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Saturday, December 31, 2011

COMMON SUNDEW - INSECTIVOROUS PLANT WITH HEALTH BENEFITS: HISTORY, USES AND MEDICINAL BENEFITS OF SUNDEW


COMMON SUNDEW, ROUND-LEAF SUNDEW, DROSERA ROTUNDIFOLIA
 The Common sundew is an evergreen, insectivorous, (or carnivorous) plant which is native to parts of Europe including Britain but not the Mediterranean, North America and northern Asia. It is a semi-aquatic plant, preferring to grow in moist if not wet places such as on the edges of ponds. Its main claim to fame is that Charles Darwin devoted the first chapter of his book “Insectivorous Plants” published in 1875 to the common sundew. It is one of three members of the Droseraceae family found in Britain.
    It used to have some reputation as an aphrodisiac, especially when in the cordial made by distilling the plant, which was called Rosa solis or rosolio which is thought to have first been concocted in Turin during the Renaissance. It was a golden cordial which was flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and cloves, the ‘hot’ spices believed then to have aphrodisiac qualities. It also contained grains of paradise, and red rose leaves and some of the wealthier imbibers also put gold leaf, powdered pearls and coral into it as well as musk, amber and ambergris. Culpepper writing long after it had (probably) ceased to be fashionable seems quite scathing of the cordial made from it as you can see from this extract from his Complete Herbal. It seems that Rosa solis washed down the kissing comfits made from sea holly or eryngo.
“Government and virtues. The Sun rules it, and it is under the sign Cancer. Some authors gravely tell us that a water distilled from this plant is highly cordial and restorative; but it is more than probable that it never deserved the character given of it in that respect. The leaves, bruised and applied to the skin, erode it, and bring on such inflammations as are not easily removed. The ladies in some parts mix the juice with milk, as to make an innocent and safe application for the removal of freckles, sun-burn, and other discolourings of the skin. The juice, unmixed, will destroy warts and corns, if a little of it be frequently put upon them. These are effects which pronounce its internal use to be dangerous; and if it is not productive of bad consequences, when distilled with other ingredients, for cordial waters, &c, it is because its pernicious qualities are not of a nature to rise in distillation.”
  While it is clear that Culpeper didn’t think very highly of this plant, in homeopathy it is used for respiratory problems and it has antispasmodic properties which relieve wheezing and chronic bronchitis. It has also been found to have antibacterial properties and the plant is at its most beneficial medicinally when it is in flower. It is best to harvest it just as it begins to bloom in summer. It lies dormant in winter but in spring is quick to trap an insect with its red hairs which are on the leaf, and then it slowly digests the captured insect with its enzymes which are secreted at the tip of its hairs.
   The plant contains a natural antibiotic, plumbagin, which kills a number of pathogens and it has antifungal properties too. At one time it was regarded as a cure for old age in the USA, perhaps because a vegetable extract from the plant was used to treat arteriosclerosis with colloidal silicates. Now it is believed that it can help to reduce the amount of sugar in the blood.
  The juice from the plant has been used to curdle soya milk in the cheese-making process. This is useful if you are a vegetarian. However, the plant is now much rarer than it was in the past, so don’t harvest it from the wild. You can buy seeds and propagate the sundew at home in wet peat, and this will delight children who have a fascination for insectivorous plants.





Friday, December 30, 2011

GUAIACUM OFFICINALE - PRODUCER OF LIGNUM VITAE: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF GUAIACUM OFFICINALE

I
GUAIACUM OFFICINALE, LIGNUM VITAE  
The flower of this tree is the national flower of Jamaica, as it is a native tree of the West Indies and the North coast of South America. Its range stretches from the Florida Keys through to Venezuela, Honduras and Panama. The Spanish explorers came across this tree in the 16th century in the Bahamas and adopted its name from one of the indigenous languages. It is an evergreen member of the Zygophyllaceae family and grows to around 60 feet tall. It was valued for its wood which is extremely hard and durable; it is so heavy that it sinks if put in water. It has been used for construction and to make small intricate parts of grandfather clocks and precision instruments, because of its longevity.
  Lignum vitae means living wood and it is known in the West Indies as the Tree of Life. Unfortunately it was the victim of deforestation as land was cleared for sugar cane plantations; it was placed on the IUCN red list of endangered species in 1998 and despite planting new trees, it has not been removed from the list.
  Its resin, which exudes in tear-shaped is valued in traditional medicine rather like myrrh and other tree resins. This resin contains vanillin, the polytriterpenoids guaiaguttin, and the resin acids, guaiaconic, guaianetic and guacic acids along with saponins. It has been used as a laxative, diuretic and to promote sweat in fevers.
  It has been traded as a commodity since 1508 and it was much used in Europe by medical practitioners who used it to treat syphilis along with the sassafras tree and sarsaparilla. It was introduced from the West Indies into the Asian subcontinent.
  Whether or not the tree can help cure syphilis and other STDs was not questioned until the 18th century, and it is still open to some doubt. The wood used to be used for such ailments, even sawdust and shavings were incorporated into remedies. Now however, only the resin is used.
  This resin is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is used for rheumatism, arthritis and gout. When this comes from the tree it is a red-brown whi9ch changes to a blue-green hue when it is exposed to oxygen, and this is used for staining and if applied to a sore tooth is said to relieve toothache. If applied externally it is used for the pains of rheumatism and so on. Taken internally it is said to lower blood pressure and to relieve gout and arteriosclerosis. It is also valued when it is made into a wash or lotion for skin diseases.
  It is an endangered species, and there are many other plants that can be used to treat skin diseases and other ailments, so its best to avoid using this tree until, at least, it is off the endangered species list.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

APPLES - ONE A DAY MAY REALLY KEEP THE DOCTOR AWAY: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF APPLES


APPLES
Apple trees are members of the Rosaceae family of plants so are related to the rose, apricots, plums, peaches, almonds and so on. They can be green, yellow, red and brown, with the tartest ones having green skin. I remember the cooking apples that grew in our garden and the taste of homemade apple pies. They were a definite green, and not like that of Granny Smith’s. I particularly like the brown russet apples that my great aunt always seemed to have a supply of, but I haven’t seen any of these for years. They were a chestnut brown and slightly rough resembling a kiwi a little.
  Apples have a very long history and it is believed that dessert apples began to spread from the forests of eastern Kazakhstan around 8,000 BC as our hunter-gathering ancestors moved around the globe. Apples are mentioned in ancient mythology, and there was a magic apple in Norse myths which gave eternal youth to the person who ate it. The Gardens of the Hesperides contained apple trees and although it is not specifically stated we have believed for centuries that it was the apple which led to our fall from Paradise when Eve tempted Adam, having herself been the victim of the serpent. For centuries apples have been associated with seduction and the fall from grace.
  Dried apples were found in Queen Pu-Abi’s tomb at Ur (near modern Basra in southern Iraq), and dated to around 2,500 BC. A Chinese diplomat, Feng Li gave up his prestigious position in order to graft fruit trees, peaches, almonds, persimmons, pears and apples, to trade them much to the horror of his royal colleagues, so great was his passion for fruit; this was in 5,000BC. Later Homer mentions orchards of apples and pears in his “Odyssey” (C.800 BC) and describes King Tantalus, being tantalized by sweet figs, pomegranates, pears, apples and juicy olives which were just out of his reach. In 332 BC Theophrastus states that there were 6 varieties of apple trees, and in 100 BC the Roman poet Horace said that Italy was almost one big orchard, claiming that the perfect meal began with eggs and ended with apples. In 50 BC the Roman orator and statesman, Cicero urged Romans to save the seeds from their apples so that new cultivars could be developed. Presumably they did this as in 79 AD or thereabouts, Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History that there were 20 varieties of apple. In 200 AD Galen the physician, was singing the praises of the sweet apple as an aid to digestion and the sour one for fainting and constipation. It was in 1904 that J. T. Stinson proclaimed to a Saint Louis Symposium that “an apple a day keep the doctor away.” However it took researchers until 2000 to discover powerful new antioxidants in apples when the University of California announced the results of research undertaken there.
  Apples contain phytonutrients which combined with the relatively small amount of fibre they contain work to help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. The polyphenols in apples help to promote the secretion of insulin in the pancreas and increase the absorption of glucose from the blood. The constituents in apples lower blood fats when the apple is eaten whole that means including the skin. The apple’s skin contains most of the phytonutrients with red apple skin having anthocyanins and yellow ones carotene. Apples work to balance the bacteria in the digestive tract and research is ongoing into this activity.
  Research has shown that eating whole apples can help prevent or delay age-related macular degeneration (eye disease) as well as help to prevent lung cancer and asthma, although research is ongoing into the effects apples have on asthma symptoms. It is believed that the bioflavonoid phloridizin in apples may prevent bone loss and so help with osteoporosis. Apples can also help prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, so perhaps an apple a day may really keep the doctor at bay, if not away.
  One bad apple really can damage the whole lot, as when an apple is bruised it releases relatively high amounts of the gas, ethylene which contaminates all the other apples, so remove any decaying apples from storage.
  Apples contain some vitamin C, some of the B-complex vitamins including B1, 2 and 3 as well as B6, vitamins E and K and folate. As for minerals they include calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and a little sodium. They also have Omega-3 and -5 fatty acids along with amino acids and lutein, zeaxanthin and choline.
  Apples have found a place in Cockney rhyming slang, with “apples and pears” meaning “stairs”, which illustrates how common apples are. There other expressions which show the value we have placed on apples, with one being “the apple of one’s eye” meaning something or someone who is thought very dear and valuable perhaps someone who can do no wrong.
   Apples have captured the imagination of poets since Homer’s time and Robert Frost wrote several poems about apple orchards and apple picking which are very vivid and illustrative.
  You can cook apples, as in apple pie, which is a favourite dish on both sides of the Atlantic. Apples can be made into jam and preserves, pickled and made into cider. They can be served with meat (apple sauce with goose or pork) and can be put into fruit salads and on breakfast cereals as well as being good with natural yoghurt and honey along with other fresh fruit and nuts such as walnuts. Personally I like to eat whole apples and these are much better both nutritionally and health-wise for you than having applesauce or apple juice. This is mainly because most of the health-giving properties of an apple are contained in their skins.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SASSAFRAS TREE - COMES WITH A HEALTH WARNING: HISTORY AND USES OF SASSAFRAS


SASSAFRAS TREE, SASSAFRAS OFFICINALE OR S. ALBIDUM 
The sassafras tree can be a bush-sized plant or a sixty foot tree and is native to North America. It has a long history of use by Native Americans who passed on its uses to the early colonists. It may have been discovered by the Spanish explorers in Florida in the 1560s. They took it back to Spain and used it as a remedy for syphilis and rheumatism among other ailments, but its use has been disputed for centuries.
  Its root was official in the British Pharmacopoeia and in the German one, but in 1960 its oil was banned as a food additive by the USFDA because it contains safrol which caused liver cancer in rats in laboratory experiments. Later sassafras root bark and leaves were banned but now commercially produced sassafras tea has the safrol removed, but it is not possible to do this at home. The oil is also thought by some to have abortifacient properties.
  In the past a tonic was made from the root and it was used along with the young shoots, to flavour root beer in the States. The root and berries, which are a lot like those from the cinnamon tree, were used as flavouring in soups and stews, and the winter buds and young leaves were also eaten raw.
  Sassafras trees have been cultivated in Britain at least since the early 17th century valued as an ornamental in some gardens for their autumn foliage. It is a member of the Lauraceae family, making it a relative of the bay tree. Its root bark oil was used to make cheap soap and perfume, while the superior oil from the fruit was used for the more expensive perfumes. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark and wood of the tree.
  In the late 19th century sassafras tea, with milk and sugar was sold in the early mornings on the streets of London, and was called ‘saloop,’ which is a far cry from salep made from saffron and still drunk in Turkey in the early morning.
  The twigs and branches contain mucilage which used to be used as a poultice for eye problems or as a wash for sore eyes, and was also used for chest, liver and kidney problems.
  Traditionally the oil was used for menstrual problems, to relieve the pains following childbirth and as a remedy for gonorrhoea. Combined with Guaiacum officinale and sarsaparilla it was used as a cure for gout, rheumatism and a number of other ailments, externally to relieve the pain of these inflammatory diseases. The oil is a narcotic and can cause liver failure and death.
  The tisane or tea is supposed to be good for menstrual problems and as a general tonic, blood purifier and many other properties have been ascribed to it, but there is no clinical evidence to support its traditional uses.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GREATER BURNET SAXIFRAGE: LITTLE USED NOW: HEALTH BENEFITS AND HISTORY OF USES OF GREATER BURNET SAXIFRAGE


GREATER BURNET SAXIFRAGE, PIMPINELLA MAJOR (OR MAGNA) 
This plant is in the same genus as its smaller relative, lesser burnet saxifrage and like it, is no relation to either burnet or saxifrage. They are both members of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants and so are related to carrots,dill, fennel, cow parsley, angelica and anise which is in the same genus of Pimpinella. It is similar in most respects to its smaller namesake and used for much the same purposes, with the seeds mainly being used in powder form for flatulence and to calm colicky pains.
  It is native to the Balkans parts of Europe including Britain and to Scandinavia and the Caucasus region. This burnet saxifrage grows to heights of around three feet and spreads up to two feet. Its leaves are larger than those of its lesser relative and the flower heads are bigger.
  Wtriting in his herbal in the 17th century Nicholas Culpepper says that the herb was used as a wound healer as in this passage from his Complete Herbal:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the Moon. The roots of Burnet Saxifrage are hot and dry, carminative expelling wind, and are good for the colic, and weakness of the stomach; they are likewise diuretic, and useful aginst the stone and gravel, as also for the scurvy. They possess the same properties of the parsleys, but in provoking urine and easing the pains thereof, are much more effectual. The roots or seed used either in powder or decoction, help the mother, procure the courses, remove tough phlegm, and cure venom, &c. The distilled water thereof, boiled with castoreum, is good for cramps and convulsions, and the seed used in comfits (like carroway seeds) will answer the same purposes. The juice of the herb dropped into grievous wounds of the head, dries up their moistures, and heals them.”
  Nowhere did I find the lesser burnet saxifrage mentioned as being used as a wound healer.
  However it would seem that this pant, like the lesser one, can be used in a tisane made from the chopped root, dried or fresh, which can also be used to clear the skin of blemishes and rejuvenate older skin. This one is not seemingly used for culinary purposes, the lesser one being the herb of choice in the past. However in most ways it can be used as its smaller relative if you can’t find that one.

Monday, December 26, 2011

LESSER BURNET SAXIFRAGE - USEFUL HERB FOR HEALTH AND COOKING


LESSER BURNET SAXIFRAGE, PIMPINELLA SAXIFRAGA
Lesser burnet saxifrage is not a relative either of salad burnet or indeed, other burnets, nor is it a saxifrage. The leaves look a little like those of burnet, but the white umbels or cluster heads of the flowers distinguish this plant from burnet at a quick glance. It is actually a member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants and closely related to caraway, dill, fennel, sweet Cicely and cow parsley among many others. Like the saxifrages is has had a reputation as being good against gravel and stones in the organs. It is native to some parts of Europe and Asia and is a native of the British Isles. It can grow to heights of three feet and have a spread of two feet.
  In traditional systems of medicine it has been used for stomach ailments and to aid digestion; it has also been used for liver and kidney disorders and urinary infections. It is valued in the treatment of respiratory diseases and soothes bronchitis, asthma and laryngitis. The leaves and roots have antispasmodic properties and are astringent, god for getting rid of flatulence and also they have been used to promote sweating in fevers, as well as a diuretic. Like silverweed it is used for painful menstruation and stomach cramps, and in vitro in one lab experiment the essential oil from the roots seemed to have anti-cancer tumour proliferation properties. However, trials are few and far between on the uses this plant could be put to. One study conducted by scientists from Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 showed that extracts of this plant had antibacterial properties.
  The seeds are edible and have been used as a condiment and also have been sugar-coated and eaten as confectionary. The essential oil from the root has also been used to flavour sweets.
  Bunches of the herb were hung at one time in casks of beer and steeped in wine to make it taste better and a schnapps has been brewed from the herb. The leaves and young shoots are edible and have a mild peppery taste, with hints of parsley and cucumber.
  Nicholas Culpeper writing in his Complete herbal in the 27th century had this to say of lesser burnet saxifrage:-
it is under the dominion of the Moon. The whole plant is of a binding nature; the leaves are sometimes put into wine to give it an agreeable flavour, and the young shoots are a good ingredient in sallads. Saxifrage is a cordial and promoter of sweat. The root dried and powdered, stops purgings: and a strong decoction of it, or the juice of the leaves, is good for the same purposes.” (In other words it is good for diarrhoea thank to its astringent qualities.
   The root is used as an expectorant in coughs and congestion and is mildly astringent and anti-inflammatory. If chewed it is said to relieve the pain of toothache. A lotion made from the root is said to rejuvenate ageing skin and distilled water of it is used as an eye wash.
  The herb has been cultivated for culinary purposes as well as medicinal ones in the past, although it is not commonly used these days. It is best to harvest the plant in July and the roots in spring or autumn. They can be dried for later use and used in tisanes to help diffuse stones and dispel gravel, as well as to calm the stomach. The dose is 1 oz of the fresh herb to 1 pint of boiling water taken at intervals during the day. Leave the herb to steep in boiling water for 15 minutes before straining and drinking.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

SILVERWEED : HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF SILVERWEED


   SILVERWEED, GOOSEGRASS, POTENTILLA ANSERINA
Silverweed or goosegrass is native to Europe including the British Isles, North America and Asia. It is also known by the Latin name, Argentina anserina this name having nothing to do with the country Argentina, but the word comes from the Latin, “argent” which means silver. The leaves are silvery because of the fine hairs on them. It probably gets the name goosegrasss because geese enjoy it, and only sheep turn their noses up at it; other animals seem to relish it.(It should not be confused with Cleavers which is also called goosegrass.)
It grows up to about a metre long and can grow up to a foot high, and creeps along the ground rapidly with its tendrils. The five petalled yellow flowers are pretty and the plant is cultivated for ground cover. It seems that the edible roots of the cultivated plants are thicker than those of the straggly ones from the wild plants, but these have been eaten in times of scarcity and are said to have a nutty flavour, resembling that of parsnips or chestnuts. Silverweed is a member of the Rosaceae family of plant making it a distant relative of plum, peach and apricot trees as well as the rose. The roots can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted and are starchy in texture.
   Its Latin name Potentilla comes from potens meaning powerful and anser meaning goose in Latin. In Europe the whole plant is used medicinally and has been a specific treatment for jaundice. It is also regarded as a good diuretic for dispersing gravel in the organs.
   A strong infusion of the whole herb has been used as a lotion to stop piles bleeding (1 oz to 1 pint of boiling water), while the tisane made from 2 teaspoons of the chopped fresh herb is used with a pint of boiling water and left to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking. This is enough liquid to be taken three times in a day. You shouldn’t take it all at once. This is used for jaundice and gravel as well as for stomach cramps for which is it mainly regarded as effective. A poultice of the warmed leaves can also be applied externally to the painful parts of the body as the plant acts as a mild pain-reliever. You can take up to 3 ounces of the fresh herb in one day safely.
  A strong decoction has been used for mouth ulcers, lose teeth, bleeding gums and so on. Native Americans used the roots in a tisane to speed up labour in childbirth and as an antispasmodic for diarrhoea. It is mainly regarded as an astringent herb and good for a tonic.
  In boiled milk or water the fresh herb has been used for tetanus in the past and distilled water from the herb has been used for the skin and sunburn, to relieve redness and to get rid of freckles, pimples and other skin blemishes.
  The ancient physicians of Myddfai recommended it with other herbs for women who could not have children. Here is their remedy for female sterility:
   “ A sterile woman may have a potion prepared for her by means of the following     herbs, viz:—St. John's wort, yew, agrimony, amphibious persicaria, creeping cinque foil, mountain club moss, orpine and pimpernel, taking an emetic in addition.”
  Writing in the 17th century Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of the herb:-
  “Government and virtues. This is a plant under Venus, and deserves to be much more known in medicine than it is. It is of the nature of tansy. The leaves are mildly astringent: dried, and given in powder, they will frequently effect a cure in agues and intermittents (fevers); the usual dose is a mat-spoonful of the powder every three or four hours betwixt the fits. The roots are more astringent than the leaves, and may be given in powder in doses of a scruple or more in obstinate purgings, attended with bloody stools, and immoderate menstrual discharges. A strong infusion of the leaves sops the immoderate bleeding of the piles; and, sweetened with a little honey, it is an excellent gargle for sore throats.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

ALFALFA - AT PRESENT STICK TO ITS SPROUTS: HEALTH BENEFITS, HISTORY AND USES OF ALFALFA


ALFALFA, MEDICAGO SATIVA
Alfalfa is perhaps best known for the sprouted seeds which can be added to salads and soups, but this member of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family (pea and bean family) has much to recommend it as long as you don’t suffer from gout or hormone-related cancer and are not pregnant or breast-feeding. It is also called Lucerne or Lucerne grass and has been hailed by some as a wonder supplement, although ingesting large quantities of the leaves may lead to liver problems and it may cause photosensitivity. The plant has a purple flower and is not as obvious as the Butterfly pea to which it is related, and grows to a height of around one metre or three feet and three inches. It is valued for the fact that it can improve the soil, as can lupins, (another relative, as the Pongam tree, indigo, the Monkey Pod tree and carob are), and is primarily grown for animal fodder. The name Medicago is believed to have come from Medea, as the ancients considered it to be from the country of the Medes. It is now thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region and spread from there to the rest of Europe including into the British Isles where it is more or less naturalized.
  In 2010 alfalfa sprouts were thought to be the cause of a salmonella outbreak in the USA when six people were hospitalized after consuming contaminated sprouts, so you have to clean them thoroughly before using, or sprout your own from alfalfa seeds.
  The leaves are primarily used in medicine and can be used fresh or dried. They can be made into a tisane, but it isn’t very pleasant to drink as people who have drunk this say that it tastes a lot like old socks.
  A poultice can be made from the seeds, which need to be heated, and applied to the ear to stop earache, but personally I think eardrops would be better or warm olive oil. The leaves have antioxidant properties and contain vitamin A, some of the B-complex ones such as B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin), vitamins C and K. The minerals calcium, iron and phosphorous are also present, with some manganese, sodium and chlorine, along with potent bioflavonoids which contribute to their antioxidant properties. They have a mild pain relieving action and have antibacterial properties, so it is ironic that they caused an outbreak of salmonella. The expressed juice from the leaves has been used to produce vomiting and the tisane is a mild laxative, and diuretic. The root has been used to reduce fevers and is also credited with helping urinary problems which cause highly coloured urine to be produced. The plant is prescribed when people were suffering from weakness while recovering from an illness, and for anaemia, and internal haemorrhages. The plant’s extracts have proved to have neuroprotective properties in vitro in experiments, but it is too early to say that this would apply in humans.
  While it is true that alfalfa has been used in traditional medicine systems around the world for centuries, it is sadly the case that there have been few trials carried out on this plant by people who do not have a vested interest in the sale of this plants seeds, sprouts or extracts. Certainly it is a good source of protein and has been viewed as such by many ancient people - but as animal feed not for humans primarily. However the plant is being genetically engineered so that the saponins-like substances are removed from it, so ultimately making it a better source of protein and vitamins for people. As it is if you cook the leaves and change the water once, then you should not suffer any ill-effects. It has been said that alfalfa is the world’s most foraged for plant, for human consumption, so if it were altered so that it were safer to eat this would be beneficial.
  In the past and it is claimed in the present, the plant has been used to help disperse calculus which gathers around the joints causing inflammation, and the bioflavonoids in the leaves seem to have anti-bacterial properties which can help the digestive system. The oestrogenic properties of the plant mean that it may be helpful in women suffering the symptoms of the menopause and painful or irregular menstruation. The high magnesium and calcium levels present in it are believed to help to relieve migraines, and the tisane has natural laxative and diuretic properties. It is also claimed that it can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in the blood and promote good cholesterol. It is also said to be effective in the removal or dispersal of kidney stones.
  The plant began to be cultivated in Britain in the 16th century and was used for digestive ailments, and for this purpose it was taken by the early settlers to North America, where the Native Americans used the seeds as a thickening paste to enrich the nutrient content of their dishes. In the 19th century herbalists in the US used this plant for a number of purposes including to stimulate milk flow in breast-feeding women, although today this group of people are particularly warned against taking alfalfa.
  Probably the best use for alfalfa for humans is to put sprouts in salads and sandwiches as well as in soup.
 ` 

Friday, December 23, 2011

EUROPEAN OR COMMON LIME TREE - BUT NO LIMES FROM THIS TREE: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE LIME TREE


EUROPEAN OR COMMON LIME, TILIA EUROPAEA 
Despite its name this tree does not produce limes which come from Citrus aurantifolia species of tree. It does, however produce greeny-yellow flowers which attract bees with their powerful aroma and we have great honey from them. The tree does produce small fruit but these are not eaten although they are edible.
  The flowers and the immature fruit, when ground to a paste form a chocolate substitute, but as the paste decomposes it is not manufactured. If you live near a lime tree you will know that when the flowers fall they leave a sticky mess as they are quickly victims of a fungus. All this is perfectly naturally but slimy and slippery, so walk carefully under lime trees in August. In the UK the flowers blossom in July but in warmer parts of Europe they blossom earlier.
  There are trees of the Tilia genus which have been growing in the British Isles for thousands of years, although they may not be natives, but this genus is a hybrid, crossed between Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos. The lime trees still flourishing in stately avenues in Britain may have been growing since the 17th century and were imported from the Netherlands. It was the fashion for stately homes to have a walk lined with lime trees in the 17th and 18th centuries. These trees can grow to heights of 130 feet (40metres) and may live for up to a thousand years (although there are probably exceptions which have been around for longer).
  A sticky sap exudes from the bark of these trees which has been likened to Biblical manna, and this has been used to make drinks and to make a syrup which is used as a natural sweetener, like honey. Stevia leaves are sweet too of course, but the leaves of the lime tree are not. They can be combined with the flowers and made into a tisane which has been traditionally used to aid digestion and also given in cases of hysteria, when prolonged baths were also advised, with the bath water infused with lime flowers.
  Wood from this tree is good for carving and examples of this can be viewed in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Chatham House and Windsor Castle, all the work of Grinley Gibbons. The wood is white, close-grained and easy to carve, allowing the artist to carve intricate designs in it. It has been used in the past to make parts of musical instruments such as the piano.
  The flowers contain a volatile oil and the leaves exude a sugary substance, and can be used fresh or dried, although fresh is considered best. They are marketed as Linden tea, and the tree is sometimes referred to as the Linden tree, especially in Germany, where “linde” means rope. In the case of this tree it refers to the fact that prior to the invention of synthetic materials, the inner bark of the tree which is very fibrous could be made into matting and it can also be made into beige-coloured paper as well as cloth.
  If you make a tisane with the flowers, make sure that they are young ones, as the older ones seem to have narcotic properties.
  The young leaves and shoots may be eaten raw in salads, and with the flowers have been used in traditional medicine to get rid of the symptoms of colds and flu and as a diaphoretic to promote sweating in fevers. They are also thought to have properties which will prevent the hardening of arteries and lower high blood pressure.
  There have been very few clinical trials on this plant and its virtues, but it appears that parts of the tree may have antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic and sedative properties - the last making it good for hysteria of course.
  
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