Welcome

taggy watering

A warm welcome to thewildpharma blog, little sister to our main website at www.thewildpharma.co.uk

This blog was created to share personal stories and experiences of healing with herbs and natural remedies. There is so much information out there on the internet concerning herbs and which ones to choose for which ailment but very few are based on practical experience. Often this information is re-copied from site to site and sometimes comes with either foolish optimism or fearmongering scepticism.

This blog has one simple aim ….. to share stories both good and bad (we learn so much from both!) of experiences with herbs and how they interact with the body, in illness and in health, based on my personal experiences as a herbalist and natural remedy enthusiast.

Who am I? I have been a professional practicing herbalist for the past 16 years and in training for many years before that. I have two teenage boys that have been on the receiving end of many herbal and natural treatments, as have most of my family and friends. Even so, I do not consider myself an expert (there is just so much more to learn) but I have great trust in the plants and natural wisdom around me.

We hope you enjoy reading the stories and look forward to hearing yours…..

With love

Deanna (deanna@thewildpharma.co.uk)

The parasitic tooth fairy of the woods – Lathraea clandestina

The parasitic tooth fairy of the woods – Lathraea clandestina

Purple toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) is a beautiful, unusual and quite rare plant that hides in shady damp places among the roots of trees (hazels, alders, willows, poplars etc) and has just begun to flower now, at least in East Sussex. It was introduced into the UK in the late 1880’s from mainland Europe but has escaped into the wider environment where it is now quite at home.

The exposed roots really do resemble molar teeth which is how it supposedly gained its common name. The flowers have no above ground stem instead emerging directly from the soil and once they have fulfilled their purpose, they dive back underground until the following Spring so you need to be quick if you want to get acquainted with them. Having no leaves at all, the plant contains no chlorophyll so can’t photosynthesize but instead is entirely parasitic, depending on the roots of its host tree to provide it with both nutrients and water.

Purple toothwort ( Lathraea clandestina)

The nectar has a very particular chemical make-up, rich in sugars, strongly alkaline (pH 11.5!) and contains ammonia. It is believed that the nectar has chemically evolved to specifically attract bumblebees – its pollinators – whilst deterring unwelcome pests such as ants and birds which can’t pollinate but would otherwise take a free meal. I haven’t tried it (yet!) but the flowers are said to produce a burning sensation on the tongue.

After an extensive search through my books and the internet, I cannot find any solid medicinal or edible references (other than the odd rumour of being used somehow against toothache) except for use as a homeopathic remedy which suggests its use in those who could be described as “weakling, soft, friendly, communicative. Needs help from others, cannot be independent because he is too weak. Feels dirty. Too tired to wash his dirt off. Uses his friendliness to get friends and help, to be able to ask for help”.

However, a quick search of its chemical constituents leads to information on some interesting components that it shares with other plants that certainly do have medicinal applications. One substance, aucubin, is present in many plants besides Purple toothwort including Plantain leaf, Devils claw, Cleavers, Mullein and Agnus castus . Aucubin has “antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, anti-cancer, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective and osteoprotective properties”. Two other components, acteoside and isoacteoside have also been identified – both of which are thought to be responsible for antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions in other medicinal plants.

Flowers emerging from teeth like structures

Perhaps one day its full range of medicinal possibilities will be identified. Whatever its physical properties may or may not be, it certainly lifts my spirits whenever I see it. A strange, slightly sinister and mysterious presence in the woods, especially when I come across a blanket of deep purple flowers nestled around the tree roots. To me it is a reminder that even in the darker, colder, wetter months, nature is getting on with her business providing food for early bumblebees and bringing much needed mystery, beauty and drama to the woods.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)- salvation from the herb garden

Sage (Salvia officinalis)- salvation from the herb garden

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magical Medicinal Mistletoe

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.