Encyclopedia Of Herbology

Bilberry

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  • Scientific NameVaccinium myrtillus
  • Plant Family: N.O. Vacciniaceae
  • Parts UsedThe ripe fruit. The leaves.
  • Actions: astringent, diuretic, tonic, antiseptic,antibacterial  

Varieties:

  • V. arboreum, or Farkleberry. This is the most astringent variety, and both berries and root-bark may be used internally for diarrhoea, chronic dysentery, etc. The infusion is valuable as a local application in sore throat, chronic ophthalmia, leucorrhoea, etc.
  • V. resinosum, V. damusum, and V. gorymbosum have properties resembling those of V. myrtillus.
  • The Bog Bilberry ( V. uliginosum) is a smaller, less erect plant, with round stems and untoothed leaves, greyish green beneath. Both flowers and berries are smaller than those of the common Bilberry. This kind is quite absent in the south and only to be found in mountain bogs and moist copses, in Scotland, Durham and Westmorland.
  • The ‘Huckleberry’ of North America, so widely appreciated there, is our Bilberry – the name being an obvious corruption of ‘Whortleberry.’

Constituents: The leaves contain glucoquinones, which reduce the levels of sugar in the blood. The skin of the fruits contains anthocyanin and is specific in the treatment of hemeralopia (day-blindness). The fruit is a rich source of anthocyanosides, which have been shown experimentally to dilate the blood vessels.

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The Basics:

Although often called huckleberry, the bilberry is more nearly related to the cranberry. Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Bilberry fruits have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes. Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for circulatory problems, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions.

Bilberry is a well-known folk remedy for poor vision, especially for people who suffer from “night blindness,” that is, they have difficulty seeing in the dark. In fact, bilberry jam was given to Royal Air Force pilots who flew nighttime missions during World War II. It works by accelerating the regeneration of retinol purple, commonly known as visual purple, a substance that is required for good eyesight. European medical journals are filled with studies confirming bilberry’s positive effect on vision. Unfortunately, this herb has not received the attention it deserves in the American medical community so far.

Some people use bilberry for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), varicose veins, decreased blood flow in the veins, and chest pain. Bilberry is also used for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), hemorrhoids, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, skin infections, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The dried leaves of bilberries are used in the treatment of a variety of complaints. A tea made from the dried leaves is strongly astringent, diuretic, tonic and an antiseptic for the urinary tract. It is also a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period. Another report says that the leaves can be helpful in pre-diabetic states but that they are not an alternative to conventional treatment. The leaves contain glucoquinones, which reduce the levels of sugar in the blood.

A decoction of the leaves or bark is applied locally in the treatment of ulcers and in ulceration of the mouth and throat. It is sometimes applied directly to the inside of the mouth for mild mouth and throat soreness. A distilled water made from the leaves is an excellent eyewash for soothing inflamed or sore eyes.

Whilst the fresh fruit has a slightly laxative effect upon the body, when dried it is astringent and is commonly used in the treatment of diarrhea etc. The dried fruit is also antibacterial and a decoction is useful for treating diarrhea in children. The skin of the fruits contains anthocyanin and is specific in the treatment of hemeralopia (day-blindness). The fruit is a rich source of anthocyanosides, which have been shown experimentally to dilate the blood vessels, this makes it a potentially valuable treatment for varicose veins, hemorrhoids and capillary fragility.

How does it work?

Bilberry contains chemicals called tannins that can help improve diarrhea, as well as mouth and throat irritation, by reducing swelling (inflammation). There is some evidence that the chemicals found in bilberry leaves can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Some researchers think that chemicals called flavonoids in bilberry leaf might also improve circulation in people with diabetes. Circulation problems can harm the retina of the eye. Continue reading

Oregon Grape

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  • Scientific NameBerberis Aquifolium
  • Plant FamilyBerberidaceae
  • Parts UsedRhizome and Roots, Bark, Fruits
  • Actions: Alterative, cholagogue, diuretic, laxative and tonic

Description: 

Several varieties of the subgenus Mahonia contribute to the drug of commerce under the name of Berberis aquifolium. It is a quickly-growing shrub about 6 feet high: the oddly compound leaves have no spine at the base; they are evergreen and shining. The flowers grow in terminal racemes, are small and yellowish-green in color, and the purple berries are three- to nine-seeded. The bark is brown on the surface and yellow beneath. The root is from 1/2 inch in diameter to 3 inches at the base of the stem, odorless, and with a bitter taste. The shrub was introduced into England from North America in 1823. It was formerly known as Mahonia aquifolia and is very hardy.

Note:It should not be used with Glycyrrhiza species (Liquorice) because this nullifies the effects of the berberine.

The Basics:

Oregon grape was often used by several native North American Indian tribes to treat loss of appetite and debility. Its current herbal use is mainly in the treatment of gastritis and general digestive weakness, to stimulate the kidney and gallbladder function and to reduce catarrhal problems. The root and root bark is alterative, blood tonic, cholagogue, diuretic, laxative and tonic. It improves the digestion and absorption and is taken internally in the treatment of psoriasis, syphilis, haemorrhages, stomach complaints and impure blood conditions. Externally, it has been used as a gargle for sore throats and as a wash for blurry or bloodshot eyes.

The blue fruits are tart and improve after frost. They are often gathered for jelly or wine. Used to treat a wide variety of ailments, Oregon Grape species contain the extremely potent alkaloid, berberine, (also found in goldenseal) which is antiseptic and stimulates the liver and spleen.

The fruit is an excellent gentle and safe laxative. Berberine, universally present in rhizomes of Mahonia species, has marked antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Since it is not appreciably absorbed by the body, it is used orally in the treatment of various enteric infections, especially bacterial dysentery.

Berberine has also shown anti-tumor activity.

It is one of the best alterative blood purifiers and liver stimulants. Uses for the Oregon Grape Root include weak digestion, flatulence, jaundice, blood impurities, and as a general tonic to the whole system.

A decoction (instructions below) will be found to be a wonderful blood purifier and will restore health to many who are suffering from a sluggish liver, weak stomach, indigestion, and sallow skin.

Years ago, it was given to children, and said to create appetite and promote digestion, and increase strength and vitality. The current medical thinking is that it is not safe for children, especially infants, or pregnant or nursing women. (see information at the bottom of the post)

Continue reading

Peppermint

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  • Scientific Name: Mentha x piperita
  • Plant FamilyLabiatae
  • Parts UsedAerial parts
  • Actions: Anodyne, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Carminative, Cholagogue, Diaphoretic, Refrigerant, Stomachic, Tonic. Vasodilator
  • ConstituentsUp to 2 % volatile oil containing menthol, menthone and jasmone; tannins, bitter principle

Variations:

There are several varieties of Peppermint. The two chief, the so-called ‘Black’ and ‘White’ mints are the ones extensively cultivated. Botanically there is little difference between them, but the stems and leaves of the ‘Black’ mint are tinged purplish-brown, while the stems of the ‘White’ variety are green, and the leaves are more coarsely serrated in the White. The oil furnished by the Black is of inferior quality, but more abundant than that obtained from the White, the yield of oil from which is generally only about four-fifths of that from an equal area of the Black, but it has a more delicate odor and obtains a higher price. The plant is also more delicate, being easily destroyed by frost or drought; it is principally grown for drying in bundles – technically termed ‘bunching,’ and is the kind chiefly dried for herbalists, the Black variety being more generally grown for the oil on account of its greater productivity and hardiness.

The Basics:

White Peppermint is a very important and commonly used remedy, being employed by allopathic doctors as well as herbalists. It is also widely used as a domestic remedy. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders (especially flatulence) and various minor ailments. An infusion is used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, spastic colon etc. Externally a lotion is applied to the skin to relieve pain and reduce sensitivity.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic and strongly antibacterial, though it is toxic in large doses. When diluted it can be used as an inhalant and chest rub for respiratory infections. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is “Cooling”.

Peppermint is one of the best carminative agents available. It has a relaxing effect on the visceral muscles, anti-flatulent properties and stimulates bile and digestive juice secretion, and so can relieve intestinal colic, flatulent dyspepsia and other associated conditions.

The volatile oil acts as a mild anesthetic to the stomach wall, which helps to relieve the vomiting of pregnancy and travel sickness. Peppermint plays a role in the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It is most valuable in the treatment of fevers and especially colds and flu.

As an inhalant it can be used as a temporary treatment for nasal catarrh. Where migraine headaches are associated with the digestion, this herb may be used. As a nervine it eases anxiety and tension. In painful periods it relieves the pain and eases tension. Externally it relieves itching and inflammation.

Peppermint oil is useful in combating flatulence and mild indigestion. Many over-the-counter stomach aids contain Peppermint to both enhance the taste as well as the effectiveness of the medicine. However, in a strange bit of irony, Peppermint is something of a trigger food for many suffering from acid reflux and may cause their symptoms to worsen.

How does it work? Peppermint oil seems to reduce spasms in the digestive tract. When applied to the skin, it can cause surface warmth, which relieves pain beneath the skin.
Continue reading

Elder Tree

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  • Scientific NameSambucus Nigra
  • Plant FamilyCaprifoliaceae
  • Parts UsedBark, Flowers, Berries, Leaves
  • Actions: Vary based on what part of the plant is used
    • Bark: Purgative, emetic, diuretic
    • Leaves: Externally emollient and vulnerary, Internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic
    • Flowers: Diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, pectoral
    • Berries: Diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative

Varieties:

The elder tree grows in Britain and from Scandinavia to the coast of Africa, a twisted, shrubby tree, seldom more than 30 ft high and common in hedgerows and waste places. The strong smelling leaves are divided into broad leaflets, creamy flowers grow in sweetly scented clusters in midsummer and in the late summer black juicy berries ripen and fall.

Note: Do not confuse European Elder (Sambucus Nigra) with American Elder, Elderflower, or Dwarf Elder. There are other, similar elder species in Europe and North America but these have different properties.  For a definitive list of the various elder species, and to verify that you are using Sambucus nigra (European or Black Elder) visit this link via wikipedia: Sambucus

The Basics:

Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called “the medicine chest of country people.”

The bark and leaves of the elder have a violent purgative action when taken internally and are not safe. However, used externally, the juice of the leaves is cooling, soothing and healing and thus has been a common and efficient domestic remedy for several thousand years.

elder-04-lThe inner bark is collected from young trees in the autumn and is best sun-dried. It is diuretic, a strong purgative and in large doses emetic. It is used in the treatment of constipation and arthritic conditions. An emollient ointment is made from the green inner bark. The pith of young stems is used in treating burns and scalds. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh inner bark of young branches. It relieves asthmatic symptoms and spurious croup in children.

The leaves are used primarily for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblains. The leaves can be used both fresh or dry. The leaves are purgative, but are more nauseous than the bark. They are also diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and haemostatic. The juice is said to be a good treatment for inflamed eyes. An ointment made from the leaves is emollient and is used in the treatment of bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds etc. It has been reported that Elder Leaves may be useful in an ointment for tumors.

The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, Elder flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza. They are indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hay fever and sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to Elder Flowers. The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of “Elder Flower Water”. The flowers can be preserved with salt to make them available for distillation later in the season. The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant. It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions.

The dried flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, galactogogue and pectoral. An infusion is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes. The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser. Externally, the flowers are used in poultices to ease pain and abate inflammation. Used as an ointment, it treats chilblains, burns, wounds, scalds etc.

Elder Berries have similar properties to the Flowers, with the addition of their usefulness in rheumatism. The fruit is depurative, weakly diaphoretic and gently laxative. A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea. The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit.

The root is no longer used in herbal medicine but it formerly had a high reputation as an emetic and purgative that was very effective against dropsy.

Are Elderberries poisonous?

elderberries-2Most species of Sambucus berries are edible when picked ripe and then cooked. Both the skin and pulp can be eaten. However, it is important to note that most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the variety of Elderberry that is most often used for health benefits as it is the only variety considered to be non-toxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility. Continue reading

Slippery Elm

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  • Scientific NameUlmus rubra
  • Plant FamilyUrticaceae
  • Parts UsedInner bark
  • Actions: Demulcent, Emollient, Nutrient, Astringent, Vulnerary

The Basics:

The pale, aromatic inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree  is considered one of the most valuable remedies in herbal practice, the abundant mucilage it contains having wonderfully strengthening and healing qualities. It can be used to make a soothing, healing medicine for sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, catarrh and stomach and bowel troubles. It also acts as a treatment for cystitis and urinary complaints.

People take slippery elm for coughs, sore throat, colic, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bladder and urinary tract infections, syphilis, herpes, and for expelling tapeworms. Because Slippery Elm bark is a soothing nutritive demulcent, it is perfectly suited for sensitive or inflamed mucous membrane linings in the digestive system. It is used for protecting against stomach and duodenal ulcers, for colitis, diverticulitis, GI inflammation, and too much stomach acid.

Slippery elm is also taken by mouth to cause an abortion.

It is often used as a food during convalescence as it is gentle and easily assimilated. In diarrhea it will soothe and astringent at the same time. Externally it makes an excellent poultice for use in cases of boils, abscesses or ulcers. Slippery elm is applied to the skin for wounds, burns, gout, rheumatism, cold sores, toothaches, sore throat, and as a lubricant to ease labor.

In manufacturing, slippery elm is used in some baby foods and adult nutritionals, and in some oral lozenges used for soothing throat pain. Continue reading

Marsh Mallow

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  • Scientific NameAlthaea officinalis
  • Plant FamilyMalvaceae
  • Parts UsedThe whole plant – Leaves, root, flowers.
  • Actions (root): Demulcent, Diuretic, Emollient, Vulnerary
  • Actions (leaf)Demulcent, Expectorant, Diuretic, Emollient, Anti-Catarrhal, Pectoral

The Basics:

All mallows, including the garden hollyhock, contain quantities of mucilage and the marsh mallow is an especially soothing, healing herb, useful in treating bronchitis, internal inflammation and irritation, for stimulating the kidneys and as a gentle laxative. Tea made from the leaves makes a soothing eye bath.

The high mucilage content of Marsh Mallow makes it an excellent demulcent (relieves inflammation). The root is used primarily for digestive problems, inflammations of the digestive tract and on the skin. The leaf is used for the lungs and the urinary system. For bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs consider Marsh Mallow leaf. It is very soothing in urethritis and urinary gravel. Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers as well as abscesses and boils.

There are many species of mallow growing around the world, often used as food or medicine and possessing similar properties. The young leaves of all the European mallows can be eaten in salads, the older leaves in soups, the roots boiled or fried and the seeds, known as cheeses, chewed fresh. They are all wholesome and their flavor faint and delicate. Continue reading

Yarrow

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  • Scientific Name: Achillea millefolium
  • Plant Family: Compositae
  • Parts UsedThe whole plant – stems, leaves, flowers, collected in the wild state, in August, when in flower.
  • Actions: Diaphoretic, Hypotensive, Astringent, Diuretic, Antiseptic, Anticatarrhal, Emmenagogue, Hepatic, Stimulant, Tonic, Mild Aromatic

The Basics:

Yarrow is a wound herb, astringent and healing, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Bind bruised fresh leaves to cuts, or make an ointment by pounding the flowers and mixing with coconut oil, or bathe wounds with yarrow tea. The tea is also a good tonic drink, it restores lost appetite and promotes perspiration during colds and fevers. Chew fresh leaves to soothe toothache.

Yarrow also lowers blood pressure due to a dilation of the peripheral vessels. It stimulates the digestion and tones the blood vessels. As a urinary antiseptic it is indicated in infections such as cystitis. It is considered to be a specific in thrombotic conditions associated with high blood pressure.

The flowers are often steamed and inhaled to treat hay fever and asthma and in teas for respiratory problems, as a wash for eczema and other skin conditions; and in chest rubs for cold, flu, and inflamed joints. Continue reading

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