Rose – a symbol of love and healer of hearts

June 9, 2017

The rose has been synonymous with love for many centuries – romantic love but also deep unconditional love and the sacred essence of divinity are embodied in its intensely beautiful perfume. Not only does it heal on an emotional level, offering the qualities of tenderness, compassion, nurturing and sensitivity but it has some powerful medicinal attributes to offer our physical bodies.

 

Rosa damascena

The list of physical complaints that rose can help with is impressive. It is valued  as a heart and circulatory tonic where it promotes circulation and combats blood stagnation and acts in a similar way to an ACE inhibitor (used to lower high blood pressure). At the same time it strengthen the force of the heart beat.I t is a  brain tonic with positive influences on new nerve growth and repair and can be beneficial in both dementia and Alzheimer’s and even seizures and convulsions.

Exquisite pink rose

Its gentle astringency can help reduce catarrhal build up, improve lung functions and alleviate coughs and sore throat, it also enlivens the complexion and combats the effects of ageing on the skin. Rose even has a positive impact on certain hormonal functions including regulating erratic menstruation and easing menopausal complaints such as painful menstruation and mood swings.

The petals have a soothing and protective action on mucous membranes damaged or irritated by stomach acids such as in acid reflux and oesophagitis whilst also acting as a gentle laxative and improving digestion generally. Rose is also an anti-diabetic qualities and fat lowering plant. It is considered a cooling and heat clearing remedy, making it applicable to any conditions involving heat and congestion such as excessive sweating, hot flushes, chronic rash like skin conditions, the hard baked mucous of sinusitis but also excessive and extreme emotions such as anger and constant worrying.

It has a good reputation for dealing with conditions affecting the eyes such as conjunctivitis, dryness of the eyes, other microbial infections of the eyes and surrounding tissues and even helps speed up recovery from eye procedures such as cataract removal. It exhibits a definite anti-microbial action on a wide range of pathogens and has been used as a natural antibiotic. Research has shown good results in HIV treatment.

Wild rose

This Pubmed article on Rosa damascena evaluates its long history as a medicine stating the effects of the flowers “are hypnotic, anticonvulsant, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, analgesic effects, and nerve growth” so is a valuable allay against nervous tension, stress and insomnia.

Rose is very simple to use and can be added fresh or dried to oils, made into sweet conserves or syrups, dried for use as tea or to add to baths. So many gorgeous recipes using rose petals and buds exist on the internet so experiment to your hearts content.

The simplest way to use the rose is to collect the petals and use as a tea. To do this simply gather the open flower heads on a dry preferably sunny day and gently pull off the petals. Remove the little ‘claw’ ( unguis) at the base of the petals and lay out on a sheet of paper or tray to dry. Use around a teaspoon to level tablespoon of dried petals and add boiling water. Allow to steep for several minutes and strain out the petals or leave in if you prefer. A cup or 2 of this tea will give you the many benefits the rose has to offer.

My favourite  way to use rose petals (I like Rosa damascena for this) is to add a generous handful to a bath. I put mine in a muslin bag but a clean sock would do just as well. Your bath will be transformed into a heaven scented, relaxing, soothing, medicinal, beauty promoting infusion!

Varieties of rose suitable for medicinal and edible use include Rosa gallica, Rosa damascena, Rosa canina and Rosa rugosa.

We have dried wild harvested Rosa damascena for sale in our main shop

The hips are also packed with vitamin c and other goodies but that is another story for another day.

 


Posted in: Plant Profiles

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – some heat in the hedgerow

May 4, 2017

Fresh garlic mustard growth

This spicy little plant is so typical of the brassica/mustard family which includes plants such as cabbages, broccoli, rape, rocket and radish. With a faint whiff of garlic and a gentle spicy mustard flavour, it is a classic hedgerow edible. Its pretty straight forward to identify – serrated heart shaped leaves, flower stalks bearing little clusters of white flowers which give way to the long thin seed pods. And the garlicky smell is a giveaway too! Introduced by the settlers to the US, it is a serious invasive pest. Here in the UK and Europe it behaves itself, being a sole food source for many native insects.

All parts of the plant, the leaves, flowers, stalks and seeds are edible including the roots. The leaves are often added to green salads, sauteed with butter or used in pesto like sauces. They are best eaten at this time of year when the leaves are fresh and young as they can get a bit bitter with age. The roots can be used any time of year and are very similar to horseradish in their fiery pungency. Simply dig up some roots, wash thoroughly, chop into pieces and place in a jar. Fill the jar up with cider vinegar, put a tight fitting lid on and leave to macerate for a few weeks. Strain out the root and you have a spicy vinegar dressing that can also help to clear the sinuses. The green seed pods can be nibbled on raw or if left to mature, harvest the seeds and use as a culinary spice like you would mustard seeds.

Long thin seed pods of garlic mustard

The plant gives us plenty more useful medicine too. The leaves are rich in vitamin C , vitamin A, various minerals, plenty of fibre  and also sulphur compounds. These sulphurous components are beneficial to the entire respiratory system and can be used for bronchial troubles, coughs, colds, chest infections, sinusitis, catarrhal congestion and even help the skin in chronic conditions like eczema. The leaves can be used as a poultice for ulcers and other infected wounds as it is a significant antiseptic.

Its pungent and fiery nature encourages efficient  blood flow around the body making it good for improving circulation in conditions of poor blood supply. Being rich in vitamin C and other bioflavanoids means it is capable of strengthening the structural integrity of capillaries and veins  too.

Like other mustard plants, it can be used to relieve the pain and inflammation of rheumatic and arthritic joints. Either wrap the area in wilted fresh leaves or pound the leaves with a little oil to make a crude poultice and apply. This poultice can also be laid over the back and chest to help clear congestion and infection form the lungs. It is a warming and soothing ally to anyone with a chesty cough or cold.

In older times, all members of the mustard family were used to lift the spirits and revive a tired mind and body, it will certainly pep you up when you taste it. As so many of our cultivated brassica plants are credited with superfood status (broccoli, cabbage etc) it follows that adding some garlic mustard to the diet occasionally will be a great boost to overall health, even helping to prevent cancer.

Patch of garlic mustard in a hedgerow

 

Heres a nice example of a recipe for garlic mustard seedpod salad dressing

All in all, garlic mustard is a handy plant to know. Dry the leaves for future use, preserve the roots in vinegar, eat it straight from the plant but above all, get to know it if you can. It won’t fail to spice up your life.

 

**Recent studies reveal that the leaves of the plant contain cyanide. This is true of garlic mustard and many other edible plants, including cultivated brassica plants like broccoli. People have been grazing on it for centuries as a seasonal food source so a once or twice weekly meal containing garlic mustard will do no harm. Its certainly not delicious enough (in my opinion) to gorge on!

 

 


Posted in: Plant Profiles

Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) – not strictly Irish and actually a seaweed

April 4, 2017
Irish moss has a long history of traditional use as both a medicinal and nutritional plant and for use as a thickening and gelling agent. It is rich in nutrients such as sulphur, iodine, iron, bromine, trace mineral salts, vitamin A and B1, fibre, polysaccharides and lots of mucilage. In past times it was regularly added to soups, stews and salads for its nutritional content and for its thickening or gelling qualities.
When used as a tea it yields much slimy mucilaginous gel which acts as a protective coating to damaged or irritated membranes. But that slightly salty, slimy quality has rather magical effects on the internal tissues.
This mucilage moistens and lubricates dry tissues  such as skin, mucous membranes (which line most internal passages and organs), connective tissues and synovial joints (joints with fluid sacs such as the knees, hips, shoulders etc) so can greatly improve joint health as well as soothe, feed and strengthen respiratory passages. The salty mucilage penetrates dry, hard tissues bringing much needed moisture and nutrition to these parched and atrophied tissues. This also encourages the release of long held toxins, breaks up hard swellings and congestion and effectively revives and cleanses the tissues. Read how an 81 year old uses irish moss to keep his joints strong and supple.
Helps coat and protect ulcerated membranes in the digestive and genito-urinary passages, stomach or intestinal ulcers, helps protect from stomach acids in heartburn, acid reflux, oesophagitis, indigestion and gastritis and could help soothe Crohns disease. It also acts as a prebiotic, encouraging growth of certain strains of beneficial bacteria and decreasing levels of some less beneficial ones.
The tea is a gentle yet effective lubricating laxative very useful in constipation.
Irish moss is held in high esteem for chronic debilitating respiratory conditions such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, dry coughs etc
Antibacterial and antiviral.

Dried Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)

Can bring down high blood pressure, thins the blood somewhat so improves circulation of fluids, is an anti-coagulant and also cleanses the blood of excess cholesterol and fats. It contains the substance lecithin which is an emulsifier.
Its rich nutrient content and ability to moisten and nourish the tissues make it very useful to combat weight loss, other wasting diseases, general weakness and an inability to gain weight. It can also help you to shift that weight gain if its connected to a sluggish thyroid hormone output or hypothyroidism.
It soothes and protects against kidney and bladder inflammation and irritation and can be used in cystitis.
It can form a useful moisturising base for creams and ointments with other natural ingredients added. It also acts as an emulsifier, binding oils and water together smoothly.
Irish moss is also being studied as a beneficial agent in protecting the nervous system in conditions such as Parkinsons disease.
A link to a man who uses irish moss in smoothies for fasting purposes, read the comments too for some interesting info!
Caribbean islanders consider it an aphrodisiac and sexual performance enhancer.
An extraction of Irish moss, carrageenan, is a common ingredient in cosmetic products such as face creams, hair conditioners and toothpastes (where it acts as a moisturiser and softener) as well as many food products.
For details on harvesting, preparation and dosage click the link here.
To buy dried Irish moss click here for our shop pages.


Posted in: Plant Profiles

The Amazing Healing Power of Spiders Webs

February 7, 2017

The wound healing properties of the spider web has been known for millennia. Used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as emergency field dressings for battle wounds they not only stop bleeding quickly but are antibacterial, speed up healing and even prevent scarring.

It is not so much the web in itself that heals, it is the silky thread. Even spiders that don’t weave webs produce silk as it is used for many purposes, including ‘drag lines’ which help the spider get around swiftly and safely and secure webs to surrounding structures.

abandoned web on a yew tree

abandoned web on a yew tree

The thread is made up of various proteins and is coated with a sticky cocktail as it leaves the spiders body, the stickiness designed to catch prey (look at the ‘cobwebs’ in your house and you will see how dust and airborne particles stick to them very efficiently, even clearing them off the duster is a bit of an effort). This sticky cocktail contains substances designed to prevent the web from fungal and bacterial deterioration which explains the antiseptic qualities when applied to wounds. It also contains vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting, hence the ability to staunch bleeding from wounds. The silk is also pretty much waterproof so forms a decent barrier over the wound, protecting it from further infection or damage.

The advise from those in the know is to use clean fresh webs if possible (but older abandoned ones may also suffice), checking that the spider has nipped off somewhere before collecting. It doesn’t have to a be an actual web, it can be any thread of spider silk, even cobwebs. Bundle the webs into a gauze like mass and spread over the wound.  You can hold the web dressing in place with a bandage or cloth or just leave it as is. The web dressing will dry quite hard  but can easily be washed of with warm water when healing is complete.

Some experiences of using webs as a wound dressing can be found here http://irishmedicalherbalist.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/cobwebs.html and here http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/apply-spiderwebs-on-cuts-for-natural-wound-sealing-zmaz00aszgoe.

More recently researchers have been looking into various applications of spider webs in healing and medicine. The silky threads are (weight for weight) stronger than steel yet have much more elasticity. Various applications are being investigated, including for use in the repair of ruptured tendons, ligaments, nerve cells and as sutures. Spider silk also has the remarkable property of being accepted by the body with little or no immune response.

Spider webs have even been used in the past for painting on. Webs and silk were collected, squashed together, spread out and allowed to harden ready for painting on. Unbelievably, I even found an article about making bullet proof clothes out of genetically altered spider silk for combat purposes!

old abandoned webs on yew trunk

old abandoned webs on yew trunk

 


Ground Ivy – humble champion of the ear, nose and throat

February 1, 2017

This inconspicuous little plant packs a punch when it comes to clearing the ear, nose and throat of congestion and catarrh. It is extremely common in the UK and very easy to gather and use as medicine. Learn more http://www.thewildpharma.co.uk/plants/ground-ivy


Gentian root – its bitterness promotes sweeter digestion

December 6, 2016

Yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) aka gentian adorns the grassy slopes of Alpine and mountain meadows all across Europe. Its majestic golden flower spike towers above the grasses and marks the spot of the true gift of this plant, the highly prized medicinal root.

Like all plants with a bitter taste, it promotes the flow of digestive juices. Saliva, stomach acids, pancreatic juices, bile, small intestinal juices are all encouraged to flow when the intense taste of gentian hits the taste buds. More digestive juices means more efficient digestion, making gentian root a very useful remedy for any and all symptoms of faulty digestion.

Click on this link to my fuller description of what other medicinal tricks gentian has up its sleeves or to purchase organic dried gentian root or organic gentian root tincture from our shop.


Gotu kola- the herb of enlightenment

November 17, 2016

chakra-system

Gotu kola (Centella/Hydroctyle asiatica) is one of the most respected medicinal plants in Ayurvedic and Asian medicine. Not only does it have remarkable rejuvenating effects on the brain and nervous system, including improving memory and cognitive functions but it is also used to enhance the effectiveness of spiritual practices such as meditation as it promotes calm and clarity and a heightened sense of awareness.

Eastern sages and yogis throughout the centuries have attributed their long healthy lives to gotu kola and more recent spiritual seekers are just as impressed. I strongly recommend a quick internet search for ‘Gotu kola nootropic’, it will bring up a host of really interesting discussions on its uses and effectiveness as a ‘smart drug’ and an aid on the quest for a deeper understanding of life.  However, its youthfulness promoting is not just confined to the nervous system. Some have nicknamed it “Botox in a bottle” because of its obvious effects on connective tissues all around the body. Not only does it promote tissue healing but it helps build collagen and maintains a more youthful and wrinkle free appearance and is a prominent ingredient in many mainstream anti-ageing products.

I have been using gotu kola quite a lot recently – on myself and on the rest of my family to help soothe nerves and boost our attentiveness in these crazy, divisive times we are living through. I can’t speak for them just yet but for me personally I feel less caught up in the drama, less reactive and more capable of just standing back and observing the madness. It is clearing the clutter from my mind which for me is a precious gift. I can totally see why this herb has the reputation it does as a ‘brain food’ and mood elevator – this energising plant deserves its lofty and exalted praises plus a whole lot more.

Centella has many more benefits to the mind, body and spirit (aphrodisiac, joint disease, circulation promoter, immunity etc) click on our main article on Gotu kola to read more on its uses, to purchase organic dried herb or tincture and for instructions on how to take it.

  • Please note there is no caffeine or any other known stimulants in Gotu kola.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) – a wolf in sheeps clothing

September 27, 2016

At one point in the not too distant past, the UK grew around 70% of the hops used in our brewing industries, mainly in Kent and a busy harvest time provided seasonal work for many.

Autumn remnants of a hop field after harvest

Autumn remnants of a hop field after harvest

Aside from adding a bitter flavour to beer and preserving its shelf life, hops make for some interesting and useful medicine. They have a long and reputable history as an aid to restful sleep and to soothe anxiety and nervous tension. Hop ‘pillows’ are still made today for insomnia sufferers by stuffing a light fabric bag with dried hops and placing it on top of the pillow (inside the pillowcase) when you turn in for the night. Replace when the effects wear off with a new batch of strobiles.

Hops are also strongly oestrogenic in their action. It is well documented that women who travelled to the hop fields for harvest season began to menstruate within a day or two, whether their period was due or not. Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia and anxiety can all be helped with the use of hops (as part of a herbal formula) and a component named 8-PN has been identified and isolated for its specific oestrogenic activity. This strong oestrogenic activity has the effect of dampening sexual desire in men and has also been implicated in difficulty maintaining erections. On the positive side however, there are good implications in the use of hops for prevention and treatment of prostate cancer.

Hop strobiles are rich in oils and resins which give them their bitter taste but also have the effect of stimulating digestive processes. Traditionally classed as a bitter tonic, they can be used to increase the appetite and can help in cases of nervous indigestion (including irritable bowel syndrome) where they settle and calm the gut, encourage digestive secretions and  generally improve faulty digestion

Lush hop strobiles ripe for picking

Lush hop strobiles ripe for picking

The hop is a perennial vine that dies right back in the winter before rampantly twining up into the hedges, fence panels and telegraph poles again the following spring. The young spring shoots can be collected and eaten as you would asparagus but the hop ‘flowers’ (called strobiles or cones) are the parts collected and used. Harvest the strobiles when they are fat and firm (August – September in the UK) and use fresh, or dry them carefully (checking daily for mould etc) in a warm dry place to store for future use.

They can be taken fresh or dried as a tea, made into a hop pillow (or bedside pot pourri with dried lavender for example), preserved in alcohol as a tincture or used as a pain relieving poultice for external use in rheumatism, toothache and neuralgia for example. A level teaspoon of dried hops to each cup, drinking about half a cup up to 3 times daily is the standard remedial dose. For insomnia, take one cup an hour or so before bedtime. Hops mix well with other herbs such as valerian root, passion-flower or lemon balm for anxiety and insomnia and with other bitters such as dandelion root  for digestive complaints.

Dried hop strobiles ready for use in teas or hop pillows

Dried hop strobiles ready for use in teas or hop pillows

Personally. I can’t take hops for more than a few days or so at any one time as they tend to bring me down quite rapidly whilst others I know are far more tolerant of longer term doses. I cannot fault their action on restlessness and an over-thinking, racing mind though! As in all cases of self medication and experimentation with medicinal plants,  be sensible and monitor yourself carefully.

A few notes of caution…….

  • If you suffer from depression do not take hops as a medicine as it can worsen the condition considerably. Even if you have a tendency to get depressed or feel ‘blue’ from time to time, use hops cautiously and at the first signs of feeling low, stop using immediately and you’ll soon bounce back.
  • In men, if taking hops regularly as a medicine and you notice an undesired low libido, difficulty in maintaining an erection or breast enlargement, simply stop taking hops.
  • Never take hops with other over the counter or prescribed sedative or anti-anxiety medicines.

I include a link to one of my favourite herbal sites … loaded with articles and discussions on hops and their many uses http://www.henriettes-herb.com/search/node/hops


Horseradish : a root with a healthy kick

September 13, 2016

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) belongs to the Brassica/Crucifer family so its family members include radishes, rocket, mustards and cabbages, all of whom are known for varying degrees of heat on the taste buds. Not only does it make a tasty addition to dishes if the grated root is made into a creamy sauce but it has some serious medicinal benefits too – it is a fiery stimulant similar to cayenne /chilli pepper in its actions. Firstly, how to find and identify it.

It does grow wild in damp places and is not uncommon in the UK but if you have never come across any then buy a couple of plants online or at the garden centre and plant in a dampish corner of the garden where it can take hold and prosper. It can be invasive given the right conditions but too much horseradish wouldn’t bother me.

The leaves look superficially similar to dock leaves (which would have a tall rusty flower stem) and foxglove leaves (which are covered in soft down) but if you pull a leaf from the base and smell it, the horseradish pungency is unmistakable. The white flowers (not always present on all plants) bloom in summer on a branching, leafy flower spike, are identifiable by their 4 petal cross configuration and are typical of the family. The leaves can be eaten raw or lightly steamed and are considerably milder than the root.

Horseradish leaves

Horseradish leaves

The optimum time to harvest the root is fast approaching ,though you can harvest pretty much any time. When the leaves begin to wither, all the goodness, pungency and vitality of the plant is drawn down and everything this plant possesses is concentrated into the tap roots. This is the time to dig up the root if you want maximum heat from it. Give it a good wash and either chop into small pieces to dry, grate it fresh and make into a sauce or crush and pack into bottles full of either vodka, wine or cider vinegar to preserve it for future use. It can also be made into a syrup or the fresh root preserved for some time in a bucket or pile of sand, left in a cool place, preferably outside.

Young horseradish leaves in Spring

Young horseradish leaves in Spring

Herbalists have been known to prescribe a session of horseradish root grating for people with sinusitis and thick catarrh in the head or chest, if you think chopping onions is intense then try horseradish to experience another league of weeping. The root produces a fiery volatile oil in response to being crushed or grated. Beware though, it is capable of producing blisters and even ulceration of nasal tissues if inhaled too deeply or too frequently. You can also hold a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated root in the mouth until the flavour has subsided for sinus or head congestion

The fresh root, when used on the skin as a poultice, reddens the skin and greatly increases blood flow to the area. It can be used for painful joints in arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica etc. Put some oil on the skin first (to avoid skin blistering), wrap the fresh root in a thin cloth and place on the skin until it starts to feel too hot. Remove the poultice then rinse the skin thoroughly. It can also be used this way in cases of bronchitis and respiratory/chest infections to clear deep-seated congestion, much like a mustard compress.

When taken internally the root is a powerful antibiotic and extremely useful as a preventative and treatment for colds, flu and all kinds of infections and fevers. Urinary tract infections often respond well to horseradish root as does the digestive process (hence its use as a digestive promoting condiment with beef etc). Dose is a half teaspoon of dried root as a tea up to 3 times daily.

  • Horseradish is a powerful stimulant and whilst being incredibly useful and beneficial should be used with caution – avoid with internal ulcers, kidney inflammation, during pregnancy (has been used to induce abortion) and breast-feeding, in the very weak or debilitated or in children under 5.  As with all self medication, use common sense, take it slow and listen to your body. Too much can also make you vomit!
Horseradish flowers

Horseradish flowers

** Here is a link to some great stories about using horseradish as medicine.


Pellitory of the wall – the herbal stone breaker

June 21, 2016

One of the many things I adore about plant medicines is that they are literally growing all around us. The world became a more beautiful place when I began to recognise familiar plant allies on my daily travels. Like a circle of good friends that keeps growing, each with their own unique talents and abilities to share and learn from.

This useful plant is Pellitory of the wall (Parietaria officinalis/diffusa) and as you can see from the photos, it loves to grow on walls. These photos were taken in urban residential streets around this time of year in London, Margate and Shoreham on Sea.

20140828_143734 copy

Pellitory of the wall. The spider gives a sense of scale.

Best known for its positive action on the kidneys and urinary system, it is especially good at breaking down and dissolving stones (calculi) and gravel in the kidneys, bladder and urinary tract. It helps to rid the body of excess fluid and is also useful for cystitis, urethritis, nephritis and other kidney and urinary infections as well as soothing inflammation in the passages of the kidneys, bladder and prostate. Its waste eliminating actions make it useful in formulas for arthritis, rheumatism and gout as well as a tea or fresh poultice for cellulitis.

Coughs of a dry and persistent nature often respond well to regular doses of the tea made from 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb per cup, up to 3 cups daily.

The juice of the fresh plant was used in the past for relieving tinnitus and ear pains when dropped into the ears. It also makes a good healing poultice for wounds, especially wounds that are festering and discharging pus and for soothing skin irritations and inflammations, including sunburn. The fresh plant is rich in slimy and soothing mucilage which makes a great fresh poultice for the skin yet it also soothes internally irritated passages.

20160618_164110 copy

A close up of the flowers

No need to rip it from its wall, just prune a few stems from the flowering plant and allow to dry thoroughly before storing in an airtight jar or use fresh as a tea or added to fresh apple juice. Label with the name, place and date of collection. I would avoid harvesting from sites on a busy road, look for pedestrianised walkways with no passing traffic ideally.

Being a member of the nettle family, its leaves are also edible, their taste being quite bland though so best added to fresh leafy salads. Standard dose of the dried leaves is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of herb per cup, up to 3 cups daily.

20160618_164015 copy

Adorning a very attractive flint wall

*Take note that it is a serious contributor to the pollen count and is well known for provoking hay fever in those susceptible. If you are an allergic type with a sensitive immune response to allergens then it would be wise to avoid this herb in all its forms.

This link http://www.eattheweeds.com/pellitory-parietaria-is-a-whiz-2/ has some good info on pellitory of the wall. Scroll down to the comments for peoples experience of using it for food and medicine.

 


Posted in: Plant Profiles

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