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Scots Pine health benefits: for respiratory conditions

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Scots pine can reach 30 metres in height

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris syn. P. rubra, is a tall tree which is unsuitable for all but the largest garden, reaching a height and spread of 30mx10m (82ft x 32ft). Despite its name, it is native across Europe and Eastern Asia from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and parts of the old USSR to Turkey, and from France and Spain to Finland. Even so, the only name by which it is known in English is Scots pine (sometimes “Scotch” pine, but we won’t say any more about that).

Scots pine grows best in cool areas on light to medium well drained soil. It grows well on poor soil and is not fussy about pH, growing happily in both very acid and very alkaline soil, but it does not like calcareous (chalky or limey) soils.

Various medicinal products made from Scots pine are available to buy which is generally a good thing as, due to the height of the tree, collection by non-professionals is not recommended. Needles, pollen and young shoots are collected in Spring and dried for medicinal use. Seeds are collected when ripe. The resin is extracted either by tapping or by distillation of the wood and further processed to produce turpentine.

Scots pine should not be used by anyone with a history of allergic skin reactions.

Pine pollen is sold as a men’s tonic, as it contains some testosterone, but this is only present in very small quantities and is unlikely to have anything more than a placebo effect. The turpentine is used in remedies for kidney and bladder disorders, and for respiratory complaints. Externally it is used as an inhaler for respiratory disorders. Shoots and needles can be added to bath water to help with insomnia and nervous exhaustion. Remedies made from them are used for chest infections. A decoction of seeds is used as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

Aromatherapy
As with remedies, Scots pine essential oils should not be used by anyone prone to allergic skin conditions. Never use Scots pine internally except under professional supervision.

Two types of essential oil are available: from the seeds and from the needles. Both require dilution at a rate of 10 drops essential oil to 1 ounce (30ml) carrier oil. Essential oil from seeds is used as a diuretic and to stimulate respiration. Essential oil from needles is used for respiratory infections, asthma, bronchitis and also for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer Scots pine essential oil from needles in my online shop.

There is also a pine Bach Flower Remedy used for feelings of guilt and self-blame.

As stated, I don’t advise growing Scots pine in the average garden, or doing your own collection unless you’re a skilled climber with all the appropriate kit. Scots pine does not generally need much looking after, and doesn’t need to be given chemical fertiliser. In particular, organic growing methods are essential if you’re collecting for medicinal use, to avoid adulteration with noxious chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Rose health benefits: many types, many uses, but all are beautiful

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

The sweet briar is an old rose, but still popular. Inset: rose hip

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The rose which according to Shakespeare “by any other name would smell as sweet” comes in so very many types that it’s difficult to do it justice. Most of us just call any rose we come across “a rose”, and yet there are about 150 species, and that’s not taking into account the very many varieties and named cultivars.

What I’ve decided to do is just cover a selection. These are the Californian rose, the dog rose, the cabbage rose, the damask rose, the French rose, the Cherokee rose, the chestnut rose, the sweet briar and the Ramanas rose. Of these, the dog rose, sweet briar and Cherokee rose are most useful in the herbalist’s stores; the cabbage rose and the damask rose are the ones used in aromatherapy.

For information on alternative and scientific names, see the table below:

Latin name Common name Other names
Cabbage rose Rosa x centifolia syn. R. gallica centifolia. R. provincialis cabbage rose Burgundy rose, Holland rose, moss rose, pale rose, Provence rose
Californian rose Rosa californica Californian rose
Cherokee rose Rosa laevigata syn. R. cherokeensis Cherokee rose Chinese jin ying zi
Chestnut rose Rosa roxburghii syn. R. hirtula, R. microphylla chestnut rose chinquapin rose, sweet chestnut rose; Chinese ci li
Damask rose Rosa x damascena syn. R. gallica f. trigintipetala damask rose four seasons rose, Portland rose, York and Lancaster rose
Dog rose Rosa canina syn. R. bakeri, R. lutetiana, R. montivaga dog rose common briar
French rose Rosa gallica syn. R. provincialis French rose apothecary rose, Hungarian rose, officinal rose, Provins rose, red rose of Lancaster
Ramanas rose Rosa rugosa Ramanas rose hedgehog rose, Japanese rose, rugosa rose, tomato rose, Turkestan rose; Chinese mei gui
Sweet briar Rosa rubiginosa syn. R. eglanteria sweet briar Eglantine rose

Roses are not related to rose root, rose geranium, Guelder rose or hollyhock (also called althaea rose).

All roses with single or semi-double flowers produce rose hips (see picture inset into main picture), which vary in size and color, but are otherwise pretty similar from one type to another. These have been used for many years as a food source and also to produce rosehip syrup. Rose hips are rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C and E, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids. Rose hips are currently being studied to see if they are effective as an anti-cancer food.

Take care if you decide to harvest your own rose hips: there are hairs inside which can cause serious irritation, not just to your mouth, but your entire digestive tract. You need to use a very fine filter to remove these when extracting the juice.

Cabbage rose (Rosa x centifolia)
This is a hybrid and is only found in cultivated form. Numerous cultivars are found throughout the world. On the alternative medicine front, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

The powdered root is astringent and can be used to stop bleeding. A standard infusion of petals is used as a gentle laxative. Follow this link for information on rose in aromatherapy.

I offer dried Rosa centifolia petals in my online shop.

Californian rose (Rosa californica)
As you might expect, this rose is native to California, but is also found in Oregon and northern Mexico (Baja Norte). Its very restricted range has made it a candidate for conservation status in the US. Do not collect from the wild.

Use a standard infusion of flowers to treat pain and fever in infants. An infusion of seeds can be used to treat stomach disorders. A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) is used internally for colds, fevers, indigestion, kidney disorders, rheumatism and sore throats or externally as a wash on sores and old wounds.

Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata)
The range of this plant is restricted to China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which makes the name a little strange. However, an explanation is found in Wikipedia. Apparently, it was introduced to the southern United States in the late eighteenth century, where it gained its English name. “The flower is forever linked to the Trail of Tears and its petals represent the women’s tears shed during the period of great hardship and grief throughout the historical trek from the Cherokees’ home to U.S. forts such as Gilmer among others. The flower has a gold center, symbolizing the gold taken from the Cherokee tribe.” It’s also the state flower of Georgia, USA. In China, it is called jin ying zi.

A standard infusion of leaves is used for wounds. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat dysentery and as a hair restorative. A decoction of dried fruits (see note above about filtering) is used internally in the treatment of chronic diarrhea, infertility, seminal emissions, uncontrolled urination (urorrhea), urinary disfunction and vaginal discharge (leukorrhea). A root decoction is used to treat prolapsed uterus. A decoction of root bark can be used for diarrhea and excessively heavy periods (menorrhagia).

Chestnut rose (Rosa roxburghii)
Another attractive rose native to China and Japan.The plant is rich in tannins and is used as an astringent. In China (where it is called ci li) the hips are used to treat indigestion (see note above about filtering).

Damask rose (Rosa x damascena)
Like the cabbage rose, this is a hybrid found only in cultivated form. Again, it’s more often used in aromatherapy than herbalism, but can be used as a remedy.

Make a standard infusion of petals for use internally to treat diarrhea or externally as an astringent. A preserve of petals can be used as a tonic and for weight gain. Follow this link for information on rose essential oil.

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

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Native to Europe, including Britain, north Africa and southwest Asia, but found in Australia, New Zealand and the USA by naturalization.

A decoction of hips (see note above about filtering) can be used to treat colds, diarrhea, gastritis, influenza, minor infectious diseases and scurvy (as it is rich in vitamin C). Commercial rose water made from the plant is used as a gently astringent lotion for delicate skin. The plant is also used in Bach flower remedies.

I offer various Rosa canina products in my online shop.

French rose (Rosa gallica)
Native to Europe, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

A standard infusion of petals can be used internally to treat bronchial infections, colds, depression, diarrhea, gastritis and lethargy or externally for eye infections, minor injuries, skin problems and sore throat.

Ramanas rose (Rosa rugosa)
Native to northern China, Japan and Korea but naturalized in Europe including Britain, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In China it is called mei gui.

A standard infusion of leaves can be used to treat fevers. A standard infusion of flowers is used to treat poor appetite, indigestion and menstrual complaints, to improve blood circulation, and as a spleen and liver tonic. A root decoction is used to treat coughs.

Sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa)
The wild form is native to Europe including Britain, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It’s also found naturalized in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and South America.

Make a standard infusion of dried rose petals to treat headaches and dizziness, add honey for use as a heart and nerve tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction of petals is used to treat mouth ulcers.

If you’re a regular reader you won’t be surprised when I tell you that, like all other plants grown for medicinal purposes, roses should be grown organically to ensure that the active constituents aren’t masked or changed by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing roses visit the Gardenzone.


False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False Unicorn Root health benefits: for women and to improve fertility in both sexes

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root grows in moist meadows, thickets and rich woods

False unicorn root, Chamaelirium luteum (syn. C. carolinianum, Helonias dioica, H. lutea, Melanthium dioicum and Veratrum luteum), is sometimes called just false unicorn; other names include blazing star, devil’s bit, fairy wand, helonias and starwort. It is called false unicorn root to distinguish it from another plant, the (true) unicorn root, which is in the same botanical family. It shares the names blazing star aqnd devil’s bit with another unrelated plant with mauve/purple flowers, Liatris spicata, the gay feather. False unicorn root is not related to chickweed (sometimes called starwort) or to the devil’s bit scabious.

To distinguish the false unicorn root from the true unicorn root, check the flowers. False unicorn root has tiny flowers tightly arranged in a spike as shown in the picture here. True unicorn root has much larger flowers, individually shaped a bit like bluebells but bright white, seemingly coated in flour, and placed some distance apart around the flower stem, sticking out horizontally.

False unicorn root is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 20 inches (50cm). A native of the Eastern US, it’s found growing in moist areas such as meadows and woodland where the soil is rich and full of humus. Because it requires moist acid soil, it can be difficult to grow. It can cope with very acid soil, so if you have this and are able to find or make a moist area in which to grow it, you should be successful so long as it is not in full shade. Dappled shade is fine.

This plant is dioecious, a technical term which means that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This does not matter unless you wish to produce seed for propagation. If you do, you will need to ensure that you grow both male and female plants. However, as germination can take up to 6 months, you may find it easier to propagate by division.

The part used in medicine is the root (or rhizome), which can be harvested in fall before the ground gets too hard and dried in the usual way, by chopping into small pieces, laying out in a single layer somewhere airy and out of the sun, and turning daily until ready to store in a dark colored airtight container.

Do not exceed the stated dose of this herb, because large amounts can damage the heart, Patients with any heart problems might be better off using other remedies. Not suitable for use during pregnancy,

To make a decoction, put 2 teaspoons of root in a pan with 250ml (1 cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes, then strain off the root and discard. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Traditional uses for false unicorn root are mainly related to what used to be called women’s problems: vaginal discharge, painful periods, to promote delayed menstruation, and to treat ovarian cysts and symptoms occurring at the menopause. In addition it can be used to expel internal parasites, as a prostate tonic, a general fertility enhancer in both sexes and a diuretic.

As with any herb grown for use medicinally, false unicorn root must be grown organically to ensure that its active constituents remain uncorrupted by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny Amaranth health benefits: best amaranth for hot sunny places

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth is a tropical native

Spiny amaranth, Amaranthus spinosus, is also known as prickly amaranth or thorny amaranth. In some areas where it has been introduced it is regarded as a noxious weed. If you live in one of those places, then choose the closely related Prince’s feather instead, as it looks better and is unlikely to cause problems with your neighbors!

It is a native of tropical America which grows well in hot, sunny positions with some shelter. Reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm) it is not fussy about soil type, but likes moist well drained areas best of all.

Spiny amaranth is edible, like most members of the genus, though it must be grown organically to prevent the build-up of nitrates which is typical of all of them. In addition, if you’re using it for food, it’s important to remove the spines first. See the entry for Prince’s feather for more information on toxicity.

Medicinally, spiny amaranth is used in the same ways as Prince’s feather: To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb.

Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

Remember to ensure that organic methods are used when growing this or any other medicinal plant, to avoid the properties being changed or completely removed by the presence of foreign chemicals. In the case of amaranths, this is particularly important, as heavily (chemically) fertilized soil contains large quantities of nitrates, which will be concentrated in the tissues of the plant if present, making them potentially dangerous to eat. For more information on growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

Prince’s Feather health benefits: attractive food plant and astringent

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

One of many edible, but only two medicinally useful Amaranths

Prince’s feather or Prince of Wales feather, Amaranthus hypochondriacus (syn. Amaranthus hybridus erythrostachys and A.h. hypondriachus) is also known as lady bleeding, lovely bleeding, Mercado grain amaranth, pilewort, red coxscomb, spleen amaranth and sometimes just amaranth – but many other members of this genus are sometimes referred to in this way, so it’s a remarkably useless designation if you’re looking for a herbal medicine (but anybody who reads this blog regularly will probably realize that I regard common names more as pitfalls than any indication of identity).

It shares the name Prince’s feather with a close relative, Amaranthus cruentus, which is not medicinally active. Another close relative is A. caudatus, more commonly known as love lies bleeding, also not useful medicinally. All three plants are used for the production of grain in many parts of the world including Mexico. In fact, virtually all members of this genus are edible, some more than others. and the plant we are discussing here is one of the most useful for food. The only other medicinally useful member is the spiny amaranth. The unrelated lesser celandine is also sometimes known as pilewort.

NB. Although all amaranths are edible, it’s also known that they tend to concentrate nitrates in their foliage. As yet there’s no proof that they are the culprit, but nitrates are implicated in various health problems in children and stomach cancer. This isn’t a problem in most areas where they are grown, as the ground tends to be poor and chemical fertilizers are too expensive to be used unless absolutely necessary. In the developed world, it’s important to grow amaranth organically if it’s intended to use it for food or medicine. Medicinally, organic growing is important in any case, but particularly for members of the Amaranth genus because of this tendency.

Prince’s feather is a half hardy annual which reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm). It is not fussy as to soil so long as it is moist but well drained and not in full shade. Propagation is by sowing seed into warm soil, either in late spring or earlier under cover, transplanting when all risk of frost has passed. It also takes well from cuttings. Harvest the main part of the crop in July as it comes into flower and dry for later use.

All parts of the plant are used in medicine for various purposes.

To make a standard infusion use 15g (a half ounce) of dried or 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves to 560ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining off and discarding the herb. Dosage is up to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) per day, taken cold. This is an astringent which can be used internally for diarrheainternal bleeding and menorrhagia (heavy periods). It’s also been used for snake bite, but my advice is to “get thee to a doctor post haste” in this situation! Externally, astringents are useful for wounds, nosebleeds and as a douche to treat vaginal discharge.

To make a poultice crush seeds lightly or roots more thoroughly and mix with water as hot as can be borne. Wrap in a piece of bandage and apply to the area to be affected, refreshing in the hot water when it cools. A seed poultice is used as a topical treatment for broken bones. For a herb to speed up healing of broken bones, see comfrey. A root poultice can be used to treat boils and similar eruptions.

In Nepal, the juice extracted from the roots is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, fever and urinary problems. It can also be used to treat indigestion and vomiting.

As I’ve already mentioned it’s vital to ensure that Prince’s feather is grown organically to avoid corruption of its properties by the presence of foreign chemicals and excessive nitrates. To find out more about growing organic Prince’s feather visit the Gardenzone.


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

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

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Alpine lady's mantle

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

The Alpine lady's mantle

The Alpine lady’s mantle

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spotted cranesbill has many other common names, which means it's probably been used in medicine for a very long time

Spotted Cranesbill health benefits: for thrush and BV

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spotted cranesbill has many other common names, which means it's probably been used in medicine for a very long time

Spotted cranesbill has many other common names, which means it’s probably been used in medicine for a very long time

The spotted cranesbill, Geranium maculatum, has a large number of common names, some of which may also be used for other plants: wild cranesbill (mainly in Europe), spotted cranebill (without the s), American cranesbill, crowfoot, spotted geranium, wild geranium, wood geranium, alum root, alum bloom and old maid’s nightcap. The (true) unicorn root is also sometimes called alumroot. There are probably others as well. It is closely related to herb robert (also sometimes called wild cranesbill) and more distantly to rose geranium, rose-scented geranium and apple geranium. It is not related to costmary (sometimes called mint geranium).

Spotted cranesbill is a native of the Eastern United States, where it’s found in swamps and woodland, and damp meadows. It requires moist soil and will not grow in the shade, but is otherwise not fussy as to position. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm) and a spread of 18 inches (45cm).

Both the leaves and roots are used in herbal medicine, and these should be gathered just when the plant comes into flower, as this is when the plant is most active medicinally. Dry leaves and roots separately in a single layer which should be left somewhere airy and out of the sun. Turn them over now and then for the next few days until they are completely dry, and then store in separate airtight containers, taking care to label them, so that you don’t forget what’s in there. Do not rely on your memory, as in 6 months’ time one dried leaf or root looks very much like another.

A decoction is made from 15g (a half ounce) of dried root added to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain. A standard infusion is made from 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 3-4 hours, then strain. The dosage is up to 2 cups a day.

Use a decoction for preference, or a standard infusion if this is not available to treat diarrhea (safe for all ages) and IBS, kidney problems, heavy periods, bronchitis and colds. Externally it may be used to treat vaginal discharge, thrush and hemorrhoids, and as a wash for septic wounds, etc. It is a styptic herb, that is, it has the ability to stop bleeding when applied directly to the wound, and an antiseptic.

As with all herbs required for medicinal use, spotted cranesbill should be grown organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Witch hazel health benefits: for bruises, itching and soreness

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, more properly the Virginian witch hazel, is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 16′ (5m). I’ve discovered some alternative names, many of which are confusing (stick to Latin to be sure you have the right plant): spotted alder, striped alder, hazel nut, snapping hazel, pistachio, tobacco wood, winterbloom. It is not related to the alder, the hazel, the true pistachio or tobacco!

Witch hazel has unusual flowers in Fall, which place it and other members (and former members) of its genus in a family all of their own, Hamamelidaceae. Twigs and branches can be harvested in Spring, and the leaves in Summer to use fresh or dried for use later in the year.

When I was a child, mothers and dinner ladies (who doubled up as playground supervisors) kept a bottle of witch hazel in the cupboard to put on bruises. If we fell down or banged our heads, we would run to mum (or the dinner lady if we were at school), and they would soothe us, then get out the bottle and put some of the sweet smelling liquid on a piece of cotton wool, which they dabbed on the bruise. I have no idea how useful this was, but it made us feel better, and the smell was gorgeous. At the very least, I guess the smell was enough to alert teachers to the need to watch out for any symptoms of concussion. Because fragrance is one of the best triggers to memory — if you have similar memories, they are likely to come flooding back every time you pass close to a witch hazel in bloom.

Witch hazel is not fussy as to soil type, preferring well drained, moist soil and a position in full sun or semi-shade. The part mainly used in medicine is the bark. If you are going to harvest bark from your own shrub, bear these things in mind:

– bark is part of the circulatory system of the plant, so it’s important never to take bark all the way round (called ringing), or you will kill every part of the plant beyond that point;
– for the same reason, don’t take more than 20% of the bark from the main stem, and allow at least a year for this to heal before taking any more;
– bark can be taken from prunings by splitting them in half and removing the central part, or for larger branches, using a sharp knife to pare it away;
– twigs too small to be treated in this way can be dried whole;
– dry bark and twigs by laying them out in a single layer somewhere that is dry and preferably with a through draft. Turn it over now and then until it is crisp and dry, then store in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark.

As already mentioned, you can buy bottles of “witch hazel water” in drugstores, which is made by distillation of bark and twigs, and is lacking the tannins which are the most active components of remedial witch hazel. However, witch hazel water on cotton wool or similar can be used as a soothing wipe for the vaginal area, in particular during pregnancy.

Witch hazel is one of the ingredients of gripe water, from which you can take it that it is safe for children, and even infants. Although I can find no contra-indications in pregnancy, I would advise only using it externally during this time.

A decoction is made from 1 teaspoon of dried bark or twigs to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, turn right down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain and cool. Take 1 mouthful at a time, up to 1 cup a day.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 teaspoon of dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, leaving it to infuse for 10-15 minutes before straining. This can be used at a dose of 1 cup up to 3 times a day.

The decoction is used to treat colitis, diarrhea, hemorrhoids (piles), excessive menstruation, internal bleeding, vaginal discharge and prolapse. It can also be used externally to treat bruises, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, insect bites and stings, sore nipples, irritable skin, minor burns and poison ivy, as a gargle for sore throat and a douche for vaginitis. An infusion can also be used in the same ways, if the decoction is not available.

Witch hazel liquid, available in health stores and pharmacies, is used for irritated skin from a multitude of causes, including acne, bruises, cuts and grazes, eczema, infections, insect bites, piles/hemorrhoids, shaver burn, sprains, sunburn and ingrown toenails.

I offer several witch hazel products in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, organic growing methods are essential to prevent adulteration of the active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic witch hazel visit the Gardenzone.


Great burnet is a member of the Rose family

Great Burnet health benefits: for burns and discharges

Great burnet is a member of the Rose family

Great burnet is a member of the Rose family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis (sometimes labeled Poterium officinale), is also known as Italian burnet or Italian pimpernel, or sometimes just burnet. It’s closely related to the salad burnet, and both are members of the Rose family, which is quite obvious when you look at the leaves of this plant. Great burnet is generally found growing in damp meadows and peat bogs, but it will grow almost anywhere not in the shade, even very alkaline soil.

Great burnet is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of about 3 feet (1m). The whole plant is used medicinally, but especially the root, which is dug up in the fall.

An ointment made from crushed fresh root mixed with petroleum jelly is an effective treatment for eczema. A standard infusion can be made from 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves to 570ml (2½ US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water and allowed to stand for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before straining for use. This can be used as a treatment for feverish conditions, as an astringent, and also as a lotion for burns. The dose is 75ml (a third of a cup) up to 3 times a day.

The same infusion, or a decoction made by simmering 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or half that quantity of dried root in 570ml (2½ US cups, 1 UK pint) of water until the liquid is reduced by half, can be used to treat all conditions relating to discharges, eg. diarrhea, heavy periods, peptic ulcers and so on.  The dose is one cupful a day.

As regular readers will be tired of hearing, all herbs grown for medicinal use should be grown organically to avoid their properties being reduced or completely destroyed by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.