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).

A passion for sleep – Passiflora incarnata

A passion for sleep – Passiflora incarnata

The beautiful purple passionflower (Passiflora inarnata) is a very reliable remedy for getting you to sleep and helping you stay asleep for  longer. It doesn’t leave you feeling zonked the next morning either. If circular thoughts and rambling mind chatter keep you awake at night or trouble you throughout the day then passionflower may be for you.

Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

 

Discover what else this stunning plant can do   https://www.thewildpharma.co.uk/plants/passionflower

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

Cowslip : an Iron Fist in a Yellow Velvet Glove

Cowslip : an Iron Fist in a Yellow Velvet Glove

 

2cowslip

Cowslip (Primula veris)

Not quite as common a sight as its very close relative the primrose, the cowslip (Primula veris) has an ancient and well deserved reputation as a powerful medicinal plant. Unfortunately too rare in most places to pick from the wild , they are easy to grow in the garden and will spread happily given the right conditions.

The flowers are the medicinal parts most used and have a delicate but really interesting perfume that lingers on the nostrils for quite some time.

They were once held in great esteem for conditions involving the nerves  being useful for all kinds of headaches, nerve pain, paralysis and palsy, (sometimes called ‘palsywort’ in the past), to alleviate insomnia, irritability, tension and anxiety. They were often taken at this time of year to raise the spirits and banish melancholy. They are quite potent in their effects on the nervous system, so much so that they are categorised as mildly narcotic in many herbals, both ancient and modern. For this reason they should be taken at the correct dose and not for long periods. A cup of herbal tea before bed made from chamomile, cowslip and passion-flower for example will help to induce a deep and restful nights sleep.

The flowers can also be infused in water and used as a cosmetic face wash to improve the skin, reduce wrinkles and to ‘restore beauty where it is lost’ as the old Herbals say. Add a handful to a bath to soothe away anxiety and tension before bedtime.

The leaves and roots also contain pain killing salicylates and the root is rich in substances that promote expectoration so can be used for coughs, especially tickly, nervous type coughs, whooping cough and bronchitis and  can also used as an external compress or ointment for rheumatism and arthritis.

cowslip flowers

Freshly picked cowslip flowers

To harvest the flowers, gently pluck the fully opened flowers from the green calyx and dry slowly on a tray lined with paper until absolutely dry. Store in an airtight jar in a cool dark place, dosage of dried flowers being 1-2 teaspoons infused in a cup of boiling water. Take a cup an hour before bedtime for insomnia or take up to 3 cups daily for its other medicinal uses. The flowers and a few young leaves can also be added to a salad, or the flowers can be made into a clear sunny yellow wine whilst the roots and flowers (together or singly) made into a syrup to ease coughs and strengthen the lungs generally. For children, make a strong cup of tea using 2 teaspoons of dried flowers and half a pint of boiling water, allow to cool, squeeze out the flowers and discard them. Add the same quantity of vegetable glycerine to the tea (200 ml of tea, add 200 ml of veg glycerine) and store in a tight lidded bottle in a cool  cupboard. Toddlers can be given a half teaspoon daily (not everyday) for excitability, coughs and colds or before bedtime. If anyone is interested in purchasing organic dried cowslip flowers, contact me or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

The roots should be harvested before the flowers appear or in Autumn. When picking the flowers or unearthing the roots, be mindful always of next years crop. Leave plenty of flowers to set seed and of course be extra judicial when digging up roots and never collect from the wild.

All in all a beautiful little plant touched with the magic of faery, richly woven into much of our folklore and mentioned in many a Shakespeare play, their delicate appearance cloaking a powerful affinity for soothing our pains and anxieties.

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Making cowslip wine (Beatrix Potter)