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


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.
Cowslip : an Iron Fist in a Yellow Velvet Glove

Cowslip : an Iron Fist in a Yellow Velvet Glove



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.


Making cowslip wine (Beatrix Potter)

The Secret Medicinal Life of the Snowdrop

The Secret Medicinal Life of the Snowdrop

The sight of a snowdrop in bloom is an uplifting sign of the promise of Spring and all the fresh and new natural bounties yet to come. It is the flower of Imbolc, a pre-Christian festival in early February that heralds the return of the green and growing regenerative life force. The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is such a beautiful little plant and has many admirers based on good looks alone but recently I discovered that there are hidden depths and that a closer look yeilds significant rewards….

Snowdrops (Glanthus nivalis) hiding amongst last years brambles stems

Snowdrops (Glanthus nivalis) hiding amongst last years brambles stems

The medicine that this little plant packs into its delicate bulbs is a secret worth knowing. The bulbs and the leaves of snowdrop, a European and Middle Eastern native, have been used for centuries as medicine. You will find little mention of them in standard books on herbal medicine however.

Natives of Eastern Europe’s remote mountainous regions are said to rub the crushed bulbs and leaves into their heads for neuralgia (nerve pain), nerve inflammation and headache and also ate the bulbs to stay mentally sharp, to strengthen the brain and nervous system and to keep the brain processes and nervous system ever youthful.

The bulbs and leaves have been found to contain a substance (an alkaloid) named galantamine which helps to slow down the destructive processes of Alzheimer’s and dementia and is now licensed for use by doctors in several countries. The alkaloid works by temporarily restoring the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain, improving memory, focus and general cognitive abilities, specifically the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

People of Eastern Europe used to give a tea made from the bulbs to children afflicted with poliomyelitis, with knowledge that a full recovery would most likely be made with little or no complications from the disease.

They can also be used in traumatic injuries to the nervous system and some have suggested that it may help with Multiple Sclerosis as referenced in this link which also has a recipe for making a tincture from the bulbs.

The crushed bulbs can be applied directly to areas of the body affected by frostbite or chilblains or made into an ointment for the same purpose.

The isolated alkaloid galantamine can also help to induce lucid dreaming (when we become self-aware and able to control events in dreaming) and lengthen the time spent in REM dreaming, as well as enhance dream recall upon awakening as discussed in this link Take careful note of his cautions and personal experiences at the bottom of the article.

The substances in snowdrop are being studied for their possible remedial action in HIV.

An extract of the bulbs can help treat glaucoma.

The bulbs have also been used historically to bring on delayed menstruation and even to induce abortion, though I don’t recommend ever trying the latter!

The modest snowdrop (Galnthus nivalis) hides its beauty, rewarding those who look deeper

The modest snowdrop (Galnthus nivalis) hides its beauty, rewarding those who look deeper

Regarding using snowdrop as a remedy at home, I really don’t recommend it, the bulbs are classed as a poison and dosage is very unclear with unpleasant side effects (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss and dizziness). I will continue to search for valid information though as someone somewhere surely knows how to use this plant safely as medicine. Share with us in the comments below if anyone has any ideas. When/if I ever find a reliable source of information, I will add to this post.

*Already found this blog post from a true pioneer experimenting with homemade snowdrop tincture for treating Lymes disease!

*Never collect this plant from the wild, it is protected under law by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) due to commercial over-harvesting and natural habit loss. They are very easy to obtain as plants from garden centres, online or as seeds and planted in the right place (shade, damp, around/amongst trees) they will propagate themselves and spread nicely around the garden.


Please be advised that the information on this page is intended for information purposes only and is in no way intended as medical advice.