The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Horse Chestnut or Aesculus -Circulatory System


The Horse Chestnut is an herb that has been used for centuries to either prevent or to ease the discomfort of circulatory disease including varicose veins.

Aesculus is the extract from the seeds of the Horse Chestnut Tree or Hippocastanaceae. The horse chestnut can grow between 4 and 30 metres high. The tree has a spiny fruit, which contains up to three large seeds known as horse chestnuts or as we more commonly call them, “conkers”.

In ancient civilisations the word Aesculus referred to oak trees and it is thought that the reason the botanical name was adopted for the horse chestnut was because of its use as horse and cattle feed. The tree arrived in Europe in the 16th century and the first medicinal application was in the treatment of piles. Carrying conkers was said to help prevent rheumatism but this property only apparently became effective if the chestnuts had been “borrowed”. Traditionally the extract went on to be used as a tonic, to treat rheumatic pain and to thin the blood.

In modern day usage we still use aesculus for these conditions but we do have a little more scientific research to back up ancient healers’ knowledge and country folklore.

There are many components collectively known as aescine, found in aesculus including saponins, flavanoids, proanthocyanidins and coumarin.

Saponins are actually natural detergents that are found in many plants. They get their name from the soapwort plant, the root of which was traditionally used as soap in ancient civilisations. The Native American Indians used the Yucca plant as soap and shampoo, and also to fight dandruff and hair loss.

A great deal of research has gone into establishing the therapeutic value of saponins, particularly as they are the plant’s active immune system.

Saponins are glycosides (a group of compounds derived from monosaccharides or sugars in the plant). Apart from the foaming characteristic, which led to the use of the plant as soap, they can also be toxic. Certain plants are still used by indigenous native tribes to tip arrows with poison or to add in large amounts to water to stun or kill fish.

Some of the modern day applications of saponins are in cough remedies, diuretics, toothpaste and shampoos.

From a medical perspective, research indicates that they may lower the risk of cancer by inhibiting cancerous cell growth, as well as killing existing ones. They do this without killing healthy cells, which occurs when conventional cancer drugs are used and do not have side effects. Saponins are also a natural antibiotic, may reduce cholesterol levels, and in the form of digitalis, from the foxglove, they are used to stimulate heart contractions. In the case of varicose veins, or haemorrhoids, it would appear to both reduce the oedema around the damaged blood-vessels, seal the leaking capillaries as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory and toner.

Flavonoids are phytochemicals also called polyphenols that are linked by research to many health benefits. They are an antioxidant so help prevent oxidative damage to the body but they also help defend against heart disease and cancer. The plant will synthesise flavonoids in response to any kind of stress, but particularly disease, and to ultraviolet light that would be very damaging to the plant.

Flavonoids exhibit an anti-inflammatory action, which will reduce the swelling and oedema around the damaged blood-vessels. They have also been linked to a reduction in histamine response following an allergic attack as well as preventing blood clots from forming leading to strokes.

One of the flavonoids present in aesculus helps stabilise capillary walls, maintaining microcirculation and therefore helping to minimise varicose veins.

Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the pigmentation in our plants including high levels in red wine and red grape juice, renowned for their effect on heart disease and cancer risk in Mediterranean countries. In fact in a study conducted using aspirin, red wine and red grape juice an interesting result emerged. Both aspirin and red wine exhibited a 45% anti-clotting ability whilst the red grape juice exhibited a 75% anti-clotting ability. This illustrates that whilst drinking moderate amounts of red wine might be beneficial, drinking the non-alcoholic variety would be more so.

Coumarin is an anticoagulant, which will help reduce the risk of blood clots around and in the damaged area of blood-vessels. Warfarin a modern day medicinal anti-coagulant is a derivative of this natural plant extract.

Apart from its use to treat circulatory problems, Aesculus may help relieve inflammation in the joint and muscles.

The herb is available in tincture and tablet form or as a gel that can be applied topically. It is not recommended for children and should be taken after meals to prevent any stomach upsets caused by the high saponin content.

It is rare to suffer any severe side effects but as with any natural medicine care should be taken when using with prescribed medication especially if it is in the form of an anti-coagulant. If you should experience headaches, skin rash or dizziness then stop taking immediately. If you are currently taking any prescribed medication then do consult your doctor before self-prescribing this herbal medicine.

You must not take in conjunction with any blood-thinning medication such as Aspirin, , Diclofenac, Ibuprofen. Heparin and Warfarin. The rule is that if you are taking any over the counter or prescribed medication you must always check for interactions before taking herbal medicine. Just because it is labelled as alternative you have to remember that it is a medicine that has an effect on your body.

 You will find the other herbs in the series here.

Please feel free to leave your feedback and thanks for dropping by.


New Series – The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Herbal Medicine -Dandelion

I was going to call this the Witch’s Medicine Cabinet as at some points of my career I have been labelled as such. Once in Ireland a male client arrived in need of a complete lifestyle makeover prior to a heart operation. I asked him how he had heard of me and he ruefully responded…. ‘My doctor told me to get myself down to the witch at the dietary clinic and get some weight off before the operation.. he also told me not to say he recommended you!’ 

Herbal medicine has been part of our ancient and more modern history for thousands of years. Unfortunately there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical companies when only a plant is processed. Therefore in the last twenty years particularly there has been a focused effort, at a very high level, to downgrade all alternative therapies including herbal remedies to quackery.  We can only now suggest that an alternative therapy MAY help you.

I have met many therapists over the years and the vast majority are professional, learned and dedicated men and women. Of course there are some who are in it for the money and are not worthy of the long and honourable tradition of healing. But you only have to read the headlines on both sides of the ocean to discover that doctors and other medical practitioners are not all they should be either!

Conservative estimates in the UK are that 12,000 plus patients die each year because of basic errors in their medical care. There are studies that put those impacted by bad diagnosis, incorrect prescribing of drugs and the side effects of those drugs on patients as several times that number.  I think it is telling that the NHS has a budget of over £15billion to pay negligence claims and to support patients effected for their lifetimes.

There have been some cases of bad reactions to a herbal remedy but I have seen more headlines about peanut, hair dye allergies and other reactions than I have serious side effects from using high quality tinctures.

Which brings me to a commonsense warning about herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines should be treated with respect and should only be used if you have read all the contraindications, possible side effects and never with any prescribed medication unless you have cleared with your doctor first.

This is particularly important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant as taking specific herbal medicines can cause harm.

Go to a qualified herbalist or if you buy over the counter on online read all the instructions beforehand or enclosed in the packet. I always buy the more expensive and professionally prepared tinctures and have stayed with that brand for the last twenty years.

Having established that; I want to introduce you to herbs that can be taken as a prepared tincture but also those that you can include in your diet to improve and to maintain your health.

I am kicking off the series with Dandelion..


Dandelion Herbal remedy and food.

This herb has been used medicinally, over the centuries, for a number of conditions that relate to the health of the blood. This includes anaemia, cholesterol problems, circulatory problems and diabetes. Additionally, it is a common component of detox complexes due to its diuretic properties and to help clear chest congestion, jaundice, rheumatic pain, gout, gallstones and insomnia.

It is an all-rounder and has enjoyed many different names in folklore. We know it most commonly as the Dandelion and are used to seeing its yellow flowers in the hedges and fields in the early summer. As children, most of us would have tried to tell the time by blowing on the puff-ball of seeds it produces in the autumn.

Its botanical name is Taraxacum officinalis and the name dandelion comes from the French dent de lion or lion’s teeth, a description of the distinctive serrated leaves of the herb. In Tudor times its diuretic properties were well known and it was given the more apt name of piss-in-the-bed. There were a number of superstitions surrounding the plant including its ability to foretell the number of years before a girl married and apparently if you saw the seeds being dispersed by the wind from the puff-ball rain was imminent. We have evidence that it was used medicinally since around 650 AD by the Chinese and it first appeared in European apothecaries in the late 15th century.

Apart from being used as a medicine, blanched dandelion leaves can be used in salads or prepared in the same way as spinach and dried leaves have been used for many years to make beer. A word of warning before you dash off and include as a speciality dish for your next dinner party, it can cause wind problems – as it is not digested or processed until it reaches the intestines.

Today, dandelion is mainly used as a diuretic. Most chemical diuretics cause a loss of potassium but this is not the case when using dandelion. As potassium is vital for correct fluid balance in the body, taking dandelion is a safer way to reduce any excessive water retention. However, taking any diuretic to remove excess fluid should always be done with caution. Fluid is essential to life and if you force your body to excrete fluids on a continuous basis you will be losing critical minerals and salt too. Only use occasionally and if your water retention persists then do consult your GP as it could be the result of an underlying systemic problem.

The roots of the dandelion have traditionally been used in liver tonics. They are rich in Choline a B vitamin that prevents fat from being trapped in the liver. When the liver is blocked with fat, metabolism is affected and can lead to liver disease and elevated cholesterol levels.

Gallstones tend to be formed if the gall bladder does not completely empty of the bile it has produced. Dandelion improves both the production and the delivery of the bile and can be used as a preventative for people prone to this problem.

The herb also contains inulin which is a naturally occurring oligosaccharide (simple sugars linked together). Inulin is indigestible by enzymes that normally metabolise starch so it is not broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) that can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels. It has been used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar levels but should always be used under medical supervision. If you are losing weight, however, it will help reduce your sugar cravings in the first few weeks until your body has adjusted to a lower sugar intake. Quite frankly the taste will do that for you anyway!

If you are overweight dandelion will help re-balance the fluids in your body and get rid of excess amounts initially. One of the other problems associated with obesity is inefficient fat metabolism and as bile is essential for this process increasing its production will also contribute to a healthy weight loss.

If you suffer from a bacteria and flora imbalance in the intestines, such as an overgrowth of Candida Albicans, eating dandelion leaves can help. The herb is a very efficient prebiotic which stimulates the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria in the gut. Other probiotic formulas in yoghurt and milk are subject to various chemical processes on their way to the intestines before they can be effective. The dandelion is indigestible until it reaches the gut so is a much more potent source of friendly bacteria.

You can pick dandelions from the hedgerows and use as a food or buy an herbal tincture from a health food shop. There are a couple of restrictions. If you are currently taking prescribed medication such as diuretics, insulin or anti-coagulants you should not take without medical supervision as it may affect the potency of your drugs. Similarly, if you have already suffered from gallstones or a liver condition such as jaundice or hepatitis then you should take advice before using.

cool pictures


As a food dandelion offers a great nutritional package – Vitamins: A, folate, B6, C, E, and K. Minerals: Magnesium, copper, phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. Dandelion leaves picked from the hedgerow can be used as salad leaves but always remove the woody stems and wash very well. Apart from additional protein in the form of bugs, dogs for some reason love peeing on them! Apart from salads, you can throw into a soup pot with a vegetables and then blend for a lovely creamy soup. Cook like spinach and eat with rich meat dishes. Use raw in sandwiches with egg or avocado. Some hardy souls have ground the dried roots into a substitute coffee, but do not expect to see in Starbucks anytime soon! It does however; make a good tea although I tend to get from the health food shops as they usually have a high quality selection.

As a little word of warning – I suggest that you use the tincture and tea earlier in the day and also the leaves with lunch as there is a good reason that in medieval times it was called piss-in-the-bed!

I hope you will enjoy this new series and next time my November essential Echinacia.

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Thank you – Sally the Witch!