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 [...]

Wormwood: External Use

It is remarkable how many instances are found through the tradition of external application of herbs, through a variety of inventive means, for more internal conditions; a mode of treating that is far less practised today; and wormwood has been no exception. For the more usual topical applications for skin and joints, for example, wormwood is not normally encountered among the more frequent recommendations. Bartram records an infusion of 1 oz to a pint applied to muscles in rheumatic pain, and Menzies-Trull refers to a number of external applications, but otherwise mention is rare. Given, however, wormwood’s strong gastrointestinal reputation, it is interesting to note Wood’s appraisal of the herb as having survived in modern American herbalism largely as a medicine for the muscular and skeletal system. He cites Cook’s enthusiastic recommendation of it as ‘a good fomentation in sprains, rheumatic and other sub-acute difficulties about the joints; and in bruises and local contusions/congestions’. Cullen records the reputation of bitters, especially aromatic bitters, in general as cleansing and healing foul ulcers, including checking of the progress of gangrene, and in fomentations for discussing tumours. The further Read more [...]

Ocimum basilicum

Basil – Ocimum basilicum Family: Lamiaceae Part used: aerial parts Ocimum basilicum L. is a half-hardy annual or short-lived perennial, which is native to India and Asia and cultivated worldwide. It is very variable in morphology. Erect, branching, green stems (to 60 cm) support opposite, soft, bright-green oval leaves, which are slightly crumpled-looking. Whorls (usually six flowers) of small, white, lipped, tubular flowers are borne in terminal racemes. The fruit contains four small smooth black seeds. It is propagated from seed. Quality Many cultivars and varieties are used and some are cultivated, especially for the manufacture of pesto. Simon et al (1999) compare the growth habit and constituents of 42 forms cultivated in the USA, and note that the cultivars of var. purpurescens contain a substantial concentration of anthocyanins. Crosses can occur between any Ocimum basilicum varieties, cultivars and related species such as Ocimum minimum L. There is substantial variation in composition of the volatile oil and little correlation has been found between phenotype and chemotype or genotype and chemotype. Schnaubelt (1999) uses basil as an example of the broad range of healing qualities in aromatic oils, Read more [...]

Basil: Current Views

Looking for references to basil in more current texts, the herbals which do not mention it are far greater in number than those which do. Bairacli Levy (1966) is fascinated by the herb and recommends it for culinary use, as an insecticide and as a powerful tonic stimulant and nerve remedy. It is advised for nausea, severe vomiting and indigestion, as well as topically for snake and spider bites and scorpion stings. Schauenberg & Paris (1977) list the infusion of the entire dried plant as a gastric antispasmodic, carminative and galactogogue. Ody (1993) has a more extensive monograph, listing the actions of basil as antidepressant, antiseptic and tonic, stimulating the adrenal cortex and preventing vomiting, while acting as a carminative, febrifuge and expectorant. She proposes several combinations: as a tincture with wood betony and skullcap for nervous conditions, or with elecampane Inula helenium and hyssop Hyssopus officinalis for coughs and bronchitis; as a juice mixed with honey in a syrup for coughs, or the juice in a decoction of cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum and cloves Syzygium aromaticum for chills. Topically, it can be mixed with honey for ringworm and itching skin or the fresh herb can be rubbed on Read more [...]

Ruta graveolens

Ruta graveolens L. (Rutaceae) Herb of Grace, Common Rue Ruta graveolens L. is a glabrous herb with stem that can grow up to 14-45 cm. Lower leaves are more or less long-petiolate with ultimate segments 2-9 mm wide, lanceolate to narrowly oblong. Inflorescence is rather lax; pedicels are as long as or longer than the capsule; bracts are lanceolate, leaf-like. Sepals are lanceolate and acute. Petals are oblong-ovate, denticulate and undulate. Capsule is glabrous; segments somewhat narrowed above to an obtuse apex. Origin Native to Europe. Phytoconstituents Rutoside, rutaverine, arborinine, rutin, elemol, pregei-jerene, geijerene, furocoumarins, bergapten, xanthotoxin, fagarine, graveolinine and others. Traditional Medicinal Uses It is frequently used to treat worm and parasitic infection. It has been commonly used for the treatment of psoriasis and vitiligo due to the psoralens and methoxypsoralens present. It is also used to relieve muscle spasms, as carminative, emmenagogue, haemostat, uter-onic, vermifuge, to treat hepatitis, dyspepsia, diarrhoea, bug bite, cancer, cold, fever, snakebite, earache, toothache and as an antidote especially in malarial poisoning. It is also used as an abortifacient to terminate Read more [...]

Rue In Classical Medicine

Dioscorides lists over a dozen external uses of rue. The herb infused into olive oil by cooking and applied to the abdomen helps inflations of the colon downwards and of the uterus, while the herb ground up with honey and applied to the perineum, ‘from the genitalia to the anus’, relieves uterine suffocation. A similar application is made to joints to relieve pain, while mixed with figs it disperses oedema. As a plaster with barley groats, it assuages severe eye pains and in combination with rose ointment and vinegar it is rubbed onto the head in cases of headache. Ground and inserted into the nostrils, it can stop nosebleeds; plastered on with the leaves of sweet bay, it helps inflammation of the testicles or with a cerate (wax) of myrtle it remedies their pustules. Rubbed on with salt and pepper, it treats dull-white leprosy, which is either vitiligo or psoriasis, and both raised and flat warts. Applied with honey and alum it is good for lichen-like eruptions of the skin. The fresh juice, warmed in a pomegranate shell and instilled, combats earache or mixed with the juice of fennel and honey then smeared on is a remedy for dim-sightedness. Another mixture with vinegar, white lead and rose ointment treats erysipelas, Read more [...]

TOOTHACHE

Treating toothache by picking at the decayed tooth with a sharp twig of WILLOW, until it bled was recorded in Wales. After that the twig had to be thrown into a running stream. Simply chewing some willow bark would have been useful, for it contains salicin, from which salycilic acid was obtained. Later, this was compounded into acetyl-salicylic acid — aspirin, in a word. Applying a hot FIG (to the tooth or the cheek?) used to be a Cumbrian remedy for toothache, but the strangest remedy must be the use of pine cones. The scales were the part needed, because (and this is pure doctrine of signatures) they resemble the front teeth! A transference charm for the toothache involved BIRCH. It was recorded in Suffolk, and the sufferer was instructed to clasp the tree in his arms, and then cut a slit in it. A piece of his hair had to be cut from behind the ear, with the left hand, and this had to be buried in the slit. When the hair had disappeared, so would the toothache. ELDER was used in various charms for the condition. One from Denmark and Germany involved putting an elder stick in the ground (or a twig held in the mouth) while saying something like “Depart, evil spirit”. In Ireland, clay from under an elder tree Read more [...]

EARACHE

In Ireland, the sap of an ASH sapling was use to cure earache. A sapling would be cut and put into the fire. One end was kept out so that when the stick started to burn, the sap came out and was caught in a spoon. This could be put on cotton wool, and put in the ear. This is actually a very old remedy; take, for instance, this leechdom from the fifteenth century: “Take young branches of ash when they are green. Lay them on a gridiron on the fire, and gather the water that cometh out at the ends of them, an egg-shell full; and of the juice of the blades of leeks, an egg-shell full; and of the drippings of eels. Mix all these together, and seethe them together a little; and cleanse them through a cloth, and put it in a glass vessel. And when thou hast need, put this in the whole ear of the sick man and let him lie on the sore ear. And with [this] juice [used] twice, he shall be whole…” Something similar appears in the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai. Evelyn had heard of it, but misunderstood the usage, for he claimed that “oyl from the ash… is excellent to recover the hearing, some drops of it being distill’d warm into the ears. In America, PERSIMMON sap was used in the same kind of way, merely Read more [...]

DEAFNESS

LEEK sometimes formed part of quite complicated recipes. The Physicians of Myddfai, for example, conjoined the juice of leeks, goats’ gall and honey, mixed in three equal parts, and then put warm in the ears and nostrils. An early leechdom for an ear salve required the doctor to pound sinfull, which is a Sedum of some kind, latherwort (probably Soapwort), and leek, “put in a glass with vinegar and wring through a cloth and then drip it into the ear”. A prescription for deafness of the 15th century requires one to “take the juice of leaves of a beech-tree, and good vinegar, even portions, and put thereto powder of quick-lime; and then clear it through a cloth; and of this, when it is cleansed, put hot into the sick ear”. CAMOMILE flowers were used in an old recipe for deafness. The patient was to “take camomile and seethe it in a pot, and put it in the ear that is deaf, and wash the ear; and so do for four days or five, and he shall be whole”. BAY leaves, or rather the juice pressed out of them, “is a remedy for for pain in the eares, and deafnesse, if it be dropped in with old wine and oile of Roses…” Lupton agreed, for “it doth not permit deafness, not other strange sounds to abide in the ear”. Squeezing HOUSELEEK Read more [...]

ASH

ASH (Fraxinus excelsior) Yggdrasil, the tree of the universe of Scandinavian mythology, is generally supposed to have been an ash (see Yggdrasil), the tree upon which Odin hanged himself in his quest for wisdom. According to Hesiod, the men of the third age of the world (the Bronze Age) grew from the ash tree, and Teutonic mythology has it that the first men came from this tree. Ash and human birth are linked in many ways. In the Highlands, at the birth of a child, the midwife used to put a green ash stick into the fire, and while it was burning, let the sap drop into a spoon. This was given as the first spoonful of liquor to the newborn baby. It is said that it was given as a guard against witches, or against the evil eye. The mythology claimed that the fruit of Yggrdrasil ensures safe childbirth. When Ragnarok draws near, it was said the ash tree will tremble, and a man and woman who hide in it, Lif and Lifthrasir, will survive the ensuing holocaust and flood. They stand alone at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. From these two, the earth will be re-peopled, and Yggrdrasil itself will survive Ragnarok. In other words, Yggdrasil is the source of all new life. The Irish tree, Bile Tortan, one of Read more [...]