Medicinal power of flowers can help to cure a host of ills

All gardens have healing power thanks to natural plant aromatherapy, writes Fiann Ó Nualláin

Medicinal power of flowers can help to cure a host of ills

All gardens have healing power thanks to natural plant aromatherapy, writes Fiann Ó Nualláin

I AM a big fan of natural aromatherapy. Nipping into the garden for a quick energy boost, headache remedy or stress relief — as the occasion arises. I like essential oils, use them all the time as natural remedies, but they are perhaps more about how the body reacts as they are absorbed through the skin, with the active oil temporary tweaking the limbic region of the brain via the fragrance.

That type of aromatherapy is more an essential oil therapy — while a garden rose, a window box of chamomile, an arbor of jasmine, well that’s pure ‘aroma’ therapy.

That garden waft up the nostrils is actually all about how the fragrance receptors and olfactory senses are connected to our emotional brain and hardwired into triggering the release of hormones to back the mood-altering sensation. It’s so direct, so natural. I just love it.

One of the overlooked garden therapeutic plants is honeysuckle. Its heady aroma is quite invigorating to the spirits – and by that, I mean that it seems to energize the physical self while also boosting mood and cognitive spark. It has a tradition in the treatment of depressive symptoms and grief. Its essential oil may appear in a mix to balance mood and relief stress. What I like about it is that there are many species from the traditional garden centre varieties and natives that bloom in spring to summer and even autumn blooming choices.

Being able to tap into a healing plant in several seasons is invaluable. I am drying mint leaves for tea and making mint oils and tinctures this week because it will soon be gone. And the menthol is effective in winter to open the respiratory system post cold or flu or to kill a winter migraine — among other uses. Earlier in the year I harvested honeysuckle from a friend’s garden and took some cuttings — I lost my two varieties in the bad winter a few years back. But this weekend I will finally get to replant them. A variety of Lonicera caprifolium and also a Lonicera japonica — the two most utilised in herbal medicine.

One of the earliest documented uses of honeysuckle is found in ancient Chinese medicinal texts as an agent to remove heat from the body and also to counteract the poison of snakebites. Later it became a popular TCM remedy to treat a range of different respiratory conditions. In Europe, the tradition was as an analgesic – in particular with childbirth and post-partum conditions.

Today honeysuckle extracts beyond their use in fragrances are utilized in

several cosmetic and cosmeceutical products to soothe inflamed skin and to help eliminate pigmentation and texture issues. In more holistic products its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions can be availed of to ease the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, pityriasis rosea and acne.

I like honeysuckle as a herbal tea or in a cordial with rose or elderflower. Its taste is floral with a slight sweetness. Traditionally

leaf, flowers and stems can be utilized to deliver analgesic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, coolant, diuretic, febrifuge actions as well as genitourinary support and respiratory support.

There are two separate traditions when it comes to honeysuckle tea. A western one based upon western honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) and an eastern one based upon Lonicera japonica – japonica denoting Japan but its prominence having begun in China where it is known as Jin Yin Hua.

Jin Yin Hua has for thousands of years been considered a potent herb to eliminate heat and accumulated toxins from the body. Honeysuckle in western herbalism serves to treat asthma and other respiratory disorders. However, the herbs are interchangeable and either one or both may arise in commercial tea blends. Some blends come as flower only, some contain also leaf and stem material.

I dry my own. A few years back, I got a present of a food dehydrator that also dries herbs and flowers and the novelty hasn’t worn off yet. When making from dry herb, I like to finely chop the herb to make it more reliably measurable. Boiling water or boiled water momentarily rested is utilized (less damage to volatile oils still in the plant) to make a 3- 5-minute infusion.

The flower tea has a sweet herbaceous note with a hint of vanilla but depending upon the addition of foliage and stem material it can take on a more astringent or medicinal note. If the later, you can always sweeten with stevia or honey.

Honeysuckle tea is also pleasant when iced.

I mentioned cordial, and either rose or elderflower — in part due to the flavour but they also bring out some

of the bronchial benefits and enhance the antiviral action during flu and other viral illness.

Honeysuckle tea is antimicrobial, easing stomach upsets. In hotter climes, the tea is a traditional coolant and beyond reducing the heat of a fever it is also beneficial to attenuate menopausal hot flashes and prickly heat. Honeysuckle’s ability to tackle bacterial diseases and its diuretic nature make it suitable for urinary disorders. The cooled tea has application as a gargle for sore throats and infections of the mouth and gums.

Honeysuckle contains salicylic acid - explaining its pain relief use for headache and period pains. It also contains luteolin — a flavonoid with strong antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – shown to help protect the brain from neurological impairments and the rest of the system from oxidative stress. Its chlorogenic and isochlorogenic acids help reduce blood sugar levels and support stable blood pressure.

The tea yields inositol which plays a role in maintaining the health of the insulin receptors cells – keeping them the right shape to let the insulin fit in first time and do its job. Faulty or unhealthy receptors cause more insulin to be released and this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetic risk. Improved insulin sensitivity is of benefit to PCOS. Furthermore, inositol also increases within the female system levels of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) which mops up any free testosterone in the bloodstream and helps calm flare-ups.

Never self-treat without attaining expert advice that has your personal medical history at its heart. In general, the dosage upper limits are 2-3cups daily. In terms of a caution, overuse can have a laxative effect and prolonged use can increase the action of anticoagulant medication.

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