Friday, 10 January 2020

Diuretic Effect of Dandelion

Article & Photo © Ann Walker

Dandelion leaf is used in traditional western herbal medicine as a diuretic for reducing fluid retention. Indeed its French name of pis-en-lit (piss the bed) is testament to this. Herbal practitioners find the herb useful these days for reducing oedema, for example helping patients to reduce ankle oedema on long-haul flights or for premenstrual ‘heavy-legs’. But what scientific evidence is there for this effect? A search the world’s medical literature (PubMed) shows that there was, indeed, a study of Dandelion’s diuretic effect published by American researchers in 2009 (PMID: 19678785).

It was only a small pilot study, carried out over a single day using an aqueous-alcoholic extract of fresh dandelion leaf (using a dose of 8 ml three times in the day) on 17 people. It was not a blinded or controlled study, so it will not satisfy the ‘gold standard’ criteria for drug research, but nevertheless it does provide the first documented evidence of the diuretic effect of dandelion in a group of humans. In the study, the excretion ratio (urine volume-to-fluid intake) was found to have increased for all subjects in the 5-hour period following the second dose of the extract, indicating a diuretic effect.

The precise mechanism, or indeed even the active constituents, responsible for the diuretic effect of dandelion are not known. There are some unique compounds with long names in the plant: viz. eudesmanolide and germacranolide, but there are also others such as taraxasterol, which, no doubt, also contribute to its physiological effects. Apart from diuresis, these effects include, liver stimulant (laxative), anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-carcinogenic, pain killing, blood-glucose modulating, and blood-thinning properties.

There is increasing laboratory research evidence for these effects, but sadly, no human trials for a variety of traditional applications of the herb including: liver and gallbladder problems, breast diseases, digestive problems, joint pain, fever and skin diseases. There is plenty of scope here for many PhD topics in the future, if someone comes up with the funding

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 3 January 2020

Astragalus – A Herb to Watch

Article and Photo © Ann Walker
The root of Astragalus membranaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The many laboratory studies carried out so far show that the herb has immune modulating (or modifying) and anti-inflammatory effects (PMID: 26916911). These properties account for the herb’s traditional applications for fatigue of all types, allergies and infections, but its use as an adjunct to chemotherapy to reduce their side effects is a more recent development. But what is the evidence for benefit for those undergoing chemotherapy? There is promising clinical-trial evidence, but it is sparse because most of the studies have been small and of poor quality.

Lack of clinical data is surprising considering the huge amount of laboratory research that has gone into studying this herb and its constituents, but cancer is difficult to study in a clinical trial setting because of ethical considerations. A review by the internationally-recognised Cochrane review collaboration found four trials in which Astragalus was combined with chemotherapy for large bowel cancer (PMID: 15674951).

These showed reduced nausea during chemotherapy and better preservation of the white blood cell count, but it again concluded that more vigorous trials were needed to confirm these results. However, there was no evidence of any harm from including Astragalus in these regimes. While waiting for more evidence of its adjunct value in chemotherapy, Astragalus has been adopted as a key herb in western herbal medicine over the last decade because of the research interest in it. I use it a lot in my clinic, along with other herbs, for reducing susceptibility to infection – both viral and bacterial - and to reduce the symptoms of chemotherapy treatment.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 27 December 2019

Supporting The Immune System Herbally - Part 2

Image: Gaby Stein
Article: Debs Cook
There are a wide variety of herbs and spices that can help the body’s immune system and whilst each herb can be of benefit to different parts of the body, some of them have an effect on more than one area, here I'm looking at the areas that are best targeted by each herb, as well as those that are in need of additional support during the winter months.

Astragalus Root  is an adaptogenic herb that may be a beneficial way of helping the body protect itself from the stress to the body generated by illness, be that physical, mental, or emotional stress. It is also used in Chinese medicine to help boost the immune system, one of its actions is to help to trigger the creation of immune cells in bone marrow and lymphatic tissue.

Echinacea  is one of the most common herbs that is associated with helping the immune system to fight infection and disease where winter colds and flu are concerned. It has anti-inflammatory, and also fungicidal and antibacterial properties which help the body to check the development of viruses. It is also a good herb for using for respiratory illnesses and to help soothe the throat in cases of laryngitis, tonsillitis, and help to ease colds and flu. In 2012 at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, Wales, the largest clinical trial of echinacea as a means of preventing cold symptoms took place, following similar trials in Germany. The results of the 2012 trial are still being debated, but the results claimed that of the 750 people tested, the echinacea extract treatment cut the number of recurrent colds suffered by those with weak immune systems or a history of catching several bouts each year by 60%. Echinacea can be taken in capsule form, the root can be added to soups, teas and even used to make soothing ice lollies for sore throats.

Elderberries  are another immune boosting herb with antiviral and expectorant properties they are rich in vitamins A and C, and can help to soothe sore throats and help to calm fevers. They can also be used to make a soothing elixir and if the elixir is taken in teaspoonful doses three or four times a day at the first signs of a cold, it may prevent a cold from developing. If it does develop, the cold may be milder and last for a shorter duration if elderberry tincture is taken. You can read more about the benefits of Elderberries in our article Herbal Focus: Elderberries.

Garlic is more commonly associated with culinary recipes, and added to a wide variety of dishes but it is a powerful immune boosting ally as well, one of my favouirite ways of taking garlic is by infusing freshly chopped garlic into honey and then adding that to drinks hot drinks, or just to have a spoonful if I'm feeling run down. Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, it is also reputed to work in a similar way to antibiotics. In fact garlic is so good at preventing a germs ability to grow that it’s said that just 1 milligram of allicin, a sulphur compound found in garlic, can have the same potency as 15 standard units of penicillin. Garlic contains more vitamin C per 100g than any of the other members of the onion family!

Ginger viewed by many as a spice, ginger deserves a place in your arsenal of immune support, it is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and contains natural antibiotics. It can help boost the immune system by increasing circulation in the blood stream which helps the immune system by increasing the amount of oxygen getting to the tissues of the body which helps it to remove toxins and viruses. Ginger tea is an excellent remedy for colds and flu, you can also add ginger to soups and to bathes to help boost circulation.
Some people are allergic to ginger, avoid this herbs included if you are allergic to it.

Hyssop is yet another useful immune system boosting herb that has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Hyssop has traditionally been used to help the body fight off colds and flu, and is useful for respiratory infections and to help ease coughs, bronchial congestion, and sinus congestion. Add to teas and tisanes, use to flavour chicken soups and to make immune boosting syrups and elixirs.

Peppermint can be added to teas and gargles for sore throats and for stomach upsets, peppermint is antiviral and antimicrobial, and it also contains potassium, calcium and vitamin B, all useful constituents to help the immune system fight off viruses like colds and flu.

Sage is an herb that has antiseptic and antibacterial properties and like peppermint is an ideal herb to make into a tea or gargle for helping to soothe the throat and chest. Sage has expectorant and diaphoretic properties and is a great alley to the immune system in cases of respiratory illness, and infections where the immune response is to create excess mucous to eliminate the foreign body to the system.

Shiitake Mushrooms again like ginger and garlic, many people will categorise these mushrooms as culinary only, but these tasty mushrooms are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and are used in Chinese Herbal Medicine for treating bronchial conditions. Recent studies have identified a phytonutrient compound called lentinan found in shiitake mushrooms, the compound is a polysaccharide that can help boost the immune system’s ability to deal with killer cells like cancer. Try mixing them with dried goji berries, ginger, garlic and echinacea root to make a delicious cold busting chicken soup like this Goji Berry & Chicken Soup (second recipe on page) a recipe from the first series of James Wong’s “Grow Your Own Drugs” programme which contains Shiitake Mushrooms.

Siberian Ginseng is another adaptogenic herb which may help the immune system by reducing levels of stress much like astragalus does. The herb contains constituents called eleutherosides, which are believed to stimulate the immune system. Recent studies have shown that when Siberian ginseng is taken within 72 hours of a cold or flu beginning, the duration of the illness can be significantly reduced. The root is antiviral and antioxidant, it can help the body to resist infection and increases oxygen in the blood which encourages the movement of foreign bodies from the body at a faster rate, and it also helps in cases of respiratory illness. Add to teas and tisanes, take in capsule form and add the root to soups and stews.

Hedgerow Fruits Elixir

This wonderful fruity elixir is full of immune boosting ingredients like elderberries which are antiviral and can help boost the immune system, the bilberries are antioxidant and can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Sloe berries are full of vitamin C and have a depurative action which means they can help remove impurities from the body, they also have a febrifuge actions, which means they can help to reduce a fever.


125g Dried Bilberries
125g Dried Elderberries
125g Dried Sloe Berries
125g Dried Rosehips
Cold Water to cover
100g Golden Castor Sugar (Per 100ml of finished fruit infusion)
15ml Brandy (Per 100ml of finished syrup)

Method: Put all the dried fruits in a pan and cover with enough cold water to cover, bring the water to the boil then turn down the heat and allow the berries to simmer until they are soft. Allow to cool slightly then strain through a nylon sieve or muslin cloth to remove any seeds or pips and tough skins from the fruit.

Measure the juice you have in a jug and calculate the amount of sugar you require, you will need 100g per 100ml of liquid, so 500ml will require 500g sugar. Once you’ve figured out how much sugar you need place the fruity liquid in a clean pan, add your sugar and bring the two to a boil stirring occasionally, once the liquid has come to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer until the liquid is thick and syrupy, this takes between 25-40 minutes.

Once you have a syrupy consistency, allow the syrup to cool slightly then add 15ml of brandy for every 100ml of syrup. Bottle the syrup and store, the syrup with keep for 12 months unopened, but once opened keep it in the fridge and use it within 14 days. Take 1 teaspoon of elixir 3 times a day to help boost the immune system.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the 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, 20 December 2019

Supporting The Immune System Herbally - Part 1

Image: Bruno Glätsch
Article: Debs Cook
Our immune systems, are made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, which together help the body to fight off infections from germs and prevent bacteria and other micro-organisms from attacking the body. When everything is working as it should, our immune systems do a fantastic job of keeping us healthy and infection free, but when the immune system gets compromised that’s when the problems begin. One of the common occurrences of compromised immune systems at this time of year is the rise in cases of cold and flu over the winter months.

The immune system doesn’t just help us fight of colds and flu, it also protects us from viruses such as chicken pox and mumps, and from harmful bacteria like e-coli and other forms of bacteria that can cause ear infection, meningitis and tonsillitis, so it’s important that you keep your immune system in tip top condition and keep it functioning properly to help you ward off these potential threats.

What Does Our Immune System Do?

The immune system has 3 types of responses depending on what the body is attempting to fight off, these are: - an anatomic response, an inflammatory response, and an immune response.

When the body exhibits an anatomic response, it reacts by attempting to physically prevent foreign bodies from entering the body. An example of an anatomic response would be the release of tears when a foreign body gets in to the eye to try and ‘flush’ it out, the mucous membranes and the skin provide the first line of defence to the body. If the foreign body still manages to take hold, the body exhibits its next line of defence which is the inflammatory response. The inflammatory response attempts to target the foreign body and eliminate it from the body, an example of this action is sneezing, producing mucus in the nose and chest and increases in body temperature to help eliminate foreign body.

If the inflammatory response fails to eradicate the foreign body the final stage kicks in, known as the immune response. The immune response forms the core of the immune system and is made up of white blood cells, which fight infection by eradicating antigens [a foreign or toxic invader to the body e.g. bacteria]. During times when the body is fighting off infection, around ¼ of the white blood cells in the body, known as lymphocytes, migrate to the lymph nodes and produce antibodies, which help the body to fight the illness. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system, and includes lymph nodes, vessels, the spleen, thymus, tonsils and the bone marrow.

The best way of ensuring that your immune system functions as it should, is to make sure you are doing everything you can to look after it. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when it doesn’t have to fight off unnecessary onslaughts to its function, like the problems caused to the immune system by smoking and drinking alcohol. Other ways you can help your immune system are by taking regular exercise, cutting down caffeine consumption and maintaining a healthy weight. It will also be of great benefit if you keep your blood pressure under control, ensure you get enough sleep each night to help the body recover from daily stress and strain and eat a healthy diet full of antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables, whole grain foods and cut down on saturated fats.

Diet wise make sure you eat plenty of foods containing vitamin C and E, both of these vitamins help the immune system to function, vitamin C can be found in oranges, berries, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach. If you smoke, you especially need to boost your vitamin C intake because smoking reduces the rate that your body absorbs vitamin C. Taking vitamin E helps to prevent cell damage, it can be found in wholegrain cereals and sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin E. Ensure you include enough omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish like salmon and trout and also by adding flaxseeds and oil to your diet, these fatty acids play a vital role in helping your immune system prevent problems such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and skin problems like psoriasis.

Foods rich in natural probiotics such as live yogurt help to promote ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut, these friendly bacteria can help your immune system fight off bacteria and disease that attack the digestive system. Eating starchy, wholegrain carbohydrate rich foods also benefits the digestive system, these foods will also help give the body energy to fight off infection. Minerals such selenium and zinc are also very beneficial to immune system health, so eat zinc and selenium rich foods such as pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts.

Join us next week for part 2 of this article which will look at 10 Immune Boosting Herbs and include a tasty recipe for Hedgerow Fruits Elixir.

Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the 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, 13 December 2019

Herbs for Making Winter Tea’s

Image by Jill Wellington
Article: Debs Cook
Herb teas are tasty and most herbal teas are caffeine-free with the exception of teas such as Maté also known as Yerba Mate, and Green Tea, which contains some caffeine in this article we look at 12 of the most useful herbs for making herbal teas during the winter months.

Making a pot of herb tea is easy; add 1 tablespoon of dried herb or 1 teaspoon of ground spice such as cinnamon to every 600ml (1 pint) of water. Simply put the herb into a teapot or cafetière and pure over the boiling, stir, then leave to brew for 3-10 minutes depending on the herbs used and the strength of tea required. Strain, sweeten with honey or your preferred sweetener and serve.

Chamomile: A useful tea for young and old alike; it’s soothing and sedative and is great for helping to ease stomach ache, indigestion, nausea and helping insomnia. Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory properties; it is a bitter herb which can help to promote digestion. On its own its best to sweeten with honey as it can be too bitter for some, especially children. Cold leftover chamomile tea placed on cotton wool pads can be used to relieve tired eyes or used as a final rinse for light hair.

Cinnamon: This warming spice makes an excellent addition to a tea blend or used on its own; it helps to warm the body and boost circulation making it a great tea to take when suffering from colds and chills. Cinnamon has antiseptic, astringent and sedative properties and can be used to soothe stomach ache and diarrhoea. Use 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon in 600ml of water. Leftover cinnamon tea can be used as an antiseptic wash for minor cuts and abrasions or dabbed on to insect bites.

Fennel: Another tea that is great to drink when you have indigestion, it’s also a useful tea to drink when you have a windy stomach. Dieters have been known to drink fennel tea to help stave off hunger pangs. With its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties it’s been used to ease tooth and gum discomfort and to ease sore throats. For best results lightly crush your fennel seeds in a pestle & mortar before placing in to your teapot. Leftover fennel tea can be used as an aromatic rinse for the hair.
Fennel seed has diuretic properties and should not be taken by people with kidney problems.

Ginger: Another warming spice, it makes a good addition to teas to sip when you have a chesty cough with its warming and expectorant properties. Ginger is also antiseptic, detoxifying and digestive. It can help to bring down a fever and break down catarrh and phlegm, soothe indigestion and warm the body when suffering from chills. Ginger tea is also a pleasant means of reducing the nausea which is experienced by some people when travelling; take a flask of ginger tea with you to sip during the journey. Leftover ginger tea can be used as a wash for minor cuts and grazes, it can also be added to foot baths to help boost circulation.
Caution: Some people are allergic to ginger, avoid this herbs included if you are allergic to it.

Hibiscus: Also known in some countries as ‘Sorrel’ is a great herb to drink as a tea when a fever needs reducing, with its febrifuge (cooling) properties hibiscus can help to bring down a fever; it’s also contains vitamin C, a useful vitamin to include in your diet when suffering from colds and flu. It’s great for helping digestion and for improving the appetite, combine it with rosehip to boost the vitamin C value.

Lemon Balm: This delicious citrusy tea is useful to have in the cupboard not just in the winter but all the year round, it has antiviral, digestive and antibacterial properties and is terrific for helping to soothe stressed nerves, tension headaches and for helping to combat insomnia. Its analgesic properties make it useful for easing tooth and gum pain, try swilling a warm infusion of lemon balm tea around the mouth to ease aching gums. Lemon balm tea can also bring relief to mild cases of ingestion and may calm stomach cramps most often associated with period pain. Leftover lemon balm tea can be added to lotions for treating cold sores.

Liquorice Root: This aromatic anise scented and flavoured root makes a tasty way of adding natural sweetness to tea blends, on its own it’s useful as a tea to sip when suffering from chesty coughs. It’s antispasmodic, expectorant and emollient properties make it soothing to the lungs and bronchia and can help relieve congestion. Liquorice root is also useful for soothing heartburn; combine with peppermint for maximum effect.
Caution: Pregnant women should not consume liquorice, neither should people with heart, liver or kidney problems, those people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure or problems with fluid retention should also avoid liquorice. It should also be noted that liquorice can interact with certain medications, including diuretics, ACE inhibitors, corticosteroids, laxatives, diabetes medications, oral contraceptives, MAO inhibitors, steroids, blood pressure medications, hormone therapy and digoxin. If you take any of these types of medicines consult your GP before you include liquorice in your daily diet.

Peppermint: This is the tea most commonly associated with the ability to ease an upset stomach and aid digestion, but did you know that peppermint tea also has analgesic, antiviral, antiseptic, refrigerant (cooling when used externally) and tonic properties? Peppermint can also be a warming and stimulating herb when taken as a tea and has been used for centuries for its soothing properties and its ability to ease stomach aches, indigestion, nausea, hiccough and heartburn. Leftover peppermint tea can be added to mouthwashes and used as an antiseptic wash for minor cuts and abrasions.

Rosehip: A tea made from rosehips can help boost your vitamin C levels, which is beneficial when suffering from winter colds and flu. They have astringent, refrigerant and anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in antioxidants and bio-flavonoids. Rosehips can also have a mild laxative effect and are mildly diuretic; they have been used for centuries to help de-stress the body and have been used as a general tonic for the blood. Use leftover cold rosehip tea to cleanse and nourish the skin.

Rosemary: As a tea or infusion, rosemary is drunk when suffering from migraine and minor headaches, with its antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and astringent properties it’s another beneficial winter tea, its warming and stimulating and can help ease congestion, soothe coughs, clear phlegm and soothe a sore throat. Rosemary tea has a wonderful tonic action that is beneficial to the nervous system and the mind. It can also act as a digestive and can soothe colicky cramps and spasms. Leftover rosemary tea can be added to lotions and creams for the skin, it can also be used as a mouthwash and an antiseptic skin wash.

Sage: At the first sign of a sore throat, sip a cup of sage tea with honey, sage is highly antiseptic and is great for soothing sore throats, and easing chest complaints such as bronchitis, and also for reducing congestion due to catarrh and phlegm. Sage is also astringent, antioxidant and digestive, it’s been used to ease period pain and to lessen the effects of hot flushes in menopausal women. Sage tea can also be drunk to ease nausea, settle the stomach and to relieve indigestion. Leftover cold sage tea can be used as a wash for minor cuts and sores or added to homemade mouthwashes to soothe mouth ulcers and sore gums.

Thyme: Another highly antiseptic herb that is antibacterial, antiseptic and astringent. Thyme is also a warming and stimulating herb that can help ease chesty coughs and bronchial problems with its expectorant properties. It makes a useful addition to teas to soothe the body in cases of exhaustion and anxiety, lemon thyme shares the same properties and also makes a tasty tea for sore throats and coughs. Thyme tea can also be used in steam inhalers to help open the nasal passages when blocked due to congestion. Leftover thyme tea can be added to gargles for sore throats and used as an antiseptic in creams and lotions; it can also be used to wash minor cuts and grazes.

Lemon Thyme Soother


1 Teaspoon Dried Lemon Thyme
1 Litre Organic Lemonade.
Honey to serve.

Method: This wonderfully soothing lemon drink is ideal for helping to ease a sore throat and it is simplicity in itself to make. Bring 1 litre of organic lemonade to the boil in a pan, to which you’ve added some dried lemon thyme leaves, turn off the heat and leave to steep for 10-15 minutes, add a teaspoon of honey and warm the drink through again if needed. Sip it slowly to soothe a sore throat and ease nasal congestion.

Good Winter Herbal Tea Combinations To Try:-

Chamomile & Lemon Balm, for sleeplessness.
Liquorice & Peppermint, for heartburn.
Hibiscus & Rosehip, for immune boosting.
Sage & Thyme, for sore throat and congestion.
Cinnamon & Peppermint, for digestion.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the 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, 6 December 2019

Five Useful Herbs for Winter

Image by Marina Pershina
Article by Debs Cook
There are many herbs and spices that can be of benefit during the winter such as black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, echinacea, elderberries, garlic, marshmallow, turmeric and yarrow, all of which are excellent herbal ally’s when the winter months arrive. I’ll write about some of the above in more detail in the future, but for now I wanted to focus on five herbs that I recall my Nanna making use of in the winter.

We'll start with Eldeflower,  which are often considered to be highly effective in managing upper respiratory congestion and infections. Although these fragrant flowers are most often associated with summer cordials and soothing eye gels, they make a useful winter friend, and can be perfect for drying up a runny or blocked nose. The flowers contain flavonoids and small amounts of mucilage and tannins, a perfect combination for soothing, healing and protecting mucous membranes. Elderflower's are a key ingredient in the classic winter cold and flu blend and were often added to lotions and creams to help protect the skin from drying winds.We have a lovely recipe for making Elder & Lemon Thyme Throat Lozenges at the end of this article.

Next up we have Ginger which featured in one of my Nanna’s favourite cough treatments which involved mixing a pinch of ground ginger with a teaspoon of honey, it wasn’t for the children as the resulting medicine produced a burning sensation in the throat which was hard for children to deal with. The adults thought it was a worthwhile remedy because it helped treat the winter cough that accompanied colds and flu, I’ve come across another version of Nanna’s remedy which called for the pinch of ginger to be mixed with ¼ teaspoon of sugar, I guess a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down after all! In traditional Chinese medicine, hot ginger tea is taken at the first sign of a cold is believed to offer the possibility of averting the infection. It should be noted that some people can be allergic to ginger, if you are one of these people than avoid consuming ginger its consumption.

Rosemary has such universal uses, that I can easily understand why Nanna wouldn’t be without it, its antiviral, astringent, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, a stimulant, stomachic and has tonic properties make it a powerful winter ally. I use fresh and dried rosemary (depending what I have available) in steam inhalations to help unblock the nose and get you breathing easily again.

Rosemary has been valued for its stimulant, stomachic and tonic properties for centuries, in fact Robert James an 18th century physician and author of the ‘Pharmacopoeia universalis’ published in 1747, wrote that rosemary when made in to a conserve was an “excellent remedy in vertigoes arising from a cold cause, as also in cold distempers, in consequence whereof it is an excellent stomachic.” In “A Lyttle Herbal” published in 1550 the ability for rosemary to fight off infection was highlighted, this time as a vinegar the author wrote “Take the flower of rosemary and boyle them in fayre cleane water to the half and cole [cool] it, and drynke it for it is much worthe against the evyls of the body.” Rosemary was also an effective means of preventing infection and disease and was one of the ingredients added to Marseilles Vinegar which helped to prevent infection when the plague struck in France in the 17th century.

Sage is another universal herb, the name Salvia derives from the Latin 'salveo', which means to heal, my Nanna used sage's healing properties to great effect in winter, chickens were plastered with the leaves before roasting, leaves were chopped and made into stuffing’s, added to soups and stews and they went into liniments, syrups and gargles for sore throats. The anti-bacterial, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, stimulant and tonic properties makes sage an excellent herb to have on stand-by in the winter.

Nanna made a gargle for sore throats that contained sage, honey and lemon juice, if anybody complained of a sore throat they were given the gargle. Her sage gargle was where I first discovered that dried sage tasted better than fresh sage, something I still believe to this day, drying sage mellows the flavour making it less bitter and sharp to the taste buds. The volatile oils present in sage have an excellent antiseptic effect which can be of benefit to the upper respiratory tract and to help clear the throat and lungs of infection, and help to minimise congestion in other parts of the body. Sage can also help to stimulate the digestion, which is the real reason we have sage and onion stuffing when we eat fatty meats like pork.

Finally Thyme, the volatile oils in thyme are an effective antimicrobial which makes it an excellent way of easing respiratory infections. When you add thyme to food and home remedies it can also help to combat infections, it is wonderfully antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, disinfectant, expectorant, sedative and a tonic to the system, making it another useful herbal ally for winter. Thyme went in to the steam inhalations when the cold was on the chest as well as in the nose, it’s an excellent decongestant and was added to teas and soups, as grew older I came to favour using lemon thyme in teas as it has a much nicer flavour, and less bitter than thyme itself. my favourite cold cure recipe for Lemon Thyme Throat Soother can be found at the end of next weeks Herbs for making Winter Teas article.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the 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, 6 September 2019

Herbal Focus: Elderberries

Article © Debs Cook
The elder tree (Sambucus nigra) is a deciduous shrub or small tree which grows to between 4–6 m in height, the bark is light grey when young, changing to a coarse darker grey outer bark with length wise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, and are pinnate with five to seven leaflets, the leaflets are 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The flowers of the elder give way to fruits which hand in clusters of many small drupes each 5-6mm in diameter and dark purple-black in colour and its these fruits that we'll be focusing on in this article.

The name Elder comes from the Saxon words 'eller' or ‘kindler’ due to the fact that the hollow stems of elder wood were used as mini bellows to help fires that were dying out to burn. The inner pith of the stems hollow stems have been used to make musical instruments. Other names for Elder include: - Black Elder, Common Elder, European Elder, Pipe Tree, Bourtre, Suin, Acte, Judas Tree, Lady Ellhorn, Whistle Tree, Old Lady, Hylder, Hylantree, Eldrum, Ellhorn, Hollunder, Sambuke and Sureau.

Seeds from elderberry fruits have been found in Neolithic remains in Switzerland which suggest that the elderberries were gathered for food and possibly for medicinal use since around 2000 B.C. In the 1st century A.D. Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides were both making use of the purgative properties of the leaves, buds, bark, sap and of course the berries, Pliny also described the use of the berries from the elder being used to dye the hair.

In 1644 Martin Blochwich a highly respected German physician of his day, compiled a manuscript in Latin which he called ‘Anatomia Sambuci’, the manuscript was translated into English by C. De Iryngio in 1651 and reprinted in 1677, then promptly faded into obscurity, until someone at the European nutraceutical company called BerryPharma, rediscovered the book whilst doing some research into the use of elderberries as a traditional remedy and decided to get it revised and reprinted in 2010.

Blochwich intended his manuscript to be a reference guide for his fellow medical practitioners who lived in the villages and countryside’s of Europe. It drew upon the existing traditional remedy works of his time, dating back to Galen and Pythagoras and he added his own experiences with the elder. The ‘Anatomia Sambuci’ was one of the earliest medical textbooks to be printed for educational purposes, during a period in European history when witchcraft was still an offence and knowledge was still the protected right of the theologians, the rich and the powerful. However, the newly formed British Royal Society showed their progressiveness by recommending the book to their members in 1677.

William Turner in the 16th century wrote more about the uses of the leaves and root of the elder tree than the berries, of the berries he only wrote that when the fruits are soaked in wine, they “softeneth the mother and openeth it, and it amendeth such hurts as are commonly about it”, he also made reference to them being used to dye the hair black. The seeds found in the berries were also recommended by John Gerard for those who suffered from “the dropsy, and such who are too fat and would faine be leaner.” Like Turner, Gerard gave more uses for the leaves, flowers, bark and pith of the elder than he did for the berries, uses of most of these parts of the elder have been forgotten in time and these days only the flowers and berries are commonly used.

In the 17th century Nicholas Culpeper, herbalist and author believed that everyone in the 17th century recognised the elder tree and knew how to use it, so much so his book entry for the elder tree says simply “I hold it needless to write any description of this, since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree instead of elder.” and then moved on to discuss the Dwarf Elder also known as Danewort.

John Parkinson wrote about the different uses of the elder tree in his 'Theatrum Botanicum' published in 1640, of the berries he wrote that “the juyce of the berries boyled with a little honey, and dropped into the eares, easeth the paines of them; the decoction of the berries in wine being drunke, provoketh urine.

18th century herbalist Sir John Hill describes how “the juice of the berries is boiled down with a little sugar, or by some wholly without, and this, when it comes to the consistency of honey is the famous rob of elder, good in colds and sore throats” and adds that “a wine is made of the elderberries, which has the flavour of Frontignac.” Frontignac being a sweet wine made in Frontignan in the Languedoc region of France, elderberries were also used to make a rich port-style wine.

In his book Herbal Simples W. T. Fernie also wrote of the elderberry rob saying that “Almost from time immemorial in England, a 'rob' made from the juice of Elderberries, simmered and thickened with sugar, or mulled Elder wine concocted from the fruit, with raisins, sugar and spices, have been popular remedies in this country, if taken hot at bedtime, for a recent cold or sore throat. But only of late has chemistry explained that Elderberries furnish 'viburnic acid,' which induces sweating and is specially curative of inflammatory bronchial soreness.” Incidentally a ‘rob’ is any fruit juice that is thickened using sugar, so you can make blackberry or raspberry rob, it doesn’t have to be elderberries, but for helping to ease cold and flu symptoms, elderberries work best.

20th century herbalist Maud Grieve wrote in her book ‘A Modern Herbal’ that “Elder Berries have long been used in the English countryside for making many home-made drinks and preserves that are almost as great favourites now as in the time of our great-grandmothers. The berries make an excellent home-made wine and winter cordial, which improves with age, and taken hot with sugar, just before going to bed, is an old-fashioned and wellestablished cure for a cold.” The use of the berries to prevent or ease symptoms of colds and flu is a use for these fruity little berries that has cropped up throughout history. Grieve wrote also of the elderberries use for making wine, for which it is well suited, I’ve made many bottles of elderberry wine in my past and combined them with other ingredients to make delicious hedgerow wines.

Making Use of Elderberries

Elderberries have anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, aperient, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emollient, expectorant, galactogogue, haemostatic, laxative, purgative and stimulant properties. Chemical constituents in elderberries include the cyanogenic glycoside viburnic acid which can help to induce perspiration, sambunigrin another cyanogenic glycoside is present in the seeds of the berries, and this is one of the constituents which contribute to the purgative action of elderberries. The berries are rich in bio-flavonoids including quercetin, rutin and sambucin, elderberries also contain anthocyanins another a type of flavonoid which is antioxidant and may help to protect support the immune system.

Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments which give shades of red, blue, black and purple to black dependant on the amount contained and their companion constituents, they can also be used to fashion homemade pH indicators. Incidentally, elderberries contain almost 5 times as many anthocyanins as blueberries and twice the antioxidant capability of cranberries, in the food industry an extract of elderberry is used as a food colouring due to its stability.

Despite being an astringent berry which is why they have a tart flavour, elderberries contain several natural sugars including fructose, glucose, pectin and saccharose, it is their natural pectin level, which makes elderberries an ideal addition to hedgerow jams and jellies. Polyphenols including chlorogenic acid which is responsible for the laxative and anti-hypertensive properties of elderberries are also present, alongside vitamins A and B and also vitamin C, elderberries join blackcurrants and rosehips as being the 3 highest vitamin C containing fruits. The berries also contain good amounts of the minerals calcium, phosphorous and potassium, and fruit acids including citric and malic acid, tannins are also present which help give the berries their astringent action.

Dried elderberries make a soothing and comforting drink which could help ease some of the symptoms of colds and flu. They offer a rich source of bioflavonoids which can help boost the body’s natural defences, the berries also contain minerals including potassium, calcium, zinc and vitamins A and B plus vitamin C which can be beneficial when suffering from a cold, they are a useful addition to the herbal store cupboard as they can be used when fresh berries are out of season.

Elderberries can be used to make cordials, jams and jellies; they can even be used as a substitute for currants when baking. They make excellent homemade wine and can be used to make a traditional drink called a ‘rob’ which is a soothing and pleasant to drink hot during the colder months of the year. The berries are a wonderful remedy for coughs, colds and 'flu' when taken as a tea, a cordial or as a tincture. In fact the tincture, if taken in teaspoonful doses three or four times a day at the first signs of a cold, may help prevent a cold from developing. If it does develop, it may be milder and last for a shorter duration if elderberry tincture is taken.

Debs Cook is the DHM web manager and our resident Herbal Historian, you can read more of her articles over on her Herbal Haven blog.

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.