Chamomile – one of Natures (and Herbalists) Little Helpers

Many people these days know the reputation of Chamomilla recutita (chamomile) tea to help relax the body and mind. Chamomile tea bags are commonplace now on all supermarket shelves. Whilst chamomile does indeed have calming, relaxing and gentle sedative properties it is a herb with many more uses too.

At this time of year chamomile is particularly helpful. It has immune stimulating properties and is anti-inflammatory so can often be useful in combination with other herbs for both strengthening the immune system against hayfever and helping with the symptoms.

Chamomile is a slightly bitter herb which helps stimulate normal digestion, it is also carminative due to the essential oil it contains. Both these properties make chamomile an ideal choice if you have had a tummy bug or indigestion after a heavy meal.

Medical Herbalists may use chamomile in combination with other herbs in eczema. Eczema is often associated with the body getting too hot and chamomile helps cool and calm thus addressing the root cause. Chamomile can also be applied topically to hot, itchy skin conditions – creams and bathing herbs are an ideal way to reduce inflammation and relieve itchiness. Chamomile has topically moisturising and healing properties too!

Because chamomile also helps reduce feelings of nausea it can be useful for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. Experiment drinking it hot, lukewarm or cold to see which you prefer. Make sure, however, that you brew the tea with a lid on the pot or a saucer on top of the cup to help preserve the essential oil.

As a Medical Herbalist I often get asked about ideas to help young babies sleep – we have to be so careful what we give our young ones! Chamomile is a lovely gentle herb for children. Try making a strong infusion of organic chamomile then adding to the baby’s bath to relax them before bedtime. If a mother is breastfeeding then drinking plenty of chamomile tea will ensure it will come through the breast milk and help relax baby too. The added carminative properties may also help with any digestive upsets in baby too. Once children are old enough to drink things other than milk try introducing weak chamomile tea. If started early then most babies will take to the taste of herbs – a bit different to trying to get a fussy five year old to suddenly try herbal tea!! Speaking of digestive upsets in babies, and fussy five year olds do please consult a qualified Medical Herbalist if you need help, its always worth speaking to an expert if you’re not sure.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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Rose – more than just a symbol of love?

February, and Valentines Day in particular are long renowned for romance, affection and love, often symbolised to our beloveds by the giving of roses! Roses are fine looking flowers, full of beauty, colour and fragrance brightening our senses, hearts, minds and countryside!  The Rose, however, is much more than that and is commonly used by modern day Medical Herbalists continuing age old traditional use for its medicinal virtues.

Mrs. Grieve, writing in the early 20th Century tells us how the rose was likely first cultivated in Northern Persia (now Iran) and there is written account in surviving ancient Anglo-Saxon medical manuscripts detailing the rose being using for some conditions it is still employed for today. It was known in days gone by as a traditional “cordial” a term which then described a pleasant tasting and cheerful drink, reviving to the heart. Nowadays there are many thousand varieties of rose, cultivated for their appearance and aroma, although it is thought that Rosa gallica officinalis and Rosa centifolia are the main source for todays medicinal varieties. The wild, or dog rose, Rosa canina also has a valued use in Herbal Medicine practise today.

So, what can you do at home to make use of the very special rose? First and foremost when using any plant material you need to make sure that your source is 100% reliable, if your plant identification is not brilliant (and believe you me you wont be alone!) then its best to buy rose preparations from a reputable outlet for medicinal herbs. There are more and more cropping up on our high streets, others online; some run by Medical Herbalists, others not. If you are unsure of the best place to source quality herbs contact a qualified Medical Herbalist who will be only too happy to point you in the right direction. It is also vitally important to point out that if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or receiving medicine from your doctor, you should seek advice before taking herbs.

The simplest way to try rose would be to make an infusion (herbal tea), steep a teaspoon of dried petals in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, strain and then drink hot or cold. Ideally keep a lid on during infusion to prevent those lovely fragrant essential oils from evaporating off. Rose petals are astringent and anti-inflammatory so may help with mouth and throat disorders especially as they have local anaesthetic properties too. Digestive problems can also benefit, the astringency helps stabilise excess stomach acidity, tones the tissues of the gut and may help balance the flora that live there. Give rose a try for children’s diarrhoea – perhaps mixing the infusion with some of their regular drink until they get used to the taste!

Rose petals are also mildly sedative, have an uplifting effect, and are considered as a cooling tonic for the mind in Ayurvedic medicine. Because of its restorative effects to the nervous system in general, try a cup of rose tea when you are having a frazzled day – we all get plenty of those nowadays! It also makes a nice warm bedtime drink, with not a sniff of stimulating caffeine in sight. In my Herbal Medicine Practise I might consider using loose rose petals or tincture as part of a prescription of herbs, traditionally it’s seen as a sweet and cooling remedy and I might use this if I felt someone was suffering from hot emotions such as sadness, grief and anger.

The rosehips from Rosa canina are also a really useful medicine. They are a fabulously rich source of vitamin C, and also contain vitamins A, B1, B2 and K. It wasn’t too long ago that most households had a bottle of rose-hip syrup put by in their cupboard – it was highly regarded (and even rationed) during wartime Britain to support the immune systems of our children. Rose-hips also have diuretic properties and may help prevent kidney and gallstone formation and can help maintain healthy collagen in the body (important for holding tissues together) making it a remedy useful for all ages! You can make a decoction by simmering rose-hip shells for 20-30 minutes on the hob before drinking with a teaspoon of honey.  Use about a teaspoon per mug of water. Otherwise, if you want something to keep really handy why not try making your own Rose-hip Syrup…

  1. Put 125g dried rosehip shells into a litre of water in a heavy based pan with tight fitting lid. Bring to the boil, cover, and turn down to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Next, allow to cool then strain liquid into another pan pressing the rose-hips against the sieve with a spoon to make sure all the goodness is extracted. Discard the used rose-hips.
  3. Simmer the remaining liquid very gently without the lid until its reduced to around 200mls then add 450g of sugar or honey, keep stirring and simmer until a syrup consistency is reached. Don’t overdo this stage as it will become too thick. Put the bottle into a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge.

Typically an average adult could take up to 10 teaspoons of this syrup daily.

So, on Valentines Day this year, when your loved one presents you with a single red rose (or a beautiful fragrant bunch if you’re very lucky), give a thought to all the other uses for natures own Symbol of Love.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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