Herbs for wellbeing in Battersea Park

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Herb Garden in Battersea Park which was created by the gardening charity Thrive in 2002 from a derelict space. It is divided into different sections based on the uses of the plants including areas for both men’s and women’s health, plants which yield natural dyes and a huge variety of other herbs used for other ailments. February might not be a great time to see gardens at their best but it was great to hear the history of the space and how it is being used today to provide therapeutic gardening activities for local people. Thrive run variety of programmes across four gardens in the park working to support a number of different client groups including unemployed disabled adults, stroke survivors and people suffering from a mental health condition. Their activities not only teach people new horticultural skills but also provide a supportive opportunity where people can experience the positive effects that nature can have on their health and wellbeing.

Over the last few years there has been a renewed interest and respect for the restorative effect that plants can have on people so it’s always nice to recognise and celebrate organisations who have been putting this into practice for a long time! In urban places like London it’s a luxury to have your own garden so the importance of these public spaces where people have the chance to garden and get their hands dirty is really important. Studies have proven that being in a forest or walking through a park can have a calming effect on our mind, but that the impact can be even more profound when people are actively involved in planting and gardening activities. There is currently some interesting research being carried out looking at soil microbes and the effects that they have on the brain. The research is looking at how soil microbes can have a similar effect to antidepressants without the side effects. It’s great to see that GP referrals to gardening projects are becoming more popular and wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people were given an option to choose soil over Prozac!

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Herbs for our garden friends

At this time of year us gardeners are itching to get back into the garden to start preparing for the season ahead. It’s still too cold to be sowing things from seed and too early to be able to source many herbaceous perennial herbs. So instead we are focusing on planning. If you’ve been growing for a while or even if you’ve just started it’s always nice to try something new and grow things that can be enjoyed by other garden critters.

Here are five herbs that will encourage and support wildlife in your garden whilst also giving you joy with their appearance, fragrance or medicinal value.

1. Lavender

Lavender

An obvious choice and a herb that is adored by bees and butterflies. Lavender produces plenty of flowers so you can harvest some to use and then leave the rest to be enjoyed by pollinators. Most will also produce more than one flower flourish after an initial cropping in summer.

2. Lemon balm

Lemon balm patch

Its nickname ‘bee balm’ gives us an indication that it is enjoyed by bees who go wild for its small white flowers. As a fragrant herb it loses a lot of its flavour after flowering but good to know that the bees are benefiting from it during this period!

3. Nettle

Nettles in september

The common stinging nettle has many applications as a medicinal herb but also supports around 40 species of insects such as butterflies and moths. Many beautiful butterflies including the Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell rely on nettles. They lay their eggs on the nettles and once the larvae (caterpillars) have emerged they have an abundant supply of leaves to munch through. Due to the stings on the leaves which ward off animals and other predators, nettles are a safe haven for the butterfly to complete its metamorphosis.

4. Teasel

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If you’ve ever grown teasels or seen them growing in the wild you might have noticed that they are a hive for a whole array of wildlife throughout their life. You have have seen ants farming aphids along their long stems, or ladybird larvae enjoying this aphid farm! Lacewing and hoverfly larvae also make use of farms of aphids. While in flower, teasels are visited by bumblebees and butterflies who are attracted to its sweet nectar. When the flowers are gone, teasels make a plentiful supply of seeds which are a great source of food for birds and particularly enjoyed by goldfinches. If you pick a few dried stems (they make a lovely indoor dried flower decoration) you might find you disturb a few earwigs that had also moved in!

5. Rosehips

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All Roses produce hips but it is the Dog rose and Rugosa Rose which produce hips that are the favorite of many garden birds. The hips provide an important food source during the winter when insect numbers are low and grounds are frozen making worm-catching a difficult task. Thrushes, Blackbirds, and Waxwings are some common birds that make use of these vitamin C packed fruits!

Three herbs to try today

If you are new to herbs the range and variety of plants can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Here is a simple guide to show you how to easily incorporate three very effective herbs. You might even have some of these growing in your garden or in your kitchen herb rack!

1. Chamomile

Chamomile flowers

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a wonderful soothing herb and an important herb to always have stocked as it is used for a number of different ailments. A hot infusion of chamomile will help to soothe an upset stomach or combat feelings of nausea. It’s a good before bed herb as it can help you to unwind and drift off. Chamomile is an emollient – helping the skin to retain moisture – and an anti-inflammatory which makes it well placed to restore irritated or dry skin. You can make a relaxing herb soak by adding a couple of chamomile teabags into your bath and then rubbing the teabags directly on your skin to moisturise and restore.

2. Lemon balm

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We all need a herbal pick-me-up from time to time and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has long been associated with raising spirits and lifting the heart. The Arabian herbalist Avicenna (980-1037) said that lemon balm “causeth the mind and heart to be merry”. As a nervine, it works on our nervous system and modern research has shown it to be an effective remedy for anxiety, depression and insomnia. It combines well with lavender as a herbal infusion for relieving stress and tension. It’s also a great herb for bees who adore the flowers and explains its botanical name melissa which is derived from the Greek word meaning bee.

3. Rosemary

Rosemary geffrye

Most commonly regarded as a culinary herb, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) also has many applications as a medicinal plant. It is a circulatory tonic and a hot infusion of rosemary will not only aid digestion but will also help alleviate headaches and tiredness. We like to have a hot infusion of rosemary after lunch to help focus our minds and power us through the afternoon. It is also said to promote concentration and memory so good to carry a sprig with you to sniff on before a big test, interview or presentation. You can also make a massage rub by mixing 5 drops of rosemary essential oil with 15ml almond oil to soothe aching muscles and joints.

In praise of rocket

The herb rocket

The herb rocket, Eruca sativa, is my favourite salad item. It is easy to grow, and in my opinion has a much more interesting flavour than lettuce, being slightly peppery.

I think it’s great on pizza, or teamed with steak and new potatoes as an alternative to peas and chips. Being high in vitamin C and potassium, it is good for you too.

rocket herb pizza

Rocket adds interest to pizza

There is evidence of rocket being grown since Roman times, and Virgil even mentions it as an aphrodisiac. During the Middle Ages, it is thought to have been avoided in monasteries for similar reasons, but was often grown by the general public and was considered suitable to eat when mixed with other lettuce leaves. From its home near the Mediterranean, it is widely grown across the World, being found in the cuisines of Europe, North Africa, South America, the Gulf states, West Asia and Northern India.

Growing rocket from seed

Rocket is a suitable seed for children to try as it germinates reliably and grows quickly. Sow in a warm position March to July 0.5cm deep, and thin to 15cm apart. Keep well watered and harvest May to October. The great thing about thinning salad seedlings is that you can eat the rejected plants! The seeds are best germinated on a windowsill or somewhere warm, but can be moved to a cooler position once they have come up. Keep the tips pinched out to encourage bushy growth and discourage flowering, which makes the leaves tough. Sow a few seeds every few weeks so that as one batch is used up, another becomes available.

rocket seedlings

Rocket seedlings in a pot in the greenhouse in April, awaiting thinning

Due to rocket’s high nutrient levels, it is popular for culinary purposes. Other than use in salad, leaves can be briefly wilted in a stir-fry, and the seeds are also edible and are sometimes pressed for their oil. Do comment below if you know of a medicinal use for the plant!

New faces at the Herb Society

The Herb Society welcomes three new trustees

This year we have been very lucky to attract three new committee members to the Herb Society. This is very important for us as the more help we get, the more we can do!

Introducing Fay Chapman

If you like herbs and are on Facebook, you may have come across Fay, whose page Herbalicious is very popular. She is a busy lady and current roles include working as Visitor Centre Manager for the Essex Wildlife Trust. She has taken over responsibility for local groups, so if you’d like to set up a herb group in your area, why not get in touch! To see if there’s already a local group in your area, do check out the local groups page on our main website where there is more information and contact details.

Introducing Natalie Mady

Natalie has been a trustee for a few months now, and has been doing a grand job of running the Herb Society Facebook and Twitter pages. Londoners may recognise her from Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise specialising in creative events which explore the beneficial uses of herbs.

Introducing Nicky Westwood

Nicky has also been a trustee for a few months, but has been active in the Herb Society for many years. Most recently she has been responsible for the email newsletter and events. You can read more about Nicky on a previous blog post.

Get involved with the Herb Society

It really is a case of the more the merrier! If you’re not a member, do think about joining – find out about member benefits via this link. Plus if you have some time to spare, do get in touch! If you don’t think you can commit to being a trustee, volunteers can help in almost every area of our Society, from running a stand at an event, to displaying leaflets, and there is often a project on the go. If you would like to get involved, do contact Elaine in our office info@herbsociety.org.uk.

The Herb Society’s 90th Birthday

This year sees the ninetieth anniversary of the formation of the Herb Society. In 1927 Hilda Leyel (1880 – 1957) founded the Society of Herbalists, which would later become the Herb Society, with the aim of supporting the practice of herbal medicine in Britain.

For more about this fascinating lady, who did many charitable works, and founded the Culpeper shops, do see the current issue of our journal Herbs (42.1, March 2017). We are proud to have her grandson, Peter Leyel as a patron of our society.

To help celebrate our 90th birthday, we would love to publish members’ thoughts on herbs and what the Herb Society means to them. Members – do contact Herbs journal editor Barbara Segall urgently with any thoughts or messages, or even a photo, to be published later this year.Do email Barbara at barbara@bsegall.plus.com – members only please! She would love to receive any thoughts and/or photos by Friday 7th April to give her time to put them in the next issue of the journal.

I will be sending Barbara my herb memories, which include visiting a sensory garden as a child. The first time I came across the Herb Society was when I met Barbara at a conference about lavender in 2009 and I have been a member ever since. Herbs are such a broad subject, it’s great to be able to meet people with such a range of interests, from gardening through craft, cosmetics, remedies, medicine and history.

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This scented area at Cambridge Botanic Garden includes scented leaf pelargoniums, nicotiana, heliotrope and rosemary plants

If you would like to receive the journal or are interested in finding out more about membership and the Herb Society, do visit our main site at herbsociety.org.uk

Another benefit of membership is Nicky Westwood’s very informative e-newsletter. In the April edition, she shares her memories of the society, having been involved in its administration for many years. If you are a member and don’t receive this email, do contact info@herbsociety.org.uk to update your information.

Cloves for toothache

Using cloves as an anesthetic

My husband had toothache a few weeks ago, and while he awaited his appointment at the dentist, he resorted to local application of an occasional drop of the well-known anesthetic, clove oil. At the same time, I had a sore throat and asked if it could help that too. He looked it up on the internet and told me I could gargle with two drops of the oil in a cup of warm water. This gave me a pleasant fresh taste in my mouth and a mild, short-lived numbing effect. Do be aware, though, that clove oil should only be used diluted and in small quantities.
cloves natural toothache remedy

Cloves contain Eugenol

Eugenol is the active ingredient in clove oil, and can also be found in spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon as well as the herbs basil and bay. It acts as an analgesic by blocking nerve conduction and has various other properties including as an antibacterial [1].

clove plant boston library

This picture of a clove plant was sourced from Boston Public Library on Flikr – a great resource for free vintage images.

The botanical name of the clove plant is Syzygium aromaticum. The plant is an evergreen which is native to Indonesia, and it is the dried flower bud which is used as a spice, although the stem and leaf also contain significant quantities of the active compound eugenol.
whole cloves spice analgesic

Antibacterial properties of cloves

The antibiotic nature of cloves can be attributed to the presence of eugenol, although other phytochemicals are of course present in the spice. It is possible that the relatively long shelf-life of spiced food may be an indicator of this germ-killing effect. Eugenol has been found to work by disrupting bacterial cell membranes [2]. There has been decades of work on the possibility of using various herbs and spices including cloves for use as antibiotics [3]. Work has been carried out to evaluate essential oils from spices for targeting resistant antibiotics for some time and there is some evidence to show that combining particular herbs and spices may have a particularly good effect [4].

natural antibiotic clove

Possible Future Uses of Spices as Antibiotics

There is currently an international race to beat antibiotic resistance. Going back to nature is one route that scientists are pursuing to find new ways of beating bacteria. Additionally, poorer countries may prefer to find natural, non-patented medicines which are likely to be cheaper than manufactured ones. However, because cloves can be an irritant, causing sensitization with repeated exposure, and are poisonous in larger doses, their usefulness may be limited.

Clove Oil Cautions

As mentioned above, clove oil should be used diluted and sparingly. As with many essential oils and medicines, it is poisonous in large quantities, and repeated use can result in sensitization. If you have dental discomfort, see your dentist as soon as possible. Do not use if pregnant.

Scientific References for the use of Eugenol and Clove Oil

[1] Advances in Pharmacological Research of Eugenol, Xiaojun KONG, Xiwang LIU, Jianyong LI, Yajun YANG, Curr Opin Complement Alternat Med 1:1, 8-11; January/February 2014
[2] The proposed mechanism of bactericidal action of eugenol, -terpineol and -terpinene against Listeria monocytogenes, Streptococcus pyogenes, Proteus vulgaris and Escherichia coli, S. O. Oyedemi*, A. I. Okoh, L. V. Mabinya, G. Pirochenva and A. J. Afolayan, African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 8 (7), pp. 1280-1286, 6 April, 2009
[3] Bioactive Volatile Compounds from Plants, Editors: Roy Teranishi, Ron G. Buttery, Hiroshi Sugisawa, American Chemical Society Symposium series, Volume 525, April 06 1993
[4] Antibacterial Activity of Plant Extracts and Phytochemicals on Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria, Gislene G. F. Nascimento; Juliana Locatelli; Paulo C. Freitas; Giuliana L. Silva, Braz. J. Microbiol. vol.31 no.4 São Paulo Oct./Dec. 2000