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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SHEPHERD'S NEEDLE - USED BY THE ANCIENT PHYSICIANS OF MYDDFAI: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF SHEPHERD'S NEEDLE


SHEPHERD’S NEEDLE, LADY’S COMB, SCANDIX PECTENS-VENERIS
Shepherd’s Needle is native to Scandinavia, Britain, Europe and the Mediterranean region through to the western Himalayas. It is a member of the carrot or Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants and as such is related to caraway, dill, fennel, sweet Cicely, anise, lesser and greater burnet saxifrage, cow parsley, parsley,  water dropwort or water fennel, hemlock, lovage, Alexanders, and Thapsia among many others.
  In Britain it is now confined to Suffolk and some other parts of south-east England, and is Critically Endangered there. However in other parts of its native region such as Pakistan it is thriving. In Britain it is being threatened by agricultural methods and loss of field margins, as it is a plant that used to thrive on arable land.
  It grows to heights of around one foot eight inches, with umbels of white flowers appearing between April and July. The young stem tops are edible and can be added to salads or eaten in soups and stews, or simply used as a pot-herb to flavour these.
  The plant contains carotene and vitamin C so was good to protect against scurvy in former times. It is also rich in minerals containing iron, phosphorous, sodium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc, chromium and nickel. It also contains the fatty acids, palmitic, stearic, linoleic and linolenic and is a source of Omega-3 although not very much. It provides dietary fibre, protein and carbohydrates and could be a useful addition to human diets, as it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century had little to say about the medicinal virtues of this plant, but this is what he wrote:-
  “Government and virtues. This little plant is under the government of Venus. When taken as a medicine, it operates by urine, and is good against obstructions of the viscera.”
  The names Scandix in ancient Greek means “chervil” and pectens-veneris, comb of Venus, although calling it “Lady’s comb” meant that the pagan reference to a Roman goddess was transferred to the Virgin Mary, (Our Lady). The plant probably gets its name from the needle-like structure of the seed pods.
  The ancient Physicians of Myddfai found uses fro the Shepherd’s Needle, suggesting that it was fairly plentiful in Mid-Wales during their time. This is what they wrote and their remedies using Shepherd’s Needle in combination with other herbs (the notes in the brackets are mine):-
“ISSUES AND SEATONS.
. Viper's garlic, and shepherd's needle. The juice of the roots will form an issue (liquid would flow from a wound or lesion on the skin), that of then leaves a seaton. (Cyst or fistula, now seton)”
  Here is their remedy for “pneumonia” and other lung diseases.
  “There are three kinds of lung disease; — simple pneumonia, white pneumonia, (bronchitis) and black pneumonia, (phthisis) which is marked by pain below the mamma, under the armpit, and in the top of the shoulders, with (hectic) redness of the cheeks. And thus are they treated. Let (the patient) take, for three successive days, of the following herbs ; hemlock, agrimony, herb Robert, and asarabacca, then let him undergo a three day's course of aperients. When the disease is thus removed from the bronchial tubes, an emetic should be given him (daily) to the end of nine days. Afterwards let a medicine be prepared, by digesting the following herbs in wheat ale or red wine: madder, sharp dock, anise, agrimony, daisy, round birthwort, meadow sweet, yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, crake berry, the corn cockle, caraway, and such other herbs as will seem good to the physician. Thus is the blessed confection prepared. Take of May butter, a she-goat's suet or a doe's fat, the shepherd's needle, and as many as may be desired of such herbs as may be suitable for the purpose. A wounded lung is the physician's third difficulty, for he cannot controul it, but must wait for the will of God. By means of the herbs just mentioned, a medicine may be prepared for any one who has a pulmonary abcess (empyema.) He should let out (the matter) and support (the patient) as in the case of a wounded lung, till he is recovered. But most usually, he will have died within the year.”






Monday, July 2, 2012

MOUNTAIN LAUREL NATIVE TO USA: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF MOUNTAIN LAUREL


MOUNTAIN LAUREL, CALICO BUSH, SPOONWOOD, KALMIA LATIFOLIA  
Mountain laurel is indigenous to the north Eastern parts of North America. It is an evergreen shrub which usually doesn’t exceed ten feet in height, although it can grow to tree size and achieve heights of forty feet with a diameter of two feet. It is the only one of the Kalmia genus which grows to tree size. It is known by several other names including Sheep laurel and a synonym for the species is Kalmia lucida. It is the state flower of Pennsylvania.
  The mountain laurel is a member of the Ericaceae family or heather (ling) family of plants and as such is related to the trailing azalea, yellow bird’s nest, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), the strawberry tree and the Greek strawberry tree, as well as bilberries, blueberries and cranberries.
  Its glossy green leaves closely resemble those of the European laurel or bay tree (Laurus nobilis). However the leaves and indeed the whole of the mountain laurel is poisonous. The wild variety of mountain laurel usually has pink flowers which turn to white. They flower between late May and June with the brown-tan fruits appearing just after the flowers fade, and it ripens in September.
  The plant is an attractive one and so has been cultivated with many cultivars and colours of flowers available if you want to have it in your garden. It is toxic and can be lethal to animals, although it would seem that deer are unharmed by it. People have apparently suffered ill-effects in the past after eating pheasants which had fed on mountain laurel. There is also a documented case of poisoning in the USA in 1790 according to Neltje Blanchen in Nature’s Garden, which was published by Doubleday, Page and Co in 1900. In that book it is related that there were fatal cases of poisoning after people had eaten wild honey. It was traced back to the Mountain laurel.                                                                                                                   
   The expressed juice of the plant or a decoction of the leaves is believed to have been used by Native Americans to commit suicide in the past. It is hardly ever used in modern herbal medicine, although it is used in homeopathy to cure the symptoms which a large dose can provoke, for example vertigo, nausea, headache, loss of vision, and a number of other ailments. It is also used for rheumatism, or at least the pain of that complaint.
  An infusion of the leaves has been used externally for skin problems, and inflammatory problems. This was also used to clean wounds and to get rid of external parasites such as lice and tics. Internally an infusion of the leaves was used for its astringent and sedative properties, to stop haemorrhages, for diarrhoea and dysentery, for fevers; neuralgia, angina and syphilis.
  A salve made from the expressed juice or sap of the plant is topically applied to rheumatic pains.
  A yellow-tan dye can be obtained from the leaves of Mountain Laurel, and the plant can be used as a living hedge. The wood is, or at least was, used for fuel and can be used to make small items such as tool handles. The roots were used to make spoons, giving it one of its names- Spoonwood.

TRAILING OR MOUNTAIN AZALEA: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF TRAILING AZALEAS


TRAILING OR MOUNTAIN AZALEA, KALMIA PROCUMBENS  
This alpine plant grows in the Arctic and in Scotland in the British Isles. It can be found growing with Iceland moss, Mountain club moss and wild strawberries. It was formerly called Loiseleuria procumbens, but has recently been moved to the Kalmia genus. This means that it is now in the same genus as Kalmia latifolia, Mountain laurel which is indigenous to North America. Interestingly trailing azaleas are the only Kalmia genus not native to North America.
  As a member of the Ericaceae or heather (ling) family, it is related to the Greek strawberry tree, the strawberry tree, yellow bird’s nest, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), round-leaved wintergreen, bilberries, blueberries and cranberries. However the wintergreens have now been moved into their own separate families.                                           
  The rootstock of this plant is wide, with the majority of the plant being under the ground. The plants can live for between fifty and sixty years.
  Nicholas Culpeper describes the flowers as red, and there are some, but these are rarer than the plants with pink flowers. In Culpeper’s day I suppose they grew in parts of Britian other than Scotland. He was the great English herbalist who wrote his Herball in the 17th century. This is what he said about the medicinal properties of the trailing azalea.
“Government and virtues. It is a plant of Mercury, and has a pleasing aromatic smell, resembling that of lemons; and is cordial and strengthening. It comforts the head and stomach, removes palpitations of the heart, helps the vertigo, or giddiness and swimmings in the head, and is greatly extolled by many, as a specific in nervous and hypochondrical disorders.”
  Today it is not used in medicine it would appear from my research.
   The Kalmia genus has an interesting history. It was named by Karl Linnaeus, often referred to as the Father of Botany, for his student, Pehr Kalm (1715-1779), who was from Finland but studied under Linnaeus in Uppsala. The Swedish Academy of Sciences, on the recommendation of Linnaeus, sent Kalm to North America to find plants that could be grown in Sweden.
  Kalm was accompanied in North America by the Canadian Gaultherias, and it was Kalm who named wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) after his Canadian companion.
   Linnaeus named one of the North American shrubs that Kalm took back to Sweden, Mountain laurel Kalmia latifolia, after him, and so a genus was born to honour Pehr Kalm.

DRAGONFRUIT: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF DRAGONFRUIT


DRAGONFRUIT, PITAYA, HYLOCEREUS UNDATUS  
Dragonfruit is the fruit of a night-flowering cactus which produces the largest flowers of any cactus, which are a foot long and ten inches wide. As a member of the Cactaceae family of plants dragonfruit is related to the cactus which bears prickly pears, but this fruit is huge in comparison to a prickly pear. It originated in South America but no wild plants have been so far found. It is now cultivated in several Asian countries including Malaya and the Philippines.
  At first sight the plant may not appear to be a cactus as it has long branched trailing ribbons of green with spikes on the ribs. It is three sided and can produce aerial roots which help it to climb trees and trellises. It is quite happy hanging from pots in cultivation and can also creep along the ground.

  The fruit of this variety of dragonfruit is red-skinned with white flesh full of black edible seeds which contain the fats and protein in the fruit. You slice open the fruit and scoop out the flesh. In other species of plant such as Selinocereus megalanthus, the fruit has a yellow skin and white flesh, while there is also a red pulp variety which comes from Hylocereus polyrhizus.
  The flesh can be eaten raw or cooked in jellies, jams and preserves, or you can use it raw in fruit salads or in smoothies and so on. It is said to taste a little like a kiwi fruit or perhaps a watermelon.
  This fruit is being called a wonder fruit, although it has about as many vitamins and minerals as a watermelon and contains about as much water. The “wonder” of it is that it is rich in photoalbumins which have potent antioxidant properties; hence it is good for the cardiovascular system and to protect the body from the scavenging free-radicals which can cause cancer.                                           
  It contains small amounts of the B-complex vitamins B3 and B1, but does contain a slightly higher amount of B2 (riboflavin) It also contains vitamins A in the form of carotene and C in the form of ascorbic acid. As for minerals it has calcium, phosphorous and iron.

  These small amounts of vitamins and minerals make the 100 gram serving good for people on a weight loss diet as that portion only has 60 calories, and of course fruit is very good for boosting the immune system and the B-complex vitamins and the others, make the fruit good for the skin, eyes, hair, bones and teeth.
  However it won’t on its own help you to lose weight, and like any other fruit it is definitely good for your health. That being said, it is higher than other fruit in photoalbumins perhaps, so does have potent antioxidant properties, giving it an edge over other fruit.
  

COMMON AND MOUNTAIN CLUB MOSS: HEALTH BENEFITS USES AND POSSIBLE FUTURE BENEFITS OF COMMON AND ALPINE CLUB MOSS


common club moss

COMMON CLUB MOSS, LYCOPODIUM CLAVATUM, MOUNTAIN OR ALPINE CLUB MOSS, DIPHASIASTRUM ALPINUM  
Common club moss is native to the Arctic and Europe and along with mountain club moss can be found in the British Isles. Both mosses are actually ferns, with common club moss resembling asparagus spears. Both these ferns are in the Lycopodiaceae family of plants. Lycopodium means wolf’s foot in Latin and the common club moss is sometimes called wolf’s claw (clavatum means claw). The two mosses look similar, although Mountain club moss is used in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory.
  The ancient Physicians of Myddfai employed mountain club moss in the following remedy for a woman who was unable to conceive:-
“A sterile woman may have a potion prepared for her by means of the following herbs, viz:—St. John's wort, yew, agrimony, amphibious persicaria, creeping cinque foil, mountain club moss, orpine and pimpernel, taking an emetic in addition.”
Alpine club moss
(The physicians wrote their remedies between the years 800 and 1800 in Wales; this is one of the earlier remedies.)                                                                                              
  Traditionally the common club moss was used for stomach problems and as a diuretic, to remove stones from the bodily organs and for other kidney problems. In the 17th century the use of the whole plant stopped and only the spores were used.
  The spikes of the plant mature in the months of July and August and the spores have to be shaken out of the plant and this ‘dust’ is used for a number of ailments. For example it was used on the skin for eczema and other skin problems as well as to stop itchiness. It was given to people with rabies to stop their spasms, and also for gout and scurvy. It was also used for rheumatism and applied to wounds as a healing and cleansing agent.
Alpine club moss
  The powder has the ability to repel water and to stop things sticking together so it has been used for condoms to prevent the latex sticking together. The plant has also been used as a mordant in dying and the stems were used for matting. The spores have also been used in fireworks and to make artificial lightning. They also have uses in the food industry because of their water and liquid repellant properties. However they can be an allergen and workers in condom factories have developed asthma from using these spores.
Alpine club moss
  There has been some clinical research done on these plants but none that is conclusive. They have been touted as being good for Alzheimer’s patients in that they improve memory. They have also been tested as anticancer material but again there is no conclusive evidence to support their use as yet.                                           
  They can be helpful in respiratory problems it seems and traditionally they have been used to control internal bleeding. They may dispel stones from the urinary tract, and seem to help with skin problems. They are also a diuretic.
  However more research need to be carried out on these plants, and this is unlikely to be done in the case of the mountain club moss as in some countries it is listed as a threatened species.
 
 
   

ROYAL FERN: SUPERSTITIONS, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF ROYAL FERN


ROYAL FERN, OSMUNDA REGALIS
The royal fern is the tallest native fern in the British Isles, and can grow to heights of ten feet in moist, shady places. It is also called the flowering fern, as it has showy seeds in June through to August. It is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia and a subspecies flourishes in North America. It is one of my favourite ferns, as it grew profusely in Wales and I could easily hide from my long-suffering grandfather in those tall ferns.
  The name Osmunda probably comes from the Saxon os (meaning house) and mund, peace, so it was a symbol of domestic peace. Another etymological explanation is that is comes from the Latin with os meaning bone, and mundare meaning to cleanse. This would refer to its use for diseases of the bones caused primarily by malnutrition (e.g. rickets). Regalis means royal or regal in Latin. It is a member of the Osmundaceae family of plants.
Like bracken seeds which were supposed to make the holder of these invisible, there is also a legend regarding the sporangia (seeds or spores) of the Royal fern. It was supposed to have magical powers, and to uproot a fern, or at least to harvest its seeds, one had to draw a circle around oneself and the fern, and then withstand the onslaught of demons. However it was worth the fright, because a person who had the fern seeds could command demons and defeat them they also would have wishes granted and would also be able to understand the language of trees. Also secrets would be revealed to them. Clearly it was worth braving a few demons to obtain the fern, although this could only be done on the evening before Easter. The fronds are fertile in April so this makes some sense.
  The fronds were once combined with wild ginger and given to children who suffered from convulsions caused by parasitical worms.                                    
  Hairs of the Royal fern were formerly  mixed with wool to make cloth, while the roots were the source of Osmunda fibre, which was very popular for potting orchids.
  The root of the Royal fern is mucilaginous and soothes the mucous membranes, so was used in a decoction for jaundice, to remove stones from the internal organs, and a conserve made from the root was given in cases of rickets. It was also recommended for lumbago and the young fronds were made into an ointment which was used on bruises, dislocated bones and wounds. The fronds were used externally as a poultice for rheumatism.
   John Gerard, writing in the 16th century had this to say about the royal fern:-
“The root and especially the heart or middle thereof, boiled or else stamped and taken with some kind of liquor, is thought to be good for those that are wounded, drybeaten and bruised, that have fallen from some high place.”
  He is a little vague as his wisdom came from older more ancient herbalists. Nicholas Culpeper, writing his Herball in the 17th century had this to say about the medicinal properties of the Royal fern:-
“Government and virtues. Saturn owns the plant. This hath all the virtues mentioned in the former ferns, and is much more effectual than they, both for inward and outward griefs, and is accounted singular good in wounds, bruises, or the like. The decoction to be drank or boiled into an ointment of oil, as a balsam or balm, and so it is singular good against bruises, and bones broken, or out of joint, and giveth much ease to the cholic and splenetic diseases; as also for ruptures or burstings. The decoction of the root in white wine, provokes urine exceedingly, and cleanseth the bladder and passages of urine.”
  Modern day science recognizes that the Royal fern has antispasmodic, antioxidant, antibacterial and astringent properties. In the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biological Archives, 2011, vol.2 (1) pp559-62, “Preliminary Antibacterial and Phytochemical Assessment of Osmunda regalis L.” Toji Thomas concludes:-
 “Leaves can be recommended as a source for isolating and characterizing new antibacterial drugs for modern medicine.”
  It seems that those ancient ferns will have a productive modern use.

THE MIRACLE BERRY FROM WEST AFRICA: POTENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS FOR DIABETICS


THE MIRACLE FRUIT OR BERRY, SYNSEPALUM DULCIFERUM
The miracle berry is so-called because it has the ability to change the sour taste of food (such as limes or lemons) to a sweet one. If you eat a berry before having a sour fruit or other food, your taste buds are fooled into thinking that you are eating something sweet. This phenomenon is caused by a glycoprotein, miraculin.
  There were attempts in the USA to have the berry classified as a sweetener, but these were unsuccessful. Stevia, another plant sweetener is classed as a dietary supplement. However it is used in the food industry as a sweetener.
  The berries grow on a shrub that is indigenous to West Africa, and have been used to sweeten palm wine there traditionally. They don’t actually have a high sugar content, although they do taste slightly sweet, if bland. The bushes they grow on can reach heights of around twenty feet in West Africa, although in cultivation rarely grow above ten feet.
  The berries are popular among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as they say it takes away the metallic taste in their mouths which is one of the side effects of chemotherapy. They are also being researched as they may help diabetics. “Improvement of insulin resistance by miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulciferum) in fructose-rich chow-fed rats” Chen C.C. et al. Journal of Phytotherapy Research 2006, November, Vol. 20 (11) pp. 987-992 which states: -
“the results suggest that miracle fruit may be used as an adjuvant for treating diabetic patients with insulin resistance because this fruit has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity.”
  The fruit cannot be easily transported however as it lasts only for two or three days. The pulp can be freeze-dried, which is good news for some. Heat destroys the miraculin so it cannot yet be preserved in any other way. In Japan it is popular among dieters.
  This miracle berry and its bush belong to the Sapotaceae family, which makes it a relative of sapodilla, butter nut trees with mahua flowers, and the African Shea tree from which we get shea butter.
 
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