How perfect when the garden provides you with a crop of medicinal herbs. Herbs that you didn’t have to raise from seed, or plant, or forage for. Just wonderful gifts from nature. Today I’ve been harvesting such gifts from the garden – Pilewort, Nettles and Cleavers.
Pilewort, also known as Lesser celandine, offers one of the first splashes of colour after our long winter, with it’s beautiful yellow star-like flowers. It’s leaves are satisfyingly glossy, and comically heart shaped. They often form sumptuous patches on forest floors, by streams, or indeed in the garden. As you might be able to tell from those shiny yellow flowers, Pilewort is a member of the buttercup family, but unlike all the other Buttercups growing here, they’re actually safe for us to use (although I only use Pilewort externally).
In many herbals you’ll find that it’s the root of Pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria) that’s recommended, but I actually use all parts of the plant. The roots are the richest source of active constituents, with tannins, anemonin and protoanemonin, and some saponins. This makes for a toning, astringent (and I find, mildly anti-inflammatory) remedy. The roots are also comically shaped. The doctrine of signatures notes that they resemble the piles for which they’re a renowned remedy, but I think they look like little potatoes freshly pulled from the soil. As far as roots go, they’re not too much bother to clean up, and I process them using sharp scissors. With this small harvest I’m making a cold infusion, covering the chopped plant material with oil and will allow it to sit for a number of weeks before straining. This oil can then be used simply as an external oil or made into an ointment with beeswax. I use my Pilewort infused oil externally on haemorrhoids (piles) and varicose veins.
The garden where we are currently staying has also provided a lovely crop of young Nettles and Cleavers which I’ve harvested and popped in the dehydrator. These dried herbs can then be used in teas, or could be made into a tincture later. These two make a lovely coupling for a Spring tonic infusion, Nettles with their deeply nutritive, strengthening, bioavailable vitamins and minerals and a gently clearing diuretic action, and Cleavers with their phenomenal lymphatic affinity. They make for a very “kind” drink to give your body, whether you’re fighting fit or in need of some care and attention.
Nettles (Urtica dioica) exude the most gorgeous, intensely “green” aroma when they’re drying in the dehydrator. You can almost smell the iron, and it is indeed a lovely herb to give as an infusion for someone looking to overcome anaemia (and when this is contributed to by heavy periods, Nettle’s astringent action helps to manage excessive bleeds). It’s nutritional punch helps whenever a nutritional imbalance needs to be addressed in fact. Herbalists use Nettles to help those will allergies, and with pollen season upon us, Hay fever sufferers may find Nettle’s anti-histamine action very useful! Nettle contains constituents such as quercetin that help to reduce the release of histamine by mast cells, thereby calming the inflammatory response seen in an allergic reaction.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) are considered a superior tonic for the lymphatic system. This system serves to keep the spaces that surround our cells and tissues clear and toxin free, and it also contributes to the smooth functioning of the immune system. Known as a lymphatic, a diuretic, an alterative and an anti-inflammatory, Herbalists use it to help clear lymphoedema and boggy tissues, to support the immune system and to help with that clearing-cleaning-cleansing action of the lymphatic system – something that is helpful whenever we face an infection, an injury or when out body is dealing with an increased toxic load. Herbalists use Cleavers when the lymph nodes are swollen, especially in cases of tonsillitis, and to help manage a wide variety of skin issues. It’s ability to promote lymphatic function makes it an incredibly valuable and versatile member of our Materia medica. It’s my first port of call when I start to feel a little run down and under the weather, with it’s cooling, purifying taste and action always incredibly welcome.
So, three lovely garden freebies that can be added to my dispensary, plants that are commonly pulled up as weeds and end up on the compost heap!