Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
     
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
     
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
     
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
     
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe for pregnant women and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food

Teasel health benefits: for congested liver and jaundice

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food

Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food

The teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, is also known as fuller’s teasel or Venuscup teasle. It’s not a plant one would normally associate with herbal medicine, but is surprisingly useful. It is not related to thoroughwort (also sometimes called teasel).

Normally, you would expect to see teasel used as an ornamental and everlasting. Not only beautiful, but great winter bird food and attractive to butterflies, teasel is a hardy biennial – which means that most of the time, it’ll be 2 years from sowing before you get those statuesque seed heads. If you want them every year, you’ll need to sow 2 years in a row, and hope that the birds carry the work on for you from then on.

Teasel reaches a height of 2m (6′) and a spread of 80cm (28″). It prefers full sun and deep rich moist soil, preferably clay. May become invasive in open ground. Sow in Spring in containers for best results.

Pick leaves as required and use fresh, or dry for later use. Lift roots in early Fall and dry for later use.

Make a standard infusion using i. 30g (1 ounce) fresh or 15g dried root or ii. 3 handfuls fresh or 30g dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) water. Dosage is up to 1 cup a day.

It has to be said that teasel is rarely used nowadays. Traditionally it was used to treat cancer and conditions such as warts.

An infusion of leaves can be used externally to treat acne.

The root induces sweating and is diuretic. A root infusion strengthens the stomach, improves appetite and is used to treat congested liver and jaundice.

An ointment made from the roots can be used to treat warts, swollen sebacious glands and similar skin conditions.

A homeopathic remedy is used to treat skin diseases.

The hook spined teasel was once used for napping cloth. It can also be used to make a blue dye (a substitute for indigo) from the whole dried plant, and a yellow dye using alum as mordant.

Aromatherapy

Not used.

If you’re growing teasel to add to your remedy arsenal, then it’s important to use organic methods to prevent its medicinal components being altered or obliterated by the presence of foreign chemicals. Growing organic teasel on the Gardenzone.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden”, 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 Healing Herbs for the Ornamental Garden or search for it by putting B00A9HJ3QQ in your local Amazon’s search box.


The name great mullein is not undeserved

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 by pregnant women or 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.


Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Greater Celandine health benefits: for corns and cancer

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Although similar in appearance, greater celandine is not closely related to lesser celandine

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, is also known as chelidonium, garden celandine, great celandine, nipplewort, swallow wort, tetterwort or just celandine, and bai qu cai in Chinese herbalism. It is not closely related to the lesser celandine, in fact it is closer to bloodroot (with which it shares the alternative name tetterwort). It’s also not related to the common milkweed (also called swallow-wort) or pleurisy root (aka orange or silky swallow-wort).

In comparison with its smaller namesake, greater celandine is quite a large plant, reaching 20 inches (a half meter) in height and spreading over an area of about 16 inches (40cm). It is a native of Europe, a hardy perennial happy in any soil, and will grow anywhere from full sun to deep woodland so long as the soil is moist. However, this versatility makes it an agressive invader which is difficult to eradicate once established. The best way to control it is to pull plants up before seeds start to ripen around July. As it’s also a common weed for the same reason, you may prefer to gather plants from the wild, taking care to avoid areas close to heavy traffic.

For herbal use, harvest leaves just as they come into flower, for use fresh or dried. Roots should be lifted in fall and dried before use. Latex (sap) needs to be collected from freshly cut stems at the time it is needed.

Greater celandine is mildly poisonous and should not be used at doses or in quantities greater than those stated here. The latex may cause allergic reaction or paralysis, and should therefore only be used externally and with caution. Greater celandine is not suitable for use by pregnant women. A side effect of taking greater celandine is that the urine turns bright yellow, but this is nothing to worry about.

To make a standard infusion use 1 level teaspoon of chopped root or leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water, allowing to stand for 30 minutes before straining off and discarding the herb. This is taken cold at a dosage of no more than a half cup (125ml, 4 fl oz) a day.

The infusion is used internally for arthritis and rheumatism, asthma, skin cancer and stomach cancer, bronchitis and other coughs, inflammation of the gall bladder and bile duct, gout and hepatitis (jaundice). The bright orange latex should be mixed with vinegar before using it externally for corns, psoriasis, ringworm, warts and cancerous tumors – treat no more than 3 warts or small areas at one time, applying the lotion no more than 2-3 times a day.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, greater celandine should be grown organically to avoid corrupting its essential constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Common Milkweed health benefits: for warts

Milkweed is not very useful medicinally

Milkweed is not very useful medicinally

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca (syn. Asclepias cornutti), is also known as butterfly flower, common silkweed, cottonweed, silkweed, silky swallow-wort (also used for the closely related pleurisy root), swallow-wort (a name it shares with the unrelated greater celandine), Virginia silk and Virginia silkweed. The name milkweed probably refers to the latex sap, and the references to cotton and silk refer to the floss which collects on the seeds when they are mature (inset), which is so abundant that it is used like kapok, and has even been used for stuffing life jackets!

Common milkweed is an attractive plant worthy of a place in any garden. A hardy perennial, a native of Eastern North America, it reaches a height and spread of around 3 feet (1m). It is attractive to wildlife (a food plant for Monarch butterflies and various bugs and beetles) and prefers light to medium soil. It will not grow in full shade.

Young shoots, flower buds, young seed pods and young flowers are edible if thoroughly cooked. Take care if you decide to use the shoots that they are really from this plant, as there are much more dangerous plants whose shoots look very similar: Apocynum cannabinum (Common Dogbane) and Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading Dogbane) – click on the names to find out how to distinguish them. It is inadvisable to eat large quantities, and you should never eat it raw because it contains toxins (which are destroyed by cooking).

Even without eating it or using it medicinally, this is a useful plant. It is a good source of fiber of as good quality as flax, and both this and the seed floss were used by native Americans to make textiles.

To be honest, this is not a very active plant medicinally, but one use which may be interesting is as a treatment for warts. Simply apply the latex extracted from the leaves and stems directly onto the wart. You need to repeat this at least once a day for several weeks, but so far as I can recall, there are not many herbal remedies for warts, so this is probably worth a try if you suffer from them.

As with all plants which are grown for use in medicine, common milkweed should be grown organically to ensure that it retains its properties unsullied by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic common milkweed visit the Gardenzone.