Tips from our herbalist: December

Wednesday 07 December 2016

Christmas and New Year can be a wonderful time for good food, drink and company and also a time of anxiety, stress and overindulging!  Find out which herbs can help with digestion, sleep, stress and the morning after.

Our herbalist Jane looks at a few of our plant allies that are supportive for this time of the year.

Vervain has wonderful restorative properties for the nervous system and helps ease nervous tension, anxiety and stress. It has a gentle sedative action and mood enhancing properties and can be particularly beneficial for pre menstrual tension, menopausal mood variations and stress related digestive issues. Vervain combines well with Oats and Chamomile in cases of mild depression and low spirits. More serious cases of clinical depression or bipolar should be treated by a qualified practitioner. Vervain also acts as a digestive tonic by stimulating the gall bladder and in turn the liver. It is also an anti spasmodic and will also calm the digestive tract, once again combining well with Chamomile for this purpose.

Oats are a familiar and mineral rich nutritious food source for everyone. In the form of Oatstraw they are a valuable nervine, restorative and anti depressant and they can also be of benefit to those suffering from gastro intestinal inflammation. Oatstraw is often used to treat general physical and mental debility and a wide range of issues associated with the nervous system including anxiety, stress and insomnia. Oats combine effectively with other nervine herbs including Vervain, Hops, Chamomile, Skullcap and Valerian.

The calming effects of Skullcap on the nervous system are commonly known. It is an exceptional and widely used nervine used as a sedative in times of stress, anxiety and tension combining well with other nervine herbs. It is also useful in alleviating insomnia. Skullcap has a deep action on the physical body and can be helpful in dispelling muscular tension. Such is the powerful relaxant and sedative impact of skullcap it can be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms where there are drug and alcohol issues present.

Hops are reminiscent of warm and heady summer days with their hypnotic fragrance and stunning strobiles. They are a powerful and sustaining nervine with string sedative properties and a mild analgesic action. A traditional remedy for insomnia would be a pillow stuffed with Hops strobiles and Hops are a common ingredient of most sleep remedies in the 21st century. In smaller doses Hops can provide relief from anxiety and gastro intestinal issues of a nervous origin. Hops blend well with Valerian, Skullcap and Vervain for insomnia and general nervous debility.

Chamomile is one of the most familiar herbs in not just the herbalist’s medicine chest but in the tea drinker’s repertoire. The light aroma is reminiscent of apples and balmy summer days. It is an excellent herb for treating most digestive disorders, nervous tension and irritability both mentally and physically. A cup of calming Chamomile tea is a well known and trusted remedy. Chamomile has an antihistamine action alleviating the symptoms of hayfever and allergic rhinitis. Externally it can be applied to eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Milk Thistle is a key herb to support and protect the livers function and can also assist cellular regeneration. It has powerful detoxification properties, promotes the flow of bile and can also provide damage limitation for those undergoing chemotherapy. Milk Thistle is a perfect ‘morning after the night before’ treatment to alleviate the symptoms of hangover as it has a strong protective action against the damage caused by alcohol consumption.

Burdock root is a common cleansing herb for eliminating waste products from the body. It is one of the most effective blood purifying herbs in known use particularly for the kidneys. Burdock root forms part of the well known cancer treatment combination Caisse or Essiac formula. It is commonly used in combination with Dandelion as this mix helps to balance the cleansing action of Burdock with both herbs working in synergy. A useful herb to treat a range of skin conditions from acne to psoriasis it should be taken with plenty of fluids to ensure expulsion of toxins through the urinary system as the skin is actually our biggest organ of excretion and without sufficient fluid intake it could exacerbate existing skin issues.

Dandelion is a most effective detoxifying herb. It works on promoting the elimination of waste products within the system and is invaluable to both the liver and the gall bladder. As a diuretic it reduces the volume of fluid in the body which can assist in the reduction of blood pressure. It is commonly used for detoxification purposes in tandem with Burdock. Dandelion leaves have a bitter taste and can be added to a spring salad or tonic remedy.

Feverfew is the signature herb for the treatment of headaches and migraines and as its name suggests can be used to reduce fevers due to its febrifuge action. Not only can Feverfew be used as an analgesic remedy for migraine and headaches but it can also be used as a preventative measure against frequent or recurrent migraines. The active components within the plant inhibit the production of serotonin which can act as a trigger for the complaint. Feverfew contains bitter properties and the taste does reflect this. A combination with Chamomile can aid palatability.

Meadowsweet has a most effective antacid action providing a calming influence on an over active digestive tract. It alleviates the symptoms of indigestion, acid reflux and gastric ulcer. In common with white Willow bark, Meadowsweet contains the constituent salicylic acid, which also acts as an anti-inflammatory. It is an ideal herb to put with others for a ‘morning after’ blend to alleviate some of the symptoms of over indulgence.

Fennel seeds so commonly used in cooking are a gentle and warming carminative remedy for delicate and upset stomachs. This familiar and aromatic plant has been used traditionally to dispel wind and can alleviate the often painful and distressing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Fennel is mild enough to relieve the symptoms of colic in babies through its antispasmodic action and used to be a key component of gripe water. It is a valuable digestive and makes a most pleasant after dinner tea. Interestingly though a powerful digestive, Roman Centurions used to chew fennel seeds to stave off hunger pangs when marching to and from battle.

Slippery elm bark powder is a powerful remedy against an inflamed digestive tract. It has a soothing and demulcent effect on the alimentary canal and can provide a long-term treatment for hyperacidity and acid reflux. Slippery elm protects the digestive tract form acid corrosion associated with digestive and acidic issues and is also beneficial in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. It combines well with Marshmallow root, Chamomile and Oats, suppressing the production of acid nocturnally when taking before bed. It is also a great drawing herb when administered in poultice form.

The properties of Marshmallow root are soothing, demulcent and emollient, thanks to its mucilaginous nature. It is a perfect treatment for a compromised digestive tract as it can alleviate inflammation and irritation of the alimentary canal. Marshmallow root can be combined with Slippery elm bark and Meadowsweet as a highly effective antacid remedy. It is a most supportive herb for the protection of the mucous membranes wherever a soothing and emollient effect is required. Marshmallow root is also used in tandem with Slippery elm bark powder as a traditional drawing paste for use in poultices.

The below blends refer mainly to the herbs in tincture format but of course it is possible to use dried herbs in similar combinations too:

De Stress Blend
Vervain 30ml;
 Oats 30ml; 
Chamomile 30ml;
 Hops 10ml
Dosage: 20 - 40 drops 3 times daily  

Indigestion Blend
Meadowsweet 30ml; Marshmallow root 40ml; Chamomile 30 ml
Dosage: 0.5 - 3 ml 3 x daily

Digestion Powders
Marshmallow root powder 2.5ml;
 Slippery elm bark powder 2.5ml
Dosage: Mix with water and drink or add to porridge – tastes great!

Sleep Blend
Valerian root 10ml; Hops 30ml; Skullcap 30ml; Chamomile 30ml
Dosage: Up to 2.5ml 20 minutes before turning the light out – it sometimes can have the opposite effect if taken too soon and the mind becomes active but the body heavy!

Detox Blend
Dandelion whole plant 50ml; Burdock root 25ml; 
Milk Thistle 25ml
Dosage: 1 ml 3 x daily