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Glossary of Herbs
For a newcomer to the world of herbalism, the most extraordinary feature of herbs is their incredible versatility. You may think of a particular herb as useful for flavouring food or as a source of perfume, for example, then discover it has a wide range of other applications. A herb that is prized in cooking may also be of value against pests in the garden, one used in beauty care may also be a healing herb. A plant such as the elder can provide the raw material for wines, conserves, medicines, and dye. This chapter shows how the magical biochemistry of herbs makes possible these diverse properties.
The herbs in this glossary are listed under their botanical families, emphasizing the similarities between related plants. Many of the mint family (Labiatae), for example, are rich in essential oils, and important as culinary herbs, while a number of herbs in the daisy family (Compositae) are good for healing wounds and stopping bleeding. Within each family the herbs are listed alphabetically under their Latin names, with their common names also given in bold type. As well as the plants that have traditionally been used by herbalists, the glossary also contains a few plants that have been extensively used in orthodox medicine, such as the foxglove, and other more recently researched plants whose dramatic healing properties have lately been publicized. Superior numbers refer to notes on research on pages 281-2.
Each entry indicates the size of the herb (either its height or both its height and approximate spread on the ground) and gives a page reference to a photograph of the plant. Details of the parts of the plant used are followed by a list of its chemical constituents. There follows a summary of the main uses of the herb and a detailed description of its history, its specific applications, how its chemistry affects the body, and where possible, research findings on its effects. It must be stressed, however, that for self-prescription you should use the Herbs for Healing chapter and not the glossary. Finally, if there are any circumstances under which the plant should not be used, or if part of the plant is poisonous, there is a caution. The word "Restricted" indicates a plant whose use is limited to registered medical herbalists, pharmacists, and doctors.
Sweet sedge, sweet grass, sweet rush, myrtle flag
h 3 ft (1 m)
Parts used Rhizome.
Constituents Volatile oil up to 3.5% (comprising aserone, cis-methyl isoeugenol, calamene, linalool, eugenol, azulene, pinene, cineole, camphor, etc), sesquiterpenes, acoric acid, tannin, resin, mucilage.
Main uses Medical Stomach and bowel complaints.
Mentioned in the book of Exodus and brought to Europe by the Tartars in the thirteenth century, sweet flag has a long reputation as a healing herb. In Europe, it is used for the stomach and bowel because it stimulates the salivary glands and production of stomach juices, helping to counter acidity and ease heartburn and dyspepsia. It also eases flatulence and relaxes the bowel, reducing catarrhal states of the mucous membranes. In traditional Chinese medicine sweet flag is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. Sweet flag is sometimes chewed for toothache and to break tobacco addiction because it has a mild sedative effect.
NOTE The Food and Drugs Administration in the USA has prohibited the use of this as a remedy due to the presence of aserone in the essential oil. But rhizomes from Europe have low concentrations of aserone compared with those from India and no cases of malignancy have been reported in mill and mine workers who chew the rhizome.
Meadow cabbage, polecat weed, skunkweed
16x12 ins (40x30 cm)
Parts used Root.
Constituents Volatile oil, resin, acrid principle, silica, iron, manganese.
Main uses Medical Asthma, whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Skunk cabbage has an unpleasant smell when bruised but it is a highly useful herb nonetheless. It is antispasmodic and expectorant with somewhat sedative properties and is prescribed for tightness of the chest, irritable tight coughs and other spasmodic respiratory disorders. In addition, it is sometimes used to calm the nervous system. It also has a diuretic action. Skunk cabbage was introduced into Europe during the last century.
CAUTION The fresh plant can cause blistering.
Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, Japanese ginseng
h 24-31 ins (60-80 cm)
Parts used Dried root.
Constituents About eleven hormone-like saponins (called ginsenosides by the Japanese and panaxosides by the Russians), volatile oil, sterols, starch, sugars, pectin, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, choline, fats, minerals (including zinc, copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, vanadium).
Main uses Medical As tonic, particularly for people weakened by disease, old age, or stress.
Ginseng (in Chinese, "Renshen", meaning "man root") is the king of tonics. For centuries in the East, top-grade roots have been valued more than gold. There are many different grades of ginseng. Wild ginseng, particularly that from Manchuria, is considered the best but is phenomenally expensive. Cultivated ginseng comes in two varieties, white and red. The red is cured by steaming which gives it its colour and reputedly a warmer nature than the white. Most Korean ginseng is of the red variety and is stronger or more yang in nature than that from China.
Unfortunately, the fame of ginseng has led to misconceptions about its use and to low grade or adulterated products being sold as ginseng in the West. Despite its Latin name Panax, meaning panacea, it is not universally applicable in every illness. It should not be taken during acute inflammatory disease or bronchitis since it can drive the disease deeper and make it worse. Moreover, in China, ginseng is rarely used on its own, but is usually combined with other herbs, such as licorice or Chinese dates, which temper its powerful nature. Ginseng is best taken by someone made weak by disease or old age. Modern research reinforces traditional views about ginseng. The several hormone-like substances in the plant are thought to account for its simultaneously sedative and stimulating (adaptogenic) effect on the central nervous system. Experiments in Russia carried out since 1948 indicated that ginseng improved concentration and endurance. The effect of ginseng on nurses in a London hospital in another experiment was similar. An often quoted work by the American scientist Siegal, entitled Ginseng Abuse Syndrome (GAS), apparently compromising the safety of ginseng has recently been demonstrated to have little or no foundation.
American ginseng (Panax quinquifolium) is considered by the Chinese to be less stimulating and warming than then own indigenous variety. It contains some but not all of the same ginsenosides. San Qi ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng) is probably the most important wound-healing herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia. It has been used success fully, to treat angina pectoris. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus sentiocosus) is reputed to have similar properties to oriental ginseng.
Canada root, flux root, orange swallow-wort, tuber root, white root, windroot, milkweed, butterfly weed
h 24 ins (60 cm)
Parts used Root.
Constituents Glycosides including asclepiadin, and possibly cardiac glycosides; volatile oil, resins.
Main uses Medical Wide range of respiratory complaints, specifically pleurisy. Formerly official to the United States Pharmacopeia.
This plant was revered as a healer by the North American Indians and called after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepias, by American doctors because of its power to save lives. Its powerful sweat-inducing and expectorant properties have ensured that it continues to be used for colds, flu, and respiratory problems.
CAUTION The fresh root may cause nausea and vomiting.
Fish-poison tree, fish fuddle
Parts used Bark.
Constituents Alkaloid, glycosides (piscidin, jamaicin, icthyone); flavonoids; plant acids; a saponin; glycoside; tannin.
Main uses Medical Insomnia, neuralgia, toothache, spasmodic dysmenorrhoea.
In South America, the pounded leaves and young branches of this tree are used to stupefy fish so they can easily be caught. But the chemicals in the plant are only poisonous to cold-blooded creatures. Its toxicity has been reported low in most animals and an extract of the plant has been shown to be sedative in cats. It also has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle. The main herbal use is as a sedative and painkiller. It is useful to treat insomnia, neuralgia and menstrual cramping. Scientific reports also indicate that Jamaican dogwood can calm the cough reflex and reduce fevers, which provides two further therapeutic possibilities.
Jaundice berry, pepperidge bush
h 7 ft (2 m)
Parts used Bark, fruit.
Constituents Alkaloids (including berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, palmatine, isotetrandine, bervulcine and magnoflorine), tannin, resin, fat, starch.
Main uses Medical Stimulate the liver and gall bladder, and as a digestive tonic.
Barberry bark contains many active alkaloids, useful to the medical herbalist. The alkaloids berberine, oxyacanthine, and columbamine are all strongly antibacterial. Berberine may also have antiviral properties and research shows that it dilates the arteries so lowering blood pressure as well as being anticonvulsant. It has been successfully used to treat Leishmaniasis (infections transmitted by sandfly). It is also effective in treating cholera.
CAUTION This herb should not be used during pregnancy as the alkaloid berberine stimulates the uterus.
Squaw root, papoose root, blue ginseng, yellow ginseng
h 3 ft (1 m)
Parts used Root and rhizome.
Constituents Alkaloids, cystine (caulophylline), baptifoline, anagyrine, laburnine. Also caulosaponin, resins.
Main uses Medical For suppressed periods with cramping pain; labour pains; arthritis; stomach cramps.
It is sometimes said that blue cohosh should not be used during pregnancy, but this was not the experience of North American Indian women who drank the tea a few weeks before childbirth to make the birth process swift and easy, nor of experienced North American doctors in the Eclectic or Physiomedical herbal tradition who used it to counter restlessness and pain during pregnancy and to reduce labour pains. Blue cohosh eases the cramping pain of dysmenorrhoea. It has also been used to treat arthritis and ease stomach cramps.
CAUTION The herb should not be used during pregnancy, or where there is high blood pressure or heart disease. The seeds are poisonous.
Mahonia aquifolium (also known as Berberis aquifolium)
Oregon grape root
Mountain grape, Rocky Mountain grape, holly leaved barberry
h to 6 ft (2 m)
Parts used Root and rhizome.
Constituents Alkaloids (berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, and berbamine).
Main uses Medical Liver and gallbladder complaints and chronic skin disease.
Oregon grape root has a considerable reputation as a blood purifier, cleansing the tissues and blood of toxins and waste products. Its bitter components stimulate the liver and gallbladder and are tonic to the digestion and mildly laxative. It is used for skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, and cold sores.
CAUTION Like barberry bark and golden seal which also contain the alkaloid berberine, this herb should not be used during pregnancy.
Betula alba (plus B. pendula, B. verrucosa)
Silver birch, paper birch
h to 65 ft (20 m)
Parts used Leaves, bark, oil, sap.
Constituents Buds: volatile oil which includes the camphor-like betulin. Young leaves: rich in saponins; also a flavonoid derivative, hyperoside resin, tannins, sesquiterpenes, betuloventic acid, vitamin C. Bark: betulinol and a glycoside.
Main uses Culinary Sap in wine or vinegar; used as a sweetening agent. Medical Fluid retention, arthritis, gout, urinary stones or infections.
The graceful birch has been immensely useful to northern peoples. They have made wheels, hoops for casks, brooms and switches from its wood.
The sap, preserved with cloves and cinnamon, was once taken to treat skin diseases like acne as well as rheumatism and gout.
Birch-leaf tea is a powerful diuretic capable of dissolving kidney and bladder stones. It also kills off harmful bacteria in the kidneys and urinary tract. To obtain the full diuretic effect herbalists add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the infusion which promotes the extraction of the diuretic hyperoside. The leaves also have a substantial reputation for treating rheumatism, arthritis, and gout.
Birch leaves can be used to treat fluid retention due to heart or kidney malfunction. In addition the tea lowers blood cholesterol levels and stimulates the flow of bile. A decoction of the bark has been used to allay intermittent fevers. Oil extracted from the buds or bark has been used externally in lotions to treat psoriasis and eczema. This oil should not be confused with sweet birch oil which is extracted from black birch (Betula lenta) native to North America.
24x20 ins (60x50 cm)
Parts used Leaves, flowers, seed; cultivation.
Constituents Mucilage, tannin, essential oil, potassium, calcium, pyrrolizioline alkaloids.
Main uses Culinary Flowers to flavour summer wine cups; young leaves pickled. Medical Coughs, depression.
Borage is a plant which deserves more medical research. Folk use suggests a variety of medicinal properties, a potential which has lately been endorsed by the discovery of high levels of gamma linoleic acid in the seeds. This is useful in many disorders.
The ancients extolled the virtues of borage, pointing out its ability to counter melancholic states. Pliny repeats an ancient verse "I, Borage always bring courage". The seventeenth-century diarist, John Evelyn, wrote that borage was "of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student". This use suggests a supportive effect on the adrenal glands which may well be the case since comfrey, a close relative, has been shown to affect the sex hormones which stimulate the ovaries and testes. Such a hormonal effect is also indicated by the traditional belief that the leaves and seeds of borage could increase the milk supply of nursing mothers.
Borage is also sweat-inducing in hot infusion, making it a good remedy for colds and flu, especially when these affect the lungs because it is also a good cough remedy.
This plant is also a useful culinary herb. The leaves have a taste reminiscent of cucumber.
CAUTION Avoid excessive consumption.
Beggar's basket, Jerusalem cowslip, Jerusalem sage, maple lungwort
12x14 ins (30x35 cm)
Parts used Dried flowering plant; cultivation.
Constituents Mucilage, saponin, allantoin, tannin, silica, potassium, iron, and other mineral salts.
Main uses Medical Bronchitis and other lung complaints.
The names of this plant reflect its use in the treatment of respiratory disorders. The speckled appearance of the leaf, thought to resemble a lung, convinced adherents of the Doctrine of Signatures that the plant was a specific for the brags. In fact they were on the right track, since the plant is a soothing expectorant. The silica it contains restores the elasticity of the lungs. It reduces bronchial mucus. The tannin it contains makes it suitable for treating haemorrhoids, and the tannin and alantoin content explains its extensive folk use for wounds.
Knitbone, boneset, bruisewort, consormol, knitback
40x30 ins (100x80 cm)
Parts used Fresh or dried roots or leaves.
Constituents Mucilage, allantoin (up to 0.8%), tannins, resin, essential oil, pyrrolizioline alkaloids, gum, carotene, glycosides, sugars, beta-sitosterol and steroidal saponins, triterpenoids, vitamin B12, protein (up to 35%), zinc.
Main uses Culinary Fresh leaves and shoots as vegetable or salad. Medical Fractures, bruises and burns (external); respiratory and digestive disorders.
Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to allantoin, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone, and cartilage, and is easily absorbed through the skin. Recent American research has also shown that comfrey breaks down red blood cells, a finding that supports its use for bruises, hence its country name, bruisewort. Comfrey is also useful externally as a poultice for varicose ulcers and as a compress for varicose veins. It also alleviates and heals minor burns.
Comfrey has always been a traditional remedy for gastric ulcers, and work at a London teaching hospital has shown that it inhibits a prostaglandin that causes inflammation of the stomach lining. Comfrey is also traditionally used to treat colitis. It is a useful remedy for bronchitis and other respiratory disorders.
In 1968, Japanese scientists first reported the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey. Subsequent Australian research found these alkaloids in several plants of the Borage family and reported that rats fed with up to 33% of comfrey leaf in their diet suffered liver cancer. But one of the few investigations using the whole plant has shown that it is not carcinogenic but the very opposite. Moreover, Japanese doctors recommend a vinegar extract of the herb for cirrhosis of the liver.
Several studies have found that comfrey can influence the sex hormones (note its steroidal saponin content) which stimulates the ovaries and testes. Gerard, prescribing comfrey for back pain, noted that it caused "involuntary flowing of the seed in men".
CAUTION In view of the controversy about the plant, avoid excessive consumption of comfrey.
Parts used Gum-resin.
Constituents Volatile oil, about 8%, (containing heerabolene, limonene, dipentene, pinene, eugenol, cinamaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, etc), resins, up to 40% (including commiphoric acids), gum (about 50%).
Main uses Medical Sore throats and infected gums; thrush (Candida albicans); athlete's foot.
Since ancient times myrrh has been the herbalist's cleansing agent, countering putrefaction and poisons throughout the body. Its antifungal, antiseptic and astringent action makes it a major ingredient of gargles and mouthwashes, and a useful agent for treating thrush (Candida albicans) and athlete's foot. It also stimulates the circulation and is expectorant.
Traditionally defined as the dried seeds of certain plants, and widely known for their culinary properties, spices are most familiar in the West in their dried form. This is because most are native to tropical regions or to the far east, although some will grow in North America and northern Europe. Because of the strong association of spices with certain types of flavours, a few non-seed parts of some plants, such as ginger roots and coriander leaves, are also included in the photograph. You will also find prepared spices such as ground and powdered seeds and roots and cinnamon sticks. Most of these plants are valued for important medical applications as well as for their culinary uses.
Balm of Gilead
Long prized for its sweet smell, the resin of this tree was the Queen of Sheba's gift to Solomon. Today, buds of Populus candicans, below, are used in its place.
Populus candicans (Salicaceae)
Balm of Gilead
Part used Leaf buds.
Constituents Volatile oil, up to 2% (including cineole, bisabolene, bisabolol and humulene), resins, palicin and populin, phenolic acids.
Main uses Medical Chest infections, sore throats.
Modern Balm of Gilead, Populus candicans, is used for its antibacterial and expectorant actions, his excellent for chest infections and for sore throats (as a gargle). Salicin, a major constituent of this plant, is a painkiller, while bisabolol in the oil reduces inflammation and is antimicrobial. Balm of Gilead ointment eases rheumatic pain. Not to be confused with false Balm of Gilead, a garden plant.
Indian tobacco, asthma weed, pukeweed
28x12 ins (70x30 cm)
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Alkaloids (lobeline, isolobinine, lobelanidine, lobinaline), a bitter glycoside (lobelacrin), a pungent volatile oil (labelianin), resin, gum, fats, chelidonic acid.
Main uses Medical Asthma, whooping cough. Muscle spasm, sprains.
Lobelia, once a famous North American Indian remedy, was adopted by the Physiomedical school of herbalists as its major relaxant remedy. They used it to treat pain caused by spasm, which it does by relaxing the tissues rather than producing a narcotic effect like opium. It is most useful in asthma and bronchitis because it is also expectorant.
One of the plant's main alkaloids, lobeline, stimulates the respiratory system, whilst isolobinine is a respiratory relaxant. Lobeline is reported to have many of the pharmacological properties of nicotine, first stimulating the central nervous system and then subsequently strongly depressing it. The North American Indians smoked it instead of tobacco, but today it is sometimes used to help tobacco withdrawal symptoms. Lobelia plasters and liniments are used to treat sprains, muscle spasms and bruises because of the plant's relaxing and stimulating effect. It is also good for insect bites, poisonivy irritation, and ringworm.
Blue lobelia (L. siphilitica) is used in homeopathy for diarrhoea. RESTRICTED
h up to 20 ft (6 m)
Parts used Dried female strobiles.
Constituents Volatile oil, up to 1%, (comprising mostly humulene, myrcene, B-caryophyllene and farnescene), plus over 100 other compounds including geraniol, linalool, citral, linionene and serolidol; also a bitter resin complex (3-12%) which includes valeronic acid, lumulone, and lupulone. The oil and bitter resins together are known as lupulin. In addition, condensed tannins; flavonoid glycosides (astralagin, quercitrin, rutin); fats; amino acids and oestrogenic substances; asparagin.
Main uses Medical Insomnia, nervous tension, gastrointestinal spasm.
Observing the tendency of hops to intertwine around willows and other trees, Pliny called the plant "willow wolf" from which it gained its Latin name lupulus. Although the use of hops in brewing was known since Roman times, their widespread introduction was resisted, particularly in England, until the 17th century. During the reign of Henry VIII, parliament was petitioned against the hop as "a wicked weed that would spoil the taste of the drink and endanger the people". After the introduction of hops into brewing, the drink flavoured in the old way with plants such as costmary and ground ivy was known as ale, while that brewed with hops was given the German name "bier".
Hops have been used as a medicine for at least as long as for brewing. The flowers are famous for their sleep-inducing sedative effect, whether drunk as a tea or slept on as a hop pillow (probably due to the valeronic acid, resin and oil). The volatile oils released while sleeping on a hop pillow probably affect the brain directly through its olfactory centre.
Modern research shows that hop extracts relax smooth muscle, especially that of the digestive tract. Hops are therefore used in combination with other herbs to treat such disorders as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and nervous stomach. The ability of hops to relax and soothe is complemented by the antibacterial activity of components lupulone and humulone, which reduce inflammation, and the plant's overall bitter-tonic effect Thus hops can allay infection of the upper digestive tract which may play a significant role in provoking gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Female hop pickers can suffer disruption or complete absence of menstruation due to the absorption of the oil through their hands. This is due to the oestrogenic principles in hops, and accounts for its traditional anaphrodisiac effect in men. The hormonal properties of hops probably account for its use in skin creams and lotions, marketed for their alleged skin-softening properties. The asparagin in the plant gives it some diuretic effect.
CAUTION The pollen from the strobiles may cause contact dermatitis. Because of their sedative effect, hops are not recommended in the treatment of depressive illness.
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Mucilage, glucoside, salicylic acid, invertin.
Main uses General For its scent. Medical For skin infections.
This sweet-smelling shrub was once used extensively in medicine but is now valued mainly for its perfume. There are many different species, most of which are prized by gardeners for their fragrance. They include L. caprifolium, the Italian honeysuckle, L. tartarica, from Siberia, and L. xylosteum from Asia and eastern Europe.
European elder, black elder, common elder, bore tree
h 10 ft (3.5 m)
Parts used Flowers, berries.
Constituents Flowers: small quantity of essential oil (containing palmitic, linoleic, and linolenic acids), triterpenes, flavonoids (including rutin), also pectin, mucilage, sugar. Berries: sugar, fruit acids, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, Leaves: cyanogenic glycosides, vitamins, tannins, resins, fats, sugars, fatty acids.
Main uses General In eye and skin lotions. Culinary Flowers and berries used in wines, cordials, desserts, and lams. Medical Colds, flu, catarrh.
The elder is one of our most widely useful plants. The flowers are sweat-inducing in hot infusion (bioflavonoids in the plant encourage the circulation) and combined with yarrow and mint are specific for the treatment of colds and flu. Elderflowers also reduce bronchial and upper-respiratory catarrh and are used to treat hayfever. Externally a cold infusion of the flowers may be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and as a compress for chilblains. Elderflower ointment can be used for irritation of the skin and chilblains. A gargle made from elderflower infusion or elderflower vinegar alleviates tonsillitis and sore throats. Elderflowers have a mild laxative action and in Europe have a reputation for treating rheumatism and gout. The berries are mildly laxative and sweat-inducing, and simmered with sugar, make a winter cordial for coughs and colds.
CAUTION Elder leaves, roots, and bark should not be used internally.
Guelder rose, highbush cranberry, snowball tree
h 13 ft (4 m)
Parts used Stem bark.
Constituents Bitter resin (viburnin), valeric acid, salicosides, tannin.
Main uses Medical Cramps.
Crampbark is an excellent muscle and nervous relaxant good for cramping pains. It is particularly useful for easing painful periods and the cramping pains of pregnancy (it is used to prevent miscarriage for which it is often combined with black haw). Like black haw, crampbark is also used by herbalists to prevent excessive menstrual flow at the menopause.
CAUTION The fresh berries are poisonous.
Stagbush, sweet viburnum
h 16 ft (5 ft)
Parts used Root bark.
Constituents Scopoletin, bitter principle (viburnin), triterpenoid saponins, salicosides, resin, plant acids (including valeric acid), tannin, arbutin.
Main uses Medical Menstrual pains.
This is primarily a women's herb, often combined with crampbark: Scopoletin (a coumarin) in the plant has been identified as a uterine relaxant. It is an excellent remedy for menstrual cramping, and is used by herbalists in helping to prevent miscarriage, and to prevent excessive flow at the menopause.
Bouncing Bet, fuller's herb
16x24 ins (40x60 cm)
Parts used Rhizome; cultivation.
Main uses General Cleansing preparations. Medical Skin conditions.
Both the Latin and common names indicate a traditional use of this plant in washing. It was especially useful in the textile trades for cleaning cloth. This and the medicinal properties of soapwort are due to the hormone-like saponins it contains, which lower the surface tension of water and produce a lather. Within the body, these saponins are mildly irritant to the respiratory and digestive systems. Thus soapwort is expectorant and laxative in small doses (see Caution). It has an ancient reputation used both internally and externally for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, boils, and acne. Its use for gout and rheumatism is probably effective because of the anti-inflammatory property of its saponins. Soapwort is also said to increase the flow of bile.
CAUTION In large doses soapwort is a strong purgative and even mildly poisonous, so it should only be used as prescribed by a qualified herbalist.
h 4-16 ins (10-40 cm)
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Saponins, mucilage.
Main uses Culinary In salads and, lightly boiled, as a vegetable. Medical Skin diseases.
Chickweed has similar uses to soapwort but is safer to use internally, Its main use, however, is external as a poultice or ointment for skin irritation and inflammation as well as for skin ulcers. Boils, carbuncles, and abscesses respond well to a poultice. Internally chickweed has a reputation for treating rheumatism and bronchitis.
Nosebleed, millefoil, thousandleaf
h 3-24 ins (8-60 cm)
Parts used Aerial parts, especially the flowering heads.
Constituents Up to 1.4% volatile oil (composed of up to 51% azulene; borneol, terpineol, camphor, cineole, isoartemesia ketone, and a trace of thujone), lactones, flavonoids, tannins, coumarins, saponins, sterols, a bitter glycoalkaloid (achilleine), cyanidin, amino acids, acids (including salicylic acid), sugars (including glucose, sucrose and mannitol).
Main uses General In skin cleansers. Medical Colds and flu; digestive tonic; wound healing.
Yarrow is one of the best-known herbal remedies for fevers. A hot infusion induces a therapeutic sweat which cools fevers and expels toxins. Like all sweat-inducing remedies, yarrow encourages blood flow to the skin and this helps to lower blood pressure, an action which is also due to the flavonoids in the plant which dilate the peripheral arteries. The flavonoids also help to clear blood clots. The alkaloid in yarrow has been reported to lower blood pressure; the cyanidin influences the vagus nerve, slowing the heart beat.
Tannins in the plant are probably responsible for yarrow's reputation as a wound healer, hence its country name nosebleed. Its Latin name is derived from a legend that Achilles used varrow's wound-healing powers on his men. Yarrow is good for all kinds of bleeding, external and internal. It can be used internally for bleeding piles but conversely it can also be used to treat absent periods.
Yarrow also has anti-inflammatory properties, a fact which has been confirmed by medical research which suggests that this is due to a mixture of protein carbohydrate complexes in the plant. We know too that both cyanidin and azulene are anti-inflammatory, as is salicylic acid. This may account for the folk use of yarrow in treating rheumatism.
In China, yarrow is used fresh as a poultice for healing wounds. A decoction of the whole plant is prescribed for stomach ulcers, amenorrhoea, and abscesses.
CAUTION Taking yarrow orally may cause sensitivity to sunlight in some people.
Great burdock, great bur, clotbur, cocklebur, beggars buttons, lappa, cockle buttons
h 6 ft (2 m)
Parts used Fresh or dried roots, leaves, seeds.
Constituents Root: up to 50% inulin, polyacetylenes, volatile acids (acetic, proprionic, butyric, isovaleric), non-hydroxyl acids (lauric, myristic, stearic, palmitic), tannin, polyphenolic acids. Seeds: 15-30% fixed oils, a bitter glycoside (arctiin), chlorogenic acid. Leaves: arctiol, fukinone, taraxasterol.
Main uses Culinary Dandelion and burdock bitter; candied stalks; root as vegetable. Medical Skin disorders (eg boils and acne), arthritis.
Burdock purifies and cleanses the tissues and blood and for this reason should be used gently over a period of time. The whole plant has mild diuretic, sweat-reducing, and laxative properties. It is prescribed for skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Burdock has an anti-microbial action which has been attributed to the polyacetylenes in the plant. This explains its reputation for treating skin eruptions such as boils and acne. Its antimicrobial property, together with its diuretic action, also makes it useful for treating cystitis. Old-time North American herbalists particularly valued the proprionic, butyric, isovaleric), non-hydroxyl acids (lauric, myristic, stearic, palmitic), tannin, polyphenolic acids. Seeds: 15-30% fixed oils, a bitter glycoside (arctiin), chlorogenic acid. Leaves: arctiol, fukinone, taraxasterol.
Main uses Culinary Dandelion and burdock bitter; candied stalks; root as vegetable. Medical Skin disorders (eg boils and acne), arthritis.
Burdock purifies and cleanses the tissues and blood and for this reason should be used gently over a period of time. The whole plant has mild diuretic, sweat-reducing, and laxative properties. It is prescribed for skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Burdock has an anti-microbial action which has been attributed to the polyacetylenes in the plant. This explains its reputation for treating skin eruptions such as boils and acne. Its antimicrobial property, together with its diuretic action, also makes it useful for treating cystitis. Old-time North American herbalists particularly valued the seeds to treat skin problems, while in China the seeds are used to treat the eruptions of measles, sore throats, tonsillitis, colds, and flu. The roots and leaves can also be used to treat rheumatism and gout because they encourage the elimination of uric acid via the kidneys. The bitter taste of burdock is tonic to the digestive system; the leaves are said to stimulate the secretion of bile.
Research has shown that the seeds can lower blood sugar in rats. In France, the fresh root is also used for lowering blood sugar, its inulin content making it particularly suitable for diabetes. Burdock leaves are useful externally as a poultice for bruises and skin problems. A lotion of the leaves or root massaged into the scalp is good for falling hair. Finally, all parts of the burdock plant have a reputation for curing cancers.
Wolf's bane, mountain tobacco, mountain daisy
h 12-24 ins (30-60 cm)
Parts used Dried flowers or extract. Homeopathic ointments and other preparations available.
Constituents Volatile oil (containing thymol), resins, a bitter principle (arnicin), carotenoids, flavonoids.
Main uses Medical Bruises and sprains.
Arnica is both a famous herbal and homeopathic remedy for wounds, bruises, and other injuries of all kinds. Arnica extract has been reported to increase the resistance of animals to bacterial infection by stimulating the action of white blood cells to clear away harmful bacteria. It has for instance been shown to be effective against salmonella. It also has a reputation used internally for reducing fevers. Goethe claimed this remedy saved his life when he was struck down with an otherwise uncontrollable high fever. Arnica also appears to stimulate the heart and circulation and cause reabsorption of internal bleeding.
CAUTION External use of this herb may cause skin rash or irritation in some people. Do bot apply to broken or sensitive skin. Arnica shoul not be used internally except in its homeopathic form.
h 2-3 ft (60-90 cm)
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Volatile oil (mainly composed of thujone, but also other compounds including chamazulene), bitter principle (absinthum), carotene, vitamin C, tannins.
Main uses Medical Bitter tonic, expels worms.
One of the bitterest plants, wormwood was once used to flavour absinthe, a drink which has been banned in its native France since 1915 because too much of it causes incurable damage to the nervous system. Today, wormwood is used mainly as a bitter tonic, stimulating the appetite, the digestive juices, peristalsis and the liver and gallbladder. True to its name it also expels worms, especially round and threadworms. The azulenes in the plant are anti-inflammatory and reduce fevers. The Latin name comes from the Greek goddess Artemis, who took care of women during childbirth. In ancient times this was a favourite women's herb, bringing on periods, though it is not used in this way today.
CAUTION Wormwood is classified as dangerous by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
h 2 ft (60 cm)
Parts used Fresh or dried leaves; cultivation.
Constituents Essential oil.
Main uses Culinary Sauces; fines herbes; dressings and green salads; in vinegars; with cooked chicken.
Tarragon was formerly used in the treatment of toothache. But its most important property, its distinctive, appetizing taste, has assured it a lasting role as a culinary herb -- especially in French cuisine.
Moxa, St John's herb
h 6 ft (2 m)
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Volatile oil, bitter principle (absinthin), flavonoids tannin.
Main uses Medical To regulate menstruation.
Used by women since ancient times, in the west mugwort is held to provoke delayed or absent periods, and is therefore said to be contra-indicated in pregnancy. In China, however, it has been used to prevent miscarriage. Mugwort helps to regulate periods and stop pain and like wormwood was used externally as a compress to speed up the birth process and to help expel the afterbirth. Like wormwood, it also activates the digestive process and stimulates the liver. ln China, in the form of moxa, it is burnt on or near the skin to alleviate rheumatic pains caused by cold and damp. Both in China and Europe it is also used externally to treat rheumatism and gout.
CAUTION Mugwort's use during pregnancy should be avoided except as prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner. Avoid prolonged use and large doses.
h up to 3 ft (1 m)
Parts used Flowers.
Constituents Volatile oil.
Main uses Culinary As salad; to flavour cakes; with poultry; in beers.
Used in the Middle Ages to flavour beers (hence its name alecost), costmary is now used less frequently in foods and drinks, although its balsam-like fragrance and digestive properties make it a useful culinary herb. A once-popular use of the sweet-smelling leaves was to scent rinsing water for the hair, or bath water.
Wild succory, blue sailors
60x20 ins (150x50 cm)
Parts used Fresh roots and leaves.
Constituents Root and aerial parts produce a latex. Root: inulin (around 58 %), a bitter compound (comprising lactucin and lactucopictin also known as intybin), cichoriin and taraxasterol, tannins, sugars, (fructose), pectin, fixed oils, small amounts of two alkaloids. Aerial parts: inulin, fructos, resin, cichoriin, esculetin.
Main uses Culinary Young leaves as salad; roasted root as coffee substitute. Medical As a digestive tonic and for anaemia; for gallstones; for rheumatism and gout.
Chicory resembles the dandelion in its medicinal action. It is a gentle but effective bitter tonic which increases the flow of bile. It is also a specific remedy for gallstones and for this reason Galen called it "friend of the liver". Like dandelion, it also has diuretic properties and can be used for treating rheumatism and gout, because it eliminates uric acid from the body. Research has shown that an alcoholic extract of the whole plant has an anti-inflammatory activity in rats and may be useful for treating rapid heart beat, heart arrhythmics, and fibrillations, since it mimics the action of one of the alkaloids in cinchona, quinidine, in depressing the heart rate. Chicory also significantly lowers blood sugar, while a sesquiterpene extracted from the roasted root has anti-bacterial activities.
Roast chicory root can be drunk as a coffee substitute or mixed with coffee. The freshly boiled roots are still eaten in the Middle East. The leaves can be used in salads.
Cnicus benedictus (also known as Carduus benedictus)
Holy thistle, St. Benedict thistle, spotted thistle
h 27 ins (70 cm)
Parts used Root, aerial parts and seeds.
Constituents Bitter compound (cnicine), alkaloids, mucilage, tannin, small amount of essential oil.
Main uses Culinary Boiled root as vegetable. Medical Digestive tonic; to increase the flow of breast milk.
Because of its bitter taste, blessed thistle is used as a digestive tonic which stimulates the liver, increasing gastric and bile secretions. It also is reputed to increase the flow of mother's milk. It is diuretic and induces sweating. Used as a poultice or compress, the plant has a reputation for curing chilblains.
CAUTION Strong infusions may be emetic and cause diarrhoea.
h 3-6 ft (1-2 m)
Parts used Flower heads, leaves, root
Constituents A bitter principle (cynarin and sesquiterpene lactones), flavonoids including scolymoside, inulin, cynaropictin and several enzymes, taraxasterol, sugars, and a volatile oil.
Main uses Culinary Flower heads as vegetable. Medical Liver and kidney complaints; arteriosclerosis.
The flower heads of this plant are a common vegetable, but the rest of the plant provides excellent herbal medicine. Two components, cynarin and scolymoside, have been shown to stimulate bile secretion which accords with the traditional use of this remedy for treating sluggish livers and debilitated digestions, Cynarin has also been demonstrated to lower both cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood which explains why in Europe the plant is widely used to treat arteriosclerosis. The herb is also diuretic, and is used to treat kidney diseases and protein in the urine.
Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpura, E. pallida
Black samson, echinacea, rudbeckia, Missouri snakeroot
18x12 ins (45x30 cm)
Parts used Dried root and rhizome.
Constituents Essential oil (including humulene and caryophylene), glycoside, polysaccharide, polyacetylenes, isobutylalklamines, resin, betain, inulin, sesquiterpene.
Main uses Medical Immune enhancer; for skin diseases and general infections.
A herb valued by North American Indians and frontiersmen of the USA, purple coneflower became a famed remedy for snake bite and for cleansing and healing suppurative wounds. Today herbalists regard it as one of the finest blood cleansers, especially for skin problems, such as boils and abscesses, associated with impure blood.
This herb is also an excellent remedy for tonsillitis, inflamed gums, and for mucus in the nose, sinuses, lungs, and digestive tract. Externally the plant is used to treat wounds or ulcers, where it reduces putrefaction and pain. A wash of purple coneflower can help relieve the unbearable itching of urticaria and this treatment is also good for stings and bites. The antibiotic effect of the plant has been scientifically verified.
Purple coneflower has a deserved reputation for enhancing the immune system. Research shows that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, which fight infection, and that the polysaccharide has an anti-viral activity. For this reason, the plant may be useful in treating viral infections such as glandular fever (mononucleosis) and post-viral syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis). There is also evidence to show that it is helpful for allergies.
Feverwort, agueweed, thoroughwort
h 2-5 ft (60 cm-1.5 m)
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Flavonoids (including quercetin, kaempferol, rutin and eupatorin), terpenoids (including sesquiterpene lactones), volatile oil, resin.
Main uses Medical Colds and flu; digestive tonic.
This was one of the common North American Indian remedies quickly adopted by white settlers in America.
Marybud, bull's eyes
h 20 ins (50 cm)
Parts used Flowers. Cultivation.
Constituents Carotenoids, resin, essential oil, flavonoids, sterol, bitter principle, saponins, mucilage.
Main uses General Skin creams. Culinary Dye for butter or cheese; leaves in salads; tea. Medical First aid, ulcers, painful periods.
Marigold, in the same family as arnica, displays many of its wound-healing properties. It is antiseptic and antibacterial promoting healing so that a compress or poultice of the flowers is excellent first aid for burns, scalds, stings and impetigo. A compress is useful to treat varicose veins and chilblains, while a cold infusion may be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis. Marigolds are also antifungal and so can help to cure thrush (Candida albicans). The sap from the stem has a reputation for removing warts, corns and callouses. Marigold flowers are an excellent remedy for inflamed or ulcerated conditions, whether used externally as in varicose ulcers (use a poultice) or internally to treat gastritis, gastric, or duodenal ulcers. It is a useful digestive remedy because it stimulates the flow of bile. Marigolds are called after the Virgin Mary, a fact which may be connected with the ability of marigold infusions to allay painful menstruation and bring on delayed periods.
CAUTION Avoid during pregnancy.
h 2-3 ft (60-90 cm)
Parts used Leaves.
Constituents Sesquiterpene lactones (including parthenolide and santamarine), volatile oil, tannins.
Main uses Medical Headaches and migraines, arthritis.
Feverfew is one of a handful of medicinal plants to be thoroughly scientifically investigated. In 1978 several British newspapers carried the story of a woman who had cured her severe migraine headaches with feverfew leaves. In a subsequent clinical study, seven out of ten patients taking feverfew claimed that their migraine attacks were less frequent or less painful or both. In about one in three patients, there were no further attacks. Further clinical studies have revealed that the plant can have other medicinal benefits, apparently allaying nausea and vomiting, relieving the inflammation and pain of arthritis, promoting restful sleep, improving digestion, and relieving asthma attacks. Researchers believe that sesquiterpene lactones in the plant may inhibit prostaglandins and histamine released during the inflammatory process, so preventing spasms of blood vessels in the head that trigger migraine attacks. Over half the feverfew users involved in clinical studies reported pleasant side effects. Some people said that feverfew helped their depression. This is in line with traditional use. Culpeper wrote that feverfew in wine might help those "troubled with melancholy and heaviness or sadness of spirits".
CAUTION One side-effect associated with feverfew is mouth ulcers. If this occurs, stop taking the herb.
Its common name, boneset, alludes to its use in treating a virulent form of flu in the USA which was called "break bone fever". Boneset in hot infusion is also an excellent remedy for colds and catarrh. It is also used to treat cases of muscular rheumatism caused by exposure to cold and damp. It is useful for stomach disorders of nervous origin. A tincture of the plant has also been demonstrated to have a weak anti-inflammatory effect. In hot infusion, boneset promotes a therapeutic sweat in fevers. Its stimulation of the peripheral circulation which causes sweating, is probably due to the flavonoids and the essential oil that the plant contains.
Taken in small doses as a tincture or in cold infusion, the remedy has a tonic action on the digestion, but if taken in large doses it can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
Recent research indicates that the several sesquiterpene lactones in the plant and the flavones in both boneset and gravel root (below) may have an anti-cancer activity.
Joe-pye weed, queen of the meadow, purple boneset, kidneywort, trumpet weed, gravel weed
120x24 ins (300x60 cm)
Parts used Rhizome and roots.
Constituents Flavonoids (including eupatorin), volatile oil, resin.
Main uses Medical Kidney and urinary infections and stones; prostate inflammation; pelvic inflammatory disease; painful periods: rheumatism and gout.
This diuretic herb is used to treat urinary infections and stones (gravel). It tones the reproductive tract and is used to treat inflammation of the prostate, pelvic inflammatory disease and menstrual cramping. It encourages excretion of excess uric acid and so treats rheumatism and gout. For possible anti-cancer activity see Boneset.
Gumplant, tarweed, rosinweed
Parts used Aerial parts.
Constituents Resin (around 20%), volatile oil, saponins (including grindelin), alkaloid, tannins, selenium.
Main uses Medical Asthma and bronchitis.
Grindelia is antispasmodic and expectorant, and particularly valuable for treating asthma and bronchitis because of its ability to relax the bronchi and expel phlegm from the airways. It should be used regularly in small doses. Grindelia slows a rapid heart rate and its antispasmodic effect also extends to the arteries so that it tends to lower blood pressure. It may also be used in asthma of cardiac origin. Grindelia can be used to relieve hayfever. Externally it is soothing to insect bites and for poison-ivy rash.
CAUTION Large doses are toxic. Use as directed by a qualified practitioner.
Scabwort, yellow starwort, wild sunflower
120x40 ins (300x100 cm)
Parts used Root and rhizome; in Chinese herbal medicine the flowers are preferred; cultivation.
Constituents Volatile oil up to 4% including alantolactone, isoalantalactone and azulene), inulin (up to 44%), sterols, resin, pectin, mucilage.
Main uses Culinary To flavour bitter digestive liqueurs and vermouths; candied and used in confectionery. Medical Respiratory disorders; digestive tonic.
Elecampane's Latin name comes from Helen of Troy, from whose tears it is said to have sprung. The story is perhaps a clue to ancient use of this plant, because it promotes menstruation and is good for treating anaemia. However, the main use of the plant is for the respiratory system. In former times, it was a specific for TB. Recent research on 105 plant lactones found that the alantolactone and isoalantolactone in elecampane were powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents. Today the warming and expectorant elecampane is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, and other pulmonary infections. Its bitter tonic properties stimulate and regulate disordered or weak digestions increasing the flow of bile. Alantolactone in the plant expels worms and the plant has long been used externally for scabies, herpes and other skin diseases from which it gained its country name scabwort. Other scientific research indicates that elecampane has a sedative effect on mice.
h 5 ft (1.5 m)
Parts used Dried leaves.
Constituents Bitter latex (containing lactucin, lactucone, lactupicrin), a trace of an alkaloid, triterpenes, iron, vitamins A, B1, B2, and C.
Main uses General In soaps, shampoo, and bath bags. Culinary Relaxing tea. Medical Insomnia, anxiety, irritating coughs.
A wild relative of the garden lettuce, this plant contains a potent milky latex, sometimes called "lettuce opium" because it looks and to some extent acts like that extracted from the poppy. Lettuce latex has been used in cough mixtures to replace opium. The whole plant is sedative, and helps to induce sleep and calm restlessness and anxiety. It has a sedative effect on the respiratory system too, and is used for treating whooping cough and nervous and dry irritating coughs. It can also help to reduce muscle and joint pain but is not a cure for conditions that cause this.
CAUTION Overdosage may cause poisoning.
24x4 ins (60x10 cm)
Parts used Dried flowers; cultivation.
Constituents Volatile oil (containing chamazulene, farnesene, bisabolol), flavonoids (including rutin and quercimertrin), coumarins (including umbelliferone), plant acids (including valerianic acid), fatty acids, cyanogenic glycosides, salicyl --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.