Marfan syndrome (MFS) is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder manifesting in persistent oxidative stress and malfunction of connective tissue in the cardiovascular and skeletal systems. Previous studies of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa, Malvaceae) calyx drinks showed improvements in circulating antioxidant levels in healthy humans. Anthocyanins and organic acids like ascorbic acid are water-soluble antioxidants that are uncharacteristically rich in the hibiscus calyx, the ripened flowering body that is typically dark red in color. The goal of this prospective, observational, single-cohort study was to evaluate if a water infusion of hibiscus consumed daily could improve oxidative stress in patients with MFS.
The 3-month study took place at the National Institute of Cardiology Ignacio Chávez; Mexico City, Mexico. Seventeen patients with MFS and 10 healthy, control subjects were recruited through physical examination at the National Institute of Cardiology Ignacio Chávez. Additional echocardiography, computerized tomography, or magnetic resonance was done to ensure no aortic damage, and none of the enrolled patients were on anti-inflammatory medication.
Each patient consumed 1L daily for 3 months of a beverage made from boiling 20 g hibiscus calyces in a liter of boiling water (95-100°C) for 10 minutes, then left to cool. Hibiscus calyces were acquired in Chilapa de Álvarez (high zone from Guerrero, Mexico). Anthocyanins, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) were estimated in the beverage by ultraviolet spectrometry, although composition data were not included in the study. Circulating levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), glutathione-S-transferase (GST), glutathione reductase (GSHR), glutathione (GSH), lipid peroxidation (LPO) index, total antioxidant capacity (TAC), and ascorbic acid were measured in plasma from patients with MFS.
Levels of all oxidative stress markers were significantly different in patients with MFS versus control subjects. After 3 months of treatment, significant improvements in SOD (P = 0.03), GPx (P = 0.02), GST (P = 0.01), GSHR (P = 0.03), GSH (P = 0.05), LPO index (P = 0.001), and TAC (P = 0.04) were observed in patients with MFS. [Note: The P values in the abstract do not match those found in the text and figures.]
This study adds to existing clinical research on the antioxidant effects of hibiscus calyx beverages in humans. More research should be done to determine whether high-elevation hibiscus could have a different composition than other varieties. Admitted limitations include the small sample size, which was in large part due to the rarity of MFS (occurring in 2 or 3 individuals per 10,000). The long-term effects of hibiscus on slowing the progression of chronic disease related to oxidative stress should be investigated further.
Soto ME, Zuñiga-Muñoz A, Guarner Lans V, Duran-Hernández EJ, Pérez-Torres I. Infusion of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. modulates oxidative stress in patients with Marfan syndrome. Mediators Inflamm. 2016;2016:8625203. doi: 10.1155/2016/8625203.
In the United States (U.S.), valerian dietary supplements are usually sold as sleeping aids. In Europe, people more often take them for restlessness and anxiety.
There are actually over 250 valerian species, but Valeriana officinalis is the one most commonly used for medicinal purposes.
While medicinal valerian dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times, strong clinical evidence for valerian’s effectiveness in treating insomnia and anxiety is lacking.
Still, Valerian is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and is gentler than synthetic drugs, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. For these reasons, valerian could be worth trying for anxiety or insomnia relief.
Some possible benefits of valerian that have been reported by users include:
- falling asleep faster
- better sleep quality
- relief from restlessness and other anxiety disorder symptoms
- no “hangover effect” in the morning
However, stronger evidence is needed to be confident that valerian, and not some other factor, is responsible for these effects.
It is also necessary to determine whether a person’s insomnia and anxiety improvements are statistically significant.
Weaknesses in the studies
While there have been many studies exploring valerian’s effects, many of them have weaknesses that make their data unreliable.
Even with carefully controlled studies, it is still difficult to compare and combine data across studies. Some of the reasons for these problems include:
- a small number of study participants
- high rates of study participant withdrawal
- wide variation across studies in methods of measuring sleep quality and anxiety relief
- wide variation across studies in dosage and duration of valerian treatment
- the severity of a person’s anxiety or insomnia is not well defined
- flawed statistical analyses
Many of these issues are revealed in a review paper published in the American Journal of Medicine, which carefully analyzed the methods and data of 16 different valerian studies.
The paper produced conflicting results about the soundness of these studies. For example, one issue was that only six of the studies used similar methods to measure sleep quality, which meant that sleep quality improvement could not be compared across all studies.
Combined data shows improvements in sleep
A combination of studies showed that valerian root may improve sleep quality significantly.
On the other hand, the combined data of these six studies did show a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality for the group of participants using valerian.
These studies also happened to have the largest sample sizes, perhaps giving them more strength than the others. Still, the authors of this review warn that the results should be taken with caution, as there were many flaws in their statistical analyses.
Studies look at a combination of herbs
A separate issue is that many studies do not explore the use of valerian alone, but instead analyze the effects of valerian combined with other medicinal herbs, such as passionflower or kava.
For example, another literature review analyzed 24 studies about the effectiveness of herbal supplements for anxiety. An individual study explored the impact of herbal supplements on insomnia in 120 participants.
Both found robust evidence for the effectiveness of supplements. However, it was hard to tell how responsible valerian was for these effects.
Larger, more statistically sound valerian-specific studies are needed to understand how well the supplement actually works in terms of treating insomnia and anxiety.
How valerian root works
Many researchers believe that it is not just one chemical that is responsible for valerian’s effects, but a combination of the plant’s components.
According to the National Institutes of Health, several of valerian’s chemical compounds have individually demonstrated sedative properties in animal studies.
It is also uncertain how valerian affects the brain. The most common theory is that valerian extract stimulates nerve cells to release a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA slows down nerve cell activity instead of exciting it.
Valerian extract may block an enzyme that destroys GABA, which means that more GABA is available for a longer amount of time.
All of these factors together might produce the calming effect that many who try valerian experience. Drugs such as Xanax and Valium also increase the amount of GABA in the body, and their effects are much greater than valerian.
Valerian root can be consumed in many forms, including as a tea.
Valerian dietary supplements are usually made from the plant’s roots, but can also derive from its stems. Dried roots, other plant materials, or valerian extracts may be consumed in several forms, including:
The amount of valerian a person should take varies, but the dose typically ranges from 400-900 milligrams (mg) at bedtime.
The dosage may also depend on how much valeric acid the supplement contains. Valerenic acid is considered to be one valerian’s most powerful sedative components.
Herbalists advise only using valerian for 2-3 weeks and then taking a break for an equal length of time before starting up again. Herbalists recommend this break because some people who have used valerian for extended periods have reported adverse side effects, such as headaches, depression, or withdrawal after stopping.
The FDA (or other regulating agencies) do not monitor herbs and supplements for quality or purity. So, it is important to choose products from reliable sources. While further studies are needed to evaluate any potential long-term side effects, there have been very few reports of serious adverse events in connection to valerian.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the side effects most commonly reported by people involved in valerian clinical trials are:
- gastrointestinal disturbances
However, these side effects cannot be directly attributed to valerian, as some of the people who were taking placebo supplements also reported side effects.
Despite valerian’s observed gentleness, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to avoid it because no studies have been carried out on the potential risks of valerian to a fetus or an infant.
Children under 3 years old should not be given valerian either as its effects on early development have not been evaluated.
Finally, a person must consult a doctor before using valerian if they are already taking:
- benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, or Ativan
- central nervous system depressants, such as phenobarbital or morphine
- other sleep-aiding dietary supplements, such as kava or melatonin
The sedative and depressant properties of these drugs and supplements might combine with those of valerian, resulting in grogginess or more severe adverse effects.
Even if one is not taking any other medications, it is always a good idea to talk to a doctor before taking any supplements, including valerian.
A plant extract used for centuries in traditional medicine in Nigeria could form the basis of a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, researchers at The University of Nottingham have found.
Their study, published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology, has shown that the extract taken from the leaves, stem, and roots of Carpolobia lutea, could help to protect chemical messengers in the brain which play a vital role in functions including memory and learning.
The tree extract could pave the way for new drugs to tackle patient symptoms but without the unwanted side-effects associated with some current treatments.
The study was led by Dr. Wayne Carter in the University’s Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine, based at Royal Derby Hospital. He said: “As a population, we are living longer, and the number of people with dementia is growing at an alarming rate. Our findings suggest that traditional medicines will provide new chemicals able to temper Alzheimer’s disease progression.”
Neurodegenerative diseases represent a huge health burden globally, placing pressure on health services and having a negative impact on the lives of patients and their families.
Researchers and drug companies are racing to discover new treatments for these disorders and have begun looking to plant extracts as a potential source of novel drugs.
In patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and myasthenia gravis, the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, is reduced, leading to problems with memory and attention.
Current drugs – called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors – reduce the normal breakdown of acetylcholine. Extensive research is underway to find new versions of these drugs but with additional beneficial properties.
Carpolobia lutea, known more commonly as cattle stick, is a small shrub or tree found native to Central and West Africa. Herbalists in Nigerian tribes use the essence of the root as an aphrodisiac and the treatment of genitourinary infections, gingivitis, and waist pains.
It has also been reported to possess other anti-inflammatories, anti-arthritic, antimicrobial, antimalarial, and analgesic properties. This could be particularly important in Alzheimer’s disease as there is more evidence emerging that Alzheimer’s patients have inflammation in the brain.
The Nottingham study found that the plant was highly effective in preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine but had other beneficial antioxidant properties in fighting free radicals – unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells and contribute to aging and disease – damage that may be exacerbated in Alzheimer’s disease.
Article: Anti-acetylcholinesterase activity and antioxidant properties of extracts and fractions of Carpolobia lutea, Pharmaceutical Biology, doi: 10.1080/13880209.2017.1339283, published online 19 June 2017.
Cool down with delicious, thirst-quenching herbal sun tea. Follow a few simple steps to enjoy a variety of refreshing flavors that are perfect for front porch sipping. Solar tea has never tasted so good.
Fresh organic herbs produce healthier, more refreshing teas, so pick your ingredients straight from the garden or buy from a local grower. All you need to make solar tea is a quart canning jar (good for preserving the herbs’ fragrant oils and properties), water, coarsely cut herbs of choice and sunshine.
To start, toss a half cup to 1 cup of fresh herbs into the canning jar. With practice, adjust this amount to suit your taste and the plants’ nature. Add water, a lid, and a few shakes. Place the jar where it will receive full sunlight, such as on a rooftop, open field or driveway. If possible, give the mixture a couple more shakes throughout the day. You will learn how long to brew certain teas for the desired taste.
- Alfalfa leaf with lemon verbena or red clover blossoms
- Chamomile with hibiscus flowers
- Elderflowers with peppermint or yarrow
- Fenugreek with alfalfa or mint
- Hibiscus flowers with rose hips
- Marigold petals with mint
- Mullein with sage, chamomile or marjoram
- Pennyroyal with any of the other mints
- Peppermint with spearmint
- Rosemary with hibiscus flowers
- Sage with lemon verbena
- Strawberry leaves with Woodruff
- Yarrow with peppermint
July Evening Tea
1 large fresh monarda flower
A dozen fresh lavender flower heads. Compatible additions include lemon balm leaves, lemon verbena leaves, and chamomile flowers.
Lemon Blend Tea
Mix equal parts fresh lemon balm leaves and fresh lemon verbena leaves. Add grated lemon peel (about 1 tablespoon per cup of lemon herbs). Optional lemon herbs may be added, such as lemon-scented geranium leaves and lemon thyme. Add some calendula petals for color.
Orange Mint Tea
Use a citrus-flavored mint, such as orange bergamot, or any mint herb. Add grated lemon and orange rind, cloves, cinnamon, and calendula petals or? Lemon Gem’ marigold leaves.
Sun Tea: Brewing Tips and Herbal Tea Recipes
Ashley November Jones shares her method to making healthful sun tea, and her herbal-infused sun tea recipes for peppermint-flower tea, peppermint-rosemary-pennyroyal tea, fenugreek-peppermint tea and licorice-flax tea.
Here for the hot weather ahead is a perfect alternative to the usual summer soda pop orgy: a healthful drink made by a simple and inexpensive process, in limitless variety and with very satisfying results. I call it sun tea.
How to Brew Sun Tea
The secret of this summer specialty is that any herbal infusion you can make with the help of a tea kettle can also be made in the sun. All you need is:
 A wide-mouthed, clear glass jar with a watertight lid or another secure seal
 The herb of your choice (cut coarsely)
 A sunny day
First, measure out the herb into the jar. A rough guide to quantity is 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried plant material to 4 or 5 cups of water or 1 to 1-1/2 cups to the gallon, but these proportions can be adjusted to suit your own taste and the nature of the ingredients. Roots and seeds tend to make stronger infusions than do leaves and flowers and are generally used in smaller amounts. If you cut your herbs fresh, you’ll need about twice as much as you would if the makings were dried.
Pour the appropriate amount of water over the herb in the jar, screw on the lid, give the container a few shakes, and set it where it will receive full sunlight all day long. A rooftop, open field, driveway or similar shade-free area is ideal, but if none is available, keep an eye on the “teapot” and move it on out into the sun as any shadow approaches. Give the mixture a shake whenever you think of it.
As the day ends, bring in your tea. It will be warm and should look rich and clear in color. Open the jar and take a sniff. The aroma should be full and tantalizing.
While the brew is still warm from the sun, shake it up and dump the whole contents of the jar into a strainer placed in a bowl large enough to hold the liquid with room to spare. (Use the dregs to mulch house plants.) Before the infusion cools, add enough honey — say 1/4 cup or so per quart — to flavor the drink to your liking. Stir the mixture well with a spoon, wire whisk or your clean hands to make sure all the sweetening dissolves. Lemon or other fruit juices may be included at your discretion or can be substituted for the honey. (Next time around you may want to drop a few raisins or bits of dried or fresh fruit into the tea — for extra tang and sweetness — before you set it out to brew .)
Finally, rinse out the “teapot” to remove the dregs and funnel the finished drink from the bowl back into the jar, making allowance for whatever extra liquid you’ve added. I always drink any tea that won’t fit back in the jar as a kind of celebration and to check out the flavor. Some of the combinations you’ll come up with will be heady indeed! (Remember, though, that the beverage always seems more potent warm than chilled.)
Your solar tea can then be refrigerated, or, if you’d like a little carbonation, leave the brew tightly capped at room temperature for a while — two hours at the most — and then chill it. The result is a bubbly, slightly intoxicating beverage. This fermentation may not occur in all teas but is worth trying for.
Although I’ve never attempted to make herb mead, wine or beer by the above method, I’m sure the process would work. Warning: If you try such an experiment, be careful to use all the precautions that go with the preparation of any fermented drink. A capped thermos of ours burst its inner container one summer when we accidentally left it out on the kitchen counter overnight with only about a tablespoon of honeyed solar tea inside.
The following are some of our favorite concoctions. (You’ll notice, incidentally, that the first recipe calls for a brewing time of longer than one day. This is occasionally desirable to increase the tea’s strength, but at some point, the drink will degenerate — we’ve found three days of steeping to be the limit.)
Peppermint Flower Tea Recipe
Mix together the following dried materials:
3 parts by weight of peppermint leaves
2 parts each by weight of rose hips, orange flowers and red hibiscus flowers
Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup of this mixture to every quart of water, and add 3 or 4 whole cloves per quart (optional).
Set the tea to brew in the sun for 1 to 3 days. Strain it and add 1/4 to 1/3 cup, honey.
This mixture is especially good when allowed to carbonate. For variety you could add to the jar — before brewing — a few raisins, a slice or two of orange or lemon, the peel of the same citrus fruits, etc.
Peppermint-Rosemary Tea Recipe
For each quart of tea, use the following dried herbs:
2 to 3 tablespoons peppermint leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons rosemary leaves (and flowers)
Sunbrew, strain, and sweeten the tea. This beverage is very relaxing.
Fenugreek-Peppermint Tea Recipe
For each quart of tea, use the following dried herbs:
2 or 3 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
1/4 to 1/3 cup peppermint leaves
Proceed as above. The resulting brew is good for a cold, and tasty too.
Licorice-Flax Tea Recipe
For each quart of tea, use the following:
1/4 cup licorice root
2 to 3 tablespoons flaxseeds
Proceed as above (brew the mixture for one day only). Sweeten the tea with honey and add fresh lemon juice. The resulting beverage is demulcent and helpful in soothing sore throats and easing coughs. It’s the best drunk at room temperature for medicinal purposes.
The quantities given are for dried herbs used singly and should be adjusted if you’re making a blend. Measure the ingredients without packing them down in the cup.
With Glen Nagel ND, herbal mixologist Back by popular demand! A three-part series focusing on blending botanicals into tasty tonics. Register on this page for the series, or follow links to register for classes a la carte. Blending the ancient world of botanical medicine with that of the modern bar mixologist, this class develops a flavorful …
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae)
- Glycation-associated Tissue Damage
- Arterial Stiffness
- Skin Elasticity
Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) are generated by the nonenzymatic glycosylation of proteins, or glycation, and are associated with increased oxidative stress and inflammation. In patients with diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer’s disease, the tissue content of AGEs is much higher than in healthy individuals. The AGE pentosidine increases with age and correlates with the degree of skin and artery stiffness; yellowing skin associated with aging also may be due partly to glycation. Seeking to find a potent antiglycation food material, these authors studied plant extracts that inhibited the formation of pentosidine, selecting lemon balm (LB; Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae) extract (LBE) and identifying its active components. In an open-label, parallel group, comparative trial, they examined the beneficial effects of LB on arterial stiffness, skin elasticity, and blood hematological and biochemical parameters.
A total of 681 plant extracts were screened and evaluated for antiglycation activity. Among the 22 possible candidate plants, 4 species were of the Lamiaceae family; 17 species exhibited higher activity against pentosidine than the antiglycation agent aminoguanidine. LB was selected from those plants because of its safety, taste, stable supply, and adaptability to beverage form.
Twenty-eight healthy Japanese subjects (14 males and 14 females) were enrolled in the trial, conducted at Yakult Central Institute in Tokyo, Japan, from late October 2010 to early December 2010. The subjects were instructed to continue their usual exercise regimens and diet, excluding herbal teas. The trial included a 1-week pre-intake phase and a 6-week intake phase. Measurements conducted during the pre-intake phase (baseline) and on the day after the last day of intake included brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV) as a marker of arterial stiffness, blood pressure, skin elasticity of the left cheek, skin color, and hematological and biochemical parameters.
The subjects were randomly assigned to the LBE group or the control group, with 14 in each group. The beverages were prepared daily by the subjects for 6 weeks as follows: bags containing 3.3 g dried LB leaves (Charis Seijyo Co., Ltd.; Tokyo, Japan) in the LBE group or barley (Hordeum vulgare, Poaceae) tea grains (Nihon Seibaku Co., Ltd.; Kanagawa, Japan) in the control group were extracted for 5 minutes in 200 mL hot water before drinking. Fractionation of the LBE revealed that the polyphenol rosmarinic acid (RA) was the most abundant active component. The subjects recorded their daily intake of the beverages and any adverse effects.
Of the 14 subjects in the LBE group, 2 were excluded from the analysis because they had health problems, unrelated to the tea, for more than 10 days during the study period. Compliance rates were 100% in the control group and 99.5% in the LBE group.
Evaluations of the glycation-induced coloration of collagen fiber sheets and glycation-induced changes in the fibrous structure of elastin fiber sheets revealed that “LBE or RA dose-dependently suppressed glycation-associated reactions such as increased fluorescence, yellowing of collagen fiber sheets, and degeneration of the fibrous structure of elastin fiber sheets,” report the authors.
After 6 weeks of treatment, baPWV was reduced in the LBE group and unchanged in the control group, with a significant between-group difference in the change (P = 0.007). No significant between-group differences were observed for changes in systolic or diastolic blood pressure. Age of the subjects correlated strongly with baPWV at baseline (P < 0.001).
No significant between-group differences were observed in the changes in cheek skin elasticity during the trial. However, comparing the changes in male skin with female skin of both groups, the authors report that the only gender difference detected was a significant between-group difference in R7 value (total deformation) in only the female subjects; in females in the control group, the R7 value decreased by 0.044 ± 0.025 and in those in the LBE group, by 0.012 ± 0.018 (P = 0.027). The authors suggest that timing may have attributed to this finding, stating that because the trial was conducted during the autumn and winter, with frequent changes in humidity and temperature, and because female skin is thinner and drier than male skin, “the seasonal effects might be more severe in female subjects.”
In the LBE group compared with the control group, significant reductions were observed in both a* (red [asterisk is part of value name]; P = 0.017) and b* (yellow; P = 0.008) color values in forearm skin; the values did not change in the control group. Previously reported anti-inflammatory activity of RA1 may reduce a* value, say the authors. In one prior study, b* values increased through glycation in mouse skin,2 and such increases reportedly reflect the accumulation of AGEs.3,4 “Therefore, the decrease in b* values is presumed to be due to the anti-glycation effects of the daily intake of LB tea,” write the authors.
No significant between-group changes were observed for L* values (brightness of skin), which in earlier studies were found to be linked to antioxidation.5,6 “This observation indicates that the involvement of anti-oxidation in the anti-glycation effect of LB tea may be small,” state the authors.
No significant differences were seen in reported adverse effects between the 2 groups. Among the hematological and biochemical parameters, the serum glucose and uric acid levels after 6 weeks were significantly lower in the control group compared with baseline (P < 0.05 for both). Serum creatinine levels decreased significantly in both groups (P < 0.01 for the control group and P < 0.05 for the LBE group).
This study is limited by its small sample size; its lack of detection of AGE content in arteries and skin to clarify whether LB tea affects that content; and the study design, which did not include a placebo.
The authors conclude, “The hot water extract of LB leaves is considered a safe and potent food material to provide health benefits with regard to glycation-associated tissue damage and symptoms such as increased arterial stiffness and decreased skin elasticity.”
1Osakabe N, Takano H, Sanbongi C, et al. Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect of rosmarinic acid (RA); inhibition of seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (SAR) and its mechanism. Biofactors. 2004;21(1-4):127-131.
2Yokota M, Tokudome Y. Permeation of hydrophilic molecules across the glycated skin is differentially regulated by the stratum corneum and epidermis-dermis. Biol Pharm Bull. 2015;38(9):1383-1388.
3Monnier VM, Cerami A. Nonenzymatic browning in vivo: a possible process for the aging of long-lived proteins. Science. 1981;211(4481):491-493.
4Ohshima H, Oyobikawa M, Tada A, et al. Melanin and facial skin fluorescence as markers of yellowish discoloration with aging. Skin Res Technol. 2009;15(4):496-502.
5Kim SB, Jo YH, Liu Q, et al. Optimization of extraction condition of bee pollen using response surface methodology: correlation between anti-melanogenesis, antioxidant activity, and phenolic content. Molecules. 2015;20(11):19764-19774.
6Ya W, Chun-Meng Z, Tao G, Yi-Lin Z, Ping Z. Preliminary screening of 44 plant extracts for anti-tyrosinase and antioxidant activities. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2015;28(5):1737-1744.
Yui S, Fujiwara S, Harada K, et al. Beneficial effects of lemon balm leaf extract on in vitro glycation of proteins, arterial stiffness, and skin elasticity in healthy adults. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2017;63(1):59-68.
One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Of course, I don’t know everyone’s specifics. I will have to make a few assumptions – there will be plenty of sun, access to water, and the soil is healthy. One other important point is that these are herbs I believe allow for a beginner herbalist to begin treating their family with, they are also good for more advanced herbalists (for instance, I use chamomile in many preparations because it’s good for so many things). I’m hoping this will enable more and more individuals to grow their own “farmacy”!
Matricaria recutita – Chamomile
Like I mentioned before, I believe Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) to be one of the most important herbs in our home. I use it for upset stomach, trouble sleeping, calming skin irritations, colic, teething issues, anxiety, and more. It is one of those herbs that I could not do without. Once it is growing (seed germination can be difficult) it can thrive in almost any type soil as long as it is well-draining, high clay content or shallow hard pan soil would not work here. It does require full sun, so don’t try to hide this in a corner! It’s PH requirement is also quite flexible growing well in the soil as low as 5.6 up to 7.5. Sadly this is not a perennial plant which requires replanting each year. I left much of my flowers and allowed them to go to seed last fall hoping to see some new sprouts this year.
Uses: upset stomach, gripping pain, IBS, calming skin irritations and reducing infection, colic, teething, hair rinse, anxiety, sleep aid
Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade
Echinacea purpurea– Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
I’ve always been fond of “Daisy” like flowers and Echinacea is no exception. Echinacea is not only beautiful to us but attractive to pollinators. So if you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden, this is an herb you want to consider. Being a perennial, as long as you are giving it space to grow it will grace your garden year after year. It does not do well with “wet feet” but, once established it will tolerate drought and heat due to its deep tap root. The best way to propagate is by root cuttings in Autumn.
For medicinal purposes, Echinacea flower can be used but will not be as strong as a preparation made from the root. If you are harvesting the flowers do it when the flowers are just starting to bloom, for the root harvest in the fall when all the energy has moved down (preferably after a frost or two). Don’t dig up the entire root, make sure to leave some to grow back in the spring. I left mine alone last year (besides clipping a few flowers) to allow it to propagate naturally.
In order for Echinacea to be helpful take it at the first sign of a cold, this is not a recommended herb to be used as a tonic. For internal use, I recommend three preparations: infusion or tincture (flowers) or decoction (root). Make sure to follow directions for preserving herbs if you want to use it over the winter./p>
Uses: Boost immunity
Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade
Water: water well until established, after that it will tolerate very dry
Melissa officinalis – Lemon Balm
First, a word of warning…lemon balm likes to grow and will expand in your garden if you do not keep it under control. This should not stop you from growing it, just understand you’ll need to cut it back and ‘tame’ it!
Lemon balm is my go to for two specific issues: anxiety and cold sores because of its anti-viral properties, but it is good for many other things as well: eczema, headache, insect bites, and wounds to name a few. As a culinary herb, it adds a wonderfully fresh, lemony-mint taste to any dish, (it’s especially good in a fruit salad) and brews into a refreshing iced tea!
In my garden, it is one of the fastest growing plants I have. If I see it getting a little sad looking, I simply cut it down and it magically rejuvenates it – basically, It is another easy plant to grow and will grow prolifically if left alone! One way to control it is to clip it back several times in the summer and early fall to keep seeds from forming. Unlike mint, it does not grow underground “runners” so it makes it easy to pull any unwanted plants that might get away from you. On a side note, this makes amazing fodder for your chickens and goats. When our chickens got into my herb garden they decimated my lemon balm, of course, it grew back in a few weeks, but I was amazed at how much the chickens liked it. When I thin I just throw it over my fence and the chickens and goats fight for it!
Uses: Cold sores, anxiety, sleep aid, eczema, headaches, insect bites, wounds, colic, can help with ADHD
Soil: moist, rich and Well drained
Sun: Full sun
Water: does not tolerate drought very well
These are three great starter herbs if you are wanting to step into growing your own medicinal herb garden.
I need to mention here that my assumption, again, is that you’ve done your research and have prepared your soil for planting. So many problems with plants can be avoided by feeding your soil and ensuring drainage is adequate and biological soil life is thriving!
Truthfully I have a really tough time narrowing it down to just 9 because so many plants are useful to have in your medicinal arsenal. However, one of the criteria I am looking for is ease of growing, which does slim down the list, and the ones I believe are most helpful for family medical care.
Last time I covered Lemon Balm, Chamomile, and Echinacea. This time I will cover calendula, Garlic, and Arnica. Three very different plants but all great for a home medical kit.
Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold)
This sunny, happy, orange or yellow flowered plant is part of the Asteraceae family. Not to be mistaken for the marigold in the
Tagetes family. Sadly, it is an annual (I always prefer perennials), but with all its many benefits I still think it earns a place in every medicinal garden.
Calendula does best when directly sown into the soil once the last chance of frost has passed. You can start them inside and transplant but there is more chance of harming the taproot. Make sure your soil allows for adequate drainage and oxygen, especially during the beginning stages, to avoid “damping off.”Calendula will tolerate a wide range of soils but prefers full sun.
A little tip
If you pick the mature flowers regularly in the spring and summer it may continue producing more flowers, even into the fall. Picking flowers also reduce the chance of pests (blister beetles, cucumber beetles, and aphids). Never let the flowers go to seed or you will greatly decrease your harvest.
The best time to pick is in the heat of the day when the water content is the lowest. Dry the flowers as soon as possible. The petals dry quickly but the receptacle does not so you can expect a total drying time of 10 days or more at 90 degrees or so. Let them cool and sort them carefully when they finish drying, as they reabsorb moisture readily.
Calendula is a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin and is used in many lotions, creams, and salves. Apply topically for skin irritation: dry skin cracked nipples, eczema, wounds.
Taken internally it will help the digestive system: colitis, peptic ulcers, gastritis (infusion) and is cleansing for the liver and gall bladder (tincture). It also helps reduce menstrual pain and regulate bleeding (infusion).
Preparations: tincture, infusion, salve, cream, compress
SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil
SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade
WATER: Water well 1-2 times a week
You can’t go wrong with garlic. It adds a wonderful, flavorful explosion to any fare and, if used correctly, can add nutritional benefits. Garlic is also a wonderful addition to your garden as a pest repellant.
Garlic can be planted in the spring but you will likely deal with smaller bulbs when harvesting. I recommend planting in the fall, so put this on your list as something to do as you move into fall. You’ll want to plant garlic about a month before frost hits. Simply break apart the bulb a few days before planting but keep the husk on the individual cloves. Plant them with the pointy end up about 2” deep and 4” apart. Heavily cover with mulch. In the spring green shoots will begin emerging. As the threat of frost is gone, feel free to remove the mulch.
A little tip
Do NOT use garlic bought at the store, use garlic from a previous harvest or buy them from a local garden shop. Be aware that you need to pick a variety that is good for your zone. Garlic flowers are lovely but if you are looking for larger bulbs, clip back any flower shoots. Because garlic likes extra nitrogen fertilizing with rabbit manure or manure tea would give it that added boost. Water well about every 3-5 days during the drier season.
Harvest when you see the tops begin to yellow and get droopy (usually late summer in my area). Pull them from the soil gently, using a spade, brush off the dirt and hang in a shady spot with plenty of air flow. You can bunch them together but make sure every side gets air. It is ready to use when the wrappers are dry and papery. You can either “braid” them (yes, even hard neck garlic which is what grows best here) or clip off the tops and store in a dry, cool area.
Garlic is one of those things that mainstream medicine has recognized. There’s really no way you can go wrong adding garlic to your life on a daily basis.
• Reduce risk of certain cancers
• Positive effects on the cardiovascular system
• Lower cholesterol
The key to achieving the highest health benefits from this powerhouse is to make sure you don’t cook it, yes, add it to dishes, but try to add it near the end of cooking, it will provide the most intense flavor and won’t destroy all the enzymes (allicin). Press the garlic through a garlic press and let it stand for 5-10 minutes, this activates the allicin. At this point, you can add it to your dish, blend it with some honey and spread it on toast, add it to a batch of elderberry syrup (already prepared) for an extra immune boost, or, get crazy and just eat it straight up. Warning – you will have garlic breath J
Preparations: capsules, food, infused oil, powder
SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil
SUN: Prefers full sun
WATER: Water well every 3-5 days during the hot, dry months
Because garlic is such a warming food, it can be aggravating to people with a warm constitution. In high doses, it may irritate the digestive system, causing gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and burning of the mouth. In normal and moderate doses garlic acts as a pre-biotic, food for the good microflora in the gut. People with a known allergy to Allium plants should avoid garlic.
A daisy-like flower with a happy, sunny disposition also part of the Asteraceae family. This is a beautiful and helpful addition to any medicinal herb garden.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone that has arnica in their garden, ask if you can have a cutting or if they are ready to divide their plant. If not, starting with seeds isn’t that difficult but germination can be tricky taking one month up to two years so patience will come into play here! Sprinkle the seeds and lightly cover with soil. Keep moist. The other option is to start them indoors with plenty of light (preferably a grow light) you can transplant these in the spring after the threat of frost is gone.
• analgesic (reduces pain)
• vulnerary (wound-healing: fractures, sprains, contusions, muscular pain, varicose veins)
• rubefacient (increases blood flow to an area helping speed healing)
Arnica should only be used topically on the unbroken skin. It is quite effective when used as a poultice, in a carrier oil or salve.
Harvest blooming flower heads in summer, June through August.
Preparations: poultice, salve, infused oil, wash ( Steep 2 teaspoons arnica in 1 cup boiling water, let cool and use)
SOIL: Prefers sandy, slightly alkaline
SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate shade in very hot areas
WATER: Not drought tolerant until established, keep the soil moist but not soaked – a good weekly watering should suffice except during very dry, hot months.
I love nettles, the leaves are filled with a plethora of vitamins (high levels of Vitamin A, C, E & K), protein, chlorophyll, and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium) making it quite useful as a vitamin drink. Juicing fresh nettle, preparing a nourishing herbal infusion, creating a “pesto”, or even using it as the spinach in a vegetable lasagna are all great ways to enjoy this herb while benefitting from its nutritive power.
I am fully aware that nettle is available to anyone who wildcrafts, so why do I recommend growing it in your herb garden? Because you know how it’s been grown and where it’s been grown. You have worked to create healthy soil and you aren’t spraying it with harmful chemicals. Furthermore, it’s growing right outside your door making it quick and easy to harvest, whether you are harvesting enough to make herbal preparations or even if you just want a little for your dinner preparations. To me, keeping things simple is key.
But what about the sting? Well, it’s a small price to pay, and honestly, if you harvest them correctly (wear gloves here) and either dry or saute/steam them, the sting is no longer a threat. Interestingly, nettle actually contains juices in its leaves that can stop the pain of a nettle “sting”. I was out yesterday looking at some nettle, I wasn’t wearing gloves and just decided to grab a leaf, roll it up, and eat it. I didn’t get stung, I decided to do an experiment and just brushed my hand against the nettles, sure enough, I was stung. I immediately grabbed another leaf, worked it between my fingers until the juices were released and rubbed it on the sting. The intensity of the pain greatly decreased, I wasn’t that bothered by it so I didn’t keep the leaf on for long. A few minutes later, the sting seemed to begin intensifying again so I grabbed a plantain leaf, crushed it and applied it with total relief in a short time. The moral of the story here is grab it like you own it – nettles sense fear J
Nettle prefers rich, moist soil and full sun but will grow in shadier areas, the difference being that the plant in shade will produce less seed which can be harvested and used as well. Seeds are great for overwrought adrenals. The seed can be a little stimulating, if you dry it first this will decrease the effect.
As a nourishing herbal infusion, it can help with fatigue, building and purify the blood, and detoxify (it has a diuretic property). This is also a wonderful herb to include in your diet and herb regimen if you are prone to allergies.
Preparations: Infusion, Nourishing Herbal Infusion, Poultice, Tincture, Juiced, Food
SOIL: Moist, rich
SUN: Prefers full sun will grow in shade
WATER: water well until established
Propagation: Cuttings, Root transplant, seed
Lavender is a beautiful, highly aromatic plant that is not too difficult to grow in the right conditions. It is one of those herbs that almost everyone recognizes by sight and smell. Who hasn’t enjoyed the scent of lavender in soap, lotion, or even in a room or body spray? Lavender is an antimicrobial which makes it a great choice for a room deodorizer with germ-killing capabilities. It is a calming herb that can easily be added to infusions and baths to help reduce stress and irritability and induce sleep. It also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect herb when treating burns and bug bites. The essential oil has been used for many years to treat burns, eczema, reduce scar tissue and aid in healing infections (including fungal).
I don’t think you can have enough lavender growing so I choose a sunny spot that has soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t like to have “wet feet” so it really doesn’t require that much input. Watering once a week is generally sufficient during the driest months. Don’t put it in with something that prefers moist soil, it will not thrive and may not even survive.
Harvest the flowers when they are dry and make sure to dry them immediately to reduce the loss of the essential oils. The leaves can also be used but are not nearly as high in medicinal properties as the flowers.
Preparations: Get creative when deciding how to use this herb: floral bath, steam inhalation, infusion, oil, pillow, sachet for drawers, tincture, poultice, salves, lotions, & hydrosol (maybe you have a friend or know someone who makes essential oils like I do which gives me a great supply for hydrosols)!
Soil: Rich, drier
Sun: Full Sun
Water: Water well once a week or so, let soil dry between waterings
Propagation: Seed, Cuttings, Layering
Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)
Many people cringe when I recommend growing comfrey. They see it as an invasive plant that will eventually choke out the rest of the herbs in their garden. Though this can be true, with a little management you can keep this from happening while benefiting from the diverse offerings of this plant!
First, I want to mention the few obvious things that are not medicine related: comfrey leaves are wonderful mulch makers and, because of their large leaf growth, will shade out competitors like any unwanted weeds that may pop up in your garden. Because they are deep-rooted they pull up the minerals found in the soil and bring it up to the leaf. Chopping and dropping these mineral-rich leaves puts those minerals back into the soil and adds organic matter (thus aeration) to your soil profile. Additionally, bees and other pollinators love the flower and if you grow a blocking variety you won’t deal with it reseeding itself.
As far as medicinal use, there is virtually no competing herb that can heal skin the way comfrey can. As a matter of fact, it can heal so well and quickly that you need to make sure the wound is fully cleansed and there is no sign of infection, it could get closed up inside. Comfrey is also well-known for its ability to treat sprains, swelling, bruises and historically even mend broken bones! It can also help alleviate osteoarthritis and other arthritic type pain. Comfrey contains allantoin which stimulates tissue repair and cell proliferation. Which means it is also great in salves to use on areas that are troubled by irritation or rash.
Comfrey is a pretty flexible plant and can grow almost anywhere. However, it does prefer moist, rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight. We have found that once it is established it grows really well, even in imperfect conditions. If you are wanting to control the spread I would suggest two things: do not disturb the roots. Every small root piece will grow into another plant. Make sure you are going to keep it where you plant it and don’t till the soil. Second, reduce its growth by chopping the leaves at least twice in a growing season, and dead head any flowers that appear. If it is growing in an area that you don’t want it, the best way to get rid of it is to keep its leaves so low that it loses all ability to continue growing. Do not go pulling the roots because you will likely not be able to get the entire root system out.
Preparations: Poultice, salve, infused oil, infusion
Soil: Moist, Rich, loamy
Sun: dappled sunlight
Water: occasionally, once it’s established it can tolerate drought much better because if its deep roots.
Oregano oil is widely known as nature’s potent defense against harmful organisms. Not only is it highly respected within the natural health community, it is also being widely studied within the scientific community for its vast medical uses.
Research designed to examine oregano oil has encompassed many topics. Oregano oil also has extremely high levels of free-radical-fighting antioxidants, agents that protect the body.
Oregano oil may also provide support for indications of common infectious ailments including respiratory problems, skin problems, athlete’s foot, yeast infections and harmful organisms.
Research on Oregano Oil
Studies have shown its usefulness against Candida albicans, Aspergillus mold, staph, vaginal imbalance, Pseudomonas, and listeria. A study from the US Department of Agriculture showed that oregano essential oils presented potent action against Salmonella and E.coli. Other research holds the same, stating that oregano oil is such a powerful agent that it can be used to preserve food. Studies from the Department of Food Science at the University of Tennessee and the University of the Algarve found that similar results for oregano’s power against pathogenic germs.
A recent study from the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center stated the following in regard to the role of essential oils for infections:
- “New, safe agents are needed to prevent and overcome severe bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Based on our previous experience and that of others, we postulated that herbal essential oils, such as those of origanum (oregano oil)…offer such possibilities.”
In an article published on Science Daily, oil of oregano was found to be effective in killing Staphylococcus bacteria.
Another study published in the journal, Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology found that oregano oil could lower the negative effects of induced colitis in rats and opens the door to new ideas about its benefit to the colon and liver.
More Health Benefits of Oregano Oil
- Resistant to redness and swelling
- Can help relieve congestion
- Emmenagogue — Oregano oil can aid irregular menstruation and reduce the negative effects of menopause.
- Calms sensitivities to environmental irritants. Oregano oils produce a sedating effect on the hyper-sensitivity of allergies.
- Potent anti-oxidant capacity — Through neutralizing free-radicals, oregano oil helps us slow the process of cellular deterioration, thus slowing the process of aging.
- Rosmarinic acid, a component of oil of oregano, is an antihistamine, and a more powerful antioxidant than vitamin E.
- Digestive aid — Stimulates the flow of bile in the digestive organs
- With regular use, oregano oil can help protect us against fungal infections.
Action Against Harmful Organisms
- A recent study on the activity of multiple essential oils against harmful organisms found that both oregano and thyme oils showed the strongest activity.
- Inhibition of the growth of enteric organisms. A 6-weeks study on individuals with organisms found that supplementation with 600 mg of oregano oil daily led to a complete disappearance of the harmful organisms. It may also protect us against a wide variety of infiltration within the body, as well as the physical environment. This includes round worms, tape worms, bed bugs, lice, fleas, and mosquitoes.
Oregano oil is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It is high in the vitamins A C, and E complex, as well as zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese and niacin.
I have used oregano oil for many different things over the years and highly recommend you keep some in your natural medicine cabinet. When researching oil of oregano products to buy, be sure to look at the amount of Carvacrol it contains, and also try to buy organic when possible. Oregatrex™ is the oregano oil product that I personally use and recommend for everyone.