Healing Herbs of Eden
The Eden Project, its herb garden and their medicinal properties
The Garden of Eden — it brings paradise to mind doesn’t it? I expected no less when I visited The Eden Project in Cornwall, England; home to a tropical forest and plant life from across the globe.
The vision of its founder Tim Smit, was to bring the world’s biodiversity to life in a hands-on and relevant way, highlighting important messages about conservation, ecology and the future of our planet.
On arrival I passed recycling bins designed to encourage visitors to put cans in one hole, plastics in another, and paper in a third. People weren’t using them properly, and there was a muddle of improper postings in each.
A zig-zag path led to the heart of the quarry where colourful plants and unusual vegetables were accompanied by a giant bee — part of a campaign highlighting the plight of the declining bee population in the UK.
Imagine my surprise when alongside the bee-friendly plants, I came face to face with a large plot of illegal drugs! The marijuana hillside beside the tropical biome was innocently labeled ‘hemp’. I found this highly amusing and looked for evidence that it really was the mind altering drug that I thought it was — but apparently they are low drug content and licenced. A plaque said: “A joint the size of a telegraph pole would only make you mildly optimistic!”
Inside the biomes, the damp muggy heat reflects the tropical paradise that this structure attempts to emulate. I walked past fantastical waterfalls and viewed plants from every continent and of every variety. Fruit smoothies made from coconut milk, bananas, and mint, were on offer near the banana trees — they were delicious.
Back outside, I headed towards the environmental exhibition in The Core and almost didn’t notice the display of opium poppies, from which heroin is manufactured. The harvesting season was over and dried opium poppies remained, by way of demonstration.
Alongside the poppies were medicinal herbs and a display of commercial tablets containing herbal extracts. This area, for those interested in where our modern day remedies come from, is where the real journey begins. Here is a guide to some of them…
St John’s Wort
The leaves and flower of St John’s Wort are used to create a popular tonic, with mild antidepressant effects. It is considered to improve mood and emotional stability. The key beneficial compounds in this plant are hypericin and pseudohypericin, which help to repair nerve endings and can help to sooth burns and wounds.
Anne McIntyre (FNIMH MAPA) is a herbalist and author from the Cotswolds, England. She says: “I use St John’s Wort for treating patients with nerve pain such as shingles, for depression, tension & anxiety, and menopausal mood swings. The oil is excellent when massaged externally for nerve and muscle pain and frozen shoulder.”
St John’s Wort does carry a risk of photosensitivity at high doses, so some herbalists recommend avoiding exposure to strong sunlight and UV rays when taking it. Anyone on medication should be aware that it can reduce the effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs so should be used with caution. It should also be taken with food otherwise it can cause stomach upsets.
Globe artichokes contain a high level of antioxidants, as well as prebiotics called fructooligosaccharides, which improve the level of healthy bacteria in the gut, improve digestion, and support the immune system. Extracts are used as a liver tonic, because the cynarin, extracted from the pulp of the leaves and the stem, increases bile flow, inhibits the production of cholesterol in the liver and reduces fat concentrations in the blood.
Anne says: “I use an extract of globe artichoke for patients on orthodox drugs to protect the liver, to treat raised cholesterol as well as for digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease, poor digestion of fats, and dysbiosis. It is an excellent herb for the elderly.”
This popular remedy improves the flow of blood and nutrients around the body. It is also thought to slow mental deterioration in old age, and may have a beneficial effect on tinnitus. Sufferers of impotence or PMS may find it relieves their symptoms because such problems can be related to circulation. It is widely prescribed in France and Germany, where it accounts for around 1% of prescription sales in each country.
Anne says: “I use ginkgo for the elderly to help prevent visual and hearing loss, to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma as well as for poor memory and concentration. I also use it for circulatory problems such as altitude sickness, cold hands and feet and varicose veins.”
The root of this plant has a strong tradition of treating infections and is a best known for its ability to stimulate the immune system. The plant contains many beneficial compounds including immune-boosting inulin, flavonoid antioxidants and caffeic acid. Native Americans historically used the plant to heal wounds as well as treat infections.
Anne says: “I use Echinacea in prescriptions for allergies and skin problems such as boils, eczema and urticaria as well as for treating acute infections. It is a good anti-inflammatory for arthritis and gout.”
Feverfew has been used for centuries to treat fever, headaches and inflammation. The active compound, parthenolide, is believed to relieve muscle spasms, improve blood flow and reduce allergic reaction. A 2011 report published in the Pharmacogn Review reported: “The feverfew herb has a long history of use in traditional and folk medicine, especially among Greek and early European herbalists. Feverfew has also been used for psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It has multiple pharmacologic properties, such as anticancer, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, and antispasmodic.”
Anne says: “Feverfew can be helpful for pain and I use it in prescriptions for patients with arthritis, neuralgia, shingles and sciatica, as well as headaches and migraine. I also use it for allergies including hay fever and sinusitis”.
The opium poppy is an ancient source of morphine and codeine, farmed today under licence to produce diamorphine (street name, heroin) for medicine. It is used in hospitals as a pain killer.
Codeine is also a popular opioid drug, used in over-the-counter pain killers. It can be extracted directly from the opium poppy, but most codeine is synthesized from morphine which is much more abundant in the plant. When people take codeine, it is converted by an enzyme in the liver to morphine, which is the active painkilling ingredient.
Calendula (Pot Marigold)
Calendula is found in many skin products, to promote the healing of minor wounds or burns, ulcers, skin conditions or bee stings. The flower heads are usually heated in oil to release the antimicrobial qualities and it is sometimes used to treat athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections.
Anne says: “Calendula is the best first aid remedy, a great antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and tissue healer. Not only do I use it externally for skin problems, cuts and wounds and varicose veins but also internally for inflammatory digestive problems and dysbiosis — as well as hormonal and gynaecological problems.”
This homeopathic remedy has been in medicinal use for hundreds of years. The main active ingredient extracted from the root is thymol, which widens the blood vessels and has antibacterial and antifungal characteristics. The herbal cream is used in low doses to bring out and reduce bruising. It is rare in the wild so is often adulterated with other plants. The herb should not be swallowed as it is poisonous when taken orally. Some oral homeopathic remedies contain arnica, but it is so diluted that it is considered to be safe.
A word of caution
Always take advice from your health professional before taking supplements, especially if you are taking other medications, as negative interactions can occur between remedies, and there may be underlying causes for your symptoms which need more attention.
This feature is not intended to provide medical advice, but aims only to take you on a journey of exploration through The Eden Project’s, somewhat surprising, herb garden.