Members of Asteraceae and their uses

Bellis perennis or our common Daisy is most welcomein any lawn!
Bellis perennis or our common Daisy is most welcome in any lawn!

In my last blog I introduced you to mainly the medicinal uses of the Asteraceae or the Daisy family.

Today I will list some of this fast and successful family in our temperate climate.

As I’ve already included pictures in the general blog on Asteraceae back in the summer I will only include links on both of the plant names so you will be able to read more about each plant on other useful websites.

I will also colour code the blocks on the colour of the flower. Hope you will find that useful as well as pretty!

Most of the below information is again from the Medicinal Flora by Julian Barker.

Cautions: This is a ‘ethno’ blog on the known medical uses of the Composites or Daisy family. There are many cautions mentioned and self-medication is therefore not advised: seek help through a qualified herbalist!

Eupatorium cannabinum or Hemp Agrimony

A beautiful plant with ‘liver-pink’ coloured umbel flowers which attract many insects and in particular butterflies. Loves damp conditions.

Action: Aperitif. Cholagogue. Diaphoretic. Expectorant (emetic in large doses). Laxative. Said to be diuretic.

Uses: Flu (especially with digestive upset). Loss of appetite. ‘Liverish’ or ‘bilious’ states (especially if associated with constipation). Cholecystalgia. Rheumatism.

Solidago virgaurea or Golden Rod

Its first reliable record of medicinal use dates from the Southern Europe of the 13th century. It became much prized in Tudor England but being imported, was very expensive. When it was found to grow closer to London, it fell into decline. Gerard attributes this to the great value we put on things exotic and, conversely, the poor esteem in which common, local products are held. Whether or not he was right about the reasons for the decline of this medicinal plant, his psychology is accurate and has much to do with the great waves of fashion in all spheres of human life, not least in medicine. Many of the herbal panaceas of old are now neglected while many plants that enjoy a current vogue were formerly unknown or little valued.

People are always asking me (i.e. Julian Barker) for Ginseng but look incredulous when I suggest that they need, rather ‘simple’ plants (as if that really meant something) of local field and hedges. This is not to suggest that we revere the local against the exotic not the ancient against the new nor vice-versa but rather look open-handedly at all these remedies with as much respect for the maintenance of their habitat and its place in the web of life.

Goldenrod was formerly prized as a wound herb as it is indeed, astringent and antiseptic. Its principal internal use is for kidney and bladder. I have found some justification for the BHP recommendation against naso-pharangeal catarrh (and chronic sinusitis) but some scepticism has been expressed against this use. I think much of the variability in its efficacy may be due to the extreme polymorphism of the species which will lead; I am sure to the future recognition of subspecies. In effect there may be a great range of chemovariants. Further there are a great many inconsistencies in supply with even the inclusion, I suspect, of the (very effective) North American S.  canadensis and others. The aromatic leaves of the American  S. odora make a popular drink known as Blue Mountain Tea.

Action: Astringent. Haemostyptic. Antiseptic and diuretic. Diaphoretic and carminative. Antidiarrhoeal. Anti-inflammatory.. Mild cholagogue and reputed to be antilipidaemic.

Uses: Nephritis. Urinary calculus. Cystitis. Enterocolitis (acute or chronic). Infant diarrhoea. Chronic nasopharyngeal  inflammation with catarrh. Hay fever (even though its pollen may be causative!) Flu. Externally: for healing ulcers and sores including those of the ano-genital region.

Bellis perennis or Daisy

Perhaps the best known of all flowers. The solitary capitulum with a domed yellow disc and white rays, often tinged with pink-purple, arises on an unbranched hairy stalk from the rosette of spoon-shaped leaves.

It astonishes me to see the attempts to eradicate this beautiful plant from the family lawn as it would have astonished Chaucer whose evocation of Spring and the early morning in The Legend of Good Women, has his love of daysies at its heart.

The external use is similar to and quite as efficacious as the much-employed Arnica montana. The leaves have been used in salads and even in soups and stews. On account of its saponin content, internal use should be reserved for real need.

Action: Vulnerary. Astringent. Expectorant. Anti-inflammatory.

Uses: Externally; Bruises, Sprains. Cuts and grazes. Wounds. Boils. Skin disorders.

Internally: Bronchitus and bronchial catarrh. Gastro-enteritis.

Conyza canadensis or Canadian Fleabane

Weeds have often become more successful when they cross the Atlantic and so leave behind some of the constraints of their home environment. Much of the traffic has gone in the direction of Columbus but this plant is a notable colonizer of the Old World. The English herbalist Parkinson received seed in 1640 and it was recorded in 1635 at the botanic garden at Blois in north-Central France where it was cultivated out of interest (or by accident). By the end of that century it had invaded all of Western Europe including Britain. The native Americans boiled the roots for treatment of menstrual problems. It is difficult to establish the use it was put to by the settlers; it is mentioned as a styptic, also a vermifuge. In Britain and France herbalists espoused it enthusiastically as they did all exotic plants, of which there was a steady stream. This is a useful diuretic and antidiarrhoeal but is less used nowadays.

Action: Diuretic. Astringent. Anti-diarrhoeal. Said also to be haemostatic, anti-inflamatory and anti-rheumatic, as well as hypotensive. The Essential Oil is a parasiticide (ascaris, taenia) and astringent and antimicrobial.

Uses: Oedema of renal origin. Kidney ad urinary disorders, including gravel and cystitis. Diarrhoea. Reported to be useful in metrorrhagia and leucorrhoea. Essential oil: tonsillitis and sore throats as a gargle.

Gnaphalium uliginosum (Filaginella uliginosa) or Marsh Cudweed

Its generic name refers to its woolly appearance and uliginosum means of marshes.

Excellent remedy apparently for catarrhal afflictions!

Action: Anti catarrhal.  Anti tussive. Anti septic.

Uses: Laryngitis, pharyngitis and all catarrhal conditions of the Upper Respiratory Tract: tonsillitis and quinsy.

Antennaria dioica or Cat’s foot, Life Everlasting and Mountain Everlasting

“ It is choleretic and expectorant and is used in bilious conditions and in bronchitis, and as a gargle for sore throats. With hyssop and others, Cat’s foot is an ingredient of the Tisane des fleurs pectorals” (Leclere)

This also makes an attractive, ornamental alpine!

Inula helenium or Elecampane

Action: Expectorant. Antitussive. Bacteriocidal. Diaphoretic. Aromatic bitter.

Uses: Bronchitis and catarrh of trachea and bronchi. Asthma (in association with other remedies). Irritating cough. Formerly an essential part of the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis. To improve appetite.

Attractive, robust,  ornamental plant for in the garden. Archaeophyte.

Pulicaria dysenterica or Common Fleabane

This is an astringent plant, rich in tannins and saponins which formerly saw some use in the treatment of gastro-intestinal disorders. Pulicaria is from the Latin for flea: the leaves were burnt as a fumigant against them, hence fleabane.

I also find this a very attractive plant which I have been growing as an ornamental on my allotment.

Bidens tripartita or Bur-marigold, Trifid Bur-marigold.

Also known as Water Agrimony on account of the astringent properties that it shares with Agrimony.

Action: Antihaemorrhagic. Astringent. Diuretic.

Uses: Inflammation of kidney and urinary tract especially with haematuria. Metrorrhagia. Peptic ulcer. Ulcerative colitis.

Xanthium strumarium or Common Cocklebur.

Introduced rare plant of North America. The plant contains sesquiterpene lactones, an oleoresin and a number of other interesting compounds. The aerial parts are a tonic and alterative with diaphoretic and antimicrobial activity.

Gallinsoga parviflora or Gallant Soldier, Kew Weed.

All species of this genus are from South and Central America but now spread through much of the world as weeds, two of them are reported as being used as a vegetable in southeast Asia. This one, a native of Peru, was introduced to Kew Gardens in 1796. It is a useful salad plant and can also be cooked like spinach. It is rich in minerals and is a tonic astringent but with the backing of neither tradition nor research, it is difficult to see how this plant can contribute greatly to herbal medicine.

When rubbed onto the body, the plant is useful in treating nettle sting. The juice of the plant is applied to treat wounds, It helps to coagulate the blood of fresh cuts and wounds.

Achillea ptarmica or Sneezewort.

The dried, powdered leaf used to be used as a sneezing powder ‘to clear the head’, also to alleviate toothache and to promote the flow of saliva. The rhizome can be chewed to help with flatulence and sluggish digestion!

Also an attractive ornamental plant in various cultivars.

Achillea millefolium or Yarrow

An attractive plant which seems to have a very long flowering season and can grow in very dry conditions, a welcome and common site along many roads and often also found in pale pink.

This plant, which I (Julian Barker of the Medicinal Flora) use in my practice more than almost any other, could be described as a ‘herbalist’s herb’. By this I mean that if you consult old herbals you would get the impression that it can be used for almost anything and, as a result, wonder how it can be used for specific ills in a reliable way.

Action: Anti-haemorrhagic. Diaphoretic and antipyretic. Hypotensive( esp. To diastolic pressure). Emmenagogue. Aromatic bitter and astringent. Antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory. Coronary vasodilator.

Uses: Fevers, ‘Flu and the common cold. Essential hypertension. Amenorrhoea. Spasmodic dysmenorrhoea. Phlebitis and thrombophlebitis of the lower limb and other thrombotic conditions including cerebral and coronary thromboses.  Indigestion and diarrhoea. Dysentery. It has some use in bronchitis and in urinary complaints. Preparations and therapeutics.

Cautions: There are many cautions mentioned and self-medication is therefore not advised: seek help through a qualified herbalist!

The Chamomiles and Related plants.

Julian Barker mentions 4 ‘Chamomiles’:

  1.  Anthemis cotula or Stinking Mayweed
  2.  Chamaemelum nobile or Roman Chamomile
  3. Matricaria chamomilla or German Chamomile
  4. Matricaria discoidea or Pineapple Weed
  1. Anthemis cotula or Stinking Mayweed, Stinking Chamomile.

Although it has nothing like the power of pyrethrum, the dried flowerheads are insecticidal and also as a mouse-repellant. It is much more aggressive than Anthemis nobilis and, like Arnica, may be irritant to the skin; thus although it may be antimicrobial and so be helpful for slow-healing wounds, one must be very wary in case it causes irritant dermatitis.

The flowerless cultivar, ‘Treneague’ is the variety to use for the well known ‘Chamomile Lawns’.

The double flowered variety is the most commonly used in medicine and cosmetics.

This annual plant is the preferred medicinal variety.

Action: Antispasmodic. Sedative. Anodyne and neuralgesic. Carminative and Stomachic. Antimetic. Anti-inflammatory. Antimicrobial. Promotes wound-healing. Diaphoretic. Antallergic.

Uses: Flatulent dyspepsia. Gastroenteritis. Lack of appetite. Restlessness, irritability and nervousness in children especially if associated with troubled digestion or allergic manifistations. Colitis. Diverticulitis. Irritable bowel syndrome. Nausea & vomiting, ‘morning-sickness’ of pregnancy. Important adjunct in the treatment of Asthma. Dysmenorrhoea. Tension headaches, ‘sick headaches’ and adjunct to treatment of migraine. Mild Insomnia; background treatment of chronic insomnia and anxiety.

Externally: as a poultice or oil infusion with or without addition of essential oil. For mastitis; ulcers, chronic wounds; haemorrhoids; anal fissure (both helped by concurrent internal administration); tired and sore eyes (flower heads well wetted with boiling water and applied when cool on and around closed eyes. Inflamed gums (mouthwash or compress). Dental infection (Volatile Oil).

This chamomile is also one of the ingredients used in the Biodynamic Compost preparations.

The flowers don’t have the white petals as in the chamomiles above and lack therefore their anti-inflammatory properties.

It does have however one important attribute: it is an effective vermifuge against roundworms, threadworms and whipworms especially for the treatment of children being less aggressive than Tansy or Wormwood.

Tanacetum vulgare or Tansy

An attractive plant to keep in the garden for the fern-like foliage and the long-lasting bright yellow ‘buttons’. There is an ornamental yellow leaved variety: ‘Isla Gold’.

The leaves to some extent act as a deterrent to flies around the house; they were used in the Middle Ages to strew on the kitchen floor and to rub on meat.

Uses internally Tansy is a vermifuge and an emmenagogue. Also used to the treatment of worms and against scabies. Not advised for self medication as it is a rather toxic plant.

Tanacetum parthenium or Feverfew

This is a native to the Balkan Peninsular but can be frequently found in gardens and introduced in the wild.

There are several attractive forms such as the yellow leaved variety and double form flower to grow in the herb garden.

Action: Antispasmodic. Anti-inflammatory. Antiseptic. Said to be emmenagogue. Insect repellent.

Uses: Prophylaxis and treatment of Migraine. Arthritis.  Used in France as an infusion for insomnia. Small parts of the leaves can be incorporated into a sandwich for the relief of Migraine.

Leucanthemum vulgare or Ox-eye daisy

This is a variable plant in the wild and often seen as part of an attractive flowering meadow.

The flower heads have been used medicinally mostly in the past and research in Germany has confirmed that it stimulates gastric and biliary function.

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