Friday, 17 July 2015
Cleavers - Galium aparine family RubiaceaeAlso known as clivers, goosegrass and "sticky willy" this wayside weed is particularly common here this year growing up through hedges and strangling smaller plants. Seen here infesting my rose hedge!
Perhaps surprisingly this herb is in the same family as coffee and cinchona (the source of quinine). It stimulates the lymphatic system to flush away toxins and waste products which, being also diuretic, it flushes away via the urine. The juice is traditionally considered a "blood cleanser" used in spring tonics and also for staying slim! Culpeper recommended it for earache while I have found it to be a useful herb to strengthen the immune systems of children who frequently suffer from inflamed tonsils and other glands. In the 20th century the juice was drunk more often for skin diseases such as psoriasis and also boils while a water infusion was used as a soothing wash for sunburn and an ointment for reducing tumours and ulcers.
A hot water infusion ("herb tea") was used to help flush our urinary gravel and is now found helpful for arthritis, hypertension and fever.
It can be eaten like spinach with a hint of asparagus or used as a hair rinse for reducing dandruff.
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) AsteraceaeThe common name of this once popular herbaceous perennial (although short lived) gives away its traditional use as a febrifuge i.e. a herb that helps dispel fever.
Nowadays it has a reputation for helping migraine particularly if the migraine is caused by vascular constriction (tightening of the blood vessels) as it works to relax this tension. It also helps with tension headaches and some forms of tinnitus and even Meniere's disease. For migraine it is best taken fresh - a fresh leaf or two eaten wrapped in bread or similar as the plant can be irritant to the skin and surface of the lips and mouth. A good second best is to make a fresh plant tincture of the leaves and flowerbuds just before they fully open as pictured below:
|First harvest the herb cutting the whole stems off above any dirty or yellowed foliage.|
|Then strip the leaves and flowers off to weigh|
|The leftover stalks should be composted|
|Finally the leaves and flowers are covered in 25-30% alcohol to macerate|
Feverfew also contains phytochemicals which ease inflammation and pain so is a useful herb for the inflammatory stages of arthritis and is also anti-spasmodic with traditional use for both colic and wheezing/breathing difficulties. It is a bitter herb so does stimulate the flow of digestive "juices" which benefits a weak digestion and has been found helpful in the treatment of asthma.
Friday, 19 June 2015
Birch (Betula pendula) Family BetulaceaeThe silver birch is a small graceful tree with a range of uses.
Medicinally it is usually the young leaves that are used, harvested in spring or early summer. They make a pleasant tea or tincture with diuretic, anti-inflammatory and mildly antiseptic properties good for treating cystitis and oedema due to sluggish kidneys. The diuretic action can also help reduce raised blood pressure and flush out uric acid and dead cells from the joints which makes it beneficial for arthritis and gout.
Only as the tree matures does the bark start to take on the characteristic silvery appearance.
Bark should only be stripped from pruned off branches and tapping for sap done for only a few hours then the hole securely corked to prevent killing the tree. The catkins provide useful pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in spring.
Sunday, 14 June 2015
Chickweed (Stellaria media) family Caryophyllaceae
Gardeners will be all to familiar with this creeping soft green weed with its tiny white flowers which suddenly springs up in our gardens at this time of year. It is an annual and easily pulled out but why not save it instead?
It is a great herb for allaying itchiness - the most useful way to preserve it is as an infused oil - let the harvested herb wilt for 24-48 hours to reduce the water content then put into a glass jar and cover with the oil of your choice - sweet almond oil is nice and light for this one - cap the jar then heat gently in a double boiler or bain-marie for 2 hours then strain off the oil through a coffee filter or similar taking care not to squeeze the filter as you want to avoid getting any water into the resulting infused oil. Bottle the oil to apply to itchy skin or make into a cream or salve for itchiness. For cream making you need to add a water component so infuse some more herb in boiling water for 10 minutes and use that as the water component then mix equal quantities of infused oil and water infusion at the same temperature with an emulsifying wax stirring gently until the cream forms then put it in sterilised jars and store in the frig - it won't keep very long unless you add some kind of preservative such as vitamin E oil or a few drops of essential oil such as lavender.
Salves made with just oil and beeswax (or other wax) keep better but are heavier and tend to trap heat into inflamed skin, but for instant relief just mush up fresh herb and apply to insect bites, rashes or eczema.
Taken internally as a tea (water infusion) or as a tincture, chickweed also helps reduce itching due to internal causes - e.g. a liver under pressure can mean drug residues or other toxins circulate in the blood far longer than they should and cause random itchiness. Being very mucilaginous the herb also soothes inflamed respiratory and digestive tissues so can help with coughs and heartburn too.
Chickweed also makes a pleasant salad vegetable or can be cooked like spinach. Most cage birds and, as its name suggests, domestic poultry love to feast on this herb as do many grazing animals except, apparently, goats.