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

Monday, 9 January 2012

Herbs Ancient and Modern for Chronic Conditions of the Respiratory System

Research chronic diseases of the chest – emphysema, tuberculosis, pneumonia, COPD. What did the ancient herbalists use for these conditions? What do herbalists use now and why?

When I was a student nurse the first thing we had to learn was what is health? This was boring as it involved theory and looking at statistics and I wanted to be doing something but I now feel it was correct as how can you look at disease without knowing something of the anatomy and physiology in a healthy person? Of course feelings of wellness are subjective. So once again I’m starting with the A & P, a recap on biology lessons from school to refresh my memory.

 We breathe because we need oxygen; we don’t have to think about it our bodies automatically do it. We breathe in (inspiration), the lungs expand, the diaphragm goes down and the ribs go up and out. When we breathe out the opposite happens (expiration), and we breathe out the gas we need to get rid of, carbon dioxide. Changes in the pressure in the lungs along with the concentration of carbon dioxide trigger our breathing. We can over-ride the lungs and consciously change our breathing if we want to, with meditation for example.
Diagram of the Respiratory System

 Air enters the mouth and nose and goes down the trachea. Fine hairs and mucous in the nose filters out dust and particles we don’t want to breathe in and the air is warmed and moistened. The trachea splits into the bronchi and air is directed to each lung. The bronchi split into bronchioles which take air to little sacs in the lung structure called alveoli. The alveoli are small but are created to have a large surface area and the walls are very thin. The alveoli are surrounded by blood capillaries which also have thin walls and gases can easily transfer between the alveoli of the lungs and the blood stream because of this.
Diagram of gaseous exchange between an alveolus and a blood capillary

So What Happens In Chronic Lung Problems?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD)

 Diseases such as bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema have in common some degree of obstruction of the air passages and the term COAD refers to these. Symptoms of airway obstruction include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. COAD is often a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.


 The name emphysema means full of air and when a person with this condition breathes out the little alveoli sacs do not empty, they remain full of air. The first measurable symptom is that the person cannot breathe out so much air. Later, the alveoli get damaged; some of the alveoli sacs get joined together and enlarged which gives less surface area for the oxygen and carbon dioxide to cross. The lungs become permanently inflated because they have lost their elasticity. To adjust to the increase in lung size, the chest cage increases in size leading to the “barrel chest” appearance. As the disease progresses the damaged alveoli develop into areas of thick connective tissue which can’t let oxygen through.

 Emphysema is generally caused by long term lung irritation to air pollution, industrial dust or cigarette smoke. It seems that cigarette smoke deactivates a protein that prevents emphysema and prevents repair of affected lung tissue.

Bronchial Asthma

 Bronchial asthma is a reversible obstructive airway disease with symptoms of coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. This is brought on by spasms of the smooth muscle that lies in the walls of the smaller bronchi and bronchioles causing the airways to partially close. Mucus membranes that line the respiratory tract become irritated and excrete excessive amounts of mucus that may clog the bronchi or bronchioles and worsen the attack.
 About three quarters of asthma sufferers are allergic to edible or airborne substances such as wheat or dust.


Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi which typically gives a productive cough with thick greenish-yellow sputum signifying an underlying infection. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis – that is bronchitis for 3 months of a year over 2 consecutive years. Other influencing factors are a family history, air pollution, respiratory infections and reduced antibodies.


Pneumonia is an acute infection or inflammation of the alveoli. The alveoli get filled up with fluid which reduces the amount of air space in the lungs and oxygen has difficulty getting through the inflamed alveoli.
 The most common cause is the pneumococcus bacterium and the most susceptible are the elderly, infants, the immunosuppressed, smokers and people with obstructive lung disease.

Tuberculosis TB

The bacterium Mycobacterium Tuberculosis produces this infectious disease which most frequently affects the lungs. The bacteria destroys part of the lung tissue and the body replaces it with fibrous connective tissue (like scar tissue) that is inelastic and thick, it does not snap back after expiration and large amounts of air are retained. Gases cannot diffuse easily through fibrous tissue.
 TB bacteria die in sunlight so it is sometimes associated with crowded poorly lit housing. TB used to be known as consumption.

What Did Ancient Herbalists Use For These Conditions?

The Chinese

 An ancient herbal from 5000 years ago lists liquorice as a respiratory treatment.

 The Egyptians

Hieroglyphs tell that the Egyptians used to inhale the fumes from herbs; it seems that frankincense was amongst those used.

The Ebers papyrus gives instructions:

"Thou shalt fetch seven stones and heat them by fire, thou shalt take one thereof and place a little of these remedies on it and cover it with a new vessel whose bottom is perforated, and place a stalk of reed in this hole; thou shalt put thy mouth to this stalk so that thou inhalest the smoke of it."

Hibiscus was used by either putting it in bath water or using it in a steam inhalation and liquorice seems to have been used all over the ancient world for chest complaints.

On the whole, in the ancient world natural cures were used alongside religion and magic.

The Greeks

Hyssop was used by the likes of Hippocrates and Galen for bronchitis. Hippocrates was one of the earliest physicians to link respiratory conditions and the environment.

 Mullein was recorded as a treatment for breathing problems by Dioscorides and its medicinal and spiritual uses have been included in Greek and Roman stories.

The Hebrews

The ancient Hebrews believed that God held the power to heal them so looked to the bible and sacred texts.
 A religious book called the Talmud advocated the use of asafoetida, an oriental gum resin which was used for asthma, whooping cough and bronchitis.

 The Romans

 The Romans used white horehound; the medical writer Celsus described treatment for respiratory problems with horehound juice.

The Doctrine of Signatures

This theory stated that God had left us clues with plant medicine, whether it is by colour or actual physical representation. So, lungwort which has spots on its leaves and has resemblance to a lung was for pulmonary disorders.

Old English – Bald’s Leech Book

I love this entry, I think this recipe must include every respiratory herb the writer could think of and the magical number 3 keeps occurring.

For a cough and for disease of the lung, take a bail of swail, and sulphur, and incense, equal amounts of each, mix with wax, lay it on a hot stone, inhale the smoke through a horn, and let him eat three pieces of old bacon or butter afterwards, and sip it with curds. For lung disease, take betony and horehound, agrimony, wormwood, felter, rue, oak bark, gale, boil in water, boil down to a third of the water, take from the plant-drink a warm cupful in the morning, let him eat three pieces of food with some of the brew which joins on hereafter: Make a brew for lung disease, take betony, horehound, wormwood, hindhealth, the lower part of wenwort, lupin, elecampane, radish, boarthroat, parsnip, pound them all very well and boil in butter and wring it out through a cloth, scatter barley meal on the juice, stir it in a dish without fire until it becomes as thick as porridge, let him eat three pieces with a warm drink. Again, boil in honey a single horehound, add a little barley meal thereto, let him eat it having fasted overnight, and when you give him porridge, give it to him hot and let the man rest after the hour of dawn on his right side, and have the arm stretched out.

John Gerard (16C)

 In the sixteenth century Gerard recommended horehound syrup for respiratory ailments. Gerard was a follower of the doctrine of signatures.
White horehound

Nicholas Culpepper (17C)

In the seventeenth century Culpepper recommended white horehound “There is a syrup made of this plant which I would recommend as an excellent help to evacuate tough phlegm and cold rheum from the lungs of aged persons, especially those who are asthmatic and short winded.”
He said liquorice was good for a dry cough, hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath and TB and thyme was a good strengthener of the lungs.
 Culpepper used astrology rather than the doctrine of signatures. The respiratory system was governed by Mercury and Mercuric plants bore finely divided leaves such as fennel, dill and carrot.

Victorian Times

Dr Quinlan publicised an Irish TB treatment; a handful of fresh mullein leaves boiled with 2 pints of milk, strained and sweetened with honey, to be taken twice a day.

Looking at these examples of herbs used by ancient herbalists, most look familiar and are surprisingly still in use.

What Do Herbalists Use Now For Respiratory Conditions and Why?

Herbs for Chronic Bronchitis

 Richard Mabey combines expectorant herbs with soothing demulcent herbs and adds antibiotic herbs.
 Commission E, the expert panel that judges the safety of herbal medicines for the German government has approved couch grass in the treatment of bronchitis, if anyone would like to try this out I have an allotment full of it!

Expectorant herbs:

·         White horehound

·         Coltsfoot

·         Elecampane

·         Blood root

·         Squills

·         Senega

·         Plantain

Demulcent herbs:

·         Mullein

·         Comfrey

·         Marshmallow

·         Flax seeds

·         Liquorice

·         Violet leaves

·         Irish moss

Antibiotic herbs:

·         Eucalyptus

Herbs for Asthma

 Richard Mabey suggests herbs to relax the bronchi and expel mucus along with herbs to support the nervous system and a soothing expectorant which also supports the adrenal glands.

To relax the bronchi & expel mucous:

·         Grindelia

·         Pill-bearing spurge

·         Sundew

·         Coltsfoot

·         Skunk cabbage

·         Honeysuckle - antispasmodic

Herbs to support the nervous system:

·         Wild lettuce

·         Hops

·         Chamomile

·         Lime flowers

·         Skullcap

·         Holy basil

·         Wild oats


·         Elecampane

·         Thyme

·         Hyssop

·         Garlic

·         Coltsfoot

·         Ginger

·         Mullein

Expectorants which support the adrenal glands:

·         Liquorice

·         Borage


·         Nettle

Herbs for Tuberculosis (TB)

·         Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal say self-heal has been found to be effective against Mycobacterium tuberculi, the bacteria which causes TB.

·         Michael Castleman says garlic kills Mycobacterium tuberculosis but the garlic needs to be crushed so as a compound in garlic called alliin comes into contact with an enzyme in garlic called allinase and then allicin is formed. Allicin is a powerful antibiotic and is the compound that kills the TB bacteria.

·         Hops may be effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

·         In laboratory tests mullein inhibited the growth of the bacteria for TB.

·         1 laboratory test found red clover to be effective against the bacteria.

Herbs for Emphysema

·         Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal say mint is a traditional remedy.

·      Israeli researchers found ginseng increased lung capacity in people with emphysema.
·         It has been suggested that horsetail which contains silica can speed up the rate of tissue repair and promote strength and elasticity in new tissues.
Herbs for Pneumonia
· Matthew Wood recommends a few drops of lavender oil in a bath.

· Mustard seed pack on chest (Wood).

· Horseradish as a poultice to the chest to thin stuck phlegm, use a cloth between the horseradish and the skin or it will burn.

· Expectorant herbs as listed for asthma and bronchitis.

· Vitamin C in elderberries, bilberries and rose hips stimulates the mucociliary escalator to help clear phlegm.
Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2008) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Books: Ludlow
Castleman, M. (2003) The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Natures Best Medicine, Hinkler Books Pty Ltd: Dingley
Mabey, R. (1988) The New Age Herbalist, Gaia: London
McIntyre, A. (2010) The complete Herbal Tutor, Gaia: London
Pollington, S. (2000) Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing, Anglo-Saxon Books: Norfolk
Tortura, G. and Anagnostakos, N.P.(1990) Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (6th Edition), Harper Collins: New York
Wood, M. (2008) The Earthwise Herbal, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley

Sunday, 8 January 2012


I’ve been wassailing today, I’ve danced with my clog side, the local morris team danced and we wassailed the trees, finished off with a Mumming play.
Sound the trumpet!

 We started off with dancing and singing Wassailing songs and then walked with lanterns to the orchard.

 In the orchard we lit a fire, sang another song and then wassailed the trees. Everyone made as much noise as possible with rattles, shakers and party poppers and beat the trees (gently!) with sticks. Cider was poured over the trees and toast soaked in cider was stuck onto the branches. All evil spirits should have been scared out of the trees and a good crop of apples (and plums) ensured for this year – job done!
Toast on a tree

 The Mummers did a traditional play with St George and the Turkish knight having a battle.
A pharoe supervises the battle

Although I’ve done this before I’d never noticed some of the words in the wassailing songs, I suppose it’s only when something’s on your mind that you see it. Two of the three wassailing songs mention my herbal aly; elder, but I don't know the significance.

Here We Come A Wassailing

1.       Here we come a Wassailing among the leaves so green
Here we come a wassailing so as to be seen


Love and joy come to you, and to your wassail too
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year

2.       Our wassail it is made from the elderberry tree
Our ale it is made from the best barley


Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our cup it is white and our ale it is brown

Our cup is made from the elderberry tree
And so my good neighbours we’ll drink to thee

Drink to thee, drink to thee
And so good neighbours we’ll drink to thee

Wassail everyone!