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

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

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

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Gentian root – its bitterness promotes sweeter digestion

Gentian root – its bitterness promotes sweeter digestion

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

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

Hops (Humulus lupulus) – a wolf in sheeps clothing

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

Horseradish : a root with a healthy kick

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Medicinal properties of Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)

Medicinal properties of Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)

Figwort is a very common plant in the UK but you’d be forgiven for not knowing it as it is very discreet, despite growing up to be 4-5 feet tall.  It prefers shady and slightly damp places such as woodland edges, hedgerows etc where it begins to show in spring, growing on until flowering in July/august. Its stems are tall and square whilst the flowers are quite few and far between, consisting of two lips, the tips of the upper lips being tinged with purple/red, really beautiful when you get close in. The flowers give way to tiny fig like seed pods.

Full details http://www.thewildpharma.co.uk/plants/figwort