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.


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 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.


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 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:




Enjoy 🙂


Cancer and Herbal Support

Yesterday on Twitter I was tweeted “wondering which herbs to help cancer please”.  This is an excellent question but a very deep one which cannot be covered by 140 characters!!  My response was “there are many herbs which can support. It would depend on the person and the form of cancer. A consultation is essential.”

Foods that kill cancer

Foods that kill cancer

So what is cancer?  We are all aware of it and will all be affected by it.  This can be because of personal dealing with it or knowing someone who has had cancer.  Cancer is one of the most serious and complex diseases to receive.  It is an invasive growth of abnormal cells within the body, cells are deemed malignant instead of benign (causing no harm).  The cells are still part of us – they are us and therefore are not attacked by our immune system (which is designed to recognise self).  Cells within our body mutate daily but are resolved within the body by a complex system of internal defence, by supporting our body and giving it what it needs to stay healthy then we can prevent the occurrence of the one mutation which isn’t resolved and which develops into one of our biggest fears.  The saddest thing about cancer is that 65% of cancers which occur today are preventable which means that changes to our diet and lifestyle could have prevented them from occurring.  We need to bathe our DNA in a healthy environment which means minimal stress in our life, good sleep, regular exercise and nutritious food. holistic-healing-approach Cancer is a billion pound industry which millions spent on research into how it acts, which foods are beneficial, drug trials and much more.  It is recommended that herbal medicine supports primary care complementing conventional treatment – therefore the oncologist should be informed and communication channels should be open.  I must stress that a consultation IS essential when supporting cancer with herbal medicine.  This is because there are so many variables.  The course of this disease is unpredictable and the cancer can spread to different parts of the body through the blood stream or through the lymphatic system.  This is to ensure that if a patient is having chemotherapy that the herbs given to support the symptoms and side effects do not react with the life cycle of the cytotoxic drugs used.  For example Yew – the toxic tree which grows in most graveyards is used in pharmacology as a cytotoxic drug used in cancer treatment (the active constituent taxol).

Herbalists aim to mobilise the body’s own defences – this is because of our body’s ability to deal with cell mutations which become malignant each day – this can be as many as thousands of malignant cells which are resolved without us even knowing about them.  Therefore for a tumour to develop there must be a failure in theses defences which needs to be identified and supported in the aim of reactivating them.  Herbal support of cancer involves the patient being pro-active in his or her treatment, education about health and wellbeing and giving pointers on how to adapt to improve nutrition and health as well as being given an individualised herbal prescription tailored to their needs.

In the words of the late Thomas Bartram (a herbalist) “If improvement in cancer is not possible maybe the condition can be stabilised and the patient helped to cope with the very unpleasant side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation.  Thus, may be restored the body’s natural balance and a possible extension of lifespan.”  A herbalist will do everything they can to support someone with cancer, herbal support does differ depending on the person and the form of cancer.  Treatment for lung cancer will be completely different from ovarian or breast cancer.  And you may have 5 women with breast cancer but one may never have had children, one many be post-menopausal, one may have had 3 children, one may have been on hormonal contraception all of her life and the fifth may have suffered a personal trauma.  The herbal treatment for each of these women will differ to reflect their very different backgrounds and situations despite all having the same form of cancer.

Love your food

Love your food

Diet is one of the main ways to influence your own health and wellbeing.  If you eat healthy and provide your body with the right nutrients on a daily basis then give yourself an A* as you are on the right track.  If you are not then give yourself an immediate F!!  We are what we eat, our body requires nutrients, vitamins and minerals to complete the billions of biochemical processes which are occurring on our body every second of every day. When we are deficient in our nutrition our body tries hard to compensate (a bit like working with the wrong tools).  Having the wrong tools you may be able to continue working fine, although it may cause more work and be harder initially you may get used to it – this is similar to those who eat and drink unhealthy foods but do not have any health issues because of it.  You may find it really difficult to work with the wrong tools causing you to tire more easily and not get the work done to the standard it should be, it may even break or need repairing sooner than if it was done correctly – this is similar to those who eat and drink unhealthy foods and develop health issues such as IBS, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity etc. but still think they are healthy.  You may not be able to complete the job with the wrong tools at all – this can lead to health issues – a prime example in today’s society is the increase in rickets in families from poor backgrounds, poor nutrition leading to a physical condition because of a lack of vitamin C.  There are many different scenarios regarding diet and health.  The key is to look after your body with good nutrition.

Research into foods with cancer preventative potential include garlic, ginger, liquorice, carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips.  Other food sources include onions, linseed, citrus fruits, turmeric, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, oats, barley and cucumber to name just a few.  Look at added them into your diet on a regular basis (if you do not already do so).  Aim to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, reduce the amount of grains in your diet, eat healthy protein – fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, pork etc. Ensure that your plate has as many natural colours as possible – colourful fruit and vegetables are high in flavonoids and antioxidants which have a protective action on your body.

Health benefits of Turmeric

Health benefits of Turmeric

Aim to stay hydrated daily but drinking no more than 3 caffeinated drinks.  Avoid milk and fizzy sodas.  Milk is beneficial for babies to enable them to gain weight fast but did you know that we are the only species on the planet that sees it as a stable food source after the age of three?  And fizzy drinks – they may taste great but are the most acidic thing you can put in your body.  Our body is healthiest when it’s internal environment is alkaline.  Drinking fizzy drinks makes this internal environment acidic.  Fizzy drinks can rot your teeth so just imagine what it is doing on the inside where you can’t see it!!  Drink water, herbal teas, one glass of fruit juice a day, smoothies and the occasional home made cordial*  If you drink caffeinated drinks look at swapping them to green tea – this has had numerous studies done on it which have shown anti-tumour effects as well as protective effects in humans and benefits to cancer patients.

Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

Multi-vitamin supplements can be recommended to ensure that you have the right nutrition but to ensure that you are actually absorbing the nutrients you need to assess your digestion.  If you experience wind, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or cramps then your digestive system may not be fully accessing the nutrients that you are taking whether these are supplements or real food.  One of the important keys to our health is our digestion, it is vital for our body to be able to access the nutrients we eat.  Probiotics have been in the press a lot and are something which I recommend.  We need a good balance of good bacteria in our large intestine in order to assimilate a lot of nutrients essential to our health.  With the high use of antibiotics there is a large number of people who are lacking in good bacteria, antibiotics translates to anti-life and kills all bacteria regardless of whether it is essential for our health or a pathogen which is detrimental for our health.  When looking at supplements medical trials determined that terminal cases have lower levels of selenium (a trace mineral which is essential to health but which is depleted from our soils).  If you have good digestion then this would be a good mineral to ensure is in your supplement as we cannot rely on getting it through natural means due to agriculture depleting the soil.


If you are having chemotherapy take high doses of Vitamin C in between chemo sessions.  Cytotoxic drugs inhibit the ability of Vitamin C to stimulate the body’s defences.  Herbs can help to enhance the body’s own ability to heal itself and can support the body’s digestion and elimination.  Do not be put off with the lack of research into herbal medicine and its effects on cancer.  Unfortunately when it comes to scientific studies of herbal medicine they generally look at extracts of an active constituent from the plant instead of the whole herb (for purposes of being able to patent it later), which have a negative effect on the results.  Herbal treatment is most consistently predicted on the uniqueness of each patient and his or her story of illness.


I would love to write about the different herbs which are recommended for cancer but have chosen not to as their effect (being positive or negative) is determined on the patient and their health history.  Instead I will recommend attending a herbal consultation with a qualified herbalist such as myself.  If you are suffering from cancer look at instigating dietary measures.  Increase the number of fruits in your diet (especially grapes and citrus fruits), increase the vegetables too – aim for at least five portions a day.  Focus on adding the onion, cabbage, umbelliferous and nightshade family vegetables.  Supplement with garlic and green tea.  Add the following herbs to your cooking: ginger, turmeric, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and basil.  If you are constipated look at adding linseed and/or psyllium husks to your diet.  Increase activity in your life, meditate and be strong.  Positive outlooks can influence positive results – this is in reality the placebo effect 1/3 of people can improve their condition using the power of their mind.  But above all know that is you approach a herbalist to support you with cancer the task will be approached with humility and a recognition that the treatment course isn’t set and will be unique to you.

Sorry if I have disappointed some of your but as a professional I have a responsibility to be safe in my practice.  If you have any questions there is a forum on my website: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/herbalism-forum.html where I will be happy to answer them personally.  Tomorrow I will write about how to make cordials.  Namaste

*Most supermarkets have taken full sugar cordials off the shelves and replaced them with ones high in sweeteners.  Most sweeteners are detrimental for our health, they have the same reaction in our body which means that we gain weight even when using them, and they can be cancer causing (carcinogens) such as aspartame which is in most drink and in the weight watchers range of foods!! Scary when it says that it is healthy but can actually contribute to cancer!!!  Therefore purchase full sugar cordials and only drink occasionally or make your own using delicious fruit or herbs.  I make elderflower and elderberry cordial every year in June (for the flowers) and September (for the berries).  But once you know how you can experiment and make your own cordials out of most things.  I will blog how to tomorrow.

Aspartame poisoning?

Aspartame poisoning?

Herbal Treatments Used During Menopause

The menopause is a natural part of female life and women should take it as an opportunity to reassess diet and lifestyle.  It is defined by a woman going for one year without a menstrual period.  There are three phases to the menopause; the peri-menopasue – menopausal symptoms leading to the eventual cessation of menstruation, the menopause – the absence of menstruation for a full year and post-menopause – the cessation of menstruation and sex hormones from the ovaries.  Menstruation can be irregular due to the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone fluctuating and eventually declining the transition of which may last up to 5 years.  Genitourinary tissues are oestrogen dependant and symptoms during this transitional period can vary in intensity and frequency from person to person.  Variable symptoms include hot flushes, changing moods, irritability, depression, cognitive changes, vaginal dryness, decreased libido as well as pain during sexual intercourse, reduced energy, sleep disturbances and weight gain.  Tissue atrophy due to lack of oestrogen can also increase the risk and frequency of infections, increase urgency and pain during urination as well as cause stress incontinence.  Are you experiencing the menopause – do any of these symptoms fit with how you are feeling?

symptoms of menopause

The menopause is perceived as a deficiency disease – something which I disagree with, it is a natural part of female life!!  The conventional medical approach to treating menopausal symptoms consist mainly of prescribing hormone replacement therapies (HRT) which are external sources of hormones possibly equine in origin (from horses!!).  Studies have proposed that HRT may only be beneficial for first 16 weeks before becoming no different to placebo and side effects of prescribing oestrogen replacements include increasing the risk hormone affected cancers as well as gall bladder disease and thromboembolic disease.  Progesterone replacement can increase cholesterol levels, oedema, weight and bleeding.

oestrogen and progesterone during menopause

It is recommended that more foods containing phytoestrogens should be included in the diet during the transition from mother to wise women as they can help to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes.  Epidemiological studies show low incidences of breast cancer where there’s a high intake in soy.  Phytoestrogens can be classified as isoflavones and lignans and are diphenolic compounds, the phenolic ring can bind to oestrogen receptors mimicking oestrogen.  Isoflavones are found in soy, pulses, cereals and legumes – and although isoflavones are beneficial I tend to recommend that people reduce the amount of cereals, beans, soy and pulses in their diet as they can cause inflammation.  Lignans are found in seeds, cereals, fruit, vegetables and grains such as alphafa – more accessible and digestible food items (minus grains).  Flaxseed and evening primrose oil are also oestrogenic.

Evening Primrose in Flower

Evening Primrose in Flower

Oestrogenic herbs can also contain phytoestrogens.  They work differently from pharmaceutical drugs and are deemed safer by alternative practitioners such as herbalists and nutritionists as they don’t flood the body with external hormones; instead they seem to help the body utilise the oestrogen and progesterone available more efficiently rebalancing the tissue state naturally.  Biochemically they bind to oestrogen receptors and can induce transcription of oestrogen responsive genes.  I have written about the biochemical effects oestrogenic herbs can have on the body which you can access towards the end of this blog.  Oestrogen has a physiological action on reproductive tissues and on bones, the central nervous system, and the cardiovascular system.  Phytoestrogens show weakly oestrogenic activity, can conserve bone and show antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-carcinogenic actions as well as reducing cholesterol.

Phytoestrogenic plants can help to stabilise a woman’s hormones.  Herbs with hormone normalising phytoestrogens include evening primrose oil, red clover – Trifolium pratense, liquorice root – Glycyrrhiza glabra, agnus castus – Vitex agnus-castus, hops – Humulus lupulus, oats – Avena sativa, elder – Sambucus nigra, and sage – Salvia officinalis there are hundreds of plant sources.  Evening primrose oil is hormone regulating, containing alpha and gamma linoleic acid which contribute to the reduction of vasomotor symptoms such as hot flushes; essential fatty acids are used to relieve menopausal symptoms.  Liquorice demonstrates oestrogenic activity and can be relaxing or stimulating, energetically it is cooling and moist.

Red clover is a common wildflower in Britain and is found in urban areas as well as in the countryside

Red clover is a common wildflower in Britain and is found in urban areas as well as in the countryside

Red Clover demonstrates oestrogenic activity but scientific studies show positive and negative results on its effectiveness to reduce menopausal symptoms.  I think that this may be due to how the studies were executed, the number of people in the study and their lifestyles and choices prior to undertaking the study.  Variables can include a multitude of everyday choices including what they ate, previous health, family history and levels of stress at the time of the study.  The solidity of the study will come under scrutiny too – is it a placebo, double blind study?  I also feel that the social views of the people who ran the studies should be taken into account.  Hot flushes occur most frequently at night and affect up to 80% menopausal women they can last up to 4 minutes but feel like longer when women experience them.  In a positive study of red clover a reduction in number of hot flushes was seen compared to placebo but only showed a statistical difference when documented, explanation of the results included to be coumestin a compound of phytoestrogen.  Care should be taken when using red clover as it contains coumarins and can affect warfarin intake.  Dosage can be 12g of dried herb or equivalent daily.

Dong quai – Angelica sinensis is a hormone regulator that doesn’t contain phytoestrogens.  It enhances the body’s endogenous oestrogen production to help to address symptoms including hot flushes and sweating.  Prescriptions can treat painful or suppressed menstruation and hot flushes and relieve menopausal depression and anxiety especially if symptoms are related to deficient kidneys.  Mixed results in several studies include statements that dong quai is no different to placebo.  The herb may potentiate warfarin and caution should be taken if patients have oestrogen sensitive cancers.  Dosage is 4-6ml tincture three times daily.

Uterine tonics can be given during the menopause to support reproductive organs and tissues whilst physiological and endocrine changes take place.  Vaginal dryness is a common complaint during the menopause; uterine tonics would assist to reduce this discomforting issue with vulneraries.  Amphoteric herbs improve the tone of the uterus, regulating bleeding; dong quai is amphoteric.  Uterine stimulants improve the tone of the uterine muscles and tissues and include the herbs yarrow – Achillea millefolium, mugwort – Artemisia vulgaris and agnus castus.  Other uterine tonics are black cohosh – Cimicifuga racemosa, motherwort – Leonurus cardiaca and raspberry leaves – Rubus ideaus.

Leonurus cardiac - or Motherwort is a favourite of bees :)

Leonurus cardiac – or Motherwort is a favourite of bees 🙂

Motherwort is a moderate strength relaxing uterine tonic, anti-spasmodic, carminative and emmenagogue.  It can be a relaxant or stimulant dependant on the needs of the body and is defined energetically as cooling and drying.  Motherwort is a cardio-tonic an action supported by flavones.  It supports the heart and circulation, stimulates and strengthens the liver and is prescribed to reduce hot flushes, regulate hormones, relieve anxiety and reduce palpitations.

If the menopausal patient experiences anxiety or tension relaxing nervines can be utilised.  Nervines can also relieve menopausal symptoms including forgetfulness, nervousness, weepiness, irritability, lack of concentration, anger, excitability and panic attacks.  Nervine relaxants work directly on the nervous system reducing stress and putting the person at ease.  When prescribing, each patient need to be treated as an individual, secondary actions and medicinal uses of herbs should be taken into account.  Relaxing nervines include: lemon balm – Mellissa officinalis, chamomile – Matricaria recutita, lime flowers – Tilia x cordata, passionflower – Passiflora incarnata, skullcap – Scutellaria lateriflora, St Johns wort – Hypericum perforatum and wild yam – Dioscorea villosa.

Dioscorea villosa or wild yam is not a native to the UK

Dioscorea villosa or wild yam is not a native to the UK

Wild yam contains diosgenin, a steroidal sapogenin; clinical studies have found that the body can convert this into progesterone and dehydroepiandrosteron (DHEA) which is a 19-carbon natural steroid hormone.  Its phytoestrogens can relieve night sweating, hot flushes and regulate hormones. Wild yam’s sapogenin content helps to relieve spasms, dysmenorrhea and uterine pain.

Anti-depressant herbs can relieve hormone-related depression and anxiety experienced during the menopause.  This phase of life affects a woman physically, mentally and emotionally, when experiencing depression during the menopause insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss and low energy can be experienced.  Antidepressant herbs include oats, ginseng – Panax quinquefolius, lavender – Lavendula angustifolia, rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis, St John’s wort, vervain – Verbena officinalis and black cohosh.  Clinical studies have shown that St John’s Wort does relieve mild to moderate depression in menopausal women.

Bitters are effective medicines; energetically they are cooling and drying, stimulating digestive secretions throughout the body.  Prescribed generally for the menopause as a stimulant, digestion is a vital function of the body and it’s efficiency impacts on our health.  Bitter can also improve water retention or depression related to a sluggish digestion.  Several bitter herbs include: barberry – Berberis vulgaris, boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum, dandelion – Taraxacum officinale, feverfew – Tanacetum parthenium, goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis, holy thistle – Cnicus benedictus and mugwort. Mugwort - Artemisia vulgaris

Dandelion is useful as a diuretic reducing water retention.  Energetically, dandelion is cooling and drying with tonic and astringent properties.

Herbalists such as myself can prescribe restorative, supportive and nutritious herbs such as oats and nettles – Urtica dioica.  Both herbs can assist women going through the menopause.  Oats helps to strengthen the nerves, promote sleep and reduce stress levels as well as nourish the bones.  Nettles strengthen the adrenals but also supports the liver and kidneys, reduces anxiety and night sweats too.  Energetically nettles are cooling and drying, a true stimulant with tonic and astringent actions.

Nutritious nettles - Urtica dioica

Nutritious nettles – Urtica dioica

The menopause varies in severity from person to person due to many biopsychosocial factors including diet, exercise, personality type, size, lifestyle and levels of stress; stress can deplete the adrenal glands and affect their functioning.  Herbs like Ashwaganda – Withania somnifera can restore adrenal balance acting as a tonic for overworked people improving general and sexual debility supporting the adrenals during their “resistance” and “exhaustion” phases.  Other Adaptogens that can benefit women during the menopause includes liquorice, Siberian ginseng – Eleutherococcus senticosus, schisandra – Schisandra chinensis, wild yam and astragalus – Astragalus membranaceus; all help restore the adrenal glands.  Astragalus works as a vasodilator and schisandra supports the liver as well as the adrenals and improves memory, mood and sleep.

Ginseng helps us to adapt

Ginseng helps us to adapt

Research on ginseng has shown benefits improving sleep, mood and sense of wellbeing.  Energetically it is a true relaxant herb with tonic properties.  Hong Sam Red Ginseng is the root is steamed prior to being dried; this form of the herb is effective in the treatment of mild-moderate perimenopausal symptoms.  Results can be dependent on the correct prescribing of ginseng: P. quinquefolius contain phytoestrogens which can be converted into female hormones whilst regulating immunity, P. ginseng’s phytoestrogens can be converted into male hormones and is hypertensive and Eleutherococcus senticosus doesn’t show hormonal qualities. 

As a specific remedy there is a lot of clinical research on black cohosh – Cimicifuga racemosa doesn’t contain phytoestrogens but assists to balance oestrogen levels, reduce menopausal symptoms and improve emotional states.  Positive results have been reported from clinical studies on its effectiveness in reducing menopausal symptoms.  The herb may cause headaches and stomach upsets and shouldn’t be given to women with liver disease due to its possible hepatotoxicity; the dosage is recommended at 40-80mg daily for no more than 6 months.

Black cohosh can help to alleviate vasomotor symptoms such as hot flushes and sweating.  Black cohosh corresponds medicinally to the reproductive system and it’s relaxing or stimulating adapting to requirements.  It is a moderately strength relaxing nervine, alterative, antispasmodic and diaphoretic herb.  It is used successfully in treating hot flushes in cancer patients, the active constituents include terpenes and glycosides which may function as Selective Estrogenic Receptor Modulators.  The oestrogenic effect is due to its physiological activity on serotonin receptors in the body and may explain hot flushes and mood improving.  Black cohosh doesn’t stimulate breast or uterine tissue; the mechanism may be via stimulation of the central nervous system.  It is proven to be as effective as oestrogen in the reduction of menopausal symptoms and better than placebo at reducing flushes.  Clinical trials have shown improvement in hot flushes, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction and sweating, although side effects can include gastrointestinal disturbances, bradycardia, headaches and nausea.

There are many other herbs which can support a woman through the transition of the menopause.  Herbs prescriptions should be tailored to the individual’s case history and health requirements.  The menopause can be viewed energetically as a hot condition with symptoms varying from wet (hot flushes) to dry (vaginal moistness).  Many strategies can be utilised to ease the patient from peri- to post-menopausal and care is needed when mixing oestrogenic herbs and pharmaceutical oestrogenic hormone replacement.   Women with hormone-dependant cancers such as breast cancer or with any contraindications to HRT or venous thromboembolism should consult a professional when using oestrogenic phyto-medicinals.  Herbs without phytoestrogens are available to support the patient including several bitters, adaptogens and uterine tonics.  Although scientific studies can be found to discredit several of the herbs mentioned research into herbalism isn’t extensive enough.  The use of herbs in the treatment of menopausal symptoms addresses social, emotional, physical and mental factors; symptoms which cannot be measured empirically.  The vulnerability of osteoarthritis and countless herbs haven’t been mentioned in this blog, this isn’t to disvalue them, herbal medicine can support and balance women offering preventative options for osteoarthritis and many other symptoms associated with menopause.

 Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is used to treat menopausal symptoms, their diagnosed definitions of menopausal women include:

Kidney yin deficiency:  The most common diagnosis, women suffer with hair loss, light vaginal discharge, vaginal dryness, dizziness, hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia among other symptoms.  Their tongue is red with a light coating and their pulse is thin and rapid.

Liver qi stagnation: Women experience irritability, hypochondriac distension, constipation, palpitations, insomnia and emotional instability.  Their tongue is red with a thin yellow coating and they have a wiry pulse.

Blood deficiency: Women suffer with dizziness, hot flushes, sweating and insomnia, dry skin with a sallow complexion, emotional instability and myalgia.  Their tongue is pale with a thin coating and they have a thready pulse.

Uprising deficiency heat:  Menopausal women who suffer with severe night sweating, hot flushes, irritability, dizziness and nervousness.  They have a red tongue with a thin coating and a thready rapid pulses.

Kidney yang deficiency: This is the least common diagnosis in TCM and women experience heavy menstrual bleeding or ceased menstruation, soreness, oedema of face and limbs, cold limbs and appearance, loose stools, polyuria and urinary incontinence.  Their tongue is pale with a thin coating and their pulse is deep thready and weak.

Biomedical physiological effects of herbs on the body during menopause

There are several ways in which phyto-medicinals can support and influence the body to improve symptoms and rebalance homeostasis:

  1. Herbs can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body and include: Pimenta dioica, Artemisia absinthium, Plantago major, Tanacetum parthenium, Hibiscus sabdariffa.
  2. Herbs can induce transcription of the oestrogen responsive reporter genes and include: Pimenta dioica, Artemisia absinthium, Plantago major, Tanacetum parthenium.
  3. Herbs can induce transcription of (oestrogen responsive genes) pS2, PTGES and PR and include: Pimenta dioica, Tanacetum parthenium Smilax domingensis, Artemisia absinthium.
  4. Herbs can modulate the effects of estradiol on (oestrogen responsive genes) pS2, PR and PTGES expression and include: Smilax domingensis, Pimenta dioica, Artemisia absinthium, Plantago major, Hibiscus sabdariffa.



Bartram, T (1998) Bartram’s Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine. European Commonwealth. Constable & Robinson Ltd.

Bergner, P (2005) Fundamentals of Vitalism Seminar 2006 North American Institute of Medical Herbalism. Available from: http://naimh.com/NAIMH-Actions-and-Energetic-notes-2006.pdf [Accessed: 17th December 2010]

Brockie, J (2008) ‘Alternative Approaches to the Menopause’ Practice Nursing. 19 (4) 172-176

Chen, J (2010) The Integrative Approach to Menopause [Online] Lotus institute of integrative medicine. Available from: https://elotus.org/lotus_2011/downloads/articles/2010/pdf_2010/07-06_John_Menopause_Final.pdf [Accessed 15th December 2010]

Doyle, B. Frasor, J. Bellows, L. Locklear, T. Perez, A. Gomez-Laurito, J. Mahady, G (2009) ‘Estrogenic Effects of Herbal Medicines from Costa Rica Used for the Management of Menopausal Symptoms’ Menopause. 16 (4) 748-755

Elhelw, B (2006) ‘Non-Hormonal Therapies for the Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms’ Middle East Fertility Society Journal 11 (1) 1-17

Friedman, M (2010) Table of Adaptogenic Herbs Used to Treat Adrenal Dysfunction. [Online] Available from: http://www.restorativemedicine.com/books/fundamentals-of-naturopathic-endocrinology/professionals/adrenal-metabolism-disorders/table-of-adaptogenic-herbs-used-to-treat-adrenal-gland-dysfunction [Accessed: 5th January 2011]

Hoffman, D (2003) Medical Herbalism. The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. India. Healing Arts Press.

Hudson, T (1999) Women’s Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine: Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine. United States of America. Keats.

Joint Formulary Committee (2007) British National Formulary. Germany, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and RPS Publishing

Jung Kim, H. Kim, H. Shin, J. Ku, S (2009) ‘Current Status of Anti-Aging Medicine, Especially Involving Management of the Menopause as a Component of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Korea’ Anti-aging medicine. 6 (10) 95-101

Keville, K (2000) ‘Managing Menopause, Naturally’ Better nutrition. 62 (1) 56

Levy, S (2002) What Alternative Remedies Work for Menopause? [Online] Drug Topics.  Available from: http://drugtopics.modernmedicine.com/drugtopics/Women’s+Health/What-alternative-remedies-work-for-menopause/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/116711?contextCategoryId=7738 [Accessed 5th January 2011]

Martin, K. Pinkerton, J. Santen, R (2009) Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Menopausal Symptoms [Online] Available from: http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/reprint/94/10/0-a [Accessed 15th December 2010]

Moore, M (2005) Principles and Practice of Constitutional Physiology for Herbalists. [e-book] Bisbee, Arizona. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.  Available from: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsMM/HRBENRGT.pdf [Accessed: 4th January 2011]

Prestwood, K (2003) ‘Editorial: the Search for Alternative Therapies for Menopausal Women: Estrogenic Effects of Herbs’ The journal of clinical endocrinology & metabolism. 88 (9) 4075-4076

Rodgers, C (1997) The Women’s Guide to Herbal Medicine [Online] Available from: http://www.womens-herbal-guide.com/Publication/WHG%20Chp%207%20Menopause.pdf [Accessed 3rd December 2010]

Romm, A (2010) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. China. Churchill Livingstone.

Rose, K (2008) Bitters Blogparty (with Bitter Herbs Differentials) [Online] Available from: http://animahealingarts.org/?m=200807 [Accessed 4th January 2011]

Smolinski, D. Wollner, D. Orlowski, J. Curcio, J. Nevels, J. Kim, L (2005) ‘A Pilot Study to Examine a Combination Botanical for the Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms’ The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 11 (3) 483-489

Trickey, R (2003) Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause. South Australia. Griffin Press.

Weed, S (2000) Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way. [Online] Available from: http://www.susunweed.com/susunweedarticles.htm#pagetop9 [Accessed: 5th January 2010]

Weyers, E (2010) Black Cohosh. [Online] Available from: http://www.suite101.com/content/black-cohash-a192723 [Accessed: 14th December 2010]

Williamson, E (2003) Potter’s Herbal Cyclopaedia. Britain. The C. W. Daniel Company Limited.

Delve into the delightful world of delicious decoctions

Hi there. Are you looking forward to the next instalment of my making herbal remedies series? I hope you are!! I always enjoy making things with herbs. In the 12 years of learning and discovering more and more about herbal medicine I will always come across and learn new things. There is a lifetime of learning in any field of study that a person chooses…. and I love nature so I see herbalism as an extension of this.

happy summer solstice

Just to digress slightly… Happy Summer Solstice 🙂 merry meet and merry greet to everyone. I hope that you have a wonderful celebration on today’s happy occasion.

Back to the topic at hand. Last time I shared how to make herbal infusions. This is a simple way of preparing herbs yet it is very effective. Decoctions are very similar to infusions – the key to understanding which method to use is:

“Always make an infusion with herbs, leave and flower. Decoctions are for parts which need a bit more power.”

Decoctions are used to extract the herbal goodness from berry and root. The hard, woody parts of a plant. Which as you are aware can also include bark, gums and resins.

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

Where as an infusion is made by pouring boiling water over a herb and steeping them for 5 – 10 minutes you need to get the pans out for a decoction. It is where you boil up either fresh or dried bark, root or berry in a pan. The tissues of the hard plant parts are softened by boiling which helps to extract all of the virtues of the herb that you are using.

If a herb is mucilaginous and this is a virtue which helps it to support health and wellbeing then it shouldn’t be decocted as this will destroy this action. This applies to marshmallow root, comfrey and slippery elm (which is powdered bark). Generally aromatic herbs will lose their volatile oils through decoction – therefore they should also be infused instead. Peppermint, fennel seeds and valerian root are all aromatic herbs which rely of the volatile oils to support the physiological actions they have on the body.

It makes the extraction process easier if you chop the herbs which you are using up. The more surface area the herbs have the easier it is to extract the active constituents into the boiling water. Something that we were taught in science and which we use without being conscious of it when we are cooking and baking in the kitchen.

Decoctions are immediate preparations similar to infusions and should be used within 24 hours of making them. Therefore only make enough for a day’s worth of herbal use. I use decoctions to make delicious teas, to add herbs into creams which I make, to add to the bath, for a hair rinse and if I have any of the decoction left over I like to water it down and feed it to my plants (indoor and out) as the goodness which will support us in our health and wellbeing was originally used to support the plants health and wellbeing – therefore infusions and decoctions make great plant foods. Just be careful not to upset the plants by feeding them their own family!! They will be as upset as we would if this happened to us!!

It's not weeding.. it's harvesting.  All parts of the blackberry can be used.  It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

It’s not weeding.. it’s harvesting. All parts of the blackberry can be used. It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

Dandelion root is a fantastic herb which is great in a decoction. As is yellow dock, willow bark and blackberry root bark. All of which are medicinal plants which grow around Grimsby and Cleethorpes (as well as globally) and tend to be abundant or classed as a weed and therefore are safe to harvest without affecting the ecology of the area.

Try to use 25g of herb with roughly 500ml of water as a rough guideline of ratio’s for decocting unless otherwise specified.  If you have time allow the herb to sit in the water and soak for a few hours prior to boiling it up.  This isn’t essential though.  Always cover the pan with a lid to contain any volatile elements which are released though the heating process.  Bring the herb to a slow boil and then reduce the heat and allow them to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  The harder the plant material the longer the simmering time of extraction is required.  Once you have boiled the herb, if possible press the plant material using muslin cloth to ensure that you are getting all of the plant goodness.


National Liquorice Day

Glycyrrhiza or Licorice is a wonderful adaptogenic herb

Happy National Liquorice Day… what was that? You didn’t realise that it was! No neither did I until I read a wonderful article from Knapsack Spirit.  Serendipity really as I was planning to write about this wonderful plant and finding out that today is deemed National Liquorice Day somewhere in the world just cemented that fact.

Liquorice… love it or hate it, this plant is amazing.  A member of the pea family (fabiaceae) it is 50 times sweeter than sugar.  It tastes sweet and slightly bitter and is moistening and warming.  It is the root which is used in herbal medicine.  How many of you pick up a root from the health food shop and have a good chew on it?  Releasing all of the flavours and helping to clean your teeth naturally too!!

This herb is one to be used with caution though, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, health issues with your liver or possible low potassium levels or cardiac disease shouldn’t take this medicine without the guidance of your doctor or a health professional such as myself.  You should also be cautious taking this herb if you are on cardiac glycosides, corticoids or hydrocortisone medications.  Herbal safety is important – most people think that herbs are safe because they are natural but they are the original medicines and contain active constituents which can affect a persons health positively or negatively which is why you should always consult a professional.

Now onto the fun and interesting bit… liquorice has been classed as an adaptogenic herb.  Adaptogens are important herbs used by herbalists as they help the body to adapt to stress and support normal functioning, they can instigate a change in hormone status and also boost the immune system and digestive ability.  When you think of all the health issues of yourself and the people around you a large majority of them are caused by stress or stress is a significant factor which aggravated health problems further.

Liquorice is contraindicated when a person is taking steroid medications because the herb itself stimulates immune function and lessens the stress response.  The purpose of steroids is to suppress the immune system, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are natural supressors of the immune system which is why we are more suceptible to illness when we are stressed and run down.  Pharmaceuticals have harnessed that fact in the production of steroid drugs such as hydrocortisol creams to suppress an overactive immune fuction.  Liquorice contains saponins called glycrrhizin which the body used to create hormones including steriod hormones.  It all starts to make sense once you become aware of the body and how it works 🙂

Liquorice has been used as a food and medicine throughout the centuries.  It is a tonic restorative for the adrenal glands (which is where the stress hormones are produced).  It has been used in several different herbal traditions for the treatment of coughs, colds and other respiratory diseases.  There is a link between the adrenals and the lungs – during foetal development they both develop in the womb at the same time.  The link continues through adulthood as people who have experienced a lot of stress (and therefore have depleted their adrenals, something called adrenal fatigue) tend to have lots of upper respiratory infectiosn such as coughs and colds.  I have seen this personally through clinic observation of patients.  As the adrenals are supported and energy levels restored (as much as possible) so the number of chest infections drops.

Liquorice is also very beneficial to the digestive system, it can strengthen the stomach, reduce diarrhoea, clear heat, dispel toxins and support the repair of ulcerated tissue.  It is anti-inflammatory and hepato-protective.  This means that it can reduce inflammation and protects the liver.  The liver is an important organ as it processes all the hormones that circulate in the body as well as all of the medicines which we take.  When you go out on a bender it is the liver which has to process the alcohol and the reason why you suffer a hang over the next day.  So supporting and protecting the liver has a beneficial impact on your health and wellbeing (and may reduce the suffering the day after the night before!!).  People who have inflammatory bowel diseases will benefit from liquorice’s amazing restorative ability, conditions include: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, ileitis and leaky gut syndrome.

There is a history of liquorice being cultivated in England which interests me greatly as I try to source my herbs as locally as possible and cultivate the ones which I cannot source.  I will be looking to cultivate this in my garden in Grimsby once I have sourced some seeds.  Love it or hate it, I prescribe this herb alot because of its beneficial and nourishing actions.  So here’s to Liquorice… a herb which has a day dedictated to itself.

Related articles: http://knapsackspirit.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/licorice-root/


Grieve, M (1977) “A Modern Herbal” Great Britain Peregrine Books

Wilson, J (2011) “Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” United States Smart Publications

Winston, D and Maimes, S (2007) “Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” United States Healing Arts Press