Thursday, 10 February 2011

Winter Botanicals and Winter Remedies

Unfortunately, due to allergies (bleurgh) I was ill for last week's session... and so that update, may not be completed in entirity, but hopefully alongside the homework, I will be able to get something up.

So, back at class today, feeling 100% better - because of the weather at the end of last semesters, some classes were missed, and so they've had to be squashed into this semesters schedule. So today, Catherine handed us a thick wedge of notes, and announced that today we would be covering Winter Botanicals and Winter Remedies.

The 'Holistic' Evergreens

These botanicals are useful to include within our pharmacopia, however potentially not for home use, as 4 out of 5 are potentially toxic.

Holly: dried, ground, powdered berries - used for snuff and vulnerary wound healer.

Yew: the fungus growing in the bark is currently being tested as a chemotheurapeutic agent, and has been found to have success with cervial cancer patients. The flesh of the bright red berry isn't toxic, it is the black seed that is toxic.

Ivy: Vulnerary wound healer, contains saponins that irritate and cause coughing.

Mistletoe: Schedule 3 bracket - can be toxic dependent on dosage. Can be used to lower blood pressure when mixed with garlic and hawthorn.

Pine: Primarily Pinus sylvestris contains resins which form essential oils - very strong so be careful when using at home, it is also an potent anti-oxidant especially pycnogenals, which concentrate down to  oligomericprocyanodins, which have been found to be useful with cancer patients, helps to kick start the natural immune system.

The Early Bloomers

Magnolia: a favourite in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where the bark is used. It is a very aromatic botanical, and is generally used as a tonic for overindulgence.

Fragrant Winter Hazel: (picture of a Witch Hazel) The bark of the Winter Hazel's is used, it is most potent in the spring when the sap is flowing freely. They are valued for their tannin content primarily. They are antiseptic, astringent and vulnerary.
They are often the earliest plants to bloom, and are often not found in gardens. As early as January you may see blossoms, and provide a good source of pollen and nectar for foraging bees.

The Wintersweet Shrub: Another botanical used frequently in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the flowers, leaf and root all can be used. The flowers are cylogog, they stimulate secretion of enzymes, act as fluid quenchers and therefore re-hydrate, they can also eleviate depression. The buds can be used as a cold remedy. Whereas the leaf and root can be used as a poultice for wounds.

Winter Bush Honeysuckle: The flowers are used. This botanical is used as an antitusis, a cough remedy, usually taken as an infusion. A useful botanical for children of the air, day-dreamers, as it brings their thoughts back down to earth.

Winter Flowering Jasmine: The flowers are used. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this botanical is used as a diaurferetic, it encourages the body to make a fever, through vasodilation, which leads to a cleansing, detoxifying effect.

Winter Flowering Viburnum: The botanical is aromatic. The fruits are used, they're edible and sweet, however, not readily born in the UK.

Winter Flowering Quince: The fruits and seeds are used. The botanical is used as a demulcent, it has a high carbohydrate content, it is soothing due to its mucilagenous content, it has a mild laxative action due to the fibrous content of the seed. The fruits are quite astringent, a syrup can be made from them, it has the opposite of a laxative effect. With similar properties to flaxseed or linseed.

Winter Cherry Tree: The bark is used in the UK. In Traditional Chinese Medicine its used as a cough remedy, in Japan its used as an infusion. In China the flowers are preserved in salt and are used at weddings, rehydrated they unfurl again.

Cough Mixture Herbs
The botanicals that seem to bloom and grow in the winter months are used to treat the ailments of those months. The following herbs are used within cough mixtures in Western Herbal Medicine.

Balm of Gilead: The buds are used. It is used as an anti-inflammatory, it is soothing and comforting, it encourages coughing to get rid of phlegm. Its aromatic and resinous.

Coltsfoot: The leaves are used. This botanical is suggested for external use only, as it is found to contain pyrrolizadine alkaloids, which can do minimal damage to the liver. Not found so highly concentrated in the leaf, more so in the root. It can be used as a vulnerary wound healer, internally for healing ulcers.

Elecampane: The roots are used. It has a high carbohydrate content, found in starch, it also has a higher mucilage content. Harvested in late summer and early autumn, dried to store, usually chopped or sliced.

White Horehound: Not to be conufsed with Black Horehound. When used as a tea, it has a violent taste. It has a mucilagenous element and is good for coughs.

Hyssop: This botanical induces a healing fever. It is a gentle remedy, better for use on children and older people.

Iceland Moss: This botanical is very mucilagenous, making it soothing, very nutritious and is useful in digestive disorders.

Liquorice: The rhizomes on the root are used. It can also be used to just provide a natural sweetness, to make a remedy more palatable. It is anti-inflammatory, with a high mucilagenous content, it also contains saponins and glycerizine - extremely sweet, more so than sugar.

Lobelia: Now a schedule 3 category herb. A favoured herb of the Physiomedicalists, and often misleadingly referred to as "Indian Tobacco", however the foliage of this botanical should be neither chewed nor smoked as it is highly acrid, nauseating and toxic. A tonic can be made, due to the nauseating effect, it is used to get the phelgm out of system. The syrup smells like treacle.

Marshmallow: The root and leaf are used. The root more so for the digestive tract, and the leaf for the respiratory tract - however they can be used interchangeably. This botanical has a high mucilage content, which is soothing and is used to calm the cough reflex, especially if dry and tickly. The root has the higher mucilage content, seen as carbohydrate stores.

Mullein: Otherwise known as Candlewort. This botanical has an interesting array of constituents. It has very stickt apial parts, the flower and leaf are used. Historically Mullein has been used to cure "glue ear" in children - droplets of warm Mullein oil (made from the flowers) are used in the ear. The leaf is also used in cough medicine mixtures.

Pleurisy Root: Otherwise known as Butterfly Weed. Smells like cherry liqueur. It is a remedy for dampy conditions in the respiratory tract. Good for persistant coughs.

Wild Black Cherry Bark: The bark is used. It has an expactory effect - it makes you cough.

Herbs for Colds

Elderflower and Boneset otherwise known as "Feverwort": As soon as you feel you are coming down with a cold, drink either of these two botanicals as an infusion, they're dieurpheretics, and encourage perspiration through vasodilation, this is detoxifying and the root of elimination.

Essential Oil Inhalants for Colds

Eucalyptus, Pine - these botanicals are often found together with mentol i.e. Vix Vapor Rub, and Thyme - is both aromatic and antiseptic, all act as decongestants.

Yarrow and Peppermint are useful as admixtures.

Herbs to Warm

The following botanicals are used to create a "fire in the belly", to impart warmth to the body, which is the root of good herbal practise.

Ginger: The rhizomes on the roots are used.

Angelica: The root and stem are used. This botanical is the softest of the "warming herbs", it is good for digestive issues.

Cayenne Pepper: Only use 1-3 droplets of tinctured extract. This is a schedule 3 category botanical, not because its poisonous but because of the extremes it can cause. This is the fieriest of the "warming herbs".

Essence of Cinnamon: An aromatic blend of winter warming botanicals - Cinnamon leaf oil is they key ingredient used.

Horseradish Root

Mustard Seed Powders: Good for foot baths.

Many more botanicals can be used as "warming herbs", e.g. Black pepper.

Three Winter Tonics

Rosehips: Very high in vitamin C.

Echinacea: The root is used.

Sea Buckthorn: The berry is very high in vitamin C.

There are many other herbs that can be used against winter illnesses, and clearly, only a few have been mentioned here... but hopefully, you gained an idea, as I certainly did.

This was only one-half of our class on Tuesday, for the second half of the day Jacqui Pestell, botanic illustrator, arrived to give us a brief tutorial on how to sketch botanicals. With relative ease Jacqui demonstrated how to sketch a piece of ivy, the rules seem to be...

1. Anchor your arm, find a comfortable position, but allow full movement through the wrist. Constant changes of arm position will alter the picture considerably.
2. Position your botanical so you can see the most of it... the stems, the leaves from the front and back, the joins
3. Use a ruler to help with the positioning of the botanicals, how long the main stems are, and the positioning of the leaves.
4. If you have a considerable amount of time with the one botanical then you can tell a story with the botanical, draw the full view, the flowers, the side view, a cut-through section and if possible the seeds. If just drawing in pencil or ink, use shading to help but also note down colours and any major points on the botanical.

There was a considerable amount of hysterical laughter, sighs and frustration as we all sketched our botanicals. It requires an amazing amount of patience... we all decided that, by the end of the class, we were never going to forget our cameras again!

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