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herbs, natural healing
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Glossary of Herbs
For a newcomer to the world of herbalism, the most extraordinary feature of herbs is their incredible versatility. You may think of a particular herb as useful for flavouring food or as a source of perfume, for example, then discover it has a wide range of other applications. A herb that is prized in cooking may also be of value against pests in the garden, one used in beauty care may also be a healing herb. A plant such as the elder can provide the raw material for wines, conserves, medicines, and dye. This chapter shows how the magical biochemistry of herbs makes possible these diverse properties.
The herbs in this glossary are listed under their botanical families, emphasizing the similarities between related plants. Many of the mint family (Labiatae), for example, are rich in essential oils, and important as culinary herbs, while a number of herbs in the daisy family (Compositae) are good for healing wounds and stopping bleeding. Within each family the herbs are listed alphabetically under their Latin names, with their common names also given in bold type. As well as the plants that have traditionally been used by herbalists, the glossary also contains a few plants that have been extensively used in orthodox medicine, such as the foxglove, and other more recently researched plants whose dramatic healing properties have lately been publicized. Superior numbers refer to notes on research on pages 281-2.
Each entry indicates the size of the herb (either its height or both its height and approximate spread on the ground) and gives a page reference to a photograph of the plant. Details of the parts of the plant used are followed by a list of its chemical constituents. There follows a summary of the main uses of the herb and a detailed description of its history, its specific applications, how its chemistry affects the body, and where possible, research findings on its effects. It must be stressed, however, that for self-prescription you should use the Herbs for Healing chapter and not the glossary. Finally, if there are any circumstances under which the plant should not be used, or if part of the plant is poisonous, there is a caution. The word "Restricted" indicates a plant whose use is limited to registered medical herbalists, pharmacists, and doctors.
Sweet sedge, sweet grass, sweet rush, myrtle flag
h 3 ft (1 m)
Parts used Rhizome.
Constituents Volatile oil up to 3.5% (comprising aserone, cis-methyl isoeugenol, calamene, linalool, eugenol, azulene, pinene, cineole, camphor, etc), sesquiterpenes, acoric acid, tannin, resin, mucilage.
Main uses Medical Stomach and bowel complaints.
Mentioned in the book of Exodus and brought to Europe by the Tartars in the thirteenth century, sweet flag has a long reputation as a healing herb. In Europe, it is used for the stomach and bowel because it stimulates the salivary glands and production of stomach juices, helping to counter acidity and ease heartburn and dyspepsia. It also eases flatulence and relaxes the bowel, reducing catarrhal states of the mucous membranes. In traditional Chinese medicine sweet flag is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. Sweet flag is sometimes chewed for toothache and to break tobacco addiction because it has a mild sedative effect.
NOTE The Food and Drugs Administration in the USA has prohibited the use of this as a remedy due to the presence of aserone in the essential oil. But rhizomes from Europe have low concentrations of aserone compared with those from India and no cases of malignancy have been reported in mill and mine workers who chew the rhizome.
Meadow cabbage, polecat weed, skunkweed
16x12 ins (40x30 cm)
Parts used Root.
Constituents Volatile oil, resin, acrid principle, silica, iron, manganese.
Main uses Medical Asthma, whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Skunk cabbage has an unpleasant smell when bruised but it is a highly useful herb nonetheless. It is antispasmodic and expectorant with somewhat sedative properties and is prescribed for tightness of the chest, irritable tight coughs and other spasmodic respiratory disorders. In addition, it is sometimes used to calm the nervous system. It also has a diuretic action. Skunk cabbage was introduced into Europe during the last century.
CAUTION The fresh plant can cause blistering.
Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, Japanese ginseng
h 24-31 ins (60-80 cm)
Parts used Dried root.
Constituents About eleven hormone-like saponins (called ginsenosides by the Japanese and panaxosides by the Russians), volatile oil, sterols, starch, sugars, pectin, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, choline, fats, minerals (including zinc, copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, vanadium).
Main uses Medical As tonic, particularly for people weakened by disease, old age, or stress.
Ginseng (in Chinese, "Renshen", meaning "man root") is the king of tonics. For centuries in the East, top-grade roots have been valued more than gold. There are many different grades of ginseng. Wild ginseng, particularly that from Manchuria, is considered the best but is phenomenally expensive. Cultivated ginseng comes in two varieties, white and red. The red is cured by steaming which gives it its colour and reputedly a warmer nature than the white. Most Korean ginseng is of the red variety and is stronger or more yang in nature than that from China.
Unfortunately, the fame of ginseng has led to misconceptions about its use and to low grade or adulterated products being sold as ginseng in the West. Despite its Latin name Panax, meaning panacea, it is not universally applicable in every illness. It should not be taken during acute inflammatory disease or bronchitis since it can drive the disease deeper and make it worse. Moreover, in China, ginseng is rarely used on its own, but is usually combined with other herbs, such as licorice or Chinese dates, which temper its powerful nature. Ginseng is best taken by someone made weak by disease or old age. Modern research reinforces traditional views about ginseng. The several hormone-like substances in the plant are thought to account for its simultaneously sedative and stimulating (adaptogenic) effect on the central nervous system. Experiments in Russia carried out since 1948 indicated that ginseng improved concentration and endurance. The effect of ginseng on nurses in a London hospital in another experiment was similar. An often quoted work by the American scientist Siegal, entitled Ginseng Abuse Syndrome (GAS), apparently compromising the safety of ginseng has recently been demonstrated to have little or no foundation.
American ginseng (Panax quinquifolium) is considered by the Chinese to be less stimulating and warming than then own indigenous variety. It contains some but not all of the same ginsenosides. San Qi ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng) is probably the most important wound-healing herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia. It has been used success fully, to treat angina pectoris. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus sentiocosus) is reputed to have similar properties to oriental ginseng.
Canada root, flux root, orange swallow-wort, tuber root, white root, windroot, milkweed, butterfly weed
h 24 ins (60 cm)
Parts used Root.
Constituents Glycosides including asclepiadin, and possibly cardiac glycosides; volatile oil, resins.
Main uses Medical Wide range of respiratory complaints, specifically pleurisy. Formerly official to the United States Pharmacopeia.
This plant was revered as a healer by the North American Indians and called after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepias, by American doctors because of its power to save lives. Its powerful sweat-inducing and expectorant properties have ensured that it continues to be used for colds, flu, and respiratory problems.
CAUTION The fresh root may cause nausea and vomiting.
Fish-poison tree, fish fuddle
Parts used Bark.
Constituents Alkaloid, glycosides (piscidin, jamaicin, icthyone); flavonoids; plant acids; a saponin; glycoside; tannin.
Main uses Medical Insomnia, neuralgia, toothache, spasmodic dysmenorrhoea.
In South America, the pounded leaves and young branches of this tree are used to stupefy fish so they can easily be caught. But the chemicals in the plant are only poisonous to cold-blooded creatures. Its toxicity has been reported low in most animals and an extract of the plant has been shown to be sedative in cats. It also has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle. The main herbal use is as a sedative and painkiller. It is useful to treat insomnia, neuralgia and menstrual cramping. Scientific reports also indicate that Jamaican dogwood can calm the cough reflex and reduce fevers, which provides two further therapeutic possibilities.
Jaundice berry, pepperidge bush
h 7 ft (2 m)
Parts used Bark, fruit.
Constituents Alkaloids (including berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, palmatine, isotetrandine, bervulcine and magnoflorine), tannin, resin, fat, starch.
Main uses Medical Stimulate the liver and gall bladder, and as a digestive tonic.
Barberry bark contains many active alkaloids, useful to the medical herbalist. The alkaloids berberine, oxyacanthine, and columbamine are all strongly antibacterial. Berberine may also have antiviral properties and research shows that it dilates the arteries so lowering blood pressure as well as being anticonvulsant. It has been successfully used to treat Leishmaniasis (infections transmitted by sandfly). It is also effective in treating cholera.
CAUTION This herb should not be used during pregnancy as the alkaloid berberine stimulates the uterus.
Squaw root, papoose root, blue ginseng, yellow ginseng
h 3 ft (1 m)
Parts used Root and rhizome.
Constituents Alkaloids, cystine (caulophylline), baptifoline, anagyrine, laburnine. Also caulosaponin, resins.
Main uses Medical For suppressed periods with cramping pain; labour pains; arthritis; stomach cramps.
It is sometimes said that blue cohosh should not be used during pregnancy, but this was not the experience of North American Indian women who drank the tea a few weeks before childbirth to make the birth process swift and easy, nor of experienced North American doctors in the Eclectic or Physiomedical herbal tradition who used it to counter restlessness and pain during pregnancy and to reduce labour pains. Blue cohosh eases the cramping pain of dysmenorrhoea. It has also been used to treat arthritis and ease stomach cramps.
CAUTION The herb should not be used during pregnancy, or where there is high blood pressure or heart disease. The seeds are poisonous.
Mahonia aquifolium (also known as Berberis aquifolium)
Oregon grape root
Mountain grape, Rocky Mountain grape, holly leaved barberry
h to 6 ft (2 m)
Parts used Root and rhizome.
Constituents Alkaloids (berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, and berbamine).
Main uses Medical Liver and gallbladder complaints and chronic skin disease.
Oregon grape root has a considerable reputation as a blood purifier, cleansing the tissues and blood of toxins and waste products. Its bitter components stimulate the liver and gallbladder and are tonic to the digestion and mildly laxative. It is used for skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, and cold sores.
CAUTION Like barberry bark and golden seal which also contain the alkaloid berberine, this herb should not be used during pregnancy.
Betula alba (plus B. pendula, B. verrucosa)
Silver birch, paper birch
h to 65 ft (20 m)
Parts used Leaves, bark, oil, sap.
Constituents Buds: volatile oil which includes the camphor-like betulin. Young leaves: rich in saponins; also a flavonoid derivative, hyperoside resin, tannins, sesquiterpenes, betuloventic acid, vitamin C. Bark: betulinol and a glycoside.
Main uses Culinary Sap in wine or vinegar; used as a sweetening agent. Medical Fluid retention, arthritis, gout, urinary stones or infections.
The graceful birch has been immensely useful to northern peoples. They have made wheels, hoops for casks, brooms and switches from its wood.
The sap, preserved with cloves and cinnamon, was once taken to treat skin diseases like acne as well as rheumatism and gout.
Birch-leaf tea is a powerful diuretic capable of dissolving kidney and bladder stones. It also kills off harmful bacteria in the kidneys and urinary tract. To obtain the full diuretic effect herbalists add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the infusion which promotes the extraction of the diuretic hyperoside. The leaves also have a substantial reputation for treating rheumatism, arthritis, and gout.
Birch leaves can be used to treat fluid retention due to heart or kidney malfunction. In addition the tea lowers blood cholesterol levels and stimulates the flow of bile. A decoction of the bark has been used to allay intermittent fevers. Oil extracted from the buds or bark has been used externally in lotions to treat psoriasis and eczema. This oil should not be confused with sweet birch oil which is extracted from black birch (Betula lenta) native to North America.
24x20 ins (60x50 cm)
Parts used Leaves, flowers, seed; cultivation.
Constituents Mucilage, tannin, essential oil, potassium, calcium, pyrrolizioline alkaloids.
Main uses Culinary Flowers to flavour summer wine cups; young leaves pickled. Medical Coughs, depression.
Borage is a plant which deserves more medical research. Folk use suggests a variety of medicinal properties, a potential which has lately been endorsed by the discovery of high levels of gamma linoleic acid in the seeds. This is useful in many disorders.
The ancients extolled the virtues of borage, pointing out its ability to counter melancholic states. Pliny repeats an ancient verse "I, Borage always bring courage". The seventeenth-century diarist, John Evelyn, wrote that borage was "of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student". This use suggests a supportive effect on the adrenal glands which may well be the case since comfrey, a clo...
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Book Description MacMillan Publishing Company/C, 1988. Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0020633505
Book Description MacMillan Publishing Company/C, 1988. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110020633505
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Book Description MacMillan Publishing Company/Collier Books, 1988. Paperback. Condition: New. First Printing. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 0020633505n