The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation

The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation

by Anne McIntyre, Michael McIntyre

We have all grown increasingly aware of the potential -- and documented -- dangers of the chemical toxins that surround us. The New Age Herbalist is a compendium of healthy alternatives, an indispensable guide for contemporary natural living. Created by a team of experts, it offers:

A full-color illustrated glossary of more than 200 herbs, describing

…  See more details below


We have all grown increasingly aware of the potential -- and documented -- dangers of the chemical toxins that surround us. The New Age Herbalist is a compendium of healthy alternatives, an indispensable guide for contemporary natural living. Created by a team of experts, it offers:

A full-color illustrated glossary of more than 200 herbs, describing their properties, active ingredients, and traditional uses around the world

A guide to using herbs for scent, for decoration, and even as chemical-free housekeeping aids

Tips on using herbs for skin care and beauty, by making natural shampoos, lotions, soaps, and cosmetics

A review of culinary herbs, with some unusual recipes that use familiar herbs in delightful new ways

An examination of the growing science of herbal healing, discussing herbal remedies -- including stress relievers -- and the scientific research that validates them

A complete herb gardening plan, with advice on choosing symbiotic herbs, designing and scheduling plantings, and preserving the harvest by freezing and drying

Fascinating, authoritative, packed with information presented in a stunning visual style, The New Age Herbalist will be the home herb user's bible for years to come.

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Glossary of Herbs

For a newcomer to the world of herbalism, the most extraordinary feature of herbs is their incredible versatility. You may think of a particular herb as useful for flavouring food or as a source of perfume, for example, then discover it has a wide range of other applications. A herb that is prized in cooking may also be of value against pests in the garden, one used in beauty care may also be a healing herb. A plant such as the elder can provide the raw material for wines, conserves, medicines, and dye. This chapter shows how the magical biochemistry of herbs makes possible these diverse properties.

The herbs in this glossary are listed under their botanical families, emphasizing the similarities between related plants. Many of the mint family (Labiatae), for example, are rich in essential oils, and important as culinary herbs, while a number of herbs in the daisy family (Compositae) are good for healing wounds and stopping bleeding. Within each family the herbs are listed alphabetically under their Latin names, with their common names also given in bold type. As well as the plants that have traditionally been used by herbalists, the glossary also contains a few plants that have been extensively used in orthodox medicine, such as the foxglove, and other more recently researched plants whose dramatic healing properties have lately been publicized. Superior numbers refer to notes on research on pages 281-2.

Each entry indicates the size of the herb (either its height or both its height and approximate spread on the ground) and gives a page reference to a photograph of the plant. Details of the parts of theplant used are followed by a list of its chemical constituents. There follows a summary of the main uses of the herb and a detailed description of its history, its specific applications, how its chemistry affects the body, and where possible, research findings on its effects. It must be stressed, however, that for self-prescription you should use the Herbs for Healing chapter and not the glossary. Finally, if there are any circumstances under which the plant should not be used, or if part of the plant is poisonous, there is a caution. The word "Restricted" indicates a plant whose use is limited to registered medical herbalists, pharmacists, and doctors.


Acorus calamus

Sweet flag

Sweet sedge, sweet grass, sweet rush, myrtle flag

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Rhizome.

Constituents Volatile oil up to 3.5% (comprising aserone, cis-methyl isoeugenol, calamene, linalool, eugenol, azulene, pinene, cineole, camphor, etc), sesquiterpenes, acoric acid, tannin, resin, mucilage.

Main uses Medical Stomach and bowel complaints.

Mentioned in the book of Exodus and brought to Europe by the Tartars in the thirteenth century, sweet flag has a long reputation as a healing herb. In Europe, it is used for the stomach and bowel because it stimulates the salivary glands and production of stomach juices, helping to counter acidity and ease heartburn and dyspepsia. It also eases flatulence and relaxes the bowel, reducing catarrhal states of the mucous membranes. In traditional Chinese medicine sweet flag is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. Sweet flag is sometimes chewed for toothache and to break tobacco addiction because it has a mild sedative effect.

NOTE The Food and Drugs Administration in the USA has prohibited the use of this as a remedy due to the presence of aserone in the essential oil. But rhizomes from Europe have low concentrations of aserone compared with those from India and no cases of malignancy have been reported in mill and mine workers who chew the rhizome.

Symplocarpus foetidus

Skunk cabbage

Meadow cabbage, polecat weed, skunkweed

16x12 ins (40x30 cm)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Volatile oil, resin, acrid principle, silica, iron, manganese.

Main uses Medical Asthma, whooping cough, and bronchitis.

Skunk cabbage has an unpleasant smell when bruised but it is a highly useful herb nonetheless. It is antispasmodic and expectorant with somewhat sedative properties and is prescribed for tightness of the chest, irritable tight coughs and other spasmodic respiratory disorders. In addition, it is sometimes used to calm the nervous system. It also has a diuretic action. Skunk cabbage was introduced into Europe during the last century.

CAUTION The fresh plant can cause blistering.


Panax ginseng

Oriental ginseng

Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, Japanese ginseng

h 24-31 ins (60-80 cm)

Parts used Dried root.

Constituents About eleven hormone-like saponins (called ginsenosides by the Japanese and panaxosides by the Russians), volatile oil, sterols, starch, sugars, pectin, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, choline, fats, minerals (including zinc, copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, vanadium).

Main uses Medical As tonic, particularly for people weakened by disease, old age, or stress.

Ginseng (in Chinese, "Renshen", meaning "man root") is the king of tonics. For centuries in the East, top-grade roots have been valued more than gold. There are many different grades of ginseng. Wild ginseng, particularly that from Manchuria, is considered the best but is phenomenally expensive. Cultivated ginseng comes in two varieties, white and red. The red is cured by steaming which gives it its colour and reputedly a warmer nature than the white. Most Korean ginseng is of the red variety and is stronger or more yang in nature than that from China.

Unfortunately, the fame of ginseng has led to misconceptions about its use and to low grade or adulterated products being sold as ginseng in the West. Despite its Latin name Panax, meaning panacea, it is not universally applicable in every illness. It should not be taken during acute inflammatory disease or bronchitis since it can drive the disease deeper and make it worse. Moreover, in China, ginseng is rarely used on its own, but is usually combined with other herbs, such as licorice or Chinese dates, which temper its powerful nature. Ginseng is best taken by someone made weak by disease or old age. Modern research reinforces traditional views about ginseng. The several hormone-like substances in the plant are thought to account for its simultaneously sedative and stimulating (adaptogenic) effect on the central nervous system. Experiments in Russia carried out since 1948 indicated that ginseng improved concentration and endurance. The effect of ginseng on nurses in a London hospital in another experiment was similar. An often quoted work by the American scientist Siegal, entitled Ginseng Abuse Syndrome (GAS), apparently compromising the safety of ginseng has recently been demonstrated to have little or no foundation.

American ginseng (Panax quinquifolium) is considered by the Chinese to be less stimulating and warming than then own indigenous variety. It contains some but not all of the same ginsenosides. San Qi ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng) is probably the most important wound-healing herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia. It has been used success fully, to treat angina pectoris. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus sentiocosus) is reputed to have similar properties to oriental ginseng.


Asclepias tuberosa

Pleurisy root

Canada root, flux root, orange swallow-wort, tuber root, white root, windroot, milkweed, butterfly weed

h 24 ins (60 cm)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Glycosides including asclepiadin, and possibly cardiac glycosides; volatile oil, resins.

Main uses Medical Wide range of respiratory complaints, specifically pleurisy. Formerly official to the United States Pharmacopeia.

This plant was revered as a healer by the North American Indians and called after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepias, by American doctors because of its power to save lives. Its powerful sweat-inducing and expectorant properties have ensured that it continues to be used for colds, flu, and respiratory problems.

CAUTION The fresh root may cause nausea and vomiting.

Piscidia erythrina

Jamaican dogwood

Fish-poison tree, fish fuddle

Parts used Bark.

Constituents Alkaloid, glycosides (piscidin, jamaicin, icthyone); flavonoids; plant acids; a saponin; glycoside; tannin.

Main uses Medical Insomnia, neuralgia, toothache, spasmodic dysmenorrhoea.

In South America, the pounded leaves and young branches of this tree are used to stupefy fish so they can easily be caught. But the chemicals in the plant are only poisonous to cold-blooded creatures. Its toxicity has been reported low in most animals and an extract of the plant has been shown to be sedative in cats. It also has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle. The main herbal use is as a sedative and painkiller. It is useful to treat insomnia, neuralgia and menstrual cramping. Scientific reports also indicate that Jamaican dogwood can calm the cough reflex and reduce fevers, which provides two further therapeutic possibilities.


Berberis vulgaris


Jaundice berry, pepperidge bush

h 7 ft (2 m)

Parts used Bark, fruit.

Constituents Alkaloids (including berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, palmatine, isotetrandine, bervulcine and magnoflorine), tannin, resin, fat, starch.

Main uses Medical Stimulate the liver and gall bladder, and as a digestive tonic.

Barberry bark contains many active alkaloids, useful to the medical herbalist. The alkaloids berberine, oxyacanthine, and columbamine are all strongly antibacterial. Berberine may also have antiviral properties and research shows that it dilates the arteries so lowering blood pressure as well as being anticonvulsant. It has been successfully used to treat Leishmaniasis (infections transmitted by sandfly). It is also effective in treating cholera.

CAUTION This herb should not be used during pregnancy as the alkaloid berberine stimulates the uterus.

Caulophyllum thalictroides

Blue cohosh

Squaw root, papoose root, blue ginseng, yellow ginseng

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Root and rhizome.

Constituents Alkaloids, cystine (caulophylline), baptifoline, anagyrine, laburnine. Also caulosaponin, resins.

Main uses Medical For suppressed periods with cramping pain; labour pains; arthritis; stomach cramps.

It is sometimes said that blue cohosh should not be used during pregnancy, but this was not the experience of North American Indian women who drank the tea a few weeks before childbirth to make the birth process swift and easy, nor of experienced North American doctors in the Eclectic or Physiomedical herbal tradition who used it to counter restlessness and pain during pregnancy and to reduce labour pains. Blue cohosh eases the cramping pain of dysmenorrhoea. It has also been used to treat arthritis and ease stomach cramps.

CAUTION The herb should not be used during pregnancy, or where there is high blood pressure or heart disease. The seeds are poisonous.

Mahonia aquifolium (also known as Berberis aquifolium)

Oregon grape root

Mountain grape, Rocky Mountain grape, holly leaved barberry

h to 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Root and rhizome.

Constituents Alkaloids (berberine, berbamine, oxyacanthine, and berbamine).

Main uses Medical Liver and gallbladder complaints and chronic skin disease.

Oregon grape root has a considerable reputation as a blood purifier, cleansing the tissues and blood of toxins and waste products. Its bitter components stimulate the liver and gallbladder and are tonic to the digestion and mildly laxative. It is used for skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, and cold sores.

CAUTION Like barberry bark and golden seal which also contain the alkaloid berberine, this herb should not be used during pregnancy.


Betula alba (plus B. pendula, B. verrucosa)

White birch

Silver birch, paper birch

h to 65 ft (20 m)

Parts used Leaves, bark, oil, sap.

Constituents Buds: volatile oil which includes the camphor-like betulin. Young leaves: rich in saponins; also a flavonoid derivative, hyperoside resin, tannins, sesquiterpenes, betuloventic acid, vitamin C. Bark: betulinol and a glycoside.

Main uses Culinary Sap in wine or vinegar; used as a sweetening agent. Medical Fluid retention, arthritis, gout, urinary stones or infections.

The graceful birch has been immensely useful to northern peoples. They have made wheels, hoops for casks, brooms and switches from its wood.

The sap, preserved with cloves and cinnamon, was once taken to treat skin diseases like acne as well as rheumatism and gout.

Birch-leaf tea is a powerful diuretic capable of dissolving kidney and bladder stones. It also kills off harmful bacteria in the kidneys and urinary tract. To obtain the full diuretic effect herbalists add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the infusion which promotes the extraction of the diuretic hyperoside. The leaves also have a substantial reputation for treating rheumatism, arthritis, and gout.

Birch leaves can be used to treat fluid retention due to heart or kidney malfunction. In addition the tea lowers blood cholesterol levels and stimulates the flow of bile. A decoction of the bark has been used to allay intermittent fevers. Oil extracted from the buds or bark has been used externally in lotions to treat psoriasis and eczema. This oil should not be confused with sweet birch oil which is extracted from black birch (Betula lenta) native to North America.


Borago officinalis


Bugloss, burage

24x20 ins (60x50 cm)

Parts used Leaves, flowers, seed; cultivation.

Constituents Mucilage, tannin, essential oil, potassium, calcium, pyrrolizioline alkaloids.

Main uses Culinary Flowers to flavour summer wine cups; young leaves pickled. Medical Coughs, depression.

Borage is a plant which deserves more medical research. Folk use suggests a variety of medicinal properties, a potential which has lately been endorsed by the discovery of high levels of gamma linoleic acid in the seeds. This is useful in many disorders.

The ancients extolled the virtues of borage, pointing out its ability to counter melancholic states. Pliny repeats an ancient verse "I, Borage always bring courage". The seventeenth-century diarist, John Evelyn, wrote that borage was "of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student". This use suggests a supportive effect on the adrenal glands which may well be the case since comfrey, a close relative, has been shown to affect the sex hormones which stimulate the ovaries and testes. Such a hormonal effect is also indicated by the traditional belief that the leaves and seeds of borage could increase the milk supply of nursing mothers.

Borage is also sweat-inducing in hot infusion, making it a good remedy for colds and flu, especially when these affect the lungs because it is also a good cough remedy.

This plant is also a useful culinary herb. The leaves have a taste reminiscent of cucumber.

CAUTION Avoid excessive consumption.

Pulmonaria officinalis


Beggar's basket, Jerusalem cowslip, Jerusalem sage, maple lungwort

12x14 ins (30x35 cm)

Parts used Dried flowering plant; cultivation.

Constituents Mucilage, saponin, allantoin, tannin, silica, potassium, iron, and other mineral salts.

Main uses Medical Bronchitis and other lung complaints.

The names of this plant reflect its use in the treatment of respiratory disorders. The speckled appearance of the leaf, thought to resemble a lung, convinced adherents of the Doctrine of Signatures that the plant was a specific for the brags. In fact they were on the right track, since the plant is a soothing expectorant. The silica it contains restores the elasticity of the lungs. It reduces bronchial mucus. The tannin it contains makes it suitable for treating haemorrhoids, and the tannin and alantoin content explains its extensive folk use for wounds.

Symphytum officinale


Knitbone, boneset, bruisewort, consormol, knitback

40x30 ins (100x80 cm)

Parts used Fresh or dried roots or leaves.

Constituents Mucilage, allantoin (up to 0.8%), tannins, resin, essential oil, pyrrolizioline alkaloids, gum, carotene, glycosides, sugars, beta-sitosterol and steroidal saponins, triterpenoids, vitamin B12, protein (up to 35%), zinc.

Main uses Culinary Fresh leaves and shoots as vegetable or salad. Medical Fractures, bruises and burns (external); respiratory and digestive disorders.

Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to allantoin, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone, and cartilage, and is easily absorbed through the skin. Recent American research has also shown that comfrey breaks down red blood cells, a finding that supports its use for bruises, hence its country name, bruisewort. Comfrey is also useful externally as a poultice for varicose ulcers and as a compress for varicose veins. It also alleviates and heals minor burns.

Comfrey has always been a traditional remedy for gastric ulcers, and work at a London teaching hospital has shown that it inhibits a prostaglandin that causes inflammation of the stomach lining. Comfrey is also traditionally used to treat colitis. It is a useful remedy for bronchitis and other respiratory disorders.

In 1968, Japanese scientists first reported the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey. Subsequent Australian research found these alkaloids in several plants of the Borage family and reported that rats fed with up to 33% of comfrey leaf in their diet suffered liver cancer. But one of the few investigations using the whole plant has shown that it is not carcinogenic but the very opposite. Moreover, Japanese doctors recommend a vinegar extract of the herb for cirrhosis of the liver.

Several studies have found that comfrey can influence the sex hormones (note its steroidal saponin content) which stimulates the ovaries and testes. Gerard, prescribing comfrey for back pain, noted that it caused "involuntary flowing of the seed in men".

CAUTION In view of the controversy about the plant, avoid excessive consumption of comfrey.


Commiphora molmol


Parts used Gum-resin.

Constituents Volatile oil, about 8%, (containing heerabolene, limonene, dipentene, pinene, eugenol, cinamaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, etc), resins, up to 40% (including commiphoric acids), gum (about 50%).

Main uses Medical Sore throats and infected gums; thrush (Candida albicans); athlete's foot.

Since ancient times myrrh has been the herbalist's cleansing agent, countering putrefaction and poisons throughout the body. Its antifungal, antiseptic and astringent action makes it a major ingredient of gargles and mouthwashes, and a useful agent for treating thrush (Candida albicans) and athlete's foot. It also stimulates the circulation and is expectorant.


Traditionally defined as the dried seeds of certain plants, and widely known for their culinary properties, spices are most familiar in the West in their dried form. This is because most are native to tropical regions or to the far east, although some will grow in North America and northern Europe. Because of the strong association of spices with certain types of flavours, a few non-seed parts of some plants, such as ginger roots and coriander leaves, are also included in the photograph. You will also find prepared spices such as ground and powdered seeds and roots and cinnamon sticks. Most of these plants are valued for important medical applications as well as for their culinary uses.

Commiphora opobalsamum

Balm of Gilead

Long prized for its sweet smell, the resin of this tree was the Queen of Sheba's gift to Solomon. Today, buds of Populus candicans, below, are used in its place.

Populus candicans (Salicaceae)

Balm of Gilead

Part used Leaf buds.

Constituents Volatile oil, up to 2% (including cineole, bisabolene, bisabolol and humulene), resins, palicin and populin, phenolic acids.

Main uses Medical Chest infections, sore throats.

Modern Balm of Gilead, Populus candicans, is used for its antibacterial and expectorant actions, his excellent for chest infections and for sore throats (as a gargle). Salicin, a major constituent of this plant, is a painkiller, while bisabolol in the oil reduces inflammation and is antimicrobial. Balm of Gilead ointment eases rheumatic pain. Not to be confused with false Balm of Gilead, a garden plant.


Lobelia inflata


Indian tobacco, asthma weed, pukeweed

28x12 ins (70x30 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Alkaloids (lobeline, isolobinine, lobelanidine, lobinaline), a bitter glycoside (lobelacrin), a pungent volatile oil (labelianin), resin, gum, fats, chelidonic acid.

Main uses Medical Asthma, whooping cough. Muscle spasm, sprains.

Lobelia, once a famous North American Indian remedy, was adopted by the Physiomedical school of herbalists as its major relaxant remedy. They used it to treat pain caused by spasm, which it does by relaxing the tissues rather than producing a narcotic effect like opium. It is most useful in asthma and bronchitis because it is also expectorant.

One of the plant's main alkaloids, lobeline, stimulates the respiratory system, whilst isolobinine is a respiratory relaxant. Lobeline is reported to have many of the pharmacological properties of nicotine, first stimulating the central nervous system and then subsequently strongly depressing it. The North American Indians smoked it instead of tobacco, but today it is sometimes used to help tobacco withdrawal symptoms. Lobelia plasters and liniments are used to treat sprains, muscle spasms and bruises because of the plant's relaxing and stimulating effect. It is also good for insect bites, poisonivy irritation, and ringworm.

Blue lobelia (L. siphilitica) is used in homeopathy for diarrhoea. RESTRICTED


Humulus lupulus


h up to 20 ft (6 m)

Parts used Dried female strobiles.

Constituents Volatile oil, up to 1%, (comprising mostly humulene, myrcene, B-caryophyllene and farnescene), plus over 100 other compounds including geraniol, linalool, citral, linionene and serolidol; also a bitter resin complex (3-12%) which includes valeronic acid, lumulone, and lupulone. The oil and bitter resins together are known as lupulin. In addition, condensed tannins; flavonoid glycosides (astralagin, quercitrin, rutin); fats; amino acids and oestrogenic substances; asparagin.

Main uses Medical Insomnia, nervous tension, gastrointestinal spasm.

Observing the tendency of hops to intertwine around willows and other trees, Pliny called the plant "willow wolf" from which it gained its Latin name lupulus. Although the use of hops in brewing was known since Roman times, their widespread introduction was resisted, particularly in England, until the 17th century. During the reign of Henry VIII, parliament was petitioned against the hop as "a wicked weed that would spoil the taste of the drink and endanger the people". After the introduction of hops into brewing, the drink flavoured in the old way with plants such as costmary and ground ivy was known as ale, while that brewed with hops was given the German name "bier".

Hops have been used as a medicine for at least as long as for brewing. The flowers are famous for their sleep-inducing sedative effect, whether drunk as a tea or slept on as a hop pillow (probably due to the valeronic acid, resin and oil). The volatile oils released while sleeping on a hop pillow probably affect the brain directly through its olfactory centre.

Modern research shows that hop extracts relax smooth muscle, especially that of the digestive tract. Hops are therefore used in combination with other herbs to treat such disorders as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and nervous stomach. The ability of hops to relax and soothe is complemented by the antibacterial activity of components lupulone and humulone, which reduce inflammation, and the plant's overall bitter-tonic effect Thus hops can allay infection of the upper digestive tract which may play a significant role in provoking gastric and duodenal ulcers.

Female hop pickers can suffer disruption or complete absence of menstruation due to the absorption of the oil through their hands. This is due to the oestrogenic principles in hops, and accounts for its traditional anaphrodisiac effect in men. The hormonal properties of hops probably account for its use in skin creams and lotions, marketed for their alleged skin-softening properties. The asparagin in the plant gives it some diuretic effect.

CAUTION The pollen from the strobiles may cause contact dermatitis. Because of their sedative effect, hops are not recommended in the treatment of depressive illness.


Lonicera periclymenum


h variable.

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Mucilage, glucoside, salicylic acid, invertin.

Main uses General For its scent. Medical For skin infections.

This sweet-smelling shrub was once used extensively in medicine but is now valued mainly for its perfume. There are many different species, most of which are prized by gardeners for their fragrance. They include L. caprifolium, the Italian honeysuckle, L. tartarica, from Siberia, and L. xylosteum from Asia and eastern Europe.

Sambucus nigra


European elder, black elder, common elder, bore tree

h 10 ft (3.5 m)

Parts used Flowers, berries.

Constituents Flowers: small quantity of essential oil (containing palmitic, linoleic, and linolenic acids), triterpenes, flavonoids (including rutin), also pectin, mucilage, sugar. Berries: sugar, fruit acids, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, Leaves: cyanogenic glycosides, vitamins, tannins, resins, fats, sugars, fatty acids.

Main uses General In eye and skin lotions. Culinary Flowers and berries used in wines, cordials, desserts, and lams. Medical Colds, flu, catarrh.

The elder is one of our most widely useful plants. The flowers are sweat-inducing in hot infusion (bioflavonoids in the plant encourage the circulation) and combined with yarrow and mint are specific for the treatment of colds and flu. Elderflowers also reduce bronchial and upper-respiratory catarrh and are used to treat hayfever. Externally a cold infusion of the flowers may be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and as a compress for chilblains. Elderflower ointment can be used for irritation of the skin and chilblains. A gargle made from elderflower infusion or elderflower vinegar alleviates tonsillitis and sore throats. Elderflowers have a mild laxative action and in Europe have a reputation for treating rheumatism and gout. The berries are mildly laxative and sweat-inducing, and simmered with sugar, make a winter cordial for coughs and colds.

CAUTION Elder leaves, roots, and bark should not be used internally.

Viburnum opulus


Guelder rose, highbush cranberry, snowball tree

h 13 ft (4 m)

Parts used Stem bark.

Constituents Bitter resin (viburnin), valeric acid, salicosides, tannin.

Main uses Medical Cramps.

Crampbark is an excellent muscle and nervous relaxant good for cramping pains. It is particularly useful for easing painful periods and the cramping pains of pregnancy (it is used to prevent miscarriage for which it is often combined with black haw). Like black haw, crampbark is also used by herbalists to prevent excessive menstrual flow at the menopause.

CAUTION The fresh berries are poisonous.

Viburnum prunifolium

Black haw

Stagbush, sweet viburnum

h 16 ft (5 ft)

Parts used Root bark.

Constituents Scopoletin, bitter principle (viburnin), triterpenoid saponins, salicosides, resin, plant acids (including valeric acid), tannin, arbutin.

Main uses Medical Menstrual pains.

This is primarily a women's herb, often combined with crampbark: Scopoletin (a coumarin) in the plant has been identified as a uterine relaxant. It is an excellent remedy for menstrual cramping, and is used by herbalists in helping to prevent miscarriage, and to prevent excessive flow at the menopause.


Saponaria officinalis


Bouncing Bet, fuller's herb

16x24 ins (40x60 cm)

Parts used Rhizome; cultivation.

Constituents Saponins.

Main uses General Cleansing preparations. Medical Skin conditions.

Both the Latin and common names indicate a traditional use of this plant in washing. It was especially useful in the textile trades for cleaning cloth. This and the medicinal properties of soapwort are due to the hormone-like saponins it contains, which lower the surface tension of water and produce a lather. Within the body, these saponins are mildly irritant to the respiratory and digestive systems. Thus soapwort is expectorant and laxative in small doses (see Caution). It has an ancient reputation used both internally and externally for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, boils, and acne. Its use for gout and rheumatism is probably effective because of the anti-inflammatory property of its saponins. Soapwort is also said to increase the flow of bile.

CAUTION In large doses soapwort is a strong purgative and even mildly poisonous, so it should only be used as prescribed by a qualified herbalist.

Stellaria media


h 4-16 ins (10-40 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Saponins, mucilage.

Main uses Culinary In salads and, lightly boiled, as a vegetable. Medical Skin diseases.

Chickweed has similar uses to soapwort but is safer to use internally, Its main use, however, is external as a poultice or ointment for skin irritation and inflammation as well as for skin ulcers. Boils, carbuncles, and abscesses respond well to a poultice. Internally chickweed has a reputation for treating rheumatism and bronchitis.


Achillea millefolium


Nosebleed, millefoil, thousandleaf

h 3-24 ins (8-60 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts, especially the flowering heads.

Constituents Up to 1.4% volatile oil (composed of up to 51% azulene; borneol, terpineol, camphor, cineole, isoartemesia ketone, and a trace of thujone), lactones, flavonoids, tannins, coumarins, saponins, sterols, a bitter glycoalkaloid (achilleine), cyanidin, amino acids, acids (including salicylic acid), sugars (including glucose, sucrose and mannitol).

Main uses General In skin cleansers. Medical Colds and flu; digestive tonic; wound healing.

Yarrow is one of the best-known herbal remedies for fevers. A hot infusion induces a therapeutic sweat which cools fevers and expels toxins. Like all sweat-inducing remedies, yarrow encourages blood flow to the skin and this helps to lower blood pressure, an action which is also due to the flavonoids in the plant which dilate the peripheral arteries. The flavonoids also help to clear blood clots. The alkaloid in yarrow has been reported to lower blood pressure; the cyanidin influences the vagus nerve, slowing the heart beat.

Tannins in the plant are probably responsible for yarrow's reputation as a wound healer, hence its country name nosebleed. Its Latin name is derived from a legend that Achilles used varrow's wound-healing powers on his men. Yarrow is good for all kinds of bleeding, external and internal. It can be used internally for bleeding piles but conversely it can also be used to treat absent periods.

Yarrow also has anti-inflammatory properties, a fact which has been confirmed by medical research which suggests that this is due to a mixture of protein carbohydrate complexes in the plant. We know too that both cyanidin and azulene are anti-inflammatory, as is salicylic acid. This may account for the folk use of yarrow in treating rheumatism.

In China, yarrow is used fresh as a poultice for healing wounds. A decoction of the whole plant is prescribed for stomach ulcers, amenorrhoea, and abscesses.

CAUTION Taking yarrow orally may cause sensitivity to sunlight in some people.

Arctium lappa


Great burdock, great bur, clotbur, cocklebur, beggars buttons, lappa, cockle buttons

h 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Fresh or dried roots, leaves, seeds.

Constituents Root: up to 50% inulin, polyacetylenes, volatile acids (acetic, proprionic, butyric, isovaleric), non-hydroxyl acids (lauric, myristic, stearic, palmitic), tannin, polyphenolic acids. Seeds: 15-30% fixed oils, a bitter glycoside (arctiin), chlorogenic acid. Leaves: arctiol, fukinone, taraxasterol.

Main uses Culinary Dandelion and burdock bitter; candied stalks; root as vegetable. Medical Skin disorders (eg boils and acne), arthritis.

Burdock purifies and cleanses the tissues and blood and for this reason should be used gently over a period of time. The whole plant has mild diuretic, sweat-reducing, and laxative properties. It is prescribed for skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Burdock has an anti-microbial action which has been attributed to the polyacetylenes in the plant. This explains its reputation for treating skin eruptions such as boils and acne. Its antimicrobial property, together with its diuretic action, also makes it useful for treating cystitis. Old-time North American herbalists particularly valued the seeds to treat skin problems, while in China the seeds are used to treat the eruptions of measles, sore throats, tonsillitis, colds, and flu. The roots and leaves can also be used to treat rheumatism and gout because they encourage the elimination of uric acid via the kidneys. The bitter taste of burdock is tonic to the digestive system; the leaves are said to stimulate the secretion of bile.

Research has shown that the seeds can lower blood sugar in rats. In France, the fresh root is also used for lowering blood sugar, its inulin content making it particularly suitable for diabetes. Burdock leaves are useful externally as a poultice for bruises and skin problems. A lotion of the leaves or root massaged into the scalp is good for falling hair. Finally, all parts of the burdock plant have a reputation for curing cancers.

Arnica montana


Wolf's bane, mountain tobacco, mountain daisy

h 12-24 ins (30-60 cm)

Parts used Dried flowers or extract. Homeopathic ointments and other preparations available.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing thymol), resins, a bitter principle (arnicin), carotenoids, flavonoids.

Main uses Medical Bruises and sprains.

Arnica is both a famous herbal and homeopathic remedy for wounds, bruises, and other injuries of all kinds. Arnica extract has been reported to increase the resistance of animals to bacterial infection by stimulating the action of white blood cells to clear away harmful bacteria. It has for instance been shown to be effective against salmonella. It also has a reputation used internally for reducing fevers. Goethe claimed this remedy saved his life when he was struck down with an otherwise uncontrollable high fever. Arnica also appears to stimulate the heart and circulation and cause reabsorption of internal bleeding.

CAUTION External use of this herb may cause skin rash or irritation in some people. Do bot apply to broken or sensitive skin. Arnica shoul not be used internally except in its homeopathic form.

Artemisia absinthium


Green ginger

h 2-3 ft (60-90 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil (mainly composed of thujone, but also other compounds including chamazulene), bitter principle (absinthum), carotene, vitamin C, tannins.

Main uses Medical Bitter tonic, expels worms.

One of the bitterest plants, wormwood was once used to flavour absinthe, a drink which has been banned in its native France since 1915 because too much of it causes incurable damage to the nervous system. Today, wormwood is used mainly as a bitter tonic, stimulating the appetite, the digestive juices, peristalsis and the liver and gallbladder. True to its name it also expels worms, especially round and threadworms. The azulenes in the plant are anti-inflammatory and reduce fevers. The Latin name comes from the Greek goddess Artemis, who took care of women during childbirth. In ancient times this was a favourite women's herb, bringing on periods, though it is not used in this way today.

CAUTION Wormwood is classified as dangerous by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Artemisiia dracunculus


h 2 ft (60 cm)

Parts used Fresh or dried leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Essential oil.

Main uses Culinary Sauces; fines herbes; dressings and green salads; in vinegars; with cooked chicken.

Tarragon was formerly used in the treatment of toothache. But its most important property, its distinctive, appetizing taste, has assured it a lasting role as a culinary herb -- especially in French cuisine.


Artemisia vulgaris


Moxa, St John's herb

h 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil, bitter principle (absinthin), flavonoids tannin.

Main uses Medical To regulate menstruation.

Used by women since ancient times, in the west mugwort is held to provoke delayed or absent periods, and is therefore said to be contra-indicated in pregnancy. In China, however, it has been used to prevent miscarriage. Mugwort helps to regulate periods and stop pain and like wormwood was used externally as a compress to speed up the birth process and to help expel the afterbirth. Like wormwood, it also activates the digestive process and stimulates the liver. ln China, in the form of moxa, it is burnt on or near the skin to alleviate rheumatic pains caused by cold and damp. Both in China and Europe it is also used externally to treat rheumatism and gout.

CAUTION Mugwort's use during pregnancy should be avoided except as prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner. Avoid prolonged use and large doses.

Chrysanthemum balsamita



h up to 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Flowers.

Constituents Volatile oil.

Main uses Culinary As salad; to flavour cakes; with poultry; in beers.

Used in the Middle Ages to flavour beers (hence its name alecost), costmary is now used less frequently in foods and drinks, although its balsam-like fragrance and digestive properties make it a useful culinary herb. A once-popular use of the sweet-smelling leaves was to scent rinsing water for the hair, or bath water.

Calendula officialis


Cichorium intybus


Wild succory, blue sailors

60x20 ins (150x50 cm)

Parts used Fresh roots and leaves.

Constituents Root and aerial parts produce a latex. Root: inulin (around 58 %), a bitter compound (comprising lactucin and lactucopictin also known as intybin), cichoriin and taraxasterol, tannins, sugars, (fructose), pectin, fixed oils, small amounts of two alkaloids. Aerial parts: inulin, fructos, resin, cichoriin, esculetin.

Main uses Culinary Young leaves as salad; roasted root as coffee substitute. Medical As a digestive tonic and for anaemia; for gallstones; for rheumatism and gout.

Chicory resembles the dandelion in its medicinal action. It is a gentle but effective bitter tonic which increases the flow of bile. It is also a specific remedy for gallstones and for this reason Galen called it "friend of the liver". Like dandelion, it also has diuretic properties and can be used for treating rheumatism and gout, because it eliminates uric acid from the body. Research has shown that an alcoholic extract of the whole plant has an anti-inflammatory activity in rats and may be useful for treating rapid heart beat, heart arrhythmics, and fibrillations, since it mimics the action of one of the alkaloids in cinchona, quinidine, in depressing the heart rate. Chicory also significantly lowers blood sugar, while a sesquiterpene extracted from the roasted root has anti-bacterial activities.

Roast chicory root can be drunk as a coffee substitute or mixed with coffee. The freshly boiled roots are still eaten in the Middle East. The leaves can be used in salads.

Cnicus benedictus (also known as Carduus benedictus)

Blessed thistle

Holy thistle, St. Benedict thistle, spotted thistle

h 27 ins (70 cm)

Parts used Root, aerial parts and seeds.

Constituents Bitter compound (cnicine), alkaloids, mucilage, tannin, small amount of essential oil.

Main uses Culinary Boiled root as vegetable. Medical Digestive tonic; to increase the flow of breast milk.

Because of its bitter taste, blessed thistle is used as a digestive tonic which stimulates the liver, increasing gastric and bile secretions. It also is reputed to increase the flow of mother's milk. It is diuretic and induces sweating. Used as a poultice or compress, the plant has a reputation for curing chilblains.

CAUTION Strong infusions may be emetic and cause diarrhoea.

Cynara scolymus

Globe artichoke

h 3-6 ft (1-2 m)

Parts used Flower heads, leaves, root

Constituents A bitter principle (cynarin and sesquiterpene lactones), flavonoids including scolymoside, inulin, cynaropictin and several enzymes, taraxasterol, sugars, and a volatile oil.

Main uses Culinary Flower heads as vegetable. Medical Liver and kidney complaints; arteriosclerosis.

The flower heads of this plant are a common vegetable, but the rest of the plant provides excellent herbal medicine. Two components, cynarin and scolymoside, have been shown to stimulate bile secretion which accords with the traditional use of this remedy for treating sluggish livers and debilitated digestions, Cynarin has also been demonstrated to lower both cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood which explains why in Europe the plant is widely used to treat arteriosclerosis. The herb is also diuretic, and is used to treat kidney diseases and protein in the urine.

Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpura, E. pallida

Purple coneflower

Black samson, echinacea, rudbeckia, Missouri snakeroot

18x12 ins (45x30 cm)

Parts used Dried root and rhizome.

Constituents Essential oil (including humulene and caryophylene), glycoside, polysaccharide, polyacetylenes, isobutylalklamines, resin, betain, inulin, sesquiterpene.

Main uses Medical Immune enhancer; for skin diseases and general infections.

A herb valued by North American Indians and frontiersmen of the USA, purple coneflower became a famed remedy for snake bite and for cleansing and healing suppurative wounds. Today herbalists regard it as one of the finest blood cleansers, especially for skin problems, such as boils and abscesses, associated with impure blood.

This herb is also an excellent remedy for tonsillitis, inflamed gums, and for mucus in the nose, sinuses, lungs, and digestive tract. Externally the plant is used to treat wounds or ulcers, where it reduces putrefaction and pain. A wash of purple coneflower can help relieve the unbearable itching of urticaria and this treatment is also good for stings and bites. The antibiotic effect of the plant has been scientifically verified.

Purple coneflower has a deserved reputation for enhancing the immune system. Research shows that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, which fight infection, and that the polysaccharide has an anti-viral activity. For this reason, the plant may be useful in treating viral infections such as glandular fever (mononucleosis) and post-viral syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis). There is also evidence to show that it is helpful for allergies.

Eupatorium perfoliatum


Feverwort, agueweed, thoroughwort

h 2-5 ft (60 cm-1.5 m)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Flavonoids (including quercetin, kaempferol, rutin and eupatorin), terpenoids (including sesquiterpene lactones), volatile oil, resin.

Main uses Medical Colds and flu; digestive tonic.

This was one of the common North American Indian remedies quickly adopted by white settlers in America.

Calendula officinalis


Marybud, bull's eyes

h 20 ins (50 cm)

Parts used Flowers. Cultivation.

Constituents Carotenoids, resin, essential oil, flavonoids, sterol, bitter principle, saponins, mucilage.

Main uses General Skin creams. Culinary Dye for butter or cheese; leaves in salads; tea. Medical First aid, ulcers, painful periods.

Marigold, in the same family as arnica, displays many of its wound-healing properties. It is antiseptic and antibacterial promoting healing so that a compress or poultice of the flowers is excellent first aid for burns, scalds, stings and impetigo. A compress is useful to treat varicose veins and chilblains, while a cold infusion may be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis. Marigolds are also antifungal and so can help to cure thrush (Candida albicans). The sap from the stem has a reputation for removing warts, corns and callouses. Marigold flowers are an excellent remedy for inflamed or ulcerated conditions, whether used externally as in varicose ulcers (use a poultice) or internally to treat gastritis, gastric, or duodenal ulcers. It is a useful digestive remedy because it stimulates the flow of bile. Marigolds are called after the Virgin Mary, a fact which may be connected with the ability of marigold infusions to allay painful menstruation and bring on delayed periods.

CAUTION Avoid during pregnancy.

Tanacetum parthenium


h 2-3 ft (60-90 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Sesquiterpene lactones (including parthenolide and santamarine), volatile oil, tannins.

Main uses Medical Headaches and migraines, arthritis.

Feverfew is one of a handful of medicinal plants to be thoroughly scientifically investigated. In 1978 several British newspapers carried the story of a woman who had cured her severe migraine headaches with feverfew leaves. In a subsequent clinical study, seven out of ten patients taking feverfew claimed that their migraine attacks were less frequent or less painful or both. In about one in three patients, there were no further attacks. Further clinical studies have revealed that the plant can have other medicinal benefits, apparently allaying nausea and vomiting, relieving the inflammation and pain of arthritis, promoting restful sleep, improving digestion, and relieving asthma attacks. Researchers believe that sesquiterpene lactones in the plant may inhibit prostaglandins and histamine released during the inflammatory process, so preventing spasms of blood vessels in the head that trigger migraine attacks. Over half the feverfew users involved in clinical studies reported pleasant side effects. Some people said that feverfew helped their depression. This is in line with traditional use. Culpeper wrote that feverfew in wine might help those "troubled with melancholy and heaviness or sadness of spirits".

CAUTION One side-effect associated with feverfew is mouth ulcers. If this occurs, stop taking the herb.

Its common name, boneset, alludes to its use in treating a virulent form of flu in the USA which was called "break bone fever". Boneset in hot infusion is also an excellent remedy for colds and catarrh. It is also used to treat cases of muscular rheumatism caused by exposure to cold and damp. It is useful for stomach disorders of nervous origin. A tincture of the plant has also been demonstrated to have a weak anti-inflammatory effect. In hot infusion, boneset promotes a therapeutic sweat in fevers. Its stimulation of the peripheral circulation which causes sweating, is probably due to the flavonoids and the essential oil that the plant contains.

Taken in small doses as a tincture or in cold infusion, the remedy has a tonic action on the digestion, but if taken in large doses it can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

Recent research indicates that the several sesquiterpene lactones in the plant and the flavones in both boneset and gravel root (below) may have an anti-cancer activity.

Eupatorium purpureum

Gravel root

Joe-pye weed, queen of the meadow, purple boneset, kidneywort, trumpet weed, gravel weed

120x24 ins (300x60 cm)

Parts used Rhizome and roots.

Constituents Flavonoids (including eupatorin), volatile oil, resin.

Main uses Medical Kidney and urinary infections and stones; prostate inflammation; pelvic inflammatory disease; painful periods: rheumatism and gout.

This diuretic herb is used to treat urinary infections and stones (gravel). It tones the reproductive tract and is used to treat inflammation of the prostate, pelvic inflammatory disease and menstrual cramping. It encourages excretion of excess uric acid and so treats rheumatism and gout. For possible anti-cancer activity see Boneset.

Grindelia camporum


Gumplant, tarweed, rosinweed

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Resin (around 20%), volatile oil, saponins (including grindelin), alkaloid, tannins, selenium.

Main uses Medical Asthma and bronchitis.

Grindelia is antispasmodic and expectorant, and particularly valuable for treating asthma and bronchitis because of its ability to relax the bronchi and expel phlegm from the airways. It should be used regularly in small doses. Grindelia slows a rapid heart rate and its antispasmodic effect also extends to the arteries so that it tends to lower blood pressure. It may also be used in asthma of cardiac origin. Grindelia can be used to relieve hayfever. Externally it is soothing to insect bites and for poison-ivy rash.

CAUTION Large doses are toxic. Use as directed by a qualified practitioner.

Inula helenium


Scabwort, yellow starwort, wild sunflower

120x40 ins (300x100 cm)

Parts used Root and rhizome; in Chinese herbal medicine the flowers are preferred; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil up to 4% including alantolactone, isoalantalactone and azulene), inulin (up to 44%), sterols, resin, pectin, mucilage.

Main uses Culinary To flavour bitter digestive liqueurs and vermouths; candied and used in confectionery. Medical Respiratory disorders; digestive tonic.

Elecampane's Latin name comes from Helen of Troy, from whose tears it is said to have sprung. The story is perhaps a clue to ancient use of this plant, because it promotes menstruation and is good for treating anaemia. However, the main use of the plant is for the respiratory system. In former times, it was a specific for TB. Recent research on 105 plant lactones found that the alantolactone and isoalantolactone in elecampane were powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents. Today the warming and expectorant elecampane is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, and other pulmonary infections. Its bitter tonic properties stimulate and regulate disordered or weak digestions increasing the flow of bile. Alantolactone in the plant expels worms and the plant has long been used externally for scabies, herpes and other skin diseases from which it gained its country name scabwort. Other scientific research indicates that elecampane has a sedative effect on mice.

Lactuca virosa

Wild lettuce

h 5 ft (1.5 m)

Parts used Dried leaves.

Constituents Bitter latex (containing lactucin, lactucone, lactupicrin), a trace of an alkaloid, triterpenes, iron, vitamins A, B1, B2, and C.

Main uses General In soaps, shampoo, and bath bags. Culinary Relaxing tea. Medical Insomnia, anxiety, irritating coughs.

A wild relative of the garden lettuce, this plant contains a potent milky latex, sometimes called "lettuce opium" because it looks and to some extent acts like that extracted from the poppy. Lettuce latex has been used in cough mixtures to replace opium. The whole plant is sedative, and helps to induce sleep and calm restlessness and anxiety. It has a sedative effect on the respiratory system too, and is used for treating whooping cough and nervous and dry irritating coughs. It can also help to reduce muscle and joint pain but is not a cure for conditions that cause this.

CAUTION Overdosage may cause poisoning.

Matricaria chamomilla

German chamomile

24x4 ins (60x10 cm)

Parts used Dried flowers; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing chamazulene, farnesene, bisabolol), flavonoids (including rutin and quercimertrin), coumarins (including umbelliferone), plant acids (including valerianic acid), fatty acids, cyanogenic glycosides, salicylate derivatives, polysaccharides, choline, amino acids, tannin.

Main uses Medical Insomnia, anxiety, digestive problems of nervous origin.

Modern research substantiates the use of chamomile as a remedy for a broad range of complaints. Chamomile flowers contain a beautiful blue volatile oil (azulene). Two of its components, bisabolol and chamazule, are powerful antiseptics. Chamazulene relieves pain, encourages wound healing, is anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Applied externally it promotes the recovery of burns and soothes eczema. A recent study shows that bisabolol speeds up the healing of ulcers and can prevent them occurring. In addition, bisabolol has also been shown to be anti-microbial. Another constituent, belliferone, has anti-fungal properties. This and chamazulene have been shown to be effective against thrush (Candida albicans) and tests using chamazulene showed it to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

The tea has a sedative action, inducing sleep. In one American hospital, chamomile tea given to a group of 12 patients put ten of them to sleep within ten minutes. Herbalists use the relaxing effect of chamomile tea for restless or hyperactive children and in small amounts for teething babies. It can work in the same way by adding a strong infusion to bath water.

Chamomile is a famous remedy for digestive upsets, flatulence, heartburn, and diarrhoea. A German study shows that it acts on the smooth muscle of the intestine and uterus to relax spasms. So as well as for digestive problems, herbalists sometimes use this plant to relieve painful menstruation and for premenstrual migraines.

The extracted oil diluted in a vegetable oil, rubbed on to the affected part, eases the pain of rheumatism and gout. A compress of chamomile flowers has been used to treat sciatica and ointments containing the oil are antiseptic and soothing for itchy skin conditions like eczema. Steam inhalations can clear phlegm and help asthma and can cleanse the skin in cases of acne. A compress can treat cracked sore nipples and a tea is useful for sore gums and as an eyewash. Its flowers are frequently used in herbal preparations for the hair (such as shampoos and dye).

Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) has many of the properties of German chamomile.

CAUTION Large doses may cause vomiting.

Solidago canadensis

Golden rod

Woundwort, Aaron's rod

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Flowering tops, leaves.

Constituents Saponins, flavonoids, tannins, essential oil.

Main uses Medical Urinary and kidney infections and stones; catarrh.

Good for kidney and urinary infections and stones, golden rod also helps to ease backache caused by these conditions. Because of its cleansing and eliminative action, it can also be used to treat arthritis. Its tannins make it a useful remedy for diarrhoea. In North America, it has a reputation for clearing upper respiratory mucus.

Tanacetum parthenium


Tanacetum vulgare (also know as Chrysanthemum vulgare)


h 2 ft (60 cm)

Parts used Dried aerial parts; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing up to 70% thujone), bitter glycosides, sesquiterpene lactones, terpenoids including pyrethrins, tannin, resin, vitamin C, citric acid, oxalic acid.

Main uses General Insect repellent. Medical To expel worms.

Tansy, like wormwood, is rich in thujone which is potentially damaging to the central nervous system it taken in too large doses or for too long. However, in the hands, of a trained herbalist it is useful for expelling worms (roundworm and threadworm). Externally tansy tea can be used as a wash to treat scabies and as a compress to bring relief to painful rheumatic joints. Tansy was one of the herbs strewn on the floor in the Middle Ages to deter fleas and other insects.

CAUTION Tansy is a strong emmenagogue (provoking the onset of a period) and should not be used in pregnancy. It can be fatal when taken in large doses.

Taraxacum officinale


Pee in the bed, lion's teeth, fairy clock

h to 1 ft (30 cm)

Parts used All.

Constituents Root: the bitter principle taraxacin, triterpenes (including taraxol and taraxasterol), sterols, inulin, sugars, pectin, glycosides, choline, phenolic acids, asparagine, vitamins, potassium. Leaves: lutein, violaxanthin, and other carotenoids; bitter substances; vitamins A, B, C, D (the vitamin A content is higher than that of carrots); potassium and iron.

Main uses Culinary Leaves in salads; root as coffee substitute. Flowers as wine. Medical As digestive tonic for constipation, liver and gallbladder disease, rheumatism,and skin diseases.

The humble dandelion is one of nature's great medicines. The root is a mildly laxative bitter tonic, valuable in dyspepsia and constipation. It stimulates the liver and gallbladder (mainly due to its taraxacin content), substantially increasing the flow of bile. It is useful in diseases of the liver and gallbladder. The leaves, which in spring are excellent in salads, are a powerful diuretic as attested to by one of its common English names "pee in the bed", exactly echoed in France as "pis en lit". The diuretic power of the dandelion has been favourably compared with a common diuretic drug, Frusemide. However, unlike conventional diuretics, dandelion does not leach potassium from the body; its rich potassium content replaces that which the body loses. Dandelion cleanses the blood and tissues, and is useful in the treatment of skin diseases and rheumatism. Application of the plant's sap is said to remove warts, while the flowers make an excellent country wine.

In China, a related species, Taraxacum mongolicum, has been used to treat infections, particularly mastitis.

Tussilago farfara


Ass's foot, horse's hoof, hallfoot, the son before the fathers h 3-12 ins (8-30cm).

h 3-12 ins (8-30 cm)

Parts used Flowers and leaves.

Constituents Mucilage, alkaloid, saponins, tannin (especially in the leaf), zinc, potassium, calcium.

Main uses Medical Colds and coughs; as a poultice for sores.

The Latin name signifies coltsfoot's ancient use for coughs for which for centuries it has been smoked as tobacco, or taken as a tisane or as a syrup. In former times a replica of the coltsfoot flower was to be found above the door of pharmacies in Paris, an emblem of the effectiveness of their medicine.

Today, coltsfoot retains its importance for it combines an effective expectorant action with the soothing and healing qualities of the mucilage it contains. It is good for most respiratory problems as well as colds. The fresh leaves applied externally as a poultice to ulcers and sores are soothing and healing, an effect due in part to the zinc the plant contains. Coltsfoot contains a low content of the pyrrolizidine alkaloid senkirkine which by itself may damage the liver. However, trials in Sweden found that a decoction boiled for 30 minutes contained no detectable pyrrolizidine alkaloids while further research indicates that the abundant mucilage in the plant made the minute amount of alkaloid in the plant safe.

CAUTION There is medical controversy about this plant; it is best to avoid excessive consumption.


Brassica nigra

Black mustard

h 3-10 ft (1-3 m)

Parts used Seeds and leaves.

Constituents A glycoside (sinigrin) and an enzyme (myrosin); on contact with water, myrosin acts on sinigrin, setting free allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil) responsible for mustard's pungent smell. Also: fixed oils (up to 37%), proteins, mucilage.

Main uses Culinary With meat, in sauces, soups, and dressings. Medical Coughs, colds and indigestion.

Mustard oil is strongly antibacterial and anti-fungal but it can blister the skin. Mustard warms and stimulates the digestive system. The seeds make an excellent stimulating poultice (mixed with a soothing substance such as slippery elm powder) for stubborn coughs and arthritis joints. Mustard foot baths are good for poor circulation, chilblains, and upper respiratory mucus.

CAUTION See horseradish, right.

Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd's purse

Witch's pouches, pickpocket, pepper and salt, mother's heart

h 1 ft (30 cm).

Parts used Dried or fresh aerial parts.

Constituents Choline, acetylcholine and tyramine, saponins, mustard oil, flavonoids.

Main uses Culinary Leaves can be eaten as vege table. Medical To stop bleeding; for varicose veins.

Shepherd's purse, which gains its name from the purse-like shape of its seed pods, is one of the most important herbs to stop bleeding, an effect due to the tyramine and other amines it contains. The herb is diuretic, due in part to its mustard oil. It is good for urinary infections, blood in the urine, and profuse menstruation. Such symptoms must always be investigated by a medical practitioner. It is also a useful remedy for haemorrhoids, for varicose veins and to halt nosebleeds. The leaves are eaten as a cabbage in many places.

Cochlearia armoracia (also known as Armoracia rusticana)


h 5 ft (1.5 m)

Parts used Fresh root.

Constituents Sinigrin (a glycoside which combined with water yields mustard oil), vitamin C, asparagin, resin.

Main uses Culinary In sauces and vinegars. Medical As circulatory and digestive stimulant.

Horseradish is a powerful circulatory stimulant with antibiotic properties due to the mustard oil it contains. It is effective for lung and urinary infections because mustard oil is excreted through these channels. Its diuretic effect is due to asparagin. It is taken internally for gout and rheumatism. The root must be used fresh; you should grate it outside (to avoid getting the acrid essential oil in the eyes) and combine it with cider vinegar and honey. Use it externally as a poultice for rheumatic joints and to stimulate blood flow.

CAUTION Overuse may blister the skin. Do not use it if your thyroid function is low or if taking thyroxine.

Nasturtium officinale


h 12 ins (30 cm)

Parts used Stems and leaves.

Constituents Vitamins A, C and E, nicotinamide, a glycoside, gluconasturtin, volatile oil manganese,iron, phosphorus, iodine, copper, calcium.

Main uses Culinary In soups and salads. Medical Coughs, indigestion, gout, and arthritis.

Hippocrates described watercress as a stimulant and expectorant, and herbalists still make use of these properties in the plant to treat coughs and bronchitis. Its stimulating qualities and the minerals it contains make watercress important nutritionally, useful in convalescence and general debility. It invigorates the digestion and is diuretic, helping the body to unload toxic wastes from the tissues and blood. It lowers blood sugar. Chewed raw it invigorates and strengthens the gums. Pulped with sea salt, it makes a healing poultice for gout and arthritis.

CAUTION Wild watercress may be host to the deadly live fluke. Use only plants grown commercially in watercress beds.


Juniperus communis


h 20 ft (6 m)

Parts used Berries (the female cone).

Constituents Volatile oil (major components pinene, myrcene, sabinene, also limonene, terpinene, camphene and thujone), sugars, vitamin C, flavonoids, resin, gallotannins.

Main uses Culinary To flavour gin and liqueurs. Medical Cystitis, for rheumatism and gout.

Due to their oil, juniper berries are a potent diuretic, imparting to the urine a smell of violets. The oil is antiseptic, making the plant valuable in treating cystitis and urethritis. Juniper berries are a warming tonic for debilitated digestions and help relieve flatulence. Chewed, the berries sweeten the breath and heal infected gums. External frictions of the diluted essential oil ease neuralgia, sciatica and rheumatic Pains. Steam inhalations of the berries arc an excellent treatment for colds, coughs and excessive phlegm.

CAUTION Do not use juniper during pregnancy or where there is kidney disease. The internal use of the volatile oil is dangerous and only for professionals.

Thuja occidentalis


Arbor vitae, tree of life, white cedar, yellow cedar, American cedar

h 50 ft (15 m)

Parts used Leaves and young twigs.

Constituents Volatile oil (comprising up to 65% thujone, also fenchone, borneol, limonene, pinene, camphor, myrcene), flavonoid glycoside, mucilage, tannin.

Main uses Medical Bronchitis and excessive phlegm.

Thuja was an old North American Indian remedy for delayed menstruation; scientific research has shown that it is a stimulant to smooth muscles, such as those of the uterus and bronchial passages. Its stimulating expectorant effect is useful for treating bronchitis. Externally, herbalists use an infusion as a wash for infectious skin diseases such as impetigo or scabies. An ointment is a reputed cure for warts. A hot compress eases rheumatic pains.

CAUTION Not to be used in pregnancy. Thujone, the main constituent of the volatile oil, is toxic in any quantity so the herb should only be taken in small doses and for no more than a week or two at a time. Thuja should be used as prescribed by a qualified practitioner.


Discorea villosa

Wild yam

Colic root, rheumatism root

Parts used Root and rhizome.

Constituents Steroidal saponins (including dioscin and trillin which yield diosgenin), phytosterols, alkaloids including dioscorine, tannins, starch.

Main uses Medical Rheumatoid arthritis, colic, threatened miscarriage, menstrual cramps.

In 1943 the scientist Russell Marker astonished the world when, on a shoestring budget, he made two kilos of the female hormone progesterone from the wild Mexican yam (Dioscorea mexicana). Until 1970, diosgenin derived from the wild vain was the sole source of the hormonal material used to make the contraceptive pill.

Wild yam has traditionally been used for easing menstrual cramping and for threatened miscarriage, Its antispasmodic action makes it good for flatulence and colic caused by muscle spasm. The herb also promotes the flow of bile and so is sometimes used to ease the colic of gallstones. Wild yam is anti-inflammatory (again because of its steroidal saponins) and herbalists prescribe it for the inflammatory stage of rheumatoid arthritis. This plant also has a diuretic effect which, combined with its antispasmodic property, makes it benefit painful conditions of the urinary tract, Its antispasmodic action also makes it useful for treating poor circulation and neuralgia.


Ephedra sinica


h 6-48 ins (15-120 cm)

Parts used Dried young stems.

Constituents Alkaloids (including ephedrine, norephedrine, methyl ephedrine, pseudoephedrine), tannins, saponin, flavone, essential oil.

Main uses Medical Asthma, hayfever.

Used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, this herb is the source of the alkaloid ephedrine, first extracted in 1885. Ephedrine was hailed as a cure for asthma because of its power to relax the airways. Once in common use, however, the isolated drug was found to raise blood pressure markedly, and it is now hardly ever used to treat asthma. Herbalists, however, use the whole plant which contains six other related alkaloids, one of which, pseudoephedrine, actually reduces the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. This plant has been used in China for thousands of years, yet no undesirable side-effects have been recorded from the proper administration of the whole plant.

Ephedra is used to treat asthma, hayfever and other allergies. In China it is also used for the first stages of a cold or influenza (its volatile oil inhibits the influenza virus) and for arthritis and fluid retention. In the USA a related species, known as mormon tea or desert tea, has also been used for fever and for kidney and bladder problems.

CAUTION The herb should be avoided in severe hypertension, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, prostate enlargement, and coronary thrombosis; it should not be taken by anyone using MAOI antidepressant. RESTRICTED.


Equisetum arvense


Mare's tail, shave grass, bottlebrush, pewterwort

h 8-32 ins (20-80 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Silica (up to 70% in soluble form), saponins (including equisetonin), traces of alkaloids (nicotine, palustrine and palustrinine), flavonoids, manganese, potassium, sulphur, magnesium, tannin.

Main uses General Cosmetics and hair shampoos; dried stems as metal polish. Medical Urinary infections and stones; lung complaints and arteriosclerosis.

In prehistoric times horsetail grew as high as trees; though smaller in size, the modern descendant is a potent medicinal plant. The herb is a major source of silica, and so it was regularly prescribed for lungs damaged by TB. The plant is a storehouse of minerals and is recommended in cases of anaemia and general debility. Horsetail tea is good for broken nails and lifeless hair. It is also useful when white spotting occurs on the nails (a symptom said to indicate a calcium imbalance in the body). Its silica encourages the absorption and use of calcium by the body and also helps to guard against fatty deposits in the arteries. Horsetail's astringent action stops bleeding, making it valuable for treating stomach ulcers. It has a mild diuretic effect but its astringency makes it useful in the treatment of bed-wetting in children. It is also used to treat an inflamed or enlarged prostate, cystitis and urinary stones.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


Uva ursi, beargrape, hogberry, rockberry, mountain cranberry

h 6 ins (15 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Arbutin (about 8%), methyl arbutin, flavonoids, allantoin, tannins, phenolic acids, volatile oil, resin.

Main uses Medical Cystitis.

Used in traditional medicine in the Middle Ages, bearberry is a diuretic herb. In the body the arbutin in the plant converts to hydroquinone, a urinary disinfectant. This is especially effective with alkaline urine, which can be achieved by observing a vegetarian diet.

CAUTION Long-term use of bearberry may produce toxic effects, since large doses of hydroquinone are poisonous. Normal medicinal use, however, is perfectly safe.

Erica vulgaris (also known as Calluna vulgaris)



Euphorbia hirta (and E. pilulifera)

Pill-bearing spurge

Asthma weed, Queensland asthma weed, catshair

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Glycoside, alkaloid, triterpenoids, sterols, tannin.

Main uses Medical Asthma.

This common tropical plant causes relaxation of the bronchi, making it easier for asthmatics to breathe. It is also helpful for clearing upper-respiratory phlegm and hayfever. In the tropics it is used to treat amoebic dysentery.

CAUTION Although this is one of the few members of the spurge family not poisonous to humans, overlarge doses may cause nausea and vomiting.

Stillingia sylvatica

Queen's delight

Queen's root, yawroot

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Root (not more than two years old).

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 4%), acrid fixed oil, acrid resin (sylvacrol), tannins, calcium oxylate, cyanogenic glycosides, starch.

Main uses Medical Respiratory complaints; skin diseases.

Once thought to be a reliable cure for syphilis (which it is not), Queen's delight is now used as a stimulating expectorant to treat bronchitis and laryngitis when the cough is harsh (the herb promotes the flow of saliva). In small doses it is laxative and diuretic; in large doses it is cathartic and emetic. It also has a considerable reputation as a blood cleanser for treating skin conditions.

CAUTION Large doses of this herb can irritate mucous membranes and it should always be used with care.

Calluna vulgaris (also known as Erica vulgaris)


Heath, ling

h 6 ins-3 ft (15-100 cm)

Parts used Fresh flowering tops.

Constituents Alkaloid, arbutin, citric and fumaric acids, volatile oil, tannin, flavonoids, carotene.

Main uses Medical Urinary disease.

Heather has a long history of use in traditional medicine. It has a reputation as a mild sedative, but its most important property for modern herbalists is its action as a urinary antiseptic, due to the arbutin it contains. It is also employed to treat gout and rheumatism. A bath of heather water can help to relieve rheumatic pains. Numerous other decorative species of heather are available to the gardener.


Quercus robur


h up to 130 ft (40 m)

Parts used Bark.

Constituents Up to 20% tannin, gallic acid, ellagitannin.

Main uses General Dyeing. Medical Sore throats, piles, varicose veins and bleeding.

Oak bark is a powerful astringent, possessing the therapeutic qualities of plants rich in tannins. It was once generally used in the leather industry for tanning. The powdered bark used as snuff is good for nosebleeds. As a gargle, a decoction is excellent for throat infections. Taken internally, oak bark stops the acute diarrhoea of gastroenteritis. Used as a douche it is useful for leucorrhoea, and as an ointment for piles. Externally a cold compress is good for burns and cuts.


Fucus vesiculosus



Variable in size.

Parts used Whole plant.

Constituents Mucilage, mannitol, volatile oil, potassium, iodine and many other minerals.

Main uses Medical To supply minerals to the body; for rheumatism.

This seaweed was the original source of iodine, discovered in 1812. The weight-reducing reputation of bladderwrack is probably due to its effect on an under-active thyroid. The main herbal use of bladderwrack is to remineralize the body. External compresses and plasters are used to reduce the inflammation and pain of arthritis.


Corydalis bulbosa


h 6-10 ins (15-25 cm)

Parts used Tuber and rhizome.

Constituents Alkaloids (corydaline, corybulbine, isocorybulbine, corycavidine, corycavamine, corydine, bulbocapriine, protopine, tetrahydropalmatine and at least ten others).

Main uses Medical Pain relief.

This powerful plant is the source of the alkaloid bulbocapriine which was used in orthodox medicines to treat convulsions, Parkinson's disease and Menière's disease. In Chinese traditional medicine, corydalis is a major pain reliever used particularly for menstrual cramping, gastric and abdominal pain, and headaches. According to Chinese research, Corydalis has an analgesic effect approximately 1% that of the strength of opium.

CAUTION This herb should only be used by trained herbalists. RESTRICTED.

Fumaria officinalis


Earth smoke

h 6-27 ins (15-70 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents 7 alkaloids (including fumarine and protopine), bitter principles, tannic acid, fumaric acid, mucilage, resin, potassium.

Main uses General Yellow dye from flowers. Medical Eczema.

The name fumitory derives from the plant's smoke-like appearance when viewed from afar. It has a long history of use for the treatment of skin diseases. It is mildly laxative, diuretic, and stimulates the flow of bile.

CAUTION Large doses can cause diarrhoea.


Erythraea centaurium (also known as Centaurium erythraea)


European centaury, bitterherb, centaury gentian

h 4 ins-1 ft (10-30 cm)

Parts used Dried flowering aerial parts.

Constituents Several bitter glycosides (gentiopicrin, centapicrin, swietiamarin, gentioflavoside), alkaloids (gentianine, gentianidine, gentioflavine), phenolic acids, tritepenes, wax.

Main uses Medical As digestive tonic: for rheumatism and gout.

Centaury, a member of the gentian family, shares several constituents with gentian, as well as its bitter tonic effect. Taken before meals, it stimulates the gastric secretions and the liver and gallbladder so it is a useful herb for the digestion. This is why it is used in vermouth and several bitter liqueurs. It is gently laxative and taken after meals is an excellent remedy for heartburn, h can also reinforce the action of anti-worm herbs.

Like many bitter tonics centaury is effective in reducing fever and has been used in place of quinine. Research indicates that this action is due in part to its phenolic acid. Another constituent, gentiopicrin, has been reported to have antimalarial properties. Research also confirms the plant's potential for treating rheumatism and gout, for the alkaloid gentianine has exhibited strongly anti-inflammatory properties.

This plant has several other healing properties. The famous German herbalist Father Sebastian Kneipp, recommended centaury for melancholy and for calming the nerves. In Egypt the plant is used to treat high blood pressure and kidney stones. All over Europe it is used to remedy anaemia and liver and gallbladder disease.

Gentiana lutea


Yellow gentian, bitter root

h 43 ins (110 cm)

Parts used Dried root and rhizome.

Constituents Bitter glycosides (amarogentin, gentiopicrin, sweitiamarin), alkaloids (including gentianine and gentialutine), xanthones (including gentisein and gentisin), triterpenes, sugars, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Digestive tonic.

Gentian root is called after Gentius, King of Illyria in the 1st century BC who is said to have discovered the plant's medicinal properties. Gentian contains one of the most bitter substances known, the glycoside amarogentin. Its bitters improve the appetite, promoting digestive juices, peristalsis and the flow of bile. Gentian is also useful for gastro-intestinal inflammation (one of its alkaloids, gentianine, has been shown to be anti-inflammatory), and for controlling fevers. The root is used in many bitter liqueurs.

CAUTION Large doses may cause vomiting.


Geranium maculatum

American cranesbill

Spotted cranesbill, alum root, crowfoot, spotted geranium

22x12 ins (55x30 cm)

Parts used Rhizome.

Constituents Tannic and gallic acids (up to 25%), resin.

Main uses Medical For diarrhoea, sore throats and stopping bleeding.

The tannins in this plant make it useful in treating diarrhoea, haemhorrage of the digestive tract, and (used locally) piles. An infusion also makes a good mouthwash for gum problems and a gargle for sore throats. Externally the powdered root can be used to stop bleeding.


Agropyron repens

Couch grass

Twitch grass, witchgrass, dog's grass, scutch, quick grass, triticum

h 1-4 ft (30-120 cm)

Parts used Rhizome.

Constituents About 8% triticin, 3% inositol and mannitol, fixed oil, vitamins A and B, vanillin glycoside, saponin, mucilage, potassium silica, iron, a small amount of volatile oil (largely composed of agropyrone).

Main uses Medical Urinary tract disorders, urinary stones; prostatitis.

Couch grass is a curse to gardeners, but a blessing to herbalists. It is a soothing diuretic with antibiotic properties, making it an ideal herb for the urinary system. The agropyrone in its volatile oil has been shown to have broad antibiotic properties. A decoction is used to treat urinary tract infections, stones, and prostatitis. French herbalists use the leaves of couch grass to stimulate the liver and gallbladder.

Avena sativa


h 2-4 ft (60-120 cm)

Parts used Whole plant and seed.

Constituents Saponins, alkaloids (trigonelline and avenine), a sterol, flavonoids, starch, protein (gluten), fats, minerals (including silica, iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, zinc), vitamin B.

Main uses Culinary In porridge, muesli, oatmeal pastries, and oatcakes. Medical As a nerve tonic; for depression and insomnia.

Oats, with their vitamins, minerals, and protein, are valuable nutritionally. In addition, they provide an excellent nerve tonic. The alkaloid avenine stimulates the central nervous system it is the component which causes horses fed on substantial quantities of oats to become highly excitable. The whole plant in medicinal doses provides a range of therapeutic and nutritional substances that feed a debilitated nervous system, making this a valuable remedy for exhaustion, convalescence, anti depression.

CAUTION Over-large doses may cause headaches at the back of the head.

Zea mays


Indian corn, maize

h to 12 ft (4m)

Parts used Stigma and styles.

Constituents Fats, volatile oil, gums, resin, glycosides, saponins, alkaloids, vitamins C and K, sterols, plant acids, tannin, allantoin, potassium and calcium.

Main uses Culinary As corn on the cob; in maize flour, for use in baking nutritious corn breads. Medical For urinary tract infections and stones.

The "beard" that comes with corn on the cob is corn silk, which makes an excellent soothing diuretic and so is an important herb for urinary tract infections, also helping the passage of urinary stones. French herbalists use it to thin the bile and to promote its flow. (Chinese research work also indicates that it increases the output of bile.) Finally, corn silk is used by some herbalists to lower the blood pressure.


Hamamelis virginiana

Witch hazel

Spotted alder, winterbloom, snapping hazelnut

h 5-8 ft (1.5-2.5-m)

Parts used Leaves and bark; as distilled Witch hazel water.

Constituents Tannin (up to 10% in the leaf, consisting mainly of gallotannins, also condensed catechins and proanthocyanidins), saponins, choline, resins, flavonoids. The bark also contains a little volatile oil and fixed oil, and up to 6% tannin.

Main uses Medical Bruises, bleeding, haemorrhoids and varicose veins.

This is a North American Indian remedy. Ointment or suppositories containing witch hazel are effective for piles, and a compress is helpful when applied to varicose veins. Herbalists use a weak cold decoction as an eyewash to treat conjunctivitis, while as a compress it is one of the best remedies for bruises and to stop bleeding. Witch hazel water, obtained by distillation, contains no tannins, but appears equally effective.


Aesculus hippocastanum

Horse chestnut

h up to 120 ft (35 m)

Parts used Fruit, bark.

Constituents Saponins (including aescine), flavonoids, coumarins, tannins (bark contains no saponins).

Main uses Medical To strengthen veins; ointment for haemorrhoids.

The astringent tannins, flavonoids, and saponins in horse chestnut combine to tone and strengthen the vein walls. In an ointment it is a first-rate remedy for haemorrhoids. It is also used to treat prostatic enlargement.

CAUTION The nuts are poisonous.


Hypericum perforatum

St John's wort

Common St John's wort

h 1-2 ft (30-60 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Glycosides (including a red pigment, hypericin), flavonoids, tannins, resin, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Cuts, burns, neuralgia, depression.

St John's wort has an ancient reputation for warding off witchcraft which may be due to the plant's wide range of medicinal uses. It is effective as a compress for dressing wounds. In the Middle Ages it was commonly used to heal deep sword cuts. More recently, German research confirms the plant's anti bacterial action. The oil, extracted by macerating the flowers in vegetable oil is excellent applied externally for neuralgia and can ease the pain of sciatica. This oil is also soothing for burns since it lowers the temperature of the skin and it is said to heal gastritis and stomach ulcers. St John's wort is also diuretic, helping to eliminate was materials from the body. Because of this, an infusion is recommended for gout and arthritis. The herb is used as an expectorant for treating bronchitis and a major use is to calm the nervous system and treat depression, particularly during menopause. The tea also eases menstrual cramps.

CAUTION This herb can cause sensitivity to sunlight. It is rated unsafe by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Avoid prolonged use.


Crocus sativus


h to 18 ins (45 cm)

Parts used Dried stigmas and tops of styles.

Constituents Essential oil (8-10% containing terpenes, terpene alcohols and esters), crocin (a coloured glycoside), picrocrocin (a colourless, bitter glycoside).

Main uses Culinary In Asian and Mediterranean cuisines as dye for rice dishes, desserts and with lamb and poultry.

Saffron, one of the world's costliest spices, was prized by the ancients and is shown in Cretan paintings of 1600 BC. Quantities were exported from Persia and Asia Minor to China. In Britain, saffron's sweetish aromatic odour and orange yellow colour made it popular as an addition to traditional Cornish cakes. The French fish soup, bouillabaisse, Spanish paella, and Milanese risotto are all coloured and flavoured with saffron. It is used widely in Asian cuisine but because saffron growing is a laborious process and the price correspondingly high, turmeric is now often used as a substitute. Saffron cannot be used for fabric dyeing because it is water-soluble.

Iris florentina, Iris germanica


Parts used Root.

Constituents Volatile oil (0.1-0.2% containing irone which has the odour of violets), starch, resin, tannic acid, sugars.

Main uses General As fixative in perfumes and pot-pourris and generally for its perfume.

Orris is the violet-scented powdered root which has been used in perfumery since Greek and Roman times. The white Florentine iris, widely cultivated there in the Middle Ages, is still represented on the heraldic arms of that city. Powdered orris root was popular in the 18th century as a hair powder. Today, if ill health or lack of time prevents hair washing, powdered orris root is sometimes used as a dry shampoo. It removes grease and has a pleasant smell. Once used as a remedy for chest complaints, and a purgative, it is now rarely used medicinally.

Snake's head iris (Hermodactylus tuberosa, also known as Iris tuberosa) is cultivated in Europe but its use as a medicinal plant has declined. The beautiful yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus), was also once used medicinally but is now mainly used as a decorative garden plant. The flowers produce a yellow dye, while the rhizome yields a grey or black dye when used with an iron mordant.

Iris versicolor

Blue flag

Flag lily

h 40 ins (1 m)

Parts used Dried rhizome.

Constituents Acrid resin (irisin), volatile oil, starch, salicylates, alkaloid, tannin.

Main uses Medical Blood purifier, skin complaints.

Blue flag was a common North American Indian remedy, once included in the United States Pharmacopeia. Amongst herbalists it still has the reputation as a blood purifier and effective cleanser of toxins, good for skin complaints. It relieves flatulence and is good for heartburn, belching, and nausea. It is used for headaches associated with digestive problems. It also acts on the liver and gallbladder to increase the flow of bile.

CAUTION The fresh root is poisonous. Small doses of the dried root are advised.


Collinsonia canadensis

Stone root

Knob root, hardback, knotroot, horseweed, horsebalm

h 1-4 ft (30-120 cm)

Parts used Root and rhizome.

Main uses Medical Varicose veins, haemorrhoids, diarrhoea.

Constituents Saponin, alkaloids, tannin, resin.

This undervalued herbal remedy is often described simply as a diuretic, but its mare use is to strengthen the structure and function of the veins. It is particularly good for the treatment of haemorrhoids. It is also used for treating spasmodic pain in the rectum and for anal fissures and is excellent for varicose veins taken internally. Its gentle astringent action also makes it useful to treat diarrhoea.

Hyssopus officinalis


20x16 ins (50x40 cm)

Parts used Flowering herb; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 2%, comprising mainly pinocamphone, isopinocamphone, pinenes, camphene, and terpinene as well as over 50 other compounds), a glycoside (hyssopin), tannin (up to 8%), flavonoids, insolic acid, oleonolic acid, a bitter substance (marrubiin), resin, gum.

Main uses Medical Colds, flu, bronchitis, upper respiratory catarrh; bruises and burns.

Hyssop comes from the Hebrew name Esob, and the plant is mentioned many times in the Bible. Hippocrates recommended hyssop for chest complaints and today herbalists still prescribe it for a range of respiratory disorders such as influenza, colds and bronchitis. The bitter principle in the plant, marrubiin (also present in white horehound), has expectorant qualities, in Hyssop extracts have exhibited antiviral activities (especially against the Herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores). Used externally, hyssop is also good for treating burns and bruises.

CAUTION Small doses only should be used: consult a qualified practitioner.

Lavandula officinalis


32x24 ins (80x60 cm)

Parts used Dried flowers; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 1.5%, containing linabol, linalyl acetate, lavendulyl acetate, terpinenol, cineole, camphor, borneol, pinene, limonene), tannins, coumarins (coumarin, umbelliferone, hemiarin), flavonoids, triterpenoids. Spike lavender (L. latifolia) contains an oil rich in cineole and camphor.

Main uses General In fragrant sachets; Medical Burns, stings, headache, coughs, and colds.

One of our best loved scented herbs, lavender or its oil is also one of the best remedies for burns and stings. It is excellent, too, for helping to heal cuts and has a strong antibacterial action. It has many other uses. Herbalists use the oil to kill the diphtheria and typhoid bacilli as well as streptococcus and pneumococcus. Lavender has traditionally been used to treat chest infections, coughs, and colds, either as an infusion or a steam inhalation, it has sedative properties and is good for calming anxiety and tension, as well as relaxing spasms of the digestive tract. An infusion is good for nervous headaches and a few drops of the oil used in a massage oil will help relax muscles and ease neuralgic and rheumatic pain. A strong infusion used as a douche is effective for leucorrhoea.

CAUTION Lavender oil should only be taken internally under supervision.

Leonurus cardiaca


Lion's tail, lion's ear

48x24 ins (120x60 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Alkaloids (including leonurinine and stachydrine), bitter glycosides (leonurine and leonuridin), tannins, a volatile oil, vitamin A.

Main uses Medical To regulate menstruation.

The English name indicates an important use of this herb as a sedative particularly valuable in treating the anxiety after childbirth or at the menopause. This effect is thought to be due to the glycosides which also seem to have a short-term ability to lower blood pressure.

The Latin name, cardiaca, derives from the Greek word for heart. Since ancient times, motherwort has been used to treat palpitations and rapid heart beat, especially when associated with anxiety. Chinese herbalists also use motherwort for its diuretic properties. Motherwort is invaluable for treating absent or painful periods particularly when the flow is scanty. It can help regulate menstruation and treat functional infertility.

CAUTION The alkaloid stachydrine has the effect of hastening childbirth, so the herb should not be taken during pregnancy. Chinese research on Leonurus heterophyllus, a relative of the European motherwort, showed that decoctions of the plant were as effective as the drug ergotamine in causing the uterus to contract after delivery.

Marrubium vulgare

White horehound

24x20 ins (60x50 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Up to 1% marrubiin (a bitter principle), diterpene alcohols (eg marrbiol and murrubenol), small amounts of alkaloids, traces of volatile oil and a sesquiterpene, tannin, saponin, resin.

Main uses Medical Respiratory disorders; as a bitter digestive tonic.

This is one of the bitter herbs ordained to be eaten at Passover supper by the Jews. The plant's bitter principle, with its expectorant properties, is responsible in part for the major medicinal use of white horehound for respiratory disorders. The volatile oil in the plant has the same expectorant property, as well as dilating the arteries. But the effect of white horehound extends throughout the body. It also has a folk reputation for calming a nervous heart. This too has scientific backing for marrubiin in small amounts has a normalizing effect on irregular heartbeats. In hot infusion white horehound is sweat-inducing. In cold infusion it is a bitter tonic to the digestive system. Scientific evidence also shows that, as marrubiin breaks down in the body, it strongly stimulates bile production. This is another property that seems to have been known for centuries since white horehound was traditionally a reliable liver and digestive remedy. The plant has also been used to reduce fevers and treat malaria.

Melissa officinalis

Lemon balm

Bee balm, melissa, sweet balm

32x24 ins (80x60 cm)

Parts used Fresh leaves, picked just before flowering; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 0.2%, comprising citral, citronellal, eugenol acetate, geraniol and other components), polyphenols, tannin, flavonoids, rosmarinic acid, triterpenoids.

Main uses Culinary In wine cups, teas, and beers; with fish, mushrooms and soft cheeses. Medical For colds, flu, depression, headache and indigestion.

The great Moslem physician Avicenna recommended this plant because "it makes the heart merry" and to this day the herb and the isolated oil used in aromatherapy are recommended for nervousness, depression, insomnia, and nervous headaches. The volatile oils in the plant (particularly citronellal) have a sedative effect even in minute concentrations. No wonder that the plant was an important ingredient in Medieval cordials, distilled to strengthen the heart and lift the spirits.

Lemon balm is also an excellent infusion to take after meals, easing the digestion and relieving flatulence and colic. Scientific research now supports this use, since the oils (particularly eugenol) have antispasmodic activities. Oil of balm also has an antihistaminic activity which encourages use of the plant to help allergic sufferers such as those with eczema. In fact, aromatherapists and herbalists use the dilute oil as a massage for this purpose. Another important medicinal use of lemon balm is to promote menstrual periods and ease period pains.

Hot infusions of lemon balm are sweat inducing, useful for treating colds and flu. Lemon balm has antiviral properties effective against mumps, cold sores (Herpes simplex), and other viruses. It is thought that both the polyphenols and tannin present in the plant are responsible for this effect. When used in infusion, however, lemon balm is best used fresh or freeze-dried because the volatile oils in the leaves tend to disappear during the drying process. Balm oil has been reported to be antibacterial too.

Mentha piperata


Mentha pulegium


European pennyroyal, pudding grass, lurk-in-the-ditch

h up to 1 ft (30 cm)

Parts used Flowering herb.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 1% comprising mainly pulegone, also menthone etc), tannins.

Main uses General As insect repellent. Medical Colds and flu.

The Latin name derives from pulex (flea) because of pennyroyal's power to repel fleas and other insects. The herb in a hot infusion has always been used by herbalists for colds as it promotes sweating. Hederoma pulegoides (American pennyroyal) has the same properties.

CAUTION Pennyroyal promotes menstruation, and should never be used by pregnant women or if pregnancy is suspected. The oil taken internally can be highly toxic and should only be used as prescribed by a qualified herbalist. There are a number of cases of the deaths of women who tried to procure abortions by taking the oil.

Monarda didyma


Bee balm, Oswego tea

h 1-3 ft (30-100 cm)

Parts used Leaves, flowers, oil; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil comprising compounds related to Thymol, tannic acid.

Main uses Culinary As tea.

Bergamot is named because of its fragrance, which resembles the aroma of the bergamot orange. It grew in abundance in the Oswego River district near kale Ontario and was used by the Oswego Indians. Its popular name, Oswego Tea, reflects this locale and its popularity as a drink in many parts of the United States. The oil is sometimes used in perfumery, but should not be confused with the oil of the similarly smelling Bergamot Orange, an important aromatherapy oil and an ingredient of Earl Grey tea. Because of its distinctive fragrance, and because of the nectar its flowers secrete, bergamot is a popular plant with bees, hence its country name of bee balm.

Nepeta cataria


Catnep, catmint

h 1-3 ft (30-100 cm)

Parts used Dried aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil (comprising carvacrol, nepetol, thymol, nepetalactone, citronellol, geraniol); tannins.

Main uses Medical Colds, flu, and children's illnesses.

In hot in fusion this plant powerfully promotes sweating and is excellent for colds, flu, or the infectious diseases of childhood (eg measles). It soothes the nervous system and will help get a restless child off to sleep. It also helps to calm an upset stomach, countering colic, flatulence, and diarrhoea. In the USA it was used as an enema to cleanse and heal the lower bowel.

Ocimum basilicum

Sweet basil

Origanum marjorana

Sweet marjoram

Knotted marjoram

h 1-2 ft (30-60 cm)

Parts used Leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Essential oil, mucilage, bitter substances, tannic acid.

Main uses Culinary In bouquet garni; widely used with meat dishes, vegetables, and milk-based desserts.

Marjoram, which belongs to the same genus as oregano, has been used for centuries as a culinary, and to a lesser extent a medicinal, herb. It is often used in meat dishes, especially with sausage. Its success as a culinary herb may be due in part to its properties as a digestive aid.

Pot marjoram (O. onites) is cultivated widely in northern latitudes as a semi-hardy alternative to this herb. Additional species, including O. dictamnus (from Crete), O. pulchellum, and O. sipyleum are also grown.

Origanum vulgare


Wild marjoram

h to 30 ins (75 cm)

Mentha piperita


h 1-3 ft (30-100 cm)

Parts used Flowering herb; cultivation.

Constituents About 0.4% volatile oil (composed mainly of menthol, menthone, and menthylacetate, with smaller amounts of menthofuran, limonene, pulegone, cineole, bisabolene, isomenthol, neomenthol), flavonoids, phytol, tocopherols, carotenoids, betaine, choline, azulenes, rosmarinic acid, tannin.

Main uses Culinary Widely used for flavour. Medical Indigestion, colds.

Menthol, the main constituent of the volatile oil, is antibacterial and antiparasitic. Dissolved in alcohol, it has proved effective against ringworm.

As well as this, peppermint has demonstrated an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle such as that of the digestive system. The herb is an effective remedy for colic and flatulence.

Because of the flavonoids it contains, peppermint stimulates the liver and gallbladder, increasing the flow of bile. Azulene in the oil has anti-inflammatory and ulcer-healing effects.

Externally peppermint oil or menthol is used in pain-relieving balms, massage oils, and linaments. Menthol is cooling and anaesthetic when applied to the skin, increasing blood flow to the area to which it is applied.

Inhalations of the herb or oil are effective against excessive respiratory mucus. Peppermint is a useful remedy to increase concentration.

CAUTION Avoid prolonged use of inhalants of the oil, which must never be used for babies.

Ocimum basilicum


Sweet basil

h 1-2 ft (30-60 cm).

Parts used Leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Essential oil (comprising mainly estragol but also eugenol, lineol, linalol, and sometimes thymol), tannins, basil camphor.

Main uses General As insect repellent. Culinary In pesto; with tomatoes; used widely in Mediterranean cuisine.

Native to India, basil has grown in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, but only reached western Europe in the sixteenth century. It is now cultivated all over southern Europe in pots placed outside houses, to repel flies. In India it is sacred to Krishna and Vishnu, gods of the Hindus. It is especially good with tomatoes and the two are companion plants.

In addition to sweet basil, several other varieties are cultivated. Bush basil (Ocimum minimum) is a dwarf species about 6 ins ( 15 cm) tall. It has similar constituents and flavour. Decorative varieties with different foliage colours are also available. Wild basil (Calamintha clinopodium) is a species of northern Europe. It has a scent and flavour reminiscent of thyme.

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Essential oil (comprising thymol, origanene, and carvacrol), bitter principles, tannic acids, resins.

Main uses Culinary With many meats, stuffings, and Mediterranean dishes such as pizza.

Like its close relative marjoram, oregano is widely used in cooking. It was once also used to flavour beer. Like marjoram it is an aid to digestion.

Prunella vulgaris

Heal all

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Dried aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil, bitter principles, alkaloid.

Main uses Medical In mouthwashes or gargles for sore throats.

Rosmarinus officinalis


h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (mainly comprising monoterpene hydrocarbons, cineole and borneol, also the camphors, linalool and verbenol), several flavonoids (notably diosmin), phenolic acids, carnosic acid (rosmanicine), triterpenic acids.

Main uses General In hair shampoos. Culinary With meat dishes, especially lamb. Medical Headaches, for poor circulation and digestion.

Rosemary is an excellent remedy for headaches, either taken as an infusion or used externally, the oil being applied directly to the head. Like many other essential oils, rosemary oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties. The herb reduces flatulence and is stimulating to the digestion, liver and gallbladder increasing the flow of bile (as rosmanicine breaks down in the body it stimulates the smooth muscle of the digestive tract and gallbladder. The herb is also used to treat painful periods. Rosemary also improves the circulation and strengthens fragile blood vessels (due to the effect of the flavonoid diosmin). Rosemary oil is a component of liniments used for rheumatism.

An infusion of rosemary with borax is used as a rinse for treating dandruff. The herb is also used in many herbal hair shampoos and the plant has a long reputation as a hair tonic. Because of its pleasant, refreshing fragrance it is also used in commercially available cosmetics and perfumes.

CAUTION The undiluted oil should not be taken internally.

Salvia officinalis


Red sage

h 30-60 cm( 1-2 ft)

Parts used Leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Up to 2.8% volatile oil (including thujone, cineole, borneol, linalool, camphors, salvene, pinine, etc), oestrogenic substances, salvin and carnosic acid, flavonoids, phenolic acids, condensed tannins.

Main uses Culinary Widely used with pork and poultry. Medical Sore throats, colds, indigestion, hot flushes, and painful periods.

The Chinese were happy to trade with the Dutch three times the amount of their best tea for European sage. The botanical name Salvia also suggests its importance. It comes from the latin word Salvare, to save. For centuries sage has been esteemed for its healing powers. It is a first-rate remedy in hot infusion for colds. The phenolic acids it contains are antibacterial, especially potent against Staphylococcus aureus while thujone is a strong antiseptic. Sage tea combined with a little cider vinegar used as a gargle is excellent for sore throats, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. As a mouthwash sage tea is effective for infected gums and mouth ulcers. Due to its volatile oil, sage has both a carminative and stimulating effect on the digestion. Sage also fortifies a debilitated nervous system. Another remarkable property of this plant is its ability to stop sweating. Its oestrogenic properties make it useful for the treatment of the hot flushes of the menopause[?] Sage also has the reputation of drying up the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. It is also useful in amenorrhoea and painful periods.

A number of other species of sage are cultivated for their medicinal and culinary properties. The oil of the decorative clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is used in aromatherapy. S. lyrala and S. urticifolia are common North American varieties.

CAUTION Although sage has more thujone than wormwood it seems a far safer plant. But the tea should only be taken for a week or two at a time because of the potentially toxic effects of thujone.

Satureia hortensis, Satureia montana

Summer savory, winter savory

h to 16 ins (40 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Essential oil (comprising mainly carvacrol and cymene), phenolic substances, resins, tannins, mucilage.

Main uses Culinary With vegetables, legumes, and rich meats.

These two plants are closely related. Summer savory is an annual with pink, lilac, or white flowers. Winter savory is a sturdier perennial. Both summer and winter savory are stimulating to the appetite and are commonly used culinary herbs. Their flavour is 'hot and peppery and goes particularly well with beans. Savory can also be used sparingly in salads. The Italians were among the first to use the herb, which in Roman times was made into a sauce with vinegar. The leaf is now used commercially to flavour salami. The flavour of winter savory is inferior to that of summer savory, being both coarser and stronger.

Stachys palustris

Marsh woundwort

h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Not investigated.

Main uses Medical For gout, cramp, and other pains in the joints.

This plant had a strong reputation as a healer in the sixteenth century and adherents of traditional medicine still use a bruised woundwort leaf to stop bleeding. But the plant is used by modern herbalists for its antispasmodic properties, particularly for cramping pains. The closely related hedge woundwort (S. sylvatica) also has a healing reputation.

Scutellaria laterifolia


Helmet flower, mad-dogweed, Virginian skullcap

h 6-18 ins (15 to 45 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Flavonoid glycosides (including scutellonin and scutellanein), volatile oil, hitter principles, tannin.

Main uses Medical Nervousness, depression, insomnia, headaches.

Skullcap is an excellent tonic for the nervous system, h is good for treating anxiety, depression, insomnia, and nervous headaches. Its bitter taste is also strengthening and stimulating to the digestion. In former times, skullcap had a reputation for treating epilepsy and rabies, as one of its common names implies.

A number of other species appear in older herbals, but their medicinal properties have not been thoroughly investigated.

CAUTION Large doses may cause dizziness, mental confusion, and erratic pulse rate.

Stachys betonica

Wood betony

h 1-2 ft (30-60 cm).

Parts used Flowering herb.

Constituents Tannins (up to 15%), saponins, alkaloids (betonicine, stachydrine, trigonelline).

Main uses Medical Headaches, neuralgia, liver complaints, cuts, bruises.

The tannins in wood betony make it effective as a poultice for cuts and bruises (its three alkaloids are likewise found in yarrow, also known as a wound-healer). Taken internally, it stimulates the circulation and is useful in the treatment of headaches and migraines. The plant relaxes the nervous system and helps relieve neuralgia. In France, it is recommended for liver and gallbladder complaints. The powdered leaves were once used as snuff, and an infusion has traditionally been used to clear head colds. Trigonelline is reported to lower blood sugar levels.

Thymus vulgaris (also T. serpyllum, T. pulegioides)


Common thyme, garden thyme

h 4-12 ins (10-30 cm)

Parts used Flowering aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil (about 1%, consisting of phenol, thymol, carvacrol), monoterpene hydrocarbons (eg terpinene) and alcohols (eg linalool), tannin, flavonoids, saponins.

Main uses Culinary Used widely, especially with meat, poultry, in stuffings. Medical Sore throats, colds, coughs.

Both major components of the volatile oil, thymol and carvacrol (but particularly the former) are antibacterial and antifungal. Thymol also expels worms, especially hookworms and ascardis. (It also kills mosquito larvae). As a gargle or mouthwash thyme is an excellent remedy for sore throats and infected gums. In hot infusion, thyme tea is sweat-inducing and so is effective against the common cold. Because its volatile oil is partly excreted through the lungs, it is also good for bronchitis. It is often used to treat whooping cough too. Thyme has a marked expectorant effect causing the coughing up of viscid mucus.

Thyme tea eases flatulence and soothes the digestive system. This is due to the antispasmodic effect of the volatile oil on smooth muscle.

Externally baths of thyme are used to ease rheumatic pains and the oil is often used in liniments and massage oils. An ointment made from thyme is used to treat shingles (Herpes zoster)

Wild thyme (T. Serpyllum has similar properties. Other decorative garden varieties are also available.

CAUTION Although the whole plant in medicinal doses is safe, the isolated volatile oil is toxic in any quantity and should not be used internally except by professionals. Avoid this remedy if you are pregnant.


Cinnamomum camphora


h to 36 ft (12 m).

Parts used Camphor, oil.

Constituents Safrole, acetaldehyde, terpineol, eugenol, phelandrene, pinene.

Main uses Medical Externally for rheumatic pains.

Camphor has been distilled from the wood of this tree for hundreds of years, and has been known and used in the West since the twelfth century. Its main use is as a remedy for painful joints.

CAUTION Avoid prolonged exposure to fumes.

Cinnamomum zeylanicum


h to 30 ft (10 m).

Parts used Dried bark.

Constituents Volatile oil, tannins, mucilage, gum, sugars, resin, calcium oxylate, coumarin.

Main uses Culinary Savoury foods in Asian cuisines; with cooked fruit; in cakes. Medical Colds, diarrhoea.

The bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum is generally considered to be of better quality than cassia bark from C. cassia, a close relative. Cinnamon has been valued as an aromatic spice since ancient times and as a medicine to treat colds, to warm the digestion, and to ease flatulence. Also used to ease menstrum cramps, its astringency makes it valuable for controlling diarrhoea. Cinnamon-bark oil is antibacterial, inhibiting E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and thrush (Candida albicans).

Cinnamon is widely used in Asian cuisines. In western cooking it is employed to bring out the flavour of cakes and stewed fruit, and is added to winter drinks such as mulled wine.

Laurus nobilis


Sweet bay, sweet laurel

h to 6 ft (2 m) or 45 ft (30 m).

Parts used Leaves, oil; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (1-3% comprising geraniol, cineol, eugenol terpenes), tannic acid, bitter principles.

Main uses Culinary In bouquet garni; in stocks and casseroles.

Sacred to Apollo, this plant was used to make the laurel crown of the victorious in classical times. It is most widely used as a culinary herb. Fresh leaves should be used in moderation as their flavour is much stronger than dried. They also stimulate the digestion.

CAUTION Prunus laurocerasus, now known as laurel, is a highly poisonous plant.


Astragalus membranaceus


Milk-vetch root, huang qi

h to 9 ft (3 m)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Glycosides, choline, betaine, rumatakenin, sugar, plant acid, beta-sitosterol, vitamin A.

Main uses Medical To strengthen the immune system and the digestion.

First mentioned as a medicinal plant in the first century Chinese herbal the Shen Nong Ben Cao, this plant is one of the most famous herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. According to the Chinese, it strengthens the digestion and the body's vital energy (called Qi in Chinese medicine). For this reason, it is used to treat lack of appetite and diarrhoea that occurs because of a debilitated digestion. It also supports the lungs and enhances the immune system. Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, reported that this herb appeared to strengthen the immune function of a high proportion of the patients taking it. Because of this astralagus may be taken by those who suffer frequently from colds.

Astragalus displays a so-called adaptogenic effect, on the one hand stopping debilitating sweating but on the other also producing a therapeutic sweat if this is appropriate. Astralagus helps discharge pus and promotes the healing of ulcers. The herb is thought more appropriate for young people than ginseng because, the Chinese say, it strengthens the outer energy while ginseng tonifies the inner energy. But these two herbs are often used together. Astragalus is also often combined with the famous Chinese blood tonic, Chinese Angelica, (Dang Gui) whenever there is poor circulation and lassitude. Astragalus is a major component of Jade Screen Powder which the Chinese use for low resistance and susceptibility to colds.

Baptisia tinctoria

Wild indigo

American indigo, yellow indigo

h to 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Alkaloids (including baptoxin), glycosides, resin.

Main uses Medical Arthritis; generally for inflammation.

Wild indigo is useful to treat sepsis and inflammation throughout the body. The American herbalist Ellingwood used it in "the treatment of long protracted and sluggish forms of fever with great depression of the vital forces". It is also used by herbalists to counter inflammation of the lymph glands. Externally an ointment is good for infected ulcers and sore or ulcerated nipples.

CAUTION Strong doses of wild indigo may have a purgative and emetic effect.

Cassia senna

Alexandrian senna

(or Cassia angustifolia, Indian senna)

h to 30 ins (75 cm)

Parts used Leaves and pods.

Constituents Anthraquinone glycosides (up to 3% consisting mostly of sennosides A and B), flavonoids, resin, tartaric acid.

Main uses Medical Constipation.

The sennosides in this plant are cathartic. Like all anthraquinones they irritate the bowel wall, stimulating evacuation. Because of this action, the habitual use of this herb is inadvisable since the bowel can quickly become dependent on it. The remedy should not be used in cases of spastic constipation. Chronic constipation should anyway be investigated by a qualified practitioner. Senna causes griping pains when used on its own and is therefore usually combined with aromatics or digestive herbs such as ginger, cloves, dill, fennel, coriander, orange peel or licorice.

CAUTION Avoid prolonged use.

Glycyrrhiza glabra


h 20-60 ins (50-150 cm)

Parts used Roots and runners.

Constituents Glycyrrhizin, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, chalcones, coumarins, triterpenoid saponins, sterols, starch, sugars (up to 14%), amino acids, amines (asparagine, betaine, choline), gums, wax, a volatile oil.

Main uses Culinary As flavouring in confectionery. Medical Sore throats, coughs, heartburn, ulcers, colic.

Licorice is one of the most commonly used herbal remedies because it has the ability to harmonize and blend all the other herbs in a prescription and is useful to mask the taste of many bitter remedies (glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sugar). However, licorice is itself a most valuable medicine. In the body glycyrrhizin yields glycyrhetinic acid, which has a similar structure to the hormones of the adrenal cortex. This may explain why licorice demonstrates potent anti-inflammatory and antiarthritis effects similar to cortisone. There is a case on record of a woman with failure of the adrenal cortex who was supported solely on a regular intake of licorice. The adrenal-like effect of licorice also makes it anti-allergic.

Licorice is a valuable remedy for the digestive system. It is gently laxative and lowers stomach-acid levels, so relieving heartburn. It has a remarkable power to heal stomach ulcers because it spreads a protective gel over the stomach wall and, in addition, it eases spasms of the large intestine. Licorice can neutralize many toxins such as those of diphtheria and tetanus. It also increases the flow of bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. In addition it has a marked ability to reduce irritation of the throat (similar to codeine) and yet has an expectorant action. It is also effective in helping to reduce fevers (glycyrrhetinic acid has an effect like aspirin). In addition, evidence now exists that licorice is antibacterial, and has a possible oestrogenic effect.

CAUTION The action of licorice is like that of the hormone ACTH, causing retention of sodium and potassium and a rise in blood pressure. Although the plant contains asparagine which acts to counter this tendency, avoid licorice if you have high blood pressure or kidney disease or are pregnant. Avoid prolonged use of large doses.

Trifolium pratense

Red clover

Wild clover, trefoil

h 20 ins (50 cm)

Parts used Dried flowerheads.

Constituents Phenolic glycosides, flavonoids, salicylates, cyanogenic glycosides, coumarins.

Main uses Medical Respiratory and skin disorders.

Red clover is relaxant and expectorant, making it useful in treating coughs, bronchitis, and whooping cough. It is also used for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and herbalists use it for children with eczema/asthma syndrome. It has been employed in the herbal treatment of cancer, hut there is no scientific evidence for this.


Allium sativum


h 12 ins (30 cm)

Parts used Cloves; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil, vitamins A, B, and C, fats, amino acids. The oil contains alliin which once the cloves are cut or crushed, is converted to allicin. Once exposed to air, allicin is converted to diallydisulphide which is the component responsible for the antibacterial (gram-negative and positive) effect of garlic.

Main uses Culinary Used widely, especially in Mediterranean and eastern cuisines; in butters, vinegars, and garlic salt. Medical Colds, coughs, to aid digestion, for high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis.

Garlic has been used as a food and medicine since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the slaves who built the Great Pyramid ate great quantities of it. Modern science has confirmed many of garlic's reputed healing properties. Experiments conducted in India show that eating garlic can significantly lower blood cholesterol and other fats. Research at George Washington University, USA, shows that garlic can also reduce blood-clotting, so making it useful in cardiovascular disease. Since garlic has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in both animals and humans, it is evidently useful in guarding against strokes which can occur when blood pressure is raised or the blood clots in the cerebral arteries.

In both World Wars, garlic was applied to wounds to prevent septic poisoning and gangrene. Garlic has also been used successfully to control diarrhoea, dysentery, pulmonary TB, diphtheria, whooping cough, typhoid and hepatitis. It is effective against many fungal infections and trichomonas. It can be used to expel worms. Garlic has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, indicating its use in controlling mild diabetes.

Herbalists consider garlic to be a first-rate digestive tonic, and also use it to treat toothache, earache, coughs, and colds (regular intake can prevent colds and reduce excess phlegm). Garlic's folk reputation for treating cancer has received scientific support from two Japanese researchers who showed in 1963 that injections of garlic extract killed tumour cells in rats.

Allium schoenoprasum


h 8-12 ins (20-30 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Essential oil (containing sulphur).

Main uses Culinary In savoury dishes from salads, soups, and soft cheese to grilled meats.

Chives are used extensively in cooking. In Europe they are layered on top of a thick bacon omelette. They have no medicinal use.

Aloe vera (also known as Aloe barbadensis


Aloe vera, first-aid plant, medicine plant Aloe ferox gives cape aloe

h 1-5 ft (30-150 cm)

Parts used Bitter juice and gel.

Constituents Bitter juice (drug aloe): Anthraquinone glycosides and free anthraquinones, resins. Gel: glucomannan, a polysaccharide similar to guar and locust-bean gums; also said to occur are steroids, organic acids, enzymes, antibiotic principles, amino acids, saponins, minerals.

Main uses Medical Burns, cuts, and wounds.

Aloe yields two distinct medicinal substances. The juice (drug aloe), which is obtained by cutting the leaves at their base, and a gel extracted by breaking the leaves themselves. The juice is a powerful cathartic, which is hardly suitable for medicinal use.

The gel, on the other hand, is one of the most remarkable healing substances known. Applied locally it encourages skin regeneration and may be used directly on burns, cuts and wounds. It also has emollient properties. The gel is now available commercially but harsh solvents used in its extraction, and frequent adulteration, make many of these products unreliable. But aloe is easy to grow as a houseplant.

Asparagus officinalis


Garden asparagus, sparrow grass

h 3-9 ft (1-3 m)

Parts used Stem, tips, root.

Constituents Asparagin, saponins, flavonoids, volatile oil, glucoside, gum, resin, tannic acid.

Main uses Culinary Tips as vegetable. Medical Root for urinary and bowel disorders.

Wild asparagus was eaten by both the Greeks and the Romans as a vegetable. We now eat the cultivated variety. This species has diuretic and laxative properties, especially if the fresh juice is taken. The root is also used for its diuretic properties.

Chamaelirium luteum (also known as Helonias dioica)

False unicorn root

Helonias, blazing star

h 1-3 ft (30-90 cm)

Parts used Rhizome and root.

Constituents Steroidal saponins (including chamaelirin).

Main uses Medical As tonic to the reproductive system.

False unicorn root contains hormonelike saponins, which account in part for its considerable reputation as an ovarian and uterine tonic. Herbalists use it to encourage fertility in women and to treat impotence in men. They also employ the plant to treat disturbances of menstruation accompanied by a bearing-down sensation. It has a reputation for preventing miscarriage and is sometimes effective against morning sickness. Such treatments, however, should be left to the professional. The herb's tonic properties also benefit the appetite and digestion. This plant is sometimes confused with Aletris farinosa, or true unicorn root. Aletris also contains steroidal saponins (diosgenin) and is reported to have oestrogenic properties.

CAUTION Use only as prescribed by a qualified practitioner.

Convallaria majalis

Lily of the valley

May lily

h 4-8 ins (10-20 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Cardiac glycosides (including convallatoxin, convalloside, and gluconvalloside), saponins, flavonoids, asparagin.

Main uses Medical Heart disease.

This herb, like the foxglove, contains cardiac glycosides which increase the strength of the heart beat while slowing and regularizing its rate without putting extra demand on the coronary blood supply. But in lily of the valley, the active cardiac glycosides are released sequentially rather than all at once and are readily excreted by the kidneys, so avoiding the kind of toxic build up that can happen when taking foxglove or its isolated glycoside, digoxin.

The flavonoids in the plant encourage the arteries to dilate while the asparagin acts as a diuretic, helping the body to void excess fluid. Thus the herb can be used safely if there is high blood pressure.

RESTRICTED The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified this plant as poisonous.

Exotic herbs

Many of the herbs used in medicine grow in remote parts of the globe or will only survive in hot climates. They are therefore most familiar in dried or prepared forms, which are widely available from herbal suppliers in the West. The range is great, from oriental ginseng to Jamaican dogwood, kola from Africa and Brazil to senna from the Middle East and India. This variety reflects the medical herbalism of many different countries.

Smilax officinalis (and spp.)


Size variable

Parts used Root.

Constituents Steroids and steroidal saponins, sarsapic acid, starch, resin, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Rheumatism and skin complaints.

In Europe, sarsaparilla came to prominence in the sixteenth century as a potential cure for syphilis and remained a main remedy for this disease until this century although its effectiveness has never been established. However, a Chinese species, Smilax glabra, has been found to be highly effective for this disease and has also been used to treat mercury poisoning. Today herbalists consider sarsaparilla to be a blood purifier, useful in treating rheumatism and skin complaints such as psoriasis.

Sarsaparilla is also used to flavour soft drinks. This use is popular in the Caribbean.

Trillium erectum (also known as T. pendulum)

Beth root

Birth root, wake-robin

h to 20 ins (50 cm)

Parts used Dried rhizome and root.

Constituents Steroidal saponins (including diosgenin), fixed oil, gum, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Menstrual disorders.

For many generations herbalists have used this North American Indian herb to stop post-partum haemorrhage, It also has the reputation (in professional use only) for preventing over-profuse menstruation and leucorrhoea. Its astringent action has been put to use to treat gastro-intestinal bleeding, diarrhoea, and dysentery, and the plant has also been employed externally as an antiseptic poultice. The saponin diosgenin in the plant has a close relationship to human sex hormones, cortisone, Vitamin D, and cardiac glycosides.

Urginea maritima

SquillWhite squill, sea squill

h to 5 ft (150 cm)

Parts used Dried fleshy tuner part of the bulb.

Constituents Cardiac glycosides, flavonoids, mucilage, tannin, volatile oil, a carbohydrate.

Main uses Medical Catarrhal bronchitis.

Squill, like foxglove and lily of the valley, contains cardio-active glycosides, hut in the case of squill, these are broken down so quickly in the body that they have little or no effect on the heart. The main use of this remedy is as a stimulating expectorant useful in bronchitis and other lung disorders. It is especially applicable if there is lung disease leading to a right-sided heart problem. The herb is also diuretic.

CAUTION Large doses of white squill can cause vomiting. Red squill contains scilliroside, a powerful emetic used as a rat poison. This squill is not used in medicine.


Linum usitatissimumFlaxLinseed

h 12-50 ins (30-130 cm)

Parts used Oil and seeds.

Constituents Fixed oil (up to 40%, including linoleic and linolenic acid), mucilage (6%) protein (25%), a cyanogenic glycoside (linamarine).

Main uses Medical As a laxative, for coughs, as a poultice for burns.

Flax is one of the most ancient cultivated plants. It is most widely known for the fibres obtained from its stems. The plant was grown and used by early Mesopotamians, Egyptians and Greeks to make cloth.

The oil from the seeds is known, as linseed oil. It is used widely in paints and varnishes. Linseed oil is also used in cooking and recently has been recommended to help leach toxic heavy metals such as aluminium from the body. The oil, mixed with slippery elm powder, makes a good poultice for burns.

The ground seeds also make an excellent drawing and healing poultice. The seeds are an effective bulk laxative, while a decoction of linseed is good for coughs and urinary infections.

CAUTION 3 1/2 oz (100 g) of the seeds eaten at once have been known to cause poisoning. Do not exceed 2 oz (60 g) internally. Do not use immature seeds. Only use oil sold for human consumption.


Viscum album

MistletoeEuropean mistletoe, birdlime

h to 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Twigs and leaves.

Constituents May vary according to the host plant. Eleven proteins, viscotoxin (a cardioactive polypeptide), triterpenoid saponins, resin, mucilage, histamine, traces of an alkaloid.

Main uses Medical To lower blood pressure; as sedative.

Mistletoe acts to slow the heart rate and dilate the arteries, so lowering blood pressure. It also has a sedative effect on the nervous system. Some controversy exists as to this remedy's supposed toxic effects on the liver but to date these have remained unsubstantiated. Indeed, there is evidence that mistletoe may have anti-tumour activities.

CAUTION The berries are highly poisonous. This herb should only be prescribed by a qualified practitioner.

RESTRICTED The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified American Mistletoe as unsafe.


Althea officinalis

Marsh mallow


Menyanthes trifoliata


Buckbean, water shamrock, marsh trefoil, water trefoil

h to 10 ins (25 cm)

Parts used Leaves and rhizome; cultivation.

Constituents Bitter glycosides, alkaloids, saponin, essential oil, flavonoids; the rhizome contains the bitter sweroside found in centaury.

Main uses Medical Indigestion and rheumatism.

The bitters in this plant give it a tonic action similar to centaury and gentian, useful in indigestion and anorexia. It also has a reputation for easing rheumatic pains and being midly sedative.

CAUTION Large doses may be emetic. Avoid in inflammatory bowel disease.


Peumus boldo



h 16-20 ft (5-6 m)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Alkaloids (including lamotetanine, boldine, isoboldine), volatile oil (including cymene, asconiodole, linalool, flavonoid glycosides, resin, tannins.

Main uses Medical Urinary infections and gallstones.

Boldo is a diuretic and urinary antiseptic remedy, useful in the treatment of cystitis, It also stimulates the liver and gallbladder. It increases the flow of bile, and is often prescribed by herbalists to treat gallstones.


Myrica cerifera


Wax myrtle, waxberry, candleberry

h to 33 ft (10 m)

Parts used Dried root bark.

Constituents Tannins, triterpenes (including myricadiol), flavonoid glycoside (myricitrin), resin, gum.

Althea officinalis


40-80x36 ins (100-200x90 cm)

Parts used Roots and leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Mucilage (in the root up to 35% in the leaf about 10% the mucilage content of the root is reported to be at its highest in winter), asparagin, tannins.

Main uses General In cosmetics. Medical Gastritis, ulcers, coughs, cystitis. Also as a poultice.

Due to its high mucilage content, marshmallow is a soothing, healing plant, useful in treating inflammation and ulceration of the stomach and small intestine. It is also works by reflex on the wall of the alimentary canal, to soothe the urinary and respiratory tracts. It is used to treat tight, harsh coughs (it is a mild expectorant) and inflammation of the urinary tract (asparagin gives it a slight diuretic activity). The pulverized roots may be used as a healing and drawing poultice, which should be applied warm.

Main uses Medical A stimulating astringent with a wide range of uses.

This plant produces an edible fat which is still used to make candles. The herb was a key astringent used by the North American Physiomedical herbalists and was a major component of Samuel Thomson's famous composition powder. Bayberry is used to treat the inflammation and infection of the gastrointestinal tract. It has been used to treat post-partum haemorrhagc and taken internally and used as a douche is recommended for excessive menstruation and leucorrhoea. A hot decoction is employed to treat colds and fevers. The powdered bark has been used as a snuff for congested nasal passages and a decoction makes a good gargle for throat infections. A compress is effective for healing cuts and ulcers. Myricitrin is bactericidal and encourages the flow of bile. Another constituent, myricadiol is reported to cause retention of salt and potassium excretion.

CAUTION Avoid prolonged use.


Eucalyptus globulus


Tasmanian blue gum

h to 230 ft (65 m)

Parts used Oil of leaves.

Constituents Oil comprising 70% cineole, pinenes, sesquiterpene alcohols, aromadendrene, cuminaldehyde.

Main uses Medical Colds and coughs.

Eucalyptus oil is strongly antiseptic and is used externally in inhalations for colds and excess phlegm and diluted as a chest rub for coughs. It also eradicates lice and fleas. A lemon-scented species, E. citriodora, is a popular ingredient in dry pot pourris.

CAUTION Do not use internally.

Eugenia aromatica (also known as Syzygium aromaticum)


30-45 ft (10-15 m)

Parts used Dried buds.

Constituents Volatile oil (15%), gallotanic acid (13%), caryophyllin.

Main uses General In pot-pourris and pomanders. Culinary Used widely, especially with ham, fruit, mulled winter drinks; in garam masala and five-spice powder.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree, which were used in China as early as 266 BC. Their strong, spicy odour and pungent taste are a particular feature of Asian cuisine. Oil of cloves is strongly antiseptic due to the high percentage of phenols (84-95%). It has long been employed as an effective remedy for toothache.

Pimenta officinalis


h to 40 ft (12 m)

Parts used Berries.

Constituents Volatile oil (to 4.5% comprising mainly eugenol, plus cineole, phellandrene, caryophyllene).

Main uses Culinary In pickles, preserves, cakes, and biscuits.

Most supplies of allspice come from Jamaica. The name was coined in the seventeenth century to describe the flavour, which was like a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Because of its hybrid flavour, allspice blends very well with other spices and is therefore an ingredient in many spice mixtures. The part of the berry with the strongest flavour is the shell, so it is best to use whole berries and grind them immediately before use to obtain the best flavour. Allspice can be used in a wide range of foods, both sweet and savoury -- from pâtés to biscuits, curries to winter drinks such as mulled wine. Like many herbs used in cooking, it has the reputation of easing flatulence. Allspice may also be added to pot pourris.


Myristica fragrans


h to 40 ft (12 m)

Parts used Seed and covering.

Constituents Volatile oil (5-15% comprising eugenol and iso-eugenol), fixed oil (25-40%) yielding fat and comprising myristic acid (60%), oleic, palmitic, lauric and linoleic acids, also terpineol, borneol, terpenes.

Main uses Culinary In milk and cheese dishes; in sweet desserts; with green vegetables.

Nutmegs were introduced by the Arabs into the eastern Mediterranean in the middle of the twelfth century. In 1191 nutmeg was one of the aromatics strewn in the streets of Rome for its fumigant properties, on the occasion of Emperor Henry Vl's coronation. The pendulous, globular fruit of this tree splits to release the nutmeg kernel. It is covered by the scarlet mace, which can also be bought separately and used as a spice. The flavours of nutmeg and mace are similar, but mace is stronger. As well as its culinary uses, nutmeg helps to relieve flatulence, vomiting and nausea.

CAUTION Nutmeg is toxic in anything but small amounts and should be used very sparingly. Side effects include disorientation, double vision, hallucination and convulsions.


Chionanthus virginicus


Snowdrop tree, snowflower, white fringe, old man's beard, poison ash tree, chionanthus

h to 27 ft (8 m)

Parts used Dried root bark, bark.

Constituents Saponins, phyllyrin (a lignan glycoside).

Main uses Medical For liver and gallbladder disease.

This North American tree, which is cultivated for its snow-like appearance when in flower, is an excellent bitter tonic. It is used to treat liver and gallbladder disease. It promotes the flow of bile from the gallbladder, stimulates the appetite and gastric secretions, and has a laxative action. It is also used for the treatment of intermittent fevers and to strengthen the constitution after chronic debilitating diseases such as glandular fever (mononucleosis). The bark is used as a poultice for healing wounds.


Oenothera lamarkiana O. biennis

Evening primrose

60x24 ins (150x60 cm)

Parts used Extracted oil.

Constituents Essential fatty acids, especially gammalinoleic acid (GLA).

Main uses Medical PMS and many other disorders.

Were it not for an increasingly substantial body of scientific evidence backing the extraordinary therapeutic range of the oil extracted from the evening-primrose plant, the claims made on its behalf would seem mere quackery. Evening primrose oil can have startling effects in the treatment of the premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

In 1981, at St Thomas's Hospital, London, 65 women with PMS were treated with oil of evening primrose. Of these 61% experienced complete relief, and 23% partial relief. One symptom, breast engorgement, was especially improved. 72% of the women reported feeling better.

In November 1982, the prestigious British medical journal, the Lancet carried the results of the double blind crossover study on 99 patients with ectopic eczema. This showed that when high doses of evening primrose oil were taken about 43% of the patients in the trial experienced an improvement.

Studies of the effect of evening primrose oil on hyperactive children also indicate that this form of treatment is beneficial in calming the children down. About two-thirds of the children treated responded favourably. Evening primrose oil, it appears, is also useful to counteract alcoholic poisoning. It is highly effective in preventing hangovers. A study in Inverness, Scotland, demonstrated that the oil will encourage a liver damaged by alcohol to regenerate. Other work indicates that oil of evening primrose can help withdrawal from alcohol and ease post-drinking depression.

Another Scottish study has shown that evening primrose oil can help dry eyes and brittle nails. When combined with zinc the oil may be used to treat acne. More controversially, oil of evening primrose is also claimed to be of benefit to sufferers of multiple sclerosis. Its use for MS sufferers has been recommended by Professor Field who directed MS research at the UK Medical Research Council's Demyelinating Diseases Unit.

Oil of evening primrose is also effective in guarding against coronary artery disease. Its active ingredient, gammalinoleic acid (GLA), is a powerful anti-blood-clotter. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in animals with high blood pressure. A New York hospital discovered that people more than ten percent above their ideal body weight lost weight when taking the oil.

Perhaps the most remarkable study of all was completed at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1987 using evening primrose oil to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis. 60% of patients taking the oil were able to stop their normal anti-arthritis drugs, and those taking fish oil in addition to evening primrose oil fared even better.

There is scientific explanation for these extraordinary results. GLA is a precursor of a hormone-like substance called PGEI which has a wide range of beneficial effects in the body. The production of this substance in some people may be blocked. GLA has been found in oil extracted from blackcurrant seeds and borage seeds, both of which are now commercial sources of this substance.

CAUTION Side effects of headache, skin rashes, and nausea have been reported. Use for epileptics is not recommended.


Cypripedium pubescens

Lady's slipper

Yellow lady's slipper, nerve root

h 4-40 ins ( 10-100 cm).

Parts used Dried root.

Constituents Volatile oil, glucosides, resins, tannins.

Main uses Medical To calm nervous tension, for headaches, cramps.

The North American Indians used this root for nervous diseases and to allay pain. It relaxes and clams nervousness and tension. The plant provides a gentle and effective treatment for nervous headaches; it quiets anxiety, and promotes sleep. It also eases muscle and menstrual cramping. Recently lady's slipper has become difficult to obtain. It is a protected species.

CAUTION Large doses can cause headaches and disorientation. The fresh plant can cause contact dermatitis.


Oxalis acetosella

Wood sorrel

Wood sour, three-leaved grass, stubwort

h 2-4 ins (5-8 cm)

Parts used Leaves and root

Constituents Oxalic acid, potassium oxalate, mucilage, vitamin C.

Main uses Culinary In salads and sauces (small amounts only).

This plant was widely used in sauces in the Middle Ages, but was largely replaced in culinary uses by buckler-leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus). The sharp acidic taste of the leaves gave the plant its Latin name, which is derived from the Greek word for "sour". The taste also made the leaves a substitute for vinegar.

CAUTION This plant is poisonous in large quantities. It should be avoided by sufferers of kidney stones, rheumatism, or gout.


Serenoa serrulata var S. Repens sabal serrulata

Saw palmetto


h 3-6 ft (1-2 m)

Parts used Berries.

Constituents A green volatile oil, fixed oil, steroidal saponins, resin, tannins.

Main uses Medical Reproductive disorders, colds, catarrh, and urinary diseases.

In his book on saw palmetto, the American doctor, Hule, noted the fattening properties of the berries after the summer drought. The North American Indians and white settlers recognized that the berries had the same nutritative properties for humans, stimulating the appetite and encouraging assimilation, so increasing fat, flesh and strength.

The berries' nourishing qualities are reputed to extend to the sexual organs (the steroidal saponins are probably significant here). The remedy has been prescribed for atrophy of the testes, low libido, and impotence in men. The herb is also recommended for inflammation of the prostate and enlarged prostate. According to the eclectic doctor Ellingwood, saw palmetto is also effective for functional infertility in women and to increase the supply of mother's milk. Saw palmetto may be used to relieve painful periods associated with lack of tone of the reproductive organs.

The berries have a toning and soothing influence on mucous membranes throughout the body as well as an expectorant property, making this a useful remedy for colds and catarrh (the isolated oil is an effective inhalant). It has a traditional use for asthma and bronchitis. The herb is also used to treat urinary disorders and enuresis. It is reputed to be mildly sedative to the nervous system.


Chelidonium majus

Greater celandine

h 12-36 ins (30-90 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts; cultivation.

Constituents Orange latex containing about ten alkaloids including chelidonine, chelerythrin, protopine, sanguinarine, saponin.

Main uses Medical Gallbladder disease and stones.

Greater celandine is an excellent remedy for stimulating the liver and gallbladder as well as being specific for infections of the gallbladder and gallstones. The plant has narcotic properties and is reputed to have an anticancer activity. The external application of the orange latex to warts is an old and often successful folk remedy.

CAUTION Poisonous in large doses. RESTRICTED.

Papaver somniferum

Opium poppy

h 2-4 ft 60-125 cm)

Parts used Seeds.

Constituents Some 25 alkaloids (including morphine, codeine, papaverine, thebaine, narceine) meconic acid.

Main uses Culinary In baking.

The unripe seed capsules of the opium poppy are used for the extraction of morphine and the manufacture of codeine. It is the ripe seeds of the poppy that we use in cooking.

Sanguinaria canadensis

Blood root

Red root, Indian paint

h 12 ins (30 cm)

Parts used Dried rhizome and root.

Constituents Many alkaloids (including sanguinarine, sanguidimerine, cholerythrine, protopine, berberine, copticine), also red resin.

Main uses Medical Bronchial catarrh.

The North American Indians used this plant to make a body paint. It is a fairly harsh stimulating expectorant. Sanguinarine has been reported to have a possible antibacterial and anti-cancer activity.

CAUTION Large doses can be poisonous. Blood root is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as unsafe.


Sarothamnus scoparius (also known as Cytisus scoparius)


Broomtops, scotch broom

l0x7 ft (3x2 m)

Parts used Flowering tops.

Constituents Alkaloids (sparteine, genisteine and sarothamnine), amines, amino acids, volatile oil, tannin.

Main uses Medical To regulate the heart; diuretic.

The Mediaeval name, planta genista, of this shrub was adopted by Henry Il of England as his family name, Plantagenet. As today's names indicate, this plant makes an effective broom. Sparteine has a cardio-depressant action and herbalists use broom to regulate and strengthen the heartbeat. It causes constriction of the peripheral blood vessels and thus a rise in blood pressure. Its use should be avoided in cases of high blood pressure. Broom is an effective diuretic and is used for fluid retention because of an incompetent heart. In France, the ashes of the whole plant are macerated in white wine, which is then strained and taken as a diuretic.

CAUTION Use only as prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner. Broom must never be used during pregnancy or when there is high blood pressure. It is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as unsafe.

Trigonella foenum-graecum


Bird's foot, Greek hay-seed

20x12 ins (50x30 cm)

Parts used Seed.

Constituents Alkaloids (trigonelline, choline, gentianine, carpaine), steroidal saponins (mainly diosgenin), flavonoids, oils (up to 8%), mucilage, up to 30%), protein (up to 20%), vitamins A, B, and C, calcium, iron, other minerals.

Main uses Culinary For flavouring in confectionery; as a spice in curries, chutneys. Medical Reproductive disorders and as a drawing poultice.

Fenugreek has been used as a spice and medicine since ancient times. The Arabs roast the seeds and use them as a kind of "coffee". The plant has exciting therapeutic possibilities because of its steroidal saponins which closely resemble the body's own sex hormones. This may account for the folk reputation of fenugreek as an aphrodisiac and for its substantial reputation for increasing the flow of milk in nursing mothers. In China fenugreek is prescribed for impotence in men and is also recommended for menopausal sweating and depression. It is a useful source of vitamins and minerals particularly calcium (again important after the menopause).

In addition, fenugreek is a soothing remedy for bronchitis and the pulverized seeds make an excellent poultice for rheumatic pains or boils which benefit from its drawing power.

In culinary use, fenugreek seeds are valued for their taste, which is similar to celery, and their vitamin and mineral content. They are used most frequently in spice mixtures for curries and in preserves. An additional species, T. purpurascens, is sometimes grown for culinary use.

CAUTION Fenugreek has a stimulating effect on the uterus and should not be used as a medicine during pregnancy.


Cetraria islandica

Iceland moss

h 1-5 ins (3-12 cm)

Parts used Dried whole lichen.

Constituents Mucilage (up to 70% including lichenin and isolichenin), bitter fumaric acids, usnic acid, iodine.

Main uses Medical Respiratory disorders.

Iceland moss is a lichen with antibiotic properties. It used to be prescribed for TB because it was reputed to kill the tubercle bacillus and clear phlegm in the lungs. Herbalists still use it for asthma and other respiratory disorders. Its bitter taste and mucilage makes it both stimulating and soothing to the digestive tract. It is used to quell nausea and vomiting. Iceland moss has nourishing properties and has been used as a food after the bitterness was removed by boiling.


Passiflora incarnata


h 20-32 ft (6-10 m)

Parts used Flower and vine.

Constituents Alkaloids (harmane, harmol, harmaline, harmine and harmalol), flavonoids, sugars, sterols, gum.

Main uses Medical As a tranquillizer.

Passion flower relaxes the nervous system and has non-addictive sedative properties. It is an important remedy for anxiety, tension, and insomnia. It is also used to reduce high blood pressure. Its alkaloids and flavonoids are reported to have tranquillizing effects.

Harpogophytum procumbens

Devil's claw

Parts used Tuber.

Constituents Iridoid glycosides, (harpogoside, harpagide and procumbine), sugars, gum-resin, Beta sitosterols.

Main uses Medical Arthritis.

This African plant gains its rather forbidding common name from its large hooked, claw-like fruit which has been known to trap and injure livestock grazing where it grows. It is, however, the tuber which is used in herbal medicine. Since the first scientific tests in 1958 at the University of Jena in Germany showed that this plant has strong anti-inflammatory properties, compared to cortisone and phenylbutazone, its healing reputation for treating arthritis and myalgia has spread far and wide. Recent French and German studies confirm the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving potential of devil's claw comparable to that of cortisone and phenylbutazone. The plant also appears to be diuretic, to stimulate the liver and gall bladder and the lymphatic system and to lower blood sugar. Two components of the plant, harpogoside and Beta sitosterol, have anti-inflammatory properties but experiments indicate that the whole plant, not an isolated chemical, works best. Devil's claw also has a reputation, used externally, for treating skin disease.

CAUTION It has been suggested that devil's claw stimulates uterine muscle and should therefore be avoided in pregnancy.


Phytolacca americana (also known as P. decandra)

Poke root

Coakum, pigeonberry, poke

40x24 ins (100x60 cm)

Parts used Dried root.

Constituents Triterpenoid saponins, alkaloid (phytolaccine), resins, phytolaccic acid, tannin.

Main uses Medical Tonsillitis, swollen glands, and mastitis.

Poke root has a considerable reputation for stimulating the lymphatic system. Herbalists use it for tonsillitis, swollen glands and mumps. It is also used in rheumatism because it stimulates elimination from the tissues. As a poultice it is used to treat mastitis.

CAUTION The fresh plant is poisonous. In large doses the dried root is emetic and cathartic. Overdoses can be fatal.


Piper methysticum

Kava kava

h 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Dried rhizome and roots.

Constituents Oleo-resin including lactones, alkaloid, starch, mucilage.

Main uses Medical Urinary disorders.

In the south-sea islands an alcoholic drink made from kava kava was employed for inducing hallucinogenic states during religious ceremonies. The plant at first stimulates, then depresses the nervous system. It achieved wide fame as a possible cure for gonorrhoea. Today herbalists use it as a diuretic, urinary antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, making it useful for cystitis and prostatitis. It is also employed to treat gout and rheumatism. Externally it has been used as an analgesic in liniments.

Piper nigrum


Black pepper

Size variable.

Parts used Dried peppercorns.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 2.5% containing the alkaloids piperine, piperettine), hydrocyanic acid, resins, starch.

Main uses Culinary For seasoning.

Pepper has been one of our most highly prized spices since earliest trade with the cast. It was used as a currency during the siege of Rome in AD 408 and "peppercorn rents", now meaning very low rents, were commonly paid to landlords. The high cost of pepper and other spices motivated the Portuguese to find a sea route to India. Black pepper and white pepper come from the same shrub. Instead of picking the unripe berries and drying them to produce black pepper, the fruit is allowed to ripen and then soaked to remove the dark outer skin, producing the white variety, which is milder than black. Whole peppercorns are used in pickles, marinades, stews, and stocks while ground pepper is included in savoury dishes. Because pepper loses its flavour quickly when ground, the whole corns should be kept in a mill and ground when required. Pepper stimulates the taste buds and helps to promote gastric secretions.


Plantago major

Broad-leafed plantain

Common plantain, snakeweed Also P. lanceolata (long or lance-leaved plantain); P. psyllium (psyllium plantain or fleaseed)

h 2-16 ins (5-40 cm)

Parts used Leaves of P. major and P. lanceolata; the seeds of P. psyllium.

Constituents P. major and P. lanceolata Mucilage, glycosides, tannins, silica. P. psyllium Mucilage up to 30%, monoterpene alkaloids, glycosides, sugars, triterpenes, fixed oil, fatty acids (eg linoleic), tannins.

Main uses Medical Cuts, stings, and insect bites. Psyllium seeds as bulk laxative.

Broad-leafed and lance-leafed plantain have similar properties. The crushed leaves can be applied directly to the skin to stop bleeding and allay the pain of bee stings and insect bites, internally, an infusion of the leaves has a soothing, expectorant property making them good for the treatment of bronchitis and other lung problems. Plantain's astringent action is useful in treating diarrhoea and cystitis. The plant is also said to be diuretic, its silica and tannin content make it useful in treating varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Silica is beneficial for damaged lungs too.

Psyllium seeds (Plantago psyllium) are derived from two related species. Pale or blond psyllium seeds are inferior to the black seeds which are a gentle bulk laxative. Two teaspoons of the unground seeds should be put into a cup of warm water and stirred. After five minutes the contents should be swallowed and the dose repeated once to three times a day.

CAUTION Inhaling psyllium powder can cause asthma. Unsoaked seeds can cause gastrointestinal problems.


Polygonum bistorta


Snake root

h 10-20 ins (25-50 cm)

Parts used Fresh leaves, dried rhizome.

Constituents Tannins, vitamin C, starch, oxalic acid.

Main uses Culinary Leaves boiled as vegetable in spring. Medical Diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, cuts, and sores.

This plant is rich in tannins, accounting for its astringent action. As well as being used in medicine it has a long history of use for food in northern Europe.

Rheum officinale

Chinese rhubarb

h to 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Root and rhizome.

Constituents Anthraquinone glycosides (up to 5% including sennosides A, B, C, D, E and F), free anthraquinones including emodin, tannins.

Main uses Medical Constipation.

Rhubarb has apparently contradictory effects that are due to its variety of constituents. In small doses, the astringent tannins in the root make it effective for diarrhoea and also tonic to the digestive system. In larger doses, the irritative action on the bowel due to the anthraquinones give it a decidedly cathartic effect. In China, rhubarb root is an important ingredient in many prescriptions to treat high fevers.

CAUTION Avoid if suffering from arthritis, kidney disease, or urinary problems; and during pregnancy. The root of English rhubarb (R. rhaponticum) has similar properties but its leaf blades are poisonous.


Rumex crispus

Yellow dock

h 20-40 ins (50-100 cm)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Anthraquinone glycosides, tannins, iron.

Main uses Medical Skin diseases.

Although yellow dock, like rhubarb, contains anthraquinone glycosides, it has a gentle laxative rather than cathartic effect. This action is encouraged by its stimulating effect on bile production. It is a valuable cleansing remedy to help treat skin eruptions. A compress can help to soothe itchy skin. The plant's high iron content makes it valuable for correcting anaemia.

Rumex scutatus

French sorrel

Buckerleaf sorrel, garden sorrel

16x16 ins (40x40 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Oxalates, in small quantities, vitamin C.

Main uses Culinary In salads, egg dishes, sauces, soups; with fish.

Young green sorrel leaves have a slightly acid, lemony taste. Sorrel contains vitamin C and is a nutritious cleansing herb in spring. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, cooked in butter, or incorporated into sauces and soups.

R. acetosa is a related species with leaves that may be eaten either raw, boiled or cooked like spinach and eaten with turnips or light meats such as lamb.

CAUTION Due to the oxalic acid content of this plant, avoid sorrel if you are suffering from arthritis or kidney disease. Avoid large doses.


Primula veris


Keyflower, palsywort

10x8 ins (25x20 cm)

Parts used Flowers and root; cultivation.

Constituents Up to 10% saponins and glycosides (primulaveroside and primveroside containing salicylates), a volatile oil, and flavonoids.

Main uses Culinary Flowers in cowslip wine. Medical Insomnia and nervous tension. Arthritis (the root).

This is a plant with a wide range of uses. The flowers, which carry most of the essential oil (known as primula camphor) are a simple remedy for insomnia and nervous tension. Cowslip syrup was a country remedy for palsy (paralysis), hence its alternative name, palseywort. A tea of the flowers is commonly used for headache. Cowslip flowers also have a reputation for treating measles and an ointment made from them is good for sunburn. Cowslip wine strengthens the nervous system when taken in medicinal doses.

The high saponin content in the root probably accounts for the reputation of this part of the plant for treating whooping cough and bronchitis (both the flowers and root have an expectorant effect). The salicylates present in the root explain the widespread use in Europe of this part of the plant in the treatment of arthritis. For this reason in many old herbals the roots are called radix arthritica.

This once common grassland flower has now become relatively rare. Although it is beginning to establish itself on roadside verges away from damaging pesticide spraying, care should be taken not to over-collect it.


Anemone pulsatilla

Pasque flower

Pulsatilla, windflower, prairie or meadow anemone

4-12x8 ins (10-30x20 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts; cultivation.

Constituents The fresh plant contains the glycoside, ranunculin, which in the dried plant converts to anemonin; also saponins and a resin. The dried plant should not be stored for longer than a year.

Main uses Medical Nervous tension, neuralgia, earache, inflammation of the reproductive system.

This plant is called pasque flower because it blooms at Easter. According to Greek legend, it sprang from the tears of Venus, and Dioscorides mentions its use for ophthalmia, advice echoed by Gerard and Culpeper. In homeopathy tearfulness is one of the chief symptoms for which pulsatilla is prescribed.

Herbalists make judicious use of this apparently frail but powerful plant, using it in small doses. As in homeopathy, it is particularly applicable to women, being useful for neuralgia, headache, and nervous exhaustion. It is also useful for pain and inflammation of the reproductive system, alleviating menstrual cramps especially useful when the woman is anxious or irritable. It is employed for treating male reproductive disorders too. But reproductive ailments need professional attention. The tincture is also prescribed for earache. Herbalists use the plant externally to treat skin infections because of its antibacterial properties.

CAUTION This plant should only be used as prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner. The fresh plant is poisonous.

Cimicifuga racemosa

Black cohosh

Black snakeroot, bugbane, squawroot

h 3-6 ft (1-2 m).

Parts used Dried root and rhizome.

Constituents Triterpene glycosides (actein and cimigoside), resin (cimicifugin), salycilates, isoferulic acid, tannin, ranunculin (which yields anemonin), volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Nerve and muscle pain; arthritis.

This is another valuable remedy inherited from the North American Indians. It is widely used for treating neuralgia. Its sedative effect is probably due in part to anemonin which depresses the central nervous system. Black cohosh is employed for treating headaches and tinnitus. A resinous compound insoluble in water lowers blood pressure and dilates the blood vessels. This ability to dilate the blood vessels is in character with another major activity of black cohosh, which is antispasmodic, easing cramping and muscle tension. The herb has been used to treat arthritis where there is muscular as well as joint pain. The salicylates in the plant are anti-inflammatory and research confirms that the whole plant has this effect, which is helpful to the respiratory system.

Black cohosh's antispasmodic action makes it a remedy for asthma and whooping cough. The herb is also effective in treating menstrual cramps and is useful during childbirth. According to the eclectic physician Dr Felter, the remedy is "an ideal regulator of uterine contractions during labour".

CAUTION A powerful remedy only to be used by those experienced in herbal medicine. Overdose can result in intense headache, dizzyness, visual disturbances, a slow pulse rate and nausea and vomiting. Avoid in pregnancy.

Hydrastis canadensis

Golden seal

Yellow root, orange root, Indian turmeric, eye root

12x10 ins (30x25 cm).

Parts used Rhizome and root.

Constituents Alkaloids (hydrastine and berberine, also canadine and others), resin, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Inflammation of the digestive system.

Golden seal is a famous North American Indian medicine. It is one of the most effective herbal remedies for inflamed and catarrhal conditions of the mucous membranes. It is invaluable in treating peptic ulcers and strongly stimulates the secretion of bile. An infusion makes an effective douche for trichomonas and thrush (Candida albicans). A mouth wash or gargle of golden seal is good for infected gums and sore throats. It is an ingredient in many soothing and healing eye lotions and eardrops. An external wash is highly effective in eradicating skin infections or stores, particularly impetigo or ringworm, although it stains the skin yellow. Modern research confirms the plant's potential. The plant's major alkaloids hydrastine and berberine are sedative and tend to lower blood pressure. Both exhibit a strong antibacterial and even an anti-viral action.

CAUTION Berberine stimulates the uterus. Do not use golden seal during pregnancy.

Paeonia lactifloria


h to 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Benzoic acid, asparagin, essential oil, alkaloid.

Main uses Medical Kidney and gallbladder disease.

This plant has a long history of medical use from China to western Europe, but its use has now declined.

CAUTION This plant is poisonous. RESTRICTED.

Ranunculus ficaria

Lesser celandine


h 2-10 ins (5-25 cm)

Parts used Whole plant.

Constituents Anemonin, protoanemonin, tannin.

Main uses Medical Piles.

This is one of the earliest of spring flowers whose tubers give the plant its Latin name ficaria -- from the Latin for a fig, ficus. To adherents of the Doctrine of Signatures, the tubers looked like piles. In former times, herbalists recommended the plant to be taken both internally and externally for piles, hence its alternative name, pilewort, but its acrid nature makes it more suitable for use as a pile ointment which is made from the plant.

The English name celandine is confusing because the plant is not related to greater celandine (Chelidonum majus).


Chondrus crispus

Irish moss


fronds 4-12 ins (10-30 cm)

Parts used Dried fronds (thalli).

Constituents Five polysaccharide complexes known as carageenans (up to 80%) containing sulphur, iodine, bromine, iron.

Main uses General In cosmetic hand gel. Culinary As gelling and thickening agent. Medical Respiratory disorders: as a nourishing food for invalids.

Irish moss swells and partially dissolves in cold water, producing a viscous solution. It forms a gel on cooling after being decocted and reacts strongly with milk protein to form a thick gel. Irish moss has traditionally been used for its demulcent and emollient properties. It has frequently been prescribed to soothe a TB cough or bronchitis and to heal and ease the pain of gastric and duodenal ulcers. Carrageenan, a constituent of the plant, is reported to reduce gastric secretions.

Irish moss is traditionally given as a nourishing food for invalids. It can be boiled with milk and made into a dessert.


Agrimonia eupatoria


Church steeples, cockeburr, cocklebur

Parts used Aerial parts

Constituents Tannins, bitter principles, essential oil, silica.

Main uses Medical To stop bleeding.

Named after Mithridates Eupator, king of Pontus, who was a famous herbalist, agrimony retains its importance today as a healing herb with a wide range of uses. The plant is tonic to the digestive system, the gentle astringency of its tannins toning the mucus membranes, improving their secretion and absorption. Agrimony is a useful remedy for healing peptic ulcers and for controlling colitis. The bitter principles in the plant regulate the function of the liver and gallbladder. In Germany, agrimony has been used to treat gallstones and cirrhosis of the liver. It is also employed to counter high uric-acid levels in rheumatism and gout (it is said to have diuretic properties).

In traditional Chinese medicine, agrimony is a major herb for stopping bleeding and it is used to treat profuse menstruation. Chinese research indicates that agrimony can increase coagulation of the blood by up to 50%. In Europe, too, agrimony is valued for this property -- internally for blood in the urine (a symptom which requires medical investigation and externally for wounds and cuts. Agrimony is a favourite herb for inflamed gums and sore throats (mouthwash or gargle). As a douche it treats leucorrhoea and it is beneficial as an eyewash for conjunctivitis.

Alchemilla vulgaris

Lady's mantle

Lion's foot, bear's foot

h 4-20 ins (10-50 cm)

Parts used Herb and root; cultivation.

Constituents Tannins.

Main uses Medical Menstrual disorders.

The Latin name comes from the word alchemy, since this herb was once believed to have magical properties. In former times it was used externally on wounds and cuts -- Culpeper called it "one of the most singular wound herbs". Like agrimony herbalists use it to treat heavy periods and as a douche for leucorrhoea. It is also an astringent tonic to the digestive tract, useful in stemming diarrhoea caused by gastroenteritis.

Alchemilla arvensis (p. 103) is parsley piert (also known as field lady's mantle) which is a well known traditional remedy for gravel, kidney stones and urinary infections.

Crategus oxyacantha (or C. monogyna)


Mayblossom, whitethorn

h to 30 ft (9 m)

Parts used Flowers, leaves, berries.

Constituents Flavonoid glycosides, saponins, procyanidines, trimethylamine, condensed tannins.

Main uses Medical Heart and circulatory disease.

Hawthorn is one of our most valuable remedies for the heart and circulation. It contains flavonoids which dilate the coronary and peripheral arteries, and procyanidines which appear to slow the heart beat. A report in the British Medical Journal showed that the berries reduced high blood pressure caused by hardening of the arteries and kidney disease, while research work published on the effect of the flowers showed that they significantly improved the health of patients suffering from an "ageing heart" and those who had heart-valve disease. The extraordinary feature of this herb is its ability both to lower high blood pressure and to restore low blood pressure to normal. It is also valuable in treating angina, irregular heartbeat, spasm of the arteries (eg Reynaud's disease), and insomnia of nervous origin. In China, hawthorn berries are used to aid digestion and in France similarly, they have a reputation for treating dyspepsia and diarrhoea.

Filipendula ulmaria


Queen of the meadow, bridewort

2-3 ft x 1 ft (60-90 cm x 30 cm)

Parts used Flowers and leaves; cultivation.

Constituents Salicylates (opiraein, salicin, gaultherine), tannin (up to 10%), mucilage, flavonoids, volatile oil, vitamin C, sugar.

Main uses Medical Rheumatism, tevers, and children's diarrhoea.

In 1838, an Italian professor first produced salicylic acid from the flowerbuds of the graceful meadowsweet as well as from willow bark (Salix alba). In 1899, the drug company, Bayer, formulated a new drug (acetylsalicylic acid) and called it aspirin, a name derived from the old botanical name for meadowsweet Spirea ulmaria.

Meadowsweet exemplifies the herbal principle that the whole plant is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. The anti-inflammatory action of the salicylates in the plant makes it effective against rheumatism. But its tannin and mucilage content appear to buffer the adverse effect of isolated salicylates, which can cause gastric bleeding. In fact, the whole plant is a traditional remedy for acid stomach. Because of its tannin content, it is also useful for children's diarrhoea. In addition, meadowsweet has an antiseptic diuretic action (salicylic acid is antiseptic) promoting the excretion of uric acid. In hot infusion it is sweat-inducing, and its salicylate content points to its use in controlling fevers -- it is a sort of herbal aspirin, in fact.

Geum urbanum

Wood avens

Herb bennet, colewort, goldy stone, clove root

h 1-3 ins (3-7 cm)

Parts used Herb and root.

Constituents Tannins, volatile oil (comprising mainly eugenol), bitters, resin.

Main uses Medical Digestive disorders, piles, bleeding.

Avens is undoubtedly an underrated medicinal plant. It combines bitter-tonic properties with the healing astringent effect of its tannins and the anti-septic action of its volatile oil which has a clove-like aroma (its constituent eugenol is found in clove and allspice oil). Paracelsus recommended this plant for stomach and intestinal disorders (eugenol increases the activity of the digestive enzyme, trypsin) and diarrhoea. Due to its bitter component, it also regulates liver and gallbladder function. Avens is considered an excellent tonic for fevers and has been substituted for quinine. The plant is used to treat piles, for leucorrhoea, and to stop both internal and external bleeding.

Potentilla erecta

Five-finger grass

Red root, tormentil, cinquefoil

h 4-16 ins (10-40 cm)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Catechol-tannins (up to 20%), glycoside (tormentilline), bitter quinovic acid, red pigment, resin, gums.

Main uses General The roots produce a red dye. Culmary Extract of the root used in certain types of schnapps. Medical Diarthoea. sore throats and gums.

This plant is a powerful astringent formerly used in tanning. It is excellent for treating gastroenteritis and its resulting diarrhoea. It is also tonic to the large intestine. It is employed as a gargle for sore and infected gums. It has a reputation for treating intermittent fevers which is interesting in the light of the reported constituent quinoric acid, also present in Cinchona bark. As a douche, it is effective for leucorrhoea. Externally, it is styptic and healing for cuts and wounds. It can be used as an ointment or wash for haemorrhoids. A weak decoction is good for conjunctivitis.

Prunus serotina

Wild cherry

Wild black cherry, choke-cherry

h 32-65 ft (10-20 m)

Parts used Bark (that collected in the fall yields the highest prussic acid content, while that collected in the spring gives less).

Constituents Cyanogenic glycosides (including prunasin), an enzyme (prunase), coumarins, volatile oil, tannins, resin.

Main uses Medical Irritating, nervous or continuous coughs.

Wild cherry bark is an important cough remedy. Once ingested, the cyanogenic glycosides are hydrolized to glucose, bensaldehyde, and hydrocyanic acid, otherwise known as prussic acid. Prussic acid is excreted rapidly, largely via the lungs where it at first increases respiration and then sedates the sensory nerves which provoke the cough reflex. Although prussic acid is highly poisonous, if wild cherry bark is used in medicinal doses, the low prussic acid content (0.07-0.16%) ensures that the remedy is quite safe. Both the cyanogenic glycosides and volatile oil in wild cherry bark improve the digestion.

CAUTION The leaves and pits are poisonous.

Rosa spp


Rubus idaeus


European red raspberry

h 3-5 ft (90-150 cm)

Parts used Leaves and fruit.

Constituents Leaves: fragarine, tannin. Fruit: sugars, citric and malic acid, vitamins A, B, C and E, pectin, volatile oil, iron, calcium, phosphorus.

Main uses Culinary Fruit widely used. Medical For childbirth.

Raspberry leaf is a good astringent remedy, useful for children's diarrhoea. A cold infusion makes an effective gargle or mouthwash. This herb's most famous application, however, is in preparing mothers-to-be for childbirth. Raspberry-leaf tea appears to tone the uterine and pelvic muscles. Dr. Violet Russel in a letter to The Lancet said of raspberry-leaf tea: "somewhat shamefacedly I have encouraged expectant mothers to drink this infusion. In a great many cases labour has been free and easy from muscular spasm". Raspberry-leaf tea can be taken during the last three months of pregnancy. This infusion also enriches and encourages the flow of mother's milk.

The fruit is rich in nutrients and helps to combat anaemia. In Chinese medicine, Chinese raspberries (the fruit) are used to strengthen the kidneys and to treat enuresis.

Raspberries have long been cultivated for their culinary, as well as their medicinal, virtues. There are many ways of serving these fruits as a desert to take advantage of their high iron and vitamin C content. The French make a liqueur from raspberries, called Farmboise.

The related North American wild raspberry, Rubus strigosus, has the same medicinal properties. Many other species are grown for fruit.

Rosa spp


h to 10 ft (3 m)

Parts used Hips, flowers, and leaves.

Constituents Vitamin C (to 1.7%), vitamins B,E, and K, nicotinamide, organic acids, tannin, pectin.

Main uses General Petals in potpourri and perfumery. Culinary Petals and hips in candies and syrups; rose-hip tea.

The dog rose (Rosa canina) is so called because of the Medieval belief that the plant could cure rabies or the bite of a mad dog. Today the plant is most valued in nutrition. Rose hips have long been used as a sour fruit but only became recognized as a rich source of vitamin C during the Second World War. A pleasant way of adding this vitamin to the diet is by drinking rose hip tea. Candy can be made from rose hip purée and syrups made from the leaves.

Medicinally, rose leaves are a mild laxative and their astringent properties made them useful in healing wounds. The seeds were formerly used as a diuretic and the hips have a tonic effect.

Rosa gallica officinalis, the apothecary's rose, is used in aromatherapy; R. rubiginosa, the sweet briar, is valued for its scent as are R. damascena trigintipetala and R. centifolia. R. rugosa rubra is a good alternative to the dog rose as a source of vitamin C. R. gallica versicolor is the well known Rosa mundi.


Asperula odorata


Sweet woodruff

h 10 ins (25 cm)

Parts used Leaves, stems, flowers; cultivation.

Constituents Coumarin, tannin, citric acid, rubichloric acid.

Woodruff was widely used as a strewing herb for home and church, carpeting the floor and scenting the air. It was also used to stuff beds, and to perfume bed linen. Its sweet scent (like new-mown hay) is due to its coumarin content. The flowers and leaves make a delicious tea. In Germany woodruff is added to Rhine wine and drunk on the first of May.

CAUTION Large doses can cause dizziness and vomiting.

Cinchona succiruba and Cinchona calisaya

Red cinchona and yellow cinchona Peruvian bark, Jesuit's bark, fever tree

h 20-83 ft (6-25 m)

Parts used Bark.

Constituents Over 36 alkaloids (up to 16%) comprising mostly quinine, quinidine, cinchonine, and cinchonidine; tannins, glycosides, quinic acid, starch, resin, wax.

Main uses Medical Malaria.

Cinchona bark and its extracted alkaloid quinine are perhaps the most famous anti-malarial medicines. Cinchona was first introduced into Europe in the seventeenth century by the Jesuits. In recent years, malarial parasites which have become resistant to synthetic drugs have once more succumbed to this tried and trusted herbal remedy. Cinchona is used to treat fever in general and as a bitter digestive tonic. Both quinidine and quinine depress the action of the heart and cinchona bark has been used to treat cardiac arrhythmias. Quinine sulphate, an orthodox drug, is employed to treat cramping.

CAUTION The alkaloids are potentially toxic and stimulate uterine contractions. Avoid during pregnancy. Overdoses may cause headaches, fever, vomiting, blindness, deafness, loss of consciousness, and even death. RESTRICTED.

Galium aparine


Clivers, goosegrass, gripgrass, sticky-willie, catchweed, hedgeburs

h up to 4 ft (120 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Coumarins, a glycoside red dye, tannins, citric acid.

Main uses General In deodorant. Medical Urinary stones, skin disease.

Cleavers is a reliable diuretic used to help clean gravel and urinary stones and to treat urinary infections. It also stimulates the lymphatic system and relieves swollen lymph glands. The body relies on the lymphatic system to drain away toxins and wastes, these, under the influence of cleavers, will be voided in the urine, and so it is understandable that the herb has been described as an alterative and blood purifier. It is useful, therefore, in treating diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and arthritis in which the body requires cleansing. It is also traditionally used for cancer, particularly that of the lymphatic system. It is reputed to help lower blood pressure and cool the body during fevers and is used as an external wash for sores and wounds.

Cleavers has a number of uses in herbal cosmetics and body care. An infusion of the herb applied to the skin is said to clear the complexion and can also be used as a hair rinse to treat dandruff. In addition, a reliable natural deodorant can be made from the plant.

The fresh leaves and tips can be boiled and eaten like spinach.

Mitchella repens


Partridgeberry, checkerberry, deerberry

Size variable.

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Saponins, mucilage, tannins.

Main uses Medical To prepare for childbirth, painful periods.

North American Indian women used this herb to prepare themselves for childbirth, for which purpose it is still used today because, like raspberry leaves, it is reputed to promote an easy labour. Not only is the herb a uterine tonic but it also has a calming effect on the nervous system and in addition improves the digestion.


Agathosma betulina (also known as Barosma betulina)

Round buchu

Agathosma cremulata

Long buchu

h 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Volatile oil (about 2% containing pulegone, isopulegone, bucum camphor, menthone, limonone, and over 100 other compounds), flavonoids, resin, mucilage.

Main uses Medical Cystitis

These two deciduous shrubs grow in the Cape Province of South Africa. Black South Africans use the leaves as a body perf ume, mixing them with oil. The species are distinguished by the shape of their leaves, but have similar constituents, and medicinal properties.

The oil in the buchu plant is responsible for its reputation as a diuretic and urinary antiseptic, useful in treating urinary-tract infections (but see caution). The plant is also used in its homeland, South Africa, for its carminative properties.

CAUTION May irritate diseased kidneys. Avoid in kidney infections.

Citrus spp


Ruta graveolens


Zanthoxylum americanum

Northern prickly ash

(And Z. clava-herculis, Southern prickly ash)

Toothache tree

h to 10 ft (3 m)

Parts used Bark and berries.

Constituents Northern prickly ash bark: several coumarins (including zanthyletin), 6 benzophenanthridine alkaloids (consisting mainly of laurito-line and nitidine), resins, tannins, an acrid volatile oil. Southern prickly ash bark lacks the coumarins but also contains alkaloids (including chelerythrine and magnoflorine), asarinin (a lignan), resins, tannins, volatile oil. Berries: known to contain a resin and volatile oil.

Main uses Medical arthritis, poor circulation.

Herbalists use these two related trees in the same way. The bark and berries are both stimulating to the circulation, the latter being reputedly the more active. Such stimulation causes blood to flow to the periphery and promotes sweating which helps to bring down the temperature in fevers. In days when dentists were few and far between, the bark was chewed to allay the pain of toothache because of its counter-irritant properties. Prickly ash warms the stomach and stimulates the salivary glands and mucous membranes. It reduces colic and flatulence and is strengthening to a debilitated digestion, especially if the pulse is weak and the tongue is pale and flabby. Prickly ash has a considerable reputation for allaying rheumatic pain and is also reputed to have some anticancer activity. The isolated bensophenanthridene alkaloids are reported to be destructive to cells. There are, however, no accounts of any adverse side-effects from taking this herb in medicinal doses.


Populus candicans, Populus tremuloides

White poplar

h to 100 ft (30 m)

Parts used Bark.

Constituents Glycosides, populin, essential oil, tannin.

Main uses Medical Rheumatism.

Its anti-inflammatory action makes this plant a good remedy for arthritis and rheumatism. Herbalists also use it for fevers and infections.

Salix alba

White willow

h to 83 ft (25 m)

Parts used Bark.

Constituents Salicylic glycosides (including salicin), tannins.

Main uses Medical Fevers, arthritis.

This tree and others of its genus are a natural source of the chemicals that form the basis for aspirin. Hardly surprisingly, for thousands of years willow bark has been used to treat fevers and arthritis. Now we know that salicin contained in the bark has antipyretic, antirheumatic and analgesic properties.

Citrus aurantium and Citrus vulgaris


Parts used Fruit, peel, and flowers.

Constituents Flowers: Volatile oil (oil of neroli). Fruit and peel: Volatile oil (containing limonene), vitamin C, flavonoids, bitter principles.

Main uses General In perfumery. Culinary In conserves and for flavouring a variety of dishes.

Several different species of oranges are used in cooking, perfumery, and medicine. The bitter orange (Citrus aurantium, also known as C. bigarardia) is most familiar as the main ingredient in marmalade. Its flowers also yield oil of neroli, used in aromatherapy for treating anxiety and nervous depression. The sweet orange (C. vulgaris) and the many commercially grown varieties of tangerine are widely eaten for their flavour and vitamin C content. In Chinese medicine the dried peel is used as a diuretic and for its digestive properties.

CAUTION Migraine sufferers and those with arthritis should avoid oranges if they aggravate the symptoms.

Ruta graveolens


Herb of grace

2 ft x 16 ins (60x40 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts; cultivation.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing up to 90% methylnonylketone, also limonene, cineole etc); several alkaloids including fagarine and arborinine, coumarins (bergapten, xanthotoxin, psoralen).

Main uses Medical Strains and sprains. Absent periods (professional use only).

Rue is a powerful remedy and iow doses are the rule. It has a special place in the treatment of strained eyes and headaches caused by eyestrain. It is also useful for nervous headaches and heart palpitations. The antispasmodic action of its oil and alkaloids explain its use in treating nervous indigestion and colic. The tea also expels worms. Its alkaloids, arborinine and fagarine as well as the oil and coumarins all stimulate the uterus and because of this rue strongly promotes menstruation. The rutin strengthens fragile blood vessels and varicose veins. An ointment containing rue is good for gouty, rheumatic pains and for sprained or bruised tendons as well as chilblains. In Chinese medicine rue is specific for snake and insect bites.

CAUTION Not to be used in pregnancy. The coumarins may cause photosensitivity and skin contact can cause a rash. Large doses may be poisonous. But like meadowsweet this herb is also said to be good for heartburn and stomach disorders. This may be due to the tree's tannin content. Willow bark makes a useful gargle for sore throats.

Black willow (S. nigra), a tree native to North America has the same properties.


Hydrangea arborescens


Parts used Root.

Constituents Glycoside (hydrangin), saponin, resin, rutin, volatile and fixed oils.

Main uses Medical Urinary stones, prostatitis.

Hydrangea has a reputation as a diuretic said to be especially useful for preventing and moving urinary stones.


Chelone glabra


Turtlebloom, snakehead, shell flower

h 2-4 ft (60-120 cm)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Not investigated.

Main uses Medical Expelling worms, liver and gallbladder disease.

In general, balmony is a bitter tonic which stimulates the appetite and debilitated digestions. It has two specific uses. Firstly, it regulates the liver and gallbladder, and is used to treat gall stones and gallbladder infections. Secondly, it rids the body of round and thread worms, having a gentle action particularly appropriate for treating children. It is a mild laxative. Externally, balmony ointment is said to be good for healing mastitis, ulcers, and haemorrhoids.

Euphrasia officinalis


2-12 ins (5-30 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Glycosides (including aucubin), saponins, tannins, resin, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Eye disorders, hayfever, catarrh.

Eyebright, as its name suggests, is a specific remedy for eye problems. It is particularly suited to sore, itchy eyes which may have a discharge. It may be used on the eves as a compress or eyewash or taken internally as an infusion. Eyebright is also a remedy for nasal congestion and catarrh. It is especially appropriate when there is a profuse watery nasal discharge. It is good for treating hay fever and colds as well as measles when accompanied by these symptoms. As a mouthwash or gargle, eyebright may be employed for inflammations of the mouth and throat.

Digitalis purpurea


h up to 6 ft (2 m)

Parts used Leaves.

Constituents Several glycosides including digitoxin, gitoxin, and gitaloxin, which act on the heart muscle.

Main uses Orthodox medicine Heart disease.

Since the eighteenth century this plant has been used in orthodox medicine to treat heart disorders. Today the related Digitalis lanata is used.

CAUTION This extremely poisonous plant can cause paralysis and sudden death. RESTRICTED

Leptandra virginica, Veronicastrum virginicum, Verona virginicum

Black root

Culver's root, bourman's root, physic root

h up to 7 1/2 ft (2.25 m)

Part used Dried root.

Constituents Bitter principle (leptandrin), saponin, glycoside, volatile oil, tannins, resin.

Main uses Medical Liver disease.

This is a bitter root which when dried acts as a gentle laxative and liver tonic, stimulating the flow of bile. It has been used to ease the symptoms of hepatitis: for pain around the liver area, jaundice, and accompanying depression. It was formerly used to treat malaria and other fevers.

CAUTION Use only the dried root: the fresh root is cathartic and emetic.

Scrophularia nodosa


Carpenter's square, scrofula plant

h 16-48 ins (40-120 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts

Constituents Saponins, flavonoids, resin.

Main uses Medical Skin diseases.

Herbalists have labelled figwort an alterative because of its cleansing properties. It is thought to stimulate the lymphatic system. As its name implies, it was once used to treat scrofula (TB of the cervical lymph nodes). Because of its eliminative power, figwort is useful for eruptive skin diseases.

CAUTION Poisonous in large doses. RESTRICTED.

Verbascum thapsus


Aaron's rod, lady's foxglove, donkey's ears

h 7 ft (200 cm)

Parts used Leaves and flowers; cultivation.

Constituents Saponins, mucilage, gum, volatile oil, flavonoids, glycosides (including aucubin).

Main uses Medical Respiratory disorders.

Mullein combines the expectorant action of its saponins with the soothing effect of its mucilage, making this a most useful herb for the treatment of hoarseness, tight coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough. A tea of the flowers is reputed to be sedative and can be used for insomnia. Mullein is also diuretic, helping to allay inflammation of the urinary system and counter the irritating effect of acid urine. Olive oil in which the flowers are macerated for several days has been used for earache as eardrops and rubbed in to rheumatic joints to ease the pain. Mullein leaves make an excellent poultice for boils and sores.

Infusions of the leaves should be strained through a cloth to remove the fine hairs which cover the plant as these may irritate the throat.

Veronica beccabunga


Water pimpernel

h to 2 ft (60 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Tannins, glucoside; other constituents not known.

Main uses Culinary Shoots as spring green.

Now used rarely in medicine, this plant can be used in salads in the same way as watercress, to which it has a similar taste.


Capsicum frutescens (also known as C. minimum)


Cayenne, bird pepper

h 1-3 ft (30-90 cm)

Parts used Pods.

Constituents An alkaloid (capsaicin), up to 1.5% pungent principles, carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins A and C, of volatile oil.

Main uses Culinary As seasoning in Asian and Central American cuisines. Medical A heart and circulatory stimulant.

This familiar condiment is a powerful local stimulant, producing a burning sensation on contact with the skin. It is used externally in ointments, liniments, and plasters as a counter-irritant to treat muscular pains, arthritis, neuralgia, lumbago and unbroken chilblains.

Internally, cayenne is a major circulatory stimulant. The American herbalist Dr T. J. Lyle wrote "it is the most powerful and persistent heart stimulant known...its influence reaches every organ". Cayenne is an excellent remedy to ward off chills and is useful at the onset of a cold. It causes sweating and supports the body's defence system (it is rich in vitamin C and is antibacterial). Small quantities will also stimulate a debilitated appetite.

In the kitchen, chillies are used in hot dishes, particularly in South and Central America, home of the well known chilli con came. Cayenne pepper is ground from the dried fruit. It is the main ingredient in tabasco sauce. Central American people use cayenne as a seasoning because of its healing actions.

CAUTION Avoid excessive consumption, which may cause digestive, liver, or kidney disorders.

Datura Stramonium

Jimson weed

Thornapple, Jamestown weed, devil's apple, mad apple

h 1-5 ft (30 cm-1.5 m)

Parts used Dried leaves.

Constituents Tropane alkaloids (including hyoscine, byoscamine, traces of atropine).

Main uses Medical Asthma.

Jimson weed is a highly toxic plant. Its main use is in the treatment of asthma (for which it is also smoked). The alkaloids in the plant relax spasms of the bronchioles during an asthma attack. In therapeutic doses, it has been used to control the spasm of Parkinson's disease. Externally an ointment relieves the pain of rheumatism and sciatica.

CAUTION An overdose will cause double vision, thirst, an urge to urinate but an inability to do so, palpitations, restlessness, confusion and hallucinations. Jimson weed is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as poisonous. It must not be used in pregnancy, prostatic disease, tachycardia, glaucoma or taken by those on antidepressant drugs. RESTRICTED.


Cola vera (also known as C. nitida), and C. acuminata

Kola nut

h to 50 ft (15 m)

Parts used Dried seed (with the seed coat removed).

Constituents About 2% caffeine, small quantities of theobromine, a red pigment (kola red), glycoside, tannin, protein, starch, fats, sugars.

Main uses General Red dye. Medical Central nervous stimulant.

The caffeine and theobromine in kola explain its use as a central nervous stimulant. It is traditionally recommended for headaches but is unlikely to bring relief to those who regularly drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks.


Tilia europaea


h 50-133 ft (15-40 m)

Parts used Flowers, inner bark.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing farnesol which gives the flowers their characteristic smell), flavonoid glycosides (including hesperidin and quercitrin), saponins, condensed tannins, mucilage, manganese salts. The bark contains coumarins.

Main uses Medical Nervous tension, insomnia.

Tilia europaea is a hybrid between T. platyphillos and T. cordata. The flowers of all three have the same uses.

Limeflowers in hot infusion are an excellent sweat-inducing remedy for colds, flu and catarrh. They also relax the nervous system and are a good remedy for overactive children. In France, irritable children are traditionally given afternoon tea in the shade of the tree. Limeflower tea helps to alleviate headaches and insomnia.

The bioflavonoids in limeflowers may account for their reputation to lower blood pressure. They are also a remedy for arteriosclerosis. The inner bark of the tree is used for its diuretic effect and to treat kidney stones and gout. The sapwood of the inner bark is antispasmodic and dilates the coronary arteries, making it useful in the treatment of coronary artery disease.


Tropaeolum majus


Indian cress

h up to 10 ft (3 m)

Parts used Seed, flowers, leaves.

Constituents Glycoside, (glucotrapaeoline which hydrolyzes to yield antibiotic sulphur compounds).

Main uses General In hair rinses. Culinary Salads; substitute for capers. Medical Bronchitis, urinary infections.

Nasturtium was introduced to Europe from Peru by the conquistadores. It is said that on hot summer days sparks are emitted from the heart of the flower due to its high phosphoric acid content. Nasturtium is a natural antibiotic which, unlike orthodox antibiotics, does no damage to our intestinal flora. An infusion of the leaves is used for bronchitis and for genito-urinary infections. In addition, nasturtium is reputed to promote the formation of red blood cells. The seeds have a purgative action.


Turnera diffusa var. aphrodisiaca


h to 2 ft (60 cm)

Parts used Dried aerial parts.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 1% Much includes alpha and beta pinene, cineole, thymol, cymene, alpha copaene, beta cadinene, calamenene, beta sitasterol), a cyanogenic glycoside, a bitter amorphous substance (damianin), resins, gum.

Main uses Medical Debility, depression, and lethargy.

The Latin variant for this plant, aphrodisiaca, perpetuates an old belief that this plant is a sex tonic. The truth is that it is a stimulating nerve tonic used for debility, depression and lethargy. It has mild laxative properties.

CAUTION Too much damiana can cause insomnia and headaches.


Ulmus fulva

Slippery elm

Indian elm, moose elm, sweet elm

Parts used Dried inner bark.

Constituents Mucilage (a mixture of polyuronides), starch, tannin.

Main uses Medical As a nourishing food and for inflammation.

Constituents Mucilage (a mixture of polyuronides), starch, tannin.

Slippery elm is both a food and a medicine. The inner bark is one of the best soothing remedies useful wherever there is inflammation. It lubricates and relieves gastro-intestinal irritation. It is good for diarrhoea (for which it has also been prescribed as an enema) because it is also mildly astringent. The finely powdered bark makes a nourishing food, easily assimilated during convalescence. It can be flavoured with a little cinnamon or nutmeg, it makes a wholesome food for children. A slippery elm poultice is one of the most effective healing agents for ulcers, wounds, and boils. Collection of the inner bark usually leads to destruction of he tree. Because of the worldwide demand for slippery elm, the fine powdered inner bark is in short supply and the coarser outer bark is substituted. This lacks the healing power of the inner bark.


Anethum graveolens


h to 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Oil of dill (containing, d-carvone, d-limonene, phellandrine).

Main uses Culinary With fish, salads, cream; seeds in pickles and vinegars.

Dill is a culinary herb which improves the appetite and digestion. It is still a constituent of gripe water and other children's medicines because of its ability to ease flatulence and colic.

Angelica archangelica


5-8 ft x 3 ft (1.5-2.5 m x 90 cm)

Parts used Roots, stems and seeds.

Constituents 1% volatile oil (including phellandrene, pinene, limonene, caryophyllene, linalool etc), a large number of coumarins (including umbelliferone, bergapten, xanthotoxol), plant acids, resin, starch, sugar.

Main uses Culinary Stems candied; leaves with fruit, fish. Medical Indigestion, anaemia, coughs, colds.

Angelica is said to have gained its name because the medicinal qualities of the plant were revealed to a monk by an angel who told him it was a cure for the plague. The herb's aromatic, bittersweet taste commends itself to the stomach, easing indigestion, griping, colic, and flatulence. It is stimulating and warming to the digestion.

Angelica also stimulates the circulation, warming cold hands and feet. It is recommended in anaemia. Angelica is antibacterial and antifungal (the coumarin, umbelliferone, is a proven antifungal agent). Pinene, a component of the oil, is antimicrobial and expectorant, and the whole plant is a warming expectorant useful for asthma and bronchitis made worse by damp, cold conditions. Angelica in hot infusion is sweat-inducing and eases colds. It also has antiseptic, diuretic properties, again due tn its nil, so that it is a useful agent for urinary refections. Its antispasmodic action makes it effective in treating painful periods.

Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis), called dang gui and sometimes termed "women's ginseng", is a blood tonic used in Chinese herbal prescriptions.

CAUTION Wild angelica has several poisonous lookalikes. The coumarins bergapten and xanthotoxol can cause photosensitivity. Avoid large doses and prolonged use.

Anthriscus cerefolium


2x1 ft (70x30 cm)

Parts used Fresh leaves.

Constituents Volatile oil.

Main uses Culinary In fines herbes; with soups, salads, omelettes, dressings.

Chervil is used mainly for culinary purposes and is popular in France.

Carum carvi


3 ft x 8 ins (90x20 cm)

Parts used Seeds.

Constituents Volatile oils (3-7%), fixed oil (8-20%), proteins, calcium oxalate, colouring matter, resin.

Main uses Culinary In bread, cakes, and biscuits; with stews and soups.

Fossilized caraway seeds have been discovered at Mesolithic sites, so this herb has been used for at least five thousand years. It was known to Arabian physicians and probably came to be used in Europe by the thirteenth century. Cultivated on a large scale in the Netherlands, the widespread use of caraway is partly due to the seeds' digestive properties. They improve the appetite and prevent flatulence.

Coriandrum sativum


h 1-2 ft (30-60 cm)

Parts used Leaves, dried seeds.

Constituents Volatile oil (containing coriandrol and pinene).

Main uses Culinary In salads; leaves as garnish; seeds in garam masala and in curries.

Coriander, native to the Mediterranean and eastern European regions, is mentioned in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, circa 1500 BC. Also known as Chinese parsley, the fresh, pungent flavoured leaves are used in Chinese, Indian, and South East Asian cuisines. Coriander is good for the digestive system, reducing flatulence. It stimulates the appetite, aiding the secretion of gastric juices.

Cuminum cynimum


h 8 ins (15 cm)

Parts used Seeds.

Constituents Volatile oil (2.5-4%, comprising 25-35% aldehydes, pinenes, terpenes, cuminic alcohol).

Main uses Culinary In Asian cuisine, in curries, and in spice mixtures.

Cumin, indigenous to Egypt, was used by the Romans and was one of the commonest spices in the Middle Ages.

Daucus carota

Queen Anne's lace

Wild carrot

h 1-3 ft (30-90 cm)

Parts used Herb, seeds, and root. (Domestic carrot root may be used.)

Constituents Herb and seeds: volatile oil (that in the seeds contains pinene, carotol, daucol, limonene, geraniol), alkaloid (daucine). Root: Vitamins C, B, B2, carotene (provitamin A), sugars, pectin, minerals.

Main uses Medical Urinary disorders.

Queen Anne's lace is the ancestor of our domestic carrot. Its aerial parts are a useful antiseptic diuretic for the treatment of cystitis and prostatitis. The herb also helps prevent or wash out urinary stones and gravel. Because it promotes the excretion of uric acid it is a good remedy for gout. The seeds, rich in volatile oil, are soothing to the digestive system. A tea made from the seeds helps colic and flatulence. The oil has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle. Carrot seeds also promote the onset of menstruation.

The root is an excellent source of vitamin A and many minerals. Carrots expel worms and are antacid and so recommended for heartburn and gastritis. In addition, the juice has a reputation for having anti-cancer activity. The pulped root makes an excellent first-aid poultice, particularly for an itchy skin.

CAUTION Queen Anne's lace has several poisonous lookalikes. Avoid seeds in pregnancy.

Foeniculum vulgare


Hydrocotyle asiatica

Gutu kola

Indian Pennywort

h to 6 ins (15 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts

Constituents Heteroside, asiaticoside, triterpene acids, glycoside, resin, tannin, volatile oil.

Main uses Medical Purgative.

This powerful plant must be used with care. In its native India it is used for TB, bowel complaints, and leprosy.

CAUTION Guru kola is poisonous. Large doses cause vertigo and coma. RESTRICTED.

Levisticum officinale


Petroselinum crispum


h 12 ins (30 cm)

Parts used Leaves, root, seeds; cultivation.

Constituents Essential oil (containing apiol, apiolin, myristicin, pinene), flavonoids, a glycoside, vitamins C and A, iron, manganese, calcium, phosphorus.

Main uses Culinary As garnish. Medical Urinary infections, gout.

Parsley is a useful medicine as well as a delicious addition to sauces. It is a strong diuretic suitable for treating urinary infections and stones as well as fluid retention. It encourages uric acid elimination and so is good for gout. It also increases mother's milk and tones the uterine muscles. It is a rich source of vitamin C and iron and strengthens the digestion.

Parsley leaves are a well known breath-freshener, being the traditional antidote for the pungent smell of garlic. The seeds or leaves steeped in water can be used as a hair rinse.

Parsley is a widely used culinary herb, valued for its taste as well as for its nutritional content. It is used in bouquet garni and as a garnish.

CAUTION Avoid medicinal use during pregnancy.

Pimpinella anisum


h to 30 ins (75 cm)

Parts used Seeds.

Constituents Volatile oil, coumarins, glycosides, fixed oil.

Main uses Culinary In curries; in Chinese and Mediterranean cuisines.

Aniseed tea eases indigestion, flatulence and colic. Its relaxing and expectorant action makes it useful to treat tight coughs. Anethole and other components in the volatile oil are insecticidal and a wash of aniseed clears up lice.

Star anise (Illicium verum) comes from a tree indigenous to S.E. Asia having similar properties.

CAUTION Japanese star anise (I. lanceolatum) is poisonous.


Parietaria diffusa (also known as P. officinalis)


h 8 ins-2 1/2 ft (20-75 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Bitter glycoside, tannins, sulphur, flavones, potassium, calcium, mucilage,

Main uses Medical For urinary infections and stones.

This plant gains its common and Latin names because it grows in old ruins and walls. Herbalists use pellitory as a soothing diuretic to treat retention of urine, cystitis, nephritis, inflammation of the prostate and urinary stones. The fresh plant may be more effective than the dried. In France, a poultice of the fresh plant is applied to the kidney area, or over the bladder, to treat retention of urine and cystitis.

Urtica dioica (and the small nettle Urtica urens)

Stinging nettle

h 3-6 ft (90-180 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts of young plants.

Constituents Formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, glucoquinones, chlorophyll, minerals (including iron, silica, potassium, manganese, sulphur), vitamins A and C.

Main uses General In hair shampoos and rinses. Culinary As vegetable or soup. Medical Arthritis, eczema, anaemia.

Nettles grow wherever land is disturbed by human beings. Although we may curse the nettle for its sting, it is invaluable as a food, rich in vitamins and minerals, and as a medicine. In spring, the fresh green leaves may be cooked and eaten like spinach, made into a delicious soup or drunk as a tea. Nettles make a valuable tonic after the long winter months for they provide one of the best sources of minerals. They are an excellent remedy for anaemia -- their vitamin C content ensures that the iron they contain is properly absorbed. Nettle tea increases the excretion of uric acid which may explain why. nettles are a remedy for arthritis and gout. Nettles have been applied directly to painful arthritis joints used as a counterirritant. This fairly heroic treatment is often effective. Nettles encourage the flow of breast milk and lower blood-sugar levels. They are also a good astringent, effective in stopping bleeding. Internally they are used for profuse menstruation and externally the powdered leaves used as a snuff will stop minor nose bleeds. A ways is employed for haemorrhoids. The blood-invigorating properties of stinging nettles make them appropriate for girls at puberty and women at menopause. Nettles are useful in treating eczema too. A nettle rinse can eliminate dandruff.

Levisticum officinale (also known as Ligisticum levisticum)



6 1/2x3 1/2 ft (2x1 m)

Parts used Roots and seeds.

Constituents Volatile oil (about 1%, consisting mainly of phthalides, also pinene, phellandrene, terpinene, carvacol, terpineol), isovaleric acid, angelic acid, coumarins (coumarin, umbelliferone, bergapten, etc), gum, resin.

Main uses Culinary Leaves in stews and soups, with fish and jam, seeds in breads and savouries.

Lovage is an aromatic stimulant and a warming digestive tonic, similar in action to angelica. Lovage cordial is an old country drink used to settle the stomach and ease the digestion. In hot infusion, lovage is sweat-inducing. It also has diuretic properties but should be avoided in kidney disease due to its irritant effect. It also promotes the onset of menstruation. In traditional Chinese medicine, a related species, Ligisticum chinensis, is used to relieve painful menstruation. The phthalides in the volatile oil have been reported to be sedative in mice.

The seeds, leaves, and stems of lovage have a strong celery-like flavour, which goes well with many foods, especially vegetarian dishes based on rice or nuts.

CAUTION Lovage should not be used during pregnancy or kidney disease.

Foeniculum vulgare


7x3 ft (2 m x 90 cm)

Parts used Seed and root; cultivation.

Constituents Seed: Volatile oil (about 5% composed mostly of anethole, also fenchone, estragole, limonene, camphene, pinene), fixed oil (comprising mainly petroselenic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid), flavonoids (including rutin, vitamins, minerals (including calcium and potassium).

Main uses Culinary Leaves to garnish fish and in sauces, soups, and stews; root boiled as vegetable. Medical Indigestion and colic.

Fennel root has been used as a vegetable and medicine since ancient times. The Greeks believed the plant had slimming properties and the seeds were often eaten in the Middle Ages for their digestive properties. Both the seeds and root are soothing to the digestion. Fennel tea is good for colic in babies and for indigestion and heartburn in adults. It is also a well-known means of promoting the flow of breast milk. It was recommended for this purpose by both Hippocrates and Dioscorides. Fennel oil is both antispasmodic and antibacterial.

This herb used as an eyewash is good for tired, sore eyes. Fennel is also a diuretic used for the treatment of gravel and urinary stones.


Valeriana officinalis


All-heal, setwall

h 8 ins-5 ft (20 cm-1.5 m)

Part used Root.

Constituents Valepotriates (including valtrate and didovaltrate), glycoside (valerosidatum); volatile oil up to 22%) containing esters of acetic, butyric and isovalerianic acids, which on drying, yield isovalerianic acid, giving valerian's characteristic smell; the oil also contains limonene, a sesquiterpene, valerian camphor, alkaloids, chatinine, valerianine, actinidine and valerine, choline, tannins, resins.

Main uses Medical Nervous tension, insomnia, headaches.

The valepotriates in this plant are thought mainly responsible for its sedative effect on the central nervous system. One study shows valerian to be sedative for agitated patients, while it stimulates someone who is suffering from fatigue. Valerian is an excellent remedy for anxiety, nervous tension and insomnia. It is good for treating headaches too. Valerian also has a strengthening action on the heart (good for palpitations) and experiments indicate that it lowers blood pressure. The valepotriates are antispasmodic and valerian is a useful remedy for nervous dyspepsia, stomach cramps, and for a spastic or irritable bowel. It is also an effective treatment for menstrual cramps. Tincture of valerian is reported to clear dandruff.

CAUTION Use only as prescribed by a qualified practitioner as valerian may cause headaches, muscular spasm and palpitations. Avoid large doses and prolonged use.


Lippia citriodora

Lemon verbena

h up to 60 in (150 cm)

Parts used Leaves, flowering tops; cultivation.

Constituents Essential oil (comprising mainly citral).

Main uses Culinary In refreshing tea; in wines, stuffings, preserves, and desserts.

The name of this herb reflects its strong lemon scent. In its native South America, it was once used in fingerbowls at banquets, and the oil was used to scent soaps and cosmetics. Although today it is used in cooking, it is most familiar as a refreshing tisane. As well as being pleasant to drink, this is good for nausea, flatulence, and dyspepsia.

Verbena officinalisVervain

h 1-3 ft (30-90 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts.

Constituents Glycosides (verbenalin and verbenin), alkaloid (unidentified), bitter principle, volatile oil, tannin.

Main uses Medical Liver and gallbladder disease, nervous exhaustion.

Vervain has a wide variety of traditional uses. It strengthens the nervous system, dispelling depression and countering nervous exhaustion.It is effective in treating migraine and headaches of the nervous and bilious kind. Vervain is prescribed for disorders of the liver and for gallstones. Experiments show a scientific basis for the traditional use of vervain to increase the flow of mother's milk and to promote the onset of menstruation (due to its glycosides). The herb makes a good mouthwash for infected gums.

CAUTION Avoid in pregnancy.

Vitex agnus castus

Chaste tree

Chasteberry, monk's pepper

h to 20 ft (6 m)

Parts used Fruit.

Constiuents Volatile oil, glycosides, pavonoids, a bitter principle (castine), possible alkaloids.

Main uses Medical Menstrual and menopausal disorders.

This plant has a folk use which strongly suggests a hormonal effect. Its Latin (agents, lamb, castus, chaste) and common names (monk's pepper and chastoberry) seem to suggest that the plant is an anaphrodisiac. In Italy, the flowers are strewn on the ground in front of novices as they enter the monastery of convent. In classical times, the plant was used for disorders of the female reproductive system. Research in Germany now indicates that the plants possesses the ability to increase production of the luteinizing hormone and prolactin. Comparitive case studies appear to confirm that it does, indeed, simulate the flow of milk. It has also been shown that it can regulate periods where there is excessive bleeding. The pant appears to stimulate synthesis of the hormone progesterone, although it may also have a regulatory effect on oestrogen since herbalists have found in useful for the symptoms of both PMS and the menopause. It has been used to treat floroids, inflammation of the womb lining, and to reestablish normal emulation and menstruation after discontinuation of the contraceptive pill. This remedy would repay more research.


Viola odorata

Sweet violet

4-6 ins x 4 ins (10-15 cm x 10 cm)

Parts used Leaves and flowers (occasi, really root).

Constituents Saponins, methyl salicylate, alkaloid (odoratine), volatile oil, flavonoids.

Main uses Culinary In confectionery for flavouring. Medical Respiratory disorders and hot swellings.

Due to its saponin and mucilage content violet is an excellent soothing expectorant useful to treat a range of respiratory disorders (a syrup of the flowers is useful for treating children).

Violets have a cooling nature. In France they are used to treat hangover (alcohol is heating) and headaches or migraine where the head feels hot (compresses can be applied directly to the head). Violets are also good to treat feverish colds. The plant makes a good mouthwash or gargle for inflamed gums and throats. The fresh leaves are a soothing and healing poultice for sore, cracked nipples. The leaves also have a reputation for treating turnouts.

Violet flowers have a reputation for being slightly sedative, and so helpful for anxiety and insomnia. In Chinese medicine the herb and root together are used to treat hot swellings and mumps.

CAUTION The seeds may cause vomiting. The root in large doses is also emetic and has been used in place of ipecacuanha.

Viola tricolor

Wild pansy

Heartsease, love-lies-bleeding, love in idleness, herb trinity

h 4-6 ins (10-15 cm)

Parts used Aerial parts; cultivation.

Constituents Salicylic acid and salicylates, saponins, alkaloid (unidentiffed), flavonoids (rutin is present in high concentrations up to 24%), tannin, mucilage.

Main uses Medical Skin disease, arthritis and respiratory disorders.

Wild pansy is a valued remedy for treating skin disease. Used internally and as a compress or ointment applied to affected areas it is good for eczema, psoriasis and acne. It is excellent for curing milkcrust (cradlecap) in babies. The herb is diuretic, employed in treating frequent and painful urination. Both the salicylates and the rutin contained in the plant are anti-inflammatory and herbalists use wild pansy to treat gout and rheumatoid arthritis. The saponins in the plant account for its expectorant action while its mucilage content soothes the chest. Wild pansy is used to treat a range of respiratory disorders such as bronchitis and whooping cough, Due to the high concentration of rutin in the flowers, in this herb may be employed to prevent bruising and broken capillaries, to check the build up of fluid in the tissues and to reduce atherosclerosis and in so doing help reduce blood pressure. Wild violet is mildly laxative. An infusion of wild pansy was once reputed to ease a broken heart -- hence its common name heartsease.

Vitis vinifera

Grape vine

Parts used Fruit, leaves.

Constituents Sugars, tartaric acid, quercetine, quercitrin, tannin, malic acid, gum, potassium bitartrate.

Main uses Culinary Fruit in wine; leaves as an accompanient to many foods in Middle Eastern cuisines.


Elettaria cardamomum


h to 9 ft (3 m)

Parts used Seed.

Constituents Volatile oil (3-6%, containing terpene and terpineol), cineol, starch, gum, yellow colouring.

Main uses Culinary In mixtures such as garam masala; in curries; in cakes and Asian sweetmeats. Medical Flatulent indigestion.

Cardamom is a common spice used to flavour coffee, cakes, curry and bread in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. This aromatic spice stimulates the digestion easing bowel spasms and flatulence. Herbalists often combine cardamom with bitter remedies and use it to prevent the griping effect of laxatives.

Curcuma longa


h 3 ft (1 m)

Parts used Root.

Constituents Volatile oil (5-7%), terpene, curcumen, starch (24%), albumen (30%), colouring due chiefly to curcumin, potassium, vitamin C.

Main uses Culinary As yellow colouring in curries, with rice and grains, in garam masala, and in lentil dishes.

Turmeric is chiefly cultivated in south east Asia and was used in Thailand to dye the robes of Buddhist monks. It is widely used both as a colouring and flavouring agent in a variety of foods. Turmeric is used in Chinese medicine to treat shoulder pain, menstrual cramping and colic.

Zingiber officinale


h to 9 ft (2.7 m)

Parts used Rhizome.

Constituents Volatile oil (up to 3% comprising mainly zingiberone and bisabolene, also camphene, geranial, linalool and borneol), oleoresin (containing the pungent principles gingerols, shogaols and zingerone), fats, protein, starch, vitamins A and B, minerals, amino acids.

Main uses Culinary Roots used widely, especially in far eastern cuisines; stems crystallized in candy. Medical Indigestion, flatulence, nausea, poor circulation.

Ginger is warming and stimulating, promoting gastric secretion and aiding the absorption of food. It is excellent for easing indigestion, colic, and flatulence. A piece of ginger chewed (crystallized stem ginger will do as well) is as effective for travel sickness as any drug. A little ginger may also help morning sickness. It also has a stimulating effect on the heart and circulation so it is good for cold hands and feet. Ginger hand and foot baths can help this complaint too.

Ginger has a warming expectorant action on the lungs, dispelling mucus and phlegm. Ginger tea is good for colds and flu; it causes an eliminative sweat. Ginger juice or tea massaged into the scalp is said to stimulate hair growth.

In Chinese herbal medicine a distinction is made between fresh ginger root which is said to be better for treating colds and causing sweating and dried ginger thought to be more suitable for treating respiratory and digestive disorders.


Guaiacum officinale


Lignum vitae, tree of life, guaiac

h to 54 ft (18 m)

Parts used Gum or resin or the heartwood.

Constituents Resin acids (guaiaconic acid), saponins, vanillin, polyterpenoid.

Main uses Medical Arthritis and gout.

Once reputed to cure syphilis, today guaiacum is used to stimulate the circulation and to reduce inflammation. It is employed in the treatment of arthritis and gout.

Copyright © 1988 by Gaia Books Ltd., London

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