“What protocol did you use for your husband that helped his post-COVID pneumonia recovery?” I have been asked this question a lot and wish to share with you what I have learned.
Everyone is unique in how their immune system responds to an illness. Therefore, without knowing a person’s history, or herstory, I cannot make specific recommendations other than what I have shared in this post. But I can share what my experience has been working within my own family.
One of the things that I learned is that COVID pneumonia is eosinophilic pneumonia. It responds very well to corticosteroids. They admitted my husband to the hospital with septic pneumonia after having never had any lung issues or even bronchitis. After six days in ICU on high flow oxygen and a BiPap ventilator, he had a bronchoscopy performed. They had been unable to wean him off the oxygen, and it was frightening. I knew that the high percentage of oxygen he was on for so many days could cause lung damage, and he does indeed have scarring of the lungs as a result.
The bronchoscopy results showed eosinophils, and they started IV steroids (prednisone) which turned him around immediately. He spent eight days in ICU and ten days in the hospital.
When he came home the goal was to get him off the steroids as quickly as possible because their damaging effects on the adrenal cortex are well known. It took longer than we thought, about six months. He also needed to build back his strength from having lost a lot of weight and muscle mass. It is a difficult thing to witness.
The strategy that worked for him is as follows:
• Bone broths are nourishing and provide protein and collagen for rebuilding tissue. Collagen is also healing to the gut and supportive to the joints. In Chinese Medicine the connection between the stomach (Earth Element) and lungs (Metal Element) is well known. I made organic beef and chicken bone broths from scratch, adding carrots, celery, onion, russet potatoes, bay leaves, and juniper berries. I also added the following Chinese herbs:
Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal/Yu Zhu) moistening to the lungs and helps with dry cough. Click here to learn more.
Chinese yam (Shan Yao) strengthens the spleen and stomach, nourishes the kidneys, treats body fatigue.
Astragalus root (Huang Qi) strengthens the immune system.
Jujube/Date (Da Zao) spleen and stomach tonic, also helps to moderate the actions of other herbs in a formula
• Unsweetened apple sauce and easily digestible food
• Cordyceps (sinensis – only!) 2 Tbsp. dissolved in water, 4x/day. Cordyceps sinensis became the most important thing he took to help wean himself off the steroids, heal his adrenals, and regain energy levels.
• Herbal Decoction to help calm cough and reduce congestion, which continued for many months: In one quart of water, place 1-2 pieces of licorice root, 5-6 cloves, 1-2 petals of star anise, 5 pieces of ginger (wide slices), and 1 cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 20-30 minutes. Strain and drink 1-2 cups daily or as needed. Also warming to the gut (carminative).
• Aloe Vera, Inner Filet, 2 oz 1-2x/day (alkalizing and moistening to the gut)
• No stress
• lots of sleep
• walking every day
• laughter and friendship
My husband is incredibly compliant and remained diligent with his routine. We had to get food stamps for a few months to see us through, and the stimulus checks helped while he wasn’t working. After going back to work five months later, lingering congestion, a deep cough, and constant throat clearing dogged him. I feared pulmonary fibrosis. He was diagnosed with GERD and prescribed a PPI. We knew we weren’t going to go that route. I suspected candida overgrowth from days of IV antibiotics in the hospital. Our chiropractor confirmed candida. A series of candida cleanses ensued without the results he had gotten from them in the past. Two rounds of CandAid (see resources below) set him straight. He still has to be diligent with wheat, gluten, and dairy.
I will be eternally grateful that he survived his ordeal. I couldn’t have done it without the support of family and friends. A big shout out to my dear friend Nissa who shared the correct cordyceps dosage (far more than one might have employed otherwise), which she learned from her herbalist and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s partner. That is the magic of healing and herbalism – wisdom shared among the many. And dosage is important!
My husband now walks over five miles each day and is as fit as I have ever known him. And we have grown closer. It is the kind of closeness that comes when you think you could lose someone you hold so dear. We were sent angels and now I send them to you…
Skullcap, or Scullcap, tomato or tomatoe? Isn’t it interesting that this member of the mint family, which contains approximately 300 species, can be found spelled either way with a “c” or a “k?” Even the herb companies have taken sides. For example, Herb Pharm spells their product Skullcap, while Nature’s Way spells it Scullcap. Somewhat confusing, I know, when you also consider that spell check doesn’t like skullcap spelled with a c, i.e., “not found in dictionary.” No matter how you choose to spell skullcap, the plant I will be discussing as the integrator of consciousness is the botanical Scutellaria lateriflora.
The name skullcap derives from the Latin scutella meaning, a small dish and referring to the shape of the flower. Even though Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis root) shows up in many formulas, I tend to use American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) as a “simple.” What that means is that I like to use one herb at a time, when appropriate, because then I don’t have to wonder which herb is working or which one is not. With simples, if a person is worried about interactions between the pharmaceuticals they take and herbals, it makes the interactions simple to observe and simpler to avoid. Besides, you can only put so many herbs in your body at one time (like food). Adding too many together at the same time may dilute the potency and create a confusing smorgasbord for your body. I also believe that healing takes place in the context of relationships, and using one herb at a time allows for a deeper intimacy with that plant and helps build trust.
Because I live in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, I am particularly interested in the plants that grow here. Skullcap is one of these and a North American native highly valued by the Cherokee people who use it as a nerve tonic and sedative. It likes to grow along the sunny edges of damp meadows near small bodies of water. As a perennial, it thrives in the moist eastern woodlands. Small pale blue or violet-blue flowers are not long-lived and bloom in the summer between June and September. These flowers are in one-sided racemes from leaf axils, which makes skullcap easier to identify. Tincture the aerial parts when fresh and in full bloom.
According to medical herbalist David Hoffman, skullcap is perhaps the most relevant nervine available to us in the Western materia medica. It soothes nervous tension while strengthening the central nervous system and has a long history of use for petit mal seizures, sleepwalking, night terrors, and insomnia. It also relieves nervous irritability, tension headaches, and PMS tension. Skullcap lessens the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal. Herbalist Patricia Kyritsi Howell says that skullcap is a specific remedy for mental fatigue and nervous exhaustion caused by over-stimulation and the effects of long-term stress.
My encounters with skullcap have been most rewarding. Gathering it in and of itself is a blissful occupation. I have made and used fresh skullcap tinctures for both myself (nervous exhaustion) and with clients. One skullcap success story resulted when a mother brought her 9-year-old son to me for a consultation regarding his bedwetting. Let us call him Jimmy. Jimmy had been sleepwalking, bedwetting, and having night terrors for as long as his parents could remember. They had recently adopted a sister for Jimmy from China. Consumed with caring for this new family member who had special needs, they no longer wanted to be up in the middle of the night with Jimmy. Besides, they were genuinely frightened and concerned for his safety and wellbeing when they would find him walking around in the middle of the night completely asleep. Jimmy did not know what was happening and woke in the morning with no recall. He was also diagnosed in school with ADD. I recommended skullcap tincture in the morning and evening, along with some dietary changes (no wheat and dairy) with a one-month follow-up. At one month, I tried contacting the mother, but she never got back to me. A few months later, I ran into them at a social gathering and asked how Jimmy was doing.
“Oh, great!” She said and went on to tell me about all the exciting things they had been doing.
“Great!” I said, “ but what about the night terrors, sleepwalking, and bedwetting?”
“Oh!” She answered back, mildly surprised. “That is completely gone, and he’s had no problems with that since. I can’t thank you enough!”
What I realized was that she had simply gotten on with her life and not looked back. Then she told me that they had been unable to make any dietary changes but that Jimmy had started to improve almost immediately with the skullcap. I stood looking at her, amazed.
On another occasion, a friend of mine’s daughter called me and sounded frantic. Her 9-month old baby girl wasn’t sleeping and woke to cry hysterically every night and had a hard time getting back to sleep. That had been going on for three months. The mom felt like she had tried everything, including more food to settle the baby’s stomach if she might be hungry and different food. She tried chamomile tea, homeopathic remedies, ruled out teething, and had the baby checked by a pediatrician. Do you want to know what worked? Skullcap. She gave her daughter five drops of alcohol tincture up to 3 X a day. The beauty of skullcap is that it is a tonic that can be used long-term and is not addicting.
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s five-element theory, I learned that skullcap is a cooling, bitter herb, which calms the mind and restores the shen to the heart (Fire Element). In TCM, the mind refers to the heart. In this context, the shen corresponds to the mind and consciousness, with the process of thinking accomplished by the heart. One of the hearts main duties is to store the shen, which describes spirit or the animating force of life. The word shen translated from the Chinese means both “mind” and “spirit.” As the integrator of consciousness and perception, the shen unites the disparate aspects of the self. When the shen is restless for any reason, as we have seen in the examples above, skullcap has the amazing ability to restore the shen. We may call this restlessness “nervous anxiety” or “nervous tension,” but the nervous system is what carries the electrical impulses generated by the brain and heart. Heart-Mind in TCM corresponds with the Fire Element and the Summer season. The benefits of Skullcap to reduce nervousness and treat insomnia by quieting the spirit or shen and helping it to stay centered in the heart cannot be over-estimated. Summer is the perfect time to be introduced to skullcap in her season of bloom So I invite you to bring her into your life in whatever manner you may choose and get to know her, for her gift is great.
When the heart is serene, pain seems negligible.
– Inner Classic
Fresh Tincture Dosage: 30 drops (1 dropper full) 1:2 (75A:25W) 2-3 x a day
Can also be tinctured fresh using Vodka in the folk tradition.
Why Your Gallbladder is Necessary and How to Keep It Healthy
When a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery after discovering a gall stone following a gallbladder attack, I had to ask, why? It was her first gall bladder attack, and yes, they are excruciatingly painful, but to agree so quickly to surgery was deeply concerning. It wasn’t the first time that a friend or family member had rushed to have their gallbladder removed, and not all were without repercussion. In answering the above question, I feel pretty confident that it comes down to education and support. This is why after studying and teaching about this condition for over forty years I felt compelled to share the following information. Shouldn’t we be asking why there is an epidemic of gallbladder surgery and how can we take better care of this organ? It is my hope that the information contained in this article may empower you to take another look at why your gallbladder is necessary.
Unfortunately, it is not very likely that you will be encouraged to forgo gallbladder surgery by a doctor, nurse or surgeon, or that they will tell you that keeping your gallbladder is a realistic option. There are a few reasons for this and one is that the Western mechanistic model of allopathic medicine uses drugs and surgery as its main tools, and if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, all of the reference points are within the model and alternatives are rarely considered, let alone known, used or understood. If you want to learn about alternatives you will need to seek an alternative practitioner like an acupuncturist, herbalist, naturopath, or chiropractor. Medical practitioners who are serious about Integrative and Complementary medicine are also seeking out alternative practitioners in order to learn what is not being taught in medical school.
Another reason you will most likely hear from your doctor or surgeon for having a cholecystectomy is that 1 in 5 newly diagnosed patients with acute cholecystitis who do not have surgery readmit to the emergency room within about 12 weeks. Also, people who have a medical procedure to eliminate gallstones have them return 50% of the time and 80% of those return to have their gallbladder removed. Those are not bad odds considering most of those people are probably not making dietary or lifestyle changes, but it is still being used as an argument as to why you should just go ahead and get the surgery.
In my experience, the main reason most people choose to have their gallbladder removed, in addition to lack of reliable alternative information, is because most people aren’t willing to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes that would keep them gallstone free, or to follow a protocol that could help to eliminate existing gallstones. It takes time to empower ourselves with information that could help us understand what may have caused the problem in the first place and most people don’t know the right questions to ask when seeking alternatives. We also live in an instant gratification society and when it comes to physical pain, most people will take the easiest and quickest route to avoid and prevent it. This makes us vulnerable to the drug and surgery pushers who capitalize on fear and cause us to make hasty decisions that may not be in our best interest long term.
I think it’s important to note here that I am not a medical doctor and that surgery and drugs can be lifesaving. So please make your informed decisions in partnership with your health care provider. I recommend that you continue to be monitored as gallbladder disease can be serious and life threatening. The information presented here is for educational purposes only so that you can make an informed decision. I am an herbal practitioner in the Energetic Model aligned with the Wise Woman and Western European Herbal Traditions, and drawing from the wisdom of Chinese Medicine and Five Element Theory.
In Chinese Medicine, Five Element Theory is the study of relationships and organ systems are paired within each of the five elements. The gallbladder is a yang organ (hollow), paired with the liver, a yin organ (solid), and corresponds with the Wood Element. Yin balances yang and when the gallbladder is removed it sets up an imbalance in the paired organ system that causes other systems to weaken and collapse. You can live without your gallbladder, but should you? I would suggest you read the literature for yourself, especially testimonials from people who suffered long term complications and quality of life issues after gallbladder removal.
Cholecystitis, or biliary colic, is the most common type of gallbladder disease as either an acute or chronic inflammation often due to gallstones blocking the duct and causing bile to build up. Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder until the body needs to digest fats. If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts, or bilirubin, and the gallbladder doesn’t empty completely or often enough, it can harden into pieces of stone-like material forming gallstones. Two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment. For the purposes of this article I will be discussing cholesterol as they account for 80% of stones.
Gallbladder disease is more common in females, especially post-partum when estrogen levels are high. Gallstone related disease is a leading non-obstetrical cause of hospitalization in the first year postpartum. This is why I began researching this dis-ease over forty years ago as a practicing midwife. Most hormonal imbalances postpartum develop due to estrogen dominance. Birth control pills also increase risk and effect the ability of the gallbladder to contract and excrete bile.
Dietary factors are important considerations and one that you won’t see commonly discussed is vegetarian diets, which are implicated in gallbladder disease. In fact, you are likely to read that vegetarian diets can prevent gallbladder disease because it reduces the amount of cholesterol in bile and increases fiber in the diet. The fiber part is accurate, but the reason vegetarian diets are implicated is that very little bile is produced since the liver is not stimulated to produce it. This results in large fat molecules not being properly emulsified, making it difficult for lipase to bind, leading to incomplete or reduced fat absorption. Lipase is necessary for fat-soluble vitamin absorption (Vitamins K, D, E & A).
A shortage of the enzyme lipase may lead to high cholesterol. A deficiency of lipase, taurine, or lecithin can lead to a lack of bile and the formation of gallstones from cholesterol. Raw butter and cream is the highest source of lipase, with the highest source of lipase and lecithin being fertile eggs. Another cause of fat and mineral malabsorption, and inflammation, is gluten sensitivity.
One of the most important dietary considerations also happens to be the most deficient in the modern diet. It is the inclusion of the bitter flavor. When the time comes for the body to digest fats, the gallbladder contracts and pushes bile into the common bile duct that carries it to the small intestine where it aids in digestion. The bitter flavor is responsible for toning the gallbladder so that its action of contracting and pushing the bile into the bile duct is maintained. Our ancestors knew the importance of bitter, which also stimulates the production of saliva when introduced into the mouth and they included herbal bitters as part of their health regimen.
So, what are the risks of having or not having gallbladder surgery? While there is some chance of developing an infection necessitating emergency removal (5%), with a little support your body is capable of passing gallstones on its own. That said, cholecystectomy is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States according to the Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons with 1.2 million done annually and largely covered by Medicaid. In fact, cholecystectomy was the most common operating room procedure for Medicaid and uninsured stays while ranking 8th most common operating room procedure among patients with private insurance. The increase in surgeries can largely be attributed to the advent of laparoscopic surgery and the laparoscopic cholecystectomies in the early 1990s.
Bile duct injury continues to be a significant complication and is the leading cause of litigation against general surgeons. While the advent of laparoscopic procedure has substantial benefits (outpatient, quicker recovery, less pain) these did not come without risk, most notably a doubling of the rate of major biliary tract injury. Injury to the bile duct often results in additional surgical procedures, increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality.
Cholecystectomy also increases the risk of bowel cancer because without your gallbladder, bile drips continuously into the digestive system and can also cause diarrhea and may lead to higher cholesterol levels. It can leave you sticking close to the bathroom and no longer tolerating certain foods.
So when a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery, I had to ask, Why not try a simple alternative before undergoing surgery? And why not implement some simple changes that might leave you never having another gallbladder attack again?
Some people claim that a gallbladder cleanse or flush can help break up stones and empty the gallbladder, but that is not recommended here. It is good to remember that the body is naturally able to cleanse and flush itself when supported properly and that is the approach and philosophy of the Energetic Model and Wise Woman Tradition.
Our goal is to increase the amount of bile created by the liver and secondly to assist the easy passage of that bile through the liver and gallbladder. Certain herbs can bring about an increased production and flow of bile, including bitters. This may be enough to help break down existing stones and carry that debris through the duct. Recommendations below are generalized suggestions, do not include dosages and are not meant to be a complete protocol. To learn more about the liver and gallbladder, or when and how to do a flush, Please consider enrolling in Love Your Liver: Spring & the Wood Element at Five Element Academy.
Dietary & Lifestyle Recommendations:
• Increase your exercise to 2-3 hours a week to reduce risk
• Increase fresh fruit and vegetables
• Include bitter greens like romaine lettuce and dandelion
• Increase water and soluble fiber intake
• Eliminate gluten and potential food allergens, and foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. The more refined and processed food the higher incidence of gallstones. Go for high fiber, low sugar.
• Include parsnip, apple (particularly Granny Smith) radish, pear, seaweed, lemon, lime, raw butter, cream, milk, egg, avocado, parsley, barley, beets, and cucumber in the diet.
• Apple cider vinegar daily
• Use olive, coconut and flax seed oils.
• Raw, fresh pressed apple juice may soften gallstones and can help them pass.
• Acupuncture may be effective in relieving pain and spasm, reducing inflammation and volume of the gallbladder and restoring proper function. In combination with Chinese herbs, Acupuncture may be highly effective.
• Lose weight slowly if necessary. Obesity increases your risk for developing gallstones.
• Eat slowly and mindfully
• Avoid large meals
• Vitamin C can help change cholesterol to bile
• Potassium Iodide, Iodine and Seafood high in iodine (helps dissolve cholesterol)
• Fish oils and Omega 3s
• Disodium Phosphate – supports liver and gallbladder functions (Standard Process brand)
• HCL acid and pepsin
• Bitter roots like Dandelion, Burdock, Yellow Root, Yellow Dock
• Take herbal bitters daily before meals
• Drink mildly bitter teas like Chamomile
• Turmeric reduces inflammation
• Anti-lithic herbs, also known as “stone breakers” can help dissolve stones taken in tinctures or teas: corn silk, gravel root, stone root, parsley root, and enteric-coated peppermint oil.
• Spasmolytic, Chanca Piedra for relaxing smooth muscle and expelling stones
• Castor oil packs can relieve pain and can support the passing of stones.
The use of castor oil packs in aiding gallstone passing cannot be over emphasized. This and the use of bitters and herbal infusions were well known by our ancestors. It is this Wise Woman Tradition that has brought us this far and we would do well to not lose sight of it. Let your care provider know, “I’ll keep my gallbladder, thank you!” And then ask for their support and guidance to make the wisest and most informed choice.
Disclaimer: Talk with your doctor before trying to treat gallstones on your own. If you have yellowing of the eyes, fever or chills, and intense abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately.
Trauma Acute Care Surgery, Mestral C, Rotstein O, Laupacis A, et al. A population-based analysis of the clinical course of 10,304 patients with acute cholecystitis, discharged without cholecystectomy. 2012;74(1):26-30.
Sedona called me back this winter to gather three specific medicines; juniper, chaparral, and piñon pitch. The American Southwest holds an abundance of botanical medicine. When I moved to Tucson over thirty years ago as Director of Resources for World Health, a non-profit organization supporting Indigenous healers, I became fortunate to work and study with native elders. Even after moving back east to Appalachia, I can still be found making a yearly pilgrimage back west to gather medicinal herbs.
This post is dedicated to juniper, which has an affinity for the kidneys. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the winter season and emotion of fear corresponds with Kidney and the Water Element. The color that corresponds with the Water Element is the same bluish-black shade of Juniper’s berry-like, female cones.
Juniper berries may take up to three years to mature. The berries I collected were fat and ready for picking. The impermeable seed coat protects seeds that may last for years and can be dispersed over long distances. Juniper is a non-flowering gymnosperm, or naked-seeded plant, making it one of the oldest and most primitive plants on the planet, like spruce and ephedra.
I have primarily used juniper berries as a culinary spice in stock, soup, or stew, especially stews that include beef, turkey, or wild game. Four berries, dried or fresh, replace 1 bay leaf in a recipe. Juniper is the predominant flavor in Gin, which was my English mother’s alcoholic beverage of choice. It is also commonly used for flavoring and preserving pickled foods. The berry has a smell reminiscent of pine, and flavor energetic that is warming and pungent, and slightly bitter-sweet*.
I also use juniper essential oil in a diffuser when anyone in my house becomes, or threatens to become sick. It has been used by Native Americans and the ancient Greeks to combat epidemics. As recently as World War Two, juniper was diffused in hospital rooms to reduce infections, and before that during outbreaks of the Plague. Juniper’s antimicrobial, antiviral, and antiseptic actions have been well studied, and it’s volatile oil is valuable for respiratory infections and congestion.
If you have visited a Navajo hogan or Pueblo home, juniper may have been the first thing you smelled. In addition to burning wood for heat and in the cook stove, branches are placed on hot coals to fumigate the house with juniper smoke. The resulting ash is used to add calcium to bread, tortillas, and pancakes made from blue corn flour. The Navajo are said to sweep their tracks with boughs so that death will not follow them. Navajo women painstakingly drill holes in the berries and make necklaces to wear for protection.
Through my own Celtic roots I carry a memory of rites performed on the last day of the year, what would be our Gregorian calendar New Year, when burning juniper smoke accompanied by prayers, cleansed, blessed, and protected everyone in the household. I have always kept a few berries in my medicine bag for purification and protection from fear. Juniper branches have also been called, “boughs of the supernatural.”
While hiking and connecting with juniper in Sedona, I became curious about which species to collect. Piñon-Juniper woodlands are expanding down from the hilltops and their abundance amazed me. Scientists believe this unnatural and invasive spread of western juniper is aided by decades of livestock grazing, unnatural fire cycles, and the invasion of exotic species. Juniper is a genus of conifers containing approximately sixty species. It is member of the cypress family. With so many species and common names like; Chinese juniper, Greek juniper, Phoenician juniper, East African juniper, Himalayan juniper, Russian juniper; Spanish, Tibetan, Mexican, and California juniper, just to name a few, I had a powerful need to know which ones grew in Sedona near the Mogollon Rim.
While juniper is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, the berries that are made into tinctures, or purchased as a culinary spice, are Juniperus communis, “common juniper,” or “alpine juniper,” and are mostly sourced from Eastern Europe. The two most common New World species found in Sedona are Juniperus deppeana – “alligator juniper,” with distinctive bark unlike other junipers and resembling alligator skin; and Juniperus osteosperma – “Utah juniper,” whose shoots are fairly thick compared to most junipers. Berries from both species are edible.
This year while in Sedona I especially wanted to connect more deeply with juniper’s medicine after learning that a dear friend had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Juniper has many uses, but I knew it would take some digging to learn about Juniperi fructus in a medical herbalism context.
The list of herbal actions for juniper is long with both internal and topical applications. These are well known and documented including: topical for joint pain, sore muscles, coughs and congestion; a tonic for the uterus to relieve PMS water retention and menstrual cramps; diuretic to increase urine output, reducing edema and high blood pressure; and antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Juniperus communis is listed in Native American Medicinal Plants by Daniel E. Moerman, as one of ten key species with the greatest number of uses by the most Native American groups.
The Chinese, Native Americans, and old European cultures regarded juniper as a blood purifying kidney tonic. This points to the TCM Five Element relationship between Water (Kidney), Wood (Liver), and Earth (Spleen). The Kings Dispensatory suggests that kidney infections (pyelo-nephritis, and pyelitis), and chronic bladder infections, especially in older people, are relieved by juniper. Also according to the Kings Dispensatory, “Uncomplicated renal hyperemia is cured by it.” Renal hyperemia is excess blood in the kidneys.
My friend had been diagnosed with a tumor on his Kidney after passing large amounts of blood in his urine. I wondered about juniper’s cytotoxic (anti-cancer) properties found to be useful in the treatment of some cancers. My intuition told me that it was no accident I had come to harvest juniper in the Southwest, where my friend also lives, so recently following his diagnosis. Could junipers stimulating, softening, and dissolving qualities, along with cytotoxic and astringent properties help to shrink my friend’s tumor?
Almost every article I found on juniper berry carried a warning against its use in the presence of kidney disease or inflammation. Peter Holmes, doctor of Oriental Medicine describes juniper as follows:
Dispels wind/damp/cold, stimulates circulation. Drains damp. Relieves kidney fluid congestion (lower body edema and puffy eyes). Stimulates immunity, reduces infection, antidotes poison, promotes tissue repair. Used as a preventative in epidemics, and for chronic viral and bacterial infections. Best used in conditions of cold and damp and for treating Spleen and Kidney Yang deficiency. Tonifies yang, stimulates will power and increases physical stamina. This means that juniper should be used in cold conditions only. Kidney also relates to how we manage and process our fears.
Richard Whelan, Medical and Registered Herbalist, however, questioned these warnings. He found research that supported the use of juniper for the kidneys, and traced the source of misinformation back to 1898. Experiments done at that time were with animals using high doses of juniper essential oil. Recent toxicological studies on rats using high doses of juniper oil found no damage to their kidneys. Whelan concluded that once a caution like that gets published, no one thinks to question it with every subsequent author quoting the previous one.
The cautions about juniper being contraindicated in people with kidney disease are overstated, the potential for juniper to over-stimulate kidney function is not.
Eric Yarnell, ND, RH, stated that juniper is not nephrotoxic:
During the Eclectic era of herbalism (mid 1800s–1900s), writings discussed that juniper was specifically used for kidney disease. At some point following that era, a belief came about that juniper is toxic to the kidneys and is contraindicated in patients with kidney disease. This belief persists today, though it’s basis is highly dubious. There are a variety of clinical situations in which juniper is a specific and valuable remedy, and shunning it out of irrational fear is not helpful to patients.
I have seen much miraculous healing in my life. Could my friend be healed of his cancer using juniper? Perhaps junipers encroachment on human civilization is trying to get our attention with a message that its medicine is needed at this time. I believe that when the Western Mechanistic Medicine model is integrated with the Eastern Energetic Model of Medicine that came before it, our possibilities for healing will exponentially increase. At present it is an unknown. More research is needed. When we have support and funding for independent research along with a health care system that recognizes the need and efficacy of alternative healing modalities only then we will build the healing centers and hospitals of the future. It is my hope and vision that the answers will come. Perhaps Juniper’s gift of medicine and food holds even greater possibilities for healing in our future. Healing that takes place in the context of relationship as described by the wisdom of the Chinese Five Elements, where we “do no harm” and protect the next seven generations.
Essential oil not to be used internally during pregnancy. Juniper berry essential oil is FDA approved for limited internal use. May stimulate uterine contractions and induce miscarriage. Herbalist, Michael Moore considered juniper a uterine vasodilator. However, drinking an infusion once a day starting two weeks before due date is a good uterine tonic to prepare for labor as an alternative to blue cohosh. Check for possible allergic reaction by doing a skin patch test as some people have allergic responses to junipers.
Preparation and Dosage:
General recommended dose (unless otherwise recommended): 2g to a maximum of 10g/day of whole, crushed, or powdered berries, corresponding to 20-100mg of the essential oil, for infusions, decoctions, and alcohol extracts. Avoid long term therapeutic doses. Dosage is vital to a successful outcome. It is advisable to increase the dosage gradually, and not use it for too long. This is best done with an infusion or tincture.
Note: 1 tsp = 5 g, 1ml = 15 drops
Infusion (use crushed or ground, fresh or dried juniper berries): 3 teaspoons of berries (15g), in 2 cups of hot water (approx. 500ml), cover and let steep for 20 minutes, strain and take 1 tsp, 2-3x/day (6-10 g). Medical Herbalist, Thomas Bartram recommends 1 teaspoon of crushed berries, steeped for 30 minutes in 1 cup of freshly boiled water, strain and drink ½ to 1 cup daily for five days.
Tincture (to cleanse and strengthen the kidneys): 1:5, 1-4 ml/day in divided doses. Herb Pharm sells Juniper tincture at a recommended dosage of 611 mg (1:4, 20 drops 3x/day between meals) for 6 weeks. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends 1:5 in 45% ethanol, 1-2 ml up to 3/day.
Essential Oil (made by steam distillation of the crushed, dried, or fermented berries is more antiseptic and detoxicant): Can be inhaled (diffused), taken orally, or massaged with a carrier oil. Orally: 20-100 mg for indigestion. 1-2 drops in a gel cap topped with olive oil. When buying juniper essential oil, look for organic, food-grade.
Note: Juniper oil distilled from ripe berries can be used safely while maintaining a healthy respect for their potency. Dosage is vital to a successful outcome. It is advisable to increase the dosage gradually, and not use it for too long. This may best be done with a tea or a tincture.
Disclaimer: The information presented is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using these or any product during pregnancy or if you have a serious medical condition.
On a recent field trip to H Mart, an Asian supermarket near Atlanta, Georgia, I drove south from my mountain home in anticipation of new discoveries and old treasures. Having previously lived in San Francisco, I knew the excitement of exploring an Asian grocery store, large or small.
Asian markets are a great way to save on medicinal herbs, exotic foods, seaweeds and fungi — an experience not to be missed. Lost in extensive rows of mushrooms and seaweeds between a fish market and food court, I could have easily spent an entire day at H Mart. The “H” in H Mart is short for Han Ah Reum, meaning “One Arm Full of Groceries.” One of the medicinal herbs I brought home is Polygonatum, native to east Asia. It is also a plant that grows in my backyard, in the surrounding woods where I live in Asheville, North Carolina.
Polygonatum is a perennial herb that belongs to the Asparagaceae (Asparagus) family, and in older classification systems, like many of the lilioids, was placed in the broadly defined lily family. A genus that contains approximately 50 species of flowering plants known as Solomon’s Seal, it is a common plant in the Appalachians, and can be found flowering between May and June.
Some species are considered medicinal, most notably; Polygonatum biflorum, odoratum, and sibiricum. The species common to Eastern North America is Polygonatum biflorum, referring to the pairs of flowers growing along the leaf axis. The young shoots are edible and may be cooked like asparagus.
The medicinal part of the plant is the rhizome, which is harvested in the fall, then dried and sliced. Native Americans used it as food and medicine. Early settlers valued the rhizome as a food for its starch content. Young shoots can be collected in the spring, not unlike asparagus, and added to soups and stews. Roasted rhizomes can be ground into flour. Solomon’s Seal can be ethically harvested by leaving the portion of the rhizome connected to the stalk intact. New shoots will grow from where the rhizome had been cut.
An elegant Native American woodland plant, Solomon’s Seal likes to grow at the edge of moist woods. Its foliage is poised along a graceful arched stem with dangling pairs of creamy white, tubular fairy bellflowers. These are followed by attractive black seedpods.
The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the healed over scars of the rhizome left by old leaf stems and which resemble a wax seal, presumably the official wax seal of King Solomon. Stem scars also tell us how old the plant is, with one scar for each year of growth. When the rhizome is cut, the cross section reveals a 6-pointed Star of David. Solomon became king during the reign of his father, King David, and was credited with possessing the precious quality of wisdom.
“The Medicine Wheel Garden as it exists on Earth is a three-dimensional representation of the ‘as above, so below mysteries.’ It is in the shape of a circle that contains a six pointed star, and it is a mirror of the heavens. As it sits on the earth in three-dimensional reality, it represents the six directions: east, south, west, north, above, and below. Within this garden grows all the food and medicine that sustains us in our current form while simultaneously feeding our evolution into our light bodies.”
Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth
When Solomon prayed to God for wisdom he did not pray for wealth, nor did he wish death to his enemies, but rather he longed for discernment in the administering of justice. The metaphor is one of wise governance and possessing the ability to distinguish between good and evil through an understanding of the universe. For this reason, “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)
Wisdom and Heart (Heart-Mind) both correspond with the Fire Element in Chinese Five Element Theory. The Fire Element rules the nervous system, and Solomon’s Seal helps us adapt to stress by restoring the cooling fluids of the deep feminine yin, which keeps masculine Fire from burning out of control. Solomon’s Seal relaxes the nervous system and treats yin deficient conditions, especially when they involve emotional disturbances and stress. In this manner, Solomon’s Seal acts as an adaptogen.
The key actions of Solomon’s Seal are demulcent, expectorant, sedative, and tonic. In Chinese Medicine it is known Yu Zhu, and is most prized as a yin tonic. Yin tonics work by restoring the Water Element (Kidney), which cools the Liver (Wood Element). Tendons and ligaments are the body part that correspond with the Wood Element, and this is why Solomon’s Seal is used to help heal injured tendons, and restore proper tension to ligaments. It does this by its ability to nourish yin, moisten dryness, and to nourish and moisten sinews. Solomon’s Seal also quells wind, relieving pain and spasms due to wind generated fluid deficiency.
Connective tissues that are dry lack flexibility. Yin fluids must be adequate if we are to remain flexible, especially in times of change. Otherwise, an overheated Liver from lack of fluids will cause Wood to break when the winds of change blow, no different than a tree from lack of Water. By increasing synovial fluid, Solomon’s Seal also helps to reduce inflammation in the joints.
Historically Solomon’s Seal was also used for respiratory and lung disorders. It has an affinity for the lung and stomach. Yu Zhu is used in Chinese herbal soups to relieve dry coughs due to lung yin deficiency. It moistens dryness in the lungs and acts as spleen and stomach tonic, improving appetite and reducing fatigue.
We would not want to conclude this discussion of Solomon’s Seal without mentioning False Solomon’s Seal. False Solomon’s seal is a completely different genus and species, Maianthemum racemosum and should be avoided, as it resembles other deadly plants when young. Itproduces terminal flowers in a feathery plume while Solomon’s Seal produce non terminal flowers from the axils of the leaves. The way to know the difference between the two is like knowing the difference between a true and a false friend. A real friend you can depend on to be true through and through (the way the flowers are dispersed on Solomon’s Seal) and a false friend puts on a good front (feathery flowers at the end of the stem.)
By coming into relationship with the healing power of plants we become empowered to be our own healers. Solomon’s Seal is an especially important ally for these transformational times, beckoning us to enter the forest’s hidden secrets on a lesser-traveled path, a path lighted by breaking waves of Polygonatum’s fairy-like lanterns. Enter…
Energetics: Sweet, slightly cold, Neutral
Nourishing soup stock: Add dried Polygonum to your favorite soup stock and simmer for a minimum of two hours. Rinse and soak briefly before using. Choose dried herb that is soft and has a white yellowish color. Can be found in most Asian markets and herbal shops.
Decoction: 1 ounce dried rhizome to 1 quart water, or 2 tablespoons per pint. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then steep for 40 minutes, strain.
Dosage: Drink 4 ounces, three to four times a day.
Tincture: Fresh root – 1:3 in 95%. Dried Root, 1:5 in 50%.
Dosage: 5-10 drops, 3x/day, or follow product label directions
Contraindications:Polygonatum is considered safe: The American Products Association has given it a class 1 rating, meaning that it can be consumed safely when used appropriately. Due to its sweet and cooling nature, Polygonatum is contraindicated in spleen deficiency with dampness, or coughs with profuse phlegm, stomach deficiency, phlegm-damp, phlegm stagnation, or qi stagnation. Do not use in case of loose stools due to cold.
I am blessed with a daughter and son-in-law who are talented massage therapists. When they undertook opening and running a successful massage therapy center in Asheville’s hip west side, I couldn’t have been more proud. Not only would they experience the growth opportunities inherent in owning their own business, they would also be providing a valuable service in these unprecedented and transitional/transformational times. Now that spas have come back on line, they are again able to serve their community at a time when it is needed most.
Massage is not only essential for tense, overworked muscles and to calm the mind, it also helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. I have personally found the benefit received from a massage with moderate pressure from a good therapist, to be an invaluable investment in restoring my deep yin, adrenal reserves.
When my daughter was a young girl, she would rub and massage me, and I would say to her, “You have great hands! You should be a massage therapist.” Not only did she become an excellent therapist, she partnered with one! I have been getting professional massages for over forty years, and now that I am 65, I can’t imagine a wellness, or longevity plan, that doesn’t include regular massage.
Many of us over the years have burned the candle at both ends, pushing ourselves with caffeine, sugar, and chocolate, until “burn out” left us searching for ways to replenish and restore. The toll of stress on our nervous system, which keeps us in sympathetic nervous system response, goes mostly unnoticed as we continue to push through our day. We have become valued for human doings, rather than human beings.
The sympathetic nervous system is where fight, flight, or freeze gets turned on. If the switch gets stuck in the “on” position, our deep, cooling, yin reserves become depleted. The result is that we become anxious, fearful and angry. It is well known that massage helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The Parasympathetic nervous system is where rest and digest gets turned on. The heart rate slows, and energy is conserved and sent to the digestive system.
Stress in the form of driving and eating, being late for work, loud sirens, a cell phone constantly dinging, a sick child at home with a fever, a flat tire, or a fight with your spouse… all cause muscles to tense, heart rate to increase, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to dump into blood stream. Sustained stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system stuck in the “on” position, never allowing the parasympathetic to relax and recover. This can result in GI dysfunction, weight gain, chronic disease, inflammation, insomnia, and decreased immunity. When the cycle of repair and healing gets disrupted, it becomes a vicious cycle.
In no other system is the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of our being as apparent as in the nervous system. All psychological processes are anchored in the nervous system. Herbal medicine addresses the way in which plants affect human consciousness and the physical action of nervine herbs is but one side of the whole interface between plant and mind. Many scientists are now calling the totality of neurons in the gut, “the second brain.” Not only does this second brain regulate muscles, it also manufactures up to 90% of the serotonin in your body. Many neurologists now realize that antidepressants are often less effective in treating depression than dietary changes are.
Massage, breathing, meditation, walks in nature, yoga and moderate exercise are all important strategies for calming the mind, ensuring adequate digestion, and are an important component of any longevity plan. You may also want to consider using the follow nervines for additional support:
Hops: Humulus lupulus
You may be surprised to learn that Hops, primarily used as a bitter to flavor and stabilize beer, is in the same family as marijuana, cannabaceae. It is sedative, hypnotic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and astringent. It has a relazing effect on the Central Nervous System and is used extensively to treat insomnia, to ease tension and anxiety, and is appropriate when tension leads to restlessness and indigestion.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, capsules, dried extract, tablet or tea. And of course if you live in Asheville, known as one of the Best Craft Beer Cities in the U.S. ~ you could drink a nice “hoppy” high IPA beer.
Tincture: 1-4ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)
Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 tsp dried herb and infused covered for 15 minutes, drink 1 cup at night to induce sleep, increasing as needed.
Wild Oats: Avena Sativa
The same common oat grain that is widely used as food if allowed to fully mature, Wild Oats may be either wild or cultivated, and is also known as oatstraw and milky oats. It is a nervine tonic, antidepressant, nutritive, demulcent, and vulnerary. Wild Oats feed the nervous system especially when under stress. It is a specific remedy for nervous debility and exhaustion associated with depression.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, bath and as food.
Tincture: 3-5ml 3x/day (1:5 in 25%), or 1-2 droppers full up to 3x/day for at least 3 months for long term benefits.
Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-3 teaspoons of dried straw and infuse for 15 minutes, strain, drink 3x/day.
Bath (use for neuralgia and irritated skin): Boil 1 pound of shredded oatstraw in 2 quarts water for ½ hour. Strain and add to bath.
Broth: Boil oats in a broth, strain, and drink to soothe esophagus, stomach, and irritated mucous membranes of the bowel.
July is National Blueberry Month! If food is our medicine, which indeed it is, then no other native fruit packs as much nutrition into a smaller package than the beautiful blueberry. Indigenous to North America they were called “ blue star berries” by the Native Americans because the blossom at the end of each berry forms a perfect five-pointed star. Tribal elders told the story of how Great Spirit sent these medicine fruits to ease the children’s hunger during times of famine. The versatility of this food, its ability to be preserved and its reputation as a valuable medicine, all serve to confirm these earlier stories and legends. Blueberries were dried in the sun and then added to soups, stews and meat dishes, pounded and added to pemmican as a preservative and given to the Europeans when they first arrived to help them survive through the winter.
Bears love blueberries but they are equally important to people as they are to wildlife. Turkey, quail, grouse, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, songbirds and, of course, deer all eat the high quality fruits of the blueberry. They may be small in size, but they are large in nutritional value. Blueberries should be a part of any longevity plan. They keep our hearts healthy and bones strong. Packed with Vitamin C they are leaders in antioxidant activity and keep us young by neutralizing free radicals. The substances that give the fruit its blue color are phenols, specifically the anthocyanins, which are contributors to its antioxidant activity. Blueberries are high in fiber and supply manganese, an essential mineral that plays a role in converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food into energy.
Used as food, medicine, and plant dye, botanists estimate that blueberries burst on the scene more that 13,000 years ago. Seeds thousands of years old have been found at several archeological digs in Ontario, Canada. Blueberries grow wild all over the world and have many different names with the genus Vaccinium consisting of more than 450 species of plants. One of my wild favorites is the deer or buckberry (V. stamineum), not only because I am interested in all things related to Deer, but also because it is fun to discover these dark edible berries growing trail side while hiking through the Southern Appalachians in late summer.
Most of the plump, juicy and sweet blueberries you find in the supermarket today are highbush blueberries cultivated in the early 20th century by Dr. Frederick V. Coville and Elizabeth White. Highbush blueberries grow in clusters and don’t ripen all at once making for a longer harvest. You can now buy fresh blueberries all year round with North American blueberries available April through October, and South American blueberries from November through March.
The lowbush species of blueberry is a wild crop commonly referred to as ‘wild blueberry’ and is one of four fruit crops native to North America. Maine is the leading producer of lowbush blueberries, and Michigan is the leading producer of highbush blueberries. Highbush blueberries require milder growing conditions and tend to be irrigated. Currently blueberry farms in the United States boast a total yearly production of 600 million pounds, and sales of over 1.4 million and growing. The U.S. imports more blueberries than it exports, mostly from Chile (cultivated) and Canada (wild.)
Leaves, roots and berries all have medicinal value and the fruits have been shown to improve eyesight and protect against ulcers. They are anti-inflammatory and the juice is useful in urinary tract infections. The root is diuretic, astringent and antispasmodic, and a decoction of the root has been used to treat diarrhea and other bowel complaints. Native American women have used a decoction of the root to ease childbirth during labor. The anti-oxidant activity of blueberries reduces heart disease risk, strengthens collagen, regulates blood sugar, and improves night vision. Blueberries contain bioactive compounds that have anti-cancer properties and are best when eaten whole and fresh in order to obtain the maximum health benefits.
The culinary uses for blueberries both fresh and frozen are practically endless. Native American recipes passed down for generations combined these fruits with sweet corn, fish, fowl and game including moose fat or deer tallow. They were added to cakes and breads and simmered into a paste that could be kept for up to 2 years. Early Americans made them into jams, jellies and syrups, and in many parts of the South jars of blueberry preserve could be used as a form of barter-currency.
As good as gold and equally rich with culinary pleasure, blueberries are a sustainable organic crop with deep roots in North American history and tall benefits for human health. Blueberry Festivals are a wonderful way to sample and celebrate the healthy benefits and super flavor of blueberries, and are held all over the country from May through August. In celebration of National Blueberry Month (and my birthday!) I invite you to enjoy Grandma Thea’s Blueberry Pie. It comes out perfect every time. To your health…
Grandma Thea’s Blueberry Pie
2 spelt frozen pie crusts (freezer section your health food store)
4 cups of fresh blueberries
¼ cup minute tapioca
1 cup organic sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
¼ tsp. free trade cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1 Tbsp. organic salted butter
½ pint organic whipping cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix fruit, tapioca, sugar, lemon and spice in a bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Meanwhile take pie crusts out of the freezer and let defrost for ten minutes. Fill with fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust and slit sides and top. Bake in a preheated oven at 400º for 50 minutes. Cool completely and serve with organic whipped cream.
Whipped Cream Chill mixing bowl and beaters. Whip on high speed adding 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla approx. half way through. Continue whipping until soft peaks form.
“There are a great many interventions that are possible with plant medicines and unlike pharmaceuticals, viruses don’t develop resistance to them.” – Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections
“So, you are an herbalist. What would you recommend as a preventative, or to help someone get over the coronavirus?”
This question is posed to me often during this challenging time of viral spread. It makes me stop and think. I have been thinking about it a lot, even before the questions started coming. It is a difficult and dangerous question for an herbalist, especially in our present political and medical climate.
The strength of herbal medicine lies in its tonic ability to restore bodily systems, and not necessarily in treating disease. A tonic is an herb that must be taken consistently over time. Herbalists do not diagnose or treat illness and disease. Our strength lies in prevention, and in health and wellness support of the body to heal itself.
That said, there is much that we can do in support of healing. Aside from everything we already know to do to prevent the spread of a virus, I would like to offer my perspective and some recommendations that may be supportive.
At the moment, the therapeutic strategies employed by Western Medicine to deal with viral respiratory infections are mostly supportive, and prevention is aimed at reducing transmission. In spite of the recent spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus is much less contagious than the measles. Seven strains of coronavirus are now known to infect humans. Four cause common colds, and two rank among the deadliest of human infections: SARS, and MERS. Covid-19 is number seven.
Because the symptoms take longer to emerge than a seasonal flu, it’s spread is more rapid. Many who are only mildly ill and not sick enough to stay home, and others who are infected but don’t get sick, will continue to spread their infection to others. Those numbers will include people who never had symptoms, or had a flulike illness but never got a test for Covid-19.
The coronaviruses have become a growing concern in infectious-disease outbreaks world-wide. Pathogenic virus infections are still the leading cause of death in humans worldwide, and as population growth continues this will become even more of a concern.
The answer is not a simple one. The main reason being the lens through which we view health and dis-ease. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees the flu, or a virus with symptoms like the coronavirus, as a wind-heat condition. Plants that reduce inflammation in the lungs and expel the virus also alleviate wind-heat, and expel wind-heat invasion. The TCM view is through the lens of relationship and interconnectedness. It is an energetic model based on natural law, where healing takes place in the context of relationship with correspondences to season, food flavor, element, color, spirit, emotion, and more. It sees the ways in which we are in relationship with viruses not as a “virulent other,” but as an essential, underlying part of life on this planet. There is no avoiding them, and they cannot be killed off without killing off every form of life on Earth.
While Western Medicine basically leaves it up to the individuals immune system, advising rest, plenty of fluids, and over the counter medications as needed, the Chinese have been developing herbal combinations with very good outcomes when compared to Western approaches.
Viruses are very intelligent life forms, even if they are argued to walk between the worlds of the living and non-living. They are masterful shape-shifters.
Covid-19 is an RNA virus and as such can alter its structure very quickly. RNA is a single-stranded molecule, the messenger molecule if you will, that is used to carry genetic information (DNA) intimately involved in the synthesis of proteins needed as the building blocks for all forms of life, including our own. Viruses have genes that alter proteins which allow it to attach to a new species. They are talking among themselves, as are all life forms on planet earth.
Viruses are very good at surviving, and at hiding from the human immune system. They can analyze the nature of immune response launched against them, and can alter the host immune defenses in order to avoid it. The ability of RNA viruses to replicate unreliably and with great genetic variation makes it very hard, if not impossible, to create a vaccine for an RNA virus. They are also very hard to treat with pharmaceuticals as they mutate the moment they encounter one. And it all happens very quickly.
“Epidemiologists have been warning, with increasing insistence, that a worldwide pandemic similar to the one that covered the globe in 1918… is due soon.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2012
In spite of the many advances in medical technology, warns Buhner, there is very little modern medicine can do to treat a widespread pandemic of deadly influenza. He goes on to explain that pharmaceutical antivirals are only partially effective and the stocks of those antivirals are insufficient to deal with a true pandemic. Buhner predicted that the system would begin to shut down, quarantines would force people to stay in their homes, and that we would survive, just as we always have.
A careful analysis of the re-created forms of the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, and its physiological damage, show that the reason the disease is so severe is that the virus creates a tremendous cascade of cytokines in the body that can become a cytokine storm. Cytokines are immunoregulatory proteins stimulated by the body’s innate immune system in response to infection. The cytokine cascade is the body’s attempt to kill off the invading pathogen. It is this overreaction, much more so in individuals with a strong immune system, that kills so many, so quickly. Susceptibility to more serve infection in older populations is primarily due to age-related physiology, declining immune systems, and pre-existing inflammations like arthritis.
Unfortunately for us, influenza viruses have learned how to use our own immune response for their purposes. They love the lungs and this is where they cause the greatest damage. Once inhaled they use the epithelial cell as a docking port and attach to lung epithelial cells with a glue-like substance called hemagglutinin. As soon as the virus is attached to the cell, it uses an enzyme called neuraminidase to alter the cell surface and trick the cell into taking it inside of itself where it can’t be found by the immune system. This is why neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu are effective when taken immediately and at the first sign of infection. Neuraminidase inhibitors inhibit the ability of the virus to enter host cells and thus stops the infection. Please see the list of herbal neuraminidase inhibitors below.
The virus also has a protection system it puts in place around itself during replication using what is called an M2 ion channel. M2 inhibitors block this process and literally stop the virus from replicating. Unfortunately, the extensive use of M2 inhibitors in poultry farms has now created resistance to them. The herb, Lomatium, is one of the most powerful M2 inhibitors known and does not create resistance (see below).
Once the virus unpacks itself and releases its viral RNA into the cytoplasm (viral budding and shedding), cells are depleted and die, and the whole process begins again in a vicious cycle. Pneumonia is when this process becomes severe with fewer and fewer functional alveoli. Throughout this process, the virus is also stimulating the release of cytokines in such a way to keep the parts of the immune system that can kill the virus suppressed for as long as possible.
In severe influenza, the infected airway cells begin generating specific cytokines, including type 2 interferon (Interferon-gamma IFN-y), which is responsible for most of the negative effects of the cytokine cascade. This is where the mortal damage occurs. The virus stimulates it, thus initiating a positive feedback loop in the cytokine process that can lead to a cytokine storm. Blocking IFN-y through the use of inhibitors has been found to significantly reduce airway infiltration of immune cells (see herbal inhibitors below).
Other cytokines are also released and inhibiting them, especially TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha) can reduce the cytokine-based inflammation that occurs during influenza, alleviating symptoms and inhibiting viral spread. Plants that inhibit cytokines that the virus stimulates will help to lessen severity and lung damage.
A factor in the vicious cycle of a cytokine storm is the release of a cytokine like protein, HMGB1, which has been implicated in sepsis-induced cytokine storms and is highly elevated in all patients who die from sepsis, including sepsis generated by influenza. The higher the cytokine levels go, the more HMGB1 is released. When HMGB1 is expressed in lung tissue, as it is during a severe flu, it causes massive neutrophil infiltration and acute lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation. Steroidal drugs, aspirin, and ibuprofen have no effect on HMGB1 levels. However, a number of herbal constituents do have a direct suppressive action against HMGB1.
To assist drainage of mucus in the lungs, the lymph nodes in the lungs begin to increase in size to drain fluids from the lungs and prevent suffocation. Supporting the lymph to assist in this drainage is essential. Herbal lymphatics are well known to assist in this drainage.
An influenza virus that stays in the upper respiratory tract is much easier to work with than a more severe infection in the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia is one serious complication, as are cytokine storms should the infection really take hold. Herbal antivirals work best to prevent these serious complications.
Antivirals work by inhibiting penetration of host cells, and preventing the virus from releasing viral proteins into the host cell interior. They don’t directly “kill” the virus, which is not “alive” in the sense that a bacterium is alive and can be killed.
While viruses don’t develop resistance to herbal medicine like they do with pharmaceuticals, many influenza strains are developing resistance to the primary pharmaceutical neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat them, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Resistance has become common to M2 inhibitors as well, especially due to their overuse in agribusiness. When oseltamivir ends up in our waterways, unaffected by wastewater treatment, it comes into contact with waterfowl and is exposed to avian influenza strains. The avian strains develop resistance, and as the avian, human, and swine strains commingle the resistance is passed on into strains that infect humans. The emergence of a highly infective avian strain resistant to all known pharmaceutical antivirals is one of the things that keeps viral researchers up at night.
The good news is that herbal medicine and herbal antivirals do not create resistance and support the body to heal without the harmful side effects. It is time to come into relationship with our medicine.
10 Herbs to Help You Fight the Flu
*See Herbal Protocol below the list of herbs to determine which specific herb to take during each phase of the flu.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture, tea, powder, capsules, or in food. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops, up to 4x/day as a tonic. As a preventative for the flu or chronic illnesses, 1 teaspoon, 4-6x/day, and for acute conditions every 3 hours. Tea: 2 oz. herb in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand 4 hours, strain and drink throughout the day. Powder: 1 tablespoon, 3x/day. In acute conditions, 2 tablespoons, 3x/day. Food: Can be added to soup stocks and immune enhancing broths (has a tendency to shred so be sure to strain well).
Uses – Active against influenza A, other viruses, and respiratory infection. Immune potentiator and modulator. Enhances spleen function (spleen deficiency). Is considered a superior immune tonic in Chinese Medicine. Normalizes white blood cell count. Useful in reversing immunosuppression from any source.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity, or side effects. Contraindicated for some people in late stage Lyme, as it can exacerbate autoimmune response. May increase effects of interferon and acyclovir. Synergistic with echinacea and licorice. Not for use in people with organ transplants.
2. Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum – not native to China
Part used – Aerial parts in flower or just before flowering.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Dried or fresh root tea or tincture. Tea: cold tea – 1 oz. dried herb in 1 qt. boiling water and let steep overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day. Take cold as a liver tonic and for mucous membranes, take hot to reduce fever. Hot Tea: 3 0z. dried herb to 1 gallon of hot water. Steep 30 minutes. Drink hot with honey, 8 oz. every 2 hours. Tincture: Fresh herb in flower, 1:2 @ 95%, 20-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. Dry herb use 1:5 @ 60%, 30-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. For acute flu or bacterial upper respiratory infections take 10 drops of tincture in hot water every ½ hour, up to 6x/day.
Uses – Reduces fever and body aches accompanying the flu. For general debility, pneumonia, cough, epidemic influenza, colds.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Mildly emetic when taken in large doses. Possible allergy due to plant being in the ragwort family (chamomile, feverfew, etc.). No known drug/herb interactions.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea, capsules, or tincture. Tea or Capsules: Root powder, 3 grams every 3-4 hours, or 1 teaspoon 3-6x/day (may be dissolved in water, taken in tea or put in capsules). Tincture: Root powder tincture, 1:5 @ 50% ¼-1/2 teaspoon 3x/day. In acute cases double the dosage.
Uses – Viral infections, especially pandemic influenza and encephalitis, respiratory infections, pneumonia, infections that affect the CNS (Lyme, meningitis, etc.), fevers, seizures, convulsions, sleep disturbances, headache, hypertension. Root tincture specific for reducing inflammation in the brain, reducing cytokine cascades initiated by viral agents.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – May interfere with the metabolism and effectiveness of drugs and herbs, increasing their uptake in the body. May increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.
4.Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis, dong chong xia cao
Part used – Caterpillar body, fruiting body.
Actions – Adaptogen, anti-asthmatic, antibacterial, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antitumor, antitussive, bronchial regulator, cardiotonic, expectorant, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immunomodulator, neuroprotective, renoprotective. TNF-a, IFN-y, cytokine inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cilia-protective. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea or tincture. Tea: Powder, 3-9 grams/day, or as high as 50 grams (2 oz.)/day for acute disease conditions, drink in warm water. Buhner recommends 3-4 tablespoons of the powder 3x/day. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, tonic dosage ¼-1/2 tsp., 3x/day. Double for active infections (1 tsp. 6x/day). Can also be infused in an alcohol liquor. The best results occur with 6 grams daily as a baseline for acute conditions.
Uses – Respiratory viral infections, CNS inflammation, unproductive or chronic cough, asthma, joint inflammation, low libido, altitude sickness, thick mucus in the lungs that will not move, tinnitus. Increases kidney strength. Tonifies the lungs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Synergistic with closporine and antidiabetic medications affecting dosage requirements.
5.Elder, Sambucus nigra – not native to China
Part Used – Ripe berries & flowers.
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, antioxidant, moderate immune stimulant. Neuraminidase, TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Increases T cell count. Cytokine modulator.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Taken as a tea, tincture, or decoction. Can be made into jams and jellies. The berries must be heated during preparation to reduce cyanogenic compounds. Flower tea: 1 oz. flowers (dried or fresh) in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand until cool, drink freely. To make an Elderberry syrup (Thea’s Gyspy Cold Care) for colds and flu please visit theaskitchen.com
Uses – Respiratory infections, and influenza.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, depending on the part of the plant you are using and how it is prepared. There are few reports of side effects. Start with low doses and work up. No known drug/herb interactions.
6.Ginger, Zingiber officinale, gan jiang (dried older rhizome), shen jiang (fresh, young rhizome)
Part used – Fresh (not dried) root (rhizome). “Baby” or young ginger can be obtained at your local farmers markets and frozen for later use.
Properties – Pungent. Dried root is hot & drying, fresh root is warm & moistening. Dispels wind-cold.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1) Taken as a fresh juice, tea or tincture. Fresh juice: ¼ cup fresh pressed juice in 8 oz. hot water to which lemon, lime, honey and cayenne may be added. Drink every 2-3 hours at the onset of a cold or flu. Tea: Use the leftover plant matter from juicing to make a tea by steeping in hot water for 4 hours, strain, drink as above. Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 in 95%, take 10-20 drops up to 4x/day
Uses – Viral infections including colds & flus, digestive aid, calms nausea, improves circulation, reduces diarrhea and stomach cramping, reduces fever through sweating (diaphoretic), reduces chills and inflammation, thins mucous, reduces coughing, pain relieving, relaxes blood vessels, synergistic with other herbs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy (emmenagogue), but the dried root can be used to ease morning sickness. May aggravate gallstones. May rarely cause gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea (usually from using dried, powdered root.) Synergistic with antibiotics, usually increasing their potency.
7. Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, gan cao
Part used – Root (3 year old roots or older).
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mucoprotective, adrenal tonic, analgesic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antispasmodic, antitussive, cardioprotective, demulcent, estrogenic, gastric secretion inhibitor, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, immunomodulator, immune-stimulant. Upregulates the production of type 1 interferon and increases T cells, which reduces the influenza severity. TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cytokine inhibitor, strongly inhibiting cytokine cascades. IFN-y modulator. Binds HMGB1 inactivating its actions in the body. Increases T cell count.
Note: As an immune-stimulant, it stimulates interferon, and enhances antibody formation. As an immunomodulant it will reduce interferon levels if they are high and upregulate if low.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as tincture, tea, infusion, or decoction. Best used in combination formulas. Tincture: Dried root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops up to 3x/day. Acute dosage for viral infections, ½ – 1 tsp. (approx. 50-100 drops) 3-6x/day (blended with other herbs) for a maximum of six weeks. Infusion: ½-1 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz. water, simmer for 15 minutes uncovered, strain, drink up to 3 cups/day. In acute conditions drink 1 cup every 2 hours. Decoction: 6 grams root powder in 16 oz. water, bring to a boil, uncovered and simmer until reduced to approx 8.5 oz., then add enough water to bring volume up to approx. 32 oz., drink throughout the day.
Note: Do not use deglycyrrhized licorice if using as an antiviral. Look for between 2.5 & 4% glycyrrhizin content. 2.5 % should render approx. 50 mg glycyrrhizin.
Uses – Influenza of all kinds, respiratory viral infections, pneumonia, and coronaviruses. Moistens the lungs and reduces coughing. Sore throats as a gargle. Eases abdominal cramping.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Long-term use can lead to numbness, dizziness, headache, hypertension, potassium depletion. This herb should rarely be used in isolation or in large doses for longer than 4-6 weeks, especially if you are pregnant. It is contraindicated in hypertension. Short term use in low doses, especially when combined with other herbs is very safe. Is synergistic increasing the potency of other herbs. It should not be used in combination with estrogenic pharmaceuticals, hypertensive drugs, cardiac glycosides, diuretics, corticosteroids or hydrocortisone.
8.Lomatium, Lomatium dissectum – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, mucous membrane tonic. One of the most potent M2 inhibitors known.
Properties – Bitter, cooling, clears-heat and dampness.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture or infusion: Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 @ 70%, 10-30 drops up to 5x/day. Acute dosage, 10-30 drops every hour. Same dosage for dry root, 1:5 @ 70%. Infusion: Cover 2 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz boiling water, cover and let steep for one hour, strain and drink up to 3x/day.
Note: Common influenza tincture blend (as recommended by Stephen Harrod Buhner) is equal parts lomatium, red root, licorice and pleurisy root. In acute conditions take 1 teaspoon, 6x/day. Have also been traditionally eaten as food.
Uses – Upper respiratory viral infections, all influenza strains including coronaviruses, pneumonia, eases coughs. Is synergistic when combined with other herbs including: red root, and licorice. May be used as a single.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity. May cause an allergic rash (1%) in some people (more commonly with fresh, not dried root), and will pass on its own within a week. Contraindicated in pregnancy. No known drug/herb interactions.
9. Red Root, Ceanothus americanus – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Lymphatic, tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, alterative, antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, and blood coagulant. Increases T cell count.
Properties – Aromatic, slightly warm, not widely used in TCM. Has a long history of use in the Americas primarily as an astringent.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3)Taken as a tincture, tea, or strong decoction. Tincture: Dry root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-90 drops up to 4x/day. Tea: 1 tsp. powdered root in 8 oz. water, simmer 15 minutes, strain. Drink up to 6 cups daily. Decoction: 1 oz. herb in 16 ounces water, cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, take 1 tablespoon 3-4x/day. Make a strong tea as a gargle for throat inflammation and tonsillitis.
Uses – Clears lymph. Useful for coughs including whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Contraindicated in pregnancy. Should not be used with pharmaceutical coagulants or anticoagulants.
10. Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea, Hong Jing Tian
Part Used – Root
Actions – Adaptogen, yin tonic, antidepressant, cardiotonic, endocrine tonic, nervous system tonic, neuroprotective. Neuraminidase inhibitor. Protects cells from hypoxia, significantly reducing lung damage. Prevents hypoxia-induced oxidative damage, increases intracellular oxygen diffusion and the efficiency of oxygen utilization. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Properties – Sweet, cooling, adaptogen tonic.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Tincture or capsules. Tincture: Dried root 1:5 @ 50%, Tonic dose: 30-40 drops, 3-4x/day. Acute dose ½-1 teaspoon 3x/day for 30 days then back to tonic dose. Capsule: 100 mg., 1-2 per day. In acute conditions up to 1,000 mg. daily. Standardized to 2-3% rosavins. Take just before meals.
Cleavers – Lymphatic with some of the same effects at Red Root. Fresh juice of the plant is best.
Echinacea Angustifolia – (Phase 1 & 2) Antiviral, found to be effective against swine origin flu. Inhibits receptor cell binding activity of the virus and strengthens protective power of the mucous membranes making it harder for the virus to penetrate.
Umckaloabo – A potentially life-saving herb. The main cause of death in an influenza virus infection is pneumonia. Learn how Umckaloabo prevents this at Wisdom of the Plant Devas.
Vitamin D3 –Vitamin D3 deficiency among ICU patients increases mortality by more than 70% compared to those who are not deficient. Dosage: 3-6,000 iu/day
Quercetin – Neuraminidase and HMGB1 inhibitor.
Zinc – Increases T-cell count. Has been shown to be active against a number of viruses and is supportive in treatment of influenza. Studies have found zinc supplementation can triple the survival rate for children with pneumonia and reduce the duration of the common cold in children and adults. Dosage: 10-25 mg./day, 25-40 during acute conditions. Works synergistically with selenium, 200 mcg/day.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil – Olbas, or Eucalyptus inhalation to reduce coughing and improve airflow.
Note: The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only. You should seek medical attention at the first signs of an infection, and be under the care of, and in communication with a licensed physician, even when you are using herbal alternatives. Be sure to disclose any herbs or supplements you may be taking. The recommendations made in this post are based on the work of, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Paul Bergner, and my own clinical experience.
Phase One – Early onset: Take at the first signs of infection, equal parts redroot tincture and licorice root extract, 30 drops, every hour until symptoms are resolved. Fresh ginger can be juiced, drink warm added to whatever liquids you are drinking. Drinking it in hot water or tea is diaphoretic helping to lower a fever. Use up to 2 oz, 2xday. Elderberry syrup as directed on label. Echinacea angustifoliainhibits the virus, 20 drops every other hour. Hold in mouth, then swallow slowly so tincture comes in contact with mucous membranes. Only useful in stage one. Lomatium tincture dosage, 20 drops every hour until condition improves. Boneset tincture or tea for body aches and fever. While some may recommend raw garlic at this stage, it may be too hot and pungent for this condition and it destroys good gut bacteria along with the bad. Learn more in Wisdom of the Five Flavors: The Energetics of Healing with Food and Herbs.
Phase Two – Moderate infection: A combination of Chinese skullcap, licorice, lomatium, cordyceps, astragulus, rhodiola, boneset, and elder. Antiviral Tincture Formula: Equal parts Chinese Skullcap, licorice, lomatium, redroot. 60 drops every hour. Immune Tincture Formula: Equal parts astragulus, cordyceps, and rhodiola. 60 drops 3x/day.
Phase Three – Severe infection: Double the dosage of Antiviral and Immune Tincture Formula.
3. Viral Infectious Disease and Natural Products with Antiviral Activity, Kitazato, Kaio & Wang, Y & Kobayashi, N. (2007). Drug discoveries & therapeutics. 1. 14-22.
4. Effects of Toll-Like Receptor Stimulation on Eosinophilic Infiltration in Lungs of BALB/c Mice Immunized with UV-Inactivated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Related Coronavirus Vaccine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135953/ J Virol. 2014 Aug; 88(15): 8597–8614. Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, et al.
Forty years ago when I embarked on my journey as a midwife and a mother, I learned about the healing properties of comfrey and goldenseal through my herbal studies in midwifery practice. Comfrey, Symphytum officinale is a miraculous plant that long has been used to heal damaged skin and mend broken bones. As a midwife I prepared comfrey leaf and root in an infusion to be used in a sitz bath, or as a compress, for healing perineal tears, abrasions, and episiotomies. Comfrey could also be found growing in my garden where I would gather, chop and simmer it in a nourishing postpartum soup to help with internal healing of the new mother’s placental site, and to build blood and insure an adequate breast milk supply. I later wrote about this magnificent and misunderstood herb for internal healing in my book, Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth.
Goldenseal root powder, Hydrastis canadensis, was the other ingredient I used along with sea salt in the postpartum sitz bath. These ingredients helped to reduce inflammation, prevent infection, soothe and astringe tissue. The results were phenomenal.
Most homebirth midwives forty years ago did not have the ability to carry lidocaine, nor had we been taught how to suture perineal tears. This was one of the reasons I fought in the Florida legislature alongside other women to help change the outdated lay midwifery laws. We were successful in this effort and subsequently founded the South Florida School of Midwifery in order to train and license home birth midwives, otherwise known as lay, or direct entry midwives.
Before I had the ability to suture, I became very skilled in preventing perineal tearing and adept at healing tears and abrasions that may have occurred during delivery. Even after I began suturing it was important to help the perineum heal well and quickly. Comfrey-Goldenseal sitz baths always did the trick.
To illustrate this ability of comfrey-goldenseal to heal perineal tears, I would like to share one of my earliest experiences with a mother who tore severely because of a precipitous birth. She had to be taken to the hospital to be sutured by her back up physician, who lacking in bedside manner made the following statement upon his examination. “It looks like a hand grenade went off in there!”
Determined to help this mother heal I proceeded to prepare comfrey-goldenseal compresses, applied twice daily for the first two days, and then a comfrey-goldenseal sitz bath twice daily for the remainder of the week until her follow up visit. I accompanied her to the follow up, and upon examination the same physician looked up at me, then back at the mother, then back at me and said, “This isn’t the same woman you brought in here a week ago is it?” He couldn’t believe that she had healed so well and so quickly.
I began my midwifery career at the same time that I became a mother. As the mother of two young kids who were always banging their knees, skinning elbows, or otherwise collecting scratches, bumps, bug bites and bruises as they explored their world, I decided to make a healing salve using the same two main ingredients, comfrey and goldenseal, which I had been using in the sitz baths. The result was an amazing salve that healed things quickly, and prevented infection and scarring. It has lived in my medicine cabinet ever since.
What makes this salve different than most that you will find on the market, is the quantity of goldenseal root powder in the formula. Because goldenseal is very expensive (over $100 pound) most herbalists and manufacturers use goldenseal leaf instead, and very little root. It is the quantity of goldenseal root that makes it so effective.
I also use both comfrey leaf and root in my formula so as to achieve the healing benefits of both parts of this plant. Comfrey root may contain 8 to 10 percent allantoin, which is easily absorbed through the skin and found to a lesser degree in the leaves. Allantoin promotes cell growth to speed wound healing. Comfrey leaf also aids in healing mucous membranes and protects the skin against irritants, making it an essential ingredient in salves and ointments for the treatment of wounds, burns, bruises, cuts, sprains, chapped lips, dry vagina, cold sores, diaper rash, bug bites, nail fungus, and skin irritations.
While I have made batches of my Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve over the years for friends and family, it wasn’t until I stared teaching at herbal medicine conferences that I started making it for public consumption. To date it has been used by dozens of people including doctors, veterinarians, and a plastic surgeon who recommended it to his patients because of its ability to reduce scarring. It is especially useful for animals because all of the ingredients are edible and animals tend to lick their wounds.
Because I want for you to also have a relationship with these healing herbs, and because I would like to empower you to make your own salve or to help someone heal after giving birth, I have included my formulas for both postpartum sitz bath and a healing root salve.
Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve
Ingredients (preferably organic):
3 ¼ cup cold pressed olive oil
¾ cup unrefined sesame oil (high in Vit. E and acts as a preservative and skin healer)
2 oz. comfrey leaf
2 oz. comfrey root, cut and sifted
2 oz. goldenseal root powder
golden beeswax beads, approx. 4 oz.
1 tablespoon Vit. E oil, or wheatgerm oil (acts as a preservative and skin healer)
Bake in a warm oven (lowest setting possible ,approx. 170º) in an enamel pot for 4 hours stirring with a wooden spoon every 30 minutes or so. Strain through a fine cheesecloth and press into a measuring cup. Measure and return oil to clean pot on stove top. Add beeswax (1 oz. per cup) and stir on low heat until melted. Add wheatgerm or vitamin E oil, stir well and remove from heat. Fill containers immediately as it will harden quickly upon cooling. Stir once in container with a wooden chopstick to redistribute and prevent settling.
Simmer comfrey and goldenseal root for thirty minutes uncovered. Add comfrey leaf and salt. Stir to dissolve salt then cover and remove from heat. Let steep 15-20 minutes. Strain and use as hot as possible in a compress, or sitz bath. Heat also brings more blood into the area, which aids in healing. Note: may burn slightly at first, but quickly becomes soothing.
That salve is great stuff. I’ve been suffering with lots of hand abuse issues as a hand drummer and musician, and it has expedited healing and helping to cause the shedding of injured tissue and replacing it with new. – M. Olson/Tucson, AZ
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Salve is an amazing healing potion for the skin. I has numerous stiches on my face from surgery due to skin cancer, and now six-months later, after using the salve nightly, the results are unbelievable! People, even my plastic surgeon are amazed with how my face looks. I am so happy to have found such a terrific healer for the skin. – C. Carter/Key Largo, FL
Promise, a Morgan colt born at Carpe Diem Farms, is healing beautifully. I am using the salve daily and we are working on scar reduction/elimination. Dr. Claudle has difficulty believing that he survived and is amazed at the speed in which he healed. Thank you for your help. – S. Blair/Highlands, NC
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Salve healed my son’s diaper rash faster than any other diaper rash ointment I’ve used. – A. Blanton/Highlands, NC
Your salve is the first of many that I have tried on Yazi’s ears (wolf-dog) that affected any healing. His ears are now almost back to normal. Your salve is something very good. Keep telling people about it, I believe in it. – Hannah/Taos, NM
Thea’s medicine salve saved the day. After an irritating condition vaginally, and not accepting hormonal salve as a remedy, my suffering has ended. Thank you. – B. Martz/Tucson, AZ
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve has been wonderful. It provides a soothing quality I haven’t found in any other product. I had an infected tattoo and within 3 days the infection subsided, and the salve soothed my skin to health. I highly recommend it. – A. Graser/Asheville, NC
When a friend approached me about excruciating pain in his spine as a result of nerve damage from a degenerative joint disease, the hauntingly translucent, ephemeral, and ghostly white image of Ghost Pipe, danced before me. He desperately wanted to avoid opiates. I have rarely needed to use this plant that grows in the dense, dark under-story of the forest where I live, but in the past few years I have noticed it growing in greater abundance. It is a rare plant and not commonly encountered, so I took these sightings as a sign that a need for its medicine may be at hand. Could this plant help my friend as he searched for other answers? I wondered.
Resembling a spine and brain stem, Ghost Pipe is a nervous system ally aiding in the modulation of sensory input. The plant has been used as a nervine in Western Herbal Medicine since the late nineteenth century, and a tincture of the whole plant has been used for people in intense physical pain, but it doesn’t make the pain go away. Pain serves a purpose. It alerts us to what needs our attention. With the aid of Ghost Pipe we don’t deaden the pain, but rather distance it so we can work with the pain without being overwhelmed by it. Ghost Pipe puts the person beside their pain, so they can see it and deal with it. It is not your normal analgesic. In the words of Herbalist, David Winston, “…you know it hurts, but simply don’t care.” It reduces sensitivity to painful stimuli and raises the pain threshold. It can help a person feel more grounded and present rather than overtaken by overwhelming pain.
Ghost Pipe also works with emotional pain in a similar manner. Whether the initial shock of emotional pain, people physically paralyzed by emotional pain, or acute anxiety or panic attacks marked by sensory overload, it has the same action as setting the pain beside you (think nervous system modulator). It dulls the perception of pain and may be useful for psychotic episodes or triggering of emotional memories. Herbalist, Ryan Drum, who works with this plant in the Pacific Northwest, believes it has a great future as a psychiatric nervine in acute cases.
In my book, Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth, I propose that if a plant’s medicine is needed, it will show up, and that our medicine is as close as we are right now. Since it showed up for me in relation to my friend, who was trying not to succumb to the opioids his doctors were recommending, I suggested he look into Ghost Pipe as a possible ally. Where I currently live in Western North Carolina, we are experiencing an opioid epidemic that is devastating families and communities. Could Ghost Pipe be showing up here at this time for a reason? North Carolina has been especially hard hit and opioid overdose deaths have increased more than 22% in a single year (2017) over the prior year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, opioid-involved overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, according to the Citizen Times. Could Ghost Pipe provide an alternative to opiates in certain cases, helping us to engage and deal with our pain? Could research on this plant lead to the development of other pain relieving drugs that are less damaging than what is currently available? I believe we are in need of a new mindset where pain is not the enemy, and we can find hope in our relationship with the natural world.
Ghost Pipe, also known as Indian Pipe, or corpse plant, and whose botanical name is Monotropa uniflora, is an herbaceous perennial devoid of plant blood. Lacking chlorophyll it does not generate energy from sunlight. Ultimately, Ghost Pipe gets its energy from the photosynthesis of trees, parasitically sapping nutrients and carbohydrates from the tree roots through the intermediate source of myccorhizal fungus. These fungi colonize the tree roots in a symbiotic, albeit parasitic relationship, and play an important role in soil chemistry, helping to make nutrients available to the tree.
M. uniflora is indeed a ghostly plant, a parasite feeding on a parasite. This three-way relationship between a photosynthetic tree, a mycorrhizal fungus and a parasitic plant is a ménage á trois, but it is not clear who is getting what from the ghostly one. America’s eminent poet, Emily Dickinson, called it “the preferred flower of life,” and she never ceased to wonder at its mystery. The Cherokee and First Nations People also honored this plant for its medicine and its mystery. If you happen to come upon it, take in its unique beauty with reverence. This is a magical gift from the natural world. There’s a lot going on underground that we are only just beginning to understand about this plant.
Ghost Pipe appears from early summer to early autumn after a rainfall and when the weather is warm, bearing a single bell-shaped flower. Spending most of its life underground it grows in the dark because it is not dependent on light for photosynthesis. It may look like a fungus, but it really is a flowering plant. Eventually poking its way up through decaying leaves, Ghost Pipe rises on a slender stalk, and then nods its flower head, thus resembling a pipe with its stem stuck in the ground. Slowly the plant will straighten into an upright position with the flower pointing skyward. It is only about five inches tall and commonly found in small clusters. A fascinating plant, it only grows in select temperate regions with large gaps in-between and can be found in Russia, North America, Asia and northern South America.
The genus name Monotropa, means “one turn,” and refers to the curve at the top of its stem. The species name uniflora, means “one flowered.” It is in the Ericaceae family, which also includes blueberries, rhododendron, azaleas, and arctostaphylos (manzanitas, uva ursi, bearberries), and they all like the same acidic soil. Propagation and cultivation are next to impossible because of the delicate processes it adheres to.
I know from experience that harvesting this plant can be a delicate undertaking and recommend a whole plant tincture in 100 proof vodka. Even a gentle touch can bruise, so it is best to tincture it in the field, harvesting only a few plants from each colony. The resulting tincture is a pleasingly deep violet color.
Please use caution and respect when harvesting as this is considered a rare plant. Very little of it should ever be needed, so harvest sustainably and ethically, and only when large colonies are found. Harvest when the plant’s flowers are curved over and facing the ground. It is too late to harvest if the flowers are upright. After this they will quickly turn black and begin to dissolve. Bring prepared menstruum, jars, and a bowl of water with you so you can tincture immediately after lightly brushing off and washing the roots.
One of M. uniflora’s main constituents is salicylic acid, which is also in aspirin. The Cherokee considered it a pain remedy of the highest order. You will know that this plant is for you if you are willing to journey into your pain, bear witness to your pain, and be an active participant in your healing process. There is information that can be received when we are not completely numb to our pain. To relieve specific types of physical pain it may be paired with anti-inflammatory and anodyne herbs such as willow (Salix spp.), or anti-spasmodics such as wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) and Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). Combine with holy basil to disperse intense emotions that may be coming up.
Overwhelming physical pain (combined with anodyne herbs)
Migraine like headaches associated with traumatic brain injury
Anxiety and panic attacks associated with emotional or sensory overload
Triggering of emotional memories
May also be useful for: Childhood seizures, febrile seizures, and epileptic seizures.
To make a fresh plant tincture:
Pack plant tightly into a pint canning jar filling to top.
Add 100 proof vodka, filling jar to the top
Shake daily for 2 weeks.
You can leave herb in alcohol until all tincture is consumed, or strain and decant.
Frequent small doses seem to work best to disrupt pain cycle. Not recommended for long term use past one month of daily use.
Dosing: (Note: 1ml = 20 drops)
For physical pain: Start with 3 drops and jump to 1ml if no response, up to 40 drops (2ml) every half hour. If severe use 1ml at 5 minute intervals. Once pain level improves, increase the amount of time between doses and reduce dosage amount.
For psychological pain: Up to 2, 1ml doses to manage initially. 2-3, 1ml dose at 5 minute intervals for severe panic and agitation. 1-3ml doses for psychotic episodes. Will work within 15-30 minutes with the person usually falling asleep and waking up more calm and coherent. May be contraindicated for anyone taking stimulants prescribed for ADHD.