MOUNTAIN LAUREL, CALICO BUSH, SPOONWOOD, KALMIA LATIFOLIA
Mountain laurel is indigenous to the north Eastern parts of
North America. It is an evergreen shrub which usually doesn’t exceed ten feet in height, although it can grow to tree size and achieve heights of forty feet with a diameter of two feet.
It is the only one of the Kalmia genus which grows to tree size. It is known by several other names including Sheep laurel and a synonym for the species is Kalmia lucida. It is the state flower of
The mountain laurel is a member of the Ericaceae family or heather (ling) family of plants and as such is related to the trailing azalea, yellow bird’s nest, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), the strawberry tree and the Greek strawberry tree, as well as bilberries, blueberries and cranberries.
Its glossy green leaves closely resemble those of the European laurel or bay tree (Laurus nobilis). However the leaves and indeed the whole of the mountain laurel is poisonous. The wild variety of mountain laurel usually has pink flowers which turn to white. They flower between late May and June with the brown-tan fruits appearing just after the flowers fade, and it ripens in September.
In that book it is related that there were fatal cases of poisoning after people had eaten wild honey. It was traced back to the Mountain laurel.
The expressed juice of the plant or a decoction of the leaves is believed to have been used by Native Americans to commit suicide in the past. It is hardly ever used in modern herbal medicine, although it is used in homeopathy to cure the symptoms which a large dose can provoke, for example vertigo, nausea, headache, loss of vision, and a number of other ailments. It is also used for rheumatism, or at least the pain of that complaint.
An infusion of the leaves has been used externally for skin problems, and inflammatory problems. This was also used to clean wounds and to get rid of external parasites such as lice and tics. Internally an infusion of the leaves was used for its astringent and sedative properties, to stop haemorrhages, for diarrhoea and dysentery, for fevers; neuralgia, angina and syphilis.
A yellow-tan dye can be obtained from the leaves of Mountain Laurel, and the plant can be used as a living hedge. The wood is, or at least was, used for fuel and can be used to make small items such as tool handles. The roots were used to make spoons, giving it one of its names- Spoonwood.
TRAILING OR MOUNTAIN AZALEA, KALMIA PROCUMBENS
This alpine plant grows in the
Arctic and in Scotland in the British Isles. It can be found growing with Iceland moss, Mountain club moss and wild strawberries. It was formerly called Loiseleuria procumbens, but has recently been moved to the Kalmia genus. This means that it is now in the same genus as Kalmia latifolia, Mountain laurel which is indigenous to North America. Interestingly trailing azaleas are the only Kalmia genus not native to North America.
As a member of the Ericaceae or heather (ling) family, it is related to the Greek strawberry tree, the strawberry tree, yellow bird’s nest, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), round-leaved wintergreen, bilberries, blueberries and cranberries. However the wintergreens have now been moved into their own separate families.
The rootstock of this plant is wide, with the majority of the plant being under the ground. The plants can live for between fifty and sixty years.
Nicholas Culpeper describes the flowers as red, and there are some, but these are rarer than the plants with pink flowers. In Culpeper’s day I suppose they grew in parts of Britian other than
Scotland. He was the great English herbalist who wrote his Herball in the 17th century. This is what he said about the medicinal properties of the trailing azalea.
“Government and virtues. It is a plant of Mercury, and has a pleasing aromatic smell, resembling that of lemons; and is cordial and strengthening.
It comforts the head and stomach, removes palpitations of the heart, helps the vertigo, or giddiness and swimmings in the head, and is greatly extolled by many, as a specific in nervous and hypochondrical disorders.”
Today it is not used in medicine it would appear from my research.
The Kalmia genus has an interesting history. It was named by Karl Linnaeus, often referred to as the Father of Botany, for his student, Pehr Kalm (1715-1779), who was from
Finland but studied under Linnaeus in Uppsala. The of Sciences, on the recommendation of Linnaeus, sent Kalm to Swedish Academy North America to find plants that could be grown in Sweden.
Kalm was accompanied in
North America by the Canadian Gaultherias, and it was Kalm who named wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) after his Canadian companion.
Linnaeus named one of the North American shrubs that Kalm took back to
Sweden, Mountain laurel Kalmia latifolia, after him, and so a genus was born to honour Pehr Kalm.
Dragonfruit is the fruit of a night-flowering cactus which produces the largest flowers of any cactus, which are a foot long and ten inches wide. As a member of the Cactaceae family of plants dragonfruit is related to the cactus which bears prickly pears, but this fruit is huge in comparison to a prickly pear. It originated in
South America but no wild plants have been so far found.
It is now cultivated in several Asian countries including
Malaya and the Philippines.
At first sight the plant may not appear to be a cactus as it has long branched trailing ribbons of green with spikes on the ribs. It is three sided and can produce aerial roots which help it to climb trees and trellises. It is quite happy hanging from pots in cultivation and can also creep along the ground.
The fruit of this variety of dragonfruit is red-skinned with white flesh full of black edible seeds which contain the fats and protein in the fruit. You slice open the fruit and scoop out the flesh. In other species of plant such as Selinocereus megalanthus, the fruit has a yellow skin and white flesh, while there is also a red pulp variety which comes from Hylocereus polyrhizus.
The flesh can be eaten raw or cooked in jellies, jams and preserves, or you can use it raw in fruit salads or in smoothies and so on. It is said to taste a little like a kiwi fruit or perhaps a watermelon.
This fruit is being called a wonder fruit, although it has about as many vitamins and minerals as a watermelon and contains about as much water.
The “wonder” of it is that it is rich in photoalbumins which have potent antioxidant properties; hence it is good for the cardiovascular system and to protect the body from the scavenging free-radicals which can cause cancer.
It contains small amounts of the B-complex vitamins B3 and B1, but does contain a slightly higher amount of B2 (riboflavin) It also contains vitamins A in the form of carotene and C in the form of ascorbic acid. As for minerals it has calcium, phosphorous and iron.
These small amounts of vitamins and minerals make the 100 gram serving good for people on a weight loss diet as that portion only has 60 calories, and of course fruit is very good for boosting the immune system and the B-complex vitamins and the others, make the fruit good for the skin, eyes, hair, bones and teeth.
However it won’t on its own help you to lose weight, and like any other fruit it is definitely good for your health. That being said, it is higher than other fruit in photoalbumins perhaps, so does have potent antioxidant properties, giving it an edge over other fruit.
COMMON AND MOUNTAIN CLUB MOSS: HEALTH BENEFITS USES AND POSSIBLE FUTURE BENEFITS OF COMMON AND ALPINE CLUB MOSS
|common club moss|
COMMON CLUB MOSS, LYCOPODIUM CLAVATUM, MOUNTAIN OR ALPINE CLUB MOSS, DIPHASIASTRUM ALPINUM
Common club moss is native to the
Arctic and Europe and along with mountain club moss can be found in the British Isles. Both mosses are actually ferns, with common club moss resembling asparagus spears. Both these ferns are in the Lycopodiaceae family of plants. Lycopodium means wolf’s foot in Latin and the common club moss is sometimes called wolf’s claw (clavatum means claw). The two mosses look similar, although Mountain club moss is used in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory.
The ancient Physicians of Myddfai employed mountain club moss in the following remedy for a woman who was unable to conceive:-
“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.”
|Alpine club moss|
(The physicians wrote their remedies between the years 800 and 1800 in Wales; this is one of the earlier remedies.)
Traditionally the common club moss was used for stomach problems and as a diuretic, to remove stones from the bodily organs and for other kidney problems. In the 17th century the use of the whole plant stopped and only the spores were used.
The spikes of the plant mature in the months of July and August and the spores have to be shaken out of the plant and this ‘dust’ is used for a number of ailments. For example it was used on the skin for eczema and other skin problems as well as to stop itchiness. It was given to people with rabies to stop their spasms, and also for gout and scurvy. It was also used for rheumatism and applied to wounds as a healing and cleansing agent.
|Alpine club moss|
The powder has the ability to repel water and to stop things sticking together so it has been used for condoms to prevent the latex sticking together. The plant has also been used as a mordant in dying and the stems were used for matting. The spores have also been used in fireworks and to make artificial lightning. They also have uses in the food industry because of their water and liquid repellant properties. However they can be an allergen and workers in condom factories have developed asthma from using these spores.
|Alpine club moss|
There has been some clinical research done on these plants but none that is conclusive. They have been touted as being good for Alzheimer’s patients in that they improve memory.
They have also been tested as anticancer material but again there is no conclusive evidence to support their use as yet.
They can be helpful in respiratory problems it seems and traditionally they have been used to control internal bleeding. They may dispel stones from the urinary tract, and seem to help with skin problems. They are also a diuretic.
However more research need to be carried out on these plants, and this is unlikely to be done in the case of the mountain club moss as in some countries it is listed as a threatened species.
ROYAL FERN, OSMUNDA REGALIS
The royal fern is the tallest native fern in the British Isles, and can grow to heights of ten feet in moist, shady places. It is also called the flowering fern, as it has showy seeds in June through to August. It is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia and a subspecies flourishes in North America.
It is one of my favourite ferns, as it grew profusely in Wales and I could easily hide from my long-suffering grandfather in those tall ferns.
The name Osmunda probably comes from the Saxon os (meaning house) and mund, peace, so it was a symbol of domestic peace. Another etymological explanation is that is comes from the Latin with os meaning bone, and mundare meaning to cleanse. This would refer to its use for diseases of the bones caused primarily by malnutrition (e.g. rickets). Regalis means royal or regal in Latin. It is a member of the Osmundaceae family of plants.
Like bracken seeds which were supposed to make the holder of these invisible, there is also a legend regarding the sporangia (seeds or spores) of the Royal fern. It was supposed to have magical powers, and to uproot a fern, or at least to harvest its seeds, one had to draw a circle around oneself and the fern, and then withstand the onslaught of demons. However it was worth the fright, because a person who had the fern seeds could command demons and defeat them they also would have wishes granted and would also be able to understand the language of trees. Also secrets would be revealed to them. Clearly it was worth braving a few demons to obtain the fern, although this could only be done on the evening before Easter. The fronds are fertile in April so this makes some sense.
The fronds were once combined with wild ginger and given to children who suffered from convulsions caused by parasitical worms.
Hairs of the Royal fern were formerly mixed with wool to make cloth, while the roots were the source of Osmunda fibre, which was very popular for potting orchids.
The root of the Royal fern is mucilaginous and soothes the mucous membranes, so was used in a decoction for jaundice, to remove stones from the internal organs, and a conserve made from the root was given in cases of rickets. It was also recommended for lumbago and the young fronds were made into an ointment which was used on bruises, dislocated bones and wounds. The fronds were used externally as a poultice for rheumatism.
John Gerard, writing in the 16th century had this to say about the royal fern:-
“The root and especially the heart or middle thereof, boiled or else stamped and taken with some kind of liquor, is thought to be good for those that are wounded, drybeaten and bruised, that have fallen from some high place.”
He is a little vague as his wisdom came from older more ancient herbalists. Nicholas Culpeper, writing his Herball in the 17th century had this to say about the medicinal properties of the Royal fern:-
“Government and virtues. Saturn owns the plant. This hath all the virtues mentioned in the former ferns, and is much more effectual than they, both for inward and outward griefs, and is accounted singular good in wounds, bruises, or the like. The decoction to be drank or boiled into an ointment of oil, as a balsam or balm, and so it is singular good against bruises, and bones broken, or out of joint, and giveth much ease to the cholic and splenetic diseases; as also for ruptures or burstings.
The decoction of the root in white wine, provokes urine exceedingly, and cleanseth the bladder and passages of urine.”
Modern day science recognizes that the Royal fern has antispasmodic, antioxidant, antibacterial and astringent properties. In the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biological Archives, 2011, vol.2 (1) pp559-62, “Preliminary Antibacterial and Phytochemical Assessment of Osmunda regalis L.” Toji Thomas concludes:-
“Leaves can be recommended as a source for isolating and characterizing new antibacterial drugs for modern medicine.”
It seems that those ancient ferns will have a productive modern use.
THE MIRACLE FRUIT OR BERRY, SYNSEPALUM DULCIFERUM
The miracle berry is so-called because it has the ability to change the sour taste of food (such as limes or lemons) to a sweet one. If you eat a berry before having a sour fruit or other food, your taste buds are fooled into thinking that you are eating something sweet. This phenomenon is caused by a glycoprotein, miraculin.
There were attempts in the USA to have the berry classified as a sweetener, but these were unsuccessful. Stevia, another plant sweetener is classed as a dietary supplement. However it is used in the food industry as a sweetener.hhhhhhj
The berries grow on a shrub that is indigenous to West Africa, and have been used to sweeten palm wine there traditionally. They don’t actually have a high sugar content, although they do taste slightly sweet, if bland. The bushes they grow on can reach heights of around twenty feet in West Africa, although in cultivation rarely grow above ten feet.
The berries are popular among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as they say it takes away the metallic taste in their mouths which is one of the side effects of chemotherapy. They are also being researched as they may help diabetics. “Improvement of insulin resistance by miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulciferum) in fructose-rich chow-fed rats” Chen C.C. et al. Journal of Phytotherapy Research 2006, November, Vol. 20 (11) pp. 987-992 which states: -
“the results suggest that miracle fruit may be used as an adjuvant for treating diabetic patients with insulin resistance because this fruit has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity.”
The fruit cannot be easily transported however as it lasts only for two or three days. The pulp can be freeze-dried, which is good news for some. Heat destroys the miraculin so it cannot yet be preserved in any other way. In Japan it is popular among dieters.
This miracle berry and its bush belong to the Sapotaceae family, which makes it a relative of sapodilla, butter nut trees with mahua flowers, and the African Shea tree from which we get shea butter.
MALABAR NUT, JUSTICIA ADHATODA
The Malabar nut plant is an evergreen shrub, which is native to the Indian subcontinent and
Sri Lanka. As a member of the Acanthaceae family it is related to the marsh barbell and to bear’sbreeches or the oyster plant. All parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine systems in Asia and it has also been used in Europe for centuries.
The flowers on this plant look like those of bear’s breeches, but are more reminiscent of foxglove flowers than those of the snapdragon. The flowers contain an impressive array of flavonoids (among them apigenin, kaempferol and quercetin), which give them antioxidant properties and these flowers are used for colds, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, as an antispasmodic, for fevers and gonorrhoea. They also have antiseptic properties and are used to improve blood circulation.
The root decoction of the plant is used to treat T.B., diphtheria, malaria, leucorrhoea, eye problems and gonorrhoea. An extract of the root is also used for liver problems, especially for jaundice, for diabetes, and coughs.
Preparations include a paste, and powder as well as the root decoction.
Chewing the leaf bud, either alone or with a little ginger root is said to clear the respiratory passages, and is used by yogis before a rigorous exercise programme is undertaken.
The fruit or the ‘Malabar nut’ is used for colds, as an antispasmodic, for bronchitis, jaundice, diarrhoea and dysentery, fever and as a laxative.
The leaves are a rich source of vitamin C, and also contain carotene and essential oil and are used in various ways. In parts of
India they are used to induce an abortion and are given after childbirth to help staunch bleeding and to tone the uterus. They should not be used during pregnancy or by breast-feeding mothers. Powdered leaves are a counter-irritant for inflamed swellings and are also used on fresh wounds and for neuralgia.
The dried leaves are sometimes smoked in the treatment of asthma. The fresh sap from the leaves is used for bleeding gums, diarrhoea and dysentery, glandular tumours, and T.B. When burnt, they have insect repellant or insecticidal properties.
The leaves are also given to lower high blood pressure, and in
Germany they are used for their expectorant and antispasmodic properties in coughs colds and so on.
Sweden they are categorized as a natural remedy and can be found with other natural ingredients in cough medicines.
The leaf powder boiled in sesame oil, is used to staunch bleeding and is used as ear drops for ear aches. The warmed leaves are used as poultices for the pains of rheumatism and dislocated joints.
The plant contains quinasoline alkaloids including vasicine and vasicone, and these are currently under investigation to discover their properties and potential for new drugs.
In “A review of Justicia adhatoda: A potential source of natural medicine” Sandeep Dhankhar et al. African Journal of Plant Science, Vol. 5 (4) pp. 620-627, it is suggested that “extract of J. adhatoda could form one of the best options for developing novel natural medicines”.
(Adhatoda is said to mean “goats don’t touch” in Malayalam, as they avoid this plant allegedly.)
AMERICAN MOUNTAIN MINT, PYCNANTHEMUM PILOSUM
American mountain mint was once used by Native Americans for fevers, indigestion and to regulate a woman’s menstrual flow. It is a native of eastern
North America, but is threatened now in some states so is legally protected, and seems to be extinct in Michigan where it once flourished; it has not been formally documented there since 1952.
It is a member of the mint of Lamiaceae or Labiatae family, although assigned to a separate genus than the mints such as peppermint and spearmint which are in the Mentha genus.
It is therefore related to calamint, sage, Jupiter’s sage, horehound, self-heal, the chaste tree and the small-flowered Chaste tree, ground ivy, the teak tree, yellow, purple and white dead nettles, motherwort, fragrant premna, common germander, Cretan dittany, bugle, Scarlet Bee Balm, thyme, Mother of Thyme, and marsh woundwort, oregano and other culinary herbs, as well as to other plants.
It can grow to heights of around five feet and is identified by its clumping together and the flower heads. It flowers in August and September, with seeds ripening in September and October. Another name for this plant is Hairy Mountain Mint.The genus name Pycnanthemum means dense (pyknos in Greek) flowers (anthemom) while pilosum means hairy; the hairs are on the leaves of the plant.
The leaves may be eaten raw and added to salads, and generally used as you would use peppermint. The leaves may be used fresh or dried to make a tisane, which has a delicious menthol taste, and is good with a splash of fresh lemon juice. The flower buds are also edible and it is said that the Native Americans used them to tenderize buffalo meat.
The leaves can be dried and used in a pot pourri and have been used as incense; burning them helps to repel unwelcome insects. They are also used as an ingredient in natural insecticides.
They contain a volatile oil whose main constituents are limonene, meothone and pulegone according to a study carried out in the late 1940s.
Wild liquorice is native to southern
Europe and south west Asia, and is a relative of the liquorice that has been regarded as the official “sweet root” (the meaning of glycyrrhiza), Glychyrrhiza glabra. The wild liquorice is also called German liquorice as this is the official one used in medicine in Germany.
It is also called Russian liquorice and the Latin name echinata means hedgehog, so it is sometimes called hedgehog liquorice. o
It is a member of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants making it a relative of peas, green beans, borlotti beans, chickpeas, soya beans, lupins, field restharrow, the Monkey Pod tree, carob, kudzu or pueraria, indigo, alfalfa, broom, Dyer’s broom, lentils, to the pongam tree, the cancer bush (Sutherlandia frutescans)the lead tree or ipil-ipil, the Indian Coral tree, the tree from which we get Gum Tragacanth or gond katira, jhand the mesquite tree, dhak or Flame of the Forest tree, the Pacific teak tree, the ashoka tree (Saraca indica), amaltas (golden shower tree), European laburnum, the Burmese rosewood tree, melilot or sweet clover, milk vetch, the hyacinth bean, the butterfly pea, and many more.
The plant can grow to heights of just over three feet and in the wild likes muddy places near rivers.
It has been mixed with linseed (flax seed oil) as an infusion for sore throats, irritable coughs, laryngitis and other ailments. Powdered along with senna and fennel it was used as a mild laxative. It is mixed with other herbs partially because it makes the medicine taste better and often because of its own medicinal properties.
It is believed that the ancient Greeks learned about the uses of the liquorice root from th4 Scythians and it was known to Theophrastus in the third century BC who believed it to be a thirst quencher (as it is) - chew the root for yourself! He also commented on the different tastes of the different liquorice roots he was familiar with. Dioscorides used it in the first century AD and is believed the first to have written the name “sweet root” for this plant.
Ancient Roman writers called it Radix dulcis, or sweet root, just as it is in Greek. In the 11th century AD it was a well-known medicine in
Germany and was cultivated in England. John Gerard had it in his garden in 1592, as did other herbalists of his time. Writing a century later, Nicholas Culpeper says that it grew “in divers place” in England “and thereof is good profit made.” He has this to say about how liquorice in general was used in medicine in the 17th century:
“It is under the dominion of Mercury. Liquorice boiled in fair water, with some Maiden-hair and figs, makes a good drink for those that have a dry cough or hoarseness, wheezing or shortness of breath, and for all the griefs of the breast and lungs, phthisic or consumptions caused by the distillation of salt humours on them.
It is also good in all pains of the reins, the stranguary, and heat of urine. The fine powder of Liquorice blown through a quill into the eyes that have a pin and web (as they call it) or rheumatic distillations in them, doth cleanse and help them. The juice of Liquorice is as effectual in all the diseases of the breast and lungs, the reins and bladder, as the decoction. The juice distilled in Rose-water, with some Gum Tragacanth, is a fine licking medicine for hoarseness, wheezing, &c.”
The glycyrrhizin in the root is said to be fifty times sweeter than sugar. The dried root was given to infants to help with teething problems.
MEXICAN MINT MARIGOLD - PLANT OF THE AZTECS: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF MEXICAN MINT MARIGOLD
MEXICAN MINT MARIGOLD, TAGETES LUCIDA
The Mexican mint marigold is native to
Mexico and Central America to Guatemala. The 16th Century Spanish explorers called it “cloud plant” and it has since acquired many other names such as sweet mace, yerba anis, Spanish tarragon, and it is substituted for French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) in cooking. It is a member of the Asteraceae or Compositae family so is related to that tarragon as well as to the common wormwood, southernwood, daisy, sunflower, pellitory or Roman chamomile, marigolds, bur marigolds, purple goat’s beard (salsify), yellow goat’s beard, the Sea Aster or Sea starwort, michaelmas daisies, elecampane, the ox-eye daisy, holy thistles, costmary, tansy, feverfew, groundsel, fleabane and yarrow, just to list a few of its relatives.
It was a herb much used by the ancient Aztecs, who, so legend has it administered it to their sacrificial victims before they were killed. It was believed to have sedative an psychotropic effects.
In medicine it was used for all manner of ailments, including the common cold, colic, malaria and intermittent fevers, and a poultice of the leaves was applied to snake bites. They also used the herb for gout, swellings, digestive problems and so on.
The plant can help to repel worms in a garden, and also slugs, but to a lesser extent; it exudes a substance from its roots that protects it from weeds such as couch-grass and this also repels bugs.
The dried plant was burnt as incense and also when burnt it repels insects and is considered an effective insecticide.
The plant grows to heights of around three feet by one and a half feet, and blooms in August and September. It was used as one of the flavourings in the Aztecs cocoa-based drink, chocolatl, and both the petals and leaves are edible.
The Aztecs rubbed the flowers and leaves into their hands and then washed them, leaving their hands smelling sweet. The leaves are used to make a tisane which tastes like liquorice and anise mixed.
Extracts of the plant have been found to have antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties as well as antioxidant ones. The whole plant can help with digestion, and is a diuretic, and used to bring down the temperature in fevers. It depresses the Central Nervous system, and is reputed to lower blood pressure and to be a narcotic and sedative. However its narcotic and hallucinogenic effects have yet to be scientifically explained.
The Huichol people smoke it with Nicotiana rustica a wild tobacco, for the psychotropic effects it has been reported. Methyl eugenol has been extracted from the plant and this has a slightly narcotic effect. Anethole, also present in it has similar effects to adrenaline which the body produces naturally, and this can be a mild stimulant.
The tisane from the leaves or a stronger decoction is taken to relieve diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, hiccups and fevers. It tastes very pleasant and can be sweetened with honey if required.
The plant can be made into garlands and can be harvested when still in flower and dried for later use. The flowers produce a yellow dye, and it figures prominently in the Day of the Dead celebrations, when it is place on the graves of deceased family members.
The genus name Tagetes is believed to have come from the myth of the Etruscan god, Tages who was supposed to be the grandson of Jupiter, a boy who sprang or was ploughed up from the earth, and who had the wisdom of a sage despite his youth. “Lucida” means clear and bright and either refers to the visions one has if one uses the plant for it psychotropic effects, or to the brightness of the flowers which may have reminded people of the brightness of the sun.
ICELAND MOSS, CETRARIA ISLANDICA
Iceland moss is a lichen and not a moss, and grows prolifically in
Iceland, hence the name. It is in the Parmeliaceae family of plants and grows to a mere four inches high but has a spread of around two feet.
It can be found in the
Arctic, in Britain, particularly in Scotland, Northern England and North Wales, in North America and south western Ireland. It can be almost any colour in the spectrum from light grey through green to dark brown. Another name for Iceland moss is eryngo-leaved liverwort,.
In traditional medicine it has been used for pulmonary complaints, peptic and duodenal ulcers and gastric problems. It has a soothing action on the mucous membranes and was used for coughs, bronchitis and other chest complaints as well as for food poisoning and T.B. It is also used to promote appetite. It is said to be good to stop vomiting and feelings of nausea too.
Today it can be found as an ingredient in toothpaste, and as a baking ingredient. It can be dried and ground and used with wheat flour to make bread. It can also be used to make confectionary, in which case it is made into a jelly and combined with lemon, sugar, chocolate, or almonds. In the 19th century it was drunk with cocoa sweetened with sugar for a really wholesome drink in cases of colds and flu.
The whole herb can be used although it has some lichen acids in it which have to be leached out before using internally. This is a tedious process, involving pounding the dried herb to a powder and soaking it in lye or filtering it through ash. Alternatively a jelly can be made from the whole plant by boiling it in water and changing and discarding the water twice- much easier to do. This process removes the bitterness of the plant.
In traditional medicine systems in Europe Iceland moss is used to treat cancer and as an antibiotic, demulcent (soother).and tonic for the stomach. It is also believed to be a galactagogue, which means that it increases the flow of breast milk in breast-feeding mothers. Externally it is used to treat excessive vaginal discharge, boils, impetigo and to heal stubborn wounds.
The German Commission E has approved its use for loss of appetite, inflammation of the mouth and throat, coughs, bronchitis and dyspepsia. The whole plant gives a brown dye, and the antibiotic principle from the plant is used in disinfectant. The plant has potent antioxidant properties and has been found to boost the immune system. A new polysaccharide was found in the plant in 1994 which showed “immunostimulating activity” in vitro (Planta Medica 1994 Vol. 60 (6) pp 527-8 “Immunologically active polysaccharide from Cetraria islandica” Ingolfsdottir, K. et al)
It has been deemed safe for use because it has been traditionally used in medicine for centuries. Research still needs to be done to allay criticisms of the German Commission E’s decision