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!)

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.