MEDIEVAL EUROPE'S PRINCIPAL MEDICINAL PLANTS

The following plants were the principle herbs used by the villagers of Villandry, France in Medieval Europe. They are still grown at Villandry in the traditional medicine garden on the grounds.  

Medieval gardens, Villandry, Loire river.  

Garden of love, Villandry, France

 Medicinal Garden of the Middle Ages

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Spiderwort, Widow's Tears, Spider plant

Tradescantia virginiana L.

Commelinaceae

 

USES: (Photo, more)

Food: Winter hardy escaped and now wild perennial. Eat young stems and leaves in spring...Flowers are edible throughout year, pick in morning before they wilt. In salads, stir fry, or right off the plant. Flowers may be dipped in egg white and coated with powdered sugar. Root tea a laxative (see below).

Medicine: Root tea used as a laxative, for female kidney disorders and stomach problems. Root tea a laxative. Crushed and smashed aerial parts of plant used as a poultice over insect bites, stings. Native American and folk use as anticancer agent. Flowers have health protecting flavonoids, heart, blood pressure, hypotensive, diuretic, may improve distal circulation.

Science Education: Flowers open in morning, wilt by afternoon and turn into a jellylike mass by evening. Hairy stamens of flower have large rows of thin-walled cells in a chainlike pattern. Flowing cytoplasm and nucleus of these cells easily seen under a microscope.

Wormwood

Artemisia absinthium L.

Compositae

Uses: (Photo, more)

Food: flavoring in vermouth.

Medicine: Aromatic bitters that stimulates the secretion of bile and hydrochloric acid in stomach. Good for those who have weak or under active digestion. Anti-flatulence. Anti-inflammatory (azulene is anti-inflammatory). Used to eliminate worms, ease stomach pain and as a mild antidepressant. Sesquiterpene lactones have an antitumor effect and are insecticidal.

Thujone is a brain stimulant in small doses toxic in large doses. Tincture also used to treat anemia under professional supervision.

Chemistry: sesquiterpene lactones: artabsin, anabsinthin, azulenes, thujone. Flovonoids, phenolic acids and lignins.

Wildlife/Veterinarian: tincture may kill worms, antihelmenthic. Insecticide and insect repellent.

Preparation: Take only with professional help due to toxic thujone. Never taken over five weeks at a time. Infusion for digestion, tincture for anemia, digestion, eliminate worms...CAUTION.

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium L.

Umbelliferae

Uses: (Photo, more)

Medicine: Taken as tea, aerial parts (leaves and flowers) are warming increasing perspiration. May reduce inflammation externally and internally. Digestive aid. Diuretic, may lower blood pressure (hypotensive), relaxes spasms of digestive tract and other musculature. Styptic, reported to have anti-hemorrhage activity internally and externally. Internally for colds flu, measles. Thins and causes mucus to flow. Also, has been used for diarrhea, arthritis, menopause, hypertension, In China to protect against thrombosis after stroke or heart attack. Has been used externally for wounds, hemorrhoids, inflamed eyes, nosebleeds, ulcers. Can be combined with elderberry flowers and/or berries.

Caution: may make you more photosensitive, sensitive to light. Also contains small amount of carcinogen and liver toxin thujone.

Chemistry: anti-inflammatory azulene. Achilleine in yarrow suppresses menstruation and arrests blood flow. Yarrow reportedly used to slow heavy menstruation. Coumarin in yarrow balances effect of achilleine. Achilleine lowers blood pressure.(2) (6)

Preparation: May be used fresh or dried. Use whole aerial parts of herb, flowers and leaves. Use about 3 times as much fresh herb as dried. Make infusion or tea. Tea is bitter, if too strong add more water. Dried herb may be stirred into hot lard and made into a topical wound dressing. See video Native American Medicine for details. Yarrow may also be tinctured in glycerin or alcohol see Meuninck's Herbal therapies video for tincturing details.

ROSEMARY

(Rosmarinus officinalis L.)

Rosaceae

USES: (Photo, more)

Food: soups., sauces, cheese, meat especially lamb and game, excellent add to gravy. Excellent with Balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Place under legs, in body cavity of chicken when roasting. Try adding a little to Japanese/Chinese flavor principles (see flavor principles) for preparing a yaki tori marinade.

Needle tea is change of pace relaxing, engaging.

Medicine/Chemistry: Tonic, analgesic, nervine, anti-inflammatory, astringent, carminative, stimulant. Antioxidant rosmanol, food preservative. Essential oil is antibiotic.

Rosmaricine is stimulant and analgesic. Rosmarinic acid and flavonoids are anti-inflammatory. Flavonoids strengthen capillaries. Volatile oils act as a stimulant when applied to skin (in baths, essential oils).

As food and tea may stimulate circulation to brain, may improve memory and concentration.

May raise blood pressure, improve circulation. May stimulate adrenal glands and reduce stress. Uplifting.

Preparation: Essential oil heated and effused into room. Tincture is made in a 1:5 ratio that is one part herb to five parts alcohol (Everclear or 40% alcohol). When using fresh herb tincture 300 grams rosemary leaves to one liter of alcohol (dried herb use 200 grams to a liter of alcohol). Or 150 grams fresh herb to 1/2 liter alcohol, or 75 grams fresh rosemary to 1/4 liter alcohol.

Use alcohol as rub. For stress use drink 2 ml twice daily. For headaches use an infusion use 30 grams of fresh leaves to 1/2 liter water (500 ml). Dried leaves use 20 grams to half liter of water. Make like tea, put herb in pot and pour over just boiled water, cover, let infuse for ten minutes.

Used to treat baldness, improve memory, cure colds, alleviate stress.

Digestive antispasmodic.

Chemistry: volatile oils: cineole, camphor, camphene, borneol. Rosmaricine, rosmarinic acid, tannins, rosmanol, diterpene picrosalvin. Flovonoids apigenin and diosmin.

Wildlife/Veterinarian: Aromatic oil (volatile oils) attracts moths repels other insects.

Mullein  

Verbascum thapsis L.

Scrophulariaceae

Uses: (photo and more information)

Food: Tea is made from the leaves to reduce upper respiratory tract congestion, spasms.

Medicine: tea for upper respiratory tract conditions, coughs, congestion and infections. Used for treating bronchitis and tracheitis. Flower is Appalachian folk remedy for treating necrotic ulcer of recluse spider. Folk practitioners pounded flowers into a blend of vinegar and Epsom salts and washed the wound 10 or 12 times per day. Leaf and flower infusion used to reduce and thin mucus formation. Induces coughing up (expectorant) of phlegm. Often combined with other expectorants: thyme (Thymus vulgaris)and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) for example. Flowers infused in olive oil are used in Europe for hemorrhoids and ear infections.

Chemistry: mucilage (polysaccharide). Bioflavonoids, triterpenoid saponins, tannins and volatile oils.

Preparation and dosage: Pour cup of boiling water over teaspoon of dried, crushed or powdered leaf. Drink when cool. Infuse whole fresh flower in olive oil. Pack flowers into a small jar, cover with olive oil. Let infuse in refrigerator for at least three days. Use warm.

 

Angelica

Angelica sinensis A., archangel L.

Umbelliferae

(photo, more)

NOTE: A. sinensis and A. archangel are used differently in Western and Oriental traditions. There may be chemical differences. More similarities than differences, however. Unless indicated most uses below are for A. sinensis which may be purchased from Richters (www.herbs.com) as seed, or as dried root from health food stores. A. archangel may be more phototoxic than A. sinensis.

Uses:

Food: In Chinese cuisine, Angelica sinensis root slices may be added to stir fry or soups. I have used both Angelica species in this way. My favorite eye opener and lib flapper for guests is a Yin and Yang Cordial . Preparation: I use 100 grams of Angelica root, typically purchased at an Oriental Supermarket or drug store, and add it with 100 grams of Ginseng to 1/5th quart of Peppermint Schnapps. Saponins (phytosterols) and phytoestrogens are drawn from the roots into the schnapps. It takes at least three weeks to get a good tincture because I use the whole ginseng root and thick slices of angelica. I use as a before dinner cordial or a sip for a pick me up in the afternoon. Yin and yang are balanced in this preparation. I also stir fry this herb or add it to cooking rice. That is, put slices of root in water with rice and cook together until rice is tender.

Medicine: Warming tonic. Number one female herb in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. Traditional use of herb for menstrual cramps and may improve scanty menstrual flow. Antispasmodic may be helpful in reducing angina. Like other Umbellifores angelica has calcium channel blockers, drugs that are used to treat angina and other symptoms of heart disease. Calcium channel blockers are indicated in treating cardiac arrhythmia. It appears angelica improves peripheral circulation to distal parts of body. Other useful arrhythmia foods include celery, garlic, carrots and fennel. Also used for intestinal colic and to improve digestion. Stimulating expectorant for coughs and upper respiratory uses. This root may have utility as a post menopausal herb. See a Naturopath for professional advice. Useful heartburn relief. For treating indigestion German holistic health care professionals prescribe three teaspoons of dried herb infused into water. Also used by European professionals for treating colic.

Although angelica has been prescribe for psoriasis I have had no luck with it on my stubborn 30 year old condition. The idea is to eat the angelica to get psoralens, which increase your sensitivity to UV light. After spending ten minutes in the sun the UV light/psoralen interaction may stop cell division in the skin. Self-administering psoralens and subsequent exposure to light can be carcinogenic. Root extract appears to be anti-inflammatory. Naturopaths use angelica to treat allergies, perhaps due to the bioflavonoid complex. Angelica species are known in general for the following effects: anti-allergy, immunomodulating, antibacterial, analgesic, smooth muscle relaxing, cardiovascular and phyto estrogen content.

Women: uterus regulating root, both stimulating and inhibiting uterine muscle action. According to Hsu, water soluble compounds stimulate uterine muscles, while volatile oil inhibits uterine muscle. To get contractions the herb (root) has to be boiled for a long time, whereas to relax the uterine muscles the root should only be simmered for a few minutes. Although I have not found exact lengths of time on these preparations. I speculate that a five to ten minute simmer may work for capturing the volatile compounds for the relaxing effect. Water extracts regulate uterine contractions in laboratory animals. Lab rats fed angelica root had raised glucose metabolism, higher DNA in uterine cells and higher multiplicaiton rate of uterine tissue. (3) Other emmenagogues include chasteberry (Vitex agnuscastus); black cohosh and blue cohosh (Cimicfuga racemosa and Caulophyllum thalictroides); also dill (Anethum graveolens), celery (Apium graveolens), carrot (Daucus carota), turmeric (Curcuma longa), marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis).

Chemistry: Angelica sinensis: calcium channel blockers, ligustilide m n-butylidenphthalide, n-butylphthalide, sedanonic acid, safrol, p-cymene, carvacrol (3). Volatile oil consisting among others of beta-phellandrene. Also, lactones, coumarins and flavonoids as in A. archangelica.

Angelica archangelica: coumarins including angelicin, osthenol, umbelliferone, osthole, archangelicin, bergapten and ostruthol. Flavonoids: phytoestrogens, archangelenone, volatile oil of root includes limonene, borneol, alpha-pinene and lactones.

WARNING; DUE TO UTERINE STIMULATING CHEMISTRY DO NOT TAKE ANGELICA DURING PREGNANCY.

Peppermint

Mentha piperita L.

Labiatae

Uses: (Photo, more)

Food: Teas, in salads, cold drinks, saute vegetables, flavor principle of sub continent Asia and Middle East. (photo, more)

Medicine: Antiseptic, carminative, relieves muscle spasms, warming, increases perspiration. Stimulates bile secretion. Menthol and menthone, volatile oils, antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-fungal, cooling, and skin anesthetic (in too high concentration skin irritant and may burn...BE CAREFUL).

Recent studies in Europe suggest it may be a treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

Antispasmodic effect on digestive system as a tea or food. Used to treat colic cramps and flatulence. May help relieve diarrhea, spastic colon, constipation.

May relieve headaches related to digestive weakness. Diluted oil used for headache, inhalant for respiratory infections (rubbed on chest as Vick's Vaporub).

Essential oil dilute is rubbed on temples for headache and tension relief. Tea for digestive problems. Capsules are used for irritable bowel syndrome (see healthfood store or physician).

Chemistry: Triterpenes, phenolic acids, flavonoids: luteolin and menthoside. mjor volatile oils: menthol, menthone.

 

CHAMOMILE

(Chamomilla recutita L. )

Chamaemelum nobile L. (Roman))

Compositae/Asteraceae

Uses: (photo, more)

Food: Tea fresh flowers preferred over dried.

Medicine: May aid digestion, may prevent ulcers, and relieve arthritis pain.

Chamomile flowers may be used topically to treat abrasions, inflammations, eczema and acne. Azullene in chamomile may stimulate liver regeneration.

British scientists purport chamomile stimulates infection fighting macrophages and B lymphocytes of the human immune system. Good as healing moisturizing skin wash. Inhale steam of chamomile for upper respiratory infection relief (sinusitis) (see Natural Health video).

-Use hot tea steam as an inhalant for sinus congestion.

-wash hair with the tea to improve quality and sheen (see Natural Health video for information on these uses).

-prepared in lotions and ointments as antiseptic treatment of sore gums, wounds, raw or sore nipples and other inflammations.

Preparation: as a tea, water just off boil preferably over fresh flowers cover with lid to cool. Lick oils off lid, drink tea. Blend tea of chamomile with calendula flowers.

Chemistry: anthemol, apigenin, apiin, nobilin, epicatechol, quercitrin, rutin, luteolin, scopoletin, taraxasterol, chromium, alpha pinene, p-cyment, alpha copaene, cineole, borneol, bisaboline, umbelliferone. from (2) AND The Chemistry,

Pharmacology, and Commercial Formulations of Chamomile see Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants. Vol. 1. Oryx Press, Phoenix.

Sesquiterpene lactones anticancer in test tube against human cancer cells.

Volatile oils: nobilin, 3-epinobiline,3-dehydronobilin and 1, 10, epoxynobilin are antispasmodic

Flavonoids include patuletin, quercitin, apigenin and luteolin adding to antispasmodic antiallergenic effects.

GRAS

 

HIBISCUS, HOLLYHOCKS, ROSE OF SHARON, Mallows

Hollyhock=Alcea rosea L.

Rose of Sharon: Hibiscus syriacus L.

Hibiscus: Hibiscus sabdariffa,L.

(Malvaceae)

 

USES: (Photo, more)

Food: flowers of hollyhock preferred by author, also flowers of Rose of Sharon infused in water, honey, syrup. Also, may be dried and stored and used as winter tea. Fresh open flowers may be stir fried; tear petals into salads.  Leaves of hibiscus may be cooked like spinach.

Leaves and shoots edible, flower edible, Unripe seed pods are edible.

Put flower petals in salads, stir fry, saute shoots and pods in omelet.

Medicine: Mild immune system stimulation. Mucilaginous property in flowers used to help fevers, may relieve dysentery and diarrhea. Mildly diuretic, having a laxative effect. Also used internally as food or water infusion (tea) for cystitis, gastritis and coughs, mucilage in flower good expectorant; tea of flower also used as a gargle for sore throat. Aromatic, stimulating warming, relaxant to digestive system. Considered by some an aphrodisiac. Hibiscus flowers are a mild laxative in tea form, but as the concentration of the extraction increases it may actually cause constipation.  There may be a mild anti-microbial effect from a concentrated tea of the flowers.  Hibiscus has unproven anti-cancer effects.  In the Middle East it is used as a diuretic to treat heart disease.

I dry Rose of Sharon flowers and use them in tea like hibiscus and holly hocks.  The flower of Rose of Sharon is used in Chinese medicine to stem diarrhea, hemorrhoidal bleeding, leukorrhea, dysentery.  The dried flower in decoction or infusion is used.

Chemistry: mucilage, seed approximately 16% protein.  Acids:  oxalic, malic, citric, tartaric acids.  Flowers contain anthocyanins.  Saponarin, mucilage and isovitexin may be a few of the active chemicals in Rose of Sharon.

Note other edible malvas:  Hibiscus abelmoschus or better, Abelmoschus moschatus also look for Abelmoschus esculentus (Malva moschada, musk mallow)

Lovage

Levisticum officinale L.

Umbelliferae

 

USES:  (Photo, more)

Food: I eat the leaves and young stems in early spring. Leaves get stronger as season progresses. I stuff a big bunch in an old pair of panty hose and let them infuse in the hot tub before a soak. Third year roots can be dried and infused in water for gargle. Seeds may be dried, crushed and infused in water as a gargle or flavoring agent in cooking.

Steam young shoots and leaves and eat. Seeds can be dried and used in cooking like celery seeds, or as medicinal teas. Later in season strong leaves used to flavor soups, stews, salad dressings and other savory dishes. One of my favorite herbs, hardy perennial that gives every year. I use flowers in salads late in the season to capture flavonoids in my diet.

Medicine: sedative, relaxant, warms, increases perspiration, diuretic, expectorant, relaxes spasms, anti-microbial, treat indigestion, flatulence, appetite stimulant, fights kidney stones eat with spinach to neutralize oxalic acid (may prevent calcium loss), PMS, may alleviate painful menstruation. Externally used as poultice over sores, gargle for sore throat and ampthous ulcers.

Chemistry: seed 20 percent protein 14 percent fat. Root has coumarins, cuparene, p-cymene, eugenol, limonene and linalool, psoralen, umbelliferone, angelic acid, seed has apiole.

Balm, LemonBalm/Beebalm

Melissa officinalis L., Monarda didyma(R)

M. fistula(P)

Uses: (Photo, more)

Food: Flowers and young leaves in salads, desserts, toppings ; vegetables. Balm leaves are used in baths, tea., ice cream. Cold infusion with other mints is excellent. Stuff a jar with mint leaves all kinds and lemon balm leaves, ADD THYME LEAVES and two slices of lemon. Put in refrigerator overnight. Thyme leaves may make this a must have tea for mountaineers protecting them from mountain sickness.

Both lemon balm and beebalm contain polyphenols and the anesthetic/analgesic eugenol. Phytochemicals in balm may relax muscles in the autonomic system of the digestive tract and uterus. More research is needed.

CHEMISTRY: LEMON BALM: catechins, luteolin-7-glucoside, protocatchuic acid, rosmarinic acid, linalool, caryophyllene, eugenyl-acetate, germacrene, succinic acid, thymol, ursolic acid.(3)

Wildlife/Veterinarian: Eugenol is a chemo-attractant to Japanese beetles. this chemical can be purchased in the first aid section of some drug stores. Put the Eugenol on a piece of absorbent cloth and fashion a trap from a bottle (see Japanese beetle traps at your local garden center for construction ideas). Mint family plants are sought out by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.   

FDA GRAS. To be avoided by pregnant and nursing mothers possible uterine stimulant.

NATURAL HEALTH: Lemon balm cooling in the second degree, like chamomile mint, valerian, passion flowers. Thus, central nervous system relaxant, calming. Indicated for psychological autonomic nervous system problems (stress). Peripheral vasodilator cooling to fevers. Monoterpene citronellol sedative effect.

Preparation: first leaves of spring and flowers of summer, may be dried. In China 1-4 gm dried aerial parts three times per day are used to treat stress.

Lavender

Lavandula officinalis L.

Labiatae

Uses: (Photo, more)

Food: See our Edible Flowers video for recipes for ice cream, sorbets, appetizers. Good with lean beef, cold beef cuts.

Medicine: Relaxant, carminative, stimulates blood flow antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial, relieves muscle spasm. Used to treat asthma (essential oil in baths as inhalant). Essential oil massaged into temples for headache, sleeplessness, irritability. Lavender oil in a bath is antiseptic and relaxing. Oil reduces pain and nerves. Flowers are antiseptic and antibacterial. applied to skin flowers are insecticidal and rubefacient, that is they will stimulate circulation of blood to skin. Sleep aid, asthma aid as inhalant (volatile oils). Essential oil is good on sores, wounds and burns.

On insect stings provides relief. Used externally to treat scabies and lice.

Chemistry: coumarins, tannins, flavonoids and volatile oils: linalyl acetate, cineole, borneol, linalool, nerol.

Wildlife/Veterinarian: Insecticidal, also rub flowers on stings, bites. Essential oil in shampoo may be helpful against head lice. Dilute oil on scabies may help.