The name stinking goosefoot is apt for this little herb, as its leaves like other Chenopodium species slightly resembles a goose’s webbed feet, and when bruised the leaves stink, not to put too fine a point on it. They are actually edible, but no one would want to, given the stench. The seeds are also edible but as they contain saponins they have to be soaked overnight and then rinsed before roasting or dry frying, then grinding to mix with wheat flour to make bread. Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, describes the smell from the bruised leaves in this way: “It smells like rotten fish, or something worse.” It goes by a number of derogatory names, such as Dog’s Arrach or Orache, and Stinking Motherwort.
  Its leaves used to be made into a conserve with sugar and used for nervous complaints for women. It was probably a good way to stop a fit of the hysterics given the smell. A tisane was made of the dried leaves with 1 ounce to 1 pint of boiling water, given in wineglass doses for obstructions in the monthly flow, or blood clots during a woman’s periods. In fact it was another Female herb along with the chaste berry tree.
  It is a plant that grows up to 40 centimetres, but it might not be upright, some trail along the ground. It is rare now in southern England and the Channel isles, although it was once abundant throughout the British Isles, and is native to northern Europe. The tisane of dried leaves made from this plant is said to be antispasmodic so was good for menstrual cramps.
  It should not be confused with the true Orach(e) or Arrach, which was thought to be beneficial for gout. It has small green flowers without petals but with 5 sepals and stamens. The word Chen comes from the Greek meaning goose and podi meaning foot. The other goosefoots native to Britain are known as Fat Hen and Good King Henry, but there are many others that grow in different parts of the world.
  The physicians of Myddfai used it in combination with other herbs as in this remedy for profuse menstruation: -
“A woman who is subject to profuse menstruation, should take the reddish bastard balm, small burdock, orpine, stinking goose foot, pimpernel, water avens, with the ashes of a hart's horns, that has been killed with his antlers on, boiling them, as well as possible in red wine, straining the liquor carefully, and drinking it daily, till it is finished, abstaining (the while) from stimulating food. Being restrained by the above means, the blood will be habitually diverted to the thighs and ankles.”


Self –Heal is also called All-Heal, Prunella, Brunella, Heart of the Earth and Blue Curls, among other names. It’s native to Europe, Asia and North America, and is used in the Unani (Greek) medicine system in Kashmir. It grows in the Sichuan province of China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s a common plant in Britain, and was much esteemed by both John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper, the two major British herbalists of the 16th and 17th century respectively. Culpeper describes the flowers in this way, “thicke set together like an eare or spiky knap.” You can see for yourself why he described it in this way. The tiny flowers grow from the stem and resemble small orchids. They are usually a blue-violet, but can be pink or white, although these are rare.
  John Gerard describes its use in this way”
   “There is not a better Wound herb in the world than that of Self-Heal…for this very herbe, without the mixture of any other ingredient, being onely bruised and wrought with the point of a knife… will be brought into the form of a salve, which will heal any green wounde…The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth. To be short, it serveth for the same that the Bugle serveth and in the world there are not two better wound herbs as hath been often proved.”
  Bugle is Ajuga reptans (LINN), while Sanicle mentioned below is Sanicula Europea (LINN). Self-Heal is a member of the mint family, and its leaves are edible and can be used in soups, stews and salads. It’s a Lamiaceae or Labiatae.
  Culpeper explains its name “Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt you may heal yourself.” He agrees with Gerard, that it is as efficacious as Bugle “inwardly or outwardly, for inward wounds and ulcers in the body, for bruises and falls or hurts.” He goes on to recommend its use with both Bugle and Sanicle “to wash and inject into ulcers in the parts outwards.” He also claims that “the juice used with oil of roses to anoint the temples and forehead is very effectual to remove the headache.”
  In Kashmir it has been used as a “brain tonic” for sore throats, colds, headaches, and is used boiled and the steam inhaled for clearing mucous and to reduce a headache. It is also one of a mixture of herbs given to a woman after delivery of a baby to make her strong again.
  You can make a tisane with 1 ounce of the dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water. Pour the water over the chopped herb and leave to steep for 10-15 minutes, before straining and drink to help internal bleeding and piles, also if missed with a little honey it is good for sore throats and mouth ulcers, so can be used as a gargle as well as a tisane. The leaves are wound healers, and if you put the juice from the leaves on a wound, it will heal quickly. A tisane made with the flowers is particularly pleasant to take as a general tonic.
  The plant contains rutin, vitamins C and K, flavonoids, Prunellin, a polysaccharide, phenolic and tannins along with other substances. The rutin combined with the vitamins supports blood vessels and connective tissue in the body, but this little plant has many more health benefits. Because it is so common on three continents, much research has been done into it, and it has been found to be effective against herpes simplex, and is being experimented with as an anti-tumour and cancer treatment as well as an anti-HIV treatment. It has anti-viral and bacterial properties and is effective against the E.coli and Bacillus typhi strains of bacteria. This gives credence to the steam treatment used in Kashmir, where it is also used to lower blood pressure, as an antibiotic, antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, diuretic, vermifuge (to get rid of internal parasites) and for its antibacterial properties.
  It seems that once again, traditional healers know what they are doing with the herbs and other natural ingredients they prescribe.


The Common mallow can grow almost everywhere and its habitat ranges from the UK and Europe through North Africa and the Middle East and into the Indian subcontinent where it is a weed. It has become naturalized in many parts of the world (such as eastern Australia) as it was introduced as an ornamental into many gardens across the globe. In the UK it can be found in hedgerows, on wasteland and on roadsides and most websites seem to have concluded that it has fallen into disuse as a medicinal herb in places where the Marsh Mallow (Althea officinalis) grows. However, that could be because it doesn’t grow in the same habitat as its cousin which likes marshes. The Common Mallow on the other hand must be salt tolerant to some degree as it can be found close to the sea where it grows in abundance in South and West Wales.
  Both my father and grandmother swore by this plant’s efficacy to bring down swellings, and I have had hot poultices put on my ankles and knees many times to reduce bruising and swellings, so I can personally vouch for the fact that it works. (I am a little accident prone.)
  The pretty mauve-pink flowers are edible, like those of borage, lavender and kachnar and look good in salad and for garnishes, with its seeds being edible too and tasting a little like peanuts. The leaves can be used as a thickener for soups or blanched for 2 minutes, rinsed in cold water and used instead of lettuce in salads. They are also fine eaten as a green vegetable.
  Eucalyptus leaves or bark and mallow leaves and flowers are a good tisane to make if you have a cough or other respiratory problems. The flowers and immature fruits can be made into a tisane too which is useful for whooping cough. The leaves are cooling and a tisane can be made and used on the skin to relieve inflammation or to stop the pain of insect bites or stings. If you get stung when you are outside you can use a bruised leaf to take the pain away as the leaves are mucilaginous and soothing.
  A tisane of the leaves is a pleasant diuretic, and also has a mild laxative action, so is much more pleasant to take than senna.
  You should gather the plant (not the roots, just the above ground parts) in June when the flowers appear and bloom, then hang it to dry in a light, airy room until crumbly and pack into a jar and keep for future use, as it can be used for coughs and colds in winter.
  The fruits or seed pods of the common mallow look a bit like little cheeses, as do those of the cheese tree. A dye can be made from them, and the whole plant will produce different dyes of cream, yellow and green. In ancient Greece baskets were woven from the stems of this plant, and it is possible to make cloth from it as was done in the ancient world and in Mediaeval times.
Seed Pods
  Mallow was mentioned by several Roman writers, with Pliny the Younger recommending a tisane made with the seeds for nausea. Earlier, in 700BC or thereabouts, Hesiod wrote that only a fool would not consider a little mallow beneficial in their diet. Later around 30 BC Horace in his Odes 31 verse 15 says “As for me, olives, endives and mallows provide sustenance.” (We believe that Pliny was referring to chicory rather than the Belgian endive which is a relative newcomer on the vegetable scene.)  In those times mallow was planted on graves to provide nourishment for the dead. Clearly it was not only my relatives who thought highly of this plant. It has been used as medicine wherever it grows and is in the French and Swiss Pharmacopoeias.
  Young girls would make garlands of mallow and chaplets for their heads to wear on May Day, in Europe.
   The plant is related to the hibiscus and hollyhock and is in the Malvaceae family of plants. It gets the name mallow from the Old English “malwe”
 The Physicians of Myddfai used mallow with other herbs for the treatment of
 intermittent fevers. “Take the mugwort, dwarf elder, tutsan, amphibious persicaria, pimpernel, butcher's broom, elder bark, and the mallow, and boiling them together as well as possible in a pot, or cauldron. Then take the water and herbs, and add them to the bath.”
While this was a treatment for piles: -
“Take the mallow, and boil it in wheat ale, or in spring water. Then take that which grows in the earth of the elder (bark,) bruise well in a mortar, and mix it, crude as it is, with the above mentioned decoction, and administer it quickly to the patient, so as to act upon his bowels. Let him afterwards be forbidden beef, cheese, leeks, large fish, salmon, eels, ducks, garlic, and all kinds of milk diet, except whey made with warm milk”
  Modern medical research into this plant has found that it may be able to protect the kidneys. The German E Commission has approved its use for oral and external use as it is anti-inflammatory and can soothe mouth ulcers as well as irritated skin. There is some evidence that the mucilage it contains can soothe disorders of the gastrointestinal tract too.

2-4 tsps dried leaves or flowers (or a mixture of both)
150 ml boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the dried mallow and leave to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Strain and drink one cup three times a day for colds etc and other ailments mentioned above, or used it externally on irritated skin.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).


Indian sarsaparilla belongs to the Asclepiadaceae family of plants (milkweed family) which typically are flowering plants of the order Gentianales which boasts more than 280 genuses or genera, and more than 2000 species of tropical herbs and shrubby climbers. They are rarely trees or bushes. They can be recognized by their milky juice, their 5 united petals, and pod-like fruit and generally tufted seeds. The pitcher plant is probably one of the best known of these. It is therefore not related to the American Sarsaparilla which is of the Smilax order and one of the Liliaceae.
   It is native to the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the Malaccan Islands, and is notably used to cure STDS including syphilis. For this it seems to be more efficacious than the American sarsaparilla. It is also used for a number of other purposes, including as an antidote to snake venom, a use which has been borne out by medical research. An infusion can be made by using 2 ounces of chopped root and pouring 1 pint of boiling water over it and allowing this to steep for 1 hour. Then it should be strained and drunk over a 24 hour period. It is good for skin diseases, and makes a good diuretic, and is used for rheumatism, scrofula and thrush. It is also useful for stomach problems including indigestion and loss of appetite. For these problems it can be used powdered with milk, the dosage being between 1 and 6 grams. It can be ground to a paste with a little water and mixed with black pepper for diarrhoea and stomach ache, and a decoction of the root is used on the subcontinent to promote hair growth. A syrup made from the root is used as a diuretic, and a paste made from the root is given for rheumatism, swellings and boils. The flowers can be made into a decoction by boiling them in water and used to promote sweating in fevers. It is used for kidney complaints too and given to children for sore mouths.
  A refreshing cooling drink is made from the powdered roots, flavoured with the addition of rose petals, or lotus petals, milk and honey. This cools the body down in the heat of summer. Modern medical research suggests that it has antifungal and antibacterial problems, which bears out the traditional use for ringworm and thrush. The ethanolic extract of the root has shown that it can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and it has strong antioxidant properties. It has also been shown to have liver protective actions.
  Once again modern medical research is catching up with ancient healing practices.


There are many different species of senna, which has been used for centuries as a purgative, but the best are Egyptian or Alexandrian senna Cassia augustifolia which comes for Sudan and Egypt and the variety which grows in the Indian subcontinent, Cassia acutifolia, also called Tinnevelly senna.
  It was first described in the 9th century by Arab physicians, and the name, senna has Arabic roots. It is believed that the first Greek to notice the uses of this herb was Achicinus, and it must have been he who popularized its use for constipation in the West. In its action it is rather like the castor bean but more effective and less potent than jamalgota.
  The leaves are the most potent part of the plant, although they can cause stomach cramps, so the pods are preferred for use as they do not. They taste slightly less noxious than the leaves too which can make one nauseous. Basically senna should be taken with aromatic spices or herbs to disguise its taste whether the leaves or pods are used. Ginger, chamomile, cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon or cassia bark, cloves, peppermint or anise can be mixed with it and a little honey or sugar if desired. 1-2 tsps of the leaves can be put in a cup along with any of the above and 1 cup of boiling water should be poured over it and then left to steep for 10 minutes, before straining. Only 1 cup should be taken per day, so it’s best not to drink it all at once. Pregnant and lactating women should not take senna.
  Senna pods act on the whole intestine, while the leaves stimulate the colon. The WHO (World Health Organization) has approved senna’s use as a short term treatment for constipation, but the treatment should be discontinued after 1-2 weeks.
  Senna is a member of the Leguminaceae family as are the green bean, Astragalus species or the carob tree, and one of the Caesalpiniaceae species, whose leaves and pods are prescribed for sufferers of piles, anal fissures and for those awaiting surgery on the abdomen, rectum or anus. It is also used to clean the bowel before some ultrasound procedures to improve visibility in the bowel. The anthraquinone glycosides stimulate the colon and work in 3 to 9 hours, softening stools and so alleviating constipation. The leaves can cause cramping so many people prefer to use the pods for treatment.


Dyer’s madder, Rubia tinctorum is native to Southern Europe, southern Britain and the Mediterranean and is one of the ancient dyes used in Britain along with woad in prehistoric times. Madder dyes cloth red and various other shades including purple, pink, orange and brown. It was used to dye the coats of the Grenadier Guards, who were known as the Redcoats, in the American War of Independence and earlier. Rose madder is an artist’s pigment, which is a burgundy pink, and Indian Madder or Rubia cordifolia is native to hilly districts of the Indian sub-continent and Java. Dyer’s madder flowers in June and its seeds ripen in September in Europe. It has small yellow flowers that look like little stars, similar to those of creamy elderflowers.
Indian Madder
  Madders belong to the Rubiaceae family which includes coffee. The European variety has weak stalks so rarely grows to the heights it can attain (of 8 feet) as it tends to trail along the ground. It has prickly stalks and spiny veins on the underside of the leaf. The French used to use these leaves to polish metal work. The Indian one is a climbing plant which can grow to great heights.
  Madder has been used for all kinds of purposes throughout the centuries; the ancient Etruscans used it for religious purposes, and cloth dyed with madder was found in the tombs of the pharaohs. It is thought that it was also used as a cosmetic, probably as lip colour or blusher in ancient Egypt. Herodotus the ancient Greek historian tells us that Libyan women wore red cloaks dyed with madder in the 5th century BC.
In 1868 the alizarin found in madder was made synthetically by two Germans, Graebe and Liebermann and then pupurin was also made synthetically so madder gradually ceased to be useful as a crop for the textile and dying industry.
  It seems that by that time it was not being utilized in traditional medicine, so madder became a forgotten plant in most of Europe. It had been used to bring on irregular periods in women and as a remedy for jaundice in Pliny’s time, while Rubia sylvestris, another European species was used for complaints of the liver and spleen as well as to remove stones and gravel from the internal organs.
  In the Indian sub-continent Indian Madder has been used as dye, but was considered inferior to the “Turkey Red” of the R. tinctorum species which as its name suggests generally came from Turkey. Indian madder dye was called Munjeet.
  Indian Madder (Rubia cordifolia) or Manjeeth as it is called in Urdu, was and is used in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. This plant has different constituents to R. tinctorum according to modern medical research. It has been used for gouty arthritis and to get rid of the build up of calculus around joints. It is used especially for skin complaints and irritations and for the complexion, to get rid of freckles, pimples and acne, for these purposes it can be taken internally or applied externally. A face pack is made from 100 grams of crushed dried orange peel, and 50 grams each of powdered sandalwood, turmeric powder and powdered madder root.
  The roots are astringent and are used for dysentery, expelling worms, killing pain, to rid the intestines of parasites, to improve the voice and for inflammation of the uterus, vagina eyes, ears, urinary tract and to purify the blood. It is also said to be a rejuvenator of the skin and anti-diabetic, as well as helping with eczema, and skin allergies.
  The flavonoids, phenolic glycosides and other constituents seem to vary from species to species, and there are around sixty of these, but it has been shown that Indian madder does have anti-inflammatory properties and may be an anti-cancer agent.


The Bael fruit tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and was mentioned in early Sanskrit writings in 800 BC. It is sacred to the Hindus and so is cultivated in many temple gardens. It is thought to be the dwelling place of Lord Shiva and the leaves are inhabited by the goddess Lakshmi. The leaves are offered to Shiva in religious ceremonies, and in the Bael Kama ceremony young pre-pubescent girls are ‘married’ to a bael fruit which symbolizes Shiva so that she will become and remain fertile. Such a ceremony is carried out in Bhutan.
   The Bael tree is also known as the Indian Quince, to which it bears some outward resemblance, though it is a member of the Rutaceae family so related to the lemon and citron trees, it contains limonene so its oil is used as a dressing for hair and to scent wood, especially carved items. The wood from the bael tree is not durable so is usually used for decorative and small items such as knife handles. It goes under two other Latin names, Crataeva marmelos and Foronia pellucida-Roth, but is mostly recognized as Aegle marmelos. It can grow to heights of between 40 and 50 feet, and has yellow flowers which are used to make perfume and cologne. The fruit start by being green and on maturity has a pale yellow rind, containing woolly seeds wrapped in mucilage. When the young leaves are bruised they have a pleasant aroma but on maturity they are not very pleasant. The young shoots are eaten as a vegetable in Thailand, where the tree is cultivated. There mangosteen is used as a substitute for the bael fruit in medicine, but it appears not to be as effective. The branches, when cut, exude a gummy sap which hangs down and solidifies, giving the tree an unusual appearance. In India the tree has a reputation of being able to thrive in places where other fruit trees can’t.
  It seems that all parts of the tree have their uses, with the gummy sap being used as an adhesive by jewellers and as glue for household purposes. The ripe fruit can be scooped from the pod and eaten but I can’t do this as the smell is off-putting like the ber fruit. The pulp is often soaked in water and then mixed with palm sugar and ice which makes a refreshing drink in summer. The ripe fruit can also be mixed with milk and honey or palm sugar to make it more palatable. Jams and jellies are made from it and given to people who are recovering from bouts of diarrhoea and dysentery. The ripe fruit is also considered a laxative while the unripe bael fruit is given for diarrhoea as it contains tannins. The pulp can be mixed with guava and made into a jelly too and this is quite pleasant. Another pleasant drink that cools the body is made by mixing the pulp with tamarind pulp and an infusion of the flowers is a very good, cooling drink.
  It contains some B-complex vitamins, as well as carotene, vitamin C and tartaric acid among other things. There are tannins in the leaves and fruit, but there are more in the wild fruit than the cultivated variety.
  The leaves are said to cause a foetus to abort and to cause sterility in a woman. It has other notable qualities to as in some parts of the world the bark of the tree is used to poison fish. The fruit pulp can be used as detergent and some poor families use it instead of soap. Sometimes the gum is added to lime plaster and cement, and some artists use it to coat paintings to preserve their water colours.
  The young fruit is often sliced and sun dried to be sold in local markets or exported to Europe and Malaysia. In Malaysia it is used for its medicinal properties. There are many remedies for treatment with the bael tree, and here are some of them, for information only as any herbal remedy should only be taken with the approval of your health care practitioner.
  The leaf juice from the mature leaves can be mixed with honey and used for catarrh and fevers, and with black pepper added for jaundice and constipation when this is accompanied by edema (swollen legs). Asthma is treated with a decoction of the leaves and hot poultices can be made with them to reduce swellings, acute bronchitis and inflammation. A decoction of the flowers is used for itching eyes and to get rid of internal parasites. A decoction of the bark is said to be effective in cases of malaria, while one made from the root is given for heart palpitations, arrhythmia, indigestion, bowel problems and to stop vomiting.
  It is believed that the fruit, leaves and bark have antibiotic properties and the root, leaves and bark of the tree are good antidotes for snake bites. These properties appear to have been proved to the satisfaction of researchers.
  In some communities ear problems are treated by dipping a stiff piece of the root of the bael tree in neem oil and then lighting one end and catching the oil which drips from the lighted end. This is stored for use and a drop is put in ears which have problems. It is believed that if you make an oil by heating oil from bael tree leaves with an equal amount of sesame oil, and adding a few black peppercorns and ½ a teaspoon of caraway seeds, then removing this from the heat and allowing to cool, you can massage this mixture into your scalp before washing your hair in order to stop recurring colds and respiratory problems.
  These home remedies are added for interest rather than any other purpose!


Orpine is one of the Sedum or Stonecrop family of plants of the group Crassulaceae. It is called Telephium after Telephus the son of Hercules who is said to have discovered its wound-healing properties after a battle, as he used it to cure a serious leg wound. It is native to Europe and to temperate parts of Asia, and has been used for centuries to heal. It may not be a native to Britain although it grows in wasteland and in woods and hedgerows, but it was probably introduced very early on. It was known to the Physicians of Myddfai and to the 16th century herbalist John Gerard. It was first named Crassula montana by an early Italian botanist who believed that it grew in mountainous regions. However, this proved to be an error and its name was changed. It grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet in the wild and in gardens may reach 3 feet in height. It is the stonecrop with the largest, broad leaves in Britain, where it is generally crimson, although orpine can be white-pink too. The plant flowers in July and produces seeds in August. The whole herb can be used in medicine.
  The name orpine is thought to have come from the Latin, auripigmentum, which is a gold coloured pigment, a sulpheret of the metal arsenic, and from there to the Old French, orpiment and Middle English orpin. It is also known as Long Life and Everlasting because it can live for a long time if uprooted and hung in a room. There is a superstition which says that if orpine is hung in a home and suddenly dies there will be a death in the family. On the other hand, while it lives it will protect all members of the household. It is able to live without soil or water because of the nutrients it stores in its leaves and swollen roots.
  Its leaves have been used in salads especially during the Middle Ages, and sheep and goats will eat them, although horses avoid them. An infusion of the leaves has been a popular remedy for diarrhoea in various countries for centuries, as the plant has astringent properties.
  The 16th century German herbalist, Hieronymus Tragus, believed that distilled water of the plant was good for the stomach and bowels, and “ulcers in the lungs, liver and other inward parts.”
  The root has been used to relieve burns and inflammation of wounds and skin, with the juice of the leaves being used effectively for burns, scalds and other skin problems. The plant’s juice has been made into a syrup with honey and given for sore throats, and poultices of the leaves have been applied to boils and carbuncles to stop pain. The roots can be added to soups and stews and were used for them in the Middle Ages.
  Modern medicinal research has shown that the plant does indeed have wound healing properties, perhaps because of the presence of polysaccharides, and concurs with the Mediaeval physicians that it has anti-inflammatory properties too. It is believed that it can be helpful in cases of uterine haemorrhage as well as those of the bowel and rectum. It is being researched currently for its possible use in cancer treatments.
  The Physicians of Myddfai used it with other herbs to treat a number of complaints and this is one of their cures for fevers.

  “The mugwort, madder, meadow sweet, milfoil, hemp, red cabbage, and the tutsan, all these seven herbs enter into the composition of the medicine required. Whosoever obtains them all, will not languish long from a wounded lung, or need fear for his life. Any of the following herbs may be added thereto, butcher's broom, agrimony, tutsan, dwarf elder, amphibious persicaria, centaury, round birth wort, field scabious, pepper mint, daisy, knap weed, roots of the red nettle, crake berry, St. John's wort, privet, wood betony, the roots of the yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, leaves of the earth nut, agrimony, wormwood, the bastard balm, small burdock, and the orpine.”
  For curiosity’s sake only, here are other remedies from these Welsh physicians which used orpine (which has been underlined).
“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.”
 Finally here is one of my favourite remedies which show that these old physicians didn’t really understand the workings of the female body.
“A woman who is subject to profuse menstruation, should take the reddish bastard balm, small burdock, orpine, stinking goose foot, pimpernel, water avens, with the ashes of a hart's horns, that has been killed with his antlers on, boiling them, as well as possible in red wine, straining the liquor carefully, and drinking it daily, till it is finished, abstaining (the while) from stimulating food. Being restrained by the above means, the blood will be habitually diverted to the thighs and ankles.”


Tragacanth gum comes from a thorny shrub which is native to western Asia, Iraq, Iran and the Middle East. It is a tree gum like myrrh, frankincense and balm of Gilead, and can be used, along with the stems of the plant as incense. It comes from a number of Astragalus species, but the one which produces the best quality gum is Astragalus gummifer or gummifera. The gum exudes naturally from the roots of the plant and from incisions made in the stem. This is collected and when dried forms crystals of flakes or may be formed into blocks. The plant is a member of the pea family of plants, Fabaceae, and produces pods like other members of the Leguminoseae family such as carob trees.
  The shrub is pollinated by bees and butterflies and is a useful nitrogen-fixing plant. You may think you have never eaten gum Tragacanth, but the odds are that you have as it is a food additive known in the food industry as E 413. It is used as a thickening agent in sauces, ice cream and confectionary, and is also used in the cosmetics industry. It helps bind other ingredients together.
  It is also used in the textile industry to thicken dyes for fabric, to make glue, for water colours and to produce the gloss in ink, among other uses including the manufacture of paper.
  Externally the gum has been used in traditional medicine for dressing burns, and it is now believed that it might have anti-tumour properties, and could stimulate the immune system.
  Here in Pakistan it is sold for use in cooling drinks, in crystal form, so to me it looks like mastica, another tree product. It is also said to help if you are constipated.
  You have to soak a very small piece of the gum in a glass of water and it will swell and turn to a jelly-like substance which is transparent, so that the glass looks as though it is full of chunks of ice. Leave it to soak until it is very swollen (a couple of hours seems to do the trick) and then drink it with water, ice and lemon juice. This drink is as good as those which include tukh malanga (basil seeds) or sugar cane juice for cooling the body temperature in the heat of summer.
Gond Katira Drink
1 small piece of gond katira, or Tragacanth gum, soaked in water overnight
1 tbsp juice of fresh lemon, optional
1 glass water
1 tbsp sugar
When the crystals have swollen and turned gelatinous take one or two small fragments and mix in cold water with the sugar and lemon juice if using and add ice.
Drink while cool.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


The chaste tree or chaste berry tree has its origins in western Asia and the shores of the Mediterranean. It was well-known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and used in religious festivals as well as in medicine. The chaste tree is a shrub which can grow to heights of around 25 feet, but is also one that fits well in gardens, as it looks a little like an overgrown lavender bush. It is a member of the Lamiaceae family and of the verbenas, so is a relative of lemon verbena and vervain. Its name means “chaste lamb” from the Greek, agnos, lamb and castos chaste.
 It was grown in English gardens by the 1550s and John Gerard writing in the 16th century mentions it as being good for obstructions of the liver and spleen, as well as for women’s complaints. He thought that the seeds and leaves were good for inflammation of the uterus, and that the seeds, when used in combination with pennyroyal could bring on a woman’s periods, and thought this remedy was a good emmenagogue.
  The chaste tree has either white or blue through to violet flowers, which are replaced by berries which look a lot like peppercorns. It grows wild along river banks and the berries, or seeds have been used for a variety of medical purposes. It is cultivated now in many parts of the world, and is used in some herbal remedies and supplements.
  Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine (460-377 BC) wrote “If the blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped.” It has long been used for women’s menstrual disorders, including for PMT/PMS and sore breasts and nipples. It is also beneficial for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes (flashes). It is believed that it helps to regulate hormone levels by acting on the pituitary gland, and it has a similar effect to dopamine the “happy” substance. Pliny, another of the ancient writes, wrote “it checks violent sexual desire” meaning it decreases men’s libido. Thus it became known as Monk’s Pepper (Piperum monarchorum) as they sprinkled the powdered berries liberally on their food to remain celibate, or at least not to have carnal desires. In some parts of Italy today, novice monks who enter the monastery for the first time, still follow the ancient tradition of walking along a path strewn with the flowers and twigs of the chaste tree.
  Dioscorides in his Materia Medica, written in 1 AD wrote that it was good for inflammation of the womb and to encourage lactation, although modern medical researchers suggest that lactating mothers should avoid its use. Ancient physicians believed that its seeds were useful to relieve flatulence, and these were used both in the fresh and dried state.
  In ancient Greece the chaste tree was used in decorating the temple of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, fertility and marriage during her festival, the Thesmophoria. (Demeter was the mother of Persephone, who was abducted by Orpheus and who had to remain in Dis or the Underworld for 6 months of every year because she had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and so we have the seasons.)
  In Rome the vestal virgins carried its twigs and wore the flowers, as a sign of their chastity. According to Greek mythology, Zeus’ wife and sister, Hera, the goddess of marriage was born under a chaste tree.
  The plant contains bioflavonoids such as kaempferol which are at the highest levels in the leaves, and the volatile oils from the plant have a spicy aroma, although they contain similar constituents to citrus fruits such as lemons and citrons, having in them limonene, linalool, citronellol and other ingredients including pinene.
  It should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation as not enough scientific research has been done on it. However, the German Commission E has approved it for some menstrual problems, and research into its properties is ongoing. It would seem that it could have anti-tumour effects, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties. It also seems to have antioxidant qualities.
  It is combined in homeopathic remedies with many other plants. For example, it is used with dandelion to promote lactation, and has been used in this way for centuries, although scientists have not yet researched its safety. In combination with lavender it is said to raise the spirits, and with Saint John’s Wort it is believed to have the ability to lift a mild to moderate depression. It has been prescribed with valerian root for stomach cramps, and the best tisane is made with the berries, crushed, or the flowers, mixed with a little ginger root, chamomile flowers and a little liquorice root, which all improve the flavour, and help with digestion, stomach pains and cramps.
  Some scientific trials have shown that the chaste tree’s extracts can reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in animals, and improve their bone mineral density, although research has yet to be carried out on human subjects.
  The chaste tree is mentioned in John Dryden’s (1631-1700) poem, “The Flower and the Leaf or The Lady in the Arbour: a Vision.”
   “Each lady wore a radiant coronet.
     Beneath the circles, all the quire was graced
     With chaplets green on their fair foreheads placed;
     Of laurel some, of woodbine many more;
     And wreaths of Agnus castus others bore;
     These last, who with their virgin crowns were dress’d
     Appear’d in higher honour than the rest.”
 The chaste tree has been associated not only with chaste women but of chaste men, and it was said that the male head of household would not have excessive carnal desires, if this plant was in his garden. Women however have no reason to fear it as it helps with their menstruation, may improve their fertility and also lifts depression.