Spring at Dilston Physic Garden

A spring morning at Dilston Physic Garden – a 3 minute video by photographer David Taylor

Thyme – Plant of the Day

Grow Your Own Physic Garden: Use medicinal plants grounded in science

Science is now providing the evidence to show just how effective plant medicine is. In our new book we aim to help you to grow and use safe plants to treat many common ailments. When used correctly plant medicine is safe, effective and has other health benefits.

There are many plants that we can take regularly as beneficial foods which help boost and protect body and mind. These plants contain important compounds (like polyphenols and flavonoids which plants use in their environment) to help protect against oxidation, inflammation, cancer and bacterial and viral infection. And plants contain compounds which enhance the mind too – we can take a cup of calming chamomile tea to help relieve stress, or drink a cup of sage tea to help protect the brain and boost memory anytime.

But if we want to treat a medical condition, and treat that condition effectively, its all about taking a dose and combination of plant medicine that is tailored to our specific and holistic needs. That’s why we always say to treat a medical condition first consult a NIMH registered medical herbalist to ensure you are using the right plant medicine for you.

Plant medicine is a medicine! Please read this caution: When taking a plant at a medicinal level always first consult a NIMH registered medical herbalist and inform our healthcare provider if you are pregnant, have any medical condition or are taking any medication. Do not self-diagnose, stop taking drugs you have been prescribed or give plant medicine to a child without consultation. Be sure of the identity of your plant and source plant medicine from a reputable source, read the caution on any product and take only at the recommended dose and for the recommended duration, but note there is an effective dose and duration.

In the UK many of us believe that some herbs are beneficial in some way, but in Europe and Asia plant medicine is much more commonly used and in some cases the first choice for pharmacists and even GP’s. Humans have used plants throughout history to help protect against disease and to treat common ailments, it is only with the more recent chemical revolution that most of us have forgotten this knowledge.

Around the world today people safely treat many common ailments with the plants that grow around them. So while chamomile is used in Europe to calm, in the South Seas its the tropical kava kava (in the pepper family) that is used to lower anxiety. Both these plant medicines have clinical trial evidence to show that they work as effectively as conventional single drugs to lower anxiety symptoms, and with few side effects.

Self medication of plant medicine is safe as long as you first consult a NIMH to ensure you are using the right dose and combination of plants medicines tailored to your specific needs, and, as long as you correctly identify the plants you grow or buy your plant medicine from an established reputable source – and not an unscrupulous online retailer.

Grow Your Own Physic Garden, by Elaine Perry, Valerie Laws and Nicolette Perry, is designed to inform and inspire you to take control of your health, to safely treat common ailments before they become chronic and to use plants for their protective benefits. Elaine Perry is Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and founder of Dilston Physic Garden and Dr Nicolette Perry is a pharmacognosist (who studies medicines derived from plants) and directs the educational Dilston Physic Garden.

You can buy Grow Your Own Physic Garden right here on this website.

Read more, by Bunny Guinness on Grow Your Own Physic Garden here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/how-to-grow/plant-medicinal-herbal-garden/

Memory Study

Worried about your memory? Want to see if plants can boost your memory ?

We’re recruiting volunteers now. Spread the word!…

Dilston Physic Garden, medical herbalists Ross Menzies and Davina Hopkinson and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew offer an exciting opportunity to take part in a second natural Memory Study in West and South-East Northumberland. 

  • Do you think your memory is not what it was?
  • Are you concerned about the current epidemic of dementia?
  • Would you be open to the idea that medicinal plants could help, bearing in mind that modern drugs like aspirin come from plants?
  • Are you between the age of forty-five and seventy-five and live in West or South-East Northumberland?
  • Would you say yes to any of these questions? Then why not volunteer in a simple safe 4-week medicinal plant study?

To take part simply email nic@dilstonphysicgarden.com. Study is open to anyone between 45-75years, provided you are not diagnosed with a condition such as Alzheimer’s. The aim of the study is to test the effects of safe plants reputed in history, and used today as Traditional Herbal Medicine, to improve memory and which have science to show how they work. The trial is being conducted by Dilston Physic Garden, medical herbalists Davina Hopkinson and Ross Menzies, Wesnes Cognition & Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, with support from Wesnes Cognition, Make My Day Better and The Ridley Family Charity.

Dilston Physic Garden  Corbridge  Northumberland  NE45 5QZ  T: 07879 533 875 E: info@dilstonphysicgarden.com

What’s behind skullcap?

Can a plant really boost our mood ?
A number of plants have clinical science to show that they effectively lift mood, balance mood swings and relieve mild depression (severe depression should not be self-treated). The widely recognized anti-depressive St John’s wort leads the way, but other traditional mood-boosting plants, verfiied in clinical studies today, include turmeric from the Middle East, saffron from the Mediterranean and skullcap from Canada and the US. The list also includes other plants which are yet to be fully explored by science, like rose from the Middle East, chai hu from China and, for restoring hormonal balance, particularly for women, there’s black cohosh from the US and the less closely studied clary sage from Europe.
What the plant needs to do
A long-held notion surrounding depression is that it involves a response triggered by low brain serotonin, and that drugs which restore this mood-boosting brain signal will also help to restore good mood. Consequently, common anti-depressant drugs are those which are able to maintain high levels of serotonin in the space where nerve cells talk to each other (the synapse). These chemical drugs are collectively called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). They include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline and paroxetine and are the most widely prescribed drugs today in the US, overtaking blood pressure drug prescription. While some anti-depressants act on serotonin, others act on signals like noradrenaline and dopamine, for example the SNRIs (selective noadrenaline reuptake inhibitors), monoamine oxidase inhibitors and TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants used more for severe depression).
Mild anxiety and depression are the most common of all mental health issues today. So with 1 in 5 of us experiencing at least one episode of depression in our lifetime, do we fully understand what goes wrong in the brain-body-emotion axis during depression? And are the side-effects of SSRIs, which include nausea, dizziness and sexual problems, acceptable? Should we be aware of different treatments?

Improve our mood, alter our outlook
Change is a good as a holiday right? Changing our perspective can help us overcome mood problems, but what is difficult is keeping that perspective changed. Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is an Amazonian plant and is the main constituent of a tea used in traditional rituals to enhance consciousness and alter perspective. It’s usually taken as a tea mixed with another plant (such as chacruna Psycotria viridia). Though this tea mix (also called Ayahuasca) is only to be taken under supervision, it works by acting on mood-boosting brain signals. Chacruna contains the hallucinogenic DMT (dimethyltryptamine) which activates the brain’s mood-boosting serotonin signal; and ayahuasca’s harmine alkaloids boost the presence of chacruna’s DMT by blocking the enzyme (monoamine oxidase) that inactivates it. Got that?
Lab tests and clinical trials on the Ayahuasca tea mix (taken in a clinical setting under supervision and including therapy) have so far confirmed it is well-tolerated as a rapid-onset antidepressant, which reduces anxiety too, and, interestingly confirmed by science to alter and improve the outlook of those who have taken it.
The point here is that skullcap is another plant, but a safe and much milder alternative to the south American ayahuasca. Taken also as a tea, you can grow it in your garden or in a pot for mood-boosting and also possible perspective-altering effects.
History and folklore
People bathed in skullcap leaves, or used them to cast spells to remove disharmony. Its other name of mad-dog herb relates to it being used in the treatment of rabies in the 19th century, it was probably it’s sedative and antispasmodic properties that eased the pains of this fatal condition. Discovered in the 19th century as a nervous system tonic, it has been used through history to treat depression, panic attacks, ‘hysteria’ and nervous heart conditions. One of the most popular botanicals in North America (the Cherokee use it for menstrual nervous problems), in herbal medicine today it’s used for depression, as a relaxant, mild sedative, sleep promoter and to help in withdrawal of benzodiazepines. A mood modifier not only for humans, it’s used by vets to help calm dogs suffering from excitability, apprehension and phobias such as fear of thunderstorms and gunfire (and there’s no drowsiness or reductions in performance – perfect for training and obedience).
What the scientists say
In humans
In one ‘gold-standard’ randomised controlled crossover clinical trial, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) showed significant effects on mood in healthy volunteers. After two weeks, mood was significantly enhanced, without reduction in energy or cognition. Its main ingredient baicalein has been tested in volunteers (with a view to treating people with Parkinson’s disease) and found to be safe and well-tolerated.
In the lab
Whole extracts and its key ingredient baicalein are anti-depressive and anti-inflammatory in a number of different lab models and affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (responsible for neuroendocrine adaptation to the stress response). Acts on the mood-llifting serotonin signal (stops LSD binding) and prevents an Alzheimer’s marker. Also acts on calming (GABA benzodiazepine) brain signals and is anti-anxiety and anti-convulsant.
Key ingredients
Flavonoids baicalin, baicalein and scutellarin are key to anti-depressive effects and keeping inflammation at bay in a wide range of lab tests and are also key antioxidants, scavenging free radicals. Ingredient wogonin is neuroregenerative and baicalein is neuroprotective. Also contains melatonin and serotonin.
How to take it
(See also herbal tissane recipes below from La Reine Margot). Tea of fresh (4-6g) or dried (2-3g) aeriel parts per 240ml boiled water, take 50ml 3x daily. Tincture, capsules or tablets (standarised or of its key ingredient baicalein) are also used.
CAUTION Always consult an affiliated medical herbalist before taking any plant at a medicinal level, inform your health care provider if you are taking medication or have any medical condition and do not stop taking prescribed medication. Be sure of the identity of your plant and take only at the recommended dose.
Generally regarded as safe. Side-effects may be drowsiness, giddiness, confusion, but overdose may cause convulsions. Always buy from a reputable source – there are disturbing reports in the 1980s that many commercial skullcap products were adulterated with other plants (many not containing any skullcap) such as germander Teucrium chamaedrys and other Teucrium species which can cause hepatotoxicity. Not advised in pregnancy and lactation (although in the past it has been used safely in these conditions). Sedative effects on nervous system mean it may interact with other anti-depressants, sedatives or anaesthetics.
Dos Santos, Rafael G.; Osório, Flávia L.; Crippa, José Alexandre S.; Hallak, Jaime E. C. (2016): ‘Antidepressive and anxiolytic effects of ayahuasca: a systematic literature review of animal and human studies.’ In Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999[A1] [A2] ) 38 (1), pp.65–72. DOI: 10.1590/1516-4446-2015-1701

Brock, Christine; Whitehouse, Julie; Tewfik, Ihab; Towell, Tony (2014): ‘American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of its effects on mood in healthy volunteers.’ In Phytotherapy Research : PTR 28 (5), pp.692–8. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5044.
Gasiorowski, Kazimierz; Lamer-Zarawska, Eliza; Leszek, Jerzy; Parvathaneni, Kalpana; Yendluri, Bharat Bhushan; Blach-Olszewska, Zofia; Aliev, Gjumrakch (2011): ‘Flavones from root of Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi: drugs of the future in neurodegeneration?’ In CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets 10 (2), pp.184–191.

This is an extract taken from Botanical Brain Balms, Filbert Press 2018 – available to buy at the Physic Garden and bookshops. Look out for our new book out soon GROW YOUR OWN PHYSIC GARDEN Use the Power of Medicinal Plants Grounded in Science. 

Drink Tea. Boost Your Brain.

At the physic garden we love plants which are good for the brain and especially plants with science to show how they work.

Drink Tea. Boost Your Brain. Over the past three years we have been expertly blending science-backed botanicals which have research to show how they boost sleep, calmness, memory and mood. Each fragrant organic infusion is created from years of expertise at our physic garden in Northumberland. Since one blend sold out within the month we are launching online soon with – Dilston Physic Garden’s own trademark range of organic science-backed teas: Uplift Tea, Memory Tea, Calm Tea, Sleep Tea, Digest Tea, PainRelief Tea, Happy Tea and physic garden House Tea. These signature blends you can only find at Dilston Physic Garden. Watch this space to buy them online, in the meantime just pop in to the physic garden to taste and buy delicious aromatic infusions, all rooted in science.

What is it about Liquorice?

Love it or hate it liquorice has a range of health benefits. The ingredient of one of the world’s favourite sweets, including the North’s famous Pontefract Cakes, it is used in plant medicine for fatigue, particularly adrenal stress, but it also has memory boosting and protective effects on brain cells. Scroll down to find liquorice recipes and the science behind the root’s energising effects.

Can a plant really increase energy?

Plants have been shown to be energisers that reduce fatigue, tonics that strengthen relevant body systems or adaptogens that restore stress systems that go out of kilter. Certain plants are also nerve tonics that can combat mental fatigue and increase mental clarity. Few plants have been tested in human trials for mental fatigue, because apart from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or myalgic encephalopathy, ME), multiple sclerosis (MS) and to a lesser extent depression, mental fatigue is not recognized as a symptom in Western mainstream medicine. Lab-based scientific studies however, do show the impact of energiser plants, or their chemical ingredients, on the brain and nervous system.
Core energisers include two traditional medicinal plants, astragalus and ginkgo, which have origins in China, two European plants, one sweet and the other with a sting (liquorice and nettle), a Chinese and Indian spice (ginger) and then a fiery Asian vegetable (garlic) and the celebrated ‘superfood’ green tea. Other botanical brain balms that improve energy and mental fatigue include ashwaghanda an adaptogen which clinically boosts mood, memory, stamina and much more, and cocoa which lowers fatigue and relieves symptoms of CFS. And other traditional energising plants which have attracted scientific attention are European oak (Quercus robur) and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), the Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis) and the famous but endangered snow lotus (Saussurea involucrata) from the Himalayas and Mongolia.

Traditional Chinese medicinal plants and energy
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) continues to be practised on an equal basis alongside orthodox medicines in China today. TCM sees the concept of “vitality” as an essential component of health and healing. Chinese people understand good health as being critically dependent on what they term qi, or energy. They describe qi as a natural life force which, if not flowing freely due to obstruction or block results in a weaker body.
Ginseng and astragalus are used in traditional Chinese medicine to maintain or restore qi, and traditional ideas on the difference between the two plants are fascinating. Ginseng is said to “nourish vitality” and rescue energy collapse by restoring “yang” and is often used to treat shock. Men in particular recognize it as an energiser and as an aphrodisiac too. Astragalus, on the other hand, is said to reinforce loss of vitality in what is referred to as “insecurity of the exterior” and is used to help patients counter signs of weakness and debilitating physical conditions. Sometimes called female ginseng, it is used to help fight stress and disease too.
Trying to understand how these plants work in terms of conventional Western medicine, especially biological mechanisms is challenging! Ideas range from the mopping up of tissue-damaging free radicals (antioxidants) and increasing blood flow to countering the adrenal stress response or strengthening brain functions. We have no research of our own to back up reports on the revitalising qualities of energising plants, but love the seasonal plants in the physic garden which act as tonics. Nettle tea or soup, made in spring with added wild garlic, seems to be both energising and restorative, while combating mental fatigue and sharpening mental clarity too – but these are our subjective, not scientific, observations.



Today we look at the use of liquorice as an energiser, though the root has many other medicinal uses from liver complaints to as an anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, laxative, anti-ulcer, anti-diabetic and anti-depressive.

Historical medicinal use

Used in Europe since prehistoric times, the botanical name comes from the Greek for sweet and root. Around 2000BC the Egyptian pharaohs chewed sticks and took it as a sweet drink. It was used in the 1st century by physician Dioscorides, who told Roman soldiers to chew the root to allay thirst. Also known as gan cao in traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed to harmonize other ingredients in a formula.

Used in traditional Japanese medicine and in Ayurvedic medicine for rejuvenation and by Western medical herbalists for adrenal insufficiency and as a restorative tonic – being immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Researched since the 1950s for its major clinical efficacy in gastric and duodenal ulceration.

What scientists say
In humans Studied in clinical trials for many for its effects (including aiding treatment of Helicobacter pylori), as an energiser, part of a traditional Chinese medicine formula (baoyuan dahuang), liquorice extracts relieve fatigue in patients with kidney disease. In controlled trials it is more effective than HRT in reducing hot flushes in menopausal women. Was successful in a case study for chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the lab Inhibits fatigue and enhances memory in lab models as well as protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation. Neuroprotective in cultured cells and in models of brain injury (such as restricted blood flow). Reduces oxidative stress in the hippocampus (a key memory area in the brain). Also active as an antidepressant and in generating new nerve cells (neurogenesis).

Key chemicals The major bioactive ingredients are the triterpene glycosides (saponins) like glycyrrhizin acid which also account for its sweet flavour – said to be 50 times sweeter than sugar. Also contains active flavonoids such as liquiritin, responsible for the root’s yellow colour, as well as sterols, coumarins and an essential oil.

How to take it Note the safety precautions below. Decoction (which is just a way to extract chemicals from tougher plant material like bark and roots) of peeled or unpeeled root (20g per 750ml water, simmered to 500ml) is commonly taken daily for short-term effects. Fresh root is also made into a paste or dried juice stick and dried root can be chewed, and fresh or dried root made into a tincture or liqueur and other recipes – scroll down. Also taken as capsules and tablets (see product for dose and duration).

As an ingredient of confectionery, its sweetness is less harsh and longer-lasting than sugar and it doesn’t damage teeth (liquorice lollipops actually protect children’s teeth!) or raise blood glucose.

Safety Considered safe within upper dose limit of 400mg active ingredient glycyorrhizin per day. Caution in long-term use when taken at a medicinal level since glycyrrhetic acid can accumulate. Contraindicated heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disorders, hypokalemia, fluid retention, with oral and topical corticosteroids and, in theory, with anticoagulants and with oral contraceptives in a high dose or with long term use (glycyrrhetic acid can accumulate). An awareness of steroid effects (elevated blood cortisol) is advised. Caution at a medicinal level in pregnancy and breast feeding. Side-effects at higher doses include hypertension and hypokalemic-induced secondary disorders.

CAUTION Always consult an NIMH affiliated medical herbalist before taking any plant at a medicinal level, inform your health care provider if you are taking medication or have any medical condition and do not stop taking prescribed medication. Be sure of the identity of your plant and take only at the recommended dose.


Guo, Jie; Yang, Chunxiao; Yang, Jiajia; Yao, Yang (2016): ‘Glycyrrhizic acid ameliorates cognitive impairment in a rat model of vascular dementia associated with oxidative damage and inhibition of voltage-gated sodium channels.’ In CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets 15 (8), pp.1001–8.
Singh, Paramdeep; Singh, Damanpreet; Goel, Rajesh K. (2016): ‘Protective effect on phenytoin-induced cognition deficit in pentylenetetrazol kindled mice: a repertoire of Glycyrrhiza glabra flavonoid antioxidants.’ In Pharmaceutical Biology 54 (7), pp.1209–18. DOI: 10.3109/13880209.2015.1063673.
Baschetti, R. (1995): ‘Liquorice and chronic fatigue syndrome.’ In The New Zealand Medical Journal 108 (1002), p.259.

Bredin CP. (2019) Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): the journey of the sweet root from Mesopotamia to England. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. Jun;49(2):171-174.

Harding V, Stebbing J. (2017) Liquorice: a treatment for all sorts? Lancet Oncol. 2017 Sep;18(9):1155. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(17)30628-9.

This is taken from Botanical Brain Balms, Filbert Press 2018. Available buy at Dilston Physic Garden and bookshops. Look out for our new book out soon! GROW YOUR OWN PHYSIC GARDEN Use the Power of Medicinal Plants Grounded in Science.