All about the Elder-tree – its myths, magic, and medicine

All about the Elder-tree – its myths, magic, and medicine

The Elder tree – medicine cabinet of the country people

This much loved, bushy tree is a common sight throughout Britain (especially in southern England) as well as in most parts of central and southern Europe. Its multiple stems branch frequently, giving it a somewhat sprawling appearance. The light grey bark is fissured and covered with many lenticels (breathing pores). The branches are bendy and contain a core of very light, almost cork-like pith, which can easily be removed. Generations of children have taken advantage of this property, making pipes and pop-guns from hollowed-out twigs. The pinnate leaves have opposite, ovate leaflets with serrated margins and one larger terminal leaflet. The flowers appear in May, forming big umbel-shaped bunches of tiny 5-petaled, cream-colored star-shaped flowers. They exude a heavy, sweet, slightly intoxicating scent, especially at dusk. By the end of the summer they develop into drooping bunches of small purple-black berries that are extremely popular with the birds.

HABITAT:

As a nitrogen loving plant Elder commonly grows near farms and homesteads and thrives near organic waste disposal sites. Elder is often grown as a hedgerow bush, since it takes very fast, bends into shape easily and grows quite profusely, hence its reputation as an ‘instant hedge’. It is not fussy about soil type or pH level and will grow wherever it gets enough light.

HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY, AND FOLKLORE

SYNONYMS:

Pipe tree, Ellhorn, Black Elder, Bore Tree, Bour Tree, Eller, Holler, Hylder, Hylantree, Holunder (German), Sureau (French)

The name ‘Elder’ probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Aeld’, for ‘fire’, which starts to make sense when we look at another old name for Elder, ‘Ellhorn’. This name derives from the use of hollowed Elder branches as blow furnaces.

Old names, like Holler, Hylder, Hyllantree, and the German word ‘Holunder’ all refer to an ancient vegetation Goddess known in Denmark as ‘Hylde Moer’. In the old days, Elder was considered sacred to this Goddess. Elders were often thought a little spooky. They were believed to be inhabited by a ‘tree dryad’, a kind of tree spirit that represents the soul of the tree, or even an aspect of the Goddess herself. If treated well and respectfully the dryad appeared as a most benevolent spirit that blesses and protects those who care for it. Elders often grow close to human habitations and since they never get struck by lightning, they were thought to protect the homestead against this danger as well. There has long been a widespread taboo against cutting down Elder trees or burning any of their wood. It was thought that the dryad would take revenge and punish the offender with bad luck – or, toothache (Romania). According to ancient folk beliefs, toothaches are seen as ‘supernatural’ and understood as a form of divine punishment. The only legitimate reason for cutting down an Elder tree or to take any part of it, was to use it for medicine, or as a protective charm. To this end, the dryad was asked reverently and asked for permission.

With the head bared and arms folded, the following was recited:

‘Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest.’

With the rise of Christianity and the subsequent persecution of any form of tree worship the sacred Elder tree became a witches tree and the old stories were reframed to suit the narrative of the new religion. In Christian mythology, Elder was portrayed as a tree of sorrow, because Judas was said to have hung himself from the branches of an Elder tree and this is supposed to be the reason for its stooped appearance and bendy branches: never again should anyone commit suicide with the help of an Elder tree. And to make matters worse, the cross upon which the Savior was crucified was said to have been fashioned from Elder wood. Such a disgrace the Elder tree could not bear and so it has never again been able to grow upright and tall as other trees do.

Nevertheless, some of the older beliefs have lived on and country folk continued to use Elder for protection of house and barn. They pinned the leaves above the doors to ward off evil witches, daemons, and other nefarious influences.

During the Middle Ages such folk magic was practiced all over Europe and many curious customs evolved as pre-Christian and Christian believes got muddled and merged. But without the proper context of the ancient beliefs they turned into superstitions, For example, it was thought that witches and sorcerers could be revealed if one was to cut the inner pith of the twigs to make flat disks. These were dipped in lamp oil and set alight to float them in a glass of water. However, the magic trick only worked on Christmas Eve.

Conversely, one could also use the Elder to enlist the devil for one’s own purposes. On the January 6th (Bertha Night), when the devil is said to go about ‘with special virulence’, one could try to obtain some of his ‘Mystic Fernseed’, which was believed transfer the strength of 30 or 40 men, to the keeper, protect furniture from woodworm, repel snakes and mosquitoes and cure toothaches. To obtain this magic substance, one must cast a magic circle for protection, the boundary of which one must not be broken under any circumstances. Further protection was offered by carrying some Elderberries that had been gathered on St. John’s night. But since Elderberries are not ripe at this time of the year this practice appears a little spurious. A more likely version of this ritual recommends casting the circle with a magic wand made of Elder wood.

Elderflowers

Elderflowers

Note: In the old religion the 12 nights of Christmas were regarded as the turning point of the year when the battle between light and darkness culminates and the Sun is reborn. They correspond to the 12 days of midsummer, at the summer solstice, which in the Christian calendar is celebrated on St John’s Day. These periods were the most important time in the ancient pre-Christian ritual calendar. It was said that at these times the veils between the worlds are thin and spirits come and go easily between the spheres of existence. It is for this reason that superstitious practices involving clairvoyance and fortune-telling were often practiced at these times.

Elder’s reputation to offer protection against evil spirits seems to be ubiquitous and can be found from Russia to Romania and from Sicily to Scotland. A less common custom comes from Serbia, where Elder twigs used during nuptial rites, were believed to bestow good luck to the newly-weds. More recently, in Victorian Britain, it was thought that a couple who shared a glass of Elder-infused Ale would marry within a year.

The ancient vegetation Goddess presided over the cycle of life, from the cradle to the grave. However, she was also believed to bestow the power of regeneration and ultimately, of rebirth. Her rhythms were reflected in the waxing and waning of the moon and the cycles of the seasons. As above, so below, as within, so without. Naturally, her rhythms were also applied to the human life-span. Thus, the Goddess of life is also the Goddess of the Underworld, who protects and regenerates the souls of the departed. At funerals, green Elder twigs were often placed into the coffin for protection on the journey to the Otherworld. Christian and pre-Christian beliefs often merged into compounded folk customs with elements of both traditions. In Tyrol for example, Elders were planted on graves and trimmed into the shape of a cross. When the tree starts to flower, the soul was believed to be happy.

An interesting custom from Romania illustrates the Goddess’s power of regeneration. At Easter it was customary to sacrifice a pig. The pig’s inedible remains were given a ceremonial burial and an Elder-tree was believed to sprout from its grave in the following year. Easter/ Spring Equinox is the time of regeneration, the time when the Earth-Goddess awakens the land and blesses the people with her abundant gifts. Both pigs (as an emblem of self-sacrificing motherhood and the principle of nurture) and Elder trees were deemed sacred to this ancient Goddess on account of their obvious attributes of abundance and fertility.

In Denmark, Hylde-Moer, as the Goddess was known, presided over the fairy realm. Fairies are creatures of the Otherworld, but from time to time, especially at the summer solstice, they venture into our world. To watch them on their way to their Midsummer night’s feast, one could hide out in a grove of Elder trees. (Drinking ample quantities of freshly made Elderflower champagne whilst hiding in the bushes might enhance the experience).

Elderberries

The Elder tree has often been described as the medicine chest of the country folk. But even today modern herbalists employ many of its medicinal uses. In 1644 a book dedicated entirely to the virtues of the Elder was translated from Latin to English: on 230 pages the author sings its praises. The book was so popular that it ran through several editions in both its English and Latin versions. According to the author, every single part of the plant was deemed medicinally useful. It even references an edible fungus known as ‘Judas Ear’ (alluding to the above-mentioned myth), which grows on Elder trees. It should come as no surprise that its medicinal powers were said to be effective for quinsy, sore throat, and strangulation (!).

Judas-Ear

Judas-Ear fungus

 

The elder itself was considered a panacea capable to relieve almost any ailment, ‘from toothache to the plague’. It seems like a whole apothecary could be stocked solely from the many preparations that could be produced from its various parts: ‘a rob or syrup, a tincture, a compound mixture, an oil, or ointment, a distillation, and a distilled flower water, a liniment, an extract, a salt, or a conserve, a vinegar, an oxymel, a sugar, a decoction, a bath additive, a cataplasm, and a powder’, made from one, several, or all parts of the plant. However, in the old days, it wasn’t just the biochemical activity that was considered medicinally active. The plant’s subtle energy also played an important role, especially in the many folk healing practices that were based on sympathetic magic.

Rheumatism, for example, could be treated with a charm or amulet that was made by tying several knots into a young Elder-twig. This charm had to be kept close to the body to unfold its power. Elder was also believed to cure warts: the wart was to be rubbed with a freshly cut twig, which was not carelessly discarded, but buried in mud, where it was left to rot. Other, more forms of ‘transfer magic’ were also common. The imagination at the root of such practices was that trees in particular are much stronger and resistant than the feeble human body. They were thought capable of absorbing and thereby to neutralize the evil energies that were thought responsible for the disease. Many trees were used similarly, depending on the symptoms of the disease and the availability of various species of trees.

CONTEMPORARY MEDICINAL USES

Elderflowers and berries are still used modern herbal medicine but since heroic medicine went out of fashion, the use of other parts, such as the leaves or inner bark, has been discontinued.

PARTS USED:

Flowersdried or fresh

Berries: best preserved as cordial, syrup or wine

CAUTION:

The fresh roots of the American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), which closely resembles Sambucus nigra, are extremely poisonous and can cause death if ingested.

Native Americans value a close relative of Sambucus nigra known as ‘American Elder’ (Sambucus canadensis), with very similar medicinal properties. Many of its reported uses closely resemble those of S. nigra in the Old World.

elder flower

FLOWERS

HARVEST TIMES: Early summer

CONSTITUENTS: Triterpenes, fixed oil containing free acids, alkenes, flavonoids

ACTIONS: Diaphoretic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant

INDICATIONS:

Elderflowers have long been used as a treatment for various inflammatory and congestive conditions of the respiratory system, especially when these are accompanied by fever. An infusion is given for cough, colds and flu, asthma, and hay-fever. The diaphoretic action helps to reduce the fever, which makes it useful in the treatment of infectious diseases such as measles, and scarlet fever. Externally, an infusion of Elder-flowers can be added to the bath-water for a wonderfully refreshing effect, to soothe irritable nerves, and to relieve itchy skin. Cooled, the infusion can be used as an eyewash for sore, itchy and inflamed eyes. Earache may be relieved by means of a poultice made from the flowers. For this purpose a small linen bag is filled with the flowers, dipped in hot water, and squeezed to press out any excess liquid before it is applied to the aching ear.

elderberries

BERRIES

HARVEST TIMES: late summer, early autumn

CONSTITUENTS: Viburnic acid, odorous oil, tyrosin, inverted sugar, tannin, vitamin C and P and B2

ACTIONS: Aperient, diuretic, source of nutrients and vitamins

INDICATIONS:

The berries are rich in vitamins and minerals and are best used as a tonic to ward off winter ailments, which boost the immune system. Vitamin B2  in particular is indicated as effective in the treatment of pneumonia. Elderberries are a valuable alterative remedy that can be used to combat rheumatic conditions. They also soothe sore nerves and help to improve poor circulation.

GENERAL USES

Hedging:

Elder is a familiar hedge plant. The bendy branches can easily be trimmed and laid, thus creating effective protection against wind and erosion.  Such a hedge also makes a wonderful wildlife habitat, especially for birds, who love the berries. Country lore testifies to the popularity of Elder as a hedging plant. An old proverb praises its durability:

‘An Elder stake and a blackthorn ‘ether will make a hedge to last forever.’

Tool-making:

Whilst the branches are bendy and flexible, the heartwood and rootstock are extremely strong and have been used for making handles, stakes, fences, combs, and even instruments. According to country lore, a stake of Elder wood driven into the ground will last longer than an iron stake of the same size. ‘The Latin name of the plant, ‘sambuca’ refers not to the high-octane alcoholic drink of the same name (although this too is a product derived from Elder) but to an ancient musical instrument that resembled a harp. It is likely that Elder wood was once used to make these instruments.

Insect and vermin repellent:

Cattle appreciate the presence of Elder in their pasture and seem to instinctively recognize its insect repellent properties. Cows often rub themselves on the stem and branches and stay in its shade to discourage insects. In the past, when fieldwork was still done with the aid of horses, it was a common practice to fixate some Elder leaves to the harness to ward off flies just as fieldworkers fixed the slightly bruised leaves to their hats for the same effect. A decoction of the leaves can be also be used as an insect repellent. The smell of the leaves has been likened to that of mice nests. Mrs. Grieves (A modern herbal) mentions their use for repelling mice and moles.

Young Elder shoots are thought to be effective against blight. A recipe including Elder leaves, iron and copper sulfate, soft soap, nicotine, methylated spirit and slaked lime has been used for this purpose, although organic gardeners just use a decoction made from the young shoots as an insecticide to combat aphids and small caterpillars.

Cosmetics:

In Victorian times, distilled Elderflower water was a highly valued emollient lotion. It was said to cleanse the skin, keeping it young and free of freckles and blemishes. Hard to find, nowadays, but there has been a revival of interest in Elder products and Elderflower water is once again produced commercially.

Dyes:

The bark, leaves, and berries can all be used for dyeing. The bark yields a black dye, a decoction of the leaves with alum produces a green, whilst the berries with alum, dye purple or, if salt is added to the mix, produce a lilac color.

Fodder:

Not all domestic animals are keen on Elder as forage. Sheep and cows don’t seem to mind it, but horses and goats have no taste for it. Sheep suffering from foot-rot are said to deliberately seek out Elder trees for self-medication. Wild birds love the berries, but chickens do not take to them.

Culinary uses:

The best-known culinary uses of Elderflowers and berries are the many delicious drinks that can be made from them. Numerous recipes for country wines, syrups and cordials have never lost their appeal and are still widely used in country areas in Britain and Europe. Such drinks are not simply delicious but are also medicinally valuable.

Elderflower Fritters

The flower heads, dipped in batter and deep-fried, make delicious fritters and can be served with maple syrup and lemon juice.

Hedgerow Jam

The black, fully ripe berries can be made into a delicious hedgerow jam, but the green, unripe berries are poisonous and should be avoided. Even the ripe, fresh berries retain some of this poison, which it is recommended that the berries are not eaten fresh off the bush. They should be heated to 100°C prior to consumption.

elderflower-fritters
Why Hawthorn is your heart’s best friend

Why Hawthorn is your heart’s best friend

Plant Profile: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

When the Hawthorn dapples the hedgerows with its pinkish-white blossom, we know that spring is here to stay. Typically, Hawthorn starts to flower at the end of April or the beginning of May, which is why it is also sometimes known as ‘Mayblossom’ or simply as ‘May’. Linnaeus originally named the species Crateagus oxyacantha, a combination of kratos, meaning ‘hardness’ (of wood), ‘oxus’ which means ‘sharp’ and ‘akantha’ for ‘thorn’. But there is ambiguity over which precise species Linnaeus meant and thus this old name has been rejected. The new name is Crataegus monogyna, which refers to the fact that this particular species only has one seed.

Description

Hawthorn grows as a small, hardy tree that rarely grows to more than 30 ft. It is a member of the rose family, in the extensive genus of Crataegus. Taxonomists still argue over the actual number of species that belong to this genus, but conservative estimates range from about 200 to 300 species. Hawthorns are quite ‘promiscuous’ which results in many cross forms that some botanists consider mere variations, while others deem them separate species.

During the flowering season in late April or early May the small, white five-petaled flowers grow in showy clusters that cover up almost every inch of the tree. The deeply cut, 3-lobed leaves are about 3″ long and appear before the flowers. They are dark green on top and paler bluish-green underneath. In September, an abundance of bright red ‘haws’ glow in the hedges, looking very much like ‘mini rose hips’. Although edible and attracting much wildlife they are not especially palatable to humans.

Habitat and Ecology

The genus is most diverse and widespread throughout North America. But it is well represented in the entire Northern Hemisphere, including all parts of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and even China. Crataegus monogyna is not native to North America.

Hawthorns are most familiar as hedgerow trees. They are undemanding as far as soil conditions are concerned, but prefer full sun. They may be found in open woodlands, along their edges or, most distinctively, as lone trees on open hillsides.

For wildlife, a hawthorn hedgerow is an ideal habitat: the thick, dense and impenetrable tangle of thorns provides a safe habitat for many small animals and birds.

Crataegus monogyna is not native to North America, but it was introduced there as a hedge plant, in the 1800s. Birds have been instrumental in distributing their seeds far and wide. They seem to prefer these berries to those of the native varieties. The advance of industrial farming in North America has pushed Crataegus into decline. No longer valued as a hedgerow plant bordering fields to protect against soil erosion it is now viewed as problematic and invasive.

Hawthorn berries

History

Hawthorn is so common throughout the country that it hardly needs a description. Unassuming and inconspicuous, its petite and straggly appearance does not really inspire awe. Like an old familiar friend it waves its windswept branches from the top of a hillside or greets us as we pass it on the old familiar track. Yet, there is something quintessentially British about this tree. It is hardly surprising that its ancient roots are deeply entwined with the myths and folklore of our ‘Dreamtime’.

Etymologically, the name at first seems to indicate nothing more than a utilitarian function for which indeed it is still very commonly employed: Hawthorn makes a superb and quickly setting natural defense. A dense thorny Hawthorn thicket is quite impenetrable. Its fast development (appropriately it is also known as Quickset or Quickbeam) aids this purpose, as does the fact that its branches become increasingly dense the more they are cut or eaten.

But in the mindset of the ancients, a hedge was more than just a living fence. A hedge signified the boundary between the known, safe, and civilized world and the wild, mysterious wild yonder. The word ‘hedge’ derives from the old English ‘Haga’ also found in Hagathorn’, which is another name for Hawthorn. Both share the same Germanic root ‘hag’.

Etymology

In old English, a ‘hag’ was not just an old, ugly woman, but is cognate with ‘haegtesse’ – a woman of prophetic powers, and ‘hagzusa’ – spirit beings and ‘hedge riders’. These wood sprites were thought to reside in the ‘between worlds’, ie, between the worlds of everyday reality and ‘the otherworld’. As spirit beings, these sprites could easily traverse the boundaries between the worlds. Likewise, their human counterparts were the healers, seers, and soothsayers who were also thought to be able to travel between these worlds. Thus, Hawthorn signifies protection, yet it is also seen as a gateway to the spirit world.

In folk medicine, its primary use is for protection against all manner of evil spirits, and demons who were apt frighten hapless passers-by. Carved hawthorn amulets were worn for protection or hung above doors to keep bad spirits at bay.

Mythology

Hawthorn features in both pre-Christian and Christian symbolism. In Christian mythology, it is said that the crown of Christ was made of Hawthorn. Some authorities have claimed that the Holy Spirit has a certain peculiar affinity with thorn trees. The burning bush apparition mentioned in the Bible is thought to have been a thorn tree.

In British Christian mythology, the most famous Hawthorn is the Glastonbury Thorn, which could long be seen as a lone figure on the slope of Wearyall Hill. (Sadly, vandals have destroyed this tree.) According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, an uncle of Jesus, had traveled to Britain with the intention of finding a place to bury the holy cup (grail) that had held the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. When he first set eyes on the Holy Isle of Avalon, he struck his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill. At once it burst into flower. Joseph of Arimathea took this as a sign to establish the first Christian Church of England right there, where today lies the little market town of Glastonbury.

Descendants of that original miraculous walking stick have been transplanted as cuttings and now decorate various Christian sites around the town. To this day, these special trees burst into flower not once, but twice a year: first in May, when it is right and proper for all Hawthorn trees to flower, and then again at Christmas, to mark the birthday of Christ.

Hawthorn Blossom

Folk Traditions

Hawthorn is also associated with the old Beltain custom of ‘fetching the May’. Beltain, which takes place on May 1, is a celebration of spring and the return of the life-force that rejuvenates the land. Hawthorn’s abundance of flowers that burst into blossom just at the right time seems eminently suitable to mark this glorious time of the year. People would tie colorful ribbons into the branches of the tree to symbolize their prayers and wishes.

The flowers exude a peculiar smell that is often likened to the odor of rotting meat. Hawthorn is fertilized by insects that are attracted by the smell of carrion, a smell that has also been associated with the plague. This is why, despite the fact that Hawthorn is very much loved, it is never brought inside the house.

The scent has also been associated with the perfume of sexuality, which better fits its fertility connotations in association with the Beltain celebrations. Whatever one might associate with the scent, it is unlikely it will go unnoticed as the flowers announce their presence from afar.

Food uses

The flowering tops can be used for making a heart-friendly breakfast tea (see below). 

In the autumn, the tree is laden with hard, red berries that look like miniature rose hips. Unfortunately, Crataegus mongyna is rather mealy and not very tasty. The meager pericarp layer is extremely dry and almost devoid of flavor. There are, however, related species with much better-tasting fruits. Some are even juicy enough to process into a jelly. If need be Hawthorn berries can be dried and ground into a kind of flour substitute. However, as they contain no gluten this is not a flour to make bread with. 

Medicinal Uses:

From an ethnobotanical perspective, Hawthorn is a very interesting plant. Since it is a very large and widely distributed genus people from China to Europe to North America have used their specific native species in similar ways.

Parts used:

Flowering tops, ripe fruits, leaves

Collection:

The flowering tops are harvested in May. Dry quickly in the shade to avoid discoloration. The berries are collected in the autumn. Dry quickly and thoroughly to prevent mold.

Constituents:

Fruit: saponins, glycosides, flavonoids, cardioactive glycosides, ascorbic acid, condensed tannins.

Flowers: cardiotonic amines

Crataegus does not contain any single active constituent that phyto-pharmacologists will get excited about – it sports no ‘super compounds’ that can be developed into new drugs. Instead, it is the unique synergy of its composition that creates its marvelous effects – and which so far has defied replication in the laboratory.

Hawthorn is most valued for its tonic action on the heart. It has an undisputed regulatory, or tonic effect that provides an immensely useful and safe remedy for beginning cardio-vascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, particularly in developed countries.

The flowering tops as well as the berries are medicinally active. They regulate the blood-pressure via a dual action: they stimulate both the coronary arteries and the heart muscle itself. They dilate and relax the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure, while gently stimulating the heart muscle, increasing the pulse rate. This takes the pressure off the heart muscle and thus improves its overall efficiency.

Hawthorn relaxes the nerves that supply the heart, which helps to relieve the symptoms of stress, tightness in the chest and angina. It also regulates an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and palpitations. Hawthorn is a valuable supportive long-term remedy for the general weakness of the heart caused by infectious diseases such as diphtheria or scarlet fever. It improves the overall function of an aged and tired heart muscle. It may be used preventatively and is especially recommended for people who are under constant pressure and stress, or remedially, for those recovering from a heart attack.

According to Chinese and Japanese studies, Hawthorn clearly shows a positive effect on the whole coronary system and can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, one of the most significant contributing factors of heart disease.

Hawthorn improves the peripheral blood flow, thus improving oxygen supply to the limbs and to the head. In combination with Gingko it has a beneficial effect on memory.

Hawthorn has also been used for nervousness and as a digestive tonic to help ‘move’ stagnant food (Chinese medicine) and to aid the digestion of fatty foods. It is also considered useful as a diuretic and a urinary tonic. The old herbalists seemed to value this aspect of Hawthorn’s healing virtues especially highly.

Hawthorn is the best overall heart tonic available in the herbal pharmacopeia. It is even recognized in allopathic medicine and is included in the ‘Commission E’ list of medicinally useful plants. Its gentle, tonic action and safety record make it an ideal and safe herb for conditions afflicting an aging coronary system and heart. But it is an alterative and tonic remedy, which means best results are achieved when it is taken over long periods of time. Instant results should not be expected. It contains no digitalis-like compounds or other cardio-active constituents that build up in the body over time. There is also no record of drug interference, even with other cardio medicines. Thus, Hawthorn tops or berries taken as a tea or tincture can be taken over long periods of time without ill-effects. (Of course, allergies are always possible, but with this herb, they form a very small exception to the rule.)

Ref: Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249900/

UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS/MS Characterization of Phenolics from Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata (Hawthorn) Leaves, Fruits and their Herbal Derived Drops (Crataegutt Tropfen)

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nikolai_Kuhnert/publication/320325764_UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MSMS_Characterization_of_Phenolics_from_Crataegus_monogyna_and_Crataegus_laevigata_Hawthorn_Leaves_Fruits_and_their_Herbal_Derived_Drops_Crataegutt_Tropfen/links/5b1926700f7e9b68b4255af3/UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS-MS-Characterization-of-Phenolics-from-Crataegus-monogyna-and-Crataegus-laevigata-Hawthorn-Leaves-Fruits-and-their-Herbal-Derived-Drops-Crataegutt-Tropfen.pdf

PHENOLIC CONTENT AND ANTIOXIDANT ACTIVITY OF CRATAEGUS MONOGYNA L. FRUIT EXTRACTS

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8193/140b3f344ce5633451fe0e5d63499cd1a40f.pdf

Heilpflanzenpraxis Heute, Siegfried Bäumler, Elsevier 2007

Hayfever Remedies

Hayfever Remedies

If you happen to be one of the many unfortunate people who suffer from hay-fever, you are probably not so well pleased with the arrival of spring. Pollen laden air can be the source of misery and much discomfort that may last for weeks or months. Violent sneezing fits, asthma attacks, sinus headaches, itchy eyes, a runny nose, wheezing, and coughing are all common symptoms of this seasonal bane.

Hay-fever is not a novel source of trouble, yet there is very little solid knowledge regarding its underlying causes and treatment options. The easiest explanation is, of course, that pollen grains are little protein packages, which can cause the human body to simply overreact when it encounters them via the nasal passages. But why this should be so, nobody really knows. The fact is that autoimmune diseases like allergies and hay-fever, as well as food sensitivities, have become far more common in recent years than they used to be. The notion that environmental factors, such as commonly used agrochemicals are to blame, is a speculative theory, but it is as plausible as any.

Whatever the causes may be, what interests most sufferers is how to deal with the symptoms or better still, how to prevent them. Allopathic medicine recommends anti-histamines, which are chemicals that block the histamine receptors in the body, thus suppressing allergic reactions. Despite the fact that it can produce many unpleasant side-effects including drowsiness, dry throat, nausea, and even an irregular heartbeat, it is frequently the first line of defense.

It is not easy to tackle hay-fever preventatively. However, supporting the immune system gives the body a better chance to deal with it. Vitamin C and zinc may be helpful. A cup of Dandelion tea in the morning and Lime flower (Tilia sp.) tea with a few drops of lemon juice in the evening is an old home remedy. Reducing mucus-forming foods and increasing the number of fresh fruits and salads in the diet increases the fortifying vitamin supply and also helps to reduce the potential catarrhal congestion. Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) extract, tea or tincture is also said to be helpful. For best results, it is recommended to start taking a regular dose about a month before symptoms are expected to set in.

Once the attack sets in, it is best to treat symptoms specifically and topically. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomila) and Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) are effective anti-inflammatories. Taken with lemon juice, honey and a pinch of Ginger or Cayenne, adds decongestant properties.

Steam inhalations

Also very helpful are steam inhalations. A Chamomile steam bath clears the upper respiratory system and soothes the mucous membranes. A little Eucalyptus oil added to the steaming pan helps to clear the head and lungs. A facial steam bath is easy to prepare. Just take a handful of Chamomile flowers and place them in a bowl. Add boiling hot water and cover yourself and the bowl with a big towel or blanket and inhale the steam until the steam-bath cools down. This performance can be repeated several times a day as necessary.

Eyewash

To soothe itchy, red and sore eyes make an infusion with herbs such as Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomila), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Eyebright (Euphrasia Officinalis). Allow it to cool down and use an eyewash cup to rinse each eye. This can be repeated as necessary. The tea will keep at least 24 hours if kept in the fridge.

Lung decongestants

If the problem is concentrated in the lungs herbs such as Elecampane (Inula helenium), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and Lungwort (Pulmonaria Officinalis.

Essential Oils

Essential oils can be used as ‘atmospheric remedies’. If you have an oil-burner, fill the well with water and add a drop or two of essential oil. The heat (electric or candle) diffuses the essential oil throughout the room. Essential oils of Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Lavender (Lavendula sp.), Cedarwood Atlas (Cedrus atlantica) and Pine (Pinus sylvestris) are especially useful.

Honey

Raw, unprocessed LOCAL honey or LOCAL bee pollen are sometimes recommended as a preventative measure. Starting early in the spring with a dose of 1 large tablespoon per day is said to reduce sensitivity to the pollen allergens

Homeopathy

Based on the theory of ‘Similia Similibus Curentur’, or ‘let likes cure likes’ homeopathy believes in treating symptoms with a substance that in a healthy person would produce such the same such symptoms.

It therefore works best if the symptom complex corresponds very closely with the remedy. Consult with a qualified homeopath to determine which remedy might be the most appropriate for a specific case.

That being said, these are the most commonly used homeopathic remedies for hay-fever symptoms include:

Allium cepa

When mucous is watery and accompanied by sneezing and a tickling cough.

Arsenicum album

When a wheezy cough and swelling beneath the eyes are accompanied by a sense of stuffiness and watery mucous.

Euphrasia

When symptoms concentrate in the eyes, with swelling, itching, and discharge.

Ferrum phosphoricum

This might be the most useful ‘preventative’ homeopathic remedy for hay-fever, as it can stop symptoms from developing when taken early on. Symptoms include runny nose and eyes, facial flushing and a tickling cough.

Gelsemium

If symptoms are more akin to a summer flu, with tiredness, drowsiness, aching back and neck along with chills, runny nose and swollen mucous membranes this remedy might be indicated.

Nux vomica

This remedy might bring relief when symptoms alternate between a stuffed up nose and running mucous, accompanied by an irritable cough, sore, tickling throat and headache.

Sabadilla

When there are relentless, long lasting sneezing fits with itching nose and eyes, runny mucous and a lump in the throat this remedy may be indicated.

Homeopathic remedies don’t work well in combination with certain other substances, like coffee, cigarettes, and menthol, e.g. peppermint or eucalyptus, which are often present in toothpaste and chewing gums. They also would not work well in combination with the essential oils mentioned above.

Disclaimer: the information given in these pages is for educational purposes only. It should not be used for diagnostic purposes and nor should it replace a visit to a doctor or health practitioner.

Vinegar of the four thieves

Vinegar of the four thieves

In the past, the most feared infectious disease was the Black Death. Many times it ravaged the countryside and emptied towns and villages of its people. In total, 75-200 million people fell victim to it. It was truly devastating.

Yet, there were some that mysteriously managed to avoid getting infected. Among them, four brothers or friends, who were said to be raiding the countryside, robbing any and all valuables they could find, preying on the recently departed, and those on their deathbeds.

At first, people did not pay much attention. After all, who would be mad enough to enter the den of death? No doubt, sooner or later the Grim Reaper would get the better of them and they would have to pay for their sins. However, time went by but these bandits still went about their dirty business, apparently unaffected.

One day, they were caught in the act and although they were found guilty and should have faced the death sentence, their secret was so valuable that they were spared. Instead of being hung they were promised their freedom if they revealed their secret.

According to their tale, they had inherited an ancient herbal formula that was so potent that it could even fend off the Black Death. The recipe has become famous, although the original version is unknown. Many variations have made the rounds throughout Europe and to this day they still are all known as the ‘Vinegar of the 4 Thieves’.

Essentially the concoction was a potent blend of herbs macerated in white vinegar. It included herbs like:

  • Rue
  • Wormwood
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Calamus Root
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Peppermint
  • Angelica Root
  • Camphor
  • Zeadory (Wild Turmeric)

People improvised and made their own versions of the recipe depending on the availability of various herbs. Other common ingredients were Sage, Meadowsweet, Wild Marjoram, Campanula Root, and Horehound.

Modern versions usually forego some of the more potent and potentially more toxic ingredients, such as Rue or Wormwood.

The herbs are crushed and macerated in strong white vinegar for at least a couple of weeks. The macerate is then strained and bottled.

The concoction was to be used externally, as a disinfectant, not as a herbal remedy for internal use.

 

The formula below is found in ‘The Practice Of Aromatherapy’ by Jean Valnet, a physician who has devoted his life to the study of herbs and essential oils for therapeutic use and is credited for the modern term ‘aromatherapy’.

Vinegar of the Four Thieves

  • 3 pints strong white vinegar
  • a handful each of wormwood, meadowsweet, juniper berries, wild marjoram, and sage
  • 50 cloves
  • 2 ounces of elecampane root
  • 2 ounces of angelica
  • 2 ounces of rosemary
  • 2 ounces of horehound
  • 3 g camphor
The  Camphor Tree

The Camphor Tree

Camphor constituent: essential oils

Parts used: essential oil, waxy crystalline flammable substance

Medicinal actions:

Used in ‘cold creams’ as an anti-aging ingredient. Stimulates the production of collagen and elastin.

Anti-inflammatory – applied to sore, inflamed skin (not on broken skin)

Pain relief for arthritic, or rheumatic pain

Antifungal – can be applied to toenail fungus. (Needs persistence. It can take up to 48 weeks  before positive impact is noticed).

Decongestant and cough suppressant – evaporate in oil diffuser during the night

Antispasmodic – can be used to relieve muscle aches and pains, cramps, sprains

Anti-viral – used to treat infectious fevers such as typhoid, influenza, and pneumonia.

Medicinal Action and Uses—Camphor has a strong, penetrating, fragrant odour, a bitter, pungent taste, and is slightly cold to the touch like menthol leaves; locally it is an irritant, numbs the peripheral sensory nerves, and is slightly antiseptic; it is not readily absorbed by the mucous membrane, but is easily absorbed by the subcutaneous tissue- it combines in the body with glucuronic acid, and in this condition is voided by the urine. Experiments on frogs show a depressant action to the spinal column, no motor disturbance, but a slow increasing paralysis; in mankind it causes convulsions, from the effect it has on the motor tract of the brain; it stimulates the intellectual centres and prevents narcotic drugs taking effect, but in cases of nervous excitement it has a soothing and quieting result. Authorities vary as to its effect on blood pressure; some think it raises it, others take an opposite view; but it has been proved valuable as an excitant in cases of heart failure, whether due to diseases or as a result of infectious fevers, such as typhoid and pneumonia, not only in the latter case as a stimulant to circulation, but as preventing the growth of pneumococci. Camphor is used in medicine internally for its calming influence in hysteria, nervousness and neuralgia, and for serious diarrhoea, and externally as a counter-irritant in rheumatisms, sprains bronchitis, and in inflammatory conditions, and sometimes in conjunction with menthol and phenol for heart failure; “

Mrs. Grieves, A Modern Herbal

Camphor Tree – The Dragon’s Brain

The characteristic scent of Camphor is familiar to anyone who has had a close encounter with VapoRub, but few have ever seen the pure, white crystalline substance from which the scent derives. Still, fewer are aware that this mysterious substance is entirely natural and comes from a tree that is native to southern China, southern Japan, and Taiwan. The Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) is closely related to the Cinnamon Tree, (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), with which it is sometimes confused. However, the unmistakable scent of the leaves immediately reveals its true identity.

In China, Camphor is known as ‘long nao xiang’, ‘the dragon’s brain’, but it is unclear whether the name makes reference to its powerful brain-fog blasting effect, or whether the use of Camphor may originally have been the privilege of the emperor, who is often referred to as the (imperial) ‘dragon’.

Camphor trees can become very old – up to several hundred years, in fact. Such tree veterans are a majestic sight to behold. They can reach up to 40m in height and develop a truly massive base. One tree, recorded in the prefecture of Nagasaki, was recorded to measure a staggering 16 m of girth. Hardly surprising then, that the evergreen tree is seen as an icon of vitality and longevity.

In China, Japan and India Camphor trees are sacred. They are planted for protection near dwellings, temples, and monasteries, and Camphor is burnt as incense in purification rituals or in pujas. Its pure, bright and smokeless flame is seen as a representation of Shiva.

During the 13th century, while traveling through China, Marco Polo reported seeing ‘great forests where the trees are found that give camphor’. At that time, Camphor had already been introduced to Europe, along with other exotic spices such as Cinnamon, Pepper, Cardamom, and Wood-Aloes. But the Camphor tree itself was virtually unknown. The precious substances reached Europe via the Spice Route and first found its way to the spice markets north of the Alps during the 10th century.

However, it took several centuries more, until the latter half of the 17th century, for the first trees to be introduced to Europe. But then they took the eminent Botanical Gardens of Europe by storm: They were planted at the Botanical Gardens of Padua, Leiden, Dresden, and the Chelsea Physic Gardens. Many of them are still standing now. Their import to Europe has had no ill effect on the local environment, but in more favourable climatic conditions, Camphor trees have been known to spread prolifically. In some parts of Australia and the southern United States, they are now considered an invasive pest.

Camphor Tree

In the Orient, Camphor is highly valued and has a long tradition of medicinal and culinary use. It is mentioned in various Arab and Indian cookery books, and in India, it is an ingredient of the Betel quid, a popular chewing stimulant.

In the West Camphor is better known for its medicinal properties. It is valued for its antiseptic and cooling properties and its ability to relieve pain and swelling associated with inflammatory skin conditions, chilblains, burns, and anal fissures. It is also used as a counter-irritant and applied topically to painful arthritic or rheumatic joints.

Added to a steam inhalation Camphor can clear congestion of the lungs, bronchi and nasal passages. In the past, it was used internally as an antiseptic digestive aid. Thanks to Samuel Hahnemann, the ‘father of Homeopathic medicine’ it became a lifesaver during the outbreaks of Asiatic cholera in 1831/32 and 1848/49. Having received first-hand reports from Russian colleagues, he treated victims at frequent intervals with a homeopathic tincture of Camphor – apparently with great success. Even allopathic doctors admitted that it was about the only thing capable of halting the progress of this lethal disease when administered during the early stages.

Camphor is an antidote to Opium and recipes found in ancient Arab manuscripts often combine both substances to alleviate some of Opium’s negative effects. During the Victorian era, camphor became popular among members of the upper classes, particularly in the UK, the US and in Slovakia. It was combined with milk, alcohol or consumed in pill form as a stimulating recreational drug. The effective dose is very small and said to produce a warm, tingling skin sensation, a sense of mental clarity, or ‘a rush of thoughts chasing each other’, sometimes accompanied by euphoria.

However, the bad news is, that larger doses can produce quite unpleasant effects: confusion, giddiness, accelerated heart rate, headaches, and even death. Thus, many countries have regulated Camphor. Today, most commercially available Camphor is synthetically produced and not fit for internal use at all. It is regrettable that a beneficial and medicinally useful substance such as Camphor should be disgraced and forgotten, despite the eons of safe use, just because some people have overindulged in it – to their own detriment.

Caution: Only Camphor that is clearly labeled as edible may be taken internally, and then only in tiny doses. Quantities of more than 2g can be fatal to adults. The lethal dose for children and youths is significantly lower.

During pregnancy and lactation, it is advised to avoid camphor products altogether. Due to its toxicity at a low dose, it should also be kept away from children. Some people have reported contact dermatitis from handling Camphor.

Spring Detox

Spring Detox

A Spring Detox resets body, mind, and spirit. Get out into nature, do some foraging, and enjoy the benefits of your pickings.

When the first rays of bright warm sunshine are trying to penetrate the layer of dust that has accumulated on the window panes through the winter, it always hits me: It’s time to get out that cleaning stuff, air out the house and wash the window to let the sunshine in. And honestly,  it feels so good to get everything ready and prepared for a fresh start!

In the olden days, this idea was not only applied to the house, but also to the body. During the winter many of us are confined to a fairly sedentary lifestyle, which is bad enough. But what makes it worse is that rich and heavy diet we tend to adopt at that time. Maybe we intended to give up chocolate after Christmas, but there was so much left that we just kept eating it. And once after January 1st has passed, it seems like one has missed the boat for good intentions. But in fact, that is what Lent is for. It’s the perfect time to tune into nature’s cycle and apply the theme of cleansing and renewal to the body.

Depending on your growing zone, you might have noticed that the monochrome colours are changing and fresh green begins to sprout beneath the old leaves. Nature offers a whole host of delicious and healthful herbs that are just perfect for the job of inner cleaning.  No need to buy dried herbs! Most of what is needed will probably grow right in your backyard, or in a nearby meadow.

What does a body cleansing diet actually do?

The idea of a body cleanse is to support the body’s eliminative functions in order to help it in the process of getting rid of accumulated metabolic waste products, which often linger on in a sluggish system. This is done by taking herbs that stimulate the liver and gallbladder and thereby also increase the metabolic rate. Some might act as diuretics and can assist the body in flushing out uric acid crystals, while others improve the function of the respiratory system. These herbs act as tonics, rather than remedies and improve overall function, not heal specific conditions. To a large part, the job of cleansing the body is the work of the kidneys and the liver. Apart from the herbs, certain foods, such as apples, celery, endive, horseradish, and sauerkraut are very useful here. How about trying them in a salad? Perhaps, with raw onions and garlic, even. Keep the marinade simple: olive oil and lemon juice are perfect. As for drinks, cutting out alcohol, coffee, tea, and sugary drinks is key. Fresh apple juice is very wholesome, or, if you can stomach it, a little apple cider vinegar diluted with water and sweetened with honey is a great cleansing and energy-boosting drink.

If you want to try some of the fresh green that is currently sprouting on your doorstep, you could lookout for the following herbs:

Nettles (Urtica dioica):

Most people seem to fear nettles because of their sting. And, perhaps that is just as well, for if they knew how wholesome and healthy nettles truly are, they would probably be an endangered species. Nettles offer a whole powerhouse of nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and iron. Their action is diuretic and they support the body’s elimination via the kidneys. They are particularly useful for clearing out metabolic waste products such as uric acid deposits, form little crystals that can cause a lot of pain in the joints. The most potent way to benefit from them is to take the freshly expressed juice. Juicing them is not so easy, though. If you don’t want to buy it ready bottled, preparing a tea made from the leaves is a good alternative. Nettle extract lowers the blood sugar level and can thus be very useful for diabetics.

As a wild vegetable, Nettles can be prepared like spinach, although it is best to mix the leaves with some other green, as its action on the eliminative systems can be quite strong when eaten in quantity. Adding the leaves to a warming soup is also a good idea.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):

Dandelion is one of the most beneficial spring herbs available to us. It bears a double blessing: the leaves are especially good for the urinary system. Their powerful diuretic action helps to flush out the kidneys, but unlike other diuretics, it is also rich in potassium, which means it will not deplete the body of this important mineral. Dandelion leaves can be enjoyed as a tea or used as a pot-herb, added to soups and salads. The roots, on the other hand, are quite bitter and have a beneficial effect on the liver Their chemical composition varies depending on the seasons. In spring they are rich in certain proteins and mineral salts, while in autumn they are rich in inulin (up to 40%), which is very helpful for diabetics.

Daisies (Bellis perennis):

The dainty daisy doesn’t look like much, other than a pretty flower that children like to play with. But the leaves and flowers have long been used in spring-cleansing diets. The juice pressed from the aerial parts is a most potent elixir, but must be freshly prepared each day. One tablespoon per day, diluted with the same amount of water, is the recommended dose.

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria):

Gardeners curse this little herb, which often pops up uninvited and grows profusely in damp, shady places of the garden. The young shoots and leaves have a powerful cleansing effect on the stomach and intestines. They are also strongly diuretic and very effective in flushing out uric acid crystals and other metabolic waste products. They can be added to soups or salads and make a very potent addition to a spring cleansing diet.

As the name suggests, goutweed is specifically known as a remedy for treating rheumatism and gout – a painful condition affecting the feet (The origin of its Latin name, podagra – ‘gout of the feet’ alludes to this use). However, for this purpose, a strong decoction made from the roots is used as a foot-bath.

Burdock Root (Arctium lappa):

An amazingly resilient herb, Burdock can be found almost anywhere. But it is not always easily spotted. It is a biennial plant, meaning, its cycle takes two years to complete. The root of the second year plants is the most powerful. Burdock is known as a powerful liver tonic, helping it to eliminate toxins from the body. Burdock Root is also very beneficial for diabetics, as it can help to regulate gallbladder secretions. It is also rich in Inulin, a soluble dietary fibre that has several important health benefits. Inulin consists of a type of fructose that cannot be broken down and digested in the small intestines. Instead, it moves on to the lower gut where it acts as a pre-biotic and nourishes the beneficial gut bacteria that inhabit that part of the digestive system.

No-one encourages Burdock to take its place in the garden, as its elephant ear-like leaves are too big and rough, and it does not produce particularly pretty flowers either. Butterflies love them, though. And Burdock is in fact extremely valuable, especially for those who suffer from chronic health problems that call for blood cleansing: arthritis, rheumatism, gout, or skin problems such as psoriasis. Growing it in the garden has the advantage that one can prepare a bed for them with plenty of loose soil and straw, which makes harvesting the roots SO MUCH easier! Trying to pull them up from the compacted ground is, well, let’s just say, a lot of sweat!

Burdock root can be taken as a tea (20g to 1/2 litre of water) or, used as a ‘health food’ it can be added to soups or stir-fries. In the old days, Burdock and Dandelion roots were also often used for brewing a rustic country beer or cordial.