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Sunday, July 24, 2011

ALKANETS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND OTHER USES OF ALKANETS


ALKANETS, ALKANNA TINCTORIA, ANCHUSA OFFICINALIS, PLUS OTHERS
Alkanets have been grown for the dye their roots produce which has been used as a substitute for henna. The name Alkanet is believed to have come from the Arabic Al-hinna, which refers to the dying properties of the plant. The true Alkanet is said to be Anchusa officinalis (anchousa comes from the Greek meaning to paint). Alkanets are members of the Boraginaceae family of plants to which borage (goazban) belongs.
    Tisanes of the leaves and roots are thought to relieve persistent coughs and promote sweating during fevers. They are also supposed to be able to lift depression and banish melancholia. The expressed juice from this alkanet was good they say for pleurisy. The tisane can be used on the skin for any irritation or rash and soothes and softens it. It can also be used as an astringent for wounds. In traditional medicine it is used as a blood purifier to expel toxins from the body with its diuretic action.
Alkanet roots for dye
  The leaves and young tops of this true alkanet are used like spinach both cooked and in salads although it is advisable to blanch them for a minute before draining and rinsing in cold water.
  Alkanet leaves and flowers can be dried and used in pot pourris and the fresh leaves smell a little like wild strawberries. Alkanets typically have blue or violet flowers which are a little like the more common Forget-Me-Nots (in the UK). There are about 50 plants in this species, most of which are indigenous to the Mediterranean region.
  There’s an evergreen Alkanet called green alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens, (roughly translated meaning five tongued, living for ever). This is one’s flowers are used for decorating cocktails and salads.
  Alkanna tinctoria has anti-bacterial and astringent qualities and can help to staunch the blood flow from fresh cuts. Externally it is used for varicose veins, ulcers, itchiness and other skin irritation.
  The roots of tinctoria produce a red dye and it has been used for lipsticks, lip balms and soap.
Asian alkanet
  Dioscorides believed (1st century AD) that the plant was useful for snake bites, while Culpeper (17th century) believed that a decoction in wine would strengthen the back and stop back pains. He also said that it was good to get rid of internal worms. He also recommended it for chicken pox, measles, bruises and wounds. He says that it was good for leprosy too, and “yellow jaundice, spleen and gravel in the kidneys”, so the plant used to be something of a cure all in Britain, where it is also known as Bugloss, Anchusa and Orchanet.
  Alkanna orientalis has yellow flowers and grows in the Indian subcontinent including in Pakistan. It has much the same properties and has been used for similar illnesses as those already described.
Asian alkanet
  The root of this alkanet may be what gives Indian food its red colour, as it seems that the root is ground is grown in Kashmir and used to colour food such as Rogan Josh.
  At one time in Europe it was used as a dye to make wood look as though it was the more expensive rosewood or mahogany.
  Clearly it had a lot of uses, and it is still cultivated for the dye it produces.

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