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Posts Tagged ‘medicine

14
Feb
12

Echinacea: How to grow and use this powerful antibiotic and immune-stimulant

This post is part of Terrifically Useful Tuesday looking at the immense benefits plants have for people. See more in this series here.

If there is one plant image that has come to epitomise herbal medicine and good health in the last two decades, it would be the purple cone flower of echinacea. Splashed on supplements, chemist walls, natural healing centres, echinacea was the best selling herb of the 1990s. It’s prominence is well-deserved offering a range of potent medicines and a strong alternative to pharmaceutical antibiotics for Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and tuberculosis.

In our ever-escalating chemical arms race with germs, we look set to come off as the losers. Each year seems to see the mass-outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses that modern medicine just can’t seem to nail. Plants, especially herbs, offer our greatest hope.  So why is it that plant therapies can work where the pharnmaceutical companies are failing? Complexity in nature, is a fine thing.

Pharmaceutical companies rely on incomplete science and market-driven solutions, to produce patentable isolates that are quick, efficient and cost-effective to get to market. For instance, penicillin has one chemical constituent-penicillin. Bacteria that reproduces so quickly can easily find a way around that one mechanism. Plants on the other hand have far more complexity. They have had hundreds of thousands of years to evolve their complex chemical compounds that work together to produce strong and effective medicines. This complexity makes it difficult for bacteria to bypass the plant medicine’s actions.

Echinacea’s complexity makes it a potent healer

Echinacea has complexity. The plant contains many chemicals that play a role in its therapeutic effects, including polysaccharides, glycoproteins, alkamides, volatile oils, and flavonoids.

Echinacea was highly valued as a medicinal herb by Native Americans and early settlers there, treating weeping wounds, boils, abscesses and snakebite. There are nine species of Echinacea of which two are used medicinally Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea. E. angustifolia, the narrow-leaf form, is the most cited in herbal medicine work as it is considered more potent. It is usually wild-harvested in the US and therefore the most expensive.  E.purpurea has a broad leaf and is the most common as it is easier and faster to grow. It is still highly regarded amongst herbalists and those relevant chemical compounds seem to be consistent across the varieties.

Today, echinacea has a well researched and confirmed reputation for enhancing immune function. There are multiple lab and animal studies suggesting echinacea also relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and has hormonal, antiviral and antioxidant effects. For this reason, echinacea is recommended to treat a large range of infections, inflammations, hay fever, cold sores and slow-healing wounds. The effects on colds and flu are unclear with plenty of for and against studies. But it seems the quality of the plant extract taken seems to be the greatest area for dispute.

How to take echinacea

The University of Maryland Medical Center indicates that adults:

For general immune system stimulation, during colds, flu, upper respiratory tract infections, or bladder infections, choose from the following forms and take 3 times a day until you feel better, but not for more than 7 – 10 days:

  • 1 – 2 grams dried root or herb, as tea
  • 2 – 3 mL of standardized tincture extract
  • 6 – 9 mL of expressed juice (succus)
  • 300 mg of standardized, powdered extract containing 4% phenolics
  • Tincture (1:5): 1 – 3 mL (20 – 90 drops)
  • Stabilized fresh extract: 0.75 mL (15 – 23 drops)
  • Apply creams or ointments for slow-healing wounds as needed.

It also states that people who are immune-compromised should not take echinacea due to possible drug-interactions.

How to grow Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea sales represent 10% of the dietary supplement market in the United States. For those of us who can’t afford these supplements, try growing your own patch of purple health in your cultivated beds.

Echinacea pupurea is best treated as a biennial and sown from seed. (Please note that seeds can take around 3 weeks to germinate). Best to sow pre-soaked seed into trays in early autumn, transplanting into the garden in spring. You’ll see flowering before the end of the next autumn. Echinacea loves full sun and can handle drought and wind, requiring only around 25mm of water per week through summer. Slugs and snails are its worst enemies.

For New Zealand readers: I have Echinacea purpurea seeds for sale, contact me here.

Echinacea purpurea tincture made from flowerheads

The best time to harvest echinacea flowerheads is when they are coming into flower and are at about one-twelth flowering (one in twelve flowers are open). Gather a large amount of the aerial parts including flowerheads and buds.  This is when the active constituents in the aerial parts are in their prime. (If you do this early enough in the season you’ll probably be able to get a second go over).

To make the tincture you take the fresh clippings and add them to as high a proof alcohol as you can find, to the ratio of one part plant to two parts alcohol. Mix in a blender before placing in a glass jar and leaving on a sunny windowsill. Shake every day for two weeks before straining out the plant material and store the liquid in a cool, dark place.

Links to research supporting echinacea’s efficacy

Continue reading ‘Echinacea: How to grow and use this powerful antibiotic and immune-stimulant’

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04
Jan
12

12 Medicinal Herbs I Grow and Use Often

Images left to right from top: comfrey leaf; thyme; dill flowers; dried hops flowers; St John’s wort flowers; potted kawakawa; broad-leaved plantain; yarrow flowers; yarrow leaves; lemon balm; feverfew; aloe vera; peppermint. 

There are masses of websites with info on medicinal herbs and quite frankly most of them are rubbish. Written by writers, not by doers they run of a list of ‘facts’, historical details, and an dizzying list of healing properties. What they don’t do is offer actual, real walk-out-into-the-garden-and-use details.

Here are a list of herbs I grow and use the most that don’t need a medical, herbal or botany degree to use or recognise. All have scientific backing. All are super easy. I’m not a herbalist, just a very keen gardener. I believe you should see a herbalist for the proper internal use of herbs (lots of active ingredients in plants can cause all sorts of issues).

Comfrey

I had monumental back and hip problems having a baby. My doctor suggested using comfrey poultices because my tailbone ached for months after. For me, it was a miracle cure. I scrunched up a couple of leaves, put them in a cloth and poured hot water of it and sat with it on the sore bit for 15 minutes a night. I was cured–could walk properly, carry my child and wasn’t constantly in pain. Sore knees, sprains, strains? Go find yourself some comfrey.

Thyme

For sore throats and mouth ulcers I boil the jug and pick a handful of thyme, or use the dried thyme I’ve collected. I let the thyme steep for 30 minutes and add a spoonful of salt. Tastes much better than store bought alternatives and works just as well.

Dill

I collect the seeds of my dill each year and they’ve been a godsend with a windy baby. After the first couple of months I stopped using gripe water (active ingredient is dill), and made herbal teas with crushed dill seeds and gave her tiny sips.

Hops

I have a tin next to my bed of hops, rose petals and lavender. When I’m having trouble getting to sleep I open it up and waft away with the delicious scents.

St John’s wort

St John’s wort is mostly associated with depression, but that’s a whole medical aspect I’m not prepared to get into here. But looking at those brilliant sunshiney flowers will definitely lift your mood. I use St John’s wort for burns and bruises by making a tincture which you can read about here. Warning! Weed alert: grow St John’s wort in a container.

Kawakawa

I battle winter colds with a kawakawa, lemongrass and ginger tea. Kawakawa is a native of New Zealand with a peppery bite. I collect and dry the ingredients and store them in an airtight container. I also chew on the leaves if I’ve got a toothache. Use the kawakawa leaves with lots of holes, the insects are showing you which leaves contain the most medicinal compounds.

Plantain

Insects love to bite me. Luckily I have lots of plantain growing everywhere. I grab a leaf and rub the underside on bites and it takes the itch right out of it.

Yarrow

There tends to be lots of cut fingers in my household–bloody DIYers. Beautiful white yarrow grows as a weed in my garden and wrapping a furry green leaf around the afflicted digit stops the bleeding.

Lemon balm

Brewed into a tea, lemon balm is marvellous for headaches, anxiety or when friends arrive feeling a bit down. It’s also said to be helpful to drink if you have a coldsore. I haven’t had a chance to test that yet.

Feverfew

I used to eat a leaf a day to ward off migraines. They taste pretty awful so I’d roll them into a ball and cover them with honey or mashed potato or peanut butter or just about anything to cover the bitterness. This is a longterm strategy, it will take about a month of continual use before the active compounds start kicking in. I haven’t taken it while pregnant or breastfeeding and suggest you don’t either.

Aloe vera

Sunburn, skin irritations, after-waxing redness? Aloe vera is my summer go-to plant. Grab an aloe vera spear, slice off the spikes, slit in half and rub juicy, refreshing aloe vera innards all over the skin. Instantly cooling, really soothing.

Peppermint

Nausea is the mindkiller-when you’ve got it, it’s very hard to think of anything else. Use peppermint for a zesty herbal tea to ease the quease.




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