Hated by gardeners but loved by herbalists, the humble stinging nettle is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and K, and in iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. The leaves are surprisingly tasty to eat, and can be cooked in the same way as spinach. If you are feeling brave, now is the time to pick them, while the leaves are still tender and before the flowers start appearing. But you can also get the benefit of these amazing nutrients without braving the stings.
At Sunlight Apothecary, we sell Floradix and Kindervital supplements, which contain nettle as a key ingredient.
We also stock Indigo Herbs dried nettle leaf for making into infusions and drinking as tea.
Hayfever sufferers might want to try a cup of nettle tea to help alleviate their symptoms. The leaves are anti-inflammatory and contain a variety of flavonoids which can have an antihistamine effect.
Both the leaf and the root of the nettle have a diuretic effect when taken as an infusion, helping to remedy water retention and prevent kidney problems (though please do make sure you also visit your GP). The root is also traditionally used to treat prostrate problems and complements Saw Palmetto as a tonic for men’s health.
Nettle is also a wonderful herb for natural beauty. The leaves contain silica, which promotes the growth of healthy hair and nails. Rinsing your hair with nettle tea is a traditional remedy to prevent dandruff and oiliness, and its high silica content leaves your hair feeling silky smooth.
The rich nutrients of the nettle leaf also benefit the skin when applied topically – one of the reasons why nettle is an ingredient in Sukin Hydrating Body Lotion, along with silica-rich horsetail and soothing aloe.
Even your garden can benefit from the nutrients of nettle leaves. The nitrogenous compounds in the leaves make nettle a great compost activator, and the high mineral content helps to enrich the soil. So once you have finished drinking your nettle tea, add the leaves to your compost.
Mugwort grows wild on muddy riverbanks and verges, sending up spikes of small flowers in the summer. You might have seen it without really noticing – it’s a common, anonymous-looking herb. In fact I spotted some on my way home this evening - Mugwort growing on the towpath by the Working Men's Social Club in Todmorden. Seems to have come out of nowhere. Few people who see it in the wild would guess what a rich heritage it has in the food, medicine and folklore of this country.
In Anglo-Saxon times, mugwort was used as a seasoning for fatty meats like duck and pork, and was often added to beer instead of hops. Its medicinal use was recognised in the Lacnunga, the Anglo-Saxon charm of the nine herbs which is one of the oldest British medical manuscripts in existence. Mugwort remained a popular flavouring throughout the medieval period and well into Tudor times. Culpeper, in his famous Complete Herbal of 1652, wrote that a light infusion of mugwort is “excellent for all disorders of the stomach, prevents sickness after meals and creates an appetite”: like many of the herbs we use as flavourings, mugwort not only adds flavour but also aids digestion.
In modern herbal medicine, mugwort is an excellent emmenagogue, helping to stimulate and regulate menstruation. It also helps to relieve cramping, as well as the nausea that can accompany period pains. Try drinking an infusion of mugwort mixed with ginger to soothe painful and difficult menstruation.
But at night, this mysterious herb comes into its own. Mugwort gets its botanical name, Artemisia, from the Green goddess of the moon, Artemis. Drinking mugwort tea at night can induce colourful dreams, and the dried leaves are traditionally used to make dream pillows to aid lucid dreaming. You can make a mugwort dream pillow by filling a small sachet with dried mugwort herb, adding a few drops of essential oils such as sandalwood or clary sage, if you like, to help clear your mind and sharpen your focus. Slip this dream pillow underneath your real pillow and spend a few moments before sleep focusing on your intention to have a lucid dream. You might be surprised at the results.
Drinking mugwort before sleep, or before tarot readings and other forms of divination, is also a traditional way to open the psychic pathways. You can drink it either as a tincture, adding drops to water, or by making an infusion of the dried leaves. Sunlight Apothecary stock both the tincture and the dried leaves, supplied by Indigo Herbs.
Note: mugwort should not be used by pregnant women.
Have you walked along the towpath by Todmorden Health Centre recently? You might have noticed a familiar silvery-green herb growing through the fence from the Apothecary Garden: Sage.
Sage is best known as a culinary herb, delicious when tossed with fresh pasta or used in stuffing. But did you also know that it is a powerful medicinal herb too? Salvia, the Latin name for sage, literally means ‘to heal’. The essential oil rich leaves are antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Recent studies have shown that regularly taking sage as a supplement can improve memory function, increase alertness and boost your mood due to its cholinesterase-inhibiting functions.
In traditional herbal medicine, sage is used as a women’s remedy. Many women find it helps relieve problems associated with the menopause, such as hot flushes and night sweats. It also acts as an emmenagogue, helping to regulate menstruation and alleviate pain. Sunlight Apothecary stocks Viridian sage leaf capsules and A. Vogel Menosan sage drops for women seeking relief from hot flushes and night sweats. Sage is also a key ingredient in A. Vogel’s Dentaforce mouthwash, thanks to its strong antiseptic and antibacterial properties
Sage is also my favourite remedy to help cure sore throats. I find that an infusion of sage, drunk as a tea or used as a gargle, will often clear up a mild throat infection within a day or two. Next time you find yourself suffering from a sore throat, try this simple kitchen remedy and see if it works for you:
Take a handful of fresh sage, or a teaspoonful of dried sage, and place it in a cup. Fill the cup with boiling water and cover (this keeps the volatile essential oils in the infusion). After 5 minutes, remove the cover, strain the liquid, and mix with honey to taste. You can now drink your sage infusion as a tea, or leave it to cool and use it as a gargle.
If you are still feeling under the weather, the A. Vogel Echinaforce sore throat spray combines the antiseptic power of sage with the immune-boosting properties of Echinacea.
Sage should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or by people who have epileptic fits.