liquorice

Latin Name: Glycyrrhiza glabra

The root of this amazing pea relative has been used for centuries in herbal preparations in china and was sucked by children in the UK during rationing for it’s sweet taste. Unlike marshmallow liquorice (licorice) extract is still present in modern liquorice sweets although they are flavoured with aniseed which is probably the taste licorice sweets are most associated with now.

liquorice historically has been used to help suppress coughs and soothe indigestion. Modern research has investigated liquorice’s antiviral and antibacterial properties, as well as its anti inflammatory effects. Licorice root extracts are also thought to have anti-tumour and anti-HIV activities among many other properties. It is worth noting that excessive intake of liquorice orally over a period of time can increase blood pressure (so watch out you sweet lovers!)

Image By Pharaoh hanOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Marshmallow

Latin Name: Althaea officinalis

The Marsh mallow is a mallow plant, similar to many other plants of the mallow family. The plant grows best in sandy moist soil, but not marshes as far as I am aware.

When I first learnt that the lovely Marshmallow sweet I loved to toast over an open fire was originally made from the root of a plant I could not wait to give it a try… The more I looked into it the more I realised that the original sweet had more to do with a remedy for coughs than it did for a spongy toastable sweet! My first attempt at a sweet made from the plant root went okay. But it had a definite twang. I resolved to use the plant for its properties, not to make sweets.

Water extracts of the root are gooey and can be used to replace egg white (hence their use in puffy sweets). The plant also used to treat a number of diseases and conditions:

The leaves bruised or rubbed upon any place stung with bees, wasps, or the like, presently take away the pain, redness, and swelling that rise thereupon. And Dioscorides saith, The decoction of the roots and leaves helps all sorts of poison, so as the poison be presently voided by vomit. A poultice made of the leaves boiled and bruised, with some bean or barley flower, and oil of Roses added, is an especial remedy against all hard tumours and inflammations, or imposthumes, or swellings of the privities, and other parts, and eases the pains of them; as also against the hardness of the liver or spleen, being applied to the places. The juice of Mallows boiled in old oil and applied, takes away all roughness of the skin, as also the scurf, dandriff, or dry scabs in the head, or other parts, if they be anointed therewith, or washed with the decoction, and preserves the hair from falling off. It is also effectual against scaldings and burnings, St. Anthony’s fire, and all other hot, red, and painful swellings in any part of the body. The flowers boiled in oil or water (as every one is disposed) whereunto a little honey and allum is put, is an excellent gargle to wash, cleanse or heal any sore mouth or throat in a short space. If the feet be bathed or washed with the decoction of the leaves, roots, and flowers, it helps much the defluxions of rheum from the head; if the head be washed therewith, it stays the falling and shedding of the hair. The green leaves (saith Pliny) beaten with nitre, and applied, draw out thorn or prickles in the flesh. (Complete Herbal  by Culpeper 17C)

Though please note Culpeper has a habit of listing hundreds of plant cures! Modern research has, however, found the extract from marshmallow effective in calming coughs and effective stimulating cell vitality of skin cells. Thus suggesting that marshmallows traditional use as an aid to suppress coughs and calm skin is a reasonable one.

 

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Saffron

Latin Name: Crocus sativus (autumn flowering crocus)

The autumn flowering crocus is a fantastic plant. It produces copious amounts of flowers but no leaves in the autumn when not much is in bloom and then produces leaves in the spring. if that was not enough to cheer you up as we move from Summer to Winter the Autumn flowering crocus produces the most expensive spice (more valuable than gold weight for weight) Saffron. which is the dried stamens from the flower.

The use of saffron has been indicated in frescos that date back 3,500 years ago, the frescos show a woman treating a bleeding foot with saffron (link). Ancient Romans used it to reduce inflammation, removes itching sensations and acts as a diuretic. In England 17thC culpeper made the following observation (among others):

Saffron is endowed with great virtues, for it refreshes the spirits, and is good against fainting-fits, and the palipitation of the heart: it strengthens the stomach, helps digestin, cleanses the lungs, and is good in coughs. (Complete Herbal by Culpeper 17C)

Modern research suggests that saffron acts as an antidepressant is cardioprotective, neuroprotective and a memory enhancer. Research on the effects of saffron on the skin cells show that it has an inhibitory effect on matrix metalloproteinases responsible for aging and is a strong photoprotective agent (link).

 

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Rose Hips

Latin Name: Rosa Canina (Dog Rose)

Rose hips have been used since the ancient Egyptians. The romans used Rosehips to cure dog bites, which may be where it gets its name. Romans also used the rose in many other ways:

The employment of the rose in chaplets is, so to say, the least use that is made of it. The flower is steeped in oil, a practice which has prevailed from the times of the Trojan war, as Homer5 bears witness; in addition to which, it now forms an ingredient in our unguents, as mentioned on a previous occasion. It is employed also by itself for certain medicinal purposes, and is used in plasters and eye-salves for its penetrating qualities: it is used, also, to perfume the delicacies of our banquets, and is never attended with any noxious results. (Pliny the Elder AD 77, The Natural History translated by John Bostock, H.T. Riley)

Much later Culpeper records the use of Rosehips in England:

The pulp of the hips has a pleasant grateful acidity, strengthens the stomach, cools the heat of fevers, is pectoral, good for coughs and spitting of blood, and the scurvy (Complete Herbal by Culpeper 17C)

In modern times much research has been conducted into the properties of Rose hips. Rose hip oil is a quickly absorbed oil found to have anti-Inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-skin aging effects on skin. There have also been promising results with rose hip oil on inflammatory dermatitis such as eczema (link). In one trial rose hip powder applied to skin resulted in statistically significant improvements skin moisture and elasticity after 8 weeks of treatment (link).

Image By Emőke Dénes – kindly granted by the author, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Common Nettle

Latin Name: Urtica dioica

The name nettle has Germanic origin; related to Dutch netel and German Nessel, English netle, netele. (Oxford) The name may refer to the small needles which cause the nettle’s sting, or from its use in net making.

Another extremely useful weed. Get past the sting and the young leaves can be eaten (once cooked). The root can be used to make dye and the stem can be used to make cloth and string (German soldiers uniforms were made of nettle fiber in world war I).

Historically we have been advised to grasp the nettle to avoid it’s sting

“Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you, for your pains: Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.” (Aaron Hill c1750)

In our experience, however, we find that you grasp one bit of the nettle and get stung by another!

Modern research has discovered a number of possible beneficial effects of the nettle including anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties, positive effects for bladder and prostate disorders and even anti-diabetic properties. Not to mention the use of nettle to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis.


 

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Dandelions

Latin Name: Taraxacum officinale

The name originated in the Late Middle English from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens leonis ‘lion’s tooth’ (because of the jagged shape of the leaves). (Oxford Press)

The dandelion is one of our favourite plants. The dandelion is commonly thought of as a weed. It grows in most peoples lawns and yet it has so many uses.

All parts of the dandelion are edible. The leaves have a bitter taste and are used in salads. The roots have an earthy taste and dried root has been used as a coffee substitute.

Folk law informs us that we can tell the time by blowing the seeds from the dandelion and in a wedding bouquet they are meant to bring good luck to the couple. The dandelion has been used in folk medicine as a diuretic and the sap has been used as a cure for warts.

In more recent times research has been conducted into the properties of dandelion these include anti-inflammatory and antidepressant effects and as potential drug for type 2 diabetes.

Image By Greg HumeOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link