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The Herbal Medicine Chest: A Must Have Healing Salve Formula

Healing Root Salve
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Root Salve

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.

Comfrey Fig 3
Comfrey, Wisdom of the Plant Devas

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 This was one of the reasons I fought in the Florida legislature alongside other women to help change the outdated lay midwifery laws.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.

comfrey

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.

Comfrey-Goldenseal Sitz Bath

Ingredients:

1 gallon of water

2 ounces comfrey root, cut and sifted

2 ounces goldenseal root powder

2 ounces dried comfrey leaf (or 2 cups chopped fresh comfrey)

2 tablespoons sea salt

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.

Wrist 1week comparison
Day stitches removed compared to one week later after using salve.

Testimonials

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

Ghost Pipe: A Hauntingly Rare Plant for Physical and Emotional Pain

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Monotropa uniflora

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. 

Indian Pipe_1734

Ghost Pipe Cluster, photo ©2019 Thea Summer Deer

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.

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Ghost Pipe in various stages, photo ©2019 Thea Summer Deer

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.

Herbal Actions: sedative, nervine, antispasmodic, anodyne, diaphoretic

Useful for:

  • 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:

  1. Pack plant tightly into a pint canning jar filling to top.
  2. Add 100 proof vodka, filling jar to the top
  3. Shake daily for 2 weeks.
  4. 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.

References:

Ghost Pipe: A Little Known Nervine by Sean Donahue

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians by Patricia Kyritsi Howell

USDA Forest Service: Monotropa uniflora – Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe

 

Tamarind: A Functional Food for Improving Digestion, Reducing Cholesterol and Lowering Blood Pressure.

tamarind

Tamarind Pods, Photo by Thea ©2019

Tamarind is something I was vaguely familiar with since I am originally from Miami, Florida where it easily grows, but it wasn’t until I spent time in the Caribbean that I became more curious about its culinary contribution and extensive health benefits. One Caribbean afternoon while hiking in late April with my husband we came across the shade of some very large Tamarind trees laden with ripening pods. Amongst the dense foliage we admired the thick brown outer shells, which encased a deeper brown sticky pulp enveloping dark brown seeds within.

What I learned is that the tamarind tree is one of the most important multipurpose tropical fruit tree species and a functional food. The sour and slightly citrusy sweet fruit is a widely used common ingredient in Thai, Indian, Mexican, Caribbean, Jamaican, Latin, and Vietnamese cuisines. It is also a key ingredient in savory dishes like Jamaican jerk sauces, chutneys, classic pad Thai, and is what gives Worcestershire sauce its distinctive tang. It’s health benefits are equally impressive.

Tamarind, Tamarindus indica is native to Africa, but has spread to almost all tropical areas of the world due to its flavor and nutritional value. It contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, which support the body in numerous ways. High in Vitamin B, C and K, it is also high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Especially high in the B vitamin, thiamine, tamarind supports nerve function and its high vitamin C and potent antioxidant properties helps to boost immune function and is well known for its effect on heart disease by reducing free radicals.

In tropical countries, it is used to break a fever and cool down the body, but is most well-known for treating indigestion and digestive complaints. One of the ways that Tamarind improves digestion is by stimulating bile, which aids in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine. Fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D and E are known as the anti-aging vitamins and are important considerations when designing a longevity plan.

Tamarind can also help to normalize stools and is effective against chronic diarrhea, constipation, some bacterial and parasitic infestations, and inflammation of the intestinal tract. The soluble protein and amino-acid composition of Tamarind make it an excellent digestive. Due to its rich source of most essential amino acids, vitamins and phytochemicals, tamarind is reported to possess antimicrobial (salmonella, staphylococcus aureus), antioxidant, cardio-protective and hepato-protective actions while also being useful in diabetes and reversing fatty liver disease.

Protective against heart disease, tamarind has been shown to reduce cholesterol partially due to its fiber content, which also aids in removing LDL cholesterol from the veins and arteries. The potassium in tamarind may be the responsible agent for reducing blood pressure further reducing stress on the cardiovascular system. Obviously, there are more benefits than just a cure for indigestion!

Food is indeed medicine and Tamarind is a testament. The health benefits have been well studied and the list sounds a bit like a panacea with South America and Mexico now being the largest producers and consumers of this fruit. High in many essential amino acids for building new tissue, carbohydrates for energy, and rich in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, Tamarind is not only a valuable functional food for improving digestion, reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure, but it is a unique and exotic flavor where both nutrition and taste reside.

Parts used: leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds

References:

Functional and nutritional properties of tamarind (tamarindus indica) kernel protein; Food Chemistry Vol. 49, Issue 1, Pages 1-9.

Tamarindus indica: Extent of explored potential, Pharmacology Review, 2011 Jan-June; 5(9): 73-81

Tamarind Water Preparation:

2 cups of fresh (deseeded) or compressed tamarind pulp

Honey

Water

Cover tamarind with water and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Blend in food processor or blender. Strain. Add honey to taste. Drink 1-2 cups/day.

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Tamarind Chutney:

¼ package of tamarind from a compressed block of pulp

1 ¼ cup water

8 pitted large Medjool dates

1 clove garlic

1 fresh jalapeño pepper

salt to taste

Soak tamarind in 3/4 cup hot water for one hour, mashing occasionally with a wooden spoon, strain reserving liquid. Soak dates in ½ cup warm water for 15 minutes, strain and put in food processor with tamarind water, salt, garlic and jalapeños and process until smooth. If too thick add some of the date water to thin. Serve with samosas and rice dishes.

Check out more recipes at Thea’s Kitchen including West Indies Mulligatawny using tamarind.

Learn more in Thea’s classes: Love Your Liver: Spring and the Wood Element, and Heal Your Heart, Summer and the Fire Element.

For Fun:

The name Tamarind reminded me of fellow singer-songwriter who makes his living playing on the beach in Tamarindo Bay, Costa Rica, so check out his song: Under the Stars of Tamarindo, by David Robert.

Yerba Mansa: Body Ecology Restoration

Is your body ecology making you sick? Then allow me to introduce Yerba Mansa, a paleoherb and mythical healer that can restore your body ecology in any season, and whose ancient lineage of wisdom goes back innumerable generations.

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Anemopsis californica

It is a beautiful day on the Rio Grande, as one might expect in sunny New Mexico with its low humidity and over 300 days of annual sunshine. They don’t call it the Land of Enchantment for nothing and it’s a place where I can breathe… A place where sage, piñon, chaparral and cedar scented air calls me back year after year, as does its medicinal herbs. One of these herbs is Yerba Mansa, a mythical plant of extraordinary beauty growing along the Rio and as enchanted as the landscape itself.

Yerba Mansa whose botanical name is Anemopsis californica, is a perennial herb in the Lizard’s tail family of plants, Saururaceae, named for its tell-tale flower cluster. It is a medicinal herb used traditionally in New Mexico, the knowledge of which has been passed down from generation to generation. I was initially introduced to this plant while living in the Southwest by the late and renowned herbalist, Michael Moore, Founder of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Yerba Mansa continues to be a very important ally in my practice of herbal medicine.

A riparian wetland plant, Yerba Mansa can be found growing in the rapidly dwindling riparian habitats of northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Riparian ecosystem environments are some of the most altered and threatened habitats around the world due to human civilizations settling and building along the rivers.

Yerba Mansa is a paleoherb, a small group of flowering plants having evolved over a very long period of time and one of the first flowering herbs that existed on earth. With iconic large white flowers that bloom in the spring, Yerba Mansa is much sought after for fresh and dried arrangements and emits a spicy fragrance due to its volatile oils. The plant is also used for deer resistant landscaping around bogs and ponds and for ground cover in lawns and gardens. As such it provides an above average per acre gross income for small-scale farmers, but is on the United Plant Savers “watch-list,” as its native habitat continues to decline.

To best understand how this plant works as a medicine we have only to look at the role that it plays in its own living system and where it occurs naturally. In the wild Yerba Mansa’s roots enhance the wet boggy earth by absorbing and distributing water through nearly impenetrable clay like soil. The volatile roots add an anti-microbial and purifying element to the damp, boggy and slow-moving ecosystem of the Rio Grande Bosque, changing the soil chemistry and creating a more favorable environment for the growth of other plants which further anchor and aerate the soil.

The part of the plant most commonly used for medicine is the root and by observing it in the wild we are informed of its similar functions in our own bodily ecosystem. When our body becomes boggy, stagnant, wet and slow moving, a condition in Chinese Medicine described as “dampness,” Yerba Mansa penetrates through that to encourage the flow of stagnant fluids, revitalizing the entire system and using its chemical constituents to change microbial balances in our favor. The concept of dampness is related to a deficiency of the spleen’s function of transporting and transforming bodily fluids and corresponds with the Earth Element.

Earth forms the banks of the river through which the river’s flow is directed, but boggy river banks will eventually wash away creating stagnant pools. Just like in nature, these stagnant pools of fluid in our bodies become fertile breeding ground for microbes. Yerba Mansa dries dampness and safeguards against microbial imbalances and infections. It helps move toxins out and rids the body of excess uric acid, which causes painful inflammation of the joints. It also tones and tightens mucous membranes and is especially useful during cold and flu season.

Yerba Mansa gets its reputation as a mythical herb because of its legendary ability to support a wide array of conditions including: chronic inflammatory conditions so prevalent today; digestive disorders including digestive, intestinal and urinary tract inflammation; mucous-producing colds and flu, sore throats, sinus infections, and fungal infections like athlete’s foot and jock itch that thrive in warm, damp and dark areas.

yerbamansa

In a study on cultivating Anemopsis, conducted by Charles Martin, assistant professor at NMSU College of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Science, he is quoted as saying:

“This plant has thrived in environments that cause stress on its system and under stress the plant produces secondary compounds that give it its medicinal qualities. The plant produces these compounds as a protective mechanism, just as the human must be introduced to situations where the immune system will produce antibodies in response to mild infections which in turn strengthen the immune system.”

When we support our immune system, and allow the body to do what it is designed to do rather than weakening it through symptom suppression and antibiotics, we create a healthier and more balanced body ecology. Working more closely with nature by observing its patterns of harmony and disharmony we may discover herbs like Yerba Mansa which, in addition to its strong antibacterial and antifungal properties, supports our body’s ecosystem making us less reliant on drugs.

Native Americans and Hispanics who have used this herb for centuries throughout the Southwest also affectionately call it Yerba del Manso, yerba being the Spanish word for “herb,” and mansa meaning “meek.” There is also some speculation that manso is short for remanso, meaning backwater, the area where the plant thrives.

If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then perhaps, if we humble ourselves to the wisdom of nature, honor the ancestors who shared their knowledge with us, and protect the fragile habitats that give us our medicine like the elders who came before us carrying this herb, then we shall indeed be worthy of inheriting the earth so that we may also pass it down. The next seven generations are depending on it. May it continue…

Parts used: Root

Actions: Astringent, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, tonic

Energetics/Flavor: Acrid, bitter, warm, aromatic, drying

Indications: Chronic inflammatory conditions, digestive disorders, skin issues, urinary infections, mucus-producing colds and sore throats, sinus infections, hemorrhoids, oral healthcare, fungal infections, diarrhea, colitis.

Contraindications: No known contraindications

Preparation: May be used as an infusion, tincture, steam distilled oil, or dried root powder. Extracts best in alcohol and water.

Dosage: Use as directed on label or by your health care practitioner. Tincture can be applied directly to skin for fungal infections. Dental Care: 20 drops of tincture in 2 oz. water and use as a rinse and/or mouthwash for thrush, or yeast infections of the mouth and mouth sores. Nasal Spray, rinse or gargle: 20 drops of tincture in 2 oz. water for sinus infection, nasal congestion and sore throat.

Note: Yerba Mansa’s antimicrobial workings are supported by research that confirms its activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Geotrichim candidum as well as five species of mycobacterium known to cause skin, pulmonary, and lymphatic infections. Recent research also suggests that extracts of Yerba Mansa inhibit the growth and migration of certain types of cancer including two breast cancer cell lines, HCT-8, and colon cancer cells. See references below.

Available as a tincture from Herb Pharm and Artemisia Herbs. I always purchase a fresh supply of Artemisia Herbs’ Yerba Mansa at Cid’s Market in Taos on my regular pilgrimages and herb gathering expeditions back to New Mexico.

Founded in 1992, Artemisia Herbs is deeply informed by the intelligence of the plants themselves and prides themselves in the history of a bioregional, sustainable herbal company that inspires, supports and benefits all those who it reaches. Artemisia carefully blends by hand in small batches, working together to craft products which maintain an energetic integrity from farm to medicine. Herbs are sourced primarily from a family owned farm in Dixon, NM, and backyard growers and wildcrafters who care intimately for the plants they grow and harvest. You can meet them at the Downtown Grower’s Market on Saturdays throughout the Fall in Albuquerque and at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market year-round. https://artemisiaherbsnm.com/

Learn more about the Earth Element through Thea’s class at Wise Woman University on line at: Indian Summer: Nourishing the Earth Element

Recommended Reading:

Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide by Thomas Avery Garran

The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity, by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz

References:

Native Southwest medicine herb could become a New Mexico cash crop: http://newscenter.nmsu.edu/Articles/view/3965

Albuquerque Herbalism: Ecological Herbalism, https://albuquerqueherbalism.com/tag/anemopsis/

Yerba Mansa: An Important Medicine Plant, https://www.voyagebotanica.net/blogs/yerba-mansa-anemopsis-californica/64470019-yerba-mansa-an-important-medicine-plant

Chemotypic Variation of Essential Oils in Medicinal Plant, Anemopsis californica, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2330197/

Andrea L. Medina, Mary E. Lucero, Omar F. Holguin, Rick E. Estell, Jeff J. Posakony, Julian Simon, Mary A. O’Connell, Composition and antimicrobial activity of Anemopsis californica leaf oil, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53 (2005): 8694-8698

Robert O. Bussey, Arlene A. Sy-Cordero, Mario Figueroa, Frederick S. Carter, Joseph O. Falkinham, Nicholas H. Oberlies, Nadja Cech, Antimycobacterial Furofuran Lignans from the Roots of Anemopsis californica, Planta Medica 80 (2014): 498-501

Amber L. Daniels, Severine Van Slambrouck, Robin K. Lee, Tammy S. Arguello, James Browning, Michael J. Pullin, Alexander Kornienko, Wim F. A. Steelant, Effects of extracts from two Native American plants on proliferation of human breast and colon cancer cell lines in vitro, Oncology Reports 15 (2006): 1327-1331.

Resources:

Yerba Mansa Project: http://yerbamansaproject.org/project-overview/

Interview with Dara Saville: https://basmati.com/2017/10/05/chat-healer-dara-albuquerque-herbalism

 

 

Renewed Faith of the Yellow Gorse

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Brandon Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland ©2018 Thea Summer Deer

Wandering across the faerie hills on the wild west coast of Ireland, the only sound I heard was that of the wind and the waves, falling water and the occasional caw of a raven. We had come to this mystical landscape at Europe’s westernmost point on the Dingle Peninsula to offer gratitude and forgiveness to our ancestors at an ancient ceremonial site called the “Drummer’s Mound.” It had been a life-long dream to visit Ireland and if the old idiom is true, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” then the weave of magic in my life might have a wee bit of its root in my Irish ancestry.

A little further down the narrow path I heard a quiet, cricket like song that beckoned to me, so I followed it. Stepping off the ordinary path as if through a portal I discovered at the source of the sound a plant with delicate yellow flowers. The plant itself was unfamiliar but the flowers were vaguely reminiscent of mullein flowers, and aside from that it bore no other resemblance. Certainly, it must be medicinal or I wouldn’t have been drawn to it, so I took a photo with my smartphone for later identification.

Gorseflowers

Ulex europaeus

With the sun setting in the West and the wind blowing cool against us from the north, we proceeded to gather atop a wide, flat surfaced mound with a large flat rock half embedded in the earth at its center. There the altar cloth was lain. It was on this cloth that we would place two items representing our ancestor or ancestors for which we had come to pray.

I reverently approached the altar, laying my items gently at its edge. As I lightly pressed them against the cloth I promptly received a finger prick. An unseen plant lying beneath the surface had drawn blood. How appropriate I thought, a blood offering to the ancestors. And then we prayed: I am sorry, please forgive me, I forgive you, I love you, thank you.

As I looked out over the hills I could feel something lifting and then a wave of gratitude from the unseen worlds. The ancestors had been waiting for me here, for this very moment, and we were walking each other home.

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Thea in front of the Drummer’s Mound

The next morning brought waves of fog like clouds rolling over the tops of the mountains to the east as I sat sipping my tea and watching the sun rise. Curious, I took out my phone and pulled up the photo of the plant to which I had been called. My search revealed Yellow Gorse, Ulex europaeus, a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) which grows well near the sea and is clearly a feature that lights up the Irish landscape.

“Kissing’s out of fashion, when the gorse is out of blossom.” – A traditional jest as gorse is thought to always be in bloom

Yellow Gorse’s bright yellow flowers are aligned with the sun god Lugh, the Celtic god of light. The scent and taste of the blossoms grow stronger in the sunlight and mildly resembles almond and coconut. They make a wonderfully aromatic flower tea and were also used for dying cloth a saffron color. Dying cloth was an art and considered a magical process in early Ireland to be carried out only by women until the advance of the patriarchy.

Its Irish name is Aiteann; aith meaning sharp and tenn, meaning lacerating due to its prickly nature and fierce thorns. Aiteann is considered to belong to the Sidhe, or faerie folk and thought to guard entrances to the otherworld, therefore sacred or cursed depending on your belief. Yellow Gorse is tied up in Ireland’s history and mythology, embodying the polarity of opposites: good and bad, healing and wounding; nurturing and dominating, fierce and protecting. My belief was that we were standing on a sacred faerie mound protected by Sidhe as evidenced by my finger prick. The unseen plant beneath the altar cloth was Yellow Gorse.

Aiteann is an evergreen native shrub that is highly flammable and used to fire traditional bread ovens. It was also gathered to be burned on the ceremonial fires of Beltaine, and used for lighting the other nine sacred woods: Birch, Rowan, Ash, Alder, Willow, Hawthorn, Oak, Holly and Hazel. Beltaine falls on May 1st, also known as Green Man Day, the day my husband was born and one of the reasons he is affectionately called the “GreenMan.” With the advance of Christianity this celebration was replaced with May Day.

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Drummer’s Mound ©2018 Thea Summer Deer

As I searched to discover the medicinal value of Yellow Gorse what I learned is that this plant’s medicine mostly lies in its use as a flower essence. The flowers are recommended for hopelessness, loss of faith or for those who think themselves incurable. I marveled at how complimentary this felt considering the invoking of ancestral spirits that had taken place the day before. And sometimes we need only to invoke the spirit of a plant to receive its healing medicine.

My Irish grandfather had died of alcoholism, thinking himself incurable. The ancestors before him sinking into hopelessness through alcoholism, famine, slavery and displacement. The loss of faith came through the institutional abuses of church and state. My prayers had been heard and the ancestors had responded with gratitude for my journey to acknowledge their suffering and willingness to forgive. Forgiving is not always easy, nor is it forgetting, excusing, condoning, or regretting. Forgiveness is a field of energy that releases all placed within it so that we can be restored.

“Gorse lost all hope and said, I can go no further; you go along, but I shall stay here as I am until death relieves my sufferings.” – Dr. Edward Bach, 1934

The flower essence of Aiteann helps us to see things in a different light. Some could go no further and some went along, carrying the light of hope into the future. That was the gift of the ancestors to us – our very breath and life. May the light prevail, faith be restored, and forgiveness be yours…

Blessing, by John O’Donohue

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

Brandon Creek_0350

Wild West Coast of Ireland ©2018 Thea Summer Deer

 

Fibrocystic Breast & Cleavers: A Premier Spring Lymph Tonic

Galium aparine2

Galium aparine

“What herbs would you recommend for breast cysts?” Dr. Mary inquired during our recent phone conversation. It is the type of question I get asked a lot. Especially from those who want to replace a pharmaceutical with an herb, thinking it would be a more “natural” approach and healthier alternative.

Initially I tried to divert the question by suggesting that her patient’s caffeine intake might be looked at, since it is a known agravator of breast cysts. I, myself, have resolved this issue simply by eliminating coffee and chocolate. But I knew that in order to recommend the herbs that Dr. Mary was inquiring about we would need to have a deeper conversation.

I am an herbalist, not a medical doctor, and a medical doctor is not an herbalist. One practices in a mechanistic (Allopathic) model and the other in an energetic model. Understanding a few basic concepts of how herbal medicine functions in an energetic model can help us to understand the long-lasting results that can be achieved from taking a more natural approach.

So, I asked Dr. Mary is she would be willing to make the time to have this conversation and she was. Healing takes time, as do most natural processes. The good news is what took decades to manifest as illness may only take months or possibly years to restore to wellness.

I began by explaining that the longest lasting result from herbal medicine is in its tonic ability to restore whole bodily systems. A tonic is something that is taken consistently over time, not the quick fix that our fast-paced world demands. The affinity of herbs for certain body systems (circulatory, respiratory, urinary, etc.) and their actions (lymphatic, hepatic, tonic, etc.) illustrates their intelligence and aids us in choosing the best ones.

Healing is also about relationships and it takes time to be in relationship. An herb taken over time brings you into closer relationship with it, especially if you are growing, harvesting, making, smelling, tasting, drinking, digesting and eliminating it. Pharmaceuticals that go directly into the blood stream bypass most of these checks and balances. Locally grown and seasonal herbs are exponentially more potent energetically. Herbs are some of our greatest allies if we are willing to take the time to get to know them.

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. It takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Dr. Mary’s timing for asking about breast cysts the week of Spring Equinox couldn’t have been more perfect. The action of herbal lymphatics is almost always indicated when there is breast congestion. The plants that nature gives us in Spring deliver a number of lymphatic system and liver tonics for clearing the congestion of Winter.

Fibrocystic Breast chart

Source: Mayo Clinic

For women, the largest reservoir of lymph is located in the tissues of the breast. Lymph drains away from the breast and breast cysts develop as a result of fluid accumulation inside the glands in the breasts. Fibrocystic breast is not a disease and may be the result of hormonal changes aggravated by weight gain, stress, caffeine, chocolate, smoking, and poor diet. In addition, restrictive clothing that presses on lymph nodes can impede lymph flow. Research studies show that hormones tend to collect in breast tissue, a good reason to eat organic hormone free meat and dairy, and a lymphatic self-breast massage is recommended. Having cysts doesn’t increase your risk of breast cancer. They may, however, make it more difficult to find new lumps or other changes that might need evaluated by a doctor, so be familiar with how your breasts normally feel so you will know when something changes. One of the ways to identify a cyst is that they tend to feel fluid-filled with distinct edges and move more freely than a hard mass.

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One of the herbal allies that I was excited to share with Dr. Mary was Galium aparine, commonly known as Cleavers, and with a special affinity for the breasts and lymphatic system. It grows abundantly in our Appalachian Mountains and I gather it every spring. An herbaceous annual it can be found in moist wild areas of all temperate zones worldwide. Not surprisingly it is considered a common weed, as are many of our medicinal plants. Cleavers, or more affectionately, Velcro Weed, are one of the easiest herbs to identify because of their straggling stems and branches that grow close to the ground, their whorls of leaves, and their clinging nature by which they attach themselves readily with small hooked hairs. The entire aerial plant is harvested in spring in early flowering and used fresh or dried. The fresh herb has a high-water content so care must be taken not to crush during harvest and to dry quickly in order to avoid spoilage. Geese love the seeding plant, hence the common name of Goosegrass.

“Cleavers is a very valuable plant, being perhaps the best tonic available for the lymphatic system.” – David Hoffmann

Cleavers is especially useful for breast cysts and as a premier Spring Tonic is rich in chlorophyll, promoting lymph drainage. It strengthens lymphatic circulation, eases breast congestion, tonifies veins, counters blood clots and has the ability to work fibrosities out of the tissues including uterine fibroids. Useful for urinary tract infections and prostatitis it is a diuretic that cools and shrinks inflamed tissues of the urinary tract.

While Galium aparine may have an affinity for the lymphatic and urinary tract system, I, personally, have an affinity with the herb because it is known as a “deer medicine” in Native American herbalism. This is partially because in the spring-time deer find it sweet scented and like to bed down in its dense patches. It has also been used throughout our human history as bedding material, giving yet another common name to this common weed, Bedstraw. To whatever name you cleave, may it encourage your waters to flow clear and current, and restore you once again to wellness.

Learn more: Love Your Liver: Spring & The Wood Element at Wise Woman University

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How to use:

Dried herb infusion: 3 teaspoons dried herb to 1 cup of water, infuse 3-4 hours or overnight. Drink 1 cup, 3x/day. Boiling destroys medicinal value of cleavers, use dried herb with warm or cold-water infusion.

Tincture of dried herb, 1:5 in 25%, 4-8ml 3x/day (David Hoffman)

Fresh plant juice: 1-2 teaspoonful (5-15 ml)

No known contraindications

For relief from breast pain and lymphedema use 20 drops every 2 hours for 24 hours.

To shrink cysts and other benign lumps 20 drops, 3x/day of cleavers tincture is usually effective within a few days. More than this may thin the blood. Cleavers contain coumarin, a blood thinner* useful for cancer, stroke and heart disease prevention but increases risk of hemorrhage during surgery. Some women report increased menstrual flow after using cleavers to relieve premenstrual breast tenderness.

*Anticoagulant – thinning the blood, reducing risk of stroke, helps prevent the initiation of cancerous tumors.

Assist immune system when glands are swollen by taking 10 drops of cleavers tincture 1-2x/day for up to a month. (Susun Weed)

Note: There is somewhat of a difference of opinion between herbalists in tincture dosing with Hoffman recommending a more therapeutic dosage. I have found Susun Weed’s recommendations to be generally effective. Please check standardization and adjust for your specific needs.

References:

Breast Cancer? Breast Health! By Susun Weed

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech

Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cysts/symptoms-causes/syc-20370284

The Earthwise Herbal, A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, by Matthew Wood

The Herbal Handbook, A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, by David Hoffmann

Lymphatic Drainage Massage of the Breast https://youtu.be/uXB6LTAjARU

Grief, Shock & Loss: PTSD and Star of Bethlehem

StarofBeth_3396

photo by Thea

Look who I discovered hiding behind my house this spring! This escapee was most likely introduced into New England as a horticultural plant and has now become a naturalized flower of Southern Appalachia. In the six years I have lived here, nestled against the Pisgah National Forest, I have only seen it flowering twice clustered beneath a wild apple tree, next to a wild rose and untended, overgrown butterfly bush.

The first time was the morning after my son had arrived at my house in post-traumatic shock. He had driven 2 days straight in his motorhome after the violent death of a close friend and was clearly in shock. As I stood in front of his motorhome that morning while he slept making prayers for his healing, I gazed up the hillside in contemplation and spied a cluster of tiny white flowers on the embankment that beckoned me.

star-o-beth-861-smallAt first I didn’t know what they were. They seemed familiar and I felt certain it was some kind of medicine. My trusted field guide confirmed the lily like structure was indeed, Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, used as a flower essence for shock, grief and trauma. It was no accident that they had shown up at this time in my son’s hour of need. Our medicine is as close as we are right now.

The flower essence remedy of Star of Bethlehem had been one of my allies many years ago when I used it as a practicing midwife for mother and baby following a traumatic birth. This was the first time, however, that I had seen it growing naturally in the wild. It is a beautiful delicate flower whose name is based on its star shaped flowers after the Star of Bethlehem that appeared in the biblical account of the birth of Jesus. It is one of the most commonly used flower essences for post-traumatic stress, trauma, grief and depressed states. It is also one of five essences that make up Rescue Remedy designed for use in situations of acute stress and an essential part of any holistic medicine cabinet.star_of_bethlehem_633

While Autumn is generally a time when feelings of loss, sadness and grief are expressing, there is a reason why Star of Bethlehem comes to us in the spring. When the naturally descending energies of Fall move into the frozen state of Winter and one remains stuck in this state or is not able to come out of the stagnancy of winter into the rising energies of Spring, this flower essence may support depressive feelings that are an indicator of where a person is experiencing some type of imbalance or disharmony which needs addressed. Dr. Edward Bach referred to Star of Bethlehem as “the comforter and soother of pain and sorrows.” This essence can help soothe our imbalances like beautiful music that brings in vibrations that harmonize our whole being.

The three most foundational elements of grief are loss, longing and feeling lost. We live in a culture that encourages us to deny our grief and to continue functioning in spite of the fact that we may be suffering from PTSD. We fear the darkness grief and loss bring and a flower essence like Star of Bethlehem is a light in the darkness that can awaken the personality, which has withdrawn due to pain and sorrow, and lead us back to our Higher Self. It re-establishes an energetic link so that residual trauma can dissolve and allow energy, vitality, mental clarity and inner strength to return.

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Energetic trauma often doesn’t appear until years later with a person exhibiting psychosomatic conditions that have no apparent cause in their current life. Clients with psychosomatic conditions that have proved untreatable by conventional means often respond and find relief when this flower essence is added to their recommendations.

This being the second time I have seen Star of Bethlehem flowering behind my house, and knowing that our medicine is as close as we are right now, I had to ask myself, “Why is this showing up for me now?” The answer isn’t a mystery. I had been seeing a trauma specialist for several months for PTSD. I knew I had been suffering with it, but it was my daughter whose observations led her to recommend that I work with a specialist. Even though I had known about Star of Bethlehem after the incident with my son I had never employed it for myself. Sometimes we need the extra support of a therapist or health practitioner in combination with an herbal remedy. It is no accident that this medicine has shown up for me at this time, just as it had for my son, in our hour of need. Perhaps it is showing up for you now, too.

Notes:

  • Toxic to grazing animals and the bulbs contain toxic alkaloids
  • In the Back Flower System, Star of Bethlehem is in the category of remedies indicated for Despondency and Despair.
  • Also highly effective for animals who have suffered any type of abuse or trauma. Rescue Remedy is a good starting point for rescue animals while helping them to settle into a better situation with greater ease.
  • A decoction of the bulbs has been used for congestive heart failure, but has serious safety concerns. Bulbs are washed and cut in half, covered with water and boiled for 20 minutes, steeped for an hour and the process repeated 3 times, adding a little more water each time.
  • Used as a homeopathic remedy for stomach ailments and possibly for cancer of the intestinal tract especially of the stomach. Single doses of mother tincture, await action.

Resources:

Brene Brown Blog: https://brenebrown.com/blog/

TIR, Trauma Incident Reduction http://tira.info/about-tir.html

References:

Dave’s Garden http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1187/

Allergy Sufferers Get Ahead with Purple Dead-nettle

dead nettle

Lamium purpureum © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

It is Spring and a carpet of Purple Dead-Nettle is covering my garden. Even though I had put the vegetable garden to bed, tucking it in with straw, this “weed” decidedly took over. These Dead heads not only look like a weed, they smell like one too! Unlike the followers of a particular psychedelic rock band there is nothing distinctive about this plant that would indicate it might be edible, useful or medicinal. While I was never a Dead Head I do march to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and just because I harvest, juice and infuse what most people think of as useless weeds it doesn’t mean I’m tripping or that I smell bad, but it does mean that I’m ahead of allergy season.

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Introduced from Europe and listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America it can frequently be found growing alongside Henbit Dead-nettle, Lamium amplexicaule. Amplexicaule means “clasping” and refers to how the leaves grab the stem. Both have similar leaves and bright purple flowers, but the difference between the two can be seen in the leaves. Purple Dead-nettle’s leaves are stalked on the flower stem compared to the un-stalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle.

If you were called to inspect this plant more closely you would find that it has a square stem typical of the mints but the smell would never let on that it is in the mint family. It smells more like earth and grass with the flowering tops and leaves being edible. The harvested young aerial parts can be finely chopped and used in sauces, salads or as a spring vegetable and while it may be nutritious it has no flavor of great interest. It is one of the first plants to flower in the southeast where I live and may continue flowering throughout the year even during the milder winter months providing a food source to bees (and humans!) when few other nectar sources are available.

Purple Dead-nettle has long been used in folk medicine in Europe, Asia and Africa and unlike stinging nettles (Urtica) it has no sting and is therefore considered, “dead.” There is evidence of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and free radical scavenging properties comparable to that of ascorbic acid. It can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea or tincture for allergic inflammation. A natural source of flavonoids including quercetin Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. The anti-allergy properties of flavonoids come from their ability to reduce the release of histamine. Research has shown that L. purpureum is significantly anti-inflammatory with pain-reducing properties and works through inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the principle mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions. This is good news for allergy sufferers (see recommendations below.) The whole plant has also been used to relieve pain in rheumatism and other arthritic ailments. A rich source of antibacterial essential oils Purple Dead-nettle has a wide range of antimicrobial activity and antifungal properties, which may be useful for staph, E. coli and candida.

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Never before has one weed so thoroughly taken over my garden. It definitely has my attention. Previously L. purpureum was only vaguely familiar to me, as I had seen it on my daily walks growing along the roadside. It was so far off my radar as a medicinal plant that I had trouble remembering what it was. My apprentice pointed it out to me one day on a plant walk and I felt totally incompetent asking her – what is that plant again? In my defense, it is indeed rather obscure in the herbal literature. There is still so much we don’t know, but I do know that our medicine is never any further than where we are right now.

Recommendations:

Taking Purple Dead-nettle when you suffer from allergies will help prevent secondary infections of the sinus, throat and lower respiratory tract. There are no known contraindications. Purple Dead-nettle’s actions have not been extensively researched and documented but may include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antifungal and purgative. Collect entire above ground, aerial parts for food and medicine. I am happy to report that due to the following protocol I am now allergy free!

dead nettle infusion_1525Tincture: 1-2 ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried herb and infuse covered for 10 minutes. Strain and drink as often as desired. To use as a daily tonic for chronic conditions put 1 oz. dried herb in a quart jar, or 1/3 jar filled with chopped fresh herb, fill with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 3-4 hours and drink one quart per day just prior to and at the start of allergy season.

Additional Recommendations:

Supplements: This supplemental regimen may be continued throughout the allergy season. Quercetin (800 mg) with Bromelain (165mg) 3x/day, NOW is a good brand. Bioflavonoids (1,000 mg) 2x/day, and Vit. C (1,000 mg) 3x/day.

Learn more: Spring & The Wood Element 

All content except where otherwise noted © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

References:

Hunting Wild Hydrangea for Prostate Health

Hydrangea aborescens, Photo by Myrna Attaway

Hydrangea arborescens, Photo by Myrna Attaway

Living on the Blue Ridge of the Southern Appalachian Mountains is a blessing. Multiply that by the abundance of medicinal herbs that also live here, and what you have is a rich haven for herbalists. Having survived the advance and retreat of glaciers during the last ice age, the Appalachians, some of the oldest mountains in the world, became a botanical treasure. It is here that I am blessed to study, gather and prepare herbs, and practice herbal medicine.

I have been coming to these Smoky Mountains of North Carolina for as long as I can remember, and I have lived here full time for the last twenty-four years. Like me, lots of folks are finding their way to the mountains in search of a saner, healthier lifestyle and communities in which to raise families and grow old. Unfortunately, more people also means more scars upon the land. While I believe there is enough for everyone, we also have a responsibility to future generations to be good stewards of the land that feeds, sustains, and heals us. For this reason, I would like to share one of my harvesting expeditions.

hydrangea cottage_2876Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is an attractive shrub but nowhere near as flamboyant as its cultivar cousins cherished as ornamentals. Wild Hydrangea is native to the Southern Appalachians, which has allowed me the opportunity to get to know it more intimately. What I discovered is an excellent remedy for inflamed or enlarged prostate. While not a “prostate” herb, per se, because herbs cannot be that easily pigeonholed, it holds a genetic knowledge of its lineage that stretches back for millennia. That brings forth many healing potentials, and we are still discovering them. To describe Wild Hydrangea as simply a prostate herb would not give it enough credit or the respect it deserves as a wise elder.

The study of an imbalance in a person, such as a prostate issue, is called pathophysiology. Modern Medicine studies pathophysiology from the narrow lens of the reductionist viewpoint because the pharmaceuticals prescribed by its practitioners are narrow in their actions. Herbalists have a broader perspective because the plants they use are broad-acting and have many actions. This broad energetic perspective or holistic view naturally leads to searching for patterns. Energetics is another way of saying patterns of organization.

Patterns of imbalance within our body mirror the patterns found in nature: heat/cold, dampness/dryness, contraction/expansion. Self-organization into ordered patterns is seen everywhere in nature. Studying and learning how to read these patterns will help us understand that healing takes place in the context of relationships. Plants are sentient beings that communicate through biochemistry. The understanding of this chemical language is in its infancy. Energetically, Hydrangea is cool and neutral. Its herbal actions are diuretic, anti-lithic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory. Its uses include various kidney, gallbladder, and urinary tract problems.

Hydrangea8435My first trip into the woods (many years ago now) to identify and harvest Wild Hydrangea was on a Full Harvest Moon with my mentor; herbalist, Patricia Kyritsi Howell. It was the perfect time to go digging for Hydrangea’s roots. We carried a basket, canvas bag, and hand clippers into the North Georgia woods. The white flower clusters that bloom May through July were faded and brown but still clung to the shrubs that grow between four to six feet tall. The opposite, broadly ovate and sharply toothed edges of the leaves that are slightly paler underneath made the identification easier for us in the absence of bloom. The stem bark tends to peel off in thin layers, each a slightly different color and thus the common name, Sevenbark.

Wild Hydrangea_1530Patricia writes about Wild Hydrangea in Medicinal Herbs of the Southern Appalachians. I was thrilled that she had agreed to provide me with a personal introduction to this native plant. We walked on through the woods until she stopped and pointed out a few shrubs growing on a steep slope. Getting to them would be difficult. Following Patricia’s lead, I clamored up the bank, digging my heels into the soft, deciduous dirt. Then I began to dig beneath the plant. That was no easy root to free from its tenacious hold. I sweated and dug, pulled, and cut until I held its amazing rhizome and wildly branching root in my hand. I filled the gaping hole that remained with as much dirt and leaf litter as I could manage and clamored back down.

When I turned and looked back up the steep slope, it appeared like a bear had been digging there. I had taken the root of one of three Hydrangea plants that grew in that spot, knowing the importance of leaving enough to ensure continued propagation. Then we decided to climb up to the ridge above the hillside to continue our search. I thought it might be easier to dig from above rather than climb up from below. Not too far from where I had dug up the first Hydrangea root, I saw another small grouping of the shrubs. In the end, I would dig three roots but not before I climbed down over the edge of the bank I had previously climbed up. While hanging off the side, I lost my footing with nothing to hold me but my body pressed against the loose, humus-rich soil and one hand clinging to this small but deep root. I looked down and realized the slide and tumble to the bottom would not be pretty. If I went down, it was going with me. So I dug my heels in deeper while freeing the root from its tenacious hold with one hand and managing to grab a vine with the other, pulling myself up just enough to get one foot in the hole left by the root, enough to propel myself up over the top of the bank. I was very grateful that I didn’t crash and burn. Life, after all, is an adventure.

That gave me a deeper appreciation for the roots of plants that hold and support the soil and its microorganisms on steep mountain slopes. My clamoring had left the mountainside unmistakably vulnerable to erosion even though I had done my best to fill in the holes. We should never underestimate the impact on natural systems when imposing our needs. May we always do our best to keep that impact to a minimum and never take it for granted. I thanked the rich soil beneath my feet and Hydrangea for its medicine root. Three roots were all I needed. Not taking more than we need is one of the keys to ethical harvesting.

Wanting to have enough plant material on hand for making medicine, I had bought some dried and sifted Hydrangea root from a wholesale distributor. But I also knew that preparing local wildcrafted medicines is 1000 times more potent energetically than commercially prepared medicines. These roots that we had gathered would become fresh root tincture started on the full moon and decanted on the new or dark moon — dark like the earth in which she grew. The roots would more readily release their medicine and active constituents during this phase of the waning moon.

“So that’s all you need?” Patricia inquired. And my response was, “Yes, it is enough.” I had accomplished what I had come for: to feel, smell and connect with the medicine plant that was serving my clients. Sometimes healing takes a certain kind of aggressiveness, a willingness to go that extra mile or climb that mountain. Patricia then made a very thoughtful suggestion, “Add a little of the fresh wild root tincture to the commercial dried root tincture. It will remind it of who it is,” and that this is where it came from.

hydrangeas_2877All content except where otherwise noted © 2015 Thea Summer Deer (newly updated and revised in 2022)

References:

Thomas Easley in Conversation with Jesse Wolf Hardin, Herbaria, Plant Healer Magazine, March 24th, 2015

Resources:

Medicinal Herbs of the Southern Appalachians, by Patricia Kyritsi Howell

Hidden Treasure: Kidney Essence & the Water Element at Five Element Academy

Clubmoss: Nature’s Radiation Therapy

© 2014 Thea Summer Deer, all rights reserved

Lycopodium lucidulum

Lycopodium lucidulum

The trail I am following runs parallel to a trickling creek. It leads straight up the hilly cove beneath a canopy of hardwoods and is named the Lily trail. Not named after the fragrant flower but in the memory of a little dog whose name was Lily, a Scottish Cairn Terrier who lived with a friend of mine in this hidden cove.

Alongside the Lily Trail there are statuettes of gnomes, elves, fairies and even one of Lily tucked among the ivy and medicinal plants. The trail was lovingly constructed with wee bridges that cross a spring fed creek. There is even the occasional bench for resting and listening to the sounds of nature and running water. Crystals, mobiles, wind chimes and sun chasers dance from various branches at regular intervals along this magical trail.

I walked this trail among the woodland flowers, medicinal plants and wild edibles frequently when I lived here in a community affectionately known as “The Cove.” It was here that I noticed the fuzzy, rich green plant known as clubmoss. Club-like it grows in abundance alongside the trail because it likes the moist banks above the creek. I had yet to discover its medicinal value. That discovery began quite unexpectedly when a gardener friend handed me, Healing Through God’s Pharmacy, by Maria Treben. My friend is from England and while she is not an herbalist she grows and uses herbs in the Western European Herbal Tradition for herself and her family.

I quickly flipped through the pages of the book and judged it as being archaic and outdated. I thought surely our current research and understanding of the phytochemistry and active constituents of plants had surpassed the simplicity of this book. So, I thanked my friend and handed it back.

Several months later while house sitting for this very same friend I saw the book on her bookshelf and thought, what the heck. So I picked it up and randomly opened to a page describing the moss-like evergreen commonly known as clubmoss. I recognized it immediately as the same plant I had seen in The Cove. Later, I learned that this book has been translated into 24 languages and has sold over 8 million copies even though I had never heard of it.

I was surprised by what I found there. Published in the 1980’s it wasn’t as old as I had thought even though the information contained within it was. Maria Treben was an amazing herbalist. She was a pioneer of the renewed interest in natural remedies and traditional medicine at the end of the 20th century. This book was a treasure.

Maria Treben

Maria Treben

Maria used traditional German/Eastern European remedies handed down by previous generations. These consisted of using only local herbs and diet to successfully treat a wide range of conditions. She used clubmoss to treat cirrhosis, inflammation, and malignancies of the liver. My English friend had been living and suffering with Hepatitis C for decades. I got very excited to think that this might actually be a useful plant for her. So off to The Cove I went to gather clubmoss.

When gathering a plant for medicine I never take more than is needed and always leave an offering. This could be something as simple as a breath given in gratitude, or a hair plucked from my head. In the Native American tradition it is common to leave tobacco or corn meal. Anyone born on American soil is a Native American. So, kneeling down on the soft duff of the forest floor, I offered some hair, knowing that the plant would read my intention and my DNA. Then I gently lifted its trailers with hair like roots from its bed. Mosses have no roots, but this plant I learned is no moss at all. It is an archaic plant over 300 million years old. Club mosses were the dominant land plants during the Carboniferous period and related (as in cousins) to the firs and conifers. Perhaps this partially explains the “archaic” feeling I had when first introduced to Maria’s book.

Mathabo2_8697

In memory of Mathabo Photo by Thea

The second time I was called to harvest clubmoss at the The Cove was for a South African friend. Her name was Mathabo and she was a beautiful young woman whose work included teaching women in her village how to become more self-empowered. I was contacted when she began suffering with severe swelling and pain in her liver, most likely from something she had picked up in the drinking water. By the time I was notified and able to gather the clubmoss, it was too late. She had passed away. I was deeply grieved by the loss of this young one. She lacked money for proper medical care and I will always wonder if there was something more that could have been done for her. It is this desire to help alleviate suffering that keeps me walking the trails, talking to the plants and doing the research.

Clubmoss is very diverse and there are two related families, Lycopodiaceae and Huperziaceae. The genus name Lycopodium means “wolf’s foot”. It is no accident that I discovered Wolf’s Foot growing extensively in The Cove, a community based on the teachings of Seneca Wolf Clan elder, Grandmother Twylah Nitsch. How appropriate to find this medicine named for its resemblance to a wolf’s foot growing so abundantly in a wolf clan community.

Clubmoss is a spore bearing plant that grows mostly prostate along the ground with vertical stems up to 3-4 inches high. Hundreds of millions of years ago the ancient earth contained vast forests filled with giant club mosses. They grew to a hundred feet in height and such primeval forests dominated the landscape of earth millions of years before humans appeared. The remains of these giants in their petrified form constitute the fossil fuels of today.

Lycopodium clavatum

Lycopodium clavatum

The four-year-old plants develop a yellowish spore cone whose pollen is high in sulfur and called lycopodium powder. The powder is highly flammable when mixed in high enough density with air and was used historically as flash powder in early photography. It was also used explosively in fireworks, theatrical special effects and the magic arts. This magical plant that had caught my attention on a magical trail, in a magical cove fully warranted further investigation.Flashmanw046

The use of lycopodium powder from the dry spores of clubmoss doesn’t stop with its highly flammable uses. It was also used in baby powders, fingerprint powders and as a lubricating dust on latex condoms and medical gloves. In physics the powder is used to make sound waves in air visible for observation and measurement, as well as to make an electrostatic charge visible. The powder is highly hydrophobic; if the surface of a cup of water is coated with the powder and you stick your finger straight in, it will come out dusted with the powder and completely dry. In 1807 inventors used lycopodium in the fuel of the first internal combustion engine.

While I had long been aware of Lycopodium as a homeopathic remedy, I had not connected it to this plant. Homeopathic Lycopodium is made from the crushed spores and is a remedy used for digestive failure, deep-seated and progressive chronic diseases, liver disease, and carcinoma. This herb has been used medicinally since the Middle Ages and Homeopathic Lycopodium is presently the most widely used form of this plant.

In the Western European Herbal Tradition, clubmoss was used for treating kidney and bladder related conditions. The whole plant was dried, chopped and prepared as an herbal tea. It is a potent anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic which makes it useful for treating kidney stones.

As I followed the trail in search of more information on Lycopodium I discovered that it is endangered in many areas and protected in certain states. It is considered as critically endangered in Luxembourg and in the past few decades even considered to be extinct. Some of the reasons cited included; threatened by logging, herbicide application, road construction and maintenance, and extirpation.

This threw up a huge red flag for me. If this plant was imperiled in the Appalachians, why was there so much of it growing in The Cove? What began to emerge connected back to Maria Treben’s book on the healing powers of Lycopodium.

Maria Treben points out that what makes clubmoss such an important ally in treating cirrhosis and liver cancer is that it contains radium. Plants absorb radium from the soil and clubmoss concentrates it. Radium occurs at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, water, plants and animals.

Mountain Top Removal Photo via the Widdershins

Mountain Top Removal
Photo via the Widdershins

Radon is a radioactive colorless gas that occurs naturally as the decay product of radium. It is in lethal abundance here in Western North Carolina due to our mountain top removals. The Environmental Protection Agency shows a clear link between lung cancer and high concentrations of radon with radon induced lung cancer deaths second only to cigarette smoking. I knew of such a mountain top removal project less than two miles from The Cove. Where exactly was this wolf’s foot leading me? Could the abundance of Lycopodium be in response to the increase of radon: Radon that was being released into the atmosphere from the nearby mountain top removal? Was it helping to bio-remediate the radon? If Lycopodium concentrates radium, what is its relationship to radon? I have not been able to find any information or sources on this subject. Clearly more research is needed.

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898. Marie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 1911. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for isolating radium, discovering another element, polonium, and her research into the new phenomenon of radioactivity, a word she coined herself.

Once upon a time radium was manufactured synthetically in the US around 1910 and ended up in a lot of products for its purported magical healing properties. Some examples of those products are; chocolate, toothpaste, cosmetics, suppositories, heating pads, wax rods inserted in the urethra to treat impotence, radium water that would cure any number of ailments, and clocks, watches and toys. Needless to say radium got a bad name. Especially when overexposed people started showing up with radiation sickness.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie, discovered new elementals.

We live on a radioactive planet and it is well known that if we are exposed to too much or too little radiation, we get sick. Low-dose radiation is documented to be beneficial for human health, but for political reasons, radiation is assumed harmful at any dose. Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological functions with no adverse affects. There are even radium hotsprings where people go to soak for health benefits.

Radon is the single largest contributor to our background radiation dose and is responsible for the majority of the public’s exposure to ionizing radiation. Radon is formed as part of the normal radioactive decay chain of uranium. Uranium has been present since the earth was formed. High concentrations of radium exist in water and air especially near uranium mines. Plants absorb radium from the soil and animals that eat these plants accumulate radium. It may also concentrate in fish and magnify up the food chain. Uranium, radium and thus radon, will continue to occur for millions of years at about the same concentrations as they do now except that levels of Radon have increased due to burning coal and other fuels and now mountain top removal. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer and birth defects usually caused by gamma radiation of radium, which is able to travel long distances through air. How paradoxical that radium gas extracted from uranium ore is used for cancer treatment.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element in the environment and little information is available on the acute (short-term) non-cancer effects in humans. Radium exposure has resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects. Cancer is the major effect of concern. Radium, via oral exposure, is known to cause bone, head, and nasal passage tumors in humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not classified radium for carcinogenicity.

According to James Muckerheide in a paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Nuclear Engineering in 2000, he stated:

“Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological responses for immune systems, enzymatic repair, physiological functions, and the removal of cellular damage, including prevention and removal of cancers and other diseases. Research on low-level radiation has also shown it to have no adverse effects. Yet, current radiation protection policy and practice fail to consider these valid data, instead relying on data that are poor, ambiguous, misrepresented, and manipulated.”

Wolf in the Seneca tradition is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. It is in this tradition that that I share my theory with you about Lycopodium clavatum, also known as clubmoss or wolf’s foot.

“Wolf medicine empowers the teacher within us all to come forth and aid the children of Earth in understanding the Great Mystery and life.” — from Wolf, Chapter 15, Medicine Cards by Sams & Carson.

Thea and Washee

Thea and Washee

It is my belief that clubmoss made into a pillow and used as recommended by Maria Treben helps to recalibrate and restore the body to it’s natural radioactive frequency in harmony with the Earth. This is Earth-Spirit Medicine, an exciting field of herbal medicine that has appeared on the horizon. We vibrate at a specific frequency creating a resonance and emitting an electrical signal, not unlike those commonly used to keep track of time or to transmit and receive radio signals. The signals that we transmit and receive are part of a grid system that creates a circuit around our crystalline structure. This crystalline structure is part of our Earth and our physical bodies.

“Not really new at all, Earth-Spirit Medicine is being rediscovered at the same time it is evolving to meet our current physical and spiritual needs.” — From Wisdom of the Plant Devas, by Thea Summer Deer

We know that if we are exposed to too little or too much radiation we get sick. When correctly calibrated our cellular structure is restored. I believe that clubmoss restores us to the proper radioactive frequencies. Radio waves, microwaves, EMF’s and all manner of invisible polluting frequencies are bombarding us. If we paid closer attention to the qualities of vibrancy and life-force energy, how different would the choices be that we make with regard to what surrounds us or goes into our bodies? How much closer and in harmony would we be to the frequency of the Earth that heals us and the spirits of the plants that restore us and from which we are made?

How to use clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum):

Actions: anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic

Dosages of different preparations made from the club moss differ and depend on the client.

Clubmoss pillows can be made by filling a small cotton pillowcase or cotton cloth bag with the clubmoss then place over the liver and/or under your pillow while you sleep. This will remain active for up to one year and can greatly help as an anti-spasmodic while recalibrating. It may also help reduce post menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. You can trim off the brown bits that were beneath the ground and while it may seem a bit prickly, when the pillow is stuffed full it will be more cushion like.

Infusion: Simmer 1 ounce of small cut up pieces of the plant (make sure you have a positive identification of Lycopodium clavatum) in one quart of water. Drink one cup per day sipping throughout the day.

Tea: 1 teaspoon per 2 cups of boiling water poured over, steep for ten minutes and drink 2 cups per day on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning.

Homeopathic Lycopodium remedy as directed by your practitioner.

Chinese Medicine: Shen Jin Cao, Property: slightly bitter, pungent, warm; liver, spleen and kidney (Wood, Earth, Water). Action: dispels dampness (Wind), soothes tendons. Indications: weakness and numbness of limbs; traumatic injury. Dosage for topical application is 3-12 grams, used in decoction.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not intend to diagnose or treat. Please seek the advise of a licensed practitioner in your area for any medical related issues. I welcome discussion and feedback, which is critical to ongoing and future research. Please do not ask me to comment beyond the contents or scope of this blog post.

Note: There is another type of clubmoss in the same Lycopodiaceae family growing in the Southern Appalachians and is Appalachian fir-moss, Huperzia appalachiana. Unlike many of the Lycopodium it likes well drained rather than moist soils, direct sunlight and doesn’t creep about over the ground. Appalachian fire-moss is considered imperiled and rare in North Carolina making it vulnerable to extirpation.

References:

Health Effects of Radon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_radon#cite_note-USPHS90-1

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_for_Toxic_Substances_and_Disease_Registry

Tell the Truth About the Health Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation, by James Muckerheide, Science & Technology Magazine: http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/nuclear.html

Resources:

James Muckerheide audios: https://archive.org/details/TheBeneficialEffectsOfLow-doseRadiation1896-1950.JamesMuckerheide

Radium Hot Springs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_Hot_Springs