The Lymphatic System and the role it plays in our immunity

Wow, I can’t believe that this is my 100th blog article!!  I thoroughly enjoy writing these and sharing knowledge about health and wellbeing to those of you who read it.  Today’s article explains about the lymphatic system which involves all of the extra fluids within our body which are not in the blood (cardiovascular system).  This system in the body has three primary functions, which is:

1.  Draining excess fluid from the spaces in our tissues (interstitial fluid) and returning it to the blood.

lymphatic and cvs system

Our blood contains different cells which have different actions such as transporting oxygen (red blood cells), immune response (white blood cells), repairing damage (plasma) etc.  Our blood plasma can actually filter freely through the capillaries in our cardiovascular system into the spaces between our tissues forming interstitial fluid.  Some of this is reabsorbed back into the blood stream but more of the plasma filters out than in.  Therefore our lymphatic system comes into play otherwise we would be in trouble as roughly 3 litres of blood plasma is filtered out of capillaries every day (and we only have roughly 5 and a half litres of blood).  A lot of the plasma proteins are too large to return to the blood without the help of our lymphatic system, which contains a series of capillaries and ducts (which only allow fluid to transport one way) returning the interstitial fluid back into our blood stream.

The same methods of returning blood from our veins back to the heart works on maintaining the flow of the lymph within our lymphatic system.  There are two ‘pump’ mechanisms which are our skeletal muscles and our breathing.  By being active regularly you are supporting a healthy cardiovascular system and supporting your lymphatic system.  When we exercise our muscle contractions force lymph (and blood in our veins) upwards to complete their circuit of the body.  Both our veins and our lymphatic system contain valves which prevent the fluid from going backwards.

Our breathing (respirations) also benefits the flow of lymph and venous blood.  The pressure changes that occur when we inhale and exhale moving the fluids to where they need to be.  Another great reason to incorporate regular activity into your lifestyle, meditation and deep breathing can benefit your physical health, as well as lower stress levels and help you to relax.

2.  Transporting dietary fats (lipids) such as our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which we access from our digestive system.

lymphatic system

When we eat healthy food which is rich in vitamins and minerals it is the responsibility of our digestive system to break them down so that our body can access the nutrients – giving our body the tools to stay healthy.  In our small intestine there are specialised lymphatic capillaries which are called lacteals which carry the dietary fats into the lymphatic system so that they can enter our blood stream and circulate to where they are needed.  Lymph within the system is usually a clear, pale yellow liquid, but in lacteals it is referred to as chyle as is appears creamy white (due to the dietary fats).  Fat/Lipid-soluble vitamins are essential to our health and wellbeing, but excess fatty foods in our diet and high levels of processed and refined foods can contribute to cardiovascular and lymphatic health issues.  What I am saying is that we need fat to be healthy but it should be the right fats.  I inform most people that I see that vegetable based oils (although high in mono and polyunsaturated fats are high in omega 6 with is pro-inflammatory, I recommend swapping these for olive oil and coconut oil, I also recommend butter but stress that portion size is essential.  The portion size for fat is typically the size of a dice – so lathering butter on hot toast can greatly exceed the portion size of fats which are important to our health and wellbeing.

3.  Supporting our immunity

lymphatic system quote

 

The lymphatic system aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells.  In a previous article I discussed how red bone marrow creates immune cells – this is part of the lymphatic system.  This system works closely with our immune system and there are numerous lymphatic organs within the body which help to create the immune cells which mount an active defence within our body. The red bone marrow creates B cells and pre-T cells (not fully activated these pre-T cells migrate to the thymus where they become immunocompetent).  These cells are lymphocytes which are part of our adaptive immunity.

Lymphoid stem cells produce T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes.  T lymphocytes. T lymphocytes, also commonly known as T cells, are cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. T cells may act as helpers of other immune cells or attack pathogens directly. After an infection, memory T cells persist in the body to provide a faster reaction to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

b and t cells

B lymphocytes. B lymphocytes, also commonly known as B cells, are also cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. Once B cells have been activated by contact with a pathogen, they form plasma cells that produce antibodies. Antibodies then neutralize the pathogens until other immune cells can destroy them. After an infection, memory B cells persist in the body to quickly produce antibodies to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

T- and B-cells are highly specialised defender cells – different groups of cells are tailored to different germs. When your body is infected with a particular germ, only the T- and B-cells that recognise it will respond. These selected cells then quickly multiply, creating an army of identical cells to fight the infection. Special types of T- and B-cells ‘remember’ the invader, making you immune to a second attack.

We have roughly 600 lymph nodes throughout the body, B cells hang out here and mount an attack on any invaders.  Natural killer cells, also known as NK cells, are lymphocytes that are able to respond to a wide range of pathogens and cancerous cells. NK cells travel within the blood and are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, and red bone marrow where they fight most types of infection.  As well as nodes there are nodules (you will recognise the tonsils and include the thymus and spleen), these also work to protect the body from pathogens.  A healthy lymphatic system also helps purify the blood through the largest mass of lymph tissue in the body, the spleen. The spleen fights infection and destroys worn-out red blood cells in the body. By cleansing your lymphatic system, your spleen will be better able to handle the retired red blood cells.

Self massage

                   Self massage

Damage to the lymphatic system disturbs the flow. When lymphatic tissues or lymph nodes have been damaged, destroyed or removed, lymph cannot drain normally from the affected area. When this happens excess lymph accumulates and results in the swelling that is characteristic of lymphedema.  The treatment of lymphedema is based on the natural structures and the flow of lymph. The affected drainage area determines the area which can be self-massaged. Although lymph does not normally cross from one area to another self massage stimulates the flow from one area to another. It also encourages the formation of new lymph drainage pathways.

The compression garments, aids, and/or bandages that are worn help control swelling by providing pressure that is needed to encourage the flow of lymph into the capillaries.

active

Exercise is important in the treatment of lymphedema because the movements of the muscles stimulate the flow of the lymph into the capillaries. Wearing a compression garment during exercise also provides resistance to further stimulate this flow.

Whether you’re suffering from aches and pains, swelling, inflammation, fatty deposits or bloating, cleansing the lymphatic system once or twice a year often can be the difference between great health and poor health.

A study by Elisabeth Dancey, M.D., author of The Cellulite Solution (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), found that women with cellulite showed lymphatic system deficiencies. Another study found that 80 percent of overweight women have sluggish lymphatic systems and that getting this system flowing smoothly is the key to easy weight loss and improved feelings of well-being.

If the lymph system is inefficient, you may see fatty deposits or cellulite or experience aches and pains. Conversely, if you improve the cleansing ability of the lymph system, it will be able to “sweep” away the toxins that are linked to pain, cellulite, fatty deposits and some autoimmune disorders.

broccoli

Foods can either help or hinder the flow of lymph in the body. To cleanse the lymphatic system, avoid “chemical foods” that contain artificial preservatives – most prepared, packaged and fast foods. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to clog your lymphatic system.

Drink plenty of water. Without adequate water, lymph fluid cannot flow properly. If you drink inadequate amounts of water daily, your lymphatic system will slow down.

Love your food

            Love your food

The enzymes and acids in raw fruit are powerful lymph cleansers, particularly when eaten on an empty stomach. Add more raw fruits, vegetables, salads and fresh juices to your diet and your lymph will have the tools it needs to do some serious deep cleansing.
Eat plenty of green vegetables to provide chlorophyll (the green color in plants) and loads of vitamins and minerals to assist in lymph cleansing.

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

Numerous herbs possess lymphagogue action (the capacity to stimulate the activity of your lymphatic system and organs), including burdock (Arctium lappa), calendula (Calendula officinalis), cleavers (Galium aparine), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and poke root (Phytolacca americana).  Other beneficial herbs for your immune system (since both systems work hand in hand) include blue flag (Iris versicolor), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

cleavers (2)

Cleavers – Known primarily as a blood and urinary tract cleanser, cleavers also enhances the function of the lymphatic system and decreases congestion and inflammation in the tissues. I find that cleavers works best in tea form. **Avoid using cleavers if you are diabetic. For cleavers tea, use 2 to 3 teaspoons of the dried herb (stems and small leaves) per cup of water. Steep for 3 – 5 minutes, strain – drink 1 cup three times daily.

If you would like support with your health and wellbeing or would like to find out more please do not hesitate to contact me: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/how-to-contact-a-herbalist-in-grimsby.html

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

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

boragiaceae flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

borage (4)

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

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

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

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

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

comfrey (9)

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

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

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

Oh… and forget-me-not 🙂

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

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

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

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!

 

 

Trotula of Salerno recipes

Trotula of Salerno was a female physician, alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine, teaching in the southern Italian port of Salerno, which was at that time the most important center of medical learning in Europe.  She is regarded as the world’s first gynecologist.

Her works on women’s health, collectively called The Trotula, served as the primary manuscripts on women’s health in Europe for more than 400 years, and set the course for the practice of women’s medicine for centuries.

Here are some recipes from her work which are still applicable today 🙂

Marigold ointment

500ml of infused marigold oil (Calendula officinalis)

40g cocoa butter

40g beeswax

Warm the oil gently, melt in the cocoa butter and beeswax and stir until melts, allow to cool where it will thicken into an ointment/salve.  You can store this in sterilised glass jars.

Use for wounds, infected grazes, athletes foot and burns 🙂

This next one is great for fighting off infections which are more prevalent as the weather changes:

25g coltsfoot leaves

25g fennel

10g fresh ginger root

225g honey

900ml boiling water.

Add the herbs to the water and simmer till the liquid has reduces to 300ml.  Once the liquid has cooled add the honey.  For people who have a cough, are feeling chills or are experiencing catarrh. Take 5ml three to four times a day.

Healing womb

10g ladies mantle

10g mugwort

Make a herbal infusion/tea with the herbs and take for up to 3 months to strengthen and repair the womb – do not take in pregnancy.

Infertility tea

15g marshmallow root

15g mugwort

600ml water

Decoct the root on a hob simmering for 10 minutes then add the mugwort and take off the heat to make a herbal infusion/tea.  Use 1 cup of the herbal infusion to douche twice a week having a nourishing and tonifying effect.

Improve Circulation

10g dried hawthorn flowers

10g dried lime flowers

15g lemon balm

Mix together the dried herbs and place a 5ml spoonful of the mixture in a cup of boiling water, allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain and drink one cup daily for 4 weeks, rest for 1 week then repeat the dose.

I hope you have found these recipes interesting – As a herbalist these are herbs which are still used today for similar conditions.  As a pioneering woman she was definitely ahead of her time and intelligent in her understanding of herbs and how they are used to support health and wellbeing.

How’s your head? Hangover remedies

Ok, now I’m not one to go out often but I was lucky enough to get out to a pub last night to watch my friend’s band Dead Like Zombie’s.  People dressed up because of Halloween and the pub was raising money for the local hospice.  I had a great time out with friends, met new faces and danced so all was good…. until I awake fifteen minutes ago 😉

hangover

Picture from http://stuffhillpeoplelike.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/14-hangovers.html

As a herbalist I like to support my liver, binge drinking alcohol isn’t recommended (period) but when it occurs there are a number of things that can be done to ease the suffering (lucky for me).  What are your favourite hang over remedies?  Simple as it seems the best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid too much alcohol!!

milk thistle sliced

My favourite is a herb called Silybum marianum or Milk Thistle, it is a native plant to the UK which helps to support the liver (which is overburdened trying to process the alcohol chugged last night).  I usually take two capsules prior to going out, two on returning and two in the morning to give my liver a helping hand.  I have previously written an article about Milk Thistle which is published on my website if you would like to know how it supports the liver: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/article-about-milk-thistle-herb.html

I also love eggs to help to resolve a hangover.  They have always been a big feature of hangover cures – how many have turned to an English breakfast to help them the morning after?  But did you know that eggs do contain a certain chemical (or active constituent) which is known to neutralise the effects of alcohol?  I do not advocate fried food but I can highly recommend scrambled or poached eggs (even with bacon) to help you feel better.eggs

One of the reasons why people have a banging headache is dehydration, but did you know that vitamins and minerals are depleted from the body when drinking? When we wee during a night out drinking we are losing potassium and we also lose Vitamin C.  You can replenish them with a glass of fresh orange juice. Why not add a teaspoon of lemon or line juice and a dash of cumin powder to really get you back in gear? Or you could whip up an easy vegetable broth for dinner to replace fluid and mineral loss.  Either way drink a lot of water to help to flush the alcohol toxins out of your body, support your liver and rehydrate you from all of the weeing you will have done the night before.

Do you drink herbal teas? I love them, do not be put off if you have tried one or two and you didn’t like them as they are all completely different and taste so much better made fresh than in a tea bag from a supermarket (although these still have some merit). If you have a dodgy stomach and feel sick you can drink ginger tea. A slice or two of the root in a glass of boiling water will soothe your stomach, ginger helps with pain relief, is antibiotic, antibacterial and also reduces feelings of sickness (nausea) – it tastes delicious too.ginger tea

Or you can drink a peppermint tea, great for an upset stomach; peppermint helps to soothe and regulate your digestion.  If you add honey to the drink it will help to ease your headache and help to rehydrate you.  Nettle tea is full of nutrients and helps to support the liver and kidneys or you could try a cup of thyme tea to ease your headache and queasy stomach more effectively and safely than many over the counter pain relievers.

Well, I’m feeling better already, I hope that you will find some relief too 🙂 have a great Sunday.

Cinnamon – an overview of its health benefits

orange and cinnamonCinnamon as an evergreen tree native in South China, the Himalayas, India and Sri Lanka dependant on which species.  It has been introduced to many other countries and it is cultivated for its bark which is used in economic, culinary and medicinal applications.  It is one of the oldest spices known and has been recorded by different countries dating back to 2700BC.  There are over 250 different species of Cinnamomum spp; scientific research has mainly employed Cinnamomum cassia and C. zeylanicum.

Botanical Family: Lauraceae (laurel family)

32 genera and 2000-2500 species

 

Genus species         Common Name
Cinnamomum verum

zeylanicum

True   Cinnamon,

Ceylon Cinnamon,   Cinnamon

Cinnamomum

Cassia

Cassia

Cinnamomum

Chinese Cinnamon, Cassia Bark,

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is cultivated in moist well drained soil, grows happily in partial shade.  The tree can be propagated by ripe seed or cuttings from first year growth.  Bark is harvested, peeled and dried into quills ready for consumption.  Young branches are smooth and brown in appearance.  Leaves grow in opposite formation new growth is red in colour developing to green when mature, are ovate with three prominent veins and are leathery in texture.  Fruit forms as a fleshy ovoid drupe containing one fertilised seed turning dark purple to black when it is ripe, similar in size to an olive.  Flowers are bisexual, small and pale yellow and grow in the axillary or terminal panicles.

Details   about the species ↓ Species of   Cinnamon →  

Cinnamomum Cassia

 

Cinnamomum verum

Height and   Span Height: 12-20 metres (40-70ft)

Span: 6-12 metres (20-40ft)

Height: 10-18 metres (30-60ft)

Span: 6-10 metres (20-30ft)

Significant   descriptive information Leaves: up to 20cm

Flowers: panicles

Berries: single seeded

Native: China

Leaves: up to 18cm

Flowers: clusters

Berries: purple, ovoid

Native: S India and Sri Lanka

Hardiness Minimum temperature:

15°C

Minimum temperature: 15°C
Parts used Inner bark, Leafy twigs, fruits and oil Inner bark, leaves and oil

Humans have used cinnamon for thousands of years; the spice played an important role global economics enabling colonial expansion during the 16th Century.  Holland cultivated this spice improving its economic position in world trade.  Cinnamon has been used as a spice flavouring food and in perfumery.  It has been cultivated and imported throughout the world for its economic, culinary and medicinal uses.  Due to extensive cultivation this spice is rarely harvested from the wild.

cinnamon8In Ayurvedic medicine cinnamon is used for hyperacidity, asthma, constipation-predominant IBS (stimulating digestive enzymes), dysentery-predominant IBS (to clear kapha and stimulate digestive enzymes), conjunctivitis, bronchitis, colds, congestion, water retention, hiccups, nausea, muscle tension and vomiting.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cinnamon is used as a warming remedy indicated for ‘exterior cold’ or ‘wind-cold’.  It is contained in several TCM formulas including Ma Huang Tang – Ephedra Decoction and Gui Zhi Tang – Cinnamon Twig Decoction, both formulas are diaphoretic enabling interior cold to be released through sweating. It has been known to the Chinese since 2700BC and given to patients who are deficient in Heart Qi and Yang.

Western Herbal Medicine uses cinnamon as a warming remedy for patients with a common cold or influenza.  It supports patients with anorexia or who have suffered weight loss, stimulating appetite.  Its antispasmodic and carminative actions are employed for people who experience colic, diarrhoea and indigestion.  Cinnamon has also been used historically to ease toothache, arthritis and menstrual disorders and clear up urinary tract infections.

Cinnamon – Constituents

  • Volatile oils composed of aromatic benzene derivatives and terpenes including:
  • Cinnamaldehyde 60-75%
  • Phenols – Eugenol (In C. zeylanicum 4-10%)
  • Methyl eugenol
  • Eugenol acetate
  • Cinnamyl acetate
  • Cinnamyl alcohol
  • Salicylaldehyde
  • Methylsalicylaldehyde
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Benzyl benzoate
  • Linalool
  • Hydrocarbons: pinene, phyllandrene, caryophyllene, safrole, cymene and cineol
  • Ketones
  • Alcohols
  • Esters
  • Cuminaldehyde
  • Piperitone
  • Condensed Tannins (proanthocyanidins)
  • Catechins
  • Phlobatannins
  • Resins
  • Gum
  • Diterpenoids
  • Mucilage
  • Calcium oxalate
  • Coumarin (Higher in C. cassia)
  • Starch/Sugars
  • Phenylalanine
  • Insecticidal compounds: cinnezalin and cinnzelanol

Cinnamon contains up to 4% volatile oils.  Cinnamyl acetate is contained in high proportions and may be converted into aldehyde.  Phenylalanine is a precursor of cinnamic aldehyde and eugenol.  Cinnamon’s sweet taste is due to the cinnamaldehyde content.  An alcoholic solution yields a blue colour when mixed with ferric chloride.  C. cassia is more astringent than C. zeylanicum.

Medicinal Actions of Cinnamon

  • Carminative
  • Anti-infective (volatile oils)
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Anti-emetic
  • Anti-diarrhoeal
  • Anti-microbial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-mutagenic
  • Anti-viral
  • Stimulant
  • Astringent
  • Anthelmintic/Vermifuge (dispels parasites such as worms)
  • Antiseptic
  • Haemostatic
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Mild analgesic
  • Febrifuge

cinnamon2Research into cinnamons effects on sugar and fat metabolism has achieved significant results in animal studies.  Cinnamon’s FBG reducing potential can be understood through its polyphenol content which is antioxidant in effect.  Cinnamon is recognised as a functional food source of antioxidants which help to decrease oxidative stress by inhibiting the enzyme 5-lipooxygenase improving insulin sensitivity.

Antioxidant effects can be measured by oxidative stress markers enabling researchers to analyse the links between cinnamon and changes in glucose or lipid profiles.  Plants are known sources of antioxidants which neutralise free radicals, endogenous or from external sources.  Free radicals cause the body stress damaging cells and tissues within the body e.g. lipid peroxidation.  Cooking and digestion of cinnamon has minimal impact on the levels and action of antioxidants and polyphenols.

Cinnamon may affect glucose metabolism through its coumarin content.  Coumarins can cause photosensitive reactions which may produce allergic reactions; one patient taking cinnamon did develop a rash which resolved after discontinuing supplementation.  Coumarins are forms of flavonoids which occur as glycosides; they have a role in plant metabolism and immunology; medical actions include: hypotensive and oestrogenic effects.  Oestrogen has a physiological effect on metabolism and reduced blood pressure can improve risk factors of NIDDM.  Aqueous extracts of cinnamon have produced biologically active insulin like action through in vitro research.

Scientific Research on Cinnamon 

Research on cinnamon has focused on several of the actions and applications of the spice and its essential oils including its antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant and antibacterial effects.  Areas of research include cancer, diabetes, hypertension and digestion.  Nishida et al reported that cinnamon is effective in inducing apoptosis (cell death) to HL-60 cells which are involved in cancer (2003).  Cinnamon’s anti-tumour action was statistically significant in this in vitro primary research.  In TCM cinnamon is a component in a formula called Minjin Yoei To (NYT) which is prescribed to patients with lung cancer, evidence shows positive results in tumour marker levels and symptoms in patients with a lung carcinoma taking NYT for seven weeks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALipid and glucose metabolism, antioxidant, insulin sensitizing and insulin mimetic have been investigated in order to explore and discover the effects cinnamon has on diabetics.  The majority of research conducted regarding cinnamon and diabetes have concluded that cinnamon is beneficial its prevention and control although there are conflicting studies.  Analysis of cinnamon and lipid metabolism discovered that animal studies were more effective that human trials.

Disorders of lipid metabolism can lead to health conditions such as hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases which increase the risk of further health implications.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally for digestive conditions of the gastrointestinal tract-GIT which has a major role in lipid metabolism as it synthesises apolipoproteins required to transport lipids around the body and resynthesizes triglycerides.  When levels of cholesterol and triglycerides are high health risks ensue including atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke and hypertension although lipids are necessary for health with roles in energy homeostasis, reproductive and organ physiology. The use of statins to manage and reduce high levels of cholesterol is current procedure in orthodox medical professions once lifestyle factors have been explored.  There is conflicting viewpoints on the use of statins in lowering lipid levels.  Several metabolic disorders occur due to insulin resistance and research into cinnamon discusses its potential insulin mimetic properties.  Research has looking into cinnamons effect on fat metabolism with mixed results.

It has been over four decades since the discovery of plasma lipoprotein transport systems in the body which have identified that fat production actually occurs in the liver and gastro-intestinal tract.  The link between high lipid levels and cardiovascular disease (CVD) – hypertension, atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia has been explored and researched and the results are used by modern medicine to predict, prevent and treat people with lipid disorders.  Further research is being done to determine how to lower lipid profiles and prevent cardiovascular diseases from occurring.

Cinnamon has the potential to activate lipid metabolism, further primary research should include human factors such as exercise levels, the state of a person’s endocrine and nervous system, diet and gender into account as current research has shown that these have an effect on fat metabolism.cinnamon

Future research has been highlighted in to cinnamon’s potential to protect nerve cells from damage highlighting possible preventative strategies in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Chemical Composition of Cinnamon

  • Moisture 9.9%
  • Protein 4.65%
  • Fat (ether extract) 2.2%
  • Fibre 20.3%
  • Carbohydrates 59.55%
  • Total ash 3.55%
  • Calcium 1.6%
  • Phosphorus 0.05%
  • Iron 0.004%
  • Sodium 0.01%
  • Potassium 0.4%
  • Vitamins (mg/100g) B1 0.14; B2 0.21; C 39.8; niacin 1.9; A 175 I.U.

Clinical Applications of Cinnamon

Cinnamon has an anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial action helping to combat infections such as the common cold and influenza.  It supports the body’s removal of toxins and act as a pain reliever.  Clinical applications include flatulent dyspepsia, colic, diarrhoea, common cold, dyspepsia, abdominal distension from flatulence and nausea.  The volatile oils in cinnamon have lipolytic properties supporting the body in the metabolism and digestion of fats suggesting a potential role in the treatment of diabetes.

Contra-indications, Adverse Effects and Drug Interactions

There is a potential for an allergic or irritant adverse reaction to cinnamon use due to the content of cinnamaldehyde in volatile oil.  The German E Commission has approved both C. cassia and C. zeylanicum as safe herbs with medicinal properties.  The bark is the approved part of cinnamon for use as a spice or for its medical properties and is generally regarded as safe even during pregnancy.  Cinnamomum cassia contains coumarins which can damage the liver in high quantities which are not present in negligible quantities in C. zeylanicum.  A study conducted for the Food Standards Agency assessed the dietary intake of cinnamon in multi-ethnic populations within the UK determined that there is no risk regarding coumarin levels when ingested as part of the diet.  In the Handbook of Herbs and Spices it states that ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting and possible kidney damage and recommends that it isn’t used in pregnancy.

Dosage

Dried bark: 0.5-1g(x3) daily

Oil: 0.05-0.2ml(x3) daily

Powder: 0.5-1g(x3) daily

Fluid Extract: 0.5-1ml(x3) daily

The maximum dosage of coumarins to ensure safety is 1.0mg/kg for coumarin in foods and 2.0mg/kg for coumarin in spices, pregnant women are recommended not to exceed a daily intake of 0.7mg/kg.

 

 

 

Making herbal infusions or tisanes

Welcome fellow bloggers.  I have decided to write a series of blogs which explore the various different ways in which you can use herbs to support your health and wellbeing.  This week’s post will introduce you to infusions or tisanes.  This is very similar to making a cup of tea.  We are all aware of how we make our cuppa 🙂 tea leaves are brewed to make an infusion but we are lucky that they are conveniently bagged to ensure minimal mess and effort.

When using herbal remedies it is common to think that they are completely safe.  This isn’t always the case.  Please ensure that you know the herbs that you are using.  Please read up on them to check for any safety concerns which may be specific for you.  This is especially true if you are taking medication from your GP/hospital.  I love dandelion and would recommend it for most people but if a person is suffering from gallstones then it isn’t advisable for them to use the herb in medicinal doses.

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.

Safety is the key, you need to be able to correctly identify the herb that you are using and be aware of its effects and actions prior to using it.  As a herbalist I have to stress the importance of safety – consult a qualified herbal practitioner such as myself if you are unsure about anything.  We may not have deadly animals in the UK but we do have a vast array of poisonous or toxic plants.

The usual standard dose for making herbal infusions is 25 grams of the dried herb to half a litre of water.  This is great if you are brewing on e up for more than one person or you do not mind drinking the infusion cold.  I prefer to drink my herbal tisanes hot so I use one teaspoon of dried herb per cup.  If you are using fresh herbs (always wash them first) you will also have to triple to quantity of the herbs to take into account the extra water content within the herbs.

Infusions are usually made using the leaf or the flower of a plant, many flowers are aromatic and you do not want to lose these aromatic constituents (volatile oils such as monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes give many herbs their aromatic smell such as rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sage etc.) they are light enough to evaporate so it is recommended to use water that has recently boiled instead of pouring boiling water that has just boiled straight over them.  The volatile oils are what you smell when you add herbs to cooking as the heat of the food has enabled them to evaporate.  Essential oils are also made up by distilling the volatile oils out of the plant material.  Volatile oils are able to pass the blood/brain barrier and can have a positive impact on our limbic system which is the seat of our emotions.  They are also antiseptic and usually anti-inflammatory in nature therefore we do not want them all to escape from our herbal brew.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

Add the herbs of your choice to the cafeteria. I have chosen rose, fennel and peppermint.

Whichever way you choose to make herbal infusions please don’t throw your used herbs in the bin, they can be placed in your  composter (as can normal teabags).

There are two ways that I prefer to make a herbal tea.  I purchased a tea strainer (I have one in the shape of a house made out of metal and several shaped like musical notes made out of plastic).  If I am just making one cup I like to use the tea strainer.  I place the loose herb inside the tea strainer and then use is like a spoon as it hooks onto the side of my cup/mug.  If I fancy a couple of cups of herbal tea then I use a cafeteria to brew up my tisane as it isn’t very messy at all and is very quick to prepare.

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

As a herbalist I am fully aware of the benefits of drinking herbal infusions.  For instance whilst I was at university I was drinking a lot of….. (you thought I was going to say alcohol but I was already a mother when I went to university and had my daughter to look after lol)… coffee!  You see I was going to say coffee.  This was due to the demands that commuting to a different city, looking after my daughter, studying and attaining all of the academic deadlines did to me… I relied on coffee to get me going and keep me going – but this was detrimental to the health of my adrenals (if you have dark circles under your eyes you might be in  a similar situation too – you can always book a consultation with me to support your health).

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

I was drinking over eight cups of coffee a day which is excessive.  The recommended daily amount is two to three.  I blended up herbs to support me in cleansing my system.  If you too drink lots of coffee or you have drunk lots of coffee you will be well aware of the caffeine withdrawals that we experience – physical symptoms include a pounding headache!!  I blended up herbs and drank a cafeteria full each day and managed to cut back without experiencing the caffeine withdrawals.  Two to three cups of herbal infusion are the usual dose I recommend to my patients if they are having herbal teas to support their health and wellbeing.  It is a dose which is tried and tested.

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

Infusions can be stored for up to 24 hours, if you haven’t drank them in this time they can be watered down to feed your plants (indoor or outdoor). You can add the infusion to the bath or use it as a hair rinse after shampooing.  You can use them as a gargle/mouth wash if you are experiencing gum disease/gingivitis.  They can be made into a compress for external wounds, bumps, scrapes or bruises.  They can even be splashed onto the skin as a lotion.  But they should be discarded from internal consumption after a day.

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup.  They are available to buy for only £1

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup. They are available to buy for only £1

The only time that this doesn’t apply is when I make tinctures – I make alcohol preparations of herbs.  I will discuss how you can make these in a future blog.  When I strain the herbs to get the tincture out some of the alcohol is trapped in the herb so I make a herbal infusion of the herbs which I have used to make a tincture – this extracts the alcohol and also the rest of the active constituents in the plant material giving me a tincture-tea.  There is usually an ounce of alcohol left which then helps to preserve the infusion.  I then drink the tincture-tea when required to support my own health and wellbeing.

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

There are several herbs which you can use safely to make nourishing herbal infusions to support your health and wellbeing:

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is safe enough to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is anti-inflammatory and an excellent wound healer helping to stop bleeding.  An infusion would help support digestive issues, be used as a gargle for gum disease, or as a compress for burns, cuts and other wounds including leg ulcers, varicose veins and haemorrhoids.  As a lymphatic this herb can support you if you have tonsillitis.  The plant is easy to grow in our climate and you can pick it up from most garden centres and even supermarkets.  You would use the flowers to make an infusion.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is also safe to be used in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is gentle enough to give to children who have an upset stomach and yet strong enough to calm down feelings of restlessness and anxiety.  It can help with nervous diarrhoea, reduce wind and bloating and support women with painful or absent periods.

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a nuisance weed for many but its effects supporting eczema is amazing.  It cools and soothes and can help with psoriasis too.  It can be made into an infusion to support people who have rheumatic disorders.

Cleavers (Galium aperine) has no known side effects and is an excellent spring tonic supporting lymphatic disorders and skin problems including psoriasis.

This names just a few herbs which are safe enough for most people.  There are people who can experience sensitivity to members of the asteraceae family.  They would have to stop using herbs such as chamomile as it is a member of the asteraceae family.  I look forward to introducing another method of using herbs next week.