Tag: ginger

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!

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 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