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