Italian HWB member Pierluigi Campidoglio has shared an in-depth monograph of Nettles. This version is translated into English. To view the original Italian and the (slightly different) website translation version in English, visit his original blog post.
Urtica L. - Monograph
Poir membranacea urtica. in bloom
Order : Rosales (APG), Urticales (Cronquist)
Family : Urticaceae Juss.
Primary functionality: Mars
Secondary functionality: Venus
Nature: Dry and ambivalent with respect to heat / coldness, with a slight prevalence of heat (aerial parts)
Hot and dry in the second degree (seeds)
Flavor: Sweet and saline; pungent, bitter and slightly astringent
Tropism: Mainly: kidneys and adrenals, spleen; secondly: liver, stomach, pancreas, blood, epithelia, prostate and uterus
Humoral actions :Regulates Phlegm and Yellow Bile; regulates Melancholia and Blood; tones the functionality of the kidneys.
Tissue states : Phlegm, Yellow Bile, Blood and / or Melancholia deficiency or excess; kidney function deficiency
Clinical actions: Nutritional / tonic, alterative, renal trophorestorative, diuretic, hemostatic, emotional, galactagogue, emmenagogue, metabolism stimulant, analgesic, vulnerable
Used parts :Aerial parts not flowery, aerial parts flowery, seeds, roots
With the name nettle we generally refer to the plants of the genus Urtica L. Mostly stinging due to silicated hairs that cover the surface, nettles are generally edible plants with important healing properties.
There are several species, most of which can be used in a mostly interchangeable way, both in the kitchen and in herbal medicine. In Italy, the most common are: U. dioica (dioica), U. urens , U. pilulifera and U. membranacea (generally monoecious). Some species (such as Urtica ferox of New Zealand) are particularly dangerous because they can cause particularly intense skin reactions that last several days and because, if the areas of skin that come into contact with the plant are particularly large, they can produce important symptoms affecting the central nervous system. Among the Italian species, all stinging but harmless, the most "pungent" seems to be the Roman nettle ( U. pilulifera ), edible like the other species and, according to some authors, the most effective in therapy [Gerard].
Nettles are plants characterized by insignificant flowering (the flowers are very small and very inconspicuous) and by anemophilous pollination (they are pollinated by the wind). Although they offer refuge to many species of insects (they are stinging only for higher animals, which therefore tend to avoid contact with plants) and constituting an important food source for several of them, they are not, however, pollinated by insects.
They are plants that generally prefer damp soils or uncultivated and road edges, provided that the soil is rich and sufficiently humid, and they avoid acidic soils. They are species that prefer a good concentration of nitrates and phosphates and therefore tend to grow near homes and areas where animals are present, especially where there are spills of liquid and / or solid manure (particularly rich in nitrogen).
Nettles contain a good amount of chlorophyll, mineral salts (especially Ca, K, Si, Mg, Fe, P) and proteins that derive from the organization of the abundant nitrogen present in the soil.
Observing their characteristics and "behavior" in their natural environment, one has the impression that the activity of these plants is strongly stretched, on the one hand, towards absorption (hypogean pole) and organization (epigean pole) nitrogenous substances from the protein catabolism wastes of higher animals and, on the other side (exclusively epigean pole), towards the formation of leaves and stems rich in chlorophyll. In this metabolic activity so strongly characterized, it is as if the appearance of flowering remains in the background both from a structural (insignificant flowers) and functional point of view (pollination is entrusted to the wind and so it is not necessary for the plant to use resources for activities responsible for attracting pollinating insects - production of essential oils, colored molecules, etc.).
Returning to chlorophyll (in reality we should speak more correctly of chlorophylls , because there are different forms, all very similar to each other from a structural point of view), it is interesting to note that it is closely similar, from a chemical point of view, to the heme present in the blood of higher animals, being both cyclic macromolecules formally derived from a tetra-pyrrolic ring, which contain, within the cycle, a metal ion (Mg for chlorophyll and Fe for heme).
It is possible to glimpse a similarity between the two molecules also from a functional point of view. First of all, chlorophyll is a pigment that has the ability to "capture" sunlight so that it can be used by the plant, in the process known as chlorophyll photosynthesis , as a source of energy for the production of that "caloric" molecule which is glucose. Formally, chlorophyll allows plants to produce glucose and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water:
6CO 2 + 6H 2 O -> C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2
On the other hand, heme is a pigment (and in fact gives the blood its characteristic red color) sensitive to light which has the function of transporting oxygen to animal cells so that the exactly inverse function can be achieved, ie the transformation ("combustion ") Of glucose in carbon dioxide and water by oxygen:
C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2 -> 6CO 2 + 6H 2 O
If the reaction of chlorophyll photosynthesis takes place thanks to the energy "taken" by the sun, the combustion reaction of glucose produces energy that the animal (or human) organism uses for its functions. So we can say that the two reactions together have the overall function of transferring the energy taken from the sun to animal organisms: they are two opposite reactions in the direction  , but complementary in the overall action.
A plant so rich in precious substances for superior animals are strongly appreciated as a food. For this reason, in the course of evolution it has had to devise a system to "defend itself" so that it is not systematically devoured. The stinging effect (precisely) is due to the presence, on the surfaces of the leaves and stems, of hairs ( trichomes) rigid silicate and hollow single-celled cells which, when broken, inject a liquid rich in irritants (including histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, organic acids). The trichomes of nettle plants have a characteristic elongated ampoule shape topped and closed by a bulb (Fig. 1-A). The whole trichome is calcified and silicized. The silica content is maximum at the apex and the portions adjacent to it and gradually decreases towards the base of the trichome. Calcification begins concurrently with the decrease in silica and eventually calcium replaces almost completely the silicon near the base [Thurston].
More in detail, the silica particles are mainly concentrated at the apex, in correspondence with the bulb, where they form a continuous structure (Fig. 1-C zone I). Immediately below the bulb, there is a transition zone (Fig. 1-C zone II) almost free of silica and, inferior to this, there is the body of the trichome (Fig. 1-C zone III), in whose walls there are only secondary silica particles [Fu].
Therefore, the hardest zone (due to the silica content) turns out to be that of the bulb (zone I), followed by the body of the trichome (zone III), while the intermediate zone (zone II) is decidedly more fragile and therefore can break easily. When the trichome is hit, for example, by an animal, it breaks exactly in zone II (see Fig. 1-B), transforming itself into a sort of tiny hypodermic needle. The trichoma fracture also causes the release of its cytoplasmic content to the outside, which is thus practically "injected" into the epidermis of the unfortunate animal.
Fig. 1 - Trichomes of Urtica spp. (taken from [Fu])
Interestingly, this copresence of calcium and silicon at inversely proportional concentrations is often found in living systems. Even in bones, for example, silicon, fundamental for the calcification of the tissue, is found mainly linked to the newly formed bone matrix: as calcium binds to the matrix, silicon tends to decrease its concentration, so much so that in the completely calcified bone tissue the concentration of silicon is minimal.
Nettle provides a textile fiber similar to linen, very resistant. The leaves and stem can be used to dye the fabrics green and the roots to dye them yellow. The juice and decoction of the plant can be used to curdle milk.
Nettle is traditionally considered a plant ruled primarily by Mars, due to both its "pungency" and its activity: acute, violent, rubefactory, inflammatory, intense, purifying and acting on the formation of blood (see also [Angelini, Junius, Culpeper]).
The secondary signature of the nettle is Venusina, by virtue of both its peculiar action on the kidneys and adrenals and its ability to purify the body and treat rheumatism and gout (thanks to the sharing of the lordship of Saturn in Libra; see also [Angelini]).
Parts Used and their Collection
Of the different species of nettle, the whole plant is used: leaves and apical parts collected before flowering, aerial part of flowers (used mostly in homeopathy), seeds (mostly immature crops) and roots.
The leaves and the apical parts (young shoots) must be collected immediately before flowering. The stems can be cut at ground level, collected in thin bundles (a maximum of ten stems per bundle) and left to dry upside down, in the shade, in a ventilated and dry room or in a low temperature dryer. Once dry, the leaves and tops are separated from the stems which, being fibrous, are discarded.
Alternatively, the fresh leaves and tops (collected without the fibrous stems) can be used to produce liquid extracts (hydroalcoholic dye, acetolite, ...).
The flowery aerial parts must be harvested, obviously, at flowering and before the flowers wilt or the seeds form. They are mostly used to prepare their hydroalcoholic tincture.
The seeds should be harvested preferably when they are immature but "full": the flower stems that carry the female flowers first and then the seeds, although being pendulous, tend to go somewhat upwards when the plants are in bloom, but tend to bend significantly downwards for the weight of the seeds when they are "full": this is the best time for harvesting. Only the seeds, the whole flower stems or the whole apical part of the plant that bears the flower stems can be removed, removing the seeds at a later time. The seeds thus collected can be dried or used for the preparation of a tincture.
The roots are to be collected in the autumn.
The aerial parts of nettles always host a large quantity of insects, so it is important that these are removed before drying or extraction, placing the collected parts on a flat surface (table, floor, etc.): normally insects they tend to go away on their own in a short time.
For the preparation of the tinctures, the drug: solvent ratio and the alcoholic strength vary greatly according to the traditions. The tinctures can be prepared from both recently dried material and from fresh drugs: obviously, in the latter case the tincture will be much richer and more effective.
The mother tincture is prepared from a fresh plant, with an alcoholic strength of 45%.
In the American tradition, there is a tendency to use a drug: solvent ratio (drug weight expressed in ounces and volume of solvent expressed in fluid ounces, which roughly corresponds to drug weight expressed in grams and volume of solvent expressed in milliliters) which goes from 1: 2 to 1: 5 for the leaves (both fresh and dried) and an alcoholic strength in the range 50-90%; for the root and seeds, a drug: solvent ratio of 1: 3-1: 5 with an alcoholic strength of 25-30% is used.
Tastes and Nature
The nettle has a primarily sweet and "salty" flavor (it is a type of salty flavor that Matthew Wood defines as " earthen ", earthy [Wood]) and secondarily pungent, bitter and slightly astringent. The pungent flavor is more evident in the fresh plant (before tasting it, it is important to let it dry well or crush it so that the stinging hairs soften and no longer sting), the sweet and bitter flavors are felt more in the tincture.
In the American tradition, nettle is called refreshing and drying (see, for example, [HerbRem]). The ancient authors (up to Mattioli, Durante and Gerard) consider, instead, the nettle to be a slightly warm plant (it does not reach the first degree [Gerard]) and dry. Castore Durante probably describes its temperature (or nature ) in the best way:
“ It does not heat up valiantly: it is made up of very thin parts, & although it is warm, pungent, its virtue lies in the surface of the branches, but the refrigerating virtue is hidden inside. " [Durante]
This means that the plant associates a certain degree of heat, linked mostly to the ability of the green surfaces to sting and inflame and which is however reflected in the overall flavor and stimulating capacity of the plant, with a decidedly more refreshing action. The fact of possessing "opposite" properties is very interesting because it gives the nettle the ability to act in a bivalent way: it is in fact simultaneously stimulating and refreshing, which makes it suitable for both "hot" conditions (eg, inflammations and fevers) both under conditions characterized by lack of "heat" and in neither of the two classes of conditions is excessive, as each of its qualities is tempered by the contemporary presence of the other. We will say that the nettle is ambivalent compared to the degree of heat, with a slight prevalence of heat. During flowering the nettle is more pungent, so if you prefer a slightly more intense degree of heat you can pick it up when it has bloomed.
The seed is also sweet, saline and slightly pungent (more than the aerial part); it is hot and dry in the second degree. According to Chinese Medicine, the nettle seed enters the Kidney and Liver meridians and has the function of toning the Qi, benefiting the Kidney and generating essence. Nettle seeds are indicated in case of kidney Qi vacuum and depletion of the essence that manifest with lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, confused thinking, low libido, etc. The combination of sweet and slightly bitter flavors is typical of toning drugs such as ginseng: the sweetness nourishes while the slightly bitter taste gently drains and allows you to prevent any stagnation caused by the toning action of the sweet. It is a drug indicated in cases where the kidney Qi is too weak to "catch" the breath (or Lung Qi) and draw it inwards and downwards, which is why you need to sit with your back straight for be able to breathe. [Garran]
From the characteristics of flavor and nature (or temperature ) we can deduce the "main" actions of the plant:
The seed has flavors and qualities similar to those of the aerial parts of the plant, but it is sweeter and decidedly more pungent (even if the heat does not reach a high degree); therefore its action is more nourishing, tonic and diffusive than the aerial parts (see also [Garran]).
An important feature of the nettle is the co-presence of opposite actions and qualities:
Plants that have the ability to exert "contrasting" effects (we speak more correctly of bivalent or ambivalent actions ) are particularly important in therapy, because, firstly, they can be applied in multiple contexts and, secondly, because, instead of inducing or limiting certain bodily functions, rather have the ability to regulate them in a "fine" way according to the need: where a function is overactive they reduce it and where it is reduced they stimulate it.
We can summarize the main actions of the nettle as follows:
The clinical actions of the nettle "derive" from the humoral actions. The plant turns out to be a nutritional tonic, a renal trophorestorative, a restorative, alterative, diuretic, hemostatic, emotional, galactagogue, emmenagogue, metabolism stimulant, analgesic, vulnerable, antiallergic drug.
Despite having an important action on the whole organism, the nettle has a particular affinity for some specific organs, tissues and systems, including: kidneys and adrenals, spleen, liver, stomach, pancreas, blood, epithelia (skin, mucous membranes, walls of blood vessels), prostate and uterus.
Nettle is an herb that, as we have seen, is characterized by ambivalence: on the one hand it treats deficit conditions and on the other it treats excess conditions. This characteristic is clearly manifested also in its indications.
Being a nutritional tonic and tonic of Melancolia, together with the interesting nutritional profile, make the nettle particularly suitable for deficit conditions: malnourished, thin, weak, pale, emaciated people who lack vitality. Strengthens the connective tissue, assists in protein metabolism, treats iron deficiency anemia and the deficiency of the corpuscular components of the blood, stimulates milk production.
On the other hand, its characteristics make it suitable for treating excess conditions, in particular Phlegm and Phlegm-Bile (the former corresponding to the Humidity or Phlegm patterns and the latter to those of Heat / Humidity according to TCM). Under such conditions, the tissues are swollen with more or less "thickened" liquids and concomitant inflammation may also be present: in such cases, the nettle drains excess liquids while disinfecting the tissues. Nettle can then be used to treat the so-called " syndrome of bad blood " (in English " bad blood syndrome ") and symptoms that characterize it: chronic skin problems, low grade infections (chronic but not particularly intense), accumulation phlegm in the tissues, digestive difficulties and hepatic "laziness".
According to some authors ([EvolHerb, Riley]) it also has an effect on short-tempered people who tend to get angry, with red eyes, bloodshot, red face, general irritability and frustration (these are symptoms that, depending on the conditions, they can correspond to different syndromes of TCM, from the stagnation of Liver Qi to the “blazing up of Liver Fire”).
Ambivalence is also found in homeopathic mental symptoms: calm, relaxed, calm, euphoric, witty people; or detached, separate, unpleasant, irritable at work and fearful, with dreams of panic over survival [Riley].
The seeds have, in particular, an anti-enuretic function (they treat the " pee in bed ") and expectorant; they are indicated in case of cough (Dioscorides recommends them macerated with honey in wine); they restore renal functions and are very useful in case of chronic renal failure. In the experience of contemporary American herbal medicine, their use has avoided, in several cases, the need to resort to dialysis. In this case, dry or tincture immature seeds are preferred.
For all these reasons, it is an extremely versatile plant, so much so that David Hoffman, a well-known Medical herbalist from Wales, says: " When in doubt, give nettles ".
Given its complexity of action, the nettle can be used for even deeply different humoral pictures. In particular, it is indicated in cases of yellow bile deficiency, phlegm deficiency, blood deficiency, excess phlegm and excess yellow bile. In clinical practice, mixed cases can also be found, characterized by the mixture of two or more of the paintings presented here.
The general characteristics of these humoral pictures are described below.
Yellow Bile deficiency
It corresponds to the Depression [Wood] tissue state or to different forms of Yang deficiency of TCM (for example, in the case of nettle, typically Yang Qi deficiency or Yang kidney deficiency). It occurs in weak, pale, indolent people who lack vitality, who manifest functional deficits, such as, for example, difficult digestion and slow elimination, with low blood pressure and possibly orthostatic hypotension, impotence. Depending on the severity of the condition, there may be:
Corresponds to Atrophy [Wood] tissue status and several forms of Yin deficiency according to TCM. Malnourished, thin, weak, emaciated people, with dry mucous membranes and dry skin that tears easily or flakes (dermatological problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are very common), constipation and dry stools, possible restlessness or nervousness. You will have:
It roughly corresponds to the blood deficiency according to TCM. As we have seen, the nettle is an emotional one but, according to some authors, it is not able to completely treat, by itself, the blood deficiency according to TCM because, being "eliminative" (diuretic and alterative), it does not increase the " amount "of Blood. The nettle is especially suitable for treating hyposisemia and the conditions in which the protein or corpuscular fraction of the blood (red, white blood cells, platelets) are lacking. These conditions often manifest themselves with lightheadedness and dizziness, dizziness, even intense palpitations, insomnia, profuse dreams, memory deficits, hair that falls out or becomes discolored. You can also have:
Excess of Phlegm
Corresponds to the Torpor / Stagnation [Wood] state, to the "impure blood syndrome"") Or under conditions of internal humidity or phlegm of TCM. It manifests itself with the accumulation or loss of more or less thick or turbid liquids; cloudy urine; feeling of heaviness in the body or dizziness with mental dullness; heavy, thick and adhesive muzzles present on the mucous membranes or in the stool, excessive frequency in swallowing or spitting saliva mostly thick; intoxication sensation or symptoms similar to hangover symptoms; low immunity; weak peripheral circulation, with skin lesions and difficulty healing wounds; slowed elimination processes, with possible constipation. Wet eczema, arthritic or rheumatic pain, atherosclerosis, allergies may be present. It can also be manifested by:
Excess of Yellow Bile
It corresponds to a condition of excess heat and hyper-reactivity, typical, for example, of the Excitation [Wood] state. It can also correspond to conditions of excess Heat according to the TCM (for example, Full Heat, Excess Heat in the Liver which can produce an increase in Liver Fire, but also Heat as a component of mixed pictures such as Humidity / Heat or Toxic Heat). Hyperstimulation, hyperactivity of the organism, which results in heat, redness, sometimes pain; temperature rise, fever; nervous excitement, restlessness; sensitivity to stimulation; red eyes; red-pink color of the fabrics. Or, unpleasant, detached, short-tempered people with a tendency to have outbursts of anger, general irritability, red face, frustration and anger; the eyes may be red, bloodshot. It can manifest itself,
In the case of particularly hyper-reactive conditions, to avoid overstimulation, it is advisable to use low doses of nettle, for example 1-5 drops of hydroalcoholic tincture of the aerial parts, up to 3 times a day, and possibly gradually increase, if necessary .
Seasonal scalds and allergies can also be included (even if the latter are not exactly full-fledged) in this humoral picture. In particular, nettle has a specific indication for allergies characterized by red nose and eyes and abundant loss of "thin" fluids (tearing and nose which drips fluid and transparent mucus).
Cardiovascular system and blood
The nettle (aerial part) has a peculiar action on the blood, as it can contribute significantly to the restoration of the level of blood iron and the concentration of red blood cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes [De Vico, Juma, Saeidi]. In animals, the concentration of total proteins and albumin increases [De Vico, Saeidi]. It has an ambivalent action on pressure, as it is capable of treating both low and high blood pressure. It reduces platelet hyper-aggregability [ElHaouari, Mekhfi].
Digestive system and metabolism
The nettle (aerial part) has a tonic and mildly laxative action on the intestine; treats intestinal inflammation, removing irritative stimuli [Iozzi]. Nettle stimulates biliary, pancreatic and enteric secretions, improving digestion (the action is also due to the presence of small quantities of secretin). It is a mild stimulant laxative.
Kidneys, adrenals and urinary tract
On this apparatus, the nettle has an important and broad-spectrum action, as it has the ability to stimulate diuresis (it is a natriuretic, azoturic and uricolitic diuretic with a delicate and moderate action), to eliminate urinary stones (such as whether it is their localization), to treat infections (especially the longer lasting ones) and to tone the tissues. It has a specific action as a trophorestorativerenal, resulting indicated in case of renal failure, dialysis and in any case of renal damage (both structural and functional) and of adrenal deficiency and "fatigue". The trophorestorative action is exercised by the whole plant, but to a much greater extent by immature seeds. The latter, especially when used fresh, have the ability to induce a certain activation of the nervous system, so much so that the (anecdotal) case of a man who has not slept for three days in a row after ingesting a spoonful of seeds is reported [EvolHerb ]. It is important to keep in mind that the response to the ingestion of the seeds (fresh, dry or in tincture) is absolutely personal: some may find the seeds highly activating and must take very low doses, others may be less sensitive and require much higher doses.
The whole plant (aerial part and seeds) has a stimulating action to detoxify the liver. Some of its extracts have the ability to modulate the gene expression of liver detoxifying enzymes. In particular, for the seeds of Urtica urens an induction action of some isoforms of the cytochrome P450 [Hizlan] has been experimentally demonstrated: this must be taken into account in the case of concomitant administration of drugs and dry extracts of nettle seeds for extended periods of time. Supports liver protein metabolism. In animals it supports albumin biosynthesis. [De Vico, Saeidi].
Nettle (aerial parts) tones the uterus and stimulates it, is an emmenagogue and counteracts excessive losses. It is useful in the postpartum, in case of atony / uterine prolapse and dysmenorrhea / amenorrhea. Treats inflammation of the uterine appendages [Iozzi]. The nettle root treats benign prostatic hypertrophy. The seeds are aphrodisiacs.
Connective tissue and extracellular matrix
Nettle (aerial part) has the ability to drain phlegmatic-bilious and melancholic toxins from the connective tissue (also thanks to the presence of salts and Silicon) and, in particular, the residues of protein catabolism (mainly urates, see also [Fuller]) and to optimize the synthesis of proteins with the result of "cleaning up" and toning the connective tissue and the extracellular matrix. In case of wounds, it promotes collagen formation and stimulates capillary production, but minimizes the formation of fibrous tissue. It counteracts osteoporosis and the protein degradation of cartilages in case of rheumatoid arthritis. It inhibits (in vitro) some proteolytic enzymes of the extracellular matrix (elastase, collagenase) [Bourgeois].
Nettle (aerial parts) counteracts skin disorders that manifest themselves with raised red patches (wheals) that cause burning and / or itching (urticaria, insect bites, cold sores, etc.). It is a good vulnerary, promoting the correct healing of wounds.
Differences between the various species of nettle
The different species of nettle have roughly the same effects, so they can be used almost interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences in action.
For example, according to Dewitte and Leunis, Urtica dioica and Urtica urens have more or less the same properties, although the former, with a hyper-βγ-, hyper-γ- and hypo-γ-eu-globulin profile, it is indicated in the fibrosis and disorganization phases, while the second, with a less advanced profile, is indicated in the reaction, deposition and fibrosis phases [DewLeunis].
According to John Gerard, of all the (European) species of nettle, the most effective in therapy is the Roman nettle ( Urtica pilulifera L.) [Gerard].
Method of administration
Nettle can be used as an infusion, decoction, macerated, hydroalcoholic tincture or freeze-dried powder . It can be used as a food.
Contraindications and side effects
Nettle in general is a very well tolerated plant, except for some cases of gastric disturbances.
In some people, drinking a strong infusion of nettle can cause headaches. [HerbRem]
Being a plant of a dry nature, the nettle can accentuate a pre-existing systemic dryness.
As a diuretic it can interfere with diuretic drugs. Dry seed extracts, used for sufficiently long periods of time (> 14 days) can interfere with the plasma level of some drugs.
Citations and Bibliography are on his original blog post.
I'm an Italian chemistry graduate, farmer, herbalist, and a member of the Italian Botanical Society. At present I'm dealing with the comparative study of some major healing systems, like Hippocratic-Galenic medicine, Chinese medicine and Western herbalism, as well as gemmotherapy and homotoxicology. I'm also involved in the recovery of information about the healing properties of autochthonous Italian plants.
Visit Pierluigi on his blog here: http://www.alleanzaverde.com/blog/
To read the original blog post in the website translated version in English or the original Italian, visit:
Herbal Uses of Milky Oats
We are excited to share a series of monographs on the HWB blog. Each monograph is one double-sided page that can be saved or printed. They were designed to be a quick reference, so not every action, dosing strategy, etc. could be covered. The back-side of each monograph lists references that were used and includes sources from respected herbal texts and websites, as well as peer-reviewed journal articles. These references would be an excellent starting point if you’d like to dig deeper. Now, on to the monograph!
Herbal Uses of Milky Oats
As you will see from the monograph below, oat (Avena sativa) is a gentle, nourishing herb that helps support the nervous system. It has a mineral-rich nutrition profile, and is much loved by herbalists as a nervine tonic. In addition to milky oats, oat straw is also used in herbalism.
Learn more about the herbal uses of milky oats by downloading the printable monograph below.
More Printable Resources for Herbalists
These monograph references were designed by HWB’s Handouts Coordinator, Janelle Farkas. Janelle is also Chapter Coordinator for HWB NEPA. Becoming a member of Herbalists Without Borders is a great way to connect with or start an Herbalists Without Borders chapter of your own!
Our chapter members support health justice and community resiliency with herbalism through a variety of unique projects and activities. HWB members also receive access to over 800 printables and eGuides on a wide range of herbalism and community wellness topics. Learn more about member benefits and join today! We look forward to growing together.
Hi, all! Starting with the fun stuff in introductions is, well, more fun! You'll find me outdoors whenever possible - biking, hiking, camping, music festivals…the list goes on. I also enjoy yoga, cooking, cuddling my cats, and learning. Managing the number of herbal courses and webinars I take at one time is an exercise in discipline! My road to herbs started, as it does for many people, during a time of personal struggle. I tried to address it at a physical level through yoga, which led me to acupuncture, and then herbs. Somewhere along the way I found the courage to face the fact that the root cause was emotional; though yoga/acupuncture/herbs could help, I would have to do the work to move forward. I came away from the experience stronger, happier, and with a deep appreciation for plants. The rest is history, as the saying goes, and I'm currently preparing to launch my herbal practice.
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In Episode 5, HWB Executive Director Denise Cusack speaks with Leslie Alexander about Dental Herbalism. Find out more about herbs that support oral health, including oral health in herbal intakes, her top herbal picks for oral care, and more!
Leslie Alexander is a professional herbalist and owner of Restoration Herbs in Erie, PA. Leslie is Registered Herbalist (RH) with the American Herbalists Guild, and is serving her third term on the AHG Council. Leslie is author of the book Dental Herbalism: Natural Therapies for the Mouth, and teaches on this topic throughout the US. She also works with individuals one-on-one, and teaches on any number of topics, including clinical skill development and medicine making.
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We have the pleasure of an article from Pierluigi Campidoglio of HWB Italy - both in English and Italian. Molte grazie, Pierluigi.
Arnica, Calendula, Bellis (Daisy)
Arnica, Calendula and Bellis are three botanical genera belonging to the Asteraceae (or Compositae, old name) family. Asteraceae is one of the two largest genera in Spermatophytae (plants that reproduces through seed), together with Orchidaceae, because these two genera contain the greatest number of species.
Due to the large number of species, the whole family has been subdivided into 13 subfamilies, and several tribes and subtribes. Arnica, Calendula and Bellis belong to the Asteroideae subfamily, and to different tribes. All of them have both ligulate and tubulate florets.
In both phytotherapy and homeopathy, these three genera and the respective most-known species, Arnica montana, Calendula officinalis and Bellis perennis, are probably considered the best remedies for both physical injuries and emotional traumas. According to David Little, the homeopathic remedies from Asteraceae can be divided into four groups (Arnica, Chamomilla, Cina and Wyethia) basing upon similarities in modes of action. The whole Arnica group (comprising the remedies Arnica, Brachyglottis, Bellis perennis, Eupatorium aromaticum, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Eupatorium purpureum, Calendula, Erechtites, Erigeron, Echinacea, Gnaphalium, Guaco, Lappa, Millefolium, Senecio aureus) is characterized by traumas, hemorrhages, septic states, arthritic and rheumatic diathesis and urinary concomitants (see [Vermeulen]).
Bellis perennis has never gained the same popularity as Arnica montana and Calendula officinalis, which are used every time a little or big trauma occurs, but the “humble” Daisy is indeed a quite powerful remedy that can be used more or less interchangeably with the other two, even though some differences obviously exist. In the first instance, we can describe Bellis perennis as a deeper-acting Arnica with some broader indications.
Before going on, let’s have a look at what the ancient authors say about these three plants.
John Gerard [Gerard] tells about the “little daisies” (or “lesser daisies”):
“The lesser Daisies are cold and moist, being moist in the end of the second degree, and cold in the beginning of the same.
The Daisies do mitigate all kinde of paines, but especially in the joints, and gout proceeding from an hot and dry humor, if they be stamped with new butter unsalted, and applied upon the pained place: but they worke more effectually if Mallowes be added thereto.
The leaves of Daisies used amongst other pot-herbs, do make the belly soluble; and they are also put into Clysters with good successe, in hot burning feuers, and against the inflammation of the intestines.
The juice of the leaues and roots snift up into the noshtrils, purgeth the head mightily of foule and filthy slimy humors, and helpeth the megrim.
The same giuen to little dogs with milke, keepeth them from growing great.
The leaues stamped take away bruises and swellings proceeding of some stroke, if they be stamped and laid thereon; whereupon it was called in old times Bruisewort.
The juice put into the eies cleareth them, and taketh away the watering of them.
The decoction of the field Daisie (which is the best for physicks use) made in water and drunke, is good against agues, inflammation of the liuer and all other inward parts.”
Culpeper [Culpeper] writes about the greater wild daisy (Leucanthemum) and the small daisy (Bellis) in the same paragraph:
“[The Daisies] are so well known almost to every child, that I suppose it needless to write any description of them. Take therefore the virtues of them as followeth.
Government and virtues. The herb is under the sign Cancer, and under the dominion of Venus, and therefore excellent good for wounds in the breast, and very fitting to be kept both in oils, ointments, and plaisters, as also in syrup. The greater wild daisy is a wound-herb of good respect, often used in those drinks or salves that are for wounds, either inward or outward. The juice or distilled water of these, or the small daisy, doth much temper the heat of choler, and refresh the liver, and the other inward parts. A decoction made of them, and drunk, helpeth to cure the wounds made in the hollowness of the breast. The same also cureth all ulcers and pustules in the mouth or tongue, or in the secret parts. The leaves bruised and applied to the scrotum, or to any other parts that are swollen and hot, doth dissolve it, and temper the heat. A decoction made thereof, of wallwort and agrimony, and the places fomented or bathed therewith warm, giveth great ease to them that are troubled with the palsy, sciatica, or the gout. The same also disperseth and dissolveth the knots or kernels that grow in the flesh of any part of the body, and bruises and hurts that come of falls and blows; they are also used for ruptures, and other inward burstings, with very good success. An ointment made thereof doth wonderfully help all wounds that have inflammations about them, or by reason of moist humours having access unto them, are kept long from healing, and such are those, for the most part, that happen to joints of the arms or legs. The juice of them dropped into the running eyes of any, doth much help them.”
“Bellis is a group of different types of plants, and it consists of three species, that is, major, minor and medium. […] Moderns commend all these species for scrofula, for wounds on the head, and similarly to soak up the bandages that are put upon the wounds of the chest that penetrate into the concavities of the thorax. The leaves, chewed, heal the ulcerated pustules of the mouth and of the tongue, and pounded and applied on the genital parts, heal their inflammations. The fresh herb eaten in salad soften the bowels, and the same does it when it is eaten cooked in meat broth. Someone uses Bellis for palsied, and also for sciatica.” [Mattioli]
“The floure of the Marigold is of temperature hot, almost in the second degree, especially when it is dry: it is thought to strengthen and comfort the heart very much, and also to withstand poyson, as also to be good against pestilent Agues, being taken any way. Fuchsius hath written, That being drunke with wine it bringeth downe the termes, and the fume thereof expelleth the secondine or after-birth.
But the leaues of the herb are hotter; for there is in them a certaine biting, but by reason of the moisture joyned with it, it doth not by and by shew it selfe; by meanes of which moisture they mollifie the belly, and procure solublenesse if it be used as a pot-herbe.
Fuchsius writeth, That if the mouth be washed with the juyce it helpeth the toot-ache.
The floures and leaues of Marigolds being distilled, and the water dropped into red and watery eies, ceaseth the inflammation, and taketh away the paine.
Conserue made of the floures and sugar taken in the morning fasting, cureth the trembling of the heart, and is also giuen in time of plague or pestilence, or corruption of the aire.
The yellow leaues of the floures are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against Winter, to put into broths, in Physicall potions, and for diuers other purposes, in such quantity, that in some Grocers or Spice-sellers houses are to be found barrels filled with them, and retailed by the penny more or lesse, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigolds.” [Gerard]
“[Marigolds] being so plentiful in every garden, and so well known that they need no description.
Time. They flower all the Summer long, and sometimes in Winter, if it be mild.
Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun, and under Leo. They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron. The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it. The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog’s-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not.” [Culpeper]
“Some of the moderns affirm that Marigold […] is the Caltha of Virgil and Pliny, basing only upon the golden color of its perpetual flowers. […] In Tuscany we eat it in salads. Caltha warms, thins, opens, digests, and provokes, even if a little astringency can be perceived when tasting it: but it’s well known from the thousands of experiments done by women, that it frankly provokes the menses, and maximally when drinking its juice, or rather eating the herbs for some days. An ounce of the juice, drunk with a dram of pulverized earthworms, heals the jaundice. Someone says that using this herb sharpens the eyesight quite effectually, and it’s well known that the water distilled from the flowered herb heals the redness and the inflammation of the eyes when poured in them, or when applied onto them with some linen cloth. The dried powder applied onto sore teeth proves really profitable.” [Mattioli]
Castore Durante is a little more descriptive:
“QUALITIES. It’s hot and dry, and it’s more suitable to the external parts of the body than to the internal ones; it thins, opens, digests, provokes, even if a little astringency can be perceived when tasting it.
VIRTUES. Internally. It induces the menses, drinking the juice or eating the herb for some days. An ounce of the juice, drunk with a dram of pulverized earthworms, heals the jaundice. The leaves and the flowers are eaten usefully in salad, and, when put into broths, they confer a good smell and taste. This herb is useful in heart troubles, in difficult breathing, and in jaundice. An omelet prepared with the flowers and the tender tops and egg yolk stops the superfluous menses when eaten.
VIRTUES. Externally. The distilled water of its flowers and fronds takes inflammation away from the eyes, when it is instilled in the eyes or applied over them with a cloth, and sharpens the sight and it’s as good as that of blessed thistle and of scabious to the pestiferous diseases, and it’s cordial. The herb heals the wounds. The powder of the flowers, applied with cotton within an aching tooth, takes the pain away. The dried flowers and leaves, when used to fumigate the matrix, provoke the menses marvelously, and expel retained afterbirth. The flowers make the hair blond, when it is boiled in lye.” [Durante]
Arnica montana is now one of the most known medicinal herbs. In classical antiquity, however, it was apparently not well known. It has been cited by Hildegard von Bingen, that called it “Wolfsgelegena”:
“Wolfsgelegena is very hot and has a poisonous heat in it. If a person’s skin has been touched with fresh Arnica, he or she will burn lustily with love for the person who is afterward touched by the same herb. He or she will be so incensed with love, almost infatuated, and will become a foul.” (Physica)
Some scholars have associated Wolfsgelegena with Arnica, because the description in Physica fits the one we know of Arnica, that is, an effective topical remedy for cuts, blisters, rashes, and pain, but some medical historians disagree about whether this was rather a reference to an herb with similar effects. Arnica is cited in the medical texts starting from 15-th century, but it’s only described and painted. At the end of 16-th century, Franz Joe from Göttingen suggests it for the cure of wounds. Even though Arnica has been cultivated in gardens since long, it seems that it has been accepted in pharmacies only about 1788.
More recently, abbot Kneipp wrote about Arnica basing upon its personal experiences, putting it on the top of the list of the wound healing herbs. In his book “Meine wassen-kur” (“My cure with water”), written in 1890, he wrote:
“the tincture of Arnica is so widely known and used for wound healing and in compresses, that I repute unuseful to write any word about it.”
Goethe was used to drink an Arnica infusion when he felt chest pain because of his cardiac insufficiency due to aging.
Since Arnica is not present in classical texts, it’s obviously difficult to know the nature (temperature) traditionally attributed to the plant. Anyhow, despite the uncertainty about the real identity of the plant mentioned by Hildegard von Bingen, Arnica can be likely regarded as “very hot and [with] a poisonous heat in it”, because of its properties (it stimulates the arteriovenous circulation and the cardiac activity; it’s revulsive, when used externally, and cholagogue, diuretic, emmenagogue, and abortive, when used internally), its toxicity and its specific side effects (gastric irritation with nausea and colic, despite the induction of paralysis of nerve centers).
Arnica has an analeptic activity (that is, it stimulates the nervous system) and such activity can be apparent even at homeopathic dilution for some people.
Differences between the plants
Even though it’s true that the three plants are often used interchangeably, especially for traumas and wounds (even septic ones), some important differences exist between them. The first one is easily deduced from the classic authors and is related to the nature (or temperature) of the herbs:
Daisy action is, indeed, more resolutely directed toward sedation of inflammation, of pain and even of histamine-mediated reactions, so that it is particularly suited to “hot” diseases: inflammation, acute pain, redness, swelling (e.g., burns; painful traumas; purulent, hot and painful insect bites). The lack of heat in Daisy makes it not especially apt to “move fluids”: for example, it has not an appreciable emmenagogue activity, nor it is, consequently, abortive. Indeed, though the whole Daisy plant is apparently cold and moist, its flower heads contain a certain degree of heat, so much that they taste slightly pungent. This feature confers the Daisy flowers a certain diffusive and “moving” ability, that makes the action of the whole plant (that is, leaves, flowers and roots together) decidedly more complex (and complete). Daisy too, like Marigold (see below), for instance, can be used for septic wounds.
Marigold is warmer than Daisy, and so its action is decidedly oriented to movement: indeed, it stimulates the movement of both the blood (hence its emmenagogue activity) and the lymph. This is the reason why Calendula has a marked action on sepsis, so much that practice has proved to be effective in even important and difficult-to-treat infections. Its action is mostly due to its ability to act upon tissues and lymph system rather than to a directly antibiotic activity. So, Marigold probably has a greater effectiveness in preventing and treating sepsis and in inducing the menses, while Daisy has a stronger antiphlogistic and pain-relieving action.
Arnica is the hottest of the three plants, so much to prove rather toxic and decidedly abortifacient too.
The different heat degree is also linked to the “deepness” of plant action: since heat tends to superficialize, Arnica has a stronger affinity for the most superficial tissues (i.e., skin, muscles, and blood vessels), while Bellis has a stronger affinity for the deepest ones (chest, abdomen and body cavities). Calendula has an intermediate heat degree and so also its “deepness” of action is intermediate (it has an important effect upon the body fluids).
Another noteworthy difference lays on the plant tropism. Culpeper tells that Daisy is an herb under the sign of Cancer and under the dominion of Venus, while Marigold is under the sign of Leo and the dominion of Sun (unfortunately we have no similar information about Arnica). Even though such statements may appear superstitious remains of a certain medieval astrological influence, in fact they have well defined meanings. The sign Cancer is linked to thorax and stomach, while Leo is linked to the heart (both physical and emotional). Both the astrological signs define the body districts for which the respective remedies have special affinities. The herbs said “under the dominion of Venus” have specific properties: they stimulate tissue regeneration and cellular division and are able to “stem” any martial event (like hemorrhages and inflammations), so that they are vulnerary (that is, able to heal wounds) and demulcent. The herbs under the dominion of Sun act, for instance, upon nervous system and blood circulation. Putting these properties together, some specific features arise: Daisy, for example, has an almost-specific action upon chest wounds, while Marigold supports the heart, both in the circulatory and in the emotional aspects (it has an antidepressant action). Arnica has a firm action upon the cardiac muscle and upon circulation, especially the arterial one, and its effect is so powerful to prove, as already told, toxic.
In the antiquity, smell and, possibly to a greater extent, taste were the most important indicators of the actions of the plants. Indeed, these sensations can provide us with a lot of information about the class of chemical substances contained in the plants and, above all, about the “energetics” of the plants.
Marigold has a decided aromatic and slightly bitter taste, and it’s quite resinous. It’s also slightly salty, sweet, astringent and acrid, but these tastes are less relevant than the former three. Its odor is balsamic and herbaceous (more strongly herbaceous in Calendula officinalis and more balsamic in Calendula arvensis).
Daisy has a faint smell. Only the flower heads, indeed, have a perceptible odor (the leaves have a fugacious flavor that can be perceived only when the plant is chewed) that can be felt neatly only when the flowers are en masse (several flowers together). The taste is decidedly more complex than that of Marigold: Daisy is mucilaginous and has a peculiar taste that make it acrid (because of saponins), acid (probably because of organic acids) and salty at the same time; it’s as if these three tastes combine in a single mouth sensation. Minor tastes are: slightly aromatic (flowers and leaves), bitter (rhizome), sweet (flower and stalk), slightly pungent (root and flower), astringent (rhizome).
Unfortunately, I have never tasted Arnica, so I will abstain from speaking about the organoleptic properties of this plant.
The aromatic and resinous taste of Marigold (stronger in Calendula arvensis than in Calendula officinalis) is clearly warm and hints to the plant ability to warm and “put on movement”. Its bitter component is linked to the herb’s purifying action and, particularly, to its ability to “thin” phlegm (thickened and viscous fluids) possibly stored in tissues and in the digestive system.
The mucilaginous taste of Daisy suggests a demulcent (that is, able to sedate inflammation and to soothe irritated tissues) and diuretic ability. The salty taste indicates that the plant softens tissues; softens phlegm accumulations, “preparing” it for elimination; promotes stool evacuation (softens the fecal mass); “enters the Kidney” (according to TCM), acting, among other things, on the electrolytes metabolism. The acrid taste is due to saponins, and it exerts an action similar to that of salty (also saponin-containing plants soften the tissues and the phlegm), but even stronger. The acid taste suggests the presence of organic acids, that possess a refreshing action and the ability to “quench” the tissutal and metabolic tendencies to inflammation. All these tastes together point at the Daisy’s ability to resolve inflammation and soothe irritated tissues, to promote stool evacuation and diuresis, and to soften indurated tissues and the viscous and stagnating phlegm. The latter properties make the Daisy able to act upon all the body “indurations”, for instance, scrophula, sties, hardened lymph nodes, and even some benign or malignant tumors: some cases are reported in which Daisy exerted an important and decided action upon some forms of cancer (especially of the breast; see, for instance, Dr. J. Compton Burnett in his “Curability of Tumors”).
Both Daisy and Marigold have an important anti-inflammatory effect, but, at this point, we understand that the mechanisms of action are quite different: Marigold, being hot, is able to “put on movement” inflammation, that gets literally moved from tissues and “dispersed” (Marigold was once classified as an “expulsive”, that is, a remedy able to expel disease out from the body); Daisy, instead, “quenches” inflammation and reduces the possible underlying tissutal hyperactivity.
Homeopathy gives us some more interesting information. For instance, Bellis perennis is recommended in those cases when the swelling (of a traumatic origin) doesn’t resolve after using Arnica, or when the injury is specifically due to surgery, that is a “deep” trauma from the tissutal point of view (see for example [HForHealth, Vermeulen2]).
 In fact, Arnica should not be applied onto open wounds, due to a certain risk of inducing skin reactions.
Arnica, Calendula and Bellis sono tre generi botanici appartenenti alla famiglia delle Asteraceae (o Compositae, nomen conservandum), uno dei due generi più numerosi tra le Spermatophytae (piante che si riproducono per seme), insieme alle Orchidaceae.
A causa del gran numero di specie in essa contenute, la famiglia delle Asteraceae è stata suddivisa in 13 sottofamiglie e diverse tribù e sottotribù. Arnica, Calendula e Bellis appartengono alla sottofamiglia delle Asteroideae e a tribù differenti. Tutte hanno flosculi (fiori che compongono l’infiorescenza complessa) sia ligulati sia tubulati.
Questi tre generi e le rispettive specie più conosciute, Arnica montana, Calendula officinalis e Bellis perennis, sono considerate probabilmente i migliori rimedi per i traumi fisici ed emozionali, sia in fitoterapia sia in omeopatia. Secondo David Little, i rimedi omeopatici delle Asteraceae possono essere suddivisi in quattro gruppi (Arnica, Chamomilla, Cina e Wyethia) sulla base delle similitudini nelle modalità di azione. Tutto il gruppo dell’Arnica (che comprende i rimedi Arnica, Brachyglottis, Bellis perennis, Eupatorium aromaticum, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Eupatorium purpureum, Calendula, Erechtites, Erigeron, Echinacea, Gnaphalium, Guaco, Lappa, Millefolium, Senecio aureus) è caratterizzato da traumi, emorragie, stati settici, diatesi artritica e reumatica e co-affezioni urinarie (vedi [Vermeulen]).
Bellis perennis non ha mai guadagnato la stessa popolarità di Arnica montana e Calendula officinalis, che sono usate in ogni caso di trauma, di piccola o grande entità, ma la “umile” margherita è in realtà un rimedio piuttosto potente che può essere usato in maniera più o meno intercambiabile rispetto agli altri due, sebbene ovviamente sussistano delle differenze. In prima battuta, possiamo descrivere Bellis perennis come simile a un’Arnica che agisce più in profondità e che possiede una gamma di indicazioni un po’ più ampia.
Prima di proseguire, diamo un’occhiata a cosa sostenevano gli antichi autori a proposito di queste tre piante.
John Gerard [Gerard], a proposito delle “piccole margherite”, riporta:
“Le Margherite piccole sono fredde ed umide, essendo umide verso la fine del secondo grado, e fredde verso l’inizio dello stesso.
Le Margherite mitigano tutti I tipi di dolore, ma specialmente nelle articolazioni, e nella gotta causata da un umore secco e caldo, se esse vengono schiacciate con un po’ di burro nuovo non salato, e applicate sul posto che duole: ma esse funzionano più efficacemente se è aggiunta della Malva.
Le foglie delle Margherite, cotte insieme ad altre erbe, solvono il ventre; e sono usate anche nei Clisteri con buon successo, nelle febbri ardenti, e contro l’infiammazione dell’intestino.
Il succo delle foglie e delle radici inalato nelle narici, purga potentemente la testa dagli umori maleodoranti, viscidi e corrotti, e aiuta nel mal di testa.
Lo stesso dato ai cani piccoli insieme con latte, impedisce loro di crescere.
Le foglie peste rimuovono i lividi e i gonfiori che procedono da qualche colpo, se esse sono pestate e applicate sopra; da che essa era chiamata nei tempi antichi Bruisewort.
Il succo messo negli occhi li schiarisce, e sana l’eccessiva lacrimazione.
La decozione della Margherita di campo (che è la migliore per l’uso in medicina) fatta in acqua e bevuta, è buona contro la febbre malarica, l’infiammazione del fegato e di tutte le parti interne.”
Culpeper [Culpeper], scrive, a proposito della margherita maggiore (Leucanthemum) e della minore (Bellis), nello stesso paragrafo:
“[Le Margherite] sono così ben conosciute finanche dai bambini, che suppongo sia inutile scrivere alcuna descrizione di esse. Prendi dunque le loro virtù come segue.
Governo e virtù. L’erba è sotto il segno del Cancro, e sotto il dominio di Venere, e quindi è eccellentemente buona per le ferite del petto, e molto adatta ad essere messa negli oli, negli unguenti, negli impiastri e anche negli sciroppi. La Margherita selvatica maggiore è un’erba vulneraria di gran rispetto, spesso usata nelle bevande o negli unguenti preparati per le ferite, sia interne che esterne. Il succo o l’acqua distillata di esse, o delle margherite minori, modera molto il calore della collera, e rinfresca il fegato, e le altre parti interne. Un decotto fatto con esse, e bevuto, aiuta a curare le ferite fatte nelle cavità del petto. Lo stesso cura anche tutte le ulcere e le pustole della bocca e della lingua, o delle parti segrete. Le foglie contuse ed applicate allo scroto, o a qualunque parte che sia gonfia e calda, lo risolve, e modera il calore. Una decozione preparata con esse, con erba di muro e agrimonia, e fomentando o bagnando i posti con essa calda, conferisce gran sollievo a coloro che sono affetti da paralisi, sciatica, o gotta. La stessa disperde anche e dissolve i noduli o i nòccioli che crescono nella carne di qualunque parte del corpo, e i lividi e le ferite che vengono da cadute o percosse; esse sono usate per le ernie, o altre aperture interne, con gran successo. Un unguento preparato con esse aiuta meravigliosamente tutte le ferite che siano infiammate intorno, o che, a causa di umori umidi, non riescono a guarire da tempo e tali sono quelle, per la maggior parte, che si verificano alle articolazioni delle braccia o delle gambe. Il loro succo instillato negli occhi che lacrimano di chiunque, li aiuta molto.”
Il Mattioli scrive:
“È il Bellis di più, e varie, sorti, che tre sono le distinzioni delle sue spezie, cioè maggiore, minore, e mezzano. […] Lodano tutte queste spezie i moderni per le scrofole, per le ferite della testa, e parimente per le bande delle ferite cassali penetranti nella concavità del petto. Le foglie masticate sanano le pustule ulcerate della bocca, e della lingua, e peste, e applicate le infiammazioni delle membra genitali. L’erba fresca mangiata nell’insalata, mollifica il corpo stitico, e il medesimo fa ella mangiata cotta nel brodo delle carni. Usanle alcune ai paralitici, e parimente nelle sciatiche.” [Mattioli]
 Erba da lividi.
“I fiori della Calendula sono di temperature calda, quasi nel secondo grado, specialmente quando sono secchi: sono ritenuti capaci di rafforzare e confortare molto il cuore, e anche di resistere ai veleni, ed anche di essere buoni contro le febbri malariche pestilenziali, comunque vengano assunti. Fuchsius ha scritto, Che bevuti col vino provocano i mestrui, e il loro fumo espelle le secondine.
Ma le foglie dell’erba sono più calde; poiché in esse c’è alquanta mordacità, ma a causa dell’umidità congiunta ad essa, essa non si mostra neanche poco a poco; a causa di tale umidità essi mollificano il corpo, e lo solvono se sono mangiate cotte.
Fuchsius scrive, Che se la bocca è lavata col succo aiuta nel mal di denti.
I fiori e le foglie della Calendula distillati, e l’acqua instillata negli occhi arrossati e lacrimosi, fa cessare l’infiammazione, ed elimina il dolore.
La conserva preparata con i fiori e lo zucchero presa a digiuno al mattino, cura il tremolio del cuore, ed è anche data in tempo di peste o pestilenza, o corruzione dell’aria.
Le foglie gialle dei fiori sono seccate e conservate in tutta l’Olanda contro l’Inverno, da mettere nei brodi, nelle pozioni mediche, e per diversi altri scopi, in tale quantità, che in alcune drogherie o rivendite di spezie si ritrovano barili pieni di essi, e sono venduti più o meno al costo di un penny, dimodoché nessun brodo è ben fatto senza le Calendule essiccate.” [Gerard]
“[Le Calendule] sono così diffuse in ogni giardino, e così ben conosciute che non hanno bisogno di alcuna descrizione.
Tempo. Fioriscono per tutta l’Estate, e talvolta anche in Inverno, se è mite.
Governo e virtù. È un’erba del Sole, e sotto il Leone. Esse rafforzano fortemente il cuore, e sono molto espulsive, e appena un po’ meno efficaci dello zafferano nel vaiolo e nel morbillo. Il succo delle foglie di Calendula mischiato con aceto, e bagnando qualunque rigonfiamento caldo con esso, dà istantaneamente sollievo, e lo allevia. I fiori, sia freschi che secchi, sono molto usati nei posset, nei brodi, e nelle bevande, per confortare il cuore e gli spiriti, e per espellere qualsivoglia qualità maligna e pestilenziale che possa dar loro noia. Un impiastro fatto con la polvere dei fiori secchi, strutto, trementina, e colofonia, applicato sul petto, rafforza e aiuta il cuore infinitamente nelle febbri, siano esse pestilenziali o meno.” [Culpeper]
“Vogliono alcuni dei moderni, che la Calendola [...] sia la Calta di Virgilio, e di Plinio, fondandosi solamente nell’aureo colore de’ suoi perpetui fiori. [...] Noi in Toscana la mangiamo nell’insalata. Scalda la Calta, assottiglia, apre, digerisce, e provoca, quantunque nel gustarla vi si senta alquanto del costrettivo: ma è cosa notoria per mille sperimenti fatti dalle donne, che provoca ella apertamente i mestrui, e massimamente bevutone il succo; ovvero mangiata l’Erba alquanti giorni continui. Il succo bevuto al peso d’un’oncia, con una dramma di polvere di Lombrichi terrestri, guarisce il trabocco di fiele. Sono alcuni, che dicono, che l’uso di quest’erba acuisce non di poco la vista: ma è ben cosa chiara, che l’acqua lambiccata dall’erba fiorita guarisce il rossore, e l’infiammazioni degli occhi distillandovisi dentro, o applicandovi sopra colle pezzette di tela di Lino. La polvere della secca messa sopra i denti che dogliono, vi conferisce assai. [alla voce: Eliotropio]” [Mattioli]
Castore Durante è leggermente più dettagliato:
“QVALITA’. È calda, & secca, & si conuien più alle parti esterne del corpo, che all’interne: assottiglia, apre, digerisce, prouoca, quantunque nel gustarla si senta c’habbia alquanto del costrettiuo.
VIRTV’. Di dentro. Prouoca i mestrui bevendosi il succhio, ouero mangiata l’herba alquanti giorni continui. Il succo beuuto al peso d’vn oncia con vna dramma di poluere di lumbrici terrestri guarisce il trabocco del fiele. Mangiasi le foglie, e i fiori vtilmente nelle insalate, & messi ne i brodi da lor buon odore, & sapore. Conferisce quest’herba ne gli affetti del cuore, nelle difficultà del respirare, & nel trabocco del fiele. Fassi dei fiori, & delle cime tenere con rosso d’ouo vna frittata, che mangiata ferma i mestrui superflui.
VIRTV’. Di fuori. L’ACQUA stillata dalli suoi fiori, & frondi leua l’infiammation de gli occhi istillatavi dentro, ò con vna pezzetta applicata, & assottiglia la vista & vale come quella del cardo santo, & della scabiosa à i mali pestiferi, & è cordiale. Sana l’herba le ferite. La poluere de i fiori messa con bambagio nel dente ne leua il dolore. I fiori & le foglie secche facendone perfumo alla natura prouocano merauigliosamente i mestrui, & le secondine ritenute nel parto. Il fiore fà i capelli flaui, facendolo bollir nella liscia.” [alla voce: CALTHA] [Durante]
Arnica montana è attualmente una delle erbe più note, ma nell’antichità sembra che fosse molto poco conosciuta. È stata citata da Hildegard von Bingen, che l’ha chiamata “Wolfsgelegena”:
“Wolfsgelegena è molto calda e possiede un calore velenoso in essa. Se la pelle di una persona è stata toccata con l’Arnica fresca, lui o lei arderà fortemente d’amore per la persona che successivamente venga toccata dalla stessa erba. Lui o lei sarà così acceso d’amore, quasi [da essere] infatuato, e impazzirà.” (Physica)
Alcuni autori hanno associato la Wolfsgelegena all’Arnica, dato che la descrizione in Physica si adatta perfettamente a quello che sappiamo oggi dell’Arnica e, cioè, che è un rimedio topico efficace per tagli, bolle, eruzioni cutanee, e dolore, ma alcuni storici della medicina non sono certi della corrispondenza con l’Arnica o piuttosto con un’altra erba con effetti simili. L’Arnica appare citata nei testi medici solo a partire dal XV secolo, ma viene solo descritta e rappresentata. Alla fine del 1500 venne segnalata per la cura delle ferite e fu consigliata in ambito medico solo verso la fine del XVI secolo da Franz Joe di Gottinga. Benché l’Arnica fosse coltivata da tempo nei giardini, sembra che sia stata accettata nelle farmacie soltanto attorno al 1788.
In un periodo più recente, l’abate Kneipp si è espresso riguardo all’Arnica in base alle sue esperienze personali, mettendo la pianta in cima alla lista delle piante curative per la guarigione delle ferite. Nel suo libro “Meine wassen-kur” (“La mia cura con l’acqua”) del 1890 si può leggere:
“la tintura di Arnica è talmente conosciuta dovunque e usata per la cura delle ferite e in compresse […], che non mi sembra necessario spendere alcuna parola su di essa”.
Goethe beveva un infuso di Arnica quando avvertiva dolori al petto, dovuti all’insufficienza cardiaca legata all’età.
A causa della mancanza di riferimenti nei testi classici di medicina ippocratico-galenica, è difficile sapere quale fosse la natura (temperatura) tradizionalmente attribuita all’Arnica. Nonostante le incertezze sulla reale identità della pianta menzionata da Hildegard von Bingen, è verosimile che l’Arnica sia realmente “molto calda e con un calore velenoso”, date le sue proprietà (capacità di stimolazione della circolazione artero-venosa e dell’attività cardiaca; attività revulsiva, per uso esterno, e colagoga, diuretica, emmenagoga e, ad alte dosi, abortiva, per uso interno), la sua tossicità e i suoi specifici effetti collaterali (irritazione a livello gastrico con nausea e coliche, nonostante l’induzione di paralisi dei centri nervosi).
L’Arnica ha una attività analettica (ossia stimolante del sistema nervoso) e tale attività si può manifestare, in alcuni soggetti, anche alle diluizioni omeopatiche.
Differenze d’azioneSe è vero che tutte e tre le piante sono utilizzate in maniera spesso interscambiabile, specialmente in caso di traumi e ferite (anche settiche), esistono tuttavia tra di loro delle differenze abbastanza importanti. La prima differenza appare evidente dagli scritti degli autori classici ed è relativa alla natura (o temperatura) delle tre erbe:
La Margherita ha un’azione più decisamente rivolta alla sedazione dell’infiammazione, del dolore e anche delle reazioni di tipo istaminico, per cui è particolarmente adatta ai disturbi di tipo “caldo”: infiammazione, dolore acuto, rossore, gonfiore (es., scottature, traumi dolenti, pizzichi di insetto anche con iper-reazione). La mancanza di calore nella Margherita non la rende particolarmente atta a “muovere i liquidi”: essa non ha, ad esempio, apprezzabile attività emmenagoga, né, di conseguenza abortiva. In realtà, se è vero che la pianta della Margherita è decisamente fredda ed umida, i suoi capolini contengono un certo grado di calore, tanto da risultare leggermente piccanti (ma non brucianti) al gusto. Questa proprietà conferisce ai capolini di Margherita una certa capacità diffusiva e di movimento, che rende assolutamente più complessa (e completa) l’azione della pianta quando sia usata in toto, cioè in foglia, fiore e radice insieme. Anche la Margherita, come la Calendula (v. oltre), ad esempio, può essere usata in caso di ferite settiche.
La Calendula è, come già detto, più calda della Margherita e pertanto la sua azione è decisamente più “improntata” al movimento: essa stimola, infatti, il movimento sia del sangue (da qui la sua capacità emmenagoga) sia, in maniera marcata, della linfa. Da ciò deriva che la Calendula ha un’azione importante sulla sepsi, tanto che la pratica ha mostrato la sua efficacia nel trattare anche infezioni piuttosto importanti o difficili da eradicare. La sua azione in tal senso è più da imputare alla sua capacità di agire sui tessuti e sul sistema linfatico che su una attività direttamente antibiotica. Quindi la Calendula ha probabilmente una maggior efficacia nel prevenire e curare la sepsi e nello stimolare le mestruazioni, mentre la Margherita ha un’azione antiflogistica e antidolorifica più decisa.
L’Arnica è la più calda delle tre, tanto da risultare piuttosto tossica e anche decisamente abortiva.
Al diverso grado di calore è associata anche la “profondità” di azione delle piante: siccome il calore tende a superficializzare, l’Arnica ha una affinità maggiore per i tessuti più superficiali (pelle, muscoli e vasi sanguigni), mentre la Margherita ha un’affinità maggiore per quelli più profondi (petto, addome e cavità corporee). La Calendula ha un grado di Calore intermedio e, quindi, intermedia è anche la sua profondità di azione (infatti ha un effetto importante sui liquidi corporei).
Un’altra differenza degna di nota sta nel tropismo delle piante. Culpeper sostiene che la Margherita è un’erba sotto il segno del Cancro e sotto il dominio di Venere, mentre la Calendula è sotto il segno del Leone e il dominio del Sole. Purtroppo, non abbiamo menzioni rispetto all’Arnica. Sebbene tali affermazioni possano sembrare superstiziose vestigia di una certa influenza astrologica medievale, in realtà hanno dei significati ben precisi. Il segno del Cancro è legato al torace e allo stomaco, mentre il Leone al cuore (sia fisico che inteso come “centro” emozionale). Entrambi i segni astrologici indicano i distretti corporei per i quali i rispettivi rimedi presentano particolare affinità. Le erbe considerate “sotto il dominio di Venere” hanno specifiche attività: stimolano la rigenerazione tissutale e la moltiplicazione cellulare e sono capaci di “contenere” le manifestazioni di tipo marziale (come le emorragie e le infiammazioni), per cui risultano vulnerarie (capaci, cioè, di sanare le ferite) e demulcenti. Le erbe sotto il dominio del Sole agiscono, ad esempio, sul sistema nervoso e sulla circolazione del sangue. Mettendo insieme queste proprietà, vengono fuori caratteristiche peculiari per ciascuna delle piante: la Margherita, ad esempio, ha un effetto quasi specifico rispetto alle “ferite cassali” (ossia del petto), mentre la Calendula sostiene il cuore, sia nell’aspetto circolatorio sia in quello emozionale (ha attività antidepressiva). L’Arnica ha un’azione decisa sul muscolo cardiaco e sulla circolazione, specialmente arteriosa, e il suo effetto è tanto potente da risultare, come già detto, tossica.
Nell’antichità, tra gli indicatori principali delle azioni delle piante figuravano l’odore e, in misura forse maggiore, il sapore. Effettivamente queste sensazioni sono in grado di fornirci informazioni sulle sostanze contenute nelle erbe e soprattutto sulla “energetica” della pianta.
La Calendula è una pianta dal sapore decisamente aromatico e amaro ed inoltre è fortemente resinosa. È anche leggermente salata, dolce, astringente e acre, ma questi sapori sono meno importanti dei primi tre. Il suo profumo è balsamico ed erbaceo (più erbaceo nella Calendula officinalis e più balsamico nella Calendula arvensis).
La Margherita ha un profumo molto delicato: in realtà solo i capolini hanno un odore decisamente percettibile (le foglie hanno un aroma fugace che si avverte solo all’assaggio) e comunque si riesce ad apprezzarlo in maniera netta solo quando i fiori sono en masse (parecchi fiori insieme). Il sapore è decisamente più complesso di quello della calendula: la Margherita è mucillaginosa e ha un sapore peculiare che la fa risultare contemporaneamente acre (per saponine), acido (probabilmente per acidi organici) e salino; è un po’ come se questi tre ultimi sapori si fondessero a dare un’unica sensazione. Sapori minori sono: leggermente aromatico (fiori e foglie), amaro (rizoma), dolce (fiore e stelo), leggermente pungente (radice e fiore), astringente (rizoma).
Non avendo mai avuto la possibilità di assaggiare l’Arnica, non parlerò del suo sapore.
Il sapore aromatico e resinoso della Calendula (che è decisamente più forte nella Calendula arvensis, rispetto alla Calendula officinalis) è chiaramente caldo ed è un forte indicatore della capacità di questa pianta di riscaldare e mettere in movimento. La sua componente amara è invece legata alla sua capacità di purificare l’organismo e, in maniera particolare, di “assottigliare” la flemma (liquidi ispessiti e viscosi) eventualmente presente nei tessuti e nell’apparato digerente.
Il mucillaginoso della Margherita ne indica la capacità demulcente (ossia, sedativa delle infiammazioni ed emolliente per i tessuti, specialmente se irritati) oltre che diuretica. Il sapore salino indica la capacità della pianta di: ammorbidire i tessuti; ammorbidire i depositi di flemma preparandoli per l’eliminazione; favorire l’evacuazione delle feci (ammorbidisce la massa fecale); “entrare nei Reni” (secondo la MTC), agendo, tra l’altro, sul metabolismo degli elettroliti. Il sapore acre indica la presenza di saponine, che hanno un’azione per certi versi simile a quella del salato (anche le piante con saponine ammorbidiscono i tessuti e i depositi di flemma), ma lo fanno in maniera decisamente più intensa. Il sapore acido indica la presenza di acidi organici, che hanno un’azione rinfrescante e che sono capaci di “sedare” la tendenza infiammatoria tissutale e metabolica. Insieme, tutti questi sapori indicano la capacità della margherita di spegnere le infiammazioni e di lenire i tessuti irritati, di favorire l’evacuazione delle feci e la diuresi e di ammorbidire i tessuti induriti e la flemma viscosa e stagnante. Quest’ultima proprietà la rende capace di agire su tutti gli “indurimenti” corporei, tra cui scrofole, orzaioli, linfonodi induriti e addirittura alcune neoplasie, benigne o maligne: in letteratura sono riportati casi di azione importante e decisa su alcuni casi di cancro (soprattutto mammario; v., ad esempio, il Dr. J. Compton Burnett nel suo “Curability of Tumors”).
Entrambe le piante hanno una importante capacità antinfiammatoria. Da quanto appena esposto, si evince che però il meccanismo d’azione è differente: la Calendula, essendo calda, ha la capacità di “mettere in movimento” e questo lo fa anche con l’infiammazione, che viene letteralmente spostata dai tessuti e “dispersa” (la Calendula veniva addirittura classificata come “espulsiva”, cioè capace di espellere le malattie verso l’esterno del corpo); la Margherita, invece, “spegne” l’infiammazione e riduce l’eventuale sottostante iperattività tissutale.
Anche l’omeopatia, infine, ci dà alcune informazioni interessanti. Ad esempio, Bellis perennis viene suggerita nei casi in cui il gonfiore causato da un trauma permane anche dopo l’uso di Arnica, oppure nel caso in cui il trauma sia dovuto specificamente ad una operazione chirurgica, quindi un trauma “profondo” dal punto di vista tissutale (v. ad esempio [HForHealth, Vermeulen2]).
 In realtà, l’uso di Arnica sulle ferite aperte è da evitare perché può produrre reazioni cutanee.
[Culpeper] Culpeper’s “Complete Herbal” (1653 & other editions)
[Durante] Castore Durante, “Herbario nuovo” (1667)
[Gerard] John Gerard, “The herball, or, Generall historie of plantes” (1636 & other editions)
[Mattioli] Pietro Andrea Mattioli, “Discorsi di M. Pietro Andrea Mattioli sanese, medico cesareo, ne’ sei libri di Pedacio Doscoride Anazarbeo della materia Medicinale” (1746)
[Vermeulen] Frans Vermeulen, “Plants – Homeopathic and Medicinal uses from a Botanical Family Perspective”, Saltire Books (2011)
[Vermeulen2] Frans Vermeulen, "The New Synoptic One", Emryss (2004);
(Italiano) Frans Vermeulen, “Materia Medica Omeopatica Sinottica”, Ed. Salus Infirmorum (2007)
Pierluigi Campidoglio of HWB Italy: I'm a chemist, a farmer (I grow veggies, aromatic and medicinal plants) and a herbalist. After the graduation in chemistry (2000), I've been studying massage, naturopathy and traditional chinese medicine (theory, chinese massage AnMo-TuiNa, moxibustion, acupuncture, cupping, shiatsu, ...) from 2005 to 2011. After that, I have kept studying, focusing mostly on homeopathy, nutritional therapy, herbalism (especially traditional chinese phytotherapy and traditional mediterranean herbalism) and crystal healing. I've finally obtained my herbalist and phytotherapist diploma in 2016.
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