Spring is a time of growth and renewal in Scotland, and it is also a time for wild herbs to start flourishing. Wild herbs have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties, and they continue to be popular today. In the 19th century before Edinburgh was quite as metropolitan as it is now, our founder Duncan Napier would venture out in the early mornings to make herb collections on what was then the countryside of the outskirts of Edinburgh. Duncan wasn’t the only person out collecting herbs and he recounts a time he had plans to collect comfrey from a spot by a river only to find someone else already harvesting it – a disagreement ensued as to who had been collecting the comfrey first! Whilst comfrey is good for skincare, these days its not used much in herbalist practise, below is a list of spring herbs that you can look out for on your walks.
Wild garlic, also known as Ramsons, is a wild herb that grows in damp woodland areas throughout Scotland the season goes from February through to April depending on the weather. The plant has a distinctive garlic smell and taste which sometimes can envelope a whole area, and its leaves can be used in cooking. When collecting wild garlic make sure you only pick the garlic leaves and don’t inadvertently pick up other shoots which can sometimes be amongst the garlic - lords and ladies (Arum maculatum) being one to avoid. The leaves are much preferable to the bulbs of the wild garlic, so don’t bother trying to dig them up. To make an easy Wild garlic butter, wash the ramsons, dry, whizz the leaves with a blender with some butter and season well with salt and pepper. If you need an extra punch of garlic add a regular bulb before whizzing up, you should find the butter when used in garlic bread or added to a grilled vegetable gives a lighter herbaceous garlicky lift – quite delicious. Wild garlic has been used traditionally to treat digestive problems and high blood pressure by herbalists.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
Elderflowers are the white flowers of the elder tree and can be found growing in hedgerows and along riverbanks throughout Scotland. The flowers have a sweet fragrance and are often used to make cordials and teas – the flower heads are added to impart their perfumed flavour to whatever is being made. When located often you will find many of the smaller shrub like trees clustered together so its possible to make good collections with little effort. Elderflower has been used traditionally to treat colds, flu, and other respiratory infections.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are a common weed that can be found growing in fields and meadows throughout Scotland. The plant has yellow flowers and green leaves, and its roots and leaves can be used in cooking – they make a nice addition to spring salad. Dandelion has been traditionally used to detoxify the liver and to treat digestive problems. Dried dandelion roots can be used to make a delicious soothing tea. In the early 20th century Napiers supplied its dandelion tea all over the world. In our archives we have letters from shops and tea houses in the USA imploring “Dr Napier” to send bushels of his dandelion tea as quickly as possible as they could sell “packets and packets of it each day”.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettles are a herbaceous perennial that can be found growing in hedgerows, fields, and woodland areas throughout Scotland. It will also be one of the first plants to make itself known as spring kicks off – you can see it towering above the rest of the hedgerow very quickly. Nettles are difficult to farm, although they seem ubiquitous they are actually quite fussy and have proved tricky to cultivate at scale. The plant has stinging hairs on its leaves, and its leaves and roots can be used in cooking, when picking wear gloves or grasp firmly to flatten the stinging hairs before you grab it. Nettles have been traditionally used to treat allergies, arthritis, and skin conditions. One of the most popular herbs at Napiers today – you can read more about it from our research herbalist expert Monica Wilde The Surprising Superpowers of Nettle Seed | Napiers.
Cowslip (Primula veris)
Cowslip is a wildflower that can be found growing in meadows and grasslands throughout Scotland. The plant has yellow flowers and green leaves, and its flowers and leaves can be used in cooking. Cowslip has been traditionally used to treat headaches, coughs, and colds. Quite easy to confuse with primrose so be sure you’ve properly identified it.
Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Wild thyme is a herb that can be found growing on heaths, grasslands, and rocky areas throughout Scotland. The plant has purple flowers and green leaves, and its leaves and flowers can be used in cooking. Wild thyme has been traditionally used to treat respiratory infections, digestive problems, and headaches. Make your own thyme syrup at home.
Violets (Viola odorata)
Violets are a sweet smelling wildflower that can be found growing in woodland areas throughout Scotland. The plant has delicate purple flowers and green leaves, and its flowers and leaves can be used in cooking. Violets have been traditionally used to treat melancholy, coughs, colds, and sore throats. These little flowers were a favourite of Duncan Napiers as he mentions them in some of his writing and poetry.
A Long Covid Case Study
Amy was talking to me via a Zoom link to her bedroom. She was propped up in bed, wrapped up in a dressing gown and explaining to me how exhausted and frustrated she was feeling. Seven months ago she was working part time in primary healthcare, a busy mum and grandmother who still found time and energy to go to the gym and visit her elderly parents every few days. As soon as she started to feel unwell she knew she had Covid. At first it felt like a bad flu with a temperature, aching joints and no energy which sent her to bed, where she isolated for 10 days and looked after herself. She seemed to be recovering well.
Fast forward a few months and it was obvious all was not well. Amy was still absolutely exhausted, she had a constant feeling of pressure on her chest and was simply too breathless to do anything. Concentrating on anything seemed impossible and she was struggling to remember things with an extreme case of ‘brain fog.’ She had been signed off work and her GP was talking about ‘Long Covid’ and post viral fatigue syndrome.
When Amy came to see me she had been dealing with symptoms for months; some days there were slight improvements and other days it was back to square one. She said to me that she just felt total ‘overwhelm’ and simply didn’t know how to manage her life anymore. She felt that she had exhausted all options via her GP and was just expected to get on with it.
Over the past months I have been seeing many patients with Long Covid symptoms and Amy’s experience is all too familiar. I have put together some core herbal principles that I have been using to support a recovery. As with all long term health issues, we need to go back to the foundations, the building blocks of that patient and look for any dysfunction. We need to use herbs to support each step and carefully support each body system.
In Long Covid patients I look at the microcirculation, supporting and repairing veins, using lung and energy tonics and herbs to support brain function. I also look at down regulating inflammation, repairing and supporting immunity and working with my patient on giving the body time to repair and recover.
I usually start working with a foundation mix of herbs and mushrooms to enhance immune support and start to repair the bodies own defence mechanism.
Foundation herbs include Yarrow, Boneset, Echinacea, Pau d arco, elderberries and withania. Blends of these herbs will support white blood cell count, deal with lingering infection, and start to repair the microcirculation.
Many patients have residual lung problems, and we need to support the lungs and microcirculation. A lung tonic may contain: eyebright, ribwort plantain, mullein, fumitory, and rosemary. Warming herb teas, such as our Winter Spice tea, contain ginger, cinnamon, liquorice, clove, lemon balm, Echinacea and bilberry and will give immune support and help with hydration and mucus production.
Reducing inflammation is key to recovery. Supplementwise, I advise zinc, vitamin C and also probiotics such as Probio7 AB21. Many doctors are looking at Low dose naltrexone as a treatment option for Long Covid patients. My go to herbal equivalent is Curcumin and Boswellia capsules. These are a practitioner strength extract of turmeric with the addition of black pepper and frankincense.
To support both the immune system and the circulation I prescribe medicinal mushrooms. My 5 mushroom blend, called Multishroom Powder contains reishi, chaga, coriolus, maitake and mesima mushrooms. Taken as a drink this tasty blend will give long term immune support.
A Paced Recovery
Over many years of working with patients with chronic fatigue, I know that we need a paced recovery. We need a set of boundaries around the patient that allows them to set goals and expectations that are manageable. All too often we find patients have a good day, they do too much and then they find themselves back to square one. By managing their daily activity and limiting their daily energy expenditure they will give their body time to heal and recover. So, the key to working with Long Covid is to help the patient manage expectations and to move at a steady pace. One’s body will recover, but we need to systematically repair the body’s defence mechanisms and deal with any underlying tissue damage.
It is a mistake to underestimate the disease that is Covid. Whilst this virus may be new to us, the effect of viruses on the body is well known by herbalists. We work not only on killing the pathogen, but on supporting defence mechanisms and building resilience. Herbal blends and formulas for Long Covid and immune support can be blended individually for patients after a consultation with one of our herbal team. We always advise a consultation so that we can help patients manage the complex task of building back their immune system and building resilience.
September is rolling upon us which means it's time to switch our thoughts away from the summer holiday and get ready for back to school!
New environments, change in sleep schedule or stress can all negatively impact your child's immune system and leave them more susceptible to picking up the dreaded back to school cold or cough!
Menopause is said to take place when you have 12 months without a period, with no other explanation. The average age a woman will reach menopause is 51.5 years however this can happen earlier or later in women.
We have outlined our advice for managing menopause utilising diet, lifestyle, and supplementation.
Bloating is when your stomach feels bigger or fuller than normal. It can sometimes be accompanied by discomfort, flatulence, or rumbling. something that every one of us has experienced at some point.
It is very common to experience bloating, and usually nothing to be concerned about. However, a largely bloated abdomen should not be recurrent after every meal, and we advise seeking the care of a healthcare professional if you experience frequent, uncomfortable bloating, or if it is impacting your quality of life.
Diarrhoea is passing stools that are loose and watery, or more frequently than is normal for you. Usually, diarrhoea can be brought on with a sense of urgency, where we feel we need to find a toilet immediately, and can also be accompanied by cramping or pain in our stomach.
To explore the causes of diarrhoea and how you can manage it, read on.
The association of thyroid dysfunction with alterations in mood and cognition has been recognised since some of the earliest descriptions of thyroid disease.
More recently, attention has turned towards examining the impact of differences in thyroid hormones within the normal reference range, particularly in older adults, providing new insights into the association of thyroid hormone with cognitive decline.
Records show that Edinburgh citizens in the early part of the 20th century suffered from the same winter health problems that we suffer from today. Almost half of the people seeking medical care during the winter months, then and now, suffer from inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract and flu like symptoms. The most common presenting symptom of respiratory disease is the cough.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common functional disorder of the digestive system. The wide range of symptoms can be difficult and embarrassing to deal with, but can be controlled to an extent with particular lifestyle habits and a considered diet. IBS often appears for the first time between the ages of 20 and 30 and 1 in 5 in the UK are thought to experience it at some point in their lives. It is more common amongst women than men.
GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease commonly called heartburn, acid indigestion or reflux disease.
Between the bottom of your throat (the esophagus) and your stomach you have a valve that separates the two called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
In GERD what happens is that the LES valve is weak, or relaxes at the wrong times, allowing your stomach contents (partially digested food mixed with stomach acid and bile) to flow back into the bottom of your throat. This is what is called reflux disease.
A prebiotic is a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. Fibre is a good example of a prebiotic.
Vitamins and Minerals for Women's Health problems
Vitamin B6 and Magnesium requirements are increased during the pre-menstrual phase of a woman’s cycle. These essential nutrients help to maintain emotional stability as well as having a potent diuretic effect.