Herbal News from Richters

Featuring the best articles from 2005

1. Butterbur Helps Hay Fever
2. Autumn Is the Best Time to Plant Garlic and Other Herbs
3. Stevia Becoming a Hot Crop

1. Butterbur Helps Hay Fever

As effective as antihistamines without the drowsiness

A herb used in cough medicines since the Middle Ages has shown great promise as a treatment for hay fever. Swiss and German researchers have found that the purple butterbur, Petasites hybridus, is as effective as antihistamine drugs in treating seasonal allergies. But unlike antihistamines, butterbur does not cause drowsiness, so allergy sufferers can drive automobiles and operate machinery while taking the herb.

Butterbur is a perennial herb found in Europe, Asia and parts of North America. Traditionally the roots were used, but recently the plant’s leaves have attracted attention. Both the leaves and the roots contain compounds called petasines that inhibit the body’s ability to produce leukotrienes involved in allergic reactions. A U.S. and German study published last year in the journal Neurology showed that butterbur is highly effective against migraine headache.

Approximately 20 percent people in industrialized nations suffer from hay fever. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and itching of the mucous membranes. In some patients headaches and fatigue can be debilitating enough to interfere with work and normal social functioning. Antihistamines are effective in reducing runny nose and sneezing, but drowsiness is a common side effect, even for newer so called "non-drowsy" antihistamines.

In the butterbur study, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, three groups of patients received pills made from either butterbur extract, fexofenadine or a placebo. Fexofenadine, a non-drowsy antihistamine, is sold as Allegra in the U.S. and as Telfast 180 in Europe. Patients taking either butterbur or fexofenadine showed similar improvements in total symptom scores while patients taking a placebo showed no improvement. The results were statistically significant, which is a way of saying that the effect of butterbur on hay fever is unlikely to be explained by pure chance.

Although side effects were reported in each treatment group, three-quarters of side effects in the fexofenadine group were related to drowsiness, compared to just over one-third in the groups receiving placebos or butterbur.

"Because butterbur does not cause the drowsiness that is so often associated with other antihistamines, it could be particularly useful for patients who cannot tolerate other therapies," lead researcher Andreas Schapowal said.

In its raw form butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause liver damage. The butterbur extract in the study is made from only the leaves of plants in specially controlled conditions and uses carbon dioxide extraction to reduce the level of pyrrolizidine alkaloids below the level of detection, 35 parts per billion. In the study liver function was normal in the patients receiving the butterbur extract. Butterbur products are commercially available in the U.S. under the names Migravent and Petadolex but have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Schapowal also led a 2002 study published in the British Journal of Medicine in which it was found that butterbur compared favourably with cetirizine, another non-drowsy antihistamine. Cetirizine is sold in the U.S. under the name Zyrtec.

Adapted from an United Press International report by Eva A. Sylwester, Aug. 23, 2005

Click here to order butterbur seeds


2. Autumn Is the Best Time to Plant Garlic and Other Herbs

Plant gourmet garlic and shallots, goldenseal, ginseng, saffron, wild rice and others

’Inchelium Red’ garlic. One of seven garlic varieties available from Richters

As summer draws to a close and the fall harvest is coming in, it seems counterintuitive to be thinking about planting herbs. But the late summer-early autumn period is the best time to plant many popular herbs such as garlic, shallots and saffron.

Garlic tops the list as the most popular fall planting herb. Nothing beats home-grown garlic for great taste. Garlic is very hardy and surprisingly easy to grow. Planting now will yield a harvest next July or August. It will survive zones down to as low as zone 3. Richters has seven varieties of garlic, including Music, the most important commercial variety in Canada. Specialty varieties such as Siberian, Purple Trillium, and Inchelium Red are favourites now. For example, Susanville is a wonderful mild-flavoured variety excellent for roasting because its cloves slip apart and spread effortlessly on bread after roasting.

Garlic’s close relative, the shallot, is best planted in fall. Not all shallots are winter hardy, so stick with the French, Frogs’ Leg or Grey varieties – all hardy to zone 4. Like garlic, shallots will produce an abundant crop of bulbs next summer when planted in the fall.

Another perennial onion, the Egyptian onion, is also be planted now. Next summer wacky looking clusters of small tasty bulbs will appear at the tops of its stems. Use the bulbs fresh, or dry them for later use. Store them as you would garlic or onions. The fresh leaves are edible too – use them as green onions. The Egyptian onion is hardy to zone 3.

You can hardly be faulted for believing that saffron won’t grow in North America: it is, after all, the world’s most expensive spice and is almost never seen in North American gardens. But saffron is easy to grow and surprisingly hardy – to zones 6-8 – which means that it will grow throughout much of North America. And although it takes 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of the saffron spice, just six plants will produce enough for a typical recipe. Probably the hardest thing about saffron is to decide where to plant it – it not only deserves a spot in the herb garden, its beautiful lavender flowers appearing in fall do not at all look out of place in the flower garden. Fall is the time to plant the bulbs and Richters has them available in packs of 10 and 100 bulbs.

Wild rice, a North American delicacy.

Fall is also the time to plant some of our most important medicinal herbs: ginseng, goldenseal and wild yam. Ginseng in particular, and goldenseal to a lesser extent, have attracted a bizarre lore about where they will or will not grow. But in the past decade much has been learned about these plants and they are turning out to be much easier to grow and much more adaptable to varied conditions than previously thought. Can these these forest plants be grown in home gardens? Yes, if they get the shade a deciduous tree and rich, well-drained soil. Richters has seeds or roots available. Commercial growers take note: goldenseal is still one of the most profitable and sought after herb crops grown in North America.

Wild rice is not a plant that everyone can grow: it needs fresh water about 18 inches (45 cm) deep during its growing season, from April to August. But if you have the right spot to grow it the reward is a spectacular harvest of fresh wild rice that must count as one of the North America’s very best native delicacies. The black wild rice is totally magical when cooked fresh!

Another native delicacy planted in the fall is the sunchoke, or as it is more commonly known, the Jerusalem artichoke. This amazing vegetable is one of North America’s gifts to the world. It has nothing to do with Jerusalem and it is not even remotely like an artichoke. It is actually a type of sunflower with tubers that can be cooked and eaten like potatoes. But unlike potatoes, it does not overload the system with carbohydrates when eaten. It’s a healthier alternative for diabetics and anyone looking to improve their diet. It’s the easiest and hardiest vegetable we know of, surviving in zones as low as 3. It needs almost no care once established: it comes back year after year without replanting; it easily outcompetes weeds; and few pests bother it.

Click here for planting instructions for many of the herbs mentioned in this article

Click the links below to order. Order by September 30 for delivery in time for fall planting.

Garlic Shallots Egyptian onion
Saffron Ginseng Goldenseal
Wild yam Wild rice Jerusalem artichoke


3. Stevia Becoming a Hot Crop

Natural sweetener herb has spawned a billion dollar industry

Without a doubt stevia, the natural sweetener herb from Paraguay, in South America, is the hottest new commercial herb crop today. Crop acreage is expanding in Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Consumer products such as soft drinks and diet foods are featuring calorie-free sweeteners derived from the stevia plant. And as stevia becomes better known, garden centres and nurseries are starting to offer potted plants to gardeners.

Stevia contains compounds called steviosides that are 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because the body does not metabolize steviosides they do not contribute any caloric value to food. Diabetics and others unable to tolerate sugar can take stevia with immunity. Dieters love stevia because they can continue to enjoy sweets without counting calories.

In the United States and Canada stevia use in the processed food industry is prohibited. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Administration say that there is not enough safety evidence to permit stevia use in foods – this despite hundreds of years of use in South America, and a 70 history of safe use in Japan where its use in foods is allowed. Cynics in the herb industry believe that the powerful sugar and artificial sweetener lobbies are behind the anachronistic ruling by the regulators. As things stand now, stevia may be sold as a dried herb and as an extract but it cannot be added to other foods.

Despite the restrictions, stevia use is climbing in North America. Powdered extracts that look and feel like white sugar and liquid extracts that look and feel like honey or syrup are widely available in health food stores and groceries. Unlike artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, steviosides do not break down under heat, so if the regulators change their minds and allow stevia use in foods such as baked goods, the market for stevia will explode overnight.

In India where a rapidly growing affluence coupled with a traditional love for sweets is causing the incidence of Type II diabetes to soar. Interest in stevia cultivation is very high, to the point where banks are financing farmers switching to stevia and national crop insurers are insuring stevia crops. China, also grappling with a rapidly changing socioeconomic condition, has quietly become the world’s leading grower of stevia leaf and producer of stevia powder.

In the meantime Richters has become a leading supplier of stevia seeds. For the first time, high quality stevia seeds with high germination and vigour are available to the industry in kilogram quantities. Previously it was thought that stevia biology limited germination to less than 10%. But by using a combination of special techniques the germination rate has been raised to over 70%, even higher than 80%.

Richters cleaned seeds shown on left; another seed company’s seeds shown on right, with debris and disease-harbouring feathery calyx lobes still attached to many seeds. Germination test boxes: Richters seeds on left; the other seed company’s seeds on right did not germinate.

"People are noticing the rise of stevia’s popularity and are jumping on the bandwagon. Some unscrupulous seedsmen are selling seeds that simply do not germinate," says Conrad Richter, president of Richters. "In the last two years Richters has led the way toward to increasing seed availability and lowering prices." And soon Richters will be the first company to offer organic stevia seeds certified under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) rules.

Stevia can be propagated by cuttings, but diseases such as septoria, a fungus that can wipe out a crop almost overnight, is spread rapidly via physical contact, especially when preparing and planting cuttings. However, septoria is not transmitted by seeds so a stevia crop grown from seeds always starts off free of disease. This will become increasingly important as the market demands more organic stevia.

Currently Richters offers conventionally grown stevia seeds, plants and powder. Certified organic whole leaf will be available soon. The quality of this hand picked and dried organic stevia is truly amazing -- the colour is outstanding, and the sweetness is intense and unusually "clean" for a raw stevia product. A "clean" stevia taste has little of the natural bitterness of stevia present. Stevia industry insiders have marvelled over the quality of Richters dried leaf.

Click here to order Richters stevia products


The HerbzAlive newsletter is written and published by Richters staff.
Richters Herbs does not provide health care services to the public. The medicinal information provided here is for research and information purposes only. It is not meant to be used without qualified medical supervision. Herbs have powerful effects on the body and can cause serious harm or even death if used incorrectly. You should consult your health care provider before using herbs on yourself or on anyone else
©2005 Otto Richter and Sons Limited. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1997-2024 Otto Richter and Sons Limited. All rights reserved.