Woodland Herbs May 2011

In this issue
Welcome to your regular newsletter from Woodland Herbs. We hope you will find it interesting, entertaining and useful. If you do not wish to continue to receive this newsletter please use the link at the bottom of this email.
Healthy Skin     
Spring is here. While not quite bikini weather, it is time to at least store away the thermals for a while. Hidden under cosy layers for months, we've likely forgotten to look after the largest organ in the body, our skin.

Though we may sometimes take it for granted, our skin has several important functions: covering our flesh and bones; protecting us from pathogens; sensory perception; and regulating water loss, temperature and the excretion of toxins.

The skin has two main layers. The dermis is the deeper layer, containing collagen, elastin, and sweat and sebaceous glands. The epidermis is the keratin-rich layer exposed to the elements, responsible for keeping water in and harmful substances out. Skin cells originate in the deeper layers and take about 28 days to rise to the surface, where they are eventually sloughed off.

Skin complaints can take many forms and have many causes, including poor diet, hormonal imbalances, stress, certain medications, infections, low water intake and allergies. They range from minor cuts and grazes, to highly contagious diseases such as impetigo. Below are some common skin conditions and natural suggestions which may help.

Eczema -  This dry, inflammed, itchy and sometimes weeping condition can affect people of all ages, and can be caused by a number of conditions such as stress, anxiety, intolerances or allergies, and digestion problems. Natural helpers include omega-3 essential fatty acids and zinc. Omega-3 essential fatty acids reduce inflammation and are moisturising.  Omega-3s are available from fish oils and flax oil. Another useful supplement is zinc, which helps in the use of Omega-3 fats.  Zinc has also been shown to improve wound healing. Gluten and dairy intolerances sometimes irritate such conditions, so try avoiding them for a while to see if there's any improvement. Marigold ( Calendula officinalis ) and Chickweed ( Stellaria media ) are traditionally used for their anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties, so try using creams or lotions containing these herbs.

Acne - Acne can stem from a number of underlying causes, such as stress, a long term imbalance of hormones or a chronic infection.  Clinical trials have shown that zinc supplementation can be beneficial in treating acne.  Effective treatment will be appropriate to the cause; herbs such as Dandelion ( Taraxacum officinalis ) and Burdock ( Arctium lappa ) are often used to detoxify, while Agnus Castus ( Vitex agnus castus ) may be recommended to balance hormones. Popular as an immune-booster, Echinacea ( Echinacea spp ) is also often used internally and externally for its anti-bacterial qualities. Essential oils such as Lavender, Geranium and Tea Tree may all be helpful for controlling acne, though remember to dilute them in base oil before applying them to the skin.

Psoriasis - Often first appearing in early adult life, psoriasis is characterised by pink or reddish patches of raised skin covered in silvery scales.  It can affect any part of the body, but most often the joints and lower back.  This sometimes painful, non-contagious condition often runs in families and can appear or worsen during times of stress or acute illness. Omega-3 oils, especially from fish, may be helpful, as may supplementing with zinc, Vitamin D3 and Vitamin A.  Marigold is anti-inflammatory and has been shown to reduce psoriasis. Alternatively Chamomile ( Matricaria recutita ) cream or Aloe Vera gel can soothe the affected areas and reduce inflammation. You could try bathing in Chamomile and Marigold flowers. Simply fill a sock with the flowers,  then add the sock to your bath. You can then use the sock as a gentle, herb-filled sponge. Bathing in the Dead Sea is often found to be beneficial to psoriasis, and many have found relief by adding a couple of handfuls of Dead Sea Salts to the bath (they are rich in magnesium, bromine and potassium, minerals needed for healthy skin). As with eczema, traditional herbal treatments often include Dandelion and Burdock.

Aging -
As we age, our skin becomes thinner and more easily damaged. Stress, smoking, pollution and exposure to UV radiation from the sun all can exacerbate the problem. The stress hormone cortisol damages collagen (an essential component of the skin), and UV radiation and pollution generate free radicals (which can damage skin cells).  Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and the mineral Selenium inhibit free radical production.  All brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are high in anti-oxidants, so ensure you take your 5-a-day. Oils such as Jojoba and the mineral-rich Sweet Almond are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant , and the luxuriously rich essential oils of Rose, Frankincense and Myrrh also have anti-aging properties. 

Our Skin, Our Self
The skin is often the first organ to show the signs of a deficiency or imbalance. If we're tired or stressed our skin will reflect that, often to the detriment of our self confidence, especially if problems manifest on the face. Here are some simple tips to help restore that healthy glow.

Hydrate Ensure that you are drinking enough water to keep the skin plump and clear. The common recommendation is six to eight glasses a day. This helps eliminate waste products and aids the healing process.

Nourish  A good diet is one which incorporates complete proteins, sources of essential fatty acids (omega 3&6), fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.

Supplement If you struggle to always achieve a balanced diet, consider taking a good multivitamin and maybe even supplementing with a skin-specific formula such as Solgar's 'Skin, Nails and Hair '. As well as Vitamin C, zinc and copper, it contains amino acids vital to the production of connective tissue and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), a compound containing sulphur, which helps build keratin.

Cleanse Follow a daily skincare regime using mild products which won't irritate or strip your skin.

Protect your skin against from oxidative damage by avoiding sun damage, pollutions and stopping smoking.

Rest and get adequate sleep. The body repairs itself during sleep.

Drink infusions of traditional detoxifying herbs, such as Dandelion, Red Clover ( Trifolium pratense ), Sarsaparilla ( Smilax spp ) and Burdock. Often drunk for its cleansing properties, Nettle ( Urtica dioica ) is a rich source of iron and silica, the latter of which is useful in supporting healthy skin, hair and nails. Horsetail ( Equisetum arvense ) is also particularly rich in silica.

Treat yourself to a regular treatment such as an aromatherapy Holistic Facial or Facial Revitalisation Acupuncture. Both use techniques to stimulate the muscle tissues of the face and help remove waste products.

Dry skin brush regularly. A treatment we can all enjoy at home at very little cost, dry skin brushing increases the blood flow to the skin, bringing nutrients to the skin and helping to remove toxins. It also helps to slough off dead skin. Simply use a natural fibre brush (you can use a rough towel if your skin is sensitive) to brush the body before showering or bathing. Use long, sweeping strokes in the direction of the heart, avoiding sensitive areas and broken skin.

Cautions and Contraindications.
If you have an undiagnosed skin complaint please see your medical professional. For young children and infants, or if you are on medication, pregnant or breastfeeding please consult your doctor, herbalist or other medical professional before treating yourself with herbs and supplements.

Supplement of the Month - Vitamin E 

The basic function of Vitamin E  is to protect cell membranes. It is also one of the body's major antioxidants, meaning that it neutralizes free radicals which damage cells. Studies suggest it may help block LDL ("bad") cholesterol, reduce inflammation, slow cataract development and enhance immunity, especially in older people.  Being a fat soluble vitamin it can be stored in the body for relatively long periods, and has potential applications in terms of cardiovascular, circulatory and nervous system health, as well as conditions associated with menstruation and the menopause. Because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities, E is often recommended in cases of skin disorders such as acne and psoriasis. If it is being taken to benefit the skin, it may be applied directly to the skin as an oil or taken internally.

The body can't make its own vitamin E, so adequate levels must be provided by foods and supplements.  Rather than one substance, vitamin E is a term used for a group of fat soluble compounds called tocopherols which occur in four major forms: alpha, beta, delta and gamma-tocopherols.  Look for labels which list a mix of tocopherols rather than just one or two.  Natural vitamin E is preferable to synthetic E as it's more effectively absorbed by the body.  Common food sources include wheatgerm, avocados, dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), whole grains, and nuts and seeds (such as almonds and sunflower seeds).

The EU RDA for vitamin E is 12mg, however many writers recommend much higher doses, with some citing total daily amounts up to 800mg, although 100-300mg is appropriate for many adults. Vitamin E levels are often measured in international units (IU) and 1IU of vitamin E is equivalent to 0.67mg.

Cautions & Contraindications: Vitamin E should be treated with caution: check with your doctor if taking anti-coagulant drugs (including aspirin, warfarin, heparin); have a heart condition; have insulin-dependent diabetes; or are about to undergo surgery. As with all dietary supplements check with your medical professional if you are pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition.

sarsaprillaHerb of the Month - Sarsaparilla 
"Sarsparilly! And make it snappy!", Yosemite Sam was often heard to growl at bar tenders after yet another run-in with Bugs Bunny. The big bearded Wild West grouch was actually asking for a drink made from Sarsaparilla ( Smilax spp ), the name of which comes from the Spanish for bramble ( sarza ) and vine ( parilla ).

Used since at least the 16th century for syphilis and before that by Native Americans for a wide range of ailments, Sarsaparilla was also a favourite of  The Smurfs who particularly enjoyed the plant's "Smurfberries".

Sarsaparilla ( Smilax officinalis or Smilax ornata ) is used as a general enlivening tonic (often used by sports-people), and to purify the blood (aiding chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and rheumatic conditions including gout).

The principle active substances found in Sarsaparilla are compounds called saponins which have been found to bind to endotoxins. This is beneficial because endotoxins can aggravate inflammation, cause cell damage and compromise liver function.

The root and rhizome of the herbs are taken traditionally, therefore the herb will need to be taken as a decoction .

Cautions and Contraindications.
Not recommended for pregnancy or breast feeding. Seek advice from your Medical Professional if you have an kidney disease or related conditions.

Legislation on the sale of herbs is changing

Due to the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) we will no longer be able to dispense herbal tinctures for internal use over the counter (including web sales) after 30th April 2011. This means that most of the tinctures we used to sell will not be available over the counter, once existing stock is sold. The number of dried herbs we currently sell will also reduce, although we will try our best to keep as many available as possible. Visit our website for more information.

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