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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BASTARD BALM - A HERB WITH MANY TRADITIONAL MEDICINAL USES: HISTORY AND POSSIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BASTARD BALM



BASTARD BALM, MELITTIS MELISSOPHYLLUM
Bastard balm clearly doesn’t care about the slur on its lineage, as it looks as though it is poking its tongue out at the world. It has orchid-like flowers which may be completely white or pink or a combination of these colours. It is very rare in Britain today, although it can be found in parts of Devon. It is a protected species, although it is much more common in mainland Europe. It can also be found in Turkey. The plant smells of new-mown hay as does sweet woodruff, because of the coumarins present in the leaves.
  It has been used traditionally in a number of European countries for a variety of aliments.
  The ancient physicians of Myddfai used it in combination with other herbs for fevers: -
“The mugwort, madder, meadow sweet, milfoil, hemp, red cabbage, and the tutsan, all these seven herbs enter into the composition of the medicine required. Whosoever obtains them all, will not languish long from a wounded lung, or need fear for his life. Any of the following herbs may be added thereto, butcher's broom, agrimony, tutsan, dwarf elder, amphibious persicaria, centaury, round birth wort, field scabious, pepper mint, daisy, knap weed, roots of the red nettle, crake berry, St.John's wort, privet, wood betony, the roots of the yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, leaves of the earth nut, agrimony, wormwood, the bastard balm, small burdock, and the orpine.”
They also employed it in this way, although clearly there were white and pink bastard balms in Mid-Wales at the time as this remedy calls for the “reddish” variety.
“A woman who is subject to profuse menstruation, should take the reddish bastard balm, small burdock, orpine, stinking goose foot, pimpernel, water avens, with the ashes of a hart's horns, that has been killed with his antlers on, boiling them, as well as possible in red wine, straining the liquor carefully, and drinking it daily, till it is finished, abstaining (the while) from stimulating food. Being restrained by the above means, the blood will be habitually diverted to the thighs and ankles.”
  In Italy a tea or tisane is made with it and the infusion is used as a remedy for eye inflammation. The tisane is said to have anti-spasmodic properties which could be why the Physicians of Myddfai used it in the remedy above.
  A decoction is made to get rid of kidney stones with a handful each of couch grass (Agropyron repens) which most people detest because it grows on lawns, bastard balm and the common mallow (Malva sylvestris). The whole plant of each is used including the root; these should be shopped and put in a pan with 1½ litres of water, brought to the boil and simmered for 15 minutes. The liquid will be the same colour as tea. This should be drunk over three days to get rid of kidney stones, but be warned- if you drink this your urine will be dark and tea-coloured for the first two days, but will then return to normal when the kidneys have been flushed out thoroughly.
  There have been clinical trials on this plant and some have found that it is liver protective and helps heal liver damage in vitro, although coumarins are supposed to damage the liver in large doses. A study conducted by Biljana Kaurinovic et al., published in “Molecules” Vol. 16 (pp 3152-67) on 14th April 2011, “Antioxidant Activities of Melittis melissophyllum” states that the essential oil from the leaves has been used for its sedative, narcotic, antifungal, antibacterial and antifungal effects and that it is a muscle relaxant and spasmolytic. The leaves contain the flavonoids kaempferol, apigenin and luteolin among others. Extracts from the leaves showed antioxidant activities in vitro in this study. Another study suggests that the plant can reduce inflammation, although these are studies which have not been replicated yet.
  Traditionally the plant has been used as a diuretic, blood purifier, astringent, for wound healing, and as a sedative. It may be that further clinical trials will verify at least some of the traditional uses of the bastard balm.

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