HERBS – From Monastery Gardens to the Laboratory
Medicinal potential of herbs
A lot has yet to be discovered in relation to the effects of herbs. In recent decades, these have been subject to numerous studies. It is so interesting to search for medicinal possibilities in plants because their active substance are immensely complex and they sometimes offer solutions which could not have been thought up in a laboratory. One single plant contains an almost infinite number of different chemical compounds that react with each other and with the body's chemistry and it is a major mapping exercise to review the medical potential.
The monastery's use of herbs
The oldest known medical encyclopedia was written by the Chinese emperor Chin-Nong approximately 3000 years BC. The encyclopedia mentions more than a thousand medicinal plants and directions for use. Typically the plants were boiled in water, wine or oil and used both internally and externally. Later on, more refined methods were used, like distilling the plant oils and production of tinctures. A morning bitter is an example of how alcohol has been used to extract the active substances from plants. Many of the spices that we use today were traditionally used as healing herbs.
We know for certain that herbs were used systematically as medicine by Hippocrates at around 400 BC and all the way up through the middle ages. They played a significant role in the monasteries, when the monastic orders in the 15th century cared for society's sick and weak. Even though monasteries are often credited for having systematized knowledge of medicinal herbs, recent archaeological studies show that this is not entirely true. As early as the Bronze Age medicinal herbs like chicory, coriander, dill and mullein have been grown in Denmark. This knowledge has most likely been passed on orally to the monasteries, who also received much of their knowledge of herbs from southern Europe. There has been a vibrant exchange of knowledge throughout Europe, and the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Arabs had long traditions, which were gathered and written down by the monasteries.
Herbs in New Beginnings
In modern plant medicine either the whole plant or parts of it are used, depending on where the active substances are. The substances are extracted with water, oil, alcohol or glycerine. In New Beginnings, water is used to extract the phyto-active substances from the plants to provide the product with the desired effect, for instance, bitter substances, oils, alkaloids, anti-oxidants, sugars, acids, mucilage, plant hormones, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and many more. New Beginnings is produced by letting lactic acid bacteria ferment 19 different herbs, all of which are known and used for their beneficial effect on the digestion. Combining the beneficial effects of the microorganisms with the herbs is advantageous in many ways. By containing the microorganisms in an extract of the herbs, also their metabolism is affected by the beneficial effect of the herbs. And finally studies show that the herbs and the microorganisms have a synergetic effect on each other, and their individual effect is amplified.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Anise is native to the eastern Mediterranean countries, Europe, Russia, Asia, Africa, North- and South America, and is used both as a spice, but also medicinally, particularly to counteract indigestion. The fruits are rich with essential oils and the seeds have a tasty flavour of liquorice. Russians have for generations boiled the seeds in milk and honey as a remedy for insomnia. The oil is expectorant because it contains substances that increase the activity of the cilia in the airway. In countries around the Mediterranean the seeds are still used, and the antibacterial effect makes them beneficial for improving oral hygiene. Anise stimulates the intestinal mucosa, increases the bronchial secretion, has an antimicrobial effect and stimulates the gall. It works against indigestion, bronchitis, flatulence, mucus in the respiratory tract, headaches and bad breath.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil grows naturally in south Europe, Russia, North- and South America, Asia and Africa. It is widely used for its flavour, but also as a medicinal herb because of its digestion and expectorant properties. The stimulating substances are essential oils with a high content of flavonoids. It is considered diuretic, strengthening for the immune system, antimicrobial, antibiotic and digestive stimulant. Tea of basil is calming and has been used against nervousness, insomnia, depression, indigestion, air and cramps in the stomach, cough, inflammation of the urinary tract and intestinal worms. Controlled studies have furthermore shown that basil may lower blood sugar in both blood and urine, making it interesting in the context of diabetes.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek is one of the oldest known medicinal plant, and it has been used and originates from North Africa, the Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia and Central- and South East Europa. It is used as both ingredient and as a natural medicine. The stimulating substances are essential oils, steroidal saponins, polysaccharides (galactomannan, mannose, and xylose), tryptophan, lysine, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, coumarins, flavones, sterols, lecithin and choline. Numerous studies have shown that the plant lowers blood glucose levels, that it is expectorant, prevents constipation, protects the intestinal mucosa, improves appetite, inhibit viruses, strengthens the heart, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, prevents inflammation in the body and skin. Studies with fenugreek also show its effectiveness against altitude sickness shows exceptional results, and several substances in the plant have attracted interest for cancer treatment. An interesting feature is its ability to stimulate the appetite, for which it is still used in modern livestock.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill originates from the Orient, Caucasus, the Mediterranean countries and USA. Dill is treasured for its good flavour, but has also been used to treat indigestion, flatulence, insomnia and colic. Dill has a high content of essential oils, carvone, limonene and dillapiol. The word dill derives from the Old Saxon word to lull asleep, and this property has made the plant popular. Egyptian sources from the 15th century recommend it against flatulence (e.g. colic), for constipation, as a digestive stimulant and diuretic, and Roman gladiators used dill to accelerate wound healing. An interesting ability is that it inhibits the growth of E. coli, which causes stomach infections. This antibacterial effect has been investigated several times with the same positive results.
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Juniper is a common plant that contains pinene, terpene, flavonoids and bi-flavonoids. It grows wild in Europe, Asia, North America and North Africa. It is antimicrobial, digestive stimulant and an effective diuretic. Traditionally, incense of juniper was used as a disinfectant during plague epidemics, and decoction of the bark has been used for washing dishes and vessels in after storage of perishable foods. The oil of juniper is used against urinary tract infections, stomach infections, intestinal worms, indigestion, oedema and arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. Ointments with juniper were prepared for rashes and sores that would not heal by itself.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Today, fennel is primarily used as a vegetable, but traditionally it has been a widely used medicinal plant in the Mediterranean countries. Fennel contains flavonoids, which are an effective expectorant; it strengthens the digestion, and has an antimicrobial and fungicidal effect. Fennel is used to treat colic, indigestion and flatulence. Hippocrates recommended it for promoting lactation and to sooth menstrual pain and PMS. It has also been used for its oestrogenic properties, and to sooth problems with the prostate. Fennel has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle in the digestive tract and trachea, thus mitigating cramps throughout the digestive tract, such as colic, hiccups and asthma. It is used in cough syrup because of the anti-bacterial properties.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder grows all over Europe, the Balkan, Russia and Asia Minor, and all parts of the plant, root, leaves, berries and flowers are used. Elder has a high content of Vitamin C, flavonoids, essential oils, fatty acids and sterols, and has been part of natural medicine in Scandinavia for hundreds of years. It increases the bronchial secretion and the production of stomach acid, has a potent diuretic effect, but is also used for its laxative effects and its effectiveness in colds and oedema. Furthermore it is expectorant and anti-inflammatory. In 1992 an Israeli research team determined, that elder inhibits 10 different types of influenza-virus, herpes-virus and Epstein Barr-virus. In a Czech study patients with trigeminal Neuralgia (nerve pain in the face) were cured with extract of elderberries.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a plant, which grows naturally in South East Asia, but is also grown in other tropical areas. It has been subject to more scientific studies than any other plant. Ginger contains essential oils, gingerole and zingerone, and it prevents constipation, is bile stimulant, and stimulates peristalsis of the intestine and the production of gastric juice. Furthermore it is used to treat flatulence and intestinal toxins. In a Chinese study 70% of the patients with dysentery (caused by a bacterial infection) were cured, when given ginger. Extensive clinical studies from 1994 documented, that ginger is as effective against nausea as synthetic remedies, but without the sedative effect. The positive effect of Ginger on some types of arthritis has been determined, and like anti-inflammatory medicine (e.g. ibuprofen and aspirin) it suppresses fever, pain, inflammations, and has a blood thinning effect. However, ginger does not impair the bloods ability to coagulate and does not affect the stomach, as is the case with traditional pain killers.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Angelica only grows in Northern Europe and has not been known anywhere else. Traditionally it has been an important food source and medicinal plant of the Sami in the north and Greenlandic Inuit. The active substances in angelica are essential oil, furanocoumarins, xanthotoxin, angelicin, tannins, coumarins and flavonoids. The root is used when treating digestive diseases, as it has a calming and antiseptic effect. Furthermore it stimulates the immune response and the production of gastric juice, gall and pancreas-secretion. Angelica is used to treat colic, intestinal pain, indigestion, aerophagia, flatulence, enterocolitis, ulcers, anxiety and nervous insomnia. In 18th and 19th century it was used against infection as dysentery and cholera. The plant has a dual effect as it is anti-bacterial, and also increases the production gastric juice, which protects against bacteria.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chervil grows wildly in the Middle East, Caucasus, Central-Asia and East- and Southern Europe, and has usually been used as a spice and flavour enhancer. Its flavour is similar to that of anise and fennel, and it has many of the same properties. The active substances are essential oil, Apiin and glycosides, and it has mainly been used as a diuretic and as a remedy for flatulence and indigestion.
Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Liquorice root grows primarily in the Mediterranean countries, the Balkan, Russia, Caucasus, Turkey, the Middle East, China and Mongolia, and as the name implies, the root is used. Liquorice root has long line of uses. Liquorice root is mentioned through the entity of the history of herbal medicine. It has been used for ulcers of the stomach and the duodenum, bad breath and inflammations in the throat and bronchi. It is expectorant, anti-spasmodic, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and has a protective effect on the liver. The active substances glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid from the root have shown promising results. Their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic effect can alleviate arthritis, hypersensitivity, chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, and glycyrrhizin is one of the most documented anti-viral plant substances. Studies have shown a significant effect on different types of viruses, e.g. influenza virus, cold virus and HIV-virus. The root furthermore assists the stomach in producing its protective mucosa, and patients, who showed no improvement from medical treatment of ulcers, showed a 90% improvement with liquorice root.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano originates in Greece. Most people associate oregano with pizza, but the plant has been used as medicine and contains the active substances carvacrol, thymol and tannins. The plant is generally stimulating on the digestion and appetite and has an anti-inflammatory effect. It relieves stomach pains, diarrhea and flatulence, and due to its calming effect it has used against anxiety, tensions, nervous agitation and hyperactivity.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint grows in Europe, Russia, North- and South America, North Africa, Pakistan and India. Peppermint is the most widely used of the various mints. It is used as flavouring in vast array of products, especially in the form of menthol. There are more than 20 different species of mint, and most have been used since antiquity. Peppermint contains active substances such as Menthol, rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, tannins, phenolic acids, carotenoids and choline. The plant inhibits nausea and counteracts the vomiting reflex. It stimulates the entire digestive system, where it has anticonvulsant and sedative effect. Clinical studies have shown that it dampens the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which can otherwise be difficult to treat medically. Its anti-bacterial abilities are used to alleviate food poisoning, and the oil inhibits Salmonella and Listeria-bacteria. It is also effective against conditions such as palpitations, burning sensations in the stomach, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea and insomnia, and it is anticonvulsant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and promotion of gall secretion.
Parsley (Petroselium crispum)
Parsley is a treasured herb, which grows in Europe, the Balkan, Russia, India and North America. It has a high content of minerals, apioles, myristicin, flavonoids, furanocoumarins, iron, calcium, silicon, potassium, vitamin A, C and E, folic acid and polysaccharides. Parsley is a versatile herb, both as a flavour enhancer and as a natural medicine. Medically, it is an effective diuretic, and it strengthens the stomach. Studies have shown that substances in the plant reduce the effect of carcinogenic substances, and the ancient Greeks used it to cure urinary stones and gallstones. Its diuretic effect is highly documented, and parsley is recommended as an alternative to conventional medicine against high blood pressure and urinary infection. Recent studies have also shown that it suppresses the formation of histamine, which is the substance that that trigger allergic reactions.
Roman chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Roman chamomile is bitterer than regular chamomile. As the name implies, it originates from Central-and Western Europe, but also grows in USA and Argentina. Chamomile is usually used as flavour and is particularly treasured in tea. The stimulating ingredients of camomile are sesquiterpene lactone and polyacetylenes flavonoids, phenolic acids, polysaccharides (galactose, arabinose, xylose), and choline. Chamomile is a revered medicinal herb that soothes cramps, is anti-inflammatory and it has been used to digestive problems since the first century AD. It is remarkably effective in treating ulcers of the stomach and the duodenum. It not only dampens the symptoms, but heals the ulcers. Furthermore it is widely used in relation to inflammatory conditions in the stomach and intestine, Crohn's disease, intestinal catarrh and irritable colon, where it has an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effect. It also has a calming effect, which makes it suitable for repressing stress, anxiety, restlessness and hyperactivity.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary grows in the Mediterranean countries, on the Crimean peninsula, Caucasus and Mexico. It is valued for its flavour, but also for its medicinal properties. It contains trichoroethylene terpinenes, tannins, flavonoids, rosmarinicin, phenolic acids and a variety of antioxidants that fight free radicals and protect cells against aging. Rosemary eases cramps and indigestion, strengthens the liver, is anti-bacterial and is generally stimulating. Furthermore it is used as remedy for pains in the digestive tract, colic, headache, reduced liver function, constipation, bronchitis, coughing, asthmatic cramps, high blood pressure and it is anti-spastic and antimicrobial.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage originates from the Mediterranean countries, Central Europe and North America. It was spread throughout Europe by the Romans and later by the monks and its name simply means “to cure”. Sage contains trichoroethylene terpinenes, tannins, thujone and flavonoids, and research has shown that the active substance thujone in the oil from the plant has a powerful anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and digestive effect. It prevents diarrhoea, inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestine, is antimicrobial and antiviral, increases gastric acid secretion and stimulates bile production. The antiseptic effect has been used to treat gingivitis, dental pain and sore throat. Sage also contains substances, which supresses Candida.
Large nettle (Urtica dioica)
Large nettle can be found all over Europe, Asia and in North America. The large nettle has since the middle Ages had a long line of usages in Europe. It was woven to fine yet durable fabric, used as food ingredient, but also used for the medicinal properties. Large nettle contain flavonoids (kaempferol), silicates, histamine, serotonin, potassium, silicon, free amino acids, chlorophyll and acetylcholine. It is anti-inflammatory, diuretic, counteracts 5-alpha-reductase and has positive hormonal effect on the prostate. It is used for alleviating arthritis and other rheumatic conditions, hay fever, asthma and itching from insect bites. Large nettle can compensate for the blood's haemoglobin content and has been shown to have a positive effect on benign prostatitis. Large nettle also generally stimulates the digestive system and has cleansing properties. Pharmacological studies show that it increases the secretion of chloride and urea by the kidneys.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme grows in Central- and Southern Europe, the Balkan, Caucasus, Eastern Africa, Pakistan, India and North America. Thyme has a round and aromatic flavour, but is also known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and expectorant properties. Thyme contains thymol, borneol, carvacrol, terpenoids, flavonoids, saponins, antioxidants and carbonic acid and is often used as a herbal remedy for lung disorders, convulsive cough, indigestion, diarrhoea, abdominal bloating, fatigue and herpes. Thyme also eases bronchial cramps and stimulates bronchial secretion. In recent years thyme has been subject to numerous studies, which has focused on its anti-septic and preservative properties, which is caused by the substance thymol, which is a powerful disinfectant. For this reason, thyme is a potent remedy for stomach infections, diarrhea, flatulence, catarrh and dysentery. English studies have determined that the plants expectorant and anticonvulsant properties have an equivalent effect on bronchitis to synthetic medications.