There Is More to Life than Just Being Alive

(Non est vivere sed valere vita est – a Latin saying)

Valere in Latin means “to be well”. And that very same word is the root of valerian’s scientific name – it really does a very good job of describing it.

Valerian is a wild plant that loves high altitudes and sunshine. In ancient Rome, it was often used by Dioscorides, Nero’s military surgeon and an expert in medicinal herbs. In his work De materia medica, he described the use of over 1,000 natural substances and classified valerian as an aromatic herb. This collection is considered the foundation of all modern pharmacopoeias. Dioscorides is also known by his pioneering anaesthetic, a special wine made from opium and mandrake that he used for putting his patients to sleep before surgery. He used the Greek word anaesthesia meaning “without feeling” to describe the state of unconsciousness.

Dioscorides
A page from De materia medica

Another scientist from classical antiquity who held valerian in high regard is Galen from Pergamo who lived a century before Dioscorides. Galen was Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s personal physician. The Romans elevated medicine to a pragmatic level: this bellicose nation understood the importance of military medicine and Emperor August established a military medical academy. Valerian played an important role in treating the wounded; its use for similar purposes continued in the centuries that followed. Valerian tincture was used to treat soldiers for shell-shock syndrome in the First and Second World Wars. The plant’s essential oil and valerenic acid have sedative and anxiolytic effect, which makes it an ideal ingredient in treatments for irritability, anxiety, stress and insomnia.

Galen

Modern medicine and herbal medicine have also recognised the importance of this plant. The German Commission E (scientific advisory board of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices) has included valerian as a cure for insomnia, irritability and anxiety. Research has shown that valerian helps us fall asleep quicker and sleep better. It does not cause addiction; on the contrary, it is frequently used for patients who wish to wean themselves off synthetic tranquillisers.

Valerian has sedative, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant and antispasmodic effects. Simply put, it relieves aggression, tension headaches, muscle cramps, depression and anxiety. Its effects are extremely strong and therefore it has to be used very cautiously, in products prepared professionally and in tightly controlled laboratory conditions. If stored incorrectly, valerenic acid that gives this plant its characteristic smell may turn into isovaleric acid which is harmful. It is safest to procure valerian from officially authorised producers. This plant is so strong that it can reduce concentration and slow down our reflexes and hence it is not advisable to use it before driving or before operating machinery. It is also not advisable to use it in combination with synthetic tranquillisers, alcohol, during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

Apart from having the power to calm and relax, valerian is also good for heart arrhythmias and the tightness of chest. It helps quit smoking and provides relief for sciatica, neuralgia, peripheral neuropathy, irritable bowel, abdominal cramps, menstrual pain, feelings of anxiety in menopause, and even hypochondria.

Valerian’s root and rhizome are used in herbal medicine; its flower has been used in the perfume industry because of its specific aroma. But valerian does not only have an effect on the people. It has a pheromone effect on cats who seem to be totally hypnotised in the presence of this plant. Cats usually eat it when they feel that they have some health problems.

Valerian has the best effect in combination with other plants. Hops and lemon balm are its closest fellow fighters in the natural and professionally produced Optima Forma herbal drops. This formula is the best ally of the modern man who is frequently exposed to stress. Optima Forma reduces the consequences of stress and depression, it strengthens memory, improves concentration, calms down the feelings of anxiety and mental exhaustion, while also revitalising our immune system. Optima Forma helps us fall asleep and sleep better. Optima Forma – for a life that’s bigger and better than just being alive.

An Optimistic Plant

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), balm, common balm or balm mint… It grows everywhere around us and its application is very wide. And what is most important is that this beautiful fragrant plant can restore our faith in life.

It has been known in southern Europe and northern Africa for more than two millennia. Lemon balm grows along fences, in the woods and near towns and villages, it is often found near beehives because bees love its aromatic flowers that last throughout the summer. It was given its Latin name after the bees.

The Arabs were the first to use it medicinally, as infusions against tension. It was particularly popular in the Middle Ages and nuns of the Carmelite Order devised the famous recipe for Carmelite water which was believed to bring longevity, remove depression, palpitations, fear, fatigue and restore consciousness; it consisted of alcohol, lemon balm leaves, lemon zest, angelica root, coriander seed, nutmeg, cinnamon chips and whole cloves.

Maurice Mességué, a French herbalist and a pioneer of herbalism in North America, famous for his slogan “working with the patient, not with the disease”, had a particular affection towards lemon balm. He called Melissa officinalis “the queen of all stimulative herbs” and glorified its wide spectrum of effects.

In addition to its medicinal properties, lemon balm has a very pleasant smell reminiscent of citrus fruits and is used in the perfume industry and cooking. The Mediterranean cuisine would not be what it is without this herb which is used in stews, freshly cut in salads, pastries and drinks. This herb imbues everything with its special fresh lemony aroma.

What can lemon balm do? Information passed from generation to generation, proven by modern medicine, shows that lemon balm does the following:

  • it relieves stress, tension, anxiety, depression and insomnia
  • it soothes palpitations and irritability in menopause
  • it improves concentration, creativity and aids the thought process employed in the resolution of complex cognitive problems
  • it is rich in antioxidants, protects the cells from damage caused by oxidation
  • it helps patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it improves memory and concentration
  • it soothes cramps and imbalances in the digestive tract and period pains
  • it calms infections, herpes and reduces swellings
  • it has antiviral properties and accelerates healing
  • it prevents and stops bacterial infections, including candida
  • some studies have shown that it effectively destroys glioblastoma multiforme cells, a type of brain tumour
  • it reduces headaches and head tensions
  • it reduces the symptoms of diabetes and improves glucose tolerance
  • phenolic alkaloids in lemon balm can prevent the synthesis of bad cholesterol and reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood
  • it reduces high temperature and helps relieve symptoms of colds and flu
  • it helps with hyperthyroidism
  • it helps the body cleanse itself of toxins
  • it helps those involved in increased mental activity, students and intellectuals
  • it moisturises the skin, soothes eczema, acne and small skin abrasions

Even though it almost has no adverse effects, it should not be used in combination with chemical tranquillisers without prior consultation with a medical professional. It should not be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women.

If we have it to hand, we can put some fresh lemon balm in tea or lemonade, add it to a stew or a soup, or just bunch it and hang it to dry spreading its appealing fragrance around our home.

There is also an easier way – it can be found in Herba Svet products. In Femisan B, lemon balm soothes problems associated with menopause – anxiety, irritability and palpitations; in Optima Forma it calms and soothes the symptoms of stress and gives mental strength. Lemon balm also helps with insomnia and other sleep-related issues, without causing drowsiness. In Leocardin, this herb calms heart rate and tachycardia. In Disan it prevents respiratory infections and eases breathing and expectoration.

With lemon balm and Herba Svet products we can live la vie en rose!

Kiss under the Mistletoe

In his famous work Naturalis Historia Pliny the Elder pays tribute to Gallic druids, even though he was a Roman through and through, and as such a natural enemy of the Celts. These barbarians, uncouth, rough savages – as labelled by the Romans – had special powers and knowledge which were passed from generation to generation. In a comic book series about Asterix the Gallic Celt, brought to life by its creators Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the famous druid Getafix is seen either meandering around the woods picking plants or protecting the magic potion whose recipe the greedy Romans could not succeed to obtain. The Celts did not leave behind any written traces about their culture; paradoxically, we can learn all about them from historical records kept by the Romans who tried their best to tarnish Celts’ reputation.

A good portion of our genes in the Balkans is Celtic. Before the Romans reached the Balkans, the Celts had lived here for millennia. Belgrade’s modern-day suburb of Karaburma used to be populated by the Celts; the location where the current farmers’ market stands used to be a large necropolis. The Celts used to roam the banks of the Danube, they adored tall trees, the oak in particular, a tree that also occupies the central position in Slav mythology. And it was in the tall strong trees where they used to find the key ingredient for the preparation of their “magic potion” – mistletoe.

It is precisely because of mistletoe that Pliny the Elder paid tribute to them. The Celts did not view it as an unimportant parasitic plant – as it appears to be on first glance – but a plant that has great powers. Mistletoe was the basis of their myths, legends and rituals – and what is most important – of their medicine. How powerful the druids were is best illustrated by the fact that the Romans understood that they first had to get rid of the druids if they wanted to subjugate the Celts. In the first century AD, the Roman Emperor Tiberius launched a massive campaign to execute the druids in Gall, but the later Roman Emperor Claudius brought in a law to ban those executions. Those Celts who adopted Christianity interwove its belief system with their pagan beliefs and continued passing their legends from generation to generation.

Why is mistletoe so special? And what is it that the druids understood in those ancient times when there was no chemical research, no labs or microscopes?

First of all, it was the way it reproduces – a bird needs to eat its ripe berry; after eating the white flesh of the berry, the bird has to wipe its beak on twigs and branches, leaving behind the seed. Once the sticky content is dried and hardened, the firmly attached seeds germinate, stealing nutrients and water from their host. The ancient Celts believed that the mistletoe, apart from the nutrients, also takes over the spirit of the tree, and thus remains green even in wintertime, when most of the vegetation is dormant.

Mistletoe’s modus vivendi – its ability to draw energy from its host – can be regarded in a new light when we learn that this exceptional plant has the power to destroy tumour cells. This fact has been recognised by modern medicine, and some hospitals use mistletoe to treat tumours as it has been scientifically proven that it prevents the growth of blood vessels of malign tissues. One has to be mindful of the fact that mistletoe berries are very poisonous and therefore this plant can be used only if professionally processed.

In addition to suppressing malignant cells, mistletoe has the power:

  • to regulate blood pressure and prevent arrhythmia
  • to prevent dizziness and cramps
  • to regulates hormones
  • to improve metabolism
  • to prevent diabetes
  • to accelerates the work of the lymphatic system
  • to eliminate hot flashes and irritability
  • to have a beneficial effect on the glands with internal secretion

Irritability, palpitations, mood swings, insomnia, hot flashes – these are the symptoms that every woman entering a menopause can recognise. As the druids used to have their magic potion in the times long past, Herba Svet nowadays has its own magic potion – Femisan B. Mistletoe is one of five plants that are ingredients in this precious food supplement.

In the end, let’s not forget the famous ritual that is practised all over the world at Christmas time: if a woman stands under the mistletoe, a man has the right to kiss her, without risking a slap on the face. Because that is exactly when hot flashes have begun and she is totally irritable…