The miracle of lemons

Lemons are antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal, astringent, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine, provide masses of  Vitamin C and can be used in cleaning and beautifying.  The amazing benefits of lemons for health are fully explained in the book, The Miracle of Lemons, by Dr Penny Stanway.

What few people realise is that lemons may be acidic in the mouth, but when they are digested the acids are broken down into water and carbon dioxide, and the other contents release alkalising minerals in the body – including calcium, iron, potassium, sodium. Far from avoiding them because they are too acidic, they keep the body alkaline, so we should be using them more!
The nutrients in lemons are so numerous that we can’t even list them all here. Here’s a flavour of them:
• Vitamin C aka ascorbic acid.  A small lemon contains 60-100mg of Vitamin C.
• Antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body – the chemicals that cause disease  – these include Vitamins C and E, selenium, and zinc.
• Citric acid which removes water from the body’s tissues into the bloodstream.
• Glucaric acid which lowers LDL cholesterol (the harmful one) from the body.

Health benefits:

Digestion: The acids in lemons – ascorbic, citric and glucaric – aid digestion for anyone who has insufficient gastric acid.
Arthritis: Lemons are good for arthritis, which thrives on an acidic system, despite the fact that people often warn sufferers to avoid citrus fruits.
Stabilises blood sugar levels: The acids and pectin within lemons slow the absorption of sugar after a meal with a high glycaemic index (that normally raises blood sugar levels).  This helps to stop low sugar dips which often lead people to eat more.
Sore throats or coughs: Lemon is often included in cough preparations – hot lemon and honey can be very soothing when you’re feeling ropey.
Athlete’s foot: Lemon juice is antifungal and can clear up a mild case of athlete’s foot when applied direct.
Dr Stanway mentions many more health benefits in her book.

How to eat or drink lemons

The easiest thing you can do is to squeeze lemon juice into meals – casseroles, stews, fish dishes, salad dressings. You can simply make a dressing of olive oil with lemon juice.
Or drink a glass of water with a fresh lemon wedge in it, or if making smoothies add lemon juice. You will barely notice the taste but will get all the benefits.

Choosing the best fruits

The long list of fungicides, pesticides and insecticides that growers put on lemons could put you off completely.  Far better to go for the unwaxed versions – the wax contains fungicides, and better still, organic lemons that are not subjected to such harsh chemicals.

To buy The Miracle of Lemons click on the Amazon carousel on the home page.

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Soya good for cholesterol, weight and hot flushes

People who have to give up dairy products because of allergies are often concerned that they won’t get enough calcium, but soy is a good substitute. Soya is also a high quality plant-based protein which is very digestible. Young girls should be eating soya from a young age as its ability to protect against bone loss in osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease is much improved if you start young.

Japanese and other women from the far east suffer much less from these illnesses and 50 per cent of them sail through the menopause without knowing what hot flushes are, compared with only 25 per cent of women in the west. A study in Japan of 27,435 women showed that strokes came down by 65 per cent and heart disease reduced by 63 per cent in the group that ate a lot of soya.

The health benefits:

  • Soya has a direct effect on LDL (harmful) blood cholesterol levels and displaces some other foods such as saturated fats – not only does it prevent cholesterol increasing but it can displaces it, lowering levels.
  • It is rich in polyunsaturated fats and effective at lowering the incidence of heart disease which is very high among women in Europe.
  • It can reduce hot flushes in menopausal women (by 88.5% in one trial*).
  • It can improve insomnia (by 63%*) in menopausal women.
  • Soya can protect against bone loss and prevent osteoporosis. A study showed a 1/3 reduction in fractures in women who ate a lot of soya.
  • Early intake of soya can protect against breast cancer – and is noticeably better the younger they eat just 12 to 15g a day.

How to take soya

At supermarkets and health food stores you can find soya milk, yoghurt, ice-cream, cheese, desserts and tofu made from soya beans. Alternatively you can take soya capsules.

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Dispelling myths about soya

There are a lot of myths about soya that are dispelled by experts (and much of this is disinformation deliberately put out by companies who do not want soya to become too popular). It has no noticeable effect on fertility and no effect on thyroid function.

See also The Cholesterol Myth

Is soya environmentally friendly?

And if you are concerned about the environment, the soya on sale as food in this country is not genetically modified, and is grown in north America. It is true that large swathes of Amazonian rainforest are cut back for soy crops to grow, but this is a different crop, which is genetically modified and fed to cattle. There is no concern about the effect on the environment of the supermarket brands.

Research cited

*A study in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, gave 38 women of 50 to 65 who suffered from hot flushes and insomnia 80mg soya isoflavones, or a placebo. There was an 88.5 per cent reduction in hot flushes, and 63 per cent improvement in insomnia in the women who were in the soya group. Hachul, H et al, Isoflavones decrease insomnia in post-menopause, Menopause, 18,2: (2010)

Aromatherapy oils have so many uses

lavender 2Many people know aromatherapy as a relaxing massage with oils. But it’s much more than that. You can use essential oils in a variety of ways.
Take lavender oil – there’s so much you can do with it I wouldn’t go away without a bottle.

You can put a few drops in an oil burner to create an aromatic fragrance which is both relaxing and calming.

  • You can apply it to stings and bites to ease itching and soreness.
  • You can put a few drops in the bath to relax before bed, or if you can’t sleep you can put some on a tissue and leave it close to your face.
  • The soothing vapours help you to sleep and you can put it in a spray bottle instead of a can of air freshener.

Tea tree is the next best oil to have in my bag. It’s antiseptic and has a strong pungent ‘clean’ smell so it’s great for cleaning – put a few drops in water and clean up your phone, your computer and other surfaces or even your kitchen. Put a few drops in the bucket when you clean your floor or use it in the bathroom to dispel other odours.

Tea tree is also antifungal and can be used diluted in water or in oil on athlete’s foot, or a few drops in a bidet or shallow bath are good for thrush.

Both lavender and tea tree oils can be inhaled in steam when you have a cold, cough or flu. Boil the kettle and put the steaming water in a bowl with a few drops.

Essential oils can be:

  • inhaled in steam.
  • used in a compress or poultice
  • used in massage
  • put in the bath
  • burned in an oil burner
  • put in a spray bottle
  • used in water for cleaning.
Eucalyptus is excellent for clearing blocked noses and can equally be put in the bath to steam.
Geranium is calming and is a great oil to burn.
Ylang ylang can ease depression, so keep some on a tissue tucked into your clothes so that you can breathe it in, or put in a bath.
Rosemary wakes you up so the best way to use it is to have a bath and breathe in the vapours. It is also good for tired legs – so mix in a carrier oil and massage in.
Just sniffing Basil oil can switch your brain on.
Citronella keeps flying insects away so burn a few drops in an oil burner with water and place on the table.
Clary sage is great for period pains – mix in oil and massage on your stomach. It also eases depression – put on a tissue and breathe in the pungent aroma.
Thyme helps to ease a cough and can be sprayed in water to the back of the throat
Jasmine is expensive but very uplifting and relaxing
Ginger helps to stave off travel sickness – just sniffing the bottle will do. It also helps to warm the muscles if you massage it in. Dilute very well.
Frankincense in an oil burner lifts mood and makes you feel confident. It’s a lovely smell too.
Bergamot is made from the peel of bitter orange fruit and is a delightful smell. It is helpful for anyone feeling depressed or tired and irritable. It is antiseptic and can kill germs in the home
Mandarin in carrier oil helps to prevent stretchmarks and scars
Cypress oil in water stems blood from haemorrhoids, particularly after having a baby
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Where have all the flowers gone?

It was one of those days we’ve had a lot of this summer – bursts of sunshine punctuated by downpours. When the sun came out the colours of the herbs came into their own – the brilliant orange of marigolds, bright red poppies, and beautiful lavender flowers laced with the aromatic scents of sage, rosemary, and thyme. Above all there was an overwhelming sense of tranquillity only gently disturbed by birds, bees and the occasional rabbit hopping around.

The scene is Weleda UK’s 15 acre plot of herbs near Ilkeston in Derbyshire where the natural health products company grows over 300 species for use in herbal and homeopathic remedies, toothpastes, shampoos, lotions and potions. Growing its own ensures freshness, availability and sustainability.

The Derbyshire rabbits aren’t too popular with Weleda’s head gardener, Michael Bate, because they dig up whole plants to get their food. But rabbits aren’t the major threat to the planet’s herbs – we are.

A report by Plantlife International, the wild plant conservation charity, claimed that the £11 billion global herbal medicine industry is causing some 4,000 to 10,000 herbs worldwide to become endangered. Unfortunately the majority of the herbal medicine industry is not doing their bit to ensure survival and Weleda is one of just a few natural health products companies growing its own and buying from sustainable sources.

An astonishing 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on herbal medicine as their primary healthcare. There are several reasons for this but principally the cost of drugs is far beyond the reach of many of the world’s population as is currently demonstrated by the lack of availability of retroviral drugs for AIDS in Africa.

In many cases though local cultures have a long tradition of using herbal medicines that have served them well over the years and which are easily available and cheap.

In the UK alone we spent a huge £87 million pounds on herbal remedies in 2004 (Source: Mintel), an increase of over 56 per cent on 1999, with no let up in annual growth. All kinds of herbs traditionally used by medicine men, native tribes and Indian and Chinese doctors are now available on the shelves of our local health food store.

While many of us applaud ourselves for embracing a natural lifestyle the report by Plantlife claimed that two thirds of the 50,000 medicinal plants currently being used in the herbal industry are harvested from the wild and herbalists talk of varieties which are no longer available at all.

The environmentalist, David Bellamy, is President of Plantlife, the Conservation Foundation, and Patron of the Natural Medicines Society’s Herb Alert campaign which in his words aims ‘to put herbal medicine back where it deserves to be, an important part of mainstream healing practice in the 21st century’.

Both environmental organisations aim to encourage the adoption of cultivation projects to enable the planet’s plant heritage to be sustained.

Harvesting with care

Growing herbs in a sustainable way to ensure that precious species continue not only protects the future of herbal medicine, but it ensures the survival of local communities who depend on the trade for survival. It is almost impossible to police the harvesting of herbs around the world unless communities choose to do it themselves or herbal companies set up sustainability projects.

The Sioux Indians of the Lakota tribe in South Dakota have used Echinacea for hundreds of years to fight off infection and to heal wounds and snake bites. When they collect the plants in order to prevent extinction they never pick the first one they see in case it is the only one left. Unfortunately not everyone has such high ideals and Echinacea is being illegally harvested even in protected areas in the US.

Duncan Ross of Poyntzfield Nurseries, on the Black Isle, north of Inverness is a biodynamic horticulturist who grows several endangered species in the Scottish clime. He warns, ‘Anyone with a sense of sustainability will only pick a small proportion of the seeds they find with the landowners’ permission, but people who are in it for a quick buck do a lot of damage.’

Herbs at risk

Endangered herbs cited in Plantlife’s report, Herbal Harvests with a Future, include Arnica, popularly used in homeopathic remedies for bruising, Goldenseal prescribed for digestive problems and wound healing, American Ginseng, traditionally an aphrodisiac but now more dispensed to boost energy levels, and Liquorice, often used in herbal and conventional medicines for stomach ulcers. Commonly known kitchen herbs Oregano and Thyme are also being overharvested in some areas for their medicinal properties.

It is often the type of harvesting which can cause problems – in the case of Bearberry or Uva ursi, a herb used to treat bladder conditions, only the leaves are required but the whole plant is uprooted for expedience. This happens commonly and as Duncan Ross explains, ‘If you pick the whole plant it doesn’t seed again or regenerate.’

Perfect conditions

Most herbs grow easily in different climates and Echinacea thrives even in the UK, but some of the most endangered species require considerable expertise, perfect soil conditions and the right climate. And many of them take several years of nurturing before they are ready to harvest.

Poyntzfield grows Arnica on the highest point of the Black Isle to supply Weleda and medical herbalists. ‘It needs time and patience and requires a sunny site with well drained soil, but because it is an Alpine plant the snow and frost suit it well,’ according to Duncan. ‘Goldenseal is harvested illegally in the Appalachian mountains for its golden root. We grow it here but it takes seven years to yield a crop.’

The report by Plantlife was critical of UK herbal manufacturers because most of them buy from unsustainable sources. It also claimed that whenever there is a shortage of a particular herb, some companies buy plants on the open market which have invariably been picked in the wild without concern for sustainability, often because poor communities depend on them for their livelihood. .

Desert cultivation

The kind of project environmentalists are keen to see has been adopted by Swiss herbal manufacturer Bioforce which grows most of its own herbs in Switzerland and claims to run out of stocks rather than buy on the open market.

Bioforce used to buy Devil’s Claw on the open market but they recognised that random harvesting would soon cause extinction since a drastic 15 million plants are being pulled up out of the Kalahari Desert every year. The clamour is all for the plant’s tuber, traditionally used by local tribes to treat digestive problems but now valued in the west as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis and other joint and muscle pain.

According to Bioforce UK’s Medical Director, Jen Tan, ‘Because the local tribes are poor and exploited by merchants they try to get as much as possible from the plants which are hard to dig out of the desert.

‘Devil’s Claw takes four years or more to mature, so it is very difficult for local growers to cultivate it without some injection of investment. After several years of research and cultivating Devil’s Claw on an experimental farm in the desert we have set up a local farmer with land, finance and housing to grow it for us on a sustainable farm on the South African border with Namibia.’

Everyone can play a part

There are encouraging signs that the industry is getting its act together slowly and in the last few years UK company Viridian launched its own range of 20 organic herbal tinctures, home growin in Herefordshire, including Echinacea, Ginkgo and Motherwort.

According to Cheryl Thallon of Viridian, ‘We simply want to check the full provenance of the herbs we stock and ideally watch the seeds growing in the ground. Growing locally means less air miles and added pollution as we pride ourselves on being a green company.’

However, if progress is going to be made herbalists and consumers have got to be willing to buy from responsible suppliers.

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) is drawing up guidelines for its 700 members advising that they only use herbs from sustainable sources. The NIMH also favours wildcrafting – picking from the wild only where they know that herbs are not endangered. Herbalists may also take note of the recommendation from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that more common herbs are substituted for the rare ones, such as using Calendula from marigolds instead of Goldenseal.

The Plantlife report proposed that eventually there would be a kitemark system so that shoppers would know which herbal remedies were made from sustainable sources and select products in the same way that they can buy dolphin-friendly tuna.

The EU’s Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive was adopted by the European Parliament in March 2004 and came into force in the UK on 31 October 2005.

In order to get their products registered herbal medicine manufacturers have until March 2011 to produce a dossier that proves the efficacy of the remedies, using evidence of traditional use, or they will not longer be able to sell them in the EU.

‘It is extremely expensive to produce these dossiers,’ claims Bioforce UK’s Quality Assurance Manager, David Belshaw, ‘Larger companies like ours are much better placed than the smaller ones who may find that they need to get other companies to manufacture on their behalf. For those that don’t seek partners the future is bleak.

‘Bioforce intends to register all of its products either under the Herbal Medicine Directive so that some products can be marketed as food supplements instead.’

This may be good news for consumers who will know that products have undergone stringent controls, but The Directive does not affect medical herbalists who do not usually buy herbs off the shelf.

The Top 10 selling herbs

St John’s Wort or Hypericum – skin wounds and depression
Echinacea – infections, colds and flu, snake bites!
Gingko biloba – circulation and memory
Ginger root – travel sickness, nausea and morning sickness
Black Cohosh – hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms
Aloe vera – burns, sores and cuts and as a general tonic
Ginseng – energy and libido booster
Milk Thistle – liver protection
Peppermint – digestive problems
Garlic – colds, catarrh, and to lower cholesterol
(Arnica doesn’t feature because it’s used in homeopathic products)
Source: Holland & Barrett

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To find a herbalist contact: The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 01392 426022,

To become a member of Plantlife: 01722 342730,

Visit the Chelsea Physic Garden and follow the thematic trail: Rare plants, endangered peoples, lost knowledge, and the Garden of World Medicine. Open to the public on Wednesdays 12 to 5 p.m. and Sundays 2 to 6 p.m. from 4th April to 31st October, adults £5, students and unemployed £3. 020 7352 5646, ext 2,

Visit Poyntzfield Nurseries in Black Isle: one hour tours run once a month in June, July, August: 01381 610352,

Weleda, Bioforce and Viridian products are available at Nutricentre – click on the green ad.

Article by Frances Ive originally appeared in the Times, Body & Soul