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.