Tag: herb

What is Polymyalgia rheumatica? Can herbs help?

pmrgcaWhat is Polymyalgia rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition, often linked to Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The condition occurs mainly in women over 60, and the cause is not known.

Symptoms include muscle aches, stiffness in hips, shoulders, neck and mid body, weakness, general tiredness, and weight loss. Some people get swelling in their feet, ankles, wrists and hands. (Vasculitis UK)

PMR is becoming increasingly common, with an estimated 1 in 1,200 people developing the condition each year.

How is it treated?

The standard medical treatment for PMR is steroids, usually prednisolone, to relieve the symptoms. The NHS state that high dose steroids are used to start with and then the dose is decreased, and treatments can last for two years or more to prevent symptoms reoccurring. (NHS website)

Are there alternative treatments?

There are three main aims to alternative treatments.

  1. Reduce the side effects of the drugs

The following are the main side effects that patients of mine have experiences from taking prednisolone.

  • Higher blood sugar
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts
  • Thinning of skin
  • Bruising

While these things can be addressed individually through a 1 to 1 consultation with a medical herbalist, here are some ideas for home treatment.

Herbs for side effects

Digestion

Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet

There are many very safe herbs to aid digestion and protect from damage the delicate tissues that are prone to ulcers. Examples are peppermint, chamomile, meadowsweet and marshmallow leaf.

Balancing blood sugar

There are several safe herbs that can be used to naturally bring blood sugar into balance. Examples are cinnamon and dandelion leaf.

Aiding sleep

There are several safe herbs that can be used to aid a good night’s sleep. Examples are chamomile, lime flower, passion flower and valerian.

Improving circulation

There are many herbs that can improve circulation. Examples include ginger, chilli, hawthorn and lime flower. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can also help to improve the functioning of arteries and veins.

Increasing cortisol

Often when taking steroid drugs for long periods of time the adrenal glands can stop producing cortisol. Cortisol is needed to fight infection and allow the body to cope with stress.

When you stop taking steroid drugs your adrenal glands can begin making cortisol again but it can often take time. There are a couple of things you can do to help, cortisol needs cholesterol so eating fats in your diet will help, cod liver oil and vitamin A is also important. It’s also important to reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

 

  1. Reduce general inflammation to reduce pain

rose hipsThis is something that you can address yourself if you have PMR, there are some very useful studies on the use of herbs to reduce inflammation.

Arthritis Research UK lists the three main herbs for reducing inflammation as Devil’s claw, Frankincense, and Rosehip.

I agree with them, and these herbs are available as over the counter products, it is important to follow the directions for each individual product as directed on the bottle.

I would also add turmeric to the list, it is a very useful anti-inflammatory and is also available as an over the counter product.

 

  1. Get to the root cause of the problem

The key to a holistic treatment is treating the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms; this is something you can work towards with a medical herbalist.

 

Remember to check with your doctor and/or medical herbalist before taking supplements or herbs, and it is important to source good quality ingredients.

To find a qualified, registered, medical herbalist near you they can be found on the following lists:

 


As an update to this blog, I actually gave a talk for a local branch of Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis UK and that really gave me a much greater understanding of the condition and the problems patients were facing.

The main thing I really took away from that was that people wanted help to reduce their medications, and almost every person in the room was already taking turmeric. I explained about how it is often not bioavailable in the body and ways to increase that (adding black pepper and or ginger).

 

Chaga – remember to be sustainable

It’s interesting to revisit this blog from a couple of years ago as I think things are starting to change. There does seem to be more awareness of sustainability, how to source herbs (and mushrooms safely).

If you’re in the UK I highly recommend checking out the work done by the UK Herb grower network and if you’re in the US the Sustainable Herbs Project.

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If you’ve ever read any of my blogs you will know I have a real passion for medicinal mushrooms, especially British ones.

Just as we need to protect our medicinal plants from over harvesting, the same goes for our medicinal mushrooms. Chaga has become a ‘wonder treatment’ for just about everything and it’s being added to smoothies left right and centre. This is extremely wrong and irresponsible.

1. Chaga needs to be extracted in hot water for it to extract it’s medicinal properties, so unless your smoothie is heated to over boiling point for at least 15 minutes you aren’t getting any benefit from it.

2. Chaga is black and course mushroom when ground and powdered, so if your chaga isn’t either a dark brown to black and course, it’s highly likely it’s not chaga!

3. Chaga is rare (growing on birch trees usually in Scotland or further north), it takes skill to harvest it sustainably.

Here’s a picture of real chaga powder on the left (dark and course), and on the right is a sample of chaga powder from a well known high street health food shop. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions about that!

Chaga is becoming endangered and imported specimens from the USA, Canada and Eastern Europe are often contaminated. Chaga a fantastic restorative medicine and is a great treatment for things like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and people recovering from chemotherapy. That said, it should be harvested correctly and from a sustainable source.

There is growing research for the use of chaga which is only exacerbating the problems with supply. In laboratory studies recently, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

If you have chaga powder in your kitchen or medicine cupboard, check the quality of it, it should be a black and course powder. If it’s not, it’s not chaga!

As of yet I have not found a sustainable source of chaga, but my hunt continues.

Making herbal gifts for the festive season

If you’re into making presents, take a look at the following ideas for some herbal themed gifts.

1. For budding cooks and chefs – herbal oils and vinegars.

herbal-infused-oilsA really simple one to start, simply add a herb such as rosemary, thyme, chilli or garlic to a bottle of oil or vinegar and it will infuse into the oil/vinegar giving it great flavour, some of its nutritional benefits and also a hint of its medicinal properties. (It also looks great in the kitchen!)

You can use a fancy bottle or reuse an unusual shaped one that you have around the house.

Make sure that the herb you’re adding is dry, or it may start to ferment in the bottle. A great tip is to add 2 tsp of lemon juice to the oil to prevent mould growth.

 

2. For anyone who likes a tipple during the festive season

The old favourite sloe gin is a great present but you do need to have gathered the berries beforehand and popped them in the gin or vodka to make your herbal liqueur.

Another great favourite is hawthorn brandy, and often something people won’t have tried before, made in exactly the same way as sloe gin (but without the sugar), you add hawthorn berries to brandy and leave it in there for a month or so. (Again you will have needed to collect the hawthorn berries beforehand).

If you want to make a herbal liqueur but you don’t have sloes or hawthorn to hand, why not spice up some vodka with cardamom, cinnamon and ginger? Great in festive cocktails.

There’s also the classic mulled wine (or cider if you’re not so keen on wine), wrap up the following spices in some muslin cloth and tie to a bottle of wine (or cider), as an instant herbal gift.

  • A bay leaf
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (or a tsp of ground cinnamon)
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • ½ tsp black pepper corns
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger

 

3. Why buy expensive (and often chemical filled) toiletries as gifts, when you can make a lovely natural one instead.

Peppermint Sugar scrub

Use one cup of sugar (preferably brown and organic) to one cup of oil (olive or coconut is good), and add in some peppermint essential oil (10-20 drops). Mix together and store in a kilner jar to give as a lovely present.

Take a look at my natural cosmetic information sheet for more ideas.

 

4. Lip balms

Lip balms are easy to make and a lovely homemade gift.

Here is my festive lip balm recipe.

Basic lip balm recipe

10g oil

5g cocoa butter

5g beeswax (or carnauba plant wax for vegans)

(Makes 2 – 3 tubes of lip balm)

Melt the oil, cocoa butter and beeswax together at a low heat, in a double boiler (glass bowl over a pan of water). Allow to cool slightly before adding essential oils. (If adding essential oils stir well).

Carefully pour or spoon the mixture into the lip balm tubes. Because there is no water in this mixture it will last 1 – 2 years if kept well, but remember lip balms tend to re melt in hand bags several times and that will decrease the shelf life.

Festive flavours Lip balms can be coloured and flavoured naturally by ingredients you have in your kitchen cupboards. Why not try adding 3g of dark chocolate with 2g of cocoa butter? (More festive versions can be found here).

 

5. Give the gift of learning

11157347_10153299676429282_5056230117261585179_oFor the true herbal enthusiast, why not give them an extra special gift, one of my distance learning courses.

From herbal home remedies up to a year long courses, there’s something for everyone, and I do vouchers too if you can’t decide which to get.

 

Herb and health research – October and November 2016

This month the following research articles on herbs and health have caught my eye.

1. In laboratory studies, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

50030752 - single lion's mane mushroom
50030752 – single lion’s mane mushroom

2. In another medicinal mushroom study this month Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) was found to not only protect against dementia but also gastric ulcers.

3. In a new study of a very ‘old’ herb, ginseng was found to have antimicrobial effects against infections.

4. Turmeric is a fantastic herb and one that’s been researched many times for different reasons. However, one of the problems with turmeric is that is can be tricky for the body to absorb when taken as a capsule, unless combined with black pepper. A new study has just confirmed the traditional way of preparing turmeric (usually in a milk product), makes the turmeric more bioavailable.

5. In laboratory studies, an extract of Andrographis paniculata was shown to reduce breast cancer tumours.

ginkgo leaves6. In another laboratory study, ginkgo has been found to be a treatment for spinocerebellar ataxia.

Learning to make natural soap – it’s not so scary after all!

untitledYesterday I forayed into an area that I’ve never been before, soap making, using the cold process method.

I’ve made soap before (many years ago), using the ‘melt and pour’ method, where you buy a pre-made soap base and then melt it using a double boiler, you can then add any ingredients that you may want.

I’d researched the cold process method before and it just seemed very complicated, all of those thermometers and the scary caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). So I decided to learn at a workshop so that I could gain the confidence with this temperamental process.

It all began at Elder Farm, where Helen Kearney (who was taught by Dawn Ireland at Green Wyse), laid out our ingredients for the day:

  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Oils (castor, sunflower, rapeseed)
  • Fats and butters (cocoa and coconut)
  • Carnauba wax (a plant wax – vegan alternative to beeswax)
  • Water
  • Essential oils

We began by measuring the fats, oils and waxes into a large stainless steel pan; this mix was then melted slowly, and then allowed to cool.

soap-making-2The sodium hydroxide was added to the water, in a very well ventilated area (outside), as the fumes from the exothermic reaction are toxic. This mixture was then allowed to cool.

When the mixtures were cooled sufficiently they were then combined (very carefully), and mixed together with an electric whisk. At this stage the essential oil was added, in this case lavender.

Once a trace was formed (you can see a line of mixture across the mixture), it was then poured into moulds containing juniper berries.

soap-makingThe saponification process will continue over the next 5 – 6 weeks, the soap will turn from an alkaline mixture to a neutral mixture that is a beautiful and natural soap.

 

For more information about workshops at Elder Farm, take a look here or on their Facebook page.

If you want to learn more about soap making, you can find more information here.

 

If you too are going to venture into the magical world of soap making, please make sure you take the necessary safety precautions, and if you are unsure, go on a workshop to learn how to make soap safely.

Herbal Medicine Research blog – September 2016

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a research blog but here are some research articles that have interested me recently.

1. A new trial is currently taking place in Australia, where young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are being given water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) instead of pharmaceutical drugs.

2. A follow up study in Brazil has confirmed that using Calendula can both prevent and treat radio dermatitis for patients undergoing radiotherapy.

mistletoe3. A new analysis of mistletoe has shown that it could be used to treat arthritis and liver disease as well as to reduce blood pressure and reduce tumour growth.

4. Ginger and artichoke have been found recently to increase gastric motility, in the treatment of functional dyspepsia.

5. New research has confirmed the link between exercise and improved cognition and mood.

6. Onion juice has been found to lower cholesterol in a new study.

7. A new study in China has shown that medicinal mushrooms have a direct action on reducing cancer cells, rather than simply boosting the immune system to fight cancer.

8. Seaweed could be the answer to reducing obesity, a new study has shown as seaweeds change processes in the gastrointestinal tract.

My new apprenticeship programme – do you want to become a medical herbalist?

Over the last couple of years I have been giving talks and running workshops which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I love bringing people closer to plants improving their health. This then lead me to offer distance learning courses which have also brought a whole new group of people to herbal medicine. Some students have come to all of those and come out the other end asking, what now?

If you have a passion for herbal medicine should you become a medical herbalist?

Only you can really answer that and it is certainly not a career path for the faint hearted. There is a lot of work and while it is immensely rewarding, it is really a vocation rather than a job.

After many people asking me if I would consider teaching them as apprentices I decided to look further into the options available.

The following table shows the courses available in the UK today that train medical herbalists.

Course

Course type Level Number of years to complete (based on full time study) Total cost of the course (course fees only, not including books, travel, accommodation, and additional clinical hour fees)

Accredited by

Betonica herbal medicine apprenticeship

Subject based diploma course – self home study and seminar days Diploma 4 years £5750* (sliding scale available) (£1600 years 2 – 4)

Working towards NIMH accreditation

College of Naturopathic Medicine – Diploma in herbal medicine (seminars taught across the country) Module based diploma course – self home study and seminar days Equivalent of a degree 3 years £19,040* Association of Master Herbalists (AMH)
Irish School of Herbal Medicine

(County Laois, Ireland)

Module based – all online apart from the clinical hours 4 years £9016 (£2254 per year) The Irish Association of Master Medical Herbalists
Lincoln College – BSc Herbal Medicine Modular block learning – self home study and seminar days (8 x 3 day weekends a year, plus clinical training) Undergraduate degree 3 years £22500 (£7500 per year) EHTPA
School of Intuitive Herbalism (Stroud) Traditional apprenticeship style – self study 7 years £9800 (£1400 per year) Not accredited
Sensory solutions herbal apprenticeship (Dorset) Self study and apprenticeship to a local herbalist, as well as residential weeks seasonally Not accredited
South West School of Herbal Medicine (Somerset) Advanced diploma (beyond undergraduate degree) 6 years £18000 (£3000 per year) Working towards NIMH accreditation
Veriditas Hibernica – and then Colaiste Luibheanna (Cork, Ireland) apprenticeship Apprenticeship with Nikki Darrell for 2 years, then self home study and seminar days (5 days every two months, plus clinical training) 4 years £4400 (not including any clinic hours – all must be completed and paid for separately) Not accredited by access to CPP and IRH PAs.
Welsh school of Herbal Medicine (West Wales) Block learning – self home study and seminar days, plus clinical training Working towards NIMH accreditation
The University of Westminster – BSc Herbal Medicine (London) Some blended learning but attendance is weekly 3 years £27000 (£9000 per year) EHTPA

(*information accurate as of 20/05/16)
From months of research and speaking to the herbalists who are offering the apprenticeship programmes, I have decided to begin my own. My apprenticeship programme is called Betonica herbal apprenticeship and it is a four year programme combining (what I hope) is the best bits from each of the courses.There is certainly a shift occurring, as the degree programmes are closing, the small courses and apprenticeships are springing up to plug the gap. The last thing we want is for herbalists to become an endangered species.

After attending a discussion at the radical herbal gathering this year and speaking to people who wanted to undertake an apprenticeship or course of some kind, the main element that was a barrier to their study was the cost of the courses available. With this in mind I have kept the course fees to an absolute minimum in order to enable more people the option to train as a medical herbalist.

Please do take a look at my new sister website www.betonica.co.uk.

betonica logo

Herbal remedies for children – new distance learning course

ice lolliesWould you like to know more about treating children with herbs?

If you enjoyed my blog on herbs for children, you might be interested to know I have now written a herbal remedies for children distance learning course!

As with all of my distance learning courses you will be emailed the course material to work through (although in this particular module there is no quiz or test at the end).

You will also receive a herbal goody box containing herbs specific for children, as well as jars, bottles and sundries needed to make the herbal remedies in the module.

What does the course cover?

  • Safety – when to give herbs and when not to
  • Dosages and how they are different for children
  • Herbal preparations for children – from sweets to ice lollies
  • A developing immune system – when to boost immunity
  • Herbs for babies – colic to nappy rash
  • Herbs for toddlers – coughs and colds
  • Herbs for infants – eczema and ear infections
  • Herbs for primary age – conjunctivitis and diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Herbs at 11+ – tonsillitis and acne
  • Plus lots of tips and recipes to use at home

How much does the course cost?

£50

 

Who can complete the course?

Anyone with an interest in herbs and health. There is no prerequisite for this course.

For more information please get in touch.

 

To book click here.

 

 

Rediscovering British herbs with Native Awareness

11203591_10153299665834282_3942814190489003464_oA few years ago I decided to go on a Native Awareness course, native skills one, which is an introduction to bushcraft skills and the skills of native peoples’. Learning those native skills really got me thinking about how medicinal plants are used by native people across the world as well as our ancestors in Britain.

At the time my knowledge of British medicinal plants was limited and I suddenly saw that for the shame it was. I was a herbalist living and practising in Britain but the number of British plants I was prescribing could be counted on one hand. It was also obvious that my plant ID skills could also do with updating, especially poisonous plants.

That realisation sent me on a bit of a journey of personal study, and working with other herbalists who use a lot more British plants, expanding my knowledge and skills.

10258698_10152426354399282_4605565856819452484_n

 

When James (the founder of Native Awareness) asked me if I would be interested in teaching a medicinal plants course with him, I was excited but also very nervous. James has a vast knowledge of plants himself and I was unsure what I could bring to such a course.

 

 

After months of planning we taught the first medicinal plants course in 2014, and it involved lots of experimenting. Neither of us had dried medicinal plants using fire before, and the results were interesting! But it forced me to look at alternative ways to make medicines like infused oils, balms, and poultices.

10314020_10152426359889282_4783032923788498560_nI couldn’t help feeling a deep connection with the medicine people across the world who must have had (and still do have) these problems. How breaking a plant down with a stone makes a very different poultice to one done in a food processor.

I was thrilled to be asked back to teach again in 2015, and I was raring to go with new ideas. The fire drying was improved and the infused oil was the strongest I’ve ever seen made. I also introduced a few new topics to the medicinal plant ID, wild crafting, and medicine making; poisonous plants and medicinal mushrooms.

11160059_10153299700634282_7411604696093964325_oYear on year as my knowledge and skills grow I add new things into my workshops. So no two courses are ever the same, this also stops me from becoming bored!

I also learn a great deal from the people on the courses, everyone has a story to tell about how they have used a plant, or how their granny always used to swear by nettle tea.

This year I will be back teaching with Native Awareness again, from 29th April to 1st May, Ravenshill Wood, Worcestershire. For more information or to book, please contact James at Native Awareness.

Click here for more great photos from the medicinal plants courses.

 

Frequently asked questions – what to herbalists get asked?

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked and the answers I give.

1. Can herbs be used to treat children?

The simple answer is yes but with everything that depends on what the situation is, is the child taking medication? For more information on herbs and children take a look at my recent blog.

nettle_flower_full2. Can herbs be used to help eczema?

The answer is yes in most cases but dietary and lifestyle changes also need to be taken into account. The treatment will be taking herbs both internally and externally, while treating the whole person and the cause. I have written three blogs on eczema, “Eczema – what is it, What role does diet play in eczema, and Can herbs help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema?

3. Can helps be used by people taking medication?

That depends on the type of medication they are taking, the dosage and the reason they are taking it. There are many medications that are sensitive to not just herbs but foods too. It is important to always consult a medical herbalist if you are taking medication and want to take herbs too. They are trained to understand the interactions between herbs and drugs and they will be able to offer alternative herbs that do not interact with your medication.

I will be writing more about how herbs interact with drugs and safe herbs to use at home in a new blog.

ollie4. Can I give herbs to my dog?

Lots of people want to look after the health of their pets in a more natural way and it’s understandable that they would want to look at using herbs for that. However, it is important to remember that only a veterinarian can prescribe medicines of any kind, whether herbal or not to any animal.

The rules around herbal medicines for animals are quite similar to people in that you can buy some herbal products over the counter from your vet. They are approved herbal medicines and include things like anti-anxiety drops for dogs which contain valerian.

There is a bit of a crossover however with herbs that are more foods than medicines. There are lots of recipes where culinary herbs are given in homemade dog food to improve nutrition. If you are wanting to do this make sure the information is from a reputable source (i.e. approved by a vet).

5. Can I make my own herbal medicines?

Yes, and I encourage you do to so. I have some tips and easy to follow recipes for using simple herbal medicines at home. Take a look at my free downloads here.

6. Can herbs be used in pregnancy?

There are some herbs that can be used in pregnancy, for example raspberry leaf tea, but I always recommend anyone who is pregnant and wanting to take herbs to speak to a medical herbalist before taking herbs.

DSC_25947. Can herbs cure cancer?

This is a very important point. There is no ‘cure’ for cancer whether herbal or pharmaceutical. Chemotherapy for example is a treatment of cancer, not a cure.

The law states very clearly that no-one must claim to cure cancer. So if you see an advert for a new Amazonian herb that can ‘cure’ cancer please don’t go out and buy it.

Herbalists can support people with cancer and who are undergoing cancer therapies, for example, herbs can be used to reduce the side effects from chemotherapy.

 

Please remember if you are unsure or have any questions about herbs and whether they are right for you, it is important to get the advice of a medical herbalist.

You can find a qualified medical herbalist using any of these lists, or you can get in touch with me.