The three wise herbalists brought… Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh




Everybody knows the story of the three wise men bringing gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the infant Jesus in the Christmas nativity. There is plenty of symbology around these iconic gifts allowing a host of interpretations. What I want to focus on here are some very real medical uses of the herbs Frankincense and Myrrh, and if you allow me a little bit of poetic licence, Saffron (as gold)…



Whilst the metallic element, gold, does have some medical uses, as a Medical Herbalist I do not use it, so I am going to talk about the golden herb saffron, which can literally be worth its weight in gold. [Daily Mail: How an ounce of saffron is more expensive than gold: Cultivation of exotic spice returns to Essex for the first time in 200 years]

Saffron is made from the stamen of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Each crocus produces just three of these delicate strands per year, and they must be laboriously picked by hand before drying, at the right temperature and duration.

When used in cooking – such as saffron loaf or saffron rice – it adds a strong golden colour and has a distinctive aroma and flavour. I always add half a dozen strands of Kashmiri saffron when making a small pot of special gunpowder green tea. When used medicinally it has serotonergic (mood enhancing) effects, is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulscent, has anti-timor effects, neuro-endocrine (hormone engaging) influence and has neuro-protective properties [ref].

Here is some evidence of medical efficacy:

  • Depression
    A 2014 review of the scientific literature [ref] identified six high quality studies that demonstrated  a positive effect, similar to that seen with anti-depressants drugs, and without the dependence or side effects.
  • Psychological and behavioural
    An excellent 2015 review paper from an American research team [ref] concluded: “Findings from initial clinical trials suggest that saffron may improve the symptoms and the effects of depression, premenstrual syndrome, sexual dysfunction and infertility, and excessive snacking behaviors.”
  • Cardiovascular
    It is reported that regions of the world that regularly consume saffron have lower levels of heart disease. The anti-atherosclerotic, antioxidant, anti-diabetes, hypotensive, anti-ischemic, anti-platelet aggregation effects of saffron suggest it is cardio protective and animal studies show this to be the case. [ref]
  • Diabetes
    Saffron has a hypoglycaemic effect and has been shown to raise insulin levels in diabetic rats with low insulin, whilst enhancing glucose uptake. Its antioxidant properties may reduce diabetic vascular complications too [ref].
  • Obesity & Weight Loss
    Saffron has been shown to reduce body weight in rats, whilst in humans it has been shown to reduce appetite and increase satiety [ref] “After 2 months, the subjects using the saffron extract reported a decrease in snacking and lost more weight than the control group”

Safety: The widespread use of saffron as a culinary spice suggests it is safe at those doses. This superb paper, published in 2012 by an Italian team of researchers reviews the known biological effects of this amazing herbal medicine [ref] and it concludes: “To date, very few adverse health effects of saffron have been demonstrated. At high doses (more than 5 g per day), it should be avoided in pregnancy owing to its uterine stimulation activity.” Well that’s fine, as it is therapeutic well below that dose. It is a significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and since these processes a known to be the drivers of most major diseases I think it worth revisiting the use of this herb more widely. The problem is just the cost!



As well as being burned for incense in religious ceremonies this gum distinctly medicinal. Chewing on bobbles of frankincense is good for mouth ulcers and gum disease, but tastes like soap or turpentine. Mostly it is therefore used either as an essential oil or powdered and encapsulated. One can also concentrate the 5-Loxin component to optimise the anti-inflammatory properties, as in one of the products I stock.

This traditional medicine of the Middle East has expectorant, antiseptic, and even anxiolytic (i.e. calming) and anti-neurotic effects as well as the well recognised anti-inflammatory ones. Indeed recent studies have shown it has analgesic, tranquilising, anti-bacterial and anti-tumour effects too, which gives it a role in the treatment of quite a range of common conditions. [ref]

The following medicinal effects come from a 2016 review:

  • Gastro-Intestinal
    Its anti-inflammatory effect gives it a place in inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis and sinusitis. In human studies of colitis patients, the resin was far more effective than the standard drug: “Out of the patients treated with Boswellia gum resin, 70% went into remission while in the case of sulfasalazine [the standard drug it was compared to] the remission ratio was 40%”
  • Anti-fungal
    Frankincense is strongly anti-fungal towards candida species. As well as many other moulds including food borne moulds. (One wonders if it would be effective burned as incense to reduce mould spores in houses… )
  • Asthma
    Severity and risk of asthma attacks is reduced by consumption of Frankincense gum, or by inhalation of the smoke when burned.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis Multiple lines of evidence suggest that frankinscence could help via anti-oxidant and potent anti-inflammatory effects. One researcher noted that “at a dose of 200 mg/kg, B. serrata extracts shift the balance of cytokines towards a bone-protecting pattern”

Memory, Dementia, Alzheimer’s
There is considerable interest in the role of Frankincense gum in cognitive impairment as it has been shown to improve memory in animal models of Alzheimer’s [ref]. In fact recent studies have shown that it increases neurone formation in the hippocampus [ref], i.e. that part of the brain that is essential for new memory formation. A recent human study of cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis found that it “showed significant improvement in visuospatial memory, but had no effect on verbal memory and information processing speed.” [ref]. I would not be using simply frankincense for dementia, as there are other very valuable measures that should be employed, but this resin, depending on the case, could play a significant role in a rounded treatment approach.

In my clinical practice I find Boswellia particularly useful in autoimmune disorders, and when inflammation suddenly occurs, such as polymyalgia rheumatica, for example, which can come on over night and cause severe joint pain, disability and exhaustion. The usual drugs used by doctors have real problems associated with them, as they are aimed at suppression of the immune system, which you cannot do without negative consequences, whereas taking a deeper look at what may have triggered the condition, and treating in a more thoughtful way with medicinal herbs, including frankincense, has been very successful to date with no long term adverse effects.



Another aromatic resinmyrrh, (Commiphora mol mol) also comes from the Middle East, in fact Yemen originally and it has been used in the Western Herbal Medicine tradition for hundreds of years. I prefer the alcoholic extract (tincture) to the resin itself for ease of use, and offer it as part of my Home Herbal set in a dropper bottle as shown above. It is part of the Home Herbal range of medicines that I encourage my patients to keep in their medicine cupboard at all times because it is so reliable, effective and practical to use.

Ten to twenty drops added to a glass of water makes an excellent gargle for sore throats, gingivitis (inflamed gums), receding gums, loose teeth, mouth ulcers, and as a general antiseptic mouth wash which can be swished between the teeth where toothbrush bristles may not reach. A few drops can be put onto the toothbrush along with toothpaste (or my favourite alternative – salt and sodium bicarbonate). Tincture of myrrh can be dabbed neat onto small cuts or bites as it is strongly antimicrobial, antiseptic and astringent, thus helping to defend against any nasty bugs that can get in when bitten by a mosquito or whenever the skin barrier is breached, and as an astringent it helps bring swelling down [ref]. It has been used successfully in the treatment of intestinal worms, as have certain other herbs, most of which, like myrrh, taste bad (to humans and to worms, clearly)!

Myrrh has many similar properties to Frankinscence, including analgesia (pain relief), anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity properties [ref]. I find it has a vital place in the treatment of most infections, including gastroenteritis, ‘flu, colds, sore throats, bronchitis, pneumonia etc, as well as ulcers in any tissue (incl legs, stomach and mouth) and in arthritis. As an anti-inflammatory it has a role in cancer [ref] along with other herbs and dietary measures.

Apart from the above uses, myrrh has also been used in leprosy and syphilis too, which, though it may sound far fetched is quite reasonable. It is a powerful antimicrobial herb, so any bacterial infections can sensibly be treated with this age old defender of health, including common candida albicans and staphylococcal infections. They didn’t give it to the Messiah for nothing! In fact midwives used to dab myrrh onto the cut umbilical cord of new born babes in the less hygienic environment of the past [ref].

  • Gastro-Intestinal
    The anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects of myrrh are of great value when treating inflamed gut disorders [ref]. As myrrh raises white blood cell numbers it assists in ulcer and wound healing too [ref]
  • Skin
    Myrrh has been shown to be effective at treating fungal infections of the skin [ref] including ringworm, and systemic fungal problems caused by candida albicans (once treated, maintenance through a low carbohydrate diet would be wise too).
  • Liver
    Myrrh has been shown to protect the liver from lipopolysaccharides (a major gut endotoxin) and “might be sufficient to combat cellular damage caused by various conditions that resemble fulminant hepatitis” according to researchers in Saudi Arabia [ref].
  • Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
    Myrrh “has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity and delay the development of insulin resistance… and may be used as an adjuvant therapy for patients with insulin resistance.” [ref]
  • Parasites
    Here is an in-depth paper: Myrrh: A Significant Development in the Treatment of Parasites (pdf) by a colleague of mine, the Medical Herbalist Kerry Bone. Two of the most studied areas are for the treatment of schistosomiasis (a flatworm) and fasciola (a liver fluke) – two common parasitic infections in the tropics and subtropics [ref].

So, in wishing all my readers and patients a very Merry Christmas, I also want to encourage you to use your gold, frankincense and myrrh as wisely as those three wise men. Or rather, if you have any sort of medical problem or niggle, book an appointment with me and we will see what how best to approach it using medicinal herbs and nourishing foods. Chances are you will find me to be a wise woman too.

How vegetarians bad-mouth themselves!

Vegetarians have more oral candida species – and they’re the highly pathogenic kind

Candida albicans is the yeast that causes thrush when it gets out of control and can even become life threatening in immunocompromised patients. Despite this, Candida albicans is a commensal, meaning it is part of the natural flora found in and on humans – so many people have it, for example, in their oral cavities where for the most part it doesn’t cause any trouble. In recent years, however, new pathogenic species of Candida have been on the rise. These species are particularly resistant to anti-fungal treatment and cause more life threatening conditions so are an increasing cause for concern. Continue reading

Jordan Peterson on Diet and Health 2

Following our popular post Jordan Peterson on Diet and Health (7018 hits at time of posting!) I am pleased to bring you another section of a recent interview where Dr Peterson goes into more detail about the low-carb paleo diet he and his daughter have adopted to reverse their autoimmune conditions.

The clip below will start automatically from 9:25 where he begins talking about his illness and the diet that fixed it.

Mikhaila Peterson

In that Joe Rogan video Prof Jordan Peterson mentions his daughter, Mikhaila’s blog, Don’t Eat That in which she explains how she reversed her autoimmune arthritis, and other undefined illness, by cutting out the foods she was reacting to, and is currently on a zero carb diet.

Below is an excerpt from one of her posts in which she reflects on how much healthier she is now compared to a few years back before she worked out the diet.

I suggest you go and read her blog, but even more than that, I suggest you listen to absolutely everything Jordan Peterson has ever said, not just on diet. Maybe you caught the interview he did on Channel 4 when one of their ideological interviewers had their bubble burst. If not, seek it out. You are in for a rare treat!




Crippling negligence claims show NHS not ‘the envy of the world’

Well January ended with a bang, and its a bang I’ve been banging on about for the last couple of years (!): The budget set aside for NHS negligence claims is growing so rapidly that it threatens to bankrupt the system. Several people I’ve mentioned this figure to have looked at me in disbelief and suggested I must be mistaken. Well now it’s all over the headlines, so…

“the estimated total liabilities, which is the cost if all current claims are successful, stands at £65bn, up from £29bn in 2014-15.”The Guardian, 2nd Feb

Yes, £65 billion – you read that right – must be set aside for negligence claims. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, managers have begged the government to limit payouts for such claims to protect the health service.

Part of the ‘problem’ is recent changes in the law which mean that the damages paid out in some cases have tripled. But patient groups have acted angrily to the idea that these were due to oportunistic claims saying the assessments were based on an independent assessment of future care needs – which could include round the clock care for those injured at birth – and were not “some kind of windfall”, leading the Telegraph to say:

Something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark. Part of the problem, no doubt, is that “the NHS needs more money”. Well of course. The NHS always needs more money. Was there ever a time when the NHS did not need more money? But can we really afford to pour money endlessly into an apparently bottomless pit?

There were very few negligence claims in the 1980’s, but these have rocketed in the last three decades. (Click for further statistics about NHS negligence claims)

Surely the real question is why are so many mistakes are being made?

How come so many of the wonderful NHS staff are negligent in the first place? Is it really just about money? Or is the whole system flawed?

The following article by Jack Tagholm-Child is reblogged here in full as he makes some good points about the problems with ‘our wonderful NHS’ and suggests there are better alternatives out there. Isn’t it about time we started taking these ideas seriously?

The NHS Myth: On Health the Rest of the World Does it Better

Albert Einstein is broadly credited with the commonly used adage: ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over ­again and expecting different results.’ On this account the way in which the British state provides healthcare to its citizens is, by now, surely insane.

‘The NHS is facing a winter crisis’ is a headline one gets used to seeing every year in the UK. Although, this year the term winter crisis has been used significantly more than other years. According to Sky, in the first four days of 2018 the phrase has been used more times, by UK Newspapers, than in the entire years combined from 2003 to 2008.

Indeed, the NHS does appear to be under even more strain than is usual. The number of attendees waiting 4, or more, hours in A&E has risen significantly – 15% in December of 2017, the joint worst figures on record.

Analysis from the Kings Fund suggests this extra strain is due to a confluence of factors: an ageing and growing population, and simply citizens using NHS services more. Extra funding being provided to the NHS became decoupled from the increases in use around 2010, and increases in funding have remained below increases in use ever since. This seems the likely cause of the current, particularly severe, stress on NHS resources.

Would allocating more money to the NHS alleviate the problem? Yes, for a while. But is it worth it? No. The problems with British healthcare provision is organizational, not monetary. Bourne out by the fact that health outcomes have consistently lagged behind other comparable countries, even in periods of ‘proper’ funding.

The NHS is like those famous American Muscle cars, can’t turn corners, unreliable, aren’t actually very fast and burn through fuel faster than a B-52. You could choose to keep spending vast sums running the thing, or you could buy a cheaper, more reliable and better performing European alternative. Coincidently, this is exactly what’s on offer – although it wouldn’t necessarily even have to be European.

The UK has chronically lagged behind its European, and American, and Australian, and East Asian counterparts, in its cancer, and other major disease, survival rates, for years. In fact, for decades. A 2017 study led by the Swedish Institute for Health Economics found that between 2000 and 2007 the UK had a lower 5 year adult survival rate for 9 out of 10 types of cancer than the European Average – the UK being above average on Skin Cancer.

Another study, in 2015, by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found the same. In the period from 1995 to 2012, comparisons between the UK and 5 other countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden – found UK 5 year cancer survival rates to be nominally between 5% and 12% lower, depending on the type of cancer.

This is huge when you consider percentage survival rates for cancer’s are often, of course, low anyway. If a survival rate for a certain type of cancer is around 30% in one country and 20% in another – which is approximately the difference between the UK and the other countries, for certain cancers, in this particular study – then care in the UK is 33% less effective. Indeed, this is the case for stomach cancer, when you compare the UK to Australia.

If you’ll just bear with me through a few more numbers. According to the OECD’s most recent figures on certain cancer and cardiovascular disease survival rates the UK regularly ranks around 20th – Exactly 20th for bowel and cervical cancer, 19th for breast Cancer, 22nd for Heart Attacks, 27th and 25th for hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes respectively. Always notably behind comparable countries like France, Germany, Japan, The United States and so on.

There are, of course, lies, damn lies and statistics. However, when you are consistently ranked below all the most comparable countries, on almost all major diseases and their variations, over a sustained period of time, and by a multitude of sources, to not believe your fundamental mode of healthcare delivery may be faulty, at best, and require changing, is flat out delusional.

At this point one should stress, not that it ever makes any difference, the NHS is staffed by some truly outstanding individuals. They are not the problem – at all. It is simply the system of provision which is hindering health outcomes. Much like Communism is preventing North Korea from being like South Korea. They are the same people.

What desperately needs to be understood in the UK’s healthcare debate is that not having the NHS in its current form, is not the same as US style privatization. God forbid. Healthcare provision can be provided in a far more efficient fashion, and still be accessible to all. There are all sorts of different types of healthcare provision around the developed world, which straddle the line between being mostly publicly or privately provided.

It’s all about incentives. What is often under emphasized, in debates between the public and private provision of a goods and services, is that what makes the market in general so much more efficient is competition. There is nothing inherently magical about markets themselves, aside from the fact they tend to more easily facilitate competition. This can, on rare occasion, be done within the public sphere.

Here much of continental Europe shines the way forward. (One interesting note: it is curious that, in the main, those on the left in the UK, who are usually very complimentary about the European social model, form the most vociferous opposition to any moves towards what we might call a European model of Healthcare. They insist on an archaic form, and disproven ad nauseam by history, of total state control.)

France is perhaps the best example, as it blends a patient centric and choice based schematic – with a healthy dose of private sector involvement – alongside state coverage and provision. It manages to combine great healthcare outcomes – which come from the incorporation of competition, with healthcare for all – which only the state can guarantee. Indeed, one of the most comprehensive comparative studies of world healthcare systems undertaken, The World Health Organization’s 2000 report, ranked the French healthcare system the best in the world.

The French system is universal, in so far as it provides healthcare for all. The use of government in its delivery is considerable, but not excessive (40% of French hospital beds are provided by charities or for-profit companies.) But there is perhaps one key difference, which allows the French system to be so effective: employer provided insurance. Although the government will cover anyone who doesn’t have access to employer provided insurance – providing a minimum of healthcare access – many have extra insurance on top of their basic cover. So you have a government set baseline, with options for individuals to supplement their cover with private alternatives.

This is actually remarkably similar to the US system – although don’t you dare tell the French that. At any rate, what is key is that the patient is the focus and can choose his health providers – it’s all about choice.

Belgium, Austria and Germany all have similar healthcare provision, mixing a minimum baseline with private options for more cover. Even in Sweden, a bastion of social democracy, where healthcare is provided most like the NHS, a GP visit costs around £15. When a £10 charge for GP visits was even suggested in the UK all hell broke loose.

Countries often have blind spots, which the rest of the world struggles to fathom. We tend to believe in the UK, our healthcare system is the envy of the world – at least that’s what you hear in the media. Curious then that the majority of developed countries – which rank much higher in healthcare outcomes – use a different model. In the UK we have become addicted to the undoubtedly noble principles the NHS was founded upon. Unfortunately, noble principles don’t save lives. All the empirical evidence points to numerous better styles of healthcare provision around the world. Almost all providing near universal coverage anyway. So let’s do away with all the ideology and just copy what is known to work. Seems almost sensible.

Jack Tagholm-Child
A recent graduate, Jack studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. A Eurosceptic from a young age, he is also interested in all matters relating to the maximisation of human flourishing. He can be found blogging at:


Should folic acid be added to UK flour? The arguments for and against

Although I do not eat wheat myself and have many patients who only remain healthy if they avoid it, the recent headlines calling for mandatory fortification of wheat flour with folic acid still gives me cause for concern. The problem with the recent media coverage of this issue is that there has been little in the way of counter arguments put forward with the headlines being rather one sided, such as:

Below are some select quotations from two articles, one in favour of folic acid fortification and the other against. At the end I put in my two-penneth worth adding my concerns about artificial folic acid vs natural folate, as well as issues of government intervention vs personal liberty. Let me know your thoughts after you’ve chewed it over. Continue reading

Fake News #1 – Low carb diets linked to risk of birth defects

↑ Click to read full article at MailOnline

Look at that headline! Sounds awful doesn’t it? But what this is really about is fortified bread. In many countries bread has added folic acid (an artificial, non-nature identical form of folate, also known as vitamin B9) to ensure mothers get enough of this essential nutrient to avoid neural tube defects (NTDs) – such as spina bifida – in their babies. Being on a low carb, paleo, ketogenic or gluten free diet means not eating bread, so mums might not be getting this particular additive. So what earns this story our coverted fake news award? Continue reading

January 2018 News Round-Up

Paleo diet for long term weight loss

Science Daily (18th Jan) reports on a study in which overweight women were placed on a paleolithic diet for two years, but without restrictions on the quantities they could eat. One of the authors said:

“The results are remarkable. Despite giving the women free reigns to an unlimited intake, the weight loss was stable after two years. A more significant fact than weight loss was the evident improvement in levels of fat in the blood, and signs of reduced inflammation,”

Continue reading

Dietary guidelines are a disaster: here’s ten principles to fix them


Read time: 20 minutes (3300 words)

What to eat?

That used to be a question that only needed to be asked on the rare occasions when you ate out. Traditionally, eating had always been a cultural thing. People learned what to eat at the family table, guided by seasonally available foods most of which were produced locally or nationally. Each country had its traditional foods, everything seemed to be simple.

But at some point in the last century, partly as a result of rising cardiovascular disease, but perhaps also because of the increasing commercialisation of the food chain, governments across the developed world took it upon themselves to start advising their populations how best to eat. Continue reading