Herbs-Treat and Taste is about herbs and spices and their uses in medicine and cookery.We give recipes and information which enable people to have a healthier diet which can prevent certain illnesses and alleviate symptoms such as a cough, sore throat etc.There is information on different herbs,their history ,what other people think or thought about them and what we think.
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PUERARIA OR KUDZU ROOT, PUERARIA LOBATA OR RADIX PUERARIA
The pueraria root has been used since at least the 6th century BC in China to relieve various ailments. It is a vine and a member of the bean and pea family, Leguminosae, and is native to China, Japan and Fiji. In China the flowers are used as a tisane to prevent inebriation from alcohol, but although there was one study in 1993 on rats which showed that kudzu root could reduce the cravings for alcohol and so might help alcoholics, subsequent studies in humans have so far shown that it does not have this effect. A better natural treatment for alcoholism would be dandelions combined with milk thistle (Silybum marianum), a remedy which has been used for liver-related problems for centuries could be more effective in stopping cravings for alcohol.
Pueraria root field
Analyses of kudzu root have shown that it contains many amino acids including lysine and methionine and isoflavones and bioflavonoidssuch as genisten and daidzein which have been shown to have various benefits to the human body. It also containsminerals including zinc, manganese and selenium.
Isoflavones are found in soybeans and are a family of Phytoestrogens currently under investigation for their preventive uses for heart disease, cancer, lowering cholesterol levels, relieving symptoms of the menopause and osteoporosis. Apart from being found in soybeans and pueraria root they are also found in red clover. They are known to have potent antioxidant properties and may help in the treatment of a number of diseases.
Genisten and daidzein are rich in antioxidant properties and in estrogens and are being investigated for their efficacy as protective agents as it is believed that they may reduce the risk of heart diseases and prostate and breast cancer in particular.
The kudzu root can grow as big as the human body and in china it is harvested in spring and autumn, then sliced and dried in the sun. In traditional medicine a tisane of the flower is given to bring out the spots which are associated with the measles virus, as well as to stop diarrhoea, while the root is used for relief of migraines, as well as to relieve muscle pains, dizziness, to regulate high blood pressure. The root can also be eaten, raw or roasted. The Chinese also believe the root is beneficial to the stomach and spleen and tisanes of the flower are said to improve appetite and aid digestion.
Studies have also shown that pueraria root could increase the flow of blood to the brain which is needed in cases of arteriosclerosis.
It was introduced into the States in the 19th century and planted to stop soil erosion. Since then it has become and invasive weed in southern parts of the US. However this is another weed which has potentially great benefits.
This is a delicious dessert which is very healthy too; it is good for the eyesight and to strengthen the body and immune system. Traditionally in Pakistan it is given to strengthen the heart and its functions. You should use tender young carrots though, not old woody ones.
Mallotus means ‘fleecy’ and this name was given this tree because of the hairs on its fruit. It is sometimes erroneously called the Monkey Puzzle tree, but this is the usual name of the genus Araucaria araucana, which is unrelated to Mallotus philippinensis. As its name suggests it is a native of the Philippines, and also of India, Pakistan, Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Australia. In some parts of the world for example in India it grows to a height of 10 metres, but in other parts of the world, it grows to a height of 20 metres.
It has been used in traditional medicine since at least 1000 BC and is mentioned in the ancient Indian medical texts. Traditionally it is used to get rid of intestinal worms and is one of the best herbal remedies for this. This has been shown to be the case by modern medical research which has also vindicated other traditional uses of this tree. All parts are used and in recent years the stems and flowers, as well as the fruit have been tested for their medicinal properties.
The leaves are pounded into a paste and applied to wounds and they have maturant properties, this means that they draw pus out of wounds. It would seem that the fruit is used most, in traditional medicine, although research has shown that the flowers and bark have useful properties too.
The tree is an evergreen which flowers in February and March, and the white flowers die to turn into fruit covered with a layer of crimson hairs. One study conducted by K Moorthy et al and published in 2007 concluded “Test results would tend to corroborate the folk belief that the flowers of this plant are efficacious against respiratory infections and would justify its further investigation.” The same study also stated that the bark “may be used for treatment of several infectious diseases.” (“Phytochemical screening and antibacterial evaluation of the stem bark of M. philippinensis var.Tomentosus” 2007)
The fruit has undergone numerous studies and it has been found to contain many acids which are listed below with their properties.
·Gallic acid: this has anti-inflammatory properties as well as being antibacterial.
·Caffeic acid: has the same properties as gallic acid and is also an anti-fungal agent.
·Ferulic acid: this has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
·Cinnamic acid: is an antifungal and anthelmintic and also gives protection against infections by pathogenic micro-organisms.
·Salicylic acid: this is an antipyretic and can be used externally as an antiseptic and antifungal for a variety of skin problems.
It also contains chlorogenic, vanillic and o-coumaric acids.
In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves are used for their bitter, cooling properties and to increase the appetite. The fruit is used as a purgative (too much of it causes vomiting and nausea) for its wound healing qualities, as a maturant, a carminative (it gets rid of the problems of flatulence) an alexitic (a substance which resists poison and a preservative agent used against infectious and contagious diseases) and is used in cases of bronchitis and other respiratory diseases and for stomach problems which includes enlarged spleens. It is also believed that it gets rid of stones in the kidneys and other organs. The powdered fruit is also used to cure eye diseases and to remove tapeworms from the intestines.
The oil from the seeds and fruit is used as a hair-fixer and added to ointment, while the remains or seed cake after the oil has been extracted is used as fertilizer. As the roots can also yield a dye for wool and silk (orange-brown) no part of the tree is wasted. Even the trunk or stem can be made into paper and this is the required quality for writing and printing paper.
The tree and its parts containbioflavonoids, saponins which are glycosides that have anti-inflammatory properties, and all the parts especially the fruit have potentantioxidantproperties, which might be why it is used as an aphrodisiac in some cultures.
The Monkey Face Tree, Mallotus philippinensis, clearly has many health benefits for us as modern medical research has borne out.
The Yellow Himalayan raspberry is a shrub which is native to the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines. It has become naturalized in Australia, Hawaii, the West Indies, tropical Africa and tropical South America. In Hawaii it is an invasive species. It grows in a straggly way to reach about 3 metres tall and has toothed, wide leaves with hairs on them and the stem has prickles. It is, as the name suggests, a yellow raspberry, and a close relative of the red raspberry and the blackberry or bramble (all of which are members of therose family of plants), so it will come as no surprise to know that it tastes very like a red raspberry. It has white flowers which having been pollinated, produce yellow berries. In Pakistan it is used as a living hedge and goats feed from the leaves and fruit if they get to it before people do.
The fruit has laxative properties, and is used in traditional medicine in Tibet for a number of purposes. The whole plant has astringent properties and has been used to reduce fevers, especially typhoid. The inner bark of the Yellow Himalayan Raspberry is used as a kidney tonic and an anti-diuretic. The juice extracted from the root has also been used for fevers, gastric problems (including infant colic when the young shoots are used too), diarrhoea and dysentery and the root paste, applied to wounds promotes healing. The fruit juice is also used to bring down the temperature of a fever and for colic, but is good for sore throats and colds too. The inner bark is said to help when the senses are weakening and when people have seminal or vaginal discharge. In summer it is used to promote sweating as a diaphoretic, and as a diuretic, and as the fruit is fibrous it aids the digestive processes.
Modern scientific studies have found that an alcoholic extract of the root of the Yellow Himalayan Raspberry has antioxidantproperties and antimicrobial ones. It was also shown to have anti-inflammatory properties when tested on rats in the lab. Ten new triterpenoid saponins have been found and research is continuing into this plant.
Triterpenoids seem to decrease anxiety and improve the mental functions of mice when tested in a lab, and they help heal wounds by boosting the antioxidant activities in the wounded area.
The autumn olive tree is a member of the Oleaster family of plants, and is native to Asia including the Himalayan region, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, northern China and Japan. It is also known by many names including ghain, barnmerwa, kenoli and kancoli. In English it is also known as Japanese Silverberry, Umbellate Oleaster, and Autumnberry which it was named as by the US Department of Agriculture. In the States it is mostly viewed as an invasive species which is threatening native flora, and is classed as a “severe threat” in Kentucky and Tennessee. It was introduced into North America as an ornamental plant sometime around 1830, and its seeds, which are contained inside its red fruits or drupes, have been widely distributed by birds and foxes.
It can grow to a height of between 3 to 5 metres, and have leaves that have silvery scales on the undersides. It has silvery white flowers which are funnel-shaped and fragrant, then, in the autumn the red berries make it a good food tree for birds. The fruit and seeds are edible and can be used in jam, jellies and preserves as well as eaten raw. The have a sour-sweet taste and are a little like pomegranate seeds, or perhaps likemorello cherries. The fruit containsvitamins A, C and E, minerals, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron as well as the essential fatty acids andbioflavonoids. It is also rich in the carotenoids, lycopene, which is currently of interest to medical researchers as it has exhibited possibilities as a deterrent to heart disease and cancers of the prostate, cervix, the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly ovarian cancer. (The lycopene content in the autumn olive fruit is 17 times higher than that in a tomato.) Other carotenoids the berries contain are B-carotene, phytoene, and a- and b-cryptoxanthin. The fruit also contains malic acid like the crab apple and when fully ripe has glucose and fructose present.
When under-ripe the fruit has astringent qualities, and in traditional medicine the flowers are used as a cardiac tonic, for their astringent qualities and as a stimulant. The seeds are said to be good for coughs, and the oil from the seeds is used to treat afflictions of the lungs.
The berries can be dried and stored to use in fruit teas or tisanes, and the flowers can also be made into a tisane with the leaves. However as little research has been done on this tree yet, it is advised that women do not take it when pregnant, as there is insufficient data on it as yet.
The tree itself can be used as a hedge as it has thorns on its spurs and deters animals from trespassing. It also fixes the nitrogen content in the soil and is good as a nursemaid for less hardy plants such as young walnut trees until they become established. You can make a jelly with the fruit if you follow that given for Rowan berry jelly, although you do not need to use pectin.
Hyssop is a member of themintfamily of herbs and is related to oregano,rosemary,lavenderand thyme. In the past it was used as a culinary herb, although it is not often used in this way now, probably because people have grown away from nature and don’t know what to do with it. Hyssop is not a relation of Water Hyssop, despite the names, and neither is it believed to be the hyssop of the Bible as it is native to the Mediterranean regions rather than Israel and Palestine.
It was known to Hippocrates who believed it to be beneficial for all respiratory ailments, especially bronchitis and it is still used for coughs, nasal congestion and as an expectorant. It is still used in these ways in the Indian subcontinent and is called Zufa in Urdu. The word Hyssop comes from the Greek isoppos. The Romans used it to make a herbal wine, but this is not considered palatable nowadays, so is not used in this way today. The flowers smell of camphor-mothballs- so are distinctive enough to be recognized in the wild, and they have become naturalized in North America and Britain, so you can distinguish them by this fragrance. It came into its own in the Middle Ages and was grown by monks to spice up soups and sauces and add to meat dishes. Later in the 16th and 17th centuries the hot infusion was used for the vapours that came off it to cure ear problems. The old herbalists used it to cure many things and the tisane from the flowers was given for urinary tract disorders, as an emmenogogue for menstrual problems, to aid digestion and to stop spasms. Mixed with honey it was for sore throats, coughs and colds as well as to promote sweat during fevers. It should not be taken during pregnancy.
The bruised leaves were rubbed on rheumatic joints to relieve pain and in poultices they helped reduce swellings caused by sprains. The crushed leaves were also used to heal wounds (it is the leaves that produce the essential oil of the plant) and the ancients used the herb as an insect repellant, especially to get rid of lice. The juice from the leaves has been used apparently to great effect, to get rid of intestinal worms. Hyssop baths were recommended for rheumatism, and they can relieve stress if you soak in a bath of hyssop leaves and flowers. These are best gathered in late July or August when they are in full bloom.
The tisane, or infusion can be made with a teaspoon of the dried herb (leaves and flowering tops) and used externally on wounds, bruises and as a skin tonic, as it is said that it helps smooth wrinkles. You can take it to relieve flatulence, aid digestion, clear the bronchial and nasal passages, as a diuretic, expectorant (with honey) , if you lose your voice (again with honey) and for stress and nervous problems. It’s best mixed with mint or lemon balm as a tisane as a refreshing drink, and you need 1tsp of the dried leaves and flowers, with a few leaves of mint or lemon balm to 1 pint of boiling water. Leave it to steep for 15- 20 minutes and drink hot with honey or sugar to taste. The tisane can regulate blood pressure and is good for asthma.
Modern medical research is ongoing but there are hopes that it could help to fight HIV because of its antimicrobial and antiviral action. It contains ursolic and oleanolic acids which have anti-inflammatory properties, and ursolic acid has been found to inhibit cell growth in human leukaemia cells and in a mouse melanoma cell line. It also contains bioflavonoids which have potent antioxidant activities. Marrubiin found in the plant has expectorant properties, so the old herbalists got that use right. The diterpine, marrubiin is similar to taxol, which has anti-cancer effects, and has been found to have antibiotic and antiviral properties. Another flavonoid Diosmin has been used to treat acute nasal allergies and can help in the treatment of varicose veins and piles. It is also being investigated for its anti-cancer activities, and for the treatment of PMS/PMT, colitis and diabetes.
Hyssop also contains triterpenoids which in lab tests have been shown to decrease anxiety in mice as well as increasing their mental functions and to heal wounds and strengthen the skin.
The fresh and dried flowers can be used decoratively as a garnish but they lose their smell when dries so can’t be used in pot pourris. Hyssop has been used by French monks for centuries to make the liqueurs, Benedictine and Chartreuse and it was used in the original absinthe as well as in the one on sale today. It has also been used to make soap and can be found in spicy perfumes. You can also make a grey-green dye with the plant. It can be used in sugar syrups to pour over fruit and the fresh leaves may be used as a salad green. Below is a dressing for salads and especially for salmon steaks. Try it and see if you like it.
Perhaps this berry is best known as the goji berry, a red berry that has been hailed as one of nature’s superfruits along with thecranberry and pomegranate, among others. The Latin name, Lycium barbarum, means the thorn from Lycia which was an ancient city in what is now the southern Anatolian region of modern Turkey. It gets its name “wolfberry” from the fact that lycos in Greek means wolf (although it is lupus in Latin), so wolfberry is a misnomer. The plant originated in southeastern Europe and Asia, notably in Tibet and China, around the Himalayan region. Whether or not it comes from the Himalayan region or Tibet, it is often sold under the name, Himalayan or Tibetan goji berry.
It was introduced into Britain by the Duke of Argyll sometime during the 1730s and is known as The Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree. Now it grows wild in southern counties of England and is sold legally in Britain as it has been eaten for almost 300 years there.
You usually buy it in the dried form and it is good in a tisane combined with the root bark. It is usually cooked before eating and is a useful addition to sweet rice dishes instead or as well as sultanas. It is rather like a raisin in texture, and has that kind of chewy consistency.
At the beginning of the 21st century the Himalayan goji berry was hailed as a superfruit and has since been sold as a health food and as a dietary supplement. It containsvitamins A, B2 (riboflavin of theB-complex group), E, mineralsincluding iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, calcium and selenium as well asbioflavonoids and carotenoids such as zeaxanthin. It contains more vitamin C than an orange per serving and so helps to strengthen the immune system. It also has the essential amino acids and fatty acids, and the polysaccharides it contains help to maintain normal blood pressure levels. Both beta-carotene and zeaxanthin which help to protect the retina in the eye by absorbing blue light, and this may decrease the risk of macular degeneration, in much the same way aswimberriesdo.
The bioflavonoid Betaine calms nervousness, enhances muscular growth and helps the liver function. Physalin is active against all types of leukaemia and this is also in goji or wolfberries. It is also used in the treatment of Hepatitis B. Solavetivane is a powerful anti-fungal and anti-bacterial compound while Beta-Sitoserol is an anti-inflammatory used to treat impotence and prostate enlargement, and it is this combined with the potent antioxidant activities of the berry that has given it the reputation for enhancing the libido and being an aphrodisiac. Cyperone, a sesquiterpene is good for the heart, normalizes blood pressure and may help in the treatment of cervical cancer.
It is claimed that the ripe fruit is a tonic, boosts sperm production and benefits the complexion, as well as helping the liver and kidneys to function well. It also demonstrates some anti-cancer activity and improves blood circulation. The Beta-carotene helps to prevent the skin from becoming sun damaged and it has been touted as a great way to keep a young-looking skin and slow the aging process.
This fruit has been used for 6,000 years in the Indian subcontinent, China and Tibet to protect the liver, improve sexual performance and health, improve vision strengthen the legs and to increase longevity.
The root bark is used to lower the body’s temperature in fevers, regulate high blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels. It has the reputation of being good for coughs and colds as well as being used as a diuretic and purgative. A tonic tisane is made from the leaves and is used also to stop genital itching.
Goji berries are expensive though, but if you live where they grow wild, you could do worse than to go and forage for the berries and then dry them during the autumn months.
Lily of the valley is known by many names including Jacob’s Ladder, as the bell shaped flowers form a ladder shape at the top of the stem. They normally flower in May, in the UK which is why they are sometimes called May Lilies, although they have been known to flower earlier than this. Some people rather fancifully, call them Fairy Cups, as the delicate flowers could be used by fairies as cups, and some people call them Our Lady’s Tears. Their red berries are poisonous and should not be ingested. Modern medical science also warns about this plant and it should only be used under the direction of a qualified homoeopathist as an overdose can cause cardiac failure.
Stems grow to a height of between 15 and 30 centimetres and the leaves can be 10 to 25 centimetres long. There are between 5 and 15 flowers on the stem, and these are pollinated by bees and then develop into red berries. It is native to Europe, North Asia and the eastern US.
The most potent part of the plant is the leaf, but the flower and root are the parts mostly used especially in tisanes, to relieve fevers, and as a diuretic, a sedative and as an emetic. A root ointment has traditionally been used on burns to prevent scarring. It was used in mediaeval times instead offoxglove as it is less likely to cause poisoning, and has similar properties to digitalis found in those flowers. It is safer for the elderly with heart problems than foxglove remedies, and it has been used for cardiac problems for centuries.
In aromatherapy the essential oil is used to lift depression and create a feeling of well-being; it is also believed to improve the cognitive processes and can, it is claimed, help counter the effects of ageing of the brain. The substance which is similar to digitalis in its effects is convallamarin, and the asparagin in the plant is responsible for its diuretic action. Thebioflavonoids in the plant stimulate the arteries, and are good to lower blood pressure.
In Culpeper’s time lilies of the valley grew on Hampstead Heath, but I doubt they can be found there now. There is a legend that comes from southern England which states that lilies of the valley grew from the blood of St. Leonard who fought a long, hard battle with a dragon in the woods at Horsham, Surrey. Another legend says that the fragrance of the flowers attracts the nightingale which finds its mate in groves and woods where the flowers bloom.
Lilies of the valley were known to Apuleius in the 4th century AD and a Greek myth states that Apollo found the plant and gave it to the physician Aesculapius. The whole plant is gathered when the flowers are blooming and dried together with the flowers on the stalk. The plant was used for soldiers of the First World War who had come into contact with poisonous gas.
A decoction of the flowers (½ an ounce boiled for 20 mins in a pint water) has been used for obstructions in the urinary tract and is said to be effective. The British herbalists, such as Gerard and Culpeper believed that the distilled water of the flowers, called Aqua aurea (golden water) was a cure all. Coles, writing in 1657 recommended that the flowers be steeped in new wine for a month and then distilled three times, as the ensuing water was “more precious then gold” especially for apoplexy especially if mixed with six “grains of Pepper and a little Lavender water”; this was supposed to be effective for a month.
Prior to that in 1560 Dodoens said that this same water “doth strengthen the Memorie and comforteth the Harte.” Gerard had yet another way of making lily of the valley water: “a glasse being filled with the flowers of May Lilies and set in an Ant Hill with the mouth close stopped for a month’s space and then taken out, ye shall find a liquor in the glass which being outwardly applied, helps the gout very much.” This was also used externally for rheumatism and sprains. The bruised root was boiled in wine and used in cases of fever.
Culpeper of course, had something to say about these flowers, and the last word goes to him.
“It without doubt strengthens the brain and renovates a weak memory. The distilled water dropped into the eyes helps inflammation thereof. The spirit of the flowers distilled in wine, restoreth lost speech. Helps the palsy, is extremely good in the apoplexy, comforteth the heart and vital spirits.”
COMMON BARBERRY, EUROPEAN BARBERRY BERBERIS VULGARIS
The common barberry is native to the British Isles, most of Europe and North Africa and temperate Asia, and grows in Pakistan along with Berberis lycicum and has similar properties to it and Berberis aristata. However it has red, not blue black berries, which are oblong and slightly rounded. In Urdu it is called Rasout and Kwarai in Pashto. The Common Barberry grows to a height of about 8 to10 feet, and has a woody stem the colour of ash, the outer covering of which is shaved off and dried, either on trays in the sun outdoors or threaded and strung across a room which is airy and gets direct sunlight.
It is a sensitive plant, though not in the same way as Tickle Me or Wood Sorrel, its stamens move away from the petals and close to the pistil. When bees try to get their nectar, they trigger the mechanism and the anther strikes the stigma which releases pollen. In the UK it was common to see the Common Barberry in copses and hedges, but farmers didn’t like it because it is sometimes host to the rust fungus, and they believed that it would infect their crops, particularly wheat. It used to be cultivated for its fruit, which has a pleasant, acidic taste, and in the 16th century, Gerard tells is that its leaves were used “to season meat with and instead of salad.” Birds, pigs and horses tend to avoid it because of its acidity, but it’s a bee and butterfly plant. In this respect it is rather like tamarind orimli.
The fruit was used in sweet dishes and Rouen in France was renowned for its Confiture d’ epine vinette. The Victorian cook, Mrs. Beeton recommends the berries as garnishes “The berries arranged on bunches of nice curled parsley, make an exceedingly pretty garnish for supper dishes particularly for white meats…”
The roots, when boiled with lye make a yellow dye used in Poland for colouring leather and elsewhere for dying wool. If you chew the stem bark it will turn your saliva yellow, as doesturmeric. In fact it has similar medicinal properties to turmeric (haldi). In Italy it is called Holy Thorn as it is believed that it was the Crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. Other trees also have the same thorns on their branches and have been given similar names, for example, thehawthorn.
It has been used in medicine for at least 2,500 years in all countries where it grows, and the leaves are used to treat jaundice, and in Iran it is valued for its effects on the gallbladder. The berries contain malic acid andvitamin C and so far 22 alkaloids have been identified in these plants which are thought to be of medical importance, but they are still being investigated. So far it has been suggested that it may help with erectile dysfunctions as it has potent antioxidant properties because of the flavonoids it contains, and it is beneficial to the veins and arteries in general.
You can make a jelly with the fruit using the same quantity of sugar as fruit and as it contains pectin it doesn’t need any to be added. (See recipe forplum jam and when it has cooled a little, strain through muslin or cheesecloth into sterile glass jars.) This aids digestion and helps relieve sore throats, although a gargle made from a syrup made from the berries can be diluted and also used in this way. It contains berbamine, which has positive effects on the cardio-vascular system, and is deemed to be good for arrhythmia, angina pectoris and other heart problems. Berberine is also found in this plant and this is has anti-bacterial properties and may be helpful in boosting the functions of the immune system and could aid digestion and prevent epileptic fits and convulsions. It may also be effective against candida and inflammation in the urinary tract.
The Common barberry also regulates blood pressure and is used in Pakistan for morning sickness during pregnancy. In traditional medicine it is used on the skin to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis, and it is believed that it can help reduce the effects of aging on the brain. In homeopathy it is sometimes used for gall stones and other gall bladder problems. Like the Indian Barberry and the berberry it is also known to assist the liver and is given in cases of jaundice. The infusion of the leaves is used to relieve bronchial problems including asthma and coughs, and a tincture made from them has been used for snake bites, rheumatism and sciatica.
In Europe the powdered root bark has traditionally been used to cure dyspepsia and aid digestion, as well as to stop sickness and diarrhoea. It is thought that the daily dose for jaundice and general debility and sickness is ¼ tsp of powdered bark taken 3 or 4 times a day. The tisane from the bark or leaves may be used as an antiseptic, as can the fruit as it has astringent properties.
It can also be used in the same ways as the Indian Berberry.
BERBERRY, KASHMAL, BERBERIS LYCICUM AND BERBERIS ARISTATA
The berberry (Berberis lycicum) grows in the Himalayan region of Pakistan where it is known as Kashmal (Urdu); its local name is Ishkeen. It grows to between 2 and 4 metres high and produces yellow flowers, and then blue-black berries. Berberis aristata is very similar and has been shown to have properties which protect the liver, making it a good treatment for jaundice and other liver and spleen complaints. Both the varieties have been used for centuries by the locals in India, where Berberis aristata is called the Indian barberry (as opposed to the European variety Berberis vulgaris).
The root bark, fruit and leaves of both plants are used in traditional medicine, and the parts used are the dried fruit, and the root bark, although the leaves are also used. The dried fruit is given as a mild laxative to children, but as it is rich invitamin C it is more often consumes fresh as a fruit. The dried fruit is also used to treat infections of the uterus.
The leaves are used to treat jaundice and the root bark is given in a decoction for people with diabetes mellitus. Together with the stems, the leaves are also given in an infusion or tisane as a laxative for adults.
Traditionally where the plants grow they have been used to treat various ailments, particularly for conjunctivitis and other inflammatory problems in the eyes. It is used for internal injuries and the root bark, powdered and mixed with oil has been used externally to treat broken bones.
The roots are used for gonorrhea, to heal wounds, ulcers, and piles, and they are made into a bitter astringent tonic to promote sweating when someone has a fever, and as a diuretic. It is also said to control and normalize blood pressure.
Medical research has found that the fruit of both plants have antihistamine properties, as well as being anti-cholinergic. The root bark powder has decreased cholesterol levels in lab rabbits and the Berbamine present in the plants is an alkaloid with hypotensive (helps with low blood pressure) activities, which has anti-bacterial properties. It also has palmatine which has antineoplastic properties so can inhibit cancerous cell growth.
Because of the thorns on both plants they are often to be seen in hedges as they deter animals from trespassing onto farmland.
There are many varieties of morello cherries or sour cherries and some of the most famous are the English morello cherries. The other variety of sour cherry is the amarelle but these are a paler colour than morellos which are black, with dark red flesh. They have a tart flavour in comparison to the red sweet cherries, Prunus avium (meaning bird’s plums). They are soft, succulent and used in preserves, tarts, Black Forest gateau and kirsch, among other things. It is thought that the word, kirsch comes from the Mesopotamian word “ karshu” where the first cultivated cherries grew in the 8th century BC. Like the sweet cherry they are members of the rose family and a relation of theplum.
The name, cerasus, shows the origin of these cherries, which was Cerasus on the black Sea coast in what is now Turkey, and the name has changed to Gireson. Cerasus was famous for its cherries in ancient Greece, but it is believed that the Romans took cherries to Britain from Persia in the first century AD. Legend has it that you can trace the old Roman roads by the wild cherry trees, as soldiers in the Roman legions spat out the cherry stones as they marched.
The sour cherry tree is much hardier than the red cherry tree as it can withstand extremes in temperatures and as it flowers later the fruit is less likely to be harmed by frost.
In the Middle Ages cherries were widely grown in monastery and private gardens and it is only in recent years that the cherry trees have suffered a decline in Britain which now imports the majority of cherries consumed there.
Cherry juice is extremely beneficial for us and tastes good, unlike beetroot juice which is something of an acquired taste. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and a rich inB-complex vitamins and vitamin C and also contain vitamin A and are rich in the minerals phosphorous and calcium. They also contain iron and if you drink a glass of morello cherry juice every day you will ensure the healthy functioning of the gall bladder and liver. The anthocyans they contain can inhibit the growth of cancerous tumours and can slow cardiovascular disease.
The poet A.E. Housman (1859-1936) was born in Worcestershire and would have seen many flowering morello cherry trees. He wrote these lines: -
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.”
Cherries were the inspiration for Robert Herrick (1591-1674) the poet who wrote the lines which were set to music in the 19th century.
“Cherry ripe! Cherry Ripe,
Cherry ripe I cry,
Come fools and fair ones, come and buy.” The cherry was seen as a symbol for the hymen and virginity, so this particular poem has a double meaning which it would seem the staid Victorians had not realized, as the song became very popular - or maybe they weren’t as prudish as we believe. Cherry trees have also been seen as symbols of fertility and at one time there was a superstition that if a woman who had just given birth ate the first cherry from a tree, the tree would yield a very good crop for its owner. In Elizabethan times and later, the stones from cherries were heated and put in bed pans to warm beds. As the tree bark and stems of cherries smell faintly of almonds, the stones would probably also have had this aroma which was left on warm bed sheets.
Of course Anton Chekhov wrote a play called “The Cherry Orchard” which used the symbolism of the cherry.
The recipe below was created by the famous chef, Escoffier on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
The ash tree is the fourth most common tree in Britain and can sometimes be the most prevalent species in a wood. It grows across Europe from the Arctic Circle to Turkey and also grows in the Himalayas. It is Yggdrasil of Scandinavian mythology, the Tree of the World which has its roots in Hell and touches Heaven, and is also known as Tree of Rebirth and Healing. It was one of the three sacred trees of the Druids, along with theoak and thehawthorn. Despite the similarity of names, the ash tree is a relative of the olivetree, but not of the Mountain ash or rowan.
The fruit of the ash tree comes in the form of seeds which are encased and hang from the trees; these are called keys in the UK and children often call them aeroplanes because they fly well on a breeze. The bark is pale grey with lattice-like ridges and fissures. When cut it exudes a sap which the ancient Greeks called “meli” or honey as it is sweet, being made up of natural sugars. This was sold for medicinal purposes under the name of Manna until the start of the 20th century. (This species of ash tree is Fraxinus ornus and grows on mountains in Greece.) In times past in Britain, newborn babies were given a spoonful of this substance and after that they and the ash tree from which the sap came were thought to be related. The health of the ash tree and the human relative were thought to be identical, so the person whose tree it was would protect it so that no harm came to him or her.
The Anglo-Saxons, ancient Greeks and Romans used the ash for their spears (the Anglo-Saxon name for the tree, aesc means spear) and handles of their shields, as it is shock resistant. For this reason it was used to make the chassis frame of classic Morgan cars in Britain, and during World War II wings of the De Haviland Mosquito plane were made from this wood. It has also been used to make walking sticks and is still used to make furniture. The Romans and Anglo-Saxons used the wood for tool handles and to make agricultural implements. It is used to make oars and sports equipment such as hockey sticks, and it is thought that the Druids used it to make their wands.
There have been many medicinal uses of the ash tree, and some involved using the whole tree; for example a child with rickets or a broken limb would be passed through a cloven tree, naked, in a ritual ceremony, to heal the affliction. Ash trees seem prone to lightning strikes, so trees can be found struck in two. They were thought to be good to plant outside houses to protect them from lightning. The tree can live for over a hundred years and although they usually have a girth of 5 to 6 feet, can be as big as 20 feet in diameter. They are usually between 30 and 50 feet tall, but sometimes grow to around 70 or 90 feet. Some have achieved a dizzying 135 feet. They kill most vegetation growing under them though, rather as does thebanyan tree among others.
William Gilpin (1724-1804) called the ash tree “the Venus of the Woods” and the English poet Spenser says the ash is “for nothing ill.” Indeed it was believed to have many medicinal properties, as the bark and bark of the root have astringent properties, and have been used in decoctions to help in fevers, to remove obstructions in the liver and spleen and for rheumatism and arthritis. The leaves (which according to tradition should be gathered in June and dried then powdered and kept in an air tight container to last for a year as will the seeds) are diuretic and diaphoretic, so promote sweating, and have been used for their purgative qualities and as a cure for jaundice. An infusion can be made from 1 ounce of the bark to 1 pint of boiling water, leave this to stand for 20 minutes and then strain, and use as a diuretic or to promote sweat. Distilled water made with the leaves was used for weight loss and given in cases of obesity, and “dropsy” and with white wine were thought to dissolve kidney stones.
Culpeper recommends that the seeds should be extracted from the seeds: “the kernels within the husks commonly called keys…prevaileth against stitches in the side.” The keys were said to relieve flatulence and John Evelyn (1620-1706) recommended them as a substitute for capersinsalads and sauces if they were preserved in salt and vinegar: - “Ashen keys have the virtue of capers.”
Gerard says this of the ash: -
“The juice of the leaves or the leaves themselves being applied or taken with wine cure the bitings of vipers, as Dioscorides saith ‘The leaves of this tree are of so greate virtue against serpents so that they dare not so much as touch the morning and evening shadows of the tree, but shun them afar off as Pliny reports.’”
The Physicians of Myddfai had this recipe to cure deafness:
“Take a ram’s urine, and eel’s bile and the juice of ash, expressing the same into the ear and about the tooth. The actual cautery should be applied behind the ear and angle of the jaw, a nut being inserted therein. This is a good plan.”
That, of course is for you to decide!
Traditionally the ash tree’s bark, roots and leaves have been used to treat cancerous growths that are external, as pain killers, anti-inflammatory for gout, rheumatism and arthritis, and to get rid of intestinal worms.
Modern medical research has shown that the seed extract can be used in the future to help in the treatment of diabetes, as well as to regulate uric acid in the blood so it can be used in the treatment of gout. Fraxtin, a bioflavonoid found in the tree has strong antioxidant properties, and a secoiridoid glycoside in the tree, Excelsioside, has exhibited free radical scavenging activities, so will combat the growth of cancer cells. It also contains quercetin, another bioflavonoid with antioxidant properties, and oleuropein which is also present in olive oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties, is cardio-protective and also has anti-cancer, antimicrobial anti-artherogenic, and antiviral qualities.
There is an old saying about the oak and the ash trees:
“Oak before Ash, in for a splash
Ash before Oak, in for a soak,”
This means that if the oak flowers before the ash tree it won’t be a wet summer, but if the ash flowers before the oak then it will be wet.
There are several songs about the ash tree, including the traditional Welsh song, The Ash Grove, (Llwyn Onnan) which is about a grieving lover roaming the ash grove where his love is buried. The first verse goes like this:
“Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander
When twilight is fading I pensively rove,
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shade of the lonely ash grove.”
Then there is the more cheerful, although still nostalgic traditional song,