Materia Medica

 

This information is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent conditions and diseases. It is a compilation of current and historical research combined with personal experience. 

This compilation is also ongoing and far from perfect or complete. Feel free to share with us what you know by commenting below.

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bibliography

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C

Chickweed, Cleavers, Coltsfoot, Coquelicot

 

CHICKWEED

chickweed

Chickweed. Highfield Hollow. Pennsylvania. 2013.

“The Elixir of Life…”
(Paracelsus, 1530)

Botanical Latin Name

Stellaria media

Botanical Family Name

Caryophyllaceae

Common Names

Starweed, Star Chickweed, Stitchwort, Starwort, Adder’s mouth, Satin flower, Tongue grass, Passerina, Winterweed

Mouron des oiseaux, Stellaire, Mouron blanc, Morgeline (French; Holmes)

ETYMOLOGY

It may have garnered its common name from how eagerly poultry and other birds  (Grieve mentions caged birds) consume it. In terms of the Latin name, Media means “middle-sized”, which may refer to its general size; and Stellaria means star-like, in reference to the blossoms.

Parts Used

Aerial parts. Fresh or dried, although fresh is better. Harvest when in flower (Barker).

Description & Habitat

Wee white, star-shaped blossoms, the faces of which tend to open in the early morning and turn towards the sun – but they bend their heads down against the rain.

Hairs run along only one side of a smooth stem (and when reaching a pair of leaves, the hairs continue to run along on the other side of the stem) with several branches that trail along the terrain. Leaves are slightly ovular, smooth, and pale green. Grows to a height of about 4-16 inches.

Ubiquitous; it frequents moist places, woods, waste grounds and cultivated soil.  It may flower throughout the year in the UK. Import from Europe (Elpel) and native of “all temperate and north Arctic regions” (Grieve).

History

Chickweed fell into disuse in the 19th century but is experiencing a Renaissance of its own.

Holmes adamantly and colorfully writes:

Let us speak plainly: the lovely, lowly Chickweed with its cool blue floral jewels is a feminine herb that simply could not survive the assault of this masculine phase of heroic traditional Greek medicine in its decadent phase.

Significantly, today when we are increasingly seeking a balance between the masculine and the feminine, supposedly “inactive” herbs like Chickweed are once again speaking to us. We can imagine the “little star lady” being used by past lineages of wise women… (461)

In light of his words, you might want to explore Susun Weed’s essay, “Chickweed is a Star” (of particular interest is her observation of Chickweed’s ability to help with ovarian cysts).

Creatures other than birds tend to like Chickweed; Grieve mentions pigs, rabbits, sheep, horses, and cows (but goats apparently won’t touch it).

Constituents

Minerals: zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, silicon, molybdenum, manganese

Vitamins: A, C, and B-complex

Saponins, mucilage; flavonoids, coumarins, essential oil,  ferrous phosphate, fixed oils, triterpenoids, hydroxycoumarins, carboxylic acids, phytosterols, protein, resins (Holmes)

Actions

Anti-inflammatory, diuretic, vulnerary, demulcent, tonic, emollient, antipruritic, laxative, refrigerant

Indications

External: skin irritations: ulcers, boils, inflammations, itchy conditions (poison ivy, haemorrhoids); “erosion of the cervix and vulvodynia” (Winston); splinters, tissue injuries, tired/infected eyes (Culpeper, Holmes); swellings; bronchitis and rheumatism (poultice); sprains (Allen & Hatfield); psoriasis, eczema, mastitis (Barker); gout (beneficial to kidneys and excretion of uric acid); stimulating for circulatory system (Hartvig)

Internal: rheumatism, bronchitis (Mabey); gastric issues and urinary irritations such as interstitial cystitis (Winston); chronic poor nutrition and weakness (Holmes);  insomnia (Allen & Hatfield)

Preparations

Poultice/Compress; Ointment; GLYCERINE EXTRACT
Infused Oil

in place of ointment: infuse in warm olive oil for 12 hours (external use, Barker)

Infusion

short, 3-4 cups a day (Culpeper, Modern notes)

Tincture

60-100 drops 4 x day (Winston); 2-6 ml, 1:3 strength, 30% ethanol (Holmes); 2-10ml tds (Barker)

Culinary

Enjoy in salads (great with other early greens, like Dandelion leaves) or lightly boiled like spinach or in sandwiches (Britain, NW Europe: cf. Allen & Hatfield).

Recipes

Drawing Poultice for Boils using Chickweed, Mallow root, Fenugreek seed, and Flax seed. (William Salmon, 1710, cited by Holmes). A similar recipe is mentioned by Culpeper and features an alliance with Marshmallow, Fenugreek, and Linseed.

Barker notes the combination with Marshmallow leaf and/or Slippery Elm powder in a poultice for mastitis with abscesses and applied to the breast if lactation is slowed.

CHICKWEED AND DANDELION SALAD

irish_dandelion

This is an early Spring foraging* treat that is detoxifying and tonifying at the same time, helping one to cross over into a new season. The faintly salty-sweet taste of Chickweed mingles with the bitterness of Dandelion. Simply combine the Chickweed with the Dandelion leaves and dress as desired. (If you only have Chickweed and want something more substantial, mix her up with your regular greens.)

If you want a dressing that is slightly sweet, I’m particularly fond of a blend that one of my teachers, Maia Toll, taught me: balsamic vinegar blended with a bit of maple syrup.

* Remember to gather your herbs from places that you know are not treated with pollutants (or near a busy road, as plants pick up exhaust in the air).

Contraindications

none noted thus far

Further Notes

Qualities: cooling, moistening, nourishing, restoring

Try to use fresh.

Culpeper: “A fine, soft pleasing herb under the dominion of the Moon.”

Sources

Allen & Hatfield, Barker, Culpeper, Elpel, Grieve, Hartvig, Holmes, Mabey, Winston, Weed

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CLEAVERS

Cleavers. Isle of Arran. June 2013.

Cleavers. Isle of Arran. June 2013.

And most I like the winter nests deep-hid
That leaves and berries fell into:
Once a dormouse dined there on hazel-nuts,
And grass and goose-grass seeds found soil and grew. 

(Edward Thomas, excerpt from Birds’ Nests)

 

Botanical Latin Name

Galium aparine

Botanical Family Name

Rubiaceae 

Common Names

Clivers, Goosegrass, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Grip Grass, Loveman, Everlasting Friendship, Catchweed, Clites, Bedstraw, Cleaverwort, Goslingweed, Hayruff, Scratweed, Eriffe, Hayruff, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-grass, Goosebill, Sticky Willie; Priest’s Lice (lllou’r fferiad, Welsh); Galion, Aparine, Gallerion, Philanthropon (Grk.); Rubea minor (Lat.); Gratteron, Gaillet accrochant, Caille-lait, Petit muguet (Fr.); Kletten-Labkraut, Klebkrauit, Vogleheu, Klimme (Ger.).

ETYMOLOGY

The name aparine is derived from the ancient Greek verb ἁρπάζω, meaning “to seize, snatch away, carry off,” given the habit of the plant to stickily cling. Galium is derived from the ancient Greek as well, from the word meaning “milk” (γάλα). Cleavers was once used to strain milk.

Parts Used

Herb sans root, gathered in May-June or just as it comes into flower (Grieve). Cleavers is far more potent juiced rather than dried, therefore preferably fresh aerial portions.

Description & Habitat

Narrow leaves covered with sticky bristles.  Square stem characteristic of the Rubicaceae family. Cleavers can grow up to about four feet in height.

Found in hedges, waste places, fields, woodlands. Native to Europe but naturalized elsewhere in temperate regions.

History

The seeds are a good coffee substitute (Grieve), particularly used in Celtic regions (Barker). Dioscorides may be the earliest to remark on its use to strain dirt from milk, and also mentions it as a remedy for swelling and ear pain (Wood: 1997). It was used for preparing a bed for childbirth.

Although it has a wide range of folk uses, the plant is largely understood as specific to the genito-urinary and lymphatic body systems.

Constituents

Tannins; asperuloside, glycosides, coumarins; “citric/rubichloric/galitannic acids, red dye with antraquinones (incl. galiosin), saponins, asperuloside, chlorophyll, trace minerals” (Holmes)

Actions

Diuretic, detoxicant, tonic, lymphatic alterative; aperient (Grieve); skin-healing, styptic (Barker); anti-inflammatory, tissue repair, refrigerant, antitumoral (Holmes)

Indications

Detoxification and urinary issues such as stones, gravel, general infections, cystitis, urethritis, interstitial cystitis, and bladder/urethra/spermatic cord inflammations. Spring tonic. External wash for sores and wounds, internal cleanser for externally manifesting skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.

Enlarged lymph nodes (particularly around neck and for children, cf. Wood) and post-mastectomy lymphedema (Winston); lymphatic cancers (Mabey).

Scurvy, scrofula, psoriasis, skin diseases, general eruptions as an alterative, for insomnia, a wash for sunburn and freckles, cancerous growths and tumors (Grieve).

Dysuria. The anti-tumor reputation has not been validated by current research. Also very mildly anti-inflammatory and hypotensive and good for generalized oedema. It may improve circulation for the elderly, as Cazin found. External use for burns/abrasions. “The juice or a strong infusion is styptic and cooling”…traditionally considered “effective in reducing wens & carbuncles” (Barker).

Thins both blood and lymph, clot dissolving (thrombosis), diuretic, alleviates water retention, clearing for damp heat conditions, fever reducer, reduction of liver congestion (hepatitis), promotion of tissue repair (burns, inflammation, blemishes, fresh wounds), skin eruptions (measles) (Holmes).

Wood: for measles in particular, it was used by Native Americans to bring out the rash and this is a European use as well.  Also to prevent miscarriage and to insure safe delivery. Helps gravel conditions in kidneys and infection of the renal system. For pain and fatigue after travel – of sinews, arteries, joints — (building on Culpepper) and for cystic breasts, when there are many cysts.

As a deodorant and hair rinse for dandruff (Mabey).

Preparations

FRESHLY JUICED

Barker notes that large doses are needed.

If you have a juicer, simply juice the aerial portions and experiment with incorporating a combination of other ingredients (apple, ginger, celery, lemon…) or with adding a teaspoon to your smoothies. Do your research on dosing; the herb can be a powerful cleanser and you may not want to take too much.

INFUSION

Fresh: 1:4, 25% alcohol, 88% water; Dried: 1:5 in 25% alcohol, at dose of 3-15 ml tds. (Barker)

tincture/extract

40-60 drops 2xd (Winston)

Ointments, Compresses, Swabs
Culinary

Boil the fresh leaves and tips like spinach (Mabey).

Cleavers also makes for a delightful green vinegar. Lightly pack the aerial portions into a clean mason jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Infuse for 3 weeks or so before straining and rebottling. Use as a salad dressing.

Recipes

Cleavers Deodorant

(excerpted from Mabey, p. 147):

1 large handful of fresh green cleavers (stems and leaves)
2 parts (1 liter) water

Boil in the open pan for 15 minutes, cool, strain, and bottle. It keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge.

Contraindications

Mild toxicity. Don’t use in cases of diabetes due to powerful diuretic qualities (Grieve). Do not decoct nor boil, as this ruins the herb’s activities (Holmes).

Further Notes

Doctrine of Signatures: long and branching-like vessels and pathways of the lymphatic system, blood vessels, urinary system. Wood also points out that Cleavers is reminiscent of the nerves.

Sources

Allen & Hatfield, Barker, Campion, Grieve, Hoffman, Holmes, Mabey, Mills, Winston

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COLTSFOOT

IMG_1344

Greystone-Bray Cliffwalk. Spring 2014.

I love coltsfoot that they
Make their appearance into life among dead grass:
Larches, that they
Die colourfully among sombre immortals.

(David Constantine, Coltsfoot and Larches)

Botanical Latin Name

Tussilago farfara

Botanical Family Name

Asteraceae/Compositae

Common Names

Horsehoof, foalfoot, coughwort, bullsfoot, ginger root, Filius ante patrem (son-before-father), Ass’s foot, hall foot

ETYMOLOGY

Tussilago = “to drive away cough”

farfara =

Parts Used

flower and leaf

Description & Habitat

Blooms (February) March-April in Ireland. Its appearance is odd in that the blossoms (which close at nighttime) appear on leafless shoots. Its Latin common name, Filius ante patrem (son-before-father), refers to this phenomenon.

The leaves show up later, after the blossoming, and appear horse-hooved in shape. Can spread invasively via its unground rhizomes.

Coltsfoots favors waysides and hillsides.

History

Primarily used for coughs, it is also an ingredient in herbal tobacco.

An image of the flower was once used on the signs of apothecaries in Paris.

Constituents

Mucilage, zinc, essential oil, tannins, sitosterol, inulin, bitter glycoside, flavonoids, gallic acid, hormonal substances, alkaloids, trace pyrolizidine alkaloids, calcium, magnesium, sodium, trace minerals (cf. Holmes, Barker)

Actions

anti-inflammatory, antitussive, demulcent, expectorant, emollient, anticatarrhal

Indications

Respiratory conditions including: coughing, sore throat, wheezing (bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, etc.); external (likely due to zinc content): bites/sores/skin eruptions, slow-healing ulcers and wounds (Barker)

Preparations

Tincture

2-6 ml at 1:3 strength, 35% ethanol (Holmes)

Infusion

6-14 g (Holmes)

Hot or Cold (Barker)

syrup

(Galenic, Holmes)

conserves

Flowers (Galenic, Holmes)

Poultice

Crushed fresh leaves for topical conditions (Holmes).

Ointment

(Barker)

Fresh Juice Tincture

(Barker)

Smoking

Dried leaves for asthma (Holmes, who suggests along with Thyme, Eyebright, and Lavender).

Recipes

Contraindications

Avoid during pregnancy and lactation: pyrolizidine alkaloids.

Further Notes

Sources

Holmes, Barker, Mabey

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COQUELICOT

IMG_1899

Coquelicot. France 2014.

Botanical Latin Name

Papaver rhoeas

Botanical Family Name

Papaveraceae

Common Names

Field poppy, corn poppy, coquelicot, corn rose, remembrance poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, headwark, red weed, headache flowers, Flores Rhoeados

ETYMOLOGY

The botanical name papaver is the Latin for “poppy.” The Latin in turn may be derived from Sumerian or other ancient languages in an allusion to the latex within the plant.

Rhoeas is taken from the ancient Greek word for the corn poppy, ῥοιάς.

“Coquelicot” is the French word for this type of poppy but it also refers to a particular shade of red.  It’s like saying in English that a color is “poppy red.”

Parts Used

Flowers, seeds. Green parts of plants potentially toxic.

Description & Habitat

Frequents agricultural fields, roadsides, and waste places. Native to Europe. Annual. There are several varieties in scarlet hues.

History

The poppy was frequently seen on the ground and in the trenches of World War I, where it garnered an association with slain soldiers. Also known as the Remembrance Poppy, it was worn to memorialize the war dead.

Red poppies are particularly associated with love in Eastern (Persian) traditions and may be interchangeable with tulips.

Barker notes that in Victorian times, poppy tea was a go-to for the ague and rheumatism in the UK before the opium poppy came into use (77).

The petals produce a beautiful deep red that is difficult to preserve. In Europe and Germany the seeds are used in baking and for an oil substituted for olive oil. The syrup was added to porridge and soups and used for dyeing (Grieve).

It is said that the petals or an infusion of them could reduce wrinkles (Barker).

Coquelicot has been used to treat headaches at the same time it has been believed to cause them.

Here I quote Barker, who surprises me sometimes with his sudden fierce sentences:

“The wonderful color [of the poppies] is a reminder of the vivid countryside that we have sacrificed to food surplus’ and of the tragic destruction of a generation of lives” (19).

Constituents

Alkaloids, latex

Actions

Sedative, antitussive, demulcent, diaphoretic, anodyne

Indications

Coughs, sore throats, bronchial conditions, pleurisy, pneumonia, toothache, hangovers, inflammation, eye conditions, earache; insomnia, colic, nervousness (Barker)

Preparations

SYRUP
Tincture

1:3 strength, 45% ethanol

Infusion

4-10 grams (Holmes)

Recipes

POPPY SYRUP
Making Poppy Syrup in the Loire Valley. Summer 2014.

Making Poppy Syrup in the Loire Valley. Summer 2014.

In Europe, poppy syrup was once added to soups and porridge. We use the petals to make the concoction, which produce a lovely red that will vary from variety to variety. (Some types contain alkaloids. Please see contraindications in the Materia Medica).

Because the lovely red color is difficult to preserve as a dye, the syrup was used to color old ink (Grieve).

You can use the syrup to make mixed drinks, drizzle on ice cream, or use your imagination to combine with other recipes.

I originally became obsessed with making poppy syrup due to a beautiful photograph in La cuisine nature aux plants médicinales. That recipe uses sugar and notes that the poppy is soothing as well as calming for cough and throat irritations. My recipe below uses honey as a healthier alternative.

One of my dear friends (also an herbal colleague) asked before tasting some of the syrup—after a long, rich French lunch— this isn’t going to put us to sleep, is it?  While there are not significant amounts of opium in the common poppy, it can be mildly soporific and very mildly narcotic. Remember to read up on your herbs and do your own research, and, like my friend, keep asking questions!

WHAT YOU NEED

* Sterile glass jar with lid

* Poppy petals

* Sugar or Raw Honey (I recommend honey as it is a healthier choice. Do not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit when heating and do not give to infants under 12 months.)

* Optional: brandy

You will need 2 parts honey to 1 part water extract of the plant material.

WHAT YOU’LL DO

1. Make a strong infusion (this is the above-mentioned “water extract”) by covering your petals with spring water and soaking overnight and then simmering for 15 minutes the next morning.

2. Strain out the plant material and pour your liquid into a double boiler or saucepan.

3. Add 2 times the volume of raw honey and, stirring constantly over a very gentle heat, mix until combined.  Again, do not heat over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and do not simmer or boil, which will degrade the honey.

4. Remove from heat. Add your brandy at this point if desired and and pour into sterilized jar(s). Label and store in a cool, dry, and dark location. Your syrup may last for 1 year. Refrigerate once opened. If mold appears, discard.

Contraindications

With the exception of the seeds, the red poppy contains the alkaloid Rhoeadine. Very mildly narcotic. Grieve notes: “that [variety of poppy] with an oblong capsule should snot be used, as it contains an alkaloid resembling Thebaine in action”.

Further Notes

Cooling and moistening, Holmes notes that it is good for conditions of external dryness (with coughing, thirst, irritability, and headache).

Sources

Allen & Hatfield, Barker, Gasté, Grieve, Holmes

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Elder

Coming soon!

Botanical Latin Name

Sambucus nigra

Botanical Family Name

 

Common Names

 

ETYMOLOGY

 

Parts Used

 

Description & Habitat

 

 

History

 

Constituents

 

Actions

 

Indications

 

Preparations

 

Recipes

 

Contraindications

 

Further Notes

 

Sources

 

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GORSE

Gorse. Isle of Arran, Scotland, Summer 2013.

Gorse. Isle of Arran, Scotland, Summer 2013.

Cattle out of their byres are dungy still, lambs
Have stepped from last year as from an enclosure.
Five or six men stand gazing at a rusty tractor
Before carrying implements to separate fields.
I am travelling from one April to another.
It is the same train between the same embankments.
Gorse fires are smoking, but primroses burn
And celandines and white may and gorse flowers.
Gorse Fires, Michael Longley

 

Botanical Latin Name

Ulex europaeus

Botanical Family Name

Leguminosae

Common Names

Furze Gorse, Golden Gorse, Broom, Whin, Prickly Broom, Frey, Goss, Ruffet

ETYMOLOGY

Grieve tells us that Furze is derived from fyrs (Anglo-Saxon) and that Gorse is from gorst, or “waste” (Anglo-Saxon), a reference to the wastelands and open spaces where the shrub is often seen growing.

Parts Used

Young shoots, blossoms, seeds.

Description & Habitat

The evergreen shrub Gorse is a native of Atlantic Europe. In the UK, Gorse may seem to flower perennially, but that may also be a matter of different species coming into flower at different times (cf. Grieve).  I have seen it blooming in December, January, and February in Northern Ireland and around Dublin in the Republic (this is perhaps due to a mild winter, as Grieve notes that they can suffer from frosts and severe winter conditions).

Gorse seems to like it along the sea and cliffs as well as waste places and can grow to about 6 feet in height. The shrub is dense and sharp and spiny. It was one of the first plants I became acquainted with while living in Scotland. The scent of the golden yellow flowers, reminiscent of coconut oil, is truly delicious to catch upon a sudden gust of wind. Grieve amusingly calls the flowers “papilionaceous” — butterfly-like.

History

Gorse does not feature prominently in most materia medica. Barker says: “This is a plant which, in the case of need, will be considered useful but which will otherwise be neglected” (148). Grieve remarks that it “has never played an important part in herbal medicine” but that “Goldsmith calls the Furze ‘unprofitably gay’, but Furze is not ‘unprofitable.'”

The alkaline ash the results from burning Gorse can be used as a fertilizer or soap (ibid., cf. Grieve, who also notes that the burning use may be French). Barker also tells us that during the Irish Famine, this plant “saved lives”; the young offshoots are edible (as well as the seeds, but it may contain a “cardioactive alkaloid”, ibid).

In terms of additional uses, Grieve notes the Surrey-based employment of Gorse for fuel (in bakers’ ovens). After the burning of Gorse for the ash, the cattle might be fed by a new crop of young shoots. The shoots when bruised have been used as fodder for livestock, the leaf-buds for tea, the flowers for a yellow dye, and a stand of the shrubs to shelter young trees or as a hedge (cf. Grieve).

In terms of flower essences, Gorse is one of Dr. Edward Bach’s “Four Helpers” and is used for deep despair.

Making of a Gorse Flower Essence. Isle of Arran, Scotland, 2013.

Making of a Gorse Flower Essence. Isle of Arran, Scotland, 2013.

Gorse has also been used by veterinarians in the Isle of Man and particularly for aiding livestock with worms, it having some purgative powers, but otherwise all records of its use appear to be Irish (Allen & Hatfield,163).

Grieve notes that Gorse is “…thought to be the Scorpius of Theophrastus and the Ulex of Pliny”. She writes that Pliny says “the plant was used in the collection of gold, being laid down in the water to catch any gold dust brought down by the water” and I have not yet followed this up by investigating the Latin text.

One used to insert a sprig of Gorse into a wedding bouquet as a reference to the old saying

When Gorse is out of bloom, 
Kissing’s out of season

(Grieve, ibid.).

Constituents

Seeds contain tannin and a powerfully purgative alkaloid called Ulexine, which was discovered in 1886 by A. W. Gerrard and deemed in 1890 by the German scientist Kobert to be the same as Cytisine (Grieve).

Actions

astringent, purgative

Indications

Used for coughs, colds, sore throats, hoarseness, consumption, blood cleansing, heartburn, hiccups, jaundice, heart trouble, ringworm, dermatitis, swelling, worms (Allen & Hatfield, 163-4); infusion of blossoms given to children for scarlet fever, and (from Gerard), seeds were used for lax bowels, and “old writers” report that the plant ‘sodden with honey, it clears the mouth’ or it ‘is good against snake-bite’ or that the seeds kills fleas, and the alkaloid Ulexine was used in cardiac dropsy (Grieve).

Preparations

none as of yet noted

Recipes

none as of yet noted

Contraindications

none as of yet

Further Notes

none as of yet noted

Sources

Allen & Hatfield, Barker, Grieve

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HAWTHORN

haw

Hawthorn flowers (Scotland 2013) and Hawthorn berries (Ireland 2014)

Botanical Latin Name

Crataegus oxyacantha; C. monogyna

Botanical Family Name

Rosaceae

Common Names

Maybush, Whitethorn, Hogberry Wickens, Quickset, Bread and Cheese, Aggles, Red Haw, Hedgethorn; French: Aubépine, Epine blanche, Noble épine, Epine de mai, Bois de mai, Hague de cochon, Senelle, Pain d’oiseau, Poire d’oiseau, Cenellier; Latin: Arbustus, Ornus, Sorbus aculeata, Spina alba; Pharmaceutical: Fructus Crataegi

ETYMOLOGY

Haw originally denoted “hedge” (old Germanic) but later came to signify the fruits (Barker).

Crategus: derived from ancient Greekκράτος, meaning “strength”: a reference to the remarkable hardness of the tree’s wood.

oxyacanthafrom ancient Greek ὀξύς, meaning “sharp” and from ἄκανθα, meaning “thorn”.

monogyna: from ancient Greek μόνος (“single/alone”) and γυνή (“woman/wife”); the berry of this type of Hawthorn, which is technically a pome, has only one seed.

Parts Used

berry, flower; Grieve notes that the leaves “have been used as an adulterant for tea” (385)

Description & Habitat

Commonly seen in hedgerows and scrub and at a short height, but the tree but can grow upwards of 30 feet in height. Each berry resembles a tiny red apple with one stone inside, which Grieve notes can be referred to as “Pixie Pears, Cuckoo’s Beads or Chucky Cheese” (385).

Tends to flower between May-June in the UK. The flowers are five-petaled and white (although sometimes may appear faintly pink). The blossoms have a peculiar scent compared to something rotting, to the Great Plague, or to sex and women (see below in History for that last comparison). The flowers perhaps entice their fertilizing carrion insects by the scent of decomposition. As Mességué sums it up in French, the flowers have an extremely disagreeable scent (…ont une odeur plutôt désagréable, 25). I have not been tremendously troubled by it myself.

The tree itself is long-lived, having a lifespan of hundreds of years.

HARVESTING

Flowers: pick in the fleeting window of a few days whilst they are transforming from buds to fully open flowers (at peak potency). You can use the flowers with the berries in both infusion and tincture.

GROWING

History

Blooming in the merry month of May, Hawthorn is associated with fertility. Barker notes: “the smell of blossom is curious and perhaps evocative of sex” and that in France it was viewed as protective whilst in Ireland it was and is viewed as a fairy plant.

In the West, Hawthorn berry is primarily used as a heart trophorestorative (and in Europe, the flowers are often used for the same purposes as the berry). In the East, the berry is favored in treating food stagnation.

The traditions pre-Middle Ages are obscure. Holmes notes that the first written record may be that of Petrus de Crescents in 1305, who used Hawthorn for gout (299). Holmes also interestingly views Hawthorn as a “neglected wise woman’s remedy’ which did not receive the notice of male doctors for centuries (he also views Hawthorn as  “a feminine type of plant” exemplifying Yin, one which “found no part in the trend to quick, radical, heroic fixes” (ibid).

Grieve records King Henry VIII’s liking for the symbol: “…a small crown from the helmet of Richard III was discovered hanging on it after the battle of Bosworth, hence the saying, ‘Cleve to thy Crown though it hangs on a bush.’ ”

The hard wood of the tree was also used for making the hottest wood fire known and for making small objects such as boxes and combs; it has a fine grain and will take a lovely polish (Grieve 385).

In 1695 an anonymous practitioner whom Holmes takes to be a woman used it to treat something rather like hypertension (ibid). By the 19th century in France the flowers were being used for sleep disorders and heart palpitations and by the 20th century it was being used in America for cardiovascular issues.

Mességué dwells for moment on the poetic symbolism of the Thorn:

Malgré leurs épines acérées et la dureté de leur bois dans lequel on taillait autrefois les billots des supplices, elles ont toujours été pour les poètes un symbole de beauté et de délicatesse.

Despite their sharp thorns and the hardness of their wood, which was once carved as chopping blocks for martyrs, they have always been for poets a symbol of beauty and delicacy (25).

In short, Hawthorn regulates the cardiovascular system.

Constituents

flavanoids, oxyacanthin, acids (including citric and phosphoric), amines, saponins, tannins, pectin, aluminum, calcium, Vit. C., digestive enzymes

Actions

cardiac, tonic, astringent, diuretic; nervous sedative (Mességué)

Indications

organic and chronic functional heart disorders: circulatory and cardiac deficiencies, cardiac stagnation, angina, irregular heartbeat, hypertensions, palpitations; digestive enzyme deficiency; sore throats and for diuretic properties in both kidney issues and dropsy (Grieve)

Preparations

Note that in Europe, hawthorn flower is often used instead of berry for the same indications.

TINCTURE (BERRY)

2-6 ml, 1:2 strength in 30% ethanol (Holmes)

DECOCTION (BERRY)

6-16 g (Holmes)

FRESHLY JUICED (BERRY)

Considered by Holmes to be the optimal preparation (followed by freeze-dried extract)

Recipes

Liquer

Grieve notes that an excellent liquer may be made with brandy and the berries (385).

Haw Preserves

jam

Hawthorn berries contain pectin, which is likely why this works so well as an effortless jelly. My attempt resulted in a pleasantly bittersweet delectation.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • A sterilized jar
  • A pot and spoon
  • 1.5 cups filtered water
  • 1.5 lbs. fresh Hawthorn berries, stems and leaves removed (this amount will yield one standard jar of jam)
  • 1 lemon
  • Sugar

WHAT YOU’LL DO

1. Gather your fresh Hawthorn berries, removing both leaf and the little stems. Remember to gather away from roadsides (due to absorption of exhaust) and to leave some fruit for birds and other creatures to enjoy. Because I was wildcrafting from three small trees, I had to take far less than the ideal 1.5 lbs. For a great step-by-step guide, visit eatweeds.co.uk.

2. Just cover berries with water and bring to a boil. Then simmer for a full hour, pausing to mash the berries about every twenty minutes or so. They will take on a brownish hue.

3. Let drain overnight through a cheesecloth or strainer. If you want clear jelly, do not exert pressure on your mashed berries. Collect the liquid the next morning.

4. Juice your lemon and add its juice and the sugar to your Hawthorn liquid. Bring to a boil, at which point let it boil a further 10 minutes until the jelly reaches its setting point. Be careful not to over-boil; my first jar turned out with the consistency of gum drops, so I had inadvertently made Hawthorn candy. Perhaps a more seasoned jelly-maker can enlighten further on this point.

5. Transfer into your sterilized jar and enjoy!

 

Contraindications

None noted as of yet except that if one has a pre-existing heart condition, one should most especially confer with one’s health practitioners.

Further Notes

TASTE

sweet/sour/astringent

ENERGETICS

regulates Heart Qi

MISC.

“Functional heart disorders respond more rapidly to Hawthorn than do organic ones” — otherwise a minimum of 2 months (Holmes, 298). He also notes that smaller doses may be more effective for heart conditions, larger for food stagnation or discharges (ibid).

Sources

Barker, Grieve, Holmes, Mességué

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

M

MEADOWSWEET

Meadowsweet. Scotland. 2013.

Meadowsweet. Scotland. 2013.

Botanical Latin Name

Filipendula ulmaria
older name: Spirea ulmaria

Botanical Family Name

Rosaceae

Common Names

Bridewort, Sweet Hay, Queen of the Meadow, Dollof, Goat’s Beard; French: Reine des prés, Barbe de chèvre, Barbe de chêne, Herbe aux abeilles, Vignette, Ulmaire, Belle de prés, Pied de bouc; Latin: Barba caprina, Citania

ETYMOLOGY

Meadowsweet: while the herb can indeed be found in meadows, the name refers to the fact that it was used to sweeten the beverage mead.

Filipendula: from Latin noun filum, or “thread” and the adjective pendular, or “hanging.” This compound name referring to hanging thread is perhaps in reference to the underground tubers, which hang upon thread-like roots.

ulmaria: from the Latin ulmus, or “elm tree”; perhaps because its leaves look similar to those of Meadowsweet (Grieve).

spiraea: comes from the ancient Greek speiraia, meaning “a coil.” You can see how it got embedded into our modern work aspirin. Spiraea is also a term used by the Roman Pliny the Elder to refer, in fact, to something like Meadowsweet, in his description of flowers used for garlands (Naturalis Historia, Chpt. 29).

Parts Used

Flowers and leaves and dried root.

Description & Habitat

Honey-sweet and vanilla-esque scent (with a faint hint of almond) from creamy-colored, frothy flowers. A Dark green pinnate leaves with silvery-green undersides. Can rise to 2-3 feet. Perennial.

Favors damp, moist terrain (will enjoy being by water but not near peat). Sun or half-shade.  Native to Europe and temperate Asia and introduced to N. America.

Plant in autumn or spring and divide the roots in springtime. Tends to blooms in late summer but can be seen in Oct.-Dec. if mild.

History

Understood as “nature’s aspirin” (spiraea – aspirin). One of our major sources of herbal “aspirin” besides Willow: in the 1830s, an Italian professor obtained the salicylic acid from the flower buds and shortly thereafter at the very turn of the century, Bayer produced the product we know as aspirin. “Aspirin” was derived from the older botanical name “Spirae“.

It is claimed that Meadowsweet is effective without the side-effects of aspirin (irritation of stomach lining and gastric bleeding).  As Barker amusing declares, “Out of strength comes not a bit of sweetness!” (169).

Barker notes its use as an additive to beer and to French vin ordinaire. 

It was used in the 14th century (Barker) and was favored as a strewing herb due to its sweet scent.

It was sacred to Druids and mentioned in Chaucer as meadwort.

Due to its aromatic nature (reminiscent of almond) it was often used to strew floors and was said to be the favorite herb of Queen Elizabeth I (HC). It has been found in Bronze Age tombs in the UK. The roots may be used as a dye.

Experience

This is one of my favorite herbs. Its sweet scent and softness I find irresistible. Once I and an herbal colleague were driving towards the Glasgow airport in a taxi and I was in quite a bit of pain due to cramps. We spotted Meadowsweet blooming in the fields on the sides of the highway and the very obliging taxi man pulled over and let me limp out to pick some. I chewed on the buds and leaves and felt better within 30 minutes.

Constituents

Salicylates (better tasting than other aspirin-options, according to Elpel, 102); tannin; mucilage; flavonoids; volatile oil; vitamin C; sugar (Mabey); salicylic glycosides (includes gaulterin, the source of oil of Wintergreen, Barker), vanillin, mineral salts

Actions

analgesic, astringent (due to tannins, esp. for mucosal membranes, both intestines and stomach as well as urinary system), febrifuge, antiseptic diuretic, diaphoretic (in hot infusion), anti-rheumatic; reduces secretion of gastric acid (Barker), anti-inflammatory, aromatic sub-tonic, alterative, demulcent

Indications

Acid stomach, heartburn, fever, headaches, rheumatism; children’s diarrhea (Mabey); in the UK it has been used also for colds, coughs, sore throats, headaches, a tonic, general pains, sunburn, freckles, and nerves while in Ireland particular uses include dropsy, kidney issues, jaundice and, finally, a for tendencies to scrofula (Allen & Hatfield); feelings of flu, stomach ache (Barker); arthritis, gout, UTIs (mild); beneficial for arteriosclerosis and heart (Barker, who suggests it may be from the effect of the salicylic glycosides upon the activity of platelets, 169); Culpeper says it is a good wound herb, whether external or internal, and that a distilled water is for inflammation of the eyes; hemorrhoids and against water retention and cellulite (Messegue).

Preparations

Tincture

1:5 (less effective than fluid extract 1:1 25 % alcohol, 1-2ml 3x a day, Barker); 1:2 fresh, 1:5 dry (Cech)

Infusion

300-900 mg, 5-10 g per cup, 3x a day (Barker, who says not above 90 degrees Celsius); capsule

culinary

In food or beverages as sweetener

Recipes

Meadowsweet Balm

IMG_2592 2

 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED
  • A clean jar
  • Enough meadowsweet flowers and uppermost leaves (take scissors if harvesting fresh) to fill your jar
  • Oil to cover the quantity of plant materials (lighter oils like almond or grape seed oil is lovely)
  • Beeswax
  • Double-boiler

 

WHAT YOU’LL D
  1. Pack your flowers in your clean jar.
  2. Simply add in your oil and gently stir
  3. Let sit in a warm place for 2 weeks, shaking every day.
  4. When the time of maceration is over, strain through a cheesecloth or  fine mesh strainer, squeezing out the liquid as much as possible from the plant material.
  5. You can also then convert your oil into a Salve by heating it gently in the double-boiler and adding beeswax (use more or less depending on how hard you want the salve to be). Try adding hypericum oil or arnica for sore muscles and nerve pain.

Contraindications

Individuals allergic to salicylates should not use Meadowsweet (nor children under sixteen for fevers due to threat of Reyes syndrome). In addition, it should be avoided by those using blood-thinning medications. It may also provoke asthma in those with Samter’s triad.

Further Notes

Culpepper’s Astrology: Jupiter

Sources

Allen & Hatfield, Barker, Cech, Culpeper, Elpel, Mabey, Messegue

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NETTLE

nettle

Stinging Nettle. Narberth, Pennsylvania, 2012.

The stinging nettle only
Will still be found to stand:
The numberless, the lonely,
The thronger of the land,
The leaf that hurts the hand.

That thrives, come sun, come showers;
Blow east, blow west, it springs:
It peoples towns, and towers
Above the courts of Kings,
And touch it and it stings.

(The Stinging Nettle, A.E. Housman)

Botanical Latin Name

Urtica dioica

Botanical Family Name

Urticaceae

Common Names

Common Nettle, Stinging Nettle

Akalyphe, Analypse (Greek); Acantum (Latin); Ortie, Ortie piquante (French)

ETYMOLOGY

Urtica is related to the Latin verb ” to burn” (uro, ussi, ustum) and in turn derived from the ancient Greek, εὔω, “to singe”; αὔω, “to kindle” — a direct reflection of encountering the plant on one’s skin.

dioica is ancient Greek and means “two houses”; both male and female flowers appear on one plant.

“Nettle” may refer to the plant’s use in textiles (Barker), for which the interior fibres (from the stem) were employed. Grieve elaborates: “…Netel is said to have been derived from Noedl (a needle), possibly from the sharp sting, or, as Dr. Prior suggests, in reference to the fact that it was this plant that supplied the thread used in former times by the Germanic and Scandanavian nations before the general introduction of flax…. (575).

Parts Used

Leaves (fresh or dried); root; seed (consider root and seed uses separately). Harvest when flowering.

Description & Habitat

Unbranched perennial with opposite saw-toothed leaves (somewhat heart-shaped), covered in fine stinging hairs. Ubiquitous, favoring especially waste places and the edges of water and buildings. Its peculiar green flowers droop in long dangling clusters and are often male and female on one plant.

The Nettle, left un-checked, may grow to a height of 3 feet or so.

Tends to bloom June-September in the States.

History

Nettle has been traditionally used as a spring tonic. A rhyme in Britain and Ireland, once widely quoted and trusted, goes like so: “…three Nettles in May keeps all diseases away” (Allen & Hatfield, 85).

It is also known for its painful stings, which come about from the wee stems that cover the plant. Remember The Wild Swans, by Hans Christian Anderson (1838)? It is also a rather interesting illustration of a gatherer of plants identified as a witch.

The coats which the princess Elisa weaves for the swans (really her brothers) were made of Nettle (the interior fibre of the stems was in fact used in textiles as thread, before the coming of flax). The Queen of the Fairies directs Elisa to gather the nettles in the graveyard, and being under a vow of silence, the princess cannot cry out as her hands are blistered while she works (one word results in the death of a brother):

“Your brothers can be set free,” she said, “but have you the courage and tenacity to do it? The sea water that changes the shape of rough stones is indeed softer than your delicate hands, but it cannot feel the pain that your fingers will feel. It has no heart, so it cannot suffer the anguish and heartache that you will have to endure. Do you see this stinging nettle in my hand? Many such nettles grow around the cave where you sleep. Only those and the ones that grow upon graves in the churchyards may be used – remember that! Those you must gather, although they will burn your hands to blisters. Crush the nettles with your feet and you will have flax, which you must spin and weave into eleven shirts of mail with long sleeves. Once you throw these over the eleven wild swans, the spell over them is broken. But keep this well in mind! From the moment you undertake this task until it is done, even though it lasts for years, you must not speak. The first word you say will strike your brothers’ hearts like a deadly knife. Their lives are at the mercy of your tongue. Now, remember what I told you!”

She touched Elisa’s hand with nettles that burned like fire and awakened her. It was broad daylight, and close at hand where she had been sleeping grew a nettle like those of which she had dreamed. She thanked God upon her knees, and left the cave to begin her task.

With her soft hands she took hold of the dreadful nettles that seared like fire. Great blisters rose on her hands and arms, but she endured it gladly in the hope that she could free her beloved brothers. She crushed each nettle with her bare feet, and spun the green flax.

When her brothers returned at sunset, it alarmed them that she did not speak. They feared this was some new spell cast by their wicked stepmother, but when they saw her hands they understood that she laboured to save them. The youngest one wept, and wherever his tears touched Elisa she felt no more pain, and the burning blisters healed.

(De vilde Svaner, translated by Jean Hersholt)

Well, the King comes along, loves her, and gives her a room in his castle where she can keep on making Nettle shirts…until one day Elisa runs out of Nettles! She has to go back to the graveyard to get some more, and the Archbishop, who has already been telling the King for some time that she’s a witch, catches her in the act and she’s condemned to burn at the stake.

She keeps on weaving the nettles even in the cart that carries her to her execution. The mob sees this incessant sewing and tries to take the shirts she is making. The swan-brothers attack, which the people think is a divine sign of her intelligence, but she’s still going to burn. She tosses the shirts to the swans and they resume their human form. While the brothers explain (the mute Elisa has fainted), the timber at the stake beneath her feet bursts into flower. The King plucks one blossom and gives it to Elisa and they wed…

Constituents

histamine (stinging hairs), flavonoids, minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphate, phosphorus, iron, silica, potassium, manganese, sulphur, boron, bromine, coper, selenium, zinc), Vitamins A & C, K, B1, B2, B3, B5; acids (including ascorbic and formic), chlorophyll, glucoquinones, acetylcholine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, lycopene; serotonin, tannin, fiber, omega-3 and -6, oleic fatty acids

Actions

Diuretic, detoxicant, tonic (restorative and nutritive), astringent, haemostatic, anti-allergic, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, antiscorbutic, hypoglycaemic (mildly), possible galactagogue, antidiarrheal, mucostatic, immunostimulant, rubefaciant, dissolvent

Indications

Eczema, asthma, anaemia (trophorestorative to blood), arthritis, diarrhoea, dandruff, enteritis, colic (Barker notes this is likely due to “its ability to retard fermentation in the gut”, 27), enuresis, aphthous ulcers, nosebleed, urinary irritations and stones, lung issues (Holmes notes TB, and Allen & Hatfield note 9 UK records specific to consumption uses, 85),  kidney pain, tonification of skin/connective tissues; to stop bleeding (Mabey)

Traditionally used as a Spring Tonic. Nettle is quite high in iron, magnesium, and calcium. It is a potassium-sparing diuretic that Winston refers to as “kidney food” (97).

Preparations

Freshly pressed juice

Holmes notes that this “brings out the entire range of its actions to best advantage” (444).

powdered snuff

for nosebleeds (Barker, 27;  Mabey, 124)

Ointment

For skin conditions. Holmes suggests combining with Marigold flower, Burdock root, Gotu Kola leaf, or Figwort (444).

INCENSE

Holmes notes that the smoked form of nettle may provide some relief to asthmatic conditions (444).

Syrup

Holmes suggests in combination with Elecampane, Mullein, Coltsfoot, etc. for respiratory issues (444).

Infusion

Use as a rinse for hair when it is weak or falling out or for scalp issues such as dandruff. See recipes below.

15-20 g/500ml (“not too strong”, Barker, 27)

10-20 g (long, Holmes 445)

2 tsp. per 8 oz. of water, steeped for 1 hr, 2-3 x day (Winston, 97)

Vinegar Decoction

Holmes suggests this be combined with Rosemary leaf and/or Birch leaf as a traditional formula (444).

Tincture

1:5 in 25% alcohol (Barker, who reports “low doses more satisfactory”, 27)

4-6 ml, 1:3 in 30% and increased as necessary (Holmes, 445)

30-60 drops 4x day (Winston, 97)

Culinary

Historically used as an additive to beer and soup, or fed to pigs. Barker amusingly notes: “I can personally attest to a transformation of the texture and taste of nettle-fed turkey” (27).

Recipes

ARRAN NETTLE SOUP

Below is a recipe for Nettle soup, which I often made with my wonderful co-apprentice in Scotland. We would go down to a cool glade on the Isle of Arran and gather the Nettle along with a few fronds of Wild Garlic, which grew so abundantly in that place and moved in the wind like the surface of the sea, that we henceforth referred to it as the Garlic Glade.

The Vitamin C in the Nettles helps the iron to be absorbed by the body.

IMG_2831

What you Need

FRESH NETTLE LEAVES

As always, gather away from areas polluted by humans or exhaust fumes. You can estimate how much by loosely filling your serving bowls with the fresh leaves, then transferring them into your pot later. Be careful not to sting yourself — use gloves to remove the leaves from the stems.**

4-6 LEAVES OF WILD GARLIC

Not easy to come by, perhaps, where you are! Add a couple garlic cloves instead.

POTATO

Peeled or not peeled, according to preference.

SEASONINGS

Salt/pepper to taste, or add in a bouillon cube for additional flavor.

What to Do

Simmer your potato, just covered by the water in the pot, until soft. About five minutes before finished, add fresh Nettle leaves and Garlic leaves and simmer. Do make sure you leave the Nettles in there for the full five minutes to de-activate the stinging hairs on the leaves. Blend all ingredients with a hand blender or food processor and season to taste.

Serve garnished with wild garlic or a dollop of yogurt or cream.

NETTLE HAIR TONIC

What you Need

NETTLE LEAVES

I combine the Nettle leaves with Horsetail and Rosemary; Horsetail stimulates circulation as well as silica. It also contains saponins, which create a lather, so it is a good choice for a conditioner. Rosemary also aids in circulation and is a popular choice for scalp issues.

What To Do

Bruise the herbs and then cover with water and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Leave overnight to infuse or, when lukewarm, strain.

After you have shampooed and rinsed, slowly pour your infusion over your head, massaging it into the scalp. Comb it gently through your hair before covering your head with a towel for 15 minutes — before drying as you usually do.

Contraindications

none as of yet noted

Further Notes

If stung by Nettle and in pain, look for Dock, which often grows nearby, and rub on the affected area. Old sayings (cf. Grieve) go:

Nettle in, dock out.
Dock rub nettle out!

or:

Out ‘ettle, in dock,
Dock zhall ha’ a new smock;
‘Ettle zhant ha’ narrun! (none)

Grieve also suggests using Mint, Sage, or Rosemary to alleviate the stings.

Sources

Allen & Hatfield; Barker; Grieve; Hartvig; Holmes; Mabey; Winston

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, David E. and Hatfield, Gabrielle. Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition. An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland/Cambridge: Timber Press, 2004.

Barker, Julian. The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe. Kent: Winter Press, 2001.

Campion, Kitty. A Woman’s Herbal. London: Random House, 1987.

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, Oregon: Horizon Herbs, 2000.

Culpepper, Nicholas. Culpepper’s Color Herbal. Ed. David Potterton. Great Britian: W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., 1983.

Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. 5th ed. Pony, Montana: HOPS Press, LLC, 2010.

Gasté, Julien. La cuisine nature aux plantes médicinales. Rennes, Editions Ouest-France, 2011.

Grieves, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal. 2 vols. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.

Hartvig, Kirsten. Eat to Boost Your Immunity. London: Dunca Baird Publishers, 2012.

Hoffman, David. The New Holistic Herbal. Dorset: Element, 1990.

Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs. A Materia Medica Integrating Western & Chinese Herbal Therapeutics. 2 vol. 4th ed. Cotati: Snow Lotus Press, 2007.

Mabey, Richard, Ed. The Complete New Herbal. London: Elm Tree Books, 1988.

Messegue, Maurice. Dans le secret des plantes de Maurice Messegue. Startrade, 1988.

Mills, Simon. The Complete Guide to Modern Herbalism. London: HarperCollins.

Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics. Specific Indications for Herbs & Herbal Formulas. Broadway, NJ: Herbal Therapeutics Research Library, 2003.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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