Sage (Salvia officinalis)- salvation from the herb garden

October 28, 2019

Sage leaves (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is very aptly named. Both its Latin name (Salvia – to heal, to save) and common name (Sage – wisdom) allude to our ancestors deep appreciation and knowledge of the healing qualities of this plant. Once prized as an excellent tonic to sharpen the memory, enhance mental faculties and soothe the nerves, one quote from medieval times asks “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”.  An old English equivalent states ‘He that would live for aye, must eat Sage in May.’

Many will know sage as a stuffing or seasoning for fatty meats or ‘rich’ foods but few will know why – it is the perfect choice given how it enhances all digestive processes but particularly the efficient metabolism of fats. Yet sage has a long history of medicinal use including fevers and infections, drying up milk supply ready for weaning, reducing hot flushes and sweating, promoting proper blood circulation and wound healing.

Its interesting how many powerful healing plants fall out of favour as medicines but still cling on as culinary herbs. With such a wide spectrum of health applications its time to promote sage from the herb rack in to the medicine cabinet.

Further information on the many medicinal uses of sage, how to prepare it and correct dosage can be found on our main website here.

The ‘Fountain of Youth’ Hormone and How to Make Sure You Have Plenty.

September 30, 2019

Hands up who knew that we have a hormone nicknamed by some the ‘fountain of youth’ inside our bodies, that under certain conditions, is released freely into the blood. No, me neither until very recently.

This hormone called osteocalcin is critically involved in maintaining bone density and strength but has also shown to be crucial for keeping our muscles strong and fit, increasing exercise capacity, keeping the brain alert and cognitive functions high, helping to regulate blood sugar, fat and general metabolism. It is an important hormone in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, is intricately involved in our response to stresses, helps to regulate male fertility and reproductive health and is important in slowing down the age related decline of both our physical and mental capacity.

Osteocalcin, as the ‘osteo’ part of its name suggests, is produced by osteoblasts, a type of cell present in the bones. Maintaining strong healthy bones is a dynamic interplay mainly between 2 types of bone cells – osteoblasts (bone builders) which lay down new bone material and osteoclasts, which break down older bone material to make way for the new.

 

Osteocalcin production rises significantly in response to stress.

In humans (and all mammals) the stress response or ‘fight or flight’ as it is known causes adrenaline to be released from the adrenal glands. This produces physiological effects in the body that include a raised heart rate, increased breathing rate, increased blood flow to muscles and a rapid release of glucose to be used as fuel. It is now known that this adrenaline release is not possible without the presence of the hormone osteocalcin. Almost immediately after we perceive a threat or stressful situation, the brain instructs the bones to flood the bloodstream with osteocalcin which then initiates adrenaline release. Researchers have demonstrated that if a person or mammal with no adrenal glands (and therefore no adrenaline) is exposed to stressor danger, a measurable stress response form the body still occurs. However, if a person or mammal has no skeleton, no bones, (don’t ask!) the standard stress response (increased heart rate etc) is absent. If osteocalcin is then injected into the boneless creature, this will induce a marked stress response. Conversely, when mice where genetically modified to produce no osteocalcin, they had no physiological response to stress at all.

So how is osteocalcin the ‘fountain of youth’ hormone?

The bones of our skeleton are not just useful as a means of escaping danger, the osteocalcin released from them has an effect on the brain, the pancreas, metabolism (how the body uses its fuel), muscles, the kidneys, male fertility and more.

Osteocalcin is also released when we exercise where it mobilises fat stores, raises blood sugar and enhances its uptake into muscle cells and helps the muscle fibers metabolise both glucose and fatty acids more effectively. Its presence means we can exercise more efficiently for longer meaning our bones have a direct impact on muscle performance, both strength and endurance. However, osteocalcin production and resting blood levels begin to decline with age, around the age of 30 in women and around 50 in men. Interestingly, researchers found that when older mice were given osteocalcin their exercise performance matched that of much younger mice.

Exercise endurance and muscle strength are not the only benefits of oseteocalcin. It also has a positive effect on the brain and cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, anxiety, depression and prenatal brain development. Experiments determined that it crosses the blood-brain barrier and has receptors throughout the brain where its influences promote the formation of new nerve cells, increases the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and catecholamine (important factors in overall mood and mental health) and enhance memory and learning. Mice that were engineered to produce no osteocalcin showed signs of anxiety, depression and had less memory and learning skills than normal mice.

Studies carried out on women in their 70’s determined that those with higher osteocalcin levels had better memories, learning abilities and ability to execute their learning than those with much lower levels. Experimental treatment with osteocalcin on those with low levels of the hormone found their overall above abilities increase.

The impact of osteocalcin on the developing baby is crucially important. Undernourished mothers with poor bone health and therefore lower levels of the hormone produce children that are more likely to develop metabolic diseases, psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment.

Osteocalcin is directly involved in strengthening bones and preventing fractures (unless the impact on the bone is too great). Studies suggest it may be vital in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

It also increases testosterone production in men and leads to better sperm health, increasing fertility and general drive. It is known that the growth and integrity of the bones in both young male and females is influenced by steroidal sex hormones but it appears that reproductive health and fertility is also influenced by the bones.

It lowers the risk of diabetes by regulating and controlling blood sugar levels, increasing insulin production and improving pancreatic function. It can also help prevent obesity by increasing energy expenditure.

Green leaves are a rich source of osteocalcin

How to ensure a good supply of osteocalcin

The hormone, once released from the bones, has a relatively short life cycle of between 20 minutes to an hour. We know that bone density generally declines with age, along with memory, new learning capacity, muscle strength and endurance. Research suggests that osteocalcin levels fall too. Here are some things that we can do to help maintain and/or increase levels.

Eat an apple every day. Asian studies have found that a substance in apple peel increases both bone formation and osteocalcin levels.

Eat vitamin K rich foods. Osteocalcin needs vitamin K to be fully functioning in all its roles so eat plenty of leafy greens such as kale, sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut, asparagus, kiwi fruit, okra, green beans and dark green lettuce, in fact any leafy green like watercress, spinach and culinary herbs like parsley and coriander.

Cold pressed olive oil and olives have been shown to directly increase osteocalcin levels, especially when coupled with a Mediterranean style diet rich in wholefoods like fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Go for a brisk 20 minute walk each day. Consistent (daily) exercise increases osteocalcin levels.

The seeds of milk thistle and the horny goat weed plant have both demonstrated the ability to increase osteocalcin levels.

Vitamin D is also linked to activation and availability of osteocalcin so a 15 minute sunbathe (without sunscreen) daily if possible is a good natural source.

Other useful nutrients linked to higher osteocalcin levels include manganese, iron, omega 3 fatty acids and ellagic acid..

Think carefully about taking  biphosphates. Biphosphates are commonly prescribed for osteoporosis or low bone density. They reduce or inhibit the bone modeling process (absorbing old bone and making new) with the intention of reducing bone loss and fracture risk etc. However, by inhibiting the bone modeling process, osteocalcin production is reduced significantly.

Avoid steroid medications where possible, these reduce osteocalcin levels.

Limit where possible your exposure to xeno-oestrogens – these are oestrogens that come from the environment. Oestrogen is known to suppress osteocalcin.

Stop smoking as it lowers osteocalcin levels.

 

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) – a lowly plant with lofty curative powers

May 17, 2019

Sweet violet flowers and leaves have been in use as a medicine around the world for centuries and prized for their various therapeutic properties. They may be small but they are very impressive with their exquisite beauty, intoxicating fragrance and plethora of medicinal actions including mild sedative, moistening, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, diuretic, anti-cancer, decongestant, antihypertensive, anti-lipemic (reducing blood lipids/fats), diaphoretic, pre-anesthetic, antipyretic, anti-fungal, mildly laxative as well as having positive effects on body-weight reduction.

It’s a great herb for children suffering from coughs, the onset of a cold, fevers, restlessness and temper tantrums and is also rich in nutrients like vitamins A and C. It is a gentle acting plant, no forceful drama yet powerful and thorough in its healing.

Violets in a shady hedgerow

 

This plant has inspired love poetry for centuries and now it seems medical science is also falling in love with sweet violet, evidenced here by the sheer volume of scientific studies it has spawned.

Find out exactly what sweet violet can achieve and how easy it is to use as a medicine at home here.

 

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it” (Mark Twain).

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) – first aid, band aid, all round good healing aid

April 2, 2019

The inner bark (the layer beneath the rough outer bark) of this particular elm tree is one of the most soothing and healing herbal agents for any and every kind of mucosal or skin irritation I have ever encountered. It coats, soothes and heals membranes and has anti-inflammatory, immune stimulating and emollient or moisturising properties. The clinging  and coating mucilage protects damaged or irritated membranes and allows healing to take place uninterrupted thanks to its protective coating. It is rich in soluble fibre and has a decent nutritional content including vitamins C & E,  B vitamins, calcium, starches and sugars.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) powder

Read more about this incredible remedy and its’ many medicinal applications here

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) – therapeutic offerings from the meadow

January 24, 2019

Unlike some medicinal plants, these flower heads may not have a list of medicinal actions as long as your arm – but what they do, they do incredibly well. If thinning the blood and improving the elasticity of all blood vessel walls weren’t enough, they have hormonal constituents (phytoestrogens) that can greatly help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and bone density loss. Add to this a strong history of treating chronic skin conditions, beautifying the complexion and an excellent reputation for helping  to treat a variety of cancers.

Red clover (Trifoilum pratense) in an Alpine meadow

The plant needs little description as it is so recognisable and is  incredibly easy to find, harvest and use. To find out what else these gorgeous flowers can do, including dosage and cautions, visit the Wild Pharma  ‘red clover’ page.

Magical Medicinal Mistletoe

December 21, 2018

The European mistletoe is drenched in magic and has a long held place in the mythology of Europe. Many other parts of the world have their own varieties of mistletoe equally held in high esteem. Aside from its medicinal properties, the Druids and Ancients noted where and how it lived its life, not of the Earth and not of the Sky but somewhere in between, in the trees. The trees themselves are connectors of sky and earth (roots reaching down, branches reaching up) and the mistletoe thrives in that in between space. I find it no coincidence that the mistletoe has an affinity for the heart – the organ that is in between above and below – right in the middle of the 3 lower chakras and the 3 higher chakras and the seat of the soul to so many ancient cultures.

European Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Read the full medicinal story, cautions and how to use mistletoe as medicine here.

Essential First Aid Weed – Ribwort Plantain leaf (Planatgo lanceolata)

November 20, 2018

Ribwort plantain leaf (Plantago lanceolata) has served me, my family and many of my friends and clients very well over the years. Stories  of its incredibly versatile emergency healing powers continually inspire me. It is such a humble looking plant, barely even thought of as a wild flower due to its indistinct brown flowers and its love of waste ground. Weirdly though, it is one of my absolute favourite wild flowers for several reasons.

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Plantain leaves have a special ability to draw and neutralise poisons and toxins from the body, even in dire situations. If ever someone presented gangrene to me it would be my first choice, no contest. I have seen several cases of early blood poisoning resolve speedily with copious cups of plantain leaf tea. In fact any wound that festers, contains pus, smells fowl or looks horrific will be calling out for plantain leaf. Drink cups of strong leaf tea and use  it as a wash, poultice or dressing anywhere in or out of the body. You cannot overdo plantain in life or limb threatening situations.

Besides its emergency first aid applications and its effortless power to heal the physical, it calls to me on a deeper level. There is something very special about this plant that I can’t quite put into words and I feel that it has metaphysical teachings to share with humanity. Plantain has made it into my dreams many times over the years, all have been of a magical and teaching nature. I believe it is capable of drawing non-physical poison from us, those toxic thoughts that linger and fester and often lead to physical problems further down the line. Even the way the flowers open appeals to me – the first flowers open at the bottom of the stalk then continue to open on a spiralling path up through to the top of the flower stalk.

Ribwort plantain flower (P, lanceolata)

Plantain has many other uses you can learn about here. I urge you to take the time to get to know this plant, how powerful its medicine is and how easy it is to use!

Prickly ash (Xanthoxylum americanum) – a herbal catalyst

November 8, 2018

This is a very useful remedy to have in the home. A classic herb to add to formulas to make the actions of other herbs even more potent, it stimulates blood circulation to and from the extremities of all tissues. Increased blood circulation means more nutrients delivered and more waste taken away.

A classic remedy for toothache when nerves are inflamed or exposed and for many conditions involving nerve pain, inflammation, numbness, tingling and impaired movement.

Add to formulas for musculoskeletal complaints such as arthritis, back pains, rheumatism and repetitive strain injuries.

Prickly ash (Xanthoxylum americanum) leaves and berries

To learn more about the medicinal gifts this plant has to offer, click here.

Posted in: Plant Profiles

How a pest (mullein moth caterpillar) greatly increased my mullein flower harvest

September 10, 2018

It is always a pleasant surprise when the odd mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) turns up in my garden every now and then. The majority of my garden has the feel of a shady woodland so not your typical growing conditions for mullein . Fortunately my veggie patch has a good deal of sun and is well drained so I was happy to spot the unmistakable broad grey furry leaves of a baby mullein plant right at the front of my veg bed.

Rosette of leaves of mullein plant before flowering

I watched it grow over the next few weeks, the basal rosette of leaves getting larger and larger by the day almost. One day i noticed a few holes in the leaves and on closer inspection, a handful of black, yellow and white spotty/striped caterpillars. An internet search confirmed mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci).

Should I pick them off and offer them to the chickens? Should I just leave them to it ? I hadn’t planted this mullein so it was a happy accident that it was in my garden in the first place. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to destroy them, I figured it wasn’t my place to play God on this one so I left them to it.

Usual single stemmed mullein flower stalk

Over the next few weeks, I watched with interest and some dismay as every single one of the big broad furry leaves were reduced to tattered strips and the centrally emerging flower stalk was annihilated. All eaten and covered in caterpillar shit. I assumed that was the end for the mullein plant but consoled myself with the thought that at least a new generation of mullein moths would be born into the world in the next few years.

Then something really lovely started to happen. Gradually, new flower stalks began bursting out from all around the old eaten flower stalk. The growth culminated with a huge multi pronged candelabra of flower stalks around 5 feet tall, each stalk plastered with mullein flowers.

Multi-stalked flowering mullein after caterpillar feasting

Every couple of days I was able to harvest mullein flowers. Each time I picked a batch, I could see masses of new flower buds behind them just waiting for their chance to bloom. Mullein is such a generous plant anyway, giving medicinal gifts in the form of flowers, leaves and even roots. And of course, masses of seeds for re-planting.

One of many mullein flower harvests

Altogether, I have harvested around 25g of flowers from one plant, all thanks to the ‘pest’ called the mullein moth. Over the next few years the caterpillars will emerge from their below ground slumber as mullein moths. I look forward to their future caterpillar offspring and this time will welcome them with open arms!

Mullein flowers all dried out and ready for use

Find out more about the medicinal uses of mullein flowers (and leaves and root) here.

 

 

 

Centaury (Centaurium erythraea)- healing powers fit for the Gods.

August 30, 2018

This small pink flowered plant is named after the great centaur Chriron, a dedicated healer and mystical being who taught Asclepius (considered the original father of medicine) the art of healing. Legend has it that Chiron healed himself of an incurable poison arrow wound with this herb.

It is an excellent wound herb for sure yet is also one of our finest and most effective native bitter tonic plants for digestive complaints.

Discover why this native UK plant is deemed worthy of the Gods https://www.thewildpharma.co.uk/plants/centaury

 

Posted in: Plant Profiles

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