Heathers are usually small woody shrubs or sub-shrubs of temperate regions that develop on poor soils, siliceous or degraded, most often very acidic (heaths, peat bogs), sometimes in undergrowth (pine forests ).
Heathers can produce monospecific, perennial stands, preventing the development of other plants, for example in parts of Scotland.
They are also ornamental and medicinal plants.
The species are numerous, sometimes difficult to differentiate; in this page we will describe two species common in Europe and whose pharmacology is quite well known.
Erica cinerea or bell heather is the heather most common in Europe, quite small (30 to 50 cm), with pink or purplish bell flowers and small leaves arranged in whorls.
Calluna vulgaris or common heather is often larger (up to 1 m), it has small flowers pink or purple with 4 petals welded, the flowers are in terminal clusters. The very small leaves are opposite, applied in 4 rows along the reddish and tortuous stems.
These two heathers can coexist.
Erica tetralix and Erica cinerea (to the right)
The medicinal parts are the flowering stalk and leaves.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
FLOWERS AND LEAVES OF HEATHER AND BELL HEATHER
The MAIN COMPONENTS are:
- Triterpenoid substances which correspond to 20 to 60% of the weight of the flowers or waxes which cover the leaves, in particular ursolic acid: protective of tissues, immunomodulator (antiviral, antibacterial, anti-cancer protection), anti-inflammatory.
- Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant flavonoids including quercetin.
- Astringent and antibacterial tannins.
- A variable but generally low percentage of arbutin (hydroquinone combined with sugar).
Arbutin is hydrolysed by intestinal bacteria with release of hydroquinone.
This rather reactive molecule is known for its capacity to limit recurrent urinary infections (cystitis) and for its depigmenting power, it blocks the synthesis of melanin, but it is potentially toxic and its use is now regulated.
The medicinal heathers contain very little arbutin, the urinary antiseptic effect of these plants is mainly due to the flavonoids and associated tannins and the increase in diuresis (diuretic effect) which cleans the urinary tree (flushing effect on bacterias that do not have time to attach to the urinary mucosa).
Heathers are known for their soothing, relaxing or even "hallucinogenic" power, but it is difficult to associate these effects with components present in these plants.
One study shows, however, that quercetin has an inhibitory effect on mono-amine oxidase (like antidepressant drugs), other triperpenoids in leaf waxes may also be involved in these effects on the nervous system central or mood.
HEATHER AND BELL HEATHER: RECURSIVE URINARY INFECTION CYSTITIS PROSTATIC INFECTION
The extracts of heather are generally used in addition to an antibiotic treatment.
Never neglect urinary and prostate infections that can become really serious.
The extracts of heather potentiate the action of antibiotics.
In case of a mild urinary tract infection or uncomplicated cystitis, the extracts of heather are combined with other urinary antibiotics or diuretics.
Examples of dosage:
- infusion or short decoction: proportion, a handful of flowering twigs with leaves in a liter of very hot water, 10 minutes of infusion. Or in decoction (more concentrated in tannins) 3 minutes of boiling and 10 minutes of infusion.
3 to 5 cups a day
- Alcoholic tincture of Calluna vulgaris or Erica cinerea: 50 drops 3 times a day.
- heather powder: 2 g 3 times a day, drink with two cups of water each time.
DETOXIFYING AND PROTECTIVE HEATHER HERBAL TEA
The infusion of heather is also an herbal tea that, drunk in small quantities and regularly, reinforces immunity, resistance to infections in general (bacterial and viral), the only downside, the presence of tannins that can induce temporary constipation.
HONEY FROM HEATHER
Monofloral heather honey of Calluna vulgaris, is active against pathogenic bacteria responsible for serious respiratory, cutaneous or general infections: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, including those resistant to methicillin.
It can be used in case of bacterial angina or nasopharyngeal infection in addition to antibiotic treatment :
a cup of infusion with two to three spoonfuls of honey 2 to 3 times a day or swallow 2 or 3 teaspoons of pure honey which is left to dissolve in the mouth 2 to 3 times a day.
HEATHER AND SKIN CAREArbutin is used as a skin lightener.
HEATHER CULTIVATIONHeathers are very robust plants that are not very demanding but prefer acidic soils.
DECORATIVE AND MEDICINAL HEATHER
Common heather and bell heather are common plants in Europe that help heal urinary and prostate infections, while heather tea is detoxifying and boosts immunity and resistance to infections.
Heather honey is moderately antibacterial useful in cases of angina and rhino-pharyngeal infection.
Copyright 2019: Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel