Tastes and Herbal Energetics – The Pungent Taste

Taste is traditionally linked to herbal energetics, since according to all the principal herbal traditions the action exerted by each herb is strongly connected to its taste (or tastes).

The tastes formally recognized as such by modern science are: sweet, salty, bitter, acid and, since not long, also umami (which we can think of as the “taste of proteins”) and fatty[1].

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Kenilworth Ivy

Fig. 1 – Cymbalaria muralis

Kenilworth Ivy, also known as Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Wall Pennywort (an ancient name) or Mother-of-Thousands (Cymbalaria muralis G. Gaertn., B. Mey. & Scherb.) is a plant native to the Southern Europe, but now present in several parts of the World (Subcosmpolite). It can usually be found in the crevices of old, moist walls (hence its specific name “muralis”, a Latin name that means “of the walls”), but also on rocks, in gardens, meadows, roadsides, preferably on calcareous or silicic-calcareous substrates, with basic pH and medium nutritional level, that are cool, rather shady or partially shaded, moist, from 0 to 1,500 m asl. [Acta]

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The Mediterranean Traditional Energetic Theory

In order to understand the plant actions in the view of the traditional medicines, we have first to look closely at the philosophies and models that underly such traditions. Modern medicine is based upon the current concepts of anatomy, physiology and pathology; all the traditional medicines, instead, are based upon models that differ somewhat from the current ones, being usually mostly analogic and “energetic” (that is, functional) rather than analytical and biochemical.

Often and often, we hear about Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicines, the most important traditional medicines of the Asian continent. Less known today, but of uttermost importance from a historical point of view, it’s the Hippocratic-Galenic model of medicine (called this way from the names of the two most important scholars of the related school of thought), another “energetic” medicine that was born and established in the Mediterranean basin.

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Nettle: a whole pharmacy in a single plant

Flowering Urtica diocia

Nettle is both an edible and healing plant. Even if in some countries it is used only rarely, it’s one of the most important herbs of the Western tradition.

Many species exist around the world, and most of them have stinging hairs. Some of the most known species are U. dioica (dioecious) and U. urens (monoecius).

Rich in proteins and minerals (among which Ca, K, Si, Mg, Fe, P), nettle can be defined as a nutritive tonic and an alterative (that is, it “alters” metabolism so to remove the causes of toxin accumulation) with slightly stimulant properties.

Its action is complex, and it strongly affects the whole metabolism, the reactivity of immune system and skin, the liver and pancreas activities and the renal function.

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The “Sense” of Plants

Silence…

I am within my body, enveloped by the thin and strong, comfortable, involucre of my skin, aware of my being here and now. I feel the silence that is without and within me, a silence that is not lack of sounds, but is attention, awareness, presence… I sense the beats of my heart, the slow and rhythmic sound of my own breath, of the air that comes into and goes out of me; I perceive the birds’ song and the insects’ humming, the rustling of the wind and the muffled noises in the distance.

 

Presence…

My feet touch the Earth, the firm and hospitable Earth that sustains me, moist, teeming with life in all his forms and dimensions. And I feel and welcome the presence, all round me, of the many beings that share my same place on this Earth, Mother of many. And I feel the indistinct presence, in constant and chaotic motion, of the invisible bacteria, of the microscopic fungi, of the tiny and large insects that tireless carry on their work weaving relationships: relationships among flowers that, by means of the pollen, touch and fecundate themselves from a distance, perpetuating and renewing the miracle of life in the vegetal world; relations among the insects themselves that share the same place, at the same time in competition and collaboration, making every time actual the dynamic equilibrium of compresence. I feel the fraternal and reassuring presence of herbs and trees, silent fellow creatures that, with their same existence, make the Earth livable for Men and Animals: they transform the air and make it breathable, removing the exhausted part of our breath and turning it into food; they hold the water and vaporize it so that both the ground and the air are able to teem with life; they are our food and medicine since time immemorial.

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Marigold

April 2019, 1st and 2nd, first days of the second month of Spring. The name April comes from the Latin “(mens) aprilis”, that, in turn, according to some authors, comes from the greek ἀφρός (aphròs), that means foam, in reference to the foam from which Venus, the goddess the April month was consecrated to, was born; according to other authors, the month name comes from the Latin verb “aperire”, that means to open, because this is the month during which flowers and buds opens up and, more generally, the Earth and the Nature “opens” to the renewal of the life.

During these two days, the Moon is in the sign of Aquarius, an air sign, and so, according to the biodynamic calendar, they are suitable to flower collection. For this reason, we have spent them collecting the flower heads and tops of the field marigold, Calendula arvensis (Vaill.) L., an herbaceous and annual/biennial plant, intensely odorous due to a resinous essence endowed with a smell that is herbaceous and pungent at the same time.

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Citrus fruits


Bergamot (Citrus x bergamia
Risso & Poit .) from Calabria (not to confuse with Wild, White & Purple Bergamot, Monarda spp.)

Citrus fruits are the fruits of the trees belonging to the genus Citrus L., in the subfamily Aurantioideae Eaton of the family Rutaceae Juss.

Well known all over the world as fruits characterized by a typical soursweet (more or less sweet or sour according to species and variety) and sometimes bitter taste, they are mostly used as food, either raw or processed in several food preparations and recipes (e.g., marmalade), or possibly as flavoring ingredients (i.e., the dried or candied peels).

Unlike from what happens in Chinese Medicine, citrus fruits are almost unused in Western herbal practice, and this is really a pity considering the interesting properties they are endowed with. In fact, this is strictly true only for the contemporary western herbal practice: in the medical treatises of the sixtieth and seventieth centuries, indeed, citrus fruits are described similarly to the other medicinal herbs known at the time.

For instance, the Italian author Castore Durante wrote, in his Herbario Nuovo [Durante], about two of these fruits:

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The Apple tree

Practically unknown from the point of view of herbal medicine in some countries, the apple tree (Malus domestica (Borkh.) Borkh.) is a concentrate of interesting properties: it’s cooling and moistening, with a slightly astringent, aromatic, sweet and acrid-bitter taste. It has a particular tropism toward the inner organs placed below the diaphragm (stomach, liver, gallbladder, bowels, kidneys, spleen and pancreas), the heart and the nervous system (it covers almost all the internal organs).

Being sweet and acrid-bitter together, it supports the tissue nourishment and the elimination of wastes and pathogenic “humors”, while at the same time cools down the body. Its astringency makes it useful in tissue prolapse and tissue laxity and in case of lesions and inflammation of epithelia. So, it has a bivalent action (nourishes and tonifies on one side, and eliminates on the other) upon tissues and organs; in other words, it expels from the body what has to be expelled and nourishes and supports what has to be kept inside.

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Saffron

Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is a spice with thousand virtues, in both cuisine and herbal therapy, esteemed as a useful remedy since ancient times.

Castore Durante, in his “Herbario nuovo” wrote:
QUALITIES. It’s hot in the second degree and dry in the first, keeping in itself a little of cold and terrestrial, it opens, repercusses (*), digests, corroborates, and also mollifies. It is adulterated by mixing it with sapa (+), to make it heavier, or by pounding it with safflower: but smell and color allow to reveal the flaw.
VIRTUES. Internally. Saffron comforts the heart, purifies the blood, pushes poisons away from the heart, eaten or drunk, stimulates diuresis and menses, improves the complexion, if used with moderation. Drunk with sapa, it is useful against drunkenness, stimulates luxury, it is useful against jaundice, especially if drunk with sweet wine or malvasia. The root, drunk with sapa, stimulates diuresis, but a two-three drams dosage is mortally poisonous, and so it’s the flower, that is useful against weakness and ulcers of stomach, chest, liver, lung, kidney, and bladder, eaten in food: but the excessive use, and the smell, hurts the head, dulls the intellect, makes man pale, and makes him die laughing, by bringing too much joyfulness.
VIRTUES. Externally. It is useful for paralytic limbs, mollifies indurations of the nerves, and it’s used to make Oxycroceum, that is very useful to this purpose, it is useful mixed in eye powders, that are prepared for eyes, with woman milk, the seed of wild crocus, hand-ground, or suspended at the neck, is efficacious against bites of scorpions and it’s useful against the defects of the bottom and the matrix, put in poultices, and the same holds also for the infections of the ears. Chewing saffron, and then blowing on the face of sleeked women, make their face pale.

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Arnica, Calendula and Bellis: a comparison among three Asteraceae

Arnica, Calendula and Bellis are three botanical genera belonging to the Asteraceae (or Compositae, old name) family. Asteraceae is one of the two largest genera in Spermatophytae (plants that reproduces through seed), together with Orchidaceae, because these two genera contain the greatest number of species.

Due to the large number of species, the whole family has been subdivided into 13 subfamilies, and several tribes and subtribes. Arnica, Calendula and Bellis belong to the Asteroideae subfamily, and to different tribes. All of them have both ligulate and tubulate florets.

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