Cultivating Contemplation

Contemplative practices are those that quiet the mind and generate a state of reflection that holds a world of knowledge. These practices range from meditation, yoga, writing to walking, dance, and others. (Visit for more on contemplative practices.)

I find wintertime to be the perfect time to cultivate the contemplative practices that bring me inner peace. In my late teens, I found Tae Kwon Do. This martial arts practice taught me what can be accomplished with determination and a disciplined body and mind. Over the many years of training, it gave me confidence and a sense of joy for learning and growing physically and emotionally. It shaped me in so many ways. As I have aged, I have cultivated other contemplative practices like meditation, tai chi walks in the forest, and storytelling to nurture the spiritual part of my life.

For me, the keys to any contemplative practice are consistency and self-compassion. I’ll be honest, there are days when it is hard for me to sit still or go for a walk. There are high-stress moments and deadlines to meet – they seem more deserving of my attention. I don’t eat as well, I don’t sleep as well, and I feel out of sorts. Ultimately the groundedness I feel when I stay in tune to these practices and prioritize them, outweighs the alternatives. The more I make space for meditation or a walk in the woods, the greater the distance between a trigger or stressor and my response; I feel a greater sense of calm and awareness. 

What will you do during these darker, colder months that will allow you to emerge into the warmth of spring a more centered person? Perhaps you’ve been saying you want to write daily but have not made the time for it. Maybe you promise yourself that you will wake up 20 minutes earlier for some quiet, alone time but the snooze button is just too easy to hit in the morning.

I encourage you to try and stay consistent with whatever contemplative practice you enjoy. I leave you with these words from Stephen Covey, “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.

chia tea ld

Chaga Chai:
A grounding and warming herbal beverage

Chaga mushroom has a rich, coffee-like taste and helps support the immune system. 


  • 8 oz water
  • 4 oz milk or non dairy milk of choice
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chaga powder
  • 4 cardamom pods smashed with side of a knife
  • 2 in. section of a cinnamon stick
  • 1-2, 1/4 ” slices of fresh ginger
  • Pinch of fennel seed, about 10 seeds
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • Honey or maple syrup to taste


  1. Add water, milk, spices and chaga powder to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add tea. Steep tea about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain into a cup and stir in honey to taste.

*Other herbs like dandelion or burdock can also be added to this drink

contemplative tree

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Understanding the Tree

On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus. Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind. (Please note that such classifications are not definitive, and many practices could be included in more than one category.)


Books are an invaluable resource for the home herbalist, and growing your home library over time is always a great idea. Having at least three herbal books or resources available is absolutely necessary when studying plants and creating a materia medica. Still, there are so many fantastic books available – where should you begin? Here are 6 herbal medicine books that we think are worth the investment!

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green

This book has step-by-step instructions for making any kind of herbal preparation you could possibly think of. It also explains why you should do certain things, not just how which is handy to know if you find yourself faced with the need to improvise. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook extremely detail-oriented, but still very readable – Green is authoritative while still being lighthearted. A prime example of this is the chapter on herb jellos, an unexpected and surprisingly useful way to prepare herbs for kids – and one that he stumbled on quite by accident! The book also contains a brief overview of 30 plants that he and the other co-directors of the California School for Herbal Studies developed for use as part of the school’s curriculum.



Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffman

This textbook is not for the faint of heart, but it provides an incredible amount of information on the most medical side of herbalism. This tome is a great resource if you are interested in learning the chemistry behind herbalism, as it explains the different types of chemical compounds and goes into great detail for pharmacology, toxicity, and safety issues, formulation, and chapters for treatment approach by body systems. An extensive materia medica with herbal profiles is included at the end. It’s a fascinating and extensive look at the scientific side of herbalism.



The Earthwise Herbal, Volumes 1 and 2 by Matthew Wood

One of the most thorough resources on herbal materia medica available anywhere, The Earthwise Herbal details the historical use of many herbs and includes Wood’s personal experiences in working with the herbs in his clinical practice. Volume One focuses on Old World, European plants while Volume Two discusses the New World plants of North America. Wood has focused on western herbalism and a more folk-style approach, but his books are an excellent resource for herbalists of any tradition. These references are valuable both for beginners and experienced herbalists alike, as they provide valuable insight and lesser-known perspectives on many well-loved herbs.



The Herbal Kitchen by Kami McBride

No herbal home should be without this delightful book, which provides simple and creative ways to use herbs in the kitchen. Detailed profiles of many common cooking herbs and spices explain how these often overlooked plants are useful for health.  Delicious and unique recipes include cooking oils, seasoning salts and sprinkles, herbal honey, cordials, and vinegar. The Herbal Kitchen is full of creative ways to use recipes in everyday cooking- nothing about this book is complicated, but the recipes are delightful and not to be missed.



The Herbalist’s Way by Nancy and Michael Phillips

One of the best volumes for folk herbalists searching for their path, the informal but detailed exploration of the art of herbalism in The Herbalist’s Way leaves you with the sense that you’ve spent the afternoon across from a wise elder, chatting as you both enjoyed tea. In fact, the author’s highlight conversations with many herbalists throughout the book, so by the end of the book you have learned from the experiences of many others.  This book explores how to become a herbalist and why – from an overview of the many possibilities of finding your niche, legal aspects, and more.



Healing with the Herbs of Life by Leslie Tierra

Tierra has a background in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so that’s the focus of Healing with the Herbs of Life. This book is more detailed and yet easier to understand that some courses on the subject, so it is absolutely worth the investment if you are interested in learning about this style of herbalism. The book is divided into three sections covering the fundamentals of herbalism, a TCM perspective on disease and the process of healing, and a section on regaining and maintaining health. The fundamentals of herbalism section include a detailed material medica and appendices at the end of the book contain a convenient reference for weights and measures, along with a listing of TCM formulas. This book is good for beginners as a learning tool, or for advanced students as a reference.



If you’re already an herbal bookworm here are more all for your reading pleasure.

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

Botanical Naming Of Herbs

Every herb has two sets of names – common names and a Latin name, which is usually its botanical name also. While the common names of the herbs may be modified by people in different eras and different places, the Latin names of the plants remain the same almost always. Generally, many gardeners refrain from using the botanical names of the herbs, as they find these names difficult to pronounce and even daunting. In effect, the Latin or botanical names of the herbs are often also redundant or preventable. It is possible that farmers growing vegetables like tomatoes and carrots their entire life, still not learn their Latin names.

Horticulturists have developed several flowers and vegetables propagated from their original species, it may be sufficient to use their general English names. On the other hand, often herbs do not change from their original species – leaving them unchanged from how Nature made them, and grow them in the gardens very much in the same form as they are found in nature and under various names. In addition to being a certain way to identify a herb, the Latin names also help us to connect with the gardeners through different ages as well as all over the world.

Often, the botanical name of a herb lets us know something specific regarding the plant – for instance, the place of its origin or where it is found growing; the first person to discover the herb; and few words about the plant’s distinction, color, the shape of its leaves and so on. As English has its origin in Latin, very often you will notice similarities between a plant’s common English name and its Latin or botanical name and this helps to work out the information regarding the herb. For instance, all plants belong to the mint family are Mentha. This includes M. aquatic, which is found growing in or close to water bodies and M. rotundifolia, a plant whose foliage is more round compared to many and the variegata form of this plant is mottled green as well as white. On the other hand, M. spicata is spearmint having leaves that are spear-shaped or spiked. Then again, M. citrata is the botanical name for citrus or orange mint, while M. piperita denotes peppermint. In fact, this will also help you to deduce that menthol, the natural chemical compound which forms the soothing and cooling component in throat lozenges and pain balms, is obtained from the mint!

It is worth mentioning here that all plants are categorized according to their broadest family link down to their most precise distinctive name. In addition, each herb has a separate Latin name which comprises two parts – first comes the genus name and then the name of the particular species. For instance, the herb southernwood’s botanical name is Artemisia abrotanum, a herb that belongs to genus Artemisia and is named after the Greek Goddess of Hunting – Artemis. Approximately 200 other species also belong to the same genus, counting the herb tarragon (A. dracunculus). It is interesting to note that dracunculus in Latin denotes a little dragon, possibly referring to the sharp bite of tarragon.

What actually makes the botanical name-tree even bigger is the fact that plants belonging to all genera as well as their entire species are a part of a more extended plant family. The family connection of the species is founded on their common characteristics. For instance, the genus of all plants belonging to the genus Artemisia is a division of the family called Compositae – also known as the daisy family. All plants belonging to this family produce flowers that are made of several small blooms that form a central sphere. When you look at the flowers casually for the first time, you may possibly not notice any family similarity between the flowers of artemisias and sunflowers, which form the most outstanding species of the family Compositae.

The individual flowers of the sunflower are noticeable very clearly. They are a close collection of several hundred disk flowers, which appear in a spiral arrangement interwoven with one another and encircled by yellow-hued rays or larger petals. However, you would be requiring a magnifying glass to distinguish the minute flowers that make up the trivial disks without the rays found in nearly all flowers produced by plants of the genus Artemisia. However, when you are able to discern the defining characteristics of the flowers of this plant family, you are able to distinguish the various members of this family. Irrespective of the flowers being tiny as those of chamomile or the much bigger sunflowers, all varieties of the daisy belong to the family Compositae.

While all plant family comprises a number of herbs, three plant families include a notable number of helpful aromatic herbs. If asked to name any four herbs spontaneously, most likely you would talk about sage, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Three herbs of these four are members of the family Labiatae – a name derived from the Latin term denoting lips. In fact, all members of the Labiatae family bear distinct flowers that typically resemble open mouths, wherein the lower lips are a little extended. It is simply astonishing to note the huge number of herbs belonging to the family Labiatae – the vast genera and several different types of species belonging to each of them. The family Labiatae comprises some of the familiar genera, including the oregano, mints, sages, savories, and thymes. Precisely speaking, there are over 750 varieties of sages, also known as salvias, throughout the world, in addition to bergamot, basil, catnip, lavender, hyssop, rosemary, lemon balm and several other genera in the Labiatae family. In fact, there is no other plant family that includes such a large number of herbs. In addition to the lipped flowers, the family Labiatae is also identified by the form of the flower stalks of the plants. These flower stalks are not round but have a square or four-sided cross-section.

Next, to the family Labiatae, the plant family called Umbelliferae includes the second largest number of herbs. This is a Latin term, which sound very much like umbrella in English, and the plants belonging to this family characteristically give rise to a small cluster of flowers that have the shape of umbels and are arranged at the terminals of the slender stems that spread out from the uppermost part of a stalk that resembles the spokes of an umbrella at its handle’s end. Going by this description of the plants, it is easy for you to conjure up the images of the herbs that belong to this plant family, including anise, angelica, coriander, chervil, cumin, celery, fennel, dill, parsley, sweet cicely, and lovage. Almost all the plants belonging to the Umbelliferae family have a concentration of flavor in their leaves as well as the seeds. In fact, some seeds of these plants are also used for seasoning purpose.

As far as the number of herbs it includes, Compositae is the next most important plant family. In fact, the herbs belonging to this family do not grab your attention immediately. In fact, this plant family contains only some well-known herbs that produce flavoring leaves. However, there are a large number of therapeutic herbs in this family, such as artemisias, anthemis, feverfew, Echinacea and yarrow.

As one is likely to look forward to, the onion genus known as Allium, which is a member of the Amaryllidaceae plant family, comprises a number of culinary herbs having a pungent smell, such as chives, garlic, Egyptian onions, shallots, and scallions. On the other hand, the poppy family called Papaveraceae includes the opium poppy, which is harmless when the seeds are used for baking purposes, but vital in medicine as the main supply of morphine. The remaining herbs come in the grab bag of different plant families. The mallow family, known as Malvaceae, includes many medicinal plants that have been used for long. For instance, musk mallow (botanical name Malva moschata) is considered to be a garden flower of the settlers and is now found decorating the roadsides. It also ricochets into our gardens and the white or pink flowers, such as the hibiscus are always accepted by everyone. The Rosaceae family includes different types of roses, which have been popular all the times for their delicate scent. Then again, the dried Florentine iris (belonging to the Iridaceae family) roots provide us with a fixative that aids in retaining the aroma of roses when used in potpourri. Perhaps, it can be safely concluded that all plant families include no less than one species that may be called a herb.

In addition, learning about the origin of a herb prior to growing it in your garden (irrespective of whether it has come from the low-lands, mountains, the temperate Mediterranean region or the freezing North) may be of much help. It would help you more if you know about its precise local habitat – whether it is found growing naturally in the sun or in a shade; in an arid soil or beside a stream. The herbs will flourish better when you create an environment similar or almost the same as their original habitat in your garden.

It is suggested that you ought to also try to find out if a new herb is annual, perennial or biennial; or tender or hardy. When we use the terms ‘tender’ or ‘hardy’, we actually mean the ability of the plant to tolerate cold, which could vary between a mild frost to a solid freeze or a climatic condition similar to the Northern winter, where it is absolutely cold for five months of the year. As expected, plants that wither or shrink even when there is slight frosting are known as tender. In fact, tender annuals only grow during the months when there is no frosting. On the other hand, tender perennials, such as ginger, bay, pineapple sage, lemon verbena, scented geranium, and rosemary, are among the most well-known herbs and may be grown outdoors during the summer months. However, similar to some people, these plants need to spend the winter months indoors. In fact, these types of herbs are ideal for growing in big pots that are portable too.

As their name suggests, annual herbs survive for just summer only. Their entire life cycle – sprouting, growth, blossoming and seeding, is completed only in one season. Similar to the perennially growing plants, annuls may also be tender, semi-tender or even hardy. For example, sweet basil is the most common tender annual plant that shrinks even when there is an indication of frost and stops growing even when there is a cool spell. On the other hand, coriander possesses the aptitude to tolerate mild frosts but dies when the temperature drops to freezing level. Chervil is a very hardy annual plant that survives in a hard freeze and, the cold notwithstanding can still continue to grow.

Every spring, it is important for all gardeners to start growing nearly all the annual herbs afresh either from their seeds or plants obtained from nurseries. However, there are some annual plants that remain in the garden by means of sowing their hardy seeds during the later part of summer and appear once again when the robins are back in May. It is worth mentioning here that among all the self-sowing annual plants, three are excellent culinary herbs – coriander, chervil, and dill.

While chamomile is one herb that grows naturally, there are some other vibrant colored herbs, such as blue annual woodruff, calendula, borage and painted sage that also start growing on their own in the vegetable gardens to enhance their beauty every year.  While the creeping thyme forms more mats in the spaces between the stones used for paving, additional foxgloves growing among roses. They may also bring some additional work for the gardeners who may require getting rid of a forest caused by lovage seedlings or maybe by lemon balm plants that are deep-rooted in the soil.

The best way to grow perennial herbs is to group them along with other different permanent plants in the garden. They may form a segment of your garden landscape that may be improved over several seasons. Speaking from a sensible viewpoint, it will be less problematic if you undertake several phases of maintenance, which include weeding, cutting back and top dressing, in case you are growing the perennial plants in beds or borders of your garden. If you make some planning the relative heights of the perennial plants, other plants growing in the vicinity and also the overall impact of the foliage texture as well as the color of the flowers, the final outcome would be a garden that manifests the imagination as well as the taste of the passionate gardener.

The Chemistry Of Herbs

A herbalist should be fully aware of details about the pharmacology of herbs, a basic understanding of it. Herbs are used for healing the human body, they are considered to be holistic agents, and they are used on a physical and biochemistry level. Many pharmacologists try to find out the constituents of herbs, place them according to their chemical groups and have done numerous research and have found herbs to be very complex in their characteristics. Herbs contain a huge variety of chemicals like water, inorganic salt, sugars, carbohydrates, proteins that are highly complex, and alkaloids.

Plant Acids:

An example of weak organic acids is generally found among plants, lemon is the perfect example of citric acid. Organic acids can be split into those based on a carbon chain, and those, which contain a carbon ring in their configuration, but what both have in common is the -COOH group. Chain acids are also known as aliphatic acids, which can range from formic acid (the simplest one, found in the stings of the nettles) to the more complex chain acids like valeric acid and citric acid. Valeric acid is being used in sedatives in allopathic medicine.

The ring acids are known as the aromatic acids, they form a crucial pharmacological group. The most uncomplicated aromatic acid is benzoic acid, which is found in foods like cranberries, resins, and balsams, like Peru balsams, gum benzoin, and tolu. These acids are used in antiseptic lotions and ointments and they are also used for antipyretic and diuretic actions. One can cure a chronic bronchial problem just by inhaling these acids.


Alcohols are found in a variety of forms in the plant kingdom, they are mostly a component of volatile oils or sterols, for example, geraniol in attar of rose and the menthol in peppermint oil. Waxes too are also a common form of alcohol. Mixtures of alcohols and fatty acids are generally found on leaves and other parts of the plants. Carnauba wax is acquired from the palm Copernicia cerifera.

Volatile Oils:

Volatile oils are a combination of simple molecules like isoprene or isopentane, which can mix in various ways to produce terpenes. It is a basic mix of 5 carbon molecules, sometimes with slight differences here and there. All this combines to make the volatile oils.

Volatile oils are mostly found in aromatic plants, herbs like peppermint and thyme are the perfect example of volatile oils. The combination of the oils and the smell can be in variations, even if they belong to the same types of the plant, basically, it all depends on the concentration of the oils. When these oils are extracted from the plants, the aromatic oils are produced, which are used for many therapeutic treatments, and the major part of the production is used to manufacture perfumes.

There is a wide range of aromatic oils and they each have specific qualities, though most of these oils have some common characteristics, which are worth learning about.

Most aromatic oils are antiseptics; oils like eucalyptus oil, garlic oil, and thyme oil fall under this category. These oils are absorbed with ease inside the body and they are effective for both internally and externally on the whole body system. When they are consumed internally or applied externally they land up finally in the urinary system, lungs, bronchial, sweat glands, saliva, tears or vaginal fluids. They can even occur in breast milk and during pregnancy can go to the placenta inside the fetus. Apart from having antiseptic functions, it can also encourage the creation of white blood cells, therefore increasing the immune system of the body.

Volatile oils have the quality of arousing the tissues they come in touch with, some oils like the mustard oils irritate the skin slightly while oils like menthol and camphor leave a numb feeling. Both these oils help in digestion arousing the lining of the colon which gives reflex reaction thus increasing the gastric juices to flow, which also makes the person feel hungry. People, who suffer from acute pain, can benefit from these oils by calming the peristalsis in the lower part of the intestines.

Volatile oils are also beneficial for the central nervous system. Oils like for example chamomile oil, are known to calm and sedate while peppermint oil helps in stimulation, both these oils have the quality so easing out any tension in the body system thus reducing conditions like depression or tension. When there is an external application of aromatic oils on the body, the aroma is easily transferred through the nose to the brain, triggering an instant reaction.

Herbs, which contain volatile oils, have to be retained by storing them carefully in sealed bottles or containers, as volatile oils can evaporate with ease.


There is a huge variety of carbohydrates in the plant kingdom, they are found in foods like sugar: fructose and glucose, they are also found in starches, which is the storage of the main energy and they can also be in the form of cellulose which is much more complex or elaborate, which helps in supporting the structure of the plants.

Large cellulose known as polysaccharides combines with other chemicals and produce molecules known as pectins, which are generally found in fruits like apples or even in seaweeds like algin, agar or even carragum, which are found in Irish moss. They are very effective and have the power to cure and are used in producing gels, which are further used in medicines and foods.

Gums and mucilage are carbohydrates, which are complex in nature and are retained in soothing and healing herbs like coltsfoot, plantain, and marshmallow. Once applied it relaxes the lining of the gut, arousing a reflex reaction that goes to the spinal nerves to areas like the lungs and the urinary tract. The mucilage not only reduces irritation, it even reduces inflammation of the alimentary canal, it also decreases the sensitivity of the gastric acids, can cure diarrhea and reduce peristalsis, it also cures the respiratory system, lessens coughing and tension, and increases the secretion of watery mucus.

Phenolic Compounds:

Phenol is a bulging block of many components of plants. The compounds of phenol could be simple in structure or could be a composite of a variety of basic molecule. One of the simplest phenolic compounds is salicylic acid, which is generally found in the combination of sugar, it forms glycoside found in willow, cramp bark, meadowsweet, and wintergreen. It functions as an antiseptic, painkiller and has anti-inflammatory functions too. It is utilized in most allopathic medicines like aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid is the main component if this medicine.

Eugenol oil is found in cloves and it functions like a painkiller, even thymol from thyme oil also cures pains, and both oils contain salicylic acid. Bearberry acts like an antiseptic on the urinary system of the body because it contains phenol hydroquinone.


Tannins in herbs have the quality to function as astringents. They act on proteins and other chemicals to protect the layer of the skin and the mucous membrane. It can even bind the tissue of the gut, decrease diarrhea and also stop any internal bleeding. They are also used for an external application like the treatment of burns, healing wounds and reducing inflammation. Tannins can cure eye infections like conjunctivitis or even infection in the mouth, vagina, cervix or rectum.


The evoking smell of hay is due to the coumarin chemicals. The grass is not the only plant, which contains this aromatic component of coumarins; sweet woodruff also contains these chemicals. Coumarins do not have much effect on the human body but one of its components known, as dicoumarol is a strong anti-clotting agent. Coumarins have been used extensively in allopathic medicine. Small doses of warfarin are used as an anti-clotting drug to cure conditions like thrombosis and as a rat poison, large doses are used.


Anthraquinones are found in plants, which are supposed to be effective laxatives and they are also natural dyes. They are generally glycosides and are found in plants like rhubarb, yellow dock, senna, aloe, and buckthorn. Anthraquinones stimulates the colon after eight to twelve hours of ingestion and they also stimulate the peristalsis of the intestine, all this can be achieved if the natural bile is present. If the colon is over stimulated, then colic pain could occur. Anthraquinones are usually combined with carminative herbs to cure this type of condition.

Flavones and Flavonoid Glycosides:

Flavones and flavonoid glycosides are chemical groups commonly found in most plant components. They can actively act as anti-spasmodic, diuretic, circulatory and cardiac stimulants. Some like rutin, hesperidin, and bioflavonoid vitamin P can aid the circulatory system and decrease blood pressure too. Buckwheat is a herb, which can be used effectively for such health problems. Bioflavonoids help in absorption of vitamin C. Milk thistle is another herb, which has a strong presence of flavonoid and can cure an ailing liver.


Saponins have drawn the attention of majority pharmaceutical chemists in the world. They are utilized in the synthesis of cortisone, which is an anti-inflammatory drug, and they are also widely used in the synthesis of sex hormones. Saponins are found in herbs, which do not essentially act in a similar way, the body can use them as raw products to build the necessary chemicals. Natural saponins and synthesized drugs are quite similar, like cortisone and diosgenin, which is found in wild yam.

Goldenrod, chickweed, figwort, and wild yam all contain saponins, which are used to produce anti-inflammatory drugs. Saponins are very good at stimulating the upper digestive tract and herbs like primrose, mullein, violet, and daisy are rich in saponins.

Cardiac glycosides:

Cardiac glycosides were discovered in 1785 in foxglove. A lot of investigations has taken place over this chemical component. They have a lot of similarities to saponins and are used in medicine to give support to heart problems.

Cardiac glycosides are made of a mixture of sugar and steroidal aglycone. The center of activity is charted out by the characteristics of aglycone. In the combination, sugar determines the bioavailability of aglycone, which is quite active.

Cardiac glycosides are found in most flowering plants. Lily of the valley, squill, foxglove and Strophanthus family are the best resources of cardiac glycosides. In therapeutic treatment, cardiac glycosides are very effective in increasing the force and power heartbeats, and at the same time keeping the level of the oxygen intact for the heart muscles. They can help the heart to function in a steady manner without straining the organ.

Bitter principles:

Bitter principles stand for a group of chemicals that have an extremely bitter taste. They are diverse in structure and the bitterest ones are iridoids, terpenes, and other groups.

Bitter principles are known to be very effective in most therapeutic treatments. Through the taste bud, they arouse the secretion of the digestive juices and also help the liver to be more active, helping in hepatic elimination.

Sedatives like hops and valerian, cough remedies such as white horehound, anti-inflammatory herbs bogbean and devil’s claw, and the vulnerary marigold have all the properties of bitterness.


Alkaloids are the most powerful group of plant constituents that act effectively on the human body and mind. Under the category of alkaloids, you will find hallucinogen mescaline and the very poisonous brucine. These alkaloids can work on the liver, lungs, nerves and the digestive system of the body. You will find alkaloids in most of the herbs. Alkaloids inside the plants do not really have any specific function, apart from storing excessive nitrogen. Alkaloids as a group are very different in their structure and they have separated into 13 groups accordingly. Their structure is dominated by nitrogen and they have a distinguished physiological activity.

To encourage weight loss there is a supplement known as chitosan, which is basically a fat blocker. Chitosan is derived from chitin which is found in exoskeletons of shrimps and crabs, it is quite similar to plant fiber and cannot be digested easily. If chitosan is consumed orally it behaves like a big sponge absorbing the fat of the body up to four to six times than the body usually does while passing the digestive system. It helps flush out all the excess fat in the body which could have been metabolized and settled inside the body. It is like you can eat as much as you want if you are consuming chitosan.

The disadvantage of chitosan is that it does not cure chronic overeating at all. It should only be consumed for two weeks at a time to just get a weight loss diet started. Chitosan can be very good at absorbing fat, but at the same time it can be quite harmful in the sense that it can rob the body of essential vitamins like E, A, D and K. If chitosan is consumed, diet supplements like vitamins and essential fatty acids should also be included in the diet too. According to studies, chitosan is considered quite safe for any weight loss program. A test was conducted on two mice, one was administered chitosan while the other was not, the mice which had consumed chitosan and other supplement diets had few precancerous lesions than the one who did not have chitosan at all. It can also lower total blood cholesterol level in the body and raise the level of HDL, known as good cholesterol, which in turn protects the body against any heart disease. Chitosan is a versatile supplement, it is a good antacid and helps prevent tooth decay.

The Seven Hermetic Principles

“The Principles of Truth are Seven; he who knows these, understandingly, possesses the Magic Key before whose touch all the Doors of the Temple fly open.” — The Kybalion.

alchemy scienceThe Seven Hermetic Principles, upon which the entire Hermetic Philosophy is based, are as follows:



“THE ALL is MIND; The Universe is Mental.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that “All is Mind.” It explains that THE ALL (which is the Substantial Reality underlying all the outward manifestations and appearances which we know under the terms of “The Material Universe”; the “Phenomena of Life”; “Matter”; “Energy”; and, in short, all that is apparent to our material senses) is SPIRIT, which in itself is UNKNOWABLE and UNDEFINABLE, but which may be considered and thought of as AN UNIVERSAL, INFINITE, LIVING MIND. It also explains that all the phenomenal world or universe is simply a Mental Creation of THE ALL, subject to the Laws of Created Things, and that the universe, as a whole, and in its parts or units, has its existence in the Mind of THE ALL, in which Mind we “live and move and have our being.” This Principle, by establishing the Mental Nature of the Universe, easily explains all of the varied mental and psychic phenomena that occupy such a large portion of the public attention, and which, without such explanation, are non-understandable and defy scientific treatment. An understanding of this great Hermetic Principle of Mentalism enables the individual to readily grasp the laws of the Mental Universe and to apply the same to his well-being and advancement. The Hermetic Student is enabled to apply intelligently the great Mental Laws, instead of using them in a haphazard manner. With tire Master-Key in his possession, the student may unlock the many doors of the mental and psychic temple of knowledge, and enter the same freely and intelligently. This Principle explains the true nature of “Energy,” “Power,” and “Matter,” and why and how all these are subordinate to the Mastery of Mind. One of the old Hermetic Masters wrote, long ages ago: “He who grasps the truth of the Mental Nature of the Universe is well advanced on The Path to Mastery.” And these words are as true today as at the time they were first written. Without this Master-Key, Mastery is impossible, and the student knocks in vain at the many doors of The Temple.


“As above, so below; as below so above.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. The old Hermetic axiom ran in these words: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” And the grasping of this Principle gives one the means of solving many a dark paradox, and hidden secret of Nature. There are planes beyond our knowing, but when we apply the Principle of Correspondence to them we are able to understand much that would otherwise be unknowable to us. This Principle is of universal application and manifestation, on the various planes of the material, mental, and spiritual universe — it is a Universal Law. The ancient Hermetists considered this Principle as one of the most important mental instruments by which man was able to pry aside the obstacles which hid from view the Unknown. Its use even tore aside the Veil of Isis to the extent that a glimpse of the face of the goddess might be caught. Just as a knowledge of the Principles of Geometry enables man to measure distant suns and their movements, while seated in his observatory, so a knowledge of the Principle of Correspondence enables Man to reason intelligently from the Known to the Unknown. Studying the monad, he understands the archangel.


“Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that “everything is in motion”; “everything vibrates”; “nothing is at rest”; facts which Modern Science endorses, and which each new scientific discovery tends to verify. And yet this Hermetic Principle was enunciated thousands of years ago, by the Masters of Ancient Egypt. This Principle explains that the differences between different manifestations of Matter, Energy, Mind, and even Spirit, result largely from varying rates of Vibration. From THE ALL, which is Pure Spirit, down to the grossest form of Matter, all is in vibration — the higher the vibration, the higher the position in the scale. The vibration of Spirit is at such an infinite rate of intensity and rapidity that it is practically at rest — just as a rapidly moving wheel seems to be motionless. And at the other end of the scale, there are gross forms of matter whose vibrations are so low as to seem at rest. Between these poles, there are millions upon millions of varying degrees of vibration. From corpuscle and electron, atom and molecule, to worlds and universes, everything is in vibratory motion. This is also true on the planes of energy and force (which are but varying degrees of vibration), and also on the mental planes (whose states depend upon vibrations); and even on to the spiritual planes. An understanding of this Principle, with the appropriate formulas, enables Hermetic students to control their own mental vibrations as well as those of others. The Masters also apply this Principle to the conquering of Natural phenomena, in various ways. “He who understands the Principle of Vibration, has grasped the scepter of Power,” says one of the old writers.


“Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that “everything is dual”; “everything has two poles”; “everything has its pair of opposites,” all of which were old Hermetic axioms. It explains the old paradoxes, that have perplexed so many, which have been stated as follows: “Thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree”; “opposites are the same, differing only in degree”; “the pairs of opposites may be reconciled”; “extremes meet”; “everything is and isn’t, at the same time”; “all truths are but half-truths”; “every truth is half-false”; “there are two sides to everything,” etc., etc., etc. It explains that in everything there are two poles or opposite aspects, and that “opposites” are really only the two extremes of the same thing, with many varying degrees between them. To illustrate Heat and Cold, although “opposites,” are really the same thing, the differences consisting merely of degrees of the same thing. Look at your thermometer and see if you can discover where “heat” terminates and “cold” begins! There is no such thing as “absolute heat” or “absolute cold” — the two terms “heat” and “cold” simply indicate varying degrees of the same thing, and that “same thing” which manifests as “heat” and “cold” is merely a form, variety, and rate of Vibration. So “heat” and “cold” are simply the “two poles” of that which we call “Heat” — and the phenomena attendant thereupon is manifestations of the Principle of Polarity. The same Principle manifests in the case of “Light and Darkness,” which are the same thing, the difference consisting of varying degrees between the two poles of the phenomena. Where does “darkness” leave off, and “light” begin? What is the difference between “Large and Small”? Between “Hard and Soft”? Between “Black and White”? Between “Sharp and Dull”? Between “Noise and Quiet”? Between “High and Low”? Between “Positive and Negative”? The Principle of Polarity explains these paradoxes, and no other Principle can supersede it. The same Principle operates on the Mental Plane. Let us take a radical and extreme example — that of “Love and Hate,” two mental states apparently totally different. And yet there are degrees of hate and degrees of Love, and a middle point in which we use the terms “Like or Dislike,” which shade into each other so gradually that sometimes we are at a loss to know whether we “like” or “dislike” or “neither.” And all are simply degrees of the same thing, as you will see if you will but think a moment. And, more than this (and considered of more importance by the Hermetists), it is possible to change the vibrations of hate to the vibrations of Love, in one’s own mind, and in the minds of others. Many of you, who read these lines, have had personal experiences of the involuntary rapid transition from Love to Hate, and the reverse, in your own case and that of others. And you will, therefore, realize the possibility of this being accomplished by the use of the Will, by means of the Hermetic formulas. “Good and Evil” are but the poles of the same thing and the Hermetist understands the art of transmuting Evil into Good, by means of an application of the Principle of Polarity. In short, the “Art of Polarization” becomes a phase of “Mental Alchemy” known and practiced by the ancient and modern Hermetic Masters. An understanding of the Principle will enable one to change his own Polarity, as well as that of others if he will devote the time and study necessary to master the art.


“Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that in everything there is manifested a measured motion, to and fro; a flow and inflow; a swing backward and forward; a pendulum-like movement; a tide-like ebb and flow; a high-tide and low-tide; between the two poles which exist in accordance with the Principle of Polarity described a moment ago. There is always an action and a reaction; an advance and a retreat a rising and a sinking. This is in the affairs of the Universe, suns, worlds, men, animals, mind, energy, and matter. This law is manifest in the creation and destruction of worlds; in the rise and fall of nations; in the life of all things; and finally in the mental states of Man (and it is with this latter that the Hermetists find the understanding of the Principle most important). The Hermetists have grasped this Principle, finding its universal application, and have also discovered certain means to overcome its effects in themselves by the use of the appropriate formulas and methods. They apply the Mental Law of Neutralization. They cannot annul the Principle, or Cause it to cease its operation, but they have learned how to escape its effects upon themselves to a certain degree depending upon the Mastery of the Principle. They have learned how to use it, instead of being USED BY it. In this and similar methods, consist the Art of the Hermetists. The Master of Hermetics polarizes himself at the point at which he desires to rest, and then neutralizes the Rhythmic swing of the pendulum which would tend to carry him to the other pole. All individuals who have attained any degree of Self-Mastery do this to a certain degree, more or less unconsciously, but the Master does this consciously, and by the use of his Will and attains a degree of Poise and Mental Firmness almost impossible of belief on the part of the masses who are swung backward and forward like a pendulum. This Principle and that of Polarity have been closely studied by the Hermetists, and the methods of counteracting, neutralizing and USING them form an important part of the Hermetic Mental Alchemy.


“Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the fact that there is a Cause for every Effect; an Effect from every Cause. It explains that: “Everything Happens according to Law”; that nothing ever “merely happens”; that there is no such thing as Chance; that while there are various planes of Cause and Effect, the higher dominating the lower planes, still nothing ever entirely escapes the Law. The Hermetists understand the art and methods of rising above the ordinary plane of Cause and Effect, to a certain degree, and by mentally rising to a higher plane they become Causers instead of Effects. The masses of people have carried along, obedient to environment; the wills and desires of others stronger than themselves; heredity; suggestion; and other outward causes moving them about like pawns on the Chessboard of Life. But the Masters, rising to the plane above, dominate their moods, characters, qualities, and powers, as well as the environment surrounding them, and become Movers instead of pawns. They help to PLAY THE GAME OF LIFE, instead of being played and moved about by other wills and environment. They USE the Principle instead of being its tools. The Masters obey the Causation of the higher planes, but they help to RULE on their own plane. In this statement there is condensed a wealth of Hermetic knowledge — let him read who can.


“Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles Gender; manifests on all planes.” — The Kybalion.

This Principle embodies the truth that there is GENDER manifested in everything — the Masculine and Feminine Principles ever at work. This is true not only of the Physical Plane but of the Mental and even the Spiritual Planes. On the Physical Plane, the Principle manifests as SEX, on the higher planes it takes higher forms, but the Principle is ever the same. No creation, physical, mental or spiritual, is possible without this Principle. An understanding of its laws will throw light on many a subject that has perplexed the minds of men. The Principle of Gender works ever in the direction of generation, regeneration, and creation. Everything and every person contains the two Elements or Principles, or this great Principle, within it, him or her. Every Male thing has the Female Element also; every Female contains also the Male Principle. If you would understand the philosophy of Mental and Spiritual Creation, Generation, and Regeneration, you must understand and study this Hermetic Principle. It contains the solution of many mysteries of Life. We caution you that this Principle has no reference to the many bases, pernicious and degrading lustful theories, teachings, and practices, which are taught under fanciful titles, and which are a prostitution of the great natural principle of Gender. Such base revivals of the ancient infamous forms of Phallicism tend to ruin mind, body, and soul, and the Hermetic Philosophy has ever sounded the warning note against these degraded teachings which tend toward lust, licentiousness, and perversion of Nature’s principles. If you seek such teachings, you must go elsewhere for them — Hermeticism contains nothing for you along these lines. To the pure, all things are pure; to the base, all things are base.


Pulmonaria Officinalis

Lungwort is a perennial herb that normally grows up to a height of one feet or 30 cm. The plant bears wide oval-shaped leaves at the base, while the upper leaves are relatively smaller marked with the irregular color pattern, especially white spots. The lungwort plants also bear bunches of pink-purple colored flowers.

Going by the Middle Ages Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient European philosophy, herbs bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects, had useful relevancy to those parts, objects or animals. It may as well indicate to the surroundings or specific places in which herbs grew. Following this theory, lungwort is effective in treating chest ailments and hence its leaves bear resemblance to the lung tissues.

The lungwort plant is native to Europe and western Asia and belongs to the family of Boraginaceae and the Pulmonaria genus of flowering plants. One species of the plant – P. mollissima – is found in the region spreading from east to central Asia. Rough estimates prepared by various herbalists list around 10 to 18 species of Pulmonaria growing in the wild. However, researchers have found it extremely difficult and perplexing to classify or categorize (taxonomy) this species of the plant.

Interestingly, the scientific term Pulmonaria has been obtained from the Latin word Pulmo literally translated to English means ‘the lung’. During the period of ‘sympathetic magic’ (magic based on the belief that somebody or something can be supernaturally affected by something done to an object representing the person or thing) people were of the view that the white spots on the oval leaves of P. Officinalis were a sign of unhealthy lungs affected by ulcers. Consequently, they widely used the lungwort or medicines prepared from its derivatives to treat all pulmonary diseases. Significantly, owing to its properties to heal pulmonary diseases or infections of the lungs, the plant’s name in many languages refers to the lungs.

For instance, in English, it is known as ‘lungwort’, while in German it is called ‘Lungenkraut’. On the other hand, in some languages in Eastern Europe, the plant derives its common name from a word of ‘honey’. Like in Russian it is known as ‘medunitza’, while the Polish call it ‘miodunka plamista’ – both terms meaning ‘honey’ in the respective languages. In addition, in English lungwort also has many colloquial or idiomatic names – Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted Dog, Joseph and Mary, Jerusalem, Cowslip and Bethlehem Sage.

Plant Part Used


Herbal Remedy Use

The mucilage (a gummy substance secreted by some plants) properties of lungwort make it immensely helpful in treating chest problems, especially chronic bronchitis. In addition, lungwort may be blended with other herbs like coltsfoot for an effectual remedy for chronic coughs and also be administered for alleviating asthma. A combination of lungwort and coltsfoot is particularly effective in curing whooping cough. In addition, lungwort may also be used in curing ailments like a sore throat as well as jamming. Years ago, physicians applied lungwort for coughing up blood released owing to tubercular contagion. It may be mentioned here that leaves of lungwort plant are astringent (a substance that draws tissue together) in nature and are frequently used to impede bleeding.

The leaves, as well as the flowering shoots of lungwort, possess diuretic, astringent, demulcent (soothing), a little expectorant, emollient (relaxing) and resolvent (solvent) attributes. These parts of the herb are frequently employed for their curative impact when an individual is suffering from pulmonary ailments and their mucilaginous character makes these parts useful in the treatment of sore throats. The leaves as well as the flowering stems of lungwort are harvested during the spring and dried up for use when necessary afterward. Distilled water prepared from this herb is known to be effectual eyewash for healing tired eyes. In addition, a homeopathic remedy is also prepared using this herb. This homeopathic medication is employed to cure coughs, bronchitis as well as diarrhea.


The leaves of the herb lungwort also have culinary uses and they can be consumed either raw or after being cooked. The leaves may also be included in salads or employed in the form of a potherb. The leaves of lungwort have a rather insipid taste, but they have low fiber content and are favorable for being added into salads, despite their somewhat hairy and mucilaginous texture. However, the leaves of this herb are less acceptable for consumption on their own owing to these attributes. When cooked, the tender leaves of lungwort make a delicious vegetable. Nevertheless, the texture of the leaves has been found to be slightly oily. It may be noted that lungwort forms an element of the beverage known as Vermouth.


Having its origin in Europe and the Caucasus, lungwort grows best in meadows at the foot of mountains and in humid locations. The leaves of lungwort are normally harvested in the latter part of spring.

The herb lungwort thrives well in any type of reasonably good soil, counting heavy clay soils. This herb has a preference for partial shade in a damp soil rich in humus content. Lungwort thrives well in shady places, especially beside tall buildings. The lungwort plants cultivated in shady locales are able to endure drought provided the soil has rich humus content. The leaves of this herb have a tendency to wither during hot weather in places where the herb is cultivated in full sunlight. The plants are resilient up to approximately 20ºC. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom if ever, bothered by rabbits and deer. Lungwort plants are a precious early on resource of nectar, especially for bees. This species has numerous named varieties, and are chosen for their decorative worth. Lungwort easily hybridizes with other plants belonging to the same genus.

Lungwort is generally propagated by its seeds, which are sown in a greenhouse during the spring. When the seedlings have grown adequately big to be handled, prick them out independently and plant them in separate containers. The young plants need to be grown in a greenhouse during the first year of their existence. The plants may be transplanted outdoors into the permanent locations during the later part of spring or early summer when the last anticipated frost has passed.

Alternately, lungwort may also be propagated by means of root division done either during the spring or in autumn. In case the soil is not very arid, the root division may also be undertaken during the early part of summer following the flowering season of the plants. Propagating lungwort through root division is extremely simple and you may directly plant the larger divisions outdoors into their permanent locations. It has, however, been found that it is better to grow the smaller divisions initially in pots in a cold frame in a slightly shady location. When these are properly established, they may be planted outdoors in their permanent positions during the later part of spring or in early summer.


Chemical analysis of lungwort has shown that the herb encloses tannins, flavonoids, saponins, vitamin C. However, dissimilar to many other members of the borage family, lungwort does not comprise pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Infusions and Tinctures

Lungwort can be ingested both as an infusion as well as a tincture. To prepare an infusion of the herb, add one to two teaspoons of dried up lungwort in a cup of boiling water and leave it to permeate for around 10 to 15 minutes. An individual should drink the infusion prepared from lungwort thrice daily. In the case of your favor lungwort tincture, ingest 1 ml to 4 ml of the herbal tincture daily.


Health Benefits of Goldthread

Goldthread, also known as coptis or canker root, is a genus of perennial herbs that have been part of Asian and North American traditional medicine for hundreds of years. The roots of the plant look like a tangled mass of gold thread, hence its name. Herbal goldthread is actually the powdered rhizome, or underground stem, of the goldthread plant.

Goldthread roots 1

Traditional Uses for Goldthread

Goldthread is an important herb in both Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine. Starting in the Tang dynasty, goldthread was used to make a medicine called Huang-Lian-Jie-Du Decoction (HLJDD), which is still used today. Herbalist relies on HLJDD to address a variety of ailments, including soothing irritation, promoting normal blood sugar, and supporting gastrointestinal health.

Native Americans used the herb as a digestive aid and to remedy infections and mouth sores. It’s from this that goldthread got the nickname “canker root.” The practical value of goldthread wasn’t limited to therapeutic applications; because of its bright gold color, Indigenous Americans also used goldthread to produce a yellow dye and to flavor beer.

Health Benefits of Goldthread

The healing properties of goldthread aren’t simply folkloric in nature. Modern medicine has started to examine the potential health benefits of this herb. Animal testing confirms that goldthread can soothe redness, swelling, and irritation. Studies have found that goldthread can promote normal blood sugar and even support brain health.

Goldthread owes its healing abilities to high concentrations of several potent alkaloid compounds. Of these, berberine is most commonly associated with goldthread’s benefits. Berberine has dozens of therapeutic applications. It can protect against some types of harmful organisms and soothe irritated tissue. It promotes normal lipid profiles and is even known to boost the immune system. Multiple studies suggest that berberine may be of benefit for those suffering from obesity. Berberine promotes heart health, bone, and joint health, brain health, digestive health, liver health, and is beneficial for the respiratory system. Perhaps most intriguing of all, berberine has been evaluated for activity against cancer but further research is necessary to fully understand its potential or draw conclusions.

Berberine isn’t goldthread’s only beneficial compound, though. Other alkaloids present in goldthread include palmatine, epi berberine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, and coptisine. Coptisine, in particular, has received attention from researchers recently. It’s currently being examined for its ability to promote brain health. Among its other positive attributes, coptisine may help a fever, relieve discomfort, support heart health, and it’s a strong antioxidant. Additionally, it encourages normal cellular respiration.

Where to Find Goldthread

Many varieties of goldthread are native to Asia and North America and some are actually critically endangered. There are two reasons for this—one is genetic and one is man-made. The genetic cause is a random mutation that results in low pollen and seed production in certain species of goldthread. This mutation affects up to 80% of Coptis teeta, a type of goldthread from the eastern Himalayas. The second cause is overexploitation by humans. Goldthread is a victim of its own success. It’s desirable properties as a therapeutic herb has led to widespread overharvesting.

Finding a substitute for goldthread may be tricky. Goldenseal is a herb that also contains berberine. But, like goldthread, goldenseal has been severely over-harvested. You can find goldenseal in most drug stores, but the quality is dubious. Oregon grape root may be a better alternative than goldenseal. Although it has a lower berberine concentration, Oregon grape root is more sustainable and readily available. In fact, the plant is so common that it’s often considered an invasive species outside its native habitat.

While several varieties of goldthread are endangered and in need of protection, other species remain plentiful. Populations of some formerly threatened species, like the North American coptis trifolia, are recovering. If you’re careful about your source, goldthread itself is still a good option. You can find goldthread in supplements, both by itself and blended with other herbs.


Inula helenium

Also, Known As

  • Elecampane
  • Horseheal
  • Scabwort

Elecampane (botanical name Inula helenium) is a tall, bristly perennial plant that is native to south-eastern Europe and western Asia. This herb, which bears yellow flowers resembling the daisy, has been naturalized in North America and is found growing in abundance in the moist meadows, fields and along the roads in the central and eastern regions of the United States and neighboring Canada. Elecampane belongs to the Asteraceae family and grows up to a height of four to six feet. The herb has a heavy branching stem that emerges from a basal rosette (a circular arrangement of leaves at the base) with leaves that are large, oval-shaped and pointed at the end. The herb bears vivid yellow flower heads during the period between the middle to the end of the summer. The flower heads of elecampane are generally four inches in diameter and appear like diminutive sunflowers. The root of this herb is large, weighty and elongated. While the exterior of the root is yellowish, the color changes to white inside. The roots of elecampane are medicinally useful and release an aroma akin to violets in blossom.

The elecampane herb is also commonly known as ‘Horseheal’ and ‘Scabwort’ – both names derived from the plant’s original medical use. The herb was used to treat horses and, hence, the name ‘Horseheal’. In ancient time, veterinary practitioners used the herb to treat pulmonary ailments in horses. On the other hand, the plant’s usefulness in healing scabs on sheep gave it the name ‘Scabwort’. The Latin classical name for elecampane is Inula.

Elecampane is an attractive herb with leaves bearing a resemblance to those of the mullein herb, while the blooms appear as petite sunflowers. The herb grows naturally all over Europe and in the temperate climatic regions of Asia and can be found in an area extending in so far as north-western India and southern Siberia. In North America, the herb is found growing in the wild in a region extending from Nova Scotia to North Carolina and again towards the west to Missouri. This is one of the tall herbs that may grow up to a maximum height of six feet.

The stem of elecampane plant is heavy having deep grooves and it branches out at the top. The base of the herb is covered with a rosette of big, oval-shaped leaves that grow up to one to 1 ½ feet long and four inches in width. The leaves comprising the rosette at the base of the elecampane herb are soft and silky with jagged borders. On the other hand, the elecampane leaves that grow on the plant’s stem are comparatively shorter and wider and usually hold on to the stem. The plant bears vivid yellow flowers appearing on outsized terminal heads. The flowers have a diameter varying from three to four inches. The root of the herb resembles a rhizome. These tuber-like roots of elecampane are large, juicy and branch out. The roots release an aroma resembling violets in bloom (as mentioned before).

Propagating the herb from its offshoots and/ or root cuttings is the best way to grow elecampane. The root cuttings, which should be ideally two inches in length, are usually done from mature plants during autumn. The root cuttings need to be covered with somewhat damp, sandy soil and preserved in a room having a steady temperature around 50°F and 60°F during the winter months. By the time it is spring, the root cuttings will develop new shoots and they may be planted in their permanent positions outdoors once the threat of frosting is over. For ideal growth of the plants, the root cuttings with shoots need to be positioned in spaced out rows three feet from one another and there ought to be an approximate distance of 18 inches between two plants. Alternately, elecampane may also be propagated from its seeds without much trouble. Growing elecampane from its roots is best for indoors and in a cold frame during the early phase of spring. Even when the plants are grown from seeds indoors, they need to be transplanted outdoors once the risk of frosting is over. Generally, the elecampane herbs have a preference for a clay loam that is damp and also in damp soils with a good drainage system. The plants also have the aptitude to grow in partial shades.


Of all the parts of the elecampane, its roots are used for treating various conditions. As mentioned earlier, the roots of the herb are collected during the second autumn of the plant’s existence – precisely after it has withered two frosting seasons. In fact, the roots of the herb are regarded to be effective for remedial purposes only in the second year of their growth. In primordial Rome, people used the medication prepared with elecampane roots to treat indigestion following a sumptuous meal in a banquet. The herb became a part of traditional medication when the people of ancient Rome and Greece used it as a remedy for cold, as they believed that it helped perspiration and also to be effective in drawing out phlegm. During the 19 the century, people boiled the elecampane roots in a sugar solution to prepare cough syrups and lozenges to cure asthma. Some people consumed these sugary roots simply as candy.

The roots of elecampane initially taste slightly sticky, but subsequently, it becomes aromatic after chewing them for some time. In addition, the roots are also somewhat bitter and overpowering and possess a pleasant scent something like the odor of camphoraceous orris.

People in earlier days also considered the elecampane roots to be beneficial for the stomach. In fact, the Romans used it regularly to overcome indigestion. Later on, elecampane became the principal herbal element in a digestive wine prepared during the medieval period known as potio Paulina or the ‘drink of Paul’. In fact, ‘drink of Paul’ referred to St. Paul’s instructions recorded in the Bible regarding the use of a small amount of wine for the health of the stomach – ‘use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake’.

Apart from the herb being beneficial for the stomach, the bright yellow blooms of the elecampane made it an attractive garden plant. However, the early European settlers in North America did not cultivate the plant for either of these virtues. On the contrary, they grew the plant for its remedial value in treating skin ailments, especially on horses and sheep. The roots of the herb were widely popular for treating pulmonary diseases in horses and scabs on sheep. Such veterinary use of the herb gave it its common names – ‘Horseheal’ and ‘Scabwort’. In addition, the roots of elecampane were also used to treat humans, especially respiratory ailments. Interesting enough, this is one reason why the herb was once cataloged in the United States Pharmacopeia.

Plant Parts Used

Root, flowers.

Remedial Properties

Since time immemorial elecampane has been regarded as an effective remedy against respiratory disease and as a stimulating herb for the respiratory system. The herb has a warming impact on the lungs along with its aptitude to tenderly invigorate coughing up or drawing out phlegm (clearing the chest of mucus accumulation) rendered elecampane a harmless medication for the young as well as the old. The herb may be utilized for nearly all chest problems and is highly effective when the patient is weak or incapacitated.

The remedial properties of elecampane have resulted in its specific use for curing chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma. The herb is especially effective in these conditions since it not only relieves the linings of the bronchial tube but is also a useful expectorant. Besides these virtues, elecampane has a somewhat bitter flavor that facilitates recuperation by perking up the digestive system as well as in the absorption of ingested nourishments by the body.

For ages, people have been taking preparations made with elecampane roots to stimulate the digestive process. The herb promotes appetite and, at the same time alleviates dyspepsia (stomach upset). In addition, the herb is also effective to treat and flush out worms from the body.

Long back, practitioners of herbal medicine prescribed formulations prepared with the elecampane root to treat tuberculosis. Elecampane has the aptitude to blend suitably with further antiseptic herbs and, hence, it is still used to cure contagions like flu and tonsillitis. The herb has curative properties, while its tonic action harmonizes with elecampane’s capability to offset infections.

Habitat and Growing Elecampane

Elecampane is indigenous to Eurasia, especially south-eastern Europe, and western Asia, but now has been naturalized in various temperate climatic zones, which includes several regions of North America, particularly the United States. Apart from the naturally growing elecampane, the plant is also cultivated for its remedial properties. Elecampane may be propagated by root division or from its seeds during spring. This herb has a preference for damp and well-drained soil. The root of the herb, which actually possesses all the medicinal properties of the plant, is harvested in autumn, sliced into pieces and dehydrated at high temperatures. While the herb is no longer popular in England and largely not cultivated there, people in other countries of the continent, such as Germany, Holland, and Switzerland still continue to cultivate elecampane for its medicinal properties. In fact, the herb is still cultivated extensively close to the German township of Collada, which is near Leipzig.

The elecampane herb thrives well in locations that are damp and shady and also grows well in the common garden soil. However, the plant thrives best when the soil is rich and loamy with the ground being moist, but having a proper drainage system.

It takes little effort to grow the elecampane plants. If you are propagating the plant with its seeds, it is best to sow the mature seeds in cold frames or outdoors during the spring. Nevertheless, the best way to propagate elecampane is to use root cuttings from mature plants with an eye or bud. The root cuttings are normally done during autumn. Each root cutting should be approximately two inches in length and they need to be covered with somewhat moist sandy soils immediately after harvesting. During the winter months, the root cutting should be preserved in a room under a consistent temperature ranging between 50°F and 60°F. These roots grow roots quite easily and develop new shoots by the next spring. Once the frosting period is over, these root cuttings with new shoots may be planted in their permanent positions outdoors. The root cutting need to be planted in rows about three feet apart and the plants should have a distance of about 12 inches to 18 inches from one another. After placing the root cuttings in their permanent position, it is necessary to keep the ground free of weeds. The soil around the plantation should be dug up a little during the following summer with a view to augment the root growth. Usually, the roots are ready for use during the second autumn of their existence. It may be noted here that elecampane roots are medically viable only when they are two years old.

A good stock of elecampane plants may also be obtained by slicing the roots into small sections, each measuring two inches long, and covering them with luxuriant, light, sandy soil and preserving them in mild temperatures during the winter month. The elecampane plants cannot withstand frosting and, hence, care should be taken to protect them during this season. In fact, even after they are planted outdoors, they may require protection from frosts during the first year of their existence.


Way back in 1804, scientists were able to segregate inulin from elecampane for the first time and the substance derived its name from the herb. Inulin has been found to possess the property of secreting mucous (mucilaginous) and this aspect of the substance facilitates in soothing the linings of the bronchial tubes.

Alantolactone: Alantolactone found in elecampane is believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, this element inhibits the secretion of mucous and invigorates the immune system.

In general, elecampane possesses a tonic, expectorant impact and stimulates drawing out a cough formed by the mucous secretions from the lungs. The tonic and expectorant properties of elecampane are attributed to the volatile oil enclosed by the herb as well as the antiseptic aspects of the herb.

In fact, in 1804, Valentine Rose of Berlin found that elecampane encloses plenty of the substance known as inulin. While Valentine names the substance Alantin derived from the plant’s German name Alantwurzel and French name Aunée, by and large, the name inulin proposed by botanist Thompson was accepted. The chemical composition of inulin is similar to that of starch, but to some degree, it is also opposite of starch. In effect, inulin replaces starch in the root system of Compositae (plants with heads made up of several florets). While the plant is living, inulin easily disbands in the diluted sap and when the plants are dead and dried, this substance accumulates in the cells as shapeless heaps that are inactive in polarized light. Although inulin and starch appear to be alike, the former differs from starch as it releases a yellow color, rather than blue, when it interacts with iodine. In addition, inulin also differs from starch in a number of ways – when it dissolves in boiling water, it does not form any paste, as in the case of starch, and it remains unchanged when it sediments after the water solution cools down. Moreover, unlike starch, inula does not produce any volatile compound when it interacts with nitric acid. However, when inula is heated for a long period or reacts with watered down acids, it first transforms into inulin and then to levulin eventually changing to levulose. Inula somewhat transforms into sugar when it is fermented.

In 1864, Julius von Sachs demonstrated that it is possible to hasten the extraction of inulin in the globular mass of needle-shaped crystalline form by submerging the elecampane roots either in alcohol or glycerine.

In fact, the quantity of inulin present in elecampane differs depending on the season but is found in maximum amount during autumn. Hence, the plant is harvested during autumn. In 1870, Hans Drangendorff made inulin a subject of a highly comprehensive dissertation. He, however, acquired the root of elecampane during October and hence, it had approximately 44 percent of the substance. In spring, the herb contains a mere 19 per cent of inulin as much of it is substituted by or transformed into levulin, mucilage, sugar and different glucosides. It has been found that inulin is extensively dispersed in the perennial roots of Compositae and is naturally present in Goodeniaceae, Campanulaceae, Stylidiaceae, and Lobeliaceae. In addition, the substance is also found occurring naturally in the root of the White Ipecacuanha, belonging to the class of Violaceae, mostly found in Brazil.

It has been found that inulin is intimately related to inulenin in elecampane. Inulin may be obtained in the form of microscopic needles that have an aptitude to dissolve in cold water and diluted alcohol, while pseudo-inulin that is found in the form of uneven grains and are highly soluble in hot water. Pseudo-inulin also dissolves in diluted and warm alcohol but does not dissolve in chilled alcohol.

In early 1660, Le Febre noticed when the elecampane roots are exposed to refinement using water, it formed a substance that could be turned into crystals at the top of the receiver and comparable crystals could be detected when thin segments of the herb’s roots are heated watchfully; Le Febre also observed that the crystals were formed like natural blooming on the exterior of the roots that have been left unattended for prolonged periods. The efflorescence formed on the outer side of the roots was believed to be a separate body called helenin or elecampane camphor. However, studies undertaken by Kallen in 1874 demonstrated that the efflorescence could be identified as two different substances that had the aptitude to form crystals. Kallen named these two different crystallizable substances as Helenin, a mass having no essence or hue, and Alantcamphor, which possessed a flavor and scent similar to peppermint. Further research on the subject, discovered that the crystalline substance formed by elecampane roots the following distillation with water in the ratio of 1:2 per cent and related with approximately 1 percent of the unstable oil enclosed by the herb, actually comprises alantolactone, iso-alantolactone as well as alantolic acid. All these substances are crystalline in form, having a near monochrome, but possess a slight scent and essence. The oily part of the distillate known as alantol is a dull fluid possessing a scent similar to peppermint.


  • Inulin (up to 44%)
  • Volatile oil (up to 4%), containing alantol and sesquiterpene lactones (including alantolactone)
  • Triterpene saponins ( dammarane dienol)

Remedial Application

As discussed earlier, of all its parts, only the tuber roots and sometimes the petite yellow flowers of elecampane are used for remedial purposes. Several preparations made with the elecampane roots, such as tincture, decoction, syrup, and wash, are used to treat different conditions. On the other hand, the flowers of the herb are only used to prepare a decoction.

The root of elecampane possesses several medicinal properties, including diuretic, stimulant, diaphoretic (a medication that promotes sweating), expectorant (a medication that promotes discharge of phlegm), and antiseptic, acerbic and mild tonic. In ancient times, medications prepared with elecampane roots were used by herbalists to cure certain ailments in women, edema or excess fluid accumulation in the body tissues as well as skin infections.
DECOCTION – A decoction prepared with the roots of elecampane is used to treat conditions like asthma, bronchitis, problems of the upper respiratory system as well as relieve the symptoms of hay fever. The decoction should be consumed on a regular basis as a common stimulant or to cure venerable chronic respiratory problems. The decoction also serves as a digestive stimulant and refreshment for the liver.
TINCTURE – The tincture prepared with the roots of elecampane is taken to cure weakness as well as chronic respiratory problems.
WASH – The decoction prepared with elecampane roots or the watered down tincture made from the herb’s roots may be used as a wash to cure eczema (inflammation of the skin), rashes and also varicose ulcers.
SYRUP – Prepare elecampane syrup by boiling sliced roots of the herb in a sugar solution. Alternately, the syrup may also be prepared with elecampane decoction. Take the syrup at regular intervals to alleviate a cough.
In addition to the tuberous roots, the bright yellow flowers of elecampane enclose certain medicinal properties and, hence, they are used to prepare decoction along with other herbs and organic substances for treating a number of conditions. In addition, the flowers of the herb are also used to prepare the medicinal syrup.
DECOCTION – Decoction prepared with elecampane flowers may be taken to relieve queasiness, vomiting or coughs with profuse phlegm. On the other hand, prepare a formulation blending 10 g of elecampane flowers with 10 g freshly cut ginger root, 5 ml of licorice root and 10 ml of ban xi and take it on a regular basis to cure an overload of phlegm in the stomach accompanied with queasiness or nausea, flatulence, swollenness of the abdominal region and vomiting of mucus.
SYRUP – Syrup prepared by boiling the elecampane flower decoction with sugar may be taken in dosages of 10 ml to 20 ml for treating coughs.

Vermifuge wine

A wine prepared with elecampane roots and other ingredients, especially alcoholic beverages, is useful in expelling worms and other parasites from the intestines. The following ingredients are required to prepare this vermifuge wine:

  • Seven ounces (200 g) fresh or dried finely chopped elecampane root
  • One cup (250 ml) gin or vodka
  • One-fourth cup (75 g) sugar cane
  • Four cups (one liter) red wine

Soak the chopped elecampane root in alcohol for about a week in an amber-hued jar and store it in a dark place. After a week of maceration, add the red wine and sugar to the solution and leave the solution for about a month, shaking the jar at regular intervals. After a month has passed, filter the solution and store it in a clean glass jar. The herbal wine prepared is aromatic and possesses aperients (mildly laxative), digestive and stimulant properties. Take the wine in a dosage of one ounce (25 ml) in a liqueur glass prior to meals for three successive days. After taking the wine for three days, give a break for 10 days and continue taking it for another three consecutive days. Repeat this treatment thrice. Here is a word of caution – it is advisable not to drink this preparation if you have an ulcer, are suffering from diarrhea or are in the initial stage of pregnancy it may cause undesirable side effects.

Hypoglycemic and Hypolipidemic Effects of Aloe Vera

Type 2 diabetes is often associated with alterations in metabolism, free fatty acid accumulation, inflammation, and oxidative stress. There are several standard pharmaceutical treatments; however, they may not treat all associated symptoms and may cause adverse side effects. Aloe vera (Aloe vera, Xanthorrhoeaceae) has been used traditionally in many countries throughout the world for skin ailments and gastrointestinal problems. This review highlights studies on the potential use of aloe vera to treat diabetes and its symptoms.

Aloe vera contains anthraquinones, phytosterols, carbohydrates, and other bioactive compounds. Phytosterols have been found to aggregate cholesterol, resulting in lower systemic cholesterol levels. A polysaccharide called acemannan has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects via the activation of cytokines. In mice with diabetes, aloe vera phytosterols significantly decreased both fasting blood glucose concentrations and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). In rats with diabetes, 300 mg/kg of an ethanolic extract of aloe vera elevated insulin concentrations and normalized blood glucose levels. This extract also resulted in lower lipid, cholesterol, and kidney triglyceride concentrations.

Aloe vera extract at 0.5% and 1% weight per volume was shown to increase the count of Lactobacillus casei, a potentially beneficial species of gut microbiota. In diabetic rats, a water extract modulated the activity of an enzyme critical to gluconeogenesis and lowered lipid peroxidase activity. Phytosterols in aloe vera increased the expression of peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-gamma and -alpha (PPARγ and PPARα, respectively), as well as many other genes upstream of metabolic processes, such as fatty acid oxidation and gluconeogenesis, in obese mice. In cells, aloe vera extract activated glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT4) expression, the protein transporter involved in glucose uptake.

There have been several clinical trials for aloe vera’s potential use in treating diabetes. Patients with diabetes taking a fraction of aloe vera containing acemannan and the glycoprotein verectin three times per day for 12 weeks were shown to have lowered fasting blood glucose and triglyceride concentrations. The mechanism of this activity is thought to be due to the attenuation of glucose absorption from acemannan’s metabolites. Those with diabetes taking one 600-mg capsule daily of aloe vera leaf gel had lowered blood glucose, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentrations.

In those with prediabetes or early diabetes, aloe vera gel consumption for eight weeks lowered body weight, fat mass, fasting blood glucose, and insulin concentrations. Patients with diabetes taking aloe vera gel powder at 100 mg and 200 mg for three months [it is assumed daily] had a decrease in fasting and fed glucose, blood pressure, triglycerides, and total and LDL cholesterol concentrations. In another study of aloe vera extract administered at 300 and 500 mg twice daily for eight weeks in patients with prediabetes, those taking 300 mg had significantly lower fasting blood glucose concentrations, while those taking 500 mg had decreased HbA1c, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels.

In a study in patients with diabetes, 60 days of 600 mg per day of aloe vera extract did not result in any adverse side effects on kidney or liver functions. In another 12-week trial, aloe vera fractions did not cause adverse side effects; however, aloe vera was thought to cause diarrhea and vomiting in a separate study.

Although many of these studies suggest that aloe vera may be efficacious in treating diabetes, it is mentioned that various extracts and preparations showed different bioactivity. The authors state that future work investigating aloe vera whole extract is necessary for determining mechanisms of action.

Pothuraju R, Sharma RK, Onteru SK, Singh S, Hussain SA. Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects of Aloe vera extract preparations: a review. Phytother Res. February 2016;30(2):200-207.

Black Cumin for Improving Learning and Memory

Black cumin (BC; Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae) seed oil has been used historically as a preventative and restorative medicine. BC has been reported to have many useful properties such as immunopotentiation, bronchodilatation, antitumor, antihistaminic, antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, and gastroprotective effects. However, according to the authors, there is a relative lack of research supporting the use of BC on the central nervous system, in particular learning and memory. This review article reports in vitro, in vivo, and clinical studies that support the potential use of BC to enhance learning and memory.



The traditional effects of BC are mostly attributed to the fixed and essential oils, especially the quinone constituents, including thymoquinone, which makes up 30-48% of the total quinone compounds. Thymoquinone is neuroprotective in several in vitro models such as amyloid beta (Aβ)-induced neurotoxicity. The essential oil also contains thymol, carvacrol, γ-terpinene, and p-cymene, which also have anticholinesterase and antioxidant effects in vitro, and flavonoids that are reported to improve learning, memory, and cognition in animal models. The anticholinesterase activity is consistent with positive effects on learning and memory, especially following scopolamine administration.

Other effects of BC in animals include the following:

  • Hyperglycemia is associated with cognitive decline. In rat models, pretreatment with BC reduced streptozotocin-induced cognitive impairment, restored antioxidant enzyme levels, ameliorated spatial memory disturbances, reduced oxidative stress, and normalized the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland axis.
  • In a rat model of cognitive impairment, thymoquinone improved antioxidant enzyme levels and spatial learning.
  • A study in rats demonstrated that BC can improve spatial memory performance.
  • One study in rodents showed that BC can decrease anxiety and increase serotonin turnover in the brain.
  • Epilepsy can cause poor cognition. BC hydroalcoholic extract prevented learning and memory declines in a rodent model of epilepsy.
  • Hypothyroidism is associated with learning and memory impairments. In neonatal rats, hypothyroidism was reversed by BC hydroalcoholic extract.

In humans

The authors very briefly describe two uncontrolled studies in humans. In one study, executive functions in various memory-related tests such as logical memory, digit span, letter cancellation, Rey-Osterrieth complex figure, trail making, and Stroop tests were improved in elderly subjects taking 500 mg/day of a commercial BC product for nine weeks. In another study, mood was stabilized, anxiety was decreased, and memory was improved in adolescent male subjects taking 500 mg/day BC for four weeks. The authors do not mention whether the two studies were controlled nor do they identify the products used.

The mechanism by which BC enhances learning and memory are still unknown. However, the anticholinesterase effect is surely a major component. The authors conclude that the preclinical data support further research on the potential use of BC to treat neurodegeneration-related diseases or brain injury affecting learning and memory.

Sahak MKA, Kabir N, Abbas G, Draman S, Hashim NH, Hasan Adli DS. The role of Nigella sativa and its active constituents in learning and memory. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:6075679. doi: 10.1155/2016/6075679.