Welcome to my medicinal herb of the month page. This article will be a work in progress, and I will be adding to it throughout the year, filling in the herbs in the other months. And maybe into multiple years. It seems appropriate to start in January.
January Herb of the Month - Dandelion
In January, the cold winter weather still lingers in many places, but a few fantastic herbs grow or even thrive during this time of year.
I have chosen the herb dandelion for this month. Not that this herb looks its best during January, but dandelion can grow throughout the year and sometimes may even flower in a mild winter. It is also relatively easy to find and identify at this time of year.
What is Dandelion?
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a flowering perennial plant that belongs to the daisy family and is found in many parts of the world. It is commonly known as a weed in the garden, but it has been used for centuries for its positive effects on health. The entire plant, including the leaves, root and flower, can be consumed and are said to have a bitter, slightly sweet taste. It provides many nutrients such as vitamins B, C and D, minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Why Would You Use Dandelion?
Dandelion is traditionally used as a bitter tonic to support overall health by improving the function of the liver, gallbladder and digestive system. This medicinal plant helps strengthen the immune system with its anti-inflammatory properties and works to cleanse the body of toxins. It has anti-oxidant, anti-tumour, laxative, diuretic and anti-diabetic properties. Dandelion leaves and roots contain the active ingredients quercetin and luteolin. And the root contains large amounts of inulin.
How Can You Take Advantage of it?
Dandelion leaves and roots are readily available as herbal products in the form of tinctures and capsules.
To get the most benefit from the medicinal properties of dandelion, you could add it to your diet. For a nutritional boost, fresh dandelion greens are delicious when eaten raw or cooked, much like kale or spinach in salads or side dishes. If they are not available to forage right now, I've seen the fresh young dandelion greens offered at organic farm shops. You should wait until springtime to forage fresh leaves from growing plants.
On the other hand, winter can be an excellent time to harvest the dandelion taproot. We gather roots between autumn and early spring when the plants are dormant. Clean the roots well and chop them into small pieces, then dry or dehydrate them to make a caffeine-free "dandelion coffee." You can make this slightly bitter brew out of dried dandelion root, roasted for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Prepare the ground, roasted "dandelion coffee" by simmering 1 tsp powder per mug for 10 mins, or use a cafetière. Add some cinnamon or cardamon and honey to sweeten the bitter flavour.
You may have to wait until March to harvest the flowers. Pick the open flowers on a sunny morning. They are surprisingly good eaten fresh. You can also make them into dandelion oil suitable for rubbing on arthritic joints.
For a nutritional boost, fresh dandelion greens are delicious when eaten raw or cooked, much like kale or spinach in salads or side dishes.
Combining with other herbs
Dandelion and burdock root is a classic combination of herbal medicines that is a powerful aid to detoxification. The original recipe was a fermented drink made around the 13th century. You might be more familiar with the commercially available, carbonated soft drink of the same name, but I doubt this beverage contains any actual herbal roots.
You might also like to read my post:
Improve fat digestion with herbs
In conclusion, dandelion is an excellent medicinal herb! Whether it's the leaves, the roots, or the flower heads you use, this humble plant can do wonders for your health. Give it a try this month and see if you feel any of its therapeutic benefits!
February Herb of the Month - Cleavers
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a fascinating medicinal herb with a long history of use as medicine and food. For instance, you may see references to Cleavers in Ancient Greek medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic and Unani herbal traditions.
Brush past this plant, and you will find that the stems, leaves and fruit stick to skin, clothing and animal fur. But the plant is not sticky. Tiny hooked hairs grow on the leaves, stems and fruits. These hairs or bristles are also the reason for many of Cleaver's common names, which include goose-grass, sticky-willy, catchweed, grip grass and stick-a-back. It even sticks to itself! The hairiness means this plant has a distinctive feel that helps to identify the wild plant. The sensation is almost prickly or scratchy; some may find it unpleasant.
Many people consider Cleavers a common weed in the garden because it spreads quickly. Yet it is easy to remove it from where it is not wanted. So before you dig up this remarkable plant, let me explain why you might want to keep it around.
Where to find Cleavers and how to use it
Cleavers, also sometimes spelt Clivers, is in the Rubiaceae plant family. This massive family of flowering plants includes coffee, madder and bedstraws. As a native of the United Kingdom, you will find Cleavers throughout the country. And many other parts of the world, including other parts of Europe, North America, Asia, and the Southern Hemisphere. This plant has dispersed across the globe because the clinging nature of the fruit means the seeds spread easily.
As an annual plant, it dies in the winter, and new plants grow in the early spring. As they grow, the plants scramble over the ground or through and over other plants. The branching stems may extend to 150 cm or more, and they bear small star-shaped white flowers around June to August, which produce ball-like fruits.
It is February's herbal remedy of the month because the young leaves can be picked in February and early spring and eaten raw in salads as a spring tonic herb. They are better for this purpose in February and March rather than later in the year when the leaves can be fibrous and hairy. The leaves have a slightly tart taste and lots of health benefits.
For general use, herbalists harvest the above-ground parts of the herb before the flowers form. They may juice the fresh herb and use it immediately or preserve it for later as a tincture with alcohol or glycerine. You can also dry the herb, but fresh cleavers is probably best.
As a cooling and drying herb, think of Cleavers when there is fever, inflammation, stagnation or fluid retention, especially when the lymphatic system is involved.
Why would you use Cleavers?
Cleaver's herb's medicinal properties are due to its high levels of vitamin C, as well as tannins, flavonoids, alkaloids (including caffeine), coumarins and saponins. Herbalists use it as a cooling diuretic, detoxifier, antispasmodic and mild astringent herb. It helps to increase the lymph flow, clearing the lymphatic system of wastes. So, it is one of the most popular herbs for flushing out toxins and reducing congestion, such as swollen lymph glands.
As a cooling and drying herb, think of Cleavers when there is fever, inflammation, stagnation or fluid retention, especially when the lymphatic system is involved. Traditional uses are as a topical application for skin conditions such as wounds, skin ulcers, eczema or psoriasis; internally for burning urination or irritable bladder; and for mouth and throat problems like tonsillitis and swollen glands.
Is Cleavers herb safe to use?
Cleavers can be eaten as a vegetable, and it is generally considered safe for most people. However, you should be cautious if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking prescription medications before consuming any herbal supplement – including cleavers. This is why I say it is always a good idea to consult a medical herbalist when considering herbal medicine.
March Herb of the Month - Garlic
Welcome to the Herb of the Month for March -- Garlic (Allium sativum). This herb is more than a tasty ingredient in your favourite Italian dishes. Think of garlic as one of the most versatile herbal medicines, providing many health benefits for centuries. This herb has seen everything from warding off vampires to reducing high blood pressure!
Garlic is easy to grow in the UK if you buy varieties suitable for growing in this country. I usually split the garlic bulbs into cloves of garlic, and push them into the soil, 100 to 150 mm apart, in November, to about the same depth as the length of the clove. The garlic plants generally make an appearance in late February or early March. And I expect to harvest the bulbs in early July.
Why would you use garlic?
Traditional healers have used garlic to remedy everything from respiratory infections to digestive issues. Modern science has confirmed its powerful medicinal properties. Its active ingredient, allicin, has been shown to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, making it a potent tool to support the immune system. Garlic is worth exploring whether you're looking for a natural remedy to ward off colds or want to add some punch to your meals.
The garlic plant is a powerhouse of sulphur-containing compounds and antioxidants that provide protective effects. Human studies have shown that allicin and other compounds in garlic may help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, improve circulation, and even fight cancer cells.
Garlic is available in many forms: fresh bulbs (most potent), dried cloves, powdered form, or as garlic oil or aged garlic extract.
How can you take advantage of garlic?
For those seeking a more natural way to help their bodies, raw garlic is an option that you should pay attention to. Eating a clove of fresh garlic has been found to have significant health benefits. The sulphur compounds in garlic are most potent when consumed raw, meaning that chopping it up and adding it to salads or sandwiches can provide powerful nutrition. It also helps you get the most out of your meals by enhancing the flavour of otherwise bland dishes.
Combining garlic with other medicinal herbs
Garlic is one of the oldest and most widely recognised medicinal plants, with miraculous properties. But it's not just a potent medicament on its own. There are lots of other herbs that make great partners to garlic when it comes to herbal healing, and here are some that combine well.
Cayenne pepper with garlic makes a powerful combination for boosting the immune system. You can add a crushed garlic clove and a tiny pinch of Cayenne pepper to ginger and lemon tea, which can help to ward off viral infections such as a common cold.
Garlic and thyme are a natural knockout combo for medicinal purposes. Combined, they create a powerful expectorant that works wonders for clearing up respiratory issues, such as coughs and colds. Garlic is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. At the same time, thyme is rich in thymol, a natural compound with expectorant properties. Combined, they create a potent natural remedy that can help clear out any unwanted phlegm and mucus that may be blocking your airways. Research suggests combining freshly chopped thyme leaves with fresh garlic cloves creates a combination that can reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and may even help with respiratory issues like bronchitis.
Garlic and rosemary have long been used in traditional medicine to help boost circulation. These herbs contain compounds that can help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Garlic contains allicin, which improves blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels. At the same time, rosemary contains rosmarinic acid, which has anti-inflammatory effects. Together, these herbs can improve overall circulation in the body, which can help promote healing and improve overall health. Adding some garlic and rosemary to your diet is a great place to start if you want to improve your circulation.
Who should not use garlic medicinally?
Garlic can be a powerful yet safe herbal remedy when eaten in average dietary amounts. Topical garlic preparations such as pastes and mouthwashes can be safe, but fresh, raw garlic used topically can cause severe irritation, and I don't recommend it.
Several studies have looked at the long-term consumption of garlic, lasting years, with no evidence of significant toxicity.
If you are taking prescription medication, it is always advisable to seek advice from a medical herbalist before using herbs in medicinal amounts. In particular, people taking blood thinners should avoid using garlic as a supplement, as it can interact with these medications and increase the risk of bleeding. Also, those with allergies to members of the Liliaceae family (which includes garlic, onions and certain other plants) should steer clear of garlic supplements.
In conclusion, garlic is a powerful herbal medicine with numerous beneficial effects. You can use it in everyday cooking to help boost flavour and nutrition or take it fresh, dried or in garlic pearls as a herbal supplement. As with any herbal remedy, if you are taking prescription medication, it's best to check with your herbalist before taking garlic medicinally to avoid the potential for any adverse effects.
April Herb of the Month - Sweet Violet
Have you ever noticed these tiny, delicate white or dark purple flowers that pop up in the springtime? These are sweet violets, and they are not just pretty to look at. These violet flowers are like little drops of happiness. They bring joy to your day with their sweet fragrance, plus they have numerous health benefits.
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) are one of my favourite springtime flowers and my Herb of the Month for April.
Where to find Viola odorata
Native to the UK, you might also find these deep purple or white flowers growing in other parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In the UK, it is more common in the south of the country, where you can find it in hedgerows and on the edges of woodlands.
It is also possible to grow your own sweet violets. They are a delicate and charming addition to any garden. With dainty purple or white petals and heart-shaped leaves, it's easy to see why this plant has been a favourite for centuries. It is beautiful to look at and has a lovely fragrance that fills the air with a sweet and floral aroma.
This hardy plant can thrive in many different environments, making it an excellent choice for novice and experienced gardeners. Whether you're looking to add a splash of colour to your garden or simply enjoy the lovely scent of fresh flowers, this medicinal plant is a beautiful choice that won't disappoint.
History and Traditions
This plant has a long and fascinating history of medicinal use from the ancient Greeks, who used these healing plants to treat various ailments. And Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was said to have used this herbal medicine to relieve headaches and soothe sore throats.
During the Middle Ages, this herb was a popular remedy for various illnesses, as a remedy for coughs and colds to digestive issues and dry skin conditions. These flowers even have a reputation as a natural aphrodisiac!
Herbalists use several parts of the plant, mainly the leaves, but the flowers and roots also have medicinal properties. Researchers confirm the herbal remedy has anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antibacterial, demulcent, slightly sedative, antioxidant and potentially anti-cancer characteristics. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
The nutritional and medicinal properties
First and foremost, sweet violets are rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system and fight off harmful free radicals. One cup of sweet violets contains up to 50% of the recommended daily vitamin C intake.
But that's not all. Sweet violets are also a great source of vitamin A, essential for maintaining healthy eyesight, skin, and immune function. Additionally, they contain small amounts of vitamin E, vitamin K, and B-complex vitamins, which work together to support overall health and well-being.
In terms of minerals, sweet violets are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, essential for maintaining strong bones, regulating blood pressure, and supporting cardiovascular health. They also contain trace amounts of iron, zinc, and manganese, vital in many bodily processes.
The unique aspect of this medicinal herb is its high concentration of mucilage. Mucilage is a soluble fibre that forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water. This gel-like substance can help soothe irritated tissues, reduce inflammation, and promote overall health in the digestive tract.
So, sweet violets are worth considering if you're looking to boost your immune system, support healthy digestion, or add a new herb to your collection. Their impressive nutritional profile and unique flavour make them a true gem in herbal medicine.
How to use sweet violet
Sweet violets aren't just pretty flowers, they're also a culinary delight! These edible flowers are versatile ingredients that can add a touch of sweetness and fragrance to both sweet and savoury dishes.
You can use the flowers to make an infused syrup, to drizzle over ice cream, cakes or even pancakes in sweet dishes. They can also be used to flavour creams and custards, adding a touch of elegance to any dessert. Or layer fresh violet petals with sugar in a jar and let it sit for a few days to infuse the sugar with the fragrance and flavour of violets.
You can also use violets to add a unique flavour to savoury dishes. Fresh violet flowers can make an unusual ingredient in salads, giving them a pop of colour and flavour. Or they can flavour vinegar or be made into infused oils, adding a floral note to dressings and marinades. Cook violet leaves in place of spinach or other greens, for instance, as an ingredient in a quiche or frittata.
And let's remember cocktails! These flowers add a beautiful colour and flavour to drinks, whether a simple syrup for a gin and tonic or a floral liqueur for a fancy cocktail.
To make medicinal sweet violet tea, steep fresh leaves in hot water and infuse for around five minutes. It is always best to cover herbal tea with a lid as it brews to retain the beneficial essential oils. Unwind and drift off to sleep with sweet violet tea's soothing, beneficial effects - the perfect way to end your day.
A salve or ointment made from sweet violet flowers has astringent and antibacterial properties that you can apply to dry skin conditions. The mucilage has a soothing, demulcent and healing effect that can help to resolve red, dry, inflamed and sore skin.
Final thoughts on the benefits of sweet violets
In conclusion, sweet violets may be tiny, but they pack a powerful punch when it comes to their medicinal properties. From soothing a sore throat to relieving headaches, these little flowers have provided centuries of use as a natural remedy for various ailments. So, the next time you see these delicate blooms popping up in your garden or on a nature walk, take a moment to appreciate their beauty and their healing potential.
Sweet violets, a fragrant reminder to stop and appreciate life's simple pleasures!
May Herb of the Month - Stinging Nettles
May is a month of new growth. Gardens, woodlands and hedgerows spring into life. And so do the weeds! The stinging nettle plant is one such weed. But, did you know that nettles have been used for centuries as a natural remedy for common symptoms? Not only is the plant a nutritious source of vitamins A, B C E and K and minerals, including potassium, zinc and calcium, but this herb has a number of medicinal properties.
What are Stinging Nettles
Nettle, scientifically known as Urtica dioica, is a perennial medicinal herb that is renowned for its nutritive, anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is commonly used by herbalists for various ailments, including arthritis, allergic conditions, and irritated skin.
This plant is well known for its stinging hairs, which can cause a painful rash or reaction when they come into contact with human skin. It is best to use gloves to prevent nettle stings while you are picking the remedy. But once it is made into tea, or cooked, the sting is gone.
If you do get a nettle rash, a natural nettle sting remedy is dock leaf sap. You will often find dock plants and nettles growing in the same areas. But, if you can't find a dock leaf you could also try using the sap of another herb, such as soothing plantain or ribwort leaves. Rubbing the leaves on the affected area can quickly provide relief from the sting.
Why you might use Stinging Nettles
Urtica dioica, has been used for as a herbal medicine for centuries. Legend has it that the Romans used to flail themselves with the fresh plant to counter arthritis. I wouldn't want to go that far and I'm not suggesting that you should either, but this plant does have established antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Herbalists also love this plant because it has natural antihistamine properties.
So you might find that nettles are included in formulas for joint pain, rheumatism and allergic rhinitis. Its herbal properties include blood pressure lowering and blood sugar lowering effects. Additionally, nettle root has been used for prostatic hyperplasia. Furthermore, nettle leaves can be used topically for skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis.
In the kitchen, fresh green leaves are a good substitute in cooking for other green vegetables such as spinach.
How can you take advantage of this remedy?
You can use this herb in various forms, including fresh leaf, root or seeds and also dried products. One popular way to benefit from this remedy is by brewing a herbal tea, which is known for its ability to alleviate allergies, inflammation, and urinary tract infections. For those seeking a more convenient option, nettle capsules are available and can be taken daily to help with musculoskeletal pain and seasonal allergies. Herbalists often prescribe herbs in the form of tinctures and this remedy is no exception. Tinctures are convenient to use and blend easily with other herbs.
Combining Nettles with other herbs
Nettles combine well with other herbal remedies and can enhance their medicinal effects. For example, in combination with dandelion leaf, it can help to support dandelions effects on liver function and digestion, detoxifying the body and reducing inflammation.
Chamomile is another herb that pairs well with this herb. Chamomile is known for its calming and soothing properties that can help to reduce anxiety and stress. But, both of these herbs have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties making them an ideal combination for allergic reactions.
Red clover is also a good herb to combine with this remedy, as it is known for its ability to support hormonal balance and promote healthy skin. Plus, both of these herbs can support the prostate gland.
To sum up, this is a powerful medicinal herb that can help with various health issues, from allergies to joint pain. Combining stinging nettles with other herbs can enhance their healing properties even further.
June Herb of the Month - Elder
Meet Elder, my herb of the month for June. The elder tree, scientifically known as Sambucus nigra is surrounded with superstition whilst also having valuable healing properties. As a traditional remedy for viral respiratory illnesses, it was even researched as a possible treatment for Covid-19.
What is Elder?
Elder is a plant species that belongs to the Adoxaceae family, with about 30 different types under its umbrella. Most common are the European elder (Sambucus nigra) and the American elder (Sambucus canadensis). This shrubby tree in flower can b quite pretty, with it's white flowers and juicy black or blue-berries, but it's also got a centuries-old reputation as a go-to remedy in folk medicine. But beware, not all parts are edible. Those berries are the good guys when ripe and cooked, but the leaves, stems, unripe fruits, and seeds can cause some problems if swallowed.
Why would you use Elder?
So, why would you want to use Elder in herbal medicine? Well, the flowers and berries of this shrubby tree have a lot to offer. The ripe berries are full of vitamin C, dietary fibre and antioxidants - they're a powerhouse for boosting your immune system.
And the flowers? They're not just pretty. Brew them into a tea and you've got yourself a natural anti-allergy remedy for hayfever. If you're going to try using elderflowers this way then ideally you would start drinking the tea a month before your hayfever usually starts. This might mean you have to plan ahead and pick, dry and store them for the following year.
Keep in mind, though, it's always best to check with your healthcare provider or an experienced herbalist before taking herbal remedies.
How can you take advantage of Elder?
The flowers are perfect for picking during the month of June. Just steep a handful of fresh or dried flowers in hot water for about 15 minutes, then strain and enjoy. Some even use the flowers to make a light and fragrant elderflower cordial, perfect for those summer garden parties.
If you're keen on the berries, you will have to wait until autumn for those. It might sound obvious but you will also want to leave some of the elder flowers on the tree to become berries later in the year. These berries make a lovely syrup that is packed with antiviral compounds. It's a simple process of simmering the berries with water and sugar, then straining the lot to keep the juicy goodness. This syrup can be your winter ally, adding a dollop to your porridge or pancakes, or mixed into hot water for a comforting drink when the sniffles strike.
Combining Elder with other herbs
Elderflowers and elderberries can combine well with other herbs.
A traditional combo is a mixture of elderflowers with other herbs like chamomile or mint. While the berries combine well with echinacea or ginger. These immune-boosting herbs add a delicious spicy twist to your elderberry syrup.
And for a unique, refreshing summer drink, try mixing elderflower cordial with lemon balm or rose hips. It's a treat for the taste buds. Enjoy!