Friday, 28 December 2018

Ginger and Vitamin B6 for Morning Sickness

Article by Ann Walker

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

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

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

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 21 December 2018

Black Seed Oil Rub Reduces Arthritic Knee Pain

Article by Ann Walker

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

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

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

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

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 14 December 2018

Rhodiola to Combat Fatigue

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

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

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Monday, 10 December 2018

Spiced Fig & Rosemary Syrup

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

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

Makes 6 x 100ml or 2 x 300ml Bottles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Spearmint for Memory?

Article by Ann Walker
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a parent species of peppermint or black mint (Mentha x piperita), which was discovered in England only a few centuries ago, as a hybrid cross between spearmint and watermint (M. aquatica). Spearmint is considered by herbal practitioners as being a milder version of peppermint, but - not surprisingly considering its origin - many of the traditional health benefits which have been attributed to peppermint are also ascribed to spearmint: including its use for symptoms of nausea, indigestion, gas, headache, etc. However, in the last few years spearmint itself has been the subject of at least three clinical studies.

This year, following on from promising results in the laboratory, a water-based extract of spearmint in tablet form was tested in a randomised, placebo-controlled, clinical trial (Kelli L. et al. J Alt & Comp Med 2018, 24, 37) of 90 otherwise healthy men and women aged 50-70 years. These subjects who consumed 900 mg per day of the spearmint extract for three months showed marked improvements in memory compared to those taking placebo.

The second study (PMID: 25058311) conducted recently was on spearmint tea, which was shown to reduce pain and stiffness in knee osteoarthritis compared with placebo. However, the numbers of people of this trial were regarded as too small to be certain of the effect. An earlier clinical study (PMID: 19585478) of spearmint tea showed reductions in testosterone levels compared with placebo in women with excess facial hair due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. Unfortunately, the short time of the study did not allow for any noticeable changes in hair growth. Nevertheless, these studies, although small, show potential new applications in healthcare for a tasty culinary herb which warrant more attention.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Many Uses of Lavender

Article by Ann Walker
I am currently writing a monograph on lavender as part of an up-date addition to the Discovering Herbal Medicine course. Delving into the literature for this monograph, even as a herbal practitioner, I have found it astonishing how numerous and diverse are the documented applications of lavender, which extend from actions on the nervous and digestive systems to skin problems and more.

Traditionally, lavender has been used (mainly as a tea) for various psychological conditions, including anxiety, stress and insomnia. Tradition also speaks of its use for somatic conditions, including digestive problems and migraines. Topically, lavender has been used for a variety of skin ailments, ear infections and painful muscles. In more recent times, research has cast new light on the herb’s healthcare potential, as well as supporting some of its traditional uses, including its antimicrobial and anxiolytic properties and its positive effects on mental function (including in Alzheimer’s disease), insomnia and the stress response. It also has a proven role in midwifery, which was not documented in earlier times. Indeed, there are several clinical trials showing benefit of external application of lavender oil to post-natal vaginal and perineal wounds for pain reduction, speeding healing and lowering the risk of infection.

Lavender has a unique mix of calming, balancing and uplifting properties on the human body and is, therefore, well indicated for alleviation of all types of stress and emotional situations. Lavender oil is gentler on the skin than most other essential oils and can be safely applied direct (without dilution) to the skin in small quantities. Less commonly, but increasingly, the oil is used as an oral remedy and capsules of high-quality lavender oil are now available over-the-counter in the UK and EU for relief of symptoms of mild anxiety such as stress and nervousness (see advice from the British Herbal Medicine Association). Despite undoubted medicinal uses, lavender oil is still mainly used for its fine aroma, which, although having therapeutic properties, is also a delightful addition to the bath-water! It is not often that herbs with strong medicinal properties smell good too!

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

Friday, 21 September 2018

5 Facts About: Cramp Bark

Article & Photo: Debs Cook
Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) is a deciduous shrub which is native to Europe and North America; it grows to a height of 2–5 metres. The leaves grow 5-10cm in length; and are a mid-green in colour, opposite, 3-lobed and smooth on the upper surface. The inflorescences are hermaphrodite, creamy-white in colour and form ‘balls’ of individual 5-petaled flowers - hence one of cramp bark’s folk names the Snowball tree - the flower balls can be 4–11cm diameter and occur at the top of the stems. The berries form bright red drupes approximately 7–10mm in diameter each berry contains a single seed.

Other names that Cramp bark is known as include: - Guelder Rose, King's Crown, High Cranberry, Red Elder, Rose Elder, May Rose, Marsh Gueldres-Rose, Whitsun Rose, Whitsun Bosses, Gaitre Berries, Kalyna, Water Elder, European Cranberry Bush, Snowball Tree, Whitten Tree, Squaw Bush, Pimbina, Schneeball Rinde and Obier. In the Victorian language of flowers, cramp bark is referred to by its common name of guelder rose and is used to symbolise winter. In the Ukraine, cramp bark is known by the name Kalyna and is a national symbol of the country. According to a legend Kalyna was associated with the birth of the Universe, the so-called Fire Trinity: the Sun, the Moon, and the Star.

Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century wrote about cramp bark under its then common name of the Gaitre-berry tree, saying that the berries were edible, which is true but they are rather bitter, they were more palatable cooked and used to make preserves, other sources state that the herb was known as the ‘Goitre’ tree. John Gerard in the 16th century referred to the herb as Rose Elder and wrote how it was ‘used as a sedative in the treatment of cramp, particularly uterine dysfunctions’, whilst John Parkinson called it the ‘Gelder Rose’ and made the observation that the 16th century naturalist Conrad Gessner referred to the plant by the Latin name Sambucus palustris vel aquatic and believed that some ancient European herbal texts referred to the herb by the name ‘Chamaeplatanus’, yet despite describing at great lengths the different names for the Guelder rose, Parkinson gave no uses for it.

Early 20th century German Naturopath Otto Mausert in his book ‘Herbs for Health’ first published in 1932 wrote “as its name indicates, this bark is very effective in relieving cramps and spasms of all kinds. As it exerts a decided influence upon the generative organs, it is especially useful in menstrual cramps and pains, giving tone and energy to the uterus.” R. C. Wren a herbalist who inherited Potter’s Herbals in the 1930’s included Cramp Bark in “Potter’s Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs & Preparations” citing it as being “effectual in cases of cramp, convulsions and spasms of all kinds.” Wren wrote that cramp bark was primarily used in tincture form, but said it may be given as a decoction when made up at the rate of ½ ounce of cramp bark to 1 pint of water.

1) Cramp bark has antispasmodic, astringent, hypotensive, nervine, sedative and tonic properties, it helps with muscle pains and cramps, hence the name. Native American Indian tribes such as the Meskwaki and Penobscot tribes used cramp bark as a means of alleviating muscle cramps, spasms and pains, they taught the use of the herb to the European settlers.

By the 19th century cramp bark were being used by the America Eclectic doctors to treat cases of mumps and swollen glands, and conditions such as goitre [an abnormal swelling of the thyroid gland that causes a lump to form in the neck] which is possibly the reason for calling cramp bark by the alternate name goitre tree? The bark was also used by the American eclectic herbalists to treat cases of biliary colic [linked to gall stones] and renal colic [linked to kidney stones].

2) A 100g dry weight of cramp bark contains 354 calories and 34g of dietary fibre, plus the following vitamins and minerals: -

• Calcium – 70.2mg
• Chromium – 2,354mg
• Cobalt – 2.1mg
• Iron – 11.5mg
• Magnesium - 88mg
• Manganese – 311mg
• Phosphorus – 4.9mg
• Potassium – 65mg
• Selenium – 8.6mg
• Silicon – 2.3mg
• Sodium – 9.9mg
• Zinc – 1.8mg

3) Cramp bark contains: - Bitter glycosides including viburnine and verbenalin, the later has a soporific (sleep inducing) property. Flavonoids are also present these include astragalin, catechin, quercetin and paeoniside, quercetin has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. There are a number of hydroquinones found in cramp bark, chiefly arbutin and methylarbutin, the former appeared in a study on the analogues in dermatology of hydroquinone published by the German Institute of Food Research in Potsdam in 2006 concluded that intestinal bacteria can transform arbutin into hydroquinone under certain conditions.

Polyphenolic acids including baldrianic, capric, chlorogenic, cinnamic, and valerianic are present, studies are currently being carried out on the potential antihypertensive effect that may be exhibited by chlorogenic acid. Valerianic acid is one of the constituents that give cramp bark its antispasmodic and relaxant properties.

Coumarins including aesculetin and scopoletin can be found in cramp bark, aesculetin is a natural lactone that can have an anticoagulant effect, and thus taking cramp bark should be avoided by people taking anticoagulant drugs like warfarin. Cramp bark also contains tannins these tannins give cramp bark its astringent action which enable the bark to help in cases of heavy menstrual bleeding.

4) An old remedy for cramping during a woman’s menses popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a tea known as ‘Wildwood Tea’ which was an infusion of Cramp Bark, Senna Leaves, Eastern Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), German Cheese Plant aka cleavers (Galium aparine), Colic Root aka Button Snake Root (Liatris spicata), Horsetail Grass aka Horsetail and Chicory Root, the tea was prescribed for its antispasmodic properties. Other 20th century medical botanists such as Harold Ward prescribed cramp bark for use as a nervine as well as an antispasmodic, to ease cramps he prescribed a decoction of cramp bark at the rate of “1 ounce to 1 pint of watered (simmered from 1½ pints)” the resulting decoction was to be administered in “1-2 tablespoon doses”.

Another old remedy that used cramp bark as its primary ingredient to ease cramping involved soaking the root of Cramp Bark with Skullcap and Skunk Cabbage to which a little bruised ginger and cloves were added, all the ingredients were macerated in a base of sherry or madeira wine, a small wineglass full was drunk 3 times a day to bring relief from the cramps.

5) The berries of cramp bark are high in Vitamins C and K and contain anthocyanins which gives them an antimicrobial property, these anthocyanins are water-soluble vacuolar pigments, the particular pigments in cramp bark berries can be used to make a red dye, and in fact early Native American Indians used them to make red ink. Hilda Leyel in her book Compassionate Herbs writes that “the berries were often used as a substitute for cranberries in Canada.” They were also often used to make a poultice to ease minor throat irritations.

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, 14 September 2018

A Herbal Glossary of Terms

Written by Debs Cook
For a beginner on the journey to seek herbal knowledge, picking up a book on the subject of herbal medicine or browsing websites with herbal information can sometimes be rather confusing if they don’t know their Abortifacient from their Vulnerary. Often in these mediums herbs have their ‘Medicinal Properties’ listed using their medicinal term in information and recipe notes, and if the reader is not familiar with all these formal and scientific terms it can be rather confusing.

Our guide briefly explains over 100 terms, giving their technical name in laymen’s terms and offers a few examples of herbs that contain the property described, to help you better understand what is meant when an herbs herbal property is given. It should be noted that a single herb can have more than one property for example Peppermint (Mentha piperata) has antibacterial, carminative, cholagogue and stomachic properties amongst others. This is where studying herbal medicine reaps its rewards the more you study, the more you understand each herb and what it can be used for.

N.B. This guide is purely for educational purposes and should not be used to self-treat or be used in place of consulting your GP or a qualified herbalist.

Herb Examples
The word abortifacient is a Latin word which means ‘to cause a miscarriage’ and describes and herb or a substance that induces an abortion.
Blue Cohosh, Pennyroyal, Rue.
Adaptogen herbs help to support the adrenal glands, and the endocrine system.
Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng, Golden Seal.
An adjuvant herb helps to modify and aid the action of another medicinal agent.
Astragalus, Panax Ginseng,  Plantain Seed.
An alterative herb can help to alter the body’s state of health to be normal.
Burdock Root, Red Clover,  Sarsaparilla.
An analeptic herb that can stimulate and restore the central nervous system to health.
Camphor, Shepherd’s Purse,  Yerba Mate.
An analgesic herb helps to relieve pain, acting on the nervous system.
Angelica, Cramp Bark, White Willow.
An anaphrodisiac works in the opposite way to an aphrodisiac herb, reducing the desire and decreasing libido.
Hops, Liquorice, Marjoram.
An anaesthetic herb gives a loss of sensation or consciousness due to the suppression of nerve function.
Clove, Spilanthes (aka Toothache Plant), Valerian.
An anodyne herb helps to reduce or relieve mild pain.
Clove, Da Zao (Chinese Date), Opium Poppy.
An anthelmintic herb helps to destroy and expel parasitic worms from the body.
Butternut Bark, Tansy, Wormwood.
An antianemic herb helps to prevent or curing anaemia.
Bergamot, Dong Quai (Chinese Angelica), Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia Root).
An antibacterial herb helps to destroy or stop the growth of bacteria
Bayberry, Oregon Grape Root, Tea Tree.
An anti-bilious herb helps the body to remove access bile from the digestive system, easing stress to the stomach.
Bayberry, Dandelion, Vervain.
An anti-catarrhal herb helps reduces inflamed mucous membranes and remove excess phlegm.
[Also referred to as a decongestant.]
Hyssop, Sage,  Yarrow.
An antidepressant herb helps to prevent or alleviate mental depression.
Goat Weed, St John’s Wort, Valerian.
An anti-diabetic herb helps to prevent or relieve diabetes mellitus.
Artichoke, Bilberry, Chicory.
An ant-diarrheic herb helps to prevent or treat diarrhoea.
Blackberry, Dead Nettle, Tormentil Root.
An antiemetic herb helps to prevent or alleviate vomiting.
Fennel, Lemon Balm, Spearmint.
An antifungal herb helps to destroy or inhibit the growth of fungus.
Burdock Root, Calendula (Marigold), Neem.
An anti-haemorrhagic herb helps to control haemorrhaging, which in effect stops a wound from bleeding.
Agrimony, Self-Heal, Witch Hazel.
An anti-inflammatory herb helps to control inflammation caused by an injury or infection.
Arnica, Chamomile, Yarrow
An antilithic herb helps to prevent the formation of stones or gravel in the urinary system.
Buchu Bark, Corn Silk, Stone Root.
An antimalarial herb helps to prevent or relieve malaria.
Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Quassia. 
An antimicrobial herb helps to destroy microbes that cause disease.
Barberry, Clove,  Garlic.
An antioxidant herb helps to remove potentially damaging agents which cause oxidation in the body.
Bilberry, Green Tea, Turmeric.
An antiperiodic herb helps to prevent the regular recurrence of the symptoms of a disease, for example malaria.
Barberry, Boneset, Vervain.
An antipruritic herb helps to prevent or relieve itching.
Chickweed, Oats, Peppermint.
An antipyretic herb helps to prevent or reduce fever.
Boneset, Feverfew, Meadowsweet.
An ant-rheumatic herb helps to ease the pain of rheumatism, inflammation of joints and muscles.
Chamomile, Prickly Ash Bark, Yarrow
An antiscorbutic herb helps to cure or prevent scurvy.
Barberry, Shepherd’s Purse,  Watercress.
An antiseptic herb helps to prevent infection by cleaning wounds and also inhibiting the growth of microorganisms in the body.
[Also referred to as a Germicide.]
Barberry, Calendula (Marigold), Echinacea.
An antispasmodic herb helps to calm the nervous and controls muscular spasms or convulsions in the body. [Also referred to as a Bronchospasmolytic.]
Cramp Bark, Pasque Flower, Skullcap.
An antitussive herb helps to control and alleviate a cough.
Hyssop, Peppermint, White Horehound.
An antiviral herb helps to inhibit the growth of viruses.
Garlic, Lemon Balm, Quassia.
Aperient herbs have very mild laxative properties which help ease minor cases of constipation.
Barberry, Flax Seed, Senna.
An aperitive herb helps to stimulate the appetite.
Cleavers (Clivers), Dandelion, Winter Savory.
An aphrodisiac herb helps to increase sexual arousal.
Ashwaganda, Damiana, Muira Pauma.
Aromatic herbs have strong and pleasant odours that help to stimulate the digestive system. 
Caraway, Fennel, Peppermint.
An astringent herb helps to shrink tissue by triggering the binding of proteins.
Bayberry, Meadowsweet, Oak Bark.
Bitter herbs help to stimulate the digestive system through a reflex via the taste buds.
Burdock, Dandelion, Milk Thistle.
Cardiotonic herbs affect the heart in varying ways depending on the specific herb, they can increases strength and tone of the heart amongst other actions.
[Also referred to as a Cardiac Tonic.]
Astragalus, Hawthorn, Motherwort.
A carminative herb is rich in volatile oils which help to stimulate the digestive system and relax the stomach.
Aniseed, Dill, Peppermint.
Cathartic herbs have strong laxative properties that help produce bowel movements in severe cases of constipation.
Burdock Root, Rhubarb Root,  Senna Pods.
Cholagogue herbs stimulate the release and secretion of bile from the gall bladder.
[Also referred to as a Choleretic.]
Dandelion, Milk Thistle, Vervain.
Counterirritant herbs contain substances that cause one kind or irritation to relieve other kinds or irritation by producing an inflammatory response in  an adjacent area
Cayenne Pepper, Horseradish, Nettle
Demulcent herbs help to sooth irritated tissue and inflammation; they have a soothing action, especially on the mucous membranes.
Flax Seed, Marshmallow, Slippery Elm
Deobstruent herbs help to remove obstructions and blockages in the ducts of the body such as the bile duct thus helping to regulate the passage of fluids such as bile.
Butcher’s Broom, Dandelion, Golden Seal.
A depurative herb helps to removes toxins, waste products and impurities from the body, they also cleanse the blood.
Ashwaganda, Pau d’Arco, Valerian.
Diaphoretic herbs help the skin to eliminate toxins and aid perspiration.
[Also referred to as Sudorific]
Boneset, Ginger, Yarrow.
Digestive herbs help to stimulate the digestion system aiding it to breakdown and absorb nutrients from food ingested.
Basil, Chamomile, Lemon Verbena.
Diuretic herbs help to increase the flow of elimination of urine from the body.
Boldo Leaf, Buchu Bark, Parsley Piert.
Emetic herbs help to induce vomiting and are often used when poisoning is suspected.
Boneset, Cascara Sagrada, Wild Yam.
Emmenagogue herbs help to normalise the flow of menstruation and to stimulate the menses.
Black Cohosh, Chaste Tree,  Motherwort.
Emollient herbs are used to soften and sooth the skin, externally they act in the way that demulcents act internally.
Chickweed, Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm.
Estrogenic herbs help to increase the production of oestrogen in the body.
Black Cohosh, Ginkgo, Red Clover.
Euphoriant herbs create a sense of euphoria; the effect is temporary and often addictive.
Damiana, Nutmeg, Opium Poppy.
Expectorant herbs help to remove excess amounts of mucous from the respiratory system.
[Also referred to as Anticatarrhal.]
Elecampane, Liquorice Root, Thyme.
An herb with febrifuge properties helps to reduce and relieve a fever.
[Also referred to as Antipyretic.]
Feverfew, Hyssop, Vervain.
Galactagogue herbs help to promote the flow of milk and increase the activity in the mammary ducts.
[Also referred to as a Galactogenic.]
Fennel, Fenugreek,  Milk Thistle.
Hemagogue herbs help to increase the flow of blood.
[Also referred to as an Emmenagogue.]
Angelica, Black Cohosh, Pennyroyal.
Hemostatic herbs help to control the flow of blood or to stop bleeding.
Bistort Root, Cranesbill Root, Yarrow.
Hepatic herbs help to tone and strengthen the liver and aid the flow of bile.
Barberry, Dandelion, Wild Yam.
Hypnotic herbs have a sedative and calming effect on the central nervous system and also help to induce sleep.
Chamomile, Hops, Passionflower.
Hypotensive herbs affect the heart in varying ways depending on the specific herb; they can help to increase blood pressure amongst other actions.
[Also referred to as a Cardiac Tonic.]
Astragalus, Panax Ginseng, Hawthorn.
Hypoglycaemic herbs help to lower the level of glucose in the blood and regulate blood sugar.
Burdock Root, Cinnamon, Goats Rue.
Immune Enhancer
Immune enhancing herbs help to enhance the function of the immune system and are used when the immune system is underactive.
Astragalus, Echinacea, Wild Indigo.
Immune suppressing herbs reduce the function of the immune system and are used when the immune system is overactive.
Cascara Sagrada, Indian Sarsaparilla, Long Pepper.
Irritant herbs cause stimulation and irritation.
Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Mustard Seed.
Lactifuge herbs inhibit the production or secretion of breast milk.
Black Walnut, Peppermint,  Sage
Laxative herbs help to produce bowel movements for cases of constipation.
Dandelion Root, Flax Seed, Rhubarb Root.
Lithotriptic herbs help to dissolves stones in the urinary tract.
Boldo Leaf, Butcher’s Broom,  Oregon Grape.
Mucilaginous herbs contain mucilage and help to lubricate tissue, soothing inflammation and ease dryness.
Psyllium Seed, Slippery Elm,  Violet Leaf.
Narcotic herbs work in a similar way to analgesic herbs to help reduce pain. In high doses they also induce drowsiness.
Devil’s Claw Root, Dong Quai (Chinese Angelica), Opium Poppy.
Nauseant herbs have the ability to induce vomiting.
Boneset, Broom & Calamus Root.
Nervine herbs help to strengthen, stimulate and calm the nervous system.
Passionflower, Skullcap, St John’s Wort.
Nutritive herbs help to restore vitality and increase help and improve the function of the body.
Astragalus, Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm.
Pectoral herbs help to strengthen and heal the respiratory system.
Coltsfoot, Lungwort, White Horehound.
Progesterogenic herbs help with the production of progesterone in the body and to boost its effects.
Chaste Tree (Agnus castus), Sarsaparilla, Wild Yam
Purgative herbs help to produce bowel movements for cases of severe constipation.
Buckthorn Bark, Cascara Sagrada,  Rhubarb Root.
Refrigerant herbs have a cooling effect when applied externally; they can soothe irritation and bring down internal and external body heat.
Chickweed, Sorrel, Spearmint.
Restorative herbs help to alter the body’s state of health to be back to normal function.
Cleavers (Clivers), Nettle, Yellow Dock Root.
Resolvent herbs help reduce inflammation or swelling.
Lungwort, St John’s Wort, White Dead Nettle.
Rubefacient herbs help to increase the circulation to the skin by dilating the skin's capillaries; the action reddens the skin, dilates the vessels, and increases blood supply locally.
Cayenne Pepper, Ginger, Rosemary.
Sialagogue herbs help to stimulate the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands.
Bayberry, Centaury, Gentian Root.
Sedative herbs have a soothing and tranquilising effect on the body.
Hops, Passionflower, Valerian
Soporific herbs have a calming effect on the nervous system and are used to help induce sleep.
Chamomile, Lemon Balm Skullcap.
Stimulant herbs help to quicken and enliven the physiological functions of the body.
Cinnamon, Ginger, Panax Ginseng.
Stomachic is another term for carminative, these herbs are rich in volatile oils which help to stimulate the digestive system and relax the stomach.
Caraway, Chamomile, Peppermint
Sudorific herbs help the skin to eliminate toxins and aid perspiration.
[Also referred to as Diaphoretic.]
Bayberry, Catnip, Prickly Ash Bark.
Styptic herbs help to shrink tissue by triggering the binding of proteins. They are usually high in tannin content which helps to reduce haemorrhage, Secretions and discharges.
Bilberry, Golden Rod, Oak Bark.
Toenifuge herbs help to expel tape worms.
Garlic, Mulberry Leaf, Pomegranate Bark.
Tonic herbs help to strengthen and revitalise specific organs, they can also work on the whole body and help to increase strength and tone.
Gentian Root, Panax Ginseng, Raspberry Leaf.
Vasodilator herbs help to constrict or narrow blood vessels.
Garlic, Hawthorn, Thyme.
Vermifuge is another term for an anthelmintic herb, these herbs help to destroy and expel parasitic worms from the intestine.
Black Walnut, Rue, Wormwood.
Vulnerary herbs help the body heal wounds ad cuts, they are usually applied externally.
Arnica, Calendula (Marigold), Thyme.

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.