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Herbs for Colds and Flus

using elder flowers for natural treatment of flu and cold

Here is some helpful hints to help you combat the seasons colds and flus. Rest, lots of fluids and try to eat go without saying but please do read on.

At this time of year there is little that we can do to avoid the bugs that cause colds and flus. There are so many bugs that are floating around looking for friendly hosts in which to multiple! One of the best herbs for strengthening your ability to fend off an attack is Echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Research has found that people who take this herb as a supplement during the cold season may not be immune to the bugs but they recover from any illness far quicker and their symptoms are far reduced. Make sure that you load up on your anti oxidants and make sure if you are taking a vit C supplement that it contains riboflavins; without which the vit C can not be utilized by your body! You can take up to 3 g Vit C per day ; what is not used by the body will pass through without causing any harm. Bear in mind fresh is best but when you are feeling under the weather just take lots of fluids and rest.

Old Flu Tea

When you’re huddled at home nursing a cold or flu, a warm cup of herb tea is comfort in itself. An advantage to drinking tea is that the liquid thins congestion and flushes out toxins. It’s true that tea is time-consuming, but try to find time to take care of yourself when you’re sick. Drinking two to three cups of the following tea, nice and hot, will make you sweat and lower a fever. Afterward, if possible, tuck yourself into a warm bed.

– 1/2 teaspoon Yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium)
– 1/2 teaspoon Elder flowers (Sambucus canadensis)
– 1/2 teaspoon Peppermint leaves
– 1/2 teaspoon Echinacea root
– 1/2 teaspoon Rosehip berries
– 3 cups boiling water

1.Combine the herbs in a teapot and pour the boiling water over them. Steep for at least 20 minutes.

2.Strain and drink throughout the day. You can make a double batch and keep it in the refrigerator. Just be sure to warm it before drinking.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the herbs in your cupboard the first three alone will help considerably.

Sore Throat Gargle with Sage

The Sage (Salvia officinalis) used in the following recipe is a classic gargle, but other herbs such as Marjoram, Thyme or Hyssop can replace it. Opera singers once used Marjoram to ease a strained throat.

-1 cup boiling water
-2 teaspoons fresh or dried Sage leaves
– 1/4 ounce salt

1.Pour the boiling water over the sage, cover and steep for 20 minutes.

2.Strain and add the salt. Gargle as needed. Store in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Herbal Steam

Warm, moist air opens nasal and bronchial passages. Combined with herbs, steam is one of the most effective, all-purpose cold and flu cures. To humidify and disinfect the entire house, simmer the water with the herbs or essential oils on low heat for half an hour. Essential oils can also be used in most commercial humidifiers, but check the instructions.

-3 cups water
-5 drops essential oil of Lavender
-5 drops essential oil of Rosemary
-5 drops essential oil of Bergamot

1. Simmer the water in a pan. Remove from the heat and add the oils (you can get the same effect by putting 1/8 cup total of fresh or dried herbs in the simmering water instead of the essential oils).

2. Hold your face over the steam and cover your head with a bath towel. Tuck the ends of the towel around the pan so the steam doesn’t escape. Breathe in the fragrant steam as deeply as you comfortably can, coming out for fresh air when needed (about every minute or so).

or there is always olbas oil!
Lemon Antiseptic Throat Spray

A diluted lemon spray is one of the most effective tools to knock down a cold or flu. Other herbs to use in a throat spray are lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, and peppermint. When sprayed through the air, terpene compounds in these oils combine with oxygen to increase the oil’s antiseptic properties.

-15 drops Lemon essential oil
– 5 drops Peppermint essential oil
– 1/4 cup water
– 1/4 cup lemon juice

1.Combine the ingredients and pour the concoction into a spray bottle.

2.Shake well, then gently spray into your throat throughout the day.

Essential Oil Vapor Rub

Ointments called vapor rubs are designed to be rubbed directly on the chest and throat. They rely on essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus to produce a heating sensation that reduces constriction by stimulating blood circulation. The oils in a vapor balm are also absorbed through the skin to relieve congestion and kill infection. They serve double duty – the antibiotic scent is also inhaled into the lungs. Vapor balms sold in pharmacies still use compounds derived from antibiotic essential oils (or synthetic counterparts), such as thymol from Thyme and menthol from Mint.

-10 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
-10 drops Peppermint essential oil
-3 drops Thyme essential oil
-1/8 cup Olive oil

1.Combine the ingredients and rub on your chest and throat.

2.To increase the warmth of the balm, rub the oil briskly onto the skin. A warm piece of flannel placed on the chest afterward will increase the warming sensation.

or there is always olbas oil!


uses for woad plant

Isatis tinctoria-Woad

Family: Cruciferae or Brassicaceae

Other names: 

Greenweed, Greenwood, Woad or Wood-waxen, formerly Wede-wixen or Woud-wix, Base-broom, Genet des Teinturiers, Farberginster, Dyers’ Broom,

Habitat: C. and S. Europe. Naturalized in S. and C. England. Cliffs and cornfields, often on chalky soils.

Description of Woad: 

Woad, Isatis tinctoria is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in). 
It is hardy to zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Cultivation of Woad:

An easily grown plant, it prefers a well-drained fertile soil in a sunny position, though it succeeds in ordinary garden soil. Prefers neutral to alkaline conditions. Plants deplete the soil of nutrients and cannot be grown successfully on the same site for more than two years. Plants are hardy to about -15°c. Woad is a biennial, or occasionally a short-lived perennial plant. It has a very long history as a dye plant, being used by the ancient Britons to give a blue colouring to the skin. At one time woad was widely cultivated for this blue dye obtained from its leaves but with the advent of chemical dyes it has fallen into virtual disuse. It is currently (1993) being grown commercially on a small scale in Germany as a wood preservative. Plants self-sow freely when they are grown in a suitable position, though they tend not to thrive if grown in the same position for more than two years.

Propagation of Woad: 

Seed – sow spring in situ. Fresh seed can also be sown in situ in late summer, it will take 20 months to flower but will produce more leaves

Collection of Woad:

The leaves are harvested when fully grown and 3 – 4 harvests can be made in total.

Culinary uses of Woad:


Leaves – they require long soaking in order to remove a bitterness, and even then they are still bitter. There is no record of the seeds being edible, but they contain 12 – 34% protein and 12 – 38% fat on a zero moisture basis.

Medicinal uses of Woad:

Part used: Whole plant. 

Actions: antibacterial, anticancer, antiviral, astringent and febrifuge

Woad has rather a mixed press for its medicinal virtues. One author says it is so astringent that it is not fit to be used internally – it is only used externally as a plaster applied to the region of the spleen and as an ointment for ulcers, inflammation and to staunch bleeding. However, it is widely used internally in Chinese herbal medicine where high doses are often employed in order to maintain high levels of active ingredients. The leaves are antibacterial, anticancer, antiviral, astringent and febrifuge. It controls a wide range of pathogenic organisms, including viruses. It is used internally in the treatment of a wide range of disorders, including meningitis, encephalitis, mumps, influenza, erysipelas, heat rash etc. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be used fresh or dried. They are also macerated and the blue pigment extracted. This is also used medicinally, particularly in the treatment of high fevers and convulsions in children, coughing of blood and as a detoxifier in infections such as mumps. The root is antibacterial and anticancer. It is used in the treatment of fevers, pyogenic inflammation in influenza and meningitis, macula in acute infectious diseases, erysipelas, mumps and epidemic parotitis. Its antibacterial action is effective against Bacillus subtilis, haemolytic streptococcus,, C. diphtheriae, E. coli, Bacillus typhi, B. paratyphi, Shigella dysenteriae, S. flexneri and Salmonella enteritidis. Both the leaves and the roots are used in the treatment of pneumonia. The root and the whole plant have anticancer properties whilst extracts of the plant have shown bactericidal properties

Other uses of Woad:

Dye, Preservative

Woad is historically famous as a dye plant, having been used as a body paint by the ancient Britons prior to the invasion of the Romans. A blue dye is obtained from the leaves by a complex process that involves fermenting the leaves and produces a foul stench. The dye is rarely used nowadays, having been replaced first by the tropical Indigofera tinctoria and more recently by synthetic substitutes. Nevertheless, it is a very good quality dye that still finds some use amongst artists etc who want to work with natural dyes. A very good quality green is obtained by mixing it with Dyer’s greenwood (Genista tinctoria). Woad is also used to improve the colour and quality of indigo, as well as to form a base for black dyes. Is now grown as a green wood preservative in Germany.

Esoteric uses of Woad: 

Woad belongs to Mars and Jupiter. The ancient Celts and Picts cut (tattoo) magickal designs into their bodies and rubbed in the blue coloring. You may simply prefer to paint it on for ceremonial purposes. Woad is also supposed to aid in shape-shifting and the study of past lives during magic rituals. 


The Chemistry:

The active principle, Scopnarine, is found as starry, yellow crystals, and is soluble in boiling water and in alcohol. From the liquid which remains another principle, Spartéine, is extracted, an organic base, liquid and volatile, with strong narcotic properties.

This herb is only to be used by a qualified practitioner as it is classified as being a poisonous substance please view this article as being for information only.

Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants

useful weeds

Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants 
by James A. Duke
Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey. London, England: Ecco Books; 2010. Hardcover; 336 pages. ISBN 9780062065452. $25.99. 

One might get a different notion of author Richard Mabey’s purpose in writing Weeds from the British subtitle, “How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature,” than from the more American subtitle, “In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants.” The latter signals his purpose to somehow defend these plants from their many abusers.

Matter of fact, there are divisions within my family regarding our sentiments for some of the important weeds, a few of which, curiously, Mabey fails to mention. For example, he omitted sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua, Asteraceae), the world’s most promising antimalarial. My wife, Peggy, hates it, and Judi, my long-time right-hand lady, is incredibly allergic to it. My daughter, Celia, has no specific grudge against it, but sides with the many anti-invasive weed campaigners in the United States who fear that the proven anticancer and antimalarial properties of one of its key constituents (artemisinin) might encourage careless introductions of it to new areas, furthering the invasion.

Helen Metzman, the curator and director of our Green Farmacy Garden, precluded me from planting another antimalarial, Ailanthus altissima (Simaroubaceae), the so-called tree-of-heaven. Mabey mentions this genus because of its invasiveness. The weed grows to heights of 30 feet atop abandoned buildings in Detroit. Mabey also mentions it as the tree that took over an abandoned section of the New York Central Railroad in Manhattan.

I doubt that most readers will criticize the lack of scientific names within the text, but many of us who share his respect for the weeds do not know them by the names particular to Mabey’s British Isles that he uses. As a trained taxonomist, I find it annoying to have to look up plants in the book’s glossary. Perhaps the book’s editors [in the United Kingdom] deemed inserting the Latin names in the text as a potential distraction to the books primary target audience, i.e., general consumers and plant lovers, but not professional botanists like myself.

Like me, Mabey is interested in the edible weeds that are often more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts. He mentions many edibles in his chapter on knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare, Polygonaceae), including some that were discovered in the stomach of a 2,000-year-old corpse found preserved in a bog in Denmark. The preserved corpse’s stomach contained at least 63 varieties of seeds, including buttercup (Narcissus pseudonarcissus, Amaryllidaceae), fat-hen (Chenopodium album, Chenopodiaceae, aka lamb’s quarters), lady’s-mantle (Alchemilla xanthochlora, Rosaceae), rye-grass (Secale cereale, Poaceae), smooth hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris, Asteraceae), yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae), and Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus, Poaceae). The index to Weeds lists these plants as appearing on page 52 in the knotweed chapter, but alas, sans scientific name. I fear that many taxonomists will be quick to lament ready access to the scientific names associated with the weeds Mabey mentions, like mealy-leaved fat-hen. I strongly recommend the Latin binomials be included in the main text if he and his publisher prepare a second edition.

Additionally, Mabey’s defense does not include much information on the plant’s medicinal uses. Ailanthus,which is growing—and, dare I say, overgrowing—in Brooklyn, Detroit, and Manhattan, contains some very potent antimalarial compounds worth mentioning.

I wrote this review in a rehab facility where my wife was recovering from a botched pacemaker operation. In retrospect, I think an edible weed tree, such as hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata, Rosaceae), could have prevented the atrial fibrillation that sent her to the emergency room. Mabey, however, does not mention any such medicinal virtues. His book is packed densely already without mentioning the potentials of medicinals. The edible weedy relatives of cultivated garlic (Allium sativum, Liliaceae) and onion (A. cepa) could have served as cardioprotectives almost as well as hawthorn. If Mabey mentions the wild Alliums, I missed it in my perusal of the book.

All of the still-cognizant little old ladies in their wheelchairs or on their rollators at the rehab center were strikingly inquisitive about why I was reading a book on weeds, so I showed them the aromatic invasive weed lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae), telling them how it can do the same thing that Aricept®did for Alzheimer’s (preserve the choline messengers in the brain). As a chronic compiler, I could readily write another book cataloging the weeds of proven and folkloric medicinal value that Mabey mentions in his delightfully erudite and entertaining book.

For a change, I learned the meaning of waybread (Plantago major, Plantaginaceae) on the first page of Chapter 4. Waybread is called traveler’s foot in Great Britain, but we tend to call it plantain and white man’s footprint in the United States. Seeds of P. major have been substituted for Metamucil®, the bulk laxative made from the husks of the psyllium seed from a plant in the same genus (P. isphagula). Furthermore, in his accurate account of the ecology of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae), he fails to mention its many traditional and modern documented medicinal activities, particularly that of the root, which is one of the 3 most clinically documented remedies for symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia.  

The waybread chapter probably gives more information on St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Clusiaceae) than on waybread itself, but—surprisingly to me—there was no mention of its use for melancholy that predates its current use for depression. In the Middle Ages, midsummer fires were lit in honor of St. John on St. John’s Day, now June 24, burning several species of weeds including St. Johns wort. Finally, on page 245, Mabey notes that St. John’s wort is a “source of an effective anti-depressant.”

 Chapter 5 correctly describes self heal (Prunella vulgaris, Lamiaceae), a panacea to Amerindians, as “the medicinal weed.”  The chapter devotes much more space to interesting accounts of the doctrine of signatures and the idiosyncrasies of some of the early physicians and herbalists than to the herb itself. Medicinal uses of this weed focus on the tannin-rich leaves, which act as an anti-dyspeptic mint for unsettled stomachs.

 Mabey has done an admirable defense and critique of many of the interesting facets of weeds. He discusses interesting asides that could spice up a boring account devoted to examining a single facet of these complex plants. Weeds is almost overwhelmingly dense with interesting reflections. Savor them leisurely. You do not need the scientific names to enjoy the read.  But I do.


James A. Duke, PhD
Botanical Consultant

Economic Botanist (USDA, ret.)

Fulton, MD

 First appeared HerbalGram. 2011; American Botanical Council


Lipids and Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents

Plant Lipids and Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents

Lipids and Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents by Halldor Thormar (ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley; 2011Hardcover; 315 pages. ISBN: 9780470741788. $145.00.

Oils are important for life. They are composed of complex chemicals in liquid form. Fixed oils are composed of lipids that are vital for the cell and functions of living organisms. The main types of lipids are fats, oils, phospholipids, and steroids. Animal fats and vegetable oils are known as triglycerides, which are composed of fatty acids and glycerol. Phospholipids, the major components of cell membranes, consist of 2 fatty acids. When triglycerides and phospholipids undergo a chemical reaction known as hydrolysis, they produce fatty acids with antimicrobial properties. These fatty acids are abundantly available in nature and are essential for the body.

Essential oils consist of volatile terpenoid and non-terpenoid constituents not essential for life functions, but they have other useful properties. Terpenoids are composed of hydrocarbons and a number of smaller units known as isoprene molecules. Essential oils can be found in aromatic plants and are responsible for their fragrance. Unlike fixed oils that are obtained by expression or solvent extraction from plant materials such as seeds, essential oils are obtained by water or steam distillation or expression in the case of citrus oils. In Lipids and Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents, the authors examine both categories of oils with a focus on their antimicrobial properties.

Lipids and Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents consists of 11 chapters ably written by experts in their respective fields. Each chapter provides comprehensive and valuable information on various aspects of antimicrobial lipids and essential oils in an easily digestible manner.

The first 8 chapters deal with various aspects of lipids as antimicrobial agents beginning with the chemical aspects of lipids and their actions on biological membranes. The first chapter is titled “Membranes as Targets of Antimicrobial Lipids.” The author offers a brief but comprehensive explanation of the physical and chemical properties of lipids and their behavior and function in living cells. At certain concentrations, surfactants—a class of molecules that acts on the surface of cells—can act as detergents, breaking apart lipid membranes. The author concludes that antimicrobial lipids act in a similar way to kill microorganisms.

In the following chapter, the author discusses the history of antimicrobial lipids research from the 1880s to 1960, focusing mainly on the antimicrobial activity and life-saving functions of soaps. Striking examples of antimicrobial soaps include the use of oleate soaps on anthrax and cholera germs and chaulmoogra oil (Hydnocarpus wightiana, Achariaceae) for treating leprosy. Skin lipids with oleic acid and other long-chain fatty acids have been shown to possess self-disinfecting activity on human skin and its appendages like hair, nails, and earwax. Chapter 3 discusses the more recently discovered antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activities of lipids. Monoglycerides such as monolaurin and monocaprin and fatty acids like lauric and linolenic acids demonstrate antibacterial activities against gram-positive bacteria genera such asStaphylococci (Staphylococcaceae), Streptococci (Streptococcaceae), and Bacilli (Bacillaceae)as well asPropionibacterium (Propionibacteriaceae), a bacterium that causes acne. Capric, lauric, palmitoleic, and arachidonic acids, monocaprin, monolaurin, and monopalmitolein were found to be active against gram-negative bacteria such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Neisseriaceae, which causes gonorrhea), Salmonella(Enterobacteriaceae), and Escherichia coli (Enterobacteriaceae), mainly in acidic conditions. While monocarpin and monolaurin did not show significant activity against E. coli at 30oC and physiological pH, by increasing the temperature to 50oC and lowering the pH,  remarkable antibacterial activity was observed, demonstrating that acidic conditions remove the barriers in outer membranes of the cell wall and allow lipids to access and saturate the cell, causing disintegration of the membranes.

Antiviral, antimicrobial, and antiprotozoal activities of fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and monoglycerides are also reviewed. Antimicrobial lipids in human breastmilk are discussed in Chapter 4. Milk lipids play and important role not only in nutrition but also in the protection of suckling neonates from infections. Breastmilk, which contains medium-chain saturated and long-chain unsaturated fatty acids and their respective monoglycerides, has the ability to destabilize microbial membranes. Their mechanism of action is explained in detail. The same issue is also discussed from another perspective in Chapter 6, in the section, “The Role of Human Milk Lipids in Innate Immunity,” where breast feeding is recommended to enhance the immune systems of newborn babies.

In chapter 5, the author deals with antimicrobial lipids of the skin and explains their molecular mechanism of action. Complex mixtures of lipids on skin are seen as contributing to localized natural immunity. Skin lipids have been shown to be effective against gram-positive bacteria, gram-negative bacteria, and yeasts. They appear to act through microbial plasma membranes and can enhance innate immunity. Effects of antimicrobial lipids in pulmonary mucosa, respiratory tract, in the lungs and on skin, and their role in natural immunity are also discussed in detail.

Chapter 7 comprises a compilation of practical aspects of lipids as active ingredients in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and health foods. It was interesting to read that lipids are sometimes used as animal feed supplements instead of antibiotics, and that capric acid acts as an antimethanogenic in ruminant animals. Agricultural applications of fatty acids are mentioned as well, with the author noting that linolenic and linoleic acids  exhibited activity against pathogenic fungi tested, while oleic acid had limited antifungal activity on certain fungi. The effects of lipids on a variety of diseases are reviewed in this chapter as well. The final chapter on lipids covers practical uses of antimicrobial lipids as disinfectants, antiseptics, and sanitizers. The dawn of soaps as germicides and the renewed interest in recent years in using antimicrobial fatty acids and monoglycerides to reduce bacterial contamination of foodstuffs and as sanitizers or disinfectants are discussed. The use of the lipid monocaprin either singly or in liquid soaps is recommended as a strong microbicidal.

Essential oils are covered in the final 3 chapters. Chapter 9 gives an overview of the chemistry and biological activity of essential oils. The chemistry of monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, norterpenes, and phenylpropanoids as well as sulfur- and nitrogen-containing essential oil constituents is described. It would have been beneficial for the authors also to include non-terpenoid volatile components like alkanes, alkenes, and their oxygenated derivatives: benzenoids, fatty acids, and their esters as essential oil constituents. In this chapter, the author also reviews antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiprotozoal, and anticancer properties associated with essential oils. Their use in pharmaceuticals and foods also appears in this chapter.

Chapter 10 is devoted specifically to the antiviral activities of essential oils and their components. Essential oils are complex mixtures of volatile chemicals, some of which may possess antimicrobial and/or antiviral activities. Microorganisms cannot easily develop resistance to essential oils like they do to single chemicals due to the compexity of their multicomponent chemistry. Therefore, they are preferable to single components for antimicrobial and/or antiviral effects. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae) essential oil has shown antiviral activity against the herpes simplex viruse. Essential oils of chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae), star anise (Illicium verum, Schisandraceae), dwarf pine (Pinus mugo, Pinaceae), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium, Myrtaceae), and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia, Myrtaceae) were found to be promising potential antiviral agents as well. A controlled clinical trial of a tea tree oil gel was found effective in the treatment of human herpes labialis. A comprehensive review of the mechanisms and practical aspects of antibacterial and antifungal activities of essential oils is given in the final chapter.

I recommend this book for scientists, researchers, and health professionals interested in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, natural products, oils, or nutrition. Students also can benefit from the comprehensive reviews in order to understand and learn the similar actions of these 2 diverse groups of natural chemicals.

—K. Husnu Can Baser, PhD
Professor of Pharmacognosy
Anadolu University
BadeBio Biotechnology Ltd.
Eskisehir, Turkey

first appeared on HerbalGram. 2012; American Botanical Council

Special Curcumin Extract from Turmeric Shows Promise in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients in Pilot Trial

Natural treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis using Curcumin Extract from Turmeric

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic systemic inflammatory disorder that is distinguished from other forms of arthritis by the joint destruction that is its prominent feature. Typically, 30% of patients do not respond to the classic forms of treatment. Curcumin, the major active constituent of the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), has been shown to modulate numerous pathways related to inflammation. This randomized, single-blind, pilot study examined the efficacy and safety of a curcumin extract in comparison to, and in combination with, diclofenac sodium (a pharmaceutical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug [NSAID]) in patients with mild-to-moderate rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
The study was conducted at Nirmala Medical Centre in Muvattupuzha, Kerala, India, and included 45 patients (38 females and 7 males; mean age=47.88 years) with RA according to the revised 1987 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria (with RA functional class I or II) and Disease Activity Score 28 (DAS28) > 5.1. Patients were excluded if they were taking NSAIDs or other anti-arthritic therapies, had any complicating surgeries or diseases, were pregnant or nursing, or had a history of substance abuse. Patients were divided into 3 groups: curcumin extract (500 mg BCM-95®; Arjuna Natural Extracts; Kochi, Kerala, India; imported and sold in the United States as CuraMed® by EuroPharma; Green Bay, WI), diclofenac sodium (50 mg; no source given), or both in combination; treatments were taken twice a day for 8 weeks. Neither the article nor the manufacturer’s website describes standardization.

Data on demographic characteristics, medical history, and medications were collected at baseline. Body weight, blood pressure, and heart rate were recorded, and hematology, blood chemistry, C-reactive protein (CRP), antistreptolysin-O (ASO), and blood sugar tests were performed. Each patient underwent an X-ray with an anteroposterior (AP) view of chest/hands/wrist/foot and 12-lead electrocardiography as well as a 28-joint assessment for tender joint count, swollen joint count, and duration of morning stiffness.

The primary endpoint was reduction in DAS28, a composite index based on the assessment of 28 joints, the erythrocyte (red blood cell) sedimentation rate (ESR), and visual analog scales (VAS) on which the patient scored his/her global assessment of disease activity. The secondary endpoints included ACR criteria scores. The ACR measures the improvement in tenderness or swollen joint counts and improvement in three of 5 parameters: patient global assessment, physician assessment, pain scale disability, functional questionnaire – HAQ (Health Assessment Questionnaire), and acute phase reactant (such as ESR).

There was no significant difference in any baseline characteristics between the groups. Thirty-eight patients completed the study and were included for efficacy analyses; all 45 patients were included in safety assessments. No explanation is given as to the reasons 7 patients did not complete the study.

There was a statistically significant change in DAS28 scores compared to baseline of similar proportion for all 3 treatment groups after 8 weeks (all P<0.05). There was no significant difference among the groups. Likewise, each group had a statistically significant difference in the ESR and VAS (all P<0.05) compared to baseline, but not among groups; curcumin extract had the highest percentage change of the 3 groups for VAS (59.9%). There was also a statistically significant change in ACR scores in all 3 treatment groups (all P<0.05), but no difference among them. The authors report that the percentage change in ACR was greatest for curcumin. CRP showed a significant change only in the curcumin group (P<0.05).

Adverse events were reported more frequently in the diclofenac sodium group and included itching and swelling around the eyes, dimness of vision, and worsening of the condition. Adverse events reported in the curcumin group were mild fever and throat infection (which are not necessarily associated with the use of the curcumin).

This pilot study shows that BCM-95 curcumin reduced DAS28 and ACR scores in patients with RA alone or in combination with diclofenac sodium. It also showed that intake levels of 500 mg twice daily for 8 weeks yielded few adverse effects. The mechanism for this action is not known but is purported to be due to the effect of curcumin on multiple signaling pathways involved with pain and inflammation. The authors reported that BCM-95 curcumin was selected for use in this study based on its enhanced absorption, which has been shown in 2 previously published human studies to have up to 7 times increased absorption than generic 95% curcumin turmeric extracts based on area under the curve (AUC) and 10 times the serum peak of generic 95% curcumin extracts.1,2

The authors conclude by asserting that BCM-95 curcumin extract was the superior treatment in this study, based on its efficacy equaling the prescription drug diclofenac sodium on DAS28 and ACR scores, combined with its superior safety and lower adverse effect profile. What can be said is that this proprietary curcumin extract had a similar effectiveness to the prescription drug diclofenac sodium with few adverse side effects. Larger studies will help to shed light on these findings.

Reviewed:  Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. March 9, 2012. [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639.

—Risa Schulman, PhD
by Risa N. Schulman

First appeared HerbalGram. 2012; American Botanical Council

Lavender Oil Inhalation Prior to Surgery-Like Setting Reduces Perceptions of Stress and Pain

Reviewed: Kim S, Kim H-J, Yeo J-S, Hong S-J, Lee J-M, Jeon Y. The effect of lavender oil on stress, bispectral index values, and needle insertion pain in volunteers. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(9):823-826.

Intraoperative anesthesia requirements increase when a patient has high baseline anxiety and stress. These patients also have a more difficult recovery from anesthesia. Accordingly, patients are given anxiolytic and sedative drugs before surgery, but these may delay discharge from the hospital. Aromatherapy may be able to reduce anxiety before a procedure. The purpose of this randomized, blinded, controlled study was to evaluate whether lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lamiaceae) oil aromatherapy could decrease stress, bispectral index values (using electroencephalogram to determine level of consciousness during sedation), and pain of needle insertion in a surgical setting.

Healthy subjects (n = 30, mean age 21 years) participated in this study conducted at Kyungpook National University Hospital in Daegu, South Korea. Subjects were randomly assigned into lavender treatment or control groups. Subjects arrived at the preoperative area, rested on a bed for 5 minutes, and then baseline bispectral index (BIS) values were calculated via electrodes placed on the scalp. Next, the subjects were asked to score their stress and tension on a visual analogue scale (VAS; 0 = no stress to 10 = maximum stress). One minute later, a 25-gauge needle was inserted 3 mm into the skin of the non-dominant forearm and kept there for 30 seconds. The subject rated pain intensity on a VAS (0 = no pain to 10 = worst pain imaginable).

Next, subjects in the lavender group received oxygen for 5 minutes via a face mask coated with 2 drops of 2% lavender oil, which was applied with a cotton swab to the inside of the mask. The lavender oil (100% pure lavender oil; Plant Life Natural Body Care; San Clemente, California) was diluted to 2% lavender oil with jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis, Simmondsiaceae) oil. The subjects in the control group received oxygen for 5 minutes through a face mask with no lavender oil. Immediately after receiving treatment, the subjects were transported to the operating room, and then BIS values were measured at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 minutes after inhalation therapy. The subjects scored their stress level 6 minutes after inhalation treatment, and 1 minute later, a needle was inserted similar to baseline. The subjects rated pain intensity from 0 to 10. Adverse effects were recorded.

At baseline, both groups had similar levels of stress, pain intensity at needle insertion, and BIS values. Lavender oil significantly reduced the stress level (P < 0.001) and pain intensity (P < 0.001) compared with the control. BIS levels at 5, 10, 15, and 20 minutes after aromatherapy inhalation were significantly lower than after control inhalation (P < 0.001 for all). There was no between-group difference in BIS 25 minutes after therapy. No adverse effects were reported.

The authors conclude that lavender inhalation significantly reduced BIS values, stress levels, and pain intensity of needle insertion. The exact mechanism of action is unknown. The advantages of aromatherapy with lavender oil is that it can be easily applied, is safe, has a low cost, would not prolong sedation after surgery or increase the incidence of vomiting, and can improve patient satisfaction. Aromatherapy may be helpful in controlling preoperative stress and fear. Although not assessed here, the findings may extend to the outpatient setting where patients need to give blood. The appropriate dose and efficacy would need to be assessed.

—Heather S. Oliff, PhD

First appeared by Heather S. Oliff

HerbalGram. 2011; American Botanical Council