Some Useful Herbs

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
This daisy-like flower is an extraordinarily useful herb and very easily available. It is a gentle sedative which is safe for children. It can be used to calm anxiety or hyperactivity, or before bed to combat insomnia. It has anti-inflammatory properties which help to soothe digestive problems such as indigestion, gastritis, and colicky spasms. The slight bitterness improves digestion. Externally, it can reduce irritation and soreness and help heal the skin. Contraindications: Do not use if you are allergic to plants in the daisy (Compositae) family.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
This is popular both as a garden herb and a refreshing tea. It is often combined with Chamomile as they are both effective remedies for digestive upsets. Both herbs contain essential oils which can release trapped wind, and together they can soothe indigestion and relieve colicky pains and nausea. Peppermint can also be used for cold symptoms such as catarrh.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Like many of the aromatic herbs used in cooking, sage is antimicrobial, which would have helped greatly to stop food going bad in the days before the fridge was invented. This same property makes it useful as a gargle for sore throats and infections in the mouth. Cold sage tea can be used during menopause as it is a refrigerant and can reduce the impact of hot sweats.

Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This shrub is often planted by local councils b ecause of its bright yellow flowers. The only variety used herbally has small pin-prick holes in the leaves. Traditionallly, this herb was used for chest complaints, bladder problems and as an astringent. Its current fame is due to its efficacy in treating mild to moderate depression without side effects. In sensitive people this herb may trigger a rash on exposure to sunlight, but these cases are extremely rare. If no improvement in a depressive condition is noted after 4 weeks, please seek advice from a medical professional.

Garlic (Allium sativum)
The pungency of a clove of garlic is largely due to volatile components such as allicin. These sulphorous compounds are largely responsible garlic’s health-giving properties. Many people have found that garlic helps to lower blood pressure. Although this is not always borne out by clinical studies, it should be appreciated that individuals will have different causes for their high blood pressure, so that one single supplement will not help all cases. Garlic also has a small but positive effect in lowering blood cholesterol. Another area where garlic is very effective is in fighting micro-organisms. It is active against a number of bacteria and fungi including Staphylococcus, Salmonella and Candida. Once consumed, some of the more odorous constituents of garlic are excreted via the lungs, hence ‘garlic breath’ . This can be utilised in cases of chest infections, where the lungs can be disinfected at the same time.

Borage (Borago officinalis)
Often found growing on waste land, or the overgrown parts of gardens, this is an edible plant with a pretty blue flower. The seeds are an excellent source of GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid which is often recommended for people with PMS or inflammatory disorders. The plant is of use for treating depression, especially where there is also adrenal depletion. It is often said "Borage gives courage". A sprig of borage and a little sliced cucumber form the traditional garnish for a Pimms. Freeze a tiny sprig of the leaves or flowers into an ice-cube for drinks outside of Borage's growing season.

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
The herbs which belong to this family have similar properties. Historically Plantago major has been the herb of choice, being used to heal skin inflammation and bruising. Used internally, ribwort plantain has is a soothing, astringent effect which is useful for coughs, colds and hayfever. It will reduce inflammation and dry up overabundant mucous secretions. It is soothing to the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and has a cooling effect, both on local tissues and for fevers. A suggested use is as a tea for hayfever or colds, mixed with herbs such as chamomile, peppermint, nettle and eyebright. If stung by nettles or insects while out walking, try chewing on some plantain to release the plant juices and applying them to the affected areas for soothing relief.

Nettle (Urtica dioica)
An easily recognisable plant because the leaves and stems have tiny hairs which contain histamine and formic acid, causing a stinging/burning sensation when brushed against with the naked skin. This property has been utilised by people suffering from arthritic joint problems. Whipping the affected area with nettles can reduce local pain and inflammation – an extreme approach that would probably only be considered in desperate situations. Nettle’s nutritive and blood cleansing properties, along with its ability to stop bleeding, make it useful for treating allergies, skin disorders, anaemia and excessive menstruation. Both internally and externally nettle has been used to treat the hair and scalp for hair loss, dandruff and greying. Nettle is one of a number of herbs which contains significant amounts of nutritive minerals which support both blood and hair growth. The roots can help with the symptoms of prostate conditions (e.g benign prostatic hypertrophy), and use of the seeds may be beneficial in restoring function in some kidney conditions. The fibre of mature nettles has been used to make rope, fabric and paper, whilst the tender young leaves can be cooked in the same way as spinach.

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
Also known as curled dock or narrow-leafed dock, this is not the broad-leafed plant which is often applied to nettle stings. In any case, it is the root which is used therapeutically. It contains some constituents which are also found in senna, which gives this root a mild laxative action. Many herbs which help the body get rid of waste (depuratives) are used traditionally to treat skin problems such as psoriasis and weeping eczema.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
A very well-known herb often found in lawns or on waste land. Contemporary herbalists tend to use the root to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, and the leaves for urinary problems. Traditionally these distinctions were a little more blurred. Dandelion leaf has a useful diuretic action and is used effectively to help reduce blood pressure, for some rheumatic conditions and problems such as gout. It is often found in herbal weight-loss remedies as it helps with fluid retention. Dried roasted dandelion root is still used as a coffee substitute and even in this form it can help with digestive problems by stimulating the flow of bile from the gallbladder. The milky latex from the fresh flower stems is a folk cure for warts. It needs to be wiped on to the wart many times a day.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)
This qualifies as a shrub or small tree. It produces inflorescences of small white flowers in spring which are strongly scented. The flowers make a wonderful wine or champagne, or can be infused as a tea to treat colds and hayfever as they reduce mucous production. The hot tea promotes sweating, which makes it useful for mild fevers. In the autumn the flowers mature into red/black berries which have antiviral properties. Traditionally these are used to make a “rob” – a syrup which can be added to hot water. Often children would be given a hot elderberry drink twice a week in the winter months to ward off colds.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This tiny plant is in bloom from March to late Autumn. The latin name Stellaria reflects the appearance of its star-shaped white flowers. The whole plant is used medicinally and valued mainly for its cooling, antiinflammatory action. A salve or cream made with the plant is very useful for soothing itchy skin conditions such as eczema. Like nettle and dandelion it is also edible and can be harvest, and cooked as spinach substitute in May and June.