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 pixabay.com

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 pixabay.com

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 | Dreamstime.com

Vervain © Whiskybottle | Dreamstime.com

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 pixabay.com

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 pixabay.com

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 | Dreamstime.com

Common star of Bethlehem; © Peter Kirschner | Dreamstime.com

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 /Dreamstime.com

Common star of Bethlehem;
© Vnikitenko /Dreamstime.com

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 (www.imagines-plantarum.de) 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 http://iranpazirik.com/htmls/cochincal.htm

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

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 pixabay.com

Common rock rose; image from pixabay.com

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 pixabay.com

Rock rose; image from pixabay.com

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.

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #26 Pine

Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Pine, the remedy for those suffering feelings of guilt, is made by the boiling method.

Pine tree; image from pixabay.com

Pine tree; image from pixabay.com

The bark of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is orange-brown and scaly, developing plates and fissures with age.  The trees are occasionally termed European redwoods and are the only truly native pine trees in the UK.  They were abundant in the Caledonian Forest and those in the remnants of the Forest descend from trees which arrived in Scotland about 9,000 years ago.  Today, the trees are widely planted to provide timber – Scots pine timber is one of the strongest softwoods and is used in the construction industry and joinery.  It is also used to make telegraph poles, gate posts and fencing.

The tree can be tapped for resin which is distilled to make natural turpentine. This was used in traditional medicine to treat wounds and taken internally for parasites.  It was considered to have antiseptic and diuretic properties and also used in an inhaler or chest rub to relieve cold symptoms.  A pillow stuffed with pine needles was believed to soothe chest conditions.  Today, the well-known chest rub Vick’s VapoRub still contains oil of turpentine.   However, the major uses of turpentine are as a solvent for example to thin paints and as a source of starting materials for the chemical industry. This latter use is due primarily to the major components of the turpentine, α- and β-pinene.

Chemical diagrams of alpha- and beta-pinene

Chemical diagrams of alpha- and beta-pinene

These closely-related, volatile monoterpenes have the same formula but differ in the position of the double bond.   They are also found in oils of rosemary, orange peel and eucalyptus.  When given off by the tree, they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere, such as ozone, to produce nanoparticles. These are Rayleigh scatterers and split light from the sun into its component colours.  As blue light is scattered most, the trees are surrounded by a blue haze – the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia get their name from this effect and the trees are protected from high temperatures.

Pine tar is made by burning the wood in a closed container. Tar was used on ships to waterproof ropes and sailors’ hands would become stained – British Navy seamen became known as Jack Tars or simply tars, as a result.  Pine tar has also been used in the form of a soap to treat skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema.  In veterinary medicine, it is used to treat cattle and horses’ hooves.

Pine essential oil is used in aromatherapy to reduce inflammation, treat respiratory and skin conditions, boost the immune system, stimulate the mind and body and protect the home and body from a wide variety of germs. The smell of pine is associated with cleanliness and its fragrance often added to home cleaning products.

Pine; image by Mo Sibbons

Pine; image by Mo Sibbons

Beers made with spruce or pine needles or shoots were introduced to the UK by the Vikings.  They contain vitamin C and were sometimes drunk by sailors to help them avoid scurvy.  Teas made with the needles could also be used. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts” and make you have twins.

Groups of conifers, particularly pines, often occur in groups of seven, known as Seven Sisters.  Legend has it only six will flourish and the seventh will die, no matter how often it is replaced.

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

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #25 Olive

Olive (Olea europaea)

Olive, the remedy for those suffering from mental or physical exhaustion, is made by the sun method.

Olive trees; image from pixabay.com

Olive trees; image from pixabay.com

Many artists have painted olive trees. Renoir spent the last 11 years of his life living in a house in south-east France which he bought to prevent the olive groves being destroyed to make a market garden.  He struggled to paint the trees saying they were full of colours, always changing – the colour lay between the trees not in the leaves. He said “The olive tree, what a brute!  If you realised how much trouble it caused me”.   Van Gogh also painted at least 18 pictures of olive trees.  Recently, crop artist Stan Herd reproduced one of them, in a project funded by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA).  The work, based on the 1889 painting ‘Olive Trees’, covered 1.5 acres near Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport.

Over 90% of olives are used for oil – the fruit is macerated, the stone removed then the pulp is cold pressed to extract virgin olive oil.  This has the best flavour and the highest cost.  Subsequent pressings yield lower quality oils, including refined olive oil which has been treated with charcoal and filtered and olive pomace, which is often used for cooking.

Olive oil; image from pixabay

Olive oil; image from pixabay

Virgin oil is often adulterated with cheaper oils such as canola or sunflower.   Over 50% of extra virgin oil in Italy and about 80% of that sold in the USA is believed to be adulterated. The profit margin on selling adulterated oil is three times that on selling cocaine and the process is under the control of organised crime – nicknamed the Agromafia.

Extra virgin oil contains oleocanthal, a phenolic compound responsible for the burning sensation when eating the oil.   It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – in fact, it inhibits the COX enzymes so reducing pain and inflammation in the same manner as popular drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin do.   50 g of oil contains enough oleocanthal to give similar anti-inflammatory effects as 1/10 of the adult dose of ibuprofen.  It has been suggested that long-term consumption of small quantities may be responsible in part for the low incidence of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease associated with a Mediterranean diet.

Chemical diagram of oleocanthan

Chemical diagram of oleocanthal

Oleocanthal also has potential benefits in the treatment of cancer – acting very quickly and targeting cancer cells rather than healthy ones.  It pierces the cancer cells’ waste storage containers, or vesicles, releasing enzymes that cause cell death. Cancer cells are affected in under an hour while healthy cells only suffer a temporary halt to their life cycles and this returns to normal after 24 hours.

Olives also contain the omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid, present as a triglyceride which, although named after olives, is common in the human diet.  It is released by some types of bees, woodlice and ants to signal that they’re dead – they are then removed by their mates. When a living ant was daubed with oleic acid in an experiment, it was dragged off for disposal as if it were dead. The oleic acid smell also may indicate danger to living insects, prompting them to avoid others who have succumbed to disease or places where predators lurk.

Olives; image from pixabay

Olives; image from pixabay

In many cultures, olive trees and olive oil were considered sacred.  The olive branch was often a symbol of abundance, glory and peace. Moses exempted from military service those who worked on their cultivation, so important were they considered.  Leafy olive branches were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Olive oil was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as burning as the “eternal flame” of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves.

Olive leaf teas were used to lower fevers and, used in poultices, are among the oldest treatments for infections of the skin, cuts and bruises.  The oil is today used in cooking and skincare as a massage oil or in haircare and is a home remedy for hair lice.

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

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #24 Oak

Oak (Quercus robur):

Oak, the remedy for those who are normally strong and brave in character but find their strength beginning to wane, is made by the sun method.

Oak tree; image from pixabay.com

Oak tree; image from pixabay.com

Oak wood has been used in building, furniture-making, to provide charcoal to smelt precious metals and in shipbuilding. Admiral Nelson’s ship HMS Victory was built using an estimated 5,000 oak trees.   When the Armada came to England in 1588, King Philip of Spain ordered that the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire be burned down to destroy the oak trees, to prevent any more shipbuilding. Oak’s attraction to shipbuilders was partly due to the tree’s status in mythology. Connected to the gods Thor and Zeus, it was believed to be a fire and lightening charm and to possess magical as well as intrinsic strength.

British king Charles II was said to have sheltered in an oak tree at Boscobel House after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, to escape his Parliamentary enemies.  In 1660, the date Charles was returned to the throne (29th May) became a public holiday, which was observed as Royal Oak Day and was celebrated until 1859.   On this date, churches, houses and people wore oak and today it is still celebrated as Founder’s Day at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.

The mythical strength of oak translated into some of its traditional uses.  Toothache sufferers sometimes hammered a nail into an oak tree, believing the tree would take away their pain!  ‘Lungs of oak’ were taken by people with tuberculosis or chest complaints – this was actually a lichen, Stricta pulmonaria, which resembled lungs and grew on some types of oak tree.  Couples were often married under oak trees, hoping to absorb the tree’s strength and vitality and the bark of oak trees was used to make love potions.

 

Oak galls; image from pixabay.com

Oak galls; image from pixabay.com

Oak bark contains tannins but these are more abundant in the galls.  Galls form when oak bark wasps lay their eggs on the branches.  When the larvae hatch and begin to feed on the tree, they excrete a substance which irritates the tree and it responds by producing a gall – an abnormal outgrowth of tissue.  The gall provides food and protection to the larvae which exit the gall when they become wasps.  Oak galls are used to produce iron gall ink, which was the most important writing material in the West from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.  Aleppo galls from Quercus infectoria, Aleppo oak, contain the greatest amount of gallotannic acid (over 50%) while galls from the common oak contain about 20%.

Gallotannic acid from the gall is mixed with water to produce gallic acid which is then reacted with vitriol (iron(II) sulphate) to produce the ink.  Gum arabic, from acacia trees, is added as a suspension agent.   The ink is soluble (as Fe2+) and light-coloured but darkens and becomes insoluble by oxidation when it is absorbed by the writing surface, making it permanent.

Iron gall ink was used in the Dead Sea Scrolls, to draft the US constitution, by Rembrandt and van Gogh to draw with and by J.S. Bach to compose.  Although not widely used today, the use of permanent blue-black iron gall ink (Registrars’ Ink) is a requirement in the UK for legal documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, in ships’ logbooks and in clergy rolls.

Acorns; image from pixabay.com

Acorns; image from pixabay.com

The tree’s seeds, or acorns, were a traditional food for pigs and historically were eaten by peasants in times of famine. Oak bark was used to produce a brown dye and the tannins were used to tan leather.  The name of the light brown colour tan or tawny come from the Latin tannum for oak bark.

Medicinally, the bark is used as an astringent e.g. for those suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery or haemorrhoids.   A decoction is used as a gargle for tonsillitis or laryngitis.  Oak galls have the same effects and provide the strongest of all vegetable astringents.

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

Secrets of the Bach Flower Remedy Plants #23 Mustard

Mustard (Sinapis arvensis)

Mustard, the remedy for those who feel depressed for no apparent reason, is made by the boiling method.

Sinapis arvensis (wild mustard or charlock) is often considered to be a weed, growing alongside commercial rapeseed (Brassica napus) crops.   Both are part of the mustard family and contain significant quantities of erucic acid.  This is an omega-9 fatty acid and tests on animals in the 1970s suggested a possible link with the development of heart disease.  As a result, low erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR) or canola was developed.  Although there is no evidence of health problems in humans from dietary ingestion of eruric acid, only up to 5 % erucic acid content is permitted within the EU.

Charlock; image from pixabay.com

Charlock; image from pixabay.com

Lorenzo’s oil is a combination of triglycerol forms of oleic acid and erucic acid from olive oil and rapeseed oil, respectively.  The use of this oil as a treatment for adrenoleucodystrophy (ALD) was popularised by Augusto Odone.  His son, Lorenzo, suffered from the condition, which causes a build-up of very long chain fatty acids in the blood.  This leads to brain damage and usually causes death within two years.

A fictionalised version of the story was made into a Hollywood film in 1992 and the oil was shown as a miracle cure.  However, although it did slow down progression of the disease, the oil was not a cure and patients did eventually die.   Lorenzo died in 2008, aged 30, 24 years after being diagnosed with ALD and given 2 years to live. Although not a cure for patients showing symptoms of ALD, the oil has been shown to delay the disease being developed by people who have the ALD gene.

Charlock has been used as a human and animal food source. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads when young or cooked when older. The seeds can be sprouted and eaten raw to give a hot flavour or ground into a powder and used as a mustard-like food flavouring.   They also produce an edible oil which burns well.

Chemical diagram of sinalbin

Chemical diagram of sinalbin

Charlock contains the toxic compound sinalbin which was first found in the seeds of white mustard (Sinapis alba).  Silanbin reacts with an enzyme myrosinase, also found in the plant, to give 4-hydroxybenzyl isothiocyanate, sometimes known as mustard oil.   This highly unstable and pungent compound degrades quickly (half-life in the stomach is 1-2 hours) to produce gastrodigenin, an almost odourless 4-hydroxybenzyl alcohol and the isothiocyanate ion, which is poisonous.  White mustard seeds are sometimes used to make the condiment known as mustard, but the flavour is much less pungent than that obtained using black mustard seeds (Brassica nigra).

Dried seeds of white mustard have rubefacient properties and were sometimes used to treat digestive disorders and as a laxative, particularly for older people.  However, there is a danger that seeds remain in the intestines where they cause inflammation of the stomach and intestinal canal.  An infusion of the seeds was used to treat rheumatism and bronchitis and a gargle of mustard seed tea was sometimes used to ease a sore throat.

The pungency of black mustard seeds is mainly due to another compound, sinigrin, which is also present in Brussels sprouts and cabbage but not in charlock or white mustard seeds.  Sinigrin reacts with myrosinase to form an oil of mustard which degrades to produce compounds including the highly pungent allyl isothiocyanate.

Compounds produced by the action of myrosinase on sinalbin or sinigrin cause damage to the plant so are present in a safe form.  They only react when the plant is under attack – myrosinase is kept in a separate compartment which only comes into contact with the sinalbin or sinigrin when the cell walls between them are damaged by cutting or chewing (or if the seeds or leaves are crushed).

Mustard seeds; image from pixabay.com

Mustard seeds; image from pixabay.com

A condiment made from mustard was used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.  In the Middle Ages, French monks generated income by selling mustard and Pope John XXII of Avignon (1249 –1334) loved mustard so much that he created the post of “Grand Moutardier du Pape” (Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope).  He gave the job to his nephew who lived near Dijon and this town soon became the mustard making capital of the world.

To prepare mustard, the seeds are crushed, the hulls and bran removed. The remaining powder is mixed with liquids such as vinegar or wine and salt and other spices or flavourings added.

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