Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Ask Marilyn – how long can I take agnus castus?

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Q: Please could you tell me if there’s a limit on the amount of time I should use Agnus castus for my irregular periods?


A: Agnus castus is the herb I typically recommend for menstrual irregularity as studies have shown it can help balance hormones and encourage regularity. Take it regularly over three to six months and your periods should become more regular.  Once they are regular you would take a break from the herb and see if your cycle remains regular, which is what you are aiming to happen.  If the symptoms return then take it again until they go, then try again without it. The idea is that your hormones will remain in balance once they’ve been put right, but some people are very prone to imbalance and so need to take further courses. There is no ill effect from taking it long term, but I obviously prefer you not to be taking it if you don’t need it. 

Discovering herbs: Aloe Vera

Monday, December 1st, 2008

There are many claims made for the benefits of aloe vera, a succulent plant native to northern Africa. The plant has supporters all over the world and is a common sight on the shelves in health food stores.  Aloe Vera has many properties including antibiotic, astringent, coagulating agent, pain inhibitor, cell growth stimulator and scar inhibitor. Numerous studies show that it is great for treating and curing skin conditions and delaying the onset of wrinkles. Research also suggests that it contains around 200 healing substances – including most vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein and amino acids – and that using aloe vera is a great way to boost your health and wellbeing.

Skin conditions are said to improve when treated with clear gel taken from the aloe vera leaf, such as eczema. Cuts and burns are treated too resulting in reduced inflammation and pain. It is said that the gel boosts the immune system. The sap, which is at the base of the leaf, is used to treat digestive disorders, chronic constipation and low appetite.

The Indian sub continent promotes the plant and it is part of the culture there. In Pakistan, the benefits of aloe vera have been recognised for hundreds of years. People routinely take a mixture of aloe vera and herbal seeds after meals if they suffer from indigestion. The people of the Hazara region in Pakistan believe that the nutrient value found in the gel gives them more stamina. In addition to medicine and food, aloe vera is often used in products such as shampoo, moisturisers, soaps and sunscreen. This is because of the benefits of aloe vera in preventing dry skin and scalp.

There are numerous aloe vera products on the market, including creams for skin problems and heat lotions for aching muscles. Aloe Vera is also sold as a nutritional supplement, blended with other vitamins, minerals and herb, such as ginseng, reishi mushroom, ginger oil, turmeric and folic acid. Enthusiasts can also take aloe vera in the form of a drink, blended with fruits such as apples, cranberries, pomegranates, peaches, grape seed and blackberry. Drinking two to four ounces a day is all that is required to gain the many benefits of aloe vera juice. If you drink it daily, aloe vera can aid your digestion, improve your metabolism (fat burning) and help detoxify your body and cleanse your colon.

Perhaps, one of the most valuable health benefits for today’s society is aloe vera’s ability to assist weight loss. Throughout history aloe vera has been associated with achieving healthy body weight and it has been known as “the dietary plant” and “the harmony remedy.” This is because aloe vera works to both reduce and stabilise weight by stimulating metabolic rate so that we burn more energy. In addition, aloe vera contains amino acids, methionine, serine threonine and molybdenum, which work together to detoxify heavy metals and additionally aid in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein. This action prevents a build up of fat in the liver and the arteries. These detoxification and laxative qualities of aloe vera, improve the efficiency of the colon, which is extremely important for good health. Poor colon health results in the re-absorption of toxins into the human body resulting in low energy and un-wellness.

Another of the most important health benefits of aloe vera is its operation as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent, helping to prevent the onset of disease in the body. Thus, taking aloe vera daily helps to maintain good health and provide a sense of wellbeing and energy.

Aloe vera juice can contain nineteen amino acids, twenty minerals and twelve vitamins and as such it is in my opinion an excellent, natural nutritional supplement. But beware; you need to choose the juice carefully as many are preserved with benzoates or benzoic acid which you definitely want to avoid.  Research has shown that sodium benzoate can damage DNA in the mitochondria causing the cell to malfunction.  When mixed with vitamin C, sodium benzoate forms benzene, a carcinogenic substance.  You can also get liquid aloe vera in capsule form which avoids the need for a preservative (see the Resources Page).


Discovering herbs: Oat straw

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Oat straw also known as avena sativa or green oat is a pale green grass cultivated for its edible grain. The parts that are used are the seeds and the stem. It has been used for centuries in teas, tinctures and herbal medicines, and has shown promise in treating and preventing a wide variety of health conditions.


Oat straw has been shown to boost immunity, build bones and prevent osteoporosis. It is also effective as a pain reliever and for easing anxiety and depression but one of the most popular applications for oat straw however is in sexual enhancement supplements, as although it is not an aphrodisiac it can help prolong sexual performance and stamina, hence the term ‘sowing your oats.’ In men it appears to be effective for treating impotence and premature ejaculation. In women it may increase sexual desire.

Wild oats are reported to have been a noticeable sexual stimulant for horses and other animals, and studies suggest they can have the same effect on humans of both sexes. References to the stimulating effects of avena sativa have been found for hundreds of years in the German Pharmacopoeia and recent studies have confirmed that it can enhance libido by reducing stress and easing the mind, much like ginkgo and damiana.


Avena sativa is rich in body-building and energy boosting nutrients including silicon, manganese, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B1, B2 and E and is great for building healthy bones, skin, hair and nails. The seeds are not only a rich source of carbohydrate and soluble fibre they also have the highest content of iron, zinc and manganese of any grain. In addition they contain compounds which are both sedative and soothing to the brain and nervous system.


In cases of sexual problems related to stress and anxiety, Avena sativa and its compounds work as nervine relaxants to ease tension and strengthen and support the nervous system and as a tonic to promote energy to handle stress. Oat straw can also be used in baths for rheumatic problems, lumbago, liver ailments and gout.  It can soften the skin and help eczema and other skin diseases, flaky skin, frostbite, chilblains, wounds, and eye problems.

Avena sativa does not appear to interact with drugs so it is often used as a safe alternative to other herbs that are used for anxiety, such as St John’s wort, which cannot be taken with many prescription medications. Avena sativa may also be of use in helping with drug withdrawal and is often combined with valerian and skullcap.