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

 

 

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Creating Space Through Toning the Cardio-Vascular System

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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Harvesting Alchemilla mollis – A Great Healer and Toner

Freshly harvested Alchemilla, Nettle and Lemon Balm

Freshly harvested Alchemilla, Nettle and Lemon Balm

Yesterday I was able to harvest my first crop from the new bed of Alchemilla mollis at my herb field.  Alchemilla mollis is better known as Ladies’ Mantle and is now widely known as a herb ‘for women’.  This was not always the case.  In the early days of its use in Europe around 1500 it was known as Greater Sanicle – Sanicle being the name for a wound healing herb.  This was an apt name as its main constituents are tannins which act as wound healers (vulneraries) and astringents. Alchemilla’s anti-inflammatory and toning properties made it an ideal herb to use externally for wounds, sores and ulcers, and as a gargle for laryngitis. It was found to have particular affinity for the healing of torn membranes and there are many cases describing its successful use in the healing of abdominal hernias and even reports of its use in restoring perforated eardrums.

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Alchemilla became known as Ladies’ Mantle due to the likeness of its leaves to a lady’s waterproof cloak

When the Doctrine of Signatures became influential in Western Herbal Medicine the likeness of the leaves to a lady’s’ waterproof cloak or mantle gave it a new name and a new emphasis.  The amazing toning and healing action of the leaves made it an ideal fomentation to use post partum to heal tears to the perineum and to reduce bruising and inflammation.  Fomentations of the leaves were used on the breasts after weaning to restore tone and shape.  The incredible ability of the herb to heal tears and membranes was said to extend to restoring the hymen in young girls although I will admit that this is not something I have ever been asked for in my clinic so I couldn’t comment on its efficacy or otherwise!  It is very helpful in cases of incipient prolapse though. A strong infusion is added to a sitz bath or bidet and the area bathed daily.

Alchemilla is excellent taken internally as an infusion or tincture to tone and remove inflammation from the female reproductive tract therefore helping to reduce period pain and excessive bleeding.  It also has an emmenagogue action which means that it can encourage the start of a period if it is slow to start.

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The dew on Alchemilla leaves was highly prized by alchemists

This herb is a popular garden plant, not particularly for its flowers which are pretty but not showy, but for the leaves which seem to collect dew and rain in beautiful large droplets. These droplets seem to stay long after dew on other plants has evaporated. On a hot sunny day one can usually find droplets on the Alchemilla when all the other vegetation is bone dry.  It is almost as though the shape of the droplet makes it more resistant to evaporation.  Perhaps a physicist will enlighten me as to why this could be so. In any case the old alchemists placed great value on this dew and collected it for their work, hence the Latin name.  Alchemilla droplets are still used in energetic work by flower essence practitioners to help those affected by sexual abuse and trauma.

As well as tannins, Alchemilla contains bitter principles and salicylic acid.  Its taste is bitterAlchemilla and astringent and it is reminiscent of the other salicylic acid containing plants which grow near water – Willow and Meadowsweet.  Like the other water margin dwelling plants, Alchemilla has the property of removing excess dampness from the tissues when they are inflamed, flaccid or weakened.

If you have Alchemilla growing in your garden you should feel lucky as you have a great healer available on your doorstep. I have several patients who have now planted it to ensure a steady supply as they have found it so useful and have learnt to value it highly.  Use it fresh while in season and dry some for use in the winter.

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

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Reconnecting with our Herbal Roots and Musings on 17th Century Herbal Medicine

Freshly gathered herbs to make herbal medicines

Freshly gathered herbs to make herbal medicines

When I first set up my herbal clinic my bank manager came to see me.  We chatted over a cup of herbal tea and she admired my shelves of tinctures and drawers of capsules.  I was surprised though when she said to me: ‘But do herbs really work Lucy?’

I was amazed that such an intelligent and educated person could have so little understanding of herbal medicine.  Herbal medicine is the oldest and most widely used form of medicine in the world.  Eighty percent of the world’s population, largely in developing countries, relies on plant derived medicines for their primary health care.  Herbs for them are affordable, effective and part of their cultural heritage.

Why is it then that in the developed West we have relegated herbs to at best a quaint alternative medicine and at worst a form of treatment that is to be mistrusted and feared?  Is this ‘disconnect’ part of the wider desire of society to consume things which are more refined, more complicated, more expensive and more ‘sophisticated’?  

Over and over again we can see how it is in our human nature to be attracted by the novel and the convenient.  We want the latest drug, something that will take away our symptoms quickly and easily without the hassle of making awkward lifestyle or dietary changes.  

17th Century physician taking a patient's pulse

17th Century physician taking a patient’s pulse

I think that our disconnection with herbal medicine started to become evident back in the 17th Century. At that time there had developed three main avenues of obtaining health care.  You could have tooth extractions, amputations or bone setting carried out by the highly skilled barber surgeons.   Then you had the highly educated Physicians who knew about the humours, pulse diagnosis and astrological charts.  They used blood letting and purges to produce dramatic effects on the body and had access to the most modern drugs, for example mercury and antimony.  Physicians would create highly complicated formulae full of expensive and exotic ingredients which patients would obtain from the Apothecaries.

Apothecaries had wonderful shops full of herbs and spices  and also some of the new exotic non plant medicines.  They were not allowed to formulate their own prescriptions for patients until the end of the 17th century so they needed to Physicians to prescribe drugs in order that they could make a living.  It was from this time that doctoring became synonymous with drugging and the health care system revolved around ‘fixing’ ill health rather than staying well.

But what about the common people?  They couldn’t afford Physicians, and in fact may have been wise to avoid them.  If you lived in a rural area you could gather and preserve all the medicines that you needed.  In the towns you could buy fresh herbs from the physical herb women in Newgate Market or Covent Garden, scurvy grass by the basket and violets by the pint.  Fresh herbs were a halfpenny a handful and roots were a groat for a pound.   The only problem was if you didn’t know how to use them you were stuck.

Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper

At this point we have a herbal hero of mine, Nicholas Culpeper, to thank for helping the common people understand how to gather and use herbs.  He studied medicine at Cambridge University and was an accomplished student but dropped out of college when his fiancé was struck my lightning.  In his grief and despair he devoted himself to making medicinal knowledge available more widely, translating the London Pharmacopoea into English from Latin and writing ‘The English Physician’ .

Many women at that time would have relied on books and scrap books of herbal remedies to treat their families and neighbours.  Here is a formula from Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Housewife’ :

“To cure the worst bloody flux that may be, take a quart of red wine, and a spoonful of cumin seed, boyl them together until half be consumed, then take knot grass, and Shepherd’s Purse and Plaintaine and stamp them severall, and then strain them and take the juice of each, a good spoonful, and put them to the wine, and so seeth them again a little, then drink it luke warm, half over night and half next morning.”

The above prescription is a combination of astringent and styptic herbs together with a carminative (Cumin) to ease the griping and a demulcent (Plantain) to soothe the inflammation.  It’s well balanced and must have been very effective.

Somewhere along the way though, we started to lose this grass roots herbal knowledge and rely more and more on the Physicians whose trade revolved around ‘curing illness’ rather than ‘promoting wellness’. We lost the ability to promote good health through timely adjustments to diet and lifestyle, ‘nipping’ potential health conditions in the bud.  In leaving them to become deeper and more well established in the body they become more complicated to treat and less suited to self medication.

I find this very sad.  I would love to see our herbal heritage reawakened and continued.  I would love more people to be able to recognise the plants growing around them and understand how they can help us.  I would love everyday herbal knowledge to be passed down once again between parents and children.  Over all I would love more people to experience true and vibrant good health.

I think that the first step in reconnecting us with our herbal roots, and leaves and flowers for that matter, is to encourage more people to use herbs for everyday family health conditions.  That’s why I’m so excited to see how my Herb Share Scheme is growing and why I love to teach people about herbal foraging each summer.  

If you would like to reconnect with your herbal roots then have a look at my website and check out the sections on Herb Share and Courses.  www.myrobalanclinic.com 

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Couch Grass – a Welcome Crop in My Garden

Couch grass rhizomes

Couch grass rhizomes

Yesterday I had an hour after my clinic to do some work in the garden.  I planned to dig over a fallow bed and was delighted to find that it contained a good crop of Couch grass.  I know that most gardeners wouldn’t be so happy, Couch grass being almost universally reviled as a nuisance.  It spreads by long rhizomes and it only needs the tiniest piece to start a new colony.  If you are trying to rid your garden of this plant you need to be thorough and vigilant!

I know Couch grass by its former Latin name Agropyron repens.  Unfortunately Botanists have recently seen fit to change its name to Elymus repens.  Call me old fashioned but my stock of Couch grass tincture and dried herb will stay in the ‘A’ section of my dispensary.  I am so used to referring to it as Agropyron repens and it saves me re-organising all my tincture bottles.

I like to use fresh plant material for tincture, it is the rhizomes which are used medicinally.  I don’t grow Couch grass in my garden on purpose though – that would be a bridge too far!  I normally plant some in a couple of large tubs of compost and let it thrive over the summer, safely contained.  At the end of the season I can just tip it out and pick up the rhizomes.  Finding this crop in a fallow bed was a great bonus.

If you are not familiar with the medicinal properties of Couch grass let me fill you in so you can at least empathise with my excitement.  Ellingwood (1918) describes it as ‘a renal sedative’.  It doesn’t stimulate the kidneys to work harder like some of the aromatic diuretics, but relaxes the tubules, opening the structure so that more water can pass out and the urine becomes more dilute.  This is very useful where there is inflammation and irritation of the mucous membranes of the bladder and urinary system in general.  As well as relaxing the tubules, Couch grass is soothing and demulcent, acting directly as an anti-inflammatory.  By increasing the capacity of the tubules and encouraging more copious urine production, the remedy is useful where there is urinary gravel, as it flushes it out.  It is also good in the herbal treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Added to this gentle flushing and soothing effect, Couch grass is directly anti-microbial through its terpene constituent ‘agropyrene’.  This makes it a very good herb in the treatment of cystitis and prostatitis.  Make a decoction of the fresh rhizomes, simmering two teaspoons of cut rhizome in a large cup of water for 15 minutes strain and drink.  Take three cups a day until your troubles have passed.

Happily harvesting Couch grass

Happily harvesting Couch grass

Having said this I don’t really work with the ‘take this herb for this ailment’ herbal school of thought.  Couch grass is an excellent tool for helping to rebalance the body where there are urinary system issues but if you are suffering from frequent urination and bouts of cystitis then you will need to look at the root cause.  A diet high in sugars, too much caffeine, poor circulation and a sedentary lifestyle are frequent culprits.

So Couch grass is a welcome visitor to my garden, although I am clearing it from the bed in question to make way for other herbal crops.  I know that there will always be little islands of it in years to come so I can cultivate it when I need it, but for now I have a good supply to replenish my dispensary.  Oh and before you ask – I have plenty  now so I won’t be coming to clear your beds for you!

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

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Getting Back Your Dreams and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

004The best piece of advice that I have ever been given in my life is to have a dream and to do one thing towards it, no matter how small, every day.  It’s very clever because having a dream gives you the impetus to strive for things.  It means that you will work hard to have the health and well being to see it through.  Doing something towards the dream each day helps to keep it at the front of your mind, as well as inching you closer and closer to its fulfillment.

Some people find it easy to have dreams, but others have been worn down by years of ill health and low vital energy so having a dream seems just ‘pie in the sky’.  I find that many of my patients find their way to my clinic after years of ill health and unsatisfactory treatment through other channels.  Their ability to dream is suspended for the time being and they need help just getting through each day.

Here is where health goals come in.  The wonderful thing about herbal medicine is that it is holistic – treating the whole person.  It’s not just about prescribing a herb for a particular ailment and expecting people to become miraculously well.  I regularly work with my patients to set achievable health goals and support them in achieving the first steps towards restoring their vital energy.  The dreams come later…

Health goal setting is very important as it gives us direction and motivation. Without goals we don’t know how far we’ve come, whether we have achieved anything and we are denied the opportunity to reward ourselves for our achievements.  Having a goal can make the difference between being bothered to make positive changes and just drifting along as ‘normal’.   Even if you are pretty ‘well’ most of the time, having a health goal can encourage you to optimise your health and fitness beyond what you ever thought was possible.  

Yes… in case you were wondering I do walk the talk.  I spent many hours last year upping my fitness game in order to prepare for a second dan martial arts grading in Shorinji Kempo.  I have to admit that without that goal I probably would not have had the impetus to do that!  

This is the time of year that people like to make resolutions to be healthier, lose weight, get fitter, ditch bad habits and create new positive ones.  I think that it can be a very good thing for people to use this time of year to focus on making positive changes. The trouble is that New Year’s resolutions all too often fizzle out by the time January is over.  There’s a reason for this..

We all have a subconscious image of ourselves and no matter how negative that image is, we can find it difficult to move away from that self image and find it a bit uncomfortable at first when things begin to change.  That’s right – our subconscious view of ourselves perpetuates our state of health.

Commonly held subconscious images are ‘I’m fat’, ‘I’m unfit’, ‘I hate exercising’, ‘I’m always ill’.  If you have a strongly ingrained subconscious image which tells you that you are always ill or that you will never be fit then there is a lot of inertia which will stop you making positive lifestyle changes. If you don’t see yourself as someone who exercises, then it is hard for you to do that. If your subconscious image is of someone who doesn’t eat healthy foods then it is hard for you to consistently change your eating habits for the better.  You may do it for a bit, but it is all too easy for you to slip back into the old ways of doing things because it fits better with your self image.

So you need to change your self image and to do this you need to use positive affirmations. Daily!  Say to yourself I am someone who enjoys optimum health, I am someone who likes to keep fit, I am someone who chooses to eat healthy food.  Say this to yourself every day. Even better write it down every day in a diary or a journal. You should also spend some time every day visualising yourself as the new more positive self image.  You need to do this daily for at least four weeks in order to start making changes to your subconscious self image.  You may feel a bit uncomfortable doing this at first but that is just your outdated self image trying to sabotage you. Don’t let it!  Make this year the year that you make some lasting positive health changes. You won’t regret it!

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

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