Saturday 19 January 2013

Winter Solstice 2012

I'm late posting this but I wanted to share this little find. On the winter solstice I went to Glastonbury with a friend and we visited a small Templar chapel and alms houses.
St Margaret's Chapel
There is a lovely garden that has been restored and is sheltered with a wall around it.
We were so surprised on the 21st of December to find:
Rosemary in flower
A yellow rose in bloom
Alpine strawberry in fruit
I have had late flowering roses before but the little strawberries really amazed me. I'm not sure how common it is to have rosemary in flower in December but I haven't seen it before.

Herbs for Coughs and Colds - Lessons I've Learned!

Last weekend I attended Sarah’s first herb workshop of the year, Herbs for Coughs and Colds.

I set off feeling like I had the onset of tonsillitis and I arrived feeling rather frazzled as my car indicators had stopped working on the way as I tried to work my way through Birmingham. My camera battery was flat but Mr Moon Gazing Hare had kindly lent me his camera that morning and a cup of antiviral sage vinegar tea soon settled me down when I got there. As it was followed by other antiviral teas throughout the morning my feeling of impending illness subsided and by the next day my throat was back to normal.

Sage Vinegar tea:
2 teaspoons sage vinegar, 2 teaspoons honey, hot water

Sage and Thyme tea (antiviral):
Sage and thyme steeped in hot water for 10 minutes, lemon juice, honey

Cooling Tea, specific for colds:
Yarrow, elderflower and mint steeped for 10 minutes in hot water

We split into groups to make Fire Cider Vinegar, Elderberry Cordial and a Cough Syrup.
Fire cider vinegar
Our Fire Cider vinegar is based on a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar with equal amounts of garlic, horseradish and ginger with the addition of other hot herbs that are left in cider vinegar for 4 weeks and then strained. Enough to scare away any bacteria or virus that gets near to you! Actually, it isn't too awful to taste and does work well.

Jo-Ann led the elderberry cordial. Elderberries are a specific herb for the flu virus; they are used to reduce the length of illness and to stop complications. It contained elderberries, ginger, rose-hips  cinnamon, orange peel, orange juice and nutmeg. It was all simmered in a large pan of water for 20 minutes and sugar added in the quantity of 1 lb sugar to 1 pint water. It is taken diluted in hot water and is a lovely warming drink. As I set off to work in the snow yesterday I went armed with a flask of our hot elderberry cordial and a hot water bottle much to the amusement of my work colleagues – be prepared I say!
Hot elderberry cordial drink
I was leading with the cough syrup, luckily Alison was with me as my brain had gone blank on how to make syrup and this became a good refresher lesson. Into the pot went a handful each of hyssop and marshmallow and a small handful of white horehound which is very bitter. Hyssop relaxes the airways and along with white horehound is a traditional cough remedy. Marshmallow is very soothing. We also added crushed fennel seeds and some ginger that are both warming and a little cherry bark that helps with dry, tickly coughs.
White Horehound
Cough Syrup

Here is my syrup recap:

 Put herbs in pan
·         Add water
·         Boil with lid on for 20 minutes to make a decoction
·         Strain off botanicals and add to compost
·         Wash pan and then put strained liquid back into it
·         Simmer until half has evaporated
·         Add equivalent of 1 lb sugar to every 1 pint fluid that is left
·         Put into sterilised bottles/jars

For medicinal syrup you need to reduce the amount of fluid by 7/8ths on the lowest heat but that would have taken longer than the workshop time. Our cough syrup is bit bitter but is palatable. My younger daughter came back from a trip to Dublin on Tuesday with a cough so I offered her the cough syrup which she accepted after tasting it first.

After a really pleasant shared lunch I learnt my next lesson:

·         Always check fire cider vinegar has tight fitting lid
·         Always make sure fire cider vinegar jar is wedged into an upright position in your bag when travelling
·         Always put husbands camera back into camera bag
·         Do not put loose camera in bag with fire cider vinegar

If you can think of a really good imaginative story that might explain how spice infused vinegar could have ended up inside a digital camera please let me know ASAP!

Oops, I’m in trouble!

Tuesday 1 January 2013

What Did Ancient Herbalists Use Mugwort For and How Did They Prepare It?

Happy New Year! With the new year comes a new herbal ally. Here's task 1 with ancient and some not so ancient past uses and modern day uses are to come in the future.

My chosen ally for 2013 is Mugwort, Artemisia Vulgaris. I felt last year that I’d chosen the wrong ally, mugwort seemed to be all around saying “look at me” so I’m taking notice. Before I started my apprenticeship I didn’t know what mugwort looked like and I was so surprised to find that it was growing along the drive to my house, the road I live on and all along the road side up to our local high street. As I’ve prepared for this task I’ve also found out it was an ancient and sacred herb and has many more uses than I’d ever realised.

Mugwort showing the silvery undersides of the leaves

Names for Mugwort
Mugwort, Artisima Vulgaris, On Foot, Felon herb, St. John’s herb, Moxa, Cingulum Sancti Johannis, Motherwort, Cronewort, Artimisia, Witch herb, Old Man, Old Uncle Harry, Muggons, Sailors’ Tobacco, Mugger, Smotherwort, Maiden wort, Muggins

History of Mugwort
The history of the name mugwort gives clues to its old uses but there is not agreement on where it is derived from.
Mug = maybe a drink flavouring (as in mug/cup) or from the French Moughte, meaning moth or maggot as it wards off moths or Muggi from the Norse for a swampy habitat. Mucgwyrt (old English) is suggested to mean Midge Wort which attracts midges (Stephen Pollington).
Wort= plant
Artemisia= from the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the moon. The moon association may come from the use of mugwort with women for helping regulate menstruation and in childbirth or from the silvery undersides of the leaves.
Vulgaris= common

In Holland and Germany one of its names is St. John’s Herb as it was gathered on St. John’s Eve to protect against disease and misfortune.
It was known as Sailor’s Tobacco as used by sailors at sea when they had run out of tobacco.
The name Felon Plant comes from its use to draw out pus from a felon or purulent infection at the end of a finger or toe.
Matthew Wood says tenth century Aemilius Macer said Motherwort was the original name and mother refers to the uterus or womb.
Susun Weed calls it cronewort, finding it useful for ladies after child-bearing age.

Mugwort Through History

Mugwort is said in the Nine Herbs Charm to be the “oldest of plants”.
In an old English herbarium it is described how Diana discovered mugwort’s and 2 other plants powers and gave them to Chiron the centaur who made the first remedy from these plants and named them Artemis after Diana.
Since antiquity the roots have been used for epilepsy, stimulating digestion, nausea and halitosis. It is known to deter moths and used to protect clothes from them.

From the early Iron Age (500BCE) remains of beer making activity exist at Eberdingen-Hochdorf in Germany including charred barley and henbane seeds. Archeobotanist Dr Stika believes the early Celtic beer recipe contained Mugwort seeds and Mugwort was added to beer in Medieval times. Hops were not used until 800CE.

I’ve seen suggestions that mugwort was used in smoke sacrifices for Isis in Egyptian times.

The Greek Dioscorides stated that the Goddess Artemis was the inspiration for the genus name. He used a decoction in the bath for bringing on women’s periods. Galen had classed mugwort as a warming herb, having a heating effect to the second degree.

Roman soldiers are said to have put mugwort in their sandals to stop their feet getting tired and there are numerous other references through the ages to mugwort being a herb for travellers to prevent fatigue. The Roman Pliny the Elder said of it “the wayfaring man that hath the herb tied about him feeleth no weariness at all and he can never be hurt by any poisonous medicine, by any wild beast, neither yet by the sun itself”.

Chinese hung sprigs in doorways to ward off disease and used it as a rheumatism medicine. The pale down from the underside of leaves is used in moxibustion and in other areas as tinder for starting fires.

Native Americans are said to have used it for smudge, a spiritually cleansing herb. It is said to have been used to keep away spirits, sometimes worn on a necklace.

A mugwort smudge stick  made by me

In the tenth century we get the Anglo-Saxon 9 Herb Charm from the Lacnunga manuscript, a charm using herbs and magic to treat poison and infection. The charm frequently uses the magical numbers 3 and 9 and contains reference to the God Woden.

Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against contagion,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land

To use the remedy you had to recite the charm 3 times over each of the 9 herbs, 3 times over the mouth of the recipient, 3 times over the patient’s ears and 3 times over the injury or wound. The herbs were ground, mixed with soap and apple juice. then a paste was made of water and ash that was boiled with fennel and added to the mixture and then applied.
Cameron (1993) suggests the chanting gave psychological support to the patient.

Other Anglo-Saxon Medical manuscripts regarding mugwort suggest:
·         Pound mugwort root, blend it with honey when cold and use against evil and great foot swellings
·         Pick before sunrise with a magical invocation and it should be hallowed with the sign of the cross as it’s picked
·         Midges are attracted to its fragrance
·         It protects the house from harmful spirits
·         It was used as a stimulant to prevent weariness in travellers
·         Mugwort in “new beer” was good for stomach pain

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) cooked mugwort puree for ailing intestines and made a paste of honey and mugwort for abscesses.

Hildegard of Bingen from

In the thirteenth century a Welsh herbal remedy collection, The Physicians of Myddfai, instructed that when a woman had difficulty giving birth one should bind mugwort to her left thigh but be sure to remove it straight after to prevent haemorrhage.

In Medieval witchcraft mugwort is thought to have been seen as lucky and used to be able to recall dreams. say mugwort juice was put onto scrying instruments to aid clairvoyance in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Seventeenth century herbalist John Gerard gave mugwort uses as a cure for epilepsy and palsy and as an insect and moth repellent.

Culpepper said that mugwort is a herb of Venus and maintains the parts of the body she rules and is a remedy to diseases of parts under her signs: Taurus and Libra. I have found a couple of websites with some information on medical astrology; Aquamoonlight and Homeoint

Dygges 1555 illustration from

Culpepper used hot decoctions to bring on menstruation, help delivery and expel the afterbirth. He also uses mugwort for kidney stones, in an ointment for neck pain, powdered in wine for sciatica and as a fresh juice or herb for opium overdoses.

Eighteenth century Spanish herbalist Diego de Torres placed a mugwort plaster below the navel to induce labour.

In European cookery mugwort was used to season fatty meat such as goose and oily fish such as eel to make it more digestible. It is known to help digestion and bile production.

Mrs Grieve says that mugwort tea used to be drunk as a tea substitute in Cornwall when tea was too expensive. She also says that leaves should be collected in August and roots dug up in Autumn. The roots can be air dried for 10 days, and then need gentle artificial heat until they are dry to the core and brittle. interestingly relate the shape of the leaves being “claw like” to their keeping evil spirits away.

In Japan mugwort is made into Gomogi Mochi, traditionally given to stop post-partum bleeding and promote lactation. It now seems to be made as a sweet and there's an art to making it!

Recently William LeSassier (1948-2003) considered mugwort to be suited to “weak sensitive women who have been through abuse, poverty, obstetric injury, difficult pregnancies, and abortions with scar tissue in the womb” (Matthew Wood).

The mermaid of the Clyde is said to have exclaimed, when she beheld the funeral of a young maiden who had died from consumption and decline:--
"If they wad drink nettles in March, And eat muggins [Mugwort] in May, Sae mony braw young maidens Wad na' be gang to clay."
This was taken from a free ebook by Fernie (1897) that's full of old uses and folklore but was modern in its day, I love free books!
I love the name Muggins, I think Muggins and I are going to have a good year, I hope you do too.

Cameron, Malcolm Laurence (1993). Anglo-Saxon Medicine. Cambridge University Press.
Fernie, W.T. (1897) Herb Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure. Philadelphia. Boericke and Tafel
Franklin, Anna and Lavender, Susan (1996) Herb Craft: A Guide to the Shamanic and Ritual Use of Herbs. Berkshire. Capall Bann
Pollington, Stephen (2000) Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore, and Healing. Norfolk. Anglo-Saxon Books
Wood, Matthew (2008). The Earthwise Herbal. Berkeley. North Atlantic Books

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