Asteraceae family – the Daisy Family

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The constituents of the Asteraceae Family

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

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

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

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

Here are some recipes which utilise plants from this family:

Dandelion Burdock Early Spring Cleanser

You will need:

2 heaped dessert spoons of dandelion root

2 heaped dessert spoons of burdock root

2 large slices of lemon, chopped into strips

1 teaspoon of honey

1 pint of water

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

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

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

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

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

DAISY GREENS

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

I hope that you are enjoying this series 🙂

Harvesting Herbs or Wild Crafting

WHO

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Pasque flower - Pulsatilla vulgaris

The Pasque flower – Pulsatilla vulgaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

milk thistle sliced

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

 

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.