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saffron

Saffron: What You Need To Know About This Golden Spice

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is an Asian herb, and the world’s most expensive spice, commonly used for culinary purposes.

Saffron spice is made from dried stigmas of the crocus’ flower. This spice has a rich history, having been used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks both as a spice and a medicine.

Traditionally, saffron was used to relieve symptoms of fever, menstrual disorders, epilepsy and problems associated with the digestive system. However, this spice has slowly dominated the kitchen, with countless recipes using it as an essential ingredient.

How to Identify Saffron

Saffron
Saffron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saffron has a rich red-orange color when used in liquids, and it gives dishes and baked items a rich yellow color. This is one of the main reasons why this spice is used for culinary purposes, in addition to its aromatic properties. When buying saffron, here are a few insights into buying the real stuff:

  • If you are on the go and want to buy saffron, you may probably find it powdered. To ascertain that the powder is indeed saffron, take a pinch and stir it in warm water. If the water is instantly colored, the powder is not genuine saffron. The authentic spice should take at least ten minutes to color the water since it takes some time to infuse.
  • Red stigmas mixed with yellow styles.
    Red stigmas and yellow styles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    If you prefer the strands, it is good to learn how to identify high quality saffron. The quality of this golden spice is evident in the color of the stigmas. A high intensity of the color red means that the spice is of high quality, which also translates to a high price. However, to avoid buying dyed counterfeits at exorbitant prices, ascertain that the tips are a lighter red compared to the rest of the strand.

A saffron crocus flower.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To identify fresh saffron, one should know the basic characteristics of the plant. Crocus sativus is in the family of the Iridaceous plants. It grows to about 20 or 30 cm, and bears a maximum of 4 purple flowers per plant. Each flower bears only three bright crimson stigmas, which are connected to the carpel, along with the stalks. The flower emits a characteristic hay-like fragrance, which is hard to miss.

How Can You Get the Best Out of Saffron?

From simple preparation, crush a few strands of saffron and soak them in hot liquid for a minimum of 15 minutes. This allows enough time to infuse and give out maximum color and fragrance. The resulting mixture can be used in small quantities in teas, soups, pastries, confectionary and meals.

It is important to remember that saffron should be taken in minimal amounts. When using saffron as a spice, use only a few strands or a few drops of infused saffron. Too much of the spice makes meals and drinks bitter, and leave a medicine-like after taste.

What Are the Benefits of Using Saffron?

Since this is the most expensive spice, anyone would think twice before making a purchase. However, before you decide not to use it, here is a list of the benefits you will miss out on.

Saffron was, and still is, used relieve symptoms of troubled digestive system. It is a natural remedy for low appetite, nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea. It also offers relief from a bloated stomach and acidity. A few drops of the infused saffron in tea, soup or juice are enough.

The bright red-orange color characteristic of the spice is proof of the presence of carotenoids. This is a chemical that is vital for strong bones and healthy eyes. According to recent studies, this herb has enough of the carotenoids to cure arthritis and prevent blindness in old age. It also offers improved vision to people suffering from cataracts.

This golden spice is a mild antidepressant. This makes it the perfect remedy for mild and moderate depression. This property also helps to relieve sleep disorders such as insomnia. A small pinch of saffron powder taken in milk should suffice.

Traditionally, this spice was used to relieve menstrual conditions and regulate the periods. It can also be used to relieve muscle pains and spasms. This herb also clears any clotting in the uterine system, which can lead to excessive bleeding. Pregnant women are, therefore, advised to take this spice in extremely minimal quantities.

Saffron is an antioxidant. Therefore it is very useful in the prevention of cancer. It also relieves fever and acne, and boosts memory and blood circulation. It is a natural aphrodisiac, effective in both men and women.

Keep in mind that saffron is the most expensive spice, which makes it a perfect target for counterfeiters. When using this herb, ensure that you use the genuine one, not an adulterated version.

Salix_Alba_Weeping_Willow

The Original Aspirin: White Willow

What is white willow?

White Willow (Salix alba), Location: Riparian ...
White Willow (Salix alba), Location: Riparian forest near Bingen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salix alba is the botanical name of white willow. The other common names for white willow are willow, common willow and European willow. The genus name of the willows, Salix, derives from the Celtic sal, which means “near,” and lis, “water.” The specific name, alba, is a Latin word which means “white”, and it refers to the color of the leaves’ undersides.

It comprises of about 300 species. Some species grow very tall up to 25m or more. Some of them grow up to 1.5-2m only.

It is a deciduous tree. Its native is Europe and Western and Central Asia. They are found from Arctic area to South Africa.

How to identify white willow?

As seen earlier, the tree may be medium sized or very tall. They have rounded crown of branches. They have a weak stem that get easily broken during storms.

If you are looking for the tree in the wild, you should first look in places that are far from ponds, stream, river and other sources of water.

de: Blatt der Silber-Weide (Salix alba), Ort: ...

The upper surface of the shiny leaves is grayish green in color. The color changes to yellow when they are ready to whither.The leaves are paler than other species of willow because of the silky white hairy appearance under them.

The bark of white willow is slightly yellow in color. The limbs of the branches extend up to the ground. There is sure to be a lot of litter beneath the tree that includes broken twigs, branches and withered leaves.

Does white willow have medical benefits?

White willow has a lot of medicinal benefits. It has been used thousands of years before to cure many health conditions. It was in the early eighteenth century that it was first found that the bark of white willow contained salicin that treated pain and fever effectively. The extracts were used to make the first aspirin in the later part of eighteenth century.

What are the health properties of white willow?

The bark and leaves of white willow are useful in treating the following.

1. It is used for getting relief from pains. It is effective in treating lower back pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
2. Its anti-inflammatory properties are useful in reducing the inflammation.
3. It reduces the symptoms of flu and other types of fever.
4. It is helpful in lowering the symptoms of menopause like night sweats and hot flashes.
5. They have been successfully used to remove warts, corns and unnecessary flesh from the body.
6. Although it is not very effective for weight loss when it is used alone, it boosts the metabolism of the body and helps in weight loss when combined with other herbs.
7. It gives relief from headaches and toothaches.
8. It is useful to people who are at the risk of getting strokes because of its blood thinning properties.
9. It is also used to treat bursitis and tendonitis.

Why is it preferred over aspirin?

It starts to act later than aspirin, but the effects remains for a longer duration of time. Moreover, it does not cause stomach bleeding.

Medicine Uses

Digestion

  • helps to protect the gut lining from inflammation and irritation
  • reduces dysentery and diarrhea
  • great for weak digestion, dyspepsia, heartburn acidity and worms

Respiratory system

  • decongestant for head colds, flu and fevers
  • reestablishes strength after disease

Musculoskeletal system

  • alleviates pain
  • acts as an anti-inflammatory for rheumatism, arthritis, gout, muscular aches, backache, tendonitis, bursitis and sprains

Immune system

  • useful for fevers and headaches
  • cures malaria

Urinary system

  • decreases fluid retention
  • aids to remove toxins via urine

Externally

  • make use lotion for cuts and wounds
  • make gargles for irritated throats
  • mouthwash for mouth ulcers and bleeding gum
  • put poultices on inflamed joints

How to use white willow?

It can be used as tea, tincture and tablets or liquid form. The dosage depends upon the form in which you are taking it.

  • You can drink four or more cups of white willow tea a day.
  • If you are going for the tincture form, you can take 3-5 ml three times a day.
  • If you are going for tablets or liquid form you can take 60-240 mg a day.

How to prepare white willow decoction and tea?

Decoction for white willow herbal tea can be prepared by boiling root, bark, leaves and seeds. They should be boiled in water and simmered to make sure that all medicinal properties are fully extracted. It can be either drunk or used topically for sores or gargled to heal toothaches and throat aches.

If you cannot get the parts of white willow, it is not a matter of concern. It is available in powder form in almost all stores that sell herbal supplements. Take 2 tablespoons of the powder and boil it in 8 ounces of water. When it starts to boil, simmer it for 10-15 minutes. Then let it steep for half an hour. Filter the tea and add lemon, honey or sugar to suit your taste.

How to prepare white willow tincture?

The ratio of white willow powder and the solvent is 1:5. The solvent used here is grain alcohol. Dissolve it thoroughly and store it in a airtight container for 2 weeks. Then strain it. You can mix it with water, milk, juice or tea.

What are the side effects of white willow?

  • The side effects include renal damage, tinnitus and gastrointestinal problems.
  • It may cause other side effects like vomiting, nausea and stomach ulcers etc.
  • It is not advisable for pregnant and lactating women.
  • don’t use if allergic to salicylates and in bleeding problems
  • children and teenagers with chickenpox, flu or any undiagnosed illness should avoid it due to chance of Reye’s syndrome

What are the interactions of white willow?

  • It should not be taken while taking medications like beta blockers, diuretics, anticoagulants and NSAID etc.
  • employ with caution with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen

White willow is a wonderful herb with many medicinal properties, but it is better to take it after consulting your doctor.

Rosmarinus officinalis - rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

Name

The latin name Rosmarinus is a compound word: “Ros” means “Dew” and “Marinus” means “of the sea”. So Rosmarinus stands for “Dew of the Sea” as the plant grows well near the sea-coast and sea-foam sprays upon it.
Officinalis (meaning ‘of the workshop’) is a common species name and it denotes medicinal plants.

Also Known as

  • rosemary
  • sea dew
  • our lady’s rose
  • rosemarine
  • compass weed
  • incensier
  • mary’s mantle
  • old man
  • polar plant

 

Identification Keys

  • perennial herb
  • bushy evergreen shrub
  • height up to 2m
  • aromatic linear, leathery, with enrolled margins leaves
  • leaf size: 2-4cm × 1.2-3.5mm
  • leaf color: bright green and wrinkled above, white-tomentose beneath,
  • stalkless leaves
  • inflorescence and flower stalks with star-shaped hairs almost hairless and distinctly veined
  • calyx 3-4mm when young, later 5-7mm,
  • corolla 10-12mm, pale blue (rarely pink or white)
  • nutlets brown

Bloom Time

  • summer

Habitat

  • full sun
  • sandy, well-limed soil

 


 

Medicine Uses

Parts Used

Aerial parts

Actions

diaphoretic, carminative, emmenagogic, nervine, antioxidant, cholagogue, thymoleptic, decongestant, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, circulatory stimulant, febrifuge, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, diuretic

Systems

Digestion

  • protects the gut  from irritation and inflammation
  • reduces diarrhea
  • active against infections
  • stimulates appetite
  • relieves flatulence
  • aids digestion
  • enhances elimination
  • clears toxins

Circulation

  • stimulates circulation, improving peripheral blood flow
  • reduces inflammation and muscle tension
  • reduces migraines and headaches
  • used for arteriosclerosis, chilblains and varicose veins

Respiratory system

  • dispels infection
  • helpful in asthma
  • used for fevers, catarrh, sore throats, colds, flu and chest infections

Mental and emotional

  • improves concentration and memory
  • calms anxiety
  • lifts depression
  • relieves exhaustion and insomnia

Immune system

  • enhance immunity
  • detoxifies poisons
  • relieves arthritis and gout

Urinary system

  • enhances elimination of wastes

Reproductive system

  • reduces heavy menstrual bleeding
  • relieves dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain)

Externally

  • massage the skin for joint pain, headaches and poor concentration

Caution

  • avoid in pregnancy

 


Food Uses

Parts Used

Flowers, Leaves

Main Uses

Seasoning, Tea

Nutrition

  • rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium
  • very good amounts of vitamin A
  • exceptionally rich in vitamin B
  • fresh leaves are good source of  vitamin C

Cooking

  • enhances the flavor of any savory or sweet food
  • the leaves flavor is quite strong, use it only sparingly
  • use it to season lamb, rabbit, veal, pork, sausages, poultry, egg dishes, fish, pickles and shellfish
  • flavor oil by adding a few sprigs
  • add to jellies, fruit jams, and cookies
  • use for add extra special flavor to dishes that need asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplants, green beans and peas, zucchini and potatoes
  • use in breads and biscuits
  • soak dried Rosmarinus officinalis in hot water before adding it to uncooked foods
  • the flowers can be candied, preserved, or added to jellies, honey, wine or vinegar

 

Harvesting

  • harvest the rosemary needle leaves throughout the summer
  • in autumn, pick the leaves in the morning for best oil-content and quality
  • use the fresh leaves in dishes immediately after picking them, or dry the leaves

 


olea-europaea

Olea europaea

Name

The specific name “europaea” indicates its origin: the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin as well as northern Iran at the south end of the Caspian Sea.

Also Known as

  • olive

 


 

Identification Keys

  • evergreen tree
  • height up to 15 m
  • thick, gnarled and silvery trunk
  • trunk and main branches have many  large cavities and holes
  • wild tree (oleaster) is bushy and spiny
  • cultivated tree (sativa) is unarmed
  • leaves not divided into leaflets
  • leathery leaves 20-80 mm
  • leaves are grey-green above, silvery-hairy beneath
  • leaves in opposites pairs on shoots
  • flowers in loose spikes
  • each flower has 4 sepals, 4 petals, joined in a tube, and 2 stamens
  • fruit size: 10-35 mm
  • in first year, fruits are green; they ripens black in second year
  • fruits are oily fleshed
  • each fruit has a single large stone

Bloom Time

  • July-August

Habitat

  • grows in lightly wooded, rocky areas

Look-alikes

You can confuse the Olive tree with other Oleaceae

 


 

Medicine Uses

Parts Used

Fruit, oil, leaf

Actions

demulcent, emollient, antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge, antioxidant, cholagogue, hypotensive, hypocholesterolaemic, laxative

Systems

Digestion

  • alleviates inflamed and irritated conditions such as indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, colitis and peptic ulcers
  • stimulates bile flow
  • helps in liver and gall bladder issues
  • alternating with lemon juice, helps to dissolve and encourage the passing of gallstones
  • helpful in diabetes; leaves lower blood sugar
  • oil is useful as a laxative

Circulation

  • lowers harmful cholesterol and blood pressure
  • reduces risks of atherosclerosis, clots, heart attacks and strokes
  • mitigates hypertension
  • increases sweating and reduces fever, taken as hot infusion

Respiratory system

Immune system

  • protects cell membranes against free radicals
  • retards ageing
  • reduces development of cancer

Externally

  • To speed healing, apply to boils, eczema, cold sores, dry skin, brittle nails, insect bites, stings and minor burns
  • warm oil dropped into the ear softens wax
  • oil, mixed with essential oils such as garlic or lavender, relieves earache
  • massage over kidneys for bedwetting treatment
  • mouthwash with an leaves infusion heals bleeding/infected gums
  • use infusion as gargle for sore throats

 


 

Harvesting

Leaves

  • gather the leaves by cutting the stem to encourage new growth. Do not uproot the olive leaves wherever possible
  • hang the stems upside down in a brown paper bag
  • tie off the bag opening with a rubber band or piece of string
  • hang your paper bag in a space for drying
  • let dry for one to two weeks
  • cut off the stems from the leaves. Some of the leaves may drop naturally from the stems as they dry in the bag

Fruits

  • gather the fruits when they are completely ripe (October-December)
  • put the fruits in clean water
  • change water every other day for 2 weeks
  • move the fruits in salted water

Achillea_millefolium_paint

Achillea millefolium

Name

The name “Achillea” commemorates the greek hero Achilles who used yarrow to heal the wounds of his soldiers. The specific name “millefolium” means ‘thousand leaves’, a perfect name to describe the finely divided leaves.

Also Known as

  • yarrow
  • milfoil
  • thousand-leaf
  • bloodwort
  • old man’s pepper

 


 

Identification Keys

  • bushy perennial herb
  • leaves finely divided into narrow segments
  • thin, fern-like leaves resembling a pipe cleaner or small feathers
  • leaves arranged spirally on stem
  • dark green leaves
  • height: 8 cm – 65 cm, width: 60 cm (2 ft)
  • sap not milky
  • flower-head in flat-topped clusters
  • flower-head with flat outer florets, tubular inner florets
  • white to pinkish-white daisy-like flowers
  • flowers enclosed by bracts; no sepals; 5 petals form a tube; 5 stamens and 1 stigma
  • flower-head without collar beneath
  • fruits and floret base without a parachute
  • 1.5-2 mm long, flattened, shiny, nut-like fruit; retains the seed
  • strongly scented

Bloom Time

  • June-November

Habitat

  • fields, hedges, meadows, roadsides, gravelly areas, waste places
  • dry or poor soils but also found in moist areas
  • grows in low to high elevations

Look-alikes

You can confuse common yarrow with other plants with dissected leaves:

  • Mayweed chamomile
  • Pineapple-weed
  • Wild carrot. It tends to grow in more of a rosette with leaves that are more pinnatafid than yarrow.
  • Poison hemlock
  • Fennel

 


 

Medicine Uses

Parts Used

Aerial parts

Actions

diaphoretic, diuretic, astringent, digestive, bitter tonic, hepatic, antimicrobial, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, antihistaminic, emmenagogic, expectorant, anticatarrhal, hemostatic, styptic, vulnerary, alterative

Systems

Digestion

  • stimulates appetite, aids digestion and absorption
  • relieves wind, spasm and indigestion
  • astringent tannins protect the gut from irritation and infection; helpful in diarrhea and inflammatory issues

Circulation

  • taken in hot tea, it promotes sweating and reduces fevers
  • lowers blood pressure, improves circulation
  • relieves leg cramps and varicose veins

Respiratory system

  • it relieves colds and congestion, taken in hot tea with mint and elderflower
  • antihistamine effect is useful in treating allergies

Immune system

  • volatile oils and luteolin have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
  • relieves arthritis, allergies and autoimmune problems
  • stimulates blood flow to the skin and brings out the rash in eruptive infections such as measles and chickenpox
  • clears toxins by aiding elimination through the skin and kidneys

Urinary system

  • diuretic, relieves irritable bladder
  • tightens muscles, helping incontinence

Reproductive system

  • regulates menstrual cycle
  • eases menopause change
  • relieves premenstrual syndrome and heavy bleeding
  • speeds up childbirth and aids in expelling the afterbirth
  • stimulates lactose production

Externally

  • tannins and silica speed healing of cuts, wounds, ulcers, burns, varicose veins,
  • hemorrhoids and skin conditions
  • infusions used as vaginal douche, skin lotion and mouthwash for gingivitis
  • a little of yarrow tincture on a tissue, stuffed up the nostril, stops a bleeding nose

Caution

  • avoid in pregnancy and if allergic to Asteraceae
  • prolonged use can cause contact dermatitis and photosensitivity
  • avoid with anticoagulants

 


 

Harvesting

  • gather the leaves and flowers by cutting the entire stem half way down.
  • harvest after the flowers opened and when they look  vibrant.
  • tie them by their stems in small bunches and hang them out of direct sunlight.
  • when fully dry, garble them, and store in a mason jar.