Saturday, 15 June 2019

Herbal Focus: Elderflowers

Article by Debs Cook
Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) come from a deciduous shrub or small tree which grows to 4–6 m (rarely to 10m) in height. The bark is light grey when young, changing to a coarse darker grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The flowers of the elder are borne in clusters approximately 10–25 cm in diameter they are creamy white in colour and give off a characteristic odour, which some people say smells ‘catty’. The individual flowers in the cluster are between 5–6 mm in diameter, with five petals.

Elder is surrounded by a profusion of folk lore and stories relating to the use of the wood, berries and flowers, it has more lore associated with it than almost any other herbs, the flowers are said to be more potent if picked on Midsummer’s Eve, and washes for the face have been made by young maidens to help whiten the complexion and stave off freckles. 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 Elderflower 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.

In 1644 Martin Blochwich a highly respected German physician of his day, compiled a manuscript in Latin which he called ‘Anatomia Sambuci’, translated ‘The Anatomy of the Elder’, 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.

The original author 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. Blochwich likely chose the elder tree to write about for two reasons, firstly, because it’s various components (berries, flowers, stems, bark, roots and seeds) provide so many different recipes for treating so many illnesses, and secondly, the Elder Tree was and still is one of the most common trees found in Europe. 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.

Although the ‘Anatomia Sambuci’ disappeared from historical herbal references, Mrs Grieve included references to it in her book ‘A Modern Herbal’ published in 1931, after references to what John Evelyn wrote about the elder in 1664 (see below), she wrote of ‘Anatomia Sambuci’ thus: -

Some twenty years before Evelyn's eulogy [of the elder] there had appeared in 1644 a book entirely devoted to its praise: The Anatomie of the Elder, translated from the Latin of Dr. Martin Blockwich by C. de Iryngio (who seems to have been an army doctor), a treatise of some 230 pages that in Latin and English went through several editions. It deals very learnedly with the medicinal virtues of the tree - its flowers, berries, leaves, 'middle bark,' pith, roots and 'Jew's ears,' a large fungus often to be found on the Elder (Hirneola auricula Judae).

Evelyn refers to this work (or rather to the original by 'Blockwitzius,' as he calls him!) for the comprehensive statement in praise of the Elder quoted above. It sets forth that as every part of the tree was medicinal, so virtually every ailment of the body was curable by it, from toothache to the plague. It was used externally and internally, and in amulets (these were especially good for epilepsy, and in popular belief also for rheumatism), and in every kind of form - in rob and syrup, tincture, mixture, oil, spirit, water, liniment, extract, salt, conserve, vinegar, oxymel, sugar, decoction, bath, cataplasm and powder.

Some of these were prepared from one part of the plant only, others from several or from all. Their properties are summed up as 'desiccating, conglutinating, and digesting,' but are extended to include everything necessary to a universal remedy. The book prescribes in more or less detail for some seventy or more distinct diseases or classes of diseases, and the writer is never at a loss for an authority - from Dioscorides to the Pharmacopoeias of his own day-while the examples of cures he adduces are drawn from all classes of people, from Emylia, Countess of Isinburg, to the tradesmen of Heyna and their dependants.

The book makes for a rather interesting read, and if you can obtain a copy it will help you understand why the elder is such a useful tree, if you don’t appreciate it already.

John Gerard in his ‘Generall Historie of Plantes’ first published in 1597 considered the fresh flowers to be useful as a mild laxative to help move things along, but when dried he considered them to ‘lose as well their purging qualitie as their moisture, and retaine the digesting and attenuating qualitie...’ He considered that the vinegar made from dried elderflowers was ‘wholsome for the stomacke: being used with meat it stirreth up an appetite, it cutteth and attenuateth or maketh thin grosse and raw humors.

Given the whole manuscript that Dr Blochwich wrote in 1651, its surprising that Nicholas Culpeper in his 1653 ‘Complete Herbal’ had very little to say about the common elder tree, Culpeper wrote ‘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’, instead he wrote about the Dwarf Elder aka Danewort (Sambucus ebulus) instead, adding references to the young shoots of common elder being eaten boiled like asparagus, and the flowers being used for ‘cleansing the skin of sun-burning and freckles, morphews etc’. Culpeper, echoed almost what William Turner had to say of the elder, back in 1551, Turner also wrote briefly of the elder tree and included references to the dwarf elder that he referred to as Daynwurt. Turner wrote, there are ‘two kinds of Acte - the Greek name for Elder – saith Dioscorides: the one is called Acte, and it riseth up into the fashion of a tree, and this is named English Elder’, on the virtues he declared that both common elder and danewort had similar properties being dry and having the ability to ‘drive water’, interestingly Turner focused more on the leaves, bark, root and berries of elder and made no reference to the use of the flowers. ‘The leaves ‘ he wrote, when ‘sodden and eaten as an eatable herb drive out choler and thin phlegm, and the young stalks sodden in a pot do the same. The root sodden in wine and given in before meat helpeth the dropsy. If it be drunken after the same manner, it good for them that are bitten of the viper. The fruit drunken with wine doth the same: the same laid to maketh the hair black’.

In his book ‘Sylva’ published in 1729, John Evelyn sang the praises of the Elder tree writing that: -

'If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds.' Of the flowers in particular her wrote ‘buds boiled in water gruel have effected wonders in a fever, the spring buds are excellently wholesome in pattages; and small ale in which Elder flowers have been infused is esteemed by many so salubrious that this is to be had in most of the eating houses about our town.' Concluding that of the flowers ‘there be nothing more excellent to ease pains of the haemorrhoids than a fomentation made of the flowers of elder and Verbusie, or honeysuckle in water or milk, for in short it easeth the greatest pain.

Sir John Hill in his 18th century ‘Family Herbal’ recommended that the flowers be turned into an ointment by boiling them in lard until they are almost crisp, the liquid was then strained off in to jars and used as a cooling ointment for the skin.

Harold Ward, a mid-20th century English medical herbalist included the elder flower in his 1936 book the ‘Herbal Manual’. He recommended that infusions of the flowers be made at a mix of 1oz of flowers to 1 pint of water and the ensuing infusion be taken in wineglass doses. Adding that ‘It [elderflower] is used, often in conjunction with Peppermint and Yarrow, chiefly for the reduction of feverish colds, but inflamed conditions of the eyes are also found to yield to bathing with warm elderflower infusion’, still today elderflower's are as the old herbalists would put it ‘a sovereign remedy’ for colds and flu, being 1 of the 3 ingredients in classic cold and flu tea alongside the peppermint and yarrow that Mr Ward mentions.

Image by RitaE

Making Use of Elderflower

The flowers of the elder are anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, astringent, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant, they contain flavonoids including rutin which is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties, phenolic acids, tannins, triterpenoids including amyrin, plant sterols, volatile oils and mucilage.

The ancient Egyptians are said to have discovered the beautifying effect that elderflower's have on the skin and for centuries elderflower's have been employed for use by the cosmetic industry to make cooling and soothing ointments for the eyes, and added to shampoos, conditioners, face creams and eye gels.

The flowers fresh or dried can be used to make sweet syrups or to flavour jellies and ice-creams. They can also be turned into vinegar, cordial and wine. Cooked with gooseberries or rhubarb they add a Muscat wine flavour to the finished dish. The flowers can be used to flavour jellies and ice-creams. They make a refreshing summer cordial and a light wine. Cooked with gooseberries or rhubarb they give a Muscat-like flavour. The flowers can be used to make elderflower water, which can help to lighten the skin, and help freckles be less visible; the water can also help to soften the skin. Elderflower water can also be used as an eye wash.

The flowers when dried can be used to make a pleasant caffeine free tea substitute which has a heady, floral and somewhat fruity flavour and a delightful aroma. To make a mug of elderflower tea add 1-2g of the tea to a teapot or infuser - depending on how strong you like your tea – and pour over enough fresh boiling water as required. Strain into a mug, sweeten with preferred sweetener e.g. honey and serve. Serve without milk, elderflower tea can also be served chilled like ice tea.

The tea can also be used to flavour syrup, cordials, jelly and alcoholic beverages. Cooled unsweetened elderflower tea can be used as a hair rinse to bring shine to light coloured hair. Soaking elderflower tea in distilled water or rose water will give you a fragrant toning lotion for the skin that will clear the complexion, reduce freckles and soothe sunburnt skin. For a treat for tired eyes, soak cotton wool balls in cold unsweetened elderflower tea and then place on the eyes whilst relaxing for 15 - 20 minutes, after this time you may see a reduction in puffiness around the eyes and they will feel less tired.

Powdered elderflower's can be mixed with other herb powders such as dandelion leaf to act as a compost activator. The powdered flowers can also be used to make infusions and decoctions that can added to lotions and creams for the skin. The dried flowers can be used to make sweet syrups or to flavour jellies and ice-creams. The powder can also be used to make a hair rinse to help lighten blonde hair.

Elder & Lemon Thyme Throat Lozenges

These little homemade lozenges are perfect for sore throats and for when you’re feeling a little hoarse, they are my version of a recipe that featured in James Wong’s ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’ series for the BBC back in 2009.

15g Dried Elderflower's
15g Dried Lemon Thyme
30g Golden Linseeds
30g Dried Elderberry Powder
140g Gum Arabic
280g Icing Sugar
900ml (in 675ml and 225ml batches) Hot Water

1. To begin put the elderflower's and lemon thyme into a lidded jug or container and pour on 675ml of freshly boiled water and leave to steep, so that you are left with an herbal infusion. Whilst still warm add 30g of golden linseeds and leave for an hour, the mixture is ready when the liquid starts to have a similar consistency to egg white, this consistency is achieved due to the mucilaginous nature of the linseeds.

2. Whilst the herbs are infusing, grind the gum arabic into the smallest pieces you can, using an electric grinder or a pestle and mortar, the finer the Arabic pieces the quicker it will dissolve in your liquid.

3. Take the 225ml of boiling water and add your crushed/powdered gum arabic to it, and stir using a wooden spoon until the granules of gum have turned into a thick, syrupy consistency.

4. Next strain the elderflower/lemon thyme infusion, and add 335ml of it to gum Arabic, stir in the icing sugar and elderberry powder slowly, to make sure you don’t get lumpy bits. The sugar acts as a preservative and gives the lozenges a little sweetness.

5. Put the rest of the herbal infusion, and the gum arabic/sugar/partial infusion mixture in a pan on a low heat and stir continuously for about half an hour until the mixture becomes a really thick, syrup-like consistency and starts to come away from the sides of the pan. You can also test by pouring it with the spoon and touching it; if it doesn't stick to your finger it's ready, but do be careful as it could be hot.

6. Finally pour onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and leave to set. When it's hard it's just a case of bashing it until you get the right size pieces. Alternatively fill a deep baking tin/tray with icing sugar and push your middle finger in to it to form ‘moulds’, then using a teaspoon fill each hole. When the lozenges are set, remove them from the icing sugar and store in a dark glass jar somewhere cool.

Debs Cook is the IT Media Manager for the DHM, she is a self confessed herbaholic who loves to write about the way herbs were once used and about the herbalists that used them. You can find out more about Debs 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.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Evidence for Ginseng Combatting Fatigue

Article by Ann Walker, Photo Credit 희찬 박
Millions of people with or without chronic illness suffer from fatigue. Fatigue is a complex, multidimensional problem with poorly understood causes which can have a severely negative impact on daily life. Many patients with fatigue report the use of herbal remedies and among them ginseng is one of the most widely used because it is believed to improve energy, physical and emotional health, and well-being.

Now a group of nurses from Phoenix Arizona have joined forces with various local women’s groups to look at the evidence (PMID: 29624410). They scoured a range of resources which report the world’s leading research papers, to find studies where volunteers with fatigue had used either American or Chinese ginsengs and recorded their fatigue in a recognised scoring system. They turned up 149 articles but only 10 met their strict criteria.

Of these, while there were very few adverse effects, both species of ginseng offered promising treatment for fatigue, despite the strength of the evidence being modest. Because of ginseng's widespread use, a critical need remains for continued research using stronger methodology – certainly this is needed before ginseng can be adopted as a mainstream, standard treatment for fatigue. As patents cannot be taken out on herbal medicines, commercial funding for natural medicine research continues to be limited and research progress relies on interested academics in universities obtaining scarce funding from charitable organisations.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 31 May 2019

Flax Seed Lowers Blood Pressure

Article by Ann Walker, Photo by byuppi
Flax seeds have long been used as a medicine to counter constipation. However, the use of the herb for respiratory and urinary tract problems as mentioned in Mrs Grieve’s 1932 book - a Modern Herbal (a book which summed up the then know Materia Medica of the western herbal medicine tradition) - has largely died out. However, modern research has revealed hitherto unknown properties of the herb, mostly due to high levels of the herb’s unusual compound called ‘SDG’ (secoisolariciresinol diglucoside), which is a lignan with plant- or phyto-oestrogenic and antioxidant properties.

These properties can help to normalise hormonal imbalance in women’s health problems associated with too much or too little oestrogen (e.g. premenstrual syndrome and menopause). SDG also shown promising cardiovascular-protective and anti-cancer properties. The latter only in laboratory animal studies, but the former in clinical trials, including those focusing on blood-pressure lowering.

In 2016 a collaborative group of scientists from Australia, Poland and Romania undertook a meta-analysis of human studies on flaxseed supplements for high blood pressure (PMID: 26071633). They searched the world’s medical literature and found 15 clinical trials with a total of 1302 volunteers to include in the analysis.

Pooling all the results showed significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure following supplementation with whole flaxseed powder rather than the oil or the purified SDG. There was a greater effect on both these values in trials of more than 12 weeks. Flaxseed is turning out to be a lot more versatile than we thought!

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 24 May 2019

Herbal Focus: Lemon Balm

Article and photos copyright Debs Cook
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herbaceous perennial that grows to a height of between 60-90cm, it is a native herb of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, but can be found growing all across the world. Its broad, aromatic lush, bright green, heart shaped leaves are slightly hairy with a toothed edge and crinkly texture, and grow either side of the square stem. The square stems serve as a reminder that Lemon balm is a relative of the mint family and needs treating in much the same way as mint to prevent the plant taking over the garden. The 2-lipped flowers are rather inconsequential, small and white growing in whorled clusters along the stem close to the leaf axils.

It has been grown as a medicinal plant for well over 2,000 years, the ancient Greeks dedicated it to the Goddess Diana and gave it the name Melissa officinalis, ’Melissa’ being a Latin derivation of the Greek word for honey bee; and ‘officinalis’ indicates that the plant had a medicinal nature. Other names for Lemon Balm include: - Bawme, Bee Balm, Dropsy Plant, Mélisse, Zitronenmelisse, Cedronella, Erba cedratra, Baklut-ul-Faritstum, Badaranj and Badrunj Buyeh.

Lemon balm has had a variety of uses over the centuries including helping wounds to heal, treating venomous insect bites and stings, settling the digestion, relieving headaches and easing toothaches. It has Anti-anxiety, Antibacterial, Anti-depressant, Antiemetic, Anti-fungal, Antispasmodic, Antiviral, Aromatic, Carminative, Diaphoretic, Digestive, Emmenagogue, Febrifuge, Sedative and Tonic properties.

Pliny the Elder in the 1st century A.D. valued Lemon Balm as a styptic herb writing that ‘It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound it stauncheth the blood’. The ancient Greeks used it as both a medicine and a culinary ingredient, and believed that planting lemon balm around their bee hives was a good way to encourage bees to frequent the hives.

In 9th century Europe, Emperor Charlemagne was so impressed with the healing properties of lemon balm that he ordered that it should be grown not just in his apothecary gardens, but in every monastic garden in his empire. Avicenna, the renowned 10th century Arabian physician wrote of the cordial and uplifting benefits of Lemon Balm saying that it “causeth the mind and heart to be merry.” The herb was used by the Persians to treat heart conditions, aid the memory and to lift depression.

In the Middle-Ages, it was used to help wounds to heal, to ease the digestion and as a way to relieve anxiety, as such, it was steeped in wine to help lift depression, and was first mentioned medicinally for this used in European herbals as Herbe Melisse around the early 15th century.

Examples of this cordial remedy for the spirits can be found in The London Dispensary published in 1696, their entry for Lemon Balm states 'An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.' The herb was popular in 17th century France in the form of Carmelite Water also known as ‘Eau de Melisse’. As well as lemon balm this aromatic remedy contained fourteen herbs and spices including sage, coriander, angelica, chamomile and yellow gentian all distilled in alcohol. Cardinal Richelieu is said to have taken it regularly for his migraines, and the ladies of the court of Louis XIV carried it with them everywhere to help with ease stomach aches, digestive troubles, shocks, nerves, and sudden cold. Today it is still one of the ingredients found in the French herbal liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse, as well as many other liqueurs, cordials and digestive drinks.

Hilda Leyel (1880-1957), founder of the Society of Herbalists included a recipe for a ‘Compound Spirit of Balm’ in her book ‘Herbal Delights’, Faber & Faber Limited, 1937 which she said had a cordial and balsamic effect on the heart. ‘Take of the fresh leaves of balm, 8 ounces; lemon peel bruised, 4 ounces; nutmegs and caraway seeds, of each, 2 ounces; cloves, cinnamon and angelica root, of each, 1 ounce. Distil all together with a quart of brandy. It must be well preserved in bottles with ground glass stoppers.

A variety of 17th century writers and herbalists praised the properties of Lemon Balm, John Evelyn, English writer and author of ‘Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets’ first published in 1699, wrote that ‘Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy’. John Gerard in his herbal wrote 'the juice of Balm glueth together greene wounds’ and Nicholas Culpeper recommended that women should drink the syrup ‘to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies’, echoing its use as a soothing and nourishing tonic.

The 20th century physician and writer Dr W. T. Fernie wrote ‘Tea made of our garden balm, by virtue of the volatile oil, will prove restorative, and will promote perspiration if taken hot on the access of a cold or of influenza; also, if used in like manner, it will help effectively to bring on the delayed monthly flow with women. But an infusion of the plant made with cold water, acts better as a remedy for hysterical headache, and as a general nervine stimulant because the volatile aromatic virtues are not dispelled by heat.

Into the 21st century the popularity of this herb as a medicinal and culinary ingredient continues, in 2007 the American Herb Society celebrated the herb making it their herb of the year and in Europe clinical studies are being carried out as to the effects that lemon balm can have on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Making Use of Lemon Balm

I use lemon balm for making cakes, salad dressings and adding to stuffing, I also make tinctures, and soothing teas and cold sore salves (see recipe below), as a tea it’s good for mild cases of indigestion when I want something different to peppermint, and a warm infusion of lemon balm is brilliant at easing toothache, it contains eugenol the compound found in Cloves which helps to calm muscles and soothe tissues.

Lemon balm tea is a soothing caffeine free tea substitute that has a pleasant, sweetly, mild minty, citrus flavour and a delightful aroma, ideal as a pre bedtime drink. To make a mug of lemon balm tea add 1-2g of dried lemon balm tea to a teapot or infuser (or use 1-2 tablespoons of fresh) - depending on how strong you like your tea – and pour over enough fresh boiling water as required. Strain into a mug, sweeten with preferred sweetener e.g. honey and serve. Serve without milk, lemon balm tea can also be served chilled like ice tea.

In the kitchen lemon balm works well with sweet and savoury dishes, use it to make herbal vinegar, or why not add the fresh leaves to a homemade strawberry cheesecake? You can also make and excellent pesto with it nut mixing 125ml extra virgin olive oil, 3 crushed garlic cloves, a little freshly ground black pepper and 1 handful (or two) of fresh lemon balm and blitz in a blender to combine, its is superb served alongside pasta, fish or chicken. Lemon Balm leaf can also be added to scented sachets and pot pourri to help deter moths.

Lemon Balm Tincture can be dabbed on to insect bites and cold sores and added to soaps, creams, lotions, balms and salves for the skin where anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties are required, it can also be added to shampoos, and bath/shower preparations. A decoction of lemon balm can be added to lotions, shampoos, creams and soaps for the skin and hair. Dried lemon balm has insect repellent properties and can be added to sachets to help deter moths and flying insects. It can also be drunk as a soothing tisane and digestive, powdered it can be added to foot powders for athlete’s foot.

Did you know that the oil extracted from Melissa is often mixed with other citrus oils to make creams and sprays for deterring insects such as mosquitoes? The oil contains citronellal a monoterpenoid that gives citronella oil its lemony scent. Citronellal is a natural plant-based insect repellent which also has anti-fungal properties, the chemical is also found in lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus and kaffir lime leaves.

Possible Interactions

A few years ago someone told me that I shouldn't partake of Lemon Balm because I have an Under-active Thyroid condition. I asked where the person telling me that Lemon Balm wasn't safe for my condition had got their information and they didn't know, they'd just been told by someone. I finally tracked the info down to a report done by the University of Maryland where they state under their ’Possible Interactions with: Lemon Balm’ entry that: -

"Sedatives, thyroid medications. Although there is no scientific evidence of this, Lemon Balm may interact with sedatives and thyroid medications. If you are taking sedatives (for insomnia or anxiety) or medications to regulate your thyroid, ask your doctor before taking Lemon Balm".

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Salve

When I get stressed I sometimes suffer from cold sores, I get them about twice a year now, but as a teenager it used to be 6-8 times a year. I originally found a recipe in James Wong’s Grow Your Own Drugs book, his recipe contained Lemon Balm, Wheatgerm Oil (as a preservative), Olive Oil, Honey, Beeswax and Tea Tree Oil, but I wanted to have a more potent Cold Sore Salve to hand.

I did some research and discovered that Lavender oil can be used for cold sores and St John’s Wort can help sooth nerve pain, so adding that to a salve would be a useful addition for treating cold sores when they're just starting and when they're at their painful stage. Olive Oil acts as a moisturiser which is good when the skin starts to crack and when the 'blister' is drying out to help the skin cells regenerate.

Lemon Balm has brilliant anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities and is well known for being a useful herb for treating the Herpes Simplex (Cold Sore) virus. The honey is wonderfully moisturising and anti-bacterial to boot, the tea tree oil has anti-viral properties and it's incredibly healing.


21g Dried Lemon Balm
3 Tbsp. Wheatgerm Oil
65ml St John's Wort Infused Oil
50ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Manuka Honey
1 Tbsp. Beeswax
3 Drops Melissa Essential Oil
3 Drops Lavender Essential Oil
2 Drops Tea Tree Essential Oil

Method: First split the dried lemon balm in to 3 x 7g portions, then using a double boiler add 7g of the Lemon Balm along with the Wheatgerm and St John’s Wort oils to the top pan and let it heat gently for 10 minutes, or until it starts to bubble. Once it does, take it off the heat and allow to cool.

Strain the Lemon Balm infused oil through a muslin-lined sieve or colander into a bowl, make sure you squeeze all the infused oil out. Discard the spent Lemon Balm.

Repeat this process two more times using the remaining 2 x 7g portions of Lemon Balm in the oil you've already infused.

Once you've infused all the Lemon Balm in the oil put the pan back on top of your double boiler and heat it up gently, whilst still warm add the Manuka honey, beeswax and the essential oils and stir together well.

Pour your Lemon Balm Salve into small sterilised jars; it will set in around 10-15 minutes depending on the room temperature. Use the salve at the first sign of a cold sore when you start to get that 'tingly' feeling and during the period that the cold sore lasts for. The Salve will keep for up to 1 year.

N.B. Use pure Vitamin E or Olive oil if you have an allergy to Wheat.

Debs Cook is the IT Media Manager for the DHM, she is a self confessed herbaholic who loves to write about the way herbs were once used and about the herbalists that used them. You can find out more about Debs 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.

Friday, 17 May 2019

5 Facts About: Schizandra

Article and Photo by Debs Cook
Schizandra known in Chinese herbal medicine as Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra chinensis syn. Schisandra japonica) is an aromatic, woody, climbing, vine native to northern and north-eastern China that can reach a height of 8 metres; it can also be found growing in Russia and Korea. The 5 petalled flowers are pink to whitish-yellow in colour, 2.5cm in diameter and hang in clusters. The alternate, simple, ovate shaped leaves are bright green in colour and 2.5-6.5cm in length with finely toothed edges. The fruits hang in clustered grape-like peduncles, 5-10cm in length, and are pinkish red to red in colour when ripe and 5-7.5mm in diameter.

The genus name Schizandra, sometimes spelt Schisandra comes from the Greek word ‘schizein’ which means ‘to cleave’ and the word ‘andros’ which means ‘man’. Other names the herb is also known as include: - Wǔ Wèi Zi, Magnolia Vine, Five Taste Fruit, Five Flavour Berry, Omiza, Gomishi, Ngu Mie Gee, Limonnik, Lemonwood, Wǔ Wèi Zi, Schisandra, Bac Ngu Vi Tu, Baie de Schisandra, Beiwuweizi, Bei Wu Wei Zi, Chinese Schizandra, Chinesischer Limonenbaum, Gomishi, Hoku-Gomishi, Limonnik Kitajskij, Mei Gee, Matsbouza, Nanwuweizi, Ngu Mei Gee and Omicha.

1) Schizandra has adaptogenic, anti-rheumatic, antitussive, astringent, cardiotonic, cholagogue, expectorant, hepatic, lenitive, nervine, pectoral, sedative, stimulant and tonic properties. The fruits are rich in lignans including schizandrin, a compound that is being researched for its potential anti-neuro-inflammatory uses. The berries also contain triterpenes, tannins, volatile oils, and viscous mucilage that is often used by Japanese women to keep their hair style in place and also turned into a glue to size mulberry bark paper, the fruits also contain vitamins A, C & E.

2) A 100g dry weight of Schizandra berries contains 80 calories and 32g of dietary fibre, plus the following vitamins and minerals: -

• Calcium – 576mg
• Cobalt – 1.04mg
• Iron – 3.5mg
• Magnesium - 276mg
• Manganese – 0.37mg
• Phosphorus – 426mg
• Potassium – 1,030mg
• Riboflavin (B2) - 0.05mg
• Selenium - 0.07mg
• Silicon – 0.57mg
• Thiamine (B1) - 0.21mg
• Vitamin A – 10,200 IU
• Vitamin C – 102.2mg

3) Schizandra has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. The first recorded use of it is found in ‘Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng’ (The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica) written over 5,000 years ago. where it was used to ‘prolong the years of life without aging’. So revered is this herb that it rates as one of the 50 fundamental herb s in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The fruits are used to treat the heart, kidneys and lungs, recent studies have linked Gomisin, one of the lignans found in Schizandra, with the ability to promote liver regeneration and detoxification. Modern day TCM practitioners use Wu Wei Zi in patients who suffer from fatigue to help boost stamina levels and also to help the body cope with stress.

4) The Chinese pinyin name for Schizandra is ‘Wǔ Wèi Zi’ and translates as ‘five taste fruit’, schizandra has all the ‘flavours’ that we can detect, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy. The skin and pulp of the fruit have both a sweet and sour flavour whilst the kernels have a spiced pungency and bitter flavour, and eating a whole berry mixes the flavours and adds saltiness. Each flavour is said to with the five major organs of the human body, heart –bitter, kidneys – salty, liver – sour, lungs – pungent (spicy) and spleen – sweet.

5) Despite Schizandra having been used for over 5 millennia in TCM, the herb didn’t appear in the USA until the mid-19th century, and then only as an ornamental plant. Its use today in Western medicine is due to research carried out by Russian scientists during the mid-20th century when it was discovered that the fruits could offer protection from the signs of stress. A decoction can be made of Schizandra and added to lotions, creams and salves for the skin where astringency is required. The crushed fruits can also be used as a seasoning for Chinese cuisine or used to make spiced wine, cordial and tea. Glue like substance is extracted from the fresh fruit and branches and is used for ‘sizing’ paper.

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, 10 May 2019

Elderberry for Colds and Flu

Article by Ann Walker, Photo by Anemone123 from Pixabay
Viral infections causing the common cold are not well served by modern medicine. Antibiotics are totally inappropriate to combat viral infections, as these drugs have no effect on viruses, as we are being told repeatedly by the media. Their indiscriminate use for viral infections is not only a waste of drug resources, it can accelerate antibiotic resistance among bacteria. Sadly, as viruses are constantly mutating, there are no anti-viral drugs suitable for upper respiratory tract infections, however, there are several herbs with good anti-viral properties.

One of these, with a long history of use in Europe, is the elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The berries, which have been traditionally used to address cold and ‘flu symptoms, have demonstrated antiviral activity against the common cold and influenza viruses, in both test tube and animal studies. The active components are the pigments, called anthocyanins, which give the berries their deep-red colour. These compounds have been shown to boost the body’s immune function as well as having direct anti-viral effects.

As a result of the dissemination of the results of modern research, supplements of elderberry have become popular home remedies and this trend is set to increase as people search for solutions to the debilitating symptoms of viral infections. A recently-published paper (PMID: 30670267) gives further support for using elderberry for this purpose. Until now, existing clinical research on the effects of elderberry supplementation for upper respiratory symptoms was limited to only small clinical trials.

Now these trials have been put together in a meta-analysis, to include a total of 180 participants. The authors’ conclusion was that supplementation with elderberry substantially reduced upper respiratory symptoms. They stated that these findings present an alternative to antibiotic misuse for upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections, and a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and influenza.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 3 May 2019

Milk Thistle – External Use As A Gel

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
Herbal practitioners like myself mainly think of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) as a liver-supporting herb. It has a traditional reputation for helping the body to overcome the effects of intoxication, including anaesthetic recovery after surgery or after accidental ingestion of the death-cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). However, most of us don’t think of milk thistle as a herb for external use.

We know that it is highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory on account of the presence of some unusual compounds which make up the ‘silymarin complex’. Not only is this complex liver-protective, but research has found that extracts of the herb can reduce insulin resistance – so it may be supportive in conditions where glucose tolerance becomes an issue, such as in type 2 diabetes.

Although most herbs can be used externally as creams, gels, ointments or poultices etc, I had not heard of milk thistle being used in this way until I came across this study (PMID: 28635153). In a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled pilot study, researchers looked at a gel containing silymarin for hand-foot syndrome (HFS) – a condition caused by chemotherapy drugs during cancer treatment.

The condition looks like sunburn and is associated with redness, swelling, pain and numbness on the palms of the hands and/or the soles of the feet. If symptoms are severe it can curtail planned chemotherapy, putting cancer recovery at risk. Half of the forty patients in the study applied the silymarin gel to their palms and soles twice a day from the first day of chemotherapy, while the rest applied placebo gel. Symptom scores of HFS were significantly lower in silymarin group at the end of the 9th week. Even though the treatment did not eliminate HFS, it delayed its onset enough to allow completion of planned chemotherapy

PMID = PubMed identifier

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