Teaching Tuesday- Forgotten Herbs; Agrimony

I hope that your New Year celebration was safe and enjoyable! While I may have ushered in the new year rather unceremoniously, it was quite enjoyable, none the less. A great meal, a wonderful glass of wine, a good book and some game playing....Oh what fun! But now that the celebration is over, the work continues on.
Every year at this time I pull out ALL my supplier records and compare them with the current prices being offered at all the various suppliers. In researching though, I often get distracted by the suppliers website, looking through all of their products, not just what I need and usually things that I don't currently use. While I have always maintained a wish list right along side of my shopping list (and my shopping list is a real doosie. It is divided into "must have asap", "need soon but at good price", "need soon, any price" and "can wait for sale") whenever I begin looking at suppliers, I inevitably find more things to add to both lists! And occasionally I will find something that I have either, not seen for a long time,  or, albeit rarely, something that I have not seen or heard of before. Whenever this happens I like to spend time researching, formulating recipe ideas, and making price comparisons. Sometimes these new ingredients end up being part of a new product, sometimes they are incorporated into my personal life, and sometimes they remain of the wish list for a year or more.  

Why am I admitting all this to you? Well, as I was going through this process this weekend, I found some older herbs that I had not thought about for many years. They are good herbs, with great qualities, and ones that our Grandmas knew well. So this week we are beginning a new series on Herbs, concentrating on ones that not everyone is familiar with these days.

Today we will kick of this Herbal Series with the herb, Agrimony. Agrimony is botanically known as Agrimonia eupatoria and/or agrimonia procera, and is a perennial herb. Also called/known as church steeples, cocklebur, sticklewort, and  philantopos, this flowering herb is in the rose family. It bears yellow flowers with  egg shaped petal on spikes, extending from hairy stems. They have a pleasant  and distinctive scent, often compared to apricots, but said to be not as sweet. 
Agrimony dates back thousands of years. Anglo-Saxon's used it for charm making and to induce deep sleep, while witches proclaimed it a cure for bad energy. During the Elizabethan period, these flowers, found near fences and hedges throughout England, began being called philanthropos due to all its beneficial medicinal properties. Its use in Chinese medicine (they call it Xian He Cao), dates back extensively, yet remains currently prevalent. They primarily taught it as an ingredient to stop unwanted bleeding, and as a blood purifying agent.

History shows that agrimony has been, and still can be, used as a remedy for a broad spectrum of health issues. While agrimony teas are a traditional diuretic, they are also a traditional treatment for diarrhea. The oil in agrimony has antibacterial and antiviral properties. When an agrimony tea is sipped slowly, the tannins in the agrimony cross link with proteins in the throat to form a barrier against irritation and more importantly, infection. This explains why this herb is reported to be used as an immunity booster, especially for bolstering the body in fighting off colds and the flu, and (as a tonic) for aiding in recovery from winter colds and fevers. It is also reported to be a great mouthwash, and is used as a gargle to treat sore throats and to heal mouth sores. It cleans wounds and fights bacteria and viruses, as well as relieving the pain caused by such infections.

In skin care, it is an excellent astringent. As a decoction (made with a strong concentration of agrimony), it is a wonderful acne treatment, or it can be applied directly to irritated skin. Its bactericidal properties protect against infection and make this herb a great ingredient for lotions and balms intended to treat sores, ulcers and other skin irritations. Generally speaking, the use of agrimony in these types of preparations, will help to speed up the healing process. 

 Typically, when you get agrimony the herb will be powdered in a slurry or decoction, made into an essential oil, or used as an herbal tea. As for contraindications, many sites said that there really weren't any for anyone using under 3 grams per day. They report that using more than this amount [for treating sore throats] aggravates/increases constipation when the condition is already present. However, some more current research suggests that this herb can cause photo  dermatitis (a type of skin rash aggravated by sun exposure) in susceptible people. Additionally, these studies also report that remedies made with agrimony can lower blood pressure. Therefore, anyone undergoing anticoagulant therapy, or taking medication for, either high or low blood pressure, should not use remedies made from this herb. Pregnant or nursing mothers should also avoid the use of remedies made with this herb until more is known about its affects on the menstrual cycle. Additionally, tea consumption should be in moderation, as it is very high in tannin. Adding milk to the tea will help to blunt the ingested tannins though, and moderate amounts are not deemed harmful. These reccomendations are fairly new, and not all sites are reporting these warnings. 

Now for the positives that current research is showing. It appears that agrimony extracts protect against viral infections in general, and hepatitis B in particular, but only when the tea is made with boiling water, rather than hot water. Research also shows that agrimony, prepared at any temperature, supports liver functions. It would seem that, whether used as a tea, a decoction for topical skin applications, or as an ingredient in a lotions and balms, this old fashioned herb still has many modern day applications!

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