The Musculo-skeletal system

Sometimes we take our body for granted and don’t even realise how much is actually going on and what it all does for us.  This is why I am continuing my series about the different organs and body systems that we have.  Today’s article is about the musculo-skeletal system.

musculoskeletal system

We all know that without our muscles and bones we couldn’t be able to move but did you know that certain muscles within the body help the bones to stay together? These are known as the tendons and ligaments.  Also it is because of joints that we can move – there are three different types of joints within the body:

  1. Synovial (or freely movable) – these are the main joints within the body and enable us to move in many different directions with a wide range of movement.  The obvious ones are our shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.  These can be further classified based on the structure of the joint.  Synovial fluid is a thick sticky substance which is secreted by the synovial membrane into joint cavities to provide nutrients for the joint structures, remove cell debris and microbes, lubricate the joint (if your joints crack them you may need to address this issue) and to keep the joint stable.  There are also pads called bursa which also help to cushion the joints.
  2. Cartilaginous (or slightly movable) – these are joints which have a pad of fibrocartilage between the bone which cushions and protects the joint.  The spine is a great example of this.
  3. Fibrous (or fixed) – these joints do not move and have fibrous tissue between them – an example is the sutures of the skull which make labour easier and which fuse as part of a babies development to protect the brain.

types of joints

Our bones not only support us and allow us to move about but the structure of them helps to protect our important organs (this is why we have a skull and a rib cage reducing the risk of injury to these essential organs).  Bones also act as mineral storage serving as a reservoir for calcium and phosphorus, essential minerals for various cellular activities throughout the body.  Our blood cells are also made within the marrow of certain bones within the body, finally bones act as another energy store where lipids, such as fats can be stored in adipose cells of the yellow marrow.

types of muscles

Muscles may seem as just for movement but they also play other important functions such as supporting the cardiovascular system by helping your blood to return back to your heart, storing energy in the form of glycogen (a form of sugar) and playing an active part in your metabolism.  Because muscles assist in pumping blood back to the heart they also have a role to play in supporting the distribution of our immune cells (white blood cells) throughout the body to help to combat any infections (another reason why exercise improves immunity).  All muscle movement is controlled by nerves which are supplied by the spinal cord, muscles move by working together as a team, groups of muscle cells work together to produce movement such as the biceps to bend your arm and your triceps to straighten your arm.  Just as there are three types of joints within the body, there are also three types of muscles:

  1. Cardiac muscle is only in the heart and is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. Cardiac muscle tissue cannot be controlled consciously, so it is an involuntary muscle. While hormones and signals from the brain adjust the rate of contraction, cardiac muscle stimulates itself to contract. Because of its self-stimulation, cardiac muscle is considered to be the natural pacemaker, autorhythmic or intrinsically controlled.  The cells of cardiac muscle tissue are striated, striations indicate that a muscle cell is very strong, unlike visceral muscles.
  2. Smooth (or visceral/involuntary) this muscle is found inside of organs such as the stomach, intestines, and blood vessels. The weakest of all muscle tissues, visceral muscle makes organs contract to move substances through the organ. When we eat food it is passed down our food pipe (oesophagus), through our stomach and into are intestines using these smooth muscles.  This group of muscles are controlled by the unconscious part of the brain (our Autonomic Nervous System ANS) and are known as involuntary muscles because they cannot be directly controlled by the conscious mind. The term “smooth muscle” is often used to describe visceral muscle because it has a very smooth, uniform appearance when viewed under a microscope. This smooth appearance starkly contrasts with the banded appearance of cardiac and skeletal muscles.  When you experience griping pains or stomach ache is can be due to the smooth muscle contracting which is why herbalists such as myself use anti-spasmodic herbs to relax and soothe this muscle group when supporting digestive issues.
  3. Skeletal (or voluntary) – this is composed of bundles of fibres, muscle fibres are long structures which lay parallel and appear striped under a microscope (you can see this when you cut through cooked meat too).  Our skeletal muscle contracts to produce the movement we mastered as a toddler, they also produce heat to keep us warm as well as make continual small contractions which help to maintain our posture.  There are roughly 700 different skeletal muscles within the body which make up roughly half our body weight.

The health and wellbeing of our musculoskeletal system can be affected by many factors including: toxins release from an infection, auto-immune conditions (Rheumatoid arthritis for example), changes in our circulation (if we have poor circulation then the bones and joints are the last parts of the body to get the necessary nutrients and get rid of metabolic waste, our hormones also affect this body system e.g. menopause, thyroid issues, adrenal issues, our diet and lifestyle have a huge influence on the health of this body system and if we are not active enough and do not eat balanced nutritional food then our muscles and bones can miss out.

Herbs-for-Musculoskeletal-System

“An adequately functioning musculoskeletal system is a key factor for functional capacity, independence, and good quality of life. Impaired functional capacity and degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal organs are one of the most prevalent and increasing sources of morbidity and suffering. Physical activity positively influences most structural components of the musculoskeletal system that are related to functional capabilities and the risk of degenerative diseases. Physical activity also has the potential to postpone or prevent prevalent musculoskeletal disorders, such as mechanical low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, and osteoporosis and related fractures. Exercise can contribute to the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders and recovery from orthopedic surgery. A substantial part of the age-related decline in functional capabilities is not due to aging per se but to decreased and insufficient physical activity. Physical activity has great potential to favorably influence both the normal and pathological structures, functions, and processes. Musculoskeletal benefits of physical activity can be attained by people of all ages and with various diseases. This potential is substantial because many benefits are gained by activity which is moderate in amount and intensity. Scientific evidence is sufficient to recommend regular lifelong physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone in order to enhance musculoskeletal health and functions for individual and population levels.” Vuori, I “Exercise and physical health: musculoskeletal health and functional capabilities.”  Res Q Exerc Sport. 1995 Dec;66(4):276-85.

Bone health should be addressed as a continuum across the life span. For example, physical activity, or lack of physical activity, early in life may be a determinant of bone health later in life. A second factor is things that influence the rate of loss with aging.  If you have young children please get them as active as you can during their tender years to ensure health and wellbeing when they are older.  Exercise may seem daunting but the key is to find something that ignites a spark of passion in you which is moderately active so if it is dancing around, gardening, housework even! It is still classed as activity by raising the heart beat and getting you moving.  Being stationary and not moving is the biggest contributing factor to illness – it may be great to snuggle on the sofa but every night?  If you have an office job and then chilling on the sofa every evening where is the activity required to keep you feeling energetic, enjoying life, having the vitality to do what you want and getting out of staring at a box (albeit a thin one) each night.  Turn off the telly and have some fun 🙂

Getting outside is another important factor – our western diet is quite high in calcium which is required for bone health but we still have high levels of osteoporosis which is where our bones go fragile.  Getting outside gives us access to natural amounts of Vitamin D which helps the body absorb the calcium.  Also magnesium is essential to our bone health and is a mineral that a lot of people are deficient off – treat yourself to an epsom salts bath to top up your magnesium levels (it is absorbed through the skin) or get a decent supplement.  If you have digestive issues then you may not be able to assimilate the nutrients that you are eating, I will happily help you address these issues to help improve your quality of life.

In terms of joint health, osteoarthritis is a common issue due to the wear and tear on our weight bearing joints over our lifetime. It can be difficult to address whether physical activity is a benefit or a risk, swimming is an excellent activity here as it supports the joints, yoga and the other stretching therapies are also really beneficial.  Running would impact the knees which are common sites of osteoarthritis, but there are alternatives the key is to find something which gets you moving and which you enjoy – photography may not seem like a sport, but if you like taking landscape photographs and choose to climb a tree or a hill for the view are you not being active?

Musculoskeletal conditions are currently the most common cause of chronic disability. Globally, the number of people suffering from musculoskeletal conditions has increased by 25 percent over the past decade. This is expected to continue increasing with the ageing of our populations. Affordable measures to prevent and treat musculoskeletal conditions are available.

The primary musculoskeletal conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Inflammatory arthritis (principally, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Back pain
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (such as occupational and sports injuries and road traffic accidents)
  • Crystal arthritis (such as gout)
  • Osteoporosis and fragility fractures

Musculoskeletal conditions make up 2 percent of the global disease burden. Osteoarthritis accounts for the largest portion – 52 percent of the total burden of musculoskeletal conditions in developing countries, and 61 percent of the total burden of musculoskeletal conditions in industrialized countries. Osteoarthritis is increasing as the world’s elderly population grows, and is the sixth leading cause of years lost to disability.

Musculoskeletal-System

If you would like support with any of the issues raised here I am more than happy to help.  My contact details can be found here: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/how-to-contact-a-herbalist-in-grimsby.html

Brassicaceae – the cabbage family

Here is the last article in the series looking at the different plant families.  The last family which I am going to cover is the cabbage family.  This family is also known as the mustard family as well as Cruciferae (which was the old plant family name).  This older name related to a key identification feature – cruciferae means cross bearing and all of the flowers in this family have four petals which are arranged in the shape of a cross.  The family contains over 330 genera and about 3,700 species and is a medium sized family of economic importance as a lot of our food sources are from this family.  They are mainly herbaceous plants and a mixture of annuals, biennials, and perennials.  Can you think of any plants from this family that you would eat?

Love your food

Love your food

Some examples of food crops from the brassicaceae family include: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, rapeseed, mustard, radish, horseradish, cress, wasabi, and watercress.  Did you get any right?

cabbage family examples

Interestingly, six of our common vegetables–cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale–were all bred from a single species of mustard, Brassica oleracea. Plant breeders developed the starch-storage abilities of different parts of the plant to come up with each unique vegetable. Commercial mustard is usually made from the seeds of the black mustard (B. nigra) mixed with vinegar.

brassicaceae breeding

In addition to their long culinary history, these vegetables are revered because they are filled with vitamins, nutrients, and minerals essential for good health. Many of these vegetables can be eaten when very young and most are relatively easy to grow. It’s not surprising that all of these qualities have led this to be one of the most popular families in vegetable gardens.  Around 40% of all vegetables consumed in Northwest Europe are members of the Brassica family.

Plant Identification

Brassicaceae

They are a highly uniform group and so Brassicaceae are easily identified by the four petals when in flower.

  • They are usually herbaceous in habit, occasionally becoming shrubby.
  • Leaves are alternate and either simple or pinnate.
  • The distinctive flowers are yellow, white or pinkish/purplish and are usually carried in a spike.They have 2 fused carpels and 6 stamens: usually 4 long, 2 short. They are odourless.
  • The fruit is a capsule.
  • As you become more familiar with this family, you will begin to notice patterns in the taste and smell of the plants. While each species has its own unique taste and smell, you will soon discover an underlying pattern of mustardness. You will be able to recognize likely members of the family simply by crushing the leaves and smelling them.

All species of Mustard are edible, although some taste better than others. In other words, it doesn’t matter which species of mustard you find. As long as you have correctly identified it as a member of the Mustard family, then you can safely try it and see if you want it in your salad or not.  Which is a good thing as members of this family can be difficult to tell apart.  Most members of the Mustard family are weedy species with short lifecycles like the radish. Look for them in disturbed soils such as a garden or construction site, where the ground is exposed to rapid drying by the sun and wind. The Mustards sprout quickly and grow fast, flowering and setting seed early in the season before all moisture is lost from the ground.

In the Grimsby area you can see Rape escaped, Shepard’s Purse, Charlock, Garlic Mustard, Horseradish, Watercress and Hedge Mustard to name just a few.  Unfortunately in this area the council spray Glycophytes/RoundUp everywhere so please only harvest in your garden (if you don’t use chemicals) or from a designated organic area.

Key medicinal theme: Pungency and stimulation

The chemicals produced by this family are mustard-oil glycosides (glucosinolates) which defend the plants against microorganisms and animals. They can poison livestock if eaten in sufficient quantities and therefore charlock is seen as a troublesome weed on arable land and not an early source of a cabbage like vegetable (cabbages are slow growing whilst charlock is quick).

Brassica plants are particularly rich in glucosinolates (Mustard oil glycosides) and therefore a spicy mustard like taste is characteristic of the family.  The glucosinolates are probably responsible for most of the medicinal actions of the herbs of this family. They are digestive stimulants and respiratory decongestants with antibacterial and antifungal actions.

Externally, they have a rubefacient effect exploited in the use of the mustards and cabbage in poultices for anti-inflammatory effects.  If you have ever breastfed or strained your knee you may have used a cabbage leaf to ease the pain as a poultice.

Members of this family contain factors that may prevent cancers, leave are used for rheumatism and toothaches and seeds can be used for headaches and as a tonic. Mustard oils can cause skin irritation and ulcers from both external application and consumption.  Brassicas are also usually a good source of vitamin C.

shepherds purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris is one of the most useful of all herbal styptics / haemostatics. However, this is not an action often seen in other members of the family.  Brassicaceae were only rarely used in folk medicine in the UK. The most frequent uses are for scurvy and as purifying tonics (Nasturtium officinale, Scurvy-grass and Charlock); and for stopping bleeding (Capsella bursa-pastoris only)

broccoli

Here are some recipes which include broccoli a member of the brassicaceae family:

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 10 tablespoons of butter
• 1/2 cup tapioca flour
• 3 cups homemade chicken stock, that is hot, or 2 cups stock and 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 cup of cream, or whole milk
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 large onion cut in half
• 3 cloves garlic, cut in half
• 6-8 cups of broccoli, florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(3-4 stalks)
• 4 cups extra sharp cheddar, plus extra to use as a garnish (or a mixture of mild and sharp cheddar)

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large chef’s pan over medium high heat until melted.
  2. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for a few minutes. Once it’s well incorporated slowly whisk in 1 cup of hot broth at a time, adding the wine last if you are using it. Whisk until smooth and all the liquid has been added.
  3. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil. Add the onion halves and garlic pieces and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream, Dijon, tarragon, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Meanwhile in another pot steam the broccoli until tender. While the broccoli is steaming, shred the cheese. Remove onion and garlic pieces from the soup base and add the broccoli. Take about 1/3 of the mixture and blend it in a food processor or blender. Return to the pot and add 4 cups of cheese. Stir to melt the cheese. Add extra cheese to individual bowls.

Broccoli Casserole

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fresh organic broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
• Butter
• 2 cups cultured sour cream
• 2 cups grated New Zealand Cheddar
• 2-3 pastured eggs
• 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• Sea salt and black pepper to taste
• 1/2 -1 cup sautéed sliced mushrooms (optional)
• Juice of half a lemon (optional)
• Several splashes of fish sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix together the broccoli, sour cream, cheddar, eggs, garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and if using the mushrooms, fish sauce and lemon juice.
  3. Place the mixture in the casserole dish. Bake 30 minutes.

Nourishing Broccoli Salad

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 2 heads of broccoli, stem peeled and cut into small pieces, as well as florets cut into small pieces, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes, drained and rinsed under cold water until steam has dissipated.
• 1/2 a red onion, sliced thin
• 2-4 scallions, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small slivers
• 8 pieces of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

Dressing

Ingredients

• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves minced
• 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Mix all salad ingredients together and toss with the dressing. Let sit for 30 minutes for flavors to meld together.
  3. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled. This salad can be prepared up to a day in advance.
  4. Don’t forget to take this to the next picnic you are headed to this summer!!

Crocodile Nuggets

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 3 cups finely shredded, raw or cooked vegetables (I used a mixture of
• broccoli, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower)
• 4 cups finely ground, cooked chicken or turkey
• 4 cups breadcrumbs or cooked rice, or ½ cup coconut flour
• 3 Tbs nutritional yeast or 2 cups shredded cheese, if not dairy-free
• 6 eggs, beaten, egg replacer or 1½ cups leftover mashed potatoes
• 1 tsp garlic granules or powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
• 1/2 tsp onion powder

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Add some extra breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet, or add an extra egg if the mixture is too dry to stick together.
  3. Shape the mixture into patties. I used a 2-ounce cookie scoop to make it quick and uniform. Place on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes per side or until lightly browned. Serve with ranch dressing, carrot sticks & celery sticks.

To freeze, place the patties in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze until solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag or container. They freeze well for up to a month.

Broccoli and Potato Frittata

Serve 2-4

Frittatas are a wonderfully quick way to prepare a hot and nutritious dish out of minimal ingredients. When I found myself with a bit of leftover broccoli and leftover fried potatoes, frittata seemed the perfect dish.

Ingredients

• Leftover fried potatoes
• Leftover steamed broccoli
• 3 or 4 eggs
• 1 cup milk, water or ½ milk, ½ water
• Optional addition: Up to 2 cups shredded cheese
• Healthy oil for cooking

Directions

  1. Turn your broiler on. In a skillet, over medium heat, warm the potatoes and broccoli in a bit of oil. Meanwhile combine the eggs and milk until the eggs are well beaten.
  2. When the potatoes and broccoli are warm add a little additional fat and then position them so they cover the bottom.
  3. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Use a knife to wiggle the eggs in to allow the eggs to spread evenly.
  4. Allow to cook undisturbed for a few minutes so the bottom will begin to set up. Then using your spatula go around the edges of the egg and lift it slightly allowing the uncooked parts to run under the lifted part. Continue to do this until the egg is mostly set.
  5. Then carefully move the egg dish under the broiler. This will allow the top of the eggs to finish cooking. It only takes a few minutes so keep a close eye on it. The eggs will puff up and be a gorgeous tan when done. Remove from oven.
  6. Cut in wedges and serve. This is delicious topped with fresh sour cream.

Gluten-Free Broccoli Cheese Soup

Ingredients

• 8 TBL butter (from grassfed cows)
• 1 organic onion, diced
• 2 organic carrots, diced
• 2 ribs organic celery, diced
• 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed, diced
• 8 cups of organic broccoli florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(4-5 stalks)
• Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• ¼ tsp white pepper
• 2 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock/broth
• 1 cup dry white wine (or additional cup stock)
• 1 cup of raw cream or crème fraiche (from grass-fed cows)
• 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 3 cups extra sharp grass fed cheddar

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large stock pot over medium high heat until melted. Add onions, carrots and celery and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add broccoli and stir to coat well with butter. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add broth and optional wine. Turn up the heat, bring to a low boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook covered (with lid on) until broccoli pieces are soft (roughly about 15 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat. With an immersion/stick blender, puree soup to desired consistency, or process in a regular blender, in batches, taking care not to burn yourself . Return to pot, off heat, stir in cream, dijon, nutmeg and cheese. Stir to combine and melt cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. If soup needs to be reheated, reheat slowly and do not allow it to come to a boil. Serve immediately.

On GAPS? If you use creme fraiche and cheddar cheese, this soup is GAPS friendly, as long as you tolerate dairy. Double check the ingredients on your dijon mustard to make sure it’s GAPS legal, or simply omit.
Vegetarian? Just sub veggie broth for the chicken broth.
Basic Stir Fry

Serves 2 and then some depending on how many vegetables you use (leftovers!!)

Ingredients

• 1/2 cup quality stir fry beef
• A truck load of chopped up veg Including things like:
• bok choy
• mushrooms
• peppers
• onions
• broccoli
• eggplant
• zucchini
• green beans
• baby corn
• 1 – 2 tsp gluten free tamari
• Optional: sesame seeds, unrefined sesame oil, and green onions
• Brown rice

Directions

  1. Chop up your veggies and meat
  2. Saute the meat and veggies on medium heat with a bit of virgin coconut oil.
  3. Put your serving on plate and add the tamari after cooking rather than during (because it seems like the taste gets lost in cooking and you have to add more and more and more).
  4. Serve with 1/2 cup of brown rice if you wish.
  5. Top with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and green onions if desired!

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.

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

 

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 🙂