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.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Sweet Annie Leaf Cures Cases of Resistant Malaria

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
Despite global efforts in combating malaria, the disease remains a huge burden in tropical and subtropical regions. But, millions of lives have been saved with artemisinin – a compound isolated from the herb called Sweet Annie, Sweet wormwood or Artemisia annua. Between 2000 and 2012, the worldwide death rate due to malaria was reduced by over forty percent because of this compound. There are few scientific discoveries that have had such an impact on public health!

The story of artemisinin demonstrates the potential healthcare benefits of common, everyday herbs. The substance was found in a minor TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herb that the Chinese call Qing Hao, which had been in documented use as medicine for over two thousand years. Around the time of the millennium, and as part of a systematic team effort in China to test thousands of TCM herbs against malaria, Professor Youyou Tu discovered artemisinin in Qing Hao (Sweet Annie). Most TCM herbs are prepared by boiling the herbs in water and, as such, Sweet Annie showed no anti-malarial properties. However, Professor Tu stumbled upon a recipe by Ge Hong written over 1700 years ago, in which he described cold-extracted ‘juice’ from Sweet Annie being used to treat fevers. Professor Tu reckoned that the heat treatment had inactivated the herb’s anti-malarial properties and so it was! After isolation and purification of artemisinin, Professor Tu led the first human trials of it in humans and for her work she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015.

The story does not end there. Although artemisinin worked like a miracle cure for malaria for well over a decade, unfortunately, resistance to it is developing in malaria parasites in Africa. Now a case report by doctors from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (PMID: 28732806), in collaboration with colleagues in the USA and Canada, shows that Sweet Annie whole herb has superior anti-malarial effects than the isolated compound. In this report, eighteen seriously-ill malaria patients, unresponsive to six-months of artemisinin medication and at death’s door, were treated with tablets of the dried, powdered leaf of Sweet Annie, twice daily for 5 days (two children in the group were given a lower dose), and all were cured completely.

It should be emphasised that this was not a clinical trial, but case reports. Furthermore, the treatment was not an authorized medicine but given as a last resort on compassionate grounds. The reason the whole leaf may have worked against malaria in these cases while artemisinin did not is that, whilst the pathogen evolved a resistance against a single, isolated compound, the whole leaf contains an array of compounds, some of which may act similarly to or synergistically with artemisinin. The malaria parasite will be hard put to evolve resistance to such active-compound complexity.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 30 November 2018

Gingko’s Synergy with Prescribed Medication

Article by Ann Walker
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) trees are sometimes called living fossils – they have thrived on Earth with little genetic change since the time of the dinosaurs, around 200 million years ago. They are tough and resilient trees which survived fallout from the asteroid that extinguished the dinosaurs and from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. In China the nuts were used for millennia as medicine for lung complaints, but it is the extracts of the leaves that were developed as medicine in Germany from the 1960s. Ginkgo is the most researched herbal medicine in the world, with attention focused in particular for its benefits as treatment for dementia, memory loss and pain caused by too little blood flow (claudication).

So, it’s good to see increasing evidence coming forward of positive herb-drug interactions (or synergy). This past twelve months, we have seen two examples of synergy in ginkgo studies. The first was a combination of ginkgo with steroids (PMID: 29797955). The forty-two volunteers in the study had lost their sense of smell due to nasal congestion following a viral infection. All received daily steroids, but half of them also took ginkgo extract daily for 3 months. While the sense of smell was improved in all patients, it was improved to a greater extent in the combination group.

The second study was larger, with 136 elderly people with depression (PMID: 30278520). All took the antidepressant citalopram daily but half of them took, in addition, a daily supplement of ginkgo. The combined treatment alleviated depression faster that citalopram alone. Furthermore, the lowering of depression was accompanied by a drop in S100B protein in the bloodstream. S110B is released by ‘housekeeping’ cells in the brain in response to injury and levels are high in depression. In this study, the drop in S100B levels in the combined group was greater than in the citalopram-alone group.

Practitioners of herbal medicine always check the drugs their patients are using/prescribed, to avoid potential herb-drug interactions. Fortunately, proven negative interactions between herbs and drugs in humans are rare, but, even so, the media frequently carries scare stories of adverse interactions based on speculative, rather than proven cases. Often adverse herb-drug interactions cited in the press are based on extrapolated data from laboratory animals fed high levels of the herb, or test-tube studies or just plain guesses. So, it is good to see research reports of positive interactions (synergy) between herbs and drugs.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 23 November 2018

Passiflora Reduces Stress of Tooth Extraction

Article by Ann Walker
This is a picture of Passiflora incarnata (also called pasque flower or passion flower), which I took some years ago in one of the National parks in Florida, where it grows abundantly in the wild. The first European settlers to North America were introduced to the use of the leaves of this plant by the Native American people and the herb remains until this day an important, effective and non-addictive sedative to reduce symptoms of anxiety or nervousness.

Laboratory studies on the plant are numerous and support these traditional uses and mechanistic studies have pointed to the action of this herb operating through modulation of the GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) neurotransmitter system in the brain, but the jury is still out. Although the compounds present in passiflora have been identified, no single compound has yet been found to account for its physiological action. Hence, it is likely that two or more compounds work in synergy, as we have found to be the case for several other herbs.

Small-scale clinical studies have, in the past, supported the use of passiflora for anxiety, but now a Brazilian study (PMID: 27918731) has compared the anxiety levels of volunteers taking a single dose of either passiflora (260 mg of extract) or a benzodiazepine drug called midazolam (15 mg) before wisdom tooth extraction. The study was randomised, double-blind and cross-over in design. Each of forty volunteers had two extractions – one tooth on one side of the jaw with a dose of passiflora given beforehand and, on a separate occasion, a tooth on the other side of the jaw, with the drug given beforehand. [A cross-over design using two interventions on the same volunteer like this is regarded as superior to using only one intervention per person, because the volunteer acts as their own control, giving more strength to the study.]

Over 70% of the volunteers said that they felt calm or only a little anxious under both protocols – indicating that the effect of passiflora was equivalent to the drug. However, whilst using passiflora there was no significant interference with memory, whilst 20% of volunteers reported no recollection at all whilst on the drug.

While more rigorous clinical trials to assess the traditional use of passiflora would be very welcome, the herb remains an effective non-addictive sedative that does not cause drowsiness. Fortunately, quality extracts of passiflora are freely available in herbal products which carry a THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) and further information on these THR products containing passiflora can be found on the BHMA website to ensure safety of use.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 16 November 2018

Synergy of Baical Skullcap and Antibiotics for MRSA

Article and photo by Ann Walker
The term methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) refers to a group of bacteria that are genetically distinct from other strains of S. aureus – a common bacteria found normally on human skin or nasal passages. The MRSA strains are resistant to most common antibiotics and are often associated with hospital infections which are very difficult-to-treat.

The root of Scutellaria baicalensis, also called Chinese skullcap or Baical skullcap, has long been used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. The herb is often found in herbal formulas designed to alleviate inflammatory symptoms including allergies, auto-immune disorders and bacterial infections. Impressed with its wide applications, many western herbal practitioners, like myself, have included it in their own materia medica. It is the flavonoids, baicalin, wogonin and baicalein, in Baical skullcap which are of most interest: these compounds have clear anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activity in laboratory studies. But what has caused some excitement among researchers over recent years is the finding, first hinted at 18 years ago, that these flavonoids can act in synergy with antibiotics to enhance their activity against MRSA (PMID: 10757427), by reversing the mechanisms leading to resistance.

Baical skullcap and its flavonoids have good bactericidal properties in their own right, including, notably, against H. pylori, the bacteria which cause stomach ulcers and upper digestive discomfort (PMID: 18826148). But, more recently, the ‘synergy’ story of the herb, taken along with antibiotics has been followed up. There is now evidence that baicalein can reverse both penicillin resistance (PMID: 26028441) and ciprofloxacin resistance (PMID: 21782012) of MRSA in test-tube studies. News that an ancient remedy may be profitably used as an adjunct to modern antibiotics to enhance their effect or even reverse resistance is encouraging for future healthcare.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Therapeutic Potential of Ivy Leaf (Hedera helix)

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
I took this photo a few days ago near the River Thames at Wallingford on a lovely autumn day. Ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the few plants in bloom at this time of the year and some species of bees are totally dependent on it for their winter supplies of honey. Ivy is a tough plant in the same family as ginseng (Panax ginseng), so herbal connections should not be unexpected.

However, I was surprised to find earlier this year that at least two herbal supplement products containing ivy have been granted THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) status by the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, UK), yet ivy is not a herb much used by herbal practitioners in Britain. (A list of herbal products granted a THR can be found on the MHRA website by entering “List of products granted a Traditional Herbal Registration” in the search box.)

As the criteria for obtaining a THR is very strict and these ivy products are now available freely for sale to the public, I thought it would be worthwhile to include a monograph on ivy for our updated version of the Discovering Herbal Medicine course.

Ivy leaf has a long-documented history of use, particularly in continental Europe, for its ability to loosen sticky phlegm in the airways. The herb contains an impressive number of active compounds and, in particular, saponins – a group of compounds related to those found in ginseng. These ivy compounds show physiological and anti-microbial actions in test-tube and animal studies, which support the ivy’s traditional use for respiratory-tract infections. Although clinical trial data is scarce, three randomized clinical studies carried out in Germany show positive effects on respiratory health of the consumption of ivy extracts for adults and children (PMID: 22532491; 24916707; 29441845).

Ivy leaf preparations are safe taken in recommended (small) doses combined with other herbs and as such are well tolerated. Syrups, drops, tablets, suppositories and liquids containing ivy leaf extracts often combined with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (see PMID: 17063641) are now available throughout the EU for symptoms of coughing, especially following bacterial infections. Potentially, the herb holds promise for treating conditions wider than just the respiratory tract, but more research is needed. Ivy leaf is clearly a herb with therapeutic potential and herbal practitioners in the UK might consider including it in their own materia medica.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner