Herb of the Day for August 10th – LAVENDER

Lavender

Botanical Names

  • Family Labiatae
  • Lavandula officinalis syn. Lavandula angustifolia

Common Names

  • Garden Lavender, French Lavender, True Lavender, Aljucema (Spanish)

Cautions

Avoid high doses during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant.

Lavender contains limonene which can cause photosensitivity, especially when perfumes and cosmetics are used containing lavender oil.

Full-strength lavender oil should not be applied directly to the skin, but should be diluted in a carrier, or neutral, oil.

Description

Native to France and the western Mediterranean, it is now cultivated worldwide for its volatile oil. It is grown as a garden plant as far north as Norway. Lavender is a perennial shrub, growing to about three feet, producing spikes of violet-blue flowers that extend above the foliage. Some varieties have flowers of pale pink, dark purple, white, or magenta and are harvested toward the end of flowering season when the petals have begun to fade. They are generally picked by the end of July to obtain maximum strength in its essential oils, with sixty pounds of flowers yielding about sixteen fluid ounces of oil.

History

One of the most popular medicinal herbs since ancient times, its name is derived from the Latin lavare, meaning to wash. The Greeks and Romans were fond of it in their bath water.

Since ancient times, the oil has been used to kill lice and fleas and as an embalming fluid.

In Arab medicine, it was used as an expectorant and antispasmodic

In European folk medicine, it was regarded as a useful wound herb and a worm remedy for children.

It became popular as a medicine during the late Middle Ages and taken to the New World by Pilgrims in 1620.

As a strewing herb, lavender was popularly used to mask the smells of households and streets.

The glovers of Grasse used the oil to scent their fashionable leather and were remarkably free of the plague. This encouraged others to use the herb to ward off the pestilence.

The medical properties of lavender have been noted in the earliest English herbals and in the British Pharmacopoeia for about 250 years.

Key Actions

  • antiseptic
  • antidepressant
  • antibacterial
  • antibacterial
  • analgesic
  • antispasmodic
  • circulatory stimulant
  • carminative
  • nervous system tonic
  • promotes bile flow
  • relaxant

Key Components

  • volatile oil (up to 3% of over 40 constituents including linalyl acetate [30-60%], cineole [10%], linalool [20-50%], nerol, borneol and others)
  • coumarins (including umbelliferone and herniarin)
  • tannins
  • caffeic acid derivatives (including rosmaric acid)
  • flavonoids
  • triterpenoids

Medicinal Parts

Flowers, essential oil

Linalyl ester is the major component of bergamot and is also responsible for the aroma and medicinal qualities of the plant.

Tannins have antibacterial properties that are useful in treating minor skin wounds.

A small British study found that lavender was more effective than a pharmaceutical sleep drug in helping nursing home patients obtain a more restful sleep.

Remedies

An infusion from the flowers is taken for nervous exhaustion, tension headaches, during labour, for colic, and for indigestion. A weak infusion (25% normal strength) is given to babies for colic, irritability, and excitement.

A tincture from the flowers is taken for headaches and depression.

Traditional Uses

Lavender is well-known for its soothing and calming effect; and, when combined with other sedative herbs, relieves insomnia, irritability, headaches, migraines, and depression. Medicinally, lavender has many uses, especially in aromatherapy, and is used by midwives, massage therapists, and some hospitals.

Its significant amounts of volatile oil soothes indigestion and colic, relieving gas and bloating.

It is also used to treat asthma and, through its relaxing effects, is especially effective when excessive nervousness is the trigger.

The essential oil is strongly antiseptic and a valuable first aid remedy helpful in treating minor burns, wounds, and sores. It is also effective on insect stings as it relieves the pain and inflammation.

The dried flowers are often hung in rooms to perfume the air and repel moths and other insects.

When placed near or inside a pillow, dried lavender helps promote a restful sleep. A few drops in the bathwater can relieve tension and mild depression, while promoting sleep.

Added to cool bathwater, it becomes an energizing stimulant.

Drops of lavender oil are sometimes added to water and used as an astringent for cleaning the face and treating acne.

In Mexico, lavender is used in a tea to treat indigestion, and burned in a type of aromatherapy. Smudge sticks are made from bundles of the plant and burned to fumigate sick rooms. New mothers are purified with it after childbirth.

In Spain and Portugal, L. stoechas is used as an antiseptic wash for wounds, ulcers, and sores; but its oil is inferior to that of L. officinalis. Although L. spica (Spike lavender) yields more oil than L. officinalis, it is also of an inferior quality.

The English and French varieties are especially prized for their essential oils, which are used in perfumes, cosmetics, skin care products, and air fresheners.

Advertisements

Herb of the Day for April 9th – Mint

Herb of the Day for April 9th

Mint

Overview:

Plants in the mint family are very hardy perennials with vigorous growth habits. Mint, left to its own devices, will spread quickly and become a nuisance. However, it is very popular as a flavorful herb and the plants can be grown easily. Just try to chose a spot where you won’t mind the rampant growth or grow it in a confined space.

Latin Name:

Peppermints (Mentha × piperita), Spearmints (Mentha spicata).

Mature Size:

Height – 12 to 18 inches (30 – 45cm).
Width: 18 to 24 inches (45 – 60cm). However plants will spread much further.

Days to Harvest:

Seed germinates in 10 – 15 days. Full size plant depends upon variety and growing conditions. Usually within 2 months.

Exposure:

Sun / Partial Shade

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Depends on variety. Peppermint is very cold hardy, down to Zone 3. Spearmint handles the heat best, up to Zone 11.

Description:

Mint really wants to be a ground cover. The long branches grow upward and then flop over and root, spreading the plant wherever it can reach. The spikes of white or pinkish flowers are attractive, but brief. However, they do attract bees, butterflies and even birds. Most mint plants are hybrids and will not grow true from seed.

Design Suggestions:

Many mints work well in herbal lawns. They will need to be kept mowed, if you plan on walking on them. But this will help control their spread and the scent will make the work more pleasant. Otherwise I highly recommend planting mint in pots and keeping them on patios or paved areas. There will be more than enough to harvest and you won’t have the high maintenance of keeping the plants in check.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Mentha piperita , Peppermint – The best for mint flavoring. (USDA Zones 5 – 11)
  • M. piperita citrata cv., Orange Mint – One of the tangiest of the fruit flavored mints. (USDA Zones 4 – 11)
  • Mentha suaveoloens , Apple Mint – Apple. Mint. What’s not to like? (USDA Zones 5 – 11)
  • Mentha suaveolens variegata, Pineapple Mint – Variegated offshoot of apple mint. (USDA Zones 6 – 11)

Growing Tips:

Mint is one of the few culinary herbs that grows well in shady areas, although it can handle full sun if kept watered.Cuttings of mint will root easily in soil or water and mature plants can be divided and transplanted. However you can start new plants from seed. Sow outdoors in late spring or start seed indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last frost. Keep soil moist until seed germinates.

Mint prefers a rich, moist soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If the soil is somewhat lean, top dress yearly with organic matter and apply an organic fertilizer mid-season, after shearing.

To contain the roots and limit spreading, you can grow mint in containers, above or sunk into the ground. Be careful to keep container mints from flopping over and touching the ground. Stems will root quickly, if given the chance.

Harvesting: Snip sprigs and leaves as needed.

If you don’t harvest your mint regularly, it will benefit greatly from a shearing mid-season. At some point, you will probably notice the stems getting longer and the leaves getting shorter. That’s the time to cut the plants back by 1/3 to ½ and get them sending out fresh new foliage again. You can do small patches at a time, if you have a lot of mint, and prolong the harvest season. All cuttings can be used, dried or frozen for later use. You can use, dry or freeze the cuttings.

Pests & Problems: Sometimes gets rust, which appears like small orange spots on the undersides of leaves. Use an organic fungicide and try to allow plants to dry between waterings.

Stressed plants may also be bothered by whitefly, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs

Recipe Suggestions for Enjoying Your Fresh Mint

  • Make a Mint Julep Video
  • Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Cake Recipe
  • Pea and Mint Soup Recipe
  • Chocolate Mint Syrup
  • Mint Tea Recipe – Mint Tea with Lemon and Orange Juice
  • Fennel and Orange Salad With Mint

This About.com page has been optimized for print. To view this page in its original form, please visit: http://gardening.about.com/od/herbsspecificplants1/p/Growing_Mint.htm

©2012 About.com, Inc., a part of The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

Herb of the Day for March 3rd – HYSSOP

Herb of the Day

Hyssop

The use of hyssop as an herbal remedy dates back to Biblical times. It is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible as a cleansing agent (although these references may be to other species of hyssop, such as Origanum aegypticum or Origanum syriacum, rather than Hyssopus officinalis).

Hyssop has been prescribed for a multitude of medical conditions, although there are few high-quality human trials researching these uses. It has been used traditionally as an antispasmodic, expectorant, emmenagogue (stimulates menstruation), stimulant, carminative (digestive aid), peripheral vasodilator, anti-inflammatory, anticatarrhal, antispasmodic, tonic and sweat-inducer. However, both the alcoholic extract and decoction have been used to inhibit sweating. Hyssop is used specifically for cough, bronchitis and chronic catarrh, and also for its tonic effects on the digestive, urinary, nervous and bronchial systems. Hot hyssop decoction vapors have also been used to treat inflammation and tinnitus.

Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Allergies

Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to hyssop, any of its constituents or any related plants in the Lamiaceae family.

Side Effects and Warnings

Hyssop has been reported to cause vomiting and seizures, especially at high doses. The essential oil contains the ketone pino-camphone, which is known to cause convulsions. Avoid in patients with epilepsy, fever, hypertension (high blood pressure) or pregnancy.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Hyssop is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence.