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.

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.

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

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

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

Prickly ash (Xanthoxylum americanum) – a herbal catalyst

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.

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

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

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

 

Schisandra chinensis – the 5 flavoured berry for balanced health

Schisandra chinensis – the 5 flavoured berry for balanced health

These beautiful shiny red berries have 5 flavours present in one  – sweet, salty, sour. spicy and bitter. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been using them for centuries to alleviate wasting and debilitating chronic diseases.

They invigorate ‘Qi” , the vital life force of the body and are another herb that seeks to promote balance in the human system. At last science is starting to take note and studies on these powerful little sherbet tasting berries are being conducted in earnest, revealing a wealth of medicinal actions and uses.

Read more about these incredible little berries here.

Schisandra chinensis berries