Herbal First Aid Kit

I would like to share with you all my herbal first aid kit and the uses that the herbs and oils have for different ailments.  A herbal first aid kit is great to have on hand for your family, I like to take a smaller pack when I am outdoors exploring nature.  The smaller kit is also great for festivals and other adventures.

100% pure Lavender essential oil 10ml                    Clean dressings

Arnica cream (travel size)                                         Plasters

Nettle tincture 100ml                                                 Tuba-grip

Myrrh tincture 30ml                                                   Chamomile tea bags

Honey (travel size jar)                                               Rosemary tincture

Bicarbonate of soda (small pouch)                          Tweezers

Vinegar 10ml                                                            Safety pins

Comfrey cream (travel size)                                    Pain killers (your choice)

Allergies: nettle tincture

Nettles have an anti-histamine effect helping to reduce inflammation and allergies

Nettles have an anti-histamine effect helping to reduce inflammation and allergies

Bites: I also turn to plantain for any form of bites, this can be from gnats, fleas or other animals.  You can chew up a leaf (or mash it to extract the moisture) and then apply it to the bite to reduce swelling. Lavender essential oil can also be used. Add lavender essential oil to rosemary tincture to make an effective insect repellent and soother for insect bites.

Bleeding: To stop bleeding plantain leaves can be harvested from almost any green area of land.  I turn to plantain and yarrow when cut outdoors.  Once I cut myself to the bone with my pen knife repairing a friend’s electric fencing for her horses.  We were miles from any assistance, plantain leaves help to stop the bleeding and bind the flesh.  I was good to go in 5 minutes despite it being on a finger joint.

This is Plantago major, but P, lanceolata can also be used.  The key to identification is to look for leaf ribs which are parallel to each other

This is Plantago major, but P, lanceolata can also be used. The key to identification is to look for leaf ribs which are parallel to each other

Bruises: Arnica cream is great for supporting the resolution of bruising.  If you or your family have hurt themselves and you feel that it might bruise then you can apply arnica cream to the area.  You do not have to wait till a bruise has developed although in some instances the bruising process can be instantaneous.

Burns and scalds: Where possible place the burned skin under running water for ten minutes or plunge it into cold water (A chemical burn needs 20 minutes). I have burnt myself cooking and ironing many a time and I always turn to lavender essential oil, although it is an oil I find that it cools the burn and helps to reduce the pain.  If the burn is as large as or larger than the palm of the hands then please seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Do not put anything on a burn of this size as it may compromise the possibility of a skin graft.  Children and diabetics should always go to hospital.  Never prick a blister due to risk of secondary infection.  Other herbal treatments to help improve burns are aloe vera and a cold compress of chamomile tea.

Chamomile can be bought in tea bags from your local supermarket for ease of transportation and use

Chamomile can be bought in tea bags from your local supermarket for ease of transportation and use

Cuts: If you or a family member cuts themselves, where possible clean the wound, apply pressure and elevate the limb.  Lavender essential oil can be applied to a cut, it is antiseptic and can promote healing.  Comfrey cream can be used to heal the cut if it is shallow.  If it is deep the comfrey may close the wound to fast can cause an abscess. (See bleeding)

Indigestion: Chamomile tea can help to soothe heartburn and indigestion

Prickly heat: Nettle tincture taken internally will help to reduce the inflammation.  Prickly heat is down to clogged sweat glands which is an indicator of poor elimination within the body.  Increase your intake of water and reduce sugar and junk food intake.

Septic wounds: Apply tincture of myrrh neat to the wound using a clean dressing.  If you cannot get to a primary care provider it would be worth taking the myrrh tincture internally as well to support your body in reducing the risk of septicaemia

The myrrh tree growing wild - ensure that you purchase cultivated sources and not wild-crafted

The myrrh tree growing wild – ensure that you purchase cultivated sources and not wild-crafted

Shock: lavender essential oil apply to the collar of the person affected to allow the aromatic oils to calm them.

Sore throat: You can dilute the myrrh tincture with water and gargle with is like a mouth wash.

Splinters: apply honey to the area and cover with a plaster, the honey acts as a drawing agent to bring the splinter to the surface, it also provides an antibacterial and antifungal layer of protection to prevent infection.  If you are outdoors and there are pine trees in the area the resin from the tree has a similar drawing agent and is antiseptic.

Sprains/strains: Comfrey cream is excellent to support the healing and repair of sprains and strains.  It is best to rest and elevate them (where possible), apply cold compresses to bring down the swelling.  If you have to use the joint affected support it with a tuba-grip.

Stings: If you are stung by a bee you need to neutralise the acid – bicarbonate of soda is alkaline, create a paste with a little water and apply to the sting.  Wasps and jelly fish stings are alkaline and require vinegar to neutralise them.

I hope that you find this useful.  Please share with others who may also benefit.  Also I look forward to hearing you feedback and what other botanicals you use in situations such as the ones described above.

 

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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.

 

 

 

How to Make your own Herbal Tinctures

What is a herbal tincture?  Do you know?  Despite learning about herbs and using them for 9 years I hadn’t used a tincture before.  This all changed when I studied Herbal Medicine at the University of Lincoln for three years.  Tinctures are very widely used by herbalists today.  Thanks to my training I too use tinctures, they are my main form of prescribing herbs to people who come to me for support.

A selection of Herbal Tinctures in one of my cupboards at home.

A selection of Herbal Tinctures in one of my cupboards at home.

A tincture is an alcohol based preparation which is intended for internal use but can also be used externally (I currently have a poultice of nettle tincture on my leg to reduce the inflammation of a gnat bite).

Herbs can be made into tinctures either dried or fresh.  Fresh is preferred but dried is the easiest to make especially if you cannot access ethanol or ever clear.  This is because water is also added to a tincture – the proportions of alcohol and water vary depending on the active constituents that you want to extract into the tincture.  The herbs are allowed to macerate in the liquid for several weeks and then strained.

Several active constituents are readily extracted in different mediums – therefore a mix of alcohol and water can ensure that the alcohol and water soluble constituents of the plant are extracted into the tincture.  Alcohol is also a natural preservative and therefore they last for many years.  This is in comparison to teas which have to be used within 24 hours.  Also dried herbs should be used within a year of being picked, powdered herbs within 6 months and creams usually lasting 3-12 months.

If you only have access to the alcohol which is sold in the shops then I would recommend that you always dry the herb that you want to make into a tincture.  This is because there are three things which need to be assessed in order to make tinctures.

1.  Are you using fresh or dried herbs?  If you are using fresh herbs then the water content of the plant needs to be calculated and taken into account when it comes to figuring out how much alcohol (ethanol or ever clear) you need to use.

2. How much alcohol and water you have to add to the herb.  If you have dried your herbs, weigh them and see how much you have.  If you have 500g and you added 500ml of liquid it will be a 1:1 ratio of herb to liquid.  You can add 1 litre to get a 1:2 or 1.5 litres to get a 1:3 tincture.  When using dried herbs then it is fine to either add the same amount of liquid, double or triple it.  Please be aware of the concentration that you are going for.  I like to make a lot of 1:1’s .  These are called fluid extracts.  Here I have made a 1:3.  For every three ml of tincture you are receiving 1g of herb.

016Yellow DOck Tincture

3. How strong is the alcohol that you are using?  Alcohol in the shops can be bought which is 40% alcohol.  This is idea of making tinctures.  Most people recommend that you use vodka.  This goes down to taste and will differ as well depending on the herbs that you are making into a tincture.  Vodka has a bland taste which doesn’t impart onto the herb.  You can experiment and try with other spirits.  Try to have a minimum of 40% alcohol though.

Saying that – when you look at different herbals (books containing herbal knowledge and wisdom) such as Culpepper’s it crops up that different types of alcohol are used which aren’t classed as spirits.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) medicinal wines are made to support health and wellbeing too.  Therefore I will recommend that you experiment, trying different herbs with different forms of alcohol.  Consider taste prior to making the tinctures, will the herb compliment the alcohol?  Will the alcohol detract from the taste and quality of the herb?  Theoretically mulled wine is a form of medicinal wine as it is simmered with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and other spices.  These have a pungent, stimulating and warming effect.  Supporting and boosting our circulation.  This is beneficial in the winter months when everything is cold and dark.

orange and cinnamonThe European Union Traditional Herbal Medicine Directive has stopped the retail sale of herbal tinctures.  These forms of medicine were available to the public up until recently.  Now if you would like to use a tincture then you need to contact a qualified herbalist such as myself or make your own.  As a herbalist I am legally permitted to prescribe herbal medicine including herbal tinctures under The Medicines Act.  I am also permitted to make herbal tinctures using ethanol for medicinal use.

All tinctures should be given between 2 and 4 weeks to macerate.  This enables the liquid (which is called the Marc) to extract as many active plant constituents as possible from the herb (which is called the Menstrum).  It is best to keep them out of direct sunlight – preferably in a dark cupboard.  It is also recommended that you shake it daily to agitate it and ensure maximum extraction during the maceration process.

Once the tincture is ready to be bottled you need to think of a way of extracting the liquid from the herb itself.  I have invested in a press – I bought mine from the Brewery Centre of Freeman Street.  The company is local, friendly and the press was only £38.  I say only as wooden presses of the same size are roughly £100+

My Herb Press - It is made out of metal which is easy to clean although I like to lubricate the screw bit each time I have finished using it.

My Herb Press – It is made out of metal which is easy to clean although I like to lubricate the screw bit each time I have finished using it.

If you do not have a press this isn’t an issue – you may not get all of the tincture out but there are other ways round it and other benefits.  You can purchase muslin cloth – BOYES sell this and you can purchase it by the metre.  Using a sieve lined with the cloth with a bowel underneath you can pour the herb and tincture liquid into the sieve.  Once the liquid has drained into the bowel you can gather up the four corners and use your own body strength to extract as much of the liquid as possible.  If the herb is pleasant to taste and you can happily drink it in a tea just boil the kettle, place the used herb back into the jar you used to make your tincture with.  Once the kettle has boiled and cooled slightly pour water over the herb to the top of the jar.  Close the lid and leave for several hours (up to 24).  You then have a type of tincture tea.  The alcohol in the infusion will preserve the liquid so you can then strain it, compost the herb and drink the tincture tea as and when it benefits you.

If you do have a press, set it up ready to strain out the tincture from the herb.

I find it easier to raise my press so that the liquid is easily directed into a clean bowel

I find it easier to raise my press so that the liquid is easily directed into a clean bowel

 

I like to edge out the inner section so that it is still stable but also so that I can pour the herb and liquid (menstrum and marc) into it ready to be pressed.

019

You will notice that liquid will start to pour into the bowel without pressing the herb initially.

You will notice that most of the liquid has drained leaving the herb.

020

Here is yellow dock root Rumex crispus which I have macerated for several weeks.

Now the key is to place the inner section of the press central to the actual press ring.  You can use the handles at the top to screw the press down.  It is really easy to turn the handle until you actually come into contact with the herb.  You then have to gradually use the same physical strength (depending on the part of the herb) to press the remaining liquid out.

021

Pressing the menstrum to extract the marc

As I have a nifty light weight press which is ideal for the amount of tinctures that I need I can lift it and tilt it to ensure that I have all of the liquid tincture extracted.  I am left with a bowel full of tincture.

022

Yellow dock tincture strained into a bowel, ready for bottling.

 

As a business, I measure out how much tincture I have made, I follow Good Manufacturing Practice and keep up to date batch records.  This is so that the tincture can be traced to the people I prescribe it to, the products I use it in and so forth.

023

I made 700ml of Yellow Dock Root tincture – Rumex crispus

024

The remaining herb can be used to make a tincture tea and/or composted.

025

Pour into a suitable container – I have ran out of 1 litre amber glass bottles. Therefore I have sterilised this empty bottle of Jim Beam (My tipple of choice) using a funnel to prevent spillages (using ethanol I have destroyed the surface of my kitchen worktops and aim to have steel ones when they are replaced).

Always keep tinctures in a dark cupboard (as with all herbs) as the sun has a damaging effect on them which can destroy a lot of the active constituents.

Tinctures can be taken regularly to resolve health issues, taken repeatedly to support an acute health issues such as a cold, made into creams, added to cooking, used as a basis of aromatherapy oils such as sprays.  There are numerous application and properties which can be explored.  The yellow dock tincture that I have made helps to stimulate the liver, supporting digestion and helping to resolve chronic skin conditions.  It is intensely bitter but to me it has a sweet undertone – this is because it is a herb which I am also taking myself so my body has been craving it for the 3 weeks it has been macerating.

Hope you have found this informative – happy tincturing.