Friday, 6 September 2019

Herbal Focus: Elderberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Use of Elderberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 August 2019

Alcohol Free Herbal Cocktails


There are a wealth of recipes out there for making alcohol based drinks with herbal twists, however on hot days alcohol will just make you hotter and more dehydrated, so a nice cold alcoholic drink, whilst seeming like a good option at the time, is just going to make you thirstier! Add to that the fact that not all adults like to drink alcohol, either through choice or because they are the designated driver, on medication, or for a variety of other reasons, so make sure you provide something special for them to drink.

If you whip up some herb syrups you can make your own alcohol free mojito’s, juleps and spritzers so nobody feels left out, some people refer to these kind of drinks as mocktail’s, but there is nothing mock or fake about these alternative drinks, they are refreshing, tasty and very easy to make. They can be made with any combination of fruit juices and flavourings, my favourite way to do this is to make up a series of syrups before a party and make up jugs of alcohol free drinks for anyone to enjoy.

Basic Herb Syrup Recipe


You can make a basic syrup from one herb or try mixing a few together, these syrups can be turned in to alcohol free drinks very easily with the addition of some sparkling mineral water, tonic water or lemonade, for bonus points, they can also be used to sweeten iced herbal teas adding another layer of flavour to your iced tea.

Ingredients:

1 Litre Spring Water
45g Dried Herb of choice e.g. Basil, Elderflower, Lavender, Lemongrass, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Verbena, Peppermint or Spearmint.
450g Castor Sugar

Method: Place your water in a non-stick pan and add your chosen herb(s) bring the contents of the pan to the boil and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, strain the herb infused water into a clean glass jug to remove the solids from the liquid, then clean out the pan. Once clean, pour the herb infused water back in to the pan and simmer on a very gentle heat until your litre of liquid has reduced down to 200ml. At this point stir in the sugar and continue to simmer the contents stirring as until all the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved pour your herb syrup in to bottles, label and store in the fridge.

N.B. Reducing liquids on a very low light can take time, it takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour for 28ml of liquid to evaporate. Using a large pan increases the surface area of your liquid which will allow it to reduce in a quicker time than a small pan. Larger pans mean that there are more surface molecules per unit of volume that are able to evaporate from the liquid.

For something a little different try making a Seed Syrup, my favourite is Coriander Seed Syrup, but I’ve made Fennel Seed Syrup as well and used them to flavour drinks. I’m particularly fond of the Coriander Seed Syrup mixed with apple juice and topped up with ginger ale to make a delicious grown up drink that tastes so good, who needs alcohol! Coriander syrup is also a perfect partner to fruit based drinks that contain lemon, mango, orange, peach and pear.

To make a seed syrup follow the above method for herb syrups but use 30g of lightly crushed seed.

Top Tip


If a syrup based drink is too sweet due to the syrup, add a good dash of sourness with freshly grapefruit, lemon or lime juice depending on the flavours in your cocktail and top off with tonic water. This will help to take away some of the sweetness by adding bitter and sour flavours.

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, 2 August 2019

Cooling Herbal Summer Drinks


I recently wrote about the way herbal iced teas can have a cooling effect on the body when it’s hot and sticky, see the article here Using Herbal Teas To Keep Cool. But iced teas aren’t the only drinks we can make from herbs to help keep us cool and quench our thirst during the summer.

We can make subtle and delicate drinks like rose petal lemonade or stroll down memory lane - if you’re my age – and make a batch of nettle or ginger beer, cue the Enid Blyton obligatory ‘Lashings of Ginger Beer’ quote. Although I have to confess after a rather gingery explosion in the kitchen one summers afternoon when my ginger beer ‘plant’ exploded all over the newly decorated walls, I’m now banned from making ginger beer! Instead I make a lemongrass and ginger syrup and mix that with lemonade.

Is there anything more refreshing on a hot summer’s day than a glass of ice cold homemade cloudy lemonade? Well actually yes, make orangeade and add basil, enhance the flavour of the lemonade with lemon thyme or make limeade laced with rosemary. Or you can go floral and try my personal favourite rose petal lemonade. Soft, pink, girlie and delicious, perfect for serving at a baby shower for a little girl, or for a girl’s night on the patio!

Rose Petal Lemonade


60g Dried Culinary Grade Rose Petals or 120g Fresh Rose Petals
500ml Boiling Water
200g Castor Sugar
Juice of 8 Lemons
1 Tbsp. Good Quality Culinary Rose Water
1250ml Cold Water (N.B. Use sparkling Spring Water if you want to have a fizzy version)

Method: Place the rose petals into a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them. Allow to steep for about 10-15 minutes, then strain out the rose petals and discard. Mix the sugar into the hot water and stir until dissolved, add the lemon juice, this will help to create the pink colour in the lemonade, next add the rose water and pour into a 2 litre capacity jug or bottle. Taste the rose lemonade and add more sugar if too sour or more lemon juice if too sweet, you can also add a little more rose water if the lemonade isn’t rosy enough for you. Finally top the jug up with the rest of the cold water, or use sparkling water if you want your rose lemonade to fizz.

Serve in tall glasses over ice with a few rose petals for decoration. I also like to freeze rose petals and whole raspberries in ice cube trays and use these to chill my rose lemonade.

Lavender Lemonade


Another of my floral summer favourite drinks, this is a wonderfully different summer drink to try, and really easy to make, you can make a still or sparkling version to suit your taste. It definitely tastes better served well chilled whichever version you make.

Ingredients:

50g Dried Lavender Flowers, Culinary Grade preferably
500ml Boiling Water
150g Castor Sugar
Juice of 8 Lemons
1250ml Cold Water (N.B. Use sparkling Spring Water if you want to have a fizzy version)

Method: Follow the method given for the rose lemonade recipe above substituting dried lavender for rose petals and omitting the rose water.

Old Fashioned Dandelion & Burdock Cordial


Fruit and herb cordials are very refreshing on long hot summer days, typically they are viewed as being drinks for children, but there are plenty of recipes for cordials that are made for the adult palette. For me, nothing beats sipping ice cold dandelion and burdock, be it a still version from a cordial like the one in this recipe, or a version with added fizz. It takes me back to my childhood and is still a drink I love as an adult. You can also find recipes for Dandelion & Burdock beer if you fancy making an alcoholic tipple, or you can use the cordial to make a cocktail with vodka or gin as the base.

1 Litre Cold Spring Water
15g Burdock Root Powder
15g Dandelion Root Powder
5g Ground Ginger
1 Whole Star Anise Pod, Crushed
½ Tsp Liquorice Root Powder
½ Tsp Citric Acid
1 Tbsp. Black Treacle
450g Granulated Sugar
Soda Water

To make the dandelion and burdock cordial, first you have to make a syrup by mixing all the dry ingredients in a little of the spring water to form a paste and place into a pan and add the remaining cold water and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer the pan for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and strain the liquid through a fine mesh nylon sieve or muslin, or failing that a clean tea towel to remove all the solids. Clean out the pan and put the filtered liquid back into it and place the pan on a very low light and stir in the sugar and treacle. Continue to stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool and then pour into a clean sterilised bottle.

To serve, put 50ml of the syrup in to a tall glass and top up with 200ml of well chilled sparkling water or fill a large glass jug with 1 part syrup to 4 parts sparkling water.

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, 26 July 2019

Herbal Summer Travel Essentials


When you’re away on holiday sometimes you can experience cuts, bruises, upset tummies, sleeplessness and a variety of other minor ailments. It’s not always easy to go to a doctor or find medical support whilst away, so taking a small kit of essential herbal supplies that includes things such as plasters, bandages and gauze, and a selection of herbs, herbal oils and creams away with you, can be of great benefit for taking care of minor cuts, bruises and attacks of nausea and headaches. Here’s a few to consider packing for your travels: -

Aloe Vera Gel – Gels or lotions made from aloe vera are excellent for using to soothe minor burns, scalds and also sunburn. All you need to do is apply the gel to the affected area and let it do its work.

Calendula Cream – Calendula is both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, it’s a lovely soothing cream that can be used for minor cuts, grazes, insect bites and also nappy rash. Ensure cuts and grazes are thoroughly cleaned and free of any dirt or grit before you apply calendula cream.

Chickweed Cream – This remedy is often used to help sooth eczema, but it is also a useful cream to have in your remedy box, it can help sooth minor burns or scalds. Chickweed also has the ability to help draw out impurities from the skin in things like boils and abscesses, it also rather useful for helping to remove splinters from the skin and soothing insect bites and stings.

Comfrey Ointment – Is great for applying to sprains, swelling and bruising. Although comfrey does encourage cell growth and can help heal up cuts quite quickly, it is not antiseptic and its rapid healing properties can lead to abscesses if is used on a wound that has not been thoroughly cleaned, so ensure that you have thoroughly cleaned the wound and preferably used an antiseptic cream before applying comfrey ointment.

Tinctures of Arnica and Witch Hazel – Both of these tinctures are useful added to water and made in to a compress to help bring relief to tired and aching legs and can also speed up the healing factor of bruising. Witch hazel tincture can also be added to soothing lotions for soothing minor burns and sunburn and because of its astringent nature it can help minor cuts and grazes to stop bleeding. Add a little witch hazel tincture to water and use a cotton wool ball soaked in the solution to help clean the cut or graze and staunch the blood flow. It’s also useful for taking the sting out of insect bites.

Herbal Teas


Herbal teas can also double as skin washes and rinses, good tea herbs include fennel for digestive upsets, lemon balm for headaches, especially irritating tension headaches and elderflower and yarrow are good to have if there is a chance that you could pick up a cold whilst away, both are excellent anti-catarrhal herbs and can help to reduce fevers.

Chamomile Tea - An infusion of Chamomile flowers can be taken as herbal tea for nervous upsets, it’s soothing and gentle and useful to sip if you’re having problems sleeping. Chamomile tea can be turned in to a steam inhalant to help sufferers of hay fever get some relief, but make sure that you’re not allergic to members of the asteraceae family first! Left to go cold and some cotton wool pads placed in it, it can be placed on the eyes to help bring relief to tired eyes. The tea can also be used as a hair rinse to lighten blonde hair, and added to a facial steam to help cleanse the skin of impurities.

Ginger Powder - Ginger powder can be taken to help relieve the symptoms of dyspepsia - heartburn, bloating and flatulence - and morning sickness, indigestion and period cramps, it can be taken as a tea or in capsule form. It may also help to bring relief to arthritic and rheumatic pains, soothe migraine headaches and soothe tired and aching muscles.

Peppermint Tea – Is good for soothing nausea, upset stomachs and IBS, like ginger it can also be taken for dyspepsia. If symptoms last more than three days seek professional advice. Peppermint tea that has been allowed to cool can be used as a hair rinse for greasy hair, and as a facial tonic, or added to a foot bath to help sooth tired aching feet. Cold peppermint tea can be used as a cold compress to help sooth tension headaches. Try combining ginger and peppermint and drinking as a tea to get the best from both herbs.

Essential Oils


There are a number of essential oils that can be useful to add to your holiday essentials kit, rosemary oil is great when diluted in a carrier oil for easing aches and pains caused by arthritis and rheumatism. Thyme oil is a great antiseptic and it’s also antispasmodic to, so it’s useful to massage into cramping and aching muscles, after it’s been diluted in a suitable carrier oil of course!

If you’re going abroad, chances are that mosquitoes will be a problem, the oil most often used to repel mosquitoes is citronella, but oils that contain citronellol and geraniol such as basil, cedarwood, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, rosemary and tea tree all have insect repelling properties. Use any of the oils mentioned above or below at a ratio of 2-3 drops of essential oil to 1 tsp of carrier oil and rub on to the skin to deter flying pests.

Citronella Essential Oil – Is an excellent way to deter fleas and flying insects such as mosquitoes, in general it only works in close proximity and if used in a bug deterrent spray it needs to be applied often. Add to citronella oil to lotions, creams and soaps, and to shampoos for the hair. Add to washing water for floors and surfaces where antiseptic, insect repelling and antibacterial properties are required.

Lavender Essential Oil – Diluted in a suitable carrier oil, lavender oil can be used to soothe bites and stings, its antiseptic and antibacterial properties may help prevent a bite or sting from becoming infected and it can help the skin to heal. When diluted in a suitable carrier oil it can be used on minor burns, cuts and grazes and can speed up the healing process. A few drops on your pillow may help you get to sleep, and diluted it may help ease headaches and migraines. Add to lotions, creams, soaps, face masks, foot powders and bath salts for the skin, and shampoos for the hair.

Tea Tree Essential Oil – Like lavender, tea tree oil is antiseptic, antibacterial and it’s also anti-fungal, diluted in a suitable carrier oil it can be used topically to ease cold sores and if applied when the first symptoms appear may stop the sore developing all together, it’s also useful for applying to warts, and other fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. Add to shampoos for dandruff sufferers, lotions, creams, balms, salves, washes and soaps where an antiseptic and antimicrobial action is required.

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, 19 July 2019

Herbs for Travel Sickness


Travel sickness is also called referred to as sea sickness and car sickness and also motion sickness. It can occur when travelling by bus, car, ferry or boat and planes, it’s also possible to experience motion sickness sitting waiting an action movie or on fun fair rides. Sufferers can experience symptoms including dizziness, fatigue, hyperventilation, and nausea occur which in severe cases can lead to vomiting.

As a child I experienced my fair share of travel sickness problems, which back then was often resolved by ‘sucking a barley sugar’ an old confection still made today, sadly the majority of today’s barley sugar sweets are confectionery only, the don’t contain the decoction of barley or barley extract that the barley sugars of old did. Barley was an old remedy for nausea and morning sickness.

So what is it Motion sickness? Our senses take in lots of information from our surroundings and sends that information to the brain to process, as we travel the eyes, ears, muscles and even our skin send signals to the brain as we move. The problem occurs when our brains receive conflicting information, and usually arises when fluid in our inner ears known as the labyrinth sends a signal that the rest of our senses hasn’t picked up.

When everything is working as it should when we travel our eyes, the labyrinth which is situated in the inner ear and contains fluid that sloshes around as we move, our skin and our muscles send sensory information to the brain. That information helps the body to be aware of its position in space and allows the body to be able to determine if it’s moving or stationary and if it is moving, what direction it is moving in. If any of these signals misfire or conflict with information sent by another sense, the whole system becomes out of balance and motion sickness occurs.

Helping Yourself


If you suffer from motion sickness there are a few simple things you can do to help ease your symptoms before you reach for herbal home remedies.

Taking a good B-Complex vitamin can help, make sure it contains vitamin B6 also known as pyridoxine which can help ease the nausea associated with motion sickness. Start taking it at least 3-4 days before you travel and continue to take it throughout your holiday on a daily basis, if you don’t want to take a supplement you can B6 in the following foods brewer's yeast, wheat bran, wheat germ, liver, kidney, heart, milk, eggs and beef. Eat light meals the day before you travel and avoid having anything to rich, fatty or spicy, if you suffer from vomiting then try and keep your stomach relatively empty, if there isn’t much in, not so much can come out!

If you’re travelling by plane, when you make your reservation, ask them for an aisle seat over a wing. Travelling by boat or ferry, ask for a cabin on the upper deck toward the front of the vessel, and keep your eyes fixed as much as possible on the horizon or land as you travel, try not to stand on the boat or ferry, standing with move your body and shift your balance and cause more conflicting signals which will only amplify the motion sickness. By car, bus or train sit in the same direction that you are travelling so you’re facing forwards at all times, keeping your focus on the horizon, it will also help if you position the air vent of the vehicle to blow cool air directly on your face.

6 Herbs to the Ease Travel Sickness


It's important to note that herbs cannot prevent motion sickness from occurring, what they can do is alleviate the symptoms and make you feel a little better, some of the best herbs to try to help ease the symptoms are the following: -

Chamomile – A cup or chamomile tea or a nice, cold chamomile infusion can help to combat the effects of travel sickness, it can soothe the nerves and calm the stomach, it’s anti-spasmodic, carminative, digestive and nervine properties are all ideal for dealing with nausea, its mildly sedative as well, which is good to help you relax. Choose German Chamomile rather than Roman Chamomile as the German variety is milder and not as bitter.

Catnip – Another herb that makes a soothing and comforting tea or infusion that is useful for dealing with motion sickness, it has anti-anxiety, anti-spasmodic, carminative, nervine, sedative and stomachic properties, it is mild and gentle and a weak infusion sweetened, can be given to children to help with their symptoms, catnip can be combined with chamomile.

Fennel Seeds – The seed can be used to make a pleasant tea or infusion which can calm the stomach. Fennel is also a mild analgesic, so if the nausea causes pain or you get a mild headache, then fennel can help. It is also anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, carminative and stomachic, the seeds can also be chewed to help ease digestion and curb nausea.

Ginger – This spice is synonymous with travel sickness, it’s also often taken by women suffering from morning sickness, ginger has analgesic, anti-emetic (stops nausea), anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and carminative properties. Take ginger either as a tea, mixed with a little lemon which can also help with nausea or make your own crystallised ginger sweets that you can chew as and when needed. If you don’t like spicy flavour of ginger but want to partake of its benefits then powdered ginger in capsule form may help.

Lemon Balm – Like catnip, lemon balm has anti-anxiety properties, it’s also naturally anti-emetic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, and sedative, it can be taken as a tea or tisane, it can also be made in to herbal drops that can be sucked whilst travelling, try combining lemon balm with chamomile to help improve the bitterness of the chamomile, it can also be combined with ginger.

Peppermint – Another herb synonymous with travel sickness and nausea, it has anodyne (relieves mild pain), anti-spasmodic, aromatic, carminative, refrigerant and stomachic properties. Peppermint will calm the gastro-intestinal tract and soothe the stomach if taken as a tea or decoction. Like ginger and liquorice it can also be turned in to a lozenge or sweet that can be sucked during travel. If the flavour of peppermint is too strong for you, or it’s to be given to a child use spearmint instead which is milder and gentler in action.

Try an Aromatic Approach


You don’t have to take all remedies internally, sometimes the scent of a herb can help, try making a refreshing and soothing spritzer spray using single essential oils or combinations of Chamomile, Fennel, Ginger, Lavender, Lemon, Melissa (Lemon Balm) and Peppermint.

Both ginger and peppermint oils are particularly useful oils to have on hand for motion sickness, some people find that when the oils are diluted in a suitable carrier oil and the resulting blend is massaged in to the temples or gently in to the stomach it can help relieve the nausea and dizzy feelings. When massaging the stomach take care to be gentle and use only smooth gentle strokes, working in a clockwise direction. You can also add a few drops of either oil to a tissue or handkerchief and hold it under your nose and breathe in the aromas when smells like fried foods and fumes can trigger motion sickness problems.

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, 12 July 2019

Using Herbal Teas to Keep Cool


Hot summer sunshine isn’t welcomed by everyone, and when the temperatures soar, some of us can be found clinging to any shady areas we can find, consuming ice cream like it’s going out of fashion and desperately wafting around pieces of card, paper, magazines or anything that can be used to create a makeshift fan to try to create a cooling breeze to help keep us cool. If any of those scenarios sound familiar, then you may like to know that sipping a herbal tea or cordial made from cooling herbs can help cool you down when the temperatures begin to soar.

Sipping a cold drink can indeed help to bring down your body temperature, but that cooling effect is short lived if there is nothing to enhance the cooling powers, however if you choose the right herbs to make your herbal infusion from, then you will gain more of a benefit from your cooling drink. Herbs that work best are referred to as cooling herbs, they are also known as refrigerant herbs, these herbs have a specific cooling effect on the body and are particularly effective when applied externally; so you can use any leftover iced tea – as long as it hasn’t been sweetened with sugar or honey - to make cold compresses for the forehead. Something my mum did with peppermint tea when she was feeling the heat. Refrigerant herbs can also help to soothe irritation as well as helping to reduce internal and external body heat.

The phrase “as cool as a cucumber” is something to keep in mind during the summer, cucumbers do indeed have cooling properties, it’s not just for garnish that we add cucumber, along with the herb borage - another member of the cucumber family - orange slices and juicy strawberries to that quintessential summer drink Pimm’s. They are added because they all give additional cooling properties to the drink, although they do lose some of their effect as the alcohol in the cocktail raises your body temperature again. However, if you remove the alcohol from the equation the cooling and refreshing actions of the herbs are restored, so try making some herbal lemonade or orangeade and using the same herbs and fruits to help cool you down.

A point to note, make sure you avoid making your iced herb teas using diaphoretic herbs, diaphoretic means that the herb will help the skin to eliminate toxins and aid perspiration, they will cool you down, but they will cause you to sweat more. Not something you want to do on hot days, so avoid diaphoretic herbs such as Boneset, Ginger, Hyssop, White Horehound and Yarrow.

There are countless herbal tea blends out there, including fruit, mint, citrus, and green teas but making your own blend is really easy, see below for a couple of ideas. Most people drink their herbal teas hot, but you can make them up, allow them to go cold and serve them over ice to make a refreshing cold drink. Doing this is easy, but it’s worth noting that adding ice will weaken the flavour of the brew. Some people would be tempted to simply allow the tea to steep or ‘brew’ for longer, but this will just result in a bitter flavour, especially in the case of herbs like chamomile and green tea.

How To Make Herbal Iced Tea


They way to get a stronger flavour is to add more herb to the brew in the beginning rather than steep for longer periods of time. If you’re using pre blended tea bags you’ll need 3 for every litre of water. If you’re using dried herb blends then you need 2 teaspoons dried herbs for every 250ml water, so 8 teaspoons for 1 litre.

1. First boil the kettle.

2. Next put your dried herb blend/tea bags in a large glass jug then pour over the boiling water, if you’re using loose herbs for your tea then use a tea ball, or pop them in an infuser, alternatively make the tea in a cafetière, so you can push the herbs to the bottom.

3. If you want sweet tea, now is the time to add the sweetener of choice whilst the tea is still hot, add stevia, honey or sugar. You can use a sugar syrup once the tea is cold but be warned that you cannot stir sugar into cold tea as it won’t dissolve.

4. Leave the herbs steeping in the hot water for 10-15 minutes, then strain off the tea into a clean glass jug preferably a lidded one, or a pitcher, make sure there is room for ice and any edible decorations you want add.

5. Leave to go cold and then place the jug in the fridge to chill the herbal tea. Once chilled place some ice in a tumbler and pour over chilled tea over the ice, serve.


Flavour Combinations


There are a wide varieties of flavour combinations to try to make your iced teas from, try combinations of the following herbs all of which have cooling: - Basil, catnip, chamomile, chickweed, citrus fruits including lemon, lime, mandarin and orange, elderflower, green tea, hibiscus, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass, peppermint, raspberry leaf, red clover, rose, rosehip and spearmint. Of course you can make a straight forward one flavour iced tea like peppermint or lemon balm if you fancy keeping it simple, but here’s a few recipes to get you started if you fancy mixing it up.

Apple, Mint & Chamomile - For a delicious cooling and refreshing fruity twist try this brew, boil 500ml of water and add it to your jug, and add 5 tsp of Chamomile, and 3 tsp Spearmint and leave to infuse for 10 minutes, strain off the herbs then add 500ml of Apple Juice and leave to cool, chill and proceed as per main method. Try substituting orange juice for the apple and adding 1 tsp basil for a refreshing change, too much basil can be over powering the flavour of this combination is subtle and surprisingly delicious.

Citrus & Chamomile Delight – Chamomile is wonderfully relaxing and cooling and goes so well with lemon flavoured herbs which give the flavour a real zing. Chamomile can be bitter if left to steep for too long, so make sure you don’t leave the herb in the brew for too long. To make brew up the following blend as per the method above: - 3 tsp Lemon Verbena, 3 tsp Chamomile Flowers and 2 tsp Lemon Balm.

Green Tea & Elderflower - This blend is refreshing but can be a little tart for some people, so make sure you add some sweetness, alternatively use the half water, half apple juice method in Apple, Mint and Chamomile recipe above. To your boiling water add 5 tsp Green Tea, 2 tsp Elderflower's and 1 tsp Lemon Peel and leave to steep for 10 minutes. You could add a splash of elderflower cordial to this recipe to sweeten it a little.

Iced Hibiscus Tea – Hibiscus flowers are delicious either served hot as a tea, made into syrup or used to make a delicious chilled drink. In some countries hibiscus is also known as sorrel and alternatively roselle. Hibiscus flowers were used in Egypt to make a drink known as Karkade which was given to the Pharaohs, and today in Egypt and the Sudan traditional toasts are still made at special events with a glass of karkade. Whatever you call the herb, hibiscus tea is an astringent and sharp tea that tastes fruity, almost cranberry like and is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. You can enjoy it on its own by adding 8 tsp of Hibiscus Tea to your jug and allowing it to steep for 20-30. The astringency and sourness of hibiscus requires the tea to be sweetened so use honey or sugar to taste at the boiling water stage so that the sweetener dissolves.

Lemony Lavender Cooler – Lavender isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I like to make cordial and syrups from it to drizzle over ice-cream or use to flavour summer drinks and cocktails, I also like to add it to tea blends, bear in mind that lavender has a very strong flavour so don’t be tempted to add more than 1tsp, less is more as they say. To 1000ml boiling water add 3 tsp Lemongrass, 2 tsp Lemon Peel, 2 sp Lemon Balm and 1 tsp Lavender and proceed as main method.

Nettle, Rose & Spearmint – Nettle on its own can be a tad astringent on the palette for some people so try giving it some extra aroma and flavour by adding rose petals and spearmint. To your 1000ml of water add 4 tsp Nettle, 3 tsp Spearmint and 1 tsp Rose Petals. You can substitute peppermint for spearmint, however spearmint has a softer flavour and is gentler to younger palettes, peppermint can be a little strong.

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.

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.

Ingredients:

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