Rhodiola rosea (Arctic root, Rose root)

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that raises serotonin and dopamine levels. It improves transport of tryptophan and 5HTP, which the body uses to make serotonin, into the brain and also acts as an MAO inhibitor. MAO inhibitors inhibit the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine. Studies have shown that rhodiola can increase serotonin levels in the brain by up to 30%. This means that it has an antidepressant action, lifting mood and reducing fatigue. It can also improve cognitive (mental) function, attention span, memory and alertness. It may help with post-viral recovery. Those who take antidepressants or antipsychotics should seek medical advice before taking rhodiola as they may interact dangerously. Along with eleutherococcus, it has been extensively studied by the Russians in their search for adaptogens to improve performance and endurance, both physical and mental. Rhodiola increases muscle energy both during and after exercise and so improves recovery time. I think of rhodiola as a slightly stimulating antidepressant whereas hypericum (St John’s Wort) is more of a relaxing antidepressant, so a good routine might be to take rhodiola in the morning and hypericum in the evening.

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Beat those Biting Bugs

There are various natural options for repelling biting insects such as mosquitoes and midges that can be such a nuisance in summer.

Vitamin B1

In my experience Vitamin B1 is effective for many people at preventing mosquito bites, when taken in a dose of 100mg once or twice a day. This is safe for adults but not for children. It may take up to 2 weeks to have its full effect. It makes the skin unpalatable to the mosquito. Vitamin B1 can be bought on its own or in a B complex supplement.  It is important to maintain the balance between the different B vitamins in the body so vitamin B1 should not be taken on its own long term, especially in high doses, so it is best to limit it to the summer or holiday season, or take in a complex.

Garlic

Garlic works in a similar way to Vitamin B1 by preventing insects from biting due to its taste.

Neem

Neem is an Indian remedy used as a nit treatment and insect repellent. Insects dislike both the smell and the taste of it. It is also beneficial to dry skin, is antibacterial and antifungal.

Citronella

Citronella is well known as an insect repellent and citronella candles are popular to leave burning out of doors to repel insects. It gives a pleasant lemony scent. It is also sold as a pure essential oil, which should be diluted in a carrier oil before applying to skin.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus oil may be more effective than citronella at repelling insects. It can be combined with citronella in a carrier oil at a dilution of no more than 10 drops combined essential oil per 15ml carrier oil. Keep away from eyes and delicate areas and test on a small patch of skin first in case of sensitivity.

Losing Weight

I am frequently asked for advice about losing weight. There are many herbal weight loss products on the market, most of which are designed to speed up the metabolism and burn energy faster, containing herbs such as guarana and ginseng, or possibly even caffeine. Guarana and ginseng are generally safe herbs that have a gently stimulating effect and are preferable to caffeine. They may help you to feel more energetic and inclined to exercise. If these products are well designed, of good quality and used in combination with diet and exercise, they can help but it is often a short term solution as far as weight loss is concerned, and they are not suitable for everyone. Their stimulating effects may be aggravating to conditions such as heart arrythmias or an overactive thyroid and they are not recommended while breastfeeding.

Some natural supplements, such as acai berry, are popular and have much anecdotal evidence (i.e. people have said it worked for them) but there is little research yet to back up claims or to explain mechanism of action.

An alternative approach is to focus on detoxification, through the use of liver herbs and colon cleansers. Milk thistle is a popular herbal remedy that acts on the liver. It is a liver cleanser, but also it encourages the regrowth of healthy liver cells. One of the liver’s many tasks is to cleanse the blood of toxins. If toxins remain in the blood the body may bind them up in fat cells to protect the vital organs from damage. This makes it difficult to lose weight or may be a reason for putting weight back on after losing it, as the fat cells are needed to store the toxins that are not being removed. Other liver cleansing herbs include dandelion root and globe artichoke.

Detoxifying herbs often have a bitter taste. This taste activates a nerve reflex that stimulates digestive processes such as peristalsis (the wave of muscle contraction that keeps food and waste moving through the digestive tract at a healthy speed). Bitter herbs can help to relieve constipation and this is an important factor in detoxification. They also encourage the release of digestive enzymes and bile that are needed for proper digestion of nutrients and breakdown of fats. Liquorice is a bitter herb with a laxative effect. It is good for people with adrenal exhaustion as it is an adrenal tonic but if taken in excess it can cause sodium retention, which leads to fluid retention, so it is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, unless taken in the form deglycyrrhized liquorice or DGL, which does not have this side effect. Senna is popularly used as a laxative or colon cleansing herb and is particularly helpful for those with stubborn constipation, but it can be quite strong acting and in some people may cause griping. It is best used in a short term detox course to avoid the bowels becoming dependent on it. Another bitter herb used in colon cleansing is aloe vera, which is also healing to the tissues lining the digestive system and can help relieve acid reflux (heartburn).

Probiotics, our friendly gut bacteria, help to keep bowels healthy and enable us to get the most nutrients from our food, to keep the metabolism working at its best. When buying probiotics check that the label says they are guaranteed to survive stomach acid. The probiotics in yogurt and yogurt drinks do not always survive past the stomach, although the yogurt does help to create the right environment in the gut to encourage the growth of your own bacteria. Probiotics are included in some colon cleanse products.

These different approaches may be combined together for best effect, alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is important to be frequently active throughout the day. This does not have to be high intensity exercise, but frequent gentle activity and avoiding extended periods of sitting can help to stabilize blood sugar and keep the muscles burning fat. If you have a sedentary occupation, even pacing around the room when you have the opportunity can make a difference.

Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita)

There are two sorts of chamomile commonly used medicinally. Chamomilla recutita (previously called Matricaria recutita) or German Chamomile is the one I prefer to use. Chamaemelum nobilis, also called Anthemis nobilis or Roman Chamomile is a little more bitter and is the one traditionally used for chamomile lawns. The flower is the part used. Chamomile is a very versatile remedy with many uses. It is an herb always worth having in your cupboard. Teabags or loose dried flowers should be kept dry and cool, in the dark, preferably in an airtight container, to keep them as fresh as possible, as some of the medicinal properties of chamomile are due to its content of volatile oils, which can easily evaporate if not stored correctly.
Chamomile is generally a safe remedy for adults, babies and children. It has a long history of safe use generally and during pregnancy, is compatible with breastfeeding (Mills and Bone 2005) and is traditionally used for children. There have been no known cases of over dosage, according to Mills and Bone (2005), although dosage should be adjusted for children according to body weight. In my experience excessive doses can cause mild diarrhoea in children. Some people are allergic to it, although this is extremely rare. Allergic reaction is more likely to occur with Roman Chamomile, and in people who are known to be allergic to other members of the Compositae or Asteraceae (Daisy) family of plants.
Chamomile is relaxing to the nervous system and the digestive system. It can help to resolve inflammation and heal skin conditions and ulcers. It can be used to treat allergies and is mildly antimicrobial.
It is frequently my first herb of choice for babies and young children. It can be used for pain, tension and irritability. Traditionally it is used for many problems of babyhood, such as teething, sleep problems, colic and earache, and externally for cradle cap, and is an effective calming remedy for unsettled babies that are fussing and whining.
Chamomile can be used to relieve allergies, such as hay fever, asthma and externally for eczema. To relieve hay fever and asthma symptoms you can take it internally or use a strong tea just for inhaling by placing it in an uncovered bowl in a safe place in the room. If the baby is in a cot, the bowl can be placed under the cot and the vapours will rise so baby can breathe them in. In clinical trials chamomile cream has been found to be effective in treating eczema and dermatitis, comparable to hydrocortisone cream (Mills and Bone 2000). Chamomile is also used to treat wounds and varicose ulcers.
Chamomile is useful in infections. As it is relaxing, it soothes aches and pains and encourages restful sleep. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic and is active against bacteria and thrush (McIntyre 1994). Chamomilla recutita also stimulates the immune system by enhancing phagocytosis by 31% (Hoffman 2003). Phagocytosis is a process by which certain white blood cells engulf and destroy infectious micro-organisms.