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

Friday, 26 April 2019

Herb-Drug Interactions and St John’s Wort

Article & Photo by Ann Walker
According to media reports, interactions between herbs and drugs are common and threaten anyone taking prescription drugs. In reality, drug interactions with foods are more prevalent, having led to several deaths (in particular, cranberry juice with warfarin and grapefruit with blood pressure drugs). Whilst no herb-drug deaths are recorded, non-fatal herb-drug interactions occur at around four cases a year and mostly involve the drug warfarin taken with St John’s wort. Despite the rarity of records, interaction ‘lists’ are padded with speculative claims based on test-tube or animal studies.

Often the quantities of herbs used in these studies are far higher than used in clinical practice or in over-the-counter products. Actually, the likelihood of herb-drug interaction is low with normal use of most herbs taken at recommended doses. Unfounded comments and prejudices expressed by scientists often mislead journalists into publishing damaging misinformation on herbal medicine. In particular, surveys of the use of herbs do not equate with drug interactions, despite scientists’ conclusions often pointing that way.

In the case of St John’s wort, we do have clinical (human) evidence of interactions with prescribed drugs. The herb’s use for depression is well supported by clinical trials (well over 30 to date). So much so that the herb provides a very viable alternative to modern antidepressants in many situations and the side effects are much lower. However, a study published in the Lancet in 2000 gave the first indication of how the concurrent use of St John’s wort with certain drugs could lower the level of the drug in the bloodstream (PMID: 10683007).

It was later found that the herb increases particular detoxication pathways in the liver (where there are many such pathways) and thus increases the rate of elimination of drugs which are disposed of by these same pathways. Not all drugs are affected by any means, but there are some important ones that are: cyclosporin, digoxin, warfarin and the contraceptive pill. Despite these known interactions, St John’s wort is a success story. Its use for depression is well founded and quality extract are on sale to the general public, with Traditional Herbal Registration (look for THR on the pack). Each pack containing a comprehensive leaflet stating clearly when it should be not used. As long as you follow these guidelines, St John’s wort remains a very useful herb – not only is it antidepressant, but it is anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and can (alongside other herbs) help with back pain, shingles, anxiety, low vitality and insomnia. I use it a lot in my practice.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 19 April 2019

Olive Leaf Shortens the Duration of Colds

Article & Photo by Ann Walker

Olive tree leaves have long been used in the Mediterranean region as traditional medicine. The leaves contain higher amounts of polyphenols (healthful plant chemicals) than even extra virgin olive oil or the olives themselves. Clinical and laboratory evidence already supports the cardio-protective, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of these compounds, which are thought to confer the health-giving properties to olive oil. More recently, research attention has turned to the immune-supporting properties of olive leaf. In one study, white cells were taken from blood samples of 25 healthy volunteers and cultured in the laboratory with extracts of olive leaf. The extracts favourably modified the immune biochemicals from these cells (compounds such as interferon and cytokines) so as to support the notion of olive leaf as potential treatment for infections and chronic inflammatory diseases.   PMID: 29149822

This hypothesis was put to the test in a two-month, double-blind, randomized controlled trial in New Zealand on young elite athletes (PMID: 30744092). In this study, olive leaf extract was used to study the incidence and duration of colds to which athletes are particularly prone. The intervention group received extract tablets equivalent to 20 g per day of olive leaf. Whilst there was no difference in the incidence of colds between the active and control groups, there were 28% fewer sick days in the olive leaf group. This was because the average duration of illnesses was 9.7 days in the olive leaf group compared to 12.3 days in the placebo group.

It is good to see evidence coming through for herbal remedies to combat upper respiratory viral infections, even though the study in this case was small (29 people completed the study). There is little that modern medicine can offer against these common viruses that we all suffer – or indeed, viral infections in general. Other natural remedies studied in clinical trials showing benefit for common viral infections include pelargonium and andrographis, but results of trials are equivocal for vitamin C and echinacea, despite their popular use by the public and herbal practitioners. New angles like this on olive leaf provide further natural solutions for viral infections and are always very welcome.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 12 April 2019

Valerian and Insomnia

Article and Photo by Ann Walker
The documented use of Valerian for sleep problems goes as far back as Galen, the physician/philosopher of the Roman Empire, who recommended the herb for insomnia in the 2nd century AD. Despite this long history of use, modern research findings have been equivocal as to the herb’s benefit for sleep. Indeed, some studies have shown no benefit at all (e.g. PMID: 18482867). These ‘no effect’ findings are likely to be due to the dose being too low, as, given at a realistic level, even one dose can markedly reduce nerve excitability in the cortex region of the brain (PMID: 29035887). The cortex plays a key role in memory, thought, language and consciousness: characteristics which relate to sleep patterns.

Contradictory study results seem to afflict valerian. Although one study showed that nearly a month of regular daily consumption was necessary to combat insomnia, another study found a more immediate effect. In a large study, of 128 subjects, valerian extract given before bedtime, worked immediately to improve sleep compared with placebo, which is more in keeping with how the herb is used in practice (PMID: 7122669).

Ambivalent responses to valerian are well known to herbal practitioners: while most patients respond well to valerian taken before bedtime, it does nothing for a minority. Nevertheless, if insomnia is a problem, it is well worth giving it a try and, based on the research mentioned above, perhaps for up to a month before discarding it as ineffective. Fortunately, if valerian proves ineffective for insomnia, all is not lost, as there are several other herbs, mostly taken in combination, which can combat insomnia.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 5 April 2019

Nicholas Culpeper Part 3 - Culpeper's Last Legacy

Photo and Article ⓒ Debs Cook
Shortly after Culpeper’s death Alice Culpeper remarried the astrologer John Heyden who Culpeper knew when they were both members of the Society of Astrologers, and according to Benjamin Woolley in his book 'The Herbalist', Heyden was actually living in Culpeper’s house prior to Culpeper’s demise. Woolley seems to think that Alice and Nicholas became estranged, and uses the odd entry on Wormwood found in older editions of the ‘English Physician’ to present a man bitter towards his wife, and the wife accusing Culpeper of abuse. What the truth is one can only speculate, however after Culpeper died, Alice seems to have done her best to cash in on her late husband’s previous works and reputation, and claimed that he had left behind over 70 books or manuscripts that he had left for her to publish.

Alice joined forces with Heyden and a Dr. Freeman to sell an alchemical potion called ‘Aurum Potabile’ a remedy in the 17th century that was believed to be a universal remedy for all diseases, the remedy was made from a herbal suspension in which trace amounts of gold were added. In a hand bill that was circulated around London, it was claimed by camp Alice that Culpeper and Dr. Freeman had discovered the wonders of this remedy during his studies and she gave Culpeper the title of Dr. Culpeper, the first time he was known as Nicholas Culpeper M.D. he never referred to himself as such, one feels he would have been turning in his grave being labelled as part of the establishment he fought against all his life.

Keeping a monopoly of the Culpeper ‘brand’ was of the utmost importance and to do this, Alice teamed up with Culpeper’s publisher Peter Cole who had already begun printing books that he claimed were penned by Culpeper, including translations of seven European herbals from the 16th century written in Latin. Cole offered to help Alice promote her cure-all potion in exchange for her endorsement on the works he published in Culpeper’s name.

By 1655 just 1 year after Culpeper’s death, Alice’s monopoly began to waiver, another publisher of Culpeper’s work, a Nathaniel Brooke published a book called 'Culpeper’s Last Legacy', which he claimed had been written by Culpeper and left for his wife to publish. To add insult to injury, Brooke published a letter akin to an endorsement allegedly written by Alice which stated that “the copy of what is here printed… was delivered to my trust among [Nicholas’s] choicest secrets upon his death bed.” Alice vehemently denied that she had written the letter published and denied that the book was written by Culpeper. So much so several months after the Last Legacy was published, Alice published a pamphlet entitled ‘Mr Culpeper’s Treatise of Aurum Potabile’ which began with an assault on Brooke, accusing him of publishing “a hodge-podge of ingested collections and observations.

Her pamphlet echoed previous claims that Culpeper had left “seventy-nine books of ‘his own making, or translating, in my hands” adding that there were also another 17 completed works that were ready to be published and would be published exclusively by herself and Culpeper’s “much honoured friend”, referring to Peter Cole. The rest of the pamphlet was a travesty, Culpeper in his lifetime had poured scorn and ridicule on charlatan’s who promoted cure-alls like aurum potabile, so promoting such a cure made no sense at all. The pamphlet is not written in Culpeper’s style nor did it match his medical beliefs. What happened next is of little consequence to this article on the life of Culpeper, so I’ll move on.

Suffice to say, and remember I said earlier that the contents of the 1652 edition of ‘The English Physician’ were important? After Brooke published his work it became open season for a good selection of people to cash in on Culpeper’s name by publishing books that became known as 'Culpeper’s Complete Herbal', my 1698 edition is the same as the 1652 edition, nothing added and nothing taken away and still known as 'The English Physician'. It wasn’t until around 1789 that editions of the ‘Complete Herbal’ began to appear with coloured plates when Ebenezer Sibly published his version of Brooke’s and Culpeper’s works across 2 volumes, adding his own words and additional herbs and including the coloured plates, as well as Medical references and illustrations.

1814 saw the publication of "Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, to which is now added, upwards of one hundred additional herbs, with a display of their Medicinal and Occult Qualities; physically applied to the cure of all disorders incident to mankind: to which are now first annexed, the English physician enlarged, and key to physic, with rules for compounding medicine according to the true system of nature. Forming a complete family dispensatory, and natural system of physic. To which is also added upwards of fifty choice receipts [recipes], selected from the author's last legacy to his wife. Embellished with engravings of upwards of four hundred different plants with other subjects to illustrate the work.” By Richard Evan’s of White Row, Spitalfields. Evans version was attributed to Culpeper, the only part of the book that is Culpeper’s is all that was in ‘The English Physician’, the rest is from Nathaniel Brooke’s 'Culpeper’s Last Legacy'.

The 1826 edition published by J. Gleave and Son of Deansgate in Manchester was different, the listing for herbs started with Agrimony an herb that doesn’t even feature in the original ‘English Physician’, after yarrow, yew and yucca were also included, and again neither featured in Culpeper’s original book. In 1835 Thomas Kelly publishers issued a reprint of the Complete Herbal which like the 1814 edition is Brooke’s work and not all Culpeper’s, Kelly’s edition followed the Brooke’s edition using herbs from Amara Dulcis to Yarrow, the extra herbs were listed in the back albeit briefly.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Brooke’s book has been republished and always attributed to Culpeper, all of them containing only his original book 'The English Physician', although I believe that Silby referenced Culpeper’s ‘A Directory for Midwives’ and Brooke’s dipped in to Culpeper’s translation of the 'Pharmacopoeia Londonesis' for the remedies he published. If the reader wants to see examples of cures and remedies that Culpeper recommended they would be best suited finding a copy of 'Pharmacopoeia Londonesis' rather than modern day versions of what Culpeper was supposed to have written!

I started out this three part article as I said earlier with a different view of Nicholas Culpeper than I have now, from considering him nothing more than a plagiarist to discovering he was not only plagiarised, but also had words and entire books attributed to him that he never wrote, as well as having things published that totally went against his beliefs so that others could benefit from his name. With more time a more rounded story could be told of this man, and I intend to revisit 'The English Physician' in the future as well as take a closer look at the remedies in 'Pharmacopoeia Londonesis' and what Culpeper had to say about the College of Physicians. For now I will bring this missive on Culpeper to a close gentle reader and trust that you have learnt something new, and maybe like me now see Culpeper in a new light?

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.

Friday, 29 March 2019

St John’s Wort: A Success Story

Photo and Article by Ann Walker
St John’s wort is a traditional remedy used for low mood and depression and there is little doubt that it works well, as this use is well backed up by modern research. Indeed, over thirty well-designed clinical trials have proved that an extract of the herb can be as effective for mild-to-moderate depression as modern antidepressants (see reviews PMID: 28064110 and PMID: 27589952).

In fact, St John’s wort offers the best research-supported use of any herb on the planet for a single health condition! Nevertheless, herbalists in the UK were late in realising its potential for treating depression, although it had a long history of such use in the rest of Europe. UK herbalists from mid 1800s mainly used St John’s wort for treating anxiety, shingles and nerve pain, including sciatica, exploiting the herb’s anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties. It also found particular use for a range of female conditions, including pre-menstrual syndrome and adverse menopausal symptoms. St John’s wort continues to be used by herbalists for nerve damage whether caused by physical, mental, or viral agents, but these days its use as an anti-depressant takes centre stage.

But a word of warning: St John’s wort is not suitable for everyone. Taken alongside certain modern drugs the herb substantially lowers their blood levels, rendering them less effective. While this only applies to a limited number of drugs, they include some whose levels in the blood are likely to be critical to their efficacy, including warfarin, cyclosporine, digoxin, some anti-cancer drugs and the contraceptive pill. The mechanism of action is though enhanced detoxication of these drugs by up-regulation of a specific enzyme pathway in the liver.

There are many pathways of detoxication in the liver, but only those drugs which are detoxified via the St John’s wort-activated pathway are affected. Hence, most modern drugs are not involved, but if you are taking any prescribed medication, it is important to read the accompanying leaflet to see it St John’s wort is contraindicated, or, failing that, to seek advice from a herbal practitioner such as a member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy or of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 22 March 2019

Nicholas Culpeper Part 2 - The English Physician

Photo and Article Ⓒ Debs Cook
In part 1 of our look at the life of Nicholas Culpeper we left him joining the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, he served under the command of the Earl of Sussex during the first English Civil War (1642-1646) although not as a soldier. When Culpeper went to enlist he was told that his services were not needed as a soldier, but his medical skills were badly needed, so he joined as a field surgeon to tend the wounded Roundhead soldiers. In preparation Culpeper spent time studying his medical texts before he left for the battlefield, ensuring his surgical knowledge was battle ready, and spent time collecting a wealth of medicinal herbs and plants from the wild, which he took with him to the battle fields to help treat the wounded.

As history shows, in the end there was no clear winner at Edgehill with each side seeing some 500 dead men and 1,500 wounded, but having tended the injured and dying to the best of his ability Culpeper was granted a commission in 1643 becoming Captain to an infantry troop and fought at the Siege of Reading (4th November 1642 – 25th April 1643), where he took a bullet to the chest which is believed to have caused health problems for the rest of his life, some accounts say the wound was to the shoulder, but this is not commensurate with the conditions under which Culpeper eventually died, the chest makes more sense.

There were 3 stages to the set of events that became known as the English Civil Wars they began in in the August of 1642 and ended in September 1651. In 1649 Charles I was executed and the monarchy was abolished and along with it the Church of England’s monopoly on censorship of printed publications which was granted by James I in 1603. Under the old system anyone found printing, selling or being in possession of books which had not been vetoed and edited by church authorities would incur corporal punishment.

Culpeper took advantage of the removal of censorship and decided to make his plan to benefit the common man by giving them texts to read to help heal themselves, texted such as these had previously only been printed in Latin. He started with the ‘Pharmacopoeia Londonesis’ published in Latin by the Royal College of Physicians, he translated the work into English and in late 1649 his translation ‘A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Dispensary’ was published and made available to everyone.

Culpeper famously wrote “I am writing for the Press a translation of the Physicians' medicine book from Latin into English so that all my fellow countrymen and apothecaries can understand what the Doctors write on their bills. Hitherto they made medicine a secret conspiracy, writing prescriptions in mysterious Latin to hide ignorance and to impress upon the patient. They want to keep their book a secret, not for everybody to know. Not long ago parsons, like the predecessors of my grand-father, used to preach and prey in Latin, whether he or his parishioners understood anything of this language or not. This practice, though sacred in the eyes of our ancestors, appears ridiculous to us. Now everyone enjoys the gospel in plain English. I am convinced the same must happen with medicine and prescriptions.

His decision to publish the work made him even more enemies than he already had for his out spoken views on medicine. Despite being cautioned not to publish his translation, Culpeper went ahead, believing that his life was not as important as the everyday man having the right and ability to have the knowledge to be able to heal himself. What Culpeper gave the common man was an exact translation of the “Pharmacopoeia Londonesis” with the addition of his own views and experiences of the uses and virtues of the remedies and formulas. The College of Physicians hit out at Culpeper saying that what he had in actual fact done with his translation was not to enable people to heal themselves, but rather create the “danger of poysoning men's bodies” because the common man didn’t know how to successfully prescribe and use medicines.

The College of Physicians arguments fell on death ears and Culpeper moved on to publish a second book in 1651, his ‘Semeiotica Uranica’, or ‘An Astrological Judgement of Diseases’ set out to show how the aspect of the heavens at the time of that a person became ill and took to their sick bed could be governed, diagnosed and treated using astrology. The year 1651 saw Culpeper publish a second book ‘A Directory for Midwives; or a Guide for women in their conception, bearing and suckling of their children, etc.’ which covered the topic of midwifery, which some would think odd for a man to write about, especially one of Culpeper’s vocation of astrologer and herbalist. But given that along with his young wife Alice they had 7 children, with only one of those children surviving him it is easy to see why he so enthusiastically tackled a subject that could help keep more children alive into adulthood.

The English Physician

In 1652 Culpeper published a translation from Latin of Galen’s esteemed work the ‘Art of Physic’ which focused on the four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire, each element being attributed a quality Earth being cold and dry, Water cold and moist, Air hot and moist, Fire being hot and dry. In the same year Culpeper also published ‘Catastrophe Magnatum’ or in English, the Fall of Monarchy, he also wrote and published a selection of articles on the downfall of the monarchy and other subjects, but for the purposes of this article I will stick to his herbal writings.

Culpeper was extremely busy writing during 1652 and in early November he completed his book ‘The English Physitian, or an Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of this Nation’ which he is best known for, it was printed by Peter Cole at his printing press in Cornhill near the Royal Exchange. The original herbal was not illustrated and subsequent reprints did not carry illustrations until the late 18th century. Over the years there have been many reprints of Culpeper’s Herbal, I’m lucky to own a reprint from 1698 published by A and J Churchill printers of Pater-Noster Row, London. My 1698 copy has a different title, ‘The English Physician Enlarged; With Three Hundred Sixty and Nine Medicines Made of English Herbs, That were not in any Impression until This.’ In both the original and 1698 editions Culpeper is referred to as “Nich. Culpeper, Gent, Student in Physick and Astrology”.

In all honesty I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Culpeper, when I first got in to the world of herbs, it was one of the first herbals I acquired albeit a reprinted version from the 1980’s, as I delved more in to the world of herbs and discovered herbals, Culpeper became tarnished because he clearly used the works of Dioscorides, Gerard, Turner, Parkinson and others to put his herbal together, adding astrological slants to make those works more his own. So much so, I had rather unjustly fitted him into the plagiarist box and begun to ignore his references. Looking in to the man for this article and discovering what he stood for, how he gave herbal knowledge to the common man and made that which was a secret to anyone that couldn’t read Latin coupled with the way he would treat patients for little to no fee in the poor area of Spitalfields where he lived and I guess on a personal level for his anti-royalist ways, has me looking at Nich Culpeper in a whole new light! His herbal retailed at 3 pennies, making them more affordable to the masses, whilst books like Parkinson’s ‘Theatrum Botanicum’ cost a lot more.

The ‘English Physician Enlarged’ began with Amara Dulcis the Latin name for Bittersweet and ended with Yarrow, each herb had a description, the place it could be found growing, the time of year it could be found and its Government – by its astrological association and its virtues. As well as information on the herbs, Culpeper included information on gathering different plant parts, and preserving them, and also how to make a variety of herbal preparations including: - Compounds, Distilled Waters, Syrups, Juleps, Decoctions, Oils, Electuaries, Conserves, Preserves, Lohochs [a medicine which had a consistence somewhere between a soft electuary and a syrup], Ointments, Plaisters, Pultisses [Poultices], Troches [a lozenge, flat cake or tablet, made from a stiff paste usually of the herb, sugar and some form of mucilage, cut into portions and dried] and Pills. The final chapter gave a table of diseases listed alphabetically and listed the pages that herbs could be found to treat said disease, the contents of the 1652 English Physician are important to note as will be explained below.

In the winter of 1653 Culpeper began to suffer badly from consumption, given all the remedies you find in his book for herbs that help suffers of consumption you would have expected Culpeper to recover. Alas it wasn’t to be, having never recovered from the gunshot wound he’d taken to the chest during the Siege of Reading, the wound apparently constantly troubled him from 1646 until his death. That, and the fact that Culpeper worked himself ragged tending to the sick, dealing with the loss of 6 of his 7 children during his 14 year marriage. Studying and writing his books, battling against the medical establishment which he believed to be self-serving and monetarist, finally took its toll, ravaging Culpeper to look like a skeleton towards the end.

Nicholas Culpeper worked himself to death and into the ranks of the historical English herbalists on the 10th January 1654, dying at his home on Red Lion Street, Spitalfields, London, at the young age of 38. He was buried in the newly established graveyard of Bethlehem Hospital, later to be known as the notorious Bedlam Asylum. After Culpeper’s death a series of events occurred which put words into Culpeper’s mouth and books, as if he’d continued to write from beyond the grave! The 3rd and final part to follow.

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.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Hawthorn with other Herbs for Blood Pressure

Photo and Article by Ann Walker
Several clinical studies on single herbs aimed at lowering raised blood pressure have failed to find an effect. But lowering raised blood pressure (hypertension) using plant medicines needs plenty of intervention, so the doses in these trials are often not high enough to be effective. Books on herbs may tell you that the herb, hawthorn, lowers high blood pressure, and indeed we found it to be so in a study that we carried out at the University of Reading. My fellow researchers and I compared an extract of hawthorn leaves and flowers with placebo in a randomised study (PMID: 16762125).

Although there was a significant drop in blood pressure compared to the placebo in our group of diabetic subjects, the drop was not large enough to make a meaningful difference for patients. To make the blood-pressure lowering effects of plant medicines more relevant to real-life situations, combinations of several herbs are usually more successful.

One research group from America put together several plant-extract supplements that had been shown individually to influence blood pressure in laboratory experiments (PMID: 26059745). They reasoned that a combination of extracts of grape seed and skin (330 mg), green tea (100 mg), resveratrol (60 mg) and a blend of quercetin, ginkgo biloba and bilberry (60 mg) would reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure by a realistic amount. Although this meant the study volunteers taking a lot of tablets each day, this combination did lower both systolic and diastolic pressure by useful amounts.

Herbal practitioners of different herbal traditions throughout the world use combinations of herbs for their patient’s health, rather than single herbs. As a practitioner myself, I do use hawthorn for hypertension, but always combined with other herbs. I have found that the quickest way to get blood pressure down in most patients is have a daily dose of a strong herbal tea. My usual formula is equal parts by weight of the dried herbs of hawthorn leaves and flowers, limeflowers, motherwort, mistletoe leaves and passiflora. As much as 30 g a day of this combination are usually needed as a long infusion of at least 20 minutes or even overnight and this needs to be taken for a minimum of ten days before an effect is seen.

Of course, there could also be nutrient imbalances in a person with hypertension and these needs to be addressed first. Adequate intakes of vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and magnesium, are needed to maintain normal blood pressure.

PMID = PubMed identifier

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

Friday, 8 March 2019

Nicholas Culpeper Part 1 - A Young Rebel

Article and Photo © Debs Cook
As 17th century England mourned the death of herbalist and author John Gerard in 1612, four years later a would be herbalist set to take on the Society of Apothecaries and champion the rights of the common man to be able to heal their own ills was born on the 18th October 1616.

Culpeper is often the first herbalist thought of when the 17th century is mentioned, and almost every herbal person I know owns a copy of what is considered his greatest work, the ‘English Physician’ in one form or another. Modern day herbalists still make use of many of the herbs Culpeper wrote about in his ‘English Physician and Complete Herbal’ for the same uses that Culpeper put them to and to a large extent the way Culpeper made his infusions, decoctions, ointments and poultices is the way this preparations are still made today.

Born in the village of Ockley in Surrey, his father Rev. Nicholas Culpeper, had been presented only a few months before with the living of Ockley by his family, but died at the age of 36 on the 5th October 1616 just 13 days before the birth of his only son. Shortly after his father’s death, baby Nicholas and his mother Mary were moved to live with her father, the Rev. William Attersole, a stern puritan minister of St. Margaret's church in Isfield, East Sussex. It was his grandfather that taught the young Nicholas how to read Greek and Latin, and via a collection of clocks kept by his father, Nicholas became interested in time which undoubtedly led to his interest in astrology, his grandfather also sowed the seeds of the anti-royalist that Culpeper would become as he grew up.

It was his maternal Grandmother who gave Nicholas a taste for herbs and medicinal plants, at 10 he perused his Grandmother’s copy of William Turner's ‘New Herball’ first published in 1568, and was fascinated by the illustrations of the plants. His grandmother also owned a copy of ‘Gerard’s Herbal’ which the young Culpeper read enthusiastically, taking what he read along with the knowledge given to him by his grandmother to discover the wild herbs growing around Sussex. His grandfather was not happy to let Nicholas have free reign to read anything he desired and when Nicholas was 13 he forbade him to read anything but the bible. Nicholas being the rebel that he was, is known to have taken books out of his Grandfather’s library to read elsewhere, one such book was ‘Anatomy of Man's Body’ by Thomas Vicary, who was the barber-surgeon to king Henry VIII, from this book we can surmise that young Culpeper became fascinated by the descriptions of the sexual organs and human reproduction which eventually influenced his book ‘Directory for Midwives’, published in 1651.

At the age of 16, Culpeper was sent away to Cambridge University to study theology, his grandparents had decided it was time that Nicholas followed in his father and grandfathers footsteps and become a minister. Young master Nicholas had other ideas, and he began to supplement his study of the classics, and thus broadening his education by attending lectures on anatomy and the ‘Materia Medica’ of Galen and Hippocrates.

Whilst at Cambridge, Culpeper, met and fell in love with Judith Rivers a well to do heiress, the feeling was mutual but the couple knew that Judith’s family would never agree to the pair being married, so they decided to run away together in the summer of 1634. They were due to meet at a Tavern in Lewes, Culpeper got there first and waited, but Judith never arrived, some tales say there was a storm and that Judith was so terrified she died of fright. The truth is that on the way to meet Culpeper, the coach she travelled in was struck by lightening and she was killed instantly.

Judith’s death had a profound effect on Culpeper, who by all accounts already hated his theological studies and was becoming increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t study to be a doctor. When Judith died, Culpeper, in deep shock, was taken back home to his mother in Isfield, she nursed him back to health. When he was fully recovered Culpeper refused to go back to Cambridge to resume his theological studies and was subsequently cut off by his Grandfather, losing his only means of financial support, and was forbidden to see his mother, as a result of being deprived interaction with her son, Mary Culpeper sunk in to a deep depression and died when Nicholas was 23, she was 54 years of age.

Having to make his own way after being disinherited by the Culpeper’s, Nicholas decided that if he couldn’t go to University to study to be a physician, he would become an apothecary instead and was apprenticed to a Mr. White who ran an apothecary shop in Temple Bar, London. Just 18 months after his apprenticeship began, Mr White went bankrupt and fled England for Ireland and the business closed, forcing Nicholas to seek another employer. He was successful and shortly after he became apprenticed to the apothecary Francis Drake, who owned a shop in Threadneedle Street, Bishopsgate. Having no means to pay for his apprenticeship, Culpeper is known to have struck a bargain with Drake to teach him Latin in exchange for Drake teaching him all he knew about the apothecary trade.

Culpeper joined Drake’s other apprentice, a Samuel Leadbetter and the two became firm friends, part of the training that Drake gave Culpeper included accompanying Thomas Johnson - the man who would later in Culpeper’s lifetime edit and enlarge Gerard’s Herbal in 1633 - on walks to identify and collect local herbs to be used to make remedies in Drake’s apothecary shop.

Culpeper proved to be a willing, able and dedicated student, learning all that he needed about Materia Medica and the apothecary practice and when Drake died in 1639, Leadbetter continued his training until 1640 when he became a fully licensed apothecary and took over the running of Drake’s shop. Culpeper was sent to train with Mr. Higgins, a warden of the Society of Apothecaries, but never finished his apprenticeship instead he joined Leadbetter running the shop of their old master. The two worked together until sometime in 1644, Culpeper had begun to treat patients and was in effect practising as an unlicenced physician, Leadbetter received two warnings from the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, and the final warning instructed him “not to employ Culpeper in the making or administering of any medicine who promised to obey the same”, so Leadbetter decided to terminate Culpeper from his employ.

Back to 1640 and Culpeper met another heiress named Alice Field whilst treating her father for  gouty arthritis, he then married her, he was 24 and she just 15 years of age and had inherited a rather sizeable fortune, at the time apothecary apprentices were forbidden to marry, so this action angered the Society of Apothecaries and prevented him from being able to complete his training. He made many enemies amongst the Society of Apothecaries and the College of Physicians over the years, so much so, in December of 1642 Culpeper was imprisoned and tried for practising witchcraft, an offence punishable by death in the mid-17th century. To Culpeper’s great relief he was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges.

Using the money he acquired by marrying Alice, Culpeper built a house in Spitalfields on Red Lion Street, and being outside of the City of London, Culpeper wasn’t governed by the rules set out by the College of Physicians, although his practice was only semi-legal, Culpeper became a sought after herbalist and astrologer and is said to have treated as many as 40 patients a day. By now Culpeper was getting a reputation as an outspoken atheist and he also began to display anti-royalist tendencies publicly and in 1642 he joined in the civil war fighting for the Parliamentarians at the battle of Edgehill. Part 2 to follow.

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.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Herbal Focus: Lungwort

Article and Photo Ⓒ Debs Cook
As we travel from Winter to Spring there are new signs of herbal life appearing in my garden, and one of the first herbs to make an appearance this early in the year after the Witch-hazel, is Lungwort also known as Pulmonaria, a name derived from the Latin word ‘pulmo’ which means lung. Lungwort is a member of the borage (boraginaceae) family, and thrives in shady and damp parts of the garden and, indeed, prefers such conditions to dry and sunny ones. It also loves chalky soil and makes a useful ground cover plant.

Depending on variety, Lungwort ranges in height from 15 - 40cm with a spread of 45 - 60cm. It has five-petaled flowers that extend in clusters as short bells from the green, hairy bracts and stems. Lungwort has creeping rhizome's that can help it to spread. The leaves, which are pointed ovals and in some cases thin (similar to the leaves of plantain), range in colour from plain green, through a whole host of greens with spots, blotches and smudges of white, cream and silvery grey. The colours of the flowers range from pure white through to shades of red, pink, violet and a full range of blues and there are around 14 species and over 150 different cultivars of Pulmonaria grown around the world.

Lungwort had a variety of folk names, including Herb of Mary, Soldiers and Sailors, Jerusalem Cowslip, Spotted Dog, Joseph and Mary and Bethlehem Sage. In the past, many wild flowers and herbs were associated with the Virgin Mary and St. Bridget, and all of them were worn or used as a protection against witches and evil spirits, lungwort was said to be used as proof for revealing if a person was a witch as well as for providing protection from them.

Lungwort was also called Mary's Tears because the white spots on the leaves resembled tear stains, and the changing colour of the flowers from pink to blue were believed to represent blue eyes becoming reddened from weeping.

Historically speaking, lungwort has been used for centuries to cure a variety of ailments, from 1348-1350 the 'Black Death' also known as the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe killing an estimated 4.2 million people in England alone. Lungwort was one of the herbs used alongside wormwood in attempts to cure the plague in Europe.

In (1493-1541) Paracelsus listed the herb in his Doctrine of Signatures, and in much the same way as Goldenrod was said to cure jaundice due to its yellow colouring, lungwort was said to cure pulmonary disease because the spotted leaves resembled diseased lungs. Lungwort became more widely used in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries for treating diseases of the breast and lungs. In England in the 17th century lungwort became known as Jerusalem Cowslip and was held in high regard as a treatment for asthma and bronchial complaints.

Anybody reading Culpeper's Complete Herbal can be forgiven for being a little confused when they read his account of Lungwort "Lungwort is a kind of moss that groweth on sundry sorts of trees, especially oaks and beeches, with broad, greyish, tough leaves diversely folded, crumpled, and gashed in on the edges, and some spotted also with many small spots on the upper side. It was never seen to bear any stalk or flower at any time." Although Culpeper does state that the lungwort he refers to is useful for treating diseases of the lungs and for coughs and wheezing, he was in fact referring to Lungmoss (Lobaria pulmonaria), a lichen which often gets referred to as Lungwort in older publications, rather than P. officinalis.

Culpeper’s Lungwort description was continued by many including Maude Grieve, who in her 1931 book ‘A Modern Herbal’ when describing lungwort, gave the Latin name for Lungmoss which was then known as Sticta pulmonaria, alongside the botanical description for lungwort, the borage family member we see pictured above. Grieve added that the lungwort sold by 1930’s druggists was in fact Lung Moss which she also referred to by another of its common names of Oak Lungs. From then on, the two herbs have been incorrectly melded together despite being different plants from different plant families.

Medicinally only the leaves of lungwort were used, they are astringent and have been used to help staunch bleeding and as poultices. The leaves were also made into preparations that often included liquorice, mugwort, cowslip, coltsfoot or aniseed amongst their ingredients, the remedies were used primarily as an expectorant, to relieve congestion and ease sore throats.

Lungwort leaves contain saponins, allantoins, silica, flavonoids, tannins, vitamin C and mucilage. In the 19th and 20th centuries, physicians used Lungwort to treat cases of lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, asthma and coughs. The success of lungwort in treating these conditions may have been due to the fact that lungwort contains natural antibiotic components which can act against bacteria. The silica and allantoin content of lungwort may also be the reason the herb was recommended for its wound healing properties and for use externally for treating eczema, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, wounds and burns. The leaves are astringent and have been used to help staunch bleeding.

In medieval times, the young tender leaves were a popular pot herb for adding to stews and savoury dishes, although the hairy nature of the leaves was not liked by everyone and older leaves were very rarely eaten as the older the leaf got, the coarser the hairs became. Lungwort was used by ancient gardeners to help keep slug and snail populations down, in the belief that the little molluscs did not like the hairy foliage, but it is more likely that they avoid the toxic alkaloids and saponins that are present in the plant.

Externally, a decoction of the leaves or a tincture can be added to salves, balms and ointments, to soothe skin conditions such as eczema and ulcers, it can also be used in creams to bring relief from haemorrhoids and can help reduce inflammation on skin wounds and minor burns. Caution: It is now known that lungwort, like one of its sister plants in the borage family, comfrey (Symphytum officinale), contains toxic pyrrolizidin alkaloids, so taking this herb internally without medical supervision is not recommended. It is also not advised to take this herb over a long period of time or if you are pregnant or a nursing mother.

Caution: It is now known that lungwort, like one of its sister plants in the borage family, comfrey (Symphytum officinale), contains toxic pyrrolizidin alkaloids, so taking this herb internally without medical supervision is not recommended. It is also not advised to take this herb over a long period of time or if you are pregnant or a nursing mother.

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

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