A spring morning at Dilston Physic Garden – a 3 minute video by photographer David Taylor
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).
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.
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.
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.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID TAYLOR
Here is a list of Medical Herbalists and a Herbal Pharmacist who are affiliated with Dilston Physic Garden.
Ross Menzies Medical Herbalist BSc(hons) psychology DBTH MAMH. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ross is an experienced herbalist and has been in practice in Hexham for 15 years supporting patients with many acute and chronic health imbalances. He works using primarily native herbs and prepares many of his own medicines. He has also studied kinesiology and NLP. Ross has had a close association with Dilston Physic Garden for many years and regularly runs courses there. He has tutored on a professional herbal medicine diploma and has edited a professional journal. Ross also runs a nature based therapeutic project for people with mental health difficulties. At the core of all he does is an understanding that nature can be profoundly healing, be it through plant medicines or simply by creating space and stillness to engaging with it in a meaningful way.
Jill Schnabel Medical Herbalist BSc(hons) PhD MNIMH. email@example.com.
Jill studied agricultural science (BSc) and plant pathology (PhD) before qualifying as a medical herbalist in 2004. She now practices herbal medicine in Newcastle upon Tyne and Northumberland. After working as an advisor with the National Centre for Organic Gardening, she moved to the North-East in 1993 where she co-founded a successful organic vegetable growing cooperative. As an adult education tutor she has taught a diverse range of courses in organic gardening, plant folklore and herbal medicine, at both university and community levels. “My enthusiasm and love for plants was inherited from my grandmother and mum, and continues to weave a constant thread through my life and work. My approach to plant medicine is eclectic and encompasses historical, cultural, scientific, emotional and spiritual dimensions.”
Sarah Hughes Medical Herbalist, Nutritional Therapist BSc Hons, NT Dip, MA, CNHC, mNIMH, mBANT. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah is an experienced medical herbalist and nutritional therapist who has practised for over a decade in both Ireland and the north of England. Sarah sees patients of all ages and at all stages who present with a wide range of health issues and is based at the Stonegate Medical Clinic in York.
Sarah has lectured on the Medicinal Plants and Functional Foods MSc at Newcastle university and speaks regularly on BBC radio Newcastle. She also teaches foraging courses for Taste the Wild who are a foraging company based in North Yorkshire.
Milena Kopkowska Pharmacist, trained in dispensing herbal medicine. email@example.com.
Milena works part time in a community pharmacy in Durham but also advices and dispense safe effective plant medicines according to your needs for minor ailments. As a pharmacist she has knowledge about both herbal and synthetic medicines and therefore can help you explore different treatment options. Milena qualified as a pharmacist in Poland where plant medicine constitutes a substantial part of the pharmacy stock and are commonly used by doctors, as in much of Europe, for the management of minor ailments. Since moving to the UK, Milena says “many common health problems may not be adequately addressed in the main stream UK health service. Since UK doctors don’t prescribe herbal medicines, and pharmacies often don’t offer them, the public don’t know about them”.
Worried about your memory? Want to see if plants can boost your memory ?
Dilston Physic Garden, local medical herbalists Ross Menzies and Davina Hopkinson and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew offers an exciting opportunity to take part in a second natural Memory Test 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Trial 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 that are reputed in history, and used today as Traditional Herbal Medicine to improve memory. 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:email@example.com
A long-held notion surrounding depression is that it involves a response triggered by low brain serotonin levels 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, with one in five of us experiencing at least one episode of depression in our lifetime, so we need to be aware of different treatments and ask ourselves these questions. Do we fully understand what goes wrong in the brain-body-emotion axis during depression? Do SSRIs really work better than a placebo (an inert pill)? And are the side effects of SSRIs, which include nausea, dizziness and sexual problems, acceptable?ROSE, APOTHECARY’S ROSE
Rosa gallica var. officinalis
A much-loved garden plant, the rose is being rediscovered for health and wellbeing as a result of scientific research on the aromatic oil. The apothecary’s rose is a hybrid variety of Rosa centifolia (Provence rose) and R. canina (dog rose). Hips, used traditionally, continue to provide benefits that are science-based.
The expensive pure essential oil is a complex mix of plant terpenes including the calming and uplifting citronellol, geraniol, linalool (also in lavender) and nerol (also in bitter orange). As with lemon balm oil, beware of imitations spiked with other oils or chemicals. Hips contain flavonoids and polyphenols.
Buds, petals, hips, and essential oil in diffusers are safe, with no reporte side-effects or contraindications, including for children.
Igarashi, Miho; Ikei, Harumi; Song, Chorong; Miyazaki, Yoshifumi (2014): ‘Effects of olfactory stimulation with rose and orange oil on prefrontal cortex activity.’ In Complementary Therapies in Medicine 22 (6), pp.1027–31. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.09.003.
Watch physic garden curator, neuroscientist Professor Elaine Perry talk about Dilston Physic Garden on HexhamTV
Listen to physic garden director, pharmacognosist Dr Nicolette Perry talk to Jo Good on BBC radio London
Listen to Dr Nicolette Perry on HealthyLife.net
Take two minutes out, relax and watch Dilston Physic Garden filmed by Oliver Fowler