Tag Archives: Herbal

The health benefits of a jolly good cuppa…

It is snowing where I live today.  In the UK, snow is either greeted with unadulterated glee or with unadulterated dread.  I am not that bothered by the white stuff myself, but I will confess to loathing attempting to get around in this weather.  I am a capable driver.  It’s the other idiots on the road that I worry about.


Anyway, with this cold and snowy weather, I love making steaming hot cups of tea.  I love tea.  I love coffee as well, but I do feel that tea is somehow encoded in my DNA.  My Mother’s family were tea planters, and some of their knowledge has been passed down to us.  We know a lot less than they did, of course, but I find the best cup of tea is without milk, possibly with a slice of lemon.  Obviously, you make it in a pot, preferably with leaves rather than bags, and you always warm the pot before pouring the hot water over the leaves and leaving it to steep.  If you have to put milk in tea, then put it in after the tea has been poured.

tea and lemon

A few years ago, my husband and I made a deal with one another.  If we were going to drink more tea and coffee than we strictly ought to, then we needed to make it the absolute best quality we could.  That is what we have done.  We get fabulous tea from a supplier in Canada (yes, I am serious!).  It is my best friend’s favourite tea shop, and when we were visiting there last year, we went in and bought stocks of my favourite blend.  Seriously this tea (The Baroness, by The Tea Girl) is the most restorative cuppa I think I have ever had the delight of tasting.  It takes me from utter exhaustion to back up on my feet and raring to go.

It got me thinking though.  We all know that tea is an antioxidant and it doesn’t deliver as much caffeine as coffee does, but does it help with anything else?  Turns out yes.  Black tea reduces the risk of kidney stones and artheroclorsis, osteoporosis and helps to raise low blood pressure.  Oolong tea is great for mental alertness and Green tea… well, this might be the biggest super food out there.  People have claimed it has cancer prevention properties, but that might be accounted for by the fact it is an antioxidant., but it also lowers high cholesterol and helps with the old mental alertness.  I really don’t like green tea.  I don’t like the taste of it.

oolong tea

Then I looked into  Tisanes.  Well, first of all what is a tisane is any hot drink made of something not from a camellia bush.  Yes, really.  Tea is the only hot drink that comes from the camellia bush.  Any other infusion is strictly a tisane.  (My tea planter Uncle, a mild mannered man, was extremely vociferous on this topic).  Herbally, we know that chamomile calms and peppermint is great for soothing stomach pain.  But a Thyme tisane is great for coughs.  And Ginger infusion is brilliant for nausea, dizziness and menstrual cramps.


I think, in this cold and snowy weather, hot drinks are a must.  And if they do you good, then so much the better!  Keep safe and warm!


More autumn tree herb lore…

So I was at the kitchen sink today, doing the dishes, and I happened to glance at our little seedling oak tree.  We have been given one to grow, and it’s leaves are just changing at the moment and it is rather pretty.  It got me thinking about whether oak can do anything for us herbally speaking.

oak tree

Back to my rather lovely “Backyard Medicine” book.  This is the one that I picked up when we were on holiday in Canada.  I have been hankering after it for AGES and it was cheaper to buy over there then it would ever be over here.  Anyway, it has a lovely bit all about oak.


At one time the British Isles had lots and lots of Oak forests.  In fact, in days gone by, where my house is would have been in Sherwood Forest, (as in Robin Hood, Maid Marian and the Merry Men) with lots and lots of Oak trees around it.  Unfortunately, Oak is rather a victim of its own success and because it was fabulous for building with, has been used for houses and ships and all kinds of things.  Oaks produce acorns and they feed pigs; acorns also stand as a famine food and are a coffee substitute known as ersatz coffee.  Apparently it tastes quite palatable and it is low in caffeine.  The Oak galls, also known as oak apples, are constituents for ink and the bark can be used as an astringent.  In fact it is as an astringent, a tightener or a drier, that it is used for mostly in herbalism today.

Oak Leaf

Oak leaf tea is used as a diarrhoea treatment, as is the young oak bark made into a tea as well.  Another use is as a tooth powder made from the dried oak bark.  You can add fennel seed powder, cinnamon powder, and bicarbonate of soda and use it to brush your teeth.  I am quite intrigued by this.  I might look into it a bit more.

And if that weren’t enough uses for oak, you can also use the twigs to clean your teeth.  Amazingly versatile isn’t it?!

Hellebores… what are they good for?

I received my recently ordered hellebores this morning.  Cue much excitement.  They are lovely little plants, and need to be grown on a bit before I put them where they are actually going to live in the garden.

double ellen picotee

A couple of Fridays ago I received an email which gave me an excellent deal on these lovely, lovely plants.  After due consultation with the husband, I ordered 9 lovely baby hellebores.  There are three plants of three different sorts of Double Ellen varieties – Pictoee, Pink and White Spotted.  They are going to go in the front garden in an area I have named the Helleborium.  I am hoping to find and relocate another couple of hellebores I think might be lurking in the back garden as well, so there should be some rather lovely colours over in that forgotten corner of the garden come spring 2 years from now.

Anyway… it got me thinking… are hellebores good herbal plants?  Quite often in the past, I have found that the plants I really like are actually really useful medicinally.  So I thought i would do a bit of research and find out.


After my research, my take away lesson is that Hellebores (both the white and the black varieties) are really poisonous and should not be messed around with in terms of self treatment.  So… no, they are not really good herbal plants.  I have also filed away the fact that historically white hellebore was used to create a poison in ancient Rome and other cultures have used it as an arrow tip poison.  Useful information for potential mystery novel plots, or if my neighbours really wind me up.  (That last bit is a joke.  Honest.)

Apparently even though hellebore is really, really poisonous, people do still use it.  White Hellebore is used for cholera, gout and high blood pressure and black hellebore is used for nausea, worms, kidney infections, colds and constipation.  Black hellebore can also help to regulate menstrual periods.  Still.  I am not going to suggest anyone plays around with it, and I am certainly going to steer well clear of it.

double hellebores

I shall keep hellebores in the garden as flowers where they belong.  It will add a burst of colour to the front patch and will make me smile when I look up from my desk.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

An unexpected herbal treat from the garden…

This morning dawned bright, blue skied and beautiful, so I would have been crazy not to take full advantage.  I pulled on my brightest pair of summer capri pants (they are cerise pink… I think you might be able to see them from space!), a white T-shirt and headed out into the garden.  The plan was to weed, plant out, deadhead, replant and relocate.  I managed to do everything I wanted to in under 2 hours and have just come in grinning broadly.

I love gardening

Gardening always makes me smile (and sometimes wince… actually, quite often wince!) but another reason for the happiness is that I found a plant that I didn’t know we had.  Honeysuckle.  Now, I love honeysuckle.  I friend of ours gave us a honeysuckle when we got married, and along with cowslips, it rather took over our old garden.  The honeysuckle did not make the cut for coming to this house, but the cowslips have been replanted already.  However… I love the honeysuckle.  It is a fabulous climber, so it can disguise some less than pretty walls and fences, and the fragrance is absolutely gorgeous.  So, the fact that it is out by the back of our garage, competing with a wild rose and a rambling rose was a delightful surprise.


Even more, it was a bit of synchronicity, because yesterday evening I spent a good few hours musing about what I was going to write about today.  I would love to be able to tell you that all these posts of mine were easy to put together and that I have a list of them that I am slowly ticking off.  It is rarely the case that they are easy to produce, so yesterday evening, I got out one of my favourite herb books (Jekka’s Completer Herb Book – fabulous reference and fascinating reading) and leafed through it.  To my surprise, there was a page all about Honeysuckle!


Apparently it is also known as Woodbine, Beerbind, Evening pride, Fairy trumpets, Irish Vine and Sweet suckle.  Alfred Lord Tennyson referenced it in his poetry, and Shakespeare mentioned it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Honeysuckle was among the plants that averted evil powers on May Day and took care of milk, the butter and the cows in the Scottish Highlands.  It was also thought that if the flowers were brought indoors, it presaged a wedding, or if placed in a girls bedroom, the girl would dream of love.


You can, according to Jekka, who is a Herbal oracle of the highest order, you can pick and dry the flowers for pot pourris just as they open.  They maybe at their palest of their colour, but their fragrance is at its height.  You can also use the flowers in salads. The best flavour is before the nectar has been collected, again, when it is at it’s palest.

honeysuckle tea

In terms of medicinal uses, an infusion of the heavily perfumed flowers can be taken as a substitute for tea.  It is also apparently useful for treating coughs, catarrh and asthma.  If you use a decoction of the flowers in a cream it is good for skin infections.  There is also recent research to suggest that honeysuckle has an outstanding curative action in cases of colitis.


I have only ever seen it as a useful climber!  But I now have a new-found delight in the plant!


Right… the shower is over, so I am back out into the garden again!  See you again on Wednesday



Herbal Hero number 2…

I suspect the most famous herbalist who ever lived was probably Nicholas Culpeper.  His Herbal is still considered a very good text for the modern Herbalist (with some strict exceptions – mercury is not regarded as a good remedy for much these days, but for Nicholas, it was quite the “in thing”!) and the work has definitely been instrumental in my interest in the Herbal arts.

nicolas culpeper

In the UK, there is, or was, a chain of shops which went by the name of Culpeper.  Unfortunately, it seems that the chain has now succumbed to our economic climate and has been taken over by another firm.  It is such a shame, because I can recall so clearly the first time I stepped into a Culpepper shop.  It was the branch in Covent Garden, in London, and the first thing that hit me was the smell of all manner of herbs.  They had an apothecary’s chest at the back of the shop, behind the till, and so if you wanted an ounce of marigold petals, then you could order it, and they would parcel it up for you in brown paper.  I also remember the cough mixture they made.  It had skunk cabbage in it, as one of the many rather potent ingredients.  It was a brownish greenish kind of hue and I remember it tasted horrible… but it sure worked on the cough!!


So, who was Nicholas Culpeper?  He was born in 1616, son to a notable family.  He was apprenticed to an apothecary and learnt his trade well enough so that during the English Civil War, he was a battlefield surgeon.  Before the war, he had a pharmacy which he was able to set up having married a wealthy woman, and at a time when people were not able to afford to see someone qualified, Culpeper insisted on providing his services for free.  He also insisted on using astrology as well as medical observations to diagnose his patients rather than just relying on blood letting or looking at urine which were the most popular diagnostic tools of the time.  He had a tremendous work rate, often seeing up to 40 patients every morning.

complete herbal

I really like Nicholas as a character.  He was staunchly republican, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but his core belief was that medicine was a public asset, rather than a commercial one.  This is definitely something I can get behind.  I hate hearing stories about people who can’t afford to access medical care in this day and age.  He was fervently opposed to charging exorbitant fees and for the Physicians of the time using Latin as a way of making themselves seem more learned to a largely uneducated populace.   I like the kind of man who wants to reform and simplify things.  He wanted to educate people in how to stay healthy, and really, this is what I want to do with my Herbalism studies as well.   He was also vexed at the medical professions unwillingness to waver from the teachings of Galen for medicinal learning.  I get vexed at the medical profession for refusing to believe that what is written in their textbooks is not the be all and end all of possibilities.  Really, it is an extension of the same annoyance!


Culpeper sadly died at the young age of 38 from tuberculosis.  It is thought he developed this following a war wound that he received while fighting in the English Civil War.  His works, particularly “The English Physician” and his Herbal have been in more or less constant print since 1634 and its influence spread to the newly opening colonies in North America.  

the english physician

My favourite quote of his is “Three kinds of people mainly disease the people  – Priests, Physicians and Lawyers.  Priests disease matters belonging to their souls, Physicians disease matters belonging to their bodies, and Lawyers disease matters belonging to their estates”.


Cynical, perhaps, but you can still see how his words might ring true today.



Introducing you to some of my Herbal Heroes…

Happy St Patrick’s Day!  Even if you have only the merest of specks of Irish blood in you, today is the day you get it out to play with and celebrate!  Myself, I am just wearing green, and I might make some champ to have with dinner tonight, but if you are of the Green Beer brigade, then enjoy yourself but do so responsibly please!

St Patrick

I did have a bit of a dig to see if I could find any herbal stories associated with St Patrick, but there didn’t seem to be much really.  So, instead, I thought I would tell you about another Saint, someone who is definitely one of my Herbal Heroes.  Or, rather Heroine in this case.


St Hildegard of Bingen was born in Bockelheim, Germany in 1098.  She was the youngest of ten children, born to noble parents.  As was the tradition, she was dedicated to God at the age of eight.  Already by this young age she had been having several religious visions, and as she was now being effectively raised by a Benedictine Nun called Jutta, these visions were written down carefully to be recorded.  These visions continued through out Hildegard’s life, and continued to be written down, until Saint Bernard (yes, the one the dog is named after) the Abbot of Clairvaux, also a Benedictine institution, appealed to Pope Eugene III to publicise Hildegard’s visions and not to keep them under wraps.  Pope Eugene III decided to confirm the visions as enlightments directly from God after he read them in public to Cardinals, Bishops and theologians who had all gathered at the Council of Treves.


Even if you don’t believe in the Christian God, Hildegard still totally rocks.  This is serious dark ages girl power!  Way to go Hildy!  After the seal of approval from the Pope, she had a lot of sway in a very male dominated environment.  She wrote books, songs and guidelines about a huge range of topics – theology, ethics, herbalism, medicine, physiology, biographies, poetry and has even been credited with the invention of music as we know it today.  She was in high demand as a teacher and an advisor by both lay and spiritual leaders.


Not surprisingly, Hildegard thought that God came first in everything.  She felt that sickness was a result of human beings severing their ties with God.  Healing was to be done through prayer and using the viriditas, or greenness of the plants, that God has given to us.  Hildegard herself stated that God was the healer, she was merely his instrument.  This is very close to the belief at the heart of herbalism – the plants support the healing energy of the body and it is the healing energy which sorts out the  sicknesses or dis-ease of the body.


I discovered Hildegard through a most amazing book called “From Saint Hildegard’s Kitchen” put together by one Jany Fournier-Rosset.  It contains recipes and details of some of her visions to do with the healing benefits of natural substances.  Included within this book are two recipes for something Hildegard called Biscuits of Joy.  She actually prescribed 3 of these per day for Children and 5 per day for Adults in order to be happy and content with life.  Now, who is going to argue with a saint?  Pass me those cookies!  (Actually, just to rain on that parade just a little bit, she was all about moderation as well…)


Her rules for a Healthy life were based around a simple eating regimen.  The first meal of the day should be warm.  Who can argue that a bowl of porridge or a boiled egg are great ways to start the day?  She suggested that Healthy people should eat later in day, and that 2 to 3 meals per day will keep the body well nourished.  So, no snacking then!  She suggested that people drink warm water with lemon juice in it at mealtimes, and this advice has recently been backed by a research article I read which suggested that lemon water before eating helps effective digestion.  Hildegard was a big fan of having a nap at noon, and who can argue with a siesta to make you feel good?  She was also very clear that you shouldn’t eat too much and that the food you ate should neither be too hot nor too cold.  Anyone who has ever had total brain freeze after eating ice cream knows just what she means!  Hildegard also thought that raw foods were too hard on the stomach so all dishes had to be cooked.  In the dark ages, I can see how this could be the case, and although it is debatable in this day and age, I am still going to back her.


Her final piece of advice for a healthy life was to take a walk after the evening meals.  We all know that exercise is good for you!


My favourite quote from Hildegard of Bingen is “The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured, it must not be destroyed.”  Looks like Hildy was an eco rock star as well as being a herbal one.  If you can get hold of the book I mentioned here, do so.  It is a great read.  And you get to make cookies that bring you joy!