HeN: Local herb networks for growing, learning, sharing the gifts of the Plant realm for health support and remedy, caring for ourselves and Earth.
Featuring Calendula, Echinacea, Elecampane, Horehound, Lemon Balm, Marsh Mallow, Meadowsweet, Mint, Mullein, Valerian, and Yarrow as big-part players in the local Herb Network.
In "Weeds Love Us" I preach enthusiastically about the virtues of what we sneeringly call weeds, and highlight some of their nutritional and healing benefits. I nurture other wonderful plants in my garden that do not put themselves as do 'weeds', nor do they usually 'grow like weeds'. Several are large folks that need space, thus less commonly cultivated in flower borders. The following that I encourage us to grow and share for the Herb Network (HeN) are all generally easy to grow and look after, and extremely worthwhile as home care medicinal herbs. Their great assets to our gardens are not only their health care properties, also the joy their beauty brings, goodness for bees and the many other creatures that benefit from them. Together with weeds, the aromatics I feature in another article, and the mighty Elder, they give us a good basic stock of 'simples' for our home and community. With the help of these Plant-folks of great service, we can
> better prevent serious illness and unhealthy conditions by nurturing good health,
> receive safe support for recovery from common maladies
> avoid the downward spiral of dependency on petrochemical medicines (see "Greening the Medicine Chest").
If you already host any of these plants, and they are flourishing (the Force is strong!), I hope you will consider harvesting some for the HeN. If they grow so well that you have too many seedlings, I hope you'll pot them up and pass them on to other HeN growers, a charity plant sale or annual Plant Swap. Not only are they easy (usually!) to grow, with a little know-how they are easy to harvest, preserve and use in various preparations for health care. The six marked * I strongly recommend for every household garden.
Most of these plants help us in a variety of ways. The more we understand the practical meaning, beyond definition, of medical terms, the more we get a handle on how to use them more widely. We learn over time, and develop our skills through need-to-know. Most herb users will begin with a few herbs and preparations that are most relevant to their own household needs. For example I started using Plantain as I suffer badly from insect bites, then learned more about what a great healer it is for may other applications. I've limited my descriptions to introductory information that will start readers in helpful directions, give some idea of what plants might be most useful to have in your home garden or share from the HeN store. Refer to your copy of Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Medicine, A Beginner's Guide for detailed use-for information, excellent recipes and how-to, and much more. I also recommend her Herbal Remedies for Children's Health. The two books together give much practical information about the herbs I describe through these articles.
SAFETY Please use herbs responsibly If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or using pharmaceutical drugs of any kind (even Paracetamol or cough medicine), then only use herbal preparations - internally or externally - according to the guidance of a fully qualified Herbal Physician / Medical Herbalist. Oddly, many herb information sources say to consult your doctor - i.e. general Allopathic MD, yet they are not trained in the use of herbal medicines, so they are not appropriate professionals to consult about use of herbs.
Most of the following is from James Green, cross checked with Deni Brown's Encyclopedia and other sources.
Calendula C. officinalis HA aka Pot Marigold (not French Marigold) HEALTH astringent, anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, aids wound healing; menstrual regulator. Use for burns, skin infections. (Ody:) "Applied externally for a wide range of skin problems* and inflammations, the petals are also taken internally for many gynaecological, feverish or toxic conditions, and to move liver energies." I recommend home use externally only, learn how to use internally from your medical herbalist for the more serious complaints. A wonderfully giving plant, pick flowers and more come along very quickly, all through the season, without showing any signs of stress. Feed and water well and they will reward you fabulously. *As cream it's a classic and welcome relief for sore nipples when breastfeeding.
Echinacea E. purpurea* HP CAUTION High doses can occasionally cause nausea and dizziness. HEALTH Antibiotic, immune stimulant, anti-allergenic, lymphatic tonic. Best known for immunity support, use for short term specific use, not as long term preventative. It is worth getting to know how other helpers also support our immune system by cleansing, calming, strengthening etc. One way Echinacea helps immunity is via its cleansing action. It's well known as an Alterative herb, that is it supports specific elimination pathways of the body - like making the river clear running. (*E. angustifolia is also used, though not easily grown well here; E. purpurea, especially when grown locally, is good enough for household care.)
Elecampane Inula helenium HP HEALTH Mucilage (bitter, unlike Marsh Mallow), tonic, stimulating expectorant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, digestive stimulant, diuretic. Root, usually used in combination with other herbs for cough. Excellent chest health herb for bronchitis, asthma, upper respiratory catarrh, ease hay fever symptoms. Soothes stomach cramps and other digestive ailments. (Ody:) Take regularly as general tonic or for long standing chronic respiratory complaints. Also acts as digestive tonic and liver stimulant. Wash with decoction or diluted tincture for eczema, rashes, varicose ulcers.
Horehound (White)* Marrubium vulgare HP HEALTH Promotes sweating, expectorant, decongestant, diuretic, stimulant, antiseptic. Good for all symptoms of cold: coughs, lung congestion, sore throats. Best known in "Fisherman's Friend" lozenges, I recommend it as tea. I have lost count of the number of people to whom I have given horehound for tea. Often they have had bad cough for months, tried everything. Almost all let me know that their cough was gone within days or sooner. It's among the safest herbs. Use at first sign of chestiness, and for (I reckon) a week at most. 1) Not good to use regularly or over long term. 2) While this is among the most universal herbs I know (works for almost everybody), if there is no response to it quickly, then likely another plant will be your best helper. 3) Cough can sometimes be a complicated condition, and can involve lifestyle issues too. If horehound or the other respiratory helpers don't 'do', go to a Medical Herbalist - they know a LOT more than you or I. If we can't breathe well, our whole body suffers.
SIMPLY: For each cup (not mug) of tea to be made up, use a rounded teaspoon of herb (or more - be generous!). Make enough for 3-4 cups** in a warmed china teapot, pouring on boiling water, and brew for minimum 5 minutes under a tea cosy. Take a cup every 4 hours or so. This is a bitter herb, honey can be added to taste (or fresh ginger root, anise seeds, elderberry syrup...). For children, use as syrup. **A full pot can be made for the day, straining off the leaves after the first brewing, re-warming each cup if wished.
Lemon Balm* Melissa officinalis HP The Happy Plant! FOOD+ Fresh leaves in sauces, salad dressings, with fish (stuffed) or game. Delicious as uplifting tonic tea: Brew in pot or mug, a tablespoon or more of fresh leaves per mug. Dry leaves in potpourris or herb pillows (harvest late summer, lower parts strongest). HEALTH 'Balm' is the rightful key word. Calming and uplifting; sedative, anti-depressant, digestive stimulant, relaxes peripheral blood vassals, promotes sweating, relaxing restorative for nervous system, antiviral (especially for herpes - use tea on cold sores), antibacterial, antispasmodic. And it's great for bees too. Emperor Charlemagne considered it such an important plant for health that he ordered it to be grown in all monastic gardens (the herb farms of his day). SO USE FOR depression, nervous exhaustion, indigestion, nausea and early stages of colds and influenza; compress for painful gout; ointment for sores, insect bites or to repel insects.
Marsh Mallow* Althea officinalis HP Big beautiful velvet-leaved friend, purple or white flowers adored by bees. It's name tells us rightly that it grows best in damp soil, and my best one grew where a muck heap had been. HEALTH Leaves: diuretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, relieve dryness of lungs and a burning or irritated urinary tract. To soothe speakers' sore throat: simmer a small handful of fresh or dry leaves in 50/50 water and milk, stir in live honey before drinking cupful. Roots: The medical terms barely hint at the wide range of ways that the gooey (mucilaginous) roots can help. External: Emollient in salves. Internal: soothing demulcent indicated for inflamed and irritated states of mucous membranes (which we have a lot of! including stomach and gut, mouth, sinus, lungs).
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria HP Anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, soothing digestive remedy, diuretic, promotes sweating. Like willow it contains (among much else!) salicylates, easing aches and pains. This summer beauty, with its sweet fluffy creamy-white flowers, is very talented in supporting our health care: reducing inflammations and fevers, protecting the digestive tract and modifying the action of salicylic acid: Long use of aspirin can lead to gastric ulceration and bleeding - not so with Meadowsweet which is actually a gentle digestive remedy for acidity and some types of diarrhoea. Use for feverish colds* or rheumatic pains, soothing tea for children's stomach upsets. Eyewash: cool and strain infusion, use for conjunctivitis and other eye complaints.
CAUTION Do not use if taking aspirin or paracetamol, though can be used with willow. *If using to relieve flu symptoms, wait until fever starts to recede as high temperature is the body's important healing response to the virus.
Mint / Peppermint* Mentha piperita + HP Some love it others back away. I reckon that is among the tells of what herbs may be best for us personally. There are many varieties of mints, and most herbals refer to peppermint as it has substances (and strength?) the others do not. For day-to-day tea I grow Moroccan or what I call minty-mint (as labelled at Garden Centres "Mint"). Fancy and fuzzy mints are fun and decorative, not for the herbal store. HEALTH (JG:) Antioxidant, carminative and anti-spasmodic, having a relaxing effect on muscles of the digestive system. Diaphoretic, anti-emetic. As a mild anaesthetic to stomach lining, it often relieves feelings of nausea. Nervine, anti-microbial. Combined with Elder flower and Yarrow, a traditional treatment for fevers and colds. (see 'Egyptian tea' in recipes page www.lifepower.org.uk).
CAUTION Mint can irritate the mucous membranes and should not be given to children for more than a week without break. Do not give any form of mint directly to young babies. Peppermint can reduce milk flow, so take with caution while breastfeeding.
Mullein Verbascum thapsus HB The tall spire of yellow flowers, not any other colour. Leaves of strokable felt, want to cuddle with them... but WARNING if using internally, that felt is made of tiny hairs which can be irritating, so strain tea through paper coffee filter (not tea strainer!). HEALTH anti-inflammatory, expectorant, extremely beneficial respiratory remedy that tones the mucous membranes, reduces inflammation, and stimulates fluid production. Also demulcent, diuretic, nervine, anti-spasmodic, alterative, astringent, anodyne, vulnerary (heals wounds)... golly, got all that? PLUS oil infusion of fresh flowers soothes and heals any inflamed surface, and eases ear ache - great blessing for children (see Gladstar). And Mullein will give you harvest after harvest of sunny flowers - kids love plucking them out and counting each time. The big plants like best to grow in little colonies.
Valerian Valeriana officinalis HP NOT THE WILD FLOWER which is Centranthus ruber Valeriana roots, even as seedlings, smell of wet dirty dog. Valeriana is best known for helping us to sleep - because it is a nervine tonic. But it's a stimulant with relaxing effects. Confusing? We are rarely given full information about it so misuse, possibly increasing insomnia is easy (rarely harmful). Because it is so readily available over-the-counter, I present fuller information from James Green so we can use it more effectively and safely. "It has a stimulating, warming nature which does not work well for those who tend to have too great a blood flow to the brain, and too great a nerve force already. Rather (it is) a remedy used better for a nervousness and irritability that comes secondarily to deficiency. It is best used in people with poor blood circulation in general, but particularly poor circulation to the brain and nervous centres. It is well used for anxiety, despondency, and nervousness in individuals whose face and skin look pale and lifeless, and the skin and body is cool. It is a particularly useful remedy when there is intestinal tension leading to gas, cramps, constipation, or irritable bowel type conditions. (It) is also hypotensive and is used as a relaxing remedy in hyper-tension and stress-related heart problems. As a hypnotic it is well known to improve sleep quality, especially amongst those who consider themselves to be poor sleepers. It is also anti-spasmodic and increases menstrual flow. It is a suitable remedy for excessive caffeine intake." All that benefit is, of course, if you can get past the taste! It can be such a relief that it is worth getting used to.
CAUTION Do not use Valerian for more than 2-3 weeks without a break - continued or high dose use may lead to headaches and palpitations. Do not take if using sleep-inducing drugs.
Yarrow* Achillea millefolium HP Millefolium only - the coloured-flowering will do as well as the white, but not any other kind of yarrow (it is quite a lovely big family). HEALTH Carminative. As tonic, used as astringent, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic; for wounds, toothaches, diarrhoea, gas and intestinal ailments. Yarrow is one of the best diaphoretic herbs - remedy to produce sweat for reducing fever (do not use in case of onset of influenza - sudden high temperature is body's first important response). Can help normalise irritated and inflamed states of digestive tract. Useful in other ways under Medical Herbalist's supervision. EXTERNALLY styptic (checks bleeding - as astringent it shrinks the tissues thus closing exposed blood vessels); and wound-healing vulnerary.
THE BOTTOM LINE Please don't put yourself off by imagining you have to learn all or nothing! Choose among these and the other herbs presented in my articles, just a few. Some will 'leap out' at you, whether as you walk around gardens or wild places; sometimes we feel a physical tingling as we read about a plant, perhaps have always loved it. Or it may be simply "We ALL get so many colds and coughs!" So we start our travels with the gifts of the Plant realm with a few friends, and may or not widen our circle from there. We learn with a few safe 'simples' to trust ourselves and nature, and to listen to Mother.
If you are interested in any aspect of HeN - grow, harvest, prepare, use, teach - please contact the current West Somerset hub person, Cynthia Alves via Contact above.