Category: Wild Medicine Info

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale is high in vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. For comparison, spinach contains around 9,000 – 9,500 IU of vitamin A per 100g.

Spinach: Average vitamin content per 100g

However, dandelion contains 10,000-14,000 IU per 100g.

Dandelion: Average vitamin content per 100g














Dandelion: Average mineral content per 100g

Dandelion can be quite bitter but the young leaves, added in moderation to a salad provide a delicious piquancy. Fantastic in a juice mixed with carrot and ginger, it also makes a cleansing, diuretic tea mixed – try a combination of dandelion leaf Taraxacum officinale, nettle urtica dioica and cleavers Galium aparine.

For people trying to lose weight, a diuretic is useful. And where it is complicated by low thyroid function or oedema, where potassium is key, dandelion comes into its own. It is very high in natural potassium. This certainly gives it an advantage over many pharmaceutical diuretics which can cause potassium depletion as a side-effect. (Dangerous where they are being used in combination with heart medications such as digitalis and other cardiac glucosides.) Potassium is a key mineral in preventing oedema – when water is retained in your body’s cells. While a certain amount of water retention is normal, and fluctuates in women at certain times of the month, permanent oedema is not healthy. If you get indentations from your socks, for example, that are still there after your socks have been off for a while, you may have oedema. Potassium also needs zinc to work and handily, dandelion also contains a good amount of zinc too.

Dandelion also protects the liver – especially against the hepatotoxic effect of drugs like paracetamol (Colle et al, 2012) and liver damage from alcoholism (You et al, 2010). So if you like a bottle of wine in the evening, start the day with dandleion tea!

Colle D, Arantes LP, Gubert P, da Luz SC, Athayde ML, Teixeira Rocha JB and Soares FA. (2012) Antioxidant Properties of Taraxacum officinale Leaf Extract Are Involved in the Protective Effect Against Hepatoxicity Induced by Acetaminophen in Mice. J Med Food. 2012 Mar 16. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22424457

You Y, Yoo S, Yoon HG, Park J, Lee YH, Kim S, Oh KT, Lee J, Cho HY and Jun W. (2010) In vitro and in vivo hepatoprotective effects of the aqueous extract from Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) root against alcohol-induced oxidative stress. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Jun;48(6):1632-7. PMID: 20347918


Why do dogs eat grass…

… and other animal medicine stories!

Just today a man phoned me from Canada. He wanted to let me know how good he thought Napiers Joint Ability Herbal Remedy was. His sister-in-law had taken it after a knee operation. She also had digestive problems and wasn’t tolerating drugs very well so took Joint Ability instead. He said that not only did she have pain relief and a swift recovery, but her digestive troubles cleared up as well.

IMG_0048He then went on to add, that her neighbour had a cat with an injured leg and the vet had scheduled it for an amputation. She was very distressed and decided it might be worth giving the cat some of the medicine as a last resort, as it had helped the sister in-law recover so well from her operation. So she gave the cat some Joint Ability and it made a full recovery much to the amazement of the vet! We were certainly surprised to hear the story.

I’m not advocating that anyone use herbal medicines on their pets as it is illegal in the UK for herbalists to treat animals, although it is not illegal for their owners to treat them. There are specialist companies like Dorwest Herbs that supply herbal medicines specifically for animals. But nevertheless, it was an interesting anecdote that livened up the day in the office.

It is fascinating how animals also use plant medicines (zoopharmacognosy). Most pet owners will have seen their dog or cat eat grass if they have a stomach upset.

Geophagy is the term given to when animals eat dirt. They may well do this when they are short of vital minerals or nutrients. This can also help to soothe stomachs if they have diarrhoea and absorb any toxins that they have eaten. Bonnet macaques in Southern India eat dirt from termite mounds with a particularly high kaolin content – just like a human might take a Kaopectate-type anti-diarrhetic kaolin medicine!

Anting behaviours is when animals use insects to self-medicate. Birds in particular will rub insects over them as chemicals, such as formic acid from ants, can act as insecticides, fungicides and bactericides.

Then there are the chemotherapeutic benefits of eating plants for their medicinal benefits. Apes and monkeys use a wide range of plants for diarrhoea, worms and to modulate their fertility. Some plants are swallowed whole and have more of a mechanical than a chemotherapeutic effect, such as tamarins which swallow large seeds to dislodge and eliminate worms in their intestinal tract – a practice that significantly decreases their parasitic load.

There are also fur rubbing behaviours. Bears chew and spit out osha root to make an insect repellent paste that they smear on their fur. Monkey spend a lot of time engaging in fur rubbing behaviour, making quite a social event out of it!

Elephants are quite incredible. In East Africa, in the the final week of pregnancy, a female will make a special journey to seek out a tree that they never eat at any other time. She’ll strip the leaves and eat them all before going into labour later. This is the same plant that local African women also use to help contractions and have an easy birth!

Willow bark medicine ~ natural Aspirin

White willow catkins

All the willow that wasn’t coppiced back in February is now covered with pretty furry buds. Cut long stems and put them in a tall base for a dramatic Spring display that lasts a long time. Eventually your stems will sprout roots in the vase!

I peeled all the bark off the White Willow cuttings Salix alba, cut the strips into pieces and dried them. It will make an excellent pain relieving tea or an ointment. Willow naturally contains salicylic acid which is basically what aspirin is except that it doesn’t cause stomach upsets nor does it thin the blood in the same way.

White willow catkins

How to make willow bark medicine

You can eat willow catkins, but don’t eat more than 12 at any one time. If you eat more than that you may experience mild nausea or tinnitus (a ringing in your ears) as a side effect. Don’t forget that natural aspirin takes a little longer to work!

You can also strip the inner bark off your coppiced twig and branches and dry it, storing it in a cool dark place. To make a willow bark tea, simmer 1 to 2 teaspoons of chopped bark per cup of water (8oz or 250ml), for 15 minutes. Take it off the heat and leave it to infuse for an hour. Strain and warm it a little, then drink, flavouring with honey or lemon if you wish. You can take 3 to 4 cups a day of this.

Willow in licensed medicines and research

At work we use willow bark in medicine for arthritis, backache and joint pain. Our Napiers Joint Ability Herbal Remedy contains 1000 mg of White Willow 1:1 fluid extract per 5 ml dose. (It also contains the vulnerary Yarrow, anti rheumatic and antispasmodic Black Cohosh and Scullcap and a good amount of the liver herb, detoxifying Burdock root.) These 1:1 extract are high strength so are much more effective than home teas.

Willow has also been shown in clinical trials to be effective, in combination with feverfew, in treating migraines. In a small study, 200mg willow and 300mg feverfew were given to patients twice a day for 12 weeks. 90% of them experienced a 61% reduction in frequency of migraines, with 100% experiencing 62% reduction in intensity and 76% reduction in duration of episodes. Pubmed 17166232

In Praise of Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowersColtsfoot (Tussilago farfara) can be an elusive plant. It raises its flowers before its leaves in the Spring (hence the country nickname “Son before Father”). The flowers quickly pass as the leaves come up and are lost in the verdant rush of Spring. As coltsfoot spreads by underground runners, quite often the leaves come up in a different place to the flowers. Hundreds of years ago people weren’t sure that this was even the same plant. I last saw it three years ago, growing next to an old stone wall along the Rochdale Canal. The golden flowers were once the old herbalists’ shop sign. In the days before most people could read and write, shops identified themselves with symbols – three golden balls for the pawnbroker, a red and white striped pole for the barber, the yellow coltsfoot for the herbalist.

Last weekend I was thrilled to find it growing wild, in a huge mass, on my land at Gowanbank. Down by the woods is an old cart track. Dry, sandy scree. Stones, rubble and poor soil. I had earmarked it for a good tidy up … at some point! That day I was planting out a few pot-bound wild cherry trees along the field drain and noticed a mass of yellow on the slope. From a distance I thought they were dandelions, but up close I realised there were very bright, erect coltsfoot flowers all over the track.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Last week I succumbed to an infection brought home by my son. For the first few days I thought I was just fighting a cold and dosed myself up on high strength echinacea. But on the third day I woke up to realise that this was something a lot worse. Days three and four I was really unwell, and actually took two days off work – as rare an occurrence as hens’ teeth! Temperature, aches and pains – the usual – but worse, the most painful, raw sore throat, breathlessness and wheeziness in the lungs. By day five, I thought it was heading toward bronchitis. I was managing the illness with Elixir of Echinacea (echinacea, wild indigo and fumitory) for immune/antimicrobial support and also Cut A Cough, a squill based medicine that opens the lungs and keeps you breathing!

That night, I woke up about three in the morning with a throat so sore that even breathing in air was like eating shards of glass. During the day, I had been for a walk on the land and while there, picked a pocket full of the coltsfoot leaves appearing beside the waning flowers. Unable to sleep, and remembering the pocket of leaves, I went down to the kitchen and boiled the coltsfoot leaves with some licorice tea bags that I had in the cupboard. To this I added some elderberry syrup made in the autumn (an excellent antiviral) and a good spoonful of honey, then went back to bed with a small cup of it and sipped it slowly.

The relief was almost instant! My throat quickly eased enough for me to sleep again and I fell asleep for several hours, waking late. I felt as if the whole infection had broken. Whereas before the infection was dry and painful, today I feel more that I have a bad, streaming cold. The temperature has gone and I feel human again. Every few hours as my throat becomes a little sore again, I am sipping my coltsfoot mixture.

Traditionally, coltsfoot has been used for thousands of years in cough remedies. Now I understand why – for the incredible soothing effect. It is used by herbalists for acute or chronic bronchitis, laryngitis, pertussis, chronic spasmodic bronchial cough, irritating coughs, whooping cough and asthma. It is particularly soothing to dry, irritated airways. In the past it was a key ingredient in herbal smoking mixtures and treatments for asthmatics.

Coltsfoot has had bad press recently. It contains traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloids which in large doses can  have potential liver-toxic effects. However, the alkaloids are largely destroyed when the leaves are boiled to make the medicine. There is also the issue of how much would have to be taken, over how long a period of time, to have a dangerous outcome. Remember the recorded use of this plant is pre-ancient Greece. One very sensible article about the ‘scary dangers’ found in herbs, gleefully seized upon by the British press, that puts comfrey into perspective can be found here: How I poisoned my wife by John-Paul Flintoff.

John-Paul found that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US considers the use of comfrey in dietary supplements with “serious concern” because comfrey [like coltsfoot, borage and 240 other plants] contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are “firmly established to be hepatotoxins in animals”. That is, they have been shown to poison animals’ livers. Additionally, the FDA contends that pyrrolizidine alkaloids are carcinogenic. He then investigated the research behind the FDA’s concerns which “appear to arise from studies in Japan and Australia, which found that forcing baby rats to ingest huge quantities of ground comfrey leaves and roots did them no good at all. Some developed tumours.

But the average adult human would need to ingest 20,000 comfrey leaves to produce a comparative dose, and trials on long-term comfrey users, including one at University College London, have apparently found no harmful effects.”

I think I put about 20 leaves in the saucepan. Brought them to the boil for about 5 minutes and then infused them off the heat for about 15 minutes. It made about two pints and I threw away the leaves. So to match the research on the baby rats, I would have to have made about 1,000 times more and drunk it all at once. This is assuming that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids were not eliminated by boiling and that my bladder could have coped with drinking 2,000 pints in one go.

Well, if I was still worried I could always take some milk thistle to protect my liver! I have 14 days left to buy it legally before THMPD kicks in!! Meanwhile, coltsfoot is a welcome resident at Gowanbank.

[NB: I have since written an article called Is Comfrey Safe to Eat?]

How I poisoned my wife

Trouble was brewing when our writer decided to experiment with a new herbal tea

Trouble was brewing when our writer decided to experiment with a new herbal tea

Article written by John-Paul Flintoff

A few weeks ago, I almost killed my wife with herbal tea. Well, she thinks I did and many others believe that what I gave her to drink may have permanently damaged her liver. I’ve suffered headaches, not because of the tea but just defending myself and wrestling with a series of surprisingly complicated questions.

Should the sale of herbal teas be regulated? Banned altogether? Would that drive them underground? And what’s the difference between a herbal tea and a herbal remedy?

I bought the comfrey tea in a huge box at my local health-food shop. It would make a change, I thought idly, from the endless cups of peppermint and camomile we drink at night, when coffee isn’t always a good idea. I laid hands on the box with excitement because, as a keen amateur food-grower, I know that comfrey is a wonder plant. Its deep roots accumulate minerals from the subsoil that can be harvested in the leaves and used to enrich your compost heap. I dimly remembered reading that it has curative properties for human beings, too.

Not that I actually bothered to look up any of that, mind you, when I got home. I just made pots of tea every so often and served them up. If I gave the matter any thought, it was only to grumble that this new comfrey tea, being loose-leaf, would need a strainer and I couldn’t always remember where to find one.

Over the weeks that followed, Harriet often complained that she was feeling queasy. Then one evening when the teapot arrived she eyeballed it sternly, opened a laptop and started to look up comfrey online.

She quickly discovered that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US considers the use of comfrey in dietary supplements with “serious concern” because comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are “firmly established to be hepatotoxins in animals”. That is, they have been shown to poison animals’ livers. Additionally, the FDA contends that pyrrolizidine alkaloids are carcinogenic.
Harriet was furious. An outsider peering through our windows that evening would have seen her a) studiously not talking to me at all before b) giving me yet another wigging as she waved her teacup and shouted “poison”.

Obviously, I felt awful — guilty, that is, though not queasy, despite having drunk just as much tea as Harriet. But I had not deliberately set out to kill her.

Now I went online. I was dismayed to find the single word “poisonous” beside comfrey on the Royal Horticultural Society website. Other sites said much the same, or worse. “If you have comfrey in your house,” one self-appointed health blogger wrote, “dispose of it immediately. Take it to your pharmacy for proper and safe disposal.”

I’m no herbalist, but as a gardener — even an amateur gardener — I knew enough to laugh at such hysterics. Comfrey is not radioactive and it’s not a wild animal, liable to bite you. It has been used medicinally for centuries, to remedy indigestion, stomach and bowel problems, menstrual flow, hoarseness, periodontal diseases, bleeding gums, thyroid disorders, diarrhoea, gastrointestinal ulcers, hernia, glandular fever, coughs, haemorrhaging, cancer, catarrh, anaemia, sinusitis, lupus, high blood pressure, hiatus hernia, as a blood purifier, and to ease inflammation of the joints and mucus membranes.

I have no idea how successful those remedies were, but did they poison anybody? The FDA’s concern appears to arise from studies in Japan and Australia, which found that forcing baby rats to ingest huge quantities of ground comfrey leaves and roots did them no good at all. Some developed tumours. But the average adult human would need to ingest 20,000 comfrey leaves to produce a comparative dose, and trials on long-term comfrey users, including one at University College London, have apparently found no harmful effects.

Toxicity in comfrey varies greatly, according to a US study. Roots contain higher levels of alkoloids than leaves, and some leaves contain virtually none. Additionally, it appears that the toxicity is reduced when leaves are dried. Phew!

The company that distributes the tea I bought is Cotswold Health Products. Did it know about comfrey’s awkward reputation? Keidrych Davies, the managing director, stresses that he’s not a herbalist, but has read lots of research. While there can be high levels of toxicity in the root, he says, Harriet would need to drink gallons of leaf tea every day for a long time before problems arose. “Please don’t worry.”

Harriet was unimpressed. “How do they know I won’t drink gallons of comfrey tea every day? There’s no warning on the box.”

She had a point. But there are no warnings on PG Tips either and she doesn’t drink that by the gallon. “That’s different,” she says. “And anyway, this should not have been sold as a tea, with pretty flowers on the box. It should have been packaged as a medicine.”

I wasn’t sure. For all I know, Davies has research proving that comfrey is not only safe but excellent to go with cucumber sandwiches and scones. But as the suspected poisoner in my marriage, I felt unable to push the point.

Should comfrey tea be banned? I don’t think so. Banning something only drives it undergound, which makes it harder to regulate. Most herbalists, represented by organisations such as the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, want to be regulated, in accordance with a tough EU directive that comes into force next year; only with regulation, they say, can we buy teas with confidence.

But the pharmaceutical lobby has delayed regulation of herbalists for a decade, arguing that this would confer unmerited respectibility: its friend in Parliament, Lord Taverne, has said this would be like regulating astrologers. What those lobbyists don’t shout so loudly is that, without regulation of herbalists, Big Pharma will from next year enjoy sole control of remedies that historically have been freely available.

Of course, they remain freely available if you grow your own. I want to believe in comfrey’s merits, as listed by ancient herbalists, and I’m tempted to wander into my garden and munch leaves from my own comfrey plants just to say boo to the bloggers who write such extravagant nonsense about it.
But I can’t deny that I’ve been rattled, and won’t be serving comfrey to anybody else. It is possible that Harriet reacted badly to the tea. We’ll never know. But she looks a lot happier now that I’ve disposed of the remaining contents of that packet in a place where they will certainly produce great benefits — on my compost heap. And we’re back on boring old peppermint. The Times 17 May 2010

Endangered Herbs

Endangered in the UK

Chamomile, Wild (Chamaemelum nobile)
Chickweed, Scottish (Cerastium fontanum subsp. scoticum)
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Eyebrights Euphrasia sp. (endemic) – Euphrasia officinalis seems to be OK still.
Juniper, Wild (Juniperus communis)
Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. ochroleuca)
Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua)

Wild Asparagus (Asparagus prostratus)
Wild Caraway (Carum carvi)

IUCN Red List Category citations

Extinct, EX
Extinct in the Wild, EW
Critically Endangered, CR
Endangered, EN
Vulnerable, VU
Near Threatened, NT
Least Concern, LC
Data Deficient, DD
Not Evaluated, NE

Norwegian Red list

Arnica, Wolf’s Bane (Arnica montana) – LC. However, critically endangered in Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia and Luxembourg; endangered in Belarus and the Netherlands; vulnerable in Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania; and near threatened in Denmark and Norway. Most medicinal Arnica (around 300 tonnes of flowers per year) is harvested in the Balkans, Spain and Switzerland.


Cape Aloes (Aloe ferox) – Appendix II
False Hellebore (Adonis vernalis) – Appendix II
Ginseng, American (Panax quinquefolius) – only cultivated allowed, Appendix II
Ginseng, Russian (Panax ginseng) – from Russia, only wild populations left, Appendix II
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – Appendix II
Guaiacum spp. – Appendix II
Hoodia spp. – Appendix II

Snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentina) – Appendix II

United Plant Savers “At Risk” List contains the following herbs:

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) – source from commercial growers only.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) – source from commercial growers only.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) – source from commercial growers only.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) 
 – Echinacea purpurea is commercially grown now.
Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
False unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum) – source from commercial growers only.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – source from commercial growers only.
Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp.)
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)
Osha (Ligusticum porteri, L. spp.) – Can often be substituted with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and elecampane (Inula helenium).
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii)
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) – Ensure collector uses only twig not trunk bark. Can sometimes be substituted with marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).
Sundew (Drosera spp.)
Trillium (Trillium spp.)
True unicorn (Aletris farinosa)
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)

United Plant Savers “At Risk” List contains the following herbs:

Arnica (Arnica spp.) – Species used montana, source from commercial growers only.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Cascara Sagrada (Frangula purshiana) (Rhamnus)
Chaparro (Casatela emoryi)
Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla)
Gentian (Gentiana spp.) – Species used lutea, source from commercial growers only.
Goldthread (Coptis spp.)
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) (Hawaii only)
Lobelia (Lobelia spp.) – Species used inflata, source from commercial growers only.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pendatum)
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) – Species used aquifolium, source from commercial growers only.
Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)
Pink Root (Spigelia marilandica)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Spikenard (Aralia racemosa, A. californica)
Stone Root (Collinsonia canadensis)
Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea)
Turkey Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) – source from commercial growers only.
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)

Also of concern but not on UpS lists:

Calamus (Acorus calamus)
Agnus castus (Vitex agnus castus)
Scullcap, Large-flowered skullcap (Scutellaria montana)

Fresh is not always best!

The medicinal plants we use in our pharmacopaeia all contain distinct biochemical components that can be analysed and measured. Herbalism has a proper scientific biochemical basis.

The difficulty is that over 80,000 years we have learned what cures without HPLC analysis to measure markers, in vitro testing and microscopes, but by word of mouth, trial and error, success and failure. This lack of ’empirical knowledge’ has often left herbalists mute in the face of criticism despite their absolute, tried and tested, conviction that a remedy is effective. We have merely not learned ‘the language of science’. Also, scientific research is only just catching up with many of the uses for plants that herbalists have known for centuries. Clinical research justifies and expands our knowledge on an almost daily basis. However, without the active engagement by herbalists we are in danger or losing plant medicines to the giant pharmaceutical industry who standardise them, creating often poisonous drugs with side effects, and lobby for them to be restricted to a heavily licenced cartel.

There are often differences of opinion between herbalists as to whether using a fresh herb is superior to a dried herb. Similarly, many will tell you that a heated, cooked or steamed fluid extract is inferior to a cold processed extract. Avoid these arguments as neither opinion is ever correct. It really depends what you want to achieve!

Some compounds are water-soluble and happy to be cold processed. Others are oil-soluble and benefit from distillation, released from the plant only at higher temperatures. Others are fragile and quickly destroyed by time and heat. Sometimes fresh plants are processed into extracts straight from the fields but generally plant are dried to prevent deterioration. This allows them to be stored. From a practical point of view, there is often only one or two harvests of a commercially grown herb per year so drying, which reduces the water content, allows the plant to be stored. Most plants contain 60 to 80 percent moisture when harvested and must be dried to within 10 to 14 percent moisture before storage.

The properties of plants will vary. The strength of their compounds will vary from year to year, according to climate, soil condition and a myriad of other factors as well as processing, yet our bodies will respond to a wide variety of quality and strength. There are also cases where one person will swear by a remedy and the other finds it “doesn’t work” or has no effect. Why? They are rarely comparing like for like.

Over the years, I have come to realise that the way a herb is prepared and extracted has very different outcomes which are sometimes vital to correct treatment and also that dosage is critical. However, the arguments of fresh v dried and cold v heated are not really relevant. What is relevant is the quality of the plant while it is growing and then, that the type of processing undertaken is the most appropriate to the biochemistry of the medicine we wish to create for the specific condition being treated. The following are examples of research on a variety of herbs that illustrates this.

N.B. Disclaimer! One important note is that I have tried to explain some of the processes that take place between plant medicines and the body very simplistically. The danger of simplicity is it can lead to inaccuracy so, if you find this interesting, please research it further yourself. These examples are intended to stimulate the mind only!

Autumn Crocus (Meadow Saffron) Colchicum autumnale

A toxic, cathartic, emetic and interesting Schedule 3 herb (can only be prescribed by a qualified herbalist and is kept in the poisons cupboard), it is traditionally used by herbalists to treat gout. It contains the tricyclic alkaloid colchicine which was made into a pharmaceutical drug colchicine to treat… gout.

It has also recently been heralded as a potential new cancer drug when injected directly into a variety of tumours. In gout, colchinine relieves pain and inflammation because it can bind to tubulins, which are small globular proteins in the body. Tubulins are made up of microtubules, which move chromosomes and other organelles around inside cells, some of which influence cell division. When colchinine binds to tubulin it prevents changes in the tubulin. Amongst others this decreases the movement of neutrophils – these are components of white blood cells that respond to injury and are found in pus and inflammation but they can be hijacked by cancer cells allowing it to grow quicker. Immobilising tubulins are the purpose of anticancer drugs like the “taxanes” from the Pacific yew Taxus brevifolia (e.g. paclitaxel (Taxol), Tesetaxel) and the “Vinca alkaloid” drugs derived from Madagascan periwrinkle Catharanthus roseus (e.g. vinblastine and vincristine).

In the wild, especially before flowering, autumn crocus can sometimes be confused with wild garlic Allium ursinum and will cause fatal poisoning in the unwary forager. If you would like to know the medical symptoms of crocus poisoning and why you should be careful when identifying wild garlic Allium sativum click here Ref: PMID 15088997

Is fresh best?
In one instance of poisoning it was recorded that “If the leaves were boiled before being eaten, 64% of the patients suffered moderate, severe or fatal poisoning; when the leaves were eaten raw, only 33%. It is presumed that heating may promote the liberation of colchicines from the plant.” Ref: PMID 16626006

In this case, one could argue that fresh, raw, cold processed Autumn crocus should make a medicine less likely to have side effects but that a heated extract would make a stronger, faster acting medicine with more side effects. In any case – don’t try it at home!

Ginger Zingiber officinale

I have already waxed lyrical about the efficacy of ginger in treating diarrhea. It is also exceptionally effective for travel sickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy nausea. The active constituent Zingerone is the likely active in treating diarrhea caused by E coli (Escherichia coli) and other microorganisms that release toxins into our intestines. Interestingly, fresh ginger does not contain zingerone. It is only by heating ginger that gingerol, which is present, is transformed into zingerone. This explains why people who have tried powdered dried ginger spice in capsules or cold infused tincture claim they have no efficacy.

Is fresh best?
In this case, one could argue that only a heat processed ginger will be effective against diarrhea. A cold processed tincture or powdered root capsules will not help. Notably, where Victorian herbalists (e.g. William Box’s Radiant Health Tablets) used it in laxative to prevent the griping oten caused by senna or buckthorn, they used a soft extract which is obtained by boiling it!

However, in the treatment of pain from inflammation in osteoarthritis it appears that there is little difference in effect between raw and heated ginger. They both work just as effectively 25% v 23% Ref: PMID 20418184  There is also the issue of dose and frequency. A 2 g dose taken 45 minutes after exercise had no discernible effect to a placebo, but when taken on a daily basis there was a substantial difference with ginger being a more effective treatment than a placebo. Ref: PMID 21031618 Herbalists have always known that a gentle, non-invasive herbal cure without side effects takes a little time to achieve!

Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus

Skunk cabbage has a foul smell and white acrid juice that burns the skin. In herbal medicine it was often used in cough & chest mixtures to treat respiratory disease although not used so much today. It hardly sounds like an attractive, delicious plant to forage yet I am indebted to Euell Gibbons for this line of thought. He found that cooking fresh skunk cabbage filled his kitchen with “a thick, heavy and foul odor” and after cooking, it not only tasted as it had smelled, but it burned his mouth and throat. This did not vary with different specimens gathered over a 200 mile radius. He dried it and kept trying it at monthly intervals. It took 6 months of drying the root and leaves for the “powerful, unpleasant drug” in it to evaporate enough to be palatable. The part used in traditional American Indian medicine is the fresh, dried root. The Menominee Indians used a compound infusion of dried, powdered root to treat convulsions in children and adults, while the Iroquois used an infusion of powdered root for consumption and tuberculosis.

Is fresh best?
In this case it would seem that there is a window of ‘freshness’. Used completely fresh, and you are likely to experience the acrid, emetic effects very quickly. It appears it is best to use the root dried but within a few months. Anecdotally, perhaps after six months, some compounds have been lost – good for the forager but perhaps not for the patient! Although there is no scientific research to support skunk cabbage, here is an example of the importance of the passing down of herbal knowledge through generations. Hypothetically, one day we may learn of a powerful compound found in skunk cabbage that is only tolerated by the body after the biochemical transformation it undergoes on drying or else, derived without biochemical change, it may have ‘chemo-type’ side effects.

Stinging Nettle Urtica dioca

Stinging nettle can be used fresh, dried or cooked. It is a micronutrient rich, nutritious food commonly foraged and very tasty, However, it must be steamed or wilted before eating to destroy the stinging hairs on the leaves and stem. The hairs contain histamine, formic acid, acetylcholine, acetic acid, butyric acid and other irritants. Nettle seems to work by helping the body to block the activation of histamine receptors. Fresh or unprocessed nettle would logically be better for treating hayfever and allergic rhinitis (although nettle tea does also help). In the clinical trials with positive outcomes, freeze dried nettle leaf is used.  Ref: PMID 19140159 Alternatively, while topical applications of fresh, nettle leaf are used as counter-irritants to manage pain, a 50 g helping of cooked nettle leaf a day also helps patients manage arthritis symptoms. Gently pasteurised fresh nettle juice is also helpful in managing eczema.

Whilst nettles are very high in mineral nutrients, it is pointless trying to benefit from these in a herbal tea as most of the minerals transfer very poorly in hot water. Ref: PMID 21916535 and PMID 18666620 On the other hand, dried nettle contains an incredible amount of protein. A WW1 German report analysed nettle’s protein content for feeding livestock instead of the usual linseed oil cake. Linseed oil cake contains 35% average protein, whereas dried nettle has a protein value around 42% (fresh nettle 6.9%). So perhaps pressed nettleburgers would be a great addition to a vegan diet.

Nettle root lignans are hydrophilic (attracted to water) and are key compounds in its effectiveness as a treatment for BPH (enlarged prostate). (Also supported by its steroidal compounds stigmasterol, stimast-4-en-3-one, and campesterol.) Urtica dioica agglutinin (UDA) is a heat-resistant and acid-resistant lectin which probably induces T-lymphocyte activity, slowing the progression of BPH. Obviously the processing method here is vital if one compound is particularly attracted to water and the other resistant to heat and acid.

Duration of treatment is also an area that needs to be considered. In one clinical trial Ref: PMID 2192379, freeze dried Nettle was rated only slightly higher than a placebo in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (hayfever). However, this trial only lasted a week! Most herbalists will ask their hayfever patients to start taking nettle leaf at about a month before the pollens are expected to appear – in the UK this is typically in April. Managed prophylactically nettle gives excellent results.

Is fresh best?
It entirely depends on the condition being treated!

Fluid extracts v tinctures.

Once of our traditional herbal licence remedies is a combination of skullcap, oat, passionflower and vervain. The latter are all fluid extracts however, the skullcap is in twice. Once as a fluid extract and once as a tincture. Why is this? Perhaps because herbalists noticed that the effects of the fluid extract and slightly different to the effects of the tincture. I have yet to find out which components are released by each process.

This also occurs with Napiers Skin Soother Herbal Remedy for acne and eczema. It contains sarsaparilla, queen’s delight, red clover, burdock (fluid extract) and burdock (fluid extract). In one 5 ml spoonful there is 0.05ml fluid extract of burdock root extracted in 21% ethanol (equivalent to 50 mg of burdock root) PLUS 0.10 ml fluid extract of burdock root extracted in 17% ethanol (equivalent to 100 mg of burdock root). Now, this formula has been manufactured over quite a period of time and you would have thought that someone would have streamlined the production process as this is both costly and time consuming. So I can only assume it is there because there are qualitatively different results in the different extracts. I need to examine the process further – perhaps one uses fresh burdock root and the other dried!

Please comment below if you can shed any more light on this!

Food Poisoning – Herbal Home Treatment

One Friday night in June, I was traveling back from Wales and, at the airport, with a very narrow selection of mainly high calorie  foods to choose from, I went for the scrambled egg. In the early hours of the morning I quickly learned that that was a big mistake!

Skip this paragraph to be spared the gory details of the symptoms! Enough time had passed, by the time I woke up, to miss the vomiting stage but basically I had food poisoning with severe diarrhea and dysentery including internal bleeding. This was accompanied by nausea, severe stomach, intestinal and lower abdomen pain and cramps. Sweating followed intense shivering. I was as white as a sheet. Emotional. Shaky. Scared.

The bleeding was worrying and I called NHS Direct to check the symptoms of E coli and salmonella. They were not very helpful. I could take a stool sample to the hospital but it would be several days before they got the results. In the meantime they suggested I drink lots of water, take Imodium for the diarrhoea and Paracetamol for the pain. Well I wasn’t interested in those medicines so I crawled out of bed long enough to see what I had in the cupboard. Here is what I found in my kitchen cupboard which turned into an extremely effective and fast-acting treatment plan.

Ginger Root. Ginger Zingiber officinale is one of my favourite medicinal plants, in fact I cannot praise it enough and do so with obsessive zeal. It is no accident that it was used in ‘ship’s biscuits’ as it is well known to counteract nausea. This is great in travel sickness, chemotherapy nausea and also in morning sickness where clinical trials have shown it to be the most effective (and safe) product tested. Ginger also helps to reduce griping pains so is commonly included in traditional herbal laxative formulas as a soft extract. As a child in Kenya we were often given Ginger Ale for stomach upsets and to stop diarrhoea. I have been struck down by dysentery while travelling in China and restored within twenty minutes of sipping extremely strong Ginger Tea which will stop diarrhea in 20-30 minutes.

Clinical work has shown that the active constituent in Ginger called zingerone (vanillylacetone) is the likely active in treating diarrhea caused by E coli (Escherichia coli) and other microorganisms that release toxins into our intestines. Interestingly, fresh ginger does not contain zingerone. It is only by heating ginger that gingerol, which is present, is transformed into zingerone. Ref: PMID 997589, PMID 17880155

Directions for a therapeutic Ginger Tea
I slice a knob ginger root thinly (no need to peel it unless it is dirty), cover it with a small amount of water in a saucepan, bring it to the boil and then boil it for a full 5 minutes. Then I dilute it with cold water in a pint glass with a spoonful of honey and keep sipping it until the diarrhea passes. This takes 20-30 minutes in my experience.

The other ingredient in my kichen cupboard was a bottle of Napiers Best British Bitters. Bitters are herbal mixtures normally used as an aperitif/digestif with Angostura Bitters and Swedish Bitters being the most famous. During the last century, every herbal house had a secret formula for this own bitters mix. They were once sold as patent medicines but are now classified as digestifs and not as medicines. More about bitters from Wikipedia.

Normally bitters are used just before or after a meal, however I ended up dosing myself on 5 ml (one teaspoon) in water every half hour until the symptoms had passed and then used it three times a day for the rest of the weekend. The reason I chose bitters to support the Ginger Tea, and it certainly helped me, is that it contained the following ingredients which have specific actions:

Ginger Zingiber officinalis – for the diarrhea, cramping and griping. As mentioned in detail above under ‘ginger tea’.

Gentian Gentiana lutea – it stimulates the appetite by stimulating the production of saliva and bile. It is extremely bitter as it contains a glucoside called amarogentin, one of the bitterest substance known to man! I wanted my digestive system to process whatever it was I’d eaten as quickly as possible, so increasing stomach fluids seemed like a good idea. Gentian is often used in herbal medicines to treat stomach disorders and to stimulate the liver & gall bladder as well as the digestive system. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, and was used in the Middle Ages as an antidote to poison. The second major glucoside in Gentian is gentiopicrin, often extracted for use as a gastric stimulant, specifically for dyspepsia.

Peppermint Mentha piperita – we all know that Peppermint Tea helps indigestion and, although this was a lot worse than indigestion, it certainly wouldn’t do me any harm! Peppermint is also cooling and soothing. In the herbal clinics we use it to treat IBS symptoms and this has been given weight by clinical trials proving its effectiveness. Ref: PMID 17420159

Dandelion root Taraxacum officinalis – an anti-inflammatory and a great diuretic. Certainly helping to flush all the fluids I was now drinking through my system quite fast and keep my kidneys well flushed through was a bonus.

Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria – this is a massively underestimated painkiller. It contains salicylic acid like willow bark and aspirin. In 1897 Bayer AG were working on salicin derived from meadowsweet (not willow) when they invented Aspirin. They names it Aspirin after meadowsweet’s old botanical name Spiraea (A-Spirin). Well I was certainly in pain and I also knew that meadowsweet on its own is also helpful with an acidic stomach and for stopping diarrhea.

Silver Birch Betula alba – Silver Birch bark was used in Neolithic times to make containers for carrying perishable food. The ancients had observed the antifungal properties of birch bark retarded the growth of fungi and kept their food fresher! It often used as a diuretic to cleanse the body of toxins and especially to treat cystitis, gout and kidney stones. Birch bark has also been used to treat diarrhea in dysentery and cholera.

Milk Thistle Silybum marianum – Last but not least, milk thistle is one of the fastest acting herbs on the liver, supporting it in getting rid of toxins from the body. Interestingly, it is the only known antidote against certain types of wild mushroom poisoning. So if you end up in hospital because you mixed up your Amanitas and ate a Death Cap instead of a Blusher you may find yourself with intravenous milk thistle extract – if you’re lucky that is! Until the EU and MHRA banned the wide availability of it with the new regulations, it was widely and cheaply available in capsule form. The binge-drinking generation often started the night with a round of milk thistle capsules knowing it would prevent hangovers from alcohol poisoning the following day!  I have also heard it is used by people working in industries where drug and alcohol tests are routine, in their hope it will get the weekend out of their system before a Monday morning. In herbal medicine, it is used as a detox herb and to treat liver cirrhosis and chronic liver disease.

Final recovery

Although the majority of the symptoms cleared up in 30-60 minutes after I started treating myself, I had slight intestinal bleeding for another 12 hours, and it took me until the Sunday evening to fully get my strength back. The moral of the story is “Never eat scrambled eggs in Cardiff Airport”.

Herbal Power Juices – Your Food is your Medicine.

Spring juicing in Redhall Walled Gardens, Colinton Dell

Our bodies digest raw, enzyme active juice far more quickly and efficiently than solid food. Juices are nutrient-dense and supercharge the body in the same way that herbal tinctures work. Phytonutrients are crucial to keeping our bodies healthy and free of cancer, digestive problems, degenerative and aging illnesses. Juicing is popular across a wide range of nutrition therapies including weight loss, detoxing, liver cleansing and Gerson Therapy. Along with the increased interest in nutrition and juicing has come a multitude of electric juicers, blenders and other appliances out on the market. For my workshops I use a very simple manual wheatgrass juicer because:

  1. It is easy to assemble, easy to wash, easy to transport
  2. It does not require electricity so it can be used anywhere
  3. It is perfect for high fibre ‘weeds’ that will tangle blender blades and burn out motors
  4. Everyone including the kids love turning the handle!!
  5. It costs under £30 (as of writing this)

So here is where you get The Lexen Healthy Juicer.  If you want to skip straight to the Herbal Juice Recipies then click here.

Around 2500 years ago, Hippocrates 460-357 BC, thought of as the father of modern medicine, wrote this famous quote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. The actual ancient Greek (Lakonic) text more explicitly translates as: “Your nutrition is your medicine” or, your food is your cure! In the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors when they qualify, one of the things they promise to do is “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure”. It is therefore so surprising that in the sophisticated 21st century “many doctors’ knowledge of nutrition is rudimentary. Most feel much more comfortable with drugs than foods, and the “food as medicine” philosophy of Hippocrates has been largely neglected”. British Medical Journal 2004. Ignorance of nutrition is a huge failing in keeping the Hippocaratic Oath as good nutrition is the key to a healthy life, free of disease. When illness does develop, a focus on diet will nearly always reveal a lack or imbalance in the diet that is negatively affecting a persons’ health.

Go back further than Hippocrates to the dawn of mankind. Homo sapiens evolved as a distinct species from other hominids around 200 thousand years ago during the Middle Paleolithic (Middle Stone Age) period between 300,000 to 50,000 years ago.  During this time, around 80,000 years ago we know that man was using herbs as healing medicines from archaeological evidence in the Shanidar Caves in Iraq. We know our bodies have not evolved much since so what were we designed to eat?

We can find this out from archaeological evidence and also from the few non-Westernised native peoples who follow still their original diets today. From 1989, scientist Staffan Lindeberg M.D., led scientific surveys of the diet and health native people of Kitava Island off Papua New Guinea. The Kitava Study, found that these people do not suffer from strokes, heart disease, diabetes, obesity or hypertension.

Farming did not develop until around 10,000 years ago, so our ancestors were mainly nomadic as they follow the foods that were in season. An ancestral diet would have mainly consisted mainly of available leafy wild plants (herbs, weeds and vegetables), berries (fruit), seeds and nuts (when in season) and roots. Eggs and small birds were easily taken from birds nests. A walk along the seashore would have provided easily foraged shellfish, some fish speared in the shallows, crabs and turtle eggs. As light weapons were developed some lean wild meat was added – rabbit, squirrel, small deer. Hunting larger animals involved a lot of effort, coordination and risk and would only have happened occasionally.

What we were not eating was high gluten farmed grains (wheat, bread, pasta), dairy products (milk, butter, cheese), salt, refined sugar (sugar, fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes), foods with long harvests or cooking times and processed oils (no chips and crisps for them!). The early ancestors of plants like wheat, were grains like spelt which has a far lower, and more soluble gluten content than its modern relative.

We also had a lot of exercise as we moved around looking for food. Once berries were picked from a berry patch, we moved on to find more food in another place. As the seasons changed we would make the journey to where we remembered that nuts grew, or where the first shoots of Spring appeared in a warm hollow. We weren’t sitting for hours at desks, in cars, or in front of televisions, computers and Playstations.


The plants we ate were quite different to those we eat now as tender broccoli, plump carrots, watery tomatoes and vacuous lettuce were not around then. Here in Britain we would have been eating plants similar to:

Spring: The tops and shoots of clivers (goosegrass, sticky willie), nettle, chickweed, dandelion leaves, lambs’ lettuce, wild rocket, hogweed, sweet cicely, fiddlehead ferns, young clover, wild garlic (ransoms, bears’ garlic) and plants like celery-flavoured ground elder Aegopodium podagraria (introduced to Britain by the Romans) and three-cornered leek Allium triquetum (first cultivated by 1759).

Nowadays many people are suspicious of eating this wild, cornucopia of free, health foods. They do not trust food that doesn’t come pre-washed in plastic bags with Best Before dates. They spray and kill all the ‘weeds’ in their lawns and gardens without realising that many are delicious, and many have enormous health benefits. And for many used to a soft food diet, the higher fibre, slightly bitter, tougher, hairier mouth-feel is a strange experience.

Juicing is one way to obtain the benefits of plants in a delicious way more compatible with our modern diets. I think of herbal juices as Power Shots. They are fresh, living, strong tasting, potent green juices that are full of the life and energy of the plant with all its nutrients antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and other benefits intact. If you are juicing on site then nothing in lost during the long journey to the supermarket. Also juices are quickly absorbed by the body.

As wild juices are so strong I recommend that they are used as shots in combination with more popular fruit and vegetable juices. A “herb shot” is 20 ml in a 200ml glass of juice. Or around 30 ml in a 300 ml glass. All approximate as Paleolithic people did not carry a measuring jug around with them!

Try my Herbal Juice Recipies and to keep your supply up out of season try these simple pasteurising instructions.

Herbal Power Juices – The Recipies

A “herb shot” for me is 20 ml in a 200ml glass of juice. Or around 30 ml in a 300 ml glass. All approximate as Paleolithic people did not carry a measuring jug around with them! I use 1 or 2 shots per glass depending on the taste of the plant and the effect I want to achieve. You can also dilute them. Goosegrass or nettle with lemon and ginger is very nice diluted with sparkling water – a sort of wild lemonade. For more on the benefits of power juicing click here.


Shot:  Clivers (also called cleavers, goosegrass or sticky willie. Use the leaves and stems)
Juice: Pear (or apple) juice
Dash: Lemon juice
Use:   Clivers (Galium aparine) is a great lymphatic tonic. It is alterative, diuretic and stimulates the lymph system and is used to treat conditions like lymphadenitis, tonsillitis, glandular fever, enlarged adenoids, tissue oedema and water retention. Historically it was considered one of the great ‘blood purifiers’ and used to cleanse a sluggish system to rid the body of “scurvy, scrofula, psoriasis, skin diseases and eruptions generally.”

Shot:  Nettle (Leaves – tops are tenderest, roots)
Juice: Beetroot (raw is tastiest but you can used cooked)
Dash: Ginger
Use:   Nettle (Urtica dioica) is diuretic (makes you pee more), very high in iron, and has an antihistamine effect. Nettle juice and nettle tea is helpful in managing a variety of allergic type conditions including hayfever, asthma, eczema and rashes. The root is also used to help manage the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. So for men over a certain age, drinking nettle root regularly can help to avoid the urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate.

Shot:  Sweet Cicely (Leaves, flowers, seeds and roots are all edible)
Juice: Apple
Dash: You choose!
Use:  Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) contains an essential oil called anethole (as does Fennel) which makes it a soothing digestif for the stomach and helpful in preventing flatulence! It has an aromatic anise/licorise scent and sweet flavour. Sweet Cicely is fantastic cooked with cabbage or brussel sprouts (to reduce the windy effect) and when cooked with tart fruit such as rhubarb or gooseberries where it provides sweetness and flavour. Dried leaves can be used in tea instead of sugar and the dried root nibbled instead of sweets. This juice combination is the guaranteed favourite of the day in our Spring workshops.

Shot:  Wild Garlic (leaves, flowers, bulbs)
Juice: Tomato
Dash:  Cayenne / Tabasco / Wild Mustard
Use:  Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is a member of the onion family. A milder form of garlic which is a well-known remedy taken internally to help reduce high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries The typical ‘garlic’ smell is caused by sulphur compounds, which have beneficial effects on the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems. Garlic (Allium sativum) is the most pungent and the strongest therapeutically.  This combination makes a tasty savoury juice. Wild garlic can cause stomach aches if taken in very large quantities.

Shot: Dandelion leaves
Juice: Carrots
Dash: Ginger
Use: Dandelion Taraxacum offcinale is a well know diuretic used in detox, weight loss and cleansing programs. Diuretics are also taken to clear sluggish conditions and skin congestion. Young leaves should be used as bitterness increases with age!

Shot: Mint
Juice: Cucumber
Dash: Ginger / Lime / Honey

Use: Mint Mentha piperita is a digestif that is soothing and calming after meals. Ginger also helps to prevent griping and nausea.

Shot: Parsley
Juice: Carrots / Tomatoes
Dash: Lime
Use: Parsley Petroselinum crispum is high in vitamins. It is used in Chinese medicine to reduce blood pressure. Parsley also helps the body absorb manganese, needed by the body to build bones, especially when eaten with shellfish and wholegrains. It also contradicts the smell of garlic so helps to keep the breath fresh if chewed after garlicky meals. Parsley, especially the seeds, contains apiole oil which is a diuretic and kidney stimulant. Another medicinal use is to stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area, useful for irregular periods and should not be eaten in large quantities by pregnant women.

These are just some suggestions. Experiment wildly!

I use a simple manual wheatgrass juicer because:

  1. It is easy to assemble, easy to wash, easy to transport
  2. It does not require electricity so it can be used anywhere
  3. It is perfect for high fibre ‘weeds’ that will tangle blender blades and burn out motors
  4. Everyone including the kids love turning the handle!!
  5. It costs under £30 (as of writing this)

So here is where you get The Lexen Healthy Juicer.

If you want to preserve your juices for an all-year round supply then consider pasteurising them.

A Self Help Approach to Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name give to a condition where the pressure increases within the eye. This pressure, if untreated, can lead to cataracts and loss of sight. The following research, notes and ideas have been put together in this place to share a resource of self-help approaches. This is not a medical approach but a resource to help understand glaucoma and offer natural approaches to try to reduce the effects of glaucoma.

The pressure that builds up in glaucoma happens because the production of fluid to the eye outstrips the outflow from the eye. The ensuing imbalance results in pressure. This can be caused by structural problems in the eye (usually from birth) such as poor collagen performance; eye syndromes; aging; radiotherapy; drug reactions to corticosteroids. When you see your medical specialist they will measure the eye pressure.

  1. Normal intraocular (within the eye) pressure is 10 to 21 mm Hg.
  2. In chronic glaucoma it is 22 to 40 mm Hg with gradual loss of peripheral vision and blurriness.
  3. In acute glaucoma it is greater than 40 mm H with throbbing pain and severe blurred vision. Nausea and vomiting are common. Pupil (black part of eye) becomes dilated and fixed.

Treatment is dependent on:

  1. Reducing the internal eye pressure
  2. Improving collagen metabolism in the eye

Normally your doctor will give you eyedrops and you may also be given medication.

Self help with diet, supplements, botanicals and herbs.


Diet plays a significant role in cataract risk. One study found that people who eat the highest amounts of butter and salt have double the cataract risk compared to those who eat the lowest amounts of these foods. Notably spinach, peppers, melons, tomatoes and citrus fruits halve the risk of needing cataract surgery. People who do not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day are 5 to 13 times more likely to develop cataracts. Insufficient dietary vitamin C intake also dramatically increases cataract risk 4 to 11 times. The typical Western diet provides about 110 mg/day of vitamin C, but the minimum amount of vitamin C required to prevent cataracts is closer to 300 mg/day – about five oranges. It is unlikely that consumers will eat this much fruit, so vitamin C supplements are often more practical. The eye’s lens is also sensitive to high blood-sugar levels, which can cause inflammation, vision changes and eventually diabetic cataracts. Sugar can harden in the lens so it’s best to avoid too many sugary foods.

Increasing macular pigment density by eating plenty of dark green and orange fruits and vegetables might prevent people who are mildly impaired from advancing to the worst stages of the disease. 6 mg lutein/day through a diet rich in dark-green leafy vegetables significantly reduces the risk of advanced macular degeneration.

Dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach, cress, swiss chard, parsley, mustard greens, beet greens, okra, red pepper, dark green lettuce, leeks, broccoli and green peas are rich sources of beta-carotene as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. Blue-eyed people need more lutein and zeaxanthin because they have less of these protective pigments in their retinas.

Foods such as cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potato and yams  are rich in beta-carotene but provide no lutein. Also pumpkin, yellow squash, yellow and green peppers, avocado, tomato Puree, orange fruits

Magnesium: 200 – 600 mg per day.
Magnesium supplements have been shown to lower intraocular eye pressure (IOP) in the same way that drugs such as ‘channel blockers’ do as it blocks the uptake of calcium which relaxes the arteries. In a clinical study, 10 gaucoma patients were given 121.5 mg magnesium twice a day for a month. After a month the blood supply to the eye and their field of vision improved. Natural high sources of magnesium include spinach, beans, peanuts, nuts and seeds, whole grain bread and halibut. Foods with lower levels of magnesium include: milk, cheese, bananas, and avocadoes.

Vitamin C: Minimum 2000 mg per day (effective dose could be as high as 35 grams per day).
Vitamin C both reduces IOP pressure and repairs collagen integrity. Clinical studies where 0.5 g (500 mg) per kilo (2.2 lbs) of body weight was taken, reduced IOP by an average of 16 mm Hg. It seems quite high but does seem effective. Under your doctor of medical herbalists supervision it would be worth trying it and if necessary building up to a high dose. Remember your body also needs zinc to absorb Vitamin C. In 1990, James Robertson, (Department of Epidemiology, University of Western Ontario, Canada), compared adults with cataracts to those without. He found that taking 300 to 600 mg Vitamin C reduced cataract risk by 70 percent and 400 IU Vitamin E for more than a year reduced cataract risk by 50 percent.

Linner E. The pressure lowering effect of ascorbic acid in ocular hypertension. Acta Ophthamol 1969;47:685-9.
Fishbein SL, Goodstein S. The pressure lowering effect of ascorbic acid. Ann Ophthamol 1972 Jun:487-9.

Fish Oil Capsules:
Greenland Eskimos have lower rates of glaucoma than other Caucasian populations, attributed to the consumption of Omega-3 fish oil. Omega-3 fats appear to help prevent optic nerve disorders. A combination of DHA-rich fish oil, vitamin E, and vitamin B complex widened the visual field of 30 glaucoma patients within 90 days in an open-label, nonrandomized study.

(Cellini M, et al. Fatty acid use in glaucomatous optic neuropathy treatment. Acta Oph Scand 1998;227:41-2.)

Carotenoids: Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to protect against macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. In 1992, a study at Harvard Medical School in Boston surveyed 50,828 nurses and found women who ate spinach five or more times per week, as well as those who took vitamin C supplements for 10 years or more, reduced their risk of cataract surgery by more than 45 percent. Although other carotenoids in spinach could have been at work, this study suggests the benefits of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin.

For a good supplement I recommend Lambert’s Eyewise. Each capsule contains 10mg Lutein (Pure, free-form); 400mcg Zeaxanthin; 200mg Bilberry (Provided by 50mg of a 4:1 extract); 200mg Blackberry (Provided by 50mg of a 4:1 extract); 500mg Grapeseed (Provided by 10mg of a 50:1 extract). You can take up to 2 per day.

Hankinson SE, et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. Br Med J 1992;305:335-9.
Seddon JM, et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. J Am Med Assoc 1994;272:1413-20.

Dagnelie G, et al. Lutein improves visual function in some patients with retinal degeneration: a pilot study via the Internet. Optometry 2000;71:147-64.

Vitamin B12
Japanese researchers prescribed 28 glaucoma patients a high oral-dose of 1,500 mcg/day vitamin B12 for five years. The patients receiving B12 experienced less measurable loss of peripheral vision, more stable visual acuity, and better control of eye fluid pressure compared to a group that did not take B12. The effects of vitamin B12 are attributed to the preservation of myelin, which insulates nerve cells.

Sakai T, et al. Effect of long-term treatment of glaucoma with vitamin B12. Glaucoma 1992;14:167-70.

A Self Help Approach to Migraines

Migraine headaches can be caused by a variety of reasons. Food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, low blood sugar, overwork, stress, poor sleep, diet and exercise. Some of the usual suspects include alcohol (particularly beer and red wine), chocolate, cheese, caffeine, marinated foods, processed and tinned foods. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any apparent reason or pattern. There are several herbs that can help that I have talked about below, however I really recommend that you see a qualified medical herbalist to help to get to the bottom of your symptoms.


Feverfew (Tanecetum parthenium)

Feverfew has migraine-relieving activity believed to be due to parthenolide, an active compound that helps relieve smooth muscle spasms. It is often indicated where the migraine sufferer also experiences allergies or asthma.

In the 1980s, a survey of 270 migraine sufferers in Great Britain found that over 70% felt substantially better after eating an average of 2 – 3 fresh feverfew leaves daily. Another study of a feverfew extract showed the frequency of migraine attacks dropped from 4.76 per month to 1.9 per month. A 3 month study of 49 people found that feverfew combined with magnesium and vitamin B2 provided a 50% decrease in migraine attacks.

Try one of the following:
The best way of taking feverfew is fresh. The plant is easy to grow in a pot, window box or in the garden, self seeds each year and is hardy and prolific.

1. Take up to 3-4 fresh leaves per day. The fresh leaves seem to be far more effective than the dried. Try a few leaves in a Marmite sandwich to disguise the taste! Take two in the morning and two in the evening.

2. Take 0.25 to 0.5 mg parthenolide of a standardised extract. This is equivalent to 3-4 fresh leaves per day.

3. Take 100 – 300 mg, up to 4 times daily, if the extract is standardized to contain 0.2 – 0.4% parthenolides.

4. For carbon dioxide extracted feverfew, take 6.25 mg, 3 times daily, for up to 16 weeks.

Take feverfew regularly as a preventative. Don’t suddenly stop taking feverfew if you have taken it for more than 1 week as some people have had withdrawal symptoms such as rebound headache, anxiety, fatigue, muscle stiffness, and joint pain. It is not addictive but the dose should be lowered gradually.

Side effects from feverfew can include abdominal pain, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and anxiety. Mouth ulcers, loss of taste, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and mouth may occur in some individuals who chew raw feverfew leaves so they are best taken in bread or with food. Infrequent allergic reactions to feverfew have  been reported, mainly by people with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, or yarrow.

Talk to your doctor or medical herbalist first if you are taking:

  • Migraine medication from the triptan class of drugs
  • Have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning medications; such as aspirin or warfarin.

(Zingiber officinale)

Ginger root has been valued for centuries for conditions such as nausea, morning and motion sickness, stomach upsets,cold and flu symptoms and also migraine headaches. Strong nausea or vertigo accompanying a migraine attack may be a guiding symptom for the use of ginger.

Try one of the following:
Fresh ginger: 10 g per day (approx 1.4 inch slice)
Dried ginger: 500 mg four times per day.
Ginger extract: Standardised to 20% gingerol and shogaol.
For prevention: 100=200 mg three times per day.
For treatment: 200 mg every two hours up to six times per day.
Do not take more than 4 g (4000 mg) ginger extract per day.

Personally I think fresh is best and you can add ginger into your daily juice or make as tea.

Side effects of Ginger are minimal. Very high doses (e.g., 6000 mg of dried ginger) on an empty stomach can cause stomach problems but most research studies used 1000 mg of dry powdered Ginger root. This is equivalent to about 10gm (1/3 oz. or about a 1/4 inch slice) of fresh Ginger root. High doses can be more effective initially for pain (e.g. 500-1000 mg 3-4 times a day of dry powder) with the dose lowered to the lowest effective dose in 4-6 weeks.

A Journal of Ethnopharmacology article records a detailed case study in which ginger (600 mg doses with plain water, four times a day, for four days, beginning with first signs of migraine) was effectively substituted for conventional anti-migraine drugs (aspirin, dihydroergotamine). The capsules prevented the onset of the migraine attack if taken at the first onset of symptoms. The patient also introduced fresh ginger into her daily diet and had a marked decline in the number of attacks over a year.

Talk to your doctor or medical herbalist first if you are taking:

  • Blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin

Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)

Capsicum from the red pepper is a great painkiller. Capsicum cream rubbed into the neck, behind the ears, over the temples can help with a lot of severe headache conditions such as cluster headaches (severe one-sided headache that tends to occur in clusters, repeatedly every day at the same time for possibly several weeks). I personally use Capsicum and Ginger Cream for the weather headaches I often get just before thunderstorms. It is fast acting and my headaches tend to go in 10-15 minutes – around the same time as taking paracetamol. Cayenne is also available in tablets.

Capsaicin has very powerful pain-relieving properties as it temporarily reduces substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. When substance P is depleted, the pain messages no longer reach the brain, and the person feels pain relief.

Capsaicin creams come in different strengths. Some may cause a burning or itching feeling on the skin. Mostly this  passes quickly but alway test a new capsaicin cream on a small area of your skin before using it on a large area. And always wash your hands after applying it and keep it out of your eyes!

Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation and people with ulcers or heartburn should be wary of this. People who are allergic to latex, bananas, kiwi, chestnuts, and avocado sometimes also have an allergy to cayenne.

Talk to your doctor or medical herbalist first if you are taking:

  • ACE inhibitors (medication used to regulate blood pressure); such as captopril, enalapril and lisinopril.
  • Stomach acid reducers; such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), ranitidine (Zantac), omeprazole (Prilosec), and esomeprazole (Nexium), or over-the-counter drugs such as Maalox, Rolaids, Tums, and nonprescription versions of Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, and Prilosec.
  • Blood-thinning medications; such as warfarin, heparin and aspirin
  • Theophylline; a medication used for asthma


Many migraines are triggered by foods. The most common culprits in order of frequency are: Cows milk, Wheat, Chocolate, Eggs, Oranges, Benzoic acid, Cheese, Tomato, Tartrazine, Rye, Rice, Fish/Shellfish, Grapes, Onion, Soy, Pork, Peanut, Alcohol, MSG (monosodium glutamate), Walnuts, Beef, Tea, Coffee.

There is little logic in this list and it is worth doing a total detox to identify your own culprits. After 3 – 5 days of abstinence from solid food, sustained by vegetable juices, introduce foods slowly one at a time, day by day. Your body will quickly tell you what it is reacting to.

Other herbs that may help

One of the advantages of having a consultation with a qualified medical herbalist is that there are many other herbs which can be dispensed to suit your particular condition. No two people experience their symtoms in exactly the same way. Other herbs used in the treatment of headaches include Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) and anti-spasmodic that helps especially where headaches are accompanied by irritability; Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) especially where headaches are accompanied by anxiety and worry; Butterbur (Petasites hybridus); Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) and others.

Supplements that can help

Magnesium: 250-400 mg three times per day

Vitamin B6: 25 mg three times per day

5-HTP: 100-200 mg three times per day

Physical Therapies that can help


Clinical Trials

Feverfew and Ginger – Compound for acute treatment of migraine
Feverfew and Ginger – Double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study
Feverfew – Prophylactic treatment of migraine
Feverfew – Efficacy and safety
Feverfew- Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
Capsaicin – Topical application for migraine pain

Roses are good for you!

I knew my love of the humble dog rose is not misplaced. It is a joy to find, threading its way through a green hedge, often accompanied by woodbine or honeysuckle, at the height of summer. I also make rosehip syrup which as I used as a vitamin C rich medicine base during the winter months. The last decade has seen a sudden proliferation in clinical trials and studies on herbal medicines as pharmaceutical companies look for new drugs, and this often supports what herbalists have known for millenia and also introduces new thinking. Recent clinical trials have proved that rosehips alleviate the pain and inflammation of arthritis.


















Try this recipe for Rosehip Syrup.

A Self Help Approach to Melasma

Melasma (also called Chloasma) is the name given to a patchy darkening of the skin on the face. This occurs particularly in some groups of north Asian women. It often first appears during pregnancy. Sometimes it fades on its own but sometimes it is stubbornly persistent. Or it goes away, just to return with the menopause. The following research, notes and ideas have been put together in one place to share a resource of self-help approaches. This is not a medical approach but a resource to help understand melasma and offer natural approaches to try to reduce the appearance of melasma which many women find so very distressing. My deepest thanks to all the women of the Nepalese community in Edinburgh for sharing their selves and their stories.


1.     Hormones: Changes in hormone balance (especially oestrogen) can trigger melasma. For example

  • Pregnancy (especially if low intake of Folic Acid)
  • Contraceptive pill / contraceptive injections
  • Menopause / HRT
  • Ovarian disorder

2.     Sunlight: Both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun are believed to contribute to the formation of melasma in predisposed persons.

3.     Phototoxic reaction: Exposing your skin to sunlight after applying some chemicals found in creams, soap or perfume can cause it.

4.     Medications: Melasma may also be triggered by some medications such as Dilantin (phenytoin) and the contraceptive pill.

5.     Copper: There has been a lot of discussion recently about the contribution of copper to melasma. Copper is often found in fungicide crop sprays and the residue is left on fruits and vegetables. It is also sometimes an ingredient in some contraceptive pills. A high copper low zinc diet can affect melasma, oestrogen levels and yeast imbalances.

6.     Hereditary: Unknown factors perhaps hereditary. This means that if your mother had it, then you are more likely to have it too.


1.     Sun Protection

Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen are key to preventing melasma. Always wear face cream with SPF sunscreen in it, at least SPF15 but SPF30 is better. Use hats, sunglasses, visors, and window shades, as UVB rays are just as intense through the window or on cloudy days. Just because you can’t see the sun, does not mean it isn’t having an effect. However, it is still important to go outside (with protection on) because the action of the sun on your skin helps in the creation of Vitamin D in the body – a valuable skin vitamin.

2.     Careful Chemical Choices

All skin products, except those you make at home, have chemicals in them.Some of these chemicals can make melasma worse. Do not use strong soaps and abrasive facial cleaners and products that will irritate the facial skin. Only use a mild soap or gentle cleanser for washing. Be very aware of what is in the products that you put on your face. Skin lightening creams in particular can make your melasma worse not better!

3.     Hormonal Balance

Contraception: For some women, their melasma is sensitive to hormonal change. If you are taking the contraceptive pill, injection or implant, you might notice a relationship between when you started taking it and your melasma. Hormonal balance can make melasma worse or better. Copper is also in a lot of pills – read the small print in the leaflet. If nothing else helps, you might want to change the type of contraception you use. You might try a period of using a non-hormonal type of contraception such as a coil, cap (diaphragm) together with a condom to allow your body to return to its natural state. Be careful to discuss this approach with your husband so you have his co-operation and be careful not to get pregnant (unless you want to).

Pregnancy: If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant you are entering a time of huge hormonal change. Taking a good quality prenatal vitamin supplement with Folic Acid can help to protect you.

Imbalance: If your hormones are unbalanced you might notice this through irregular periods, or you might be going through the menopause. Visiting a medical herbalist can help you to balance yourself naturally as may plants, such as Red Clover, contain phytoestrogens which mimic the body’s own hormones.

4.     Fantastic Food

Diet: There are certain essential nutrients that your body needs to be healthy. To support your skin naturally when you have melasma eat more foods high in folic acid such as

a.     dark green leafy vegetables like spinach
b.     wheat germ
c.     asparagus
d.     broccoli
e.     potatoes
f.      whole grains, fruits and vegetables

Your skin also needs a good, well balanced diet to be clear and attractive. If you drink lots of water (2 litres per day) and eat a light diet of fish, white meat, vegetables, salads, wholegrains and fruits, you will help your skin. Diets with lots of sugar, sweet things, fizzy drinks, fatty things, bread, cakes and carbohydrates make your stomach feel full, but clog your digestive system and do not give your body the Vitamins and Minerals it needs to be healthy.

To avoid accidental intake of copper, wash everything very well or try to buy or grow organic fruit and vegetables. Also avoid foods that contain a lot of copper: coffee, avocados, almonds, soft drinks.

Probiotics with a wide variety of beneficial bacteria help to restore any yeast imbalances. If you have had had persistent candida or thrush, foot fungus etc you may have a yeast imbalance too.

5.      Give up Smoking

No excuses. Today! Apart from all the known, massive health risks, cigarettes contribute to a build up of copper. The smoke is very bad for the facial skin and smoking will make your skin look old before your time!

6.     A Natural Approach

Keep a Daily Diary: Get a notebook. For three months every day, write down a note of everything you eat or drink, put on your skin, where you are in your period cycle, any medication you take. Grade your melasma on a scale of 1-5. Make 1 very bad, 2 bad, 3 usual state, 4 better, 5 much better. A diary will help you to understand the patterns and triggers of what makes it better or worse. If you decide eventually to see a specialist such as a Medical Herbalist, this diary will be extremely useful to help to treat you.

Supplements: As well as eating a good diet and drinking plenty of water, take a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement to make sure you body gets everything it needs. Cheap vitamins are not always as good as more expensive vitamins but still cost less that a new outfit!! Make sure a Multivitamin Formula includes Vitamin A, B group, C, D, E, Calcium, Chromium, Iron, Magnesium, Selenium, Zinc and Folic Acid. (To avoid supplements that contain Copper you might find that a Prenatal Supplement is best.)

Essential Fatty Acids: To ensure you get all the fatty acids your skin needs you should also take either Omega 3 Fish Oil Capsules or a vegetarian Evening Primrose Oil Capsules or Hemp Seed Oil Capsules as a food supplement. Good quality brands include Viridian, Solgar and Higher Nature. Cheap supermarket vitamins are not always as helpful. Do not take large doses of single vitamins without going to a healthcare practitioner.

Pycnogenol: Some melasma sufferers have found that Pycnogenol (Pine Bark extract Pinus maritima) helps. A clinical study has also been published that found a significant difference in 30 women over 30 days. You can buy Viridian Pycnogenol 26mg with Grape Seed Extract 24mg capsules and take one three times a day with meals for 30 days. They cost around £15 for 30 capsules (10 days supply) and £26 for 60 capsules (20 days supply). (Remember to record everything in your Daily Diary so you can assess whether this works for you.)

Skincare: Use very simple, unfragranced products like pure Cocoa Butter to moisturise your skin during the day. (Remember that sunscreen!) Rose Hip Oil is also very good for the skin and a very light oil. At night use Napiers Age Defiance Cream as a night cream (but do not use it if you are going out in the sun). Age Defiance cream is traditionally used as a hand cream to reduce the appearance of age spots, sun damage and freckles.

Do not use soap and cleansers on your face. Just splash with water. Instead clean your skin with a very gentle home-made exfoliator just once or twice a week. Get a handful of oatmeal, add a little honey and a splash of vegetable oil, mix together and use this as a facial scrub. Massage gently into your skin. Leave on for 5 minutes. Rinse off with cold water. This will also leave your skin feeling incredibly soft.

And lastly,

Remember that you are beautiful. In the past, the present and the future.

Beauty is internal and shines through the eyes from your soul. No matter what scars and marks our bodies bear, it is this fundamental truth that makes you beautiful in the eyes of those who love you.

== == == == ==

Monica Wilde MSc is a Research Herbalist at Napiers the Herbalists, established in 1860. Napiers supplies vitamins, minerals and specialist herbal, natural skincare.

Napiers the Herbalists
Bristo Place, Edinburgh EH1 1EZ

Napiers the Herbalists
61 Cresswell Street, Glasgow G12 8AD

Napiers Mailorder

Changing Times for Herbal Medicine

It is unlikely that any pharmacy today doesn’t stock a few herbal remedies. If only Echinacea, one of the most popular selling herbs of the last decade, used to treat the early signs of colds and winter infections. The last decade has seen a renewed interest in herbs with The House of Lords (Sixth Report 2000) into the use of complementary medicines recording that 34% of people surveyed had used herbal medicine over the past 12 months.

Herbal medicine evolved alongside mankind, with the earliest evidence that man used plants as medicine, not just as food, dating back 60,000 to 80,000 years ago to remains found in the cave tombs of Shanidar, Iraq.  In Europe, in 1991, the 5,300 year old  Otzi Iceman’s body was found and strung round his waist was the birch fungi Piptoporus betulinus. Birch fungus contains antibiotic and antibacterial properties and may have been used to treat intestinal parasites. Although knowledge of the benefits of herbs was initially passed down orally, the first ‘materia medica’, Pen P’sao The Canon of Herbs, was actually written as long ago as 2698 BC – covering the medicinal effects of some 252 herbs.

Herbal medicine was the primary medicine used throughout the Middle Ages until the development of chemistry and allopathic drugs during the 1500s. There was a pressing need to find a cure for syphilis which was epidemic in Europe at the time. Physicians took the work of Paracelsus, who believed that minute doses of poisonous substances could provide a cure, to the limit. They used arsenic, copper sulphate, iron, mercury, and sulphur, and where minute doses did not work, increased the doses to such an extent that poisoning was a common side effect of treatment. Initially herbal medicine did not seem to have a treatment for syphilis until the discovery of Guaiacum resin from the West Indies.

However, it was not until the early Victorian times, in the 1800s that herbal medicine was replaced as the main form of medicine. Even Boots the Chemist started as a herbal shop. They employed their first pharmacist just 120 years ago, in 1884, when they had started to sell patent medicines alongside their herbal preparations. Herbal medicines were often seen as simples, and as customers could grow them as home, there was not much money to be made in them, unlike chemical preparations. The 20th century has seen incredible advance in pharmaceutical drugs saving many lives and treating many complex conditions.

As our understanding of science has grown, so has the understanding of how herbal medicine works. Many modern drugs have been created from plant material, from Willow Bark, on which Aspirin was modelled – both contain pain-relieving salicylates – to sophisticated drugs such as Paclitaxel, a mitotic inhibitor used in cancer chemotherapy, developed from the Pacific Yew tree. Many clinical studies have also been done on herbs ranging from St. John’s Wort to Saw Palmetto and Ginger. The traditional knowledge of herbal medicines has been kept alive in this country by medical herbalists, often belonging to self-regulating bodies such as the Institute of Medical Herbalists, although formal regulation by the Government is still under review. Research into plants for new drugs has also helped us to understand why herbal medicines work, although the body of published work is still small.

In this last decade, both worldwide and in the UK, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of herbal medicine. In 2007 Mintel recorded an average growth of 9% per annum in the sales of OTC herbal medicines for the previous 5 years and, despite the recent recession, OTC herbal medicine sales have still grown around 3%. This growth goes hand in hand with a decade of increasing interest in organic and natural foods, and a more holistic lifestyle.

The internet has also played a big part. As customers have had more access to health information many are self-educating themselves, and taking a more active role in the management of their own healthcare. Our society also faces a rise in health complaints such as allergies, eczema and hayfever where there are often no short-term solutions, and we experience the natural side-effects of living longer, such as joint pain, prostate problems, etc. Many customers faced with longer term treatment plans, particularly where the conventional drug of choice has unpleasant side-effects, are choosing the more holistic route of herbal medicine.

Herbal medicines, while often slower to act, are generally gentler on the body and tend to have far fewer side-effects than many pharmaceuticals.

One concern many pharmacists have had about selling herbal medicines is that the industry has been unregulated. It has been legal to sell herbal remedies, as they benefited from an exemption, under Section 12(2) of the Medicines Act, from holding a product licence. However, without any form of registration of licence required, there has also been no national quality or safety standards required. While many herbal remedies have been carefully formulated and made under the highest standards, there have been some exceptions which have created health risks for the public. In 2005, the E.U. brought in a new Directive – THMPD (The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive) and the herbal industry was given 5 years to comply. This means that from 30 April 2011, herbal medicines must hold either a THR registration or a PL licence. Although clinical efficacy is not required for the THR registration, a company must demonstrate traditional use over a minimum 30 year period and submit safety and stability data. Going forward licence holders, wholesalers and manufacturers will all be licensed and regulated, exactly as pharmaceutical companies are, by the MHRA.

From the pharmacist’s point of view, this is good news. Herbal medicines can now be sold with greater confidence. Like a drug, each licensed herbal remedy will be required to have a Patient Information Leaflet stating the approved indication, dosage, any side effects or contraindications and information on overdose. This will make it easier to sell to patients over the counter, and give both pharmacists and G.P.s greater confidence if their customer wishes to try a herbal remedy alongside or instead of an allopathic drug.

It is a mixed blessing for the consumer. On one hand, a licensed herbal remedy provides information and assured safety but on the other hand, as many as 5,000 to 10,000 herbal remedies are likely to be withdrawn from the market. Most herbal companies are small to medium sized companies and the cost of preparing the dossiers has been prohibitive. Only 152 THRs have been applied for to date since the start of the THR scheme (out of which 69 have been passed so far). These THRs also only cover 27 herbs, a far cry from the 252 listed in the Pen P’sao or used in a modern herbal dispensary.

It is inevitable that customer choice will shrink dramatically and it is hoped that this will not lead to an increase in buying unlicensed, and potentially risky, remedies over the internet. There is also some confusion as to when a herb is a medicine or a food. While some such as Ginger or Chamomile are fairly straightforward, others such as Saw Palmetto or Hawthorn Berry are less clear. However, the route for many companies, unable to afford licences, has been to redevelop their herbal food supplement ranges. Until 2011, when the MHRA begins enforcement, the situation is likely to remain fuzzy for a while!

It would be sad to see the vast wealth of knowledge about herbs deteriorate in a restricted market. Plants are still the inspiration for many new medicines like Wormwood (Artemisia) a herb used for centuries that may now yield a new malaria cure and we may face new superbugs and epidemics in the future to which only plants, ever evolving like humans, can provide the answer. For many customers, herbal medicines offer effective results with fewer side-effects in many hard to manage conditions. Luckily the strong popularity of herbal medicines, vitamins and supplements, coupled with the new confidence that the licence offers the modern day pharmacist, will ensure that licensed herbal medicines remain a viable, alternative choice for the future.

Monica Wilde
Research Herbalist

Napiers Remedies

80,000 evidence of herbal medicine at Shanidar, Iraq?

Since hearing about the meadowsweet flowers discovered in Perth I have been researching to find out what other pollens and flowers have been found in ancient burial sites.

Shanidar Cave, Iraq, is a Neanderthal burial site dated 60-80,000 years ago which was excavated in 1957-1961. Archaeologists found the body of a man they named Shanidar IV, (30-45 years old), also labelled the “flower burial”. He had been buried with the flower heads of eight species of medicinal plants: Yarrow, Cornflower, Bachelor’s Button, St. Barnaby’s Thistle, Ragwort or Groundsel, Grape Hyacinth, Joint Pine or Woody Horsetail and Hollyhock. These plants have been used in traditional herbal medicine as diuretics, stimulants, astringents and anti-inflammatories. As none of the other 9 corpses were buried with flowers, one belief was that Shanidar IV might have been a traditional healer.

If floral tributes were made for sentimental purposes, or to disguise the smell of decay, one could argue that all ten bodies, not just the one, would have been buried with flowers!

Hawthorn Berry Gin ready for Christmas

Around October I wrote about making Hawthorn Berry Gin. Well, I’m pleased to say it is DELICIOUS. And I can keep a clear conscience by knowing it’s also good for my heart and circulatory system! It came out a lovely honeyed amber colour, having removed all the colour from the red berries. I’ll be making bucket loads of it next year. Just wish I’d made more this time!

The recipe is posted here.

4000 year old “aspirin” flowers found in Bronze Age grave, Forteviot, Perthshire?

Meadowsweet – Nature’s aspirin

I heard an interesting piece of news on the radio last week. A bunch of meadowsweet flowers were discovered in a Bronze Age grave at Forteviot, south of Perth, here in Scotland. Here are some links so you can read the full published articles for yourself:

The Telegraph leads with the headline “Grieving relatives have been leaving flowers beside the graves of their loved ones for at least 4,000 years, archaeologists have found.” I was surprised that the media had assumed that this was proof of a “floral tribute” and presumed that the flowers were put there out of sentiment. To me it suggested something completely different – that the person buried suffered from joint aches and pains – possibly arthritis.

I also found another article (Feb 2006) from the Fan Foel site in Wales where meadowsweet was also found. Adam Gwilt, curator of the Bronze and Iron Age Collection at the National Museum of Wales, said “It gives tenderness to otherwise remote and impersonal burial rites”.

What I found so interesting was that as well as the bunch of meadowsweet “placed by the head of the high-status individual,” in Forteviot  “diggers also found pieces from a birch bark coffin”.

Birch bark and meadowsweet both contain salicylate. This is the compound synthesised to make the first drug, aspirin. Like aspirin, in traditional herbal medicine plants containing salicylate (like willow bark, birch bark and meadowsweet) have been used to relieve the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.

Napiers Birch Blend Tea

Napiers Birch Blend Tea

In fact at Napiers the Herbalists, Scotland’s oldest herbal house, we still sell a 150 year old herbal tea blend formula called Birch Bark Tea which contains birch bark betula pendula, yarrow achillea millefolium, meadowsweet filipendula ulmaria, peppermint mentha piperita, red clover trifolium pratense, nettle leaf urtica dioica, dandelion leaf taraxacum officinale and devil’s claw harpagophytum procumbens. It is prescribed for joint and muscle pain, and arthritis.

It was traditional in early burials to provide food, drink and other useful things for the deceased to use in the after-life. Far from being a sentimental gesture, I suggest that the deceased was buried with the plant medicines he/she needed to relieve aches and pains, possibly because of their additional anti-inflammatory properties, in his or her joints. The bunch of flowers and birch bark were practical gifts to brew up as medicinal teas in the afterlife. Meadowsweet, as an all round, general painkiller and analgesic, would have been used for a wide variety of ill-health symptoms and its actions would have been commonly known among early peoples.

The botanical name of meadowsweet is Filipendula ulmaria. However, in the Victorian times meadowsweet was classified as Spiraea ulmaria. Aspirin was developed in Germany and the old German word for salicylate was Spirsäure. The name aspirin came from A-Spirin (where the A stands for Acetyl). So even in the language you can see the relationship between meadowsweet (Spiraea) and aspirin. Quite literally, I believe our 4000 year old was buried with aspirin!!

Other uses

Birch bark was also used by Northern indigenous peoples as containers to preserve food. This was probably because there are natural fungicidal and anti-bacterial properties in birch bark which would have retarded the growth of mould. This might also be one of the reasons that birch bark was chosen as a coffin material – to help preserve the dead body.

Today birch bark is being reinvestigated as a medicine. One of the chemicals in birch bark is betulin. Betulinic acid, made from betulin, is being studied as a possible cancer treatment as it may have anti-tumour properties.

Meadowsweet was also used to flavour mead and may also have acted as a preservative. This does not preclude its medicinal use though, as what nicer way to take your medicine. Meadowsweet also has slightly sedative properties so may also have helped to enhance the relaxing qualities of the alcohol.

Further evidence of medicinal use thousands of years ago was found from Neandertal dental records in Spain.

Meadowsweet on video

Getting Older, Staying Healthy

© Douglass Lea 2009

Just back from the magical island of Bequia. As in the UK, many of my friends there over 60 and some into their 80s. I find it really interesting to observe their different lifestyles and levels of health.

There is a lot we can do to keep active, alert and healthy in the ‘senior’ years. Some of my general observations are:

Exercise: The fittest, happiest seniors I know do regular exercise. This is not necessarily extreme (although I did meet an 80 year old marathon runner last year) but regular daily walking, swimming or dancing. To a lesser extent, gardening and other activities help a bit but 15-30 minutes sustained exercise, twice a day seems to be the minimum level. Also the most active and youthful looking seniors also do yoga, pilates, Tibetan exercises or tai chi – all which increase mobility through stretching and balance.

Climate: Harder to control I know, but the most active seniors seem to live in warmer climates. In a warm climate it is easy to get out and about, exercising as above. In a hot climate water intake is higher, and the palate naturally prefers lighter meals. Cold climates, especially dark, wet winters foster inactivity, preventing people being as mobile. Cold temperatures also encourage a higher carbohydrate and fat consumption.

Medications: A lot of people don’t realise that prescribed medicines can have a lot of side effects that contribute to feeling slower, tireder, irritable, muscle ache, lethargic and a host of other ‘non-critical’ symptoms. Meds are commonly prescribed for blood pressure and the heart, and once you are on them, you will routinely be kept on them. In some cases they are very important. After a heart attack the heart may be damaged and high blood pressure could be fatal. However, doctors rarely discuss how diet and exercise can play a huge role in keeping the amount of medication required to a minimum. Also, although each manufacturer has to test and monitor the drug they make, they can never predict in what combination doctors will prescribe them with other manufacturers’ drugs and so the ‘cocktail effect’ of taking 2,3 or more meds together, can end up making your last years a misery. Kept alive, but with a reduced quality of life. So read the small print inside the packet and if you feel you may have side-effects ask your doctor to review the dosage and brand of your medicine.

Diet: I really believe that diet makes all the difference, especially in later years. It is only partly about the basics: I.e. Plenty of 1. fruit and vegetables, 2. seeds, nuts and grains, 3. fish and chicken as proteins 4. wholegrain carbs (brown rice) 5. healthy fats e.g. olive oil.

What you avoid is also a major consideration. By the time we have lived through a few decades, food intolerances have often developed. Giving up wheat, for example, can revolutionise how you feel, especially if you have been feeling bloated, sluggish and constipated. Giving up dairy and red wine (it’s the sulphites!) can eliminate catarrh and blocked sinuses. Our bodies were designed for the diet of our Stone Age ancestors and have not really adapted to modern supermarkets! A Stone Age relative would have eaten mainly green leaves, fruit, seeds, nuts. They would have been on the move, gently active throughout the day and their diet would have changed frequently with location and season, so no one food was eaten constantly everyday in the way we consume bread or milk daily. Occasionally we would have foraged for shellfish, river fish, bird or small mammals – a red meat feast was a rarity. We never stayed in one place long enough to farm potatoes, wheat, pasta, or process cheeses and alcohol. So basically if you have a predominantly vegetarian diet and treat everything that was not naturally available as an occasional treat, you’re on the right track.

Food as medicine is also a really important subject. A lot of the ailments that start to afflict us can be dealt with through diet in the early stages, before (and often preventing them) from developing into illnesses where we need medication.

Food as Medicine

Circulation: Keep your circulation perked up by including spices in your diet. Ginger, cayenne (hot peppers), garlic and cinnamon all help to stimulate the circulation. Herbs like ginseng and horse chestnut also have traditional use in circulation – horse chestnut is a traditional remedy for varicose veins. Improving circulation can help with energy levels and also with joint and muscle pain. Ginger and cayenne are ‘rubifacients’ which means they redden the skin as they bring blood to the surface, which in turn carries oxygen to the cells that need it for healing. At Napiers, we use them in our Capsicum and Ginger Cream, a rubbing cream to ease and warm joints and muscles.

Blood Pressure: Drinking a herbal tea with hawthorn and lime flowers, or taking Hawthorn Berry Tincture helps to keep strengthen the heart and keep the effects of high blood pressure to a minimum. Red rice yeast and CoQ10 supplements may also help. If your blood pressure is high you should never come off medication without consulting with a doctor or medical herbalist, but using herbs and supplements may help you to keep to lower dosage levels and minimise the side effects of the medication. You should also ask your herbalist or supplier if a herbal remedy or supplement may have a contraindication with your medication. For example, if you are on digoxin you should avoid hawthorn berry unless your GP is prepared to lower your digoxin dose. This is because hawthorn increases the effect of cardiac glycosides. Getting the right balance of both helps to reduce drug side effects but should be monitored by a doctor or medical herbalist.

Sun Damage: Use a blocking sun cream. If its too late Thuja Cream can help squamous cells, unusual moles, liver spots and some other signs of sun damage. If you have something suspicious on your skin, always get it checked out early. Early detection can SAVE YOUR LIFE in the case of skin cancer.

Elderberry: Making a Syrup

Elderberry01-webElderberry syrup can be made purely for its great taste or for its vitamin content and medicinal properties in helping the whole family to fight off colds and flu.

Pick your elderberries from bushes that have not been sprayed with pesticides or polluted by passing cars. They will be ripe in from August to October (depending how far north you are!).

Sort your elderberries out, removing sticks and any spoiled ones. A useful trick is to run a spray through a fork in your hand to speed up the process. Don’t worry if you miss a few as they are not harmful just a bit bitter. Rinse the berries in a colander and put in a large saucepan. Cover with water to about 2 cm above the berries. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Roughly mash the berries with a potato masher to release all the juice. Leave to cool for 30 minutes or so.

Strain through a jelly bag (or piece of muslin) and measure the juice. (Keep the unwanted berry pulp or ‘must’ for vinegar). Then follow either method below:

For each litre of juice add 250g of sugar. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and boil for three minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles, cap and leave to cool. As the bottles cool the syrup will shrink, forming a vacuum. The bottles can be kept in a cool dark place until opened, then they must be refrigerated.

Warm the juice again and for every two cups of juice, add one cup of honey. Stir and bottle. This type of syrup must be kept in the fridge so is best made in small batches.

For either method, take 1 dessert spoon (10 ml) a day during the cold and flu season to keep immunity high. 3-4 teaspoons (15-20 ml) a day if there are bugs around. If you do succumb to an infection take 1 teaspoon of elderberry extract once an hour on the first day, then 3 x per day.

Use elderberry extract at the first sign of viral infection. Elderberry has been tested in clinical trials and has been proven in these trials to reduce the severity of symptoms and to shorten the time affected by the flu, on average by around a third. Elderberry is a native British hedgerow plant that has proven antiviral properties. Click here for more info!

Don’t forget that elderberry extract can be diluted with plain or sparkling water to make a refreshing drink. You can also add boiling water ( and a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg) to make a warming winter drink!

Any left over elderberry juice can also be pasteurised and used later for drinking or cooking.

Swine Flu, Herbal Remedies & Elderberry Extract

I find it amazing that with all the worry about swine flu at the moment, and the amount of press coverage given to it, that so little mention has been made of herbal remedies. Herbal remedies can help to:

  • boost the immune system and lower the chances of catching flu
  • decrease the severity of symptoms
  • lessen the length of time that symptoms are experienced

I know much of the silence at the moment is political. Many Medical Herbalists are currently feeling overwhelmed by the dawning impact of the new legislative changes and also by vociferous attacks against herbal medicine by some journalists and contributors. Few Medical Herbalists have the time to take on the job of defending themselves in the national press, after all most of them are running busy clinics, seeing patients and running businesses in challenging economic times. And few have the connections in the media, nor the training in debate and public relations, to defend the profession well.

The abilities of Medical Herbalists lie in the professional service that they offer to patients who seek alternative ways of managing their health. In particular, those with chronic health conditions where a string of 6 minute appointments with an NHS GP, and a long wait for a consultant appointment, have still not yielded an alternative to the prospect of years of management with prescription drugs. This is not an attack on GPs or the NHS by any means, but many health conditions now require long term management (for example; asthma, eczema, hormonal imbalances, irritable bowel, high blood pressure, arthritis, digestive problems and stress related conditions). Understandably, many people prefer to seek out a gentler system that a drug-dependent one.

However, despite the silence in the national press it is important to know that there are options. So back to swine flu! Firstly, the common sense:

  • Avoid contact with people who obviously have symptoms – coughs, colds, sniffles.
  • Wash your hands frequently and use paper tissues.
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet with your ‘Five a Day’ intake of fruits and vegetables. If your body is not properly nourished it will be less able to fight an infection. If you are not properly nourished you may also be low on vitamins (particularly if you smoke – which kills Vitamin C, drink a lot of alcohol, or are stressed).
  • Get sufficient sleep and exercise, keeping the body in optimum condition.

To support your immune system to lessen the chances of catching an infection, consider the following:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements. Look for combinations with minerals that help you to absorb the vitamins. High doses of Vitamin C do work. At the onset of a cold, 1000 mg daily doses will help. Your body needs zinc to absorb it though.
  • Modify your diet to a medicinal diet. Add plenty of garlic, sage and lemon for example, herbs that are either antiviral or naturally full of Vitamin C.
  • Elderberry extract

Elderberry Extract


Elderberries picked in October

At the first sign of infection use elderberry extract. Elderberry has been tested in clinical trials and has been proven in these trials to reduce the severity of symptoms and to shorten the time affected by the flu, on average by around a third. Elderberry is a native British hedgerow plant that has antiviral properties.

At Napiers we use combinations: Echinacea and Elderflower Compound and we also produce an Organic Echinacea and Elderberry Throat Spray. These are both now prescription only since the advent of the THMPD regulations. The latter is particularly handy for first line defence as the bottle is easy to carry around in handbags, rucksacks or briefcases to be sprayed into the mouth as soon as people around you start coughing and spluttering.

We also use Elderflowers in an old Rickard Lane’s licence originally called Peppermint and Elderflowers with Composition Essence. It’s license indication is as a traditional herbal remedy for the relief of the symptoms of colds, chills and influenza. Elderberry extract is also made by other companies such as Sambucol.

Each year I make as much elderberry extract as I can from the berries I can get my hands on. This autumn I have also been making combination batches of elderberries and rosehips to maximise the Vitamin C and the antiviral properties. In the office several of us have been hit by swine flu – we haven’t been tested so assume it was that, and if not it was another very nasty flu virus. Those of us who got it and immediately started high doses of elderberry did indeed get over it much quicker and with less painful symptoms than those who didn’t. Echinacea is the classic herbal immune system booster but with influenza, elderberry really is my ‘drug of choice’. If you can’t make your own, use a combination remedy from Napiers or use Sambucol or another elderberry extract.

For those of you interested in the clinical evidence, here goes:

Link to the US National Library of Medicine

Link to Herbal Science Group

Monica Wilde
Research Herbalist
October 2009


  1. Barak V, Birkenfeld S, Halperin T, et al. The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Isr Med Assoc J 2002;4(11 Suppl):919-922.
  2. Bitsch I, Janssen M, Netzel M, et al. Bioavailability of anthocyanidin-3-glycosides following consumption of elderberry extract and blackcurrant juice. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther 2004;42(5):293-300.
  3. Ernst E, Marz RW, Sieder C. [Acute bronchitis: effectiveness of Sinupret. Comparative study with common expectorants in 3,187 patients]. Fortschr Med 4-20-1997;115(11):52-53.
  4. Forster-Waldl E, Marchetti M, Scholl I, et al. Type I allergy to elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is elicited by a 33.2 kDa allergen with significant homology to ribosomal inactivating proteins. Clin Exp Allergy 2003;33(12):1703-1710.
  5. Guo CT, Takahashi N, Yagi H, et al. The quail and chicken intestine have sialyl-galactose sugar chains responsible for the binding of influenza A viruses to human type receptors. Glycobiology 2007 Jul;17(7):713-24.
  6. Gray AM, Abdel-Wahab YH, Flatt PR. The traditional plant treatment, Sambucus nigra (elder), exhibits insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. J Nutr 2000;130(1):15-20.
  7. Hassid S, Choufani G, Nagy N, et al. Quantitative glycohistochemical characterization of normal nasal mucosa, and of single as opposed to massive nasal polyps. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1999;108(8):797-805.
  8. Jaber R. Respiratory and allergic diseases: from upper respiratory tract infections to asthma. Prim.Care 2002;29(2):231-261.
  9. Konlee M. A new triple combination therapy. Posit Health News 1998;(No 17):12-14.
  10. Milbury PE, Cao G, Prior RL, et al. Bioavailablility of elderberry anthocyanins. Mech Ageing Dev. 4-30-2002;123(8):997-1006.
  11. Neubauer N, März RW. Placebo-controlled, randomized double-blind clinical trial with Sinupret® sugar coated tablets on the basis of a therapy with antibiotics and decongestant nasal drops in acute sinusitis. Phytomedicine 1994;1:177-181.
  12. Richstein A, Mann W. [Treatment of chronic sinusitis with Sinupret]. Ther Ggw 1980;119(9):1055-1060.
  13. Roy S, Khanna S, Alessio HM, et al. Anti-angiogenic property of edible berries. Free Radic Res. 2002;36(9):1023-1031.
  14. Wu X, Cao G, Prior RL. Absorption and metabolism of anthocyanins in elderly women after consumption of elderberry or blueberry. J.Nutr 2002;132(7):1865-1871.
  15. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res 2004;32(2):132-140.

Hawthorn Berries: Gin, brandy or tincture?

Hawthorn berries

October/November, after the first frost, is also the time to pick hawthorn berries. Hawthorn is relatively unused as a hedgerow berry being mainly used for hawthorn gin or hawthorn brandy. It can also be used to make a jam or jelly. Hawthorn gin is much nicer than sloe gin. It is not as sweet and syrupy, in fact it tastes more like a fortified wine such as dry sherry, than it does a liqueur. It is worth maturing. Hawthorn gin made now will be perfect next Christmas. If you don’t think you can wait that long, then make double the quantity – some to be drunk young this year, and some to mature for the next. Make lots anyway as it is very moreish!

How to make Hawthorn Gin

Sort, top and tail the berries. This is quite time consuming and not the end of the world if you don’t – however it will result in sediment that is hard to strain out later and will impair the clarity of your gin. Pack the berries into a preserving jar, sprinkling a little sugar between layers. Once you have reached the top of the jar (leaving a little space to allow for shaking), fill with cheap gin (supermarket own brand will do). Seal and put in a cupboard. Every few days or so give the jar a shake.

After 4 weeks the berries will have lost their colour and the gin turned a shade of rosé. (If you leave it longer before straining, the flavour will intensify. However, you are more likely to get a sludgy sediment occurring. If you have bright plump berries you could leave the gin to macerate for several months, but if the berries are hard and discoloured a month is sufficient.) Once strained, filter off into bottles and mature for a further three months at least. Enjoy in moderation!

How to make Hawthorn Brandy

Follow the process above but substitute brown sugar for white sugar, and brandy for gin.


The health benefits of hawthorn

Hawthorn also has a history as a herb used by herbalists to treat high blood pressure. It is also beneficial to the heart as it has vasorelaxant properties and is very high in bioflavonoids – also good for your heart. This is well-supported by research. (If your blood pressure is already high and you are on medication you shouldn’t just stop taking it. But, in conjunction with a consultation with a medical herbalist, you may be able lessen your dependence on drugs.) The best way of taking hawthorn berry is as a tincture. A tincture is basically the herb (in this case the hawthorn berry) macerated (soaked) in alcohol to form a tincture. So basically hawthorn gin is a form of tincture. And a small nip taken regularly, as in old country days, may help to keep the heart and circulation healthy. A tea made with the leaves or berries is also a healthy way to keep your blood pressure low, especially if combined with lime flowers and leaves.

Rose hips: Winter ‘Vitamin C’ Syrup

Ripe Rosehips

Ripe Rosehips

Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C and also contain Vitamins A, D (made by sunshine and often missing in the winter months) and E, as well as antioxidants. The syrup makes a great winter medicine to help ward off coughs, colds and flu, especially for children as it is also pleasant tasting.

Rose hips are best picked after the first frost as this helps to break them down a bit. So late October/early November is the best time. They should be scarlet red and firm. Hips that are deep red and soft are overripe and have less Vitamin C. Orange hips are not quite ripe.

Traditionally, wild rose hips are use (Rosa canina) the dog rose or briar roses, but the hips from all species of  rose can be used. But do make sure you are not picking from buses that have been sprayed with chemicals.

Rosehip syrup is just another name for a thick extract a.k.a. cordial a.k.a. squash and can be taken neat off a teaspoon  like a medicine, or diluted with water as a drink. Adding fizzy water makes a great ‘children’s champagne’. It can also be used as a syrup on ice cream and puddings, or stirred into yoghurt or cream fraiche for a healthier alternative.

Keep some hips back to dry and use in herbal teas. They make a great flavouring for less palatable herbs adding a sweetness and pleasant flavour and aroma. To dry them for teas, halve them and scrape out the seeds adding those to your syrup mix. Next time you are cooking, once the oven is switched off lay the hips out on a baking tray and pop into the oven while it is cooling to dry them out. Keep them in a brown paper bag (labelled!) until you are ready to use them. Add a generous pinch to other herb teas.

Rosehip Syrup

Remove any leaves or sticks and top and tail the hips removing the calyx and stubby end. Roughly chop or mince them and put them into a large saucepan. Cover them with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 15 minutes then remove from the heat and leave for 15 minutes. Then strain the mixture through a jelly bag. Put the mush back in the pot, cover with water again and repeat the process. Do not be tempted to squeeze the jelly bag as this can make the syrup cloudy or bitty. Also the fine hairs inside the hips can be irritating. I let mine strain overnight or while I’m away at work to help my patience!

For every litre of juice you end up with now add 250g of sugar. I use preserving sugar which has larger crystals and is quicker to dissolve. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves then bring to a rapid boil and boil continuously for three minutes. Now pour into sterilised bottles. I use screw top wine bottles (baked in the oven to sterilise them). Using a funnel, fill the bottles right to the very top so there is no/little air then add the screw tops.

Once the syrup has cooled it shrinks making a vacuum that helps to preserve the syrup and gives a satisfying ‘pop’ when the bottle is opened. Once the syrup has cooled it is also thicker – so do not be tempted to boil away at the syrup until it reaches the right consistency in the pan. If you do that, once the syrup has cooled it will not come out of the bottle again! I keep unopened bottles in a dark cupboard and opened bottles in the fridge.

If you can, get a few brown glass medicine bottles with screw tops from your local pharmacy or herbalist to put some of your syrup in. When treating children it definitely helps to have the right ‘effects’! This is a great way of making sure your kids have enough natural Vitamin C without buying them supplements which sometimes contain artificial C, bulking additives and colourings.

Nasturtiums: Salads, Pickled, Tempura and Home Medicine.

Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Nasturtiums are great plants. They are easy to grow. The seeds are large and germinate quickly, so great for getting children interested in the garden. All parts are edible. The leaves taste slightly peppery and are delicious in salads and soups – not dissimilar in taste to watercress. The flowers are also edible, with a milder taste and, with their bright orange and red colours, are fantastic for glamorising a dish – whether a salad, a cake or just decorating a starter. The seeds can be pickled in vinegar and used instead of capers.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend Anton at La Monde and he chose deep-fried courgette flowers. It occurred to me that deep fried nasturtium flowers would also be a great starter especially as I always have far more nasturtium flowers than courgette flowers and I also like to keep the flowers to make courgettes themselves! So here’s what I tried:

Nasturtium Flower Tempura

Make a batter from 100g of plain flour and 5g of baking powder. Add enough water, mixing all the time, to reach the consistency of smooth single cream. Heat some light oil in a deep pan with a basket until really hot and sizzling. Dip each nasturtium flour in the batter and then fry for a few minutes. Remove when starting to turn golden and serve immediately while hot. Delicious!


© Monica Wilde 2009

Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Pickled Nasturtium Capers

Pick the seeds off the plants when they are still green, but fairly large. Each seed grows in a group of three so it’s best to separate them – but not essential! Soak them in brine. Make enough brine to cover the seeds by adding 10g of salt to every 100ml of water. E.g. 30g salt to 300ml water, 50g salt to 500ml water and so on.

After soaking in the brine for 24 hours, take the seeds out, rinse them and put them into small sterilised glass jars, preferably still warm. Fill to the top with boiling white (clear) distilled vinegar. Seal with sterilised screw top lids and leave to mature for a month before eating.

Green Nasturtium seeds

Green Nasturtium seeds

Pickled nasturtium seeds on their own are peppery with a sort of nuttiness. They are great plain but you can also experiment with flavouring your vinegar with peppercorns, chilies and other spices like dill or fennel seeds.

Remember to leave some to ripen on the plants for next year. Plant lots as a trailing border in beds or in a rockery as they are quite happy in dry soils as long as they have sunshine!

Home Herbal Medicine: Nasturtium

The leaves, and to a lesser extent the flowers, are very rich in Vitamin C. The mustard oil content in the leaves makes them antibiotic, antifungal, antibacterial and possibly antiviral.

© Monica Wilde 2009

Nasturtiums in my garden

This makes a nasturtium leaves useful as a tea, or part of a tea blend, to ward off colds and flus. The mustard oil in the leaves may also help to clear stuffiness after a cold has started. To make a tea roughly chop some leaves and add two teaspoons to a cup. Add boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and drink. One cup, three times a day.

Nasturtium leaves are a great addition to a medicinal diet as, apart from helping fight off infection and supporting the immune system, eating the leaves encourages the appetite and helps digestion. The antifungal qualities will help to regulate any yeast overgrowth (candida) or parasites but don’t eat too many or you may end up with a stomach upset from the mustard oil.

A strong tea can also be used externally. For this you will need 1/2 cup of chopped leaves, filled to the brim with boiling water, and allowed to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and then cool! This can be used to soak a lightweight cloth to make a compress for  bacterial or fungal type skin infections. Make a larger batch and use to soak feet twice a day if  you have athletes foot or fungal feet. A cool tea may also be helpful as a douche where thrush is a problem but start with a weak tea first as internal tissues can be very, very sensitive. So patch test first, if in doubt.