Bristol Herb Walks

September 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm Leave a comment

 By Ruth Baker, Medical Herbalist BSc MNIMH


This blog post gives information about recent herb walks. I shall organize more walks in spring next year, and may conduct one more walk in the Autumn. Herb walks help people to recognize plants growing locally and to become more knowledgeable about natural plant remedies.

Herb walks

 I have conducted two herb walks this summer, one on the Downs and the other along the Frome valley. The walk on the Downs was well attended, and we found a wide variety of medicinal plants. Some areas are being left uncut, allowing more plants to grow and self-seed, and this is a very encouraging development. Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain when I conducted the second walk in late August, but it still went ahead – most herbalists are not deterred by rain!

Here are some of the plants we identified:

The Downs, June 2012



HawthornCrataegus monogyna. The hawthorn was in full flower during our June walk, and now the berries are ripening. It is mainly used in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, arteriosclerosis (‘hardening’ of the arteries) and angina, and there is now a considerable body of research supporting its effectiveness. nb heart conditions should never be treated without professional advice.

Elder Sambucus nigra. Elder is known mainly for its use in making elderflower cordial. The flowers are used in the treatment of colds and flu, and together with yarrow and peppermint are drunk as an infusion to control fever. They are also used for nasal catarrh and sinusitis, hay fever and allergic rhinitis. The berries are a gentle laxative, and also made into a ‘rob’, or cordial for coughs. A recent research article found evidence that the berries have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties (Krawitz et al, 2011)

Herb RobertGeranium robertianum. The leaves and flowering tops of this plant can be used, and it flowers for several months. The colour of the leaves varies from green to red. It can help as an astringent, for example as a mouthwash, and also diarrhoea, as it contains tannins. It is also known as a haemostatic (controls bleeding), and can be used to help heal peptic ulcers.

Horse chestnutAesculus hippocastanum. It is mainly the fruit, or conker, that is used in medicine. However, care should be taken as it can be an irritant both internally and externally to broken skin. It is best known for its use in the treatment of varicose veins and venous insufficiency (‘sluggish’ veins), and also haemorrhoids (‘piles’). A colleague of mine finds that the leaves are equally effective externally, and uses them in the form of an infused oil made into a cream. Unfortunately, throughout Europe the hawthorn is being attacked by a bleeding canker disease, and you have probably noticed the sickly-looking leaves later in the year.

The Frome Valley, late August 2012

Meadowsweet – Filipendula ulmaria. If you rub the leaves of this plant, you will notice a characteristic smell, a bit like almond essence or wintergreen. Meadowsweet contains salicylates, and is the plant from which aspirin was first synthesized. It is used to treat stomach inflammations such as gastritis, and unlike aspirin, is not an irritant. It can also help in heartburn, and in rheumatic pain. The Council cut down a large clump of the plant just as it was about to flower, but it has grown back and is in flower as I write. I am hoping to persuade them to leave it alone next year!

Figwort – Scrophularia nodosa. Both the aerial parts – leaves and flowers – and the rhizomes of this plant are used internally and externally, mainly for chronic psoriasis and eczema. Herbalists will usually focus on internal treatment of skin conditions, in that they are frequently the result of the body’s inability to eliminate toxins. It is also used in the healing of ulcers and swellings, the word scrofula being an archaic term for swollen glands.

Comfrey – Symphytum officinale. One of the common names of this plant is knitbone, and it continues to be used to heal not only bone fractures, but also joint sprains and muscle strains. Both the leaf and root are used, though there is somewhat confusing advice regarding the use of comfrey root internally, as it may be toxic to the liver in large quantities. It is used in the treatment of ulcers internally, and also arthritis, and externally for wounds as well as the conditions mentioned above. This plant too was cut down by the Council, but as can be seen from the photo, taken in late August, is has grown back and is in full flower.


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  • Barker, J. (2001). The medicinal flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe. West Wickham: Winter Press
  • Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to the blending of liquid herbs. St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone
  • Krawitz, C. et al ((2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:16
  • Plants for a Future (2012). Scrophularia nodosa. Available online from:
  • Robbins, C. (1995). The household herbal. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd

Entry filed under: Herbal Medicine, Uncategorized.

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