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.

029

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 🙂

006

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.

Advertisements

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!

 

 

Fabaceae family – commonly known as the Pea family :)

We are all aware of peas, the delicious green vegetable which is difficult to eat in public.  Well peas come from the Fabaceae family.  This family of plants is quite large and contains many edible and medicinal members which I am looking forward to sharing with you all today.  The pea family is economically important to us, something which you will discover throughout this article.

pea family

The group is widely distributed and is the third-largest land plant family in terms of number of species.  Along with the cereals, fruits and tropical roots a number of leguminosae have been a staple human food for millennia and their use is closely related to human evolution.  A number are important food plants even today and include the soyabean (Glycine max), beans (Phaseolus spp), obviously peas (Pisum sativum), Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), Alfalfa  (Medicago sativa), Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea), Carob, which is a great substitute for chocolate (Ceratonia siliqua), and Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).  I have written a previous blog article on liquorice which you can access here: https://herbsforhealthandwellbeing.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/national-liquorice-day/

There are roughly 470 different Genera and 14000 Species in the fabaceae family, these plants are found mostly tropical areas, and in warm temperate Asia and America but can be found all over the world.

There are many uses for various members of the Pea Family including;

Green Fertiliser

Green fertiliser is the term used when a crop is grown with the sole intention of ploughing it back into the soil.  Clover, and Vetch are native wildflowers in the UK and are valued for the nitrogen fixing effect of symbiotic bacteria in the root nodules, as well as increasing the biomass of the soil.  Alfalfa can be grown as a green fertiliser over the winter months to reduce the opportunities of weeds to set in flower beds and can be dug into the soil in the spring to fertilise the land ready for growing fruits and vegetables.

Livestock fodder

Medicago sativa (Alfalfa) although edible for humans is grown almost exclusively as fodder for livestock.  Admittedly I like to sprout alfalfa seeds and eat them or add them to my salads as a sprouted seed is highly nutritious.

Food (for human consumption)

Many varieties of beans and peas are cultivated worldwide as a valuable source of protein, and are especially useful, as they can be easily transported or stored when they are dried.  I know that in my cupboards I have chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eye beans, soybeans and I like to grow/buy fresh peas, green beans, runner beans, butter beans and sugar snap peas.  How about you?  What foods in your kitchen can you think come from the pea family?

Industrial Use

The timber of several fabaceae trees are used for the manufacture of furniture worldwide.  Dyes can be yielded from several plants and can several gums.

Medicine

There are around 150 plants in the Fabaceae family which have medicinal uses, some of which are commonly used by modern medical herbalists.  Here are a few commonly used today:

astragalus

Astragalus membranaceus – An adaptogen, immunostimulant, and cardiac tonic.  Used to treat Ischemic heart disease, hypotension, and chronic infections.

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Glycyrrhiza glabra – A sweet, anti-inflammatory herb with hormonal effects.  Detoxifies and protects the liver.  Used to treat bronchial disorders, and adrenal insufficiency.  Contra-indicated where there is Hypertension.  50 times sweeter than sugar

red clover (1)

Trifolium pratense – A sweet, cooling alterative herb, with diuretic and expectorant effects that can support the reduction of hot flushes.

melilot

Melilotus officinalis – The herb has aromatic, emollient and carminative properties.  It relieves flatulence and in modern herbal practice is taken internally for this purpose.

PEAS

peas

Peas are really little powerhouses of nutrition that are a boon for your health and the whole planet. Read all their benefits, how to use them properly, and some easy recipes. We’ll start with the benefits of this tasty powerfood.

1. Weight management – Peas are low-fat but high-everything-else. A cup of peas has less than 100 calories but lots of protein, fiber and micronutrients.

2. Stomach cancer prevention – Peas contain high amounts of a health-protective polyphenol called coumestrol. A study in Mexico City determined you only need 2 milligrams per day of this phytonutrient to help prevent stomach cancer. A cup of peas has at least 10.

3. Anti-aging, strong immune system, and high energy – This comes from the high levels of antioxidants, including: flavonoids: catechin and epicatechin, carotenoids: alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, phenolic acids: ferulic and caffeic acid and polyphenols: coumestrol.

4. Prevention of wrinkles, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, bronchitis, osteoporosis and candida – These come from peas’ strong anti-inflammatory properties. Excess inflammation has also been linked to heart disease, cancer, and aging in general.

5. Blood sugar regulation – Peas’ high fiber and protein slows down how fast sugars are digested.  Their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents prevent or reverse insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes).  All peas’ carbohydrates are natural sugars and starches with no white sugars or chemicals to worry about.

6. Heart disease prevention – The many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in peas support healthy blood vessels. The formation of plaque along our blood vessel walls starts with chronic, excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.  The generous amounts of vitamin B1 and folate, B2, B3, and B6 reduce homocysteine levels, which are a risk factor for heart disease.

7. Healthy for the environment – Peas work with bacteria in the soil to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. This reduces the need for artificial fertilizers since one of their main ingredients is nitrogen.

After peas have been harvested, the remaining plant easily breaks down to create more organic fertilizer for the soil.  Peas are also able to grow on minimal moisture, so they are a perfect crop in many areas due to not needing irrigation or using up valuable water supplies.

8. Prevent constipation – The high fiber content in peas improves bowel health and peristalsis.

9. Healthy bones – Just one cup of peas contains 44% of your Vitamin K, which helps to anchor calcium inside the bones. Its B vitamins also help to prevent osteoporosis.

10. Reduces bad cholesterol – The niacin in peas helps reduce the production of triglycerides and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein), which results in in less bad cholesterol, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and lowered triglycerides.

For several pea recipes check out:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/pea

http://www.peas.org/recipes.php

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/peas

Enjoy 🙂

Asteraceae family – the Daisy Family

As I mentioned last week I will be exploring the different plant families and their benefits.  This week is one of my favourite family – the daisy family.  This was originally known as the composite family and contains the largest number of plants all over the world.  I am sure that there will be several members of this amazing family nearby – it is such a beautiful day why not go out and explore to see what is growing near you.

The Asteraceae family contains mainly herbs and is the most evolutionary advanced plant family.  A lot of the species within this family can be used as medicine, several species are cultivated for food such as chicory, lettuce and artichoke and sunflowers (for their nutritious seeds), plants are used economically too – did you know that the oil from marigolds is used in the cola making industry? and to top of their amazing versatility a lot of the species produce high quantities of nectar which benefit bees, various pollinators and wildlife in general

The name Asteraceae is derived from the type genus: “Aster”, though this family was also known as “Composite” which refers to the this family’s characteristic flowers.  The flower heads contain numerous individual sessile flowers which we see as a whole.  Examples of medicinal herbs in this family include:                    

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

 

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Other examples include chamomile, echinacea, wormwood, mugwort, sunflower, goldenrod, yarrow, burdock and milk thistle.

The constituents of the Asteraceae Family

Prominent common active constituents include sesquiterpene lactones.  There are over 3000 sesquiterpene lactones which we know of so far and a large majority are from this plant family.  These constituents have anti inflammatory and anti microbial actions and they tend to concentrate in leaves and flowers.  The down side of sesquiterpene lactones is that they can cause contact dermatitis in humans and the most common plant allergen in contact dermatitis is plants within this family although scientific research is looking into their use as anti-cancer agents.

Other common constituents include the volatile oils – these are monoterpenes or sesquiterpenes and are commonly known as essential oil.  Fragrant flowers in the asteraceae family will contain these – chamomile is a great example of this.

Chamomile grows wild in Grimsby but can be commonly misidentified with pineapple weed - this is from the same family but has no scent.

Chamomile grows wild in Grimsby but can be commonly misidentified with pineapple weed – this is from the same family but has no scent.

Here are some recipes which utilise plants from this family:

Dandelion Burdock Early Spring Cleanser

You will need:

2 heaped dessert spoons of dandelion root

2 heaped dessert spoons of burdock root

2 large slices of lemon, chopped into strips

1 teaspoon of honey

1 pint of water

Just put all the ingredients except the honey into a pan and simmer for ten minutes, adding the sugar once you’ve taken the mixture off the hob.  You can drink this mixture hot or cold – its a really pleasant drink either way, but is certainly more refreshing drunk cold.  I’m going to try this with slices of fresh root ginger in the next batch, as well as some dandelion leaf!   The nice thing about this mix is that you can boil the ingredients back up with another pint of water for a slightly less punchy but just as refreshing mixture, then compost the remaining herbs.

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

The common daisy is considered to have astringent, demulcent, expectorant, digestive and tonic properties. Used internally, Daisy can be an effective herbal remedy against cold, cough and digestive complaints. In form of an infusion, Common Daisy is beneficial in cases of arthritis, catarrh, hepatic and renal disorders, diarrhoea and rheumatism. Its external use, as a poultice or addition to bath, can help in cases of wound healing, rashes, wounds and skin inflammations.

Use young daisy leaves raw in spring salads.  The leaves are excellent as a cooked spring vegetable, and in soups and sauces and as flavouring or seasoning.

Some countries use daisy leaves as a pot herb – a vegetable used to flavour dishes.

DAISY GREENS

Pick young daisy leaves and wash then quickly in slightly salted water.  Put a little water in a pan and add a pinch of salt.  When boiling put in the greens.  Cover and cook for about 7-10 minutes.  Serve with a dab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

I hope that you are enjoying this series 🙂

Harvesting Herbs or Wild Crafting

WHO

The World Health Organisation document “Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP)” (World Health Organization, 2003) raises the following concerns about wild collected botanicals:

“Safety – The plant must be carefully identified to ensure that the correct species is harvested and to ensure that there is no adulteration or mixing of different species within harvest batches. Post harvest handling activities should ensure that contamination by microbial or chemical agents does not occur. Harvest site assessment must be carried out to ensure that there is no site contamination with toxic substances.

Quality The botanicals must be harvested at the correct time of year to maximise therapeutic levels of active constituents. The botanicals must be processed, handled and dried correctly to ensure that breakdown of active constituents does not occur.

Efficacy – The botanicals must be correctly identified, the correct part of the plant harvested at the right time of year, and the processing and handling must be done correctly for the final product to be therapeutically effective.”

So I would like to share some information with you all with regards to harvesting herbs from the wild.  There is a lot to know and understand before you choose to harvest wild plants.

 

First you need to be able to correctly identify plants, there are some great ‘keys’ out there that aid identification.  This is a must as there are numerous plants which look very similar and in certain circumstances one can be poisonous whist the other one edible.  It is imperative that you can correctly identify plants – if in doubt leave it out.  Also you need to research the plant and see how long it takes to regrow or re-establish itself.  Some plants are slow-growing and can take up to 10 years to get back to pre-harvested levels, others are fast growers and you wouldn’t be able to tell that you had harvested there in a few months or a season.  Learn all of the poisonous plants in your region so that you can be 100% certain with plant identification.

Secondly, you may have invested time and even money in purchasing a plant identification guide but before you can harvest anything you need to understand the habitat that you are planning to harvest from.  For example, in your area it may seem that a certain plant or herb is abundant but it may be that it is the only patch growing in the region.  There are certain agencies that you can speak to in order to get an understanding of your local area.  One way it to explore it 🙂  As I live in Grimsby, I contacted the Lincolnshire Naturalist Union and I am a member of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.  Both charities can give you the information you require.  Please do not rely on books.  For example, the amazing pasque flower is deemed abundant in books and online – and in places such as Canada it probably is, but in the UK it only grows in 18 sites across the whole country making it REALLY SCARCE!!  

The Pasque flower - Pulsatilla vulgaris

The Pasque flower – Pulsatilla vulgaris

A safe way to determine whether you can harvest a herb it to focus on what most people call weeds.  These are plants which have a great ability to adapt and grow in abundance – the likes of dandelions, plantain, chickweed, cleavers, brambles and nettles are all seen as being weeds but in fact have numerous health benefits and many can be eaten as food as well as used as medicine!!

Nettles make a great herbal tea and soup and has medicinal benefits too

Nettles make a great herbal tea and soup and has medicinal benefits too

There are several laws governing the harvesting of plants from the wild.  In the UK it is illegal to cut or chop trees without the landowners permission.  I was walking though a local woodland which is also a nature reserve and saw a guy with a chainsaw sawing up an old oak tree so he could have a garden ornament.  Luckily there were also wardens in the area and he got caught.  He was breaking the law despite the fact that the woodland belonged to the people – it was still maintained by the local council and therefore their permission would be required.  The guy has been charged and is awaiting trial.

It is also illegal to dig up roots without the landowners permission.  So please check who owns the land and contact them prior to digging roots up.  They may be happy to let you dig up brambles for them (the roots of which are astringent and tonic helping to reduce mouth inflammations (as a mouth wash) and reduce diarrhoea.(as a decoction).  Please, please do your research, into ID, the status of the plant and who owns the land.  

Another UK law states that a profit cannot be made from what is harvested from the land so if after all of the hard work and research you chose that you would like to harvest wild plants for food or medicine then please only do so for yourself and your family.  Never take more than you need.

And unfortunately the research doesn’t stop there either.  You may have correctly identified a useful plant, it is locally and nationally abundant and you have the landowners permission to harvest it.  What do you know of the land?  Is it near a busy road? Are pesticides used nearby? Are you near an industrial estate?  You have to assess the area and determine if the plants that you would like to collect are safe from pollution or contamination.  Unfortunately chemicals do not wash off as easily as a bit of dirt.  It is also appropriate to harvest away from regular dog walking runs and avoid the spray line of a large dog.  With all plants harvested it is essential to wash them.  Sometimes with flowers this is detrimental so researching the area is essential.

“It is said that herbs effectively gathered from their natural habitats may be more potent than those that are cultivated. Wild crafting was a common and original worldwide process for collecting herbs; it was only superseded by commercial growing once demand and supply could not be met. It still is a frequently used method of collection and generally only reputable wild herb crafters who know how to correctly identify herb species and who pick from areas unpolluted by roads, industry or conventional farming, pursue this caring profession. Gathering takes place at the peak of each herb’s growing cycle. All harvesting is done taking in mind the non-depletion of natural plant populations or damage to their habitats.”

You have chosen to harvest a common plant, from an area which is free of pollution and with the land owners permission…. When you harvest please only take 10% of the plant.  If you are harvesting flowers or leaves only take the top few stems.  When harvesting a whole plant only take 10% of the total plant population in the area you are harvesting from.  If you are digging up roots, only take 10% and replant the plant to give it the opportunity to reestablish itself.  The key it to be respectful of nature and to only take what you need.  Do not decimate an area.  It isn’t just us who require the plant.  A lot of native species are home to a vast array of different species who are also dependant on it for food, shelter and/or protection etc.  Out of respect, please leave some of the healthiest and lushest plants in the area where you are wild crafting.

007

On that not, if you are harvesting in an area and there is some litter…. pick it up while you are there and dispose of it correctly!!  We are all in our environment and whether we like it or not we are all dependant on it for our survival.  It isn’t something which is away from us.  Our whole economy is dependant on it.  The oil, wood, food, shelter, clothing – even the man-made objects have all been created from the resources in our environment.  Please do your bit.  Picking up a bit of litter when you are already out harvesting does make a difference, as does recycling or upcycling.  Not wasting food, lowering your energy consumption and choosing where you want to spend your money!!!

Sorry for digressing there… back to the subject in hand….

Walking in Bradley and Dixon Woods in the Summer with the light speckling through the canopy

Walking in Bradley and Dixon Woods in the Summer with the light speckling through the canopy

Always leave the area as beautiful as it was before you harvested from it.  Never harvest from nature reserves.  Never harvest herbs or plants which are rare or endangered.  Why not cultivate them instead?  Especially native ones.  I have recently purchased milk thistle and pasque flower seeds.  I am looking forward to cultivating them.  Not only are they rare native flowers in my region but they are medicinal and will benefit the local wildlife as well as myself. Who knows with the permission of landowners I may be able to plant some into the wild and hopefully re-establish the plant population.

milk thistle sliced

There are some great things that you can do though.  When autumn comes and the flowers have set seed, collect the seeds.  You can cultivate some yourself but please spread them in the area away from the mother plant.  Do you bit to help nature along, she will thank you for it.  Also if you are aware that an area is going to be developed or destroyed then please rescue the plants of interest from the area before it is decimated.  Where I live I was only 3 blocks from the countryside but unfortunately they are building out.  There was some beautiful bittersweet (a poisonous herb which as a qualified practitioner I am licensed to use therapeutically).  It is a stunning plant, with bright purple and yellow flowers similar in style to the potato (they are from the same plant family).  It only grew in that area and it was losing it habitat.  I was lucky enough to harvest some of the berries prior to the habitat being destroyed and there are bittersweet plants currently growing in pots in my garden.  I will hopefully keep one but will return them back to a similar habitat locally for them to re-establish.

 

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”

 

 

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