Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the herbs that can help with stress.

Lemon balm is known for it’s calming properties and it is one of the prominent ingredients in some of my most effective over-the-counter anxiety remedies.

Last week I spoke about the weeds found in the garden that we commonly dig up and throw into the compost heap, and how we can use them to aid our health. I wrote about dandelion, nettle and plantain and how each of these herbs can be utilised both in the kitchen and in the wild, to make the most out of their medicinal properties.

There are a number of ways to get the most out of your herbs and they can easily be turned into teas, decoctions, tinctures and medicinal vinegars or honey. When using leafy greens, they can simply be chopped up and added to salads, or any other meal that you’d normally serve with kale, spinach, spring greens and other leafy veg that you’d pick up in the super market.

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If you’re using some of these techniques to get the most out of your garden this year, some other herbs to watch out for include lemon balm, cleavers and yarrow.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is unstoppable once planted, so if you don’t plan to use it often, I’d avoid introducing it to your flower beds. From the same family as mint, lemon balm can be recognised by it’s fresh lemony scent that is released when the leaves are crushed.

Lemon balm is known for it’s calming properties and it is one of the prominent ingredients in some of my most effective over-the-counter anxiety remedies. Excellent for stress, worrying and nervousness, lemon balm makes a fresh tasting and delicious tea that can feel uplifting, even on the rainiest of days. The oils that give lemon balm it’s fresh taste are used by herbalists to relax the muscles in the digestive tract, to ease the discomfort of wind, bloating and tummy cramps. This makes it especially appropriate for digestive symptoms that are triggered or worsened by stress and anxiety.

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Cleavers is also known as sticky weed or sticky willy. You may remember it from childhood as long, green, Velcro like stems that stick to your clothes as you walk by. If you have pets, you’ve probably spent some time brushing the tiny green seeds from their fur as well.

Cleavers is used as a lymphatic herb, so you’ll see it in herbal remedies designed to improve skin health, reduce water retention, swellings and spots. I remember being taught that large doses of cleavers can help treat boils, back during my early days of training. I had thought the term “boil” to be an old-fashioned term that was mostly out of use, something that witches get along with warts! Due to the condemning of herbalists through history, many herbal texts did not survive, so much of our historical reading comes from a time when this type of language was common.

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Of course, boils are a real thing and in my own practice, I have used cleavers to treat them. In general, it is an excellent remedy for most skin problems, especially those that include redness and swelling around the lymph node clusters, such as the jawline, armpits, breasts and groin area.

Yarrow is characterised by little umbrellas of tiny white flowers, but it can be a tricky one to identify correctly as there are other plants that look very similar. Most worryingly, giant hogweed, which could be mistaken for yarrow, is toxic, so make sure you know your plants before consuming this one.

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Yarrow is a herb I use for conditions associated with bleeding and healing. Topically it would have been used in the past to staunch bleeding from wounds, but nowadays I use it more for excessive bleeding from within. A woman with heavy menstrual bleeds might benefit from yarrow, or someone who is recovering from surgery of the bowel or digestive tract. Healing on the inside of the body can take a lot of time, so I use yarrow in these instances to speed up recovery and reduce some of the discomfort brought on by injury or surgery to the gut and bowel.

Your garden can be a wonderful place if you know what to look for, so if you enjoy being creative in your kitchen with simple remedies, it’s worthwhile getting to know your weeds. There are plenty of plant guides out there but a herb walk with a herbalist is usually the quickest way to pick up the kind of knowledge that will get you using your weeds and wild plants safely.

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l For more information, or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.