Historical review of the use of lavender

The classical physicians Lavender has been used as a healing plant and was first mentioned by Dioscorides (c. 40—90 AD) who found what was probably Lavandula stoechas growing on the islands of Stoechades (now known as Hyeres); this was used in Roman communal baths. Dioscorides attributed to the plant some laxative and invigorating properties and advised its use in a tea-like preparation for chest complaints. The author also recounts that Galen (129—99 ad) added lavender to his list of ancient antidotes for poison and bites and thus Nero’s physician used it in anti-poison pills and for uterine disorders. Lavender in wine was taken for snake bites stings, stomach aches, liver, renal and gall disorders, jaundice and dropsy. Pliny differentiated between Lavandula stoechas and Lavandula vera, the latter was apparently used only for diluting expensive perfumes. Pliny the Elder advocated lavender for bereavement as well as promoting menstruation. Abbess Hildegard The Abbess Hildegard (1098—1179) of Bingen near the Rhine in what is now Germany, was the first person in the Middle Ages to clearly distinguish between Lavandula vera and Lavandula spica (): On Palsy one who is tormented should take galangale, with Read more […]

Catharanthus roseus L. (Periwinkle)

The periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus, is a member of the family Apocynaceae and belongs to the subfamily Plumerioideae. This plant is native to Madagascar, but is cultivated as an ornamental plant throughout tropical and subtropical areas, and has been abundantly naturalized in many parts of the world. The plant has many uses in folk medicine in tropical areas. For example, gargling with an infusion of the plant is considered to relieve pain from a sore throat, laryngitis, and chest complaints in Central America. Juice squeezed from the leaves is applied to wasp stings in India. All parts of the plant contain alkaloids, and the leaves, in particular, contain some antineoplastic bisindole alkaloids, among which are vinblastine and vincristine, which have been widely employed as chemotherapeutic agents against cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and acute leukemia. Bisindole alkaloids are composed of vindoline and catharanthine-like moieties with minor various molecular modification. The isolation of these alkaloids is costly because of their very low levels in the plant. In the past 30 years, many attempts have been made to produce these alkaloids in cultured cells; however, no bisindole alkaloids have been isolated Read more […]

New Zealand Medicinal Plants

Despite the small area of New Zealand, comparable with that of California, it constitutes a distinctive botanic region. Of the approximate number of two thousand species of higher plants found, 75% are endemic to the country. Many unusual plants occur and the chemical investigations conducted to date have confirmed the unique nature of the flora. In view of these facts it is surprising that only a few native plants have been commercially exploited. Several of the trees, notably Agathis australis, Dacrydium cupressinum, Podocarpus totara, P. dacrydioides, and Vitex lucens yield useful timber, but the stands of these have largely been worked out. New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, is cultivated for its fibre which is made into ropes and matting. Kauri gum (really a fossil product) up to a value of £21 million has been exported but it is a declining article of commerce. It has been shown that useful dyestuffs can be produced from a number of plants, particularly in the genus Coprosma, but no commercial exploitation has resulted. Pharmacology is probably the most promising field for extending the use of New Zealand native plants and it should therefore be of value to have a check list of those plants reported to have Read more […]

Heartsease: Modern Applications

Grieve offers many more names for this plant, among them: love lies bleeding, love idol, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, Kit run in the fields, stepmother, pink-eyed John, bouncing Bet. Discussing the names, she tells how the plant was prized for its potency as a love charm ‘in ancient days’, hence perhaps its name heartsease. Along with the uses familiar from the Renaissance authors, Grieve records the flowers were formerly considered cordial and good in diseases of the heart, attributing to this use a further possible origin of the name heartsease. Grieve offers no source for use of the plant as cordial. There is no obvious mention of this in our authors up to this point. Perhaps it stems more from a folk tradition, or perhaps even from a misinterpretation somewhere of the word angina. Leyel (1949) accords the herb cordial properties. She cites the past uses as in our authors, adds ‘a good herb in disorders of the blood’, and mentions its use in ‘moist cutaneous eruptions in children’, particularly crusta lactea and tinea capitis. Then she continues ‘it has derived the name heartsease partly from its early use as a heart tonic and it can be taken quite safely to relieve palpitation of the heart and to soothe a tired and Read more […]

Sweet Violet: More Modern Application And Cancer

The plant does not appear in Cook or Ellingwood in the USA. The National Botanic Pharmacopoeia summarizes the view in the early part of the 20th century. Inflammation of the eyes, sleeplessness, pleurisy, jaundice and quinsy ‘are but a few of the ailments for which it was held potent’. The general assessment in this herbal is not encouraging; ‘it is still found in the pharmacopoeias though many of the virtues ascribed to it in the Middle Ages have not stood the test of time and greater experience’. This might be a rather severe judgement, particularly given the narrow range of application mode and lack of emphasis or perhaps sufficient appreciation of its broader cooling properties within its earlier context. Its reputation as an anti cancer herb is explored in Potter’s Bulletin of May 1902, cited by the National Botanic Pharmacopoeia, recording the case of a 67-year-old lady whose malignant throat tumour was cleared in 14 days on use of this herb. They suggest a handful of fresh green violet leaves infused in 1 pint of boiling water covered for 12 hours; this is strained and warmed; then a piece of lint, soaked in this infusion, is placed ‘where the malady is’, covered with oilskin or flannel and changed when dry or Read more […]

Vervain: European Medicinal Uses

Now that we have returned to medicinal virtues of vervain, let us look at the medieval sources. The Old English Herbarium lists one internal use of the powdered herb peristerion, taken in drink to disperse poison, and 11 indications for vermenaca. These include liver pain, headache, wounds of various kinds including the bites of snakes, spiders and mad dogs, ‘for those who have clogged veins so that blood cannot get to the genitals’, an indication recalling the employment of vervain in love magic, and for those who cannot keep their food down. Two new uses are mentioned: for bladder stones and for swollen glands. Grieve tells us that the name vervain comes from the Celtic ‘fer’ and ‘faen’ meaning ‘to drive away the stone’. The Salernitan herbal specifies the root in mead for bladder stones, Macer wants equal parts of vervain, betony Stachys officinalis and saxifrage in white wine and Fuchs cites Aetius of Amida and Simeon Seth on the herb taken in drink with honey for unspecified stones. Parkinson and Culpeper after him state that vervain cleanses the kidneys and bladder of humours which engender stones, and helps to break stones and expel gravel. Quincy comments more generally on indurations and obstructions of the Read more […]


Parts of a PINE tree were used for a number of chest complaints. Even the smell of them was said to be helpful. That is why so many were planted around chest hospitals. But it is MUG WORT that has pride of place in folklore. There is a very well-known legend from the Clyde area of Scotland, in which the funeral procession of a young woman who had died of consumption was passing along the high road when a mermaid surfaced, and said: If they wad drink nettles in March And eat Muggons in May, Sae mony braw maidens Wadna gang to the clay. Similarly, from Galloway, there is a story of a young girl close to death with tuberculosis, and a mermaid who sang to her lover: Wad ye let the bonnie May die i’ your hand An’ the mugwort flowering i’ the land? The lad cropped and pressed the flower tops, and gave the juice to the girl, who recovered. A Welsh rhyme takes up the theme: Drink nettletea in March, mugwort tea in May, And cowslip wine in June, to send decline away. But why a mermaid in Scotland? Benwell & Waugh came up with an interesting answer — Artemis (the generic name for mugwort is Artemisia) was also a fish goddess, and is sometimes depicted with a fish tail. So it was the goddess herself, Read more […]


LEEK juice was often used for whooping cough, or indeed any “old” cough. As Thomas Hill said, “leeke amendeth an old cough and the ulcers of the lungs”. It was used either on its own or mixed with something else, as in the Welsh custom of joining it with women’s milk for coughs, a recommendation that appears both in the Book of Iago ab Dewi (see Berdoe) and in the Physicians of Myddfai. ONION juice was considered essential to cure a cough or bronchitis centuries before its use in various patent medicines. Coughs, including whooping cough, have long been treated with TURNIPS, too. The usual country practice was and still is to cut a turnip into thin slices, put them in a dish, and put sugar on them. Leave them for a day or two, and give a teaspoonful of the juice for the cough. That is the Wiltshire remedy, but it is virtually the same across southern England. NETTLES, whose efficacy in chest complaints was widely believed in, was used for anything from coughs to tuberculosis. Martin, at the beginning of the 18th century, took note of its use in Lewis for coughs. In this case, they used the roots boiled in water and fermented with yeast. Earlier, Gerard had recommended it for “the troublesome cough that children have, Read more […]


ASTHMA was treated by “a spoonful of NETTLE-juice mixt with clarified Honey, every night and morning”. Domestic medicine agrees on nettle‘s efficacy in chest complaints, from coughs to tuberculosis, but COMFREY root tea, taken for a variety of ailments, is not so well known. An infusion of ELECAMPANE roots has been used for asthma, as well as for coughs and whooping cough. Cockayne quotes a Saxon leechdom “ad pectoris dolorem” in which elecampane played its part along with many other herbs. Mulled ELDER berry wine is good for asthma. Another recipe is to make a conserve of HONEYSUCKLE flowers, beaten up with three times their weight of honey; a tablespoonful dose is to be taken night and morning, to relieve the condition. An Irish remedy was to use GORSE flowers. They would be packed tightly in a crock, and brown sugar put on top. The crock would be covered, and put in a saucepan to stew slowly. Also from an Irish source, sufferers were advised to drink of a potion of GROUND IVY (or dandelion), with a prayer said over it before drinking. Watercress too was used in Ireland for the complaint, and so was SEA HOLLY, or DANDELION tea, while a tea made from OX-EYE DAISY was used in Scotland, and so was PENNYROYAL tea. Read more […]