Thursday, 22 December 2011


Like Irish Moss, which is a sea weed, Common Club Moss is not really a moss but is related to the ferns such as maidenhair and horsetail which it resembles a little. It bears no visual resemblance to the larger common fern, bracken. This common moss grows all over the world and is a common sight in damp woodlands in Britain.
  Prior to the 17th century the whole plant was used in medicinal preparations, despite its being poisonous. It was used in decoctions to aid digestion and soothe the stomach to get rid of flatulence and was called Muscus terrestris or Muscus clavatum, meaning musk of the earth or musk claw. Lycopodium means wolf’s foot and clavatum, claw. The plant was harvested and dried for medicinal purposes, but it contains lycopodine which is poisonous and paralyses the motor nerves while the substance clavatine also present in the plant is toxic to many mammals; deer, for example do not eat club moss. The decoctions of the plant have been used to help get rid of calculus which builds up around the joints causing inflammation, so it was used for arthritis and rheumatism, as well as gout. It had a reputation for being good for the kidneys.
  In the 17th century it was harvested and used only for its spores which are not poisonous, and these have been used as talcum powder, to stop things sticking together, as a dusting powder, to dress moulds in iron foundries and the stems of the plant when dried have been woven into matting. The spores are also used in fireworks and to produce the effect of artificial lightning.
  The spores are shaken from the kidney-shaped capsules (sporangia) which are found on the inner sides of the bracts which cover the fruit spike of club moss, and are a yellow powder. They have been used on injuries as they absorb fluids which exude from wounded tissue. They have diuretic qualities and can help in cases of chronic diarrhoea and dysentery. They would also appear to have some antispasmodic actions.
  A decoction of the spores has been used to give relief from the pain of gout, rheumatism and arthritis, and for urinary tract disorders and kidney problems. Used externally a decoction can help with skin problems and can stop itching. It is said that if the spores are snuffed up the nose they will stem a nosebleed.
  This plant is a very common one, but tricky to harvest so best left to grow in the wild, unless you absolutely know what you are doing.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


When the early settlers reached the North American continent they found that the Native American tribes used goldenseal for skin diseases and for cancerous growths. They adopted the use of the goldenseal root, which they could harvest in autumn after the plant had died back and could dry it for later use. Goldenseal is a member of the buttercup or crowfoot family, Ranunculaceae, so it is a relative of the lesser celandine and black cohosh. It has been used for liver problems, and when applied in a poultice or you can simply mash the root, it has been effective in acting as an antiseptic for cuts as it has antimicrobial and anti-bacterial properties. The Cherokees used it as a cancer treatment and for an eye wash. The name Hydrastis comes from the Greek meaning to accomplish and water, so this could be because of this use,
  By the early twentieth century the little plant was considered a cure-all and used against colds and flu, as it is now, especially when combined with Echinacea. It is actually now one of the most popular herbs in the US, although this may have something to do with the unfounded rumour that it can mask a positive result on a drug test for illegal drugs. Studies have found that it actually has no effect on the results.
  There is actually no scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this herb, although it does contain berberine, it is not absorbed as well in the body as that found in other herbs. Berberine has been shown to kill bacteria in vitro (in test tubes not in animals) and to be effective against some yeast infections in the urinary tract such as candida. It may stimulate the action of white blood cells to combat infection and so may strengthen the immune system.
  In the traditional Chinese medicine system it has been used for malaria and heart failure, but tests have not substantiated this use.
  An infusion of the root may help to eliminate toxins and salt from the kidneys and liver, but the downside is that it could raise blood pressure so is not recommended for use if you already have high blood pressure or heart problems. Also avoid giving goldenseal to children and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use it.
  When its popularity grew in the late 1990s the little plant became at risk of being endangered and is on the list of the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) as an endangered species due to its over-harvesting.
  Goldenseal was introduced to the UK in 1760 where it became used for catarrh, the root being dried and ground to a powder for snuff to clear the nasal passages and also for its decongestant properties for bronchial catarrh. It was also used as a digestive aid and to regulate a woman’s periods.
  The Native Americans primarily used it for skin problems and it has a reputation for being good as a skin wash being credited with stopping pitting after chicken pox and smallpox. They also used the yellow juice from the root as a dye for clothes, body paint and to colour weapons.
  As it is considered an endangered species, don’t rush off and try to harvest the root!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


There are many types of fumitory, but here we deal with the one which is used in medicine Fumaria officinalis. It gets its English name from the Latin (and French) fume-terre, or earth-smoke. It actually looks smoky, with its grey-green leaves and legend has it that it grew, not from seed but from vapours that came from the ground (as with hot springs for example). Pliny begs to differ, however, and writes that it was so named because the plant’s juice brings tears to the eyes as though one were looking through smoke, and so it was used for eye problems in Roman times. Ancient shamans used the smoke from burning fumitory to exorcise evil spirits. It can also be used to curdle soybean milk with a few sprays of the herb put into each litre so that when it has curdled it does not taste rancid.
  The plant is in the Fumariaceae family and fumitory of one kind or another grows in most parts of the world including Iran and South Africa. This one is also native to Britain. It is also known as Beggary, Nidor and Vapour, and John Gerard, writing in the 16th century said that the distilled water of fumitory “conduceth much against the plague and pestilence, being taken with good treacle.”
  In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about it in his “Canterbury Tales” and in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale it is listed as a laxative:-
   “…ere ye take your laxatives
   Of lauriol, century, and fumitory,
   Or elles of elder bery that growith thereby,
   Of catapus or of dogwood berrys,
    Of yvy in our yard, that mery is:”
Dioscorides writing in the first century AD believed that it was good for cleansing the blood and as a tonic, but as we can see from Chaucer and later writers, it was used with an infusion of senna as a laxative.
  Shakespeare makes mention of fumitory too, and classifies it as a “rank” weed, as we can see from Cordelia’s speech in “King Lear” Act IV scene 4 when she is talking about her mad father, the king, describing him in these words: -
  “As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
    Crown’d with rank Fumiter and Furrow-weed,
    With burdocks, nettles, cuckoo-flowers
    Darnel and all the idle weeds that grow
    In our sustaining corn.”
  Furrow weeds were any type of weed that grew in ploughed land and darnel were also any type of weed, although these may have been thistle-types. Clearly Shakespeare didn’t think much of fumitory as in Henry V he once again classifies it as “rank” in Act V scene 2 :-
  “Her fallow leas
    The Darnel, Hemlock and rank Fumitory
    Doth root upon.”
Interestingly, Nicholas Culpeper in his Herbal wrote that it can banish Melancholy but warns against taking the pills in large doses over a period of time. He quotes Ibn Sina or Avicenna thus: -
“Pills of Fumitory: Take of myrobalans, citrons, chebs and Indian Diagrydium of each 5 drams; Aloes 7 drams; let all of them be bruised, be thrice moistened with the juice of Fumitory and thrice suffered to dry, then brought into a mass with a syrup of Fumitory.” Culpeper adds “It purges Melancholy. Be not too busy with it I beseech you.”
  He writes that fumitory has cooling properties along with strawberry leaves, wood sorrel, teazles and houseleeks among other plants for the head, and writes that it is “Cold in the second degree” as are plantain, chicory (Succory), and strawberry leaves and also states that it is good for the spleen. He suggested it be mixed with vinegar and docks and used as a wash for skin problems such as sores, scabs and pimples. (The old herbalists believed that fumitory could help with all skin problems including leprous sores.)
  Fumitory flowers in summer and a yellow dye can be obtained from the flowering tops. These are also the parts used in medicines as well as the seeds of this plant. One old (and rather expensive remedy these days) is to macerate 2 ounces of the flowers and tops in 2 pints (the expensive part) of Madeira and this was to be taken twice a day for dyspepsia. The dose was 2 to 4 fluid ounces.
  Fumitory flowering tops may be gathered in summer and dried for later use as they are thought to be especially useful for obstructions in the liver, kidneys, gall bladder and spleen. In Germany it is approved for “colicky pain affecting the gallbladder and biliary system, together with the gastrointestinal tract.” However it is said to have a hypnotic and sedative effect and should not be used for a period of longer than eight days. Fumitory is diuretic and a digestive, and slightly diaphoretic, meaning that it can promote sweating. It is also used for a tonic as it contains vitamins which help to boost the immune system.
  However caution should be taken with this herb because one can have too much of it for comfort.

Monday, 19 December 2011


Solomon’s Seal is so called because of the marks or scars left on the rhizome when the stem has died back. Solomon’s seal was a ring given to the King who was reputed to be very wise by God or Allah. It symbolized human wisdom or super-wisdom as Solomon was thought to have and God’s grace.
  The plant is related to the lily-of-the-valley, and it certainly looks like a larger version of this, but it can have either white of creamy-yellow flowers. It is a member of the Liliaceae or lily family of plants so is related to the Arum lily too.
  It has been used in traditional medicine to help knit bones together when taken internally either in an infusion or a decoction, and the parts used are the rhizomes. The rest of the adult plant is poisonous, although the young shoots may be eaten in spring like asparagus. The pounded fresh root has been used to reduce the discolouration of bruising as John Gerard, the 16th century English herbalist points out.
“The roots of Solomon's Seal, stamped while it is fresh and greene and applied, taketh away in one night or two at the most, any bruise, blacke or blew spots gotten by fals or women's wilfulness in stumbling upin their hastie husband's fists, or such like.”
He goes on to add:
“As touching the knitting of bones and that truly which might be written, there is not another herb to be found comparable to it for the purposes aforesaid; and therefore in briefe, if it be for bruises inward, the roots must be stamped, some ale or wine put thereto and strained and given to drinke . . . as well unto themselves as to their cattle,' it being applied 'outwardly in the manner of a pultis' for external bruises.”
Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century concurs with Gerard and adds some information of his own.
Government and virtues. Saturn owns the plant, for he loves his bones well. The root of Solomon's Seal is found by experience to be available in wounds, hurts, and outward sores, to heal and close up the lips of those that are green, and to dry up and restrain the flux of humours to those that are old. It is singularly good to stay vomitings and bleeding wheresoever, as also all fluxes in man or woman; also, to knit any joint, which by weakness uses to be often out of place, or will not stay in long when it is set; also to knit and join broken bones in any part of the body, the roots being bruised and applied to the places; yea, it hath been found by experience, and the decoction of the root in wine, or the bruised root put into wine or other drink, and after a night's infusion, strained forth hard and drank, hath helped both man and beast, whose bones hath been broken by any occasion, which is the most assured refuge of help to people of divers counties of the land that they can have. It is no less effectual to help ruptures and burstings, the decoction in wine, or the powder in broth or drink, being inwardly taken, and outwardly applied to the place. The same is also available for inward or outward bruises, falls or blows, both to dispel the congealed blood, and to take away both the pains and the black and blue marks that abide after the hurt. The same also, or the distilled water of the whole plant, used to the face, or other parts of the skin, cleanses it from morphew, freckles, spots, or marks whatsoever, leaving the place fresh, fair, and lovely; for which purpose it is much used by the Italian Dames.”
  As a tisane it is used for stomach disorders and for menstrual cramps and other ‘female problems.’ It has been used in this way by Native Americans for centuries. In recommending this herb for pimples and freckles, these old herbalists were echoing Galen (circa AD 130-200), so this wisdom goes back to ancient times.
  The roots should be dug up in autumn when the above parts of the plant are dying and the berries are ripe. (These are very poisonous.)
   Clinical trials have been carried out, but very few, however some seem to show that the plant may be helpful in treating both diabetes and cancer, although the trials have only so far been conducted on animals in the lab.
  Solomon’s seal is also known as Lady’s Seal and the old herbalists called it Sigillum Sanctae Mariae or Saint Mary’s Seal. There are several Latin names for different plants which all go under the general name of Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum multiflorum, P biflorum, P. giganteum, P.canaliculatum, P. commutatum are among these names. Polygonatum means many-angled and refers to the root system of the plant.
  A tisane is made with one ounce of the chopped root to one pint of boiling water. Allow this to steep for 15 minutes and drink it for stomach cramps. It is also supposed to be good for the kidneys and was given for TB. The flowers and roots were used in love potions in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This is not recommended these days, however, try dark chocolate instead!


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