Herbs to Health Blog Topics
Herb of the Month Archive
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This plant is so magnificent both in it’s sheer beauty and medicinal potency that it has to have tribute paid to it even though it is no longer used by herbalists.
There are some lovely folklore associations with the plants name. Originally ‘folks-glove’ was linked to the gloves of the good folk or fairies whose favourite haunts were supposed to be in the deep hollows and woody dells where the Foxglove delights to grow. The mottlings of the Foxglove blossoms like the spots on butterflies wings and tails of peacocks were said to mark where the elves had placed their fingers. One legend ran that the markings of the flowers were a warning sign of the baneful juices secreted by the plant, which in Irish legend gave it the name, ‘Dead man’s thimbles’. And on it goes!
It is famously used by the medical profession for the treatment of heart failure as a cardiac stimulant and for heart arrythmias most notably, atrial fibrillation that often accompanies heart failure. It contains Glycosides such as Digitoxin & Digoxin that are extracted from the leaves of the plant in the second year of growth typically.
The mode of action is well understood; it inhibits sodium-potassium ATPase which ultimately increases the contractility of the heart muscle (positive inotropic), leading to increased stroke volume / output.
The drug has a very narrow therapeutic index which means that the therapeutic dose is very close to the toxic dose! It is an extremely toxic plant. Hence it has fallen out of use by herbalists for this reason. Even today it’s safety is questioned.
It was first discovered in 1785 by a Shropshire herbalist Dr. William Withering who wrote, ‘Account of the Foxglove’. This gave details of up to 200 cases in which it was used with success to treat mostly ‘dropsical’ conditions (fluid on the chest secondary to heart failure). It was thus brought to the attention of the medical profession and the rest is history!
Signs of poisoning are; an irregular pulse, low blood pressure, stomach irritation, severe headache, delerium, hallucinations and even seeing all objects as blue! It can lead to death by ultimately stopping the heart, hence it has earned names such as Dead man’s bells and Witch’s gloves.
Energetically though it it so beautiful and totally delights the heart and senses!
For the treatment of piles (haemorrhoids), varicose veins, bruises and swellings.
-roughly 1-2 handfuls of freshly dug pilewort roots (the roots aren’t big and so can be time consuming and fiddly to harvest and prepare. But don’t let that stop you!)
-200ml Extra virgin olive oil
Measure the olive oil and put into a bain- marie (water bath).
(you can make you’re own by simply sitting a pyrex bowl in a pan of warm water!)
Make sure the water in the pan comes up to the level of he oil in the bowl. You made need to top up the water occasionally as it vaporises.
Add the pilewort root and simmer for 2 hours on the lowest heat.
Strain off the oil and stir in the grated beeswax or beeswax peas, keeping the bowl in the warm water still.
When the wax has dissolved pour into 30g or 60g jars . At this stage( before the oil cools), you can add a drop of Lavender essential oil to help preserve it. Allow to cool and put lids on, label.
PILEWORT for…..yes that’s right, PILES!
Or Lesser Celendine
(Ranunculus ficaria) Ranunculaceae or Buttercup family
This is one of the early spring flowers to lift the spirits after winter along with snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, helebores, winter aconite and windflowers. Spring is really on the move now with some citings of medicinal plants such as coltsfoot flowers, violets, primroses, lesser periwinkle, ground ivy, dandelions, daisies etc.
Lesser celendine is also a medicinal plant. It’s therapeutic action is that of a straight forward Astringent, specifically used for the treatment externally of Haemorrhoids or Piles or indeed varicose veins. The whole plant can be used but there is more of a reputation for the root being used. It’s use in this respect can be traced back to Culpeper and Gerard when the doctrine of signatures was still prevalent in Medieval Britain. If you unearth a bit of the root you will see that they do bear a lot of resemblance!
You can make an ointment or for the die-hards, suppositories out of the fresh root but care must be taken to ensure prolonged heating of the fresh plant as it contains protoanemonin ( a vesicant or blistering agent). Many plants of the Ranunculacea or Buttercup family contain this. However, with the heating or drying process it is converted to the more stable anemonin.
I’ll keep you up to date with what’s out now, medicinal profiles of plants, how to prepare remedies and recipe ideas.
I’ll also be running herb walks, talks and workshops throughout the season if you’d like to deepen your knowledge (see also my FB page).
WHAT TO MAKE NOW?
This recipe continues on from the Horsechesnut infused oil.
The next stage is to simply add some Beeswax to the infused oil. Add 50g of beeswax to 500ml of the measured oil. If it’s a block of beeswax it is better to first grate it, otherwise use the beeswax peas. Once it’s melted, cool slightly then pour into small jars and label. To each 30g jar add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for added antibacterial protection.
Apply to the skin twice daily for varicose veins, piles, swellings, sprains and fluid retention.
WHAT TO MAKE NOW?
HORSE CHESNUT INFUSED OIL
Approx 1kg conkers
500ml unrefined organic olive oil
Break up the conkers using a rolling pin and tea towel and place in a glass pyrex bowl. Cover with the olive oil. Place the bowl in a pan of boiling water (or Bain marie if you have one) so that the water level comes up to the same level as the oil & conkers. Heat very slowly, on the lowest setting for 2 hours. (You should just be able to see the odd wisp of steam.)
Pour the liquid through a sieve and bottle up.
This oil is perfect for varicose veins as it easily covers large areas of the skin. The oil can also be used to make into a Horse chesnut seed cream where you would combine this with a decoction of the seeds using an emulsifier to mix the water and oil parts together, also well suited to varicose veins where the areas are more localised. Thirdly, the oil can be combined with beeswax to make an ointment. This preparation can also be used on varicose veins but is also well suited to haemorrhoids / piles.
WHAT’S OUT NOW?
Horsechesnut seed (Aesculus hippocastinum)
There’s more to these beautiful seeds than conker fights!
They contain Saponins collectively called ‘Aescin’ and Flavonoids.
Therapeutically they have an unusual ability to tone and strengthen the capillaries (small blood vessels) by reducing the size and number of pores. This has a knock on effect of reducing inflammation and water retention (oedema) in the tissues. They are used specifically to treat weakened veins including varicose veins, haemorhoids, acne rosacea and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). They also work well on wrinkles as they tighten the skin.
A cream, infused oil or ointment is made from an extract of the seeds to apply externally, or a combination of an infused oil and tincture are blended to create a liniment. A tincture can also be taken internally to compound the treatment, although this is taken in small doses as the saponins can cause gastric irritation.