Wednesday, 1 December 2010

(3) Therapeutic Profile: Henbane - Hyoscyamus niger

Henbane - Hyoscyamus niger

Hyoscyamus niger, otherwise known as Henbane, Stinking Nightshade or Black Henbane, is a plant of the Solanaceae family. It originated in Eurasia, though it is now globally distributed. Other members of the Solanaceae family are Potato, Tobacco, Tomato and Belladonna.

Its name dates at least back to 1265. The origins of the word are unclear but "hen" probably originally meant death rather than referring to chickens.
The herb is also called Hog's-bean, and both its botanical name Hyoscyamus and the tenth-century Jusquiasmus are derived from the Greek words hyos and cyamos, signifying 'the bean of the hog', which animal is supposed to eat it with impurity. An old AngloSaxon name for it was "Belene", probably from the bell-shaped flowers; then it became knwon as "Hen-bell", and from the time that its poisonous properties were recognised this name was changed to "Henbane", because the seeds were thought to be fatal to poultry. Dr. Prior is inclined to think that the name Henbane is derived from the Spanish hinna (a mule), e.g. "henna bell", referring to the similiarity of its seed-vessel to the bell hung upon the neck of the mules.


The medicinal uses of Henbane date from remote ages; it was well known to the Ancients, being particularly commended by Dioscorides (first century A.D.), who used it to procure sleep and allay pains. Celsus and others, in the same period, made use of it for the same purpose, internally and externally, though Pliny declared it to be 'of the nature of wine and therefore offensive to the understanding'. There is mention of it in a work by Benedictus Crispus (A.D. 681) under the names of Hyoscyamus and Symphonica. In the tenth century, we again find its virtues recorded under the name of Jusquiasmus (the modern French name is Jusquiame). There is frequent mention made of it in AngloSaxon works on medicine of the eleventh century, in which it is named 'Henbell', and in the old glossaries of those days it also appears as Caniculata, Cassilago and Deus Caballinus.

Later it fell into disuse. It was omitted from the London Pharmacopoeia of 1746 and 1788, and only restored in 1809, its re-introduction being chiefly due to experiments and recommendations by Baron Storch, who gave it in the form of an extract, in cases of epilepsy and other nervous and convulsive diseases.

The herb was used in magic and diabolism, for its power of throwing its victims into convulsions. It was employed by witches in their midnight brews, and from the leaves was prepared a famous sorcerer's ointment.

Anodyne necklaces were made from the root and were hung about the necks of children as charms to prevent fits and to cause easy teething.

Medicinal Properties

Henbane was historically used in combination with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura as an anaesthetic potion, as well as for its psychoactive properties in "magic brews". These psychoactive properties include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight.
Its usage was originally in continental Europe, Asia and the Arabic world, though it did spread to England in the Middle Ages. The use of Henbane by the ancient Greeks was documented by Pliny the Elder. The plant, recorded as Herba apollinaris, was used to yield oracles by the priestesses of Apollo.
Hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids have been found in the foliage and seeds of the plant. Common effects of Henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin. Less common symptoms such as tachycardia - increased heart rate, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia - a fever with an extreme elevation of body temperature greater than or equal to 41.5 degrees C, and ataxia - gross lack of coordination of muscle movements, have all been noted. Even in low does, Henbane is be toxic and can even be fatal.

Historically it was sometimes one of the ingredients in gruit, traditionally used in beers as a flavouring, until replaced by hops in the 11th to 16th centuries (for example, the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 outlawed ingredients other than bareley, hops, and water).

Misidentification can sometimes be an issue with Henbane, such as, in 2008 celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson recommended Henbane as a "tasty addition to salads" in the August 2008 issue of Healthy and Organic Living magazine. He subsequently said that he had made an error, confusing the herb with Fat Hen, a member of the spinach family. He apologised, and the magazine sent subscribers an urgent message stating that Henbane "is a very toxic plant and should never be eaten".

Toxic Properties

It is poisonous in all its parts, and neither drying nor boiling destroys the toxic principle. The leaves are the most powerful portion, even the odour of them when fresh will produce giddiness and stupor. Accidental cases of poisoning by Henbane are, however, not very common, as the plant has too unpleasant a taste and smell to be readily mistaken for any esculent vegetable, but its roots, which are thick and somewhat like those of salsafy, have sometimes been gathered and eaten. In one case recorded, a woman pulled up a quantity of Henbane roots which she found in a field, supposing them to be parsnips. She boiled them in soup, which was eaten by the family. The whole of the nine persons who had partaken of them suffered severely, being soon seized with indistinctness of vision, giddiness and sleepiness, followed by delirium and convulsions.

It is also recorded that the whole of the inmates of a monastery were once poisoned by using the roots instead of chicory. The monks partaking of the roots for supper were all more or less affected during the night and following day, being attacked with a sort of delirious frenzy, accompanied in many cases by such hallucinations that the establishment resembled a lunatic asylum.

Seed Handling

Henbane seeds are small and black, as the above image indicates.

Once you've filled a suitable container with the compost of choice, scatter the Henbane seeds across the compost as they are too small to place individually. Once complete, lightly cover the seeds with compost and leave to germinate.
To increase germination rates sow the seed mid-winter or early spring to subject seed to cold moist conditioning or chill in wet sand for 2 weeks before sowing. Then it should germinate in 2 weeks. Plant in light, well drained soil. Full sun to part shade, prefers more shade in warmer climates.

Potential Uses in Green Pharmacy Preparations

Henbane is listed in the Schedule III poisons category of "medicinal" plants, and therefore constitute Practitioner Only Medicines (POM). Henbane may not be used in Green Pharmacy preparations.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

(3) Therapeutic Profile: Marigold - Calendula officinalis

Marigold - Calendula officinalis

Calendula officinalis, Pot Marigold, is a plant in the genus Calendula, in the family Asteraceae. It is native to Southern Europe, though its long history of cultivation makes it precise origin unknown. Calendula should not be confused with other plants that are also known as marigolds, such as corn marigold, desert marigold, or marsh marigold, or plants of the genus Tagetes.

The name Calendula stems from the Latin kalendae, meaning first day of the month, presumably because pot marigolds are in bloom at the start of most months of the year.

Calendula officinalis is a short-lived aromatic perennial plant, however the flowers may appear all year lond where conditions are suitable. The common name is Pot Marigold, however several other names include, Ruddles, Common Marigold, Garden Marigold, English Marigold and Scottish Marigold.
Calendula officinalis is widely cultivated as a herb and can be grown easily in sunny locations in most kinds of soils. Although perennial, it is commonly treated as an annual plant, particularly in colder regions where its winter survival is poor, or in hot summer location where it also does not survive.

Pot Marigold florets are considered edible, and after often used to add colour to salads, or are added to dishes as a garnish, in lieu of saffron. The leaves are edible but are often not palatable. They have a history of use as a potherb and in salads.

Medicinal Properties

The flowers of Calendula officinalis contain flavonol glycosides, triterpene oligoglycosides, oleanane-type triterpene glycosides, saponins, and a sesquiterpene glucoside.

Plant pharmacological studies have suggested that Calendula extracts have anti-viral, anti-genotoxic (prevents substances deleting cell's genetic material) and anti-inflammatory properties. Calendula in suspension or in tincture is used topically to treat acne, reducing inflammation, controlling bleeding and soothing irritated tissue.
The tincture varies in action according to the concentration of ethanol used to prepare it, frequently either 25% or 90%, due to the variable solubility of different active principles.

In a randomised study of 254 radiation patients, topical application of 4% Calendula ointment resulted in far fewer occurrences of Grade 2 or higher dermatitis than occurred in the group using trolamine. Calendula users also experienced less radiation-induced pain and fewer breaks in treatment. Providing some limited evidence that Calendula cream or ointment is effective in treating radiation dermatitis.

Calendula has been used traditionally for abdominal cramps and constipation. In experiments with rabbit jejunum, that aqueous-ethanol extract of Calendula officinalis flowers was shown to have both spasmolytic and spasmogenic effects, thus providing a scientific rationale for this traditional use. An aqueous extract of Calendula officinalis obtained by a novel extraction method has demonstrated anti-tumor (cytotoxic) activity and immunomodulatory properties (lymphocyte activation) in vitro, as well as anti-tumor activity in mice.

Calendula officinalis is used for the treatment of skin disorders and pain, and as a bactericide, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. The petals and pollen contain triterpenoid esters (an anti-inflammatory) and the carotenoids flavoxanthin and auroxanthin (antioxidants, and the source of the yellow-orange colouration). The leaves and stems contain other carotenoids, mostly lutein (80%) and zeaxanthin (5%), and beta-carotene. Plant extracts are also widely used by cosmetics, presumably due to presence of compounds such as saponins, resins and essential oils.

Along with Equisetum arvense (Horsetails), Pot Marigold is one of the few plants which is considered astringent despite not being high in tannins.

Pot Margiold is said to be effective against numerous skin complaints such as chilblains, warts, fungual skin infections (ringworm, athlete's foot, cradle cap), eczema, leg ulcers, nappy rash and surgical wounds. It has been taken internally for gastric and duodenal ulcers and various disorders of the digestive system (colitis, diverticulitis), hepatic system (liver and gall bladder) and menstrual problems.

Seed Handling

Calendula seed is an after-ripener. That is, the seed germinates better after 6 months of storage than if planted immediately after maturity. This is an adaption that allows the Calendula seed to lie dormant and unsprouted in the soil all winter long, germinating only in the spring.

The seeds range from biege to black, they have a curled alligator appearance.
For sowing, fill a container with the chosen compost, a place the seeds in regimented rows, about 2 inches apart. Once complete cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch-worth of soil and place in darkness to promote germination. The seeds will germinate in 10 days at 15-20 degrees C.

Potential Uses in Green Pharmacy Preparations

Due to Calendula's history of being used for skin complaints, the most ideal Green Pharmacy remedy that could be made using the plant would be a cream or ointment, something that could be applied directly to the skin.

Making an oil-based ointment from the Pot Marigold flower petals would allow it to be used for topical use when needed. However, making a cream for long-term continual usage would not appear to have any side-effects.

Otherwise devising a Pot Marigold essential oil for using when bathing, would also be an option, as it would be available to use when needed and would be a more sensitive approach if the skin irritation in question was painful to apply a cream or ointment directly to.

Monday, 29 November 2010

(3) Therapeutic Profile: Milk Thistle - Silybum marianum

Milk Thistle - Silybum marianum

The Milk Thistle is a flowering plant of the daisy family, Asteraceae. They are native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The name "Milk Thistle" derives from two features of the leaves: they are mottled with splashes of white and they contain a milky sap.

There are two species currently classified: Silybum ebumeum Coss. & Dur. var. hispanicum and Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner, otherwise known as the Variegated Thistle. The latter is the species that I will be discussing today, and is by far more widely known.

Medicinal Properties

Increasing research is being undertaken on the physiological effects, therapeutic properties and possible medical uses of Milk Thistle. It is believed to give some remedy for liver diseases (e.g. viral hepatitis) and the extract, silymarin, is used in pharmaceutical medicine.

Traditional Milk Thistle extract is made from the seeds, which contain approximately 4-6% silymarin. The extract consists of about 65-80% silymarin (a flavonolignan complex) and 20-35% fatty acids, including linoleic acid. Silymarin is a complex mixture of polyphenolic molecules, including seven closely related flavonoligans (silybin A, silybin B, isosilybin A, isosilybin B, silychristin, isosilychristin, silydianin) and one flavonoid (taxifolin).
In clinical trials silymarin has typically been administered in amounts ranging from 420-480mg per day in two to three divided doses. However high doses have been studied, such as 600mg daily in the treatment of type II diabetes and 600 or 1200mg daily in patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus. An optimal dosage for Milk Thistle preparations has not been established.

Research into the biological activity of silymarin and its possible medical uses has been conducted in many countries since the 1970s, but the quality of the research has been uneven. Milk Thistle has been reported to have protective effects on the liver and to greatly improve its function. It has been typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), toxin-induced liver damage (including the prevention of severe liver damage from Amanita phalloides ('death cap' mushroom poisoning)), and gallbladder disorders.

In a 2009 study published in the journal Cancer, Milk Thistle showed promise in reducing the liver damaging effects of chemotherapy in a study of 50 children.

In a recent 2007 event, a family of six were treated with Milk Thistle and a combination of other treatments including penicillin - which when administered with Milk Thistle seems to amplify the overall effects - to save them from ingested poisonous mushrooms. While five of the six made a full recovery, the grandmother showed liver recovery but was overcome by kidney failure related to the poisonous mushrooms. Showing that Milk Thistle did indeed have a medicinally beneficial effect.

Milk Thistle protects and regenerates the liver in most liver diseases such as cirrhosis (hardening of the liver), jaundice and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), and cholangitis (inflammation of bile ducts resulting in decreased bile flow). It is one of the best examples of preventative medicine that we have today as it not only protects each cell of the liver from incoming toxins, but simultaneously encourages the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances, such as alcohol, drugs, medications, mercury and heavy metals, pesticides, anesthesia, and poisons.

One of the special qualities of Milk Thistle is that it cleanses and detoxifies an overburdened and stagnant liver while also being able to strengthen and tonify a weak liver; thus, delivering potent medicine to clogged, excess conditions as well as to weakened, deficient conditions. One of the tasks of the liver is to cleanse the blood. If the liver energy is stagnant it will be unable to effectively cleanse the blood; this can result in skin problems ranging from acne to psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. It is also effective for treating congestion of the kidneys, spleen, and pelvic region.

The suggested dosage for Milk Thistle is 12 to 15g of dried herb (200 to 400mg silymarin) per day or silymarin-phosphatidylcholine complex 100 to 200mg two times per day. For liver protection, 120mg silymarin (about 2 capsules) two times per day. For liver damage from alcohol, drugs, or chemicals, the recommended dosage of silymarin-phosphatidylcholine should be increased from two times per day to three times per day. However, these have not been scientifically confirmed.

Seed Handling

The seeds of the Milk Thistle have been used for 2000 years to treat chronic liver disease and protect the liver against toxins. Modern use of Milk Thistle in medicine is limited to the seeds.

Milk Thistle thrives in open areas. Also cultivated as an ornamental plant, Milk Thistle prefers a sunny position and self-seeds readily. The flower heads are picked in full bloom in early summer, the seeds are collected in late summer.

The seeds of the Milk Thistle are picked from the dried flower head in the Autumn. The seeds are black or dark brown with a shiny coating, crowned with feathery tufts like those of dandelion seeds. Freshly collected seed will germinate only at cool temperatures, but seed stored dry for five monhts will germinate at warm temperatures.
Milk Thistle isn't particularly demanding as to soil type, it has been reported to do well on compacted clay soils; very light soils are not recommended. A full sun location is also recommended.

Before planting, each seed must have the feathery tuft removed, this is the only cleaning the seed really needs. Once a tray has been filled with the compost of choice, the seeds must be placed into the tray, as they are large enough to be placed in a regimented order. Once the tray has been filled with seeds, about 1 cm seperating each seed - in rows, they can be covered with compost. The seeds are large enough that a layer of gravel may be put on top of the compost layer, as the seedlings will be strong enough for slightly more resistance.

Optimum germination has been reported under conditions of 2-15 degrees C at night (air temperature), alternated with daytime temperatures of 10-30 degrees C. Recommended sowing depth is one cm, and germination should take place within one to three weeks. The plant needs four to five months to grow and mature.


Milk Thistle seed preparations have been used for the treatment of liver disease since antiquity.

Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), the first century Roman physician/naturalist wrote about the use of the plant as a vegetable, but warned it was not worth the effort to boil it, as it was troublesome to cook. He mentioned that the juice of the plant, mixed with honey, is excellent for "carrying off bile" - perhaps the first reference to the use of Milk Thistle for liver-related conditions.

The Physica of Hildegarde of Bingen, an important medieval German manuscript, the first herbal written by a woman, composed about 1150 then first published in 1533, wrote about the uses of the roots, whole plant, and leaves of the Milk Thistle, which was called "vehedistel"  or Venus Thistle.

In the eighteenth century, Culpepper notes that Milk Thistle is effectual "to open the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and thereby is good against the jaundice", he also wrote that "The seed and distilled water are held powerful to all the purposes aforesaid, and besides, it is often applied both inwardly to drink, and outwardly with cloths or spunges [sic.], to the region of teh liver, to cool the distemper thereof..."

Potential Uses in Green Pharmacy Preparations

Milk Thistle capsules can be purchased at most health food stores or herb shops.

Very young leaves of this herb can be used in salads, although they contain only traces of silymarin. In addition to their medicinal value, the seeds can be roasted, ground and used as a substitute for coffee.

It would seem that the most appropriate and applicable Green Pharmacy prepartions regarding Milk Thistle are those that can be consumed. The most potent part of the Milk Thistle is the seed, so it would seem that a preparation such as an infusion would be the most ideal. An alcohol tincture using the seeds would be a suitable infusion, allowing for a quick release and absorption of the silymarin.


(4) Green Pharmacy Ointment Profile

In this profile, I will be looking at the beneficial effects of the Wax, Oil and Botanical elements used to produce the Green Pharmacy product:   Comfrey Balm

The Wax used to produce the balm was Beeswax.

Beeswax can be purchased and used in many forms, in this particular product, flaked Beeswax was used. The larger surface area of the smaller particles, allows it to melt faster during the production time, it is also a cleaner form to use, allowing for no debris within the product.
The Beeswax is utilised in a variety of skin care products, and according to studies, the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry use 60% of total production within the commercial industry.

When constructing a honeycomb, bees secrete a nutrient-rich substance called Beeswax. The wax is secreted by the female worker bees from wax glands on the underside of the abdomen, it is moulded into six-sided cells which are filled with honey, and then capped with more wax. To produce one pound of wax, a bee consumes an estimated six to eight to ten pounds of honey, this relates to 150,000 miles of flight time for the bee.

Beeswax is easily incorporated with water in oil or oil in water emulsions. It is an excellent emollient and support for moisturisers, it provides the skin with a protective action of a nonocclusive type, bestows consistency to emulsions an oil-gels and reinforces the action of detergents. This barrier provides a film of protection against irritants while still allowing the skin to breathe. The humectant properties means that the Beeswax draws moisture to the skin and seals it, which is beneficial to soften and rehydrate dry skin and is also beneficial for general cell reconstruction. Beeswax contains vitamin A which has a long-standing history within the scientific fields as being beneficial to the skin, and is used widely in commerical skincare products.
Nonallergic, Beeswax also sustains sunscreen action with its water repellent properties, it combines well with multiple ingredients, contains elasticity and provides greater permanence on skin or lip surfaces.
Beeswax is also associated with healing, softening and antiseptic properties, it was an irritation potential of zero, and a comedogenicity (doesn't clog pores) rating of 0-2, an excellent benefit in cosmetic formulations. Only those who have been identified as allergic to Beeswax should use caution when handling products containing the wax as it could cause undesirable skin interactions.

In its natural state, Beeswax is firm but pliable. Melted and combined with other ingredients, it adds body to skincare products, making creams thicker. Like other beehive products, including honey and royal jelly, beeswax offers anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral benefits.
According to a 2005 study conducted at the Dubai Specialised Medical Centre in the United Arab Emirates, researchers combined honey, olive oil and beeswax, then applied the mixture to laboratory plates on which bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, and the fungus, Candida albicans were growing. The honey/beeswax mixture inhibited the growth of the bacteria and the fungus, making beeswax, along with honey, potentially beneficial in the treatment of bacterial skin conditions. This study lends itself to the theory that Beeswax has antibacterial properties, however to fully acknowledge this theory, substantially more laboratory tests and subject tests would have to be performed against a placebo group.

The Oil used to produce the balm was Almond Oil.

Many Oils can be used in a Green Pharmacy preparation, including Olive Oil, Seabuckthorn Oil and Coconut Oil. In the Comfrey balm preparation I chose Almond Oil, initially for its asthetic properties, however it has its own beneficial properties. It's botanical name is Prunus amygdalus var. dulcus.

Almond Oil is extracted from the almond kernels, it is pale yellow in colour and has virtually no smell. It is a rich source of vitamin E, whilst containing other nutritious compounds, such as vitamin D and some essential minerals such as magnesium and calcium.
Almond Oil is an all purpose base oil, which is easily accessible from any other retail health store, it is widely used in Aromatherapy. The oil is easily absorbable and serves as a great emollient. Almond Oil is suitable for any skin type, whether oily, dry or normal. It is the best therapy for conditioning, providing deep moisturisation and nourishment to the skin and restoring the skins natural "glow".

Almond Oil has a high concentration of oleic and linoleic essential fatty acids, this lubricative capacity helps soothe skin irritation and inflammation. It also relieves dry and itching skin, cures chapped lips and body rashes. When applied to aching muscles, the Almond Oil can also act as a pain reliever.

Almond Oil has also been known to delay the ageing process and make the skin look younger, it can also lighten dark circles and patches on the skin. The higher concentrations of vitamin A and E that Almond Oil contains are highly beneficial for skin hydration and moisturisation, the anti-oxidant qualities of both these vitamins help to smooth the fine lines and wrinkles and increase blood flow to the skin, boosting elasticity which will in turn prevent new wrinkles forming. The Almond Oil eliminates impurities and removes dead cells, it refines the structure of the skin and stimulates cell renewal, it purifies, soothes and decongests the skin, leaving the skin feeling soft, renewed and radiant.

Only those with nut allergies or allergies to vitamin concentrations, such as higher vitamin E, should air caution when using products containing Almond Oil.

The Botanical Element used to produce the balm was Comfrey Root.

Comfrey, botanical name: Symphytum officinale L., is a perennial herb of the Boraginaceae family. It has a black, turnip-like root and large, hairy broad leaves that bears small bell-shaped white, cream, light purple or pink flowers. It is native to Europe, growing in damp, grassy places and is usually found on river banks and ditches. Comfrey has long been recognised by both organic gardeners and herbalists for its versatility, and medicinal properties.

Contemporary herbalists view Comfrey as an ambivalent and controversial herb that may offer therapeutic benefits but can cause liver toxicity. Two cases of liver disease relating to Comfrey consumption have been reported in the United States, however they both appear to be due to excessive intake of Comfrey. For example, a 47-year-old woman developed a liver ailment after consuming up to 10 cups of Comfrey tea a day, whilst also consuming Comfrey pills by the hanful for more than a year in an attempt to cure her stomach pains, fatigue and allergies.

One of the nicknames for Comfrey is "knitbone", a reminder of its traditional use in healing bone fractures. Scientific study has confirmed that Comfrey can influence the course of bone ailments. The herb contains the active component allantoin, a cell proliferant that speeds up the natural replacement of body cells. This is found in the highest volumes in the root of the botanical.
Historically, Comfrey was used in an attempt to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions. It was reputed to have bone and teeth building properties in children, and have value in treating "many female disorders".
Constituents of Comfrey also include mucilage, steroidal saponins, tannins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, inulin and proteins.

Internal usage of Comfrey should be avoided because it contains hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkanoids (PAs), consumption of these PAs can lead to veno-occlusive disease (VOD). VOD can in turn lead to liver failure, and Comfrey, taken in extreme amounts, has been implicated in at least one death. Excessive doses of symphytine, another of the PAs in Comfrey, has been shown to induce precancerous changes in rats. The highest volume of these PAs is found to be in the leaves and roots.
However for external use, recent placebo-controlled studies have found that when used topically Comfrey preparations have been shown to decrease back pain.

Ointments containing Comfrey, often made with lanolin as well, are supposed to be good for healing wounds and burns on the skin. Comfrey leaves added to bathwater are also supposed to be good for the skin.

The allantoin in the Comfrey, when applied to the skin, accelerates the healing of tissue and the closing of wounds. When fresh leaves or roots are applied to a wound it causes it to contract and close quicker and inhibits the opportunity for infection while minimising scarring.
Comfrey root is used to relieve pain from blunt injuries, promote healing of broken bones, sprains and bruises, reduce swelling and edema, and encourage the rapid and healthy regrowth of skin and tissue cells. A strong infusion of the roots can be used as a skin wash to relieve irritation and promote faster healing.

Comfrey root has various other nutrient benefits, such as protein, vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, mucilaginous fibre, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, sulpher, copper, zinc, selenium and germanium. During the water bath process, these beneficial components will transfer from the grated Comfrey root and infuse within the chosen Oil, making the end product of the balm nutrient rich.

The recipe

Take a glass jam jar and grate in Comfrey root, you will find this releases the mucilage components. Fill the glass jar about 2/3 and then cover with the Almond Oil.
Place in a water bath and leave for 20 minutes, this is the optimal time for the infusion of the active components from the Comfrey root into the Almond Oil. Stir.
Sieve the used root from the Oil, composting the root and, after cleaning the jar, returning the Oil to the jar and to the water bath.
Add 2 to 3 tsp's of the Beeswax to the Oil (this measurement applies to a jar that is half full, adjust accordingly - add more Beeswax if you would like a firmer concoction, less for a more liquid concoction. Leave in the water bath, allowing the heat to melt the wax. Stir.
Remove the jar from the water bath and allow to cool. After the balm has cooled sufficently so the heat of the Oil won't burn off the essential oils, t this stage colouring and essential oils can be added, all for aesthetic purposes.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The World of Fungi

The afternoon lecture on the 16th November was taken by Dr Roy Watling, it was about fungi and identification of fungi.

Fungi are sadly neglected in Western medicine, however are at the forefront of Chinese medicine.

"Oddsey" - found in the Alps - a possible Austrian or Italian - was found to be from Southern Italy and is now in an Italian museum, they discovered from the last meal in his stomach and fragments found in his teeth. He possibly died from an arrow wound.
However, the interesting part about Oddsey, in terms of this lecture, was that he was carrying fungi in a leather pouch. It was found to be the tinderbox fungus.

The tinderbox fungus is restricted in growth and is mainly found on birch trees. It was duly nick-named the "tinderbox fungus" because, due to its hard outer shell and fluffy soft inner flesh, it was used in old musket tinderboxes to surround the gunpowder, as the spark would ignite the flesh.
In "Oddsey's" case, he was probably carrying the fungus for its ability to store fire. After initially lighting the inner flesh, you can carry the fungus around - as the outer shell would not ignite, and therefore the fungus doesn't just burst into flame but glows like an ember.
The fungus is also known as the Male Agaric - the God of Fire was Mars, the God of War was Mars and therefore the name of the fungus was chosen due to its very masculine qualities.

Primitive peoples would have to sleep outside, and during the night, the smells of a camp would attract wild animals e.g. bears and wolves. What keeps away these wild animals? The answer: Fire. But to create fire, two sticks need to be rubbed feverishly together until the heat causes a fire to form, this wasn't feasible for these primitive peoples, they couldn't carry wood around with them continuously and so this fungus was used to carry fire with them. Fire wood could be collected at each new location, then the flesh of the fungus was used to set the wood alight.

The flesh of the tinderbox fungus is so flexible that it can, and has been, beaten out into sheets to create "fashionable" pieces such as hats and bags etc.

Osmoporous asparatus - smells like maple syrup - grows on large, old willows, which therefore hugely restricts its growth. This fungus made the first deodorant, strips of the fungus were kept with the belt to combat the bodily smells and therefore smell fresher. Today the fungus is used in Sweden and mixed with cheese to create "nice, vanilla" tastes - it is not hugely popular and therefore not sold in supermarkets - this may be a blow to the creators, however it saves the fungus from over-harvesting and possibly extinction due to its restricted growth.
American Indians, today, still wear small talismans around their neck made from the fungus because of its sweet aroma - "Oddsey" may have had one of these talismans also.

The Birch-bracket fungus is a non-annual fungus, it technically has no lifespan, as it continues to grow, layering itself, until it becomes mechanically unstable or it becomes infected by another fungus. It is also nicknamed the Razorstrop fungus, as in Medieval times, it was cut into strips and used to sharpen razors. It was also the first form of silica gel - strips of the fungus were used in museum cabinets to absorb moisture - this absorbed moisture was used to produce spores.
The Birch-bracket fungus, due to its high absorption power, was also used as a form of plaster - the fungus contains antibotics useful for healing, and so would have been placed on open wounds to prevent infection and promote faster healing - "Oddsey" was carry some of this and would have used it as a form of plaster.

The Surgeons bracket comes in two forms, the male agaric and the female agaric. It is a long-lived fungus, it continually grows outwards, building on top of itself - at the beginning of life, a mushroom knows its going to be a mushroom and so therefore grows as a mushroom, whereas the bracket fungus doesn't know what its going to be and so just keeps growing.
The male agaric:
It has an astringent taste - in Medieval times the surgeon and the barber were the same - amputations were a painful procedure, and so a strip of the fungus was placed in the subjects mouth, the strong taste would cause the subject to become irritated and partially distracted, another strip was then put around the limb to be amputated, causing the blood vessels to all but shut down - this minimised blood loss.
It was also ground up to a power and used as a snuff.
The female agaric:
Otherwise known as the Larch bracket - it cures everything. In Medieval times it was imported into the river Thames, as it is not native to the UK. It was used against malaria - soak the fungus in water to make a drink out of it, this elevates the symptoms of malaria. It was also used to alleviate chronic pain and childbirth.

Birch trees attract a certain fungus that encourages the tree to make more bark, it makes the tree very unhappy with life. In Russia the black bark nodules are ground up and made into a tea, that apparently wards off against lung cancer. The fungus is very common in Scotland, not so much so in England, in the 60's there was a huge surge to collect it. The fungus doesn't make the active component that is useful for health, the fungus concentrates the active component in the birch, and therefore the birch bark has to be stripped off.

Oak maze bracket - is not used medicinally. The fungus fits nicely into your hand, and was used, historically, to mop down horses, because its soft and highly absorbent.

Turkey tail, is sold in Edinburgh, to improve the immune system, otherwise known as the shitaki - it seems to be able to subdue or upset the viruses, allowing the immune system to protect itself and kill the virus.

Artist bracket - Ganoderma - the undersurface of the fungus is white, a picture or writing can be scratched onto the underside, if left the fungus will heal itself by releasing juice into the scratch marks and healing over. However, if removed and dried, the scratchings can be saved.

Ganoderma lucidum, sold in Chinese herbal shops. It is famously seen in Mongolian, Japanese and Chinese paintings and sculptures. It is grown in China and Asia as a medicinal fungus. In Thailand the King has specially dedicated gardens for growing Ganoderma, it is then made into a drink, similar to orange juice, sliced for tea or made in sweets.

Falus impudicus, otherwise known as Stinkhorns, the spores are kept in a sugary syrup in the head of the fungus, this attracts and is eaten by flies and then spread through faeces.
The fungus smells terrible, and was often mistaken for a gas leak.

The Doctrine of Signature - looking at the fungus, the male fungus is apparently meant to help cure male reproductive problems, including erections, and the female fungus which appears to grow out of an 'egg' cures female reproductive issues.

The Fuzzball or Puffball fungus is an interesting specimen, when white its edible, however when it turns dark and puffs (when pressed) it was used to puff into open wounds - the spores coagulate within the wound to form scabs - there are no active components.
This is another fungus, similar to the Tinderbox fungus, that can have the inner flesh ignited and then can be carried, being used to store fire. When you want to light something, you just blow through the fungus.

These are also the fungi that are responsible for "Fairy rings" - the soil is very uniform, ignoring any obstacles, and the fungus is found growing outside of the "fairy rings" - this is because the fungus breaks down debris in the turf, releasing nitrogenous compounds into the soil.

The muscarin - fly agaric - in the fungus, causes hallucinations as it passes through the body, and in high volumes damages the optic nerve.
Shaman in Eastern Russia and Siberia chew the fungus below, tell the future, then collect their urine in a specially designed leather "bucket" - the next Shaman would then drink the previous Shaman's urine, and so on and so forth through the tribal pecking order, the dregs are then poured into troughs for the reindeer to drink. This process continues with each new Shaman.

Father Christmas has been linked to this fungus also, the white splodges relating to the white bobble on his hat, and the red skin relating to his red hat.

New Kings of Bulgaria, at their coronation, drank out of specially carved wooden buckets, it was used to hold Amanita muscaria - the reason for the wooden buckets is that if gold or silver were used the muscaria would react and any active components would deactivate.

Amanita florida will kill you, unlike the Amanita muscaria variety. The head is the outer "crash helmet" - like a bikers - when eaten our gastric juices break down the head, release the active components especially nitrogen which attacks the body and the nervous system.

The most common poisonous mushroom, the haymaker, stands an inch and a half high, and looks fairly non-descript. It has a brown rusty cap, some are seen growing paler from the margin outwards, a white fluffy stem, found commonly out on the lawn in May or June.
The most common call to RBGE is from the sick kids hospital, because of children playing outside, picking the mushroom, chewing it and then usually spitting it back out (children are good at that), however the adult usually believes the child has swallowed the mushroom and panics. The fungus contains atropine which, effectively, puts the subject on a high.

Different fungi contain different active components and therefore metabolise different components.

The illegal to collect and package fungi:

Australia has a fungus that grows readily on the pastures, it grows on wood-chips and dung - it's nicknamed the "giggle mushroom".

Mexican goldcaps, grow easily in dark places.

Liberty caps - so named for the small pimple in the top of the fungus, similar to that of the French helmets in the World War. These can be bought in Amsterdam, after dried, they can be ground up to disguise them but under the microscope they can be easily identified.
Drying them on a windowsill is not seen as illegal, however any packaging or preparation is illegal.

Fungi can also be used for dye work, they make very good dye's, they fix nicely and don't change colour under light.
North American "Red" Indians trade fungi, the red dye used to colour the skin can be extracted from these fungi.
"Canaries" are so called because they're yellow, initially named after the "yellow" dye that was imported from the Canary Islands.

Truffles are a very expensive, highly sought after fungus. They are thought to be aphrodisiacs, choice restaurants use them to add to the dishes, they have pungent, aromatic odours. Their spores are contained in a sack, different to other varieties of fungus.

King Alfred's cakes, otherwise known as Cramp balls - were originally put in your socks to prevent from getting cramp, after they had been charred on a fire.
They were used in the war, within the trenches, so as not to give away people's positions, they stored and carried fire for lighting cigarettes.

Ergot Rye fungus, found growing on cereal crops, is where the ergot-derived drug sold in health food stores comes from. If used correctly it can stop postnatal haemorrhaging, however if used incorrectly it has been known to cause miscarriages.

There is a parallel evolution with similar families, this can lead to misidentification, molecular studies have helped minimise this, however in the field this can be a problem. The development through molecular studies has suddenly seperated previously known families.
Ink caps mixed with alcohol will cause dilation of the pupils and palpitations, whereas "shaggy ink caps" from a non-related family, but look very similar, doesn't react like any other Caprinus.

Nicholas Evans mistook a poisonous fungus in the field for the Penny Bun (Cep) fungus - the most delicious mushroom, quite meaty/fleshy, and his internal systems all but shut down, leaving him needing kideny transplants.

A fungus holds the title for the biggest, oldest and smallest organism on Earth. It is also there all the time, the mushroom is just the "fruiting" body of the fungus, which are produced in the Autumn. The trick with fungus is clear and correct identification.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Herbal Lichenology

Todays class was an introduction and look at the world of fungi and lichens - shown on two seperate blogs.

In the morning session, Louise Olley took us through herbal lichenology: identification and uses of lichens. There is a lack of expertise in the UK - hence the use of lichen's is not really embraced in western medicine.

A lichen is formed from a fungi and an algae - it's a symbiotic relationship between the two. The fungi fruit i.e. the mushroom, is the fruiting body, while the rest is below ground.
The fungi contains the protective substances e.g. protection from desiccation, herbivores and UV light, while thhe algae provides the nutritional source from photosynthesis.
The relationship between the fungi and the algae is referred to as symbiotic, they both benefit, however the exact function of the relationship isn't exactly known. The result of this relationship, the lichen thallus, can exploit many different habitats, such as the top of everest, or even car moulding - where other botanicals struggle to grow.

"thallus" is the main body of the botanical i.e. the plant
"fruiting body" is like the flower, its the sexual reproductive part of the plant

There are four different thallus types for identification:
"fruticose" - this thallus type has two algal layer's, resulting in it being green all the time, for maximum photosynthetic orientation (to capture the most light).

"foliose" - this thallus type looks "leafy", the algae is on the upper side of the leaf, its greener as this is where photosynthesis happens, whereas the lower side contains no algae and is darker, and usually against the trunk or rock base what it is growing on. This thallus type also has small root like structures to help it attach to its growth surface, called rhizines.

"crustose" - this thallus type becomes integrated with the surface to which its growing, looking microscopically at the botanical, the root structures can be seen growing between the cracks in the rock.

"leprose" - this thallus type is often mistaken for algae, its powdery and moves quite easily when touched.

Lichen's disperse themselves easily, when touched by animals or passing movement, they break off - they're fairly brittle - also referred to as fragmentation.

"soredia" - pustulate bundles, are the lichen's reproduction system. The soredia is a fungal hyphae surrounding algal cells - they are usually seen in clusters.

There are several different fruiting bodies that can be displayed on the thallus. Examples of fruiting bodies are:
- Apothecia - nicknamed "jammed hearts" with either a lecidine (no margin) layout or a lecanorine (thaline margin, the fruits are part of the thallus, hence the same colour)
- Perithecia - small pimplese, cones, with a hole in the top
- Podetia - nicknamed "pixies cups"
- Pin heads
- Arthonioid - nicknamed "squashy messes" - no obvious structures - look like smudges on the surface
- Lirellae - nicknamed "script lichens" - look like ancient writing and have been mistaken as such

Lichen's have many uses, such as:
- Fibre (clothing, housing, cooking, sanitation)
- Fuel
- Navigation
- Insect repellent/insecticide
- Preservatives (for food or beer)
- Narcotics
- Tanning (Lobaria pulmonaria)
- Fermentation (Lobaria pulmonaria)
- Camouflage

- Food - mystery death of Caribou, moved off habitat in response to food shortage, same lichens in different area were more toxic / used for famine or eaten as a delicacy / very low nutritional value

- Perfumes and Cosmetics - 'oak moss' forms the basis of certain exclusive perfumes because of its musk-like fragrance and fixative properties - holds the smell together when the alcohol evaporates (guarded secret) / ingredients lists only state "contains lichens" but doesn't state which

- Medicine - The Doctrine of Signatures - God was giving you the answer, find a plant that looks like the body part of disease to cure it

- Embalming - light-weight, highly absorptive, delays decay, antibiotic, aromatic - helps towards mummification, stops haemorrhaging - historically used to stop bleeding

- Poison - The Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpina) was used in Scandinavia to cul the wolf population.

- pH indicator - litmus means 'coloured moss' but its actually lichens that are used to make litmus paper - the filter paper has been treated with a natural water-soluble dye - now replaced by a synthetic version.

- Dyes - brown and red dyes are extracted from Parmelia and Evernia they're used to dye wool and produce the "Harris Tweed" of Scotland / Orchil (purple dyes) are the earliest documented dye used in Ancient Rome for the togas

- was used to form the first talcum powder - ground up mixed with rose petals - used on wigs and as a body powder - used for the smell and to kill headlice.
- was used for wadding in an old shotgun
- used as flavouring in middle eastern bread

Lichens in dermatology:
"Lichen Planus" is a skin disease, so named because it looks lichen growing on the skin, has no relation to the lichen.
Lumbermen - contact dermatitis through overexposure, leading to eczema and skin complaints - very rare today as machines are used.

Lichens are also used as hallucinogens, Amazonian tribes in Equador use tropical lichens to achieve trance-like states. Nenendape causes intense hallucinations - the Huaorani use it to call upon malevolent spirits to curse people. However these lichens used to cause sterility - it was very potent. There form of protection or of monitoring population numbers?

After Louise Olley's lecture, we had a practical session, from bags of mixed lichens we firstly had to seperate the different thallus types - of which there were three in the bag: foliose, fructicose and crustose:

Our next task was to tell the difference between Usnea and Bryoria - commonly known as "Old Mans Beard". The two lichens look identical (spare the colour difference in these photos), to tell the difference the lichen's must be wetted and then you have to pull them apart, taking a thicker stem and slowly seperating it.
Bryoria just breaks when wet, however, Usnea stems have an inner core, and when pulled apart the outer core breaks easily, but you'll find the inner core is slightly more elastic and takes slightly more before it breaks - similar to a tendon.

Bryoria is on the left, Usnea on the right, and below is Usnea's outer and inner cores.

Random interesting facts:
To put the lichens in the herbarium, they must be put in a deep freeze for four days, to kill any bacteria or contaminents, this however does not kill the lichen.
If a lichen is taken from the herbarium and water is added to the specimen, there is a possibility the algae may reform.
Lichen's can also survive for up to two weeks in an outer space vaccum, however they do lose the ability to reproduce effectively.

The second part of the day continued after the lunch break, and will be updated on a seperate blog post.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Making our first Ointment

The aim of todays class was to create our own ointment.

Some would say there are subtle differences between an ointment, balm and salve - however the only real differences are uses and consistency e.g. ointment - more liquid consistency, salve - more solid consistency, and a balm - creamier... however these are personal decisions.

So, what is an ointment?

Well... it's a herbal remedy - it's also fun to make, which is good for us. It contains three basic ingredients: a good oil, a herbal element and beeswax (can have various forms). You infuse the oil with the herbal element and solidify with beeswax (simply put) - the more wax you add, the more solid the ointment will become and vice versa.
When rubbed onto the skin, the ointment will melt - "icclued" means seal; the ointment forms a protective barrier with the beeswax, which is waterproof, this gives the oil time to be absorbed into the tissues. The icclusion effect encourages deep tissue absorption.

An ointment is vulnary, which means wound healing. It's not to be used on broken or bleeding skin - they're not a quick, astringent fix, they have a more slow-healing response, can be used for dry, irritant conditions.

One of the earliest forms of plaster, were pigs skin or leather coated on one-side with the chosen herbal remedy.

Classic oils to use during a preparation (all moisturising and promote healing) are olive oil, almond oil (almost clear, no odour, very little colour) or coconut oil (for vegans), all liquify readily on contact with the body. The choice of oil comes into play for aesthetics, and resulting patient compliancy (psychological appeal) - e.g. choice and fragrance.
Left bowl = almond oil, right bowl = olive oil. The bottle with the orange label is Seabuckthorn oil.

Before making a herbal remedy, there is really one rule of thumb: what is this for? What am I making it for? What is the reasoning?

Prior to starting making our herbal ointment, we discussed some of the quintessential utensils that will greatly facilitate the Herbologists art of home herbal remedy-making... such as pestle & mortar's, electronic weighing scales, sieces and strainers, mixing bowl selection, measuring jug selection, spoons, knives etc... we also discussed the benefit of a Bain-Marie... effectively a water bath - which we would use later.

There are also some utensils, that aren't essential, but will come in useful, such as... a juicer, a grinder, blender, dehydrator or a percolator, such as the "home-made" variety shown below...

Beeswax can be found in many forms... from fragments of the hive (which contains wax, honey and pieces of the hive - it must be boiled to seperate the three components)...

You can also use the beeswax in small chips or in larger clumps...

The next stage is to choose your herbal element, there can easily be more than one, they, however, must be complimentary and usually no more than 5 herbs are used, or less than one - unless you're developing a "simple". Once you have chosen your herbal element - in class we were using comfrey root, which had to be washed, peeled and either grated or chopped finely.

The chopped up root, which had an extreme mucilage component, was then put into glass jam jars, and covered in the oil of your choice - I chose almond oil, as it was non-fragranced and very pale, which was suitable for asthetics, the jars were then put into a water bath, and left to simmer for 20 minutes or if you choose, it can be left overnight in a very low heat oven (or in a cooling oven).

During this simmering process, the aromatic principles and active components of the herbal element chosen will infuse into the oil.
Once its had around 20 minutes - this time varies dependent on different sections of the plant, there is no real difference between the leaf, root or flower of the plant... however bark may need more time, and delicate flowers may need substansially less. Delicate flowers etc work better with the slower remedy making method, a window sill infusion. The basic process is the same, however instead of using a water bath, the jar of oil is left on the window sill for several weeks in a warm climate (such as a class room) for the components to infuse naturally, the jar has to be shaken gently once a day with this method...

Now and again stir the root in the oil, just to keep the infusion moving...

Sieve the herb out of the oil, compost the herb element and return the clear oil back to the water bath - you can now add the beeswax... 2 tbsp per half jar, 3 tbsp if you want a more solid ointment - personally I used 3 tbsp of beeswax flakes...

Once melted, remove and allow to cool, add 5-6 drops of fragrance - I chose 2 drops of silver birch (a hard, burnt wood smell, that after you'd got over the initial shock of it, it sat as a low dense undertone), 4 drops of lemonbalm and 4 drops of lavender. Once mixed, bottle the ointment and label appropriately - as the ointment sets the smell appears to disappear, then when put on the skin etc the smell returns lightly.

The ointment can then be stored in the fridge and used when needed.