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.