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!


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.

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?
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.