View Full Version : Herb beloved of beer-swilling Vikings (and sensitive ladies) makes comeback

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007, 08:06 PM
Herb beloved of beer-swilling Vikings (and sensitive ladies) makes comeback

THE Vikings used it as a stimulant before going into battle, the Celts used it to flavour their beer and Highland housewives used it as an insect repellent.

Now bog myrtle, or sweet gale as it is also known, is experiencing a new lease of life in a range of natural products.

The pharmaceutical giant Boots has spent 700,000 researching the use of bog myrtle, which could have an important role in the Highland economy.

So far, the essential oil of sweet gale in the firm's new sensitive skincare products has all been harvested from wild outcrops of Scottish bog myrtle.

Highland Natural Products, Boots' research partner in the project, has started work on developing cultivated areas of bog myrtle. The plant occurs naturally in the Highlands but it may be possible to establish plantations in the Highlands, Aberdeenshire and the Borders.

The potential demand for sweet gale oil could result in 500 new jobs and be worth 2 million a year to the rural economy by 2016.

However, the people behind the research into the uses of bog myrtle believe the Scottish Executive should be doing more to support research into commercial cultivation of the plant.

Unless more is done, they warn, the chance for a new Highland boom could be squandered - with companies looking to countries such as Poland to develop cultivation of the crop.

Richard Constanduros, research director of Highland Natural Products, said: "The main problem in Scotland is there is no policy for developing non-food crops - whereas there is a policy in England and Wales. There does not seem to be much idea of how important these things can be to the rural economy."

Both Boots and Highland Natural Products have spent thousands testing the anti-bacterial qualities of bog myrtle oil and making sure it is suitable for use on sensitive skins. They say there is a need for government support if the crop is to be cultivated with commercial success.

Jane Wood, head of media for Boots Scotland, said: "We need agronomy research to look into the practicalities of growing the crop. The benefits this could bring to farmers and crofters could be huge."

By 2016 Boots expects to need ten tonnes of bog myrtle oil a year. The harvested area covers 50 hectares, but this will need to rise to 2,900 hectares by 2016.

The shrub, which grows on rocky, boggy ground, can be grown on land which is also used for woodland and grazing. A hectare of ground can yield one kilogramme of oil.

Mr Constanduros said: "Funding for growers in the initial stages of cultivation is also important. It would help to kick-start cultivation and ensure that the plant could go commercial in years rather than decades."

William Milliken, research associate at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, said: "Bog myrtle is a wonder herb. It's firmly planted in Scotland's history of medicinal plant use.

"People have used it to treat ulcers, intestinal worms, aching muscles. It's even used as an alternative to hops in beer.

"This project is a wonderful renaissance for bog myrtle, which I'm sure will be welcomed by Scotland's hill farmers."

An interim report, commissioned by the Scottish Executive last year to study the benefits of sweet gale cultivation, found that it could generate investment of 4.8 million at farm level and create up to 460 jobs.

The Scottish Executive said that farmers who applied for funding with a satisfactory business plan would stand a good chance of receiving support.

A spokesman said: "This is an interesting development. We're pleased that organisations like HNP are working with Boots to promote the use of Scotland's resources and providing wider business opportunities."

Healing powers
BASED on the principle of restoring balance to the body by use of plant material, the earliest written account of herbal remedies comes from China and dates back to 2800BC.

Interest in natural remedies has grown enormously over the past few years and now enjoys wide recognition in the medical world.

But it has also attracted controversy, with doctors disputing the remedies' benefits and fears over harmful side effects.

They are used to treat a range of ailments from respiratory problems to skin complaints, and come in a variety of forms, including loose herbs, roots and barks, tinctures, tablets and creams.

Among those used are:

Yerba mate - used as a beverage since the time of the ancient natives of Brazil. Used for weight loss, physical and mental fatigue, nervous depression, rheumatic pains and headaches. Made from leaves of Argentine holly.

Ginseng - native to eastern Asia and North America, has long been associated with helping ward off flu and colds.

St John's wort - enhances mood and is also anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. Flowers and leaves of hypericin, which is thought to help counter depression and anxiety.

Ammannia baccifera - an aquatic weed found in Thailand. A King's College study two years ago found "promising activity" against lung cancer cells.

Dodder seeds - a parasitic plant that grows in deserts. Utilised for impotence, nerve weakness and prostatis. It is an aphrodisiac which can help build sperm count.

Source (http://heritage.scotsman.com/ingenuity.cfm?id=186612007)

Thursday, February 8th, 2007, 08:06 PM
I never knew this about bog myrtle...i wonder how many other herbs were in common use then that we no longer use, and perhaps don't even know about? Humans have strayed far from nature...