Poppies – the Natural Pain Killer


It is such a great shame that medication with the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is addictive and therefore not permitted to be used as a plant medicine. It has strong pain killing properties as it contains morphine alkaloids and codeine and before the arrival of modern pain killers it was the best analgesic in the herbal pharmacopoeia.

poppy seed heads at North harbour beach

The poppy species practitioners can use, though, is the Californian poppy, Escholzia californica.this has mild pain relieving properties and is a sedative and nerve relaxant.
I use it as a tincture combined with Passiflora and Wild lettuce to help people with Insomnia.
There is also the field poppy just coming into flower now and oh so pretty.

yellow poppies on the beach

The flowers only last a day and are very fragile. I have picked the flowers in the past and layered them with sugar in a jam jar to make syrup. I topped the jar up with flowers and syrup as everything compressed down and left it to stand for three weeks on a window ledge, in sunlight.
Then I poured the resulting syrup into another clean jam jar and stored it with the lid on.
A teaspoon of this syrup before bedtime, will help relax people with insomnia into a natural sleep, or help to ease a tickly cough.

More poppies on the beach

There are the usual cautions attached to this:-
These articles are not intended to encourage you to self medicate but for you to develop an interest in plant medicines.
Do not self medicate if you are on any orthodox medicines
Find a qualified practitioner if you need help with plant medicines.
Don’t experiment with plants on yourself or other people. Plants do not suffer fools gladly, even potatoes in their ancient form were poisonous and in fact any green areas in a potato contain an alkaloid similar to that found in deadly nightshade!
Enjoy looking, smelling and learning. Plants are our life givers.

Linda Bostock
Medical Herbalist Dip Phyt.

Herb Walk Around Pevensey Castle, May 2011

Herbs and History

I may have mentioned before, that the wind always blows by the seaside.

Well the day we went to do our herb walk at Pevensey Castle, just outside Eastbourne, the wind was very definitely blowing which made the sound recorded on the video come out like a “hounds of the Baskervilles” take.

We went to look at the Pellitory, which grows on the walls of the castle and the lime trees growing in Westham churchyard adjacent to the castle, in the next village along.

Pellitory climbing castle wall

Pevensey Castle was originally built by the Romans and the Roman walls are pretty much in tact all the way around. It was in the bay a short distance from the Roman Castle, (not Hastings) that the Normans landed in 1066 and built the first Norman castle inside the Roman walls, using the walls as part of the castle construction. Next door to the castle, in the village of Westham, is a church reputed to be the first ever church built by the Normans.
We are always astounded that the site is not constantly overrun by tourists as it is of such historical significance, but it seems to be a bit of a secret tourist attraction.
Many plants grow on the Roman walls which are constructed from flint, with tile layers interspersed, I presume to act as a damp proof course.
The plants I have seen at various times on the walls include, wallflowers, plantain, grasses, stonecrop, red Valerian and of course the Pellitory.
A short distance from the Norman part of the castle, inside the Roman walls is a huge bank of nettles which is fitting as it was the Romans who originally brought the nettles to England, to flail their joints in the cold weather (the Romans were a bit strange but we mustn’t knock them as they left us a legacy of fantastic heating and sewage systems).
Walking through the castle grounds and out through the west gate you immediately enter the village of Westham where the church is.
It is called St Mary’s and is a beautiful church. Behind the church, in the old part of the churchyard, are three magnificent lime trees.

You can complete the walk by turning left at the lime trees and going straight ahead through the newer part of the churchyard which leads to a path taking you behind the castle.

Lime Tree in Westham Churchyard

This is quite interesting as it gives you a good view of how the Norman castle was incorporated into the Roman walls. At the time the Romans landed, the sea came right up to that area and in fact Pevensey is one of the Cinque Ports now left high and dry.
You will find a write up of Lime flower and Pellitory in the herbs section and I will do a more in depth talk on Nettles in another video.

Linda Bostock
Medical herbalist

Passiflora or Passion Flower (Passiflora Incarnata)

If I want an Herb which really looks after someone suffering from nervous strain, I reach for the Passiflora.

It is such a wonderful gentle, calming, supporting nervine with mild sedative properties, that it is useful for any condition involving stress where the person needs calming and supporting.

Because of these properties, Passiflora may be used for cases of Insomnia, as it calms the brain as well as relaxes the body. One of the problems with insomnia is the brain goes in to hyperdrive and starts thinking about stupid things in a loop system, such as shopping, cleaning, washing, work, children’s activities, anything really, to prevent you getting to sleep.

Passiflora is an Herb which calms this mental restlessness down so that people can fall into a natural relaxed sleep. Night Night!

Don’t use it in pregnancy though; you will just have to put up with that little footballer having fun inside you at two o’clock in the morning.

Linda Bostock

Medical Herbalist

Lime Flowers – from Pevensey Castle Herb Walk

Lime Flowers
Tilia Europea
Herb Walk near Pevensey Castle in Westham Norman churchyard.

The dried flowers are used which contain volatile oils, mucilage, tannins, and flavonoids.

The flowers have antispasmodic, diaphoretic (make you sweat) sedative and diuretic properties. They are also known to clean out arteries which have fatty deposits on the walls.

Apart from anything else, being gently sedative and antispasmodic they make a good calming and relaxing night time drink as they are low in tannins and taste good.

I often add lime flower to a mixture of herbs in tincture form for a blood pressure mix (usual warning, don’t self medicate if you have high blood pressure consult a Doctor or a Qualified medical herbalist).

Linda Bostock
Medical Herbalist. Dip.Phyt

Herbal Health Information for Insomnia

There is no easy answer to this one as there are so many reasons people suffer from insomnia. Too much Caffeine is top of my list. Stress is next. Inability to relax, worry, overactive brain, noise sensitivity, not enough exercise, poor nutrition, hunger and so it goes on.
When I have a patient visit me suffering from Insomnia I look at lifestyle with a fine tooth comb.
Although this applies to general good health it is essential that a person is well fed. By well fed I do not mean over fed I mean has the right nutritional ingredients going into them.

LOOK AT YOUR DIET: – it needs to be a well balanced intake of protein, fats and carbohydrates with foods containing a fair share of vitamins and minerals such as fruit and veg. Never go to bed on an empty tummy but also do not eat just before you go to bed as this activates the digestive system at a time when the body should be calming down for the night. There is some research that shows calcium helps natural sleep which is why many people like a milky drink before bedtime.

CAFFEINE containing foods must be cut out of the diet
Tea, coffee, chocolate, coca cola, and all stimulant drinks such as red bull.
Many people think that drinking green tea is better for them, but green tea is higher in caffeine than ordinary tea so is not good to drink if you suffer insomnia. I don’t really drink very much alcohol, but one mad evening had one of those vodka alcopop drinks and was awake most of the night.
When I looked at the ingredients I saw the drink contained caffeine! So it is worth checking ingredients on packaging.
Giving up caffeine is HARD. Caffeine is addictive and the withdrawal symptoms include pounding headache and caffeine cravings, which can last for up to a week.
What I normally advise people to do is to reduce it slowly until they are on low caffeine intakes and can come off it without the withdrawal symptoms.
Tea and coffee substitutes are:-
The best substitute I have found is Rooibos tea (any supermarket) drunk weak and black.
Honeybush tea (internet) which is similar to Rooibos
Peppermint tea, which is a good morning cuppa.
Any herbal tea.
And of course loads of water……….no don’t bother to say YUK it is our natural drink.
A safe fizzy drink to have is Seven up as it has no additives, but, remember, fizzy drinks are a treat and should not be your normal daily drink.

EXERCISE is very important as we are natural “wanderers”.
So many people are doing sedentary jobs that it is important to make time to exercise. Exercise does several things for us, stimulates good blood circulation, uses up excess carbohydrates to prevent weight gain and uses up adrenaline shooting around the system from our bosses or co-workers or the lady in the supermarket having wound us up during the day.

I have a favourite sleep mix which I make up in clinic which contains:-

The other herbs I use are Californian poppy and Wild lettuce but not all in the same mix. You will be asking why I haven’t mentioned Chamomile. I love Chamomile but there are a few people who react completely back to front if they take Chamomile as a sleep aid and become hyperactive, so I use Chamomile mostly for the digestion and also to calm hyperactive children.
To go back to my sleep mix

Passiflora I have talked about in its own little article. It has mild sedative properties and is a relaxant.

Skullcap is a relaxing nervine as well as being anti spasmodic and relaxing. I use it because it is the only herb I know, which, due to its relaxing nervine properties, stops the brain going in to overdrive and thinking all those horrible “loop” thoughts when you are trying to get to sleep, such as, the shopping list or what activities the children have the next day or what shall I wear to my daughters wedding, or the amount of work piling up in the in tray, etc etc etc.

Valerian. You either love it or hate it. Smells like smelly feet but WHO CARES, when it is just about the best relaxing herb in the Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
Cats love it, my red headed daughter loves it and my once red headed now bald husband loves it, but the rest of the world hates it. I will list its actions:-
Hypotensive (lowers blood pressure)
All of this without giving you a woolly head the next day what more can you ask for?

There are many over the counter sleep mixes on the market, containing some or all of these herbs, but make sure they are licensed, or you could go visit your local herbalist.

Linda Bostock
Medical Herbalist Dip Phyt.

Herbal Health Information

View Clinic Information

A Herb Walk at the Long Man of Wilmington, May 2011

What a glorious walk we went on today. It was one of those perfect days, blue skies and little fluffy clouds. Not too hot and not cold.

We are looking after our daughter’s dog while she and her boyfriend are on holiday.

Her name is Bo but AS-BO suits her much better as she tries to rule the household somewhat.

We took her and Henry dog and ourselves to the long Man in Wilmington which is about a 10 minute drive from our home and in the South Downs.

The long man is a chalk figure carved into the hillside, but is a bit of an enigma as no one knows its actual date. It could be ancient or it could be Victorian. Certainly the Victorians are known to have put white brick on the figure to preserve it.

It is an unusual chalk figure as it appears to be holding walking sticks and has no male bits and pieces which makes me favour the Victorian theory, or it is actually a long woman.

At the Foot of the Long Man of Wilmington

Above the long man are some very ancient burial barrows so the whole area has a magical feel to it.

Today I wanted to go and photograph a hawthorn tree that is half way up the hill, which I have been photographing in all seasons and all  weathers.

On our way up the hill I saw that the elder flower in the hedgerow is just starting to flower and the wild plants in the hedgerow, cow parsley, nettles, dock and herb Robert were all growing so profusely the path was about half the size it normally is.

There were sky larks singing whilst on the wing and sheep in the field. The colours seemed exceptionally vibrant with the grass very green, the sky very blue and the sheep with their babies very white and fluffy.

We walked right up above the long man and stood on the barrows turning a 360 circle to see the countryside around us.

View from the Long Man

From there you can see the sea towards Brighton, the White horse chalk carving on the opposite hill, Arlington reservoir, the undulating weald and the South Downs heading off towards Eastbourne where they end. It is a view that makes you catch your breath every time and not just because you are panting and puffing from having climbed the hill to get up there!

Very often on our walks on the downs we find off cuts of worked flints which would have been used as small knives and scrapers, but today I kicked a piece of chalk on the path and when I looked down at it, saw that it had an Ammonite imprint on it as well as some shell imprints. Just a little reminder of how the South Downs were formed!

Right at the end of the walk and due to the dog running in to the edge of the field we saw a largish patch of fumitory growing. I was rather pleased as I have not seen fumitory growing in East Sussex before although I know it likes scrubby land.

I love that walk and confess I take all our visitors there.

To read more about the plants seen in this video, go to the ‘Herbs and Health’ section of the site. To find out more about the conditions mentioned, go to the ‘Health’ section

Linda Bostock

Medical Herbalist

Hawthorn, the wonder herb!

Hawthorn/ May Blossom

Latin name:-Craetaegus oxyacanthoides

You will not be surprised to know this is one of nature’s wonder herbs when I tell you it is documented as having been used for its beneficial actions on the heart by the 1st Century Greek Herbalist Dioscorides.

Hawthorn has a long history of use, confirmed safety and clinical evidence to support its cardiovascular benefits. The reason it is a wonder herb is because it improves circulation both to the peripheries of the body (hands and feet) as well improving the circulation to the heart itself, without increasing the heart beat or raising blood pressure.

Hawthorn in flower

The flower, leaf and berries are used in Herbal Medicine, which contain Flavonoids, phenolic acids, tannins and amines

I use it as my preferred herb to improve circulation to all parts of the body, because I know I can trust it to have a gentle but effective action on all circulatory problems.

It grows absolutely everywhere in England along the hedgerows, making a wonderful display of mile after mile of beautiful white blossoms in early May. This year the weather over here was abnormally warm in April so the Hawthorn flowered about two weeks early, not living up to its name of May Blossom giving rise to the saying, “ cast not a clout ‘til May is out” meaning don’t take your winter woolies off until the May blossom has finished.

I give a lot of W.I. talks and during these many of the ladies tell me interesting facts they remember from their childhood about different herb usage.

Many of the ladies have told me that they remember going along the hedgerows with their Grandmothers, picking and eating the buds of the Hawthorn flowers which their Grandmothers called Bread and Cheese. Of course in the past April/May was a very bad time for fresh vegetables and Vitamin C levels in the diet would have been very low.

Hawthorn hedge

Picking and eating the buds of the hawthorn was a source of fresh vegetable high in vitamin c and bioflavonoids, which at the same time improved circulation and would have been a true spring tonic.

Linda Bostock

Medical Herbalist

Cramp Bark or Guelder Rose

Cramp Bark/ Guelder Rose

Latin Name:-Viburnum Opulis

The give away is the name of this plant! It is used as an antispasmodic, relaxing the muscles all over the body and can be used to relieve cramps of all kinds including period pains. It is a bushy tree, a native of North America but I see it growing commonly in English parks where it has been planted for its spectacular white flowers in the spring and gorgeous red berries in autumn.

Crampbark in flower

As the name suggests it is the bark of the plant which is used and this contains the very potent antispasmodic, viopudial as well as salicin which is an aspirin like compound, effective as an herbal analgesic and painkiller.

I regularly use it in my herbal tinctures to relax muscles in conditions such as arthritis and period pains as well as putting it in an anti-inflammatory cream that I make up which I call for want of imagination aches and pains cream!

Linda Bostock

Medical Herbalist