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The best garden herbs from a herbalist’s perspective

In an era when our quest for effective medicines has probably never been keener, it is appropriate that traditional uses are explored to the fullest extent possible. Plants have been with us from the dawn of our species, and humankind has always striven to understand them according to the precepts of the age. Some plants, however, have demonstrated a special affinity with our deepest needs, and have been allies throughout recorded and unrecorded centuries. When it comes to growing garden herbs, what is the herbalist’s choice and why?

Teresa Mitchell Paterson, is an Award Winning Naturopath and former president of the largest herbal and naturopathic practitioners association in Australia. Her vote goes to Basil. “I like to grow Basil – Ocimum basilicum in my balcony ‘garden’. It grows well in Australia and I can snip leaves off to add to my salads, pesto and tomato sauces. Traditionally it was used in Thai, Indonesian, Italian and Vietnamese dishes; there are many Basil species each with an individual taste.  The strong taste comes from a chemical in the plant called eugenol. Lime and lemon Basils have a distinct citrus flavour due to another chemical called limonene. Apart from being delicious, it is a powerful herb traditionally used for reducing inflammation and potentially antibacterial and anti-aging. In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used for many centuries. The published research suggests Basil has many therapeutic benefits found in the essential oils, flavonoids, anthocyanins, polyphenols and phenolic chemicals, which all add to its health-giving benefits. As a collection of antioxidants Basil may reduce cell death and slow the aging process.

“Other benefits are its (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP) these components may benefit inflammatory bowel disease and joint inflammation. Ocimum tenuiflorum or Holy Basil contains rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, luteolin and apigenin, which may be of benefit to reducing the risk of certain types of cancers. The volatile oils cineole, eugenol, estragole, sabinene, myrcene and limonene have also demonstrated antibacterial properties in laboratory testing.”

Kerry Bone is the founder of Medi Herb, a company that produces herbal medicines for qualified practitioners. He is an Associate Professor at the School of health and lead researcher of the international journal of phytotherapy – a body of research on herbal medicines and their actions. He chooses Rosemary.

“My favourite garden herb is Rosemary. As a herbal student in the 1980s I didn’t have much interest in it. Back then, I was taught that it was perhaps good for the memory and arterial circulation, and maybe had antioxidant properties. I felt there were other herbs that did this a lot better. In the following decades, we learnt more about its antioxidant properties and my respect began to grow. Specifically, there was interest in the key phytochemicals that conveyed the antioxidant activity, namely carnosol and carnosic acid. Of course, there is much controversy now over passive antioxidant therapy and that it might even be harmful for health, but that is not what Rosemary does.

“The discovery of the Nrf2 pathway by molecular biologists has completely changed our perspective. Nrf2 activation is the key mechanism used for self-protection by the cell that switches on a range of important cellular responses. These responses confer not just enhanced cellular antioxidant activity using the body’s own enzymes, but also improve detoxification and cellular energy pathways. The fascinating discovery is that the above phytochemicals in Rosemary are able to switch on this pathway only when it is needed. And indeed, this pathway provides targeted antioxidant activity only as needed. That means all of the concerns and reservations about blanket, passive antioxidant therapy are done away with.

“So there we have it, Rosemary is literally the perfect antioxidant herb. Hence, it is not surprising that scientists have recently discovered that in Acciaroli, a village in Italy where the residents consume large amounts of Rosemary every day, one in 10 of the 700 villagers there live to 100 years and are extremely healthy in their senior years.”

Peter Jackson Main is a very well-known British Herbalist. He is President of the Association of Master Herbalists and Director of Herbal Research and Education at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). He is the author of Practical Iridology and has been practicing herbal medicine for over 30 years. His favourite herb is Mugwort, for its medicinal and symbolic nature.

“I would have to choose Artesmisa Vulgaris, a.k.a Mugwort, simply because of its fascinating history of use though out herbal history and time. For me, Mugwort is representative of herbal medicine itself, growing wildly and freely, and having a long and interesting application that has changed throughout time. Historically Artesmisa has been documented for its ‘magical’ as well as its putative psychotropic effects which are well-reported throughout history and geographical location, and are enjoying something of a revival in certain contemporary enclaves.

“I like what Adams et al concluded, which was that “medicine frequently neglects dreaming as an essential part of healing” (Adams, Garcia, & Garg, 2012), and Wirth’s extraordinary dream log, based on experiments using a Mugwort pillow (Wirth, 2000), it appears that interest in the plant’s use as an aid to supra-physical perception and effectuation is by no means a thing of the past.

“In folk history, it has been regarded as untamed, or long-haired, while meisce means drunk or intoxicated (eDIL Irish Language Dictionary, 2012), attesting if not to a certain Dionysian quality and reputation, and also perhaps to a cautionary concern for the possible effects of getting involved with it!

“In contemporary Western herbal literature Mugwort seems to be chiefly favoured as either a stomachic/digestive, or a female reproductive aid. Hobbs rates the herb highly, citing it as particularly beneficial in aiding the liver in the breakdown of fatty foods, and for digestive upsets such as dyspepsia and vomiting.

“Amongst other listed uses of the plant, the one that potentially invites most curiosity is its reputation in cases of mental and psychic conditions: Grieves mentions hysteria, Hoffmann (2003) refers to its applications for “psychic symptoms”, Tobyn et al (2011) cite Brooke in mentioning clairvoyant powers, creativity and expression, and Adams et al (2012), writing of its possible benefit in the treatment of women and children, recommend that the herb should be explicitly researched for its ability to promote dreaming. For me this herb is a representation of the known and unknown in herbal medicine, I regard it as a dear friend.”

Martin Powell is a mushroom expert, author of two books on the clinical uses of mushrooms, author of the Masters Programme in Chinese Medicine for Westminister University, founder of MycoNutri, and a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. His favourite plants are mushrooms, but for British gardens, he votes for Goji Berries. “As my work is focused on mushrooms, so naturally they would be my true favourite plants. However, as mushrooms are generally considered to be destructive pests in domestic gardens, my vote for best plant to grow will go to Goji berries.

“Goji berries are known in Traditional Chinese medicine as Gou Qi Zi. These bright red berries have a long history of use. Goji berries are generally regarded as a male tonic, with anti-aging properties most likely due to its very high nutrient and antioxidant content. It can be used as a tea, wine, and in cuisine making it a good all-rounder to grow in any garden.”

Herbal medicines should only be used under the guidance of a qualified herbal practitioner. This article should not be used to replace medical advice or as treatment recommendation.

This article first appeared in Holistic Therapist Magazine, May 2018.

Are you already a practitioner? Book your place at the ANP’s Naturopathic Summit in London on July 21 – 22 July 2018, where Teresa M Paterson, Martin Powell, Peter Jackson Main and Kerry Bone will all be delivering lectures. www.theanp.co.uk/summit/

Would you like to study Herbal Medicine? Visit www.naturopathy-uk.com/courses-eu/courses-herbal-medicine/ for CNM’s Diploma Course, or www.naturopathy-uk.com/courses-eu/courses-herbal-everyday/ for more about our Short Course in Herbs for Everyday Living.


By Leyla El Moudden, President of the ANP (Association of Naturopathic Practitioners)

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Blog/Article content reflects the author's research and diverse opinions, not necessarily CNM's views. Items may not be regularly updated, so represent the best available understanding at the time of publication.

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