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These amazing pearls of nature have been used for centuries to improve health, calm the nerves, and boost mood, writes nutritionist Diana Robinson. Beautiful, fragrant and with many possibilities, flowers are so much more than what they first appear. With their eye-catching colours and alluring aromas, flowers in nature are designed to create attraction. Their main goal is to attract the attention of bees, who collect their pollen in order to make honey. While the bees are busy collecting and transporting the pollen, they spread the pollen from flower to flower, assisting in pollination, the reproductive process of the plant. But flowers have so much more to offer than just a means of pollination. Medicinally, flowers have long been to aid many health concerns, both internally and externally. Plus their unique aromas have the effect of triggering the olfactory nerves, which in turn affect brain waves, altering one's state of being. Many different flowers can be used in the diet and for medicinal purposes, but here are the top five which deserve your attention.

Chamomile

Remember how Peter Rabbit’s mother gave him chamomile tea when he was feeling queasy? It's probably the best medicinal flower to help a stomach-ache.Small white flowers with a bright yellow centre, chamomile is a delightful plant with many benefits. There are several different species, with the two most common being Roman and German chamomile. Historically, chamomile has been used as a calmative for both nervous tension and to aid sleep. It is beneficial in fevers, inflammation, colic, nausea, asthma, and inflammatory skin conditions. Being an antispasmodic, chamomile is also helpful for muscular cramps, including irritable bowel and menstrual cramps. Other pharmacological actions for chamomile are antibacterial, antifungal and anti-allergenic, making it very useful for decreasing inflammation, alleviating allergic reactions, and combating fungal infections. The dried or fresh flowers may be made into a tea or tincture and can be taken internally, and the essential oil is used in aromatherapy to promote a sense of calm and decrease stress and anxiety.

Lavender

With its vibrant purple flowers, lavender is not only beautiful in the garden; it has uses far and wide for a huge variety of conditions. The most common uses for lavender are as a remedy for mood disorders, including anxiety, depression and insomnia. Lavender has been shown in clinical studies to increase alpha brain waves (these are the ones that are also boosted during meditation), while having a mild sedative action means lavender aide relaxation and promotes a restful sleep. Other conditions which lavender may assist include relieving tension headaches and migraines, and reducing high blood pressure, cold sores, asthma, arthritis, insect bites and stings and skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rashes. Aromatically, lavender promotes consciousness, health, love, peace, creativity and a sense of wellbeing. Lavender can be taken as a tea, in tincture form, inhaled or ingested in the form of a pure essential oil, or even used in cooking and deserts.

Calendula

Calendula, also known to gardeners as pot marigold, has long been used medicinally for its anti-inflammatory properties. When applied topically, calendula is soothing and reduces the redness and itchiness associated with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. It can also provide beneficial action for burns, wounds and acne. When taken internally, calendula can dampen inflammation, both systemically and in the gastrointestinal system. Its calming nature also relieves muscle spasms and is useful in the treatment of abdominal cramps and constipation. Additionally, calendula can assist in increasing blood flow, which in turn helps with wound healing by increasing oxygen supply to the affected tissue. Vascular circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, also benefit from calendula. Calendula contains antimicrobial properties, which is beneficial for killing off undesirable bacteria that contribute to candida and gut dysbiosis. Furthermore, this pretty little flower stimulate the immune system and slows the ageing process, with the natural polyphenols in the plant adding to its free radical neutralising potential.

Rose

This beautiful scented flower has been used historically for digestive and menstrual problems, nervous tension and headaches, poor circulation, liver congestion, and skin complaints. Other possible uses include asthma, bronchitis, impotence, sexual debilities, prevention of scarring and wrinkles. The fragrance of the rose is stimulating and elevating to the mind, creating a sense of wellbeing. It can also invoke an aphrodisiac-like effect, and is commonly used in aromatherapy for women's health issues, including low libido and dry skin. When taken internally, such as in the form of tea, rose petals provide a rich array of polyphenols: these are a type of antioxidant phytochemical which add astringency and tone to tissue, and are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Rose petals also contain vitamin C. Being a water-soluble nutrient, vitamin C must be taken regularly to maintain optimal cellular levels. Drinking rose tea will provide an abundance of antioxidants and vitamin C, minus the caffeine.

Hibiscus

The uses of hibiscus in natural medicine include: supporting upper respiratory health, alleviating constipation, promoting circulation, supporting normal blood pressure and heart health, as well as maintaining fluid balance. One clinical study on the use of hibiscus tea in people with hypertension showed a significant reduction in their blood pressure readings following the consumption of just one cup of hibiscus tea daily. Hibiscus has also been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol and blood sugar balance, and therefore many cardiometabolic conditions may benefit from the addition of hibiscus to the diet. Like many medicinal flowers, hibiscus is naturally high in polyphenols, which have been shown to improve vascular tone and provide additional benefit to the cardiovascular system far beyond the realms of blood pressure regulation.

Diana Robinson is a nutritionist. Visit her at www.dianarobinson.com.au