Forget-me-not, for I am the borage family Boraginaceae :)

The boraginaceae family is commonly known as the borage family or the forget me not family.  Both are members of this plant family and both grow wild around Grimsby and can be seen on the regular herb walks I give around Bradley Woods.  This family are mainly herbaceous plants (which die back to the ground after each growing season).  There are roughly 100 genera within this family and 2000 species.

boragiaceae flower

Boraginaceae was initially classified as Lamiales because they shared (with Lamiaceae and Verbenaceae) ovaries with four deeply divided partitions, a style attached to the base of the ovary, and fruits that break apart into four nutlets. These similarities appear to have evolved independently, however, and borages differ in having alternate leaves, round stems, different secondary metabolites (no iridoid alkaloids), regular flowers, the same number of stamens and petals, and flower clusters.

The virginia bluebell is no relative to our British bluebells which are currently carpeting woodlands :)

The virginia bluebell is no relative to our British bluebells which are currently carpeting woodlands 🙂

The family includes a number of garden ornamentals, such as heliotrope and Virginia bluebell.  There are also several toxic members of this family due to the secondary metabolites that they possess. Medicinally members of this family include Pulmonaria (lungwort), Myosotis (forget-me-not), Borago officinalis (borage) and Symphytum officinale (comfrey).  There is also Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss), Lithospermum officinale (Gromwell) and Cynoglossum officinale (Hound’s-tongue).

Symphytum officinale - comfrey in flower (the bees love it!)

Symphytum officinale – comfrey in flower (the bees love it!)

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in most, if not all, of the plants of the Boraginaceae family. Some of these alkaloids are hepatotoxic (toxic to the liver), causing veno-occlusive disease of the liver, which can progress to fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. There is also some suspicion of carcinogenicity. The development of veno-occlusive disease in adults has only so far been observed after long-term intake of high doses. However, infants and children seem to be more susceptible, with some case reports of hepatotoxic responses after minimal exposure – therefore herbs in this family should only be used under the guidance and supervision of professionals such as herbalists and doctors.

borage (4)

Members of the Boraginaceae family are often covered with bristly hairs. The flowers have a radial symmetry, often borne along one side of branches or at the tip of the stem, in a spirally coiled inflorescence that unwinds as the flowers mature (some are similar to a scorpions tail uncurling).  There are 5 sepals, united at the base into a calyx, 5 petals, united into a corolla.  The flowers have 5 stamens and 1 style.  There are often small appendages (fornices) on the insides of the petals near the point where the tube and limb join.  All these parts are attached near the base of the ovary.  The leaves are simple, usually alternate and bristly-hairy.  The fruit is usually a dry capsule that separates into 4 hard, seed-like sections (nutlets). In a few species the fruit is a berry.

In discussion of the Doctrine of Signatures, “Large leaves stand for surface area and gas exchanges or breathing, hence the lungs and skin……..Hairy or hirsute leaves and stems are a signature for ..hairs of the mucosa” (Wood, 1997)

It is hard to draw clear themes for this family. Demulcent properties are widespread, but usually just form a minor part of the indications for any one herb in this family.   Medicinally, these plants are astringent, good internally as tea or externally as poultices for pretty much any wounds or excretions that need an astringent to tighten up the tissues. A few members of the family are mucilaginous, useful for their emollient properties. Some contain volatile oils and may serve as an antidote to poisons by functioning as diaphoretics. Many members of this family have irritating hairs that may cause dermatitis on some individuals. Also, several plants contain minute amounts of poisonous alkaloids (as mentioned above), making them toxic when used long term or in high doses.

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

Symphytum officinale and Borago officinalis are undoubtedly the two most commonly used in the UK – I know I use both regularly in my clinic.  Symphytum has a very strong tradition for promoting healing in damaged tissue, particularly after sprains, fractures and wounds, but also for internal treatment of ulcerated tissue.  Its common name is knitbone as it is an excellent herb for speeding the rate of mitosis (cell division) increasing the speed of healing.  Here is a youtube video of an American herbalist David Hoffman discussing the properties of Comfrey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szRvmxzEwbI

comfrey (9)

There has been controversy regarding the use of comfrey internally.  The use of the root internally has stopped in mainstream herbalism although the leaf is still used internally.  The controversy is regarding the relatively high levels of hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids – there was a case where a man developed liver failure after using comfrey, but.. when you look at the case he was drinking excessive amounts of comfrey root tea internally over an extended period.  This said, even as a herbalist I allow the people who I prescribe comfrey leaf to internally a break to allow the liver to recuperate prior to re-prescribing again.  I have cooked and eaten the young comfrey shoots. They are great to harvest at this time of the year and they can be treated and eaten like asparagus or mixed in salads. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable or can be added to soups and stews.

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Borago officinalis is most often used by herbalists as an adrenal tonic, it is a great herb to increase a person’s courage, lift their mood and reduce mild depression.  An infusion (2 tsp per cup, allow to stand for 10 mins) can be taken 2 times a day for rheumatic conditions, pleurisy and affections of the mucous membranes.  Old recipes recommend a concoction of flowers soaked in wine and drunk for melancholy and depression.  Young leaves make a fine addition to salads and lend them a pleasant cucumber like flavour. They can also be treated like spinach. The flower corolla can be used to colour vinegar blue.

Lithospermum officinale was traditionally used for treatment of kidney stones. Other members of the Lithospermum genus have traditionally been used as contraceptives. Laboratory experiments have confirmed that Lithospermum ruderale has a marked contraceptive effect.  Pulmonaria officinalis, as the name suggests, was traditionally used for lung complaints, particularly tuberculosis.  Fruits of the southern African Boraginaceae species are edible, but not very tasty. Some species are browsed by game. A tea is made from the dried leaves, stalks and berries of Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia. Dried, ground root powder mixed with cold water is used for diarrhoea (Trichodesma angustifolia subsp. angustifolia). Leaves of Lobostemon, (with pretty bell-shaped flowers) fried in sweet oil and leaf decoctions are old Cape remedies for ringworm, sores, ulcers, burns and wounds.

Oh… and forget-me-not 🙂

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This plant is not used in current herbal medicine practice but had a strong affinity for respiratory organs, especially the left lower lung. On the continent it is sometimes made into a syrup and given for pulmonary affections. There is a tradition that a decoction or juice of the plant hardens steel. The plant has astringent properties; it has been used in lotions. In traditional herbal medicine, forget-me-nots have been used to treat eye diseases.

Five petals, flat face, a yellow eye, usually blue but can be pink to white. The blossoms are added to salads as a garnish and make excellent candied blossoms. However, the plant does contain some pyrrolizidine, a chemical not to eat a lot of so use only occasionally and not to excess.

It is said that whomever wore this flower would not be forgotten by his or her lover. There are two stories that illustrate the flower’s significance among lovers and explain the common name, although both have tragic endings. In the first story, a suitor was picking this flower for his love and saw the perfect specimen. It was close to the cliff’s edge but he reached for it anyway. Losing his balance, the man plummeted over the cliff, shouting, “Forget me not!” as he fell. The second story originates in Germany. A knight and his lovely lady were walking along a riverbank. He was picking this flower for her when he tripped and fell into the river. Before he went under he threw the small bouquet to her and shouted “verges mein nicht”, the German name of the flower.

Papavaraceae family – the lovely poppies :)

The wonderful poppy family is a delightful family but one which does not occur in most places – growing everywhere but the tropical areas.  Well known in the UK as the flower of remembrance for those who gave their lives during the World Wars, I was please to hear that one of our local villages Tetney will be planting numerous poppies around the village in commemoration of the soldiers from the first world war 🙂

rememberance poppy

They are 44 genera and 760 species; mainly herbaceous perennials but can be annuals and there are even a few trees in the family.  A herbaceous perennial grows during the growing season and then all of the aerial parts die back leaving nothing to show until the next growing season.  I have strong memories of harvesting poppy seeds whilst in my junior school as they were cultivated along the borders that were outside the vicarage (which was where the school offices where).  It was a joy to find a plant which has such sensory qualities like a tiny maraca.

poppy seed heads

The poppy family is medicinally and economically important.  Only two species are of economic importance for the production of opium and its derivatives for pharmaceutical use: Papaver somniferum (the opium poppy) is cultivated legally in order to obtain morphine and other opiates, and Papaver bracteatum (Iranian poppy), for thebaine. Papaver somniferum is also the source of the poppy seeds used in cooking and baking, and poppy seed oil. The illegal cultivation of poppies in Asia for the production of opium and heroine is virtually equal to the legal production in the rest of the world.

The stunning field poppy - a wild flower around the UK countryside

The stunning field poppy – a wild flower around the UK countryside

Species with medicinal value as a herbalist include the beautiful field poppy – Papaver rhoeas, the stunning yellow/orange Californian poppy – Eschscholzia californica, Yan Hu Suo – Corydalis yanhusuo, fumitory – Fumaria officinalis, bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis and greater celandine – Chelidonium majus.  Greater celandine should not be mistake for lesser celandine which is a member of the buttercup family.  There are also a lot of ornamental poppies – I have the oriental poppy in my garden for its stunning flowers and sculptural leaves and the popular ‘bleeding hearts’ also comes from this plant family.

The Oriental poppy

The Oriental poppy

Identifying factors of the poppy family

  • The plants all contain latex, which will ooze out of split stems – it should be noted that numerous other plants from different families also have a milky latex including the spurges (milkweed) and dandelions.
  • The leaves are are arranged in an alternate pattern along the stems, they are simple in shape and usually lobed or finely divided. They are often a greyish green.
  • Flowers are often attractive. In the Poppies these are large and there is usually only one flower per stem; this isn’t the same throughout the plant family though as fumitory has smaller, irregular, tubular and occur in clusters.
  • Poppy flowers have many stamens (these are the pokey out bits of the flowers and are part of the sex organs required for pollination), although Fumitories may have as few as two. The flowers have a calyx of 2 sepals, but these tend to fall off early so may appear to be absent. They are odourless.
  • The fruit (the ovary of a plant which then contains the seeds) is a capsule containing numerous small seeds.

Medicinally the poppy family is seen as pain relieving.  The cultivation of the opium poppy for medicinal drugs such as morphine is a great example of this.  Recent studies have found that compounds in the poppy family may be the key to relieving arthritic pain too. The californian poppy also has analgesic effects.  The reason why poppies have such a physiological effect on the body is because they generally contain alkaloids.

The stunning Californian poppy

The stunning Californian poppy

The poppy family also has sedative properties, the opium poppy is again a good example of this as it is extensively cultivated for extraction of isoquinone alkaloids, both legally for their use in medicine and illegally for the production of heroin. Eschscholzia californica and Papaver rhoeas contain related alkaloids with a much gentler action. Papaver rhoeas was a major herb in UK folk medicine, particularly used to induce sleep, to calm babies and as pain relief for rheumatism, toothache, earache and neuralgia. Eschscholzia is used similarly for insomnia, restlessness and cough in children.

Members of the poppy family also have an effect on the liver and gallbladder. Both Fumaria officinalis and Chelidonium majus are used for cholecystitis and gallstones.  Both are also used as alterative cleansers for skin disorders, particularly Psoriasis. Chelidonium should only be used by qualified practitioners as it is a schedule III herb meaning that it has a very small therapeutic window and is potentially toxic in the wrong dose.

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

 

Indoor Allergy Awareness

I have been trying to post a new article each day for National Blog Posting Month but I have failed this weekend.  I was attending  conference for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust regarding the conservation of forests.

Did you know that this week is national indoor allergy awareness week?  Do you feel like you have cold symptoms all year round? You might be suffering from non allergic rhinitis.  Allergic rhinitis is hay fever but if you have hay fever symptoms all year round then you may be interesting in what I have written.

Non-allergic rhinitis is also called vasomotor rhinitis and is where blood vessels in the nose are over-sensitive; certain environmental triggers, such as cold weather or smoke, cause them to expand, causing congestion.  The inflammation and swelling is usually the result of swollen blood vessels and an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the nose.

This leads to nasal congestion and stimulates the mucus glands in the nose, resulting in typical symptoms, such as nasal obstruction, catarrh (a build-up of mucus in the nasal cavities) and a runny nose.   For reasons that are unknown, people with vasomotor rhinitis have very sensitive nasal blood vessels. Environmental triggers can make the blood vessels expand, leading to congestion and a build-up of mucus. Common triggers include:

  • chemical irritants, such as smoke, perfume or paint fumes
  • changes in the weather, such as a drop in temperature
  • alcohol
  • spicy food
  • stress

Allergic rhinitis and asthma are closely linked. Studies have found that up to 80% of asthma patients also had allergic rhinitis, which for some caused an increase in their asthma symptoms.

There are a number of useful lifestyle tips which you can incorporate to reduce the symptoms of rhinitis and these include:

  • Avoid allergens as much as possible once you are aware what is causing your allergy.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to support your immune system.  Foods high in omega 6 are grains, hence sunflower oil is, as is bread, corn fed meats etc.
  • Vacuum carpets and dust regularly with a damp cloth, use aerosol sprays in a room away from you with the door closed as these airborne chemicals will aggravate the condition.
  • Wash clothing and hair regularly because pollen, smoke, chemicals and other allergens can stick to them.
  • Change bed sheets regularly and cover mattresses with mattress protectors.
  • Keep your home well-humidified – did you know that air pollution is at least 10 times greater indoors than it is outdoors?  This is due to the use of chemical cleaners, air fresheners, plastics which release toxins into the air and many other factors which are then concentrated as there is minimal air circulation throughout the house.  Open windows regularly to allow fresh air in.
  • If you have pets it may be worth keeping them out of the bedroom for a month to see if this improves your symptoms.
  • Alcohol can be dehydrating and increase symptoms of rhinitis. (unfortunately)
  • Having house plants which help to detoxify the air from several chemicals and pollutants.
Air purifying plants can reduce the levels of dir pollution indoors which can be up to ten times greater than outdoors!!

Air purifying plants can reduce the levels of dir pollution indoors which can be up to ten times greater than outdoors!!

I have attached Allergy UK’s leaflet with more tips and techniques in it for your information: allergic rhinitis

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.