Forgotten British Herbs and how to use them

British herbs

How often have you gone for walk and looked at the wild flowers and plants?

Maybe pointing out a few that you know – buttercup, daisy or wild rose. We have such a wide range of beautiful and also useful medicinal plants growing right here. You may have heard of or even taken ginseng, or ashwaganda, ginkgo or moringa, but what about yarrow, borage or plantain? Some of the most potent (yet safe and free) medicinal plants are right under your nose.


Often quoted as ‘Borage for Courage’, there are records of soldiers taking borage before battles to sustain them and allow them to continue fighting for longer. This is a similar action to how ginseng and ashwaganda work. Unfortunately it can be rarely seen growing wild but a lovely one to plant in your own garden. Borage is not only a wound healer externally it also reduces skin blemishes and (supposedly) wrinkles. You will often see borage oil added to expensive face creams. Why not make your own using the recipe below, simply make an infused oil with borage and add rosewater as the water component.


There are many types of chickweed but Stellaria media is the main one quoted for medicinal use. It’s also edible, especially in the spring. It can be applied directly to grazes but is also a great wound healer when made into an infused oil. It’s a favourite among herbalists for eczema because of its ability to reduce itching.


Cleavers has many names, most of which come from its use in school yards being stuck to the back of jumpers. Cleavers acts on the lymphatic system removing toxins from the body so a great herb to take for detoxing. Its traditional use of being used as a fresh poultice on leg ulcers is making a come back thanks to some very dedicated herbalists and nurses.

St John’s wort

St John’s Wort is always a favourite of mine on herb walks because it is very easy to identify once you know what you’re looking for (come along to a summer herb walk to find out). It is also a herb that a lot of people have heard about in regards to its used in treating depression. St John’s Wort is far from a one trick pony. First and foremost it is a liver detoxifier, and secondly it is a great anti-inflammatory. It’s very easy to make an infused oil from St John’s Wort, cut it fresh and add to oil, cold infuse for one month in a sunny place and it should turn a beautiful ruby red. Strain and use the oil externally to relieve nerve pain such as neuralgia or sciatica.


Comfrey has gotten a bad name in recent years because of the potential for a biochemical (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) within its root to cause liver toxicity. That biochemical is also found in the leaves and flowers of the herb but in much lower quantities. Comfrey leaves and flowers can be made into a fantastic anti-inflammatory infused oil that you can use on its own externally for aches and pains, or you could make it into a cream or ointment.


Dandelion is often known for its diuretic effects, and those are found using the leaves, and it is through this effect that dandelion leaves can be used to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Another excellent detoxifier of the liver, either from eating the leaves or drinking an infusion of the leaves or roots. Dandelion root has been found to help balance blood sugar in diabetic patients (see references), and is safe to take alongside drugs.


Often associated with Achilles as it was thought that it was this plant that he used on to heal the wound of his famous tendon injury. Yarrow is indeed a great wound healer, and another one that can be applied to a graze if you’re out walking. One of the trickier ones to identify for those new to plant identification, but once you know the key features you’ll notice them everywhere. It is also traditionally used for many gynaecological conditions due to its ability to increase circulation to the pelvic region, reducing inflammation and pain.


Also edible most of the year, the leaves in spring and then the seeds and roots are also edible. There are two main types but a lot of their medicinal properties are interchangeable. Not only are they great wound healers (much better for nettle stings than dock leaf), they also have an antihistaminic and astringent effect that make them a great treatment for hay fever. Plantain also makes the best nappy rash cream.

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