Elspeth’s Herbal Part Four

mintcroppedMINT

Mints are aromatic herbs, primarily spreading perennials. Mentha grows best in wet environments and moist soils but is easily grown elsewhere. Because they spread easily, mints are considered invasive.

HISTORY

Egyptians cultivated M. piperita and dried leaves were found in several pyramids. Mint is also recorded in thirteenth century Icelandic Pharmacopoeias

In Rome, Pliny recommended that a wreath of mint was a good thing for students to wear since it was thought to “exhilarate their minds.”  During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth.  It also sweetened the breath.

LEGENDS

According to Greek legend, Minthe was a nymph, and Pluto’s lover. When Pluto’s wife, Persephone found out, in a fit of rage she turned Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto was unable to undo the spell but softened it by giving Minthe a sweet scent which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped upon.

Another tale says that Zeus and Hermes, in the guise of two strangers, were walking through a village, and were snubbed by the villagers who offered them neither food or drink.  Finally, they arrived at the home of an old couple, Philemon and Baucis, who invited them to stay and join them for a meal.  The couple prepared their table, cleaning and refreshing it by rubbing mint leaves across its surface.  Then, they set the table and sat down to dinner with the two strangers.

The two strangers revealed that they were Zeus, the king of the gods, and Hermes, the messenger god.  They punished the villagers by reducing their land to waste, and they richly rewarded Philemon and Baucis by turning their humble home into a temple. Philemon and Baucis became the Greek symbols of hospitality through their kindness to two strangers and their good use of mint to sweeten their table and refresh the air in their humble home.

USES

Peppermint is the mint of choice for medicinal purposes. Traditionally, peppermint essential oil has been used to treat indigestion, headaches, colic, gingivitis, irritable bowel syndrome, spasms and rheumatism.

This volatile and potent essential oil has very diverse uses: Analgesic (topical), anti-inflammatory, antiulcer properties, strengthens nerves, calms upset stomach, aids digestion, dissolves gallstones, eliminates heartburn, inhibits and kills micro-organisms including Staphylococcus aureus. It acts as an anesthetic to stomach wall and normalizes gastrointestinal activity, and as an antipruritic treatment. Mint tea is a diuretic.

Oddly enough, its use is indicated for senility and memory loss as well as physical conditions such as dysmenorrhea, herpes simplex, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer, ulcerative colitis, anxiety, common cold, constipation, fatigue, and migraine headaches. Salves and tinctures containing peppermint are very effective and easily made. Soaps using oil of peppermint are excellent.

MUSHROOM

HISTORY

Middle English musheron, from Anglo-French musherum, musseron, from Late Latin mussirion-, mussirio A mushroom is the conspicuous umbrella-shaped fruiting body (sporophore) of certain fungi.

The term mushroom is used to identify the edible sporophores; the term toadstool is often reserved for inedible or poisonous sporophores. There is, however, no scientific distinction between the two names, and either can be properly applied to any fleshy fungus fruiting structure.

Puffballs, a kind of mushroom, were found in Stone Age settlements. Historical data indicates mushroom cultivation and consumption throughout the ancient Greek and Roman eras.  Asian civilizations have been cultivating mushrooms (specifically the shiitake) for over 2,000 years. The Romans regarded mushrooms as a gift from God and served them only on festive occasions. Hieroglyphs found in Egypt indicate that mushrooms were being consumed with meals  4,500 years ago.

Mushrooms have been used by many cultures throughout time as part of ritual and religion. The toxin psilocybin is found in certain mushrooms, and the use of hallucinogenic fungi has been documented in rituals dating back thousands of years.

Rock art representing mushroom cults in Libya and Algeria date from 7,000 – 9,000 years ago.

LEDGENDS

Mushrooms have long been the subject of great fascination. In medieval Ireland, mushrooms were thought to be umbrellas for leprechauns. The English believed mushrooms should be gathered under a full moon to be edible. And the ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms the sons of gods, sent to earth riding on thunderbolts.

Folk magic uses for mushrooms can be incorporated at a symbolic level, rather than ingestion.

In many areas, the appearance of a ring of mushrooms on the ground is cause for either rejoicing or alarm. In Great Britain, these circles are known as fairy rings – and they are where the Fae come to dance and frolic after a rainstorm. Humans who dare to enter such a ring may find themselves asleep for a hundred years or whisked off to the land of the wee folk, never to return.

In Holland, these rings are believed to be left when the Devil sets down his milk churn – when he picks it up it leaves a circle in the grass.

The red-and-white Fly Agaric mushroom is often used in illustrations of fairy tales with a gnome or a fairy perched on top. Experts believe that the Fly Agaric was used as a hallucinogenic by northern European shamans and religious leaders.

It contains two toxins that reduce the body’s response to fear stimulus. This may explain why the Greeks believed that mushrooms given prior to battle, provided strength for warriors.

There are over 140,000 varieties of mushrooms, with only about 10 percent identified. Today most people think of mushrooms as food, hallucinogens, or cute decorations.

Hallucinogens are divided into three broad categories: psychedelics, dissociative, and deliriants that cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion and consciousness. They induce experiences that are qualitatively different from those of ordinary consciousness and are extremely dangerous.

In China and Japan, mushrooms were associated with longevity and strength – partly because some of the most popular mushrooms that grew there were known for stimulating the immune system. Shiitake and maitake mushrooms have been used in herbal remedies for centuries.  They are delicious as well.

The mushroom with the longest record of medicinal use Ganoderma lucidum, is known in Chinese as líng zhī (“spirit plant”), and in Japanese as mannentake (“10,000-year mushroom”).

You can order a reishi mushroom kit online and grow your own.  They are called “the tree of life” mushroom” in China and “supernatural mushroom” or “Linh chi” in Vietnam.

USES

Mushrooms control cholesterol and anemia, and are an excellent source of iron, they have antitumor properties. The natural antibiotics in mushrooms benefit diabetics.

Mushrooms are a rich source of calcium and can reduce joint pain and general lack of mobility that is associated with bone degradation. They contain vitamin D, which is rare to find in edible form, and Ergothionein a powerful antioxidant which boosts the immune system.

Mushrooms contain natural antibiotics (like penicillin, which itself is extracted from mushrooms), which inhibit microbial growth and other fungal infections. They can also help heal ulcers and ulcerous wounds and protect them from developing infections. Their Potassium content helps control high blood pressure and increases cognitive function to improve memory and knowledge retention.

Mushrooms are excellent for salves because of their natural antibiotic content.

NEEDLED TREES OR EVERGREENS

HISTORY

Evergreens are  very aromatic trees with sticky sap and dark green “needles,” including Firs, Pines and Cedars.

The natural plant constituents in balsam fir oil have historically been prized through the ages for their medicinal effects. The oil can be obtained by maceration or steam-distilled from the tree’s fresh needles.  Pine sap, scraped carefully from the trees, has multiple uses. All pines have edible seeds.

LEGENDS

The Celts used fir as one of nine sacred woods for the sabbat fire. Fir is a symbol of honesty, truth and forthrightness because of the way it grows on the “straight and narrow.”  Grouped together, they are a symbol of friendship. This symbolism is furthered by the fact that firs are evergreens whose needles are a reminder of life-long connections. The fir outlives most other trees, and survives in challenging situations, making it a symbol for resilience, longevity, hope and renewal.

Celts and Druids used pine cones to predict weather conditions, since all cones open in the rays of the sun, and close against impending rain.

Legend says that certain firs marked the graves of great chieftains and heroes among the Celtic people, making it a symbol for reverence and remembrance.

USES

The wonderful fragrance of evergreen trees is present in every part of the tree.  The extracted oil is sometimes called “needle oil.”

The oil can be inhaled to bring alertness to the mind or diluted and applied topically. The essential oil kills airborne germs and bacteria. It is analgesic, antimicrobial, and antiseptic.

The natural plant constituents in evergreen essential oils have been prized through the ages medicinal properties.

For respiratory support, simply inhale the scent of the oil, which is often included in cough and cold remedies as an expectorant. Applied in a salve, it treats aching joints, as well as wounds.

The rn is highly anti-microbial and can be applied directly to wounds, cuts, cold sores, blisters, etc. to aid healing. Use internally as tincture to fight respiratory infections or colds. Applied as a chest rub, it soothes gently

Collect pine sap from wounds in the trees.  Never take it all, the tree is protecting its own wound so leave it a covering of its “bandage.” Cover the sap with 198 proof alcohol in a tightly-lidded jar.  Label and date. It will be ready to use, in 5-10 drops doses, in six to eight weeks.

A mixture of pine sap and honey is made by cooking the two ingredients together until they merge. Drop on waxed paper to cool and use as lozenges for coughs.

Bark from a pine sapling can be used as an emergency stabilization cast for broken  Remember not to ring the tree.

NUTMEG

HISTORY

Nutmeg is not one spice, but two. Mace is also derived from the nutmeg fruit. Botanically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree originated in Banda, the largest of the Molucca spice islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg is the dried seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped, while mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or aril of the seed.

In the first century A.D., Roman author Pliny speaks of a tree bearing nuts with two flavors.

In the sixth century, nutmegs were brought by Arab merchants to Constantinople. In the fourteenth century, half a kilogram of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep or a cow.

Nutmegs were in demand for their use as medicine. In the 1500s, when the “Spice Wars” were taking place between the Portuguese and the Dutch and later the Dutch and the English, one of the most desired spices was nutmeg. Nutmeg was highly touted as a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in London in 1603.

The Dutch waged a bloody war to control nutmeg production in the East Indies and held control of the spice islands until World War II.

At the height of its value in Europe, nutmeg was carried around by both men and women as a demonstration of wealth. Diners would take out personal tiny graters and grate  nutmeg over their food when they ate.

LEGENDS

The Malays believe that nutmeg trees will not bear unless they can hear the sea and the trees must be fed with animal food. The beliefs are corroborated by the fact that trees grown near the sea and fed with animal food do produce the finest fruits.

USE

Nutmeg has been used in medicine since at least the seventh century. In the 19th century it was used as an abortifacient, which led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning.

It is a hallucinogenic drug, somewhat like marijuana. and therefore, a major drug problem in prisons because it is so easily obtained.

In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response, but in larger doses, raw nutmeg has psychoactive effects.

In its freshly ground (from whole nutmegs) form, nutmeg contains myristicin, a psychoactive substance. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain.  It is also reputed to be a strong deliriant. Nutmeg intoxication takes several hours before maximum effect is reached. Effects and after-effects can last for days.

Death can occur with the ingestion of one to three nutmegs.

In 1829, the Czech physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkinje ingested three ground nutmegs with a glass of wine and recorded headaches, nausea, hallucinations and a sense of euphoria that lasted for several days. In 1883 a report from Mumbai notes that “the Hindus of West India take nutmeg as an intoxicant”, and records that the spice has been used for centuries as a form of snuff in rural eastern Indonesia and India.

Externally, the essential oil is used for rheumatic pain and, like clove oil, can be applied as an emergency treatment to dull toothache. In France, it is given in drop doses in honey for digestive upsets and for bad breath.

Nutmeg and mace spice contain many plant-derived chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties. The active principles in nutmeg have therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, digestive, and carminative functions. In small quantities, nutmeg improves appetite and digestion.

It is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, gas, colic, nausea, vomiting, impotence, premature ejaculation, muscle spasms, and insomnia. In traditional medicine, nutmeg and nutmeg oil are used for disorders related to the nervous and digestive systems.

Nutmeg oil is analgesic, astringent, an aid to digestion, and a muscle relaxant. It is often used in combination with peppermint and cloves and is the active ingredient in several commercial cough and congestion preparations and herbal pain reliving ointments.

It is delicious sprinkled on eggnog and custard pie.

ONIONS 

HISTORY

The onion (Allium cepa) (Latin ‘cepa’ = onion), also known as the bulb onion or common onion, is used as a vegetable and is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium.  The onion has been cultivated for 5000 years or more. Onions grew wild and they were consumed and domesticated for thousands of years.

They were less perishable than other foods of the time, transportable, easy to grow, and could be grown in a variety of soils and climates. They prevented thirst and could be dried and preserved for later consumption.  Their origin is a mystery, but documents from ancient times describe their use in medicine, and mummification

The Romans ate onions regularly and carried them when they traveled. Pliny the Elder wrote of Pompeii’s onions and cabbages. Pliny catalogued the Roman beliefs about the efficacy of the onion to cure vision, induce sleep, and heal mouth sores, dog bites, toothaches, dysentery, and lumbago.

Descorides, a Greek physician in first century A.D., noted medicinal uses of onions. The Greeks used onions to fortify athletes for the Olympic Games. Before competition, athletes would consume pounds of onions, drink onion juice, and rub onions on their bodies.

In India as early as the sixth century B.C., the famous medical treatise Charaka Sanhita celebrates the onion as medicine, a diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints.

Ancient Egyptian leaders took an oath of office with their right hand on an onion.

LEGENDS

The onion was an ancient symbol of eternity because of the concentric circles that it contains. For this reason, Russian and other orthodox churches are designed with onion domes, a bulb-shaped dome with a pointy top.

Turkish legend has it that when Satan was cast out of heaven, garlic sprouted where he placed his left foot, an onion where he placed his right foot.

Countless folk remedies ascribe curative powers to onions: An onion under the pillow is thought to fight off insomnia; and chewing a raw onion sterilizes the mouth and wards off colds and sore throat. During World War II, Russian soldiers applied onions to battle wounds as an antiseptic.  So, with garlic, onions have always been valued.

USES-

Men eat 40 percent more onions than women, so cook with lots of onions to make your man happy.

Onions have strong antiseptic qualities, and their juice has been used for cleansing and healing wounds for centuries. In ancient India they were used as a diuretic, in China for liver disease, constipation and wound healing.

Onions lower blood glucose, blood pressure, overall cholesterol, and dissolve blood clots and help prevent cancer. The raw bulb is said to improve eyesight.

PAPYRUS

HISTORY

The Papyrus plant of Egypt is often overlooked yet much of life in Lower Egypt was based on the papyrus plant. It was used to make mats, sandals, rafts, and writing material; it fueled fires, was eaten and its flowers collected and offered to the gods.

Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt and Southern Sudan as far back as the fourth millennium BCE. Norman’s Gorean rence descriptions tally closely with those of the Earth plant. Reed rafts and, small floating islands were also constructed from reeds.

Papyrus as food was mentioned by Herodotus, who said the annual plant was collected and the lower part eaten. The starch filled rhizomes were consumed raw or roasted.

The Roman historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote, circa 60-30 BC, that children were served stews along with raw, roasted, boiled, or baked, stalks of the plant.

Pliny the Elder tells us that the root was a food for the peasant classes. He also noted that it was used as chewing gum both in the raw and boiled states.

LEGENDS

When Midas had his ears transformed into donkey’s ears, he concealed the fact and his barber was sworn to secrecy. However, the barber could not contain himself and rather than confiding in another human, he spoke the secret into a hole in the ground. The reeds that grew in that place then repeated the secret in whispers.

Moses was “drawn out of the water” where his mother had placed him in a reed basket to save him from the death that had been decreed by the Pharaoh against the firstborn of all of the children of Israel in Egypt” (Exodus 2:10. The plant concerned may have been papyrus, which is still used for making boats. The papyrus was a natural symbol of life itself and the primeval marsh from which all life came.

USES-

There are numerous documented medical uses for papyrus. Dried papyrus was used for expanding and drying fistulae and as an aid to open an abscess for the application of medicine.

Burnt papyrus ash was a caustic remedy. Dioscorides (AD 78) in the last century AD wrote that the ash cures mouth ulcers from spreading. The ash was also used for diseases of the eye and if added to wine induces sleep. The plant itself with water was known to cure skin calluses.

The leaves are used in the treatment of bronchitis and cholera, the ash of the leaves is styptic and applied to foul sores. A decoction of the flowers is used in the treatment of cholera and food poisoning.

The stem is antidote, antiemetic, antipyretic and refrigerant, which means it can be used to control vomiting, reduce fevers, as do ibuprofen and aspirin, and as a topical anesthesia.

The root is antiasthmatic, antipyretic, antitussive, depurative, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, and stomachic. It is taken internally in the treatment of diarrhea, fevers, vomiting, coughs with thick dark phlegm, lung abscesses, urinary tract infections and food poisoning.

PEAS

HISTORY

Peas are a commonly green, occasionally purple or golden yellow, pod-shaped vegetable, widely grown as a cool season vegetable crop.

The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the late Neolithic era of current Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC. Archaeologists have found peas in ancient tombs and records and drawings that describe peas.

Hippocrates treated anaemia, obesity, heart disease and thyroid cancer with peas

LEGENDS

A fairy boy found that he could use peas, which were then a sickly white color, and a reed to make a “Pea Shooter” and proceeded to shoot at other fairy children.  Soon tiring of that, he was foolish enough to take his pea shooter to school and could not resist shooting at his fairy teacher.

She punished him by taking his toy and giving him the task of painting all the peas in the world green.  He was almost done when someone asked if the peas inside the pod were also green.  He went back to check the first ones, and found they were still white, so he had to begin again. The Queen of the Fairies took pity on him and turned all the peas green for him.

USES

Peas are known to be an ideal food for those suffering from coronary heart disease. They are very rich in B complex vitamins which are necessary for the proper function of the heart, and contain potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and folates in high amounts.  They are used to treat diabetes, nervous system disorders, insomnia, and depression.

Peas are recommended for pregnant women because folates help prevent fetal nervous system malformations. Peas are excellent for lactating mothers due to its richness in proteins, minerals and vitamins, which are all required for the proper well-being of a child.

There are no topical applications of merit.

I hope you enjoy adding this to your own herbal.  Be safe and happy.

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