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.

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Magical Mistletoe – Viscum album

“I lived my life between the worlds
Neither earth nor sky would call me child
The birds were my companions
The wind and rain my mentors
Daily I grew in power and strength
Till snatched out of time by the trickster”

mistletoe

Mistletoe is a native plant to England and grows abundantly down south.  It even grows in North East Lincolnshire at four sites around the county.  This makes it a rare herb for our region.  I use mistletoe in my practice and recently purchased some fresh berries to grow on my apple tree in my garden.  It is this recent planting of Mistletoe which inspired me to write about this mystical herb.

Mistletoe is also known as Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-bush.  It is a semi-parasitic plant as it roots itself under the bark of tree branches but can produce enough energy from photosynthesis from its leaves to sustain itself.

The scientific name – Viscum album gives an indication into the plant (which we all know from Yule traditions) Viscum can be translated as sticky and album – white.  Sticky white is a perfect description of the berries – especially if you have ever squashed one of them 🙂  Also Mistletoe can be translated using the Anglo-Saxon language –  mistel, meaning dung, and tan, meaning twig.  Mistletoe has a narcotic effect on birds.  Birds who eat the berries off the twigs do have a psychedelic experience. The sticky white sap covering the berry doesn’t get digested easily so when it is passed from the bird (hopefully on the branch of a rose family tree) it can then stick to the branch and hopefully take root – dung on a twig!!

mistletoe2

As a herb please NEVER self-medicate with Mistletoe – all parts of the plants contain toxins and the plant is considered unsafe with use restricted to qualified professionals such as myself.  Mistletoe poisoning can occur when someone eats this plant. Poisoning can also occur if you drink tea created from the plant or its berries.  Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Eating raw, unprocessed European mistletoe or American mistletoe can cause vomiting, seizures, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death.

Despite this I do use this herb as I have been trained, I understand how to use it, who it would benefit and how much to give.   I have found it to be a great herb to help with insomnia, epilepsy and arterial hypertension (high blood pressure). Mistletoe is antispasmodic and reduced blood pressure which makes it beneficial for someone with epilepsy.  At university we were taught that it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole.  We can hide from our emotions and repress certain things with a negative outcome on our health and wellbeing.  Mistletoe is a nervine and a narcotic which has a profound effect on our nervous system.  Mistletoe can help us to reconnect with the emotions and situations that we repressed and then we can work on them, resolve them and feel a hell of a lot better.  This herb is also undergoing several scientific trials for its use as an anti-cancer herb.  Juice of the berries have been applied to external cancers since the time of the druids but research is looking at internal use.  There has been some success with this and it kinda follows the principle of like cures like (which is more homeopathic than herbalism) – the mistletoe is a semi-parasitic host and therefore would it not cure an unwanted growth?

Mistletoe was sacred to many people including the Druids.  It was seen as even more magical when it grew from an Oak tree.  Iron was never used when harvesting Mistletoe (or any other herb) and sacred rituals for harvest could include using a gold sickle and not allowing the herb to touch the ground once cut.  It was collected under a waxing moon and fed to livestock to ensure fertility.  It is seen as a plant which enhances fertility.  When you hold a branch it does resemble a male and when you squeeze the berries it can look like something which represented the sperm of the Gods.  Kissing under the mistletoe was meant to help aid conception –  it was seen as an aphrodisiac plant and in the past a girl that was getting kissed under the mistletoe maybe wanted something more…

The tradition of hanging it during Christmas was to ward off evil spirits and ensure a good new year ahead.  Myth and folklore also state that the herb is associated with peace and love, something we all want around Yule time.

Mistletoe prefers to grow on members of the Rosaceae family preferring cultivated apple trees, lime, hawthorn and populars.  They were seen as more sacred when growing on Oaks.

mistletoe3

To grow, squeeze a fresh berry and wipe the seed and glue on the side or underside of a branch which is at least 20cm in diameter.  It is worth tieing some wool loosely where you have ‘planted’ the seed, this will also prevent them from falling off.  It is worth ‘planting’ around a dozen a time although I only put two on my apple tree as I didn’t want it to be overrun.  It will take a year before the seeds produce leaves and start to grow into a recognisable young plant. Each year, individual shoots produce just two new branches with one pair of leaves at the tip of each; so progress is slow taking four years before berries are formed.  But I feel that it is worth it.

mistletoe4

On Imbolc in February I will be going around Lincolnshire and ‘planting’ the rest of the fresh berries which I have.  In order to keep them fresh I have placed them in water.  Hopefully this will replicate being in a birds gut as Pliny stated “Whenever Mistletoe is sown, it fails to sprout, which it will only do when it is passed through birds – particularly through pigeons and thrushes.  That is its nature: if it is to grow, it first must be ripened in the guts of a bird”

 

 

Do you enjoy gardening?

Discover what plants benefit being placed next to other plants

Discover what plants benefit being placed next to other plants

Do you enjoy gardening? Like to grow fruit and vegetables? Have you noticed that some plants don’t like to be near each other while others thrive when planted next to each other? I feel that they do have personalities, to help you get the most out of your crop check out this table disclosing the best and worse combinations of planting:

Spring into action and grow

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year :)

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year 🙂

There is nothing quite as connecting as getting your hands in some mud, in a world where we walk about with shoes on all the time (rubber soles are insulators) we can become quite disconnected to our planet. If we each planted a tree would there really be an issue with global warming? Why not plant five? Or one a year at least on Earth Day (April 22nd). A pip from an apple will grow into a massive tree which will supply our children, our future generations with delicious food. As we are near the end of Gardening Week I wanted to discuss ways in which you can grow fruit/veg and herbs without it costing the earth.If money is an issue please do not give up before you have started, if you buy fruits and vegetables to eat then you already have access to free seeds… save the inside of peppers when you cut them up and allow them to dry out. The seeds can now be planted to grow pepper plants which will taste so much better than the ones you bought in the supermarket originally…. and they will be organic (if you don’t spray them with horrible chemicals that is). Seeds can be harvested from apples, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, passion fruit, melons, strawberries and raspberries.

I can hear you shouting at the screen saying “They are food plants not herbs!!” You are right, but in the famous words of Hippocrates “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Our diet has a huge impact to our health. We literally are what we eat.

Growing raspberries is an excellent example of getting delicious food AND herbal medicine from one plant. Raspberry is a native plant to the UK although it isn’t found in the wild any more 😦 (I hope you can prove me wrong on this one!!). It is a delicious fruit which is quite pricey to purchase from the supermarket but easy to grow in your garden or in a pot. The fruit tastes ten times better and as a bonus the leaves are medicinal. Herbalists use the raspberry leaves in herbal tea blends. They have an affinity with females and help to tone and tighten the womb and uterus – great if you have experienced a miscarriage and would like to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can drink a tea of the leaves in the lead up to you trying to concieve another baby – preferably 1-3 times a day for three months. You can add delicious tasting herbs to the tea to suit your taste if required.

You can even go to poundshops and pick up raspberry canes for £1!!  Poundshops even stock vegetable seeds, herb starter kits, strawberry root stocks, blueberry, gooseberry and current canes too!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don't mind if I do!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don’t mind if I do!!

Seeds are quite cheap and offer the opportunity to grow your own herbs. If you get bored staring at a pot and waiting for it to sprout you could always set aside a small plate or bowel with moistened cotton wool pads. Place your seeds a space apart on the cotton wool pads and keep dry, you will then get to see the seeds sprouting, once this occurs you should pot them into compost so that they can continue to grow. This technique is a bit like the cress egg heads that were completed in junior school.Supermarkets offer packets of fresh herbs – these are plants which have been forced to grow quickly, you can always separate the packet into several pots of soil and allow them to develop into maturity. Once they have established they can be planted outdoors. Parsley is classed as an annual herbs but several of the plants I have grown have lasted for two years instead of one, which is an added bonus.

You don’t have to spend money on expensive plant food either! A plants food source is cellulose – or starch. Potatoes and rice are full of starch. If you have cut up potatoes to make a meal for yourself/friends or family – save the water that you used as it will extract starch and be an excellent plant food to both water and feed your plants with. Same with rice – soak rice before boiling and save the white water from soaking. If you drink herbal teas, use the tea bag again to make a weak brew, dilute till it is a similar colouration as wee and pour over your plants. They will love you for it.

Hate weeding the garden? Do you know that alot of the plants you dig up may actually be medicinal? Dock roots, dandelion herb and root, nettle herb and root, plantain, chickweed, shephards purse, bramble leaf, bark and root… all can be turned into cosmetic and medicinal products. Don’t see it as weeding, look at it as harvesting 🙂

Gardening is an excellent form of therapy – its doesn’t have to cost alot and as well as the emotional, mental and physical benefits of nurturing a plant into maturity you also get to either eat it or make cosmetics or medicine out of it too!! Free therapy but you get tomatoes!! Walks in the outdoors (generally in the Autumn) will give you the opportunity to harvest seeds – yarrow grows in the middle of Grimsby town centre and also along Cleethorpes coastline. The seeds can be collected in the autumn.

Can’t wait till them? Sage and Rosemary are excellent plants which grow together very well, they are also both great plants for vegetative propagation – this is taking a cutting (roughly 2″ long), planting it in a pot of compost and watering it for several weeks to create a new plant. If you know someone who has either (or both) of these plants in their garden already the majority of the time if you ask nicely they will not mind if you take a cutting (especially if it is established and large) and you can grow your own plant 🙂 Both smell divine, are great to use in cooking, can be added to baths, made into a tea and used to support your health and wellbeing.

Great eh? I think so 🙂 Happy Gardening Week everyone