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Jun 132018
 

ForagingDeanne Greenwood Medical Herbalist in her herb garden

This is my favourite time of year with regard to all things herbal. For the next few months I will be very busy indeed, with all the lush medicinal plants that are sprouting up everywhere in a glorious and wild profusion of colour and aroma.

When the plants are in their optimum state for harvesting, and the weather conditions are right, I’ll be off gathering what I need to create potent herbal tinctures.

Hot, sunny mornings

Typically, I’ll be waiting for a hot sunny day, which will first take the morning dew off the plants, and then bring the therapeutic saps and oils to the surface of the leaves and flowers. I try to get out late morning, before the day gets too hot and the plants, and I, start to wilt a little.

Elder flowersElderflower is a popular hay fever remedy

Recently, I’ve gathered fluffy heads of elder flowers and spread some of them out to dry on racks above the boiler in my boot room. The heady scent they give off is quite intoxicating – especially when I first open the boot room door in the morning. I’ll use the resultant dried plant, mixed with similarly dried peppermint and yarrow, to make a herbal tea which is the absolute best for colds and flu as it makes you sweat, as well as having lots of other therapeutic properties.

I am also macerating some of the elder flower heads in diluted organic grain alcohol to make a tincture (takes about two weeks) that I often use for prophylactic treatment of hay fever – mixed with other herbs, such as eyebright and nettle.

My fingers were stained nicotine yellow after harvesting the elder – not a good look for a health practitioner!

Nettle

The nettle – gathered when it was heavy with seed heads, is also currently in maceration.

Sage & Rosemary

From the allotment, I’ve harvested pungent sage – bravely fending off the fat bumblebees that were buzzing all round the purple flowers on the sage and didn’t take kindly to me chopping down their nectar supply – and rosemary, of which I have several large bushes.

My fingers and nails this time were engrained with a thick layer of brown and green oils. (At this time of year, I often have to explain to patients that my disgusting looking nails are not the result of having just done an oil change!)

St John’s wort

Next on the agenda is St John’s wort, which is said to flower on June 24th – St John’s Day, hence the name. Today (June 13th) the rather large bush in my garden has one fully opened flower, and many buds, so I’m hoping it will be in full flower pretty much bang on target!

Lemon balm, Meadowsweet & Yarrow

And so many more still to do – lemon balm, meadowsweet and yarrow being a few of my favourites.

Healing energy

It is such a rewarding practice, because the herbal medicines I prepare myself are always the very best, most potent in my dispensary. You can smell and taste the vibrancy and healing energy in them.

Spirit of Plants and People

That is not to say the herbal medicines I buy in from accredited suppliers in other parts of the country, who also grow many of their own plants, aren’t of the highest quality and therapeutic efficacy – it’s just that I feel home-prepared have the edge. Partly because the sole herbalist is better able to harvest at the absolute optimum time, but mainly because, I believe, the spirit of the person who picks and prepares medicinal plants infuses into the plant and gives the medicine an extra power and energy.

Hence always gathering and preparing herbal medicines with respect, love and gratitude.

Jul 142017
 

By Deanne Greenwood, Medical Herbalist, BSc (Hons) Herb Med

Gymnema sylvestre is a plant that helps balance blood sugar levels

Gymnema sylvestre is a medicinal plant that actually anaesthetises the taste buds in the mouth, reducing sugar cravings and helping balance blood sugar levels

Herbal medicine can help you lose weight and stay slim. But it’s not a magic bullet. It works in conjunction with a healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle.

Efficient metabolism of food

In herbal medicine there are many medicinal plants, aka herbs, used to optimise gut function. These herbs help us digest and metabolise food efficiently, and to excrete toxins and other unwanted matter so that they don’t accumulate in the body, making us feel bloated and sluggish. They do this by stimulating the flow and correct balance of gastric juices, helping to regulate bowel movements, urine output and blood sugar levels, and by supporting the immune system – 80 per cent of which is in our gut!

All this has the knock-on effect of making us feel great, full of energy and enthusiasm – which makes it a lot easier to take regular exercise and adopt a new eating regime.

The ‘feel-good’ factor

There are herbs we use to help balance our emotional and psychological state, clear the skin, ease aches and pains, help us sleep, all of which boost our emotional wellbeing – the ‘feel-good’ factor – which gives us added incentive to look after and love our bodies.

When we’re feeling low, this affects our physical health; when we’re feeling happy and enthusiastic, our physical wellbeing is boosted. Mind and body are inextricably linked.

Successful dieting

Anyone who has been on a diet or to a slimming club will know that if you see the recommended changes in diet and lifestyle as a hardship, something that makes you feel miserable, you’re unlikely to achieve your aim; but when you embrace these changes as an enjoyable way of eating and living your life, the desired effects are easier to achieve and maintain.

A holistic approach

Herbal medicine is ‘holistic’. That is, it supports the whole body to achieve optimum health. If you have a consultation with a herbalist, he or she is likely to give you a ‘tonic’ made up of a combination of herbs that will help your body rebalance and energise itself on a physical and emotional level.

You are unique

Herbal medicine also works on an individual basis. To be most effective, you need herbs based on your particular body type, your unique physical and emotional state. We are all different.

The power of herbs

Herbal medicine may not be a magic bullet, but make no mistake, it has very powerful, and scientifically proven, actions.

For more information about herbal medicine, visit www.deannegreenwood.com

May 042017
 

Three-cornered leeks are delicious in salads and cooking.Wild foraging

I do loads of foraging for medicinal plants to make herbal remedies, but also to add to salads and use in cooking. Yesterday, I’d run out of garlic, so dug up some Three-cornered Leeks, which are all over The Lizard (southernmost point of England) at the moment, used the bulbs in my cooking and the lovely white flowers to decorate (and munch on because they’re as tasty as they are pretty). Another favourite to add a lemony zest to salads is sorrel – the young leaves are particularly succulent in the Spring.

Urban foraging

You don’t have to live in a rural area to forage, though. This week, there was a wonderful photo feature in the online Guardian about foraging courses being run in different parts of the country, including urban areas such as London! It turns out one of the joint course leaders, Alex Laird, is a medical herbalist I did work experience with at The Haven Breast Cancer Care centre, when I was a student. She is an amazing teacher and guide. So if you fancy doing a bit of foraging, I’d encourage you to check out this Guardian feature here and/or visit the Foraging Courses website here .

Apr 232017
 

Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood gets cross about HRTHOW EXCITED I was to discover that there was going to be a documentary style programme about menopause on prime time TV, led by notable journalist and current affairs broadcaster Kirsty Wark. HOW DISAPPOINTED I was to discover that the programme was little more than an acknowledgement that the menopause is something all women go through, that it isn’t talked about enough, and that your best option for managing the symptoms is probably HRT unless you want to try wearing a little magnet in your knickers.

Menopausal symptoms

It neither explored why women experience the many varied symptoms that they do, or why some suffer far more symptoms, of widely differing intensity, than others (there is a lot more to it than simply a drop in oestrogen levels!), or what they can do about it. Apart from taking HRT or inserting a magnet into their knickers. I’m not knocking said magnet, by the way, as it is something I have no experience of and my feeling is that if the woman who talked about it in the programme found it helpful, and that her hot flushes were reduced, and she didn’t feel the need to take HRT, then it can only be a good thing. But I am knocking the fact that this was the only alternative to HRT mentioned in the programme.

Herbs for menopause

What about herbal medicine, for example, for which there is considerable supporting scientific evidence, not to mention female personal experience, to vouch for it. Or what an incredible difference diet and lifestyle changes can make. It was mentioned almost in passing – as the programme participants baked and scoffed an array of cakes and pastries – that a healthy diet was helpful. No mention of the damage refined sugar and saturated fat can do to our hormonal system, stress levels, BMI etc, though. And it was stressed that smoking and excess alcohol were bad. But there is so much more to be said (an understatement if ever there was one!). Starting with ‘What is a healthy diet?’ It’s astounding how many patients I see who believe they have one, but when we take a close look, it is not that healthy at all. It may be healthier than the diets of other people they know, but it is a long way from optimum nutrition.

Phyto-oestrogens

When it comes to diet and menopause, it’s important to consider, for example, foods containing substances called phyto-oestrogens, which can help reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats, vaginal dryness and low bone density. Phyto-oestrogens are found in soy products, legumes (beans, peas & lentils), nuts, seeds (particularly flaxseed), grains, berries and other fruits. And to be aware that the body’s response to hormones is controlled by prostaglandins, which are derived from essential fatty acids found in oily fish, seeds and seed oils such as flaxseed and extra virgin olive oil.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes – one of the most common symptoms complained about by perimenopausal women – were discussed in Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me a lot, joint pain and osteoporosis, mood swings, sexual problems and insomnia were touched on. Specific dietary and lifestyle approaches can make a huge difference to all these complaints, especially when combined with herbal remedies.

Black cohosh

Herbal medicine works on an individual basis, because we are all different and we all experience symptoms and health problems for different reasons, warranting a bespoke mix of different herbs. To mention a few: Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) often works particularly well in helping to relieve hot flushes and night sweats, and also helps maintain bone mineral density and protect against osteoporosis; Chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus) is a renowned hormone balancer, but can also influence melatonin levels and sleep patterns. There are many other herbs with similar properties and effects, and the key to success is finding the right herb, or usually combination of herbs, for the individual.

Anxiety and insomnia

Medicinal plants have scientifically proven therapeutic properties and actions, btw. We have herbs that are anti-hydrotics and so can help alleviate hot flushes; sedatives to help with anxiety and insomnia; stimulants to boost energy levels; herbs to help maintain bone density and strength, boost memory and concentration. There are also herbs that make excellent tonics for mucous membranes and are used in ointments, creams and pessaries to help lubricate and plump up vaginal tissue… The list goes on.

Natural HRT

And there are herbs that contain the aforementioned phyto-oestrogens found in many common foodstuffs, which act on the oestrogen receptors in our bodies. They are sometimes referred to as the natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Menopause Matters

I was disappointed that Dr Heather Currie, chair of the British Menopause Society and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in Scotland, didn’t stress the importance of diet and lifestyle issues. Although she is an advocate of HRT, as the editor of the Menopause Matters website and magazine she regularly features articles on natural approaches to managing menopause, and has run one written by me about herbal medicine.

HRT benefits

It was a pity that the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), in the short and long term, weren’t examined in more depth, or an alternative viewpoint to its use provided. The Women’s Health Initiative – a series of clinical trials and observational study looking at HRT and involving over 160,000 post-menopausal women – was quickly dismissed and we were told that the current view is that the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks, for most women. (I agree that this may be the case for women who have had an early or ‘unnatural’ menopause, by the way.)

HRT risks

Our hormones don’t need replacing, they need balancing. And I am quite sure that HRT will eventually prove to be a big and very harmful mistake. I have followed all the arguments over the years for and against the safety of HRT, with past ‘evidence’ being contradicted, and new ‘evidence’ being brought to light, and feel strongly that nobody really knows the truth. Yet.

Natural menopause

If, as the Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me programme agreed, menopause is a natural and normal process, then why seek to subvert it? Trying to change the course of nature invariably leads to problems. Much better to work with nature, harness and feel rejuvenated by its power.

If you’d like to find out more about this ‘alternative’ viewpoint, please visit www.naturalhelpformenopause.uk

Oct 032016
 

There are lots of herbs and spices that you’ll find growing in the wild, or in your kitchens, that make fast and effective remedies for coughs, colds and flu. They all, variously, have potent antibiotic, antiviral and antiseptic properties, and promote sweating (which is the body’s way of reducing temperature and fever). They’re soothing, comforting and taste good, too!

Ginger, lemon and honeylemons are placed with vitamin C

The classic herbal cold and flu remedy. It’s best to use fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale), chopped or grated (you don’t have to peel) and freshly squeezed lemon juice (Citrus limon). Make a tea with the ginger and leave to infuse for at least ten minutes before straining and adding honey and lemon juice. The stronger the better, but make to taste – the idea is to enjoy it!

liquorice, cloves and cinnamon add warmth to herbal teasCinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), clove (Syzgium aromaticum) and cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)

Lovely warming spices that are so comforting when you are feeling cold and shivery. They stimulate circulation, warming you right down to the tips of your fingers and toes. Add to your infusion, as above.

Thyme and lemon balm

These are my favourite herbal teas to help relieve the muscular aches and pains you can get with colds and flu. I grow them in the garden, harvesting and drying in the summer. Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) helps too, and blends well with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

Inhaling the vapours of aromatic herbal infusions is part of the healing and comforting process, by the way!

You can also add strong infusions (use about 25g dried herb) of thyme and rosemary to a bath to help relieve aching muscles and soothe the senses.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

The antiseptic and astringent properties of these garden herbs make them ideal for sore throats and infections. Use the cooled teas as a gargle. Thyme works well, too.

GarlicGarlic is a potent antimicrobial remedy

If you can bear it, garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the best herbal remedies for colds and flu. Its antimicrobial properties are unsurpassed. The best way to take it is to squeeze through a garlic press, or pound in a pestle and mortar, mix with honey (ideally local and organic), and eat it. Smelling it on your breath indicates that it has passed through your lungs, confirming its deep, penetrative action.

And finally, look after yourself…

Drink plenty of fluids such as herbal teas, and juices and smoothies made with antioxidant-packed berries. Cut out dairy products, as they are so mucous-forming. Keep warm. Rest as much as possible. And trust in the healing powers of nature and the body’s innate ability to heal itself, given the right support!

For more advice, take a look at the following blogs, which you can find by scrolling down the side panel entitled Herbal Ramblings Posts.

  •  ‘A soothing herbal remedy for coughs and sore throats’ : Make your own cough ‘n’ cold linctus using fresh elderberries and kitchen spices.
  • ‘Echinacea and the immune system’: Does it really work?
May 142016
 

dandelion flowerdandelion leaves are an incredible natural diureticI have just harvested and tinctured my first herb of the year: the humble dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale folia). And I have a lovely tale to tell of one of my patients, last year, whose quality of life was transformed, in days, by this plant.

Swollen ankles

She is an 84-year-old woman, who came to see me with a number of health complaints, including “swollen legs”. Her legs, feet and ankles had retained so much fluid that she couldn’t get her shoes and boots on. She also had so much fluid retention around her midriff that she had difficulty bending down, which was particularly distressing for her as she loves gardening.

Feeling bloated

“I feel bloated and stout,” she said. “Puffed up and massively uncomfortable.” She was very indignant about her GP, who had told her that, at her age, she must expect her legs to swell a little during the summer months.

Instant ‘weight’ loss

My most immediate aim was to ease her discomfort, so I packed her first herbal prescription with dandelion leaf tincture. She emailed me three days later, saying: “The swelling in my legs and ankles is considerably reduced. Hooray and thank you!”

In just one week from when she started the dandelion leaf tincture, she had lost 4lbs in weight/retained fluid.

Medication review

Together we went on to resolve her other health problems over the next few months. Which, incidentally, involved having her conventional medication reviewed and changed. The rapid relief from her oedema, through using herbal medicine, gave her the fortitude to insist that her GP conduct this review. She was fed up with being given the brush-off, especially once she knew there was a simple, and effective, alternative.

Natural diuretic

I always ensure my dispensary is well stocked with dandelion leaf (and root, actually, but that’s another story). It has many other therapeutic uses, as well as being a natural and potent diuretic.

Water tablets

One of the side effects of conventional diuretics (so-called “water tablets”), by the way, is that the body leaches potassium due to increased urination. This can be very dangerous, as potassium is vital for organ function, including the heart. Dandelion also increases urination, but neatly avoids the potassium loss crisis because its leaves are packed with potassium – so any loss is simply, and naturally, counteracted/replaced.

Take a bow, you little beauty!

May 112016
 

As a herbalist, I am passionate about protecting and nurturing plants, many of which have medicinal properties. Bees are essential to this, and I have been an avid supporter of the drive to ban bee-harming pesticides by the likes of Friends of the Earth. Bee on echinacea

This has resulted in the EU ‘restricting’ the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides because of the risk to the bees. Courtesy of Friends of the Earth, I’m delighted to spread the word that, despite the National Farmers Union predicting that the ban would cause major problems for growing oilseed rape, last year’s figures reveal that rapeseed yields were actually higher than in 2014.

This totally supports the call for a permanent ban on these pesticides. Which is why it’s important that everyone who cares about and appreciates the value of bees, buzzes their local MP to support a total ban on bee-harming pesticides. It’s really easy to do: just go to bit.ly/neonicban. Pleeezzz……

 Posted by at 9:52 pm
Apr 072016
 

The menopause is a sea of changeAs I’ve been doing so many talks and workshops about the menopause recently, and helping an increasing number of women through this natural transition in their lives, I’ve decided to dedicate a whole website to…The Menopause.

You don’t need HRT

The idea is that women can use this website to learn more about what’s going on in their bodies, and find useful information about how they can help themselves move through the perimenopause using diet, lifestyle changes and herbal remedies. It’s also aimed at women looking for help withdrawing from HRT.

Please refer anyone you think might be interested in taking a natural approach to the menopause, to my www.naturalhelpformenopause.uk website.