Mistletoe – A Magical Herb

mistletoeMistletoe (Viscum album) is a beautiful parasitic herb found frequently on old apple trees and occasionally on oak trees.  It is in great demand as part of the greenery brought inside to celebrate Yule and kissing under the mistletoe is the remnants of its use as a Druidical fertility enhancing herb.  The white berries were considered to resemble semen.

63a.-Apple-trees-adorned-with-MistletoeFor magical purposes the Druids especially revered mistletoe found growing on oak trees.  It had to be cut with a golden sickle and not be allowed to touch the ground when it fell.  Traditionally it should be cut on Midsummer’s day or when the moon is six days old.  In the South West of England you will still find keepers of old mistletoe orchards who will not allow it to be cut unless it is the right time. 

A sprig carried was believed to protect the bearer against lightning strike and other misfortunes. If placed in a baby’s cradle it was believed to prevent the baby being stolen away by fairies and replaced by a changling. Wearing a ring of mistletoe wood would protect the bearer from all sickness.

Mistletoe is a medicinal herb too, a nervine and a narcotic which has been historically used to treat convulsions and epilepsy.  Most often nowadays it is used to help treat hypertension. It’s a powerful herb and should not be used to self medicate.  If you are keen to try mistletoe for high blood pressure then please consult a registered medical herbalist.

Mistletoe has also been used for cancer treatments for 90 years. At my clinic I always prefer to deal with whole plant medicines but it is worth mentioning that there has been a great deal of interest recently in the use of Mistletoe extract as a complementary treatment in cancer therapy. Research has shown that it increases quality of life, improves the immune response and protects healthy cells against the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Fortunately much work has been done to research ways of cultivating this plant to fulfil the demand. I would hate to see all the old West Country orchards cleared of mistletoe.

So next time you’re kissing under the Mistletoe, spare a thought for its rich magical and therapeutic heritage!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turmeric – ‘The Miracle of Life’

TurmericTurmeric or haldi has long been known for its healing properties and is called ‘The Miracle of Life’ in India.  In the West it was named ‘turmeric’ after the Latin ‘terra merita’ which means ‘meritorious earth’.

For those that are used to buying the beautiful yellow powder for curries I should explain that the spice turmeric is derived from the root of the turmeric plant, You can buy fresh turmeric root from continental grocers and its spicy lemony scent is heavenly, thoroughly recommended for a completely different curry experience!

It’s much more than just an ingredient though. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory making it an excellent treatment for swollen joints as well as cases of inflammatory bowel disease and gastritis.

If you have a tendency to blood sugar imbalances you should incorporate plenty of turmeric in your diet as it can help to normalise your blood sugar response.  Of course you should also look at your diet and make sure that you are not stressing your pancreas by eating a preponderance of high glycaemic index foods.

Turmeric (2)Turmeric also has a valid role to play in staving off the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Research studies indicate that turmeric blocks the production of IL-2 protein, which is known to destroy the protective sheath found around the nerves.

This miracle spice contains curcumin which has been shown to have anti-cancerous activity. Recent research is pointing towards its helpfulness in prostate cancer.  There’s also a strong tradition in Ayurveda of using tumeric paste externally on cancerous growths, particularly on the breast. As if that isn’t enough curcumin has also recently been shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect.  A 2013 study has heralded curcumin as being superior to prozac in the treatment of serious depression.

Turmeric can also claim a useful role in cardiovascular health as it helps to lower cholesterol levels.  Its systemic anti-inflammatory effects serve to guard against arterial disease.

Turmeric is said to be helpful for every symptom and not surprisingly there are a great many ways of taking it.  You can incorporate it into your cooking, after all Hippocrates said ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food!’ You can mix turmeric with olive, neem or coconut oil to make a paste and apply it to painful areas such as bunions. The temporary yellow staining on the skin is worth it for the relief!  The paste can also be used to treat wounds such as slow healing ulcers or infected cuts. 

IMG_2645You can take turmeric internally as capsules, fresh juice or as a paste mixed with oil or honey.  Turmeric can be prepared as a tea with a little lemon and ginger but my favourite is to blend it with selected spices and drink it mixed into hot non dairy milk as a hot chocolate alternative. As well as being delicious this is a very efficient way of receiving the benefits of turmeric because the oil content of the milk aids the absorption of the active ingredients.

In Ayurveda it is said that the fresh root is better for ‘hot’ conditions and the dried root is better for ‘cold conditions’.

If you haven’t discovered the wonderful health benefits of turmeric yet then now is a good time to start.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

 

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating Space Through Toning the Cardio-Vascular System

conkersbasket161013

Very often patients tell me that they feel as though they don’t have enough time in their lives.  They feel as though they are on a constant treadmill fulfilling their duties and responsibilities with no time ‘for themselves’.  They have no time to shop for healthy food, no time to prepare it even if they have managed to get it, no time to eat properly and no time to relax.  I really feel for them.  It’s a terrible state of affairs.

When such patients come in for their first consultation I notice that they talk quickly, the words come tumbling out as though there isn’t enough time to tell me everything that they need to.  It seems like there’s no space between the words and no space between the thoughts.  Not surprisingly they often complain of poor sleep due to the incessant chatter in their heads at night.

When I take their pulse I notice that there are no clearly defined gaps between the beats. I know when I feel that type of pulse that the patient needs astringent herbs, especially Aesculus, more commonly known as Horse Chestnut.  Aesculus tones of the cardio-vascular system and one of the effects of this is that the pulse becomes better ‘defined’.  I have also observed time and again the ability of this herb to assist with the creation of boundaries in people’s lives.  They report back during follow ups that they have been able to start saying ‘No’ to people and feeling more clear about what is important and necessary.  Many people take on too much before their health is up to it.  They need to be selective while they are rebuilding their energy and resilience.   

Maybe the obvious advice to these people would be to calm down, to start meditating or doing mindfulness practices. Realistically though you can’t expect someone caught up in this pattern to be able to comply easily. Their whole body is programmed to rush.

As a herbalist I know that if the body is in better balance then the mind will follow, after all there is no separation between body and mind.  The first line of treatment in my clinic then is to help tone the cardio vascular system and to create space between the beats of the pulse. Once this is in place the patient will be much more receptive to meditative or mindfulness practices.

With the introduction of meditation and more space in their life the patient feels a huge sense of relief. Time seems to slow down.  The pulse feels different too.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Infused Herbal OIls

Herbal infused oils are like gorgeous jewels

Herbal infused oils are like gorgeous jewels

Each summer I love to make infused herbal oils. Infused oils are a really good way of preserving the healing properties of herbs which will be used later in the year to make ointments or other external treatments.  The properties of the finished oil will depend on the herbs that you have used. For example Chilli infused oil will be heating and stimulating, Lavender will be soothing and healing, Comfrey will be good to heal sprains and injuries, St John’s Wort has a particular affinity for inflamed nerve endings so is really good for post herpetic neuralgia (after shingles) and Mullein Flower infused oil is brilliant as an ear oil.  

Making infused oil with fresh St John's Wort flowers

Making infused oil with fresh St John’s Wort flowers

To make an infused oil all you need is lots of the fresh herb picked when it is absolutely dry on a hot sunny day, a kilner jar and plenty of oil. You can use any oil which contains good amounts of Vitamin E.  I usually use olive oil but choose the mild version as it has a less pronounced smell. You can also use safflower oil, rapeseed oil and if you are feeling flush, almond oil or even jojoba oil.  As safflower has specific properties against bruising I choose it when I am preparing infused oils to make my bruise ointment.

Using a double boiler to make an infused oil

Using a double boiler to make an infused oil

Generally in the summer you can make infused oils by packing the jar full of the herb, covering it with oil and leaving it on a sunny windowsill for three weeks. Make sure that no herb is sticking out above the level of the oil and that the jar is packed solid with herbs.  Alternatively if you need your oil more quickly you can make it in a couple of hours by heating it gently in a double boiler or a slow cooker.

 

Straining and bottling

Straining and bottling

Once the oil is ready you strain it through a piece of clean muslin or a coffee filter in a colander. You can squeeze it out or press it, but don’t be too enthusiastic at this stage or you will end up with a cloudy oil.  I tend to filter it again using a coffee filter as it is going into the clean dry bottles.  Be warned it takes ages to go through the second filtering process so be prepared to leave it and get on with other jobs.  It is worth the wait though as you will end up with a clearer brighter oil which will keep much better.  The second filtering seems to remove the watery component of an oil made with fresh herbs.  Once it is in the bottles make sure you label it and then store in a cool dark place.

St John's Wort oil turns red as it infuses

St John’s Wort oil turns red as it infuses

My favourite infused oil is St John’s Wort because it visually demonstrates the wonderful alchemy of herbal medicine. You pick bright yellow flowers, add them to a jar with greeny olive oil and then watch in wonder as the whole thing takes on a gorgeous vibrant red colour.  This is due to the release of the oil soluble medicinal ingredient, hypericin.  You can see the oil glands in a St John’s Wort leaf if you hold it up to the light. You will see that the leaf seems to be full of pin pricks – hence its name Hypericum perforatum.

A word of caution though: it is important that infused oils made according to this method should ONLY be used externally.  Fresh herbs, even when picked on a very dry day, contain water and therefore when covered in oil create ideal conditions for the growth of anaerobic bacteria.  One of these is Clostridium botulinum which creates the botulism toxin when it grows.  Whilst oils containing this are completely safe to use externally, small amounts are very dangerous when taken internally and there is no sign or taste that an oil is affected.  If you really wanted to make infused oils as culinary ingredients there are ways of doing this safely, for example by only using dried herbs or by adding salt or vinegar to make the oil inhospitable to the growth of the bacteria.  Alternatively you can refrigerate them and use them within three days.

Chilli oil

Chilli oil

Making infused oils is not only very easy it is a wonderful way to make the most of the abundance of summer and store herbs for use during the winter. These oils are a really good first aid treatment for burns, skin conditions, aching joints and injuries. They’re quick and convenient to use (compared to say a poultice) and very effective as the medicinal properties are absorbed through the skin over a wide area. Once you have made your infused oils you have the option of using some of them to make ointments at a later time.  I make a lot of herbal ointments as these are convenient and ideal for small applications of herbs to specific areas – such as cuts or bites.  I like to have a range of different ointments in my first aid kit and they are a popular component of my Herb Share parcels.

If you bottle your oils in clear glass bottles (and then store them out of direct sunlight) you can admire their beautiful colours as you take them out of the cupboard to use them. Alternatively you can just admire them like a set of gorgeous jewels!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

080613Oils

 

Posted in Herbal Harvesting Year, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Harvesting Calendula – The Sunshine Herbal Medicine

calendula 007It’s the time of the year when my Calendula crop is flowering and requires regular picking and dead heading. I pick little and often so that at the end of the season I have enough dried Calendula flowers and infused oil to last the year ahead.  The sticky resin that you feel on your fingers when you pick the flowers is to be welcomed as it indicates the medicinal potency of the flowers, a combination of saponins, caretonoids, bitter principle, essential oil, sterols, flavonoids and mucilage.

Calendula officinalis is an important herbal medicine.  The first part of its name refers to the longevity of its flowering period, there are very few months of the year when one’s Calendula patch does not have the odd flower. The second part of the name, ‘officinalis’ refers to its long established role as a medicinal plant.  Calendula is probably best known as an excellent first aid treatment for cuts, scrapes, inflammation and infection of the skin.  The type of wound that is particularly well suited to this herb is one that looks like a cat scratch – red, swollen, puffed up and infected.  Although Calendula is often thought of as an antibacterial remedy it is actually a bacteriostatic, helping the body to win the fight against the infection by slowing the bacteria down and supporting the body’s response to the challenge.  Dr Richard Hughes (in 1880) wrote ‘no suppuration seems able to live in its presence’ and he seemed to understand this bacteriostatic role even before it was proven scientifically.

Not just for external wounds, Calendula can help the healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers, cleverly combining a healing action with gentle stimulation of the digestion so that the environment of the digestive tract is made less favourable for the formation of ulcers and the growth of Helicobacter pylori.

Calendula has an affinity with the lymphatic system, a system which I often find is clogged and poorly functioning due to modern diets and lifestyle. Signs of an overloaded lymphatic system tend to be repeated infections, particularly tonsillitis, oedema (water retention), poor energy levels and slow healing wounds.

Calendula growing at my herb field

Calendula growing at my herb field

The flowers are bright and cheerful, reminiscent of pure sunshine. They’re my herb of choice for swollen and stagnant lymph glands where there’s an infection lingering.  Herbalist Matthew Wood points out that Calendula is excellent for infections in those lymphatic node rich areas such as under the jaw line, breasts, armpits and groin.  He makes the connection that these are areas ‘where the sun don’t shine’, Calendula brings sunshine and clearing to the ‘shaded’ areas.  I have noticed that patients who need Calendula present with a real weariness and a slight yellow colouration around the eyes.

Calendula contains bitter principles and acts as a cholagogue so supports the action of the liver and gallbladder.  This makes it a good choice of herb when there is lymphatic stagnation combined with reduced liver function.  After taking Calendula patients find increased energy and the hint of yellow around the eyes is resolved.  Herb books will tell you that Calendula is also an emmenagogue so can help delayed menstruation and painful periods but I suspect that this action is due to its normalising effect on the liver.

As well as being bacteriostatic it is antifungal so a foot bath of the flowers will help get rid of troublesome athlete’s foot.  I once supplied a patient with some Calendula tincture to use for her son’s persistent athlete’s foot. She emailed me a week later to say: ‘One week of using your lotion completely resolved a problem that two months of allopathic treatment could not budge’.  You can also take this herb internally for systemic fungal infections. 

Calendula is so easy to grow and so pretty in the garden I thoroughly recommend that you find space to grow it each year. You’ll be growing virtually a complete herbal first aid kit!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Using dried Calendula flowers to make an ointment

Using dried Calendula flowers to make an ointment

Posted in Herbal Harvesting Year, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gathering Meadowsweet – A Natural Anti-inflammatory

IMG_4626At this time of year the damp areas of lanes and water meadows are covered with frothy clouds of Meadowsweet.  Meadowsweet or Filipendula ulmaria is a very important herb for my clinic.  Like other damp dwelling plants it contains salicylates, although at a level of only 0.5% it is a less important natural source than Willow or Poplar which boast 11% and 13% respectively. Meadowsweet comes into its own as an anti-inflammatory which has a specific action against inflammation and ulceration of the stomach, especially when combined with demulcent herbs such as Liquorice or Marshmallow. It is rich in flavonoids and tannins and it works very well to help treat generalised inflammatory conditions associated with arthritis and gout.

As well as being such a good anti-inflammatory it has the very useful property of helping to remove acidity from the body. This no doubt contributes to its action against gout and arthritis.

Commercially available sources are the entire tops of the plant ie leaves, stems and flowers, but I prefer to gather only the flowers.  I can honestly say that I have had such good results using them that I am not going to change anytime soon. So there’s nothing for it but to gather my own each year. It’s not a hardship really as it gives me an excuse to wander by the river on a sunny summer’s evening filling my basket with the gorgeous strong smelling blooms.

Meadowsweet grows in damp places like river meadows.

Meadowsweet grows in damp places like river meadows.

I say ‘strong’ smelling’ because once they’re in the dehydrator they give off a characteristic nitrogenous scent which I think is reminiscent of the glue sticks used at primary school for cutting and sticking.  One of the old country names for Meadowsweet is ‘Courtship and Marriage’. Apparently this refers to the sweet smell when the plant is growing but once plucked the scent changes to the more pungent nitrogenous one.  I prefer the more flattering name ‘Queen of the Meadow’. When you come around a corner and see a whole water meadow of this plant in flower it really takes your breath away.

Meadowsweet holds a special place in my heart as it is one of the first wild herbs that I learnt to gather all those years ago when I first started on my herbal journey. It is a great herb to start with as it is easily recognised and there is little danger of confusing it with any  other species.  I used to drink Meadowsweet infusion for headaches on account of the salicylates but now I know that I was only touching the surface of what this herb can do.

Why not get in touch with your inner forager and go out and find some Meadowsweet? Use it to make yourself a cup of herb tea and acquaint yourself with the ‘Queen of the Meadows’.  Alternatively you can join me for a foraging course and learn about other wild medicinal herbs at the same time.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Powdered Meadowsweet flowers for a capsule formula.

Powdered Meadowsweet flowers for a capsule formula.

Posted in Herbal Harvesting Year, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foxglove – A Plant That Deserves Respect

IMG_4442Although I don’t gather Foxglove for my clinic I love to see the flowers nodding in the fields and woodlands at this time of the year. Foxglove was originally called Folks glove, because it was believed that the flowers were ideal gloves for fairies or ‘the good folk’. Folks glove as a name is mentioned in a list of plants at the time of Edward III. Its Latin name (Digitalis purpurea) derives from the word Digitabulum which is a thimble.

In the old days Foxglove was used as a dressing for scrophulous sores and the juice of the flowers was prescribed boiled in wine as an expectorant.  It was introduced into the London Pharmacopoeia in 1650 but it didn’t come into common use until William Withering, a doctor and amateur botanist, came across a family recipe for dropsy which contained Foxglove and was very effective. He thought it highly likely that the Foxglove was the principle active ingredient and he set about experimenting on over 200 cases which he wrote up in his ‘Account of the Foxglove’ – written in 1785.

Foxglove was grown once as a commercial crop in this country. The highest concentration of medicinal properties are found in plants which are grown in the sun, but sheltered from the wind, perhaps on the south edge of a wood or hedge bank.  The leaves were used for the preparation of the drug Digitalis.  Apparently two tonnes of leaves were obtained to the acre.

The cardiac glycosides in Digitalis increase the action of the heart and the arteriole muscles.Digitalis Initially they cause a contraction of the heart and the arteries causing a very high rise in blood pressure.  After taking a moderate dose the pulse is markedly slowed, it causes the heart to be toned and beat more regularly, particularly helpful where the heart is enlarged or dilated, allowing it to have a better more regular supply of blood. The drug takes about 12 hours to reach its full effect, and it cannot be given in high doses since it causes digestive disturbances.  In small to moderate doses it is a powerful diuretic, thus helping to treat dropsy by supporting the heart and removing excess fluid.

Although in carefully controlled circumstances it is a lifesaver, Digitalis is a potentially dangerous drug. It tends to accumulate in the body and may suddenly manifest its toxicity, causing a dramatic decrease in blood pressure and a wildly irregular heart beat.  You won’t be surprised to hear that Foxglove is not a herb that I use in my clinic.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments