Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Yew – Taxus baccata

Few western European trees are as enigmatic as the Yew. Dark, brooding and sometimes eery, each Yew tree very much has its own personality.

 

Botany:

The Yew (Taxus baccata) is an evergreen, needle bearing conifer- but a strange one. Instead of wooden cones, it shelters its seed in a bright red, soft and slimy fruit cortex that takes the shape of a cup (Baccata = cup). The seeds, hidden within the ‘cup, along with all other parts of the tree except for the arils, are highly poisonous.

Yews are dioecious; female and male flowers appear on different trees, but only the female flower-bearing tree produces the fruits. They reach sexual maturity between 15-30 years of age, pretty young, considering their potential lifespan! It is difficult to measure the exact age of a Yew tree because most of them become hollow as they age, which means we can’t count tree rings. But in Britain and Europe, there are several, estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old!

As trees go, their height is not that impressive. Yews only grow to about 10-20 m tall, but they can develop an admirable circumference of more than 6 m. Unlike most conifers, they do not produce any resin.

Yews have a dark appearance, and they love shady spots. But they tolerate the sun if they were exposed to it from the start.

Yew of If d'Estry, Normandy

Roi.dagobert, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mythology:

As an evergreen with a seemingly infinite lifespan and a somewhat dark, mysterious Gestalt, it is not surprising that Yews have been linked to the realm of the Dead. In Britain, the oldest Yews are found in cemeteries, often in association with a sacred spring. Britain’s oldest one is the Yew of Fortingall, in Perth, Scotland, believed to be some 3000 years old. However, its age is difficult to verify since it is hollow, and young shoots that grow from the centre, fuse with older ones, thus constantly rejuvenating itself.

In the runic alphabet, the Yew is associated with Eiwhaz Rune, which signifies the shortest day of the year, the eve of the winter solstice. It symbolizes the dying Sun but also its rebirth, since Yews possess this magic power of rejuvenation. Yews cast the dark, silent cape of eternity over the departed and take care of their souls in the afterworld until the time of their rebirth has come.

Thus, Yews are symbolic of life and death, seen as complementary forces rather than polar opposites, and joined at the threshold at the beginning and the end of our lives.

Folklore: Sleeping under a Yew tree was thought to induce prophetic dreams and offer a glimpse beyond the veil.

 

 

Properties and uses

Yew BerryA couple of thousand years ago, Yews were common throughout Europe and Britain. But they are slow-growing trees that were decimated for the sake of war. Yews were the primary source-wood for longbows – which, before the invention of gunpowder, were the most common weapon of war. Even today, Yew bows are used for making longbows for archery. In medieval times, Yews were planted in and around castle grounds to ensure a steady supply.
The wood, which is both strong and elastic, is superbly suited for this purpose. Archaeological evidence has shown that it has been used to make weapons since prehistoric times. Palaeolithic spears and arrowheads made of Yew have been found in a marl pit in southern England. The arrowheads had been dipped in an arrow poison made of Yew, Hellebore and Hemlock to make them extra lethal. Yews alkaloids first stimulate, then slow the heart rate, causing the victim to fall into a coma and die within an hour and a half. The oldest such spear, some 150 000 years old, was still stuck between the ribs of a mammoth carcass.

By the 16th century, Yews were almost extinct. But, they were saved by the invention of gunpowder which was invented right around that time, allowing Yew populations to recover.

 

Medicinal uses:

In recent times, Yews were in the news for saving lives. A compound found in the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, was discovered to have cytostatic properties, capable of inhibiting cancerous growth. But both, the Pacific Yew and its habitat are threatened. A single tree only yields 3 kg of bark, containing only 1g of Taxol, the sought-after active compound. Taxol proved highly effective in chemotherapy for treating breast- and ovarian cancer, and thus was in high demand. Given the slow growth and endangered status of the trees, the situation was precarious. Scientists were struggling to find a way to synthesize Taxol from other sources. But eventually, the breakthrough came in the 1990s. Scientists had managed to create Taxol molecules from Taxus baccata, the European Yew, which is a far more common species.

Thus, the Yew has held true to its ancient promise as a harbinger of both death and life.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose Oil

The oil pressed from Evening Primrose seeds has risen to superfood fame in recent years. Originally, it was touted as a secret wonder drug to combat symptoms of PMS and menopause. But as more research was done on it, more beneficial properties became apparent. The list of conditions this seed oil is said to benefit is truly extensive. Evening Primrose seeds are a rich source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids commonly found in oily fish and eggs. This is good news for vegetarians and vegans, who sometimes find it hard to get adequate supplies of this essential fatty acid in their diet.

Although Omega 3 is also found in some other seeds, such as Linseed or Hemp. However, some people lack the enzyme necessary to convert Linoleic Acid into GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid). And this is where Evening Primrose stands out: its seed oil is one of the best sources of GLA, which the body uses in many ways: it helps prevent blood clotting, dilates blood vessels and is highly anti-inflammatory, making it useful in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The GLA in Evening Primrose oil is of a type that is very easy for the body to absorb. Thus, even small quantities can be quite effective. Evening Primrose oil is said to help prevent cancer, reduce inflammatory autoimmune conditions, improve blood circulation, and support digestive and liver functions. It is sometimes added to hair and skin repair cosmetics to remedy dry skin conditions, eczema, and brittle nails and hair.

Read more about foraging Evening Primrose as a wild food.

 

Medicinal Uses of Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Medicinal Uses of Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Medicinal Uses of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) 

To this day, opium and its derivatives supply us with some of the most effective painkilling agents used in medicine. These substances bring great relief to those suffering from agonizing pain. But they are also dangerously addictive.

  Parts Used:  Chiefly the latex or alkaloids derived from it
  Constituents: Contains about 40 different alkaloids. The most prominent being morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Papaverine and Noscapine
  Actions: Analgesic, narcotic, sedative, antispasmodic, anti-diarrheal, anti-tussive, diaphoretic, aphrodisiac

 

 Indications: 

The dried latex rolled into pills combined with other substances has long been valued as a highly effective painkiller. As a sedative, opium is used to calm agitated children. People in extreme states of hysteria or who are otherwise mentally or emotionally disturbed benefit from its sedating action. Those suffering from intensely painful conditions benefit from both the pain-relieving and the sedative action as opium will soothe the pain and help the body relax so as to find restful sleep.  

Opium’s anti-diarrhoeal properties are still employed today as one of the most effective agents for treating colic and dysentery. In cases of gall-bladder colic or spasms, opium acts as a pain-relieving antispasmodic. It is still used as an ingredient of cough mixtures as a powerful anti-tussive, invaluable in treating persistent spasmodic coughs (Codeine- alkaloid of opium). In the past, it played an important role in the treatment of tuberculosis. 

In Ayurvedic medicine, opium is valued as an aid to healthy sexual function, as it can relieve sexual problems such as impotency and premature ejaculation.

 

Caution:

Opium, Morphine and Heroin are all highly addictive substances, besides which they are also highly illegal. Excessive use can lead to serious health problems and even cause death. Small quantities can cause severe constipation. The dangerous side of opium is still very much evident today, and not just among heroin addicts. The ‘opium crisis‘ has made a fortune for drug companies while turning millions of people into addicts with apparently legitimate painkillers.

Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only, not as a guide to self-medication or to encourage the use of illegal drugs.

 

Status: In most countries, it is illegal to cultivate Poppies without a licence, although in Europe, it is commonly grown as an ornamental garden plant. However, harvesting opium is strictly prohibited everywhere. 

 

The dried seed pods and the seeds are legal and available commercially. 

 

Ayurveda – The Science of Life

Ayurveda – The Science of Life

Ayurveda literally means ‘science of life’. It is one of India’s many indigenous healing traditions. But it is not a science in the western sense of the word. Very much unlike western science, Ayurveda is said to have been divinely revealed.

Ayurveda has ancient roots, dating back at least 5000 years. According to legend, one day, a long, long time ago, the wisest Brahmans came together to meditate on matters of sickness and health, nutrition and well-being. And thus, the Ayurvedic philosophy and the principles of health were conceived in their entirety.

 

 

Balance as a dynamic principle

Ayurveda’s fundamental premise is the unity of body, mind and spirit and the interconnectedness of all life. Health means ‘wholeness’, and the key to health is a balanced lifestyle.

A balanced lifestyle means moderation in all things – physical, mental and spiritual. Imbalance in any sphere of life will eventually affect all aspects of the body-mind. A balanced diet is just as important as being happy and physically fulfilled.

But we are constantly exposed to an interplay of forces that can easily upset our balance. To maintain balance means having to dynamically adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

 

 

Elemental Balance

These interacting forces were conceived as the ever-changing dynamic expression of the elements (fire, air, earth, water and ether).

The Ancients regarded the elements as ‘qualia’. When they spoke of fire, they did not mean an actual bonfire but the essence of fire, expressed in the heat, the flickering flames, and their all-consuming power. The construct of the elements is based on a phenomenological way of perceiving and interpreting inner and outer reality.

Everything in the universe has its own elemental signature composed of a specific energetic pattern. And all living things are interconnected. Herbal remedies and are employed to correct the energetic imbalance.

 

 

lotus

Constitutional types

Human beings are categorized into three basic constitutional types known as doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Although all three doshas are present in every person, one or two usually dominate.

Vata

Vata is associated with the elements of air and ether.
It implies movement and changeability, and its quality is cold and dry. Excessive Vata energy manifests as nervousness and anxiety. Vata individuals find it hard to sit still. They are always on the move. Their minds are quick and active, but they do not always retain information very well. The skin or hair tend to be dry and brittle, and they often complain about cold hands and feet. Their body frame tends to be light and skinny.

Pitta

Pitta is associated with the elements of fire and water. It expresses itself as the assimilation of food and the heat of metabolic processes. It describes a hot temperament that requires plenty of food to fuel the metabolism. The intensity of the inner fire tends to turn Pitta types’ hair grey or causes them to lose it at a young age. The hair and skin are often oily, and Pitta-individuals frequently have strong body odours. Their cognition and memory are usually sharp, but they often have a perfectionist streak. This can lead to a judgmental and over-critical attitude towards others. Pitta-types often have a need to dominate and control.

Kapha

Kapha is associated with the elements of water and earth. It represents structure and substance. In the body, it finds expression in the bones and connective tissues. Kapha energy is heavy and cold. Kapha individuals have heavy body frames and a tendency to put on weight. They move and think slowly and can be lethargic. The skin may feel cold and clammy, and they often have a sweet tooth. Kapha individuals can be kind and compassionate, but they may be overly attached and suffer from jealousy.

We are constantly subject to external forces that can unbalance our equilibrium. Ayurveda aims to rectify symptoms of dosha imbalance. Its tools are mental and physical exercises (e.g. meditation, yoga), medicinal herbs, and appropriate nutrition.

 

ayurvedic medicineFoods are also categorized into three basic types:

  • Sattva – milk and plant products, mild flavours
  • Raja – hot and spicy food, meat
  • Tamas – denaturalized foods, canned food, fast food, alcohol

 

Whether foods are healthy or harmful depends on the person’s dosha constitution.

 

Correcting excessive Vata energy

To balance excessive Vata energy, eat cooked food that is oily, heavy and warm, and preferably sweet, sour or salty. Refined sugars and yeast should be avoided. Vegetables of the cabbage and potato family are not recommended. Raw vegetables are okay, but should be marinated or served with a dip or dressing. Avoid just grabbing food on the go. Eat slowly and keep regular dinner times.

Correcting excessive Pitta energy

Excessive Pitta energy can be balanced by eating a predominantly vegetarian diet consisting of plenty of fruit, veggies and grains. Overly spicy or acidic foods and excessive amounts of salt, oil or alcohol should be avoided.

Correcting excessive Kapha energy

To balance excessive Kapha energy, eat light, fresh, raw vegetables and fruit. Sweets, creamy foods, nuts and heavy carbohydrates should be avoided. Spicy foods are beneficial as they stimulate metabolic processes. But meat, dairy products and citrus fruits and sweet, sour and salty foods should be avoided.

Obviously, these are only the most rudimentary guidelines. To learn more about the principles of Ayurvedic nutrition, see the recommended books or find an Ayurvedic practitioner near you.

Other causes of disease

Ayurveda also recognizes other causes of ill-health that call for different types of treatment.

Accidents:

Physical or mechanical injuries, such as broken bones, call for surgery.

Inflammation:

Infectious diseases and organ dysfunction are mostly treated with herbs and other curative substances.

Afflictions of the soul:

Emotional issues such as fear, hatred, apathy, or jealousy.
Such issues are treated therapeutically. (Aromatherapy, colour therapy, music therapy, charms, dance etc.)

Natural causes:

Old age, hunger and similar are treated with spiritual measures such as meditation, prayer and spiritual practices.

Western science has long struggled to understand these ancient and often confusing systems of correspondences and typologies. They are often labelled unscientific and quickly dismissed. Such philosophies are considered mumbo-jumbo simply because they do not fit the reductionist paradigm. Some modern Ayurvedic physicians have attempted to translate their system into western concepts to gain more acceptance and make it easier to understand.

But Ayurveda has gained popularity in recent years. -no longer a ‘fringe’ therapy, Ayurveda has a firm place in the field of alternative and complementary therapies. No one needs to travel halfway across the world to consult an Ayurvedic practitioner (although many do!)

 

Can culturally alien medical practices be effective, regardless of where and to whom they are applied?

This question deserves consideration.

In rural India, hygienic conditions, even at hospitals, cannot be compared to those in the West. Under such sanitary conditions, it is not always possible to administrate injections safely. At the same time, pharmaceuticals may be regarded with such awe that they are overprescribed, leading to unwanted results.

Although western medicine is universally considered superior to indigenous healing systems, it can fail if the environmental conditions are inadequate. Likewise, Ayurvedic medicine, in the hands of insufficiently trained practitioners, may not produce the expected results. Neither system can simply be transposed to another culture without taking systemic factors into account.

Ayurveda has been practised successfully for thousands of years. But it takes years of study, including the philosophical premise on which it is based. Reducing it to some basic principles does not do it justice and will not produce the desired results.

 

Lead image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay
Lotus image by Phu Nguyen from Pixabay
Ayurvedic herbs image by Seksak Kerdkanno from Pixabay
Plant Profile: Aloe vera

Plant Profile: Aloe vera

Aloe Vera is no longer an exotic stranger. We see it advertised as a popular ingredient in numerous household products, from washing-up liquid to latex gloves, and even razors. Many of us also know the plant itself.

Aloe Vera is an undemanding, perennial succulent, at home in arid regions of Africa. It is a distant cousin of the century plant, so common in the southwestern United States. Both belong to the order of Asparagales, but do not share the same genus.

Description:

Aloe Vera’s fleshy, succulent leaves contain a clear, gooey gel-like substance. The leaf margins bear ‘sharp teeth’ to deter casually browsing animals. It loves hot and dry conditions and only ‘wilts’ when over-watered, or exposed to freezing temperatures. Grown in the right conditions, (that is, mostly ignored), the plant will do just fine. It may even send up a central shoot with short tubular yellowish flowers sprouting from the upper part of the spike.

The Aloe genus comprises about 400 species, with Aloe Vera considered the most useful for medicinal purposes. Mature plants contain the most potent healing compounds.

Habitat:

Aloe Vera is native to arid regions of the north-eastern and southern parts of Africa and Madagascar. But thanks to its tremendous value as a healing plant, it has spread to arid regions throughout the world. Today it is widely cultivated around the world, including in North America, Japan and China.

Aloe vera plantation

History

Aloe Vera is a truly wonderful plant, with a well-established reputation as a medicinal plant, that is particularly useful for skin conditions, minor cuts, abrasions and burns. The dried latex, a well-known laxative, is distinct from the gel. It derives from a yellow juice that is contained in the pericyclic tubules of the inner leaf.

Although Aloe has been in documented use for at least 3500 years, there is a lot of controversial and contradictory information about it.
It was first mentioned in the famous Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, which dates back to 1500 BC and is widely regarded as one of the earliest documents on what was to become the western Materia Medica. More than likely, Aloe Vera’s use was well-established long before it was recorded. In the hot and dry countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East, Aloe Vera served as a soothing household remedy for sunburns and a ready-to-use moisturizing cosmetic lotion.

Some confusion surrounding this plant stems from the fact that it is still frequently mistaken for lignum Aloes or Wood-Aloes, which is an entirely different species of plant. Although abundantly mentioned in the Bible as an incense ingredient and constituent of embalming oils, Wood-Aloes does not grow in the Mediterranean Basin but is a tree of the genus Aquilaria. Also known as Agar wood, Wood Aloes is native to Southeast Asia. While Aloe Vera latex does transform into a hard substance when dried and is sometimes referred to as ‘Aloe resin’, it is not particularly aromatic and has never been used as incense.

Aloe Vera juice

In recent years, ‘Aloe Vera juice’ (as well as a myriad of spin-off products that contain the juice), has become popular. But by their very nature, products are always processed. Aloe Vera juice is no exception. It always contains flavourings and preservatives. In its natural form, Aloe juice (gel) is not very palatable – it is bitter and gooey – not exactly a pleasure to gulp down. It is not hard to see why the ancients didn’t recommend it and only saw it fit as an emergency measure for the treatment of intestinal parasites.

Careful handling is of utmost importance as oxidation sets in the minute the leaves are cut, and enzymatic activity begins to destroy some valuable compounds. Traditionally, the leaves are taken to a processing facility as quickly as possible after being cut, ideally in a refrigerated truck. At the processing plant, they are filleted by hand to remove the outer skin. Unfortunately, most of the beneficial compounds are concentrated just beneath, and filleting removes much of what makes the plant so valuable.

Aloe vera gel

Modern uses

Aloe Vera is best known for its use in topical skin-care applications. But commercial products are not quite as potent as the gel that can be squeezed from a freshly cut leaf, since the natural jelly-like substance is not very stable and deteriorates quickly upon exposure to the air. To preserve its properties and thus extend its shelf-life, manufacturers must process the gel. But processing rarely enhances a natural product. In the case of Aloe Vera, it reduces a ‘miracle plant’ to a mediocre substance with vastly diminished benefits.

This back-story sheds some light on some rather puzzling research results: Aloe Vera’s glowing reputation in folk medicine is not confirmed by research results under laboratory conditions. The reasons for this are a bit complex and are partly due to the lab conditions and partly to the processing methods that are used to ‘preserve’ the gel or to extract its ‘active compound’.

But plants are highly sophisticated when it comes to their biochemistry. Their healing effect is often not due to one simple compound but rather the result of complex interactions, or ‘synergy’ between a host of different compounds.

Conventional preservation methods involve pasteurization: heating the gel to a high temperature, thus destroying many of the more fragile components. Chemical preservatives are added, further adulterating the original substance. Understandably, the result is rather disappointing, leading researchers to conclude that Aloe’s benefits may have been exaggerated. But one could equally conclude that we simply lack proper processing methods to preserve the natural composition of fresh Aloe Vera gel.

Processing

In recent years, more efficient processing methods have been developed. A cold process that dissolves the green cellulose parts of the leaf, leaves the biochemical activity of the gel substance intact, including the aloin, a yellow bitter laxative compound that is found just underneath the outer skin. Additional processing involves adding various anti-oxidants, as oxygen initiates the deterioration and breakdown of the gel and promotes the development of aerobic bacteria. Finally, the pulp is separated from the liquid part, a carbon compound is added to help filter out the aloin. The carbon compound is subsequently removed. In the last step, the liquid is exposed to ultraviolet light that destroys any bacteria.

This method still requires stabilizing compounds to be added to the final product, but it is a great improvement to conventional extraction processes, which only processed the gel and relied on heat treatment for sterilization.

An alternative whole-leaf extraction method involves the same cold process leaf processing described in the first step above, but then utilizes short duration low temperature-controlled sterilization techniques to kill off bacteria, eliminating the need for additional chemicals. The resulting gel is concentrated in a vacuum chamber and dehydrated to yield a water-soluble compound that retains the biochemical activity indefinitely without using preservatives. This is currently regarded as the most efficient method. Although heat is used in the process, it is closely controlled and never reaches more than 65°C applied for less than 15 minutes at a time. Longer exposure and higher temperatures would deteriorate the final product.

It is easy to see that what you get at the store is not the same as the natural product straight from the plant. It is important to read the label and evaluate the extraction method to determine its quality. There are huge differences between manufacturers.

A self-regulating body of producers certifies Aloe Vera products according to industry standards of quality control. Their seal of approval is meant to reassure consumers. However, due to the different processing methods, certification is not a gold standard.

Aloe vera gel

Medicinal Uses

Parts used: resin, gel extracted from the leaf
Constituents: Hydroxyanthracene derivatives of the anthrone type (principally barbaloin); 7-hydroxyaloin isomers, aloe-emodin, chrysophanol and their glycosides; chromone derivatives (aloesin and its derivatives aloe resins A and C, and the aglycone aloesone. Gel: glucomannan (a polysaccharide), steroids, organic acids, enzymes, antibiotic principles, amino acids, saponins, minerals.
Actions: latex: cathartic, laxative, emmenagogue, digestive stimulant
Gel: immune system stimulant, skin healing, anti-irritant, moisturizing, anti-cancer
Indications

Traditionally, Aloe Vera gel is used as a soothing topical application for sunburns and minor burns, abrasions, acne, psoriasis, shingles and even cold sores. The fresh gel squeezed from the leaf and applied directly to the affected areas is most potent. Its skin repair qualities on burns and sunburns are truly remarkable – healing occurs quickly and without scarring. The gel is also used to reduce stretch marks and scarring in wound care. It even protects the skin against the immune suppressant effect of ultraviolet light – thus it can also be used as a protective sunscreen lotion. Aloe Vera gel is a highly valued additive for moisturizing cosmetic preparations and is praised for rejuvenating the skin by stimulating the synthesis of elastin and collagen.

External application of Aloe gel penetrates the skin directly and produces a soothing, pain-relieving anti-inflammatory effect on arthritic joints and tendonitis.

For internal use, Aloe Vera latex preparations are usually mixed with antispasmodic herbs to reduce the cramping effect of its laxative action. Used by itself, the cathartic action could be rather painful. The latex also stimulates the uterus, thus promoting menstrual flow. Aloe containing laxatives should be avoided during pregnancy.

Laboratory studies on mice have demonstrated high-quality Aloe Vera juice to be an effective immune system stimulant in the treatment of certain types of cancer and HIV. Further studies are underway.

Aloe juice has a healing and balancing effect on the digestive system: it improves the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of toxins. This promotes overall cell nutrition and activates the body’s self-healing powers and enhances energy levels. It can also relieve gastrointestinal problems associated with peptic or duodenal ulcers. It stimulates regular bowel evacuation and soothes colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Many chronic conditions have a component of digestive imbalance that trigger secondary symptoms due to malabsorption and cellular malnutrition. Aloe Vera juice can help to restore balance to the entire digestive system.

Aloe Vera juice also appears to benefit the liver and kidneys. It lowers levels of blood lipids (cholesterol) that can clog up the arteries and can cause coronary heart disease. And, it also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, which can make it a useful nutritional supplement for diabetics.

Aloe vera skin care

Home-made cosmetics

If you wish to incorporate Aloe’s healing benefits into home-made skincare products, you can use the gel to replace all or a portion of the liquid in your recipe. However, beware that unprocessed Aloe Vera gel is not very stable and won’t keep long. Make small batches only, and store them in the fridge for a few days. For maximum benefit, skincare preparations should contain at least 20-40% of gel. If you have a fresh plant at your access, you can simply cut off a bit of a leaf and apply it straight to the skin.

 

Grow your own

Aloe Vera is one of those plants that everybody should have at their access as an immediate first aid remedy for burns and minor cuts. Growing it is easy, as it is a very undemanding plant. Just don’t over-water it and protect it against freezing temperatures. It loves the sun but will also grow in the semi-shade, nor does it need particularly rich soil. Well draining, sandy soil will do.

 

Caution:

  • Do not use Aloe Vera based laxatives during pregnancy. The juice may also contain traces of aloin above what would be deemed safe during pregnancy.
  • Consult with your health advisor regarding possible interference with prescription drugs if you intend to use Aloe Vera internally.
  • Rare cases of allergic reactions to the latex have been reported – even for external use.

The quality of Aloe Vera gel or juice very much depends on the manufacturing process. Some products that are currently on the market have little or no medicinal value. Do your research before spending a lot of money on what may turn out to be an inert substance. Whole-leaf extracts are recommended. Look for the International Aloe Science Council certificate for quality assurance.

 

 

 

 

Image credits:

Title Image by Elstef from Pixabay

(1) Image by Françoise BERNARD-NICOD from Pixabay

(2) Image by Franziska Ingold from Pixabay

(3) Image by mozo190 from Pixabay

(4) Image by Jenny Porter from Pixabay

Plantains – Plantago sp.

Plantains – Plantago sp.

Introduction

Most of us are familiar with the broad-leaved plantain, a common weed that seems to grow just about anywhere. Or, perhaps you also know the Ribwort Plantain, with its long, slender leaves. But did you know that this genus of humble weeds comprises some 200 species that occur all over the world? 

 

As masters of adaptation, Plantains are ubiquitous. They have managed to eke out a living in almost every conceivable kind of habitat. Gardeners curse them as intruders when they cannot abolish them from their neat lawns and paths. But they are oblivious to this humble plant’s remarkable healing properties!

 

Name

Linnaeus named the genus, ‘Plantago’ which derives from the Latin word ‘plantar’ meaning ‘foot’. He intended to convey that these plants go wherever they want – or rather, wherever we go and spread their seeds, via the bottoms of our boots. This property was not lost on the Native Americans either. They called it ‘white man’s footprint’ as they watched it spread across their land.

 

History

In neolithic times, the broad-leaved Plantain (Plantago major) was held sacred for it grew nowhere better than on the old straight track, the ceremonial causeway. They were always kept clean and free of weeds, but the plantain proved unconquerable. Hence it was called ‘Wegerich’ or, ‘King of the road’.

The Anglo-Saxons included it in their ‘Nine Herbs Charm’, calling it ‘Waybread’. This name refers to its use as a sacrament. Sacrificial victims were given a gruel of Plantain seeds as a kind of ‘Last Supper’.

 

Its amazing resilience and determination to return eternally, no matter how often it was cut or removed, were a sure sign of its supernatural powers. Thus, Plantain roots were used as a talisman to protect the traveller and its leaves put into shoes was supposed to keep the feet happy and untiring.

Ribwort Plantain
Image credit: Kathy Büscher from Pixabay

Medicinal use

 

Constituents: mucilage, glycoside (Aucubin – an antimicrobial and liver protective agent), ursolic acid, tannins, silicon, vitamin C, K, citric acid, potassium, and zinc

 

Action: bitter, astringent, anti-hepatotoxic, laxative (bulking agent), antispasmodic, antibiotic, expectorant, cooling, soothing drying

 

Plantain has an amazing range of healing properties. The leaf contains an antibacterial glycoside that is effective against many types of bacteria. 

External use

The fresh leaves make a very effective and readily available anti-bacterial band-aid that can be used on all kinds of scrapes, small wounds and insect or even spider bites. Just take a leaf, rub it between your fingers so that the juice comes out and apply it directly to the sting or wound. The roots are said to be similarly effective on scorpion stings and snake bites.

A paste made from the boiled seeds of broad-leaved plantain draws out splinters and thorns.

 

An infusion of the leaves combined with oak bark makes a good mouth-wash for gingivitis or stomatitis or for cleansing wounds (even festering ones. )or to treat varicose veins, haemorrhoids, ulcers. The leaves contain silicon which strengthens and tightens connective tissues.

 

Internal use:

For internal use, it makes an excellent tea or syrup for treating diseases of the respiratory system. The leaves of the Ribwort plantain are particularly effective as they are anti-inflammatory and expectorant. The antibiotic properties of the fresh juice can even be used for the treatment of tuberculosis. But upon drying the antibiotic effect diminishes.

 

The fresh juice also makes a good blood cleansing remedy and can also be used as an anti-inflammatory agent for treating swollen glands.

 

Plantain can support other organ systems as well. Its antimicrobial properties can improve intestinal health (fresh juice) and its anti-hepatotoxic effect protects the liver better than milk-thistle seeds. 

 

An infusion of the leaves helps to control diarrhoea, while the seeds are a great aid for the elimination of waste products and for weigh-loss. As they are water-soluble (especially those of Plantago psyllium), they bulk up the stomach content and absorb and eliminate toxins. This also makes them useful as a safe and effective remedy for constipation. But drink PLENTY of water to facilitate excretion.

 

Recent research has shown the seeds of the broad-leaved plantain to have potent anti-cancer properties.

 

Foraging

Plantains are edible. The young leaves can be added to salads or used as a potherb when combined with other herbs. (Older leaves tend to be rather tough and stringy.) The leaves make a great addition to green smoothies, while the roasted seeds can be mixed into the porridge or muesli, and the birds love them too!

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