Dandelion Detox

This common flower is a favourite in western folk medicine and once we understand how beneficial it can be I don’t think we will ever look at it in the same light again. Creeping up through cracks in the pavement and popping up where we least want it, the unassuming Dandelion has enormous healing powers.

Dandelion’s (Taraxacum officinale) main uses in herbal medicine are:

• cleansing the liver

• purifying the purifier

• a diuretic

• improving digestion

• promoting lymphatic activity

The Chinese use Dandelion is for clearing heat from the body. Heat that is deep within the body and Chinese herbalists believe that it cleanses the sinuses. An indication that this is required may not be as obvious as a blocked nose but if white spots are visible on the tongue, or there is a film over the tongue, this can indicate that fluids in the body are clogged by mucus. This congestion can move into the bones casing aching.

These symptoms all link back to the liver, the main area of the body supported by Dandelion as the liver is responsible for detoxification and elimination from the body. The liver and kidney work together; the liver breaks down larger molecules so the kidney can eliminate them.

Due to its bitterness, Dandelion is a diuretic, which increases bile production, which in turn increases digestive activity, which has, clear remedial effects in liver disease by increasing the flow of bile through the liver and cleansing it. Thus increasing urine flow too, so it is important to drink plenty of water when taking Dandelion.

The beauty of using herbal medicine is that we benefit from all the healing properties the plant offers us. Most diuretics cause potassium loss in the body, but Dandelion has the added benefit of containing more potassium (three times as much as most other green plants) so it actually replenishes potassium rather than depletes it. The leaves are the best part of the plant for this action.

Due to its liver cleansing properties Dandelion, especially when combined with celery seed can have very beneficial effects for arthritis, gout or rheumatic conditions too.

If you have ever tried to dig up a Dandelion you will know that their roots run very deep and as they feed the plant they are bringing up calcium from the deeper soil and this could explain how it helps re-calcify the bones and teeth.

Emotions can be related to illness too, and anger, nervous tension and sluggish feelings are associated with the liver and these can manifest themselves when the liver is not functioning properly.

Parts to use:

Roots and Leaves

Harvesting:

Roots – collect from 2 year old plants or older. The older the better. Collect in early spring when they are filled the maximum amount of sap, although they taste sweeter in Autumn due to higher inulin content.

Leaves – pick young in the Spring/early Summer

Preparation:

Roots- wash and cut into long pieces (not too small as sap drys out). Dry by gently heat, or leave on a wire rack in the airing cupboard.

Leaves – Dry by hanging in a dark airy room or use fresh in salad, cooking or smoothie.

Properties:

Citric Acid, Vitamin B, Vitamin A, potassium, Inulin (sugar complex safe for diabetics), tannins, glycosides and hormone like substances.

Dosage:

I believe that with herbs it is better for our bodies and to aid absorption by taking less but more regularly throughout the day.

TEA: As a remedy at least 3 cups of tea are needed a day, or a couple of cups of tea plus a handful of leaves in a smoothie or salad. To make tea use 30g of dried or 60g of fresh root or leaves to 1 litre of boiling water. Always cover while cooling to avoid loss of essential oils.

TINCTURE: 5-15 drops 4-5 times a day. (see our How to Make a Tincture blog if you would like to make your own).

Be patient, as with all herbal treatments this can be a slow process but remember that you are actually curing and supporting the body using plants, not just masking the problem as with many conventional medicines.

Before taking any herbs medicinally you should always seek advise from your doctor first.

Refs:

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann

The Herbal Drugstore by Linda White / Steven Foster

The Wisdom of Nature

I wanted to share with you a thought process that goes back centuries and since first learning about this folklore, I now look at nature with fresh eyes.

Since with 1600’s philosophers have believed that plants are created with signs that guide us to understand what the plant’s purpose and intended use is. There were illusions to this theory in the writings of Galen in AD131 – 200 but it was not until a chap called Jacob Boehme wrote a book called ‘The Signature of All Things’ in the first half of the seventeenth century that this idea took hold. Boehme was banished from his home town for this belief and was told he could not come back unless he promised not to write anymore books – he could not make this promise, so he left!

Paracelsus, a Swiss doctor and mystic of the early 1600’s, was one of the first to take this idea seriously and worked out an entire system of knowledge, based on nature as a living, intelligent being. He named this knowledge ‘The Wisdom of Nature’. He described a different way of perceiving the world, based on the intelligence of Mother Nature and believed those who live close to nature can learn this knowledge through their experiences.

Can the patterns in nature correspond to patterns in people? These signals don’t take the form of carton like images popping up all over the country side, but they are there and sometimes they are very obvious, once you start looking. For instance, look at a Hawthorne berry – red and round. What type of person, or part of the body might that be useful for? Traditional herbalists will use the Hawthorne Berry to regulate the function of the heart, and this little berry does resemble that organ. The sort of people that have trouble with their heart are quite often a little flushed and perhaps a little overweight… red and round like this magic little berry. Another heart healer is the Pepper – like the Hawthorne Berry, it is not only red but inside it is divided into four, as is heart.

It is not just how the plant looks that we can pick up clues from, but also it’s habitat. As an example, plants which grow in sunny locations are often them selves drying and uplifting, like the sun – Rosemary or Calendula are prime examples. In contrast, Angelica, grows in damp and shady places and has warming properties which remove damp and is used traditionally to treat damp, cold conditions such rheumatism.

Hidden within nature is a vital life force, some like to think of this as a substance, rather than an energy as it is easier to think of it as something tangible. Careful and imaginative observation of a plant’s habitat, season of flower, smell, colour, texture, shape and even taste can all help us understand and learn what the plant’s energy is intended for.

So, next time you are walking in the woods, or even down the street, take notice of the plants and flowers that force their way up through the pavement, or creep along the forest floor. What does the texture of their leaves reveal to you, how do the colour of the petals make you feel and what is it about where they are growing that could direct you to it’s use? You will need to use your imagination, but I don’t think it will be long before you start making connections.

Whether we believe that these patterns are created by God, Mother Nature, or all just strange coincidences, and although it may not be possible to scientifically prove this kind of thinking, does that mean it should be ignored?

Answers to ‘The Wisdom of Nature Quiz’ are:

Elderflower: Respiration.
Don’t the shapes of the stems and tiny flowers remind you of the bronchioles and little air sacks in the lungs? Traditionally their anti-catarrh and relaxing effect is used to soothe the lungs and combined with their anti-inflamamtory properties they are used by Herbalists for asthmatic conditions too.

Hawthorne Berries: Heart.
As mentioned above the little round red berries resemble the heart, they are even split into four internal sections just like the heart. They are full of flavonoids which are very effective for repairing the walls of small blood vessels. The flowers and berries are used by Herbalists as they open up the small arteries of the body, which increases blood supply and oxygen to the tissues, which in turn lowers blood pressure.

Calendula / Marigold: Depression caused by nervous anxiety.
Who could not look at this beautiful, orange flower and not feel just a little uplifted? Used by Herbalists for many skin ailments, it also has a relaxing effect on the nervous system which is known to help treat depression caused by nervous anxiety.

ALWAYS SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED HERBALIST BEFORE USING ANY PLANTS AS MEDICINES.

References:

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

The Botanic Medicine Society, Ontario, Canada

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Berry Picking for Herbal Medicine

Although we are still in August, there is the beginnings of a chill in the early morning air that is a gentle reminder that Autumn is on its way. This makes the clear, warm mornings even more precious, knowing they will soon be few and far between. Whilst on my downland walks over the last few weeks, I have noticed the berries slowly ripening and my walk this morning was the first foraging session of the season.
There is nothing more delightful that picking berries early on a sun filled morning… one for the bag and one for breakfast! Why is it they taste so much sweeter straight from the bush, its rather like fish and chips eaten out of paper. The same food eaten off a plate at the dining table just does not have the same flavour does it?
This mornings harvest comprised blackberries, sloes, elderberries hawthorn and rosehips. Their colours reflect the deep reds and purples that encompass the early Autumn tones.

 

Tonights dessert will be vanilla ice cream with blackberry sauce and what is left (if there is any!) will be frozen. The berries don’t just taste good, they have many health benefits too – blackberries are used by herbalists for sore throats, so having them ready in the freezer means I am ready to make a sore throat gargle, just in case the children get a throat infection over the winter.
Sloes will be used to make Sloe Gin, and the best thing about this is that sloes are wonderful blood cleansers and in turn are a remedy for arthritis and gout. Turn your gin into medicine and know that whilst you are sipping your slow g and t you are also detoxing your body. Isn’t nature great?
The elderberries, hawthorn and rosehips will make an immune boosting winter syrup. Elderberries have anti-inflammatory properties and are the perfect winter cold and flu remedy as they help the body flush out toxins and are anti viral as they strengthen cell membranes making them less penetrable to attack.

 

Hawthorn stimulates blood flow to all the tissues and arteries and encourages a good circulation and Rosehips boost the immune system with a very high vitamin C content. They also contain vitamin A and have astringent and anti-inflammatory qualities, which make them wonderful to use in skin care.

Please remember if you do go on a little forage in the hedgerows, just pick a little and leave a lot for nature. Never pick more than a third of the flowers or fruit and never, ever leave the plant with no fruit or flowers. Be sure to forage well away from farmers fields or near the road, where there may be pesticides and chemicals.

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Elderflower

The Medicine Garden Herb Fact File No.1 Elder
(Sambucus niger)
The common Elderberry bush is one of the most significant trees in the Underworld, and legend has it that it serves as a doorway to the Underworld, or magical fairy realm and it’s hollow stems have long been associated with this shamanic journey.
It grows wild all over southern Britain and Europe, on meadows, down land, in hedgerows, light forests and on the sides or railway lines. It has light grey bark, with bendy branches and in May the bushy, shrub like tree erupts into white, fluffy, umbel shaped flowers that smell sort of sweet but heady. The flowers turn into tiny, dark purple berries in autumn, before the tree loses it’s leaves for winter. The Elderflower is one of the most prominent plants used in herbal medicine and is wrapped in European folklore and picking the plant was considered a fatal mistake, if an offering was not made. Later, it was tabooed to cut an Elder down, or burn it’s wood – and that lasted well into this century. The flowers were used in wish-fulfillment spells.
The Elderberry is cocooned in mythology and ancient folklore. Thought to take it’s name from the Anglo Saxon word ‘Aeld’ meaning fire, as it’s hollow stems are perfect to get fires going. The Elder is associated with the German word Holunder, which refers to the ancient vegetarian Goddess of the Underworld, Hylder Moer, who guarded over the souls of the dead and the tree’s gifts were thought to be her blessings.  In Denmark this goddess presided over the realm of the fairies, and it was thought that if you hid in the Elder bushes at the Summer Solstice, one would see the fairies on the way to their mid summer feasts. The sight of the fairies may have been due to the plant’s slightly psychoactive properties, which can alter the mind and senses and may contribute to the many mysterious traditions surrounding this rather strange smelling, small tree.
As Christianity rose and tree worship was prosecuted, the sacred Elderberry tree became associated with Jesus and it is told that the cross of Jesus was made of Elder wood, and Elder leaves were pinned to doors to disappoint ‘the charms of witches, demons and evil spirits’.
Elder has been used in folk medicine since the days of ancient Rome when Hippocrates recommended it to encourage vomiting and purging. Many medieval herbalists believed Elderberry to be ‘nature’s cure-all’, with all parts of the plant used. Elderberry roots were used as a diuretic while the leaves were used to make ointments for treating bruises, sprains and wounds. A tea made from the flowers was considered a wonderful spring tonic, good for purifying the blood, and a cure for mucous membrane inflammations, colds and coughs. These days the flowers and berries, rather than the root are used in herbal medicine.
Medicinally, Elder was the medicine chest of the country people and many of its medicinal uses are still widely employed by modern herbalists today. Every single part of the plant has a medicinal use, from the cure of the common cold, to treating toothache and the plague. Used to make a syrup, tincture, oil, ointment, spirit, water, liniment, extract, salt, conserve, vinegar, sugar, decoction and bath. However, in the old days the healing powers of a plant were not diagnosed due to the chemical properties of the Elder, but the subtle energy of the plant contributed to it’s magical healing operations.
The modern Herbalist still values Elderberry as one of the most useful. The leaves can be collected in Spring and used externally as an anti-inflammatory or internally as a diuretic and expectorant. Ointments are made for treating chilblains, sprains and bruises or nervous headaches. The flowers contain flavonoids and are used widely for a variety of symptoms caused by inflammation and congestion. A hot infusion of fresh flowers induces fever and calms inflamed lungs. Added to a bath they create a gentle remedy for itchy skin and irritated nervous problems. The flowers are also used by herbalists today as a hay fever remedy, as Elderflower is thought to strengthen the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract, increasing resistance to allergens. Drinking Elderflower tea in early spring can help reduce symptoms of hay fever later in the year. Cold infusions soothe inflamed, tired eyes.
In American herbalism the berries were used as a blood tonic for anemia, and the inner bark to break up congealed blood. The berries are rich in vitamins and minerals and can be made into a syrup to keep away colds. They are packed full of Vitamin C and support the immune system, can help rheumatism, gout and soothe inflamed sore throats. They oxygenate the blood flow around the body, stimulating the kidneys, remove stagnation and bring toxins to the surface.
Matthew Wood suggests that the one indication that the use of Elder is required would be a puffy, mottled skin, with a look of fullness with a reddish-blue tinge. The would also be visible on the legs, thighs and forearms. He suggests it is a wonderful remedy for the young and also for old age, although the bark is poisonous and should only be used when dried and kept for several months.
Elder has also been long used to support the digestive tract – it’s gentle nerve relaxing properties act as soothing relief to the digestive tissues and it useful in cases of colic, bloating and gas. It also increases acidity, aiding secretion which enhances digestion.
It is considered a good idea to plant an Elder in the corner of your herb garden as the small repels insects, it is also thought that the hollow stems serve as a plant spirit.

Recipe for Elderflower Cordial:

 

Take about 20 flower heads, picked in full bloom, or some just a little before and place them in a jug of about 1 litre of water. Allow to infuse over night in the fridge, with the zest of a couple of lemons. The next morning sieve into a saucepan and add 8-12 teaspoons of sugar, depending on your taste, and the juice of the 2 lemons and an orange. Allow to simmer for a few minutes for the sugar to dissolve then pour into suitable, sterilised bottles with an airtight lid.
Mix with water, lemonade or soda water and plenty of ice for a delicious and refreshing Elderflower summer drink. Make a jug when you have guests and add a few rose petals, or some mint to the jug for decoration and flavor.

How to make Elderflower Tea:
Place 1 large teaspoon of dried Elder flower, or a handful of fresh flowers into a large cup or mug and pour over boiling water. Cover for at least 20 minutes to allow all the properties to be released into the water, and then sip. Be sure to have 2-3 cups a day in early summer to help prevent hay fever. Local honey can be added to increase the in take of local pollen to build up resistance to allergies.

IMPORTANT:
Do not take elder if you are pregnant and never use the root as it can be poisonous.
ALWAYS SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED HERBALIST BEFORE USING ANY PLANTS AS MEDICINES.

References:
http://www.sacredearth.com
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

 

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