Friday, 18 January 2019

Aloe Vera and Underactive Thyroid

Aloe Vera Photo & Article by Ann Walker

Aloe vera leaves are the source of two medicines with diametrically opposite effects on the digestive system: the inner gel (or juice) taken in sufficient doses can be used as a remedy for diarrhoea (it helps to normalise a digestive microbiome in disarray) and the outer part of the leaf – thanks to a yellow exudate (turning to a black resin on drying, called bitter aloes) – is a strong laxative. The article I describe here (PMID: 29527506) concerns the juice. An Italian researcher, who had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an underactive thyroid caused by autoimmune inflammation) just happened to self-medicate with 50 ml of aloe vera juice per day to improve her digestive function. Three months later she was surprised to find that, despite taking no modern medication throughout this time, her raised blood thyroid antibodies and thyroid function test results were moving towards normal and this effect was even more marked after six months.

This chance finding inspired the research group she worked for to plan a clinical trial to investigate further. They recruited thirty women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, who had not been treated with thyroxine medication, to take 50 ml aloe juice daily for nine months. At three months, evidence of normalisation of thyroid function was already evident and by nine months all subjects were within the normal range for all markers! By contrast, a control group (fifteen women, untreated and with the same condition) showed no significant changes in any of their raised markers. Although the mechanism of action is not yet understood, aloe vera juice does have a ‘dampening down’ effect on overactive immune systems. There is plenty of evidence from laboratory investigations on cultivated cells that aloe vera juice modulates immune function in several ways that would be beneficial in autoimmune inflammatory conditions.

Over the last 10 years, clinical trials reported on aloe vera on PubMed have been increasing to around ten a year. These have included investigations into the internal use of the juice for gastric reflux and its external use for burns, wound-healing after surgery and radiation damage following cancer treatment. This present study is the first indication that the internal use of aloe vera juice may be beneficial for normalising thyroid function disrupted by autoimmune disease - the most common cause of thyroid under-function.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

5 Facts About: Chickweed

Chickweed article by Debs Cook
Spring is just around the corner, she says in the throws of Winter - if but a rather mild one thus far here in Derby - and round about this time of year wild edible green herbs are few and far between but we can take a leaf - pun intended! - out of our ancestors foraging books and go out and forage for wild Spring greens to add to our salads and smoothies even now! One such useful wild herb that can be found in winter is Chickweed (Stellaria media), unless there has been a good layer of snow recently, but that won't stop this rambunctious herb for long, as soon as the snow has melted, Chickweed bounces back!

raditionally used as a winter pot herb at this time of year due to its highly nutritious nature, although it grows all year round, it is one of the few herbs in the green in Winter and Spring. Like one of its other often foraged counterparts nettles, chickweed is a good source of chlorophyll, and contains vitamins and trace minerals. You can add the herb in small amounts to smoothies and green juices, it can also be dried and powdered and used to help thicken soups or stews, one of my favourite culinary ways of using Chickweed is turning it in to a yummy pesto ever since I discovered a recipe for it in Julie Bruton Seal's book 'Hedgerow Medicine' in 2008. Incidentally, did you know that Chickweed gets its name because it was used to feed chickens? It has also been used to feed caged birds such as budgies and canaries who are rather partial to its green goodness.

Chickweed has been a soothing remedy for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis for centuries, it’s useful for calming itchy skin and for cooling hot inflammations, as such, it was a popular and much used old external remedy when added to a poultice for treating boils, abscesses, and ulcers of the skin. It was also used to ease mild cases of constipation, and its high vitamin C content made it perfect to use in cases of deficiency of this vital vitamin in sufferers of scurvy. Its anti-inflammatory properties have also been used to help relieve muscle and joint pains.

1) Chickweed has astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, anti-tussive, carminative, demulcent, depurative, emollient, expectorant, laxative, ophthalmic, refrigerant and vulnerary properties. The herb contains coumarins, flavonoids, mucilage, minerals, phytosterols, saponins, vitamins C, B6, B12, D and A. The saponins content of chickweed is believed to be how chickweed helps to soothe itchy skin.

2) 100g dry weight of chickweed herb contains 43 calories and 32g of dietary fibre, plus the following vitamins and minerals: -

• Calcium - 1,210g
• Iron - 25.3mg
• Magnesium - 529mg
• Niacin (B3) – 4.7mg
• Phosphorus – 448mg
• Potassium - 840mg
• Riboflavin (B2) - 0.13mg
• Selenium - 0.22mg
• Silicon – 0.57mg
• Thiamine (B1) - 0.21mg
• Vitamin A - 7,229 IU
• Vitamin C – 6.9mg
• Zinc - 0.52mg

3) Chickweed, as has been mentioned earlier, is a useful herb for skin health, it can be added to creams to soothe skin conditions such as eczema and a decoction can also be made and added to skin lotions and salves. Chickweed's emollient properties help to moisturise dry skin conditions. A poultice of chickweed when applied to a foreign body in the skin e.g. a splinter can help draw the splinter to the surface, it can also draw out impurities in skin infections such as boils. The astringent properties of chickweed make it useful when added to external preparations for soothing rashes, acne, eczema and psoriasis. Nicholas Culpeper in the 17th century recommended its use for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema saying that chickweed ‘is effectual for all imposthumes and swellings whatsoever, for all redness in the face, wheals, scabs and the itch’.

4) Chickweed was one of the herbs used by Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D. to treat such conditions as eye inflammation and earache. In fact herbalists for centuries have used chickweed either in eye-baths or compresses to help clear eye infection's such as ‘pink eye’ more commonly known as conjunctivitis, due to the herbs ophthalmic properties. John Gerard in the later part of the 16th century and Nicholas Culpeper recommended the distilled water of chickweed ‘for all heat and redness in the eyes ... as also into the ears...’ mixed with eyebright it makes a brilliant lotion for clearing the eyes and helping with general eye health.

5) Chickweed has long been used as a spring tonic and blood cleanser, either as a pot herb or as a tea or infusion, and has also been used in some dieter’s regimes, in fact an infusion of the herb known as ‘Chickweed Water’ was an old wives' cure for obesity. To make a chickweed infusion add 1-2 teaspoons of dried chickweed to a teapot or jar and pour on approximately 250ml of boiling water, allow too steep for 15 minutes; strain the liquid from the herb and use. A chickweed infusion can be added to the bath to help ease itching associated with insect bites and dry skin. Whilst Chickweed can be very good for you, its not good to eat it in large quantities because it contains saponins which are toxic, small amounts say a handful every now and again should be fine.

Debs Cook is a Herbal Historian and our Webmistress, you can see more articles by Debs over on her blog Herbal Haven.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Ashwagandha, Stress and Food Cravings

Ashwagandha Photo & Article by Ann Walker

The root of Ashwagandha has been documented as being used for herbal medicine for over 6,000 years in India where it is one of the most highly valued and herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. In the last century it has come to be a staple also in the materia medica of western herbal practitioners - mainly for its unique vitality-raising properties in the face of fatigue. It is a plant with multiple talents - as indicated by its Latin name of Withania somnifera, which gives clues to another of its physiological actions: as a mild sedative to aid sleep and reduce anxiety.

Ashwagandha (or winter cherry) is a tough plant and can be cultivated in the UK, although it will not survive the winter out-of-doors. The picture shows the cherry of one which I have grown from seed – this plant is about 4 years old and I keep it in a cool greenhouse in winter. The plant’s natural habitat is vast, extending from the Mediterranean to most tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including the Indian subcontinent, parts of China and Africa.

Whilst modern herbalists classify ashwagandha as an adaptogen - a substance said to increase the body's ability to withstand stress of all types – there has not been much clinical evidence to support this until now. In a well-designed clinical study carried out in India (PMID: 27055824), 52 overweight and stressed subjects took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for two months. This resulted in significant improvement in their stress scores and food cravings compared with placebo.

There was also greater weight loss, but this was set in the study design as a secondary outcome of the study, so not so much credence can be given to this. However. I find with patients that want to lose weight, giving them herbs that support glucose control, the stress response and increase vitality can make all the difference to patients to help with their motivation and discipline to lose weight. Ashwagandha addresses at least two of these three objectives.

PMID = PubMed Identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 28 December 2018

Ginger and Vitamin B6 for Morning Sickness

Article by Ann Walker

Both vitamin B6 and ginger have often been suggested by practitioners for morning sickness of pregnancy. But which is the most effective? Clinical studies have been carried out on each of these with some success. For example, as far back as1995, a large double-blind, placebo-controlled study of vitamin B6 with 342 pregnant women volunteers showed positive effects (PMID: 7573262). By the same token, a well-designed trial (PMID: 11275030) of 70 pregnant women showed that ginger significantly reduced nausea and vomiting. However, three studies attempting to compare these two treatments had mixed results and all suffered the design flaw of not having a placebo comparison ‘arm’.

Like a lot of research on herbal medicine published over the last few years, this latest study (PMID: 28629250) comes from Iran, but this time in collaboration with the University of Southampton, UK. Over a four-day period, a total of 77 pregnant women with morning sickness were randomised into three groups to take either ginger, vitamin B6 or a placebo. Progress was assessed using a validated questionnaire. The overall scores for nausea were decreased in all groups but ginger and vitamin B6 were both more effective than placebo, although there was no difference between them. Nevertheless, as far as the volunteers’ own experience was concerned, ginger was more effective than B6 in reducing both the incidence of vomiting and the intensity and distress of nausea.

Clearly, both natural medicines can be helpful in morning sickness, but what is needed now is a trial with vitamin B6 and ginger taken together to see whether the combination has additive or synergistic effects.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 21 December 2018

Black Seed Oil Rub Reduces Arthritic Knee Pain

Article by Ann Walker

Black seed (Nigella sativa) is a herb that is not traditionally used by herbalists in western herbal medicine, but how much longer can we ignore it? The use of the herb goes way back into history (black seeds were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, for example). They were (and continue to be) used for their flavour in cooking and as a medicine in many countries bordering the Mediterranean and throughout the Islamic world, where they are advocated as something of a panacea.

There is increasing research interest in the herb - also known as black cumin, black onion seed or kalonji. It is easy to see the growing number of scientific papers published on black seed by consulting PubMed. This is the free public interface to MEDLINE, the world’s leading scientific database on medicine. Using the Latin name as the search term, over 1100 papers can be found at the time of writing - many on laboratory studies - but fifty describing clinical trials on black seed! To have this large number of clinical trials reported on a single herb is extremely unusual.

Looking at the fifty clinical trials, it is amazing to see the diversity of the disease conditions addressed by black seed in these studies, including asthma, diabetes, anxiety, improved sperm quality, dyspepsia and hypothyroidism However, recently, a study was reported on the topical use of the pressed oil from black seed, which I want to highlight here. The oil, as well as the whole seed, has a long history of use as medicine for internal use, and in this study it was used without dilution as a massage oil for arthritic knees (PMID: 29705470). A group of sixty elderly people with painful knee arthritis were randomly divided to use the black seed oil massage or no massage (control group). Although the control group continued with their routine prescriptions, those rubbing black seed oil onto their knees (three times a week for a month) showed a significant decrease in pain compared to the control group by the end of the study.

Many of the studies on black seed come from Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt and this fact alone will raise doubts about the validity of the results in the minds of those sceptical of the medicinal value of plants. Apart from the fact that design standards for clinical studies worldwide are improving all the time, the complex chemistry of black seed with its many active compounds would indicate that it has the potential to effect beneficial changes in many aspects of human physiology in disease conditions.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 14 December 2018

Rhodiola to Combat Fatigue

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
Rhodiola (R. rosea) root has been used traditionally in Scandinavian countries and Russia as a “tonic herb,” to combat fatigue. These days it is regarded by herbalists as an ‘adaptogen’ – i.e., it has the potential to help the body cope with various types of stress including extremes of temperature, sleep deprivation, psychological stress etc. In support of these traditional uses, there are some randomised, controlled clinical studies on the herb. One of these, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 56 doctors working on night duty, found that after taking rhodiola daily for two weeks, their thought processes, including mental arithmetic, were sharper, than those taking placebo (PMID: 11081987). In a similarly-designed study of 161 sleep-deprived army cadets, it was found that those taking rhodiola coped better with the fatigue than those on placebo (PMID: 12725561).

While these results appear impressive, they were undertaken in former Soviet Union republics, which were notorious for excessively positive results in clinical trials. However, a more recent a study on rhodiola was reported from the University of Surrey (PMID: 26502953). This was on eighty volunteers with anxiety, who were randomized to take either rhodiola extract daily or no treatment. After two weeks, those on rhodiola reported better mood with less anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression. Unfortunately, this study did not include placebo treatment - no treatment is not placebo treatment – and it is important to remember that placebo has proven therapeutic benefit in many clinical trials. Whilst we still await the definitive study on rhodiola, it can still be used based on traditional use. Rhodiola supplements with traditional herbal registrations (THR) are on general sale in the EU. The British Herbal Medicine Association is always a good starting point to find a quality herbal product.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Monday, 10 December 2018

Spiced Fig & Rosemary Syrup

Article by Debs Cook
We are just around the corner from the over indulgences that the festive season presents to the delicate balance of our digestive systems causing upset and discomfort. In days gone by, our ancestors would have turned to good old syrup of figs when constipation took hold, a remedy that certainly got things moving again, but for some the remedy was worse than the problem it set out to cure; although it wasn’t as bad as another old remedy for constipation, the dreaded castor oil!

For some, figs are the Marmite of the herbal world, you either love them or hate them or your digestive system does. This modern day version of the old fashioned syrup of figs recipe, is loosely (pun intended) based on an recipe from herbalist Christopher Hedley - I discovered the recipe when I used to edit the website for the Herb Society many moons ago. The rich fruitiness of the figs is complimented by the warming herbs and spices, all of which help to get a sluggish digestive system moving again.

Makes 6 x 100ml or 2 x 300ml Bottles

16 Dried Figs
500ml Water
250ml Runny Honey
2 Tbsp. Dried Rosemary
1 Tbsp. Ground Ginger
3 Whole Cloves
1 Bay Leaf
1 Cinnamon Stick, broken
Juice & Zest of 1 Whole Orange

Method: Dice the figs into small pieces and put them in a pan, take a little muslin bag or use a tea ball if you have one and place the cinnamon, cloves and rosemary in it, then add this to the pan along with the bay leaf, simmer these ingredients in 500ml of water until they are soft and tender, this will take 15-20 minutes. After this time pour the figgy liquid into a jug, discard the spices and bay leaf but reserve the cooked figs.

Make the contents of the jug back up to 500ml with cold water and add the honey to the liquid, then heat the mixture through gently, stirring all the time, until the honey has dissolved.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then add the orange juice and zest, ground ginger and the cooked figs and put the mixture in to an electric blender and blend together until the syrup is smooth. Pour the syrup into clean, sterilized amber glass bottles, label and store in a cool place. The syrup will keep for 2-3 months if stored in the fridge.

Take 1- 2 dessert-spoons when the digestive system needs a boost. Small children, 1-2 tsp up to three or four times a day, or until relief is obtained.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the old remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.