Wednesday, 21 November 2012

10 Warming and Healing Uses for Ginger in Chilly November

It’s the time of the year when we get winter colds and the cooler weather can make our aches and pains worse. Ginger is such a warming and comforting herb, I associate it with this time of year and my Yorkshire gran’s ginger bread loaves, Christmas time with dad's crystallised ginger and warming foot baths. I thought I’d take a look at it’s different uses, in fact I thought it won’t take long to come up with 10 bullet points and as usual I found myself getting further involved…

Ginger Root (from

1.       Aids digestion – Ginger is a great herb for digestion. It aids in the digestion of fatty foods so I’m not surprised that we eat it at times of festivity when we eat a rich diet.
It is also carminative; helps with flatulence: the volatile oils in ginger relax the stomach and stimulate peristalsis (the wavelike motion of food through the gut) thereby supporting digestion and reducing gas
2.       Helps to reduce high blood pressure – Ginger’s warming quality improves and stimulates circulation and relaxes the muscles surrounding blood vessels, facilitating the flow of blood throughout the body.amritaveda
3.       Aids nausea and morning sickness – Ginger has been widely shown to prevent as well as treat motion sickness, relax the stomach and relieve the feeling of nausea amritaveda. Chew on ginger, preferably tossed in a little honey Food Matters.
4.       Lowers LDL cholesterol – Studies show ginger can lower cholesterol absorption in the blood and liver. Its extract can help reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body, reducing the risk of developing heart disease amritaveda. A study published in 2008 in the Saudi Medical Journal showed patients with high cholesterol who took 3 grams of ginger a day had significantly lowered cholesterol levels in just 45 days Vegetarian Times.
5.       Relieves sinus, nose and throat congestion – try warming ginger tea Food Matters
6.       In Ayurvedic texts it’s an aphrodisiac – can heat up your bedroom!
7.       Joint pain – Ginger is anti-inflammatory, add it to your bath tub Food Matters. Ginger in an oil or balm can be rubbed on areas such as joints and muscles that ache.
8.       Prevents blood clots - Ginger interferes with the long sequence of events necessary for blood clots to form. This helps to prevent clots that can lodge in narrowed coronary arteries and set off a heart attack. Something called thromboxane synthesis initiates clot formation and ginger inhibits this process. Ginger also inhibits the clumping together of platelets in the blood NStar.
9.       An immune system booster – ginger is considered to be a hot spice, meaning that it has a warming effect on the human body. Consuming ginger causes the body to sweat. The sweat glands produce a compound which, in turn, protects the skin from infection and we get the term “to sweat out” a cold Planet Save.You could also try a ginger foot bath, warming on a cold wintry day and the soles of our feet can absorb so much.
10.   Contains Gingerol – the active ingredient that reduces pain with its anti-inflammatory effect is also thought to be anti-microbial and anti-viral Vegetarian Times.Ginger is also a rubefacient and when applied to the skin, it stimulates and dilates the blood capillaries, increasing circulation.

How to take your ginger?
Surely the nicest way is to take it in our food. Lots of Asian and Caribbean recipes contain good amounts of ginger. Europeans are good at ginger in biscuits and puddings, so perhaps to be taken more in moderation this way.

Remember to have gingerbread in moderation! (

More medicinal ways include:

For colds: ginger tea and a hot ginger bath at the first sign of a cold.
 Ginger tea is made by simmering about an inch (2.5cm) ginger in 2 cups of water for about 10 minutes, strain and drink.
The ginger bath is made by putting 4 tablespoons of ginger powder in a piece of cloth or old sock and running the bath water over it. Have a 20 minute soak, and even better – drink your ginger tea in your ginger bath! (Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, 2010, Kitchen Medicine).

Peeled ginger

For boils
A poultice can be made from equal parts of ginger powder and flour made into a paste with water and placed over the boil, cling film can be put over to hold it in place and a hot water bottle over the top will help thing come along more speedily (Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, 2010).

A chest poultice moves mucus from the lungs, helping respiration and increasing circulation, it also increases sweating (Matthew Wood, 2008, The Earthwise Herbal).

In labour
Fresh ginger tea sweetened with honey or maple syrup to help maintain strength and contractions and give immediate blood sugar (Matthew Wood, 2008).

Cold extremities
Foot or hand bath using ginger tea.

Sore or cramped muscles
Ginger infused oil or salve rubbed onto the area.

Double infused oil:
You will need a double boiler pan (Bain Marie), vegetable oil such as sunflower oil, chopped up ginger roots, a sieve, and a jar.
·         Your double boiler has water boiling in the bottom pan and your ingredients go in the top pan. Put half of your ginger in the top pan and cover it with your chosen vegetable oil.
·         Wait 2 hours
·         Strain off the oil from the ginger, keep the oil.
·         Put the other half of the ginger in the pan and cover with the same oil. Your ginger has been used once, the oil twice.
·         Wait another 2 hours
·         Strain off the oil from the ginger, put it into a jar and label
·         You now have a double infused oil
Use this oil as a muscle rub or on aching, inflamed joints. Massage onto cold hands and feet to help warmth and circulation. Try different variations such as adding chillies to your ginger and make it chilli and ginger oil. If you know how to use essential oils safely then perhaps you could add some oils to your cooled ginger oil.

Making a ginger salve:
You need your double infused ginger oil, beeswax and a double boiler (or Pyrex bowl over pan of hot water).

·         Put your oil in the double boiler or Pyrex bowl.

·         Add beeswax. Beeswax makes the mixture solidify; the more beeswax used, the firmed your salve will be. Six parts oil to 1 part wax makes a soft salve that you can easily poke your fingers into, four parts oil to 1 part wax makes a very firm salve. More than six parts oil makes a very squidgy salve that you can easily scoop out.

·         Pour it into your jar and let it set.

·         Label the jar, I have learnt that even if you think you have the memory of the proverbial elephant you do not remember what is in which jar!

A salve creates a less messy way to apply the oil with its ginger properties.
Make your salve with any oil you have made, or even a plain vegetable oil salve to make a lip salve, just put it in a little jar.

Pots of salve made at one of Sarah Head's workshops

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Herbal Life

It’s been eight months since my last post. I've had a busy year with trying to establish a new business, holding down a full time job and family commitments. After managing to accumulate quite a few partly completed herb assignments I've arranged with Sarah to repeat this year’s work in 2013.
It doesn't mean herbs have been out of my life or mind, I am still using my remedies and have made some of my own simples and have noticed herbs throughout the year wherever I've been.
In June we attended the annual dinner of the Knights of the Fellowship of the Round Table at the wonderful Halls of King Arthur in Tintagel. The main hall contains beautiful stained glass displaying the story of Arthur and the virtues of a knight. In the corridor I came across a window depicting rosemary for remembrance, especially apt at this time of year. The plant was used at the Halls to remember those that had passed.
Rosemary window
A sprig of rosemary was placed on the round table as a symbol of remembrance for members who had died

In the summer we enjoyed a F**k It week on the island of Stromboli with John Parkin and his wife Gaia. Nothing rude! We did meditation & qui gong and learned to relax on the side a live volcano with the sea lapping in front of us. It’s highly recommended. Wild fennel grows in abundance along the path to that climbs the volcano, I loved walking along and running my hands through it to smell the aroma. A lot of herbs smell stronger in the sun, but my fennel in my garden smells really strong when it is raining.

When we got home there was St John’s Wort growing rampant over the garden path, I quickly chopped it back. I usually just take the flowers to make oil but as I was in a hurry I put the flowering tops in and it has still turned a dark red colour. I usually use olive oil but I have heard Sarah say she uses sunflower oil and it is a sunny yellow midsummer plant so I have tried it.
Mr Moon Gazing Hare has had a problem shoulder so I have used Meadowsweet oil with essential oils including plai oil for natural pain relief along with gentle massage.
I went to a talk on Aromatology last weekend, where certain essential oils are used in large doses and internally by highly trained therapists. The speaker gave us some Roman Chamomile to rub on our cheeks and you could taste it very quickly. Eucalyptus Smithii applied in the crook of your arm can also be tasted soon after. I had previously heard of rubbing garlic on the sole of your foot and being able to taste that soon after. The speaker made a valid point about being careful what we put on our skin when it can be absorbed into the body that quickly.
Although life is hectic it is never boring, I have a book to review before it is released next week and I have been asked to write a magazine article that I am excited about.
It won't be so long until I post again!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Herbs For Men

Review the structure and function of the male genitalia looking at prostate, penis, scrotum, and general plumbing. What herbs would you use to support prostate health in later life and general fertility?
The main prostate problem encountered by men in later life is Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) where the prostate becomes enlarged so I have looked at herbs for this problem.  Fertility problems can be due to many reasons, I have focused mainly on sperm production and quality and erectile dysfunction which can also have many causes.
Structure and Function of Male Genitalia

The male reproductive organs and urinary tract are interlinked.

 For reproduction sperm are produced in the testes inside the scrotum. The scrotum hangs down so as to be slightly cooler than body temperature as is required form sperm production. Sperm travel up a tube called the Vas Deferens to the urethra. Surrounding the urethra is the prostate gland that produces the fluid semen for the sperm to travel in; it is usually about the size of a walnut. The sperm are ejaculated through the penis via the urethra.

 Urine is produced by the kidneys and is stored in the bladder until the urge to pass urine is felt. The urine is also passed through the penis via the urethra.

 Later in life the prostate gland tends to enlarge, although it is part of the reproductive system causes problems with urination due to its location. After 40 testosterone declines and other hormones such as prolactin increase which leads to an increase in dihydrotesterone which is responsible for prostate overgrowth. Non-cancerous enlargement in older gentlemen is known as Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH). As it surrounds the urethra it can cause it to  narrow and can give the following symptoms:

·         Difficulty in starting to urinate
·         Not being able to urinate (that needs urgent medical attention)
·         Weak flow of urine
·         Dribbling after urinating
·         Incomplete emptying of the bladder – the man may not be aware that this is happening but bacteria can live in the urine so not emptying the bladder properly can cause a urinary tract infection, in bad cases it backs up to cause kidney infections.
·         Incontinence
·         Frequency of urination during the night
·         Pain on urination
·         Raised urea in the blood can lead to confusion if kidneys are affected.

Conventional medicine can offer medication to improve urine flow such as Tamsulosin or to shrink the prostate such as Finasteride; antibiotics for infections; surgery in severe cases so as to widen the urethra again and if someone is unable to pass urine, a urinary catheter could be required for a time.

Ryan Drum says that before herbs are used, life style needs to be looked at such as posture, excessive sitting, constipation, abdominal fat, irritating cola drinks and spices in the diet. He finds that softer stools, increasing water intake and walking at least 2 miles a day often relieves symptoms.

Herbs to Support Prostate Health in Later Life

Burdock (Arctium spp.)
Burdock is used to relieve an enlarged prostate. In Matthew Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom he says that burdock “acts strongly on the prostate”, it goes to the core and permanently cures. He finds it better than Saw Palmetto which palliates and he sees as a “fad herb for this complaint”.

Couch Grass
Julie Bruton Seal & Matthew Seal call couch grass a “urinary formula all in one herb” for cystitis, enlarged prostate, kidney stones, prostatitis and irritable bladder”.

Gravel Root
The action of Gravel Root on the male sexual system is not well documented but Wood has used it with good effect.

Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense)
Horsetail can be used to help with issues of prostate enlargement in a syrup or a tea.

Liquorice (Glycrrhiza glabra)
Liquorice prevents conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.

Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Nettle root slows down the growth of the prostate, it is said to increase the volume of urine passed and reduce nocturia. The German Commission E endorses nettle root for BPH.

Pellitory of the Wall (Parietaria Judacia syn. P. Diffusa, P. Officinalis)
A tea of Pellitory of the Wall is soothing to the urinary tract, reduces inflammation and increases urine flow.

Pumpkin (Cucurbita Pepo)
Pumpkin seeds contain zinc and a male hormone like component that both benefit the prostate gland, Matthew Wood recommends eating a handful each day.

Pygeum (Prunus Africana)
Studies show that Pygeum decreases nocturia (passing urine at night), improves flow and reduces the residual volume of urine that remains in the bladder.

Rosebay willow herb (chamerion angustifolium)
Rosebay leaf tea is recommended for prostate problems.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens)
Saw Palmetto is said to have been the “old man’s friend” to Native Americans as they found it decreased prostate size and increased urine flow. Studies show it relieves frequency of urine and pain on urination. Anne McIntyre says it is the best herb for long term shrinking of the prostate. Castleman says that in one study Saw Palmetto was as effective as the drug Finasteride. Other studies have seen it reduce symptoms and to have less side effects. It is said to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that plays a key role in the overgrowth of prostate tissue.

 Wood is not so convinced and believes Saw Palmetto to be a fad herb for this complaint. Ryan Drum says it “seems to have a distinctly erosive feminising effect on the male body” and he does not use it unless he thinks it absolutely necessary.

For prostate shrinking I have also seen mentions of golden seal, red clover, dandelion, Siberian Ginseng, red grape seed extract, evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, Chinese angelica, Echinacea and golden rod.

To ease the pain from inflammation try Guelder rose (Cramp bark), Chamomile and Chinese Angelica.

There are many herbs to support prostate health; holistically there are generally aspects of lifestyle to look at as well. A healthy, high protein diet can help to maintain testosterone levels. Lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to help the prostate; there is a higher level in cooked tomatoes.

Herbs for Male Fertility

There are many different reasons for reduced fertility in men including genetics; the immune system; medication such as steroids, antidepressants, antihypertensives and cancer drugs; chronic infection; hormone problems; surgery; diabetes; mumps; stress; smoking; toxic metals; nutritional deficiencies  or physical problems such as a blocked sperm duct.

It takes 100 days for sperm to develop, so the benefit of any herbs or healthy regime could not be expected to be seen until then.

Conventional treatment for male infertility can consist of:

             Drugs, e.g. antibiotics for an infection.
             Hormones for low testosterone.
             Surgery for problems such as a tumour or anything causing a blockage.

Herbs for Healthy Sperm

Astralagus (Astralagus Membranaceus)
Astralagus enhances sperm motility so as they can get all the way to the female’s egg.

Eleuthero (Elleutherococcus senticosus)
Siberian Ginseng for stress related infertility with extracts that help sperm motility.

Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
The University of Rome found that infertile men taking 4,000mg of ginseng extract every day for 3 months rose 93%. In men without a problem it increased by 9%.

Gojiberry (Lyceum Barbarum, L. Chinenense)
Gojiberry is used for impotence, sexual debility and improving sperm quality and quantity.

Maritime Pine
An antioxidant, Pycnogenol, from the bark of the Maritime pine has been found to increase the quality and function of sperm after 90 days in a trial in the October 2002 Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
Maritime Pines

I was just reading a review on the internet about which breakfast cereals are the healthiest & came across this mention. “Oats are also great for male fertility as they contain Argenine which helps raise male sperm count and make it swim faster!”

Pumpkin (Cucurbita Pepo)
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which acts on the prostate but it is also a constituent of sperm and many diets are low in zinc these days. Chew the seeds well as zinc is absorbed through the mouth and gums.

Erectile Dysfunction

Impotence or low sex drive can be caused by a hormone imbalance, stress, depression, pain, high blood pressure (hypertension), circulatory problems, side effects of drugs, smoking, environmental toxins, oestrogenic effects of plastics, pesticides and hormones in animal rearing.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) male sexual dysfunction is seen as a loss of yang or the primary life force stored in the kidneys and warming herbs are required to restore yang such as scisandra cinensis and epimedium sagittatum. Western herbalists would use warming cinnamon and clove to boost circulation.

Many plants contain phytoestrogens that are chemically similar to the oestrogen estradiol which is involved in sexual functioning in men.

There are 3 types of phytoestrogen:

1.            Isoflavones, most well-known is found in soy.
2.            Lignans found in flax seeds (linum usitatissimum).
3.            Coumestans found in red clover (trifolium pratense) & alfalfa (medicago sativa).

Studies show that a diet with phytoestrogens is associated with lower prostate cancer although another study says that soy lowers the sperm count (Schindler Connors).

Herbs for Erectile Dysfunction (ED), Ejaculation Problems and Low Libido

Burdock (Arctium Lappa)
Burdock is good to detox, it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, C. Cassia, C. Saigonicum)
Cinnamon is a warming spice for the circulation.

Damiana supports male hormone production.

Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
Warming ginger will boost the circulation.

Gingko Biloba
Gingko improves the circulation; contains the amino acid arginine that can help relieve impotence and can reduce the sexual side effects of antidepressants.

Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Studies show Ginseng improved ED. Korean and Siberian Ginseng are both adaptogens and will balance hormones and increase sexual energy.

Gotu Kola (Centella Asiatica or Hydrocotyle Asiatica)
Supports the circulation and is used as a relaxant.

Hawthorn (Crataegus)
Hawthorn is known to help the heart and circulation.

Kava (Piper Methysticum)
Kava is used to increase sex drive. It affects the brain chemistry to help with anxiety about sexual dysfunction.

Maca (Lepidium Mayenii)
Maca from Peru has been shown to increase sex drive in men.

Maritime Pine (Pinus Pinaster)
Bark extracts of Maritime pine are used for ED.

Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)
Milk thistle is a friend of the liver; it will assist it to detox and to clear drugs and their side effects from the system.

Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Nettle can be used to detox, it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.

Rose is used as a relaxant if stress is a problem.

Sarsaparilla (Smilax Officinalis)
Sarsaparilla supports male hormones.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens)
Saw Palmetto can be used to support male hormones.

Skullcap (Scutellaria Lateriflora)
Skullcap is for relieving stress.

Vervain (Verbena Officinalis)
Vervain is used as a relaxant.

Wild Oats
Wild oats are used as a relaxant if stressed.

Yellow Dock
Yellow dock is another detox herb; it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.

A combination of herbs can be useful to help with all of the causes or symptoms.


Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2008) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Books: Ludlow

Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2010) Kitchen Medicine: Household Remedies for Common Ailments and Domestic Emergencies, Merlin Unwin Books: Ludlow

Castleman, M. (2003) The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Natures Best Medicine, Hinkler
Books Pty Ltd: Dingley

Drum, R. (13.1.11) Herbs and Men’s Health: Some Notes and Thoughts  accessed 3.3.2012

McIntyre, A. (2010) The complete Herbal Tutor, Gaia: London

Schindler Connors, M. with Altshuler, MD. (2009) The Everything Guide To Herbal Remedies, Adams Media: Avon MA

Wood, M. (1997) The Book of Herbal Wisdom, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley

Wood, M. (2008) The Earthwise Herbal, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley

Monday, 20 February 2012

How Becoming an Apprentice Herbalist Changed the Way I Relate To Trees in Winter

This post is part of the UK Herbarium February blog party hosted by Sarah at Tales of a Kitchen Herb Wife .

We’ve been asked to describe how we relate to trees in winter, my first instinct here was my usual one – I don’t know anything, but actually I have been learning throughout my apprenticeship.

 I must confess that before my herb apprenticeship I just thought winter trees were asleep and looked stunning with a bit of frost on. I was panic struck when my first task came, in December 09/January 2010, to map all hawthorns and elders in my locality, take bark rubbings and make an elder bark salve. I had never imagined myself working with bark in my herb work, the only one I had heard of being used was willow bark and I thought only experts worked with it.
Hawthorn in November, Anglesey

Hunting hawthorn and elder trees made me more familiar with my locality, I found paths and tracks that I never knew existed and could make out where there was once a hawthorn hedge spanning the hillside behind my home.
A path lined with hawthorn and elder

Hawthorn bark behind thorns and brambles
Taking rubbings can involve getting very close up and personal with your tree; you share their space and learn new things about them. I had to meander through many thorny branches to get to my hawthorn bark and my elder was in a holly hedge with brambles in front of it.
Elder amongst holly and brambles

Elder bark rubbing
Hawthorn bark rubbing

Then there’s the social side of being with your trees! I tried to make myself look as if I were going about normal everyday tasks as dog walkers came past whilst my head was stuck in a shrub with paper & crayons in my hands, a camera dangling from my neck and elder branches sticking out from my shopping bag full of essentials.

On snowy and icy days I can go up the hills and hardly see a soul enabling me to feel the spirit of the place that these trees inhabit.

I also drew pictures of twigs of my trees; it made me look with care at what was in front of me. I befriended one particular hawthorn and one elder and feel especially close to these; I go to these first for herb use as I like their energies.
Elder twig sketch
Hawthorn twig sketch

Throughout 2010 I kept up my observation, taking pictures every few weeks so as I was familiar with how they developed and at what time of the year. This has given me a useful reference tool.

January 2011 saw my fellow apprentice Maria and I embark on our infamous wild cherry tree hunt, as we blindly searched through woodland we came across some tree surgeons. They led us to a large area of the trees, showed us how to identify them and shared other interesting information about managing woodland. They were practical men and didn’t see a spiritual side to the trees they work with and although polite and helpful they obviously thought we were a bit crazy. I have meant to return to that area in spring; to sit under the blossom must be amazing.
We found wild cherry!

Before I could find any wild cherry wood I had experimented with some of my friend’s Morello cherry in a tincture. When I compared the tinctures of both types of cherry wood I found a faint cherry odour to the wild cherry that was not in the Morello. I made a cherry cough medicine with the wild cherry but did not feel confident enough to try the Morello in a cough mixture, reflecting back now; I think I’m ready to give it a go.

Another friend used to have Horse Chestnut trees at the bottom of her garden and I remember how concerned she was one year that the sticky buds were late, it wasn’t right. Trees can tell us things. Sarah asked us to find some Horse Chestnut sticky buds and make a flower essence, as usual finding a tree was difficult but Sarah directed me to large proud tree near to her house. I learnt a new method of making a flower essence, the heat method. Chestnut bud essence is used to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes over again. I also made a salve from the bark to strengthen veins, there is much more to this tree than being a “conker” tree.
Horse Chestnut
Sticky buds

Books don’t tend to have pictures or descriptions of winter trees so having tasks that make me look at them has taught me a skill in tree identification. I have been able to spend time with the trees to get to know them on different levels. I have learnt about the medicinal uses of the trees and that harvesting of herbs takes place throughout the seasons, I feel I am working closer with the wheel of the year.

 I have chosen Guelder rose or cramp bark as an apprenticeship herb this year and would love to learn which willow to use and how. I also have a little witch hazel which I would like to use when it’s grown.

 As an apprentice I have also been taught to look at the energetic properties of trees, for example Jim McDonald on Hawthorn says “The Hawthorne shows itself as a medicine that can bear a great abundance of healing, and yet be protected in this offering by its abundance of thorns. It allows us to live with an open heart and feel protected in doing so.”

 My first wood workshop was amazing; we were given an introduction to energetics and tree lore and found some wood to make what we wanted. I made a hawthorn wand; I sanded off the bark and rubbed in an infused herb oil that we had made on a previous workshop. At home I carried on with my wand making; hazel, elder, oak, birch and whatever I found, I sanded away all or some of the bark, spending time with the wood as I did it, noticing the differences in each wood. I used appropriate infused herb oils to rub into the wood. Some wands were left looking natural, some highly embellished. Children at the workshop were attracted to the elder as soon as they heard stories of faeries and made pan-pipes and beads after hollowing out the pithy stems; they were a joy to watch.
Hawthorn wand

 I now have the confidence to work with winter trees in so many ways, I take notice of their beauty and energies more than ever and I am happy to just spend time with them.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A Lesson in Tonics and the Four Humours by a Muddy Apprentice!

Prior to Saturdays workshop Sarah e-mailed us Christopher Hedley’s research project which was devised to find a way of teaching about humeral medicine. The 4 humours are earth, air fire and water and date from Greek medicine. Hippocrates’ theory was that human moods were caused by an imbalance in bodily fluids; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Galen later developed this into a personality theory.

The paper gives statements about each humour and you tick those which apply to yourself and count up the totals. The idea is that you can use the results to make changes that will make you more balanced.

Here are my scores:

MELANCHOLY (black bile)
Moody, rigid, pessimistic, quiet
SANGUINE (blood)
Sociable, talkative, carefree, easy-going
CHOLERIC (yellow bile)
Active, excitable, aggressive, impulsive
Passive, even-tempered, controlled


I was surprised to come out as water as I thought of myself as more earthy, but my earth score was second highest, this I believe makes me a bit muddy! To become balanced I believe I need to be warmer and drier.

I have looked at the regimes for phlegmatic and melancholy people.

Phlegmatic people should avoid:

·         Too much sleep (wish I had the chance!)

·         Eating too much (could do with sticking to this one)

·          Fish except with warming herbs (I’m vegetarian so don’t eat fish)

·          Milk products (I have been considering this as I always feel congested lately)

·         Sweet foods (I do crave these at times)

·         Salads except with spicy or garlic dressings (I always thought salads were good for you)

·         Pears and summer fruits (that’s a blow, I love fruit)

·         Introspection

Phlegmatic people should:

·         Eat warming food such as onions, garlic, root vegetables, warming wine and cooked food. (I do like all of these)

·         Eat astringent or dry foods such as globe artichokes and cabbages.

·         Fast at the change of seasons.

·         Get into the habit of adding gentle spices to foods.

·         Take regular gentle exercise and join co-operative ventures.

·         Find creative ways of expressing deep emotions.

·         Join an organisation

Christopher Hedley says that the traditional food of a country tends to counteract the excesses that occur in that environment. Traditional English foods include spiced meats and astringent pickles and this tends to be a damp country.

 For some traditional recipes may I shamelessly plug and recommend my friend Roly Rotherham’s book: Simmering Through The AgesSimmering Through The Ages.


·         Gentle spices especially; cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fennel and dried ginger

·         Gentle astringents such as agrimony and elderflower

·         Warm, dry herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary

·         Nettles and cleavers in the spring and warming herbs in the autumn

Melancholic people should avoid:

·         Excess food

·         Heavy food such as beef

·         Drying food such as lentils

·         Astringent food such as apples and quinces

·         Eating late in the day (I often don’t get a chance to eat until late)

·         Narcotics

·         Thinking too much and introspection

·         Lack of physical activity

Melancholic people should:

·         Take light but nourishing food

·         Have sweet foods in moderation

·         Have cleansing food such as asparagus, fennel and celery

·         Take prolonged, gentle exercise such as long walks or gardening (allotment!)

·         Do “earthy” activities such as pottery (I’d love to do this)

·         Have regular long baths with relaxing oils such as lavender (wonderful)

·         Cultivate the friendship of a sanguine person

·         Always have a long term project on the go that requires deep thought but gets you “out of yourself” (a herb apprenticeship?)


·         Gently warming, moving and cleansing herbs such as fennel, angelic, coriander leaves, parsley and juniper berries

·         Herbs for liver congestion such as barberry bark and dandelion

·         Herbs to clear melancholy from the heart such as borage and motherwort

·         Comfrey cream for dry skin

·         Valerian combined with linden or lemon balm for anxiety

Some of the suggestions for water and earth conflict which is not surprising considering the different natures of each. Drying and astringent foods are useful for watery phlegmatic people but to be avoided by earthy melancholic people. As I was mostly water I think I should have some drying foods. Melancholics can have some sweet food, tempting to go earthy here! I enjoy warming foods and working in groups so that is easy to follow but I can’t give up any fruit.

 I have decided that I can add the herbs to food, teas or tonics.

Saturday’s workshop was about tonics, something that does you good and is used over the long term not as an instant cure.

 We tried many different tonics; tea, a milky drink made with almond milk, tinctures, elixirs, honeys and electuaries. The “uplifting tincture” was a great favourite and the atmosphere got a little merry with all the tinctures to taste!

 We could make our own tonic and there were lots of ingredients to choose from. I decided to go for Christopher Hedley’s iron tonic with a twist – I decided to add some warming herbs to balance my present phlegmatic disposition.
Christopher Hedley's Iron Tonic
Soak equal amounts of fresh nettle tops and organic apricots in good red wine with a little bitter orange peel added. Soak for 2 weeks, strain and store in a cool place. Dose 1 or 2 dessertspoons twice daily.
My Tonic

 Into a jam jar went nettles (good for phlegmatics) and chopped apricots with nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon. I saw some wormwood on the table, I haven’t used it before and really just fancied trying it out so I put some in; according to Matthew Wood it is a warming herb so I think it was a good choice. I also threw in some ashwagandha seeds as this was something new to try; the roots are astringent and an excellent adaptogen. I also added milk thistle seeds to help my gall stones. I topped up my jar of tonic herbs with warming red wine which will certainly help the medicine go down as well!
A choice of ingredients
Milk thistle
Sorting out milk thistle seeds
Completed tonic

 So what did I learn from this workshop? Well, we are all different; I expect everyone present had different scores showing different temperaments. Our scoring with the four humours is not constant; it can change as we become more or less balanced. If you are working with this system it is easy to see that a tonic can be made to suit an individual. If someone presented with a condition to be treated a humeral assessment could help to make the herbs for that person more specific and give a more holistic treatment.

Quiz Time - Which of the Four Humours are You? (Just for Fun!)

 Quizzilla - also has me as phlegmatic
 Gurl- phlegmatic again!
Passions and Tempers – gives percentages of all humours