Sunday, 4 April 2010

Focus on Herbal teas and honey

Below are notes prepared by a herbalist on Lothian Herbs (Edinburgh) herbal tea ingredients. Pictured is Tams Loup Quarry which is being restored to a 200 acre eco park. It lies on Junction 5 of the M18 between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Restoring quarries is one of my other interests. Like aromatherapy it requires a lot of innovation and study.

Please note you should avoid herbal teas if taking medicines. WARNING Comfrey may be fine in a topical ointment with yarrow for wounds but do not take it in a tea at any time. Comfrey contains unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are hepatotoxic and hepatocarcinogenic.

Find out more about herbs, their uses and interactions with medicines. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering center has a resource of the greatest value.


Aniseed has a long history of both culinary and medicinal use. It is
commonly used as a flavouring for sweets and liqueurs such as pastis
and ouzo. Traditionally this spice has been highly regarded by various
cultures for the treatment of digestive discomfort and coughs.

Aniseed contains aromatic volatile oils giving it profound carminative
(relieves discomfort of flatulence and bloating) and antispasmodic effects
on the smooth muscle of the digestive tract. Aniseed has been used for
centuries in the treatment of flatulence and colic, helping to move wind
through the digestive tract. It is also particularly useful in the treatment of
spasmodic coughs.


Black Cohosh is native to North America and was traditionally used by
Native Americans in the treatment of women’s health problems and

More recently, herbalists have advocated Black Cohosh as an alterative to
hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the treatment of menopausal
symptoms. Several well designed clinical trials have now provided
evidence of a reduction in menopausal symptoms with regular use of this

The actual mechanism of action of Black Cohosh in the management of
menopause has not been clearly established to date. It appears to exhibit
an oestrogen-like effect which helps to alleviate menopausal symptoms,
many of which are caused by the decreased levels of this hormone in
menopausal women. Recent investigation has suggested that
constituents in Black Cohosh work on certain parts the brain to exert this
effect, rather than having a direct oestrogenic effect.

It also has a reputation for nourishing the nervous system, and may
therefore help relieve symptoms associated with menopause through
acting on the nervous as well as reproductive system.


Calendula is a powerful blood cleanser and healing agent of the skin.
This combination makes it extremely valuable in any skin condition. It is
one of the best herbs for treating burns, scalds, cuts, abrasions and
infections because of its antiseptic and healing qualities. By improving
blood flow to the affected area, it can greatly speed up the wound healing.
It also helps small blood vessels to seal, stemming bleeding and
preventing bruising.

Recently, scientific studies have shown that topical applications of
Calendula are useful in the prevention of dermatitis following
radiotherapy treatment.


This common garden plant has a long history of use in many cultures. It
was valued by European herbalists of the 16th century for ‘comforting the
heart and soothing the spirit’, while the Egyptians believed it to have
rejuvenating properties and the Greeks garnished their food with its
vibrant golden petals.

Popular as a tea, Chamomile has been used as a medicinal plant for
centuries, primarily for digestive complaints and as gentle relaxant. The
essential oil is also a popular ingredient in skin care products and is one
of the most commonly used oils in aromatherapy.

Apigenin, a constituent of Chamomile, has been shown in clinical studies
to decrease anxiety and act as a mild sedative. This gentle, calming
action makes it an ideal herb for restless and anxious children.

Apigenin and various components of the volatile oil of Chamomile, have
also been shown to inhibit the formation of inflammatory chemicals in the
body and to have antispasmodic activity. These actions make it useful as
a digestive tonic. A study showed Chamomile, in combination with pectin
(found in fruits & vegetables), to be effective in reducing the duration and
discomfort of diarrhoea in children.


Native to Europe and Asia, Comfrey has been cultivated as a healing herb
since around 400BC. Its name derives from the Latin ‘confere’, meaning
‘to bring together’, reflecting early traditional uses of the plant by Greeks
and Romans to heal wounds and broken bones.

Comfrey is considered the remedy par excellence for healing damage to
muscles and ligaments. Used for sprains, fractures, torn ligaments,
crush injuries (eg. closing a finger in a door), bruises and non-infected
wounds, the herb will rapidly heal tissues and prevent the formation of
scar tissue.

Comfrey’s remarkable actions are due to a substance called allantoin,
found in the root and leaf of the comfrey plant. Allantoin occurs naturally
in the body and has the ability to stimulate cell growth in connective tissue
(muscles and ligaments), bone and cartilage. In addition, allantoin
diffuses easily through the tissues enabling its healing effects to
penetrate deeper. This means injuries heal more quickly and with less
chance of scar tissue forming. It’s effectiveness in reducing swelling and
bruising has been demonstrated in both pharmacological studies and
clinical trials.


These days Dandelion is more commonly known as the bane of lawn
cultivators and as a wish making toy for children, however throughout
history this herb has been held in high regard as a food and medicine.

Traditional uses include digestive disorders such as lack of appetite,
constipation, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, biliousness, nausea;
liver and gallbladder problems such as cirrhosis, hepatitis and gall
stones; toxic conditions associated with intestinal congestion such as
skin & autoimmune diseases; and as a general detoxifying agent.

The bitter compounds in the root activate a reflex action that results in the
production of bile by the liver and the flow of bile from the gall bladder. As
a result of these actions Dandelion root acts as a gentle laxative and
digestive aid. Bile aids the digestion of fats, and generally promotes
better digestion. Through its action on the liver and bowel, Dandelion root
is highly valued by herbalists for aiding detoxification of the whole body.


Endemic to North America, this attractive plant is a traditional remedy for a
wide range of infectious and inflammatory conditions. Its use was
adopted by European settlers and quickly became one of the most
popular herbs in North America, but with the introduction of antibiotics in
the 1930’s the use of Echinacea began to decline. In Europe however, the
popularity of Echinacea continued to grow and today it is renowned
worldwide as a valuable immune support herb and powerful natural tool
for combating winter ailments.

As with many herbs, there is often scientific interest in establishing
exactly which plant-chemicals are responsible for its medicinal activity.
These studies are important as they can provide accurate ways to
measure the potency of a herbal preparation. In Echinacea, a group of
compounds called Alkylamides have been shown to be particularly
important for its immune stimulating action. Whilst other constituents in
Echinacea have also demonstrated immune activity, many of these are
not very well absorbed into the bloodstream and it seems unlikely that
they are useful indicators as to the quality of an Echinacea preparation.

Alkylamides are found in the highest concentration in the dried root of the
plant and interestingly, root based preparations were traditionally
favoured over those made from leaves and flowers. Alkylamides alsohave
the interesting effect of causing a mild tingling sensation on the mouth
and tongue. An early way of determining the quality of Echinacea roots
was to chew them – with a strong tingling sensation indicating superior
quality. This test still remains true today, and is an easy way to determine
a high quality Echinacea product.

Clinical trials have shown Echinacea to be useful in both preventing as
well as treating bacterial and viral infections including colds and flu.
However, trials involving low doses of Echinacea products, or products
with very low levels of Alkylamides have failed to achieve beneficial
outcomes and resulted in much adverse publicity for Echinacea in
general. As with other medicines, it is crucial to take sufficient doses of
herbal remedies that provide effective amounts of the active plant-
chemicals in order to produce a therapeutic effect.


Ginger has a long history of use in many different cultures, particularly to
enhance digestive processes and relieve digestive problems such as
colic, flatulentence, cramping and loss of appetite. It has been employed
in the treatment of nausea and loss of appetite, gastrointestinal cramping
and, as a circulatory stimulant, for cold extremities. Hot infusions were
used to ‘break-up’ colds and relieve the discomfort of painful

In recent years a number of pharmacological and clinical trials have
provided scientific evidence which supports the traditional uses of this
herb and its actions. A number of clinical trials have demonstrated
significant antiemetic (antinausea) effects of ginger. Pharmacological
studies have also demonstrated the ability of Ginger preparations to
stimulate digestive secretions and assist the whole digestive process.

Ginger has been shown to inhibit enzymes involved in processes
causing inflammation in the body, accounting for its use as an anti-
inflammatory agent. Clinical trials have subsequently demonstrated the
effectiveness of ginger in the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic

Ginger and its aromatic components have demonstrated fever reducing
qualities and were found to have a significant antiviral action against the
common rhinovirus, thus providing support for it’s traditional use in colds
and flu.


Ginkgo is one of the world’s oldest living trees, having survived for more
than 200 million years. Ginkgo trees were revered by the Chinese and
planted around their temples, a practice that may have helped ensure its

The leaves of the Ginkgo tree were first shown to have beneficial effects
on circulation by German scientists in the 1960’s, and a patent for a
highly concentrated extract, standardised for flavonoid content, was
issued. Since that time Ginkgo extract has become one of the most
thoroughly researched agents in herbal medicine.

Conditions Ginkgo is used to treat include cerebral insufficiency
(impaired or insufficient blood flow to the brain) and mild to moderate
Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions are usually associated with
aging, thus Ginkgo is considered a primary herb for promoting a healthy
aging process. Ginkgo has also been shown to be effective in improving
memory and attention in healthy young people, even when taken for short
term use.


Lemon Balm has traditionally been used as a mild sedative and calming
agent, and was a favourite ingredient in medieval ‘elixirs of youth’.

Studies have shown Lemon Balm to increase feelings of calmness, and
to improve the quality of memory in young, healthy volunteers. Recent
research also demonstrates positive findings with using Lemon Balm in
the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Lemon Balm also has calming properties in the digestive system,
helping to ease bloating, excess wind and a ‘nervous stomach’.Lemon
Balm has traditionally been used as a mild sedative and calming agent,
and was a favourite ingredient in medieval ‘elixirs of youth’.

Studies have shown Lemon Balm to increase feelings of calmness, and
to improve the quality of memory in young, healthy volunteers. Recent
research also demonstrates positive findings with using Lemon Balm in
the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Lemon Balm also has calming properties in the digestive system,
helping to ease bloating, excess wind and a ‘nervous stomach’.


This sweet tasting root has traditionally been used in Western, Chinese,
and Ayurvedic herbal medicine, and remains a favourite in modern herbal
medicine as well as confectionary.

Liquorice helps soothe and decrease inflammation in the respiratory and
digestive tracts.

In the respiratory tract it is used to treat chest complaints, and is an
excellent soothing ingredient in medicines for coughs and sore throats.

It is also beneficial for treating inflammation and ulceration of the
digestive tract including stomach & duodenal ulcers, gastritis, and
recurrent mouth ulcers. Liquorice root extracts and derivatives were used
in treatment of peptic ulcers for many years, and various components of
Liquorice root have been shown to accelerate the healing of such ulcers.


Manuka is one of the most popular and well-known New Zealand native
herbs with a wide variety of therapeutic actions and indications. It is
probably most famous for its powerful antibacterial and antifungal
actions, which have been well investigated in a laboratory setting. It has
been shown to be effective against some 20 different types of bacteria,
including the notorious methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Activity against various species of fungi has also been demonstrated,
including those responsible for athletes foot and candida (thrush). In
recent years many herbal practitioners and patients have used topical
preparations containing Manuka oil for such infections with impressive

Manuka contains many tannins and is extremely astringent (that is, it
tightens tissues – the feeling you get when you drink black tea). This
action, combined with its impressive antimicrobial properties, helps
relieve symptoms of diarrhoea and dysentery, as well as making it useful
in wound healing and to decrease inflammation and bleeding in the case
of gum infections.


Manuka Honey is unique to New Zealand and is produced from the nectar
of the Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Kanuka (Kunzea
ericoides) trees.

Honey has long been used topically as a healing agent for wounds and
ulcers. Recently there has been renewed interest in the medicinal
applications of honey, particularly for the treatment of slow healing
wounds in hospitalised patients.

Whilst all honey possesses healing properties, Manuka Honey is
considered superior in this regard. This is because Manuka Honey has a
powerful additional antiseptic property not found in other types of honey -
this property is termed Unique Manuka Factor (UMF).

Research has shown Manuka Honey to be effective at killing a variety of
pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori, and
even some strains of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics.


Traditional uses of Meadowsweet include treatment of gastrointestinal
conditions associated with flatulence and acid stomach including
indigestion, gastric reflux, gastric ulceration and halitosis (bad breath). It
is mildly astringent and is said to be useful for diarrhoea, particularly in

A number of studies have demonstrated the ability of Meadowsweet
preparations to have protective effect on the stomach, including against
lesions induced by aspirin use. As such, Meadowsweet can be useful for
treating peptic ulcers and acid stomach.


The ancient Greeks knew Sage as the immortality herb and believed it to
cure many ills. It was included in many medieval prescriptions for health
& longevity.

Sage is known for its ability to reduce excessive perspiration. Medical
herbalists have prescribed it for many years for the treatment of
conditions of excessive perspiration, particularly to treat hot flushes and
night sweats associated with menopause.

Another traditional use for Sage is as a relaxant and restorative for the
nervous system. Several old European texts note the use of Sage for
memory enhancing properties. Nicholas Culpepper, possibly England’s
most famous apothecary, recorded its ability to “heal the memory,
warming and quickening the senses”.

These combined properties of Sage make it an ideal herb for
menopause as it can tackle not only symptoms of excessive sweating,
but also neurological symptoms such as poor concentration, ‘brain fog’
and decreased memory experienced by many women during this time.


Tanekaha is a slow-growing evergreen conifer endemic to New Zealand.
Its common name ‘Celery Pine’ comes from the celery-like foliage of this
graceful tree. Historically, Tanekaha bark was used as a tanning agent
and for the production of a reddish-brown dye.

Tanekaha was used medicinally as an astringent and antimicrobial agent
by Maori people and early European settlers. Decoctions of the inner bark
were used in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery and internal
haemorrhage. Externally, it was used as a healing remedy for burns as
well as for boils, abscesses and septic infections. The anti-microbial
action of tannic acid has been well documented, and it has been shown
to be effective against a range of bacteria, yeasts and viruses.

The combination of astringent and antimicrobial actions makes this plant
an ideal addition to mouthwash formulations. The strong astringent
action helps tighten and heal the gum tissue while the anti-microbial
action helps kill the bacteria responsible for dental caries, as well as
conditions such as gingivitis and periodontal disease. In vitro tests
conducted on preparations containing a combination of Manuka
(Leptospermum scoparium) and Tanekaha were shown to be effective
against the common oral bacteria Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus
mitis, and Actinomyces naeslundii.

Thyme has a long history of traditional use for respiratory tract conditions
including sore throats and coughs, helping to aid the removal of mucus
and ease spasmodic coughing. It has also been used for inflammatory
conditions of the mouth, gastrointestinal upsets, and topically as an anti-
microbial and counter-irritant.

Extracts of Thyme have demonstrated antibacterial activity against a wide
range of bacteria, and against some yeasts and moulds. The broad
spectrum of antibacterial activity against bacteria involved in upper
respiratory tract infections supports the long use of Thyme in the
treatment of these conditions.


Valerian is a traditional European herb with a long history of use as a
mild sedative. Relatively recently in historical terms, it was used during
World War II to treat people with nervous debility following air raids.

These days it is commonly used by medical herbalists to treat stress,
anxiety, irritability and nervous tension. Larger doses have a more
sedating effect therefore making it very useful in the treatment of
insomnia. Studies have shown a reduction in the time taken to fall
asleep as well as improvement in sleep quality with Valerian treatment.

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