SENSATIONAL SAGE

Sage is a hardy, aromatic, evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 1-3 ft. The common sage is a native of the Mediterranean. It likes a position in full sun and light, well-drained soil. Plants should be cut back after flowering. For drying purposes the leaves should be harvested just before the plant flowers. They should be dried slowly to avoid mould forming and then crumbled and stored in an airtight container.

Cooks use the leaves and stems with meats, in stews and soups, with cheese, pasta, in herb butter and in stuffings.  Make a sage honey by infusing the leaves in gently warmed honey – this is good for coughs, and can be used to dress desserts. The plant also is brewed to make tea.  Sage leaves and flowers can be frozen in ice cubes and added to summer drinks.

Add the fresh leaves to the bath for an invigorating wash. It is a natural disinfectant and deodoriser. Used as a rinse, an infusion of sage leaves benefits the hair and darkens greying hair. Sage can be made into a cleansing lotion or used in an astringent facial steam it will tighten the pores.

Sage is used for coughs and colds, or use the infusion as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, and as a mouthwash for inflamed gums and mouth ulcers. Sage tea helps menopausal women with hot flushes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms – sip the tea during the day. An infusion of the leaves is useful for the treatment of diarrhoea, depression, rheumatism, anaemia, menstrual problems, and migraine, for lowering fevers, and indigestion.  It also helps improve the memory and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Externally it can be used as a wash for acne, eczema, wounds, scabs, insect bites and stings. Sage is antiseptic. The fresh leaves can be rubbed on stings or bites.

Making Cold Infused Oils

Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of a herb, and these are often the antibacterial, antifungal and wound-healing components we really want.

Choose your leaves or flowers. Don’t wash them before use – not only will this destroy some of their delicate oils, but as soon as you introduce water into the mixture, you are setting it up to develop mould. (One of my friends was complaining that his nettle oil had an unpleasant odour, which it really shouldn’t, nettle has a fresh, rather lovely scent as an oil. I discovered that he had been rinsing the herbs before packing them in the jar.) To avoid this, make sure you pick your herbs on a dry, sunny day, and pick them from an unpolluted location

To make your cold infused oil, take your fresh herbs, cut them up, pack them tightly into  a glass jar, and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower etc.). Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean, dry jar, label and keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Infused herbal oils may be used as they are or thickened into salves with beeswax. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.

Primrose – the Fairy Flower

I love primroses, they tell us that the tides of spring and summer are turning, and they have such a magical reputation. In Ireland they are called ‘fairy flowers’ and it is said that eating them is a sure way to see fairies. According to legend, if you touch a fairy rock with the right number of primroses in a posy, it will open to fairyland and fairy gifts, but the wrong number opens the door to doom.

They are very much associated with the currents of lusty fertility that surround Beltane. Shakespeare wrote about the “the primrose path of dalliance”, in Hamlet, and to present a woman with a bunch of primroses, was to comment on her morals!

This time of year I always make infused primrose oil to use in skin care products, as they are great for mature and dry skin. Not many people realise they both the leaves and flowers are edible, and make a pretty addition to salads. I also like to crystallise the flowers to use for pretty cake decorations.

A cup of tea, make from the leaves or flowers is a mild painkiller, and can help a headache.

Caution: Avoid medicinal use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, sensitive to aspirin or taking anti-coagulant drugs.

Calendula Treats for Your Skin

Calendula has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. As lotion, cream or ointment it speeds up healing and counters infection in sunburn, minor burns, insect bites and stings, acne, cuts, abrasions, inflamed rashes, nappy rash, haemorrhoids and varicose veins. Make sure you correctly identify your plant as Calendula officinalis, the pot marigold.

Calendula Infusion

1 oz. dried herb or 2 oz. chopped fresh herb

1 pint boiling water

Put the herbs in ceramic heatproof pot and pour on the boiling water. Cover (or put the lid on the teapot) and infuse for 20 minutes, covered. Strain before use. Will keep about two days in the fridge. Calendula flower infusion, applied externally, is excellent for the treatment of burns, wounds, conjunctivitis, varicose veins, bed sores, ulcers, bruises, gum inflammations, corns, warts, eczema and skin rashes. Calendula has anti-fungal actions and can be used externally for athlete’s foot pour into a foot bath and soak for 15 minutes daily), ringworm and as a douche for vaginal thrush.

Calendula Infused Oil

Calendula is good for any skin type but especially dry, acne-prone or aging skin, soothing, cooling and plumping it up. To use it, you can make a calendula infused oil. Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of an herb, and these are often the antibacterial, antifungal and wound-healing components. To make a cold infused oil cut up the herb and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower etc.) in a glass bottle or jar, Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean jar. Infused herbal oils may be used as they are, applied directly to the skin. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.

Calendula Salve

You can also thicken your oil into a salve by warming it gently, and adding beeswax. When the beeswax has melted, remove from the heat and pour into clean glass jars.  The more wax you add, the harder the set. This will keep at least a year.

Dandelion – for your skin and hair

This is the very best time of year to pick dandelion flowers, when they are in full bloom, and today I have been making dandelion oil. This is really simple – pick your dandelion flowers in full sun, and choose only the best specimens from a place you know is free of pesticides and chemical residues. Pack them in a sterile glass jar and top up with vegetable oil, making sure the oil completely covers the flowers. Leave this on a sunny windowsill for two weeks, shaking daily. Strain and bottle your dandelion on in a sterilised glass bottle.

Dandelion flower oil can also be used as a fabulous anti-oxidant rich moisturizer for the body and face. It can be used as it is, or to make salves and creams for wrinkles, age spots, dry skin, sunburn and chapped skin. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the oil makes a great treatment for your hair, and may even help combat dandruff. Simple warm the oil slightly, apply it to scalp, massaging with small circular motions, and comb through the length. Wrap your head in a towel to keep the warmth in, and leave for at least two hours. Shampoo as normal.

You can also use the oil in body massage, as it helps relieve tension and relax muscles, and is good for stiff and tired muscles.  It may be of benefit for arthritis and gout as it contains anti-inflammatory properties too.

Every part of the much maligned dandelion can be used medicinally, though the root is most often used in a decoction or tincture. Dandelion is a good all round health tonic, rich in vitamins and minerals. Dandelion root is a powerful detoxifying herb, working on the liver and gall bladder to remove waste products, stimulate the kidneys to remove toxins in urine and encouraging the elimination of toxins due to infection and pollution, including hangovers.  I used dandelion tea to help me recover from jaundice last year. It is useful for constipation, acne, eczema, psoriasis, nettle rash, boils, and arthritic conditions including osteoarthritis and gout.

Dandelion leaf is a powerful diuretic which can be used without the consequent loss of potassium of orthodox drugs. It stimulates the kidneys and can be used for water retention and is helpful in treating urinary tract infections. The leaves can be eaten fresh in a salad or taken as an infusion. For rheumatism and arthritis take an infusion of the leaves to help the joints and eventually remove acid deposits. The roots and leaves may help to prevent gallstones and the leaf is reputed to help dissolve already formed gallstones.

The root is roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee. Young dandelion leaves can be used in salads or cooked.  Pick the leaves in early spring for eating, the older leaves in summer for teas, and for medicinal purposes at any time. Gather the roots during the spring or autumn for dandelion coffee, and in summer for medicinal purposes.

The dandelion is very much associated with solar energies, and it closes its petals to protect itself from the fierce noonday sun. Its golden colour and nourishing vitamin and mineral content make it a plant of bright energy and vitality. It can be added to sun incenses to increase their power. Dandelion leaf tea may be taken to enhance psychic powers and the flowers may be added to divination incenses.

The white, downy seeds also associate the dandelion with lunar energies, supplying the balancing spirit. Collect these seeds under the light of the full moon and use them in incenses and talismans.

The traditional time to make dandelion wine is St. George’s Day, April 23. St. George may well be the Christian incarnation of a much earlier vegetation deity who overcame the dragon of winter and ushered in the summer.

Dandelion Wine

6 pints flower heads

3 lb. sugar

2 lemons

1 orange

1 lb. raisins

1 cup of black tea

1 gallon water

Yeast and nutrient

Gather the flowers when you are ready to use them fresh. Boil the water and pour over the flowers, stand for 2 days, stirring daily. Boil with the sugar and citrus fruit rinds for 60 minutes. Put it back in the bin and add the citrus fruit juice. Cool to lukewarm, add the tea, yeast and nutrient. Cover the bin and leave in a warm place for 3 days, stirring daily. Strain into a demijohn and add the raisins. Fit an airlock. The flavour of this wine is much improved with keeping, and it should not be drunk for at least a year (I like to keep mine for three years).

 Caution: Dandelion is considered safe for most people. However, medicinal amounts are best avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding to be on the safe side. Dandelion may decrease the efficacy of some antibiotics, so check with your healthcare provider. Do not take medicinal amounts internally if you are on lithium or taking other diuretics.

 

 

ALOE VERA

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) is a fascinating plant. Although it resembles a cactus it is actually a member of the lily family, and is a stemless succulent plant growing up to 40 inches tall. The botanical name aloe derives from the Arabic alloeh meaning ‘bitter and shiny substance’ and vera from the Latin word for truth. Despite the nomenclature barbadensis (‘of Barbados’) it is native to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and thrives in warm, dry climates.  It contains nearly 100 active ingredients including sugars, enzymes, lignins, amino acids, anthraquinones (aloin, aloe-emodin), saponins, fatty acids, salicylic acid, resins, sterols, chromones, protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, E and C, tannin and germanium.

I like to keep a plant in the kitchen, as it is a handy first aid remedy for fungal infections, ringworm, nappy rash, eczema, psoriasis, insect bites, minor burns, sunburn, cuts and skin abrasions – just take a fresh leaf and open it to extract the clear gel within and apply this directly to the affected area. It reduces pain, speeds healing and encourages cell repair, due in part to the presence of aloectin B which stimulates the immune system. Aloe is reputed to have potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. It is useful for almost any skin condition that needs soothing. It is useful for cosmetic purposes too as it sooths and softens the skin, while its astringent properties help tighten it and minimise wrinkles. It helps heal acne and reduce scarring. However, while external use is generally considered safe some people are sensitive, and aloe juice should never be applied to deep cuts and wounds or severe burns.

More and more products are being created advocating the drinking of aloe juice, and this is a cause for concern. Though it does have a place in herbal medicine, aloe juice should not be taken internally as a matter of course or on a regular basis, and indeed, internal use is prohibited in some countries. If you have certain health conditions, it can be dangerous.

I’ve seen people blithely recommending it online for all kinds problems, and on Facebook, I’ve noticed that as soon as someone posts that they have a stomach complaint, there is an avalanche of people recommending aloe juice as a cure, and this really worries me. Aloe can actually cause abdominal cramping, constipation, dehydration, diarrhoea, electrolyte imbalance, excess bleeding, hepatitis, increased risk of colorectal cancer, increased risk of irregular heartbeat, kidney failure, liver toxicity, low potassium in the blood, muscle weakness, stomach discomfort, thyroid dysfunction, urinary stone, uterine contractions, and widespread inflammation of the skin (Source: Mayo Clinic).

The internal use of aloe should definitely be avoided by anyone who has heart disease, abdominal pain, appendicitis, intestinal problems, heart disease, haemorrhoids, kidney problems, diabetes, or electrolyte imbalances, or liver disease. It should be avoided before and after surgery (it increases the risk of bleeding) and during pregnancy or lactation. Aloe lowers blood sugar levels, and should not be taken by diabetics or hypoglycaemia. It certainly shouldn’t be taken if you are suffering from nausea and vomiting – vomiting causes an electrolyte imbalance, which will be compounded by taking aloe vera. It should not be used internally by anyone taking heart medications, steroids, blood thinning medication, thyroid medication, laxatives, liquorice root, or any medications for the stomach or intestines.

 

Herbal Cough Drops

It seems that winter has not done with us yet, and at this time of year coughs and colds are doing the rounds. Here is a recipe for herbal cough drops:

Herbal Cough Drops
1 pint boiling water
½ tsp crushed aniseed
2 tbsp. elecampane
3 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 tbsp. hyssop
1 tbsp. chopped marshmallow root
1 tbsp. thyme
12 fl. oz. honey
Cover the herbs with the boiling water and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain. Use ½ pint of the resulting infusion and put it in a pan with the honey. Cook over a medium heat until the mixture reaches setting point – drop a bit of the mixture in very cold water and see if it sets to a hard lump. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into a greased baking tray. When it has cooled, you can break it into pieces.

Aniseed and elecampane are good for relieving coughs. Hyssop sooths and moistens sore throats. Ginger reduces inflammation and boosts your immune system. The mucilage in marshmallow is wonderful for inflamed throats and sooths coughs. Thyme is antibacterial and antiviral, while honey is soothing, antibacterial and antiviral.

If you don’t have all these herbs you can just use some of them or substitute anti-inflammatory chamomile, decongestant cinnamon, antiseptic cloves, immune boosting Echinacea, soothing liquorice, cough relieving mullein leaf, or sage, which is a great all-rounder for sore throats, coughs and inflammation.