Woodland Herbs November 2011
 

In this issue
cold hands and feet    
Keeping Warm This Winter

After two very hard winters, you might be hoping for some respite come winter 2011/12.  Still, forecasters are pointing to another season of snow and record temperatures, so it's definitely time to look out the jumpers and thick socks again, if, indeed, they were ever packed away!
 
To keep warm in cold weather, we don't just need cosy layers and plenty of warm, nutritious food (such as home made soup); we also need to have good circulation.  If the heart is the engine of the body, the blood is the fuel transporting oxygen, nutrients, hormones and enzymes around the body.  Blood helps transport waste out of the body, helps fight infection and regulates body temperature.  It is made up of 55% plasma, which carries minerals, nutrients, waste, hormones, enzymes, gases and antibodies.  The other 45% is made up of blood cells, the white blood cells of the immune system, platelets which are responsible for blood clotting and red blood cells.  Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body as oxyhemoglobin, for which iron and vitamin B12 are required.  (There's more on this essential B vitamin below). 
 
It's very important then, that blood gets to every part of the body, particularly those harder to reach extremities. The heart does this by pumping blood via a system of arteries, veins and capillaries. Many people complain of cold hands and feet in the cold weather, and some suffer from chilblains, which is red, itchy skin on the hands and feet due to poor circulation.  A significant minority (around 1 in 9 women and 1 in 12 men) suffer from Raynaud's.  Sometimes known as Raynaud's Phenomenon or Raynaud's Syndrome, this often uncomfortable, sometimes painful condition occurs when arteries go into spasm and constrict blood flow.  The affected areas (usually the fingers, often the feet and often other protrusions such as the nose and ears) turn white, then blue, then pink as the blood returns.  The areas may then throb and burn.  Attacks are triggered by cold weather, stress, simple tasks such as taking food out of the freezer, and sometimes even just a slight change of temperature. Complications of Raynaud's include skin sores and even, in some very extreme cases, tissue decay.

Thankfully, the vast majority of people who suffer Raynaud's don't go on to develop more serious problems.  Many find they can manage their symptoms through a range of measures, such as those tips below which could be beneficial to all of us in the cold months to keep warm.
  
Keep the cosy in and the cold out    

  - Keep hands and feet warm and dry.  Remove damp socks as soon as possible. 

  - Wear gloves outside and maybe even in the house and at work when doing cold, wet tasks.  

 - Consider buying good quality woollen socks and gloves (not acrylic) and thermal underwear (not cotton) as they really make a difference.  The Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association has a range of specialist items, information and other aids to help sufferers.   

- Bathe in warm (not hot) water. If you shower in the morning, finish with a quick blast of cold water - this really gets the circulation going!  

-  Avoid smoking which narrows blood vessels even more.

- Wear a few layers of thinner warm clothing rather than one thick layer, and don't forget a hat and gloves. 

- Control stress, which can make the cold feel worse and Raynaud's attacks more frequent. 

- Exercise regularly as this can improve poor circulation. 

- Have regular hot drinks; lemon and ginger is a warming winter favourite. 

-  Enjoy at least one hot meal a day. 

- Use certain herbs and spices in remedies, drinks and cooking (see below).
 
- Draughtproof your home.  The Energy Saving Trust has a list of tips, a database of available grants and offers and a free helpline number.  

- If you feel cold, sluggish and achy, try adding a few drops of invigorating essential oils  such as Rosemary and Juniper to your bath.  Use by adding a couple of drops to a carrier oil or bath milk before adding to the bathwater. Close the bathroom door while you run the bath (with water that is comfortably warm but never too hot) and add the oils to create aromatic vapours.  Agitate the water to evenly disperse the oils and relax for at least 10 minutes. Ahhh...that's better! 
NB: Seek advice if you're pregnant or on medication before using essential oils.


Herbal Helpers For Circulation

One of the oldest species of tree on earth, Ginkgo ( Ginkgo biloba ) has been subject to many studies in recent years, particularly in relation to its qualities as a circulatory stimulant, antioxidant and vasodilator (a substance which widens blood vessels). Its modern use is as a circulatory tonic, improving blood flow to the extremities and brain in particular.  The principle actives in Ginkgo -  ginkgoflavoglycosides - have been shown to increase blood flow.  For this reason, Ginkgo should not be used with any other blood thinning medications such as Warfarin. Ginkgo is currently available in a tincture by A Vogel   and in tablet form from Quest.  

Many herbs used in cooking exhibit qualities beneficial to general circulation.  Cayenne ( Capsicum frutescens ) was mentioned in Carl Culpeper's enduring 17th century tome The Complete Herbal as aid to digestion, toothache and other ailments.  Nowadays it's still used for digestive problems, as well as increasing circulation via its blood thinning, stimulant and vasodilatory properties.

Used therapeutically in India since Vedic times (the 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE), Garlic ( Allium sativum ) is now the subject of over 2,200 scientific papers, including those studying its beneficial effect on the heart, blood circulation and cardiovascular disorders such as high cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.  As well as regularly enjoying it in meals, many choose to take garlic in aged form, as it has more beneficial effects for the circulation.  Quest's Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract has gone through a 20 month cold ageing process and contains compounds not found in the raw cloves. 
 
A favourite culinary companion of garlic in curries and stir fries, Ginger ( Zingiber officinale ) is most commonly used as a digestive aid and to relieve nausea, motion sickness and morning sickness.  In recent years, many nutritionists have suggested that the tasty rhizome may have bloodthinning and cholesterol lowering qualities too.
 
Rutin is an antioxidant flavonoid (a class of plant substances with multiple potential health benefits) found in buckwheat and other foods such as citrus fruits, which helps strengthen capillaries.  Rutin can be taken as buckwheat tea or powder or in convenient tablet form
 
Always consult with your medical professional before treating yourself with herbs or supplements, especially if you have a medical condition, are taking medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

B12 Supplement of the Month: Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the most chemically complex vitamin there is.  It contains the element cobalt, which is essential to all animals, and consists of a number of compounds, all of which have their own vitamin type activity.  B12 is essential for healthy brain function, healthy cell replication and red blood cell production, and helps maintain the myelin (the sheath around nerves).  In 2008 the vitamin made the news when a study from the University of Oxford found that older people with higher blood levels of the vitamin were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those with lower levels. 
 
The vitamin, also known by the name cobalamin, was discovered in the 1940s through its relationship to pernicious anaemia.  In this serious disorder, stomach cells responsible for secreting intrinsic factor (an enzyme essential to the absorption of B12 in the intestines) are destroyed, causing a dangerous deficiency of the vitamin. Fatigue, depression, and poor memory may be experienced by those lacking in B12 and very extreme deficiencies can even cause nerve damage and symptoms of mania.  The good news is that most of the population receive adequate B12 levels from their diet and that the vitamin is usually stored in the body for a long time.  If you're concerned about your levels, ask your GP to test you. 

The richest store of B12 is in the liver, and cow, turkey and pig liver are very high dietary sources of B12.  Nonanimal sources of B12 have been studied, but found to be inadequate for human requirements.  Lactovegetarians usually get enough B12 in their diet, but The Vegan Society recommends that all vegans supplement or consistently eat foods fortified with the vitamin.  "In over 60 years of vegan experimentation only B12 fortified foods and B12 supplements have proven themselves as reliable sources of B12, capable of supporting optimal health," the Society says on their B12 information page
  
 
Other risk factors for low levels of B12 are smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, and medications such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors. Large doses of folic acid can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, so get your B12 levels tested before supplementing with folic acid.  It's also an idea to monitor your B12 levels from age 50 onwards as many of us producer less stomach acid as we get older, increasing the probability of B12 deficiencies.  Its no surprise then, that often people choose to supplement with B12, with many people opting to take it in sublingual nuggets which are absorbed in the mouth rather than the digestive tract.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are on any medication or have a medical condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

horse chestnut  
Herb of the Month: Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut ( Aesculus hippocastanum ) is so called because 16th century physician Willem Quackelbeen misidentified the tree as one which cured horses of respiratory illnesses.  In fact, the large shiny brown seeds of this tree are poisonous to horses. 
 
Still, the principal active of those seeds, a compound called aescin, seems particularly useful for humans, especially those who suffer from varicose veins, oedema, heavy legs and cold feet.
 
In 2006, researchers from the respected Cochrane Collaboration reviewed studies involving the use of horse chestnut extract or a placebo for people with chronic venous insufficiency. The researchers found an improvement in the signs and symptoms of the condition with horse chestnut extract. It is thought that the extract helps to improve lower limb circulation by strengthening the fibres in vein walls and helps improve oedema by reducing the porousness of capillaries. 

Horse Chestnut may also be helpful in dealing with haemorrhoids, which are varicose veins around the anus. Nelsons H+ Care Cream contains extract of Horse Chestnut and soothing Calendula.  Whatever relief is gained from topical creams though, the underlying cause of the haemorrhoids (such as constipation) should be addressed in the longer term.  
 
Horse Chestnut is currently available in a topical gel by A Vogel called Venagel which is designed for topical application to tired, heavy and uncomfortable legs, and in Venaforce tablets which are made from a fresh tincture of the seeds.
 
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are on any medication or have a medical condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplement or herbal remedy. Do not take Horse Chestnut if you are taking anticoagulant 'bloodthinning' medications.

Legislation on the sale of herbs has changed

Due to the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) we are no longer able to dispense herbal tinctures for internal use over the counter or on our website.  This means that most of the tinctures we used to sell are no longer available, unless recommended by a medical herbalist after a private consultation.  Medical Herbalists still have access to the full range of medicinal herbs. You can find out more information at the website of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioner Association (EHTPA) and at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists .

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists' site has a facility allowing you to find a herbalist in your area   

Cautions and Contraindications: This newsletter does not substitute the advice of a healthcare professional.  Always consult your GP or Medical Herbalist before self-treating with herbs and/or supplements.

Clinic

in Glasgow