Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gentle Herbal Sedatives: Lemon Balm, Lavender & Beyond

            A favorite herb of mine, year round though even more so in the summer, is lemon balm. Melissa officinalis, being its botanical name, and Melissa, or balm, for short throughout Europe, has been a major staple of summer drinks in modern times, and was noted that it “makes the heart merry” by the middle eastern herbalist Avincenna (Mabey, 68). Melissa was historically referred to as “elixir of life” and “heart’s delight” due to the legend saying it would bring one joy (Brown, 130). Being reported to renew youth, strengthen the brain, and “relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness” (Seymour, 72) stated in the 1691 London Dispensary. Apparently so, Maude Grieve mentioned in one of her books that two venerable gentleman, owed their ripe old age, of 108 and 116, to drinking lemon balm tea every morning. Also in the Victorian language of flowers this herb represented “social conversation, and [restoration of] youth” (Brown, 130).
Melissa officinalis
my yard
 Minneapolis, MN
            Lemon balm is a tender perennial, being upright in nature, and is originally native to Southern Europe, though has been naturalized throughout England, France, and a majority of the United States. Grows to about 2 feet in height, has hairy square stems (mint family), with 2-3 inch oval/heart shaped leaves, and scalloped edges. Prefers and thrives in cool, shady habitats, loves moist fertile soil (Foster, 116-117). Amazingly enough, this is one of those rare herbs that the Ancient Greeks really had nothing to say about it, which is ironic in my mind, due to their “fondness for honey, and the fact that Melissa is the Greek for honey bee” and bees love lemon balm when in flower, gardeners do not because than it is spent (Seymour, 71). On that note, John Gerard mentioned in his Herbal that bees are “delighted with this herbe above all others” and appropriately, medieval gardeners grew it near where bee hives were kept, and smeared it in the inside of the hives to bring in a lost swarm (Seymour, 71).
            Culpeper recommended that a syrup made from “the juice of lemon balm mixed with sugar be kept in every gentlewoman’s house to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor and sickly neighbors”. Melissa was highly-valued by Paracelsus, who sold it for a very high price to royals, for its relaxation purposes. Externally, Gerard in the 16th century noted this herb “glueth together greene wounds” which is now supported by evidence that it contains hydrocarbons in balsamic oils, which starves germs of oxygen, thus killing them (Mabey, 19). In his day it was one of the most popular lemon herbs, due to its hardiness. Edwardians liked it planted in broad bands in front of sweet cicely and angelic for attractive contract in height (Seymour, 71). It was also used to treat fevers, uterine disorders, gripping bowels, impotency, senility and a disordered mind”  Relaxes nerves, thus improving tension headaches and migraines, even more so when mixed with skullcap and lavender; safe for pregnant women to treat allergies and hay fever, calm nerves, treat depression, insomnia, headaches and digestion ailments related to pregnancy (Levy, 20). Lastly, historically Native Americans, specifically the Cherokee, used Melissa officinalis for treating “ ‘old colds’, typhus fever, chills and overall fevers… for colic and stomachaches”, and as a tonic and general stimulant (Moerman, 303).
            Balm in the modern-world has the same properties as historically, including:     being a safe and gentle nervine, anti-inflammatory, astringent (due to tannin content) (Brown, 130), Carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge, essential oil is sedative and relieves spasms; sedative, antiviral, antibacterial (Balch, 90); treats: colds, flu, nervous headaches; aromatherapy: for nervousness, depression, insomnia and headaches as well (Maybe, 68). Hot tea promotes sweating in colds accompanied by fevers (Foster, 117). Overall is an excellent herb for treating many nervous disorders, including overall stress, an overly taxed nervous system and digestive system, thus being good for: IBS, diarrhea, constipation, eases indigestion, flatulence, stomach cramp, menstrual cramps; also antiviral in action, so good for herpes (cold sores), soothes/prevents insect stings, prevents insomnia (Balch, 90).
Melissa officinalis my backyard
Minneapolis, MN
            Two experiments indicate that lemon balm eases insomnia through two complementary mechanisms first exposed to environments displaying behaviors of stress, exhibited few of these when get sleeping pill, needed less of a dose with lemon balm. It also seems that when combined with valerian, hastens sleep, relaxes muscle tension especially in people with ADD, without causing any daytime drowsiness. Lemon balm also possesses flavanoides and polyphenilcs, which have been identified as inducing thyroid-regulating actions; block attachment to thyroid cells by the antibodies that cause Grave’s disease, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), also blocked from further simulating the excessively active thyroid gland (Balch, 90).
           Lemon balm cream is sold in Germany for cold sores and herpes simplex, which studies show reduced healing time in herpes lesions and lengthens time between recurrences (Foster, 117); in another study, double-blind of 116 people, who got lemon balm or placebo, the group that received the lemon balm had significantly; greatly improved symptoms of daily …50% peoples symptoms free than in placebo group also had less skin damage , prevented spread of infection and relieving itching, burning, tingling, swelling  (Balch, 90). My favorite ways to enjoy lemon-herbs is in the form of: herb-infused waters, teas, lemonades, and hibiscus lemon verbena tea ice cubes melting in cold white wine. My favorite way to take lemon balm is in tea, specifically in my Sleepy Tea, which is at my Etsy store , otherwise if I too tired after work to make tea, I take tincture made with my own home-grown lemon balm.
NOTE: do not take lemon balm TINCTURE if you are taking barbiturates, the creams do not interact with the drugs (Balch, 91)

Lavandula spp. Quiet Creek Herb Farm
Brookville, PA 
Lavender coming from the Latin Lavare, meaning “to wash”, and represented “tranquility and purity” (Brown, 129). The Ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender in their baths as an antiseptic and antibacterial (Brown, 129). It was historically used, also: for asthma, weakness, swelling, vomiting, headache, parlysis, sunstroke, and was used as a mouth wash for bath breath and loose teeth (Levy, 94). In Georgian and Victorian England was used for: hysteria, dizziness, fainting, “lowness …and other nervous affections” (Seymour, 69); thus cited as “get the smelling salts!”
            Currently lavender is primarily used in cosmetics, perfumes and in the field of aromatherapy, to gently relieve fatigue (Keville, 289). Its properties are: antiseptic, mild sedative, muscle relaxant (cramps and asthma), painkiller (headaches, rheumatism), sunburn/burns (Bremness, 112) & (Huson, 60) and treats: depression, yeast/fungal infections, laryngitis, sinus/lung congestion (Keville, 232). Lavender has also been shown to ease pain, swelling, helps repair damaged cells, by making broken “capillaries stronger”(Keville, 319),deter[s] infection…prevent[ing] burns from scarring” (Keville, 255).
            Italian researchers have found that this herb stimulates immunity (Keville, 105), and German study shows essential oil “possesses antifungal properties” (Keville, 81). Studies show that Lavender, along with “lemon… thyme, chamomile…(in that order) increase the number of white cells, which gobble up infection-causing bacteria” (Keville, 257).

Chamomile  “It has floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye” –William Turner (Seymour, 15). Roman or English Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, German Chamomile, is Martricaria recutita. The common name of this herb, comes from the Greek kamai, meaning “on the ground”, and melon, meaning “ground apple” (Brown, 116). Other names of this herb have included: corn feverfew, barnyard daisy, turkey week and earth apple. Having historically been a “doctor for plants” by “promot[ing] healthy growth of all nearby” (Brown, 116). Ancient Greeks and Egyptians “dedicated chamomile to the sun” (Seymour, 15). It was commonly valued by the Arabs, as one of the “best remedies for infants’ ailments” along with insomnia, depression, whose poultice externally is for pain (Levy, 37). Victorian cottage owners believed that a “chamomile bed, the more it is trodden, the more it will spread” (Seymour, 16), why they walked on it daily. Was attributed as an anti-aging herb in Middle Ages, due to its “disinfectant properties” (Brown, 116).
historic print of Chamomile
            A major property of chamomile is anodyne. It is currently used to treat: colds, and flus, burns and sunburns, sprains and strains. Chamomile oil inhibits inflammation, treating: ulcers, wounds, eczema (Bremness, 256), and increases white cell count which “gobble[es] up infection-causing bacteria” (Keville, 257). Chamomile repairs skin “lavender, rose…make weak and broken capillaries…more resilient, [and] soothe[s]…skin and reduce[s] puffiness” (Keville, 319).

Works Cited
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing: A Practical A-Z Reference to Using Herbs with Vitamins, Minerals, Nutritional Supplements, Natural Healing Techniques, and Prescription Medications. New York: Avery, 2002. 90-91. Print.
Baïracli-Levy, Juliette De. Common Herbs for Natural Health. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Pub., 1997. 20+. Print.
Bremness, Lesley. "Smithsonian Handbooks: Herbs." Barnes & Noble. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2013.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. 130. Print.
Coon, Nelson. Using Plants for Healing: An American Herbal. 2nd ed. N.p.: Rodale, 1979. Print.
Foster, Steven, and Steven Foster. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1993. 116-17. Print.
Huson, Paul. Mastering Herbalism: A Practical Guide. Lanham, MD: Madison, 2001. 60. Print.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. 81-319. Print.
Mabey, Richard, and Michael McIntyre. The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation. New York: Collier, 1988. 19+. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E., and Daniel E. Moerman. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. 303. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. 15+. Print.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Allergy Blog Part 2: Allergy Herbs and DIY herbal Recipes

                     One of my favorite allergy and anti-histamine herbs is Thyme, which “According to legend, thyme sprouted from the tears of Helen of Troy” (1). Many writers, myself included, have always seemed to have a ‘soft spot’ for thyme, possibly due to its lack of nick-names “a spring of thyme is a spring of thyme, sweet and plain” (2) Coming from the Greek thymon, (1), or “Thumon, was …[a] symbol of thumos, [being] spirit [or]…courage” (3)and was appropriately believed to help overcome shyness. Like many other herbs, thyme was used in the realm of magic, for showing one’s true identity. In Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Duessa’s ‘true colors’ were shown, from bathing in a magical brew of thyme, oregano and rue— where instead of being young and beautiful, she turned out to be a “filthy foul old woman” (2).
Coltsfoot leaves
Rutland, Ohio

            Ancient Greeks and Romans, considered thyme a “strong antiseptic [and disinfectant] and [was] credited with a multitude of powers, including anti-aging”, and was used by the ancient Egyptians as an embalming herb (1). Thyme was lastly used to help one glimpse faeries, and medicinally for treating: flatulence, inflamed liver, bad breath, sore throats, headaches and fevers (4). In Nicholas Culpeper’s day it was a popular herb as a “digestive, and for hangovers…whooping cough, and as a purge for catarrh and for any lung-connected illness” (3). Currently, thyme is still thought of as an antiseptic, calming and nerve tonic, treating muscular pain, depression, colds (5) also for lung and sinus ailments (congestion), expectorant (6). Related to the immune-system, and Italian researchers “found...thyme… stimulate[s] immunity” (7), and it also “stimulates production of white blood corpuscles to resist and fight infections [and] promotes perspiration” (1).
            Next we have sage, being an herb and a type of person. It was once said that a “tea of sage tops is one of the most refreshing and beneficial available to mankind”~ Juliette de Bairacli-Levy (8). Sage’s name, comes from the Latin salare meaning “to cure”, or salvia, meaning “to save”. Being a major herb in Native American culture, sage was called “mashkodewashk aniibiishan” by the Ojibwe, and overall was used as for cleansing and purifying. Specifically sage cleaned the eyes, removed body odors and poison ivy. The leaves of sage were burned in a lodge during contagious illness to purify the area. The syrup or honey of the plant was used to treat asthma, and the leaves were specifically smudged, eaten and smoked, treated coughs and colds. Was also used for: fevers, congestion, sore throats, digestion (lack of appetite, flatulence, constipation). Externally: wounds, sores, excessive bleeding (8). Lastly, historically, William Turner in his 1568 Herbal said clary sage “helps the memory [and] quickens the senses” (9).
            Currently sage’s properties include: disinfectant, antiseptic, aromatic and astringent. Overall this herb calms and strengthens the nerves, thus “relieving nervous headaches, help[ing] ease lung congestion [colds and flus]…stimulates digestion/liver function” (10). Sage also contains a specific hydrocarbon, known as salvene, which is astringent, aromatic, and is stimulating and bitter, and seems to enhance memory.
Brookvilla, PA Quiet Creek
Herbal Farm

            Next we have the herb Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara, of 
the Compositae family. This herb is normally found on sunny banks and in waste-places. Coming from the Latin Tussis, meaning “a cough”, and ago meaning “to banish”, obviously refers to its power of ridding one of coughs. Other names of this respiratory herb include: horse-hoof, bull’s-foot, ass’s-foot, son before the father (referring to the fact that the leaves come before the flowers), cleats, coughword, tushylucky (scots name) (12) the broad sea green leaves bear a striking resemblance in shape to small hooves. This is one of the earliest flowers you’ll see in spring, oddly appearing before the leaves, which are almost round, being grey-green in color, and paler on the underside, with a thick down web on the top. The leaves retain a fragrant scent after drying, and the flowers are a bright yellow, with scaly stems. Interestingly, coltsfoot was one main herb the British settlers took with them to the new world (12).  Coltsfoot is a “supreme pectoral herb” curing: coughs, pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and provides major relief for those suffering from whooping cough. Pliny recommended inhaling the smoke of coltsfoot’s leaves over a fire of cypress wood (12). Excellent at expelling mucus from throat and lungs, coltsfoot is also a useful fever herb, of which peasants used to say that it comes in time for the spring fevers. Pounded the leaves are excellent as a poultice for inflammation and swellings of many kinds. The leave can also be applied to the lung area, and the hot infusion was applied with a cotton cloth for respiratory ailments; snuff up the nostrils to remove obstructions and relive sinus infections, Gypsies would smoke as a “tobacco” (11).
            This herb had such a renounced reputation that in the pre-Revolutionary times in Paris its “flowers were painted as a trade sign on apothecaries shop signs”. Later in time, John Gerard noted that this herb seems to “growth of itself neere unto Springs, and on the brinks of brookes and rivers…in wet furrows, by ditches sides, and in other moist and watery places neere unto the sea, almost everywhere”. The leaves when pounded and mixed with honey were believed to be a sure cure for inflammation, and in the 18th century the botanist Linnaeus, noted that it was smoked in Sweden and England for respiratory ailments (12). Now a days, coltsfoot is one of those odd weed-type herbs that people have heard of, but may have never seen let alone used, like myself till I had the pleasure of meeting it in person several years ago. I enjoy coltsfoot along with other anti-histamine and allergy/bronchial herbs, such as thyme, yarrow, sage and goldenrod for whatever respiratory-ailments come my way.
            Mullein is another interesting waste land herb. Its botanical name is Verbascum Thapsus, and is the Scrophuariaceae family, is a strikingy-tall herb, with broad downy leaves, and flowers in tall yellow spikes. The leaves are nick-named “blanket herb”, and was commonly referred to as “cow lungwort” by the Native Americans, since it was a standby remedy for lung ailments, in cattle and people. Mullein’s leaves and flowers are generally used, dry well, especially because the leaves are easily susceptible to mold, and the flowers to blackening if exposed to light. More of its popular folk names include: candle light, having been used as wicks (13),  having been dipped in tallow to be candles and torches (14) Adam’s flannel, shepherd’s staff, velvet plant, cuddy’s lungs, beggar’s blanket, ray paper, candle-wick plant, hag’s taper, hare’s bear, duffle and clot (14).  It was believed that Ulysses used mullein to “guard against Circe’s wiles” and John Gerard noted that if it was collected when the “sun was in Virgo and the Moon in Aries [it] offered protection against the falling sickness”. Women in the Renaissance period would rub the flowers of mullein into their wet hair to “encourage fashionable blondness” (14). Along with treating cow lung ailments’, mullein was traditionally used to treat anything relate to the chest area, including: coughs, pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma (inhalant and tea), bleeding from nose, lungs, bowels mouth, dropsy, hay fever, insomnia, headaches (13); as well as: toothache, earache, piles and haemorrhoids (14). For dysentery, and bleeding from the bowels, mix 1 tsp mullein leaves, with 1 cp new milk, add honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and take 2 Tbsp after each bowel movement, or at least 3 x/dy (13).
            Externally: a hot tea was made and you use a cloth soaked in it to heal mumps, swollen glands, inflamed tonsils, stiff neck, warts and sore throat. Similarly make a tea of it and use as a steam, inhale for: hay fever, all lung and sinus congestion (13). Interestingly, the seeds were used by fisherman, to stupefy fish, being narcotic in property, and until the early 20th century Irish gardeners used as a cure for ‘consumption’ said John Gerard, lastly, shepherds and wanderers would put the leaves in shoes as thermal protection (14).
            Another popular folk-herb for respiratory ailments, though being not as common, is Elecampane, or botanically referred to as Inula viscose, or Inula helenium. Being from the Compositae family, it can be often found in slopes and hillsides. Elecampane possesses bright green, sticky leaves, which are pungent thanks to the glandular hairs which protect it from becoming afternoon snacks of a grazing flock. This herb has bright yellow flowers, and was historically used for treating lung ailments, including: pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, hay fever; coughs, whooping cough (15). More commonly this interestingly looking herb was used externally, especially favored by the Arabs to treat stiffness (infusion as a bath) and rheumatic complaints. As a vapor it was commonly used to strengthen the lungs, and promote mucous draining from the throat and lungs. Lastly, elecampane was used by Spanish peasants, notes Juliette de Bairacli-Levy in her book “Common Herbs for Natural Health”, by hanging the branches on the ceilings of their homes, insects/flies would gather on them and they would thrust the plants with stuck bugs into sacks in the night, and plunge into water, to thus drown them (15).
Chocolate Mint
            Lastly, an interesting lung herb is Horehound, specifically white horehound, Marrubiu vulgare, being in the Labiatae family. Horehound, comes from the Old English hoar, meaning white, due to its downy-white leaves (16). This herb is also found in waste places, preferring poor soil, and possess grey-green leaves, being slightly wollen. Has small pungent flowers, in whorls, best gathered when young, and overall the plant is in the best quality when collected before flowering (17). Internally horehound is excellent also for lung ailments, specifically coughs, colds, hoarsness, asthma, tuberculosis, sore throats, and to reduce fevers. Contains the compound marrubium, which is thought to promote perspiration and the flow of urine in a person, also vermifuge and laxative in action  (17). Currently approved in Germany for treating bronchial congestion, and hundreds of bronchial medication across the world. Interestingly, this herb seems to influence the brain that controls respiration, causing perspiration, cooling a person due to heat and fevers (16).

Bronchial and Respiratory Herb Recipes:
        Hay Fever tincture: 1 tsp each: Siberian ginseng, nettle, elder flowers, peppermint
        Lung Tincture: 2 tsp mullein leaf tincture, 1 tsp each: chamomile, elecampane; ½ tsp each: thyme, Oregon grape root (or barberry, or goldenseal).
       Vapor Rub: ¼ tsp eucalyptus essential oil, 18th tsp peppermint and thyme essential oils (each), ¼ olive oil. Combine in a bottle, shake well, massage on chest and throat.
*above recipes courtesy of Kathi Keville’s book Herbs for Health and Healing*
        Horehound syrup: heat together 1 cp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp honey, juice of half of a lemon (1 tsp), 1 tsp sunflower oil, when has thickened (over medium heat??), stir in a strong standard brew of horehound leaves (that have steeped overnight) (17). 
         Decongest and Feel your Best Tea:
2 parts yerba santa leaves                 2 parts sage eaves
1 part ginger root, freshly grated      1 part nettle leaves
1 part peppermint leaves                   1/8th part licorice root                  
*combine all herbs in pot and cover with boiling water, steep for 15-20 minutes*
        Get Rid of the Drip Tea:
2 parts elderflower              1 part ephedra leaves *outlawed by FDA*
1 part goldenrod leaves        1 part nettle leaves
*combine and cover in a tea pot with boiling water, steep 15-20 minutes*
 *Recipes from Kathleen Brown’s book “Herbal Teas”

-Thymes Ancient Remedies
-Dr. Earl Mindell’s Allergy Bible, By: Dr. Earl Mindell
-An Epidemic of Absence, by: Moises Velasquez-Manoff