The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Nettle – Urtica Dioica

Here is the second herb that I chose for my personal herbal – stinging nettle, urtica dioica.

NETTLE (Urtica Dioica)
Plant Family: (Hamamelids)
nettle-topsParts Used:
Leaves, buds, rhizomes and roots.

Collection season: early spring for leaves and buds until they flower, seeds and roots in autumn.

Soil and Environment: Universal throughout British Isles and most of temperate world, found in forests, woods, river banks, under shrubs and bushes, wasteland – pretty much anywhere. Thrives in nitrogen-rich soil.
Propagation:
Wind-pollinated perennial.

Description:
Up to 5ft tall, with long jagged edge to shield-shape leaf that comes to point at tip. Stinging hairs along leaves and square stalks. Small, creamy-green flowers in long strands, seeds not long after flowering.Nettle 1

History:
An Anglo-Saxon sacred herb (wergulu) and used in medieval times as beer to treat rheumatism. Tibetans believe their sage and poet, Milarep (AD 10252-1135) lived on nettle soup until he turned green. Nettle tops were used as a rennet substitute in cheese-making as they turned milk sour. There are around 500 species of nettle.

Chemical constituents:
Chlorophyll, vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K, folic acid, minerals, bioflavinoids, seretonin precursor.

Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Reduces fatigue, improves stamina, nourishes kidneys, adrenal glands, nourishes immune, digestive, endocrine and respiratory system, increases metabolism, normalises weight, eases/prevents rheumatism and arthritis, good for skin and hair, eases lung complaints such as asthma. Galactagogue. Eases leg cramps and muscle spasms. Reduces haemorrhoids. Anti-inflammatory, alterative, astringent, haemostatic, circulatory tonic, diurectic.

Combinations:
Can be used to “boost” many other herb actions, especially when dealing with immune system.

Usage:
Tea – 2 tsps steeped (dried) or 3 tsps (fresh) in boiled water for 5 to 10 mins three times a day. Tincture is 1 tsp twice a day.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
Protection, self-respect, resiliency and flexibility. Teaches of healthy boundaries while providing deep nourishment. Good meditational tea and also cleansing/purifying bath before ritual.

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Birch (Betula Pendula)

Working on my own personal herbal, I’ve just finished writing up about birch, nettle and oak. I thought I’d start sharing all my research and practical stuff with you, so here is the first “herb” that I chose to start my own materia medica! For our course, we have to choose twelve plants to use medicinally 🙂  I will upload the bibliography for all my research shortly.
BIRCH (Betula Pedula)
Plant family: Birch Family (Hamamelids)
Birch leavesParts Used:
Sap, leaves, bark & buds.

Soil and Environment
Woodland and heath, moor, parklands and gardens. Copes well in sandy, acidic soil and can handle being near the coast (salt). Native to northern temperate regions as it handles the cold well. Propagation by wind.

Birch barkDescription:
Deciduous leaves, shield-shaped with jagged edges. White papery bark with horizontal darker stripes and marks. Base of trunk expanded where it meets the ground, compared to the slim rest of the trunk. Male and female catkins – male catkins produce a lot of pollen and cause many allergic reactions. Light “green” smell, leaves and bark taste bitter, sap is sweet. High energy, talkative tree.

History:
Used for thousands of years in cold, northern climates in everything from adhesives to wine, baskets, yokes, boats and vinegar. Pioneer species when ice caps retreated 10,000 years ago, growing quickly and falling as it is a soft wood, then fertilizing the ground for other tree species. First letter of Ogham alphabet. One of seven peasant trees in Brehon law. Birch was used throughout Europe at Winter Solstice or New Years to “beat the bounds”. Bride’s doll held a birch wand. Entire birch trees were offered in votive pits in ancient times. Twigs used for brooms (besoms). Considered the World Tree in many cultures.

Chemical constituents:
Birch camphor, tannins, triterpine (betulin), flavinoids, saponines, essential oils, mineral salts (calcium oxalate) vitamin C, aromatic hydrocarbons, sucrose. Rich in potassium. Birch sap contains betulinic acid, an anti-tumour cancer treatment.
Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Birch sap is good for kidney or bladder stones, skin conditions and rheumatic diseases. It is also a good spring cleansing tonic and nutritive. Fermented it makes a lovely wine. Leaves and leaf buds good as tea for general detox, urinary complaints, cystitis, rheumatic and arthritic conditions, gout. Good diuretic. Astringent qualities and diuretic properties help with skin problems, sore throats and chest congestion when used as inhalation therapy. Effective germicide. Buds can be eaten for stomach complaints. Insect repellent.

Combinations it can be used in:
Use with sodium bicarbonate to improve tea’s ability to cut through high uric acid levels. Oil and tea combine well together.

Usage:
Birch sap tapped straight from tree and drunk as cleansing tonic. Tea to spring cleanse internally, as well as for gout, kidney and bladder stones, cystitis, arthritis, rheumatism, psoriasis, eczema, fluid retention and fevers. Birch leaf oil for topical use for cellulite, detox massage, aching muscles, rheumatism and arthritis, eczema and psoriasis, fibromyalgia.

Dosage:
Tea – 4 to 5 leaves per cup or mug boiling water, steeped for 5 to 10 minutes, taken 3 to 4 times per day. Sap – 3 tbsps in morning. Oil – use for massage as needed.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
New beginnings, adventure, feminine energy, creativity. Leading on with shining light through the dark forest of the soul. Brings hope and courage to discouraging situations. Aids in clear thinking and provides clarity of purpose. Encourages self-discipline and inner authority. Offering of birch wreaths can be made to water spirits to avoid storms or excessive rain. Good cleansing/purifying bath before ritual or mediation.


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Summer Madness

hawthornThings have been so busy here – I apologise for not posting as often as I’d like!  This month I am studying the heart and circulatory system, and herbs that benefit and aid both.  It’s a lot of hard work, going back and re-learning all my human anatomy and biology from over 25 years back when I was in high school! Thinking about blood, veins, arteries and the like always makes me a bit queasy, but I got through it 🙂

I went out yesterday and collected hawthorn, elderflower and birch leaves. I’ve made a hawthorn tincture with half of the harvest straight away, and am drying the other half of the leaves and flowers in my airing cupboard.  Put the flowers and leaves in a blender and cover with brandy, mix it up and then place in a jar in a cool, dark place for 1 month.  Strain and use as directed.

Hawthorn is such a wonderful plant, medicinally and spiritually. Medicinally, it is a heart tonic, a beta blocker (regulates rhythm and blood pressure), the best herb for circulation, protects the heart muscle, prevents heart attacks, helps promote sleep and is good for heartache (of all kinds).  Special care must be taken with hawthorn is one is one any sort of heart medication – seek out a qualified herbalist if you intend to use this and are on any medication!

Spiritually, it is the favourite fairy tree in folklore.  It is also one of the ogham trees in Druidry.  For a good blog post about the spiritual aspects of hawthorn, please see my friend Danu Forest’s post on SageWoman HERE.  (Note: she states that it is unlucky to bring hawthorn blossom into the house, and I would agree if you are using it simply as decoration – it’s always much better on the tree anyway, and good for bees and other wildlife. However, as a herbcraft practitioner, it is perfectly safe to bring indoors to use in your work.)

The elderflowers I am drying to use with some dried oak leaves I collected a couple of weeks ago, for a tea to treat coughs.  In the autumn when the elderberries are out I will collect those as well and add them to the mix.

The birch leaves I collected for a birch leaf tea, which is a good all around body tonic and quite refreshing.  The bark and sap are also really good spring tonics, but it is too late to collect the sap – it should be done before the leaves come out.  When collecting the bark, do not “ring” the trunk of the tree – instead collect some twigs and branches and use the inner bark of these.

Note: when collecting tree leaves, do so before the summer solstice, as afterward they may contain too many plant alkaloids.  reference: Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine.


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Flower essences: Bluebell, Grape Hyacinth and Dandelion

It was end of April when I first began to make flower essences. These essences work on a spiritual and emotional level much more than a physiological or physical level. It required communing with the plant, being open to what it wanted to share of its healing skills, its properties. I took a glass/crystal bowl or a jar (when travelling further afield) and listened to the plant’s story. I then placed the flowers in the water (without breaking the stem, if possible) and let it sit in the water in full sunlight for a couple of hours. Afterwards, I collected the water and brought it back home, where I added 1/3 measure of brandy to the water, making a “mother tincture”. This went into storage jars. I placed filtered water into small glass bottles with droppers, and then put in 9 drops of the mother tincture into the water-filled bottles, labelling them accordingly. Dosage is 2 – 3 drops as required.

Bluebell essence
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For calming and soothing, protective and inspiring, fragile beauty and new beginnings, strength in numbers

Grape Hyacinth Essence

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For joy, fertility, happiness and courage.

Dandelion Essence
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For joy, happiness, courage, strength, perseverance, and nourishment.


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Hayfever/Seasonal Allergy tea

So as part of the coursework I have to create a hayfever tea, which is handy as it would appear that I now have hayfever for the first time ever! I created two teas, one for daytime and one for nighttime, as the daytime one contains nettle (urtica dioica) which can be a diuretic, and I didn’t want to be running to the loo all night 🙂

Daytime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), nettle (urtic dioica), eyebright (euphrasia officianalis) and elderberries (sambuccus nigra).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

Nighttime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), elderberries (sambuccus nigra) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

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Plantain is a great antihistamine, and nettle boosts the immune system. Elderberries and flowers are great for coughs and colds – I didn’t have any flowers to hand but did have some berries.  Eyebright works well for coughs as well, and can be applied as a poultice or eyewash, however, only organic and well-strained infusions should be used on eyes – if in doubt, don’t use it! Chamomile is to help give a restful sleep, which is also a good immune system booster.

As dairy products create more mucous in the body, it is best to avoid dairy during hayfever season. If you simply cannot live without, goat or sheep’s milk or cheese is better.  High fat food should also be avoided, and fresh vegetable and fruits should be eaten to boost the immune system.  Exercise gets the lymphatic system going, and helps circulation, releasing toxins, again helping your immune system.

I’ve been taking the tea for a week now, and my sinuses have cleared almost straight away. I still have a cough, and may switch the elderberries to elderflowers to see if that makes a difference for me personally.

On with anatomy and physiology homework!


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Drying rack up and running!

So, I’m using my airing cupboard as a drying rack – here in the UK, many houses also have their hot water tank in their linen cupboard, and call it an airing cupboard. Not only great for keeping dampness and a musty smell away from your linens and towels, but also great for drying herbs in a warm, dark place! In this photo I am drying stinging nettles (Urtica dioca) and plantain (Plantago lanceolata) for use in hayfever tea.

Drying rack with Nettles and Plantain(800x435)


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Cleavers tincture

cleaversToday I made a tincture with cleavers (Galium aparine), as they don’t dry very well. I may also try making a succus (mix with glycerin or honey) tomorrow to keep the goodness of cleavers throughout the year.  I simply put the cleavers in a large-necked jar and covered with alchohol (we had Calvados in the cupboard that no one is drinking).  Again, I made sure the jar was very clean beforehand.  I’ve left it in a cool, dark cupboard to do its magic, and will shake once a day.

I’ll be using this tincture as an all-around health and well-being tonic, for fluid retention, swollen glands and tonsillitis, bladder irritation, weak digestion and low energy (cleavers are amazing for the lymphatic system).

I’ll let you know the results in a month’s time!