A New Look at Daisy (Bellis Perennis)
The perennial daisy is such a common ‘weed’ that its value as a medicinal plant has largely been overlooked. Despite the fact that it covers our lawns and flowers from spring to autumn, most modern herbalists do not use it, even though it was highly valued by our ancestors. Lately, as awareness of the advantages of sustainable living and wild food foraging increases, it is having somewhat of a renaissance. Its fresh green leaves can be eaten in salads, along with other wild foods such as dandelion and sorrel leaves. They used to be popular cooked as a vegetable and served with meat. The flowers can also be eaten in soups, stews, salads, even sandwiches and make great decorative additions to almost any dish. They have a mild, slightly sour, flavour.
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The daisy has long been associated with childhood, a symbol of innocence and survival. Certainly this tough little flower will adapt to almost any landscape, withstand being trodden on, constant mowing and continue to bloom for months. Perhaps its resilience is mirrored by its ability to heal bruises and wounds. Its Latin name Bellis means beautiful, so Bellis perennis could translate as perennial beauty. Bellis could also stem from bellum, meaning war, maybe because daisies grew in fields of battle and ‘military doctors’ of the Roman Empire would soak bandages in their juice to bind soldiers’ wounds. Arnica, calendula and witch hazel are all close relations of daisy, so it is no surprise that it is a wound healer. It was well known by the Crusaders for easing pain, bruising, wounds and broken bones; its country name is “bruisewort”. In homeopathy today, Bellis perennis is known as “Poor Man’s Arnica” and used with Arnica to treat bruising and trauma. Could taking daisy help us to survive the knocks of life, constantly trodden on yet still coming up smiling?
Daisy’s medicinal properties have been recorded for centuries. John Gerard, the 16th century herbalist, recommended daisy for catarrh, heavy menstrual bleeding, migraine and for bruises and swellings. It was used traditionally as a spring tonic, to ‘cleanse the blood’, for fevers, coughs and pleurisy, to stimulate digestion, for liver, gallbladder and kidney problems, for swollen breasts and inflammatory conditions of the reproductive tract. (McIntyre 1996). Henry VIII ate platefuls of daisy to relieve stomach ulcers. According to the doctrine of signatures, the daisy opens and closes like an eye, suggesting that it can ease infection or inflammation of the eye.
If we are to reassess daisy as a potential source of medicine, it is worth looking into its pharmacological constituents. It contains triterpenoic saponins, flavonoids (2 flavone glycosides of apigenin, and 3 flavonoid aglycones, kaempferol, quercetin, apigenin), malic, acetic and oxalic acid, resins, wax, inulin, mucilage, essential oils and tannins (EMEA 1999). A glycosidase inhibitor found in the leaves may have antiviral action against HIV. The daisy is quite nutritious; in 100g of edible parts there is 600mg potassium, 88mg phosphorus, 33mg magnesium, 190mg calcium, 2.7mg iron, 160mg vitamin A and 2.6mg protein (Weiss 2004).
The flavonoid kaempferol is found in many edible plants (e.g. tea, broccoli, cabbage, kale, beans, endive, leek, tomato, strawberries and grapes) and herbs (including Ginkgo biloba, Tilia spp, Equisetum spp, Moringa oleifera and propolis). It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, hormone regulating, anti-osteoporotic, anxiolytic, analgesic and antiallergenic properties. Studies have shown that eating foods containing kaempferol has been associated with reduced risk of cancer (particularly pancreatic and lung cancer) and cardiovascular disease (Calderón-Montaño et al 2011). Quercetin is a pigment found in many foods (including onions, apples, berries, tea, red grapes, green tea, broccoli and red wine). It has antioxidant, hypotensive, antimutagenic, and antiviral properties. It may help inhibit prostate cancer. It can reduce the effects of IgE mediated reactions and may have anti histamine effects, potentially helpful in allergies. It strengthens blood vessel walls, helps reduce cardiovascular problems (Loke et al 2008), and has been shown to reduce susceptibility to viral and upper respiratory infections due to exercise-induced immune changes (Nieman et al 2007). The triterpenoid glycosides have antifungal activity, effective against Candida and Cryptococcus spp (Bader et al 1990), while the essential oils are antimicrobial against gram+ and gram- bacteria (Avato 1997).
We can also look at its actions: the whole plant has expectorant, astringent, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, demulcent, emollient, diaphoretic, febrifuge, anodyne, antispasmodic, antitussive, digestive, hepatic, vasotonic alterative, diuretic, antiarthritic, laxative, ophthalmic and tonic properties. We can deduce that as an astringent, daisy can be taken internally for curbing excess secretions, menorrhagia, catarrh and diarrhoea. As a mild diuretic it aids excretion of toxins via the kidneys, which may explain its traditional use for gout, arthritis and skin problems including acne and boils. As an expectorant, daisy may help clear coughs, catarrh and sinusitis, and is worth combining with other expectorants such as Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties may help relieve rhinitis, arthritis, and sore muscles and can be taken for trauma, bruises, wounds, post-surgery and for injuries to the head. Its vasotonic effect may be helpful in regulating blood pressure and its tonic action for tiredness and lethargy. A strong decoction of the roots makes a detoxifying remedy for chronic skin disease such as eczema.
Externally it can be used for wounds, sprains, strains, bruises, bacterial or fungal skin problems, inflammatory eye problems, painful congested breasts, arthritic joints & gout, and applied to the perineum for bruising and pain after childbirth. The fresh leaves are chewed to relieve mouth ulcers. An insect repellent spray can be made from a leaf infusion. The whole plant can be used as medicine as an infusion, decoction, tincture, ointment, poultice or compress. There are no side effects known, although it should be avoided during pregnancy until further research is available. Individuals who are sensitive to other members of the Asteraceae family may experience respiratory allergies.
Here at Artemis House we have been exploring the benefits of the charming little daisy in the kitchen. Fresh flowers from the garden have livened up our salads; although their flavour is mild, the beauty they bring to our lunches is immense. We tried our hand at a daisy soup and were pleasantly surprised. After frying some onions we added a few handfuls of daisy flowers and leaves with grated ginger and stock and cooked the soup for a few minutes. It was then blended enough to liquefy it but to maintain its texture and once served we scattered a few daisy flowers on top as a garnish. It tasted like a wholesome, refreshing soup.
Avato P et al. Antimicrobial Activity of Polyacetylenes from Bellis perennis and their synthetic derivatives, Planta Med 63 (6):503-507. 1997.
Bader G. et al. The Antifungal action of polygalacic acid glycosides, Pharmazie 45 (8):618-620. 1990.
Calderón-Montaño J.M., Burgos-Morón E., Pérez-Guerrero C. and López-Lázaro M. A Review on the Dietary Flavonoid Kaempferol. Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Seville, Spain. Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, 11, 298-344 1389-5575/11 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd. 2011.
European Agency for the Evaluations of Medicinal Products. Committee for Vetinerary Medicinal Products, Bellis perennis, Summary report. 1999.
Loke WM, Hodgson, JM Proudfoot JM, McKinley AJ. Am J Clin Nutr. School of Medicine and Pharmacology & the School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences, University of W. Australia, Perth. 2008.
McIntyre A. The Complete Floral Healer, Gaia Books, UK. 1996.
Nieman DC, Henson DA, Gross SJ, Jenkins DP, Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, Dumke CL, Utter AC. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Dept of Health, Leisure & Exercise Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. 2007.
Weise V. Cooking Weeds, Prospect Books, Totnes, UK. 2004.
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