder than the chemicals used in conventional medicine). Try not to swallow the chewed root, as it may cause a stomach upset. Dispose of the chewed root in the trash.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 tsp of dried rhizome to 120ml (half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water, leaving it to steep for 5 minutes before straining for use. A decoction can be made by adding 1 tbsp of dried rhizome to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water, bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then strain. The dosage for the standard infusion or decoction is up to 240ml/1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Another way to use it is as a herbal bath: add 450gm (1lb) of dried rhizome to 5 litres (5 US quarts, 1 UK gallon) of cold water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat, steep for 5 minutes, strain off the herb and throw away, then add the liquid to the bath water. Check that the bath water has not been made too hot by the addition of such a large quantity of very hot water before getting in!

There are so many uses, I’ve split them up as follows:

Anodyne:
soothes and relieves pain (mainly toothache, sore gums and sore throat).
Anti-smoking:
chew the rhizome to kill the taste for tobacco (may induce nausea)
Aphrodisiac:
Arabic, Ancient Roman and traditional European herbals recommend it as an aphrodisiac which increases sexual desire. The traditional treatment for this purpose is a herbal bath.
Appetizer:
stimulates and restores the appetite, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
Aromatic:
stimulant and mild tonic, especially useful when you don’t feel you have enough energy to finish a job which must be completed before you can rest.
Carminative:
expels excessive gas (and reduces its production) and relaxes the bowel, useful for digestive problems such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), bloating and colic.
Diaphoretic:
promotes perspiration.
Emmenagogue:
promotes menstruation.
Expectorant:
promotes flow of mucus from respiratory passages and makes tickly coughs productive. Also relieves sinusitis by acting on the mucous membranes.
Febrifuge:
reduces or eliminates fevers.
Hypotensive:
lowers blood pressure.
Odontalgic:
treats toothache and other tooth and gum problems, chewing the root alleviates toothache.
Stomachic:
remedy for digestive disorders; small doses reduce stomach acidity; larger doses increase stomach secretions. It also stimulates the salivary glands.
Sedative:
has a calming effect and can be used to treat panic and anxiety attacks, or for shock. Chew a piece of the rhizome and breathe slowly and deeply while doing so.
Tonic:
for brain and nervous system to manage neuralgia and epilepsy and treat memory loss.
Vermifuge:
destroys intestinal parasites.

It is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow sweet flag organically, and this is particularly the case for herbs which grow in water. If you have fish, then you will probably already be avoiding chemicals in the water, but in any case if you have trouble with algae, it’s important that you find an organic treatment, because chemicals will find their way into the plants and dilute or entirely eliminate the active constituents.To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Do not use the essential oil except under medical supervision and advice. As with all essential oils, sweet flag essential oil should also 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.

Lemon Verbena health benefits: for gas/wind, acid reflux and depression

Lemon verbena is a pretty, but tender shrub

Lemon verbena is a pretty, but tender shrub

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lemon verbena, Aloysia citrodora, is also known as lemon beebrush. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a favorite target for taxonomists, because over the years it has been renamed several times, so it’s possible that you may find it labeled with any of the following latin names instead: Aloysia triphylla, Lippia citrodora, Lippia triphylla, Verbena triphylla and Zappania citrodora.

Also confusing is the fact that, although the common name is “lemon verbena” it is not a verbena from the scientific point of view. So it is not related to two plants which are: vervain (aka common verbena) and blue vervain (aka swamp verbena).

Lemon verbena is a tender shrub, reaching a height of 9 feet (3m) when full grown. In countries like the UK, where winters include a strong possibility of frost and snow, it is best grown in a large container, so that it can be put in a cool greenhouse or conservatory before frost occurs. The plant repels midges and other insects, and the essential oil can be used in dilute form (no more than 2% lemon verbena oil to the mixture) as an insecticide.

Lemon verbena is not fussy as to soil type or acidity, is happy with either dry or moist soil, so long as it is well drained, and will grow in full sun or partial shade. As already stated, it should be brought indoors or otherwise protected from frost, though there are surviving plants as far north as Northumberland in the UK, in a coastal garden. If you wish to try it outdoors, a position at the foot of a South facing wall will help a great deal, and a good mulch in the Fall will provide extra protection for the roots.

Lemon verbena leaves can be used in the salad bowl and for tea (it’s a common ingredient in commercially produced herbal tea blends). Dried leaves will keep their aroma for many years, and are therefore often used for pot pourri.

Medicinally, it’s surprising that lemon verbena is not used as often as might be expected. However, please note that prolonged use or large doses should be avoided, as this can cause gastric irritation.

Make a standard infusion from leaves or leaves and flowering tops, using 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 500 ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 3-4 hours, then strain before use.

Use a standard infusion internally for heavy colds, as a mild natural sedative, and to treat digestive disorders such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and acid reflux, to lift the spirits and fight depression.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, lemon verbena should be grown organically so that its active constituents are not adulterated or eliminated entirely by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic lemon verbena visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil is both a bactericide and an insecticide: used for acne, boils and cysts, and for nerve problems. Also used in dilute form (no more than 2% lemon verbena oil) as an insecticide.

I offer lemon verbena essential oil in my online shop.

As with all essential oils, lemon verbena 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.