A-Z of Herbal Medicine
A is for Agrimony - Agrimonia eupatoria
Agrimony is an astringent. It is used to tone bodily tissues such as the gut mucosa and thereby aid function. In the gut this helps with better and more efficient absorption of nutrients and reduction of inflammation. It is a bitter tonic, stimulating the digestive juices in the gut and liver which in turn aid digestion. It is a specific for diarrhoea in children and can be used as a tea which is easily taken by children. It is also a wound healer and stops bleeding fast. Collect the aerial parts when in flower.
B is for Burdock - Arctium lappa
Burdock is a fabulous big leaved plant (dock means big leaf), its burs the basis of Velcro. It is invaluable when working with the liver and skin. It is a bitter tonic and so supports the liver and gallbladder, increasing appetite and enhancing digestion. It is highly beneficial for dry scaly skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and is cooling and soothing. Collect the root (not from wild land) after the first year cycle (the plant is biennial).
C is for Comfrey - Symphytum officinalis
Comfrey is an old ally. Known around the world as ‘knitbone’ its special quality is that of literally knitting the bones back together after damage. It is a fast tissue healer so care must be taken to make sure the bone is set properly or the wound is clean inside before applying comfrey. It is also used as a demulcent, soothing irritated tissue, ulcers and lesions and it is a famous bruise healer. Collect the roots or aerial parts
D is for Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion is amazing! You can use all parts of it. The buds can be made in to capers. The flowers can be eaten and the seed blown by children and those wishing to know the time. The stems have sap in which can be used for warts. The leaves are an important diuretic, moving fluid from areas of retention. They are also very bitter and can stimulate the gall bladder and liver. The roots are nourishing but hold the bitterness that the leaves have and are a great help in cleansing the liver, helping it to flush out any build-up of rubbish and keep it in tiptop condition. Collect the leaves before flowering and the roots after the flowers die back. The rest you can pick as they appear and as appropriate.
E is for Echinacea (Coneflower) - Echinacea angustifolia or purpurea
Coneflower is a now famous anti-infective. It may be used when coughs and colds are starting to appear or when infection is present. It is effective against bacteria and virus alike. If you combine it with yarrow and bearberry or buchu, for example, it makes a brilliant anti-infective for the urinary tract. With other herbs it will work well for other systems. Alone it can be used in washes for external infections and tonics for immune health. It is known as an immunomodulator, stimulating or relaxing the immune system as necessary. It has a long traditional use in N. America by the indigenous inhabitants. Collect the roots and or aerial parts.
F is for Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel is a wonderful uplifting herb that can be added to blends for low mood, menopausal angst or SAD. It is also a great carminative, being used in the digestive system for bloating issues or gaseous pain and for stimulating appetite. Fennel is a galactagogue, increasing the flow of breast milk. The essential oil can be used for muscular fatigue and pain when diluted in an oil or balm. Collect seeds.
G is for Goosegrass - Galium aparine
Goosegrass, or cleavers, is an excellent lymphatic tonic and cleanser. As it has alterative and diuretic properties too, it is very useful in aiding the lymphatic system when challenged, therefore aiding the circulatory and immune systems directly. It can be used for any kind of swelling, such as tonsillitis for example, and is really helpful in inflammatory skin conditions. Psoriasis and eczema can be alleviated with the cool, calming effect of goosegrass, shifting stuck heat or inflammation. As a gentle demulcent it is also of use in urinary tract infections. Collect aerial parts before flowering.
H is for Hawthorn - Crataegus sp. (monogyna, laevigata etc.)
Hawthorn is repeatedly referred to as the number one heart herb. It is a cardiotonic and supports the heart and circulatory system aiding in conditions such as high blood pressure, angina, arteriosclerosis, palpitations, heartbreak etc. Hawthorn stimulates the heart into good function. It is widely used and has little side effect though professional guidance is needed. Collect the flowering tops and or berries.
I is for Inula (elecampane) - Inula helenium
Elecampane, or Inula, is best known as a lung trophorestorative. It is healing and has an affinity for lung tissue. It is a great expectorant and really useful in any debilitating lung condition with its tonic effect. It will help relax respiratory passages and tone the mucosa. It brings up and expels catarrh so useful in any phlegmatic condition. It is bitter and aromatic and both cools and warms gently so helpful in stuck conditions. Collect the root after the flowers have died back.
J is for Juniper - Juniperus communis
Juniper is a wonderful native berry which are very astringent and antiseptic. These qualities make it useful for infection and juniper berries are great for urinary tract and kidney infections. If there is kidney disease, however, the essential oil may stimulate nephrons (kidney cells) so professional guidance is needed. The berries have long been used to treat rheumatism and arthritis and are gently warming and tonifying. There is a bitter quality to the berries so they also have a little cooling action, which can be soothing. Collect berries when ripe.
K is for Kelp (bladderwrack) - Fucus vesiculosus
Kelp is well known for its excellent effect on underactive thyroid glands and goitre. Hypothyroid symptoms improve with kelp as it regulates the gland and brings symptoms into relief. If obesity is associated with thyroid dysfunction, this herb can help bring about weight loss and thereby aid the thyroid and body in general, increasing confidence if it is lost due to bodily changes. Kelp is also useful in rheumatic conditions and can be applied directly to affected joints. Collect entire plant from rocks though take care to leave the plugs they grow from on the rocks.
L is for Linden - Tilia europea (sp.)
Linden is a beautiful heady scented flower and bract combination which soothes. It is slightly demulcent and cooling so naturally soothing but it is well known for its calming effects. This nervine action brings about calming in body and mind. It is much used across Europe to dispel nervous tension, in anxiety, headaches or however it may manifest. It is also very much a heart herb, working to reduce hypertension and help prevent arteriosclerosis and is commonly used alongside hawthorn. It is also mildly diaphoretic and can be used for fevers and colds. It is excellent for calming agitated kids and elders alike as it is gentle but effective. Collect flowers and bracts on a sunny day.
M is for Marigold - Calendula officinalis
Marigold is a fantastic wound healer. It is used for all kinds of inflammatory conditions and tissue healing. As an alterative it is useful anywhere in the body, for example in cases of irritable bowel syndrome or eczema. It is really useful as an oil around wounds or a lotion for burns and all kinds of skin conditions from nappy rash to fungal infections. Internally it is used to soothe ulcers and repair tissue in the gut mucosa and it helps the gall bladder function with its bitter resin. It is an emmenagogue too and can bring on menstruation while easing painful menstrual cramps. Collect the flowers in their glory.
N is for Nettle - Urtica dioica
Nettle is an excellent anti-inflammatory and tonic herb with much of the plant being used. The leaves can be eaten or used as medicine for a mineral rich tonic effect. They are also an excellent anti-inflammatory medicine for rheumatism, debility or healing. They are often used as an antiallergenic medicine with excellent effects in skin reactions and hayfever, for example. Nettle is a galactagogue and yet it is also a stypic, healing profusive wounds. It is a blood nourisher and may be given to those in deficient states. The roots can be used for benign prostatic hypertrophy. The seeds can be used for kidney dysfunction and as a tonic. Collect the leaves before flowering, the seeds after flowering (female only) and the roots after the flowers have died back.
O is for Oats - Avena sativa
Oats are an outstanding as a nervous tonic. They are especially useful where there is debility within the nervous system, whether from stress, infection or chronic illness. They are useful for calming and soothing, aiding in sleep and reduction of tension. They are neutral to cooling in effect and can be used widely for irritated skin and internal mucosa. Oatstraw is particularly beneficial for the skin in external preparations. Oats are a tonic herb, building and supporting. When combined with other supportive herbs, including anti-inflammatories, adaptogens or nervines, a very powerful tonic is created. Collect milky oats or oatstraw
P is for Plantain - Plantago lanceolata or major
These beauties make excellent demulcent medicine which soothe and heal tissue. They are great for sore throats, irritated tissue, e.g. in the gut, bladder or kidneys, and for easing coughs and colds. They have a mild expectorant action so can help the body rid itself of catarrh and phlegm. Plantain also helps stop mast cell proliferation which is really useful in inflammatory cascades such as hayfever, where it brings relief, especially as part of an anti-inflammatory blend. Collect leaves before flowering or roots after flowering.
Q is for is for Quercus (Oak) - Quercus robur
Oak is an astringent – it is fantastic for toning tissue as it is rich in tannins. Haemorrhoids, varicose veins and other distended tissue can all benefit from oak medicine be it applied internally or externally. An enema wash can be used for piles or finely powdered bark applied in a balm. It can help with diarrhoea and loose stools and if infection is present, for example in dysentry. Astringents are useful because they are almost always anti-infective. Inflamed gums, tonsillitis and other throat infections can be helped by an oak bark gargle. Collect the young bark from branches.
R is for Rose - Rosa gallica, canina or damascena
Rose is the number one grief remedy. The flowers of rose are full of antioxidants and bring much nourishment to the body. The excellent nervine effect rose offers can be used for transition, heart opening and stress. It is gentle and powerful. Much like the rose bush itself with delicate flowers full of potent scent and thorns on the stems. The hips are high in vitamin C and also aid in debility and exhaustion. They are useful in gut issues and the pressed oil can be very beneficial in skin conditions and scarring. Collect buds or flower and hips when ready (after the first frost is indicated but it is not always necessary).
S is for Skullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora
Skullcap is one of the most commonly used nervines in modern Materia medica. It is a calming herb first and foremost. It strengthens and relaxes the nervous system while releasing tension. It is often used for headaches and onset of migraine and can be administered for central nervous system issues while releasing tension across the nervous system. It is used for seizures and coupled with passionflower it is used in epilepsy and febrile convulsions or states of trauma. It can be used in depressed states of the nervous system. Collect aerial parts while flowering.
T is for Thyme - Thymus vulgaris
Thyme is a lovely herb that has excellent anti-infective properties. It is commonly used as a gargle or mouthwash for throat and mouth infections and also has affinity for kidney and bladder infections. It can be used effectively in cases of vaginal thrush or candida and has antifungal properties. Coupled with liquorice it makes a lovely syrup that kids enjoy for irritated throats, coughs cold etc. Thyme is a carminative and is used in dyspepsia and bloating. It is also an astringent so naturally toning and can also ease bedwetting. The essential oil is powerful and antimicrobial. Collect the aerial parts in summer.
U is for Uva Ursi (Bearberry) - Arctostaphylos uva ursi
Uva Ursi is a fantastic urinary tract infection herb. It contains arbutin which is converted to hydroquinone, a substance which maintains healthy bacterial balance in the urinary tract. Uva Usri can be given as a tincture or tea and as a simple or in combination with other antiinfectives like Buchu or with soothing demulcents like Zea mays and marshmallow. It’s antiinfective qualities also make it a useful herb for the immune system. Must be avoided in pregnancy. Collect leaves.
V is for Vervain - Verbena officinalis
Vervain is an ancient magical herb. It is held in high regard throughout history and is very commonly used today. In France it is a common tisane but it is less well known in English speaking countries, with people mistaking it for lemon verbena or Verbena bonariensis. It is a nervine which is well used for anxious states, depressive states and debility. It is also a bitter herb and supports the liver and gallbladder while enhancing digestive function. It is a fantastic ally for premenstrual irritability or ‘syndrome’, with a positive effect on the emotional side of pre-menstruation. It also eases physical tension in the womb. It is used for agitation in general with its cooling, calming, destress effect. It is also a vermifuge and can be used for parasites and worms in the body, as well as infections in the nervous system. Collect aerial parts when in flower.
W is for Willow - Salix alba
Willow is a great anti-inflammatory and is often used in different kinds of arthritic conditions. It is cooling and drying and helps ease the dull aches and pains of rheumatism in the joints while relaxing muscles. It is an anodyne containing salicylic acid which we know in its extracted form as aspirin, first found in meadowsweet but synthesized from willow. As such, it is a febrifuge, reducing fever. It is also used in conditions where the connective tissue is inflamed or aggravated. Collect spring bark.
X is for Xanthox (Prickly ash) - Xanthoxylum americanum (or Zanthoxlyum)
Prickly ash is used for circulation. It is excellent for encouraging circulation to all the peripheral capillaries and is helpful therefore in conditions such as Raynaud’s, varicose veins, cramps and chilblains. It is also beneficial in any condition of stagnancy, like rheumatism, where movement is needed. It is stimulating for the lymphatic system and therefore beneficial in swelling and chronic illness. Collect berries and bark.
Y is for Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Yarrow is soldierwort – it was used to staunch wounds in battle. It is a fantastic wound healer, anti-infective and stypic, therefore making it an excellent herb for cuts and wounds. Internally it is a circulatory stimulant, aiding blood flow so any stagnant blood issues, such as painful menstruation, can be eased with a little dose of yarrow. It is part of an excellent fever tea with peppermint and elderflower, bringing the fever out while replenishing the system. It contains azulene which is a powerful anti-infective volatile oil and can be used in soothing bug balms, anti-infective tonics and teas and more. It is a protective herb. Collect the aerial parts in flower.
Z is for Zea mays (Cornsilk) - Zea mays
Cornsilk is exactly that, the silk of the corn. It is smooth and silky and soothing and soft. It is a demulcent and eases irritation in the kidneys while also acting as a tonic herb. It contains allantoin which is a powerful anti-inflammatory, also found in comfrey. It’s diuretic properties make it super helpful for kidney issues. It is safe for kids and elders alike. Collect stigmas of corn just before pollination.