Edition 51: January 2013
Essential Oil of the Month
Verbena: complex and elegant citrusy scent
THE SCENT of verbena is like early morning, when everything is new, fresh and promising. The fragrance is cool but not cold, with a warm edge.
Verbena has such a beautiful fragrance that its uses are extensive in European folk tradition, where the plant found its way with the colonisation of South America in the 18th Century and graced many a garden.
Its uses are similar to those of the mints and melissa (lemon balm). In Europe as a tea, the herb was used for nervous conditions that manifest as digestive complaints, often included in digestive liqueurs. It was also prescribed for inflamed eyes and mouth ulcers. Its fragrance warranted it a firm favourite as a strewing herb and pot-pourri ingredient to keep foul odours at bay.
Supposedly, lemon verbena was popular among witches, who used it in their aphrodisiac love potions.
Therapeutically, verbena is primarily used for the digestive system, where it has a wonderful calming action, easing cramps and indigestion; it is quite effective in controlling stomach spasm, nausea and also flatulence.
It is a specific for digestive problems caused or aggravated by nervous tension. Use in abdominal massage for irritable bowel syndrome and to improve kidney function. It is indicated for liver congestion, whereby it aids the digestion of fats and mitigates inflammation and thus it does make a refreshing “pick-me-up” to help restore the liver after a hangover.
Use verbena oil for recovering alcoholics in massage and bath blends. Inclusion in bath blends is helpful for fibromyalgia discomforts, can disperse excess fluid and improve lymph flow. This essential oil also calms heart palpitations (tachycardia).
Improves skin texture
Include verbena sparingly in skin toners and light moisturisers to impart softness, reduce puffiness and improve overall skin texture. It is said to calm acne and irritated skin if used carefully and is sometimes prescribed for acne rosacea.
Include in shampoos, conditioners and scalp massage blends to combat falling hair; where it will add lustre to the hair and impart its gorgeous fragrance about your head.
This oil is a sophisticated choice in perfumery, elevating simple colognes and perfumes into something quite special with its citrus theme that is not pervasive or coarse any way.
Verbena is a perfect addition to room sprays and atomisers to make them very human friendly to uplift the environment immediately.
The essential oil is very beneficial for the nervous system being a superb sedative, easing anxiety, insomnia, nervous tension and other stress related problems.
Verbena soothes and refreshes the parasympathetic nervous system and may help combat depression. It reinvigorates those who are listless and apathetic, stimulating brain function.
As an aphrodisiac it calms the underlying tension of sexual debility as well as balancing hormonal effects on the endocrine system. Midwives can use verbena oil to help women safely in childbirth and to stimulate milk production.
Use this oil along with chamomile for autistic children and those suffering from hyperactivity, ADD or ADHD. Use in the classroom to stimulate creativity, motivation and concentration.
Verbena can help us make the most of the present moment, dispelling disinterest and dreamy procrastination. It is ideal for those who live in the past and miss opportunities; this oil supports efforts to release one’s attachment to people and things from the past, allowing them to explore new options with joy and enthusiasm.
It calms our fears and anxieties about how others perceive of us. This oil counters fear of public speaking or fear of flying. It seems to soothe illogical fears, allowing us to function within the normal realm.
When working with persons who have trouble interacting with others, Verbena calms the fears and paranoia. This oil helps put people back together when stress causes them to “fall to pieces”.
Name: Verbena (Lemon)
Latin name: Lippia citriodora
Other names: Aloysia triphylla, A. citriodora, verbena triphylla, L. triphylla, verbena, herb Louisa
What is it? ‘Lippia’ was named after a European doctor and botanist born in 1678 and “citriodora” stems from the citrus aroma. A handsome deciduous shrub that grows up to 5m with woody stem, highly fragrant leaves that are delicate and a pale green and lanceolate arranged in threes. The small flowers are pinkish purple. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from the freshly harvested herb, the leaves and the finer stalks.
Scent: Verbena is the most sophisticated of all the lemony scented oils, more complex and exquisite than the others, not unlike the smell of a fresh-picked perfectly ripe lemon, only more complex and elegant. This oil is sweet, fresh and lemony with fruity-floral undertones and it is pale olive or yellow in colour. True verbena oil is hard to find as it is often cut with cheaper lemongrass, lemon or citronella.
Blends well with: Neroli, bergamot, chamomile, geranium, rose, jasmine, other citrus oils, the resinous oils such as myrrh, benzoin and frankincense. Use when a very fresh top note is desired.
Origins: Verbena is a native to Chile and Argentina. It is cultivated and found semi-wild in the Mediterranean region of France, Algeria, Tunisia as well as in Kenya and China. The essential oil is mainly produced in southern France North Africa and Spain. It is often grown as an ornamental fragrant addition to gardens, just touching or rubbing the leaves releases a refreshing fragrance. It is botanically related to the oregano family. It should not be mistaken for the Spanish verbena (Spanish thymus hiamalis,) nor confused with the herb vervain.
Therapeutic properties: Antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, carminative, detoxifying, digestive, febrifuge, hepatobiliary stimulant, sedative, stomachic, emollient, insecticide.
Precautions: Possible sensitisation or photosensitivity due to high citral levels.
What Herb is That?
Humble backyard herb provides rich nutrients
THE NAME dandelion comes from a corruptions of dent de lion “lion’s tooth”, in reference to the sharp teeth on its leaves.
Where it is not indigenous, dandelion grows very easily from directly sown seeds and thrives in most environments. While in Australia it may be seen more as a cosmopolitan weed, it is in Eastern Europe where the bulk of the world’s medicinal needs for the herb are met.
The entire plant is useful for both medicine and food. The root is a classic liver tonic and blood purifier with a stimulating and decongesting effect on the liver. The root stimulates the production of bile, which in turn helps break down cholesterol and fat.
It may be used in inflammation and congestion of the liver and gall bladder, especially congestive jaundice. The herb combines well with barberry for liver problems and burdock root to make a very effective liver cleanser.
Such a dandelion blend would also be useful for sluggish digestion and may act as a mild laxative. The herb is of value for chronic skin conditions such as eczema or acne. Dandelion may also help improve the immune system.
Dandelion is a potassium-rich diuretic and a specific for kidney problems, fluid retention and bladder problems. This is a rare diuretic that is not detrimental for heart function.
Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
You could include dandelion in a rheumatism herbal blend.
Due to the high inulin content of dandelion, it is a good herb to drink for diabetics. Some early studies show that dandelion may help normalise blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL - ‘good’ cholesterol.
The milky latex-like sap that exudes form the stem of the plant is an excellent wart remover, with diligent application. The inside surface of the flower stems are used as a smoothening agent for burns and stings (for example in stinging nettle allergy).
Did you Know?
The Dandelion flower attracts bees and other pollinators to the garden. The flowers open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during gloomy weather, and all parts of the plant exude a bitter milky juice when cut or broken.
This is a herb rich in Vitamin A, an important fat-soluble vitamin and anti-oxidant, required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes, skin and vision.
Nutritionally the leaf is also a good source of iron, calcium, vitamins; a rich assortment of trace minerals and its leaves are packed with numerous health-benefiting flavonoids. The dandelion is a whole edible food/herb with a mildly bitter flavour.
The greens can be harvested in springtime and used as a fresh salad vegetable, whether or not the plant is on flower. The younger leaves are less bitter and more tender. The roots are harvested late autumn, before they get too bitter and woody.
The tender roots can be chopped like a carrot to be added to stir-fries and soups. Sliced dandelion root blanched first, can be marinated in vinaigrette as an alternative pickle-style dish.
Throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, where bitter foods are well understood for their appetite stimulating and liver-loving properties, dandelion is a valued food served steamed often with other wild greens and eaten drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.
Roasted dandelion coffee
Preheat the oven to 180C. Slice or chop equal portions of fresh dandelion root and spread them evenly over a baking tray.
Bake the roots for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they are a nice dark brown. Allow them to cool and then grind them in an electric coffee grinder or blender.
To serve, prepare a decoction of the ground roots by simmering them in a pot or percolator until you have a strong brew, to which milk or nut milks may be added, and sweetened with honey. Any of the warming chai spices such as ginger, cloves or cardamom are a tasty addition to aid with digestion and zap up your drink.
Other serving suggestions:
YOUNG tender shoots, raw or blanched, used in salads and sandwiches either alone or in combination with other greens such as lettuce, kale, cabbage and chives.
FRESH greens may used in soups, stews, juices and as cooked vegetable.
DRIED leaves as well as flower parts used to make tonic drinks and herbal dandelion teas.
DANDELION flowers used in the preparation of wines, schnapps, pancakes; and are favoured in Arabian baking.
Latin name: Taraxacum officinale
Other names: priest's crown, Irish daisy, monk's head, blow-ball and lion's tooth.
Part used: Root, leaf and flower
Origins: The scientific name T.Officinale is loosely applied to the species complex as a whole. Dandelion is a leafy perennial herb that can grow up to 30cm. It has a fleshy taproot and a rosette of markedly toothed leaves that are shiny and hairless and funnel rain to the root. Solitary yellow flower heads are borne on hollow, unbranched stalks. The small brown fruits (achenes) each have a hairy parachute for wind dispersal. It is a hardy widespread plant that is ever present in nearly all countryside’s of the northern hemisphere where it is native. Hundreds of species of dandelion grow in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Properties: Diuretic, cholagogue (liver tonic) antioxidant, anti-rheumatic, mild laxative, alterative, tonic.
Precautions: Given Dandelion has diuretic properties, use mindfully during pregnancy or while taking some medications.