Hawthorn 101

During the month of February, when all marketing seems to center on triumphs of the heart, it’s important to remember that not every heart is celebrating Valentine’s Day; many hearts need physical and emotional nurturing. That’s when we herbalists love to sing the praises of hawthorn, one of the nature’s resilient trees and Western herbalism’s most widely used plants for promoting heart health.* Beloved around the world since the time of the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Native Americans, hawthorn remains a staple in herbal apothecaries as a tonic and natural support for all things related to the heart.

The hardy Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) consists of over 280 species whose dense, thorny, deciduous trees thrive in temperate climates.  A member of the rose family, the plant blooms clusters of pink or white flowers in the late spring, which then give way to red berries, called “haws,” in late summer.

An important species in Traditional European Herbal Medicine. Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, hawthorn often gathers into thick hedgerows, used throughout history for their strength to enclose pastures and meadows. In fact, historians claim that the ancient hedgerows in France’s Normandy region were so robust that they made the D-Day Battles of World War II even more challenging. Some hawthorn plants can live for up to 200 years.

tm_embed_hawthorn101_ssHawthorn lends its innate resilience to the circulatory system in countless ways. As hearty as it is hardy, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar writes that hawthorn’s haws, leaves, and flowers contain beneficial flavonoids and procyanidins “to feed and tone the heart.” Flavonoids help promote everyday wellness and support heart health, while procyanidins, as condensed tannins, add a protective benefit much like red wine grapes. What’s more, herbalists believe that the energetic properties of hawthorn can help lift the spirits from heartbreak and grief.

First praised by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century A.D. and in the ancient Chinese herbal, Tang-Ben-Cao, in 659 A.D., hawthorn has since held an affectionate place in herbalists’ hearts. Beyond herbal medicine, hawthorn has also played a role in herbal folklore to ward off evil spirits. To shield newborn babies from harm, the Romans would hang hawthorn sprigs over cradles. Other pagans strung hawthorn flowers into garlands for use in May Day celebrations. Early Christians associated the plant with Jesus’ crown of thorns and hung it over doorways for protection during the Middle Ages.

Whether physical, emotional or spiritual, hawthorn’s herbal powers seek to protect and support matters of the heart.

hawthorn-flowersHawthorn

Crataegus oxyacantha
or
Crataegus monogyna

Also, Known As:

  • English Hawthorn
  • Haw
  • Hawthorn
  • May
  • May Blossom
  • Maybush
  • May Tree
  • Quick-set
  • Shan-cha
  • Whitethorn

The herb called the hawthorn is one of the best herbal remedies to boost the performance of the heart and the human circulatory system in general. A potent vasodilatory action can be induced in the human body by the flowers, leaves and the berries of the hawthorn. When these parts of the herb are consumed, they open up the arteries to promote circulation and improve the blood supply to all the general tissues in the body. Regular supplementation with this herb can thus help bring some balance blood pressure and it is considered to be an excellent remedy for the treatment of high blood pressure – especially when the condition is connected to hardening in the arteries of the person. Problems such as those connected to poor circulation caused by aging arteries, problems of poor circulation towards the lower body and legs as well as problems like poor memory and confusion induced by a poor blood circulation to the brain can all be remedied by supplementation with the hawthorn herb. The herb also has an effective and remedial effect in angina cases, the hawthorn based remedies can help open the coronary arteries in the heart and by so doing aid in the improvement of blood flow to the heart, and this herb also softens deposits in the arterial system. The vagus nerve which influences the cardiac muscles is also beneficially affected by the hawthorn herbal remedies, the consumption of this herb can thus slow down irregularities in the heart and reduce a rapid or fast heart rate in a patient. It can be said that herbal remedies made from the hawthorn are ideal for most heart conditions affecting people.

hawthorn-fruitHawthorn berries possess a potent and effective astringent effect – this is very effective in the treatment of problems such as diarrhea and dysentery in patients. The digestive system also benefits due to the relaxant action possessed by the hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries – the herbal remedy also boosts the appetite. At the same time, it acts in relieving abdominal distension and in the removal of stagnation of food in the intestinal tract. Hawthorn herbal remedies also have an effective relaxing effect on the functioning of the nervous system, the herb aids in relieving excessive stress and anxiety, it helps in calming mental agitation, it lessens restlessness and reduces nervous palpitations. The herb also induces sleepiness in people affected by insomnia. The herbal remedies made from the hawthorn also have a diuretic action on the body, it aids in relieving fluid retention in the body and helps dissolve deposits of kidney stones and gravel. The herb is helpful to women in menopause, as it aids in removing debility or night sweats in those affected by them. The hawthorn berries can be made into an herbal decoction, which can be used as an astringent gargle for sore throats as well as an herbal douche for women affected by excessive vaginal discharges.

hawthorn_tree

The hawthorn family of herbs is represented by a family of one hundred to two hundred related species of small trees and shrubs, found in the North American continent, with huge populations in the eastern part of the United States of America. This family of related plants has a very confusing and difficult taxonomy. Though no longer used for most, the hawthorn herb was initially divided into many species. At least 1,100 specific names were published, most of which are no longer accepted. At the same time, many different varieties of the plant are recognized, and hybrids of the herb do exist in the wild. The hawthorn family serves as an important source of food for wildlife; these plants also serve as foliage and cover for animals. The many species which bear fruits that can persist over the winter are particularly of great value to different animal communities in the forest. The many varieties of the hawthorn are utilized in environmental plantings in many forestation projects. Hawthorn plants are very hardy and can tolerate conditions in many different sites with a variety of climatic and soil conditions, due to this, the plants have been planted for stabilizing river banks, and have also been used to shelter reverie belts, as well as being used for erosion control of the soil.

 

Most members of the hawthorn family of plants are characterized by the presence of thorny twigs and branches, while a few species bear no spines whatsoever. Hawthorn plants bear leaves singly on the branches; these are simple leaves that are borne in alternate rows along the axis of the plant – all of them in different degrees of lobing and varying shapes and serration. The hawthorn family is characterized by bearing very conspicuous flowers, these flowers have five creamy coloreds to pinkish blossoms. The hawthorn flowers are an important part of the history and lore of the United States – for example, the Pilgrims’ ship, the Mayflower, is named after hawthorn flower. The hawthorn flowers normally grow in fragrant clusters during the midsummer, thriving in flattish and terminal groups on the branches. Hawthorn also gives out fruit each season, these are small and resemble apples, and they are characteristically tipped with the remnants of the outermost floral leaves. The fruits are really pomes, which is a fleshy reproductive entity of the plant. Hawthorn pomes have five seeds enclosed in the capsules. These pomes also have a thick outer fleshy layer that is markedly different in taste from one shrub or tree to the other – particularly when the pomes are raw. The size of the each pomes or fruiting body is usually less than half an inch in diameter. The color being reddish, though sometimes yellow and rarely bluish, black or purplish. The hawthorn fruits have a high sugar and low protein, as well as low-fat content pulps.

Bulgarian medical doctors were reportedly treating patients with coronary heart problems using a fluid extract of the hawthorn according to British newspaper reports from 1969. These doctors treated patients over a period of six weeks, the dosage for each patient was fifteen drops of the extract dropped beneath the tongue two times every day, at least three-quarters of the group of sixty-two patients were said to fully recover from the treatment given to them. The use of the hawthorn berries in the treatment of problems such as heart palpitations, conditions like angina, as well as a problem like a stroke was also given in the report by the Sunday times. The presence of organic compounds such as bioflavonoids, like the compound rutin and hesperidin as well as vitamin C, is believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects.

 

There are two major ways in which the hawthorn acts on the human body. The dilation it induces in the blood vessels, particularly the coronary vessels, which leads to a reduction in the peripheral resistance and a consequent lowering of the blood pressure is the considered to be the primary action. This action of the hawthorn is believed to be responsible for beginning about a reduction in the tendency to experience sudden attacks of angina. The secondary action that the hawthorn induces is apparently a direct and favorable effect on the functioning of the heart; this action is very evident particularly in cases of heart damage sustained by a patient. The effect of the hawthorn extract is not immediate and the beneficial actions tend to develop very slowly over a period of time. The hawthorn is also known to be toxic only at abnormally high dosages and is safe in low doses as a heart tonic. Hawthorn can be considered as a relatively harmless heart tonic, which yields beneficial results in many cardiac conditions that can be treated with herbal remedies.

 

The beneficial effects of the hawthorn principally accrue from a mixture of plant organic pigments called flavonoids, these chemicals are present in high quantities in many different parts of the herb body. The greatest chemical and physiological actions seem to be displayed by the compounds known as oligomeric procyanidins – or the dihydro catechins. A strong sedative action is also displayed by these chemicals which suggest a beneficial action on the central nervous system in general. The various hawthorn’s based herbal preparations said to possess significant therapeutic value has been recently defined by the German commission E. In the year 1994, the German commission published a revised monograph that recognizes an herbal preparation containing fixed combinations of hawthorn flowers, leaves, and fruits, the monogram also recognized herbal preparations made from the leaves and flowers for use in various treatments. These two herbal extracts are both formed from water and alcohol mixtures with the herb to extract ratio at approximately 5-7:1 per volume. These two herbal hawthorn preparations have been calculated to deliver from 4 mg to 20 mg of flavonoids – that is based on the hyperoside content – and from 30 to 160 mg of the oligomeric procyanidins – based on the epicatechin content – in a single daily hawthorn extract dosage amount of 160 to 900 mg. The dosages are pre-determined by the physician after examination of the patient. A usual dosage period of these oral forms are extended for at least six weeks and can be longer on a case by case basis. Though unsupported by any major clinical study, the usage of other hawthorn preparations, including a well-known alcoholic extract made using only the leaves or the flowers may also prove effective and useful in many cases. As the effectiveness or safety of some preparations made from hawthorn leaf, berry, or flowers alone in the form of mono-preparations have not been documented – such therapeutic claims must be ignored till further study.

 

These findings may be defeated or substantiated by further scientific studies. As the hawthorn remedies are potentially very valuable in the treatment of many disorders and conditions in the body, the need for immediate scientific studies is apparent and urgently needed. All the side effects and potential dangers of using hawthorn medications must be considered by patients till additional research is carried out, this particularly concerns all prospective users of the hawthorn for serious heart and circulation conditions. Most people who self-prescribe their medications tend to do so following self-diagnosis of the symptoms. There is a great deal of danger involved with this practice particularly when the vital systems of the human body such as the heart and the blood vessels are concerned. Therefore, due to such reasons, the use of hawthorn remedies without the diagnosis of a professional clinician is not suggested – there may be a side effect and other dangers.

Plant Parts Used:

Flowering tops, berries.

Remedy Uses:

Remedies made from the hawthorn plant were traditionally used for all sorts of kidney and bladder stones in Europe. The herbal hawthorn also saw use as a diuretic in the herbal medicine system of medieval Europe. The writings of herbalists such as Culpeper, Gerard, and K’Eogh have all listed the various uses of the herb in herbal literature spanning the 16th to 18th century. An Irish physician successfully used the hawthorn for treating his patients for all kinds of circulatory and cardiac problems near the end of the 19th century – this is the reason that the hawthorn is still used for these particular problems.

Problems such as angina and coronary artery diseases are still treated using the hawthorn remedies today. Hawthorn remedies are also useful for cases of mild congestive heart failure and problems of irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmia. Results usually take some months to show themselves, though the medication is known to work well in a large number of cases. A lot of time is required for the beneficial results to show, similar to the action of many other therapeutic herbs, the hawthorn also works primarily through the body’s own’ physiological processes, changes thus take time and months may go by before results begin to show.

The ability of the hawthorn remedy to reduce high blood pressure is of great therapeutic value, the herbal remedy also raises low blood pressure at the same time. The ability of the hawthorn to restore blood pressure to normal ranges is also highly praised by many herbalists.

Hawthorn is also often used combined with the ginkgo to enhance memory and boost retentive power. The actions of the herb primarily lie in its ability to improve the circulation of blood inside the head, this results in an increase in the amount of oxygen flowing to the brain and this also results in improved memory.

Other medical uses
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Intermittent claudication
  • Swollen Ankles
  • Thrombophlebitis

The Habitat of Hawthorn:

In the northern hemisphere, the temperate areas covering pastures and hedges form ideal habitats for hawthorn trees. Cultivation of the hawthorn trees is usually undertaken using cuttings, while the hawthorn seeds take upwards of eighteen months to germinate in plantations. In plantations, harvesting of the flowering tops is carried out during the late spring, while the hawthorn berries are usually gathered in the late summer to the early autumn each year.

Research:

There has been a fair amount of scientific research conducted on the hawthorn herb. The bioflavonoid content of the herb is considered to be the main source of the beneficial effects. Organic compounds like the flavonoids are responsible for bringing out the relaxation and dilation in the arteries – the coronary arteries in particular. The activity of these bioflavonoids is what increases the actual flow of blood to the muscles of the heart, leading to the reduction of the physical symptoms of angina in a person. A potent and efficient antioxidant action is also displayed by the bioflavonoids, the presence of these substances results in the prevention or reduction and the degeneration of the blood vessels in the body.

The effectiveness of hawthorn in the treatment of chronic heart failure has been confirmed in a number of clinical trials, the most notable one was a 1994 trail in Germany, where the ability of hawthorn to improve heartbeat rate and lower the blood pressure was clearly documented in patients.

Constituents:

Hawthorn contains flavonoid glycosides, procyanidins, saponins, tannins, minerals.

Recommended Dosage:

Most nutritionally oriented doctors prescribe the extracts of the leaves and flowers to their patients. The usual dose used is hawthorn extract that has been standardized to have total bioflavonoid content of about 2.2 % or with an oligomeric procyanidins content of about 18.75% per dose. The dosage used by the majority of patients is about 80 to 300 mg of the herbal hawthorn extract in the form of capsules or in tablet form, with dosage 2 – 3 times daily. The herbal extract in the tincture form at four to five ml doses is also taken three times a day by some patients. The suggested dosage for the traditional berry preparations is to take at least four to five grams daily during the treatment period. The results take some time to become manifest and the remedy could take one to two months to show maximum effect, and the herbal extracts are only meant for long-term treatment strategies.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

There is very littler danger from the long-term use of the hawthorn and it is considered to be extremely safe for patients using it in any long term treatments. Side effects from hawthorn use are also mostly absent and no negative interactions with any other prescription cardiac medications have been identified as yet – though the possibility always exists. Hawthorn herbal remedies are considered safe for use with pregnant women and in women who are lactating, as far as it is known the use of hawthorn by such patients has no known contraindications. The safety of hawthorn remedies is thus guaranteed till further studies are conducted.

How Hawthorn Works in the Body

The main action of the hawthorn is on the functioning of the cardiovascular system, the organic compounds in the herb affect the regulation of the heartbeat, they affect the relaxation of the arteries, and they also aid in bringing about normalization in the blood pressure – these compounds are capable of lowering and raising blood pressure in the body. The herbal hawthorn remedies can be used to correct the symptoms of angina and in cases of coronary artery disease; they can help boost the flow of blood to the muscles in the heart of the person. The beneficial and medicinal effects of the hawthorn remedies are believed to originate from the presence of a combination of amines and the flavonoids in the herb. At any rate, the beneficial effects of the hawthorn remedies do not occur suddenly but take place over a period of time, and when taken over a period of months, the remedy can reduce symptoms, while also acting as a tonic to the heart at the same time. In the Chinese system of medication, the herb is often suggested for the treatment of problems associated with the digestive system. It is believed to help ease digestion of meat and greasy foods, and the hawthorn is also given in cases of stomach pain, abdominal distension, and also in cases of diarrhea.

Applications

Flowering tops:
INFUSION – The hawthorn herb is often prepared into an herbal infusion, this is used to bring about an improvement in the poor or impaired circulation. It is also used as an herbal tonic for various problems of the heart. The herbal infusion made from the hawthorn can be used combined with other herbs such as the yarrow or the ju hua for the treatment of hypertension in different patients.

TINCTURE – The herbal tincture made from the hawthorn is often prescribed as a combination herbal remedy with other cardiac herbs and used in the treatment of problems such as angina, problems such as hypertension, and for all related circulatory disorders in the body.

Berries:
DECOCTION – The hawthorn is also prepared into an herbal decoction using 30 g of the berries to 0.5l water. This is decocted for fifteen minutes and used in various treatments. This decoction can be taken for the treatment of diarrhea, or when mixed with the ju hua and the gou qi zi for treating hypertension in patients.

JUICE – Hawthorn herbal juice is also used, this juice of the fresh berries is drunk as a cardiac tonic by many patients. The juice of the hawthorn berries is also used for treating diarrhea as well as poor digestion, and as a general digestive tonic by all patients.

Heart-friendly tincture

  • 1 cup (60 g) hawthorn flowers
  • 2 cups (500 ml) gin, brandy or, ideally, kirsch

Crush the flowers in a mortar. Pour in the alcohol and macerate for 1 month away from light. Strain.

Take 1 tsp. (5 m) in a little water every morning and evening before meals for 20 consecutive days to treat arrhythmia, hypertension and palpitations. To maintain the blood vessels in general, follow this same treatment at the start of each season.

The Benefits of Wormwood

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), also known as mugwort, is a bitter herb found in Eurasia, North Africa, and North America. The plant has been used therapeutically since ancient times. In fact, the name “wormwood” comes from its traditional use as a means to cleanse the body of harmful organisms.

Wormwood Quick Facts
Scientific Name Artemisia absinthium
Other Names Mugwort, absinthium
Family Artemisia
Origin Eurasia and Northern Africa; Naturalized in Canada and the Northern United States
Benefits Harmful organism cleansing

You may have heard wormwood mentioned in conjunction with absinthe, the green, highly alcoholic drink made popular during the 19th century and associated with famous (and often troubled) writers and artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe. Habitual abuse of the drink was thought to cause absinthism, a much-hyped condition identified by hallucinations, sleeplessness, and other mental issues.

Thujone, one of the compounds found in wormwood, was believed to be responsible for these negative effects, but modern scientific methods have called this idea into question. Traditionally-produced absinthe had an alcohol content of up to 80% (160 proof!), and the 19th century’s production standards were notoriously lax. It’s more likely that absinthism was simply a fancy name for regular-old alcoholism combined with poisoning from impure production methods and toxic additives.

After nearly a century, the prohibition of the drink was repealed and absinthe is enjoying a comeback. Absinthe is the most notorious use of wormwood in alcoholic beverages, but it’s not the only one. Wormwood is also used as a flavoring in vermouth and bitters.

Although I don’t recommend consuming wormwood in the form of 160 proof alcohol, wormwood is a therapeutic herb and its use extends as far back as the early Roman era. Traditional Asian and European medicine use wormwood and its extracts for a variety of purposes, including ridding the body of harmful organisms.

Wormwood and Harmful Organisms

Harmful organisms contamination and infection are a serious health problem in every country in the world, not just in developing countries. Organisms of all sorts can contaminate food and water, causing health problems in both people and animals. Wormwood contains several compounds, most notably artemisinin, that are resistant to harmful organisms. These compounds produce an environment that is actively hostile to harmful organisms and discourages them from thriving.

Harmful organisms are not just a problem for human health. For the farmer who has hundreds or thousands of livestock, the cost of pharmaceuticals that target harmful organisms can be bank-breaking. Wormwood might be able to help. Study results suggest that wormwood extract may be a natural alternative to commercial drugs for eliminating intestinal invaders in ruminants like sheep.

Additional Benefits of Wormwood

The benefits of wormwood are not limited to its effects on harmful organisms. Wormwood also contains compounds known to stimulate digestion by supporting liver and gallbladder function. The benefit is magnified when combined with other digestive herbs such as peppermint and ginger. Wormwood also supports healthy circulation and soothes irritation. Research also suggests that wormwood may even have neuroprotective properties.

Like many other plants, wormwood is a concentrated source of antioxidants. The antioxidant activities of wormwood support its traditional uses in Europe, which include wound healing. Animal studies have even found that wormwood’s antioxidant action helped revitalize some of the enzyme activity in rats that had been decreased by lead exposure.

The Yale University School of Medicine performed a study in which patients with digestive ailments were given either a placebo or an herbal blend containing wormwood for a ten-week period. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study observed that the patients who took the herbal blend reported improved mood and quality of life, which is a not a common side effect of conventional western medications.

Wormwood Side Effects and Precautions

While the notion of wormwood-induced absinthism has been discredited, the possibility remains that thujone, or some other compound within wormwood, could have potentially toxic effects. However, this is only true if consumed in absurdly high quantities, or if it interacts medications or a preexisting condition. In normal doses, wormwood remains completely safe for most people. As a precaution, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid wormwood. Due to its potency, don’t take the essential oil of wormwood internally.

Tips for Growing Wormwood

Fresh wormwood can be hard to find in stores, but you can easily grow your own. Growing your own has the bonus of allowing you to control the quality of the herb. Wormwood grows well, even in less-than-ideal conditions. It grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9, which means that it can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Once established, the herb requires minimal maintenance.

Wormwood grows from either seeds or seedlings. If started from seeds, plant indoors first and transfer outside after sprouting. Plant seedlings after the last frost in spring in full sun. Wormwood prefers dry soil. Water occasionally, but don’t overdo it. Wormwood is not typically vulnerable to disease, but overwatering can lead to root rot.

Harvest wormwood in July or August on a dry day after the sun has evaporated all the moisture on the plant. To harvest, remove the upper green portion, leaving behind any lower stem parts and all insect-eaten, discolored, or damaged leaves.

Simple Wormwood Tea

I shouldn’t need to say that absinthe is not the best way to incorporate wormwood into your diet. It’s staggeringly high alcohol content more than cancels out any possible benefit of the herb. So, with the green fairy off the table, what’s the best way to consume wormwood?

A simple tea is a common and effective way to take this herb. Wormwood is extremely bitter, so you’ll probably drink this for its therapeutic properties, not casual enjoyment.

Simply put ½ to 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried wormwood leaves in a cup of hot, but not quite boiling, water. Steep for 4 or 5 minutes and strain out the leaves. Don’t use more than a teaspoon per cup or let it steep for too long. Otherwise, the tea may become too bitter to drink. You can attempt to sweeten the tea with stevia or raw organic honey, but you may find it only improves the flavor a little bit. You can also blend with other herbal teas like peppermint or anise to improve the flavor.

Here’s a tip: After they cool a little, the wormwood leaves you strain from your tea can be used as a poultice. Apply them to wounds, rashes, or insect bites for natural relief.

Other Sources of Wormwood

If you can’t find wormwood leaves or if you just can’t take the taste, then supplementation is your next best option. Wormwood can be found as a standalone supplement or combined with other botanicals. One such product is Global Healing Center’s own Paratrex®. Paratrex is a blend of all-natural ingredients, including wormwood, formulated to promote the cleansing of harmful organisms. As always, only buy pure, natural, quality supplements from companies you trust, and consult your trusted healthcare practitioner before starting a new supplement routine.

Digestion Perfection: Herbs Make Great Allies When it Comes to Keeping Your Body Running Smoothly.

Digestion is one of those things you’d rather not think about if you don’t have to. When our digestive system is working properly, we take it for granted, but when it runs into problems, it can’t be ignored. Gas, constipation, heartburn-these symptoms can make one miserable. Happily, there are several steps we can take to ensure that things run efficiently. By using some simple culinary herbs and following a few basic lifestyle rules, you can prevent many of these symptoms from occurring. And if trouble does come your way, some effective, natural remedies can put you right in no time.

Digestion 101

 Herbs border on white
Your digestive tract is a tube {upwards of 24 feet} that have been assigned a pretty simple job: get food from one end to the other. When food traverses the imposing territory between the mouth and the rectum, it meets with several biological processes. Food enters the mouth, where both your teeth and enzymes in your saliva start to break it down. Food disintegrates even further thanks to acid in the stomach, and then it’s on to the small intestine, bacteria finish the job, while the bloodstream absorbs nutrients. Anything left over…well, you know the rest.
Special muscles called sphincters separate each section of the gastrointestinal tract. When not in use, these muscles are tightly closed. They open to allow food residue to pass from one section to the next. Contractions move food slowly through the small intestine, inexorably marching towards the large intestine. Normally, the first part of a meal requires about 90 to 120 minutes to reach the large intestine. {The last portion of the meal may not make it there for five hours.} Thankfully, each special section has corresponding herbal remedies to help things move along at an efficient clip.

The Stomach

 dand-greens1
This first stop in the digestive journey involves powerful chemicals, including hydrochloric acid and enzymes. If these digestive juices fall short, though, the whole process gets off to a bad start, giving you that overly full, Thanksgiving dinner feeling.
Herbs with bitter flavor promote digestive secretions and speed up the processes in the upper GI tract.
Gentian root is the most popular digestive bitter in the U.S. and in Europe, often an ingredient in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic aperitifs. An ounce or so of any bitter herbal beverage taken before the first bite of a meal spurs digestive secretions and keeps food passing through on schedule. In general, bitter herbs reduce gas, bloating, allergic responses, and indigestion. Barberry root, dandelion, and artichoke are other effective bitter herbs.
In traditional Chinese Medicine {TCM}, the use of “hot” herbs can also help. Essential oils {often derived from a plant’s seeds} of carminative herbs like cardamom, dill, cumin, caraway, and lemon balm warm up the digestive tract, helping to expel gas, while speeding up and improving the efficiency of the digestive process. Use these herbs in teas.Lemon balm, and  Dill
lemon-balm-flowers
Popular in Europe, herbal “gripe water” {griping is another word for intestinal cramping} relies on dill seed, chamomile, lemon balm, or ginger. Fennel is a stand-out in this regard, and probably the world’s most popular gas remedy, even for kids. In one study, published in Phytotherapy Research, 121 colicky infants randomly received 5 to 20 ml of a 0.1 percent fennel seed oil emulsion or placebo, up to four times daily for one week. Parents kept symptom diaries for the week, as well as the week before and the week after. The kids taking the fennel formula had a 45 percent decrease in colic symptoms, compared to a 5 percent drop in the placebo group.
In 2005, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial looked at 93 healthy breastfed infants with colic. For one week, they consumed a dose of fennel mixture twice daily before breastfeeding. Crying time dropped {by an average of two hours per day} in 85 percent of infants in the fennel group, compared to 48 percent in the placebo group.

The Intestines

 fennel-seeds
Comfortable, regular, bulky, and soft bowel movements are critical for good health. And, as the Ayurvedic aphorism explains, “If your stool is sinking, you’re sinking.” Of course, if nothing is passing through, you have a bigger problem: constipation. The medical community defines constipation as eliminating waste less than three times a week, or in low quantity.
Transit time and regularity are the key concepts behind proper bowel timing. Transit time is the time it takes a meal to be eliminated from the body after it has entered the mouth. For a person who eats a healthy, unprocessed, whole foods diet, 30 hours is an average transit time, although Ayurveda maintains that the ideal time falls between 18 and 24 hours. In our constipation-prone society, 48 hours, or considerably more, is common. {Clock your transit time by swallowing something to tint the stool, such as charcoal powder, beets, or chlorophyll. Mark the time from when you’ve ingested this matter to when you see this color show up upon elimination.}
The longer waste stays in the colon, the more chance it has of decomposing into unhealthy compounds. This waste matter tends to absorb more water, too, as it sits in the body, making it harder and smaller. The body has a tougher time moving it onward. The potential long-term complications include the development of gallstones and even colon cancer.
Regularity, on the other hand, is defined as the interval between bowel movements. The gamut of recommendations runs from two or three bowel movements a week to one a day, depending on whom you ask. However, like all mammals, humans automatically start the digestive process every time they chew. Each meal stimulates this process and initiates elimination. So as a rule, natural healing practitioners insist on at least one bowel movement per day, or up to one per meal.
Success in the intestinal process depends mainly on three pillars: Peristalsis, fiber, and moisture. When everything goes right with peristalsis, the wave-like motion of muscles that impels waste out of the large intestine, muscles squeeze briefly every few seconds and then relax, propelling it toward the rectum. Stimulant laxatives can promote this wave. Among the best are senna leaf, cascara bark, and aloe leaf in capsule form. Use these only for short-term episodes of acute constipation. Start with a very small dose {500 mg} and adjust the dose as necessary. Since these herbs can sometimes produce intestinal cramps, especially in excess doses, they’re often combined with warming herbs, such as ginger and fennel. Expect these herbs to facilitate elimination in about six hours.
Fiber helps out by absorbing excess moisture, making the stool softer and increasing its size, essentially giving the muscles in the intestinal walls something to push along. Natural bulk fiber laxatives provide soluble fiber, which includes pectin from fruit, flaxseed, chia seed, and oat bran. Use these each day as necessary. Make a point of increasing your fiber intake from whole foods {fruit, vegetables, dried legumes}, as well. Aim for as much as 35 grams of fiber per day.
Psyllium seed, a well known bulk fiber laxative, balances bowel function and relieves the pain of irritable bowels. As psyllium travels through the gut, its slimy mucilage offers soothing benefit, which may relieve cramping. An English study revealed that constipation significantly improved in patients taking psyllium. Eighty-two percent of the subjects had irritable bowel symptom relief. The optimum dose appears to be 20 grams per day.
The third factor, moisture, is a common issue for constipation sufferers. Proper moisture content is critical for efficient elimination. The large intestine pumps about five gallons of fluid every day, from what we drink, plus our digestive secretions. Most of this must be reabsorbed, or else we would quickly become dehydrated.
Demulcents are herbs that contain mucilage, which coats and soothes the gut wall and helps waste exit smoothly. These herbs include marshmallow root {Althea officinalis} and slippery elm bark {Ulmusspp.}. To use either herb, stir 1 tablespoon of powdered bulk herb into a bite of food, such as applesauce, with each meal. Magnesium, a natural mineral, is an osmotic laxative that draws moisture into the bowels and softens waste. Most people can tolerate up to about 1,200 mg of magnesium per day.

Other Helpful Herbs

spring-tonics2 
Herbal medicine is quite beneficial for keeping digestion perking along, as shown in the results of a study from Europe. Twenty-four patients took an herbal mixture containing dandelion, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, calendula, and fennel. Of the group, 95 percent had total relief of colitis symptoms within 15 days.
Triphala, an Ayurvedic combination of the fruits amla, haritaki and bibitaki  is the classic herbal remedy for long term digestive help. It tones the intestinal walls, detoxifies the system, and promotes elimination. It has a high tannin content, so it treats diarrhea in low doses {1 gram per day}. In higher doses, it treats constipation in a very slow, gentle way, tightening the walls of the gut while it works. Triphala is suitable for children and ideal for older folks who need a little daily help with regularity. For maintenance, take 2 grams per day. As a short-term laxative, use 6 grams. An easy bowel movement should occur in about 8 hours.
Turmeric root {Curcuma longa} is widely used to improve digestion. A common curry spice, it keeps GI tract inflammation under control. One of its active ingredients, curcumin, the pigment that gives turmeric its distinctive yellow color, has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to cortisone and phenylbutazone, widely used anti-inflammatory drugs. And curcumin is non-steroidal, so it has none of the devastating side effects of steroids.
Like another medicinal spice, cayenne, it relieves pain by depleting nerve endings of substance P, the pain receptor neurotransmitter. Historically, this herb has been used to reduce gas, a benefit that is now getting increasing scientific support. Curcumin stimulates gallbladder contractions, promoting better digestion. Ptolymethlcarbinol, another compound in turmeric, boosts the production of several important secretions in the digestive tract.
Turmeric also increases mucin secretion, which protects mucous membranes against damage by stomach acid and other digestive juices. With its ability to suppress inflammation, increase mucin content of the stomach, and stop bleeding, turmeric prevents ulcerations of all types, including gastritis, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, and colitis. Take 1 to 2 grams powdered herb in capsules, or as a spice, with each meal. Higher doses are quite safe and may produce better and faster results.
licorice-root-benefits1

Licorice Root {Glycyrrhiza uralensis},

also, guards digestive mucous membranes by escalating the production of mucin. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root {DGL} has the glycyrrhizic acid removed-glycyrrhizic acid is the ingredient in licorice root associated with increasing blood pressure and water retention but retains its soothing properties. One to two chewable wafers of DGL with a meal will usually do the job.
Use 1 teaspoon of the chopped root, brewed as a tea, three times a day, or one to two chewable wafers of DGL {250-500 mg} 15 minutes before meals and one to two hours before bedtime.
 peppermint-oil

Peppermint Leaf {Mentha piperita},

is a well-known digestion herb. Peppermint oil works well to prevent dyspepsia because the oil relaxes the muscles of the intestinal wall. Enteric coated capsules postpone the release of this oil until the remedy is further down in the digestive tract so that the medicine works in the right spot. They also reduce those minty burps. In one double-blind trial from Taiwan, four out of every five patients experienced reduced symptoms when given enteric-coated peppermint oil. In 1999, a study from Germany used peppermint and caraway oils to treat 223 people, and the combination brought about a significant reduction in discomfort. Another German study, published in Phytotherapy Research, from February 2000, again confirmed that a combination of peppermint and caraway oils effectively reduced unwanted intestinal symptoms. Take 1 teaspoon of chopped herb brewed as tea, three times a day, or 0.2 to 0.4 ml, three times a day, of an enteric-coated capsule.
ginger-essence

Ginger Root {Zingiber officinale},

a warming herb works better for some folks than the cold herbs. Tasty and aromatic, this root is an eternal remedy for stomach upset. Ginger’s benefits for motion sickness and nausea has been consistently proven, and European practitioners routinely use ginger in tea for indigestion. A 2008 study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, had chemotherapy patients consume ginger for nausea. In 28 patients, ginger reduced the nausea of chemotherapy and the need for antiemetic medications {pharmaceutical drugs that treat nausea and vomiting}. The herb also reduces gut spasms, absorbs and neutralizes toxins in the GI tract, and boosts digestive juice secretions, including bile and saliva. Use 1 teaspoon chopped herb brewed as a tea, three times a day.
cinnamon-stick-powder-130909

Cinnamon Bark {Cinnamomum cassia},

another warming digestive star is a mild but useful remedy for lethargic digestion. Commission E in Germany, the European standard for herbal medicines, recommends cinnamon for loss of appetite, dyspeptic complaints, mild gastrointestinal spasms, bloating, and flatulence. Use 1 teaspoon chopped herb brewed as a tea, three times a day.
Making sure your digestion perks right along is as easy as cooking with delicious, intriguing spices, sipping some tasty teas, and turning to a few notable herbal medicines. Keep the digestive fires burning: Turn to herbal aids for a smooth, comfortable digestive experience and you’ll have the stomach for just about anything life throws your way.

Winter Self-Care

When you feel those dreaded flu symptoms coming on, you want to take something you know will stop sickness in its tracks. According to a recent study, your options now include herbs. A new study shows a combination of echinacea and elderberry is as effective as the conventional antiviral medicine Tamiflu in the early treatment of influenza. In the study, 473 patients with flu symptoms for less than 48 hours were randomly given either a syrup containing echinacea herb and root supplemented with elderberry for ten days or Tamiflu for five days followed by a placebo for five days. Observing the two groups at one, five, and ten days of treatment to see who had mild or no symptoms, researchers found a similar number of patients had recovered in both groups. Researchers even noted a small trend towards a higher percentage of recovered patients after ten days of treatment with the herbal syrup. Early intervention is key with any flu treatment, so consider keeping a bottle of echinacea/elderberry extract on hand just in case.

Dandy Tummy Bitters Recipe

These homemade bitters with fennel seeds and dandelion root should be taken before or after a meal to help stimulate digestion.

Take a drop or two of these dandelion bitters before or after a meal to help with digestion.

Is your digestive system ready for a big feast? Just a drop or two of any bitter herb on the tongue will help stimulate healthy digestion before or after a meal. In addition to dandelion’s bitterness, the aromatics from the fennel, ginger, and orange will help with uncomfortable post-dessert bloat.

Learn more about bitter plants, and which ones you can plant in your home garden, in the article Health Benefits Of Bitters.

Ingredients:

• 2 parts dandelion root
• 1 part fennel seed
• 1/2 part ginger root
• 1/2 part orange peel
• 1 glass jar with lid
• Enough 100-proof vodka to fill your glass jar
• Cheesecloth

Instructions:

1. If using fresh plants, harvest and clean your herbs before chopping and grinding them.
2. Fill a clean glass jar halfway with the fresh, ground herbs. If tincturing dried herbs, only fill the glass jar one-third of the way because dried roots will expand.
3. Pour the vodka over the herbs until the jar is full, and be sure your herb mixture is completely covered.
4. Label your jar with the name of the herbs, date, alcohol strength, and plant parts used.
5. Allow the tincture to sit for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking the jar often to keep all the plant material submerged.
6. Strain the finished tincture through cheesecloth to separate the herbs from the liquid, bottle the liquid in amber dropper bottles, and label.

Winter Health Benefits Of Echinacea And Sage

Beautiful Echinacea and earthy sage both have extensive historical uses. They’re easy to grow, and — in the case of Echinacea — you’re helping to cultivate and restore an endangered plant if you grow certain cultivars. The health benefits of Echinacea and sage are particularly helpful in winter, as both plants can be used for respiratory ailments and to ease sore throats.

Health Benefits of Echinacea

Members of the genus Echinacea have been used most effectively as an internal application against the common cold, fatigue, upper respiratory infection. Practitioners often recommend Echinacea for a sore throat, strep throat, tonsillitis, bronchitis, flu symptoms, canker and cold sores, swollen lymphatics, septic conditions, and gangrene. Externally, as an ointment or poultice, it’s been used for boils, eczema, bee stings, and snakebites.

Echinacea is not, contrary to popular belief, useful to take day in and day out as a preventative. The compounds within this plant marshal our white blood cells to move efficiently toward a place where our body is losing a battle with infection.

Contraindications: Echinacea may be detrimental to those with autoimmune diseases. People who have allergies to chamomile, marigold, yarrow, ragweed, chrysanthemum, or daisy, or people who have asthma, might develop allergic reactions to Echinacea.

Growing: Three species of Echinacea are most commonly grown and used medicinally: Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, and E. Angustifolia. Newer hybrid cultivars grown for interesting color may not have the same potent medicinal properties as these three traditional species. The perennial prairie plants are in danger of overharvesting and loss of habitat, so source Echinacea responsibly or grow it yourself — it’s easy to do.

Echinacea seeds germinate best when given a period of stratification (cold conditioning). Either store the seeds in your refrigerator before planting, or direct-sow untreated Echinacea seeds four to six weeks before your average last frost. Sow seeds in full sun or partial shade, and keep the soil well-drained. Echinacea will thrive almost anywhere and will require very little tending, as long as it’s not overwatered.

Harvest notes: All parts of the plant are useful; however, it is the root that has primarily been used in traditional applications. Harvest leaves just as the flower is developing; harvest flowers just as they’re unfurling, and dig the roots either in spring or fall after they’ve had three or four years to become established.

Health Benefits of Sage

One of the most prized herbs on our farm, the health benefits of sage far exceeds its culinary flavoring. Sage (Salvia officinalis) is high in volatile oils, which makes it especially good for ailments in the digestive system, for bleeding gums and tongue inflammation, sore throat, laryngitis, tonsillitis, gas, chronic diarrhea, ulcer, and excessive salivation.

This wonderful plant is also well known for its work on the reproductive system. It has been talked about and researched for some time in regard to menopausal hot flashes. It does indeed cool the experience of a hot flash while also providing a tonic to the underlying endocrine imbalance in the adrenal glands.

Sage is also useful for missed cycles and a lack of sufficient bleeding in them, for morning sickness, preventing yeast infections, and for cysts in the breasts. Because of its ability to decrease fluids in our bodies, sage is often used to decrease the flow of breast milk while weaning a child to solid foods.

Sage behaves differently depending on the temperature at which it’s served. A warm sage tea will encourage secretions in the body, stimulating sweating to reduce a fever. A room temperature tea will allow the antibacterial qualities of sage to shine — this is how you want to serve your sore throat tea (see the sage tea recipe below). A cold tea will decrease the flow of secretions and cause tissues to dry.

In the nervous system, sage has applications for canker sores, memory improvement for Alzheimer’s patients, treating symptoms of arthritis, headache, and insomnia. For the circulatory and lymphatic systems, sage has benefits for lipoma, hair loss, dandruff, excessively dry skin, and blood stagnation. In the urinary tract, it can help with cystitis and stones.

Contraindications: Sage should not be taken long term or in excessive doses during pregnancy. Except for in small amounts in food, it should be avoided during lactation. Avoid internal use of essential oil or alcoholic extracts during this time as well; the thujone in sage stimulates blood flow to the pelvic area, thus promoting menstruation and possibly causing miscarriage.

Growing: Sage grows well in full sun and cooler climates, so plant in partial shade (if you have hot summers) and in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Prune plants to 4 to 6 inches as soon as they begin to grow the first year, and pinch back stem-tips two or three times during the first summer to encourage branching.

Plants become woody and less productive after three or four years, so you can replace them or root a few stem cuttings each year.

Harvest notes: The leaves are used for medicine, and the flowers are a delicious edible. Collect leaves on a dry day just before or just as the plant is beginning to flower. You can harvest leaves during the first year after the plants become established.

Hang small bunches of sage upside down to dry in a well-ventilated area out of sunlight or dehydrate leaves in a 150-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Store your sage in airtight containers.

Keep your dried sage on hand for a hot or room-temperature tea or to use as a garnish or flavoring in a variety of warming winter dishes.

Sage Herbal Tea for Sore Throat

For sore throats, my absolute favorite remedy is sage herbal tea served lukewarmly. Remember that temperature does matter when it comes to this plant, and lukewarm is where it’s at its best in fending off bacteria. In our house, if someone has a mild sore throat, we make a strong sage tea with honey and lemon, and the throat heals very quickly. When a sore throat is a little more serious, we use sage herbal tea as a gargle and combine it with a pinch of salt and cayenne. The gargle is used every couple of hours and is also effective.

Sage Tea Recipe: To brew an infusion of our own sage herbal tea at home is not just as easy as throwing a tea bag in some hot water. To obtain the most medicinal benefit from your herbs, consider different methods depending on the part of the plant that’s being brewed.

When using leaves, fruits, flowers, and roots high in volatile oils (such as sage), heat water in a tea kettle and then pour over the herbs. (On the farm, we use a mason jar and brew teas by the quart for simplicity.) Cover and let steep for at least 10 to 20 minutes. Then, strain, (let cool to lukewarm for sage) and drink, or store in the refrigerator for one to two days.

Looking for more ways to use Echinacea?

We often use Echinacea for a sore throat. If we need to be away from the house while one of us is suffering from a sore throat, I will often make an Echinacea spray. The best part about this throat spray is that it can fight the infection while providing a soothing, numbing sensation.

Ingredients:

• 2 tablespoons Echinacea tincture
• 2 tablespoons raw honey
• 1 tablespoon warm water
• 2 drops essential oil of your choice (peppermint, eucalyptus, or tea tree are great options)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a small spray bottle (preferably glass).

Store the bottle in the refrigerator, and it should keep for a couple months.

Always shake before spraying. Use as needed.

Soothing Burdock Soup

Burdock Root is indispensable for soothing hot, itchy, or inflamed skin. It is an excellent remedy to use when the skin feels fiery, such as during episodes of eczema, psoriasis, or rashes and is, therefore, an herbal ally for stress-reactive and environment-reactive skin personalities.
1 cup chopped Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh Burdock Root
1 cup peeled and sliced Carrots
1 pound Potatoes (russet or wax)
½ cup fresh Dandelion Leaves (optional)
6 cups Vegetable Stock or water
3 tablespoons dry White Wine or Sherry
3 tablespoons chopped Parsley
Salt
Combine vegetables and stock in a pot and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, reduce heat, and cover, simmering for 1 hour. Remove 2 cups of soup, puree in a blender, and return to pot. Stir in Sherry and Parsley and simmer for 20 more minutes.

Ashwagandha Root Extract Improves Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Patients Taking Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Solanaceae)

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), characterized by stressful, repetitive, and intrusive thoughts or obsessions followed by actions or compulsions, is thought to be linked to a defect in the serotonergic system. A common treatment is the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), but they are considered only mildly effective, with 40-60% of patients failing to respond. In Ayurvedic herbal medicine, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Solanaceae) is considered to be a rejuvenating and revitalizing herb. Its roots, which are used to enhance mental and physical health, have anxiolytic and antidepressant properties due to the presence of bioactive glycowithanolides, and the alkaloids withanine and somniferine are used for nervous disorders. Animal studies also have shown it to enhance serotonergic transmission. The goal of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was to verify the efficacy of ashwagandha root extract as an adjunct therapy to treat the symptoms of OCD.

Ashwagandha roots were collected from Saravan in the “Sistan Va Baluchestan” Province in Iran in August 2013. The extract was prepared at the pharmacy lab at the Faculty of Pharmacy at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Iran. The roots were dried and powdered and then percolated with 70% ethanol. The resulting extract was then evaporated under pressure and freeze-dried to yield a fine powder and 250-mg capsules were filled with a mixture of powdered extract (30 mg) and lactose for the treatment group or lactose only for the placebo group.

The study was conducted between March 2015 and September 2015 at the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences. Thirty patients met the following inclusion criteria and were enrolled in the study: diagnosis of OCD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, and adequate treatment with SSRIs. Patients were randomly assigned to the treatment (n=15; 1 male and 14 females) or placebo (n=15; 2 males and 13 females) group. The treatment regimen was 4 capsules daily; however, to avoid adverse gastrointestinal effects, the patients were instructed to take 1 capsule daily and to then increase the dosage by 1 capsule every 4 days. At the end of 6 weeks, the treatment was decreased in the same manner.

The severity of OCD symptoms was assessed in all patients using the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) symptom checklist, a 10-item scale ranging from 0 (no symptoms) to 40 (extreme symptoms), and was completed for each patient at baseline and after 6 weeks of study intervention.

From baseline to the end of the study at 6 weeks, the median Y-BOCS score decreased from 26 to 14 in the treatment group and from 18 to 16 in the placebo group, a significant between-group difference (P<0.001). At baseline, 7 patients in the treatment group and 5 in the placebo group suffered from comorbid anxiety disorders. The patients in each group were divided into those with comorbid anxiety disorders and those without, and the reduction of Y-BOCS scores was compared between those subgroups. In both groups, the reduction of Y-BOCS scores in patients with comorbid anxiety disorders was not significantly different from patients without anxiety disorders. No adverse effects were reported during the study.

According to the authors, this study is the first attempt to investigate the effect of ashwagandha root extract in patients with OCD. Acknowledged limitations include the study’s short duration and the lack of a phytochemical analysis of the extract, which could have helped identify the active ingredients responsible for the observed beneficial effects. In addition, because only a single dose of the extract was used, they were unable to determine if the observed anti-obsessive effects were dose-dependent.

The authors conclude that “W. somnifera extract may be beneficial as a safe and effective adjunct to SSRIs in the treatment of OCD.”

Jahanbakhsh SP, Manteghi AA, Emami SA, et al. Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera(ashwagandha) root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2016;27:25-29.

Lemon Balm

Learn the medicinal and culinary uses of lemon balm, how to grow it, and how to make your own traditional Carmelite water.

To get the best flavor out of lemon balm, shear it with scissors, cutting it down by half or more, at least once a month. You can safely harvest three-quarters of the plant every three to four weeks and not harm it.

Often when someone asks me what my most favorite herb would be, I enjoy the surprise on their face when they hear my answer: Lemon balm, I say, without any hesitation.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) isn’t at the top of most people’s favorites list. Basil, parsley, and lavender are the most popular herbs in America, but lemon balm isn’t even on the top 10 list. But it is deserving of considerably more recognition.

Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family (Lamiaceae). The plant, originally from the Mediterranean, is reliably hardy in nearly all parts of the United States. The mildly lemon-scented leaves are the parts used for tea, cookies, cakes, and medicines. One of my garden interns even made a lemon balm pie last year!

Since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, lemon balm has been cultivated as a valuable culinary and medicinal herb. It was once traditional to rub lemon balm leaves around the openings of beehives to encourage the bees to produce more honey. For at least 2,000 years, lemon balm has been planted and encouraged in gardens and orchards to entice more bees for pollination.

Medicinal Use

This important herb is used for relieving upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas, vomiting, colic, and menstrual cramps. It’s valued for its calming effects in soothing restlessness, sleeplessness, and anxiety. Besides those uses, it can be applied as a poultice directly onto insect bites to remove the pain and swelling. According to the website WebMD (webmd.com), “Taking a standardized extract of lemon balm by mouth daily for four months seems to reduce agitation and improve symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.”

The 17th century Carmelite nuns (or monks, depending on what source you check) became famous for their “Carmelite Water,” which was a combination of lemon balm, the peels of lemons, nutmeg, coriander, and angelica. The nuns used this tea or decoction (strong tea) in treating nervous headaches, upset stomach, depression and digestive problems.

Lemon balm in the form of cream or tincture has shown positive effects when treating cold sores (herpes labialis). Simply applying a lip balm with as little as 1 percent lemon balm extract reduces symptoms and speeds up healing time. The herb itself is known for being an anti-viral, therefore good for relieving colds and fevers. Dr. James Duke suggests that regular doses of lemon balm tea can help with chronic fatigue syndrome and the symptoms of shingles because of the herb’s antiviral actions.

For anxiety and mild depression, lemon balm is often combined with other calming herbs including valerian (Valeriana officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and hops (Humulus lupulus), and drunk as a tea. A simple cup of hot lemon balm tea, by itself, helps encourage appetite.

But as good as the reported medicinal benefits of lemon balm are, it’s the culinary aspects that impress me. I began making lemon balm cookies and lemon balm cakes to serve to my guests. The flavor of this herb is satisfying to almost everyone, and the herb is so easy to grow that even beginning herb people can grow it with success.

lemon-balm-flowers-img-e1474270692497Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon balm can be started from seed, although the most common way is to grow it from a plant or root division. Being in the larger mint family (Liminacea) it will spread somewhat from the roots, though not aggressively like its mintier cousins. It isn’t picky about soil, though it does require plenty of sunshine. While it will do fairly well in part shade, the more sun you give it, the better it will grow.

There are two important things to note about lemon balm. It can reseed itself somewhat without becoming a pest. That habit is easily prevented by the other important fact, which is, the more you harvest lemon balm leaves, the better the flavor will be. If you neglect this flavorful plant by not harvesting, the leaves will become slightly bitter and “soapy” tasting. To get the best flavor out of lemon balm, shear it with scissors, cutting it down by half or more, at least once a month. You can safely harvest three-quarters of the plant every three or four weeks and not harm it. By harvesting often, you won’t have any problems with it reseeding itself.

Bees and butterflies love this plant, and honey from bees that have fed on lemon balm is heavenly. The herb dries well and can also be used in herb jellies, iced herb teas, and many, many other ways. Few insect pests bother lemon balm and it can be grown in the garden, in patio pots, along fence rows or in the perennial bed where the bright green leaves make everything around it look good.


Make Your Own Traditional Carmelite Water

(Also known as “Eau de Melisse des Carmes”)

This can be made from either dry or fresh herbs; if using fresh, use twice the amount listed.

• 1 1/4 cups vodka (to preserve the mixture)

• 3 tablespoons dried angelica root, or leaves and stalks

• 1/8 cup dried (or 1/4 cup fresh) lemon balm leaves

• 2 tablespoons lemon zest (avoid the pith)

Combine the herbs and vodka in a quart jar. Cover tightly and leave in a warm but dark place (pantry or cupboard) for two weeks. Jiggle or shake the jar slightly every day or two.

After two weeks, add the following:

• 1 tablespoon coriander seed, slightly crushed

• 1 whole nutmeg, cracked in a blender

• 2 tablespoons whole cloves

• 1 4-inch cinnamon stick

Leave for a week, then strain into a sterilized bottle and store in a cool place. Best if used within six months.

lemon-balm-cookiesLemon Balm Cookies Recipe

Enjoy the fresh taste of the lemon balm herb in these easy-to-make lemon balm cookies.

Cook Time: 8-10 minutes

Yield: 18 cookies

Ingredients:

• About 1/4 cup coarsely chopped lemon balm leaves

• 1 1/2 cups sugar

• 1 cup butter or margarine

• 2 eggs

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 2 1/2 cups flour

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a food processor, place 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon balm leaves. Pulse until the lemon balm leaves are well chopped.

3. Add the remaining sugar and the butter and process until fluffy, then add remaining ingredients and process until well combined.

4. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges just begins to brown.

5. Loosen from cookie sheet while still warm; allow to cool. These cookies freeze well.

Lemon Balm Lemonade Recipe

The lemon balm adds a refreshing twist to this traditional summer beverage.

Ingredients:

• 3 large lemons

• 1/2 cup lemon balm leaves

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 1 cup boiling water

• 3 additional cups cold water

• Ice

Instructions:

1. Slice lemons into a bowl and add the fresh lemon balm leaves.

2. Pour boiling water over lemons and leaves. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add remaining water.

3. Fill two glasses half full with ice, then finish filling the glasses with lemonade.

Burdock Root

Burdock root is a medicinal herb and food that has powerful anti-tumor, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. Burdock root is one of the top recommended herbal remedies for cancer due to the belief that it can stop cancer cells from metastasizing and it is one of the star ingredients of the famous natural cancer remedy known as Essiac tea.

It is also highly beneficial for colds, flu, sore throats, bronchial congestion, ulcers, gallstones, anemia, kidney stones, chicken pox, gout, measles, strep throat, urinary tract infections, bladder infections, hepatitis, and enlarged prostates. Burdock root is an essential blood purifier and detoxifying herb as it can neutralize and safely eliminate poisons and toxins from the body.

Burdock is one of the most important herbs for treating chronic skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and shingles. It can also help to stimulate metabolism, re-grow hair, strengthen nails, and aid in edema and weight loss. Burdock root is an effective painkiller that can help alleviate symptoms of inflammation that affect auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, lupus, and diabetes.

Fresh burdock can be juiced with celery, kale, and apple or used in recipes similarly to carrots. It is often steamed or added to soups and stews. It has a subtly sweet and earthy flavor that works well with potatoes, mushrooms, and onions. Dried burdock root is often used as a medicinal tea.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried burdock root and let steep for at least 10 minutes or more, sweeten with honey if desired. Burdock root can be readily found in a cream, salve, tincture, extract, and capsule form. It’s potent healing abilities has made it a vital herb for your natural medicine cabinet.

MEDICINAL QUALITIES OF BURDOCK

Burdock Root contains a number of medicinal properties that have been used for hundreds of years.  Traditionally herbalists all over the world use Burdock Root as a blood purifier.  It is the root of the Burdock plant that is harvested for folk medicinal use. The roots are about an inch wide but up to three feet long and are best dug in July.  They should be lifted with a beet lifter or a deep-running plow, due to the long tap root.    As a rule, they are 12 inches or more in length and about 1 inch thick; sometimes, however, they extend 2 to 3 feet, making it necessary to dig by hand. They are fleshy, wrinkled, crowned with a tuft of whitish, soft, hairy leaf-stalks, grey-brown externally, whitish internally, with a somewhat thick bark, about a quarter of the diameter of the root, and softwood tissues, with a radiate structure.

Burdock has been used by herbalists worldwide to treat a variety skin diseases such as abscesses, acne, carbuncles, psoriasis, and eczema.    Burdock can be either taken alone or combined with other remedies, such as Yellow Dock and Sarsaparilla.    The beneficial effects of this herb include increasing circulation to the skin, helping to detoxify the epidermal tissues.   Burdock Root has been reported to destroy bacteria and fungus cultures.  It is a popular detoxifying agent that produces a diuretic effect on the body which aids the filtering of impurities from the bloodstream.   By promoting perspiration, Burdock Root eliminates toxins through the skin.   By producing a detoxifying effect, Burdock Root aids blood circulation and produces a variety of positive side effects.  As before mentioned, it contains inulin, a carbohydrate that strengthens the liver.    The high concentration of inulin and mucilage aids in the soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The high concentration of inulin is helpful for individuals that are afflicted with diabetes and hypoglycemia as it provides helpful sugar that does not provoke rapid insulin production.   Inulin, which is very high in Burdock, is a resinoid or camphor-like hydrocarbon that is aromatic, stimulant, expectorant, tonic, stomachic, and antiseptic.

burdock_medical_mediumBurdock Root contains polyacetylenes that give the herb its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is used as a mild laxative that aids in the elimination of uric acid or gout.  It is classified as an alterative, diuretic and diaphoretic. It helps the kidneys to filter out impurities from the blood very quickly. It clears congestion in respiratory, lymphatic, urinary and circulatory systems.    Burdock  releases water retention, stimulates digestion, aids kidney, liver, and gallbladder function.  It also functions as an aperient, depurative, and antiscorbutic.

Decoctions of Burdock have also been historically used for soothing the kidneys, relieving the lymphatic system, rheumatism, gout, GI tract disorders, stomach ailments, constipation, catarrh, fever, infection, fluid retention and skin problems. An article in Chemotherapyidentified the chemical arctigenin contained in Burdock as an “inhibitor of experimental tumor growth.”
Both European and Chinese herbalists have long considered burdock root’s “lightly warming, moistening effect an excellent tonic for the lungs and liver.  It reportedly stimulates toxic waste through the skin and urine, improving digestion and is good for arthritis and rheumatism.

Burdock is an aid to circulation because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

A recent study showed that Burdock blocked dangerous chemicals from causing damage to cells, suggesting the possibility that burdock may help decrease the risk of developing cancer from toxic chemicals.

Some other miscellaneous disorders Burdock Root is good for are:
Helpful in cellular regeneration
Useful in cleansing and treatment of Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis
Aids in alleviating distress related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Useful in the treatment of recovery from Hepatitis
Burdock stimulates the appetite, so modern experts recommend it for anorexia nervosa

Burdock is useful for most of the same needs as Yellow Dock (rumex Crispus) and is effective in treating gout and high cholesterol.

Based on many studies with animals exposed to toxic chemicals, the tea very effectively protects the body against cellular damage and abnormal growths.   The tea also has powerful anti-inflammatory activity based on studies and reduces liver damage from toxic chemicals.   As a mildly bitter-tasting herb, it increases saliva and bile secretion, which aids digestion and cleanses the liver.  Burdock root tea can also be applied externally for treating skin conditions.

burdock-flowersDespite Burdock’s reputation as a noxious weed, it is the source of several very palatable foods.  Edible components of the Burdock plant are its roots, seeds, and its young stems.   Young stalks are boiled to be eaten like asparagus, raw stems, and young leaves are eaten in salads.      Both the root and leaves are used in herbal remedies, but most recipes call for the root which has  a sweetish and mucilaginous taste.   Fresh burdock root also has a distinct aroma. It has been used, after chopping and roasting, as a coffee substitute.

Originally cultivated in China for medicinal purposes, this unique root has become a sought-after specialty in Japan. Flavorful and crunchy, burdock is an excellent source of fiber, along with the vitamins and minerals.   Its nutty taste is delicious sautéed in combination with carrots or just some soy sauce and a bit of sugar, or it can be deep-fried in a tempura batter. Avoid rinsing this brown-skinned vegetable until you’re ready to use it.  In markets, it’s sold with the dirt still lingering on the roots because it is quick to wilt when washed.    The white flesh immediately discolors once peeled.   You’ll want to soak it in a mild vinegar solution until you’re ready to cook it to maintain the color.

You can harvest the large, deep, beige taproot from the basal rosette form (as soon as the flower stalk appears, the root becomes tough and woody) from early spring to late fall.

burdock-root-largeScrub the root with a coarse copper scouring pad, but don’t peel it. Slice it razor-thin on a diagonal, oriental-style, or use the finest slicing disk of a food processor.  Simmer 20 minutes or until tender. You may also sauté  it, but add liquid and cook it in moist heat another 10 minutes afterward, or it may not get tender.    You may also harvest the immature flower stalk in late Spring, before the flowers appear, while it’s still tender and very flexible.  Peeled and parboiled for 1 minute to get rid of the bitterness, it tastes like artichoke hearts, and it will enhance any traditional recipe that calls for the heart of artichokes. Cook this another 5-10 minutes.

Its hearty flavor is a little like that of potatoes, although it’s related to artichokes. Mashed roots can also be formed into patties and fried.  The white pith can be added to salads or simmered in syrup to make candy or soaked in vinegar  to make pickles.

Kinpira Gobo Recipe
Beginners usually get into trouble when they sauté root (gobo in Japanese) instead of simmering or steaming it because sautéing makes it harder to make the root tender. The trick is to slice the root razor-thin and braise it after sautéing, as in this spicy Japanese side-dish.

2 tbs. dark (toasted) sesame oil
2 cups  root, very thinly sliced
2 cups wild or commercial carrots, thinly sliced
2 tbs. fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled but not cut
1/2 cup redbud wine, mirin (Japanese rice wine), or white wine
1/4 cup whole sesame seeds
2 tbs. tamari soy sauce
1 tbs. chili paste or 1/2 tbs. cayenne hot pepper, or to taste

Sauté the carrots, ginger, and garlic in sesame oil 10 minutes, stirring often.  Remove and discard the garlic as soon as it turns slightly brown.  Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they pop and become slightly brown and fragrant.  Remove the sesame seeds from frying pan and set aside.  Add the remaining ingredients to the sautéed vegetables, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.  Add the sesame seeds.  Serve hot as an appetizer, a condiment, or a side dish.

Makes 2-1/2 cups
Preparation Time: 35 minutes

burdock-rootAdditional Information About Burdock Root:

COMMON NAME

Standardized: burdock
Other: great burdock, gobo, goboshi

BOTANICAL NAME

Arctium lappa L.1
Plant Family: Asteraceae

OVERVIEW

Burdock has been an important botanical in Western folk herbalism and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, primarily valued for its cleansing and skin smoothing properties. The entire plant is edible and is a popular vegetable in Asia, particularly in Japan. More recently, burdock has been an ingredient in hair tonics and in cosmetics for mature skin.4,5

BOTANY

A biennal member of the Asteraceace family, with bright pink-red to purple thistle-like flowers on long stalks, and oblong to cordate, huge hairy leaves3,6 that is native to Europe and Asia, and now naturalized in North America and Austrailia.1 This plant can grow to a very robust height, reaching up to 9 feet,6 and its aromatic “carrot-like”7 taproot can grow as much as 3 feet deep into the ground (making them difficult to harvest).8 It is naturalized and abundant in northern U.S and Europe and is considered a weed in such areas.

The generic name arctium is derived from the Greek word for bear or arktos and the species name, lappa, is from the Latin word lappare which means “to seize.” The fruit (bur) looks rough and hairy resembling a big, fuzzy bear and will grab on to anything in the vicinity in order to spread its seed, hence the name.8,9 Its common name is derived from the French word bourre referring to a tangle of wool (often entangled with burs) and the German “dock” referring to large leaves.8 Various species, such as A. minus or A. tomentosum, may be used interchangeably.10 However, burdock is often confused with cocklebur or Xanthium spp. that has entirely different properties.7

CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING

Cultivated in China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in various countries in Europe.1

Seeds are picked in the fall and can be loosened from the chaff with a rolling pin. Harvesting the roots is no easy task yet can be done in the fall of the first year or spring of the second, preferably the former. According to the late herbalist Michael Moore “harvesting full flowered plants in the fall can be as much work as digging up a small tree”7

HISTORY AND FOLKLORE

Burdock is an all-purpose herbal that has been used continually for myriad purposes the last few thousand years in Asia and Europe, and more recently in North America. It is a food plant called gobo in Japanese and is a much consumed vegetable in Japan. The root may be eaten fresh or cooked and the young leaves can be cooked like any other vegetable.9 The stalks have a taste somewhat like asparagus and can be eaten raw in a salad, boiled, or candied with sugar.8

In traditional Chinese medicine, burdock fruit has been used continually for thousands of years. It is known to balance internal heat, is specifically helpful for supporting skin health, and is associated with lung and stomach meridians. It is considered energetically cold and having a slippery consistency that soothes mucus membranes. The root is also commonly cooked in order to change its energetic properties and specifically to make it easier to digest.2In European folk medicine, an infusion or decoction of the seeds was employed as a diuretic. It was helpful in enhancing health through supporting digestion, and as topical poultice.

-Culpepper in his Complete Herbal, written in 1653, says the following about Burdock:

It is so well known, even by the little boys, who pull off the burs to throw and stick upon each other, that I shall spare to write any description of it……The Burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying. The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking of the sinews or arteries, gives much ease. The juice of the leaves, or rather the roots themselves, given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents.11

Further, Culpepper, an avid astrologer in addition to being an herbalist, considered burdock to be a feminine plant, ruled by the planet Venus and took this into consideration when preparing his burdock elixirs.11 Traditionally the root was thought to carry magical power, particularly powers of protection and healing. It was believed that wearing a necklace that is made from the root, gathered during the waning moon, would protect the wearer from evil and negativity.12 In the Native American healing tradition, the plant was used by the Malecite, Micmac, Ojibwa, and Menominee for skin health. Further, the roots were dried by the Iroquois over a fire and stored for food for the following year.13 They also utilized the related A. minus in medicinal baths.

According to the William Cook, author of the Physio-medical Dispensatory in 1869, burdock “enters into a sort of family beer along with such agents as yellow dock, spikenard, elder flowers, and ginger” making a beneficial spring beverage. Herbalist Matthew Becker states that burdock is a “potent yet safe lymphatic decongestant.” Also, that as a subtle alterative it works best over time and demonstrates restorative properties due, in part, to its bitter tonic effects on the digestive system. It also contains inulin which feeds the healthy bacteria in the colon.14

Burdock is considered by many herbalists to be the best known medicinal for skin conditions (Hoffman, Moore). This herb is highly effective, gentle, and multipurpose. It promotes the flow of bile and also increases circulation to the skin. Further, it is a mild diuretic and lymphatic.15 Burdock is used widely as an alterative and blood purifier. The leaves can be made into a fresh poultice to soothe poison oak and poison ivy and a leaf decoction makes a therapeutic wash for the skin.3

FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS

Flavor: acrid bitter cold,2 sweet8

HERBAL ACTIONS

Diaphorhetic,10 mild diuretic, mild laxative, alterative,3,7,8,14,15,16 cholagogue3

USES AND PREPARATIONS

Dried root or seed as a cold infusion, decoction, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated. Fresh or cooked root and leaf as an edible vegetable Fresh root or seed as a tincture Fresh leaf as a poultice

CONSTITUENTS

Sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpene lactones, acetylenic compounds, phenolic acids, and up to 45% inulin,16 flavanoid glycosides, bitter glycosides, alkaloids,17 chromium, copper, iron, magnesium,18 Arctiin2

HERBAL MISCELLANY

The inspiration for Velcro came from the burdock bur. The inventor, a Swiss electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral, was walking along one day in the mountains and saw burs sticking on his wool socks and his dog’s fur. He went home and examined the barbed, hook-like seeds that make up the fruit and thought he could replicate this “gripping” action in the laboratory. And so he did, and, in 1955, Velcro was patented and released to the world.19,20

PRECAUTIONS

Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.

REFERENCES

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed athttp://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?8457 on June 20, 2014.
  2. Bensky, D., Gamble, A., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (1993). Chinese herbal medicine: materia medica.
  3. Lust, J. (2014). The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published. Courier Dover Publications.
  4. Knott A, Reuschlein K, Mielke H, Wensorra U, Mummert C, Koop U, Kausch M, Kolbe L, Peters N, Stäb F, Wenck H, Gallinat S. Natural Arctium lappa fruit extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):281-9.
  5. Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
  6. Foster, S. and J. A. Duke 2000. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  7. Moore, M. (2003). Medicinal plants of the Mountain West (No. Ed. 2). Museum of New Mexico Press.
  8. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/marigo16.html on June 20, 2014.
  9. Nature’s Pharmacy Deck: History and Uses of 50 Healing Plants. New York Botanical Gardens: New York; 2002.
  10. Stary, F. 1992. The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants. Ed. Dorset Press, NY, USA.
  11. Culpeper N. Culpeper’s complete herbal: a book of natural remedies for ancient ills. Accessed at: http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/20971/1/frameset.html on June 23, 2014.
  12. Cunningham, S. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
  13. Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Accessed at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ on June 23, 2014.
  14. Becker M. Materia Medica Intensive Seminar. Boulder, CO: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, Inc; 2005.
  15. Bergner P. Immune – Lymphatics and antibiotics. From The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal 1997 in Medical Herbalism: Journal for the Clinical Practitioner. Accessed at http://medherb.com/Therapeutics/Immune_-_Lymphatics_and_antibiotics.htm on June 23, 2014.
  16. Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.
  17. Hoffmann, D. (1998). The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
  18. Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on June 20, 2014.
  19. Accessed at http://www.velcro.com/About-Us/History.aspx#.U6hekfldWSo on June 23, 2014.
  20. Accessedhttp://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/archive/How_a_Swiss_invention_hooked_the_world.html?cid=5653568 on June 23, 2014.
For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.