Thursday, July 15, 2010

Past "Medicinal Plants of the Week" - Part 1


Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) ~ this is a must in every garden as it is a wonderful healer of plants, animals and people. It has a very high vitamin and mineral content and helps to break down organic matter making it a god send in the compost heap. Comfrey is a great companion to all plants.

Chicken are the most avid plant grazers and will happily devour a comfrey plant entirely if it is not well protected with chicken wire ~ allow a few leaves to peek through so that the chickens can have a little treat now and then without destroying the plant. If they are laying lots of eggs they will be thankful for the extra dose of calcium and minerals that comfrey supplies in abundance.

This ancient plant was originally called “knitbone” or “boneset” and is brilliant for mending bones ~ applied externally to the wounded areas. It also soothes wounds, chest ailments and arthritis. It is a wonderful skin healer. Doctors suggest that excessive internal consumption be avoided however many people have used comfrey leaf infusion regularly with no liver problems, ditto for the group of people at the Henry Doubleday Research Foundation who have eaten cooked comfrey leaves as a vegetable for four generations… but I suppose, as with everything, practicing moderation is best.
Likes full sun or light shade in very hot areas. Loves water and will grow bigger accordingly. It dies down in winter. Can be propagated from a good size piece of root.

"Don't lose your own Peace trying to make others peaceful. Let those who answer, answer... Let it be!" ~ Maharishi

Garlic (variety Giant) (Allium sativum gigantium) ~ is so much a part of our diet we no longer give it much thought anymore but it is actually one of the most healing plants. It’s easy to grow in any garden or even in a container. Home-grown garlic is so much more potent! A dressing of dolomite helps the bulbs to swell… bending the tops (like onions) also helps with this. When the leaves dry off it is time to harvest. Chemical fertilisers or sprays affect the plants medicinal qualities so they should not be used at all in your garden! Plant near spinach and tomatoes ~ helps them to grow stronger.

It is fabulous to include in your pets diet: cooked in with their food for general well being ~ or for dogs give 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic twice a week to help keep tics and fleas away.

It is a natural insecticide so very beneficial to have in your organic garden. It’s also a natural fungicide and helps to clear ailments like ringworm, athlete’s foot, acne, etc. It is great for building the immune system. It contains more than 100 biologically useful active principles. Garlic plays an important role in reducing the 'bad' cholesterol and blood pressure that’s how decreases the risk of heart attacks. It helps to thin the blood, which reduces for formation of blood clots (be careful if you are taking blood thinning medication ~ rather consult your doctor first).
Due to its anti-carcinogenic properties, it prevents cancer & inhibits the growth of tumors. In fact, tumors that have already formed can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent by increasing garlic intake.

How to take it: Crush or Mash 2-3 small cloves of garlic and eat it raw or boiled, before going to sleep. You could have it with a glass of milk or with water. If its smell bothers you, avoid taking garlic in the daytime… or eat it with parsley ~ parsley removes the after effects of the eating garlic.

"Nature often holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, renewal, and transformation of our lives." 


Lavender (Lavandula species) ~ Lavender is a wonderful and very popular plant. It can be found in most gardens these days and is probably best know for its essential oils and its wonderful fragrance. It is easy to grow. Likes full sun and well composted soil initially (loves coffee grinds too) and needs to be cut back by a quarter at the end of summer to ensure abundant growth the following year.

Most insects don’t like lavender so it is a wonderful and gentle pest control. Great to use in your linen closet (the dried flowers in muslin bags).

Its fabulous flavour is now being enjoyed in cooking ~ many of you enjoyed my Lavender shortbread over Xmas.

Medicinally it relieves pain and calms anxiety and stress. It has antispasmodic, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties.

Try this fabulous Lavender bath…
It will refresh and cleanse you. Light a lavender scented candle. Blend (in a muslin bag) a teaspoon each of: lavender flowers, chamomile flowers, and dried crushed rosemary. Hang the sachet under the faucet, and draw your bath water, allowing it to pour down through the herbs. Add a half cup of lemon juice to the bath and a handful of Epsom salts.

When you settle into the tub, lean back, relax, and take three deep breaths. Close your eyes and focus on the excess tension and stress in your body. Feel the herbs and lemon draw it out of your muscles and mind. Thoroughly clean your tub when you are done to remove any residue of negative energy from the bath water.

Using lavender oil in your bath will help with stiff and aching muscles and will ease tension.

A tea made from fresh lavender flowers (1/4 cup of flowers to 1 cup boiling water) will ease general aches and pains… sore throat. It is also wonderfully calming.

"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver." –Gandhi


Barley (Hordeum distichon) ~ This annual grass is grown in winter (in temperate regions). It is an ancient, revered grain but was replaced by wheat in the middle ages. Known and marketed as green barley grass in most health shops. It is rich in protein, B vitamins and minerals, barley is a hugely important health grain. Young and tender leaves can be finely chopped into food as an energy booster. The highest nutrition and energy value is in the sprouted seed.
In Neolithic times the grain was cooked, crushed and pounded into a nutritious milk that built strong bones ~ barley is now recognized to be important for osteoporosis due to its high calcium and potassium content. A glass of barley water 3 times a week is a superb detoxifier and will restore hair and nails as well as clear a multitude of ailments (stomach ailments, sore throats, catarrh, kidney and bladder infections, diarrhea, hepatitis, high blood cholesterol, children’s fevers, cramp, diabetes, for babies to prevent the development of milk curds in the stomach and colic, and for convalescence).
A bundle of dry barley tossed into a pond will keep the water clear and free of algae. A bale thrown into a dam will significantly clear murky water and it is safe for fish and animals to drink (totally safe for the environment).

To Sprout: soak seeds for a couple of hours and serve when soft.
To grow the grass: soak and then place on moist cotton wool (for them to root in) ~ keep moist and clip grass when it appears.
Plant in autumn: in rich composted soil in full sun. Can also be grown in deep pots.
Companions: Beetroot, cabbages, chamomile


Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) ~ This is an Heirloom crop. Quick growing annual but it will grow all year round in temperate climates like ours (sow seeds all year round). An ancient, revered food, brought to Europe from Asia by the Crusaders, buckwheat has always been one of the world’s most important grains. The monks found it to be an excellent medicinal plant there are records that go back into the 14th century of its versatility in treating many ailments. Thresh the grain for chickens and add the stalks to the compost pile. This is THE crop for bee food. Honeybees just love buckwheat and it makes a highly sought after honey rarely found on the market anymore. You will notice that blossoms are more active in the morning when the plant produces more nectar. Butterflies love it to! It was used to feed livestock at one point. It makes a wonderful flour that is great for making wheat-free pancakes.

It is a wonderful green manure crop ~ full of minerals that break down easily into the soil.

It has a high rutin content, which gives it a powerful effect of the circulatory system… heart ailments, poor circulation, chilblains and varicose veins. It also helps people with diabetes process sugar better. To make a tea use ¼ cup of fresh leaves to 1 cup boiling water. Stand for 5 minutes, strain and sip slowly.

To grow: Sow seeds all year round (except June and July) in well composted soil and in full sun. Can also be grown in pots. It will help to loosen heavy clay soil. Add copious amounts to the compost heap (to enrich its mineral content).

Companions: Mealies, globe artichokes. It will stimulate the other plants growth so it’s good for root crops. Do not plant near winter wheat as it will retard its growth.
Plant wisdom: Buckwheat helps you to experience the magic that each moment contains.
Sprinkle seeds around your home for protection. Baking with Buckwheat flour brings good luck, love and prosperity to family and friends.


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) ~ Certainly not a weed! This beautiful plant is one of the most astonishing healing plants, the array of health benefits will take your breath away!

It has the ability with its high mineral content to build strong enamel on the teeth and strengthen the bones. All parts of the plant are effective and safe to use. The root is a mild laxative and a superb liver tonic (flushes out the system of all toxins). It is rich in vitamin A, B, C and D, carotenoids and minerals, especially potassium and calcium. This truly is one of the best detoxifying herbs!

Dandelion is a common plant worldwide. The plant grows to a height of about 12 inches, producing spatula-like leaves and yellow flowers that bloom year-round. Upon maturation, the flower turns into the characteristic puffball containing seeds that are dispersed in the wind. Dandelion is grown commercially in the United States and Europe. The leaves and root are used in herbal supplements.

Dandelion is one of the most complete plant foods on earth. It is the best natural supplement you can have and most of the time it goes un-noticed. The leaves are used in salads and teas, while the roots are often used as a coffee substitute. Dandelion leaves and roots have been used for hundreds of years to treat liver, gallbladder, kidney, and joint problems. In some traditions, dandelion is considered a blood purifier and is used for ailments as varied as eczema and cancer. As is the case today, dandelion has also been used historically to treat poor digestion, water retention, and diseases of the liver, including hepatitis.

Dandelion leaf and root should be used with caution by persons with gallstones. Persons with an obstruction of the bile ducts should avoid dandelion altogether. In cases of stomach ulcer or gastritis, dandelion should be used cautiously, as it may cause overproduction of stomach acid. Those experiencing fluid or water retention should consult a nutritionally oriented doctor before taking dandelion leaves. The milky latex in the stem and leaves of fresh dandelion may cause an allergic rash in some individuals.
Most animals will benefit from this plant and some wild or pasture fed ones seek it out at certain times of the year to help them boost their health (Tortoises, horses, Llamas, sheep, goats, mules, etc). Crumble the dried leaves over your pets food for a tonic booster, detoxifier and duretic.

To grow: It self seeds prolifically… thrives on neglect… but if nurtured it will grow well. This plant is a survivor! Add leaves to compost heap to give it a vitamin and mineral boost. Remember to always give back to the earth (if you are harvesting from the wild).
Companions: Dandelion has the ability to exhale an ethylene gas which causes nearby plants to mature and ripen quickly.

Plant wisdom: Dandelion reminds you of the abundance life holds. The seed head is a symbol of abundance… the small seeds are carriers and messengers ~ when you blow a dandelion head make sure you make a wish ~ visualise each of the seeds carrying your dreams to god :)


Buchu (Agathosma betulina) ~ also known as Barosma betulina or round-leaf buchu. This plant is a shrub of up to two metres in height and is indigenous to the mountains of the Western Cape (meaning that is the only place in the world where it grows naturally).

Buchu is part of the cultural heritage of the San and Khoi people… it was used to anoint the body (after mixing the powdered, dried leaves with sheep fat), probably both for cosmetic reasons as well as an antibiotic protection. For medicinal use, the leaves were chewed to relieve stomach complaints. These practices where taken over by early Dutch colonists and Buchu became a popular Cape Medicine (leaves steeped in brandy became a tincture known as Buchu brandy).

Buchu vinegar was highly regarded for a wound wash (can also be used as an infusion). It also has a great reputation for treating kidney and urinary tract diseases, for the symptomatic relief of rheumatism. Buchu is known to relieve indigestion, stomach complaints, nausea and even hangovers. In fact it is excellent for the entire digestive tract.

Most of the plants are still grown in South Africa where the government exercises strict control over the gathering of the leaves to prevent destruction of wild plants.

Plant wisdom: This plant brings us the feminine divine energies and is closely linked to the moon and the element of water. It teaches us about our psychic powers and brings about prophetic dreams.


Melissa / Lemon Balm / Sweet Balm (Melissa Officinalis) ~ Origin: Europe, Mediterranean, North Africa. Herbaceous Perennial that likes full sun or partial shade, well drained soil and moderate watering.

This is one of my favourite herbs and it should be grown in every garden, particularly if you have kids! This gentle herb has many virtues and has been used for over 2,000 years by healers. In the seventeenth century the Carmelite monks in Paris prepared an excellent ‘balm spirit’ that soon became famous for its long live properties as a tonic.

Many know Melissa for its use as a ‘tea’ (a few sprigs in hot water) to clam frayed nerves and a cup at bedtime will also help you to sleep - so it is in valuable to those who suffer from insomnia.

It is beneficial to the digestive tract; it strengthens the immune system; is recommended for pain relief and nervous system health and is considered a great stress reliever – treating panic attacks, restlessness, irritability, despair, fear, nervousness, etc.

Many women drink it for menstrual problems and cramps. Fresh leaves ban be crushed and gently rubbed onto bee stings – it is also mildly antiseptic and binds wounds. It treats colds, flu, fevers and muscular aches and pains. If drunk regularly it will also increase mental powers and aid concentration and is said to extend ones life span.

It treats high blood pressure and circulatory problems.
It is brilliant for babies with colic, those with growing aches and pains as well as excitable, hyperactive children and those who have difficulty in concentrating.

Plant wisdom: Melissa / Lemon Balm fills your heart with compassion. It attracts love… helps release judgments… and deepens your spiritual connection.


Milk Thistle (Carduss marianus / Silybum marianum) ~ Origin: Europe. Easy to grow annual or biennial that likes full sun and rich, well composted, moist soil.

Milk thistle has been used in Europe as a treatment for liver ailments, lactation in nursing mothers and for melancholia… for literally thousands of years… but it is only recently that research has been done on it ~ and the findings are astonishing! I always marvel at how those old healers knew what plant to use. In many places this beautiful plant is considered an invasive weed.

Milk thistle contains ‘silymarin’, but not until the 1970s did German research discover this remarkable substance: silymarin protects the liver in a highly effective manner by preventing the entry of toxins through cell membranes, while maintaining its function to reject and prevent damage caused by compounds that are toxic to the liver. It helps wherever the liver is under stress from coal tar drugs like pain killers, aspirin, and codeine, from excess alcohol and incorrect eating, from chemotherapy and from infectious diseases.

The fresh flower heads are dried and used as a tea. The medicinal part is the ripe seeds within the flower head.

It is brilliant for a hangover cure. It is also a very helpful anti-poison… if poisonous mushrooms have been ingested milk thistle can be the taken immediately afterwards to counteract their effects. For cancer treatment milk thistle can help to limit the damage to the liver due to chemo and it can also help to speed up recovery.

This species is toxic to cattle and sheep but can be used effectively on dogs, cats, horses, goats, ferrets and rodents to aid in liver or kidney damage, hepatitis, jaundics, leptospirosis, and parvovirus.

Plant wisdom: Thistle makes you feel alive… it deepens your spiritual connection… helps with healing ~ attracting spiritual helpers and healers.

Elder (Sambucus nigra) ~ Origin: Eurasia. A beautiful tree that is easily propagated from a cutting… it loves full sun and deep, well composted soil.

This stunning tree is like having a medicine chest in your back yard. The flowers improve complexions and sooth skin ailments like eczema or psoriasis. An elder flower vinegar bath soothes sunburn and dry skin. A rinse can be made to revitalise your hair… and its wonderful for dry hands and cracked heals. The berries are rich in vitamin C and also have a high mineral content making it a great tonic for flu, coughs, colds, sore throats, anaemia, oedema, neuralgia, insomnia and anxiety. It is also a popular treatment for kidney and lymphatic ailments and an epilepsy treatment. It is also wonderful to treat burns, scalds, sore eyes, skin growths, rashes, grazes, flaky patches and sunburn.
In the garden the Elder is a protector of all. The Elder would do well near a compost heap. Onions love elder trees. It is also a deterrent for aphids (a leaf spray can be made) and mealie bugs and is very helpful for white fly on indoor plants.

Plant wisdom: The Elder gives you a fresh outlook on life… it brings abundance… accelerates healing and provides protection for all things within its reach. It is the holy water of the herbal realm and will dispel the darkest of energies.

Baobab (Adansonia Digitata) ~ Origin: Northern Province, South Africa, Africa, Madagascar and Australia. This remarkable tree is a conspicuous feature (kind of looks like it has been planted upside-down). It grows in the frost free areas of Northern South Africa.
Africa’s Baobab

This amazing tree has many uses… the seeds are ground up into a white pulp, mixed with water and drunk to treat malaria, fevers, diarrhoea, and apparently also haemoptysis. In the Northern Province the powdered seeds are given to children as a hiccup remedy. The seeds are also roasted and eaten like groundnuts and pounded then can be made into a sort of peanut butter. The people also eat the pulp for porridge. The seed pulp is sometimes coloured and then made into sweets.

In West Africa the bark, leaves are claimed to have anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic properties and are regarded as a remedy for urinary disorders and mild diarrhoea. The bark has been sold commercially in Europe under the name “cortex cael cedra” to treat fevers and as a substitute for cinchona bark. The bark may be pounded and soaked and made into rope, fishing nets or clothes.

The leaves are used against fever, to reduce perspiration and as an astringent. But it is also used like spinach… they make a nice soup with the leaves. It can also be dried for use as a condiment.

Across the Kalahari, runs a line of Baobabs about 96 km’s apart. These living reservoirs have saved many lives. Life would be insupportable in some parts of Africa without the baobab. In the Sudanese wastelands, there are 30000 of these trees from which people have drawn water for centuries. One baobab may hold as many as 4-5 thousand litters of water. Baobabs are mostly protected today as they have been exploited for making paper in the past and exported to England.

Their flowers are very large and sweet-smelling; they are like white stars against the evening sky. Baobabs are not resistant to long periods of drought and young Baobabs perish in veldt fires. When a baobab dies, it collapses into a fibrous mass as though struck by lightning, until a high wind blows away the remnants of a solitary giant that had been a landmark for centuries.

African Legend: The Bushmen believe that the baobab had offended God, and as punishment God planted the tree upside down. The oldest tree is older than the pyramids of Giza ~ when its first leaves sprouted the Sahara was still lush and green, and yet it's lovelier now than the day it first took root. For some cultures it is the tree under which man was born.

Madagascar Baobab’s

Plant wisdom: A symbol of endurance, conservation, creativity, ingenuity and dialogue.

"Knowledge and wisdom are like the trunk of a Baobab tree. No one person's arm span is great enough to encompass them." Saying from the Volta region of Ghana

Common names: Cat herb, Cape horehound (Eng.); kattekruie (Afr.) ~ Ballota Africana. Related to B. Nigra or black horehound.
Origin: Northern, Western and Eastern - Cape, South Africa,

Occurs naturally throughout the Cape (home range to many South African tortoises) and has been used by Bushmen as a medicinal herb for respiratory problems and as a sedative.

Ballota is very easy to identify and a very popular herb in the Cape and can reach a height of about more than 1m tall ~ the length of the bushes depend on the area where it grows - in the Karoo it grows in the shade of other shrubs and only grows to about 30cm.

An infusion of the leaves, often mixed with the leaves of salvias, was used by Khoi and Nama tribes to treat fevers. Brandy tinctures were used for colds, headaches, and other ailments

The plant has been used for fevers, measles, snakebite remedies and relieving of severe colic. Dried or fresh leaves can be used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, influenza, asthma, bronchitis, colic, typhoid fever, hysteria, and over-excitement. Brandy tinctures had also been made to treat haemorrhoids. More usage for Ballota includes: hoarseness, heart trouble, hysteria, insomnia, typhoid fever, headaches, liver problems, piles and as a foot bath for arthritis.

Plant wisdom: Acts as a stabilizing force in your life.

"It is time to trust that small voice within, coming from the person we really are. It is time to look within and to uncover all that has been blocking us from our truth” ~ Unknown


Common names: Lovage (Levisticum officinale). Origin: Mediterranean areas and South-western Asia. This herbaceous perennial enjoys partial shade and rich, moist, cool soil.

This is a fantastic herb to use in stews as it infuses them with a delicious celery-like flavour. The monks in ancient days grew lovage in their gardens and gave it to weary travellers to soothe and freshen tired feet, and treated the sick with a lovage brew to heal infected wounds and grazes and to ease nausea, vomiting and over indulgence. In rural areas the seeds are steeped in brandy and still used today to settle the stomach.

Both the roots and the fruit of lovage are used as a diuretic, to treat stomach disorders, and to relieve colic and gas. Add leaves to a salad to improve circulation and lessen constipation. A tea made from boiling the leaves in distilled water soothes the eyes and removes redness. The tea can also be used as a mouthwash.

Plant wisdom: Shows the meaning of love.
Will attract love, expand your social circle and help you to travel safely. Place a few leaves in your bath water to help open your heart.
Warning: Not to be used by those with kidney ailments not should it be taken during pregnancy.

Common names: Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum). Origin: Southern Africa.
The wild plum has become a popular garden tree and is now found in most parts of South Africa. Large ever green tree reaching a height of up to 15 metres. This is one of our largest tree species in the forests of KZN and the Eastern Cape through up into Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces and into Swaziland, Mozambique and into Zimbabwe.

Male and female flowers occur on separate trees. The sour, but edible fruits are bright red and plum like.

Medicinally the bark is used… decoctions of the bark are used as blood purifiers or emetics. It may also be used for facial saunas and skin washes, and to treat skin problems such as acne and eczema. To treat sprains and fractures, powered burnt bark is applied to the scarification.

Plant wisdom: Removes all negativity. This tree has a deep sense of peace and calm… just being around it will help to reduce the negativity you have “collected” throughout your day.

“What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present, and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?” ~ A Course in Miracles

Common names: White Willow (Salix Alba). Origin: native to Europe and western and central Asia.
The Willow is a large deciduous tree that can live for more than 120 years and grown upwards of 30 metres tall. The bark is very easily separated throughout the summer and this is used medicinally. The tree has long been associated with magic ~ wands and staffs are often made from its wood. It is a water loving plant and will often be found along lakes and streams.

Hippocrates wrote in the 5th century BC about a bitter powder extracted from willow bark that could ease aches and pains and reduce fevers. This remedy is also mentioned in texts from ancient Egypt, Sumer, and Assyria. The Reverend Edmund Stone, a vicar from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, England, noted in 1763 that willow bark was effective in reducing a fever. The bark is often macerated in ethanol to produce a tincture.

The active extract of the bark, called salicin, after the Latin name Salix, was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist, and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist, who then succeeded in separating out the acid in its pure state. Salicylic acid, (aspirin), which is a chemical derivative of salicin, can be fatal to cats.

Willow bark is useful for relieving pain. A tea made fro the bark will lower fevers, ease sore throats, and stop headaches. It is also useful as a treatment for rheumatism. A poultice made from the bark can be applied to open wounds to help them heal and avoid infection.

Plant wisdom: Helps you release sadness and grief.
If you symbolically sweep an area with the branches you will help to clear negative energies from your home.

"I am the darkness that is the light, the stillness that is the dancing" ~ TS Eliot

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tracy
    I am doing some work on Ballota africana and I was wondering if you could elaborate a little on you statement about it: Plant wisdom: Acts as a stabilizing force in your life?
    best wishes