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.

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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!

 

 

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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

 

How to make a cream

Now then fellow bloggers.  I hope that you are all enjoying the glorious weather!  It’s amazing.  I can’t wait to finish up and have an ice cream in the sunshine :)I’m also really looking forward to giving another herb walk tomorrow.  The walk is based in Grimsby, everyone meets opposite the Vansen Centre on Bradley Road at 1pm.  It is £5 with under 16’s attending for free but this also includes sampling a herbal tea and tasting several tinctures of plants that you will discover on the walk.  Children and pet’s are welcome.  You get a couple of hours out exploring ancient woodland and discovering wild foods and medicines, how to harvest them, what you can do with them and how to use them 🙂 Great fun.

Anyway… enough about the herb walk… I am continuing my series of how to make herbal preparations/remedies.  Last week I showed you all how to make a tincture.  This week I am going to show you how to make one from scratch.  Creams are lovely.  Once you know how to make them you can adapt the ingredients to suit whatever health requirement you need.  I make creams from scratch for several of my patients.  This includes a refreshing, cooling and anti-inflammatory face cream, a cream to reduce spots and pimples, one for eczema and a cream for people who enjoy the outdoors to help with bites, stings, cuts and scrapes.

Calendula officinalis is an amazing herb which supports and speeds healing

Calendula officinalis is an amazing herb which supports and speeds healing

The difference between a cream and a lotion is the water content.  The more water is added to the recipe the more runny the cream will become.  Creams are made from blending oils and waters together.  They are described as Phase 1 and Phase 2 in most recipes.  Creams are not for internal use but are for direct application onto the skin.

Here I have chosen to make a Green Tea lotion to show you all how to make one yourself.  I have listed the ingredients for you in the proportions that I have used.  This will make over a kilogram of cream so please make sure that you have enough pots and/or jars to put it in once it is complete.  I have decided to use green tea as it is a source of natural antioxidants (which is great for the skin) and it contains caffeine which has been used by models to reduce the appearance of cellulite.  (With the weather being so nice it would be great to get my legs out in confidence).

Ingredients:

Coconut oil is solid but quickly melts at body temperature.

Coconut oil is solid but quickly melts at body temperature.

Here is a photo of the coconut oil - in todays weather a spoon is required - If I used by fingers it would immediately melt

Here is a photo of the coconut oil – in todays weather a spoon is required – If I used by fingers it would immediately melt

Glycerin can be from animal or vegetable sources, food grade or not.  This was purchased from Boots and is food grade, vegetable glycerin.

Glycerin can be from animal or vegetable sources, food grade or not. This was purchased from Boots and is food grade, vegetable glycerin.

This is my essential ingredient when making creams or lotions

This is my essential ingredient when making creams or lotions

Emulsifying wax does what it says on the packet - it helps the oil and water to emulsify together forming the cream or lotion.

Emulsifying wax does what it says on the packet – it helps the oil and water to emulsify together forming the cream or lotion.

I purchased by Green Tea from a herbalist supplier.  You can purchase herbs online or from myself.

I purchased by Green Tea from a herbalist supplier. You can purchase herbs online or from myself.

The green tea is loose and cut.  The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

The green tea is loose and cut. The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

Water phase (Phase 1):

50g Green Tea cut herb

800ml Spring water

Oil phase (Phase 2):

20ml Glycerin

20ml Coconut oil

125ml Olive oil

100ml Grapeseed oil

10 drops Geranium essential oil

30 drops Black pepper essential oil

40 drops Bay leaf essential oil

50ttp Eucalyptus essential oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the procedure that I used to make over a kilogram of green tea lotion:

First I measured out 50 grams of Green tea.  I then placed it in a clean and sterilised saucepan.

First I measured out 50 grams of Green tea. I then placed it in a clean and sterilised saucepan.

I then measured out 500ml of the spring water and covered the herb with it ensuring that the green tea all got wet.

I then measured out 500ml of the spring water and covered the herb with it ensuring that the green tea all got wet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the water phase of the cream or lotion.  The key to getting the oils and water to emulsify is to have them both at the same temperature.  Therefore I make a herbal infusion in the saucepan and melt the oils together in a glass bowel on top of the saucepan.

Once you have immersed the herb in the water you can place a glass bowel over the saucepan to make a bain marie or double boiler.

Once you have immersed the herb in the water you can place a glass bowel over the saucepan to make a bain marie or double boiler.

I then measured out 20ml of coconut oil

I then measured out 20ml of coconut oil

 

Added 20ml of glycerin

Added 20ml of glycerin

Reset the scales and measured out 32g of emulsifying wax.

Reset the scales and measured out 32g of emulsifying wax.

The final oil to be added to this mixture is the olive oil.

The final oil to be added to this mixture is the olive oil.

You can then add all of the measured oils to the glass bowel and turn on the heat source (in my case a gas hob)

You can then add all of the measured oils to the glass bowel and turn on the heat source (in my case a gas hob)

Do not overheat the mixture as you do not want to destroy the active principles of the green tea infusion before in haste to melt the oils.

Do not overheat the mixture as you do not want to destroy the active principles of the green tea infusion before in haste to melt the oils.

Stir continuously, this is to agitate the oil mixture speeding up the melting process but also so that you can keep an eye on the temperature of the herbal preparation - if you feel it is too hot turn it down.

Stir continuously, this is to agitate the oil mixture speeding up the melting process but also so that you can keep an eye on the temperature of the herbal preparation – if you feel it is too hot turn it down.

As you can see they are starting to melt - the emulsifying wax has more rounded edges.

As you can see they are starting to melt – the emulsifying wax has more rounded edges.

Nearly there - keep stirring.  If you are a fan of quantum physics, or mysticism or spiritual this is the time to focus positive thoughts into the lotion/cream

Nearly there – keep stirring. If you are a fan of quantum physics, or mysticism or spiritual this is the time to focus positive thoughts into the lotion/cream

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The oils have now all melted. It is time to turn off the heat. Be careful as the glass bowel will be hot.

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Strain the green tea into a measuring jug using a sieve/strainer/muslin cloth. Measure how much liquid has evaporated as part of the heating process and top up with cold water back to 500ml.

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Pour the oil mixture into a clean bowel and slowly add the herbal infusion whisking constantly. The mixture will froth up. This is normal, it is partly because you are adding air to the mixture and partly because it is emulsifying. The mixture will be very warm from being on the heat source. I therefore add 300ml of spring water once I have finished adding the herbal infusion. This should be done bit by bit and will cool the mixture.

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As the lotion/cream starts to cool down it will thicken. Once you are whisking and you can see whisk lines in the mixture and the bowel is at a tepid temperature then you can add the grapeseed oil and the essential oils. I have added the grapeseed oil as a preservative.

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The finished product. Creams should be kept out of direct sunlight and in an airtight sealed jar. Do not put it in a container until it has fully cooled as it will continue to thicken. You don’t want to put it in a glass or hard walled container with a thin neck and then not be able to get it out.

Once you have realised how satisfying it is to make creams you will happily experiment.  I have citrus body lotions, conditioners, bath melts, intensive hair repair oil melts, face creams, eye creams, foot creams and many more in my household.  I find it is fun to do with my daughter (when I am not making medicine for patients but creams for personal use).  Experiment adding herbs to the oil mixture, the water mixture, try floral waters, try different essential oils, invest in Vitamin E oil which is excellent for skin and another great preservative.

To make a cream, omit the olive oil and reduce the water by 300ml.

This recipe can be reduced down to make a smaller batch or multiplied up to make a larger batch.  You can even make a non fragranced batch and scent it with essential oils in smaller batches as you use it.

If you don’t want to make your own herbal creams and lotions I will happily make them for you.  I can tailor the creams to your specifications or your health needs.

If you live in Grimsby and Cleethorpes I can offer one to one sessions in your home showing you how to make creams and lotions.  There is also the possibility of workshops in the near future.