The figwort family – Scrophulariaceae

Yes I know… plant families have the hardest names to pronounce and this one is no exception.  As promised here is the article on the Scrophulariaceae family or the figwort family.  This Friday I will write about the borage family and I will finish the series writing about the cabbage family before returning to other aspects of herbal medicine.


The name for this plant family was derived from the European species of Scrophularia – the common figwort. The plants were used to treat haemorrhoids, which were known as “figs” in the past.  Figworts were also used to treat scrofula, a form of tuberculosis carried in the milk of infected cows.

foxglove (10)

The figwort family used to contain plants such as eyebright (which is an amazing medicinal herb – a semi-parasitic plant which lives on grass and which is an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal herb) and also foxglove (a herb which isn’t used by herbalists but is by the pharmaceutical companies in order to make the cardiac medicines digitalin and digitoxin).  These plants have ‘left’ this plant family because as botany has advanced using modern technology looking at plant genetics it turned out that they were were not related and in fact belonged to different plant families.

mullien (2)

The Scrophulariaceae are mostly herbs and contains roughly 65 genera and 2000 species growing predominately in temperate climates.  Plants which are significant to myself in this family include Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), of course Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) and Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa).  I give regular herbal walks where I come across the Speedwells (Veronica spp.) these are also members of the figwort family and has medicinal uses as well as a fascinating history.  If you live in the UK or have visited you will notice that the butterfly bush (Buddleia) has become a common feature of railways and waste ground – this is also a member of the figwort family, as are snap dragons which regularly pop up in gardens with their amazing (and very typical) flowers.


The figwort family have the following common characteristics:

  • Leaves are simple, without stipules.  They are arranged in either an alternate, opposite, or whorled pattern.
  • Their flowers are zygomorphic (this describes the fact that flowers have two or more planes of symmetry), they are often 2-lipped, and can look very like Lamiaceae, usually arranged in spikes or clusters.  Flowers are bisexual and sometimes have brightly coloured and conspicuous associated bracts (a modified leaf associated with flowers).
  • The calyx is the green outer whorl of a flower and in the figwort family these are commonly deeply 4-5 lobed or cleft.
  • The corolla (basically the petals) are usually 4-5-lobed, sometimes 2-lipped, and sometimes forms a nectary spur or sac.
  • The fruit type is usually a capsule.

Medicinally there is an anti-inflammatory, blood cleansing and skin restoring theme regarding medicinal herbs from this plant family.  Scrophularia and Leptandra are both used as detoxifying herbs, e.g. for skin complaints. Rehmannia has a long history of use in Chinese medicine as a liver and kidney tonic, for a wide range of problems, including skin disease and Verbascum thapsus is an expectorant herb, used for bronchitis and catarrh.

Interestingly, both Scrophularia and Verbascum were particularly important in Irish folk medicine: Verbascum being used mainly for pulmonary tuberculosis; Figwort for piles and skin complaints.


Speedwell is used in homeopathy for chronic skin ailments and cal also be taken as herbal medicine for skin problems, stomach upset and rheumatic conditions.  It makes an excellent strengthening medicine good for affections of the brain including headaches and drowsiness.  This herb is also taken as a spring tonic to purify the blood.  It was valued in Europe as an universal substitute for ordinary tea so much that it was known as the “de l’europe”.  It also has a special place in Christian history as it was named after the saint (Veronica) who wiped away the blood from Jesus’ face as he was being crucified. Therefore the herb is associated with miracles and special powers are attributed to it.  Speedwell is one of those herbs which loses its petals with such as speed that it fits with its name too!!  Why not try it!




Magnesium – the fourth most abundant nutrient in the body!!

Did you know the importance of magnesium regarding our health and wellbeing? Magnesium is used in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation, energy levels and much more!!

A Dr. Norman Shealy said “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency… magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. Magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient.”

Here are the Recommended daily allowances for Magnesium:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg 30 mg    
7–12 months 75 mg 75 mg    
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg    
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg    
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg    
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg    

A lot of people are not getting enough magnesium, a nutrient which is required daily. Magnesium deficiency is hard to diagnose as it isn’t usually tested for in blood tests. This is because only 1% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the blood.  Most of the magnesium in the body is stored in bones or in cells making it difficult to determine what the levels really are.  Estimates regarding magnesium deficiency seen to relate to half of the population!!

Dr. Sidney Baker is quoted saying: “Magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every organ system of the body. With regard to skeletal muscle, one may experience twitches, cramps, muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. Also, one may experience chest tightness or a peculiar sensation that he can’t take a deep breath. Sometimes a person may sigh a lot.”

“Symptoms involving impaired contraction of smooth muscles include constipation; urinary spasms; menstrual cramps; difficulty swallowing or a lump in the throat especially provoked by eating sugar; photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease; and loud noise sensitivity from stapedius muscle tension in the ear.”

“Other symptoms and signs of magnesium deficiency and discuss laboratory testing for this common condition. Continuing with the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, the central nervous system is markedly affected. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability. Magnesium deficiency symptoms involving the peripheral nervous system include numbness, tingling, and other abnormal sensations, such as zips, zaps and vibratory sensations.”

“Symptoms or signs of the cardiovascular system include palpitations, heart arrhythmias, and angina due to spasms of the coronary arteries, high blood pressure and mitral valve prolapse. Be aware that not all of the symptoms need to be present to presume magnesium deficiency; but, many of them often occur together. For example, people with mitral valve prolapse frequently have palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks and premenstrual symptoms. People with magnesium deficiency often seem to be “uptight.” Other general symptoms include a salt craving, both carbohydrate craving and carbohydrate intolerance, especially of chocolate, and breast tenderness.”

Here are more signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Persistent under-eye twitch
  • Tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Headaches
  • Pre-menstrual fluid retention and/or breast tenderness
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Seizures (and tantrums)
  • Poor digestion
  • PMS and hormonal imbalances
  • Inability to sleep
  • Muscle tension, spasm and cramps
  • Calcification of organs
  • Weakening of the bones
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Sores or bruises that heal slowly
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurry vision that changes from day to day
  • Unusual tiredness or drowsiness
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Frequent or recurring skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections

The causes of a lack of magnesium can include dietary choices, availability of foods high in magnesium, as well as illness, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and genetic factors.

Here is a list of specific orthodox medications that are known to increase excretion of magnesium and/or increase the body’s magnesium requirements:

  • Certain antibiotics such as Garamycin, tobramycin (Nebcin), carbenicillin, ticaricillin, amphotericin B and antibiotics of the tetracycline class
  • The anti-fungal drug Pentamidine, used to prevent and treat pneumonia
  • Oestrogen, found in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy
  • Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone
  • Diuretics such as Edercrin, Lasix, mannitol, and thiazides (with names commonly ending in -zide)
  • Certain heart failure medications including digitalis, digoxin (Lanoxin), Qunidex, and Cordarone
  • Medications used to treat irregular heartbeat, such as Cordarone (amiodarone), bretylium, quinidine (Cardioquin) and sotalol (Betapace)
  • The anti-cancer drug Platinol, and other immunosuppressant drugs such as Neoral and Sandimmune
  • Antineoplastics, used in chemotherapy, and radiation
  • Asthma medications such as epinephrine, isoproterenol and aminophylline
  • The antipsychotic and antischizophrenic drugs Pimozide (Orap), Mellaril and Stelazine4

Getting adequate levels of this nutrient can help to improve digestive problems, regulate blood sugar levels, support and maintain a healthy heart, nurture healthy bones, detoxify the body and decrease the risk of cancer!  Magnesium also helps to reduce inflammation in the body.  Magnesium is also great for reducing pre-menstrual tension, reducing breast tenderness and painful/heavy periods.  It is also essential for the health of our thyroid which controls our metabolism.

Healthy sources of magnesium include:

  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Green vegetables
  • Raw broccoli
  • Black beans
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashews
  • Squash
  • Sesame seeds
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Bananas
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Coconut milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Molasses
  • Papaya
  • Radishes
  • Seaweed
  • Tahini
  • Wheatgerm

Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms photographed in Grimsby near Grimsby Golf Club

Mushrooms photographed in Grimsby near Grimsby Golf Club

Thanks to Diane on Twitter (@Accounts4_UK) for suggesting this topic.  She wanted to know about medicinal and culinary mushrooms as she hasn’t had the courage to forage for mushrooms.  She has been wise.

Mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes and different varieties, it takes a trained eye to identify a particular mushroom with precision. Even experts get it wrong – I remember being told about some Japanese mushroom experts who went to America and harvested some mushrooms which were identical to the ones they had at home, they returned, cooked them up and ate them only to discover that they were fatal!!  This is how difficult the identification of mushrooms can be!!

While some common mushrooms are safe to eat, some others are extremely toxic and can be fatal to eat. I will mention some edible British mushrooms but please ensure you are 100%  on ID before eating them.  I am a committee member for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (Grimsby and Cleethorpes Group) and I have been informed by our mushroom expert that even he doesn’t dare to eat them!!

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust - Please support your local Wildlife Trust to ensure that animals and plants and their ecology are protected

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust – Please support your local Wildlife Trust to ensure that animals and plants and their ecology are protected

Therefore the task of picking mushroom for consumption should be left to the experienced or those trained in the agrarian field. It is otherwise an impossible task for an ordinary person to tell what type of mushroom a particular piece is.  Considering the possible repercussions of eating a poisonous piece of mushroom, it is wise to cook only mushrooms sourced from an expert.  Don’t experiment with mushrooms–the price may be your life. The lethal effects of some mushrooms may not manifest itself  for several weeks. You may feel good weeks after ingestion to find that your kidneys have failed and you will die without hope of a remedy.

Although I am a herbalist, my specialism has been plants.  I was taught about several medicinal mushrooms but wasn’t taught about identification as the ones I was taught about are not native to Britain but to China, Japan and the USA.  Although we may not think of mushrooms as herbs, over 38,000 species of mushrooms have been discovered to have medicinal uses and they have been valued as both food and medicine for thousands of years.

In Japan, street vendors still sell medicinal mushrooms to maintain health and promote longevity and mushroom experts have been known to travel hundreds of miles in order to collect mushrooms as they are renown for resolving cancer and many other degenerative diseases.  They are especially seen as tonics to our immune system.

Edible Mushrooms Poster

Edible Mushrooms Poster

There is a misconception that mushrooms contain little nutritional value!! They are a low calorie food source but they are surprisingly high in nutrients.  Five little button mushrooms contain more potassium than an orange!  Mushrooms contain antioxidants and are high in polysaccharides which have been found to contribute to their anti-cancer activities.  When you think about tree bracket fungi they are effectively concentrating the unique elements that the tree has absorbed over the years.  Most edible and medicinal mushrooms help to rejuvenate our immunity and improve the condition of our blood, skin and joints.

I would recommend that mushrooms are purchased from supermarkets, health food stores or in capsulated form to ensure safety.  When they are introduced to the diet on a regular basis then they can help to support your health and wellbeing.  Once they have been taken for a few months that your immunity will improve, your will find yourself able to concentrate more, your memory will improve and also the condition of your skin, hair and nails.

Did you know that mushrooms are environmentally friendly?  Without fungi our woodlands would be piled high with leaf litter!!  They make their food from the decay of other plant matter and without them our world would be full of health hazards.  Did you also know that the largest organism in the planet is a mushroom?  What we see popping up from the ground is only the reproductive body of the mushroom – the rest of its body is called a mycelium tract and is either underground or inside decaying matter.

largest organism in the world





















A total of 126 medicinal functions are thought to be produced by medicinal mushrooms including: anti-tumor/anti-cancer, immuno-modulating, antioxidant, radical scavenging (antioxidants), cardiovascular (supporting the heart and blood vessels), anti-hypercholesterolemia (lowering cholesterol levels), anti-viral,
anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, antifungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective (supporting the liver) and anti-diabetic effects.  When it comes to modern scientific research several mushroom polysaccharides have proceeded to further clinical trials and are used extensively and successfully as drugs in Asia to resolve various cancer and other diseases.

Reishi Mushroom

reishi mushroom

This mushroom is seen as a longevity tonic within Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It is also used in cancer treatment.  It helps to improve vitality, strength and stamina and to prolong life.  Reishi enhances immune response, alleviates chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and kidney damage and protects cellular DNA by raising antioxidant capacity.  Scientific studies have shown that the Reishi mushroom has properties that contribute to the healing of tumours, lowering of blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  When tested on an animals (boo hiss to animal research), Reishi was found to work just like the Shiitake mushroom in preventing cancer cells from multiplying.  It is though that the mushroom inhibits the formation of a blood supply to the tumour essentially cutting the tumours food supply and preventing it from growing further.  Reishi is also considered an important, natural, anti-viral agent which also helps to regulate the cardiovascular system helping people with chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

Maitake Mushroom


This is used in TCM to enhance the immune system and is a major part of Japanese cooking.  It helps to boost the innate immune response as well as the adaptive immune response within the body.  It is high in antioxidants which protects cells within the body and is deemed as an anti-inflammatory agent.  Inflammation is seen in most cancers.  The Maitake mushroom is rich in polysaccharides which improves immunity.  Trials have found that this mushroom also helps to reduce blood pressure, regulate blood sugar and also cholesterol levels.  Maitake can increase insulin sensitivity and also reduce insulin resistance making it great for people with Type 2 diabetes.  It is also seen as an effective weight loss agent when consumed regularly.

British Mushrooms

There are 3000 species of mushroom within the British Isles and roughly 20 are poisonous – that isn’t to say that there are more which contain toxin elements which won’t make you feel ill.  Diarrhoea and sickness are common symptoms of mushroom toxicity.  Each poisonous species resembles up to 6 edible species, so the key is to get a good field guide and only harvest one if it fits with all of the characteristics including season, colour, spores, etc.  Only gather young mushrooms but ensure that they have all of their characteristics, when harvesting twist the mushroom gently to ensure that it can crop again next year and do not harvest when it is raining as mushrooms can soak up a lot of water.

The only edible mushroom which I am happy identifying is the puffball.

Puffball Mushrooms

puffball mushroom

It looks a lot like an egg and can vary from the size of a large turnip to a large 30cm ruler.  It is white and spherical, its outer layer is smooth and white when young turning to a greenish yellow and breaking up when mature.  The inner layer is white when young and is firm to the touch like cheese.  They should only be eaten when they are white all the way through.  When the are fully mature they live up to their name and puff out spores when touched by a passing animal or curious child.  My daughter loved to do this when we were out on autumn walks.  They are delicious eaten when young and should only be harvested in this way.  They can be sliced and fried in butter or covered in egg and breaded.

There are numerous other delicious edible mushrooms: anise caps, blewits, ceps, chanterelles, common mushrooms, honey fungus, Jew’s ear, morels, oyster mushrooms, beefsteak fungus, parasol mushroom, saffron milk cap and St George’s mushroom to name but a few.  If you are a mushroom expert and live in the Grimsby or Cleethorpes area would you like to meet up some time and discuss correct identification?



Are you stressed?

We are all aware that stress has an impact on our day to day life – but do you know how if affects your body? I can offer you one to one sessions where I will help you to identify the major stressors in your past and present, your tolerance levels, your personality regarding how you handle stress and offer you natural herbal medicines to improve your ability to cope with stress too!!

Dietary Changes – brain foods

Simple changes to our undefined diet can have a positive or negative impact on our health. Check out this great picture of good and bad brain foods.

Why not try swapping a bad food item for a good one? A simple change such as this if maintained with benefit you, if you found this easy enough why not try to change one thing about your diet and lifestyle every month?

I offer my patients personalised dietary and lifestyle advice – sometimes there can be pages of information for them, but I only ask that they change one thing at a time until it becomes second nature – this way it is more than likely to become part of their everyday lifestyle and gradually they will be healthier than before. It doesn’t seem quite as overwhelming to swap table salt for sea salt, or cows milk for coconut or almond milk.

When reducing grains in our diet, cut back by one pasta meal a week and serve the delicious sauce with roasted vegetables for a delicious and nutritious alternative – it is easy to get your five a day when you plate is loaded with delicious roasted vegetables 🙂

What do you eat? Is it good or bad for your brain?

What do you eat? Is it good or bad for your brain?