A Weekend of Traditional Tibetan Medicine Study in Tallinn

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This time last week I was in Tallinn, Estonia at the 4th International Congress on Sowa Rigpa or Traditional Tibetan Medicine. This conference was very ably organised by the Estonian branch of the International Academy of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, a worldwide academy of Traditional Tibetan Medicine headed up by the bubbly and enthusiastic Dr Nida Chenagstang. I had had the good fortune to meet Dr Nida for the first time last October when he was in London for a week of teaching commitments. It was at this meeting that Dr Nida extended a warm invitation for me to join the upcoming Congress in Estonia.

It was such a joy to spend time with other Tibetan Medicine practitioners and to spend three days immersed in the study of this profoundly spiritual and yet eminently practical system of healing. I love the fact that Tibetan Medicine enables the healing of body, mind and spirit. The development of illness is a complex process which involves ingrained thought patterns, conditioning and emotional blocks just as much as the ingestion of unhealthy foods or a habitually unfavourable lifestyle. To only focus on physical manifestations of illness is to ignore the underlying root cause. Yet western allopathic medicine remains stubbornly uncomfortable about the mind and spirit aspects of healing. But I digress….

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Congress participants were warmly welcomed by Dr Nida Chenagstang.  Dr Nida’s enthusiasm and determination has helped bring the healing knowledge of Tibetan Medicine to students in many countries of the world. Dr Nida has also been responsible for preserving and teaching  knowledge of various external therapies such as:- KuNye Massage, Moxibustion and  YukCho Stick Therapy (this latter is not included in the Gyuzhi and had been preserved only as an oral tradition until Dr Nida’s initiative to teach it more widely).

What did I learn at the Congress? I learnt that there is a wide and dedicated network of Tibetan Medicine practitioners who are actively engaged in research and development projects all over the world. I was especially thrilled to discover that there is an initiative to share knowledge about the growing of Tibetan medicinal herbs in different European countries. I was impressed to learn that there is a now a new college in Nepal called ‘Sorig Khang International Nepal’ which will welcome its first students for a five year degree course in Tibetan Medicine this autumn (this course is open to western students too). I marvelled at the work done by Herbert Schwabl and his team at Padma Inc in order to make Tibetan formulae available in Europe despite complex and restrictive regulations which vary in interpretation within different EU countries, and I was totally enthralled by Eric Rosenbush’s presentation on ‘An Exploration of the Nectar of Immortality within the Science of Healing and its Lore in Indo-Tibetan Spiritual Traditions’. I seriously could have listened to this presentation for a great deal longer than the programme allowed.

On the second day of the congress we were treated to a demonstration of the Lum-Five Nectar Bath Therapy by Dr Dimitri Khokhlov from ATTM Buriatia thanks to the confidence and good humour of a volunteer who agreed to strip off and climb into the steam bath tent and sit there for 40 mins in front of a large audience. Dr Dimitri explained that this very valuable and ancient system of therapy is particularly helpful for patients living in colder parts of the world. I also attended a workshop in the use of heated iron instruments instead of herbal moxibustion cones, called ‘tel me’ in Tibetan. I found the heat from the iron rods to be soothing, penetrating and lasting so I could see how this form of moxibustion would be very good for the treatment of joint problems or injuries. I really liked the fact that this form of therapy does not leave a smoke filled clinic, something which I have found can be a little impractical in my premises where a moxibustion session could in theory be followed by a consultation with a patient suffering from a respiratory disorder. I can already hear the cries of ‘What about smokeless moxa?’ but I find even smokeless ‘moxa’  is a little smokey.

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Dr Anastazja Holecko gave a very interesting presentation on diet. She had drawn on functional medicine to help bring the very ancient advice contained within the Gyuzhi into a format compatible with western diets and lifestyles. My patients will be all too aware that my treatment recommendations always involve dietary and lifestyle advice. It is so important to eat in a manner that suits our personal circumstances and constitution.  I see a great many patients who have unwittingly unbalanced their health due to following a new healthy eating system, promoted on the internet and in the media as being perfect for everyone. In fact in reality we need to adapt our eating to our constitutional nature. For example someone of a nervous or anxious disposition will do much better if they include rich and nutritious, warming foods such as bone broth, oats and sesame seeds rather than following a very light raw food diet.

It was a great honour to hear about some Tibetan Medicinal formulae passed down through many generations of Dr Wanma Caidan’s family lineage in Amdo. It is awe inspiring to think about how such precious knowledge has been passed orally from father to son and now to daughters too for many centuries. There were also two very interesting presentations on karmamudra and sexual rejuvenation practices, as well as love, attachment and sexuality by Dr Tetsu Nagasawa from Japan and Dr Olev Poolamets from Estonia.

With three very full days packed full of presentations and demonstrations there was a great deal more which I won’t list exhaustively but I will add that I was very happy to hear the highly experienced Tibetan Doctor and teacher, Dr Machik from Amdo, speaking. Dr Machik was special guest of honour at the congress and I believe it was the first time he has travelled outside of China. I’m hoping to be able to travel to Amdo to study with him this summer.

After the formalities of the congress we delegates walked through the beautiful old town of Tallinn to the youth centre where we took part in the ceremony to ritually destroy the intricate Medicine Buddha sand mandala which had been constructed there a few days earlier. Although in the west we may find this destruction an alien concept, within Buddhism it is very helpful to be concious of the fleeting and impermanent nature of life. The destruction of the sand mandala helps to bring this impermanence into the forefront of our minds and helps us to grasp life to the full while we have its blessing.

I could say so much more about this but I am still digesting the experience myself. It was certainly a very intense few days and I found the interchange amongst delegates between the sessions was just as valuable as the formal presentations themselves. I know that attending the congress has refreshed and rejuvenated me after years of hard work focused on my clinic and patients without a change of scenery. I have come away from the congress with new friends, new ideas and a sense of being part of a wider Sowa Rigpa family. Once again though I’m left with a renewed wonder at the sophistication and spiritual depth of this wonderful and ancient system of healing.

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Early Spring at the Allotment

 

This morning was sunny and bright and I was looking forward to spending some time down at my allotment. I  had carved the time out of my crowded diary four weeks ago and I was delighted to see that the weather had been very kind. Perfect in fact, the ground too frozen to dig, but the bright sunshine and hard ground were ideal for cutting back some of last year’s growth without turning the soil into a compacted quagmire.

Part of self sufficient herbalism is being able to cultivate one’s own herbs. Having had the luxury of a half acre field in the past I’m now managing with an allotment. Space is tight for my needs but I still manage to grow and harvest a very wide range of medicines for my clinic.

If you like the idea of self sufficient herbalism and want to keep up with my medicine making, foraging and growing then follow me on Twitter or ‘like’ my Facebook page. To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

If you are planning to grow your own medicines then you need to be able to recognise medicinal plants at different growth stages and at different times of the year. The following photos show the plants that were visible this morning.

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Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony)

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Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

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Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)

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Marrubium vulgare (Horehound)

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Chelidonium majus (Greater Celandine)

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Symphytum officinale (Comfrey)

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Nepeta cataria (Catmint)

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Verbascum thapsis (Mullein)

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Cynara scolymus (Artichoke)

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Galega officinalis (Goat’s Rue)

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Primula veris (Cowslip)

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Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)

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Oreganum marjorana (Marjorum)

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Mentha spicata (Spearmint)

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Lactuca virosa (Wild Lettuce)

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Verbena officinalis (Vervein)

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Viola odorata (Sweet Violet)

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Fragaria vesca (Wild Strawberry)

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Solidago virgaurea (Golden Rod)

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Phytolacca americana (Pokeroot)

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Viburnum opulus (Cramp Bark)

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Double Extracted Chaga Tincture

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I was very excited to source some sustainably harvested Scottish Chaga this year. Chaga ((Inonotus obliquus) is known as ‘The Mushroom of Immortality’ in Siberia. It’s a nutritional powerhouse as well as a potent medicine. One of its many beneficial constituents is a compound called super oxide dismutase (often abbreviated to SOD).  but I’d rather use its full title! Super oxide dismutase fights the damage caused by free radicals in the body. Since free radical damage is a huge factor in ageing, Chaga has rightly earned its reputation as a ‘Gift from God’. It’s not just a beauty product though, its free radical neutralising action helps to counteract the ravages of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Chaga also has a long tradition of being used to improve athletic performance, strengthening the immune system and as an anti-inflammatory.  Its known medicinal constituents and long empirical use leads medical herbalists to choose Chaga in supporting patients fighting cancer as well as those suffering from adrenal burn out or overload. There’s a very long list of conditions that Chaga is claimed to cure and a quick internet search will provide you with reams of information. All I can say is that it is a truly fabulous natural medicine and highly suitable to take as a daily tonic.

Chaga can be taken as a powder, a decoction or a tincture, but the best way to extract the full array of medicinal constituents is as a double extracted tincture. Let me show you how I used this process to create a very high quality Chaga extract in my clinic.

The first challenge is to source good quality sustainably foraged Chaga. A responsible forager will not strip the birch trees but take a little from a range of trees so that there is a thriving source for future years.  Dried Chaga comes in woody slightly ‘rubbery’ chunks with a gorgeous autumnual brown hue. The outside edge of each chunk is dark and fissured, almost as though it has been burnt.

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The second challenge is to cut the chunks into smaller pieces so that there’s a large surface area to volume ratio which will result in a more efficient extraction process. Cutting Chaga is not an easy process. I tried a junior hacksaw and a rubber mallet before settling on a plain old sharp knife. I found that pressing the point of the knife into a chunk and then twisting allows the fungus to cleave naturally and makes the job slightly easier.

After you have cut the Chaga into chunks put it into a Kilner jar and add a high strength alcohol mix. I used 60% alcohol. Using a lower strength alcohol (for example vodka) will mean that you must be careful about the amount of water you add later in the second stage of the process.

Put the jar away in a dark place for at least three weeks, agitating it every so often to ensure proper extraction. Once the tincture has macerated it can be strained and pressed.

The resulting high alcohol tincture is bottled temporarily and set aside. The quantity of this tincture is recorded so that the volume of the aqueous decoction can be calculated. The Chaga used to make the tincture is reserved and then used for the second stage of the process.

A quantity of water (I use spring water) which is twice the volume of the tincture is put into a pan with the Chaga. You can use a knife to measure the depth. You are going to need to simmer this gently for several hours until  the volume is reduced by 50%.  At this stage it is a thick dark nutritious (and delicious) liquid. The decoction is strained and pressed again.

The final stage is that the cooled decoction is mixed with the alcoholic tincture so that there are equal quantities of each. If you use a lower strength alcohol in the tincture making part you will need to combine it with less than its own volume of decoction. This is because if the overall alcohol content of the finished article is less than 25% the double extracted tincture may not keep properly. I wouldn’t want to have any risk of spoilage so my final alcohol content is a decent 43%.

Once the double extracted tincture has been made all you have to do is to bottle and label it. I recommend taking 10 – 20 drops as a daily tonic. If you have a particular health challenge you and your herbal practitioner may decide on a higher dose.

Most of the Chaga extract that I have made will be used in my clinic dispensary but at the time of writing I have a small amount available for sale. Do send me an email if you want to know about availability and cost.

If you like the idea of self sufficient herbalism and want to keep up with my medicine making, foraging and growing then follow me on Twitter or ‘like’ my Facebook page. To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

 

 

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Homemade Thick Non Dairy Yoghurt

yog1 Yesterday I made my first trial batch of delicious creamy thick coconut yoghurt. Ever since going dairy free nearly 10 years ago I have missed proper thick creamy yoghurt – the type that you can use in Naan breads or in savoury sauces, creamy but not too sweet. I’ll definitely be making a bigger batch next time!

I was guided and inspired by Tasty – Yummies’ excellent post on the subject which is here: http://bit.ly/1yDMEc1 .They do point out that everyone needs to experiment a little and find out what works in their own kitchen. So here is my experience.

yog2You will need:

  • 1 tbsp Agar flakes
  • 0.5 cups cold water
  • 400g thick canned coconut milk
  • 0.5 tsp honey
  • 1 sachet Bio Yoghurt culture
  • a yoghurt maker – mine is a Severin

Add the Agar flakes to the cold water and heat gently without stirring until it simmers. Simmer for 3 minutes whisking occasionally to make sure the flakes are thoroughly dissolved. Add a can of coconut milk and heat gently until it reaches blood heat then stir in the culture and 0.5 tsp honey to ‘feed’ it. (When I used to make yoghurt with sheep’s milk I always pasteurised it first by heating to boiling point and then allowing it to cool to blood heat. In this case I decided to see what happened if I didn’t heat the coconut milk any more than necessary). Mix the culture and the honey thoroughly into the warm milk and pour into the yoghurt pots. I left mine for about 8 hours before refrigerating. When I removed them from the yoghurt maker it looked as though they weren’t going to set but they did set on cooling. Yay!

Next time I’d probably double up the quantities but keep the same amount of dried culture. I’d also like to see how things turn out if I use a spoonful of a previous batch to inoculate the new batch. Obviously if you are using your own culture then you need to be meticulous about sterilising everything throughout the process in order to keep the culture untainted.

So if you are vegan or need to avoid dairy for health reasons and have missed ‘proper’ thick homemade yoghurt then give this recipe a try!

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

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2014 – A Good Year for Making Herbal Medicines

On the eve of the New Year I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my herbal medicine making exploits during 2014. Actually I process herbs practically every day of the year so it will have to be selected highlights.

In January and February when the ground is suitable, I harvest, wash and dry roots. This is Inula racemosa (Tibetan Elecampane) being prepared for drying. It’s a lovely job as the Inula smells so fragrant. Inularacemosa

Root harvesting entails a lot of washing and scrubbing so I try to choose a really sunny day for this task. When the weather is harsher there is plenty to do in the clinic in terms of making infused oils and encapsulating herbs.

This year I made some gorgeous infused Chilli oil using organic chillies.  Once it’s made I can use the oil throughout the year to make batches of Chilli and Lobelia Rub. This is pain relieving and relaxes overly tense muscles. 050814ChilliOil

My HerbShare members had a pot of the Chilli and Lobelia Rub in their boxes during the winter.

As with all the months of the year, capsule making is ongoing. Here’s a photo of my fabulous capsule maker, without which I would be lost as I have to make hundreds of capsules every week. 110314Capsules

You can see my tincture bottles in the background. They are all arranged alphabetically or I wouldn’t be able to keep track of anything.

With the coming of Spring I was glad to get out and gather Wild Garlic. The challenge over this last year has been to get to know my new herb foraging territory. I had lived in West Dorset for 13 years and knew the best places for all the wild medicines that I liked to use, but with moving to Somerset I have had to acquaint myself with new haunts and new medicines. wildgarlic

I found a beautiful Wild Garlic woodland. We made it a family outing so I had help with gathering for this one.

With the Spring fully under way in April it was time for Dandelions, gorgeous fields of gold signalling the start of the warmer weather. Dandelions are an excellent kidney medicine but picking needs to be done in old clothes. If you don’t wear gloves be prepared to have stained fingers for a while! IMG_3817 Cowslips1

Also in the early Spring the Cowslips are ready for harvest, but since they are scarce in the wild you need to grow your own to be environmentally responsible. My population at the allotments caused quite a stir amongst the cabbages and leeks.  Cowslips are a gently sedative relaxing herbal medicine which is especially good for soothing troublesome coughs. I add them to my Breathe Easy Tea.

With the coming of May it was Hawthorn gathering time – as its name ‘May’ suggests. I use a lot of Hawthorn blossom in my practice as it is such an effective cardiovascular tonic, supporting weak and failing hearts, as well as gently calming high blood pressure.  HawthornBlossom

I like to use the blossom in my capsule blends and later in the year I gather the berries for tincture.

In June the herb gathering season is entering its busiest phase, I gather and harvest herbs daily and the dehydrators are going 24 hours a day.  I was very pleased with how well my allotment established in 2014. This photo shows it at its height in midsummer. 070414Allotment

You can see St John’s Wort, Calendula, Eschscholzia, Agrimony, Goats Rue, Soapwort, Valerian and Marshmallow in flower. As you can imagine, there was a lot of harvesting needed to keep up with production.

With a very hot summer it was a pleasure to go to Ringstead Bay and gather Sea Lettuce and Kelp. Here’s the proof that I actually gathered my seaweed stocks myself. By the way I am waving a piece of seaweed not (as someone suggested) part of my bikini! seaweed

Sea vegetables are rich in minerals and a very healthy addition to the diet. I like to use them in certain capsule formulations where a mineral boost is needed.

After a summer of gathering and drying all sort of herbs it’s always good to see the herb store filling up. I need to gather enough of each herb to last me the year ahead, yet I never really know how much of each I will need. This is one of the reasons why I started the Herb Share Scheme. It allows me to share ‘spare’ herbs and herbal products with a very select few members. 072714HerbStore

I really enjoyed making up the HerbShare boxes over 2014. It meant that I could be creative and make limited edition special products each month. I also got to share my herbal knowledge with the members and see them starting to use herbs as a first port of call for family ailments.

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These were the products in the April parcel.

 

 

 

At the end of the year it’s all about capsules, oils and ointments, with tincture making thrown in for good measure. tincturestodrain

This photo shows some tinctures which are ready to be drained and pressed.

Some of the tinctures are made with freshly harvested plant parts and others are made with dried herbs. It depends on the herb and the nature of the constituents. 102014FireCider

Finally as the cold and flu season approached I made a large batch of Fire Cider using my own Horseradish root which had grown very well in its new location at the allotment.

This has really been just a very brief skate over my 2014 herbal exploits but I hope it’s enough to convey how much I love dealing with real plants and crafting my medicines from seed all the way through to the dispensary. I think that making herbal medicines in this way makes them special and potent as well as filled with healing intention.

If you’d like to have a herbal health check to get you on track in the coming year then do get in touch. In the meantime I’d like to raise a mug of herbal infusion to you and wish you a very Happy New Year!

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

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Lily of the Valley – Apollo’s Gift to Aesclepius

Lily of the Valley newly established in a shady part of my garden

Lily of the Valley newly established in a shady part of my garden

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is blooming at this time of year.  The Latin name means ‘Of the valleys’ and ‘during May’ so for those people who find Latin names awkward I hope to persuade you how logical and descriptive they are (but then I’m one of those people who loved studying Latin at school)!

The beautiful fragrant bells of Convallaria used to be quite common in the British Isles in shady woodlands.  Apparently in the time of Nicholas Culpeper (who died in 1654), it was widespread on Hampstead Heath.  Sadly with the removal of tree cover the plant has disappeared from there.  There are still some wild populations but they are few and far between and it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for herbalists to gather supplies from them.  It’s up to us to grow it ourselves if we want a guaranteed good quality source so I’ve established some plants in a shady part of my new garden.  It’ll be a few years before I can take a harvest but in the meantime I’ve found a useful source from my friend and clinic neighbour Heather who runs a busy florist shop.  She uses Lily of the Valley in wedding bouquets and always has leaves left over. She was surprised when I asked if I could have them as she had no idea that they were medicinal, but she’s getting used to my herbalist ways and was delighted that they would go to good use.

LilyValleyIn the language of flowers Lily of the Valley means ‘You’ve made my life complete’ or ‘Return of happiness’.  As these are matters traditionally associated with the heart it’s interesting then that Lily of the Valley is a potent heart medicine.  Legend has it that Apollo presented it to Aesclepius (the god of healing) as a gift.

Lily of the Valley contains a number of cardiac glycosides including convallatoxin, convallatoxol, convalarin and so on. The leaves and flowers have long been used as a cardiac tonic and diuretic.  It has an action similar to Foxglove in that it enables the heart to beat more powerfully and slowly in the presence of less oxygen. However it differs dramatically from Foxglove in that it’s much safer and doesn’t build up to toxic levels in the body with the potential for sudden serious adverse reactions.

Lily of the Valley has a role to play in normalising arrhythmias, supporting a failing heart and treating valvular disease.  Mitral stenosis, mitral regurgitation and cor pulmonale are conditions which would point to the use of this herb.  Although very safe under the treatment of a registered medical herbalist it’s not a herb to be used for self treatment.

As well as it’s well documented use as a heart tonic, this herb is traditionally thought of as a remedy to restore a failing memory.  Culpeper says: ‘It strengthens the brain, recruits a weak memory and makes it strong again’.  When I have my own plentiful supplies I’ll have to try that – if I remember.

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

 

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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

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