Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just a reminder....

These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate.  No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment.  In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. 

Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals.  One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied. 

Remember my friends:  Don't Be Stupid.  Seriously, I won't feel sorry for you if you do something stupid with a poisonous plant.  If you choose to grow something poisonous, you must always be on your guard. 

It is a responsibility, not a joke and certainly not a game.   Growing dangerous herbs is not for the casual gardener.  Know what you grow and know how to handle it safely.  Keep all dangerous plants out of the reach of children, animals and idiots. 

Solanum dulcamara - Bittersweet Nightshade

Solanum dulcamara - Bittersweet Nightshade, is a member of the Nightshade Family,  'Dulcamara' is a combination of Latin words meaning "sweet-bitter".  'Solanum' was derived from the same Latin root word as 'solace', and was likely given as a name because of this plant's many medicinal uses.  The name "bittersweet" is also used in some areas for some species in the genus Celastrus (also referred to as staff vines, family Celastraceae), e.g. American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) and oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). 

Solanum dulcamara is also called Climbing Nightshade, Trailing Nightshade, Deadly Nightshade, Bitter Nightshade, Woody Nightshade, Bittersweet, European Bittersweet, Dulcamara, Felonwood, Felonwort, Fellenwort, Felon Bloom, Violet-bloom, Scarlet Berry, Snake Berry, Mortal, Poisonberry, Poisonflower, and Fever Twig, Blue Nightshade, Dogwood, Blue Bindweed.

Originally from Europe, it is now widespread throughout North America and commonly found in backyards, along edges of fields, vacant lands, roadsides, between hedges, and along streams and wetlands where it thrives in moist soil and partial shade.  It is usually propagated by birds who eat the berries and then drop the seeds.  It is a perennial vine or scrambling shrub with slender stems.  The lower stems are woody and the upper herbaceous branches die back each year. 

The flowers bloom from April to September, they grow in loose clusters, are star-shaped with five blue-violet (rarely white) petals that point backward and stamens that are fused in a prominent yellow cone; they grow along the branches on short stalks extending out from the stems.  Berries are oval or egg-shaped and bright red when ripe with numerous flat disk-shaped, light yellow seeds. The unripe berries are green.  Leaves are dark-green to purplish and often with one or two small ear-like lobes near the base, leaf blades are 1 to 4 inches long.  Main root grows horizontally just below the surface.  The crushed leaves and bark have an unpleasant smell.

Although bittersweet nightshade is not the same plant as deadly nightshade or belladonna, it is poisonous and has caused loss of livestock and pet poisoning and has caused death in children who accidentally picked the berries, probably because it was growing with blackberries. Bittersweet nightshade also has a strong, unpleasant odor so most animals will avoid it and poisonings from this plant are not very frequent.

The entire plant contains solanine, the same toxin found in green potatoes and other members of the nightshade family, and it also contains a glycoside called dulcamarine, similar in structure and effects to atropine, one of the toxins found in deadly nightshade. The toxin amount varies with soil, light, climate and growth stage. Ripe fruits are less toxic than the leaves and unripe berries but even ripe berries can be poisonous.

Although fatal human poisonings are rare, several cases have been documented.  Solanum dulcamara contains the toxin spirosolane glycoalkaloids.  Symptoms of spirosolane alkaloid poisoning include the following: circulatory and respiratory depression, convulsions, cyanosis, death, diarrhea, dilated pupils, headache, paralysis, scratchy throat, shock, speech difficulties, stomachache, subnormal temperature, vertigo, and vomiting. Adults appear to be relatively resistant to the toxicity of spirosolanes, but fatal intoxications are more common in children.

The leaves of Solanum dulcamara are considered moderately poisonous if ingested, and there is much disagreement over the toxicity of the berries. Some say that paralysis can result in humans that have eaten as few as 6 berries, other reports say 200 berries are needed to be toxic in adults. Cases of poisoning in cattle, horses, and sheep have been documented. Concentrations of toxic compounds within plants may vary with growth stage, and chemical components may vary from one individual to the next. Regardless, leaves and berries of the plant should be regarded as toxic.
Solanum dulcamara is used in naturopathy and herbalism almost exclusively for external problems. Its main use is for skin abrasions and inflammation. It is considered by some to be a herbal remedy for treating herpes and gout.   Combined with chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)  it is said to make a good ointment for swellings, bruises, sprains, and corns. For skin diseases and sores, sources say to combine it with yellow dock  (Rumex crispus). 

Since the time of ancient Rome, nightshade has been used to treat a wide range of ailments. One such ailment, abscesses called "felons" on the fingertips, inspired one of the plant's common names, felonwort.  It was also used to treat asthma, bronchitis, jaundice, kidney problems, rheumatism, skin diseases, syphilis, and to counteract witchcraft.  Sepherds would hang it as a charm round the necks of their animals whom they suspected to be under the evil eye.  It was considered good for removing witchcraft in both men and animals, and to rid all sudden diseases whatsoever.  It was also considered a remedy for vertigo or dizziness when tied about the neck.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Illicium verum - Star Anise

Illicium verum, Star anise, also called Star Aniseed, or Chinese Star Anise, Anise Stars, Badain, Badiana, is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from a small native evergreen tree from southwest China. The star shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening.  Star Anise and Anise (Pimpinella anisum) are not related botanically - star anise is a member of the Magnolia family.

Star Anise has come into use in the West as a less expensive substitute for anise in baking as well as in liquor production, most distinctively in the production of the liquor Galliano. It is also used in the production of sambuca, pastis, and many types of absinthe. Star anise enhances the flavour of meat.  It is widely used in Chinese, Indian and Indonesian cuisine.  It is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia.  Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking.  It is also a major ingredient in the making of phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup

Star anise has been used in a tea as a remedy for rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion.  Like anise, star anise is an anti-flatulent and can be used in a decoction as a diuretic. 

Star anise is also the raw ingredient used to make oseltamivir, more familiarly known as Tamiflu which is an antiviral drug used in treating the bird flu virus.

CAUTION:  The FDA has stated that consumption of Star Anise tea can cause some nasty side effects.  Among these side effects are jitteriness, hyperexcitability, vomiting, rapid eye movement, epi-gastric pains and seizures.   Japanese Star Anise (Illicium anisatum), a similar tree, is not edible because it is highly toxic, however, the pounded bark can be used as incense.

In folkore Star anise is carried for luck and burnt for clairvoyance and to increase psychic awareness.  Place Star anise under your pillow at night to keep bad dreams away and also to dream of someone far away.  It is a great herb to be used on the new moon because of it's dark color.  The Japanese plant the tree in their temples and on tombs.

Propagate by semi-ripe cuttings taken in summer, or by seed. Star anise requires moisture-retentive, but well-drained soil and partial shade. It grows very slowly and may take 15 years from planting to produce fruit.  Once it begins fruiting, however, it is usually possible to harvest from the tree 3 times a year, and fruiting may continue for over 100 years.   It should be possible to germinate seeds you get from the spice store.  Nick the seeds and soak them in warm water, the seed requires a temperature of 70°F to germinate.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pimpinella anisum - Anise

Pimpinella anisum  - Anise, also called Anneys, Anís and Aniseed. 

Pimpinella anisum is an annual plant growing to 3 ft  tall. The leaves at the base of the plant are simple, 0.5–2" long and shallowly lobed, while the leaves higher on the stems are feathery and divided into numerous leaves. The flowers are white, approximately 3 mm diameter, produced in dense umbels.  The seed pods are referred to as "aniseed."

The seeds have a licorice-like taste and are a universal flavoring used to season a wide variety of products.  Anise is native to Egypt, Greece, Crete and Asia Minor. During Roman times it was cultivated in Tuscany and spread to Europe during the Middle Ages.  It was first cultivated by the Egyptians as a spice and was mentioned in the Ebers PapyrusHippocrates recommended it for coughs while Pliny preferred its use for bad breath, keeping one's appearance youthful and for preventing bad dreams if used in a sleep pillowPythagoras believed that just holding the plant could prevent epileptic seizures. 

The Romans made a cake called "mustaceum" which incorporated anise and other spicy herbs and was served after a meal to aid digestion. It is believed this may have been the forerunner of our modern "wedding cake".  Anise was also used by the Romans to pay their taxes. In the 9th century Charlemagne instructed it to be planted and grown on imperial farms.  The Oil is used in perfumery, tobacco products and pharmaceutical products as well as in baked goods, mouthwashes and toothpastes.  Most licorice candy does not contain licorice due to toxicity problems but instead gets its flavor from Anise oil.

In the 16th century, Anise was widely used as mouse-trap bait. Apparently mice find it irresistible. Anise was used for cows to increase milk production, for colic and digestive problems in animals. It was used in health-formula puppy foods for weaning pups was once used as bait by dog thieves. Dogs love the scent and in greyhound racing the "rabbit" is scented with anise, it is also used as a lure in drag hunting and fishing.

Western cuisines have long used anise as a moderately popular herb to flavor some dishes, drinks, and candies.  The seeds flavor alcoholic drinks such as Anisette and Turkish raki.  In Mexico, the seeds are burned and the smoke is blown into a child’s face to cure studdering.  The feathery foliage is used fresh added to salads and soups.  Seeds flavor cookies, candies, cheese spreads, applesauce and soups.

It can be used to reduce oiliness of skin and the ground seeds and fresh leaves have been used to fade freckles. It is also used in perfumery for a spicy note. The oil on it's own or combined with oil of Sassafras (and sometimes Carbolic acid) has been used externally as an insect repellent and it makes a great garden repellent for aphids. Anise is poisonous to pigeons and was once used to exterminate them.  The essential oil is used externally to treat lice and scabies.

Use anise in preparations for purification, blessing, to avert evil eye, and drive away negativity.  Wear the seeds in sachet for protection and psychic enhancement.  Anise is used in aromatherapy and in dream pillows to promote a good night's sleep.  A sprig hung on a bedpost is said to increase energy, or drink Anise tea prior to meditation to acheive a deep meditative state. The seeds are used in purification baths, along with Bay leaves.  It can also be burned while meditating.

Pimpinella anisum has been used as an Antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic, and tonic.  According to Pliny the Elder, anise was used as a cure for sleeplessness, chewed with alexanders and a little honey in the morning to freshen the breath, and, when mixed with wine, as a remedy for asp bites.  Today Anise is used as an alternative to 'Botox' in reducing wrinkles and fine lines.

Sow directly into prepared seed beds in early spring when the ground has warmed, 1/4 inch deep, 1-2 seeds per inch in rows spaced 18 inches apart. Thin to 6 inches apart. Anise plants grow best in well drained soil and full sun.  Because it has a taproot, Anise does not transplant well after being established, so it should be sown in its permanent location or transplanted while the seedlings are still small.  White flowers appear in clusters in late summer.

Harvest the leaves anytime during the growing season.  The ripe dry seeds should be taken in early autumn when the flower heads turn gray-brown. Cut off the tops and place in paper bags or spread out and dry in direct sun. Once dried, store seed in airtight contaner.