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Sunday, April 29, 2012

MEDLARS;EAT WHEN DECAYING:: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDLARS


MEDLAR TREE AND MEDLAR FRUIT, MESPILUS GERMANICA  
The medlar is a member of the rose, Rosaceae family and until 1990 was thought to be the only medlar tree in existence. However, a wild variety of medlar, Mespilus canescens was found in Arkansas in the US. However, this is “critically imperiled” or “at high risk of extinction due to extreme rarity” according to the IUCN Red List. These medlars are close relatives of the hawthorn and pear, and are also related to loquats, apricots, plums, peaches, Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Lady’s Mantle, parsley-piert, avens, cinquefoil, silverweed, apples, dog roses and blackthorn, to name but a few of its relatives.                                                         
  Eating a medlar is not usually a question of eating it straight from the tree as it has to be bletted, which means that it has to begin to decay before it is palatable. If there has been a frost then this bletting can occur naturally and some people let their medlars blet on the tree. However they can be harvested while still green and then laid in a bed of sawdust or bran in a cool dark place, to decay. The brown flesh can then be scooped out and eaten, or cooked. The seeds contain hydrocyanic acid, however, and so must not be eaten. There is a recipe on this site for medlar jelly, which goes well with pheasant. The pulp is a mild laxative, so you shouldn’t eat too much of this fruit.
  It is believed that medlar trees are indigenous to south west Asia and possibly also to south east Europe. They grew along the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria and Turkey, and were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who had them in the second century BC. They were popular in the Middle Ages but fell out of favour when other fruits were introduced.
  Medlars look a little like a crab apple crossed with a rosehip, and were very popular with the Victorians. They stewed them and ate them with cream, and a dessert was made with them as you would make lemon curd.
  The medlar bark was once used, although not very successfully, as a quinine substitute. The fruit, leaves and bark have all been used in medicine. Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist, writing his Herball in the 17th century has this to say about them:-
“Government and virtues. The fruit is old Saturn's, and sure a better medicine he hardly hath to strengthen the retentive faculty; therefore it stays women's longings. The good old man cannot endure women's minds should run a gadding. Also a plaister made of the fruit dried before they are rotten, and other convenient things, and applied to the reins of the back, stops miscarriage in women with child. They are powerful to stay any fluxes of blood or humours in men or women; the leaves also have this quality. The decoction of them is good to gargle and wash the mouth, throat and teeth, when there is any defluxions of blood to stay it, or of humours, which causes the pains and swellings. It is a good bath for women, that have their courses flow too abundant: or for the piles when they bleed too much. If a poultice or plaister be made with dried medlars, beaten and mixed with the juice of red roses, whereunto a few cloves and nutmegs may be added, and a little red coral also, and applied to the stomach that is given to casting or loathing of meat, it effectually helps. The dried leaves in powder strewed on fresh bleeding wounds restrains the blood, and heals up the wound quickly. The medlar-stones made into powder, and drank in wine, wherein some Parsley-roots have lain infused all night, or a little boiled, do break the stone in the kidneys, helping to expel it.”
  The medlar is also mentioned in European literature, with Cervantes referring to them in “Don Quixote”; the eponymous hero and Sancho Panza “stretch themselves out in a field and stuff themselves with acorns or medlars.”
   Shakespeare also mentions the medlar disparagingly in his plays, notably in “Romeo and Juliet” Act 2 scene i, when Mercutio laughs at Romeo’s unrequited love for Rosaline :-
   Now will he sit under a medlar tree
   And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
   As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
   O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
   An open-arse and though a poperin pear.”
(“Open-arse “was a common name for the medlar fruit because of the way the top of it looks.)
Again he mentions the medlar in “Measure for Measure” Act 4 scene iii, when Lucio excuses his denial of his past sexual exploits, saying, “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar.”
 Geoffrey Chaucer also mentions the medlar in the “Prologue to the Reeve’s Tale”
   “This white top advertises my old years,
    Mt heart, too, is as mouldy as my hairs,
    Unless I fare like medlar, all perverse,
    For that fruit’s never ripe until it’s worse,
    And falls among the refuse or in straw,
    We ancient men, I fear, obey this law,
    Until we’re rotten we cannot be ripe.”
John Gerard, writing in the 16th century clearly enjoyed eating medlars as he wrote, that they were “often perfumed with sugar or honey and so being prepared are pleasant and delightfull.”
This is doubtless because of the smell of the fruit which can be off-putting as it is musty. However when cooked it loses some of this smell.

MEDLAR JELLY RECIPE


MEDLAR JELLY
For this recipe you need to use bletted medlars, ones which have started to decay. (Read the medlar post.) You will also need to have sterilized glass jars which are warm to pour the jelly into. Medlar jelly does not need pectin as the fruit contains enough to set it. It goes well with rich meat such as pheasant.


MEDLAR JELLY                                                            
Ingredients
3lbs or 1½ kgs bletted medlars, halved
400gr. firm medlars (unbletted) halved
3 large lemons, halved
2 tart (sharp) apples, halved
2 litres water
800 gr sugar

METHOD
Remove any rotten bits of the medlars. Then put all the fruit in a large, deep saucepan and cover it with water.
Bring the mixture to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer the mixture for an hour, partially covered with the saucepan lid.
After an hour, pour the fruit mixture into a jelly bag or large piece of muslin and tie to a tap with a jug or bowl underneath to catch the strained liquid. Squeeze occasionally to help speed up the process.
When all the juice has been extracted from the bag or cloth, pour it back into the cleaned saucepan and boil it hard for about six minutes. Next add the sugar.(If you have four cups of liquid, you need to add four cups of sugar and so on.)
When the sugar has dissolved, continue boiling for another two minutes, then ladle the liquid into the jars, seal and leaves to cool.
After twelve hours or so check the jelly to see if it is firm; if it isn’t pour it back into the saucepan and boil for just under ten minutes. Pour it back into the jars and it will set. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

WATER FIGWORT OR WATER BETONY: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WATER FIGWORT


WATER BETONY, WATER FIGWORT, SCROPHULARIA UMBROSA AND SCROPHULARIA AURICULATA 
These plants are actually, it would appear, not the same, as the genus names are both accepted. The plant was called water betony because the leaves were very similar to those of wood betony, although the two plants are not related. Water figwort and water betony are in the figwort family of plants, the Scrophulariaceae and seem to have been used for the same purposes in medicine. Water Betony S. umbrosa, can be found in Europe, and temperate Asia as well as some parts of North Africa, while it would appear that S. auriculata is not a native of temperate Asia. It is however native to the British Isles and Ireland. Both plants have other synonyms but the names here are the accepted ones.
  Water figwort and water betony, then, have much the same properties as the common figwort, although it would seem that Nicholas Culpeper writing in his herbal of the 17th century, thought that they had different properties. He doesn’t write as much about the water betony as he does about the common figwort, and ends his description of it with a small diatribe regarding distilled waters:-
  “Government and virtues. Water betony is an herb of Jupiter in Cancer, and is appropriated more to wounds and hurts in the breast than wood-betony, which follows; it is an excellent remedy for sick hogs. It is of a cleansing quality: the leaves bruised and applied are effectual for all old and filthy ulcers: and especially if the juice of the leaves be boiled with a little honey, and dipped therein, and the sores dressed therewith; as also for bruises or hurts, whether inward or outward; the distilled water of the leaves is used for the same purpose; as also to bathe the face and hands spotted or blemished, or discoloured by sun burning.
I confess I do not much fancy distilled waters, I mean such waters as are distilled cold; some virtues of the herb they may haply have (it were a strange thing else;) but this I am confident of, that being distilled in a pewter still, as the vulgar and apish fashion is, both chemical oil and salt is left behind, unless you burn them, and then all is spoiled, water and all, which was good for as little as can be, by such a distillation in my translation of the London dispensatory.”
Culpeper also calls this plant brownwort and says that in Yorkshire it was called Bishop’s leaves.
  The plants are attractive to wasps and bees, and grow in shady places along river banks and close to water. It was used as Culpeper mentions for cosmetic purposes by the old herbalists and also as a vulnerary and detergent for old sores and wounds. For skin problems a decoction or infusion was made and taken orally; this was used to cure eczema, psoriasis and other skin ailments.
  The root of this plant was used in a decoction to rid the intestines of worms. The leaves can be harvested in June and July when they reach their peak and dried for later use. They can be applied fresh to wounds and skin rashes or cuts, or used in an ointment. For this purpose they used to be boiled with fat, usually lard.
  Scrophularia auriculata has proved in tests to have anti-inflammatory properties and to contain iridoid glycosides which promote wound healing, so the ancient herbalists once again seem to have known what they were doing.
 The plant should not be used by people with heart conditions as it affects the pulse rate, and is a relation of the foxglove, eyebright, mullein, snap dragon, brahmi and toadflax, to name just a few of its relatives.

Friday, April 27, 2012

COMMON MILKWEED - KAPOK SUBSTITUTE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF COMMON MILKWEED


COMMON MILKWEED, ASCLEPIAS SYRIACA 
The common milkweed is native to North America, and has been introduced to Europe, where it was cultivated as a bee plant. It certainly has very fragrant flowers, to attract these insects. It was formerly class in the Asclepiadaceae family, with relatives which included Indian sarsaparilla and aak, although not it is in the Apocynaceae or dogbane family along with the devil tree and bitter oleander, among others. A synonym for this species is Aslcepias cornutti.
  It has been used for medicinal purposes by Native American tribes, and the root, combined with cuckoo pint, was used by Mohawk women for temporary infertility. The leaves and stem contain latex which was applied to rheumatic joints to bring pain relief. This latex was also used for cancer and tumour treatments. In the past the edible seeds were used to treat asthma, to disperse kidney stones and to treat STDs among other diseases. The root possesses diuretic properties too and can also promote sweat during bouts of fever.
  The Cherokee used the plant for backache, stones and gravel in the body’s organs and for STDs.
  In the US and Canada the plant is well-known as it provides sustenance for the Monarch butterfly’s caterpillars, but we can eat it too. The flower buds, unopened, can be cooked and eaten like kachnar buds, (these are said to taste like garden peas or broccoli) and the open flower clusters can also be eaten in the same way as elder flowers. The tender young shoots are considered a delicacy by some and are used as an asparagus substitute, while young leaves and shoots can also be cooked as spinach. However it is best to use a plant for culinary purposes that is under 20 cms. tall. The flower clusters can also be boiled down to brown sugar, and should be harvested for best results in the early morning when dew is still clinging to them.
  The young tender seed pods (around 3 centimetres long) can also be cooked and are said to taste like okra. The seeds themselves can be eaten raw or cooked but are best used before the floss forms on them, although this is also edible. The latex in the stem and leaves can also be chewed like gum.
  You can also eat sprouted seeds and oil for culinary purposes may be obtained from them.
  The common milkweed also has other uses: a gum may be made from the latex and can be used to adhere gemstones to settings in jewellery. It is also possible to make rubber from the latex.
  The seed floss has been used as a substitute for kapok, which was not available during the Second World War. Schoolchildren all over the Midwest were recruited to gather thousands of pounds of this floss so that it could be used as stuffing for life-preservers for the armed forces. Today it is used instead of down for insulating jackets and comforters by a firm in Nebraska, and it is said to be much better than down for insulating purposes, of course it is cheaper too as down is imported.
  The plant was studies in the 1990s as a possible source of biofuel, and scientists are renewing their interest in the common milkweed now that technology has further advanced, as production methods are becoming more cost-effective that they were in the past.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

DOGBANE, APOCYNUM CANNABIUM: HEAL:TH BENEFITS AND USES OF DOGBANE


BLACK INDIAN HEMP, DOGBANE, APOCYNUM CANNABINUM 
Black Indian hemp or Dogbane is native to North America, where it is also known as wild cotton, milkweed, which is actually Asclepias syriaca now in the same Apocynaceae family, and American hemp. Other relatives of this dogbane are aak, the devil tree, bitter oleander and oleander.
The plant can grow to heights of around six feet, but is more generally seen at heights of around 4 feet.
 It gets its genus name, Apocynum from the ancient Greek, apo away and cyanus dog, and it was Pliny who wrote that the plant was fatal to dogs, although he was writing of one of the European dogbanes. Dogbane is also a name given to Aconitum Cynoctonum, and there are also three European dogbanes in the Apocynum genus, according to William Salmon, a botanist and herbalist who was writing in 1710. He named these as Apocynum angustifolia, Apocynum latifolium non repens and Apocynum folia angusta. The climbing dogbane he says was a curiosity at the time in Europe and planted as an ornamental.

  Native Americans used the plant for many purposes. The stem bark provides strong fibres which were used to make fishing nets and fishing lines as the fibre remains strong in water. It can also make twine and so be woven into other items, including cloth. It can be used as a flax substitute. It was because of the ability to utilize this plant’s fibres that it has the same name as cannabis, not because it is a drug.
  It was also employed in medicine, but the root has cardio-active glycosides in it, making it slow the pulse rate and it is reported to have sedative and hypnotic properties. It is best to treat this plant with extreme caution and only use it under the supervision of a physician. In some ways it is similar to digitalis, (found in the foxglove). However it was used for syphilis, rheumatism, intestinal worms, fever, diarrhoea and dysentery, as well as for coughs as an expectorant, and various other ailments.
  The edible seeds can be eaten raw or cooked and ground to a powder and then used for flour. However some report that the whole plant is poisonous containing toxins which can blister the skin. The latex from the plant, like that of milkweed can be used for chewing gum and it may be possible to produce rubber from it.
  The root is bitter and so the plant is sometimes referred to as bitter root. Its flowering season is July and August and you can identify it by its red-purple stems.
 
  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

PILI NUT AND PILI TREE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF PILI


PILI NUT TREE, CANARIUM OVATUM   
The pili nut tree is native to the coastal areas of South East Asia, although the pili nuts are only commercially produced at the moment in the Philippines. It is a member of the Burseraceae family of plants so is a relative of Commiphora myrrha, which produces myrrh, and Commiphora wightii which is the Indian Bdellium or guggul producer, and to Boswellia serrata, from which we get frankincense. The Pili tree also produces a resin which is soft like honey and is known as breabianca or Manila elem. This is used in the manufacturing of perfumes, plastics and printing inks, but is also used externally for swollen legs in Philippines traditional folk medicine.
  The oleoresin is also used as a stimulant and counter-irritant in traditional medicine. It is used in ointments for sores and abscesses on the skin too.
  The tree itself can grow to heights of 35 metres in primary forests, although the cultivars in the Philippines and Hawaii only reach about 20 metres. It has white flowers which give way to the fruit which contains a hard-shelled triangular seed, known as the pili nut. The smooth glossy fruit is green when immature, but when ripe turns purple black. It has a pulp which is yellow or brown, and which can be cooked and is said to have a texture similar to that of a cooked sweet potato. This pulp is considered to have much the same nutritional value as an avocado.
  The young shoots of the tree are also edible and can be used in salads. The pulp oil is high in protein and can be used as a cotton seed oil substitute in many food products, so it has great commercial prospects. It is also being investigated as a source of biofuel for the future.
  The stony outer shells of the pili nut may be used as fuel or as growing material for some orchids, so gardeners say. That means that all of the fruit has some value, although at the moment it is not being used to its full capacity, which may or may not be a good thing for the preservation of the pili nut tree.                             
  The pili nuts are used in baked goods and feature in one type of Chinese “moon cake” which are eaten on special occasions and at festival times. They are used for chocolate, ice-cream and eaten raw, when they are said to taste like roasted pumpkin seeds. When roasted they are said to taste like almonds.
  At the moment the nut producing industry is in its infancy as was the Australian macadamia nut thirty years ago. Perhaps soon we will all know what these mineral-rich nuts taste like.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

COTTON AND COTTON SEEDS: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF COTTON PLANTS


COTTON, KAPAS, GOSSYPIUM GENUS 
Cotton originated in the African and Asian continents, and has been used for textile making for thousands of years. Fragments of cloth from the Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan show that the people living there around 3500BC knew how to weave cotton into cloth. The first written mention of cotton was in the Rig Veda written around 1500 BC.
Modern medical science has found that parts of the cotton plant may have potential use in the treatment of HIV and cancer.It has been found in one study to have the ability to inhibit cancerous growths in head and neck
cancers. (2004 Dr. Christopher Oliver published in the Journal of Clinical Cancer Research.)
   At one time it was thought that it could be used as a male contraceptive, but this has not been proved conclusively and the cotton seed oil industry has tried to play this down. In the States, cottonseed oil is touted as a good cooking and salad oil, and is finding its way into a variety of foodstuffs as it ‘enhances’ the flavour of fried foods, it is claimed because it has no taste of its own. It is also claimed to be a healthy oil, with manufacturers rightly saying that it doesn’t have any cholesterol. However it is not as healthy as some other plant oils notably olive oil, and there are concerns about its effect on male fertility.
  The seed oil contains vitamin E and so is used in the cosmetics industry as this vitamin helps retain the elasticity of ageing skin and helps to prevent wrinkles.
   The root bark has been used by women for centuries to induce abortion (useful after being raped by cotton farmers), to promote menstruation and to ease childbirth and menopausal symptoms.
   Chewing the root bark of the cotton plant is supposed to stimulate the sex organs and it has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac. In Ayurvedic medicine and other traditional medicine systems in the Indian subcontinent cotton plants and their parts are used to improve blood circulation, for ear problems, colds, diarrhoea and gout as well as a whole host of other ailments. (India and Pakistan are two of the top cotton-producing countries in the world.)
  The seeds and leaves are used in South East Asia and the subcontinent to treat a variety of health problems, and are used both internally and externally for skin problems and injuries. Powdered cotton seeds mixed with milk are given to those with headaches, and an infusion of the seeds and leaves is said to be useful for cases of dysentery. Cotton seeds or the expressed juice from the leaves are used to treat skin problems, while the leaves can be made into a poultice for sprains or painful areas of the limbs. The seeds are ground and made into a paste with water and ginger for burns, and an infusion, a mixture of the seeds and leaves and perhaps also mustard seeds is used for snake bites and scorpion stings.
  Cotton is a member of the Malvaceae family of plants so is related to the common mallow, marsh mallows, hollyhocks, hibiscus, okra, musk mallow, Indian or country mallow, the kapok tree, the red silk cotton tree, the dinner plate tree and the fruit, durian, among others. If left to its own devices, the evergreen shrub can grow to heights of 20 metres, although they are around waist high in fields. There are around fifty species of cotton plant but only four main ones, Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbardense being the dominant crop species and Gossypium arboretum and Gossypium herbaceum being the two older species.                                                                                 
  In the 5th century BC the Father of History, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote this about  cotton plants describing them: - “trees that bore wool, surpassing in beauty and in quality that of sheep’s wool; and the Indians wear clothing from these trees.” Much later, in the 1600s, explorers from Europe also found cotton growing in North and South America.
  In the Middle Ages this idea of Herodotus’ must have taken a firm hold in the popular imagination as people thought that cotton came from “vegetable lambs” which were to be seen in illustrations hanging from trees reportedly in India. These ‘cotton lambs’ or ‘vegetable lambs’ (fakes of course) even found their way into museums.
  The plant has flowers which start off being creamy white, and then pink as they give way to the cotton boll which is the seed pod. It is hardly surprising that there are twice the volume of seeds as there is cotton fibre, that being the case. The large fibres stick to the seeds, and there are shorter, fuzzy fibres called linters which can be used to make water-soluble polymers and paper. The whole of the plant can be used as the seed oil cake left after extracting the oil provides fodder for animals.
  

Monday, April 23, 2012

CROSSWORT - A BEDSTRAW: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF CROSSWORT


CROSSWORT, CRUCIATA LAEVIPES 
Crosswort is one of the bedstraw plants and is related to Lady’s Bedstraw or Yellow Bedstraw. In fact it is also known as Smooth bedstraw, with a botanical synonym of Galium cruciata. It is native to Europe including Britain, but not it is believed, native to Ireland. It is also a native plant of western Asia. As a member of the Rubiaceae family of plants it is related to noni fruit, cleavers, sweet woodruff, wild madder, coffee, Kadamb and the cinchona quinine–producing trees.
  Crosswort can grow to heights of four feet, although is more often around two feet high. Its Scots Gaelic name is Luc na croise, which is a reflection of its name in English. The flowers smell of honey and in some areas it is called honeywort. It can be found on the margins of woodland, in hedgerows and roadside verges. Its edible leaves may be added to salads or cooked like spinach.
  It was once valued highly as a wound herb or vulnerary and was also used for rheumatism, dropsy and ruptures, although an old Leechbook of the 9th  century, now in the British Library, Bald’s Leechbook, states that it was once used as a cure for headaches.
  It has astringent properties due to its tannin content, and has diuretic properties. It was used both internally for ruptures and externally for wounds, cuts and grazes. Nicholas Culpeper writing in his herbal in the 17th century has this to say of crosswort:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Saturn. This is a singular good wound-herb, and is used inwardly, not only to stay bleeding of wounds, but to consolidate them, as it doth outwardly any green wound, which it quickly drieth up and healeth. The decoction of the herb in wine helpeth to expectorate phlegm out of the chest, and is good for obstructions in the breast, stomach, or bowels, and helpeth a decayed appetite. It is also good to wash any wound or sore with, to cleanse and heal it. The herb bruised and then boiled, and applied outwardly for several days together, renewing it often, and in the mean time the decoction of the herb in wine taken inwardly every day, doth certainly cure the rupture in any, so as it be not too inveterate; but very speedily, if it be fresh and lately taken.”
  At one time it was also used as a strewing herb, although it seems that it may not have any insecticidal properties. It flowers between April and June and these yellow flowers are followed by black berries which stay on the plant until late winter, and which resemble small blackcurrants. It could be that it was mistaken for Lady’s Bedstraw and so used in the same way.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

COMMON FIGWORT FOR RELIEF OF SCROFULA: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF FIGWORT


KNOTTED FIGWORT, SCROPHULARIA NODOSA
The knotted figwort is so-called because of the knobbly bits that form on its roots. Perhaps it is called figwort because the immature flowers look like tiny figs before they bloom. It is a member of the Scrophulariaceae family which makes it a relative of mullein, toadflax, foxglove, eyebright, snap dragon and brahmi or water hyssop among other plants.
  The name Scrophularia was given to this plant and the members of its family as it was believed that they could effect a cure for scrofula, which in the Middle Ages was known as the “King’s Evil” Morbus Regis in Latin. Scrofula is a tubercular swelling of the lymph glands, but in the 11th century, in England and France it was believed that the touch of the king could cure the disease. It began with Edward the Confessor, Edward I (1003/4 – 1066) and Philip I (1052-1108) of France. It was believed that the later generations of Kings inherited this royal touch which could cure the disease. When all else failed, I guess, the peasants turned to knotted figwort for a cure.
  During the Renaissance, and perhaps much earlier, it was recommended that this figwort was taken both internally and externally with the tisane of the root or the pounded root placed on the skin to get rid of all abscesses, sores, psoriasis, eczema and any other skin problem. The Romans used it for piles.
  In Welsh it was called Deilen Ddu, the good leaf, which shows the high repute in which this figwort was held. In Ireland it was known as Rose Noble and throatwort. In French it is the herbe du siège referring to the fact that the tuberous roots of this plant were eaten by the people of La Rochelle during the siege of the city by Richelieu’s troops in 1628.
(The roots are edible but do not taste good, so are only utilized as food in extremis.)
  Nicholas Culpeper, writing his herbal in the 17th century had this to say about the health benefits of figwort:-
“Government and virtues. Some Latin authors call it cervicaria, because it is appropriated to the neck; and we, throatwort, because it is appropriated to the throat. Venus owns the herb, and the Celestial Bull will not deny it; therefore a better remedy cannot be for the king's evil, because the Moon that rules the disease, is exalted there. The decoction of the herb taken inwardly, and the bruised herb applied outwardly, dissolves clotted and congealed blood within the body, coming by any wounds, bruise or fall; and is no less effectual for the king's evil, or any other knobs, kernels, bunches, or wens growing in the flesh wheresoever; and for the hæmorrhoids, or piles. An ointment made hereof may be used at all times when the fresh herb is not to be had. The distilled water of the whole plant, roots and all, is used for the same purposes, and drieth up the superfluous virulent moisture of hollow and corroding ulcers; it taketh away all redness, spots, and freckles in the face, as also the scurf, and any foul deformity therein, and the leprosy likewise.”
  Figwort is native to Europe including Britain, and to temperate Asia. It is best harvested as it comes into flower and then can be dried for later use. It can detoxify the body as it has laxative, mild diuretic and purgative effects, which is why it was taken internally as well as being applied to the skin, in the belief that it purified the blood. A decoction of the root was used to relieve sprains and swellings, inflammation and burns. Bruised leaves were also used on burns and scalds. An ointment was made from the plant, and it was a specific remedy for scrofulous sores and gangrene.
  The plant contains saponins, hesperidin, cardio-active glycosides, anti-inflammatory glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids, iridoids and other substances which contribute to its actions. Harpagoside, an iridoid, is found in the knotted figwort, which is also present in devil’s claw, and is believed to have anti-inflammatory action of use in the treatment of arthritis.
  Diosmin, a flavonoid glycoside, is also present and this is believed to have a vascular-protecting action. The flavonoids present in the plant mean that it has antioxidant properties, anti-mutagenic actions and anti-inflammatory ones too.
  It is a heart stimulant and has antibacterial and antifungal properties, according to one study. It is believed to have a stimulating effect on blood circulation too, but more research needs to be done into the plant before scientists can positively identify the reasons for its apparent actions.
 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

EYEBRIGHT - THE JOY-BRINGING HERB: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF EYEBRIGHT


EYEBRIGHT, EUPHRASIA OFFICINALIS 
Eyebright is a plant which is native to western Europe including Britain and to East Asia. It is a member of the Scrophulariaceae or figwort family, so it is related to mullein, toadflax, foxglove, snap dragon and brahmi or water hyssop to name just a few of its relatives. It is the only one of the Euphrasia genus to be native to Britain.
  To me it looks a little like a viola but different colours. However I haven’t seen one in the wild for quite some time.
   As its name suggests Eyebright has been a remedy for eye complaints for centuries, although seems not to have been used by the Romans, as there is no mention of it in Pliny's or Dioscorides' works.
  It was, in Elizabethan times, used as a tisane and in an Eyebright ale and wine, used to clear the sight and for any eye problems that occurred. There has not been much research into the properties of this plant but some scientists have warned people not to use the herb for ophthalmic problems, although the European Medical Agency have basically said that there is insufficient evidence to say if it works or not, but it seems to, without any reported ill-effects.
  Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist had this to say of Eyebright:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the sign of the Lion, and Sol claims dominion over it. The juice or distilled water of eye-bright, taken inwardly in white wine or broth, or dropped into the eyes, for divers days together, helps all infirmities of the eyes that cause dimness of sight. Some make conserve of the flowers to the same effect. Being used any of the ways, it also helps a weak brain, or memory. This tunned up with strong beer, that it may work together, and drank; or the powder of the herb mixed with sugar, a little mace, and fennel-seed, and drank, or eaten in broth; or the said powder made into an electuary with sugar, and taken, has the same powerful effect to help and restore the sight decayed through age; and Arnoldus de Ville Nova says, it has restored sight to them that have been blind a long time before.”
  Arnaldus de Villa Nova lived between circa 1235 and 1311, and was an alchemist, astrologer and physician. He was the reputed author of many works including the first book on wine to have a mass (at the time) circulation. In quoting him, Culpeper demonstrates the antiquity of the use of the plant, and it should be noted that the medicinal wisdom of that time was very different from that of today.
  The genus name, Euphrasia comes from the Greek and could refer to one of the three Graces of mythology (Euphrosyne) who was renowned for her joy and mirth. It might also refer to the song bird, the linnet, which, it was said, removed the film from her nestlings’ eyes with this herb. Linnet is Euphrosyne in Greek. If your dimmed sight was restored, it would certainly make you feel joyful, so I guess that is the logic behind the herb’s name.
  The whole plant is said to have astringent properties (due to its tannin content) as well as being a diuretic, and digestive. The infusion of the plant can be taken internally or used as an eyewash. It has been dried and used in herbal tobacco for chest ailments. The iridoids in the plant are believed to be anti-inflammatory which is why it can relieve pain in the eyes.
  Eyebright contains the flavonoids apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol, rhamnatin and quercetin among others so will have antioxidant properties.
  Culpeper has this remedy in his herbal, which he calls “A Marvellous Water for the Sight”:-
 “… leaves of red roses, mints, sage, maidenhair (fern), (or leave out sage and mint) and take eyebright and vervain, bittony (betony), such of the mountain and endive (chicory) of each six handfuls; steep them in white wine 24 hours; then distil them in an alembic; first water is like silver, the second gold, the third like balme; keep it close in glasses.”
  Another remedy was similar but used the following ingredients, fennel, eyebright, roses, white celandine, vervain and rue and a handful of each with the liver of a goat. However this one is certainly not to be recommended.
  A more modern remedy using eyebright is to take equal parts of chamomile flowers and the eyebright herb (aerial parts) and infuse in 0.25 litres of freshly boiled water and leaves to steep for 15 minutes before straining through muslin and using as an eyewash. Alternately you can take three parts eyebright, and one part each of melilot and plantain dried, and add 1 soupspoon full to a cup of boiling water; again leave to steep for 15 minutes before straining and using as an eye compress.
  Eyebright has been mentioned by some of the great poets of English literature such as John Milton who wrote these lines in Paradise Lost Book XI after Adam’s Fall from Paradise: -
   “….Of nobler sights
Michael from Adam’s eye the film removed,
Then purged with euphrasine and rue
His visual orbs, for he had much to see.” 
Edmund Spenser also makes reference to Eyebright in the second book of the Faerie Queene and writing later, the Pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Gabriel Rosetti wrote in his poem The Love-Moon:-
“How canst thou gaze into those eyes of hers
Whom now they heart delights in, and not see
Within each orb Love’s philtred euphrasy
Make them of buried troth remembrances?”
“With Euphrasy to purge away the mists
Which, humid, dim the mirror of the mind;”
  Clearly the herb had its followers, and is probably safe to use, although you should, of course, only do so under medical supervision.

Friday, April 20, 2012

BURMESE ROSEWOOD TREE- THREATENED IN NATIVE HABITAT: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OFTHE BURMESE ROSEWOOD TREE


BURMESE ROSEWOOD, NARRA, AMBOYNA WOOD, PTEROCARPUS INDICUS 
This rosewood tree is native to south and south-east Asia and some Pacific islands. It is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List and has been extinct in Vietnam for 300 years or so. It is valued for its timber which is used in construction, boat and canoe building, furniture, tools and carvings. The heartwood is a beautiful light yellowish-brown through to red-brown while the sap wood is a creamy pale yellow. The heartwood yields a red dye.
  Narra is the Philippino name for this tree, although the same name can refer to other members of the Pterocarpus genus. It is valued not only for its timber but also for its medicinal properties. The tree has been introduced to the Caribbean islands, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka, the Congo, Sierra Leone and Tanzania in the African continent, and Pacific islands to which it is not native. It is a member of the Fabaceae or Leguminoseae family of plants and so is a relative of the amaltas (Indian laburnum), the European laburnum, carob, peas, beans such as the green bean, borlotti bean, soya beans, chickpeas and choliya, the tree from which we get gum Tragacanth, the butterfly pea, the trees, dhak, jhand, the Indian coral tree, the Borneo or Pacific teak, the Lead tree (Ipil –Ipil), the pongam tree, the monkey pod tree, ashoka, indigo, lentils, alfalfa, field restharrow and a whole host of other plants.
  The genus name, Pterocarpus comes from the Greek, pteros meaning winged and karpos meaning fruit, which describes the seeds of this genus. It is known by other botanical names, which are not accepted, Pterocarpus camlinensis Kanch., and Pterocarpus draco as well as Pterocarpus indica.
  It is a useful tree as it fixes nitrogen in the soil and the leaves which fall help to enrich the soil. However it cannot be grown with food crops because it gives shade and is a tall tree which can reach heights of 35 metres plus. It is, however, a useful windbreaker and living fence.
  It has lost some of its natural habitat which has contributed to its decline, but the illegal logging and exploitation of this tree for its timber is the main factor in this decline. In the Philippines in recent years, the tree has become a source of popular herbal remedies for such diverse health problems as headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, leprosy, T.B., menstrual cramps, diabetes and flu. As the bark and wood are employed in herbal remedies this growth in popularity may cause further depletion of these trees.
  Traditionally in the Philippines the bark has been used in a decoction for diarrhoea, and the root extract for syphilitic sores, a decoction of the gum or resin from the trunk of the tree has been used for diarrhoea and dysentery, while an infusion of the leaves has been used for stomach problems, and sprue, which is a tropical disease affecting the throat, mouth and digestive system. The infusion is also used for arrhythmia, and heart palpitations, rheumatism and leucorrhea.
  The fresh young leaves are used for skin problems including prickly heat rash, and sores, and they are also used for the same purposes in Indonesia.
  In Malaysia the juice extracted from the roots is used for syphilitic sores and mouth ulcers. The bark is used in Papua New Guinea for T.B. headaches, sores and as a purgative, while in the Solomon Islands it is used for dysentery, heavy menstruation, and gonorrhoea. It is also used for similar purposes in Vanuatu, but it is also used as a vulnerary there (for wound healing).
  The tree has many medicinal properties it would appear, and it would be sad if it became extinct because of our beliefs that it is medicinally useful. Unscrupulous people are not above illegal logging to make a profit on the next “wonder plant.”
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