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Sep 262015
 

Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood in search of the opium poppyMany people are surprised to learn that some herbs/medicinal plants have powerful analgesic effects. That is, pain-killing properties. They associate herbal medicine with a gentle and subtle approach, which is indeed correct. But gentle and subtle can also be powerful.

The strongest pharmaceutical painkiller is morphine. Morphine, along with many other opiate-based analgesic drugs, is derived from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) . Aspirin (Salix alba), another well-known and powerful anti-inflammatory and painkiller, was also originally synthesized from a plant – the bark of the willow tree. We still use the latter in herbal medicine, and it is renowned as a safe and efficacious painkiller. There are many others: Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina); St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, which is particularly good for nerve pain); Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium, best known for headache and migraine relief); Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens, a popular remedy for arthritis); and Corydalis (Corydalis species, commonly used for menstrual pain). There are others that can be highly toxic and are restricted to use by herbalists, including Yellow jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Thorn apple (Datura stranomium); Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus); Arnica (Arnica Montana) and even deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

Selecting the most appropriate herb for the job, by ascertaining the nature of the pain – muscle spasm, nerve pain, damaged tissue or bones, for example – the cause of the pain and the patient’s personal, individual profile, is paramount for maximum efficacy. As is selecting the right dosage. Some of these herbs may legally only be prescribed by a qualified medical herbalist under Section 20 Part 2 of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidelines.

Apr 252015
 

Why sleep is so importantPassion flower is a popular herbal remedy for insomnia. It combines particularly well with Valerian. Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood prepares many of her own herbal remedies at her home on the Lizard in Cornwall, for use in her practices in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance.

Insomnia means difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, resulting in feeling tired and low in energy the following day. It’s a common problem in the doctor’s surgery and the herbalist’s clinic. And it’s a serious problem. There is a lot of research showing that not getting enough sleep can seriously affect our general health. It reduces immune function so that we become more susceptible to infection and other health problems, and less able to fight back and recover from ill health.

One study, conducted in 2009, found that people who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to catch a nasally introduced rhinovirus (ie a cold) than those who slept for eight hours or more.

What causes insomnia?

The herbal approach to insomnia is the same as with any other health disorder: find, and resolve, the underlying cause of the problem.

There are many possible causes, of a physical and/or emotional nature, of insomnia, including pain, disease, depression and bereavement. Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications can cause insomnia, and dietary and lifestyle issues are often factors.

How herbs can help

Once a herbalist has pinpointed the underlying factors and started to help alleviate them, the insomnia will often naturally resolve as a result. If additional help is required, there are many herbs that can be used on a symptomatic basis. These might be included in the herbal mixture prescribed for the underlying complaint, or prepared as a separate night mix, to be taken before bed. The aim would be for the patient to use this in the short term, but a sleep mix is sometimes required on an ongoing basis if the cause of the insomnia cannot be fully alleviated. For example, in the case of physical pain and longterm, chronic illness.

Popular herbal sleep aids

In my practice, the herbs I most commonly use, because I find them extremely effective for a wide range of people with differing underlying reasons for their insomnia, are valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa). (Valerian is the most researched and scientifically validated herbal sleep aid, but it does not work for everyone – occasionally, in certain individuals, it stimulates rather than relaxes!) I prescribe these herbs as very strong liquid tinctures (as opposed to the very dilute solutions contained in many ‘sleep aids’ for insomnia you can buy over the counter). Where there is pain, I might use herbs that also have a strong analgesic effect, such as Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina) and yellow jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens). (NB: the latter is toxic in relatively low doses and may only be prescribed by a qualified medical herbalist.)

These tinctures have the added advantage of being non-habit-forming and not producing any ‘morning hangover’ effect.

Diet and lifestyle

Here are just a few diet and lifestyle factors that can cause or contribute to insomnia:

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Medication such as beta blockers, thyroid preparations, antidepressants and oral contraceptives.
  • ‘Recreational’ drugs.
  • Obesity (resulting in snoring and breathing difficulties such as sleep apnea, for example).
  • Stress.
  • Lack of exercise.

 Helping yourself

Self-help tips for relieving insomnia:

  • Drink herbal teas with relaxing and sedative properties an hour or two before bed.

Choose from German chamomile, lavender, lime flower, passion flower and lemon balm, or experiment with different mixes to find what works best for you. It’s important to buy good quality dried herbs from a reputable supplier for maximum medicinal effect. Go to a herbalist, or a reputable health store that sells loose dried herbs. The look and smell of the herbs (as well as the taste, once you’ve brewed up) are all good indicators of quality. 

Always leave your tea to stand for at least ten minutes before drinking, to fully activate its medicinal properties.

  • Use herbal essential oils to help you unwind and relax before bed.

Chamomile, lavender, rose otto, ylang ylang, neroli and sandalwood all have relaxing and/or sedative properties. You can use them in a bath or a burner, or ask someone to give you a massage with a few drops of your chosen oil diluted in a tablespoon of carrier oil such as sweet almond. You could also put a few drops on a tissue or ball of cotton wool and place inside your pillow case – the warmth of your body will help to release the aroma.

  • Learn to meditate, and practice before going to bed. Or spend a few minutes doing deep breathing exercises.

A Buddhist meditation called The Mindfulness of Breathing is very easy to learn and, I find, very effective at calming mind, body and spirit before bed. You just sit or lie down comfortably in a quiet place, or in bed, and breathe in and out slowly and deeply a few times. Concentrate on what you’re doing. Breathe in through your nose, and imagine that breath travelling deep down into your lungs. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Count each breath, up to ten, silently to yourself, on the out-breath. Then start at one again. If you find thoughts coming into your mind and your attention drifting, just acknowledge, and release, those thoughts, and return to focusing on the breath, starting at one again.

 (This is a simplified version of the Buddhist Mindfulness of Breathing technique. If you have the opportunity to go to a Buddhist centre and learn properly, I highly recommend it. It is a fantastic, life-enhancing tool and can be used to improve your health and wellbeing in so many ways.)

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about how herbal medicine works, please take a look at my About Herbal Medicine page.

Feb 152015
 

Deanne Greenwood presenting her free talk about herbal medicine which was held at the Lizard National Trust education room in Poltesco Cornwall. Deanne practices in Helston, Falmouth and Penzance in Cornwall and SkypeBig thanks to everyone who came along to my talk about herbal medicine yesterday, in the National Trust Education Room in Poltesco. It was a good turnout, and I was so pleased that so many local people attended. I hope to do more later on in the year. If you’re interested, please keep an eye on local noticeboards and Facebook pages, and on the Penrose National Trust and Lizard National Trust Facebook pages for details. Or you could subscribe to my blog on my website, and then you’ll be notified via that!

Jan 242015
 

Hay fever seasonNettles (Urtica dioica) have antihistamine properties and are often used in herbal medicine for the prevention and relief of hay fever and other allergies. Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood prepares many of her own herbal remedies at her home on the Lizard in Cornwall, for use in her practices in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance.

Depending on which particular plant pollen you are allergic to, you may already be dreading the start of the hay fever season. People who are allergic to tree pollen can start experiencing symptoms as early as February (usually lasting through to June). Grass pollen is released from May to July, and weed pollen spans April to September. Some particularly sensitive individuals may be allergic to all or a combination of plants, meaning that they can suffer for many months. People who are allergic to mould (a big problem in Cornwall, where I live and practice) may suffer symptoms all year round, although peak season is September and October.

Hay fever symptoms

People who suffer from hay fever often only seek treatment when they start experiencing symptoms, which include streaming and itchy nose, throat and eyes, or blocked nose and sinuses, fatigue, headache, poor sleep and low mood. Prior to the onset of symptoms, they tend to take an optimistic ‘wait-and-see’ approach: it might not be as bad this year. And sometimes it isn’t. But when it is as bad as ever, or worse, there is little to be done apart from treat the symptoms (and stay indoors).

Side effects

Herbal medicine can help relieve and manage the symptoms of hay fever and alleviate the need to take conventional medication which can have side effects and lead to other health problems. When you see a qualified, experienced herbalist, the underlying cause of hay fever, ie why you react adversely to substances that other people cope perfectly well with, will also be addressed, the aim being to reduce your sensitivity and therefore your allergic reaction.

Desensitise your body

A more effective strategy  is to seek herbal help before the hay fever season starts and you start experiencing symptoms. Using a personalised approach and herbs chosen specifically for you, a herbalist can help rebalance, strengthen and, in effect, desensitise your body, reducing and hopefully preventing a reaction to the substances it was previously sensitive to. A herbalist will take into consideration any other allergies or sensitivities you may have. Allergies tend to have a cumulative effect, so the more substances you are sensitive to, the more you are likely to become sensitive to, or the more severe your symptoms may become, as your body becomes more and more stressed and weakened, and less able to cope.

Anti-histamine herbs

There is a wide choice of herbs to choose from, including those with antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic (anti-itching) properties, and it is the skill of the herbalist that determines which herbs are best suited to you.

Natural vaccines

I believe that using local plants is particularly beneficial, in the same way that many people find eating local honey helps alleviate their symptoms. The theory is that the local bees are feeding off the same pollens to which your are allergic, so their honey has an immunomodulatory effect. In other words, it acts like a natural vaccine.

Herbs for hay fever

I harvest my own herbs, and prepare my own tinctures for use when treating people for hay fever and other allergies. I live on The Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where much of the land is organic, and the medicinal plants and herbs I harvest here are rich, strong and vibrant, and have an almost tangible energy. Those that commonly feature in remedies for hay fever include nettle, plantain, elderflower and eyebright.

Pre-hay fever season

The sooner someone with hay fever seeks herbal help, the better. Ideally, I like to see patients 2-3 months before ‘their’ hay fever season starts. That way, we can strengthen and rebalance all the body systems, including the immune system, so that it recognises, and stops overreacting to, natural substances.

Find out more about herbal medicine

If you’d like to find out more about how herbal medicine works, please take a look at my About Herbal Medicine page.

Dec 122014
 

The health of the nation!White willow (Salix alba) is a renowned herbal anti-inflammatory and painkiller used in herbal medicine. It is a herb medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood often uses in her practices in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance in Cornwall.

The Health Survey for England published this week revealed that almost half the population is taking some form of prescribed medication, ie I in 2 people. This doesn’t include over-the-counter medication such as painkillers, laxatives, sleeping tablets and antacids, and the contraceptive pill. Imagine what the figure would be if it did! Also, more than a fifth of men and nearly a quarter of women are taking at least three prescriptions.

Multi prescriptions

Earlier this week a neighbour told me that her father had just returned home after a brief stay in hospital. He’d become increasingly incapacitated, physically and mentally, she explained, and so the hospital had decided to withdraw all his medication (a very long list!) to try to get to the bottom of it. He was soon feeling a lot better, and the conclusion was that it had been the medication that had been making him ill.

Statins and painkillers

None of this comes as any surprise to me. Nor will it to any herbalist or holistic practitioner, I would imagine. We see so many patients who have been on a catalogue of drugs for many years – statins, anti-inflammatories, painkillers, antihypertensives, thyroid medication and antidepressants are common – often including medication to relieve the side effects of other medication they are taking.

Alternative approaches

These patients often feel that their prescribed medication is not helping, and sometimes is making them feel worse, and they are looking for an alternative approach to dealing with their health problems.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine, coupled with quite simple and straightforward dietary and lifestyle advice, can help. Sometimes it can go all the way, and help people resolve their health problems so that they no longer need to take medication. In other instances, it can help reduce a person’s reliance on prescription drugs, so that they are able to take fewer and lower dosage drugs, and hugely improve their state of health and quality of life. It also helps people take control of their own health and lives, instead of just trotting down to the pharmacy clutching their repeat prescription.

Willow v aspirin

In herbal medicine there are thousands of plants with many different therapeutic properties and actions, including anti-inflammatories, anti-hypertensives, antidepressants and analgesics. But each and every one of them contains a myriad of other constituents, too, that all work together to support the body as a whole and help it heal. Without causing other problems. For example, White willow (Salix alba) is a renowned herbal anti-inflammatory and analgesic. (See About Herbal Medicine for more information.) In fact, aspirin was originally synthesised from willow. But by extracting the active constituent of the plant, salicylic acid, and creating a chemical version known as acetylsalicylic acid, some of the healing power of the plant was lost. Hence, perhaps, the fact that aspirin can have rather unpleasant side effects such as internal bleeding and stomach ulcers, whereas taking the original herbal version does not.

Hormonal help

There are also many plants that can help rebalance hormones and relieve gynaecological problems such as PMS, fertility and conception issues, PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, menopausal symptoms. I believe that the contraceptive pill/implant is often at the root of, and also a contributory factor in, many of these health problems, as well as others such as some autoimmune disorders. Stopping using hormonal contraception is usually helpful, but often not enough to resolve the problem, and a natural approach incorporating herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle factors is needed to bring this finely tuned body system back into balance and optimum function.

The cost of mass medication

Going back to the Health Survey for England, the cost of all these prescriptions for last year alone was over £15 billion. Who benefits? The drug manufacturers, big fat global conglomerate businesses…

 

Nov 222014
 

Poor circulationMany herbal remedies, including horse chestnut, can help relieve varicose veins, and cold hands and feet that are part of Raynaud’s phenomenon. Deanne Greenwood, a medical herbalist who practices in Cornwall but also offers consultations by telephone and Skype, suggests a few home remedies, as well as explaining how herbal medicine can help at a deeper level.

It’s that time of year when the symptoms of circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and Raynaud’s syndrome can flare up. I see a lot of patients with throbbing veins in their legs, and hands and feet that are blue and numb with cold. Often, they have these symptoms, in a milder form, all year round – they just notice them more once winter comes around.

Home remedies

So here’s a bit of self-help advice, as well as info on how herbal medicine can help with regard to the bigger picture, ie, identifying and treating the cause of these symptoms.

Varicose veins

Last winter, a 60-year-old woman came to see me with varicose veins that she’d lived with for 35 years, since her first pregnancy. They were always more painful in the winter, and particularly bad since she had started working in an office with central heating. Her legs throbbed, ached and itched.

Weak veins

I explained that varicose veins are a circulatory disorder resulting from weakened veins and valves, and the blood pooling, rather than flowing through, the veins. Standing or sitting for long periods often make this worse, so avoiding this will obviously help. Regularly sitting with legs raised up can also help relieve the symptoms of varicose veins.

Herbal help

There are a number of herbal remedies that can help tighten and tone the veins, and boost blood circulation, thereby easing the discomfort.

Witch hazel

The first is distilled witch hazel, a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory that you can buy in pharmacies. Gently stroking it over the veins, using a piece of muslin or cotton wool, cools and tightens the veins and can bring instant relief.

Calendula cream

You can use infusions of yarrow or calendula (aka marigold), both of which have the same astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, in the same way and for the same effect. (Make a tea with the dried herb, allow to cool, strain and chill in the fridge.) Or try a soothing witch hazel or calendula cream.

Horse chestnut

For longterm relief, which will include improving venous tone and blood circulation, you’ll need to see a medical herbalist for an internal remedy that will be formulated specifically for you. One herb I find very effective for internal use, in many cases, is horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). I make my own potent horse chestnut tincture from the freshest organic horse chestnut seeds, collected as they fall and processed immediately. This will be combined with other herbs according to individual requirements.

Bilberry

Another one is bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), which contains a compound called anthocyanosides which help strengthen blood vessel walls.

Raynaud’s phenomenon

I may also use horse chestnut and bilberry in formulas for Raynaud’s phenomenon – a circulatory problem in which the small arteries that supply blood to the hands and feet narrow, causing cold and numbness, followed by burning and pain as they warm up. Other useful herbs for Raynaud’s include Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), ginger (Zingiber officianale) and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), which are all fantastic circulatory stimulants.

Herbal supplements

It’s not simply a case of taking one of these herbs as a supplement, though. Herbal medicine is far more complex than that. To be really effective, especially when being used for longterm, chronic health problems, herbs need to be carefully selected and combined with other plants to suit the individual person. Everyone has different constitutions, susceptibilities and responses.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about how herbal medicine works, please take a look at my About Herbal Medicine page. For more general information about Raynaud’s phenomenon go to www.raynauds.org.uk/raynauds/raynauds.

Nov 062014
 

A holistic approach to breast cancer  Ginger, chilli and garlic are all used in herbal medicine to support the immune system, boost circulation and reduce inflammation, among other things. Deanne Greenwood is a medical herbalist practicing in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance in Cornwall, and also offering consultations by telephone, Skype and FaceTime.

I’ve been moved to write this blog after recently meeting yet another woman with breast cancer and a distressing tale to tell about the management of her illness.

Chemotherapy

She had just come to the end of a grueling course of chemotherapy, with repeated bouts of nausea and vomiting, and loss of hair and eyebrows. Nobody had talked to her about these side effects pre-treatment… nobody had talked to her husband and children about what might happen and how to cope….

Radiotherapy

She is now about to start radiotherapy, and unsure what to expect this time… She thought perhaps she should have done some research about breast cancer treatment and how to look after herself in between and afterwards, but she just hasn’t felt strong enough, physically and emotionally….

Support during breast cancer treatment and recovery

I’ve heard similar tales from other women with breast cancer who have come to see me in the past 12 months. One had had a mastectomy and been ‘signed off’ post surgery with a cheery “see you in six months’ time for your check up”. Not even any dietary and lifestyle advice provided…

Diet and lifestyle

As this young woman was being discharged, she asked if there was anything she should be doing, and was told to just relax and enjoy herself, do whatever made her feel good. As she pointed out to me, her way of relaxing and enjoying herself could have been going to the pub and getting drunk as a coot every night… Luckily she’s not a big drinker. Nor is she a fan of junk and fast food… but she doesn’t know what the best diet for keeping her healthy is either, or what else she could do that might help prevent a recurrence of this devastating illness.

Herbal medicine and breast cancer

Apart from life-enhancing dietary and lifestyle advice, there is so much more holistic therapies can offer women with breast cancer. Under the care of a qualified and experienced herbal practitioner, herbal medicine can safely be used during treatment for breast cancer and the recovery period, helping to relieve symptoms such as nausea & vomiting, hot flushes, skin rashes, constipation, poor appetite & digestion, insomnia and anxiety. For example:

Ginger

There is good scientific evidence, (including a large study conducted by The National Cancer Institute in the US), that ginger can significantly reduce nausea and vomiting experienced during chemotherapy. (Nausea and vomiting is experienced in about 70% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.)

Black cohosh

Another herb, called Black cohosh, has been the subject of a lot of research recently, revealing that it can help reduce the side effects of breast cancer medication such as Tamoxifen, including menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, and reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. One 11-year retrospective study suggested that Black cohosh was more effective than Tamoxifen at reducing breast cancer recurrence.

Herbs, scientific research and breast cancer

There are many other herbs that have traditionally been used to support the immune (including lymphatic) system and help reduce metastatic spread; optimise liver and bowel function to encourage detoxification and processing of oestrogen (particularly important for ER+ breast cancer); improve digestive function for nutrient absorption, support the nervous system to boost mood and sleep, etc… There is supporting scientific evidence for many of these actions, but for me, traditional use and knowledge of herbal medicine passed down through the ages, plus personal experience of using and working with herbs and people, is more important!

The power of self-healing

Also, just want to say, the body is capable of healing itself (referred to as ‘spontaneous remission’ in conventional medicine!) given the right support and environment. Our bodies produce, and destroy, cancer cells every single day. Sometimes they lose control of this finely tuned process. The operative words here are ‘finely tuned’. Herbal medicine is a gentle and safe way to support the body and nudge it back into self-management mode.

More information about herbal medicine and breast cancer

If you are considering using herbal medicine to help you through breast cancer, please seek professional help from a qualified and insured medical herbalist. To find one in your area, contact the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy at www.phytotherapists.org, or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists at www.nimh.org.uk. I am happy to provide more information and can be contacted by email at deannegreenwood@me.com.

The Haven breast cancer support

For general holistic advice for women with breast cancer, including emotional/psychological and physical support, I recommend visiting The Haven breast cancer support website at www.thehaven.org.uk

Oct 312014
 

An apple a day…Whole apples and cloudy apple juice can reduce total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, a study conducted last year has revealed. Other foods that can help include turmeric, globe artichoke and garlic, all of which are used in tincture and tablet form in herbal medicine.

Eating apples, or drinking cloudy apple juice (full of fibre and antioxidants), has been shown to significantly reduce both LDL (aka ‘bad’) cholesterol and Total Cholesterol levels in a study (randomized, single-blind, cross-over) conducted last year. Clear apple juice (much lower amounts of fibre and antioxidants) resulted in an increase in LDL and Total Cholesterol.

Garlic, artichoke and turmeric…

Other foods that are great for helping manage cholesterol levels include garlic, globe artichoke and turmeric. I also use them in tincture or tablet form as part of a herbal medicine prescription. And there are so many other herbs that can help problems associated with high cholesterol such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

For more information…

If you’re worried about your cholesterol and would like to find out more about how herbal medicine can help, please get in touch with me.