Take part in scientific studies

Take part in studies that look into the effects of safe medicinal plants for the mind and brain. Help DPG increase the evidence behind medicinal plants.

Pilot clinical trials are led by the Dilston Physic Garden scientific team using safe evidence-based plant medicine. We are also exploring pilot self-assessment studies involving plant medicine to improve general cognitive function, and to improve the quality of sleep and dreaming. Our current studies are a:

  • Plant Medicine Memory Study
  • States of Mind Survey
  • Memory Tea Study
  • Dream Club Studies

If you’d like to be part of one of these studies, would like to donate to a particular study or volunteer your help in designing and carryout out a useful and meaningful study, please email us.

Please find more information on each on this page and email nic@dilstonphysicgarden.com if you would like to register interest.

About our Scientific Research

Our research studies plant medicines that have long-standing traditional use. We focus on plants for the mind and brain, since so much of our well-being depends on an optimal state of mind. All volunteers in the studies are under the supervision of one of our associated medical herbalists, registered with the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and all studies go through a Clinical Trial Ethics Board.

Rather than major multicentre trials involving objective measures, we plan to conduct small – but statistically valid – pilot trials involving objective measures, but also self-assessment – i.e. using individual subjective experience.

Such studies involve people of all ages (over 18 years) with normal mental health, voluntarily taking a safe medicinal plant preparation, once or twice a day for a set time (week or months). During this time they complete a self-assessment form or objective online assessment, before, during and at the end of the trial period. According to best clinical practice, volunteers would be randomly divided into two groups, one taking the plant medicine and the other taking a placebo, or with all volunteers taking the plant medicine or placebo at different times (called a cross-over study) and all with no-one knowing which they are talking (‘blind’). We aim to publish all results in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

States of Mind Survey

We are delighted announce our new States of Mind Survey.

This survey is being undertaken by the scientific team at Dilston Physic Garden. It aims to record self-assessment ratings of states of mind – such as feelings of calm, wellness, focus, creativity and whether you are sleeping well – after taking a medicinal plant or product that you were going to take anyway.

The results from these self-assessment scales are seen as important in studying the self-rated effects of medicinal plants. The results will be used to contribute to the growing body of evidence behind the use of medicinal plants for health and medicine today.

If you would like to take part please complete the survey using the QR code or follow this link https://forms.office.com/r/ZEvTZx2j0b. Please complete this survey after you have taken a medicinal plant or medicinal plant product – this can be after taking it once or after taking it regularly.

Plant Medicine Memory Study 2022

Plant Medicine Memory Study 2022

  • Do you think you memory is not what it was?
  • Are you concerned about the current epidemic of dementia?
  • Are you open to the idea that medicinal plants could help, bearing in mind that modern drugs like aspirin come from plants?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, why not take part in future studies looking at how plant medicine can help memory? In 2022 scientists at Dilston Physic Garden, NIMH medical herbalists and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are running a second Plant Medicine Memory Study in Northumberland.

People taking part are between the age of 45 and 75 years old, live in West or South-East Northumberland and are not diagnosed with a condition such as Alzheimer’s. The trial is being conducted to test the effects of a novel combination of safe science-backed plants reputed in history to improve memory, by scientists and medical herbalists at Dilston Physic Garden with support from the Make My Day Better Charity & The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The Ridley Family Charity and CogProSystem.

The aim of this study is to test the effects of novel combinations of plant medicine on the memory of healthy people and to analyse the results for age, individual prescription, current supplements/ diet and experience of COVID-19/ long-COVID.

To express your interest please email nic@dilstonphysicgarden.com.

Find more information on this page about the background to this study and for the results of our previous memory trial.

Dream Club Studies

Dream Club Study 2019-20

Plant tinctures were taken blind to plant identity and compared to a placebo. The study found that there were were interesting trends in the effects of certain plants on our dreams.

Compared to placebo Catnip increased the number of dreams and reduced neutral dreams. Hemp increased sleep quality, reduced jumbled dreams and and increased long dreams. Mugwort improved sleep quality, increased number of dreams and increased short duration dreams. Passionflower improved sleep quality, increased number of dreams and increased long dreams.Wild asparagus increased number of dreams, reduced jumbled dreams. Wild lettuce increased long dreams.

These trends didn’t reach statistical significance for the 17 participants who completed. The dropout rate was high (11 of the 28 people) probably  due to the complexity of the procedure (7 tinctures each taken for 5 days), feedback form (containing 25 questions to be completed each day) and time commitment (a minimum of 3 months). There was also the complication that the placebo (alcohol alone) reduced dream quality and the number of dreams.

*A tincture is a plant medicine. It is made by placing the plant material in 40-5% alcohol. This is a chemical extraction much the same as a hot water extract (‘tea’ or simmered ‘decoction’) of water soluble plant chemcials. The tincture  method, as oppossed to capsules, tablets or hot water extracts, is considered the most representative of the whole plant chemical profile, extraction oily and water soluble plant chemicals, but it is also a more bioavailable form, improving absorption of the active constituents. Most medical herbalists prescribe plant medicine in tincture form.

What is the purpose of our memory studies?

A major concern in the ageing population is the perception of memory deficits and fear that this might signal Alzheimer’s disease. You may have noticed that you do not remember things as you did in your younger years and/ or be worried about protecting your memory. In the process of getting older, changes can occur in the brain and in cognitive performance, which are also affected in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Cognitive performance can also be affected in other conditions, such as the post-viral symptoms experienced in long-COVID.

So far there are no medications that prevent memory decline and dementia; diet, physical exercise, good sleep habits and some cognitive strategies are all thought to play a role, but the use of plant medicine is relatively unexplored. And yet there are prescription drugs to treat the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease that are derived from plants. For example galantamine is derived from a compound in the bulbs of snowdrops and daffodils (though don’t eat snowdrop bulbs, they are poisonous!). However, for normal mild memory impairments, some of which may be a prelude to more severe problems, there are no approved medications or preventative medicines. And yet medicinal plants, which are reputed through history to support and improve memory and cognitive function, are used today as Plant Medicine, in the practice of Herbal Medicine.

People concerned need to be aware of alternative options, aside from physical and psychological strategies, such as regularly taking preventative brain boosting medicinal plants. Taking a regular tonic is something many do across the globe today but is something that the UK is lagging behind in. There are number of plants that grow in the UK with memory enhancing properties.  For these medicinal plants there is both traditional evidence, based on long standing experience and practice, and scientific evidence, based on modern lab science and the results of controlled medical clinical trials.

However, none of this evidence is sufficient for any one plant extract to be accepted in orthodox or mainstream UK medical practice, yet. Further evidence, based on standardised extracts, dose and testing procedures, individual prescription and long-term use is needed. Such trials have been conducted in academic and clinical institutions. None, as far as we know, in the community where the investigators are practising medical herbalists. This is the focus of our new trials.

Our previous pilot clinical trial for memory tested a combination of 3 European plant medicines on word-recall in healthy volunteers. Results showed that the group aged 63 years and under, who took the memory tincture, improved in their ability to remember correctly by over 50%, compared to those who didn’t take it in the same age group.

Medicinal plants for memory

A number of medicinal plants now have scientific research and have been shown in randomized controlled trials to increase memory test performance and to help improve memory and cognitive function in the young and the old, and in some cases in Alzheimer’s disease.

Medicinal plants work by different mechanisms to produce their effect in the brain. A prime action is by increasing a brain’s signal (neurotransmitter) for memory and attention, called acetylcholine. They also work to lower oxidation (are antioxidant) and inflammation, both of which can help protect the brain, and they can also affect brain cell (neuronal) growth and have other effects such as lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, which are linked to cognitive function.

In addition, the practice of Plant Medicine is based on individual prescription. This means that, for example, a group of people who each want to improve their memory may each be prescribed a different combination of plant medicines, each prescription being decided according to the person’s individual condition/s, their body as a whole. It is important that more scientific research is carried out on Plant Medicine in order for their effects and the methods of plant medicine to be more widely known and understood.

Researching this area since 1995, we have discovered and published that a medicinal plant combination improves word recall in older adults. To take this finding further and provide more authoritative advice for older people concerned about their memory, we are conducting the 2022 expanded controlled trial, including in the same combination , at an increased dose and duration of treatment, and as well as comparing this ‘standard’ plant medicine for memory with an individually prescribed plant medicine for memory.

What is a Tincture?

The name tincture is a traditional term for a type of plant medicine. Tinctures are made by extracting plant material in 40-5% alcohol for 4-8weeks in the dark at room temperature, agitating daily, straining and storing in a dark bottle (to prevent light degradation of the chemicals).

This is a form of chemical extraction, much the same as a hot water extract (aka ‘tea’) extracts water-soluble plant chemicals. The tincture  method, as opoosed to capsules, tablets or hot water extracts, is considered the most representative of a plant’s chemical profile. It extracts not only water-soluble, but also oily plant chemicals. But importantly, as any good medical herbalist will tell you, a tincture is considered a more bioavailable form of plant medicine, improving the absorption of the active constituents. Most medical herbalists affiliated with National Institute of Medical Herbalists prescribe plant medicine in tincture form (depending of course on individual patient needs).

The word tincture comes from the same root as tint and tinge – the Latin verb tingere, meaning “to moisten or dip”. So plant material is ‘dipped’ in alcohol.