Jul 092019
 
So just for a change, I thought I’d write about an extremely poisonous plant growing in my garden.

Monkshood

This deceptively beautiful plant is called monkshood (Aconitum napellus). Also known as wolfsbane, devil’s helmet, queen of poisons – and aconite. The poison is concentrated in the root. It’s a potent and fast-acting neurotoxin and cardiotoxin, so symptoms (prior to death!) include blurred vision, tremors and seizures, cardiac arrest – that sort of thing. It’s said to have been used by many ancient civilisations and tribes, from the Romans to tribes in China, Japan and India, often to poison the tips of spears and arrows. The name wolfsbane is said to originate from it being used to kill wolves.  

Murder!

There are many tales of it poisoning people. However, according to The Poison Garden website, the only well-established case of murder with aconite was in 1881 when a doctor poisoned his brother-in-law. But there have been a few documented cases of accidental death and murder from ingesting it in the 21st century!

Aconite cream

Aconite, as it is best known to herbalists and homeopaths, does have therapeutic properties. It may be used externally, in a cream or ointment, for painful conditions such as rheumatism, sciatica and neuralgia. It’s safe to take orally in homeopathic form (homeopathic tinctures and tablets contain only a ‘memory’ of a substance).  When using it as a cream, certain precautions need to be taken, like not using it on broken skin.

Wildflower garden

I only cultivate monkshood because it is such a stunning plant, you’ll be pleased to know – as you can see in the photo. This year, I have planted wildflower seed all around it, and can’t wait to see what other colours are going to pop up around it. (I’ll post photos when they do!)
Oct 282015
 
Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst, ‘Lullaby, the Seasons Spring’ (detail), 2002

I love this Damien Hirst print. I could easily create my own with the amount of medication some of my patients are taking when they first come to see me. A large number of them are experiencing symptoms caused by these drugs. This is mainly medication prescribed by doctors, but also includes drugs bought over the counter, such as painkillers and antacids.

Read the label

Sometimes the patient is aware that their symptoms are, or may be, caused by the side effects of medication, but often they are not. And I’d just like to say here that it’s important to read the list of potential side effects, and contraindications with other medication and health complaints, that accompanies any medication you are prescribed. Doctors don’t always give you all, or even some, of this information.

Polypharmacy

Just to complicate matters, some of the patients’ symptoms may stem from medication prescribed to help counter the side effects of the first lot of medication prescribed. It’s part of a syndrome known as ‘polypharmacy’, aka, ‘over-prescribing’ (my definition).

Recent research has revealed that approximately two-thirds of the drugs given to polypharmacy patients can safely be stopped, with no ill effects. In fact, often with very positive effects. There was a great article in the New Statesman in October last year, called ‘The old lady was taking lots of pills – and then she got confused’… Kind of sums it all up.

Statins, painkillers, anti-inflammatories….

Some of the commonly prescribed drugs that my patients have problems with include a whole range of antidepressants, statins, blood pressure and heart medication, thyroid meds, asthma medication, HRT and the contraceptive pill, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and steroids. Specifically, a few names that spring to mind because I hear them so often, are Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, Levothyroxine, Carbimazole, Propranolol, Tamsulosin, Finasteride, Tranexamic acid, Alendronic acid, Clopidogrel, Atenolol…. to name but a very few.

A natural approach to side effects

What I help people to do, is work out which meds may be causing problems for them, and look at ways to help them either stop, or reduce, that medication, using herbal medicine – medicinal plants – as an alternative and/or support while withdrawing from medication. At the same time, I will be trying to find the underlying cause of their health problem, and using herbal medicine, dietary and lifestyle advice to help them resolve it naturally, without any further damage to their health. At the very least, I aim to reduce the amount of medication they are taking, improve symptoms and quality of life, by supporting the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

Oct 252015
 

CalendulaAs the clocks went back today, I thought this gorgeous picture of preserved Marigolds (Calendula officinalis), that have all the colour and warmth and vibrancy of sunshine, might cheer everybody up a bit. I grew masses of marigolds in our organic vegetable garden this year (they attract beneficial insects and deter pests), then harvested, preserved and made healing remedies from them.

Medicinal properties of calendula

Calendula is an incredibly potent medicinal plant, with many uses in herbal medicine. I steep the flowers in oil on a sunny windowsill, strain and use the resulting calendula-infused oil in creams and ointments to help relieve a wide range of skin complaints. Calendula has antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, and soothes and heals everything from cuts and grazes, to red, angry and itchy conditions including allergies, eczema, sunburn, varicose veins and haemorrhoids, fungal infections like athlete’s foot, and viral infections such as cold sores. It also features in a powerful medicinal mouthwash I mix up for patients with gum infections and mouth ulcers, that works like magic.

Herbal detox

I also make tinctures, of differing strengths, from Calendula flowers, for internal use. Calendula is one of the great detoxifying herbs, supporting and strengthening the immune system, in particular the lymphatic system. It features in remedies for so many health problems, including inflammatory disorders of the digestive system, such as gastritis, and gastric and duodenal ulcers, and systemic skin disorders such as eczema and acne. There is a lot of scientific evidence behind its use in supporting people with cancer and aiding recovery from conventional cancer treatments.

Eyesight

And finally, some traditional herbal texts claim that just gazing at these radiant, deep orange flowers strengthens the eyesight. (Although this is slightly belied by the fact that I have spent many months and years visually drinking them in, and am extremely shortsighted!)

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.

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…