Health Herbs

Nigella – Health in a Tiny Package

love-in-a-mist1You may not have heard of this tiny seed, but if you enjoy Indian cuisine, you’ll certainly have tasted it. Those little black nuggets of flavour in your naan bread, and often in curry dishes, are Nigella. The seeds come from a popular garden plant, Love in a Mist, whose beautiful cornflower blue flowers turn to papery pods which scatter the seed when the wind blows.

Nigella comes with many names: Black Onion Seed, Black Cumin, Black Sesame, Black Coriander, Black Caraway and Roman Coriander. Sometimes it’s referred to simply as Black Seed. And it is black.

But flavour is just one of its properties. There have been many studies now on how Nigella can benefit health, and there is increasing evidence of its ability to combat many modern diseases.

Benefits of Nigella

  • Type 2 diabetes – Researchers found that a daily dose of just two grams black seed could result in reduced fasting blood sugar levels, decreased insulin resistance, and increased beta-cell function in the pancreas.
  • Epilepsy –  Medical Science Monitor, followed one study, in which black seed was shown to be effective at reducing the frequency of seizures in children who resisted conventional treatment. Black seed has anti-convulsive properties.
  • MRSA – This deadly and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection responded favorably to treatment with black seed in this study from the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan.
  • High blood pressure – Researchers found that an extract from black seed caused a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, offering a natural treatment for mild forms of hypertension.
  •  Asthma – Multiple studies found Nigella Sativa to possess anti-asthmatic effects. One even found it superior to conventional drug treatment.nigella
  • Morphine Addiction and Toxicity Prevention – A study published in Ancient Science of Life found Nigella Sativa reduced morphine intoxication, tolerance, and addiction.
  • Post-Surgical Scar Prevention – Tested on areas of post-operative trauma, Nigella sativa was found to protect peritoneal surfaces from scarring or adhesion formation.
  • Psoriasis – Applied topically to psoriasis inflammation, black seed was able to increase epidermal thickness and soothe eruptions.
  • Parkinson’s Disease – An extract of thymoquinone, from black seed, was shown to protect neurons from toxicity associated with Parkinson’s disease and dementia in a study published in Neuroscience Letters.

Taking nigella may also slow some forms of cancer growth and stop its spread, but do not replace conventional treatment in favour of this seed. Studies show promise, but are still ongoing. The presence of thymoquinone in nigella can trigger apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells, but more research is needed.


Foraging Health Herbs


hawthorn-flowersNe’er cast a clout till May be out.

The first written record of this obscure saying was in Dr. Thomas Fuller’s, Gnomologia, 1732.  Word of mouth uses of the rhyme preceded this back to the 15thC, and was no doubt crystal clear to all who said and heard it.

Some of the confusion we have with the rhyme these days is that there are several meanings for both the word ‘clout’ and ‘May’.

Clout, even back in the 15thC, could have meant a clod of earth, a blow to the head, or even clotted cream.  However, they also had a meaning no longer in general use today, which refers to a fragment of cloth or clothing and it is this meaning they attribute to the saying.  Don’t cast off your winter layer until May be out.

Which brings us to the second source of confusion.  Clearly the word ‘may’, as in ‘it may be’, doesn’t fit the context here, but we have two other meanings for the word, both of which are linked, and may indicate hawthorn’s importance to our ancestors.  The arrival of the month of May co-incides with the appearance of hawthorn blossoms, those ubiquitous hedgerow beauties adorning field and roadside throughout the month.  These blossoms are also called May. Folklore has it that to adorn the outside of the house with May was seen as good luck, yet to bring it indoors was (and still is) a strong taboo.

Our saying, therefore, suggests that spring isn’t official until the hawthorn is in blossom.

In the autumn, the hedgerows turn deep red with hawthorn berries, and the branches sag with an abundance of the wonderous fruit.

Part of the rose family, this ancient protector of field and village is not only good for keeping bandits and wild beasts off your doorstep, it keeps illness away, too.

Hawthorn leaves are delicious to eat fresh, when young and soft, and make a good on-the-go snack for ramblers. They also make great tea, either fresh or dried.The flowers can also be added to the tea.

hawthorn berriesThe berries, or haws, can be used in a great many ways, not least as a healthy food.  Just make sure you remove the hard pit in the centre.  They have a tangy, mild flavour similar to apple, though the skins can be tough if left on the tree too long.

Health Benefits

There has been much recent research into hawthorn’s use as a medicine for heart conditions, and the plant is now being researched as a safer alternative to digoxin. Trials have shown a great deal of promise, and the use of hawthorn as a heart-health and cardio-vascular medicine is now taken seriously.

Hawthorn can help withhawthorn leaves

  • Chest pain
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cardio-vascular efficiency
  • Angina
  • Arythmia/Palpitations
  • Helps with high and low blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tapeworm infestation
  • Boils, sores and ulcers (as a wash)
  • Itching and frostbite (as a wash)

Because some of these conditions can be life-threatening, always refer to your GP before attempting self-treatment.