Materia Medica of Western Herbs

Materia Medica of Western Herbs

by Carole Fisher


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This volume is based on the original Materia Medica of Western Herbs for the Southern Hemisphere by Carol Fisher and Gilian Painter and has been expanded and updated to include botanical, scientific, pharmacy and safety information. It is designed for worldwide use and contains detailed monographs of 180 medicinal herbs. There are appendices to help students understand pharmacological and medicinal actions, a glossary listing the known actions of common constituents, a table of interactions and a comprehensive therapeutic index. This textbook is valuable not only for students and practitioners of herbal medicine but is also of use to any health provider who wishes to know more about how and why herbs work and the safety issues related to them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781911597513
Publisher: AEON Books
Publication date: 08/01/2018
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 592,357
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.70(h) x (d)

About the Author

Carole Fisher gained a BSc degree in biochemistry and spent some years in both research and routine laboratories before training in herbal medicine through the National Institute of Herbal Medicine (UK). She has been in practice as a medical herbalist since 1993 and has also recently returned to further education, completing a Diploma in Public Health at Otago University and a PhD at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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[Formerly known as Umbelliferae]

There are 300 genera in this family which is plentiful in all parts of the temperate world but not in the tropics.

Many of our common vegetables belong to this family e.g. carrot, parsnip, celery and many of the seed spices e.g. dill, cumin and anise.

The general characteristics of the Apiaceae are:

* The flowers are very small, in umbels

* The sepals are tiny or lacking

* There are 5 free petals, each curved at the tip

* The 5 stamens are attached to a disc around the base of the styles

* The pistil has 2 styles and stigmas. Its ovary is inferior with 2 carpels

* The fruit is distinctive. The 2 dry carpels split apart. They separate at the base, but hang by their tops from a slender stalk. Each contains 1 seed. On their surfaces are the oil ducts which give the flavour and distinctive odour

* The leaf stalks often have sheaths which wrap around the plant stems

* Usually the leaves are much divided, even fern-like

* Outer florets are often enlarged and sterile serving only as banners to guide pollinating insects

* Nearly all members of the family are herbaceous annuals or

* biennials but Foeniculum vulgare is perennial

There are three sub-families:

1. Apioideae which contains, among others, the following genera — Ammi, Angelica, Anthriscus, Apium, Conium, Coriandrum, Daucus, Foeniculum, Petroselinum

2. Hydrocotyloideae which contains the genus Centella

3. Saniculoideae

Angelica archangelica


Angelica archangelica is a robust biennial with a stout taproot grown from seed. In the first year it forms a clump of large, matt green leaves borne on round, hollow, green stems 0.5–1 m long, depending on the season and distance from the equator. It dies back in winter and in the second year grows larger and sends up one or more flowering stems. It blooms in early spring and dies after seeding. Basal leaves large, 30–60 cm, 2–3 times pinnate, lobes oval lance-shaped and toothed. Stalk leaves smaller or reduced to inflated sheaths enclosing flower buds. Flower stems stout, grooved, round and hollow, 1–2 m high with branches topped by green or greenish-white flowers in globular umbels. Fruits 5–6 mm with ribs which become corky. All parts are aromatic.

Odour — intensely spicy; taste — at first aromatic then acrid, bitter and lastingly pungent.

Habitat and cultivation

Angelica is native to parts of Europe and Asia and is naturalised in damp situations, blooming in spring/summer of its second year. Cultivated from fresh seed in cooler climates, in sun with well-drained soil. Frost and drought resistant.

Parts used

Leaves — harvested at the end of the first year and as the plant comes in to flower.

Roots and rhizomes — harvested in the autumn of the first year or early spring of second year before flowering. The oil content is highest in roots greater than 5 mm in diameter.

Seeds — harvested when ripe (use of the seeds appears to be a modern adaptation).

Culpeper favoured the root over the leaves.

Active constituents

1) Volatile oil including α- and ß-phellandrene, pinene, linalool, borneol, ß-bisabolene, ß-caryophyllene, limonene

2) Coumarins (at least 15 have been identified) including

a) furanocoumarins — bergapten (5-methoxypsoralen), oxypeucedanin, isopimpinellin, xanthotoxin, imperatorin, marmesin and apterin

b) simple coumarins — osthol and umbelliferone

3) Phenylpropanoids including angelic and valerianic acids. Also amino-acid amides of N-phenylpropenoyl

4) Flavonoids including archangelenone

In addition the root has resin, tannins and sterols.

Nutritional constituents

Vitamins: E

Minerals: Calcium


1) Expectorant

2) Diaphoretic

3) Carminative

4) Bitter (root)

5) Spasmolytic

6) Diuretic

7) Anti-inflammatory

Scientific information

Roots, rhizomes and seeds have been officially used as expectorants in a number of countries. German Commission E has approved use of the root to treat loss of appetite, gastro-intestinal spasms, feeling of fullness and flatulence.

The mode of action of A. archangelica is largely unexplained. The furanocoumarins, psoralen and its derivatives, are like those now used in treating psoriasis and vitiligo in orthodox medicine. Psoralen is the most phototoxic of the furanocomarins found in the Apiaceae followed by bergapten then xanthotoxin.

In vitro — the seeds inhibit acetylcholinesterase and whole extract, furanocoumarins and essential oil are cytotoxic to cancer cells from the pancreas.

Several of the main constituents and the herb itself have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and the root oil is antibacterial.

The N-phenylpropenoyl-L-amino acid amides stimulate proliferation of hepatocytes and keratinocytes and reduce adhesion of H. pylori to stomach tissue.

In vivo — a herbal combination which included Angelica was effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia with equivalent efficacy to cisapride.

Witchl states Angelica is contraindicated in peptic ulceration due to its stimulation of gastric and pancreatic secretions. However this warning is not found elsewhere and Angelica was used in combination with 7 other herbs that proved to be anti-ulcerogenic in animal-based studies.

Medicinal uses

Cardiovascular system

* fever

* peripheral vascular disease

Respiratory tract

Used for treating a variety of respiratory problems of varying origin including nervous respiratory conditions, infections and chronic mucus problems:

* coughs

* colds

* pleurisy

* bronchitis

* respiratory catarrh

* psychogenic asthma

Gastro-intestinal tract

The volatile oil aids the digestive process, stops cramping and eases gas buildup. The herb is ideal for treating:

* flatulent dyspepsia

* indigestion

* anorexia

* nervous dyspepsia

* colic


Angelica oil has been used as a rub in the treatment of:

* rheumatic conditions (Weiss)


Three times daily


Infusion of dried herb – 2–5 g

Tincture 1:5 (45%) – 2–5 ml

Fluid Extract (25%) – 2–5 ml

Root Decoction of dried root – 1–2 g

Tincture 1:5 (50%) – 0.5–2 ml

Fluid Extract (25%) – 0.5–2 ml

Precautions and/or safety

The furanocoumarins in Angelica can cause photosensitivity if taken in large doses. (This same light-induced sensitivity gives the herb use as an insecticide as this process is fatal to insects).

Historical uses

Internally for epidemic diseases like the plague; an antidote to poison; for "cold stomachs"; strangury; urinary obstruction; an aid to menstruation and to expelling the afterbirth; overeating; typhoid fever. Externally for poor sight or hearing (drops); toothache; bites of mad dogs or venomous creatures; old filthy ulcers; gout; sciatica; lung and chest complaints (poultice). Used in liqueurs and cordials e.g. Bénédictine and Chartreuse and in Eau de Mélisse de Carmes.

Apium graveolens

Celery, smallage


A leafy, much-branched, erect biennial, 0.8–1 m, smelling strongly of celery. Root fleshy and bulblike. Stems deeply grooved, hollow and branching at top. Flowers about 0.5 mm across, greenish-white petals, entire, acute, in compound umbels 2–4 cm across, more or less sessile and leaf opposed. Primary rays unequal, 4–15, bracts and bracteoles absent. Basal leaves once pinnate, with three-lobed leaflets 0.5–3 cm, lower leaves stalked, upper leaves sessile, three-lobed, all shiny green. Fruits dark brown, 1–2 mm long, ribs light brown, filiform. Flowers from early summer to late autumn.

Odour — characteristic, spicy; taste — spicy, somewhat bitter.

Habitat and cultivation

Native to Southern Europe growing wild in salt marshes or salt rich ground. Introduced, naturalized and cultivated elsewhere from seed in open, sunny situations with adequate moisture. Frost resistant, drought tender. Celery and celeriac are vegetable forms of this species.

Parts used

The seeds collected when dry and ripe.

Active constituents

1) Volatile oil (1.5–3.0%):

a) mainly limonene and ß-silinene, also apiol, sesquiterpenoid glucosides viz. celerioside (α-E)

b) phthalides including sedanolide, 3-n-butyl-4,5-dihydrophthalide, senkyunolides and celephthalide (α-C). It is these constituents that give celery its characteristic smell

2) Furanocoumarins including bergapten

3) Fixed oil including petroselinic acid

4) Flavonoids including derivatives of luteolin, chrysoeriol and apigenin

Also a lignan and L-tryptophan.


1) Carminative

2) Urinary antiseptic

3) Spasmolytic (mild)

4) Diuretic

5) Hypotensive

6) Anti-inflammatory

7) Antirheumatic

Scientific information

Celery has been grown for around three thousand years and used as a spice and vegetable. The seeds have been an official medicine reputed to have a sedative effect on the nervous system, whilst their oil was considered antispasmodic, a nerve stimulant and useful for treating rheumatoid arthritis. It is used in India to treat liver dysfunction and in Germany to improve bowel function and treat loss of appetite, exhaustion, hysteria and restlessness.

In vitro — The seeds have mosquito repellent activity.

Constituents of the seeds are effective against Candida spp. and some nematodes, antioxidant and can inhibit COX1, COX2 and topoisomerase I and II.

Medicinal uses

Gastro-intestinal tract

* flatulence

* colic

* indigestion

Urinary tract

* cystitis

* urinary stones

* urinary tract inflammation


The herb is nutritious and aids the excretion, through the kidneys, of waste metabolites.

* rheumatism

* arthritis

* gout

The BHP gives the specific application for Apium as rheumatoid arthritis with mental depression.


Three times daily

Decoction – 0.5–2 g

Tincture 1:5 – 2–8 ml (suggested guidelines)

Fluid Extract (60%) – 0.3–1.2 ml

CONTRAINDICATIONS — Kidney disorders — apiol is toxic to kidneys. Pregnancy — in large doses the herb (apiol) can cause uterine contractions that may lead to abortion.

Precautions and/or safety

May cause allergic reaction, though this is rare. The furanocoumarins, as in Angelica, can lead to photosensitivity. Ingestion of normal amounts of psoralen-containing foods do not increase UV-induced skin erythema. At recommended doses Apium is a safe herb.

Historical uses

Insomnia; opens liver and spleen; expectorant; agues; worms. As a gargle for mouth, throat sores and ulcers; bad breath. As a lotion for sores and cankers. Melancholy.

Carum carvi


An erect, hairless, much-branched biennial, 25–60 cm tall. Flowers white, 2–3 mm in umbels 2–4 cm across. Primary rays very unequal, 5–12. Flower stems hollow, furrowed, branched. Bracts and bracteoles bristle-like or absent. Leaves twice-pinnate with segments further deeply cut into narrow lance-shaped or linear lobes. Upper leaves have a sheathing petiole. Root spindle-shaped. Fruits dark brown, 3–4 mm, oblong with low ribs, strong smelling when crushed. Flowers in late spring to early summer.

Odour — aromatic; taste — spicy and aromatic.

Habitat and cultivation

Originally introduced from Arabic countries, caraway is naturalized in Europe being cultivated there and elsewhere from seed sown in rows in open, sunny situations in moist well-drained soil. Drought and frost tender.

Parts used

The seeds collected when dry and ripe.

Active constituents

1) Volatile oil (up to 7%) predominantly comprised of (+) carvone and (+) limonene. Also carvacrol, germacrene B and D, derivatives of carvone and anethofuran

2) Flavonoids including isoquercetrin and derivatives of quercetin and kaempferol

3) Fatty oil

4) Polyacetylenes

Also contains protein (around 20%).

Nutritional constituents

Vitamins: B

Minerals: Magnesium, silica, phosphorous, sulphur, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc


1) Carminative

2) Antimicrobial

3) Emmenagogue

4) Expectorant

5) Astringent

6) Spasmolytic

Scientific information

Caraway is used as a spice and was an official medicine in many countries, as a carminative for flatulent colic in young children. The essential oil is still used for flavouring liqueurs and toiletries.

In vitro — Aqueous extracts have strong antioxidant activity, being more than twice as strong as ascorbic acid. The herb and/or its constituents also have anti-proliferative, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic activity. The monoterpene, limonene, and its metabolite perillyl alcohol found in both celery seeds and caraway have shown potential as a preventative, and treatment, for breast, colon and prostate cancers.

Carum has only mild antibacterial activity against Helicobacter pylori but the essential oil is active against Escherichia coli. Its action in helping with gastro-intestinal dysfunction may be primarily through its anti-oxidant and therefore anti-inflammatory activity.

A model simulating the gastro-intestinal environment and mucosa indicates that the essential oil profile may change with pH but constituents can cross the cell membrane barrier.

In vivo — A number of studies have been carried out on the treatment of functional dyspepsia using Carum extracts in conjunction with other herbs. Symptoms improved in all studies, whether Helicobacter pylori was present or not.

Isolated caraway oil relaxes the gall-bladder and smooth muscle of the stomach and duodenum.

Medicinal uses

Respiratory tract

A less strong expectorant than either Pimpinella or Foeniculum it is still used for:

* bronchitis

Gastro-intestinal tract

* flatulent dyspepsia

* intestinal colic

* cramps

* hiccoughs

* flatulence/bloating

* dyspepsia

* diarrhoea

* anorexia

Reproductive tract

* dysmenorrhoea


* laryngitis (gargle)


Three times daily Decoction – 0.5–2 g

Tincture 1:5 (45%) – 0.5–4 ml

Precautions and/or safety

The above clinical trials did not record any adverse events from the preparation containing Carum. As an emmenagogue one might expect the herb to be contra-indicated in pregnancy. This has not been the case historically and presumably this action is encountered only with large doses.

Based on skin prick tests some individuals could have allergies to caraway.

Historical uses

Diuretic; to clear head; improve eyesight. Culpeper recommended the root as a vegetable "to strengthen the stomach of old people exceedingly" and also includes in the medicinal actions the promotion of urine and benefits for eyesight. Externally as a poultice for bruises; earache.

Centella asiatica

Gotu kola, hydrocotyle


Centella asiatica is a creeping perennial of tropical climates whose appearance varies depending on wet/dry conditions. The roots form at the leaf nodes with 3–4 leaves growing up on individual, long stems. The plant spreads by reddish stringy stolons from the nodes to form a large patch. The leaves are round-kidney shaped, brown-green, about 3 cm wide and can have smooth, crenate or lobed margins. The petioles are up to 15 cm tall and green at the top but purplish-pink at the sheathing base. Flowers are small and purple, usually 3–6, appearing in summer in axillary umbels on 2–8 mm tall stems. They are below the upper leaves and are insignificant or difficult to see. Fruit forms throughout the growing season. It is compressed sideways, about 3–5 mm long with 7–9 ribs and a curved strongly thickened pericarp.

Odour — characteristic; taste — slightly bittersweet.


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