Natural Wonders of the Ancient World

     Greek Medicine places a high priority on strengthening consitutional vitality and resistance to disease.  And so, tonics play an important and valued role in Greek Medicine.  Certain of these tonics became truly legendary for their awesome healing and restorative powers.  You could call them the Natural Wonders of the Ancient World.


Sea Buckthorn:  The Latest Ancient Superberry

     The Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a small tree with slender, willow-shaped leaves and sharp thorns that grows from Greece and Eastern Europe eastwards to Russia, Siberia and Central Asia.  Its branches are heavily clustered with soft, juicy bright orange berries that mature in August and September. 
     The Sea Buckthorn berry is so rich in vitamins and minerals that many speculate that it must have been cultivated by an ancient plant breeder to be the ultimate tonic and superfood.  Its botanical genus name, Hippophae, literally means, "shiny horse", because the ancient Greeks fed it to their prize racehorses to keep them sleek and healthy.  Legend has it that this Hippophae berry was also the preferred food of Pegasus, the flying horse, by which he became airborne.
     The Sea Buckthorn berry is featured in the classical medical texts and herbals of Dioscorides and Theophrastus, and even figures prominently in Tibetan Medicine.  Its traditional medicinal use centers on disorders of the skin and digestive tract; it's able to speed the healing and regeneration of the skin and digestive mucosa in inflammatory and ulcerative conditions. 
     Biochemically, Sea Buckthorn is so rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that it could be called a vitamin pill in a berry.  In terms of vitamin C and flavonoid content, Sea Buckthorn is second only to Rose Hips and Acerola cherries.  The berries are also incredibly rich in vitamin A, carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamin E and other tocopherols.  Phytosterols, along with the above fat soluble nutrients, help lower blood cholesterol, protect the heart, and stimulate the endocrine system.  Other vitamins include B1, B2, K and P.  Sea Buckthorn berries are also rich in minerals, including phosphorus, iron, manganese, boron, calcium and silicon.
     All the above nutrients combine to make Sea Buckthorn berries an adaptogen, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antiscorbutic, aperient, astringent tonic, cholagogue, hepatic, immunomodulatory, lipotropic, restorative, virilific and vulnerary.  All these therapeutic actions give Sea Buckthorn berries a broad spectrum action against a wide variety of disorders affecting multiple organ systems:
     Visual:  restores and improves the eyesight.
     Vital:  improves energy, vitality and resistance to stress. 
     Respiratory / Immune:  improves resistance to colds and flu; lessens systemic inflammation and ulceration; improves health of the mucous membranes.
     Circulatory:  lowers blood cholesterol; protects the heart.
     Digestive:  cholagogue, hepatoprotector in biliary dyskinesia, hepatobiliary insufficiency; heals chronic gastric and duodenal ulcers; digestive stimulant; gentle aperient laxative in chronic constipation.
     Sexual:  virilific in impotence, premature ejaculation
     Musculoskeletal:  speeds healing of wounds, bruises, ulcers, sores.
     Skin:  protects against eczema, psoriasis, skin disorders; beautifies skin, protects against aging, speeds healing of cuts and burns.
     The fresh Sea Buckthorn berries are exceedingly sour and astringent; and so, they are prepared in various ways to make them more palatable.  The berries can be dried and powdered, and either taken by the spoonful and washed down with water, or mixed with honey to make a paste or electuary.  The juice of the fresh berries is usually mixed with sweeter fruit juices to make it more palatable.  Conserves, jams and syrups are also made from the fresh berries or juice. 
     The oil pressed from the dried Sea Buckthorn berries is a valuable, prized product.  Applied topically or externally, it speeds the healing of burns, cuts, ulcers and slow to heal wounds; restores and regenerates the gums in gingivitis; and also heals canker sores.  Internally, it's taken for various digestive complaints, like reflux esophagitis, acid reflux disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and ulcerative colitis. 
     The Russians have been very aggressive in promoting the use of Sea Buckthorn.  They gave preparations of the berries as a special food to their cosmonauts to protect them from cosmic radiation.  The Chinese haven't been far behind; at the Seoul Olympic Games, the official sports drinks of the Chinese athletes were made from Sea Buckthorn berries. 


Mumio:  Magical Mountain Balsam

     Perhaps the most interesting and mysterious of Greek Medicine's legendary tonics is Mumio, a resinous, balsamic exudate that sweats out from the caves and rocky crevasses of the world's highest mountains in Central Asia.  Those who harvest this precious mountain treasure keep their sources a jealously guarded secret. 
     The word, "Mumio" has its roots in ancient Greek, in which it means, "body preserving".  Mumio was used in the traditional medicines of many cultures, from ancient Greece and the Middle East eastwards to Central Asia, India and Tibet.  In Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, it's called Shilajit, which means, "Destroyer of Weakness".  The Tibetans call it Brogshaun, which means, "Mountain Oil"; in Arabic, it's called Arakul dzibal, or, "Mountain Sweat".
     Aristotle studied the medicinal effects and applications of Mumio; its medicinal use was promoted and spread by his pupil, Alexander the Great, throughout his empire.  Galen included Mumio as an ingredient in his famous panacea, Theriac.  It is discussed at length in the Ayurvedic medical treatises Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.  The Persian physician Al Biruni recommended Mumio for traumatic injuries.  The two medieval medical giants Avicenna and Paracelsus both knew of and used Mumio. 
     In the twentieth century, the Russians have been especially active in the scientific investigation of Mumio.  A summary of these scientific findings can be found on the web page:  www.mumijo-mumio.com/russian.htm
     Mumio, also known as Mumijo, is a dark brown to blackish resinous substance having a bitter and pungent taste and a pleasing aromatic odor.  Biochemically, it's an extremely complex substance, consisting of both organic and inorganic elements and compounds of mineral, vegetable and animal origin.  Among these are amino acids, organic acids, and a wide spectrum of minerals, both macrominerals and trace minerals.  In Ayurvedic Medicine, Mumio / Shilajit is also known as Mineral Pitch Vitalizer
     After collection, the raw Mumio must be refined and processed.  This makes it more assimilable, and acceptable to the kidneys. 
     Mumio's extremely complex chemical composition gives it a very broad range of therapeutic effects.  Broadly differentiated, these fall into the following categories:
     Adaptogenic:  Bringing increasing energy and vitality, enhancing the organism's resistance to stress and fatigue.  Normalizes and optimizes internal organ function.  Strengthens and protects the heart.
     Deobstruent:  Opens blockages, destroys congestion, heals paralyses; improves circulation of blood, Thymos and Vital Force. 
     Immunomodulatory:  Corrects and optimizes immune system functioning.  Antiinflammatory and antiphlogistic.  Reduces asthma, allergies. 
     Metabolic Stimulant:  Stimulates the metabolic Fire and the Innate Heat.  Disperses phlegm and cold, damp, rheumatic humors.  Helps consume, metabolize and neutralize poisons and toxins.  Corrects metabolic disorders and imbalances.
     Vulnerary:  Speeds up the healing of bone fractures, ulcers and wounds, and soft tissue trauma.
     Virilific:  Strengthens the sexual organs and their functioning. 
     These therapeutic actions make Mumio useful in treating the following disorders: chronic fatigue, allergies, asthma, periodontitis, eczema, sore throat, angina, diabetes, hemorrhoids, stomach and digestive complaints, gastroduodenal ulcers, bone fractures, osteoporosis, impotence, immunodeficiency, and gynecological infections.  More detailed instructions on the therapeutic applications of Mumio can be found on the page:


Nigella:  Black Seed, the Muslim Miracle Herb

     There is a delicate, frilly plant with an otherworldly appearance, native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, that sports on its long, slender stalk a large seed capsule.  This plant is poetically known as Love-in-the-Mist.  Inside its seed capsule are several small black seeds with a fragrant aroma and an acrid, spicy taste. 
     This is the famous Black Seed of the Prophet, which Islamic authorities say will cure every disease except death itself.  The Black Seed is also known as Black Cumin, in the Bible as Fitch, and in India and the Middle East as Kalonji.  Its botanical name is Nigella sativa. 
     The Black Seed is an herb of great antiquity, and was first used by the ancient Greeks and Byzantines, who passed its usage on to the Arabs and Muslims.  It has been used in numerous ways: as a condiment in spice mixtures; as a garnish on breads and pastries, much like Poppy seeds; and in Ethiopia as a flavoring for alcoholic beverages.  But most of all, it is used as a legendary tonic and panacea for multiple diseases.
     In his Canon of Medicine, Avicenna states that Nigella increases energy, helps recovery from fatigue, cures dis-spiritedness, and is therapeutic in various respiratory, digestive and gynecological disorders.  Its action is stimulant, aromatic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, emmenagogue, galactogogue, resolvent, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge and antispasmodic. 
     Nigella's acrid, spicy taste cuts through excess phlegm, opens the airways, and exerts an antihistamine action in asthma, bronchitis, colds and other respiratory afflictions.  In digestive disorders, the Black Seed exerts a carminative and antispasmodic action that relieves gas, bloating, distension and colic and improves gastrointestinal peristalsis.  It  corrects the griping caused by harsh laxatives and purgatives, and is also useful in expelling parasites.  In gynecological disorders, Nigella's antispasmodic action relieves menstrual cramping.  It also regulates the menses, but in excessive doses it will bring on an abortion; therefore, it's contraindicated in pregnancy.  In nursing mothers, Nigella increases the milk flow.  Unani Medicine also acknowledges Nigella's effectiveness as a diuretic in ascites, and its beneficial effect on the liver in jaundice. 
     Modern scientific research reveals that Nigella exerts a beneficial effect on the blood, raising hemoglobin levels while reducing blood pressure, serum cholesterol and blood glucose levels if they're elevated.  The Black Seed also normalizes the secretions of the stomach and pancreas, which is very helpful in diabetes.  It also counteracts toxicity in the liver and kidneys and improves their functioning.  The beta-sitosterol in Nigella also exerts an antitumoral effect. 
     The Nigella seed owes much of its bioactivity to its essential oil, and the thymoquinone it contains.  In addition, the seed contains 37.5% fixed oils.  The oil has many of the same actions as the seed, but in more concentrated form.  The oil is very effective in lowering the blood pressure, and in respiratory complaints; massaged into the scalp, it can also remedy hair loss.
     If you're interested in knowing more about the traditional medical uses of Black Seed, or Kalonji, I refer you to Dr. M. Laiq Ali Khan's excellent article on the subject:


Fenugreek:  Greek Hay for Health

     Used throughout India and the Middle East is a little yellow seed, pungent and bitter in taste, and slightly aromatic, that's a prized ingredient of curries and spice mixtures.  It's also a prized ingredient of herbal tonic formulas in Middle Eastern Unani Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
     But, as with Nigella seed, this wonder seed was originally used in Greek Medicine, and was then passed eastwards.  The proof of this is in the seed's botanical name, Trigonella foenum-graecum.  Foenum-graecum, or Fenugreek, means, "Greek Hay".  The Arabic name for the seed is Hulba, from which the Chinese got their name, Hu Lu Ba.  The east Indian name for the seed is Methi. 
     There are several ways to use this versatile little seed, which are conducive to different effects.  In Western herbal medicine, an infusion is commonly made from it, which is drunk hot to loosen and expel excess phlegm from the head, sinuses, throat, chest and upper respiratory tract.  It's excellent for allergies and hay fever. 
     But if taken as a decoction or powder, the deeper, heavier constituents of Fenugreek come out, and it becomes a valuable tonic and superfood.  However it is prepared and used, Fenugreek has a pungent and bitter taste and a heating energy that resolves and eliminates excess phlegm, stimulates the metabolic functioning of the liver and kidneys, and strengthens the Innate Heat.  Fenugreek also has demulcent mucilaginous constituents that not only help to loosen and liquefy excess phlegm, but also soothe and heal the mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive and genitourinary tracts. 
     In Chinese Medicine, Fenugreek is used mainly as a restorative in chronic fatigue and sexual debility.  In Islamic and Unani Medicine, the seed is such a treasured tonic that the Prophet Mohammed said, "If you knew the value of the Fenugreek, you would pay its weight in gold."  Avicenna also used Fenugreek, and valued it highly.  In Middle Eastern herbal medicine, both the herb and seed of Fenugreek are used.
     In Greek Medicine, Fenugreek has a long and revered history.  Hippocrates considered Fenugreek to be a valuable soothing herb, and used it in coughs, lung congestion, and upper respiratory complaints.  Large doses of the decoction were given as a restorative and tonic for those recovering from tuberculosis. 
     Dioscorides advocated Fenugreek for all types of gynecological disorders.  In the Middle East, many nursing mothers take Fenugreek seed to increase the flow of milk.  Some studies have shown that Fenugreek increases milk production by up to 900 percent, which makes it a formidable galactogogue. 
     In treating digestive complaints, Fenugreek has several distinctive virtues.  Its warming, drying energetics stimulate the stomach and digestion, awaken the appetite, and remove excess phlegm.  Its soothing mucilage protects and heals the digestive mucosa, eases colic and spasm, and gently moves the bowels.  As a bitter tonic, it has a beneficial effect on the liver and spleen, and improves their metabolism.  Fenugreek's traditional indications for digestive disorders include indigestion, loss of appetite, flatulence, colic, diarrhea and enlargement of the liver and spleen. 
     Modern medical research has backed up Fenugreek's traditional use for lowering and controlling blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.  It has also been shown to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and be therapeutic or atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.  The main constituents that are thought to do this are its steroid saponins and 4-hydroxyisoleucine, an amino acid. 
     Fenugreek is a fairly mild herb, so large doses may be taken safely.  Three. four, or even five cups of the standard infusion or decoction per day are not excessive; neither is 6 to 10 grams of the powder.  Fenugreek is a tonic and superfood rich in  beta carotene, B vitamins, folic acid, choline, and the minerals magnesium, sodium, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc, chromium and phosphorus.  The whole seeds may also be sprouted and used to spice up salads.  Modern research also shows that Fenugreek has significant antimicrobial activity.



Internet Resources

     Several valuable links to informative web pages on Mumio and Nigella have already been given in the text of this article.  Other internet resources I used in the preparation of this article that were not quoted therein are as follows: 
     Sea Buckthorn Berries / Oil: