August 2016

August greeting from this edition of Herbs, Healing and Health.

Here Comes the Sun.

Now we are in full summer holiday mood, I am optimistically considering the possibility that some of us may be interested in knowing how to treat sunburn effectively over the next few weeks.

We are all aware now of the potentially damaging effects that UV sunlight can have on skin. Just to recap:

UVA and UVB are both potentially damaging to skin health, UVB being more seasonally dependant and leading to skin reddening or sunburn whilst UVA may cause more long term photo-aging effects via altering the effects of certain genes, stimulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulating collagen and elastin degradation. It is estimated that around 40% of UVA radiation penetrates window glass, therefore being indoors may not offer complete protection from its harmful effects. Both of these types of UV damage may ultimately lead to skin cancers.

Bearing all of this in mind, good quality sunscreen products, alongside taking the simple precaution of covering up with a cool cotton scarf or wrap both represent the intelligent way forward. If you are unfortunate enough to get caught out however, here are a few things you can do to alleviate the suffering wrought by sun burn.


Magnificent marigolds

One of the best all purpose healing plants that you will find is one that can be grow easily and in abundance in your own garden. I speak of course of marigolds; to be specific Calendula officinalis.

I think you will go a long way to find a herbalist who isn’t a little bit in love with marigolds. Totally non-toxic, bright and colourful, easy to grow and with a myriad of uses, marigold is a must in the gardens of anyone with an interest in herbal medicine. Not having any in my garden when I arrived in Bridport two years ago, I raided a colleagues garden early this year and am extremely happy to report that the three or four marigolds that came along for the ride have not only thrived, but have appeared to multiply in a short space of time. You will note that the latin binomial includes the magic word officinalis, denoting its historical status as an official medicine in the pharmacopoeias of past times. So what about sunburn? I hear you cry? Well, here’s how you can use it:

As poultice or fomentation

  • Make a good, strong pot of marigold tea and allow the tea to go cold, then either:
  • Dip a clean cloth in the cold marigold tea and apply directly to the burn. Leave in place for at least 20 minutes, repeat.
  • Wrap the cold, wet marigolds in a clean cloth – (muslin would be good) and apply this poultice to the burn. Leave in place for at least 20 minutes, repeat.
  • Apply the cold, wet marigolds directly to the skin. Leave in place for at least 20 minutes, repeat.


It would also be a good idea to get your patient to drink plenty of fluids, and rest.

The above information assumes that the sunburn is not severe. If blisters have formed or if there is evidence of any other form of skin damage, seek expert help.

Marigolds are specific examples of ‘herbs of the sun’, and you often find that their little golden heads track the movement of the sun across the sky from East to West during the day.

native plantains, hailing from India and the middle east.

Persistent, irritable and dry coughs will benefit from ribwort plantain, so do get out there and start harvesting!

You can use the leaves fresh to make tea, or dry them in a warm place, turning them regularly until they are completely dry. Discard any that become discoloured.

If you have a juicer, juice the fresh leaves and combine the juice with an equal quantity of honey. Take one teaspoon three times daily for coughs.[1]

Our usual spot of research concerns the traditional use of Plantago major in the treatment of oral and throat inflammation. Mechanisms of action for its therapeutic benefits are outlined in the paper which is available to download free at Pubmed.[2]

At this point I would just like to say a word or two about research.


Research papers

I will put my hand up and say that I dislike research papers that deal specifically with animal experimentation. I am unhappy with this on an ethical level and also, feel (personal opinion) that it is not always as strictly relevant as many people think. I do therefore tend to reject a fair amount of research when I am looking for papers. The fact that it is still relatively easy to find research on herbs is indicative of the vast amount of work going on out there in the scientific community. Please don’t let anyone tell you that there is no evidence base for herbal medicine: that’s just not true!

The above is of course just a brief glimpse into the world of plantains. There is a lot more to say about this ubiquitous and useful plant, and indeed I will say more on the herb walks in July.

As these walks will be conducted through the town, I will be limiting numbers to 10 per walk, and will be asking you to please book in advance rather than just turn up on the day.

I will be running two walks to give as many people as possible a chance to attend, and of course you guys heard it here first, so you have first dibs – posters will be going up around town in a week or so.

I began last months edition with a few words about Hawthorn, so I will finish this one by hoping that you have all been enjoying the marvelous wealth of mayflowers displayed by our lovely hawthorn trees this month. It has certainly done my heart good.




  1. Bruton-Seal, J. and M. Seal, Hedgerow MedicineHarvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies 2009, Shropshire, UK: Merlin Unwin Books Ltd.
  2. Mello, J., MVMorales, VWPrieto, T, O. Nascimeto, and T. Rodrigues, Protective Effect of Plantago major Extract against t-BOOH-Induced Mitochondrial Oxidative Damage and Cytotoxicity. Molecules, 2015. 20.