Astringent

Lilac

  • Scientific name: Syringa vulgaris
  • Plant Family: Oleaceae
  • Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, fruit
  • Medicinal Actions: Vermifuge, Tonic, Febrifuge, Astringent, Aromatic

Medicinal uses are a gray area when it comes to just the flower. Most resources that I have found list that the medicinal benefits of Lilac come from the leaves and fruit.

Lilacs are edible. They symbolize first love and are said to drive away ghosts. They have long been used in both the Eastern and Western healing traditions to fight fevers, treat coughs and calm the stomach. Lilacs are also used by the cosmetic industry for their aromatic and calming effects.

Apparently used as a tea or infusion historically it has been used as a anti-periodic. Anti-periodic basically means that it stops the recurrence of disease such as malaria. There has been some studies that indicate a febrifuge action which may help bring down fever.

Lilac flowers have astringent, aromatic, and perhaps a little bitter qualities. Astringents tighten, draw, and dry tissues such as skin. So a wonderful application would be a cold or warm infusion to use as a toner on the face. Or using the same method but apply to rashes, cuts, and other skin ailments.

An aromatic action causes irritation to the place that it is touching (think GI tract) and irritation brings blood flow and blood flow equals healing! Eating the flowers raw may help with gastric issues such as flatulence or constipation.

In aromatherapy the fragrance of Lilacs is recommended to patients who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. Lilac blossoms can be added to your bath for a soothing aromatherapy remedy for stress and anxiety.

Synthetic Lilac oil is commonly used in commercial perfumes. however making an herbal infused oil may be a great way to capture the aromatics for healing purposes (see recipe below). It is also wonderfully fragrant. Lilac oil can be applied to the skin for the treatment of various skin problems as rashes, burns and wounds. May also be used as a substitute for Aloes and in the treatment of malaria.

The flowers are edible and have some medicinal qualities. I have to say eating even a single flower raw is a flavor exploding experience with slight astringency (drying to tissues), almost bitter, and very floral. I would say these are best for garnishes and edible flower displays on pastries rather than whole meals.

The plant is administered in the form of herbal tea (a quantity of dried flowers in boiled water, 2-3 times a day). Chewing the leaves is recommended for its astringent action and to improve the sore throat. Folk medicine also recommends chewing the leaves for dyspepsia, flatulence, diarrhea and rheumatism. The herbal tea is used against helminths, malaria, sore throat and fever.

Lilacs were used in Colonial America as a vermifuge (treat intestinal worms), to reduce fevers and to treat malaria. Lilacs steeped in warm spring water for 30 minutes, strained, bottled and refrigerated can be used on the face as a tonic and as a healing spritz for some facial afflictions.

Lilacs have been used to treat diphtheria (both internally and as a gargle). Lilac tea can be used as a hair tonic.  Michael Moore indicates that the California Lilac is:

“An excellent home remedy for menstrual cramps, nosebleeds, bleeding hemorrhoids, and old ulcers as well as capillary ruptures from coughing or vomiting.

California Lilac roots are harvested in the late fall when the color is darkest or in early spring before the plants flower. The plants are tough and wiry, the roots even more so, so harvest them while the roots are fresh as after drying, you may need a jack hammer.”

Lilacs steeped in warm spring water for 30 minutes, strained, bottled and refrigerated can be used on the face as a tonic and as a healing spritz for some facial afflictions.

  • Lilac Infusion

Pour 2 1/2 cups boiling water over 2 cups (packed) of Lilac flowers, cover and allow to cool. Allow the infusion to sit 8 hours, or overnight. Strain the flowers from the liquid using a coffee filter, you should have about 2 1/4 c. liquid.

Lilac blossoms are natural astringents–they dry things out. Place a cup or two of slightly wilted flowers in a jar, and fill with witch hazel. Allow it to steep for a few days, and then strain out the flowers. Use the Lilac and witch hazel blend as a facial toner, to keep your skin looking healthy and fresh all summer.

Important Note:

There are two other plants that can sometimes be confused with the Lilac. Syringa Baccifera is a synonym of Mitchella repens or Partridge Berry and MUST NOT be confused with Syringa vulgaris.

Also, in Chinese Medicine, there is a plant called Lilac Daphne,(yuán huā). This plant must be used with care and only by experienced herbalists, as parts of it are poisonous. Much of the confusion with those two plants come from the similarity of names. However the Lilac Daphne looks very similar as you can see in the image above. Continue reading

Eastern Red Cedar

  • Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
  • Parts Used: Berries (female cones), branches, leaves, bark
  • Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Diaphoretic, Expectorant, Astringent, Antimicrobial, Diuretic, Antiasthmatic, Antifungal

The uses of Eastern Red Cedar branch out into many. They are very similar to the Old World, standard Common Juniper in that its female cones- or berries- are one of its favored usable parts, if not an attribute of the plant that really grabs the eye. When you see the Cedar’s fragrant branches heavily-laden with these bright blue little “fruits,” it’s hard for an herbalist to think that these are NOT somehow useful!

One of the virtues of the berry is that it goes impeccably well with several mediums: salve, tincture, elixir, syrup, you name it. What more: it tastes delicious, and mixes well with a large variety of other herbal flavors in combination, if you are crafting a blend or formula of sorts. The twigs, leaves, branches and bark of Cedar have effects and flavor too, although they are notably more intense and astringent, having a reputation of being hard to extract; their use is important, but not as eclectic.

I would wager that the berries are more for tonic use, whereas the rest of this beautiful plant should be saved for acute situations, which I will get to later. Berries can be picked during the fall or winter, as they last, when they “ripen” to an appetizing-looking blue.

Remember: Cedar trees tend to be dioecious (at least the Eastern Reds are). That is, there are males and females of the species. If it is fall or winter, and the trees you are looking at for harvesting don’t seem to have blue cones, chances are they are male. Keep looking– you will more than likely stumble upon a female tree not far off.

In its many mediums, the berries serve as a very ideal winter medicine– all the better since they can, for the most part, be harvested all winter as the berries are available. They are high in Ascorbic Acid, or Vitamin C, an ideal vitamin to take over the winter for immune support. Even if you don’t have a cold, their use as a tonic will be more than welcome.

When winter illnesses take a nasty turn, Eastern Red Cedar berries work with expectorant action, helping the lungs clear out excess mucus and promote a healthy cough. It can be useful for a dry or wet cough: it relieves that “tickle” you may feel with a scratchy, dry throat with a hoarse cough, but it also stimulates the lungs to cough more productively, and expel phlegm in less time than without it. So here you have a medicine that stimulates the immune system, relieves a scratchy throat, improves your cough– and tastes great!

Cedar berries in syrup form are especially delightful. Sounds like quite a valuable ally to have, if you ask me.

Medicinal Uses

The young leafy twigs of the red cedar were officially listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1894 as a diuretic. The distilled oil of the red cedar has been officially listed as a reagent in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia since 1916.

The berries in decoction are diaphoretic and emmenagogue, like those of Common Juniper, and the leaves have diuretic properties.

People take Eastern red cedar for cough, bronchitis, joint pain (rheumatism), water retention, and flatulence. They also take it to improve appetite and digestion, and as a treatment for fungal infections and worms.

People apply Eastern red cedar to the skin for wounds, skin rashes, hair loss, eczema, acne, warts, fungal skin infections, and hemorrhoids. They also rub it onto joints for rheumatism, and onto the chest for asthma.

In the Native-Hispanic tradition, Cedars and their relatives are valued highly for the properties of their leaves, “needles,” or branches. These hold the more potent effects of the tree, and as such, are more difficult to capture in preparations. They can be slightly toxic.

The berries are used when there are excess fluids in the body, but Juniper really shines when the kidneys are sluggish, dilating tissues to increase urine flow, and reducing excess mucus production. It’s diuretic actions are truly remarkable, and is indicated in many cases of edema. Those berries are irritating, though, and are not recommended in large doses, for long-term use, and definitely not for those with kidney problems.

Eating 3-5 fresh berries is suggested for an upset stomach. It is thought the bitter nature stimulates gastric juices and improves digestion.

While certainly not widely considered poisonous or dangerous, it is still good to be careful. Be sparing when using preparations of Cedar needles or branches, even the berries, for that matter. Cedars are very powerful diuretics. When taken overboard, they cause kidney irritation, which feels like cramping in the abdomen– similar to a period cramp. Even higher doses can be more dangerous. Folks with weak kidneys, or outstanding kidney issues should avoid using the Cedar leaf.

Continue reading

Thuja aka Arborvitae

  • Parts Used: Young twigs
  • Constituents: 1% volatile oil including thujone, flavonoid glyoside, musilage, tannin.
  • Actions: Expectorant, Stimulant to smooth muscles, Diuretic, Astringent, Alterative, Anthelmintic, Diaphoretic, Emmenagogue
  • Cautions: Avoid during pregnancy. Taken in excess the essential oil can produce unpleasant results; it was officially listed as an abortifacient and convulsant in overdose.

Thuja is a genus of coniferous trees in the Cupressaceae (cypress family). There are five species in the genus, two native to North America and three native to eastern Asia.

  • White Cedar – Thuja occidentalis
  • Western Red Cedar – Thuja plicata
  • Korean Thuja – Thuja koraiensis
  • Japanese Thuja – Thuja standishii 
  • Sichuan Thuja – Thuja sutchuenensis

Members are commonly known as arborvitaes, (from Latin for tree of life) Thujas or Cedars. The name Thuja is a latinized form of a Greek word meaning ‘to fumigate,’ or thuo (‘to sacrifice’), for the fragrant wood was burnt by the ancients with sacrifices. The tree was described as ‘arbor vita ‘ by Clusius, who saw it in the royal garden of Fontainebleau after its importation from Canada.

The Basics

Most of the herbal information I found on Thuja refers specifically to Thuja occidentalis – White Cedar, or Arborvitae –  but it is possible that the other varieties share similar characteristics and qualities.

  • It is important not to confuse the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) with the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as the two are quite different.

The name arborvitae is particularly used in the horticultural trade in the United States. It is Latin for “tree of life” – due to the medicinal properties of the sap, bark, and twigs. Despite its common names, it is not a true cedar in the genus Cedrus, nor is it related to the Australian white cedar, Melia azedarach.

Thuja is used for respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, bacterial skin infections, and cold sores. It is also used for painful conditions including osteoarthritis and a nerve disorder that affects the face called trigeminal neuralgia.

Some people use Thuja to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant), to boost the immune system (as an immunostimulant), and to increase urine flow (as a diuretic). It has also been used to cause abortions.

Thuja is sometimes applied directly to the skin for joint pain, ostearthritis, and muscle pain. Thuja oil is also used for skin diseases, warts, and cancer; and as an insect repellent.

In foods and beverages, Thuja is used as a flavoring agent. In manufacturing, Thuja is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and soaps.

According to WebMD, Thuja contains chemicals that might fight viruses. It also contains a chemical called thujone that can cause brain problems.

Continue reading

Ground Ivy

  • Scientific Name: Glechoma hederacea
  • Plant Family: Lamiaceae
  • Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers
  • Actions: Expectorant, Astringent, Diuretic, Tonic, a gentle Stimulant, Anti-catarrhal, Vulnerary

General Overview:

Ground Ivy is an aromatic, perennial, evergreen creeper of the mint family. This little plant grows on waste ground and in hedgerows everywhere, the leaves are dark and kidney shaped and the flowers bright dark blue. The Romanies made a tea from Ground Ivy flowers and wood sage as a cure for fevers and colds. The herb is used by herbalists in the treatment of blood and kidney disorders.

The leaves are downy, dark green and kidney-shaped, with glands that contain an aromatic, bitter oil. The tiny deep-throated flowers are purple or blue.

Some people consider Ground Ivy to be an attractive garden plant, and it is grown in pots and occasionally as a groundcover. Easily cultivated, it grows well in shaded places. A variegated variety is commercially available; in many areas this is the dominant form which has escaped cultivation and become established as an aggressive, adventitious groundcover.

Note:

Ground Ivy is sometimes confused with common mallow (Malva neglecta), which also has round, lobed leaves; but mallow leaves are attached to the stem at the back of a rounded leaf, where Ground Ivy has square stems and leaves which are attached in the center of the leaf, more prominent rounded lobes on their edges, attach to the stems in an opposite arrangement, and have a hairy upper surface.

In addition, mallow and other creeping plants sometimes confused with Ground Ivy do not spread from nodes on stems. In addition, Ground Ivy emits a distinctive odor when damaged, being a member of the mint family.

The Basics:

Ground Ivy has been used in the traditional medicine of Europe going back thousands of years: Galen recommends the plant to treat inflammation of the eyes. John Gerard, an English herbalist, recommended it to treat tinnitus, as well as a “diuretic, astringent, tonic and gentle stimulant. Useful in kidney diseases and for indigestion.” It has also been used as a “lung herb.”

Its presence as an invasive weed in North America is the result of the value placed on it by European settlers as a medicinal herb and ale preservative; the species was imported and widely cultivated in herb and kitchen gardens.

Other traditional uses include as an expectorant, astringent, and to treat bronchitis. In the traditional Austrian medicine the herb has been prescribed for internal application as salad or tea for the treatment of a variety of different conditions including disorders associated with the liver and bile, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, kidneys and urinary tract, fever, and flu.

An ancient ale herb, bitter Ground Ivy was used to clear and flavor ale before the introduction of hops.
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Bilberry

203_vaccinum_myrtillus_l

  • 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

Slippery Elm

slippery-elm

  • 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

Yarrow

yarrow02-l

  • 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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Through plants, the outer light of the sun and the stars becomes the inner light which reflects back from the foundations of our soul. This is the reason why plants have always and everywhere been considered sacred, divine. ~Storl
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