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.

figwort

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.

rehmannia

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.

097

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!

 

 

Advertisements

Malvaceae family – the mallows :)

The mallow family may not have as many medicinal species as other plant families which I have discussed in my blog but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a relevant plant family.  The word ‘Mallow’ comes from the Greek ‘Malakos’ and means ‘soft or soothing’.  I am lucky enough to have common mallow appearing wild in my garden and I cultivate marshmallow.  The Malvaceae, or the mallows, are a family of flowering plants containing over 200 genera with close to 2,300 species, the largest concentration being found in South America.

Many of these species are found in rather dry habitats, often near the sea – I live close to the seaside and the common mallow which grows wild in my garden has taken up residence in between the paving slabs which make up the paths in my garden, as well as next to my alley way door and the wall in my front garden – all areas where the rain doesn’t get too as much!. The mallow family generally have a high mucilage content which may be a way in which they can conserve their fluids.

You may be thinking about marshmallows – which grow in marsh land.  That isn’t a dry habitat!! But when you think about it marshes tend to have high concentrations of salt which can have a dehydrating effect.

mallow family

  • Mallows usually have soft, velvety hairs covering stems and leaves.
  • They tend to be greyish, rather than bright green.
  • Leaves are petiolate, alternate, simple, and usually palmately veined.
  • The flowers are almost always bisexual and actinomorphic (radially symmetrical). In the UK species, there are 5 petals, usually in pink or purple (occasionally white). There are many stamens and at least 2 fused carpels.

marshmallow

Did you know that marshmallows were originally formulated as a form of medicine?  Mucilage is edible. It is used in medicine for its demulcent properties. Traditionally marshmallows were made from the extract of the mucilaginous root of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis); due to the demulcent nature of the extract, it served as a cough suppressant.  Also did you know that the vegetable okra is part of this family?  If you are on facebook or go online you may have seen the numerous posts and articles about the health benefits of this green vegetable 🙂

hibiscus

Hibiscus is another member of this family and is another herb which I use medicinally – it makes a delicious tea which can support the reduction of high blood pressure.  Gossypium spp. also comes from this delightful plant family whose long silky hairs (characteristic of Malvaceae) are harvested commercially  to produce cotton.

cotton

The key medicinal theme of this plant family is their demulcent (internal) and vulnerary (external) effects on the body.  Demulcent herbs are rich in mucilage and can soothe and protect irritated or inflamed tissue within the body and vulnerary herbs are applied externally and support the body in the healing of wounds and cuts.  Mucilage can be used in gastrointestinal inflammatory processes; associated to topical irritation agents. The mechanism of action is that mucilages cover the mucous membranes and prevent irritation of the nerve endings.

The UK species are all demulcents, used for their soothing effects on the digestion, respiratory and urinary systems.  The family as a whole rarely contains toxic constituents. However cotton have been found to reduce male fertility. This is due to the presence of the sesquiterpene gossypol, which prevents spermatogenesis. However, this effect may be irreversible if high doses are taken over a long period of time.

real marshmallows

How to make Rose & Marshmallow Root Marshmallows

If you do not have rose hydrosol or rose water then you can substitute them for water (or experiment with different herbal teas such as chamomile, chamomile honey and vanilla or even cacao.

Ingredients

120 ml rose hydrosol/rose water
120 ml water
1 tablespoon marshmallow root powder
1-2 tablespoons of hibiscus flowers (these make the marshmallows pink!)
235 ml honey
1 packet of unflavored gelatin
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Bring the water and rose hydrosol to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the marshmallow root and hibiscus flower and stir with a whisk. Simmer for five minutes and then place in the fridge until cool.
  2. Strain the marshmallow and hibiscus decoction through a fine mesh sieve. Add enough water to equal a full cup.
  3. Take half of the marshmallow mixture and place in a medium sized bowl and add gelatin to it. Set aside.
  4. Take the other half of the mixture in a small saucepan along with the honey, vanilla extract and the salt.
  5. Bring to a simmer. Place the candy thermometer in the mixture until it reaches 2400 (soft ball) then remove from heat.
  6. Using a hand mixer begin to mix the marshmallow and gelatin mixture on low. Slowly add the hot marshmallow and honey mixture while continuing to mix.
  7. Once the two mixtures have been combined continue to whip on high for another 5-10 minutes.
  8. Pour the mixture onto an 8×8 pan lined with natural parchment paper that has been oiled.
  9. Let these sit for a few hours until they are set up and firm.
  10. Slice with a knife. These were a little sticky.
  11. You could roll them in rose petal powder or powdered sugar if you wanted them less sticky.
  12. Enjoy these marshmallows any way you would enjoy the store-bought variety – they make a great treat for children, especially if they are prone to respiratory tract infections.

If you would like to purchase the marshmallow root and hibiscus please check out my website as I am planning to set up an online shop for dried herbs over the next few weeks: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk

 

Lamiaceae family – the mint family

I am continuing my series on the medicinal benefits of the different plant families.  This is something I explored whilst studying herbal medicine.  It helps to give you the general characteristics of the plant families.  Not everything will be applicable to each and every plant, but will relate in general to the medicinal species found in the group.

The mint family is a favourite of mine, my garden contains: peppermint, spearmint, applemint, pineapple sage, garden sage, purple sage red deadnettle, lavenders, rosemanry and lemon balm.  all of which belong to this delightful plant family.  The Lamiaceae is a family of flowering plants (mostly herbs and shrubs) that comprises over 240 genera and 6,500 species worldwide.

The original family name is Labiateae, so given because the flowers typically have petals fused into an upper lip and a lower lip. Although this is still considered an acceptable alternative name, most botanists now use the name “Lamiaceae” in referring to this family.

The plants are frequently aromatic in all parts and include many widely used culinary herbs, such as basil, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop and thyme. Many members of the family are widely cultivated, owing not only to their aromatic qualities but also their ease of cultivation: these plants are among the easiest plants to propagate by stem cuttings.  Why not have a go yourself – if you have friends, family or neighbours who have these herbs in their garden, why not ask if you could have a stem cutting?  You can place it in water to see if it roots, or use root hormone powder, or just place it in some mud/compost and leave it for several months to root itself.  Either way you could grow your own herbs for free due to kindness and sharing.

There are several plant characteristics which define the fact that a plant belongs to this family.  This is the botany of the plant families.

patterns in the mint family

The mint family have square stems, you will notice that the leaves are attached to flat edges not corners.  The leaves are often simple in shape (no lobes/edging etc), the leaves are also in opposite pairs at right angles to pairs above and below them on the plant stems.

leaf botany

 

There are no Stipules.

A close up of sage - Salvia officinalis

A close up of sage – Salvia officinalis

You will also notice (especially on closer inspection that the plants are hairy, this can include the leaves and other parts including flowers.  Can you see the hairs on the sage above?

Flowers from the lamiaceae family bloom in nodes with at least 4 different flowers; some form 2 dense opposite inflorescences like whorls; may form end spikes: sometimes with ‘a protective throat of hairs’  The petals of the flowers are irregular in shape generally with 5 united petals, two of which are usually lipped.  The petals can also be tubular.

On inspection of a member of the mint family in flower you will find 2 pairs of stamens at base of petals, 1 pair longer than the other.  Once the flower has been fertilized 4 distinct chambers develop containing four fruit/nutlets/seeds.  The style arises from the base of the ovary between the 4 chambers (the style is the male sex organ of the flower which is essential in reproductive pollination.

The constituents of the Lamiaceae Family

As with several of the herbs I grow in my garden, they are aromatic.  Hairy glandular trichomes produce and store essential oils also known as volatile oils.  These volatile oils are very light and therefore easy to evaporate, they can pass through the blood brain barrier and also through skin and are therefore used in the therapy aromatherapy. Essential oils probably work at least partially via stimulation of the sense of smell, and subsequent activation of the limbic system.

Volatile oils are made up of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes and the phenylpropanoids.

Because of their small molecular size, many monoterpenes are volatile and are the principal components of volatile (essential) oils, occurring to varying degrees in practically all essential oils.  Whilst they do have significant therapeutic effects on a phytochemical level they are not classed as aromatic and rarely contribute much to the odours and tastes of the volatile oils.  Hydrocarbon monoterpenes tend to be weakly antiseptic, bactericidal, stimulating, expectorant and slightly analgesic. They are often mild skin irritants.  Some are antiviral and others break down gallstones.  Monoterpenes provide the ‘high notes’ that dominate citrus and needle oils, such as eucalyptus.

In general, sesquiterpenes in essential oils are slightly antiseptic, bactericidal, slightly hypotensive, cooling, anti-allergy, and anti-inflammatory; calming some are analgesic and/or spasmolytic.  Their properties are less influenced by functional groups than with monoterpenes.  Sesquiterpenes are more viscous than monoterpenes, less volatile, often yellow or brown.  The total essential oil content of plants is generally less than 1%.

Within the plant, essential oils are stored in special plant cells, e.g. glands, glandular hairs, oil ducts and resin ducts.  They may be found in any part of the plant, including flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, wood, bark and saps.  Most oils are a complex mixture of compounds, which vary according to the season, time of day, growing conditions and even genetic factors. Therefore, different examples of the same botanical species may produce widely differing oils. These different oils are known as chemotypes.  Aromatherapy distilled the volatile oils out of plants using several methods including enfleurage and steam.

General Medicinal Uses of Essential oils include:

Antiseptic – this can be a local effect on the skin or internally in the digestive system, or systemically by a reflex action benefiting organs such as the lungs.  Sage is an example of a local antiseptic herb, and thyme a systemic antiseptic.

Carminative – mint, rosemary and lemon balm all have calming effects both physically and emotionally.

Anti-catarrhal – mint and hyssop both support the reduction of catarrh within the body.

Common medicinal uses of the lamiaceae plant family:

•Anti-spasmodic – Release muscle tension
•Sedatives – Reduce irritability and excitement.
•Relaxants – Release tension in the muscles.
•Anti-catarrhal- Enable the body to get rid of mucus.
•Febrifuge – Brings down a fever.
•Stomachics – Improves stomach function and appetite.
•Expectorants – Promotes the removal of phlegm from the chest.
•Endocrine regulators – Helps to regulate the endocrine system.
•Anti-microbial – Inhibits the growth of micro organisms such as bacteria.
Recipes which utilise plants within the Lamiaceae family:
I have given a link here to an amazing blogger who creates and shares recipes: https://botanistinthekitchen.wordpress.com/tag/lamiaceae/
Lavender Scones
(Makes about 12)
225g plain flour
15ml baking powder
50g butter
50g sugar
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers roughly chopped
150ml milk
  • Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7.  Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Run the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the sugar and lavender, reserving a pinch to sprinkle on the top of the scones before baking them.
  • Add enough milk to make a soft, sticky dough.  Bind the dough together, then turn it out on to a lightly floured surface.
  • Shape the dough into a round, gently patting down the top to give 2.5cm depth.  using a floured cutter, stamp out 12 scones.
  • Place on a baking sheet.  Brush the tops with a little milk and sprinkle over the reserved lavender.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.  Serve with warm jam and clotted cream.

Lemon Balm Syrup

Ingredients

200 grams sugar
237 ml water
24 grams lemon balm (loosely packed fresh, leaves)
Fresh lemon balm to garnish

  • Stir together first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved.
  • Remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into a cruet or airtight container, discarding lemon balm leaves.
  • Cover and chill 4 hours. Garnish, if desired.
  • Syrup may be stored in refrigerator up to 1 month.

There are numerous recipes out there that incorporate the culinary herbs.  Peppermint is great for IBS and digestive issues.  Thyme is anti-viral and can help to shift a cold.  Sage can support and darken hair, improve memory and reduce infection.  I would love to know your favourite recipes using this plant family.

Trotula of Salerno recipes

Trotula of Salerno was a female physician, alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine, teaching in the southern Italian port of Salerno, which was at that time the most important center of medical learning in Europe.  She is regarded as the world’s first gynecologist.

Her works on women’s health, collectively called The Trotula, served as the primary manuscripts on women’s health in Europe for more than 400 years, and set the course for the practice of women’s medicine for centuries.

Here are some recipes from her work which are still applicable today 🙂

Marigold ointment

500ml of infused marigold oil (Calendula officinalis)

40g cocoa butter

40g beeswax

Warm the oil gently, melt in the cocoa butter and beeswax and stir until melts, allow to cool where it will thicken into an ointment/salve.  You can store this in sterilised glass jars.

Use for wounds, infected grazes, athletes foot and burns 🙂

This next one is great for fighting off infections which are more prevalent as the weather changes:

25g coltsfoot leaves

25g fennel

10g fresh ginger root

225g honey

900ml boiling water.

Add the herbs to the water and simmer till the liquid has reduces to 300ml.  Once the liquid has cooled add the honey.  For people who have a cough, are feeling chills or are experiencing catarrh. Take 5ml three to four times a day.

Healing womb

10g ladies mantle

10g mugwort

Make a herbal infusion/tea with the herbs and take for up to 3 months to strengthen and repair the womb – do not take in pregnancy.

Infertility tea

15g marshmallow root

15g mugwort

600ml water

Decoct the root on a hob simmering for 10 minutes then add the mugwort and take off the heat to make a herbal infusion/tea.  Use 1 cup of the herbal infusion to douche twice a week having a nourishing and tonifying effect.

Improve Circulation

10g dried hawthorn flowers

10g dried lime flowers

15g lemon balm

Mix together the dried herbs and place a 5ml spoonful of the mixture in a cup of boiling water, allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain and drink one cup daily for 4 weeks, rest for 1 week then repeat the dose.

I hope you have found these recipes interesting – As a herbalist these are herbs which are still used today for similar conditions.  As a pioneering woman she was definitely ahead of her time and intelligent in her understanding of herbs and how they are used to support health and wellbeing.