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Friday, September 30, 2011

BUTTERNUT SQUASH - HEALTHY WINTER FOOD: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF BUTTERNUT SQUASH


BUTTERNUT SQUASH, CUCURBITA MOSCHATA
September marks the beginning of the butternut squash season, as well as the start of the pumpkin and other winter squashes hitting the shelves of your local market or supermarket. The butternut squash is one of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants and as such it is related to the pumpkin, cucumber, courgette, melon and watermelon, to name but a few of its many relatives.
  The butternut squash is one of my favourites with its orangey flesh promising lots of beta-carotene and lycopene, so I know it’s healthy and tastes good. It is rich in vitamins C and A; it also has vitamins E and K as well as a good number of the B-complex vitamins. It is also a source of Omega-3 fatty acid and Omega-6. As for minerals it is rich in magnesium, manganese and potassium and also contains calcium, iron, phosphorous and zinc with traces of selenium and copper. Tryptophan is one of the 18 amino acids in a butternut squash’s seeds and this helps produce GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) needed for neurotransmitters in the brain to function well.  The polysaccharides in this squash have anti-inflammatory properties and are insulin-regulating, making this a good food for diabetics. The squash is also high in dietary fibre, adding bulk to our diets, so preventing constipation and thus helping to prevent piles and colon cancer. This also helps in a weight-reducing diet.
  It is heart-healthy as it has no cholesterol and vitamin A including that converted by the body from the polyphenolic flavonoids lutein and carotene, which have potent antioxidant actions. There is more vitamin A in the butternut squash than in the pumpkin, and this helps to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers and helps our vision.
  The seeds are edible, like the pumpkin seeds and can be eaten raw and roasted, so don’t throw them away when you prepare a butternut squash for cooking.
  In fact the first butternut squashes were cultivated for their seeds, and it is believed that the early squash was much less fleshy than the varieties we have today. It is thought that the butternut squash originated in Central America, in Mexico and Guatemala, and was consumed by ancient peoples there 10,000 years ago.
  You can cook this versatile squash in many ways, baked, boiled, steamed, casseroled, made into thin game chips (crisps); puree it for use in soups or as a spicy dip, with celery and carrot sticks to scoop it up with – there are lots of things you can do with one.
  Below is a recipe for baked butternut squash, to use with other vegetables and meats as a side dish. Check out the other recipes we have such as butternut squash with pecans, or topped with macadamia nuts, or substitute it for the pumpkin in the pumpkin and stevia recipe. Bon appetite!

BAKED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Ingredients
1 large or 2 small butternut squash
olive oil
2 tbsps butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
few sprigs of thyme stripped of leaves
few whole sprigs of thyme
1 inch piece of cinnamon
¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Method
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.
Cut the squash in half lengthways and remove the seeds then cut each piece into quarters.
Grease a baking tray and put the quarters onto it cut side up.
Grind the cinnamon stick and sprinkle over the pieces along with the thyme, nutmeg, cumin seeds salt and freshly ground pepper.
Drizzle well with olive oil and dot with butter.
Bake in the oven for 40 – 50 mins or until the squash is tender and some parts are golden brown.
Scoop the flesh out of the rind if you wish (it’s edible too) and puree the flesh, or leaves as they are and serve.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

WILD SUGAR CANE, KANS GRASS: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF WILD SUGAR CANE


WILD SUGAR CANE, SACCHARUM SPONTANEUM
Wild sugar cane is a weed in the Indian subcontinent and covers vast tracts of waste land. I thought it was a type of papyrus such as is found in the middle of carefully manicured lawns in Britain. I was clearly wrong. Wild sugar cane can be useful because it can be crossed with sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum to create a more disease resistant sugar cane. Because of its deep root system and rhizomes it is also useful in preventing soil erosion. It is a member of the Poaceae family of plants so is related to maize or sweet corn, black rice (other rice too), sorghum, millet, rye, oats, barley and wheat.
   Apart from being common in the Indian subcontinent it is also prolific in South Africa, Central America, the USA, the Middle East, tropical Africa, and South-East Asia as well as to the Pacific Basin.  It’s a tall perennial grass growing to heights of up to 4 metres. In India large tracts of arable lad have been abandoned to it because it is so difficult to get rid of. The roots and rhizomes go deep into the soil, and only if land is very well ploughed can they be got rid of. Unfortunately many villagers with land can’t afford a tractor.
  It has been used in traditional medicine in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, with its roots said to have astringent and emollient properties so it can soothe irritated skin and heal wounds. It is used to treat indigestion, and to relieve biliousness, as well as to cool the body. The leaves can be heated and used in a poultice to relieve the inflammation of painful joints, perhaps as a result of arthritis or rheumatism. It can also be used as a purgative and the aerial parts are supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities. In India it is used for erectile dysfunctions, gynaecological problems and respiratory disorders among other ailments.
  A decoction made from the roots and rhizomes of the wild sugar cane, or Kans grass as it is also known, is used to promote milk in breast feeding mothers and as a diuretic. A decoction of the top parts of the plant is used for blood disorders, haemorrhages and biliousness among other things. Modern clinical trials have been few and far between, but on study conducted in 2009 seemed to show that the plant can kill cancer cells in vitro and has antioxidant properties as well as having antibacterial ones.
 The leaves and stems of the plant can be utilized to make paper, as well as being used for thatch. They also provide a live hedge around small-holders’ vegetable patches. It is thought that this wild plant just may be the ancestor of sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GINKGO BILOBA TREE - EXISTED BEFORE THE DINOSAURS: HISTORY, USES AND MEDICINAL BENEFITS OF MAIDENHAIR TREE


THE MAIDENHAIR TREE, GINKGO BILOBA
Darwin called this tree a “living fossil” and it is thought that it bridges the gap between ferns and cone-bearing trees. The leaves of Ginkgo biloba resemble those of the maidenhair fern, which graced many a bathroom in Britain in the late 1970s and early 80s. Fossilized leaves of this tree have been found dating back to 270 million years ago so it was on the planet before the dinosaurs. The oldest specimen recorded is 3,500 years and that’s a great age for a tree. It is the only plant in its genus, just as rock samphire is in its.
  The first Ginkgo biloba tree planted in Britain was in the first Kew Gardens and as people then didn’t know much about these trees, they planted it close to a wall for protection, later the wall was demolished, but the same tree is still standing. In 1773 Sir Joseph Banks oversaw several other ginkgo trees planted at Kew, and the original tree is one of the “Great British Trees” listed by the British Tree Council in a scheme which celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee.
  The trees are native to a small area in China and were looked after by monks in temple gardens, for a thousand years. No one is sure whether China’s “wild” ginkgo trees are actually wild, or whether they were those planted by those ancient monks. They are highly revered because it is said that Confucius taught under a ginkgo tree. The trees are remnants of the last Ice Age and lived through that as well as the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima in 1945. After that the ginkgo tree was the first to bud and one tree at Anraku-ji hill has scorch marks way up its trunk, as a result of the blast. The ginkgo is a real survivor. Its now extinct ancestors were Gingko adiantoide and Ginkgo gardneri.
  The tree was first recorded scientifically by Kaempfer in 1690, and prior to that we have its external uses documented by Lan Mao in his work, Dian Nan Ben Cao which dates back to around 1436 and the Ming dynasty. It was used to get rid of freckles and for skin and head sores. In 1505 Liu Wen wrote Tai Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao which describes the internal use of the leaves to treat diarrhoea.
  Modern research has shown that the leaves have properties which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and have some value in the treatment of angina pectoris. In the West the trees have been planted in plantations for use in medicines as Western research (there have been about 500 studies in the last 20-30 years) seems to have proved that the leaves and extracts from them are helpful in macular degeneration, improve the cognitive functions including age-related memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia. They can also help in cases of depression, attention problems, information-processing and other neuropsychological problems. They also help with relieving PMT/PMS symptoms, tinnitus, vertigo, and in preventing altitude sickness. Studies have also found that they can arrest liver fibrosis associated with chronic hepatitis B and the bioflavonoids protect the cell walls and improve blood circulation. The leaves are also a help in cardio-vascular diseases.
  The trees change colour in autumn and the oldest one in China is 164 feet tall, so it makes for a spectacular sight in autumn. The trees flower and then produce a “nut” in a case which looks rather like a plum or greengage. The Chinese prize the fruit highly, although they have a foetid smell by all accounts. These only grow on female trees and I’m told that gardeners prefer male trees. The fruits are now eaten at weddings and festivals and are known as silver apricots or white nuts which can be found in canned. The Chinese traditional medicine system lays more store in the tree bark and the seeds than does Western medicine but the leaves are used for their aphrodisiac properties. The bark, leaves and seeds are used for a variety of ailments such as to heal wounds and inflammations, to strengthen the memory, for bronchial problems including asthma, for improved blood circulation and digestion. They are also used to halt incontinence and spermatorrhoea.
  The seeds have to be thoroughly cooked before they are eaten as they contain a toxin, but when roasted they are said to taste. Like pinenuts or sweet chestnuts.
  It is thought that the tree population was depleted due to deforestation, but even though there are no conservation projects to protect the ginkgo trees, there are so many planted around the world and their health benefits are widely known, so it is unlikely that they will face extinction at least in the near future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CARNATIONS - FLOWER OF POETS AND WRITERS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF CARNATIONS


CARNATIONS, DIANTHUS CAROPHYLLUS
Carnations have been cultivated for at least 2,000 years, making it a little difficult to pinpoint where they originated, but it is probable that they came from the Mediterranean region, perhaps Greece. Theophrastus first gave them the name Dianthus, meaning flowers of the gods. They smell rather like cloves to which they are related, and they are also in the same family, Carophylliaceae, as soapwort, (Saponaria officinalis) and the soapnut, or reetha. If you simmer the carnation leaves in water you will get a solution which can be used to wash delicate clothes or your skin.
  It is thought that the original carnations were a rich dark pink although no one can be sure. The ancient Greeks used them in garlands and probably ate the edible petals too. In fact they can be substituted in preserves and syrups for rose petals. The petals, but not the bitter parts of the flower head are good in salads and used as garnishes They yield an essential oil used in aromatherapy to calm frazzled nerves and have a soothing effect although at one time the flowers were considered aphrodisiacs.
  In the late 17th century, the countess of Dorset used carnations in her love potion which consisted of these flowers, bay leaves, marjoram, and lavender. Today the flower head can be dried and mixed in pot-pourri along with a few cloves, sandalwood, rose petals and your other favourite herbs and/or spices. They can also, when dried be placed in sachets and put in wardrobes and drawers to scent clothes and linen.
  Culpeper, in his Herball of the 17th century had this to say of them; carnations “are gallant, fine, temperate flowers…they are great strengtheners of the brain and heart…” In Indian medicine systems they are considered to have anti-spasmodic properties, useful to stop stomach cramps, diaphoretic, promoting sweat in fevers and to reduce other fever symptoms. They are also regarded as a useful heart tonic and as a soothing herb for nervous disorders and stress. They are also thought to counteract the effects of some poisons. However there has been little clinical research to bear out these traditional uses.
  In the Language of Flowers carnations in general symbolize bonds of affection, health and energy, a fascination for another person and the message they sent was “Alas, my poor heart!” Pink carnations mean “I’ll never forget you!” while red ones symbolize admiration, while sending the message, “My heart aches for you.” Carnations are given on first wedding anniversaries and are traditionally worn as buttonholes at weddings. Oscar Wilde famously wore a green carnation and these are associated by the Irish with Saint Patrick’s Day.
 In Europe in traditional medicine carnations were used for nervous complaints and for the heart, while in China they are used to get rid of internal worms.
  The pink carnation is said by Christians to have sprung from the Virgin Mary’s tears, and so they symbolize a mother’s undying love for her child.
  Carnations have been candied and used in a liqueur as well as in cocktails. They are the state flower of Ohio- the red one, and have figured in May Day celebrations worn and thrown by the labour movement in various countries including Austria Italy and some of the countries formerly part of Yugoslavia.
  Shakespeare, Chaucer and Spenser called these flowers both gillyflowers and carnations according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Shakespeare coined the verb “incarnadine” from the Italian incarnardino, meaning carnation or flesh-colour, to express the idea of to stain carnation red in Macbeth.
  “Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnardine,
Making the green - one red.”  Macbeth, Act 2 scene ii.

In “A Winter’s Tale” he writes this line:-
  “Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season are our carnations, and streak'd gillyvors.” – (A Winter's Tale Act 4 scene.iii)
 Pablo Neruda the Chilean writer also uses carnation imagery in one of his 100 Love Sonnets
Sonnet XVII
”I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”
 Clearly they are a potent symbol in literature and not just that which is written in English. Here is an extract from a Takis Papatsonis poem taken from his second collection of poetry, Ursa Minor, published in 1944.
  “You have the courage to adorn yourself
    With carnations and I admire you.
    Not only because you are lovely
    And fresh and they become you
    But because you assume the wounds,
    You become the image of a legion new martyrs.”
  Carnations may not have been the subject of clinical research, but poets and writers have more than made up for this lack.


Monday, September 26, 2011

SQUIRTING CUCUMBER - AMUSING GARDEN ORNAMENTAL BUT TOXIC


THE SQUIRTING CUCUMBER, ECBALLIUM ELATERIUM
The squirting cucumber is native to Europe and cultivated in Britain, where it is an annual rather than perennial which it is in its natural environment. It is also native to North Africa and western Asia and it has been introduced to the US, although it is thought that it may be native to Alabama. It gets its name because when the fruit of the plant is ripe it forcefully ejects its seeds, followed by a slimy trail of mucilage. This is how David Attenborough describes it in his film: “The Private Life of Plants”
  "The little Mediterranean squirting cucumber, as it ripens, fills with a slimy juice. Eventually, the pressure within becomes so great that the cucumber bursts off its stalk and shoots through the air for as far as twenty feet. Behind it, streaming from the hole in its base like gases flaring behind a space rocket, comes a trail of slime and with it, seeds." (Attenborough, D. 1995)
  An amusing plant for a garden!
  In the ancient world the plant was used as an abortifacient, although you would have had to be desperate to use it as it can be fatal. It is highly toxic and should not be used in home remedies.
   Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine used this plant as a laxative, and given the description of its action it is akin to jamalgota and more dangerous to use. Writing in is Materia De Medica in the 1st century A.D., Dioscorides says that it was used for treating gout, toothache, sciatica and oedema. It has a diuretic effect, although it would be much safer to use other plants with diuretic properties.
  It gets its botanical name from the Greek, elatos meaning to drive or strike and ekballein, to cast out, which is pretty descriptive of its action. It is a member of the Cucrbitaceae family, which makes it a relation of the cucumber, courgette and pumpkin.
  The juice has been employed in medicine in more recent times and this is collected by harvesting the squirting cucumber before it has fully matured so that it ejects its mucilage in controlled environments. This is dried and sold in flakes for inclusion in medications for sinusitis, and other ailments. It has been used in Turkey to unblock the sinuses in folk medicine and the juice is applied directly to the nostrils. However, this has caused severe breathing problems in some people who have been treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids, although they were people who had an allergy to other cucurbitae foods.
  Even small doses of this plant can be fatal, as it has a profound effect on the bowels and stomach, so please don’t try to use any part of it at home.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ARJUNA, THE BARK HAS BENEFITS FOR HEART HEALTH; HISTORY,HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF ARJUNA


ARJUN, ARJUNA, TERMINALIA ARJUNA
Arjuna is a member of the Combretaceae family of plants and so is closely related to hareer (Terminalia chebula) and the Indian almond tree, Terminalia catappa and like these hardwood trees, arjuna is native to the Indian subcontinent. It has been used for centuries in both the Unani and Ayuvedic systems of medicine in the Indian subcontinent, and modern medical research has so far concurred with many of it uses.
 The tree can grow to height of around 30 metres, and flowers in India between April and July. The small white flowers are followed by fruit which is encased in 5 wings-like segments, in much the same way as the tomatillo or the Chinese lantern fruit is. It grows along river banks and likes moist places. All parts of the tree are used in the medicinal preparations of traditional healers, but it is the bark which is used most often for heart problems.
  It was mentioned in writings of the 6th or 7th centuries (AD) by Vagbhata as being useful in the treatment of wounds, haemorrhages and ulcers, being used externally in such cases. In Ayurveda it is used now for a variety of ailments which include the removal of internal parasites, biliousness, a cardiac tonic, anaemia, for fractures (not to mend bones per se, but to repair the damaged tissues around the fractures) and for cancerous tumours. In the Unani (Greek) system of medicine it is an aphrodisiac, diuretic, and expectorant. It is used for spermatorrhea and gonorrhoea and other STDs with the bark being combined with that of Santalum album or sandalwood. It has anti-microbial, antifungal and antioxidant properties and medical research has so far upheld its traditional uses.
  Clinical trials with animals have also shown it to have cardio-protective properties, as well as blood pressure reducing and cholesterol lowering properties. (Dwivadi S. [2007] “Terminalia arjuna Wright and Arn. A useful drug for cardio-vascular disorders” Journal of Ethnopharmacy vol.114 (2): pp 114-129.) Maulik SK and Kaliyar K in “Terminalia arjuna in cardio-vascular diseases-making the transition from traditional to modern medicine in India” (Dec 2010) in the Pharmacology and Biotechnology Journal vol.11 (8): pp 855-860. It should be noted that there are no corroborating studies on Arjuna as yet.
  The flavonoids found in the bark have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and the glycosides contained in it are probably responsible for its cardio-tonic properties. Arjunatin is one glycoside which has been found in the bark of T. arjuna, and the fruit contains arjunone, while other glucosides have also been isolated from the tree, for example, cerasidin, β-sitosterol, friedlin, methyl oleanolate and gallic, ellagic and arjunic acids.
  The tree is also used for its timber in boat-building, for houses and other construction work, for carts and agricultural implements. The leaves are food for the tussar silkworm too so all parts of the tree have their uses.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

FIELD SCABIOUS - FOR SKIN PROBLEMS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF FIELD SCABIOUS


FIELD SCABIOUS, KNAUTIA ARVENSIS
Field scabious is native to Europe and parts of North Africa, and is an invasive or noxious weed in North America, having escaped from gardens where it grew as an ornamental plant. It starts with rosette shaped foliage and winters in this for, but in summer, July through to September it has light lilac, or blue flower heads which grow from a leafless stalk. It’s a member of the Dipsacaceae family so is a relative of teazle. The plant was named Knautia in honour of the 17th century botanist Dr. Knaut who came from Saxony.
   Field scabious can grow to heights of up to 4 feet high, and likes fields and woodlands, preferring moist conditions.
   The seed head which closely follows the flowers has several bristly hairs growing from its top and the many seeds contain an oil which contains capric and caprylic acid, both of which are used in high-performance jet engine oils and top-quality lubricants as well as in the preparation of some dietary fats which are currently obtained from coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Having locally grown sources of such oil whether in Europe or on North America would clearly have economic benefits. Research is being undertaken to discover whether or not it would be commercially viable to grow field scabies for their oil.
  The plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and John Gerard, the English herbalist of the 16th century wrote that the plant was good for skin problems and a decoction should be drunk for a few days as a treatment for scabs and the juice was good for this to if used as an ointment. He also wrote that drinking the decoction with treacle promoted sweating, “freeing the heart from any infection or pestilence.” Writing a century later Culpeper declared that it was “very effectual for coughs, shortness of breath and other diseases of the lungs.” He also suggested taking a decoction of the herb, either fresh or dried, and making it into wine, and drinking it over an unspecified period of time for pleurisy. Fresh bruised leaves were recommended for getting rid of carbuncles, which would disappear, so Culpeper averred, in three hours. He also said that the decoction of the root was good for skin complaints, applied on affected parts, and if drunk was a blood purifier.
  The whole plant has astringent properties and is mildly diuretic. An infusion of the chopped whole plant can be used for all skin complaints. Scabious comes from the Latin word scabiosa meaning a type of leprosy or other bad skin disease, so it is clear how the ancients used this plant. The Welsh call this plant clafrllys y maes, and in Irish Gaelic it is cab an ghasain. It is known by a number of colloquial names including Blue Buttons, Meadow Widow Flower, Gypsy Rose, Lady’s Pincushion and others.
  The Physicians of Myddfai used the field scabious with other plants for fevers, as this remedy illustrates:
  “There are four kinds of fevers, deriving their origin from the summer, viz. latent fever, intermittent fever, ephemeral fever, and inflammatory fever. The fifth fever is typhus, and this kind proceeds from the brain. A latent fever is relieved by an emetic, a cordial, and cauteries. Thus it originates; from the over generating of tough humor in the stomach, from which results a distaste for food, and lassitude during summer. 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, 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.”
   This is another use they had for this plant:-
“For the bite of a viper. Take the round birthwort, knapweed, and field scabious; mix with water and drink. The Physician's three master difficulties are, a wounded lung, a wounded mammary gland, and a wounded knee joint.”
  Clearly the physicians of old found this a very useful, beneficial herb.

Friday, September 23, 2011

SWEET WOODRUFF - UNASSUMING LITTLE HERB: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF SWEET WOODRUFF


SWEET WOODRUFF, GALIUM ODORATA
As you might expect from its name, Sweet Woodruff is a sweet-smelling herb which was used in the Middle Ages as a strewing herb to sweeten the air with its aroma of new-mown hay and vanilla undertones. It was hung in garlands in churches as well as being strewn on the floor as it sweetened the air. It has been used in white wine for May Day celebrations particularly in Rhine wine in Germany, where it is called Waldmeister or master of the woods. It grows naturally in woods, particularly seeming to grow in beech forests.
  It has been used in sachets to keep moths and other insects away from clothes and linen, in much the same way as lavender is used. It is useful dried and added to pot-pourris too with rose petals and cinnamon. Sweet woodruff has been used in pillows as well as to stuff mattresses as it is thought to promote peaceful slumber and cure insomnia. It is thought to have mild sedative actions and was tucked into the helmets of Mediaeval soldiers in the belief that it would bring victory in battle. This is rather like the broom of the British Plantagenet kings who adopted it as their emblem. The woodruff may have been used also because it was thought that it could lift the spirits, and it has mild anaesthetic properties.
  Culpeper believed that it helped with consumption, and could unblock obstructions in the liver and spleen, but remarked that it was “provocative to venery” which I suppose means that he considered it to be an aphrodisiac; this may explain another name for this plant ”Kiss Me Quick.”
  It is native to Europe, including Britain, North Africa and temperate Asia, and can grow to between 30 and 50 centimetres high. The leaves can be used as a natural light brown dye and a light red one can be obtained from the roots with alum as a mordant.
  The plant is said to have anti-coagulant properties, so can prevent blood clotting, and is used as a tonic tea and as a diuretic. However in large doses it can cause internal bleeding, so it is best used externally in compresses for varicose veins and phlebitis. In small quantities the tisane or infusion can ease stomach cramps, headaches and migraines, and soothes the digestive system, as it is believed to have anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. The whole plant can be harvested before it flowers and dried for later use.
  Gerard, the 16th century herbalist wrote “It is reported to be put into wine to make a man merry, and to be good for the heart and liver; it prevaileth in wounds…” (another reason for soldiers having it in their helmets). The bruised leaves are said to be good to heal wounds, reduce swelling and cure boils.
   The Physicians of Myddfai recommended this mixture to be prepared after pneumonia had been “removed from the lungs”: -
“…let a medicine be prepared, by digesting the following herbs in wheat ale or red wine: madder, sharp dock, anise, agrimony, daisy, round birthwort, meadowsweet, yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, crake berry, the corn cockle, caraway, and such other herbs as will seem good to the physician.”
Then they had this remedy 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'sbroom, agrimony, 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.
  Clearly the sweet woodruff has been used for centuries, but care should be taken with it as it can irritate sensitive skin, and it is better not to use it internally. If you do, don’t take too much of it as it can be harmful.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DITTANY - AS USED BY HARRY POTTER: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF DITTANY HERB


WHITE, FALSE OR BASTARD DITTANY, DICTAMNUS ALBUS
This dittany is native to south and central Europe, North Africa and southern and central Asia. It is “false” or “bastard” dittany because it is not what is considered the true dittany which is the Cretan dittany. This dittany is a member of the Rutaceae or rue family and is distinguished by its tall pyramidal shaped flower head. The flowers may be pink, pink-purple or white. It is known as the Gas plant because in hot summer nights an inflorescence can be seen around the flowers and if you put a flame to this it will burn, giving it another common name, Burning Bush (which has Biblical associations with Moses and the receiving of the 10 Commandments). This is caused by the volatile oil contained in the plant and was first (it is said) noticed by Linnaeus’ daughter.
  It was only grown in Britain in apothecaries gardens for its medicinal uses as this reference shows from the Physicians of Myddfai: -
 “An antidote for pain: seek the dittany, which may be obtained from cunning men; it is the best in all complaints.”
(The ‘cunning men’ are the apothecaries)
 Powdered leaves of this dittany were combined with those of peppermint for epilepsy and Culpeper the 17th century herbalist says “The root is a sure cure for epilepsies and other diseases of the head…” He also points out “It only grows here in gardens, not being hardy enough to bear the severity of our climate abroad.” He clearly thought highly of this plant as he goes on to write: -
   “The roots…are the only parts used, and are useful in malignant and pestilential distempers; in fevers and hysteric cases: however an infusion of the tops of the plant is a pleasant and efficacious medicine in the gravel; it works powerfully by urine…”
   The powdered leaves were used with peppermint for epilepsy.
  In folk medicine the infusion has been used to hasten delivery in childbirth and to bring on a woman’s periods, although it must not be used at all during pregnancy. The tisane has a taste of lemons and the pink dittany tastes also faintly of almonds and vanilla. The oil has anti-inflammatory properties but is not much used because of its tendency to be highly inflammable. A tincture of the leaves and flowers is sometimes used to relieve the pains associated with rheumatism.
  Harry Potter used dittany in potion-making classes and the inhabitants of Hogwarts used dittany to promote wound healing. However it doesn’t have this property in real life.
  The tisane made with flowering tops has been used as a general tonic and to treat urinary tract problems as well as to get rid of intestinal worms. It can be used as a skin wash for problems such as eczema and to soothe the digestive system. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 1,500 years, and there the root bark is used for fungal and bacterial skin problems as well as for its action on the uterine muscles and to promote a woman’s menses.
  In Elizabethan times the flowers and leaves were used in salads, and it was grown in mediaeval gardens in the UK. It was first called Dictamnus fraxinella because it was thought that the leaves resembled those of the ash tree. Now it is generally cultivated for its flowers and the fact that it is an attractive plant, growing to heights of between 2 and 3 feet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BOX MYRTLE - EVERGREEN TREE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BOX MYRTLE TREE


BOX MYRTLE, MYRICA NAGI-THUNB OR MYRICA ESCULEN    Box myrtle is and evergreen tree, native to the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas, as well as to the Malaysian islands, China, Singapore and Japan. It is used for its edible fruit which have a lot of seeds and are red, about 13 millimetres in diameter, as well as for medicine. The fruit are offered to Druga, one of the Hindu gods and the tree is sacred to both Shiva and Sakti. The tree is mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic texts and the bark and fruit are mainly used in medicines. It is thought the tree is harmful for the liver and spleen, but it is used for bronchial problems such as coughs and catarrh, asthma, to reduce fevers, to help patients with diabetes, for cancerous tumours and halitosis (bad breath).The powdered bark is put on external wounds and has astringent properties. It is also used as snuff to get rid of nasal mucous and to stop headaches. A decoction of the bark, ginger root and cinnamon is used for coughs and lung congestion as well as to stop diarrhoea and dysentery as this has astringent properties. It is thought that the fruit is good to regulate a woman’s period and the wax from the fruit is put on skin ulcers to heal them. The juice from unripe fruit is though to be good to get rid of internal worms.
  The flowers, which are catkins (similar to the flowers of the willows, birch, oak, alder and beech trees), contain an oil which is used for earache and as a general tonic. The flowers can be seen through February until April and the fruit ripens in May. Unfortunately it only has a short shelf-life or two to three days, so can only be sold in local markets.
   The fruit is coated in wax, which has to be boiled and skimmed to make sweet smelling candles which are brittle, but don’t melt in hot summers. This wax can also be used as soap, like the soapwort and soapnut. The wood is used for fuel and poles in the construction industry.
  When mixed with ginger, the bark juice is used as a counter-irritant for rheumatism and gout. When the bark is boiled to get a jelly-like mass, this is used as a poultice for sprains like mallow poultices are.
  The fruit contains small amounts of vitamin C, the minerals calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium, as well as flavonoids which have potent antioxidant properties to fight free radicals according to a research paper, “Antioxidant Activity of Some Wild Edible Fruits of Meghalaya State in India” published in the journal, Advances in Biological Research Volume 5 (3) pages 155-160, 2011 by Tapan Seal.
  It would seem that this is yet another plant which could be beneficial for our health.
   
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