Thursday, 31 May 2012
COMMON BUCKTHORN - NOW ONLY USED FOR ANIMALS: HISTORY OF USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF COMMON BUCKTHORN
COMMON BUCKTHORN, RHAMNUS CATHARTICA
Common buckthorn is a tree or shrub, which can grow up to 25 feet, although as it is commonly used as a hedge it is usually much shorter. Recently it has been planted in Britain as a hedge plant or ornamental,(although it is a native species) because the common and alder buckthorn are the only food of the Brimstone butterfly, which travels for miles to lay its eggs on this plant.
The genus name of this tree indicates its medicinal uses: rhamnos means “branch” in ancient Greek, and cathartica shows that it was used as a not too drastic purgative. It is a member of the Rhamnaceae family of plants and as such is related to the alder buckthorn and ber fruit (Zizyphus vulgare) though not to sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) which belongs to the Eleagnaceae family.
The tree is native to Europe including the British Isles, North Africa and West Asia. It has been introduced into North America, where it is classed as invasive in some states. It has been used as a hedge on both sides of the Atlantic. It was known in Anglo-Saxon times as Highway Thorn and Way thorn, but in Gerard’s time in the 16th century he was calling it Ram’s Thorn and Hart’s Thorn.
The bark and fruit of this tree have a purgative action and have been used as a laxative in the same way as senna and cascara, although it has been discovered that the action is caused by slight damage to the cells lining the walls of the colon, and there was a fear that this could cause permanent damage. The damage causes the colon to contract, so having the laxative effect. The German Commission E still approve the use of buckthorn as a laxative.
It was used as a purgative for children, although this was stopped due to the drastic nature of the herb. For this treatment the juice of the berries was boiled with ginger and pimento with added sugar to make the medicine more palatable.
It made its first appearance in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1650 and was still listed in the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867, but at the turn of that century, it was mainly being used by vets for treating animals. For human consumption the juice of the berries was boiled with aniseed, cardamom, mastica and nutmeg to disguise the taste.
Wednesday, 30 May 2012
AUTUMN AND FIELD GENTIANS - TWO OF THE BRITISH ONES: HISTORY OF USES OF THE AUTUMN AND FIELD GENTIANS
AUTUMN GENTIAN, GENTIANELLA AMARELLA AND FIELD GENTIAN, GENTIANELLA CAMPESTRIS
The autumn gentian and the field gentian are both native to
Europe and the British Isles. The autumn gentian was also known as Bitterroot, Felwort and Baldmony, while the field gentian was also called Bitterroot and Felwort. The autumn gentian is blue-purple in colour and has flowers that look like blue stars. The field gentian can be a variety of colours, but is usually a dull purple colour, although it can be pink or lilac or white.
The autumn gentian flowers between August and the end of September, producing seeds in September and October, while the field gentian flowers between June and August. These flowers were once classed as a relative of the Buck- or Bogbean, but that has recently been moved out of the Gentianaceae family.
Both these gentians have been employed for the same medicinal purposes, which is why they are together in this post. The part used for medicine is the root and this has been used to get rid of intestinal worms, and as a digestive aid and for any problems relating to the digestive system, including to perk up the appetite.
Perhaps above all in the past it was used as a tonic for those who were weak after a debilitating illness, as it was believed that a tonic of gentian roots would help the patient recover strength and appetite.
Some believe that the roots of plants which have not flowered that year are the most potent as regards their medicinal properties.
In the Bach flower remedies, gentians are used to cure feelings of doubt, depression and discouragement and are said to be mood enhancers and help the patient have a positive attitude to life.
The English herbalsit, Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century had this to say about these native British gentians:-
“Government and virtues. They are under the dominion of Mars, and one of the principal herbs he is ruler of. They resist putrefactions, poison, and a more sure remedy cannot be found to prevent the pestilence than it is; it strengthens the stomach exceedingly, helps digestion, comforts the heart, and preserves it against faintings and swoonings. The powder of the dry roots helps the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts, open obstructions of the liver, and restores an appetite for their meat to such as have lost it. The herb steeped in wine, and the wine drank, refreshes such as be overweary with traveling, and grow lame in their joints, either by cold or evil lodgings; it helps stitches, and griping pains in the sides; is an excellent remedy for such as are bruised by falls; it provokes urine and the terms exceedingly, therefore let it not be given to women with child. The same is very profitable for such as are troubled with cramps and convulsions, to drink the decoction. Also they say it breaks the stone, and helps ruptures most certainly: it is excellent in all cold diseases, and such as are troubled with tough phlegm, scabs, itch, or any fretting sores and ulcers; it is an admirable remedy to kill the worms, by taking half a dram of the powder in a morning in any convenient liquor; the same is excellently good to be taken inwardly for the king's evil. It helps agues of all sorts, and the yellow jaundice, as also the bots in cattle; when *kine are bitten on the udder by any venomous beast, do but stroke the place with the decoction of any of these, and it will instantly heal them.” (*kine=cows)
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Purple loosestrife, is not, as the name might suggest, a relative of Yellow loosestrife. Purple loosestrife is a member of the Lythraceae family of plants, but was called by the same name as the yellow-flowered loosestrife because of its similar properties to it. It is said to be able to calm cattle and repel insects so that they stayed calm when being employed in agricultural tasks. The plants were hung on the animal or around the yokes of oxen to keep biting, irritating insects at bay.
This plant lives in wetlands and fens and marshes as well as in lakes or on their shores. In this habitat it is similar again to yellow loosestrife but also to water figwort and Buckbean.. It can grow to around six feet high and is a striking plant, which presumably is why it found its way to
North America in the 1800s. Unfortunately since then it has become invasive. It is native to Europe including the British Isles, North Africa and northern Asia.
These plants were called loosestrife with spiked flower heads by the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper to distinguish between the two plants with the same name. However they were also called by a number of other names such as Flowering or Blooming Sally, Purple Willow Herb, Salicaire - a corruption of the Latin genus name, and Spiked loosestrife.
The leaves of the purple loosestrife have astringent properties and were used for staunching the flow of blood, either externally when the leaves, either fresh or dried could be placed on a wound to clean it, or internally in a tisane. The name Lythrum refers to the colour of the flowers, which were thought to resemble the colour of bloody gore.
Traditionally the plant has been used for gastro-enteritis and dysentery but was also used for problems with the liver, fevers, constipation and typhus. As an infusion it was also used as a gargle for mouth problems and sore throats.
It has been found to have anti-bacterial effects against lysteria bacteria which can be responsible for food poisoning, so causing diarrhoea and dysentery, so at least one traditional use has been vindicated by modern research.
Culpeper says that the plant is better even than Eyebright for the eyes, claiming that in some instances it could actually restore the sight of a person who had become blind. Here is what he had to say about the herb, but remember that he was writing in the 17th century.
“It …cleanses and heals all foul ulcers whatsoever, by washing them with the water, or laying on them a green leaf or two in summer, or dry leaves in winter. This water, when warmed and used as a gargle, or even drunk sometimes, cures the quinsy, or king’s evil of the throat. The said water applied warm takes away spots, marks and scabs in the skin; and a little of it drunk, quenches extraordinary thirst.”
The leaves and root of purple loosestrife may be eaten cooked, and the flowers produce an edible red dye which was once used to colour sweets.
Monday, 28 May 2012
YELLOW OR COMMON LOOSESTRIFE - GOOD TO STOP BLEEDING: HISTORY OF USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF YELLOW LOOSESTRIFE
Yellow loosestrife is a close relative of creeping Jenny or Moneywort. It was formerly in the primrose or Primulaceae family of plants, but has recently been moved to the Myrsinaceae family making it a relative of cyclamens and Ardisia japonica or Marlberry.
It lives in wetlands and beside lakes and streams, and was introduced to
North America relatively recently in the 20th century, but it is already considered invasive along some lakeshores.
It has long been considered an excellent wound healing plant as it has astringent properties which staunch the flow of blood from wounds, or internal haemorrhages, nosebleeds and so on.
Nichols Culpeper, the English herbalist writing his Herbal in the 17th century had this to say about Yellow loosestrife:-
“Government and virtues. This herb is good for all manner of bleeding at the mouth, nose, or wounds, and all fluxes of the belly, and the bloody-flux, given either to drink or taken by *clysters; it stays also the abundance of women's courses; it is a singular good wound-herb for green wounds, to stay the bleeding, and quickly close together the lips of the wound, if the herb be bruised, and the juice only applied. It is often used in gargles for sore mouths, as also for the secret parts. The smoak hereof being bruised, drives away flies and gnats, which in the night time molest people inhabiting near marshes, and in the fenny countries.” (*enemas)
It was believed that as well as getting rid of “flies and gnats” snakes would also flee from it if it was burnt near them.
The name “loosestrife” was given to this herb because it seemed to have a calming effect on animals- whether wild or domesticated. This might have been due to its ability to repel troublesome insects, and it was hung around yokes of oxen and other animals so that they would not get testy because of bites from bugs. Of course, if they weren’t bitten, they would be calm.
The Chinese employ the flavonoids glycosides extracted from this plant in the treatment of high blood pressure, and its flavonoids content means that it has antioxidant properties as it contains quercetin, kaempferol, hyperin, astragalin, isorhamnetin, myriscetin and syringetin among others, It also contains the benzoquinones embelin and rapanone.
The plant is normally around two or three feet tall but it can grow to five feet, with a yellow dye being produced from the flowers which has served to lighten blonde hair. A brown dye is obtained from its rhizomes.
Pliny says that the plant’s healing properties were first known to King Lysimachus and he gave his knowledge to his subjects. Dioscorides, writing in the first century AD says that the yellow loosestrife’s freshly expressed juice could be used for gastrointestinal problems to great effect and it has been used for thousands of years to stop diarrhoea and dysentery.
This plant was known to John Gerard, the 16th century English herbalist as the Yellow Pimpernel, and it has also been called the Yellow Willow Herb, Herb Willow, Willow-wort and the Wood Pimpernel.
Sunday, 27 May 2012
These flowers are a welcome sight as they herald the class of the first cuckoo in
Britain where they are natives. They are indigenous to Europe, North America and parts of Asia.
They are also called Meadow cress (the leaves and flowers to some extent taste like cress and watercress), May Flower, Pigeon’s Eye and a number of other names- I used to call them Milkmaids, although this is also the name of another British native flower.
Like scurvy-grass, they are rich in vitamin C and minerals and were used against scurvy in the past. The tender young leaves and shoots may be eaten in salads or cooked like spinach and you can add the buds and flowers to your salad too. The leaves and flowers taste very much like cress, although they are perhaps more bitter and pungent.
These plants have not had a good press in some parts of the world, and in most of
Europe it would seem that ill-fate will be visited on anyone who picks them. In Germany it was believed that if you picked them your house would be struck by lightning. In France they were thought to be the favourite flower of the adder (a snake) and that if you picked them to include in a May garland, you would be bitten by an adder before the following May Day. In Britain they were not picked or included in May Day garlands because they were considered to be generally unlucky.
Ireland it was believed that an animal or person born on May Day had the Evil Eye and to avert it the baby’s eyes had to be washed with the juice of these cuckoo flowers.
They get a mention in Shakespeare’s plays too, as he would have been familiar with them. This is from Love’s Labour’s Lost Act V scene ii:-
“And Lady’s-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight.”
Lady’s smocks are members of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family of plants so are related to the savoy cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, turnips, swede, horseradish, kohlrabi, field penny-cress, mustard and spring greens, so it is no wonder that they were useful antiscorbutics.
Apart from this use the English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, has this to say of their efficacy:-
“Government and virtues. They are under the dominion of the Moon, and very little inferior to Water Cresses in all their operations; they are excellently good for the scurvy, they provoke urine, and break the stone, and excellently warm a cold and weak stomach, restoring lost appetite, and help digestion.”
The plant is best used fresh as it loses its potency on drying, and one ounce of herb – leaves and flowers to a cup of boiling water is said to be helpful for skin problems, rheumatism, as a stimulant and diuretic and for the uses Culpeper mentions. You should leave the mixture to steep for 18 minutes and then strain. Add honey to taste.
Saturday, 26 May 2012
BUCKBEAN OR BOGBEAN, USED FOR RHEUMATISM IN THE PAST: - HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BOGBEAN OR BUCKBEAN
This plant has attractive white flowers with hairs on their petals. As its names suggest, it lives in marshy of boggy places and is native to Europe, including the UK, and also to north and Central Asia and to Morocco in North Africa. It is also called bog myrtle, marsh trefoil, water shamrock, bitter trefoil, marsh clover, bitterworm, brook bean, bean trefoil and moonflower. It is now a member of the Menyanthaceae family although formerly it was classed as one of the Gentianaceae.
It is one of those plants which is a single species in its genus, and these include the Yellow bird’s nest, rock samphire, the wood apple and the Monkey Hand Tree.
The plant contains flavonoids, such as kaempferol, quercetin, hyperin and rutin, flavonoid glycosides, and anthraquinone derivatives including emodin, aloe-emodin and chrysophanol, among other substances and compounds.
In the past this bogbean or buckbean was used for a variety of ailments, including as a tonic after a wasting or debilitating disease, and was administered in cases of rheumatism and arthritis, for glandular swellings, and as a diuretic. The caffeic and ferrulic acids contained in this plant may make it a bile stimulator and this would explain its use as a digestive herb and the effect it has of helping to put on weight. However it has been most used in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis.
It has been found to be have anti-inflammatory properties and seems to have a beneficial effect on the kidneys “Anti-inflammatory studies of Menyanthes trifoliata related to the effect shown against renal failure in rats” H Tunớn and L. Bohler in Phytomedicine Vol 2 (2) pp.105-112. Extracts of the pant have also shown some antibacterial properties. It may also make for a good analgesic (mild pain-killer).
It has been used in combination with other herbs in an infusion for rheumatism, combined with black cohosh and celery seeds. The tisane can be used alone, and is made with one ounce of the dried herb to a pint of boiling water. Leave this to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking in small, wineglass full doses. For one cup use 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb and remember it is a diuretic. Externally this tisane can be applied to glandular swellings. The finely powdered leaves have been used as a remedy for fevers, and the expressed juice from fresh leaves has been used for skin problems. Mixed with whey from milk, it has been used as a cure for gout.
Large doses of this can be a purgative, but small doses make it a useful laxative. However it should not be used if you have colitis or diarrhea because of this property. The dried leaves have been an ingredient of British Herbal tobacco.
John Gerard remarked that “taken with mead or honied water it is of use against a cough.” He further explained the bean part of the name in this way saying that the leaves are “like to those of the garden beane.”
The genus name, “Menyanthos” comes from the Greek for month- meeni and anthos meaning flower. However the plant is in flower from May through to the end of July, so flowers are not seen only for one month as its name suggests. “Trifoliata” means three leaved.
Another herbal remedy, said to stimulate the liver to function properly and used in cases of jaundice in the past is buckbean tisane with the leaves being combined with common wormwood, centaury, or sage.
Yet another remedy, this time for ophthalmia – red or sore eyes- was a remedy from the American herbalist, Dr. John R Christopher (1909-1983) .You combine ½ ounce of raspberry leaves, agrimony, eyebright, and buckbean or bogbean leaves in two pints of water and simmer the herbs for 20 minutes in a pan with a lid covering it. Then strain the decoction, sweeten it with honey and take 2 fluid ounces 4 times a day.
In Devon in the 19th century, children would sing the following rhyme, as a plea to Puck or Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous imp who delighted in turning the milk sour and got up to all kinds of tricks ( Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare) not to tease or torment them. As they were going through alleyways in the dark they would sing or recite the following rhyme:-
“Buckee, Buckee, biddy Bene
Is the way now fair and clean?
Is the goosey gone to nest,
And the foxy gone to rest?
Shall I come away?”
It was once believed that “Buckee” and “biddy Bene” referred to the Buck bean, but in fact it doesn’t. Buckee was Puck and bidden was Anglo-Saxon for ask or pray. It was an imprecation to Puck and not to the bogbean or buck bean.
Cats like this plant, as they do catnip and Greek Valerian- so watch out for feline visitors if you plant this in your garden.
Cats like this plant, as they do catnip and Greek Valerian- so watch out for feline visitors if you plant this in your garden.
The root from this bitter herb is edible, but only as famine food, as it has to be leached before it is edible, and it still tastes bitter.
Because of the lack of scientific evidence, it is not advisable to use this herb, especially if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Friday, 25 May 2012
JACOB'S LADDER, GREEK VALERIAN - LITTLE USED HERB TODAY: HISTORY OF USES OF JACOB'S LADDER, POLEMONIUM CAERULEUM
This plant was called Greek valerian in Culpeper’s time – he wrote his herbal in the 17th century. Despite the name it was a native of the British Isles and the rest of Europe and parts of Asia. The flower also known as Jacob’s ladder which is native to America is Polemonium reptans also known as Abscess root. Both ate members of the Polemoniaceae family of plants, or the phlox family.
This plant has sky-blue (caeruleum) flowers or white and is called Jacob’s ladder because the leaves, which are in pairs, rise in steps like the rungs of a ladder. The genus name Polemonium comes from the ancient Greek, polemonium meaning plant. Despite the name Greek Valerian it is not related to the true valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
Jacob’s ladder is rare these days in Britain and there are conservation efforts underway to save it from extinction. In Culpeper’s day it was confined, he says to the mountain regions and Yorkshire. Since then it has been browsed by cattle and has suffered other setbacks due to human activity.
The plant can grow to heights of around three feet (approximately 90 centimetres) but is more normally seen growing to two feet. It sends out its leaves in April and flowers between June and September and can be harvested when in flower and dried to use in potpourris. In some countries the flower heads are boiled in olive oil and this oil is used as black hair dye.
Cats are attracted to this plant as they are to catnip, so if you grow it in your garden, beware of the feline attention it will bring.
The ancient Greeks used this plant to treat dysentery, toothache and animal bites. The part used was the root. You can make a tisane with the leaves and flowers and this was given to relieve nervousness and agitation. However the main part of the plant used in medicine was the root which was made into a tincture with whiskey.
The plant has astringent and diaphoretic properties (it promotes sweating), and has in the past been used to treat a variety of diseases which include fevers, headaches and epilepsy.
Today it is little used- even in homeopathic treatments. However it was used to treat syphilis and rabies in 19th century Europe, although there is no mention of its efficacy
Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist writing in the 17th century has this to say about it:-
“Government and virtues. It is under Mercury, and is alexipharmic, sudorific, and cephalic, and accounted useful in malignent fevers, and pestilential distempers: it helps in nervous complaints, head-achs, trembling, palpitations of the heart, vapours, and all that train of miserable disorders, included under the name of nervous. It is also good in hysteric cases; and epilepsies have been cured by the use only of this herb.”
Thursday, 24 May 2012
BUR MARIGOLD OR WATER AGRIMONY - SMALL PLANT WITH POTENTIAL: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BUR MARIGOLDS
In the 17th century, when Culpeper was writing his great Herbal this plant was known as water agrimony, but it is now more frequently called the bur marigold or beggarticks, this is because of the burs which are the fruit of the plant and which stick to things very easily. Culpeper says that in some countries it was called “water-hemp, bastard hemp, and bastard-agrimony; also eupatorium and hepatorium, because it strengthens the liver.” He says that the flowers have a substance in their middles which smells “like rosin, or cedar when it is burnt.”
The bur marigold is native to Europe including the British Isles, and also West Asia. It is a member of the Asteraceae or Compositae family which is the daisy family of plants and so it is related to the ox-eye daisy, costmary, tansy, feverfew, chamomile, elecampane, purple and yellow goat’s beard, black salsify, Mouse Ear Hawkweed, pellitory, Holy thistle, marigolds, sunflowers, yarrow, groundsel, fleabane and horseweed to name but a few of its many relatives. It has leaves which are edible when cooked like spinach.
The bur marigold flowers in August- September and then the bur-fruit appear. The flower heads yield a pale yellow dye, and other parts of the plant a black one. In China it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries for chronic dysentery and it is called longbacao, which means ‘wolf’s grasp weed’.
Nicholas Culpeper has this to say about its medicinal benefits:-
“Government and virtues. It is a plant of Jupiter, as well as the other agrimony; only this belongs to the celestial sign Cancer. It healeth and dryeth, cutteth and cleanseth, thick and tough tumours of the breast; and for this I hold it inferior to but few herbs that grow. It helps the cachexia, or evil disposition of the body; also the dropsy and yellow jaundice. It opens obstructions of the liver, mollifies the hardness of the spleen; being applied outwardly, it breaks imposthumes; taken inwardly, it is an excellent remedy for the third-day ague; it provokes urine and the terms; it kills worms, and cleanseth the body of sharp humours, which are the cause of itch, scabs &e. The smoke of the herb, being burnt, drives away flies, wasps, &c. It strengthens the lungs exceedingly. Country people give it to their cattle when they are troubled with the cough, or brokenwinded.”
It was used as a styptic, which contracts blood vessels and so was used to stop bleeding both externally and internally and was thought to be excellent for dispersing stones and gravel in the internal organs. It was effective for uterine haemorrhages and was said to be effective for stomach problems such as ulcerative colitis and peptic ulcers. It was sometimes combined with ginger root in a tisane for digestive problems.
The whole plant has been used to increase the milk flow in breast-feeding mothers, as a narcotic, an astringent, antiseptic and to reduce fevers. It is harvested as the plant comes into flower.
The flowers have strong antioxidant properties and these may be used in the “pharmaceutical or food industry” according to one study by Wolniach, M. et al. “Antioxidant activity of extracts and flavonoids from Bidens tripartita” (2007). Having potent antioxidant properties mean that they have anti-cancer potential as antioxidants fight the scavenging free-radicals which cause damage to healthy cells.
“The oil exhibited a strong antifungal activity” according to another study: “Composition of the Essential Oil of Bidens tripartita L. Roots and its Antibacterial and Antifungal Activities.” Monika Tomczykowa et al. in the Journal of Medicinal Food Vol14 March 2011.
Bur marigolds have been used for centuries in traditional Polish medicine as diuretics, anti-inflammatory agents and to boost the immune system.
Other studies have shown that the methylene chloride extract inhibits the growth of cancer cell lines and there is evidence for its antimicrobial and antibacterial use in skin diseases and other Polish studies have also shown that extracts of this plant have anti-inflammatory actions.
This is another small plant which is clearly of value to us for the health benefits it can give.
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Marlberry, is a native of East Asia and is a plant indigenous to parts of China and Japan. It is a member of the Myrsinaceae family and is used by gardeners as an evergreen ground cover, for which it is ideally suited. It can grow to around 40 centimetres tall so can make a low hedge, and has white to pale pink flowers which give way to a small fruit which turns dark-purple to black when ripe in early winter. It looks a little like Butcher’s Broom, to which it is not related.
It has the distinction of being one of the Fifty Fundamental Herbs in Chinese traditional medicine and is used in a decoction either alone or with other herbs as an expectorant. This decoction, made only with marlberry is also used to relieve the stomach cramps associated with menstruation, and those of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to reduce painful swellings. It is also used as a diuretic, for jaundice and to cleanse the blood.
In one research study it was shown to have “moderate in vitro anti-HIV activity” which is believed to have been brought about by bergenin and norbergenin. In another study it was shown to have only weak activity against the HIV virus.
Bergenin is known to be effective against coughs.
It is particularly used for bronchitis, and also reduces flatulence. The leaves of the shrub have been used against cancer, and a decoction of the leaves and stem is used for coughs and uterine bleeding. The root is a diuretic and an antidote to poison. Saponins generally have some anti-cancer actions and this plant contains them. A paper from the 2011 Conference on Biomedical Engineering Technology by Myat Myat Monetal et al. “Qualitative Determination of Free Radical Scavenging, anti-tumor and Antimicrobial Activities of some Myanmar Herbal Plants” concluded “Ardisia japonica can be used as anti-malarial drug or antioxidant diet or as food preservative” This was published in the Journal of the 2011 International Conference on Biomedical Engineering Technology IPCBET Vol 11.
It is clear that marlberry has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries so perhaps further studies will bring to light further benefits of this plant.
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Longjack is an accepted name for this evergreen tree which is native to Southeast Asia and which is known by a number of names throughout the region. The ones above are the most common. It is a member of the Simaroubaceae family. It gets the “jack” part of its name as William Jack (1795-1872), a surgeon with the British East India Company, was one of the first westerners to try to catalogue the plants of the Malaysian peninsular. The “long” part of the name presumably refers to the plants aphrodisiac properties. Tongkat Ali means “Ali’s staff ” and is a phallic reference worthy of D.H. Lawrence, who wrote “Aaron’s Rod” among other works of fiction and poetry.
A lot of research has been done on this plant focusing on the enhancing of the libido and semen volume in male rats and their testosterone levels. It seems that the quassinoids found in the plant may be responsible for their effects on men who have a reduced testosterone level, although it doesn’t seem to increase testosterone levels in men who have normal levels. Researchers at the Massachusetts institute of Technology (M.I.T) and the Malaysian research institutes have taken out a patent on one of the peptides isolated from this plant, 4.3kDa which is a potent phytoandrogen capable of boosting male testosterone levels, although this has caused some controversy in the scientific world as the peptide is a naturally occurring one.
The root, bark, leaves and fruits of this tree are all used in traditional medicine systems, with the fruit of the tree ripening to a dark red, resembling a jujube or ber fruit. The different parts of the tree have been used for malaria, urinary tract infections, cancer, indigestion, itching and high blood pressure among other ailments.
The aphrodisiac is made by boiling a few pieces of root bark in water and then drinking it. This decoction is also used as a general invigorating tonic, to relieve pains in the joints, and reduce fever. A decoction of the levels is applied externally to stop itching, for example during prickly heat attacks. The bark is applied externally to heal wounds and sores and to relieve headaches. In Indonesia a decoction of the roots is drunk to reduce fever, diarrhoea and swellings caused by a knock or fall. An infusion of the roots is given in coughs as an expectorant and is used for chronic bronchitis.
The infusion of the roots is used as a gargle and a diuretic as well as an antidote to poison. It is called the “bitter antidote” referring to its taste.
In some studies such as “Antimalarial activity of selected Malaysian medicinal plants” Rusliza Basir et al. (2012) Vol.1 (1) pp.82-92, the use of the plant to treat malaria has been substantiated. However, other traditional uses (apart from its effects on male erectile dysfunctions) have not been conclusively substantiated.
In one study it was found to have antimicrobial and antifungal effects while another negated the findings, although it seems that it may have some effect on cancerous cell lines, more research is needed.
Monday, 21 May 2012
The Autumn Crocus is not a relation to Crocus sativa from which we get saffron, which is in the Iridaceae family of plants. This one was formerly in the Liliaceae (lily) family but has recently been moved to the Colchiaceae family. It has light purple or white flowers and as its name suggests, flowers between September and October during early autumn and grows in meadows.
It is native to Europe and North Africa, but is restricted in range now in Britain to an area around the Bristol Channel.
It is native to Europe and North Africa, but is restricted in range now in Britain to an area around the Bristol Channel.
All parts of the plant are poisonous to cattle and the corm or bulb from which the plant grows contains the alkaloid colchinine which is highly toxic. A woman was convicted of poisoning in 1862 using the drug Colchium. This was considered virtually a specific treatment for gout in the 18th century, and was used extensively with imported corms being used in Britain. The corms used were cultivated for medicinal purposes in France and Germany.
Autumn Crocus has a long history of use, although writing in his Des Materia Medica in the first century AD, Dioscorides records that it is a poison. Despite this knowledge, it was used in the Byzantine Empire for joint problems such as rheumatism and arthritis. It was the Arabs who first realized that it could be used to treat gout effectively.
The plant is a drastic purgative and can be fatal to humans as it is to cattle which inadvertently graze on the leaves. However topically it can be applied to neuralgia and itching to bring relief – although so can other herbs which are safer to use. It should never be used during pregnancy or when lactating, and neither should it be used by people who suffer from kidney problems.
It is also not a good idea to harvest it as some cases of poisoning have occurred when people have mistaken it for ramsons or wild garlic, Allium ursinum, also called bear’s garlic and cooked the leaves or corms.
In the Language of Flowers the Autumn Crocus or Meadow Saffron stands for “my best days are gone; I am growing old.”
The genus gets its name from the ancient district of Colchis which was situated on the eastern shore of the Black Sea and which seems to have been the original source of this medicinal herb.
Notwithstanding these effects, it is, when properly prepared, a safe, but powerful medicine; the best way of doing this is to make it into a kind of syrup, by digesting an ounce of the fresh roots, sliced thin, in a pin of white-wine vinegar, over a gentle fire, for the space of forty-eight hours, and then mixing two pounds of honey with the strained liquor, and letting it boil gently afterwards till it comes to a proper consistence.
Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist, had this to say about Meadow Saffron:
"Government and virtues. It is under Saturn. Indirectly used, this root is poisonous; two drachms of it killed a large dog, after putting him to great torment for twelve or fourteen hours; it operated violently by vomit, stool and urine. A single grain only being swallowed by a person in health, by way of experiment, produced heat in the stomach, and soon after flushing heats in various parts of the body, with frequent shiverings, which were followed by coliky pains, after which an itching in the loins and urinary passages was perceived, and presently after came on a continual inclination to make water, with a tremour, pain in the head, great thirst, a very quick pulse, and other disagreeable symptoms.
The syrup is agreeable acid, gently vellicates or bites the tongue, is moderately stringent, and excellent for cleansing the tongue from mucus. In an increased dose it vomits, and sometimes purges, but its most common operation is by urine, for which it is a remarkable powerful medicine. The dose at first should be but small, half a tea-spoonful twice or three times a day is enough to begin with, and the quantity may afterwards be gradually increased, as the stomach will bear it, or the case may require. It has been given with the most astonishing success in dropsies and tertian agues; and it frequently succeeds as an expctorant, when all other means fail."
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