Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #36 Wild Rose

Wild Rose (Rosa canina)

Wild Rose, the remedy for those who are apathetic, is made by the boiling method.

Rosa canina, or dog rose, is usually found growing in hedgerows.  The leaves were traditionally used as a laxative and the seeds as a diuretic. Use of the dog rose to treat bites from rabid dogs may have led to its common name.  Alternatively, this may have been a corruption of ‘dag rose’ referring to the sharp thorns, like daggers.

dog rose hips

Rosehips; image from

The fruits, known as rosehips, are a good source of vitamin C as well as other vitamins and flavonoids. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, rosehips contain 426 mg of vitamin C/100 g fruit, compared to 50–60 for oranges or their juice and 29.1 for limes.  During World War II, British schoolchildren gathered the hips and these were usually made into a syrup, used to ensure sufficient vitamin C was consumed.

Rosehip syrup is still taken today as a tonic and to reduce tiredness.  Rosehips are also used to treat conditions of the bladder and kidneys and to reduce pain in osteoarthritis sufferers.  The hairs around the seeds cause itching and ground rosehips are used in some commercial itching powders.

L-abscorbic acid

Chemical diagram of vitamin C

Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is needed in the body to protect cells and keep them healthy; to maintain healthy connective tissue and to heal wounds.  In the UK, the recommended daily amount required by an adult is 40 mg.  A lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy but the body can’t store the vitamin and sufficient can usually obtained from the diet.

Some people advocate supplements giving doses of 1,000 mg or higher but these can cause stomach problems.  Most famously, in 1971, eminent chemist Linus Pauling published claims that high doses of vitamin C could prevent the common cold and cancer.  The winner of two Nobel prizes, Pauling was also a leading peace campaigner and anti-nuclear activist.  However, to date there is insufficient evidence to support his ideas.

Rosa canina; wild rose

Dog rose; image from

Hanging a rose over the dinner table symbolised that all confidences would be held sacred and today, the plaster ornament at the centre of a ceiling is still known as the rose.  This is the origin of the phrase sub rosa, meaning in confidence or in secret.

Rose essential oil comes mainly from the damask rose (Rosa damascena) or cabbage rose (Rosa centrifolia), grown in Bulgaria and France.  It takes around 10,000 flowers to produce 25 ml of oil.  The oil contains a large number of chemical compounds including citronellol, geraniol, rose oxide and β-ionone.  However, the compound β-damascenone is the most significant contributor to the fragrance. The quantity of β-damascenone in rose oil is used as a determinant of quality.

Damask rose was traditionally used to treat coughs, colds and eye infections and to staunch bleeding.  Rose oil is used in aromatherapy for stress and grief to nurture the body and in cosmetics for mature skin.

Apothecary rose (Rosa gallica officinalis) has sedative and antidepressant properties, is an astringent and can lower cholesterol.  Traditionally, petals were dried and rolled into beads which were strung into chains for religious use as a rosary.  Flowers are used in pot pourri and petals sometimes used as confetti.

For an introduction or sources and more info., follow the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #35 Wild Oat

Wild Oat (Bromus ramosus)

Wild oat, the remedy to help those at a cross-roads in their life to find their true direction, is made by the sun method.

Chemical diagram of peramine

Bromus ramosus is commonly known as the hairy brome – one of around 170 brome grasses in the genus.  The brome grasses are classified in a different genus but within the same family as the common oat (Avena sativa) and both their genus names are Latin words for oats.  Other relations include the wheat-grass family (wheat, barley and rye).

Brome grasses are susceptible to infection by endophytic fungi which live within the grass but for the most part do it no harm.  The fungi do, however, produce chemical compounds to protect their hosts.  One common example is peramine, an alkaloid which acts as a deterrent to insect feeding, found in Bromus ramosus infected with Epichloё bromicola.

A well-known example of an endophytic fungus is Claviceps purpurea, which often affects rye, producing the disease ergot of rye.  Ergot produces toxic alkaloids known as the ergot alkaloids which cause two types of illness – one convulsive and the other, commonly known as St. Anthony’s fire, gangrenous.  Medicinally, ergot was traditionally used to induce childbirth and study of the ergot alkaloids led their common nucleus to be identified as lysergic acid.

Chemical diagram of lysergic acid; LSD is the diethylamide, where the H atom of the OH group is replaced by N(CH2CH3)2

In the 1930s, chemist Albert Hofmann was working on making derivatives of lysergic acid and first made the diethylamide which he called LSD-25.   After taking some by accident in the 1940s, he described the hallucinatory properties of the compound, now known just as LSD, and it went on to be used both legally and illegally for its hallucinogenic effects.  The discovery and study of LSD and its effects on the brain made a significant contribution to the understanding of the link between neurochemistry and mental illness.

LSD was tested in a CIA mind-control programme, Project MKUltra, a series of illegal experiments carried out between 1953 and 1973.  The drug was often given without consent, including to prisoners, military and government employees and the general public.   The programme aimed to develop and test drugs and procedures for use in interrogations and torture specifically by altering the victims’ mental state.   Use of LSD was eventually abandoned due to its unpredictable effects.

Wild oat;

Hairy brome; image by Leo Michels (Own work, [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Brome grasses have little economic value and are often considered to be weeds.  The common names of Bromus sterilis are poverty brome or barren brome, attesting to this.  Bromus diandrus is known as ripgut brome – this refers to the danger posed to animals from the seeds.  These are sharp with backward-facing hairs which can become lodged like a fish hook.

The invasive weed cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is relatively fast-growing and fire retardant so interferes with the fire cycle in natural plant communities.   It is combustible so increases the number of fires but is adapted to survive these events better than most other plants.   Stemming the spread of cheatgrass is a significant issue in parts of the USA, due to the increased occurrence of wildfires.

For an introduction and sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #34 Water Violet

Water Violet (Hottonia palustris):

Leaves of water violet or featherfoil; image by Christian Fischer [CC BY- SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by- sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Water violet, the remedy for those who feel cut off from others, is made by the sun method.

Hottonia palustris or water violet has finely divided leaves and is sometimes known as featherfoil or water yarrow.  Lineaus named the genus after a Dutch professor of medicine and botany at Leiden University, Petrus Hotton (1648 – 1709).  There are only 2 species in this genus – Hottonia palustris, native to Europe and Western Asia and Hottonia inflata, native to North America.  The American species has markedly smaller flowers but thicker stems.

Water violet is an aquatic plant with submerged leaves. This has implications for its chemical defences.  Phenolic compounds form an important part of many plants’ defences. A study of the total phenolic content of 40 aquatic and semi-aquatic plants with floating, emergent of submerged leaves found that the total content was least in submerged leaves.

Water violet

Water violet; image by Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Phenolics, including tannins, offer protection against pathogens, herbivores and UV-B radiation.  Floating or emergent leaves are more vulnerable to attack as they are accessible to pathogens and herbivores in and out of the water.  Submerged leaves have a lower nitrogen content and a lower calorific value, making them less attractive to herbivores.  Also, as UV-B light penetrates water poorly, submerged leaves have less need for protection from it.

In fact, the presence of both light and carbon dioxide are required for the synthesis of phenolics and other compounds in plants and both of these components are in limited supply beneath the water.  To enable submerged leaves to obtain enough to provide energy, the leaves are thinner (so have a larger surface area to volume) and lack cuticles, so are relatively simple compared to floating or emergent leaves.

Aquatic plants can still obtain enough light to carry out photosynthesis, even when they have submerged leaves.  However, suspended particles, dissolved substances and water depth can restrict the amount of light that penetrates the water.  As in non-aquatic plants, the light is harvested by chlorophyll in the leaves, providing energy to convert water and carbon dioxide to glucose and oxygen.  Water violets are termed oxygenating plants which get their nutrients from the water and also release oxygen back into the water.   Therefore, they help maintain the ecological balance and prevent overgrowth of algae.

Chemical diagram of chlorophyll-a

The plants are an important source of oxygen for fish and invertebrates living in the water and if the quantity of light available is compromised (e.g. by cloudy weather or the introduction of certain light blockers into the water) these may not survive.

Water violets are vulnerable to the removal of their preferred habitat e.g. by increased urbanisation and in some places, e.g. Germany, they are considered to be endangered.  Other potential threats include water contamination and/or overgrowth of algae or other plants.   Bodies of water are sometimes treated with herbicides to remove unwanted growth, but these can also affect non-target plants, such as water violets.

Water violets flower in May and June, producing white or pale violet flowers with yellow ‘eyes’ which are held above the water.

Water violets; image by Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #33 Walnut

Walnut (Juglans regia)

Walnut, the remedy for those who are affected by outside influences, is made by the boiling method.

Juglans regia

Walnut tree with drupes; image from pixabay

Native to regions east of the Balkans,  the common or Persian walnut is now found in Britain and is sometimes known as English walnut.  In the UK, temperatures are not conducive to nut formation and this may have led to the tradition of pickling walnuts.  This involves picking the whole fruit, or drupe, before the shell and kernel has formed inside.  These are soaked in brine (salt and water), dried and bottled in a pickling vinegar containing spices, or boiled in a pickling syrup containing vinegar, sugar and spices.  Pickled walnuts are traditionally eaten with cheese during the Christmas season.

The nuts contain large amounts of alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.  This can reduce the chances of developing breast cancer and heart disease.  Walnuts can also reduce inflammation and joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis and inhibit the growth and reduce the size of prostate tumours.  Walnuts were rated the number one nut in a study comparing the anti-oxidant properties of nine types of nut.  An added benefit is that they are usually eaten raw whereas other nuts may be roasted, reducing the quality of the antioxidants.  These antioxidants were estimated to be between 2 and 15 times more potent than vitamin E.  What’s more, eating only seven walnuts a day should provide all the health benefits of walnuts discovered so far.

Juglans regia

Walnut in shell; image Mo Sibbons

Traditionally, the bark and leaves were primarily used to treat skin conditions such as herpes, eczema, ulcers and scrofulous diseases (i.e. resembling or due to tuberculosis of the lymph glands). Coachmen sometimes sponged down horses with a solution made by steeping walnut leaves. The husks and leaves were used to treat worms and the juice of the green husks was gargled with honey to treat sore mouths or throats.  The skin coating the kernel was dried and powdered and used to treat colic.  The seed oil was also used to treat colic as well as, externally, to treat skin conditions and wounds.

Followers of the Doctrine of Signatures, believing God marked plants to tell us how they could be used, advocated use of the kernels to treat the brain and the outer husk for wounds to the head.  Husks or kernels were sometimes burned and used with oil and wine to stop hair falling out and to make it fair and a piece of green husk was put into a hollow tooth to relieve pain.

Mona Lisa byLeonardo da Vinci; Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Limited trials of the leaf extract have shown beneficial effects for the treatment of type-II diabetes – the extract caused a reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride and HbA1c (haemoglobin bound glucose), with no adverse effects.  The leaves were used in Austrian folk medicine to treat diabetes.  Other proven effects of the leaf extracts include as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour agents.

Walnut oil is sometimes used in salad dressings or for cooking.  It is also used as a medium for pigments in oil paintings.  It is said to yellow less than linseed oil, a popular alternative, but does tend to quickly become rancid.  Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci used walnut oil paints and wrote about the detrimental effect of the husks on the quality of the paint – the colouring matter of the husk would rise up to the surface of the painting and cause it to change.


Juglone, found in walnut trees

Chemical diagram of juglone

The compound juglone, or nucin, occurs almost throughout the tree, mainly in the bark and hulls but not in the kernels.   It is an allelopathic compound, leached into the surrounding soil to deter other plants from growing – originally the effect of walnut trees on other plants was known as “walnut wilt”.  It is also toxic to some insects, fish and microorganisms including bacteria and fungi.  It is active against Heliobacter pylori, a bacterium affecting around 50% of the world’s population.  It has also shown anti-tumour and anti-fungal properties and may be of use in the treatment of athlete’s foot and ringworm.  Current medicinal use is limited to its sedative effect on animals and other potential uses are as a herbicide and biocide.

Juglone is related to lawsone (from henna) and plumbagin (found in Ceratostigma willmottianum (cerato) and other leadworts).  It is an orange-brown colouring agent used in the food and cosmetics industries and it can also be used in inks and dyes.  Walnut husks have also been used to produce a brown dye, used to dye hair or fabrics.   The dye doesn’t require a fixant so the husks will stain the hands if handled without gloves.  The husks of walnuts are often washed to remove the dyeing compounds, which can cause skin irritation as well as staining, before they are sold.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #32 Vine

Vine (Vitis vinifera)

Vine, the remedy for dominant people who tend to bully others, is made by the sun method.

The name vine comes from the Latin viere to twist, referring to the plant’s twining behaviour.  Vines can live for 600 years and the stems of old specimens can reach diameters of over 30cm, when they are useful as timber. The fruit, or grapes, can be eaten raw, dehydrated to form sultanas, currants or raisins, or the juice drunk or fermented to produce wine.

The fruit of the vine

Grapes; image from

Grape sugar contains D-glucose (dextrose) which doesn’t require to be acted on by enzymes in saliva and so reaches the bloodstream quickly.   Grapes are traditionally eaten during convalescence.

The leaves are astringent as they contain tannins and were used to staunch bleeding and for haemorrhages.  The sap of the vine was used to treat weak eyes.   Grapes were taken to increase flow of urine, to treat anaemia and small-pox and in cases of neuralgia and sleeplessness.  Grapes have an adverse effect on the kidneys of dogs and even small amounts can cause kidney failure.

The so-called ‘grape cure’ involved eating large quantities of grapes (approx. 1.3–2.6 kg/day). Unripe grapes were taken for liver disease and ripe, sweet grapes for those needing to support tissue waste.   In the 1920’s, the Brandt Grape Cure was popularised by Johanna Brandt as a cure for certain types of cancer.   Many variations of the diet have been suggested but all involve a mixture of fasting, drinking only water and eating grapes. The controversial treatment is not recommended by the American Cancer Society but some people claim it has improved or cured their condition.

Chemical diagram of resveratrol

Chemical diagram of resveratrol

Some chemical compounds from grapes have shown potential for cancer treatment.  These include the related compounds resveratrol and picetannol, which has an additional hydroxy  (-OH) group.  Both also have a range of other potential medicinal benefits including as anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. They occur in grape skins and also in their seeds.

Resveratrol is produced by the plant in response to injury and protects the plant against fungi, bacteria and UV radiation.   It occurs in larger quantities in red wine than in white as red grapes are fermented with their skins.  Grape seed extract is sometimes taken as a food supplement to treat cardiovascular disease, poor circulation, diabetes-related eye conditions and high cholesterol.

Another use of the fruits from vine

Wine; image from

The Ancient Egyptians claimed wine was the tears of the god Horus and wine has been consumed for at least 6,000 years.  The Greek god of wine was Dionysus, or Bacchus in Roman mythology. Most wine is made using varieties of Vitis vinfera. It was initially probably made by accident – grapes contain sugar and juice and readily start to ferment in the presence of wild yeast, which is sometimes found on the skin of grapes themselves.

When wine began to be produced on purpose, grapes were crushed by trampling with bare feet to yield the juice – this made use of any fungi on the feet to instigate the fermentation process.   Today, the health benefits of wine are still promoted but these are tempered with the potential damage of excessive alcohol consumption. Claimed benefits of moderate consumption include to help prevent breast and colon cancers, reduce the effects of ageing and reduce the incidence of depression.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #31 Vervain

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)

Vervain, the remedy for those whose over-enthusiasm may lead to burnout, is made by the sun method.

Vervain © Whiskybottle |

Vervain © Whiskybottle |

It is considered a holy herb that legend has it was used to staunch the wounds of Christ after crucifixion.   Some of its common names are herb of grace, herb of the cross, herba sacra and holy wort.   Vervain was used as an altar plant by the Romans and was also sacred to the Druids. In Holland, Germany, Finland, Slovakia and Denmark it is known as iron herb – traditionally used in a procedure to harden steel and also in love potions to promote love as hot as burning iron!

Vervain was placed in fields to prevent bad weather. It was believed to handicap witches, protect against the Evil Eye and had unique lock-opening properties.  A man whose hand had been treated with vervain could turn keys and slide bolts at his slightest touch.

Its numerous uses in traditional medicine included to improve the sight, to treat fevers and ulcers, for purging and to promote lactation.  It was also used as a poultice for headaches, earache and rheumatism and also applied externally for piles.    The herbalist Culpeper recommended its use ‘for those who are frantic’.  Another common name for vervain is simpler’s joy which may refer to its wide range of medicinal uses – a simple was a herbal remedy.  Simplers foraged for medicinal herbs and sold them to apothecaries. As vervain commonly grows near areas of human habitation, the name can also be interpreted as referring to the simpler’s happiness at knowing this valuable plant was close-by or their feelings on seeing the plant, in anticipation of shelter at the end of a long day!

chemical found in vervain

Chemical diagram of hastatoside

Vervain is used in herbal medicine today to treat stress and nervous exhaustion.   A tea is also sometimes taken for insomnia and two closely related compounds found in the extract, hastatoside and verbenalin, have proven sleep-promoting effects.  Verbenalin has one less (-OH) group than hastatoside. These compounds have also shown antioxidant and liver-protecting activities and the extract of vervain also has anti-inflammatory activity. Other beneficial compounds include acubin, which has liver-protecting properties and verbascoside which has antmicrobial and antiinflammatory activities.

The essential oil verbena or lemon verbena, comes from the related plant Aloysia tryphylla.  It is used in aromatherapy to helps to ease exhaustion, relieve anxiety, boost concentration and for its antibacterial, antiseptic and antispasmodic effects.  In perfumery and cookery, it offers a lemony fragrance and taste.  It is one of the herbs used in the French liqueur Verveine du Velay. Lemon verbena contains verbascoside but a study of the antioxidant activity of the extract showed this was higher than predicted on the basis of verbascoside content, suggesting possible synergistic effects.

For an introduction and sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #30 Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet Chestnut, the remedy for those suffering from anguish and deep despair, is made by the boiling method.

Native to Southern Europe, the sweet chestnut was introduced to Britain by the Romans. They ground the nuts to make a flour or coarse meal and this was used to make porridge.   Nuts are surrounded by a spiny husk or cupule which gives them protection from predators and cupules usually contain two to four nuts. John Evelyn, the English gardener and diarist, wrote that the nuts were ‘delicacies for princes and a lusty and masculine food for rusticks, and able to make women well-complexioned’.  However, although commonly eaten in other parts of Europe, in England they were usually fed to pigs.

Sweet chestnut seeds or nuts

Sweet chestnut cupules; image from

The best chestnuts come from marrons – varieties which are monospermic (ie only produce one seed per fruit) and a meal made from these contains 15 % sugar. This was sometimes used to whiten linen cloth. Candied chestnuts are known as marron glacés and they are also eaten raw or roasted.  Roasted chestnuts are traditionally used as a stuffing for turkey.

Cooking foods changes their chemical composition and the nutritional value, colour and flavour also change.  When chestnuts are roasted, the volatile compounds γ-butyrolactone (GBL) and furfural are formed.  The former has a sweet caramel flavour and the latter a woody, almond flavour.  But the compounds produced are not always beneficial – acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen and known neurotoxin, is also produced.   The median acrylamide content found in tests of commercial samples was 90 μg/kg and in 2009 tolerable limits for carcinogenic effects of 2.6 μg/kg body weight/day and for neurotoxicity of 40μ μg/kg body weight/day, were estimated.   For a 70 kg person, in the absence of any other sources, this would suggest eating 2 kg a day would be safe!

Chemical diagram of GBL

Chemical diagram of GBL

γ-Butyrolactone occurs in small quantities in some wines but for commercial use it is synthesised.  As well as its use as a flavouring, it is used as a solvent and reagent in chemistry.  It can be used as a solvent for cured superglue. Although it is not medicinally active, it is a prodrug for γ-hydroxybutyric acid or GHB.  This means it is metabolised in the body to produce GHB, which produces intoxication similar to that of alcohol.

GHB is used recreationally, to increase athletic performance and as a date rape drug.  Medicinally, it is sometimes used to treat narcolepsy and was previously used in anaesthesia.  In the UK, GBL and GHB are class 3 drugs, so possession or sale for human consumption is illegal. GBL is permitted for use as a food flavouring or other legitimate uses, but this must be registered.

Furfural is produced commercially from agricultural by-products like oat hulls and is used as a chemical feedstock and solvent.  Although used as a flavouring agent in low concentrations, it is toxic and a skin irritant.

The Romans valued chestnut flower honey for its taste and it is used for dressing wounds, skin ulcers and burns today due to its antibacterial and antioxidant properties.  Leaves were chewed or made into a tea to treat fevers.  The major medicinal use, however, was to treat paroxysmal and convulsive coughs such as whooping-cough and other conditions of the respiratory system.

Sweet chestnut seeds or nuts

Sweet chestnuts; image from

The wood is more durable than oak although it loses durability after around 50 years old, so is used when the wood has to be sunk into the ground. In south east England sweet chestnut is coppiced to produce poles.  The wood and bark are a rich source of tannins which are used in the tanning of leather.

A 250-year-old sweet chestnut tree was the focus of an anti-road protest in London in 1993.  The tree, on George Green in Wanstead, was to be cut down to make way for an extension to the M11 motorway.  Protestors slept in the tree for 5 weeks before they were evicted and the removal of the tree was also challenged in court.  One argument was that, as letters were delivered to the tree by the Royal Mail, it constituted a legal dwelling.  The tree was eventually cut down in December 1993.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #29 Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

Star of Bethlehem, the remedy for shock, is made by the boiling method.

Common star of Bethlehem; © Peter Kirschner |

Common star of Bethlehem; © Peter Kirschner |

Common star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), along with other members of the genus, is sometimes grown as an ornamental plant. The plant’s white, star-shaped flowers close at night and open only when there is sunshine, remaining closed on cloudy days – this is reflected in some of its common names like nap-at-noon, eleven-o’clock lady and sleepy dick.

Another name, dove’s dung, was used by the Arabs who sometimes ate the bulbs as a vegetable.  Bulbs of the plant, also known as white field onion, were also sometimes eaten raw or cooked in the UK.  However, large quantities can be poisonous both to grazing animals and to humans.  Bulbs can also cause dermatitis on contact with the skin of sensitive people.  A homoeopathic remedy was made from the bulbs to treat some types of cancer.

The only truly native species in the UK is Ornithogalum pyrenaicum or Pyrenees star of Bethlehem.  This grew abundantly in woods near Bath where the young, unexpanded shoots were cooked and served like asparagus – a common name for this plant is Bath asparagus.

Chemical diagram of convallatoxin

Chemical diagram of convallatoxin

Common star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), along with other European species of the genus, contain cardiac glycosides and extracts of the bulbs have a similar effect on the heart as extract of foxgloves (digitalis) does.   Specifically, this is to slow down the heart rate and strengthen the beats.  Comparison of the extract  with one of the active compounds found in digitalis, known as digitoxin, showed it caused less slowing of the heart, a greater diuretic effect and less gastrointestinal nausea.  The major active compound in the extract is convallatoxin, although fifteen other cardenolides have also been isolated.  Convallatoxin has also shown activity against one type of human cancer.  All parts of the plant contain cardiac glycosides but these are most concentrated in the bulbs.

Common star of Bethlehem; © Vnikitenko /

Common star of Bethlehem;
© Vnikitenko /

The genus name comes from the Greek words ‘ornis‘ meaning bird and ‘gala‘ meaning milk, in reference to the white flowers. ‘Bird’s Milk’ was frequently used by the Romans to indicate something wonderful.

Extracts from the bulbs of Ornithogalum thyrsoides, which is common in South Africa, was shown to be active against leukaemia.  One traditional use was of an infusion of the leaves to treat type-I diabetes. The Afrikaans vernacular name of the plant is tjienkerientjee, a simulation of the chink sound made when fresh stalks are rubbed against one another by the wind. In English, this is translated as Chincherinchee.

In Christian folklore it is said that Ornithogalum arabicum, star of Bethlehem, first appeared on the earth on the night of Christ’s birth. According to the legend, the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem burst into thousands of fragments after it had stopped at its destination. These bright fragments which fell to the ground were transformed into flowers, to indicate the holiness of the area.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #28 Scleranthus

Scleranthus (Scleranthus annuus)

Scleranthus, the remedy for those who are indecisive, is made by the sun method.

It is part of the carnation or Caryophyllaceae family and is known by the common names German knotweed, German knotgrass or (annual) knawel – the latter name coming from the 16th century German Knauel for knotweed (literally, ball of yarn).

Scleranthus annuus

German knotweed; image by Der Michels ( via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, it is sometimes considered to be a weed.  It is low-growing, forming dense mats and has inconspicuous green flowers.  In the UK, intensive arable farming with increased use of broad-spectrum herbicides has led to its decline and it is regarded as endangered in the wild. Knawel has been used as a cure for toothache and the sweet-tasting leaves are fairly good fodder for sheep.

Perennial knawel (Scleranthus perennis) was used as the host plant for the Polish cochineal bugs (Porphyrophora polonica). Polish cochineal dyes were developed by the ancient Slavs and provided an economically important trade in Europe until the 16th century when the cheaper (Mexican) cochineal we know today (from Dactylopius coccus – hosted by prickly pears (Opuntia spp.)) was introduced.  The dye was used to colour textiles and, in Poland, as a colourant for some vodkas.

Carminic acid from Polish cochineal

Chemical diagram of carminic acid

The female bugs lay eggs in the ground and the larvae feed on the low-growing host plants, initially on the leaves but then on the roots, forming protective cysts.  Female larvae are harvested before they reach maturity – the plant is uprooted and yields approximately 10 insects.   Harvest occurs in late June, around the time of St. John the Baptist’s Day (June 24th) and the resulting dye was sometimes known as Saint John’s blood.  The larvae were killed using vinegar or boiling water and dried.  The resulting red dye arises from a chemical compound produced by the larvae for protection called carminic acid.   This makes up approximately 0.6 % of the dried insect’s body weight.  This is much less than the quantity produced by the Mexican bugs (approx. 20 %).

Polish military commander, Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665), in a crimson costume typical of Polish magnates, coloured using Polish cochineal dye; image from

Polish military commander, Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665), in a crimson costume typical of Polish magnates, coloured using Polish cochineal dye; image from

The process was not only labour-intensive but, as the plants were dug up to obtain the insects, they had to be replaced after each harvest and knotweed was grown in plantations.  Along with the much reduced yield of carminic acid from Polish cochineal larvae, this accounts for the relative expense of Polish cochineal dye.  In the 18th century, Polish cochineal began to be exported again, to Russia and Central Asia but today, the use of the dye is rare and in some places e.g. the Ukraine the insect is considered endangered.

The legacy of the use of Polish cochineal can be seen in Slavic languages, where the words for red and June (or July) come from the word for worm. In Polish for example, the three words are czerwony, czerwiec and czerw, respectively.

Scleranthus biflorus is native to Australia and New Zealand, where it is known as cushion bush or lime lava.  It resembles moss and is sometimes termed “Australian astroturf” and grown to give green ground cover in dry conditions.  An ointment made by drying the plant and mixing the powder into a paste with New Zealand passion flower (Passiflora tetrandra) was sometimes used to ease itching by the Maoris.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #27 Rock Rose

Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium)

Rock rose, the remedy for those suffering from terror, is made by the sun method.

The genus name comes from the Greek helios meaning sun and anthemon meaning flower.  In the wild, flowers of Helianthemum nummalarium, or common rock rose, are yellow although cultivated varieties can range from white to deep red.   In the South-east of the UK, it grows in chalky or limestone-rich soils, which are alkaline, but in Scotland it can grow in much more acidic soils.

Common rock rose; image from

Common rock rose; image from

The plant only opens its flowers one at a time, in fine weather, but although its name suggests it is a sun loving plant, it always directs them away from the sun.  Its stamens are sensitive to movement and react to dampness. As a pollinating insect brushes the anther, the stamens drop pollen onto its fur and start to turn to the side – this makes it easier for the pistil in the middle of the flower to touch the next insect and improves its chances of receiving pollen from a neighbouring flower on its stigma.

The genus is part of the rock rose family (Cistaceae) and contains plants sometimes known as frostweeds.  The name frostweed is used for a number of plants including Verbesina virginica (white crownbeard), Helianthemum canadense (longbranch frostweed) and Helianthemum bicknellii (hoary frostweeddue to their ability to produce so-called frost flowers – caused by water freezing in the stems.  As it expands, it pushes through the stem and, as more water follows, the ice is pushed out, curling into shapes which can resemble flowers. For more information on frost flowers and how they form, check out youtube.

Rock rose; image from

Rock rose; image from

Longbranch frostweed was used medicinally to treat secondary syphilis, as an astringent, alterative and tonic and to treat scrofula (usually a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis).  An oil obtained from the plant was used to treat cancer.

Another genus in the rock rose family is Cistus and an important resin, known as labdanum, is obtained from two species, Cistus creticus and Cistus ladanifer.  The leaves are covered in glandular hairs and goats and sheep eating the plants become covered in the resin.  This was combed off their coats and sold.  The resin is still used today in perfumery although now it is obtained directly from the plants by treating with hot alkaline solution, followed by steam distillation to produce the oil.  The scent resembles incense and ambergris and labdanum is sometimes used as an alternative to ambergris.

Chemical diagram of ledene

Chemical diagram of ledene

The oil contains over 300 constituents, the most abundant of these is ledene (also known as viridiflorene).  Ledene has potential use for the treatment of ocular Demodex (eyelash mites).

Examples of a class of chemical compounds called labdanes were first identified from labdanum.  Some labdanes have antibacterial, antifungal, antiprotozoal or anti-inflammatory activities.  Traditionally, labdanum was used as an expectorant, an emmenagogue and in plasters.

For an introduction or sources and more info., click the links.