The common bulrush grows in shallow water in all temperate, tropical and sub-tropical regions in the Northern hemisphere and is a native rush in Britain. It can grow to between 5 and 10 feet high, and is edible, although if it grows in polluted water, it should not be eaten as the plant soaks up the pollutants. The bulrush is also known as cattail and reedmace.
  The roots of the bulrush may be boiled and eaten as you would a potato; and if they are macerated and then boiled they will produce and edible sweet syrup. You can dry the roots and grind them to a powder which, if added to wheat flour enriches it, as the root is not only starchy but contains protein. This mixture can be used to make bread etc.
  The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked in spring, and can be cooked and used as a substitute for asparagus; in fact they are sometimes called “Cossack’s asparagus.” They are said to taste like cucumbers. You can actually eat the shoots when they are up to 50 centimetres in length, and the base of the stem when it is mature, can be eaten too, either raw or cooked, although it is best to remove the outer layer of the stem.
  The flower spike may also be eaten before it is ripe, either raw or in a soup, and this is said to taste like sweet corn. When ripe the seeds may be eaten either raw or roasted, although they are difficult to harvest. These have a nutty taste and may also be ground to be added to flour for baking purposes. They also produce an edible oil.
  The pollen may also be eaten as it is protein-rich and can be added to flour. To gather the pollen you can shake the flower spike over a wide shallow container and then, with a fine brush, remove the remainder.
  The whole plant has been used medicinally too, the dried pollen may be used on wounds as it will remove blood clots being an anticoagulant, although when it is roasted with charcoal it becomes haemostatic, and is used for haemorrhages, painful menstruation and kidney stones, as well as uterine bleeding, cancer of the lymphatic system, abscesses and post-partum pains.
  However bulrushes should not be used during pregnancy.
  A decoction of the stems has been used for whooping cough, and the roots have diuretic properties and promote the milk flow in breast-feeding mothers. They have been used in tonics and for their refrigerant properties. Pounded to a jelly they can be used as a poultice for wounds, cuts, burns and scalds.
  The flowers have been used for stomach pains, lack of a woman’s periods, and irregular ones, as well as for cystitis. Eating the young flower heads is supposed to stop diarrhoea. The downy material from the seeds has been used to line a baby’s nappy and for wound dressings.
  In autumn the leaves were gathered for thatching material, they can also be made into paper, and rayon has been made from their pulp. The stems were used for rush lighting, and the pollen, being highly inflammable has been used to make home-made fireworks. The stems can also be woven into mats, hats, and seats for chairs.
  Despite these uses for bulrushes, Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist was very scathing about all rushes, including bulrushes, which he names particularly. He wrote this about rushes:-
“The seed of the soft rushes, saith Dioscorides and Galen (toasted saith Pliny) drunk in wine and water, stayeth the lask and women’s courses, when too abundant; but it causeth head-ache; it provoketh sleep, but must be given with caution. The root boiled in water to one-third helpeth the cough.
  What I have written here concerning rushes is to satisfy my countrymen’s question: Are our rushes good for nothing? Yes, and as good to let them alone as taken. There are remedies enough without them for disease, and therefore as the old proverb is, I care not a rush for them: or rather, they will do you as much good as if one had given you a rush.”
  Clearly he didn’t like them much or think that they were efficacious in the treatment of any illnesses. Other plants were better.


The yellow horned poppy is a member of the Papavaraceae or poppy family of plants and so is related to another British wildflower, the Greater Celandine as well as to the poppies. The 16th century herbalist John Gerard (1545-1612), describes it very well so I have reprinted his description here:
 “The yellow horned poppy hath whitish leaves very much cut or jagged, somewhat like the leaves of garden Poppie, but rougher and more hairie. The stalks be long, round, and brittle. The floures be large and yellow, consisting of foure leaves; which being past, there come long huskes or cods, crooked like an horn or cornet, wherein is conteined small black seede. The roote is great, thicke, scalie, and rough, continuing long.”
  So now you know why it is called the horned poppy- its seed pods are swollen and pointed, sometimes with horn-like pieces coming from them.
  The yellow horned poppy is a protected species under the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, so please don’t pick this flower. It is believed to have the largest seed pod of any of Britain’s native plants. It can live for up to five years and only flowers in its second year of growth during the months of June to September. It lives on single banks close to the sea and has also been called the Sea poppy. Its botanical synonym is Glaucium luteum.
  It is psychoactive and there is one report from the Royal Society of 1698 of a man who mistook this plant for that of sea holly or eryngoes. He baked the root in a pie and ate it hot, whereupon he became a victim of its hallucinatory and cathartic actions and mistook the content of his chamber pot for gold!
  The plant contains a yellow latex in its stems, and the seeds are oil producing. The oil has been used for lighting purposes as it burns cleanly and has also been used in soap-making. It contains the alkaloids glaucine, protopine, chelidonine, chelerythrine and cordine as well as fumaric and chelidonic acids.
  Glaucine is known to be a good ingredient for cough medicine and it has also been investigated for its ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in vitro. Studies are being carried out around the world to investigate these actions and those of the other alkaloids present in the yellow horned poppy further. It has been found to have antiviral and antibacterial properties and to be effective against coughs and to help with bronchial problems.
  Writing in the 17th century, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say about the medicinal properties of the plant:-
Virtues. Like its species, it is under the Sun in Leo; and is aperitive and cleansing, opening obstructions of the spleen and liver, and of great use in curing the jaundice and scurvy: some reckon it cordial, and a good antidote against the plague. Some quantity of it is put into aqua mirabilis. Outwardly it is used for sore eyes, to dry up the rheum, and take away specks and films, as also against tetters and ringworms, and scurfy breakings-out. The root dried and powdered, is a galsamic and sub-astringent. It is given against bloody-fluxes, and in other hæmorrhages, half a drachm for a dose.”


The Common or lesser Duckweed is often found on garden ponds and is the bane of gardeners who don’t want to get rid of it by using chemicals. It can spread on the feet of aquatic birds and on their bills. However it does have some uses and may be a useful source of biomass and biofuel in the future. It also has some surprising health benefits.
  The ancient Welsh Physicians of Myddfai had these two remedies which include it: -
“For swelling or hardness of the stomach. Boil duckweed in goat's milk, and foment it therewith frequently…
If the bowels become so constipated that they cannot be moved, take duckweed, boiling it briskly in a pot, then cast it into a pan, and fry with a quantity of blood and butter, eating it hot.”
  William Turner (c.1508-1568) often called the “Father of English Botany” had this to say of it, calling “duckis meate” for fairly obvious reasons, I suppose.
 “Duckis meate hath a cooling nature, whereof it is good to be laid to imposthumes and gatherings of the humours that run to one place, to the wildfire and great burnings, to the gouty members both alone and also with the meal of parched barley. It glueth or bindeth, or maketh fast the bowels of young chider. Galen writeth that duckis meate is of a cold and moist temperature and in manner is both cold and moist in the second degree.”
  Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century has this to say of it:-
Government and virtues. Cancer claims the herb, and the Moon will be lady of it; a word is enough to a wise man. It is effectual to help inflammations, and St. Anthony's fire, as also the gout, either applied by itself, or in a poultice with barley-meal. The distilled water by some is highly esteemed against all inward inflammations and pestilent fevers: as also to help the redness of the eyes, and swelling of the scrotum, and of the breasts before they be grown too much. The fresh herb applied to the forehead, easeth the pains of the head-ach coming of heat.”
  It has been used as a poultice as the common mallow and marsh mallow are for inflammations and swellings.
  It has often been used as poultry food and may have some value to the food industry in the future, one Turkish study published in 2010 showed that common duckweed has antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-candidal properties ( Ilhami Gűlçin et al. Turkish Journal of Biology Vol.34 pp 175-188); this study also found flavonoids such as quercetin and phenolic compounds which have antioxidant properties.
 Kiosov P.A.(2001) in Comprehensive Catalogue of Medicinal Plants ( EKSMO-Press: Moscow), states that duckweed has been used as raw material for the production of analgesic and antipyretic remedies. It is also used in pellet form in homeopathic remedies for asthma.
 Duckweed has been classed in the Araceae family of plants, having formerly been in the Lemnaceae, so as such is the relative of Gloriosa superba or the Flame Lily, the Calla Lily, taro, the Elephant’s foot yam, cuckoo-pint and the sweet flag.


Horsemint is a wild mint and related to garden mint and as a member of the mint family is also related to purple, yellow and white dead nettles, marsh woundwort, the teak tree, marjoram, basil, Holy basil, oregano, savory, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, Scarlet bee balm as well as bugle, motherwort, self-heal, catnip, the chaste tree, ground ivy, Jupiter’s sage, wall germander, Fragrant premna and hyssop. It is native to Europe including Britain and Siberia. The leaves are used both as a tisane and a condiment, as well as being eaten raw in salads or cooked as a flavouring for dishes, just like garden mint.
  If you plant it near cabbage or tomato plants in your garden it will keep them free of insects pests and rats and mice hate it too which is why it was once used as a strewing herb in granaries and homes.
  The leaves and flowering tops may be used in a tisane either fresh or dried, and added to green tea, really improve its flavour. The stem, leaves and flowering tops have stimulant, antispasmodic, anti-asthmatic and carminative properties, so it is a good aid to digestion, and can cure flatulence. The leaves bear an essential oil which is a good antiseptic. It is used as a food flavouring as it has a peppermint flavour.
Nicholas Culpeper the 17th century English herbalist had this to say of horsemint:-
“It is good for wind and colic in the stomach.... The juice, laid on warm, helps the King's evil or kernels in the throat.... The decoction or distilled water helps a stinking breath, proceeding from corruption of the teeth, and snuffed up the nose, purges the head. It helps the scurf or dandruff of the head used with vinegar.”
  The tisane has been used for headaches, stomach problems, and fevers, but it is not advisable to take it in large doses if pregnant. It is a good remedy for diarrhoea and on study has supported this use; “Calcium channel blocking activity of Mentha longifolia L. explains its medicinal use in diarrhoea and gut spasm” Shah, A. J. et al. Journal of Phytotherapy Research, 2010 Vol. 24 (9) pp. 1392-97. This study concludes that it showed “indirect evidence for its medicinal use in diarrhoea and spasm.”
  Other research studies have shown that it has antibacterial properties Rahmat Ali Khan et al.2011 African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology Vol. 5 (12) pp. 1530-32 “Phytotoxic and antibacterial assays of crude methanolic extract of Mentha longifolia (Linn.)” Also in another study the apigenin derivatives (flavonoids) found in the plant were discovered to have antimutagenic properties; Ozlem Baris et al.   Journal of Food Science, Nov-Dec 2011 Vol76 (9).Yet another study published in 2011 found that horsemint does help symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and it was superior to nut grass (Cyperus rotundus) in it action.(Ahmed Salih Salib et al.) Another study published in 2009 has confirmed its antimicrobial properties and so supported its use for the treatment of mouth ulcers and other oral problems. (Firas A. Al-Bayedi)
  Scientists in the West, where the use of herbal medicine had largely fallen into disuse are lagging behind those scientists in countries where herbal medicine is still used in discovering alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs.


Parsley piert is a tiny plant that can be easily overlooked in its wild habitat, as it grows only to around four inches high. It is no relation to true parsley, but its leaves look similar. It is a close relation to Lady’s Mantle, hence the name Lady’s Field Mantle, and is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family of plants. That being so it is also related to the soft fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, loquats, sloes, quinces, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries as well as to almonds, apples, pears, the dog rose and a whole host of other plants.
  It is native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia and has been introduced to North America. It only grows to around four inches high, so you can easily overlook it. This is how Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century describes it: -
“The root, although it be very small and thready, yet it continues many years, from which arise many leaves lying along on the ground, each standing upon a long small foot-stalk, the leaves as broad as a man's nail, very deeply dented on the edges, somewhat like a parsley-leaf, but of a very dusky green colour. The stalks are very weak and slender, about three or four fingers in length, set so full of leaves that they can hardly be seen, either having no foot-stalk at all, or but very short; the flowers are so small they can hardly be seen, and the seed as small as may be.”
  It was a popular remedy for dispersing gravel and stones in the body’s organs, and eaten as a salad green as it is a useful source of vitamin C and minerals. It gets the name parsley piert from the French, perce-pierre which means piercing stones, and this is a name for it in English too, Parsley Breakstone or Parsley Piercestone. Here is what Nicholas Culpeper wrote about it in his 17th century herbal: -
“Government and virtues. Its operation is very prevalent to provoke urine, and to break the stone. It is a very good sallad herb. It were good the gentry would pickle it up as they pickle up Samphire for their use all the Winter. I cannot teach them how to do it; yet this I can tell them, it is a very wholesome herb. They may also keep the herb dry, or in a syrup, if they please. You may take a dram of the powder of it in white wine; it would bring away gravel from the kidneys insensibly, and without pain. It also helps the stranguary.”
  It was used with broom, pellitory-of-the-wall, juniper berries, parsley root (true parsley) for a more powerful diuretic action to remove gravel, and to soften the passage of the stones it was often combined with marsh mallow, hollyhock flowers, those of mullein, gum Arabic or slippery elm bark.
  The infusion was made with a handful of the whole herb, chopped to one pint of boiling water, steeped for 10 minutes, then strained and drunk in half a tea cupful doses three or four times a day.
  One scientific study has found that parsley piert is safe for human consumption and has “strong antioxidant activity.” (“Antioxidant and Cytotoxicity Activities of Aphanes arvensis Extracts” Journal of Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 2010, Vol. 65 (1) pp.44-49 Ismail Hamad et al.) However there have been few scientific studies carried out on this plant.


Sugar beets were known for their sweetness and were developed form the white beet in the 18th century. Previously the white beet was Beta vulgaris maritima, so writing in the 17th century the English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of the original white beet:-
“The common white beet hath many great leaves next the ground, somewhat large, and of a whitish green colour; the stalk is great, strong, and ribbed, bearing great store of leaves almost to the very top of it: the flowers grow in very long tufts, small at the ends, and turning down their heads, which are small, pale greenish-yellow, burs, giving corned prickly seed. The root is great, long, and hard, and when it hath given seed, is of no use at all….
Government and Virtues. The government of these two sorts of beet are far different, the red beet being under Saturn, and the white under Jupiter; therefore take the virtues of them apart, each by itself. The white beet doth much loosen the belly, and is of a cleansing digesting quality, and provoketh urine: the juce of it openeth obstructions, both of the liver and spleen, and is good for the head-ach and swimmings therein, and turnings of the brain; and is effectual also against all venomous creatures; and applied to the temples, stayeth inflammations in the eyes; it helpeth burnings, being used without oil, and with a little alum put to it, is good for St. Anthony's fire. Beet is hot and dry, and loosens the belly by reason of its nitrosity. It is an errhine, especially the root; for the juice of it received into the nostrils occasions sneeesing; the young plants, with their roots, gently boiled and eaten with vinegar, procure an appetite, extinguish thirst, and suppress choler in the stomach. Beet among the ancients was much noticed for its insipid taste, MARTIAL reproaches it in the following distich.
Ut sapiant fatuœ faborum prandia betœ.
O quam sœpe petet vina piperque coquus?

Insipid beet may bid a tradesman dine;
But ask of thee abundant spice and wine.
The juice of this herb drawn up into the nostrils powerfully evacuates phlegmatic humours from the brain, and cures inveterate head-achs. This is counted a great secret by some. It is also good for all wheals, pushes, blisters, and blains, in the skin: the herb boiled, and laid upon chilblains, or kibes, helpeth them: the decoction thereof in water and some vinegar, healeth the itch, if bathed therewith, and cleanseth the head of dandruff, scurf and dry scabs, and doth much good for fretting and running sores, ulcers, and cankers, in the head, legs, or other parts, and is much commended against baldness and sheding of hair.”
  Now the sugar beet is grown in the Northern hemisphere while sugar cane is grown in the Southern. Molasses for human consumption are from the latter, as is brown sugar, while white beets produce molasses as a by-product in the processing of sugar and these are used in the manufacture of citric acid, vinegar yeast and antibiotics. The tops and residue of the sugar beet pulp are used for cattle feed and dog food. The tops and the residue left over from processing sugar beet have potential for biomass and biofuel.  Molasses from sugar beet production are used in the manufacture of citric acid, vinegar yeast and antibiotics.
  Sugar beets have recently been under investigation as some of the substances, possibly betanin and choline, have been found to have the ability to kill human cancer tumour cells in vitro.
   The mature sugar beet can be up to a foot long and weigh between three and five pounds; from one of this size, 5 ounces of white sugar can be produced. The sugar is sucrose.
  The tubers used to be used to treat tumours in the intestines, and a decoction of the seeds was used as a remedy for tumours of the genitals. The juice has been applied externally to ulcers and used for skin problems too.
  The sugar beet is a member of the Chenopodiaceous family or goosefoot family of plants, making it a relative of quinoa, stinking goosefoot, good King Henry, Fat Hen, and Marsh Samphire, to name but a few of its relatives.
  The leaves may be used as a substitute for spinach and may be cooked or raw, although the raw leaves leave a disagreeable after-taste in the mouth. When the root is boiled some stringy fibres remain but it is edible. It can be grated finely and added to salads too, if you like the taste. However I think it is best left to make sugar with and of course there are its medical properties which are not new, but now there is some (but not overwhelming yet) scientific evidence to support its traditional use to kill cancerous tumours.


Water pepper is Culpeper’s hot arssmart and the seeds of this plant are said to taste similar to Sichuan pepper. It is another member of the Polygonaceae family along with its close relatives, Lady’s Thumb (mild arssmart), bistort, water smartweed, and also to buckwheat, sorrel, rhubarb, arrowleaf dock, common dock, red dock and yellow dock. The name water pepper comes directly from the genus name hydro meaning water and piper, pepper. Polygonum means “many jointed.”
  Water pepper is native to Europe, North Africa and North America, with a subspecies macrophyllum found in Asia. In Japan it is used in cooking; the leaves are put into soups and sauces, and the seeds made into a spicy condiment. The taste has been described as giving a biting, prickling heat and the bitter principle contained in the leaves has been identified as rutin, also found in rue, another bitter herb. The pungency probably comes from tadeol. The seeds, stems and leaves can be used cooked or raw in garnishes for salads, but they are hot, so be warned.
  Rutin is known to strengthen the capillaries, so helping to prevent bleeding.  The plant has been traditionally used in Eastern and Western folk medicine for a number of ailments including epilepsy when used with other tonics and gum myrrh, and a cold water infusion with one ounce of the herb to one pint of water mixed with plantain (isphagol) or wheat bran has been used for bowel complaints. The cold water infusion has been used to disperse gravel in the organs although it is not recommended these days for this treatment because of the oxalic acid present in some plants in the Polygonum family.
  In North America a hot decoction of water pepper was used for cholera patients, with a sheet being soaked in the decoction and then wrapped around the patient. The fomented leaves were once used in poultices for ulcers and piles. (Perhaps giving rise to the word Ars-smart!) Simmered in water or vinegar the resulting liquid was used to prevent gangrene spreading.
According to a recent Chinese study water pepper was 20th in a list of plants which could have potential as contraceptives. Other studies have found that it has antioxidant flavonoids in its leaves, and also has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a useful astringent and styptic, so is a good wound healer and encourages damaged tissue to heal. The plant has also been used as a diuretic, for troublesome periods, and the seeds are said to be stimulants and they also help with flatulence.
 Culpeper writing in the 17th century has this to say about water pepper:-
“The hot Arssmart is called also water-peper, or culrage….that which is hot and biting, is under the dominion of Mars…
   It is of a cooling and drying quality and very effectual for putrified ulcers in man or beast, to kill worms and cleanse the putrified places. The juice thereof dropped in, or otherwise applied, consumeth all cold swellings, and dissolveth the congealed blood of bruises by strokes, falls, &c. A piece of the root, or some of the seeds bruised, and held to an aching-tooth, taketh away the pain. The leaves bruised and laid to the joint that hath a felon thereon taketh it away. The juice destroyeth worms in the ears, being dropped into them; if the hot Arssmart be strewed in a chamber, it will soon kill all the fleas; and the herb or juice of the cold Arssmart, put to a horse or other cattle's sores, will drive away the fly in the hottest time of summer; a good handful of the hot biting Arssmart put under a horse's saddle, will make him travel the better, although he were half tired before…
  The hot Arssmart groweth not so high or tall as the mild doth, but hath many leaves of the colour of peach leaves, very seldom or never spotted; in other particulars it is like the former, but may easily be known from it, if you but be pleased to break a leaf of it cross your tongue for the hot will make your tongue to smart, so will not the cold. If you see them both together, you may easily distinguish them, because the mild hath far broader leaves…”
   Doctor William Salmon, another 17th century herbalist wrote this of water pepper:-
  “It is known by manifold and large experience to be a peculiar plant against gravel and stone. The Essence causes a good digestion, it is admirable against all cold and moist diseases of the brain and nerves, etc., such as falling sickness, vertigo, lethargy, apoplexy, palsy, megrim, etc., and made into a syrup with honey it is a good pectoral. The oil dissolves and discusses all cold swellings, scrofulous and scirrhous tumours, quinsies, congealed blood, pleurisies, etc.”
  It was clearly well-used in former times, and also mentioned in the first century A.D. by Dioscorides.


The horned melon is a native of southern Africa, and the World Health Organization hopes that it will become a more acceptable food for the people who are suffering from malnutrition in the still-developing world.
  The horned melon was taken to Australia and New Zealand in the 1930s and was renamed the kiwano because of its slight internal resemblance to the kiwi fruit, to which it is no relation. As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family it is related to the pumpkin, cucumbers, courgettes, butternut squash, bottle gourds, petha or ash gourd, melons, watermelons and marrows. It is possible that it was renamed kiwano so that the name would make it more appealing to consumers. The name Horned melon may have made it a flop in the market as happened to the soursop.
  The tribal peoples in its native countries only eat it roasted, although they use the boiled roots to treat gonorrhoea, and eat the boiled leaves as we would spinach. A decoction of the root is given to women after childbirth for pain relief, and the leaves are sometimes eaten mixed with maize or corn meal. The pounded roots are mixed with fat and used to cover the body in the belief that this will keep ghosts and evil spirits at bay.
  The seeds and pulp of the kiwano are very nutritious as the seeds contain Vitamin A in the form of carotenoids such as Beta-carotene, which promotes the health of the eyes, and skin as well as having free-radical scavenging properties and boosting the immune system. The seeds contain oleic and linoleic fatty acids too making them very good for blood pressure and overall health.
  The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, potassium and iron and also contains vitamins B1, B2 and B3, along with the minerals magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, calcium and sodium. The organic vitamin E found in the fruit is a good source of free-radical scavenging antioxidants, so this fruit is good for protection against cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
  If you find one in your local supermarket treat it as you would a passion fruit. You can cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds and blend them and the pulp to make a refreshing drink, adding lime or lemon juice and honey to enhance the flavour if you want to. You could simply scoop out the flesh and pour it over natural yoghurt or ice cream, and it is said that the seeds can taste like bananas, melon, lime, or even cucumber.
  The Latin name for this fruit, metuliferus, comes from two words, metula meaning little pyramid and ferus meaning bearing; these names refer to the spiny skin or the ‘horns’ on this melon. It is ripe when the skin is bright orange, and may be stored at room temperature for best nutrition, but can also be stored in the fridge.
  Why not try it and let us know what you think?


Bistort is a close relative of water smartweed and arssmart, and the synonym for the botanical name is Persicaria bistorta while in English it is also known as Adderwort and snakeweed, which refers to the twining nature of its roots. To the older herbalists this was known as Serpentary Dragonwort, (a truly wonderful name I think!) again because of the twining or writhing nature of its roots. It was also called Dracunculus and Serpentaria among other names. Bistorta comes from the Latin words which means twice twisted, while the genus name Polygonum is from the Greek meaning to have many joints (or knees!).
  Bistort is native to Northern Europe and Siberia through to Japan and the Himalayas. It is a member of the Polygonaceae family of plants or the buckwheat family, making it a relative of such plants as sorrel, rhubarb, arrowleaf dock, common dock, red dock and yellow dock as well as to the water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) among others.
  Its leaves are edible and the plant has been cultivated for its medicinal properties, with the roots being particularly prized, as well as for culinary purposes. The young leaves are a bit chewy, but may be eaten raw, although they are best when cooked and eaten as you would spinach. The leaves contain vitamins A and C so were useful additions to diets in earlier times as was scurvy-grass.
  The leaves are added to a pudding traditionally eaten at Lent in northern England called Easter ledger pudding. However the roots contain starch and tannin,so when the root has been soaked well and then roasted to remove the tannin in them they are said to taste quite good. These have been used as famine food in Siberia, Iceland and doubtless other cold countries.
  In Chinese traditional medicine the bistort root has been used for epilepsy, fever, tetanus, cramps and scrofula as well as for a number of other ailments including diabetes.
  Bistort plants have been used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome, peptic ulcers, and excessive menstruation as well as catarrh, chronic cystitis and other illnesses.
 If you add 1 teaspoon of the powdered root to a pint of boiling water and boil this down to a half a pint, then a tablespoon every two hours is useful for diarrhoea. This decoction is also a good gargle and mouth wash for mouth ulcers as well as a vaginal douche. It makes a good lotion for pus-filled ulcers too.
  The tannin content of the root means that it has been employed in past times for tanning leather, and this also makes it a good wound healer, and stops internal and external bleeding.
  The powdered leaves were once used to get rid of children’s intestinal worms.
  Writing in the 17th century the English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of bistort:-
Government and virtues. It belongs to Saturn, and is an operation cold and dry; both the leaves and roots have a powerful faculty to resist all poison. The root in powder taken in drink expelleth the venom of the plague, the small pox, measels, purples, or any other infectious disease, driving it out by sweating. The root in powder, the decoction thereof in wine being drank stayeth all manner of inward bleeding, or spitting of blood, and any fluxes in the body of either man or woman, or vomiting. It is also very availing against ruptures, or bursting, or all bruises or falls, dissolving the congealed blood, and easing the pains that happen thereupon; it also helpeth the jaundice.
  The water distilled from both leaves and roots, is a singular remedy to wash any place bitten or stung by any venomous creature; as also for any of the purposes before spoken of and is very good to wash any running sores or ulcers. The decoction of the root in wine being drank, hindereth abortion or miscarriage in child-bearing. The leaves also kill the worms in children, and is a great help to them that cannot keep their water; if the juice of plaintain be added thereto, and outwardly applied, much helpeth the gonorrhea, or running of the reins. A drachm of the powder of the root taken in water thereof, wherein some red hot iron or steel hath been quenched, is also an admirable help thereto, so as the body be first prepared and purged from the offensive humours. The leaves, seed, or roots, are all very good in decoctions, drinks, or lotions, for inward or outward wounds, or other sores. And the powders strewed upon any cut or wound in a vein, stayeth the immoderate bleeding thereof. The decoction of the root in water, whereunto some pomegranate peels and flowers are added, injected into the matrix, stayeth the immoderate flux of the courses. The root thereof with pelitory of Spain, and burnt alum, of each a little quantity, beaten small and made into paste, with some honey, and a little piece thereof put into a hollow tooth, or held between the teeth, if there be no hollowness in them, stayeth the defluction of rheum upon them which cause the pains, and helps to cleanse the head, and void much offensive water. The distilled water is very effectual to wash sores or cancers in the nose, or any other parts; if the powder of the root be applied thereunto afterwards. It is good also to fasten the gums and to take away the heat and inflammations that happen in the jaws, almonds of the throat, or mouth, if the decoction of the leaves, roots, or seeds bruised, or the juice of them be applied; but the roots are most effectual to the purposes aforesaid.”                                                                       
  Modern clinical trials have found that extracts of bistort have antioxidant properties as well as reducing fever (antipyretic), and it also has antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory ones. Once again, the old herbalists seem to have known what they were doing with plants.


Kalingag is the usual name of this cinnamon tree which only grows in forests in the Philippines, from the Babuyan Islands and northern Luzon to Mindao. In the past it was used for timber as well as for medicine and this felling of these trees means that it is now on the IUCN Red list and is listed as ‘vulnerable’. The tree is small to medium sized with the trunk reaching a little more than 60 centimetres in diameter. It has small fruit after an ochre coloured flower has bloomed.
  As a member of the Lauraceae family of plants it is related to culinary cinnamon, sassafras and the bay tree. It is unusual in the cinnamon family in that its essential oil consists of large amounts of safrol, whereas other oils of cinnamon contain cinnamaldehyde. The oil of Kalingag, from the leaves and bark, smells like sassafras, and is pale yellow.
  The bark of the tree and leaves are used in traditional medicine in the Philippines, with the bark being chewed to aid digestion and cure flatulence, as an expectorant, and for stomach pains. It is soothing for the stomach and is also a stimulant with astringent, antiseptic, antifungal and antiviral properties. It has been found that cinnamaldehyde is an analgesic comparable to the actions of aspirin, and it also has antifungal and anti-diarrhoea properties, as well as having the ability to kill parasites such as head lice.
  The bark is used powdered to prevent the onset of diabetes, and a decoction of the leaves is also a remedy for flatulence. It is said that the leaf decoction also helps women with menstrual problems. A paste made from the powdered bark is applied externally to parts affected by neuralgia and to the forehead for severe headaches. It is also said to be effective against yeast infections such as candida.
  The sassafras aroma and taste means that the leaves and bark may be added to root beers to give them flavour. Kalingag is also said to help to improve loss of appetite and be both a diuretic and stop diarrhoea and dysentery as well as being useful for promoting sweat in fevers.
  Clearly this is a valuable tree for health in the Philippines, but as it has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, it may verge on the brink of extinction as men in the West seek ways of improving their erections. Sad isn’t it?


Lady’s Mantle is known by many other names, both in English and botanical names. For example it is also known as Alchemilla speciosa and Alchemilla xanthochlora as well as the names listed in the title. It has been called leontopodium or lion’s foot, bear’s foot, Stellaria, and in French, Pied-de-lion, and in German Frauenmantle, and these names come from Mediaeval times, and refer to the shape of the leaves it is believed.
  The genus name Alchemilla is a corruption of the Arabic al-kemelyah or alchemy, perhaps because the furrowed leaves make cups for dew, and this was given mystical properties and put in potions. Lady’s Mantle was the name written by Jerome Bock, better known by his Latin name Tragus, who mentions it in 1532 in his herbal, “History of Plants.” The name was adopted later by Karl Linnaeus.
  Lady’s Mantle is at home in northerly climes, so is found in Greenland and the Arctic as well as in northern Britain and the Himalayas, and cold parts of Asia. The “Lady” in question is the Virgin Mary as this plant has been used throughout the centuries for “female” problems, so is associated with her.
  An infusion of the plant or tisane taken over a prolonged period of time is said to be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of the menopause and to stop excessive bleeding during menstruation. With Shepherd’s Purse, it is given after childbirth to stop bleeding in some countries. For menstruation problems it is given in infusions with yarrow (milfoil).
  It is a member of the Rosaceae family and so is related to the rose, almonds, loquats, quinces, plums, peaches, strawberries, apples, blackberries, raspberries and pears. The roots have astringent properties as do the leaves as the plant is rich in tannin, making it good externally for cuts and wounds and internally for diarrhoea, among other problems. It was considered one of the best vulnerary (wound-healing) herbs.
  Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century has this to say about it:-
“Government and virtues. Venus claims the herb as her own. Ladies' Mantle is very proper for those wounds that have inflammations, and is very effectual to stay bleeding, vomitings, fluxes of all sorts, bruises by falls or otherwise, and helps ruptures; and such women as have large breasts, causing them to grow less and hard, being both drank and outwardly applied; the distilled water drank for 20 days together helps conception, and to retain the birth; if the women do sometimes also sit in a bath made of the decoction of the herb. It is one of the most singular wound herbs that is, and therefore highly prized and praised by the Germans, who use it in all wounds inward and outward, to drink a decoction thereof, and wash the wounds therewith, or dip tents therein, and put them into the wounds, which wonderfully dries up all humidity of the sores, and abates inflammations therein. It quickly heals all green wounds, not suffering any corruption to remain behind, and cures all old sores, though fistulous and hollow.”
  For excessive menstruation use 1 ounce of the dried aerial parts of the plant (best harvested in June or July when the leaves are at their peak and the plant is in full flower, then dried for later use) to one pint of boiling water. Leave to steep for 10 minutes then strain and drink as required, in a small tea cup dose.
  A strong decoction of the fresh roots is said to stop all bleedings and the dried powdered root is also efficacious. It is also said that if you put one of the leaves under your pillow you will have a trouble-free sleep.
  Traditionally the plant has been used for obesity and is currently thought to be useful for weight loss combined with horsemint, Mentha longifolia, cumin seeds and extract of olive leaves. The leaves are used with those of bistort and Polygonum persicaria, Lady’s Thumb or mild arssmart to make a bitter herb Lent pudding in northern England, called Easter Ledger pudding.
  The sap from the plant is said to have anti-inflammatory actions and is used for acne and other skin problems. A weak decoction of the whole plant is said to help with conjunctivitis, as an eye-wash.
  The leaves can be crushed and placed directly on wounds and bee stings, so next time you cut yourself while in the countryside- hope that there’s some Lady’s Mantle around!