As we draw closer to Christmas, I thought that it would be fascinating to take a look at some of the plants that we are traditionally surrounded by at this time and examine how they can be used medicinally – and look at whether we can incorporate them into our own health and wellbeing regimes – easily and safely.
Holly is most often used in complementary medicine in the form of a Bach (correctly pronounced “batch”) Flower Remedy. I find that these helpful remedies are extremely useful in my practice and have seen great results with my patients. These are gentle, fast acting remedies and easy to use.
The Bach Flower Remedy made from Holly is often thought of as the remedy for anger – but this isn’t always accurate. In the Bach system anger is considered to be a secondary emotion and we need to look more closely at the underlying cause of the anger. For example, anger based on impatience needs another remedy, as do those angers based on feelings of personal unfairness or impersonal injustice, or where there is a simple loss of control.
So, Holly is actually the remedy for very negative, aggressive feelings directed at others – feelings such as hatred, suspicion, envy, spite. Destructive emotions such as these poison us on every level and destroy health – mentally, physically and emotionally. The underlying problem is an absence of love, and the remedy works to encourage our generosity of spirit and an openness towards others.
Ivy is used in herbal medicine. It is a bitter aromatic herb which has an emetic effect and a nauseating taste. Over the millennia, it has been used as a handy folk remedy – particularly in the treatment of rheumatism and also as an external application to skin eruptions, swollen and painful joints, burns and suppurating cuts.
Recent studies have shown that the leaves contain the compound ’emetine’, which is an alkaloid that has amoeba killing properties. It also contains triterpene saponins, which have been shown to successfully treat liver flukes, other internal parasites and fungal infections.
Taken internally, Ivy is used for the relief of gout, rheumatic pain, whooping cough, bronchitis and as a parasiticide. An infusion of the twigs in oil is recommended for the treatment of sunburn. However as the plant is mildly toxic it is imperative that it should be used under supervision of a qualified herbalist.
Cranberry is familiar to us as a food and as a juice – but it actually has a valid role in herbal medicine too:
An infusion of the branches of the Cranberry plant has been used traditionally as a treatment for pleurisy. Cranberries also seem to have an ability to help greatly with urinary tract infections. The jury is still out on precisely how cranberries actually work in this respect. Hypotheses include the idea that cranberry juice acidifies urine to such an extent that bacteria in the urinary tract are unable to cling onto the bladder walls and are therefore more easily flushed out. Whatever the actual mode of operation, cranberry juice remains an effective treatment – although one down-side is that due to the exceedingly bitter taste of the berries, either a great deal of sugar – or other synthetic sweetening agents need to be added to it to make it palatable for most people.
Cranberry fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. It can also be dried for winter use. It’s extremely rich rich in vitamin C, making the fruit too acidic for most people’s tastes, so it is mainly used in pies, preserves etc. Useful Tip: Old cookery books say that if you add a teaspoon of salt when you cook the fruit, this can take the place of half the sugar normally used.
We all love a kiss under the mistletoe – but this extraordinary plant has a fascinating history and a valuable role in medicine and healing. Shakespeare called it ‘the baleful Mistletoe,’ which alludes to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the god of Peace, was killed by an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was revived following the request of the other gods and goddesses, and Mistletoe was afterwards associated with the goddess of Love, and it was ordered that everyone who passed under it should give and receive a kiss, to demonstrate that the mistletoe had become an emblem of love and not of hate.
Mistletoe was greatly revered by the Druids. They gathered mistletoe with great ceremony, by climbing an oak tree and severing the mistletoe with a golden knife. It was always cut at a particular phase of the moon, right at the beginning of the year and the Druids only sought the mistletoe following dreams and revelations instructing them to hunt for it. On the occasions when such dreams had not occurred – or it mistletoe had fallen from the tree, it was a considered to be a forewarning of very bad luck. The Druids believed that mistletoe protected its possessor from all evil, and that the oaks on which it was seen growing were to be respected because of the wonderful cures which the priests were able to achieve with it.
At the beginning of the New Year, Druidic neophytes would travel around announcing that the New Year had arrived. People speculate that the custom of including mistletoe in the decoration of our homes at Christmas is a relic of this old custom.
Parts Used Medicinally: The leaves and young twigs are collected just before the berries form and are then dried.
As early as 1961, laboratory studies demonstrated that mistletoe, along with other immunostimulant plants (such as eupatorium, astragalus, echinacea, acathopanax, chamomilla, and sabal), inhibited tumors in mice, mistletoe continues to be studied for its anti-cancer properties. In addition, a range of conditions including convulsions, delirium, menopausal symptoms, neuralgia, urinary disorders, and heart conditions have benefitted from the activity of mistletoe. It has also been used to temper the spasms of epilepsy.