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Think You Have an Ulcer? Think Again: H. Pylori and Mastic Gum

Pistacia lentiscus in flower

Pistacia lentiscus in flower

I had wanted to write this article on mastic gum as an effective treatment for Helicobacter pylori for some time now, but it was Dr. OZ’s Christmas Eve show that finally did it. When a friend who knew that I had healed myself of H. pylori reported that this and ulcers were the topic of today’s Dr. OZ Show, I was all ears. I was glad the show was helping the general public to make the connection between ulcers and H. pylori, as this has long been overlooked. Regardless, doctors rarely recommend one of the easy tests that detect H. pylori to patients presenting with ulcer symptoms. While kefir was mentioned for these symptoms, most of the folks on the show had never heard of kefir. And while this helps to increase awareness of the importance and necessity for probiotics, kefir doesn’t cure H. pylori.[1] It was when I heard the final recommendation for H. pylori was antibiotics, however, that I knew I couldn’t put off writing this article any longer.

Let me start by sharing my own story. For years I had this on again, off again burning in the pit of my stomach. It was worse at night and felt like a gnawing hunger that might feel better if I ate something to help coat or soothe my stomach, but eating made no difference. After awhile I surmised that I must have an ulcer. I tried digestive enzymes but that didn’t work. Then I tried antacids and H2 blockers, which are completely against my belief system of treating symptoms and not the cause, and they made no difference whatsoever. I did notice, however, that eliminating sugar helped.

mastiha_tear2

Mastic gum resin

Then I had a recurrent mold exposure that launched a raging sinus infection. My eyes swelled shut with yellow puss oozing from them and my throat was so swollen I could hardly swallow. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. So, I immediately went to the doctor who in an effort to keep me out of the hospital gave me what he called “gorilla-cillin,” without ever diagnosing what I had. It was after this round of antibiotics that my sinus infection got better, but the “ulcer” got significantly worse and I started having pressure in my esophagus. I went back to yet another doctor who recommended an endoscopy, so I paid the gastroenterologist a visit but declined the test in favor of doing additional research on my own. This doctor suggested that I might have an ulcer as well as an overgrowth of candida in my esophagus. In my search for the cause of what was creating this havoc in my body, and without wanting to undergo an invasive test, I discovered the information connecting ulcers to H. pylori infection, something that had not been previously mentioned. I also learned that statistically up to 90% of duodenal ulcers might be caused by a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, and not by stress, spicy food or excess stomach acid as had been previously assumed.

So back to the doctor’s office I went for my yearly exam and to request a blood test for the H. pylori bacterium. Several non-invasive tests exist for evaluating the presence of the bacteria including a blood, saliva, stool or a breath test. However, the most reliable method is a biopsy check during endoscopy. I opted for the blood test.

At least half the world’s population is infected with H. pylori making it the most widespread infection in the world, and while H. pylori is contagious, the exact route of transmission is not known. Findings suggest that it is more easily transmitted via gastric mucus than via saliva. It may also be transmitted via contaminated well water, soil, or from food harvested in fields where workers defecate. It is also very possible that houseflies act as a viable source of spread since they frequently come into contact with human food and fecal matter.

When I returned to the doctor’s office for my blood results I sat in the waiting room for almost an hour before being brought into an exam room. I was left there alone for another hour before the doctor finally arrived. During that time in the exam room I noticed a small paperback reminiscent of a Readers Digest on the counter next to the sink. It contained articles on the latest drug recommendations for various conditions and I busied myself reading it. I was surprised when I turned to an article on H. pylori and the recommended drugs and antibiotic cocktail for curing it. H. pylori is obviously a growing concern in the current pharmacological literature.

The doctor finally arrived apologizing for being late, explaining that she had been going over the results of my blood work and was happy to announce and that everything looked normal; good blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, white and red blood cell count, etc. I had to ask her, “what about the H. pylori?” She had completely overlooked it and had to scramble through her paperwork in order to find the results. “Oh!” she said, quite flustered, “You are positive for H. pylori!” Obviously she had not spent the last hour looking over the result of my blood work. I flashed the article on H. pylori from her magazine that I found in her exam room, and told her she might want to read up. She then prescribed the routine antibiotic cocktail, which included flagyl, (an antibiotic drug also used to treat Candida with serious possible side effects[2]). Since I had good insurance at the time I filled the prescription and carried a grocery bag full of antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors home with me.

As I sat contemplating this turn of events, and the fact that a round of antibiotics had put my “ulcer” symptoms over the top in the first place causing what I felt to be an overgrowth of H. pylori, just like they can cause an overgrowth of Candida, I just could not bring myself to take them. In addition, an increasing number of infected individuals harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria and there is a high treatment failure rate (up to 20%) requiring additional rounds of antibiotic therapy, which further discouraged me. It made sense that I had noticed a difference in a reduction of symptoms by eliminating sugar since perhaps sugar feeds H. pylori, just like it does Candida. Then, I started a time line of my symptoms and realized it had been after a round of antibiotics for an earlier sinus infection (also from mold exposure) that the symptoms had initially started. Further research showed that H. pylori is a member of the normal flora of the stomach and helps to regulate stomach acidity. It is only when there is an overgrowth accompanied by symptoms that it becomes problematic. Common sense told me that antibiotics were contraindicated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was clear to me that the H. pylori needed to be brought under control, but not only did I not want to take the antibiotics, I was downright afraid of taking them. So back to the computer I went, this time looking for alternatives to antibiotics. What I found was mastic gum and not surprisingly as I have a lot of faith in plant medicine.

l_410709Mastic gum is a tree resin produced by an evergreen shrub from the pistachio tree family, Pistacia lentiscus. It hails from the Greek island of Chios and is also known as “Chios tears” because once the bark is slit, the resin trickles out slowly creating crystal like “tears.” In some shops it is called “Arabic Gum”, not to be confused with gum arabic. The word mastic is a synonym for gum in many languages and is derived from the Greek verb, “to gnash the teeth”, which is the source of the English word, masticate. Greeks have been chewing on these resin granules for centuries. It is consumed to freshen the breath, cut down on bacteria in the mouth, and remove dental plaque. Ground it is used in a variety of baked goods for its rich aroma and licorice-like flavor. Mastic has been used as a medicine since antiquity and for a variety of gastric ailments in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years. It is still used in traditional folk medicine of the Middle East.

One of my herbal mentors, Patricia Kyritsi Howell goes to Greece every year and affirmed the power of this medicine for healing gastric complaints. Mastic production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin and the islands production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages in the south of Chios. Traditionally there has been limited production of mastic, which was further threatened by the Chios forest fire that swept the southern half of the island in August 2012 and destroyed many of the mastic groves. During the Ottoman rule of Chios, mastic was worth its weight in gold. I would argue that it still is. The benefit of this “tree-medicine,” as I like to call it, is now being rediscovered for its antimicrobial effects. The most exciting of these discoveries is its effectiveness against at least seven different strains of H. pylori with no side effects.

Chios, Greece

Chios, Greece

Helicobactor pylori is a spiral-shaped bacteria which live in the mucosal lining of the stomach. The genus is derived from the ancient Greek “spiral” or “coil”. Pylori means “of the pylorus” or pyloric valve which is the circular opening leading from the stomach into the duodenum and is from an ancient Greek word meaning “gatekeeper.”

How mastic gum works is that is causes changes within the bacteria’s cell structure, causing it to weaken and die. In an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, “Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter pylori” it was suggested that even low doses of mastic gum can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly. In several studies using mastic gum on ulcer patients, the original site of the ulcer caused by the bacterium was completely replaced by healthy epithelial cells.

The protocol that I have found to be the most effective is to start out slowly and increase the amount taken over a three week period as follows:

Mastic Gum Extract, 500 mg. capsules,

Week 1: take 2 in the morning on an empty stomach one hour before breakfast for one week.

Week 2: Up the dosage to 4 per day, adding 2 in the afternoon on an empty stomach.

Week 3: Up the dosage to 6 for a total of 3 grams per day, adding 2 in the evening on an empty stomach (2 hrs. after dinner, one hour before bed.)

Die off can cause nausea so back off on the dosage if you start to feel nauseous. Some folks take a break and then do another round, but you can be retested via a stool sample after a month or so. A blood test will not be accurate because of the antibodies. Be sure to add a good probiotic to your regimen following treatment.

Mastiha_productionI have used this protocol to heal myself of H. pylori and very successfully in my clinical practice. One client shared it with her doctor after the stool sample came back negative. This is why we need herbalists with their “feet on the ground” so to speak. The ones who are working first hand with the plant medicines. We cannot always depend on clinical trials that are funded by pharmaceutical companies, or doctor’s knowledge whose education is also funded by pharmaceutical companies. The more of us who share our herbal knowledge, the more we will learn how to alleviate suffering and hopefully bring enough attention to alternative medicine to get the research funded that is so badly needed.  It is in this spirit that I share my experience with the tree medicine of mastic gum. I can also attest that the results are long lasting as it has been six years since curing my H. pylori. My yearly physical exam was last month and I am happy to announce that the blood work (I had to specifically request a test for H. pylori) came back negative for the bacterium. And so it is.

References:

1. Wang KY, Li SN, Liu CS et al. (September 2004). “Effects of ingesting Lactobacillus- and Bifidobacterium-containing yogurt in subjects with colonized Helicobacter pylori. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80 (3): 737–41.

2. Pounder RE, Ng D (1995). “The prevalence of Helicobacter pylori infection in different countries”. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 9 (Suppl 2): 33–9.

3. Cave DR (May 1996). “Transmission and epidemiology of Helicobacter pylori“. Am. J. Med. 100 (5A): 12S–17S; discussion 17S–18S

4 Brown LM (2000). Helicobacter pylori: epidemiology and routes of transmission”. Epidemiol Rev 22 (2): 283–97.

5 Blaser MJ (February 2005). “An endangered species in the stomach”. Sci. Am. 292 (2): 38–45. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0205-38

6. Al-Said MS, Ageel AM, Parmar NS, Tariq M. Evaluation of mastic, a crude drug obtained from Pistacia lentiscus for gastric and duodenal anti-ulcer activity. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;15:271-8.


[1] An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that “ingesting lactic acid bacteria exerts a suppressive effect on Helicobacter pylori infection in both animals and humans,” noting that “supplementing with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium containing yogurt was shown to improve the rates of eradication of H. pylori in humans. (see reference below)

[2] Metronidazole crosses the placental barrier and enters fetal circulation rapidly. It is prescribed during pregnancy for the vaginal infection, trichomoniasis. Metronidazole is a carcinogen and may cause serious central and peripheral nervous system side effects such as: convulsive seizures, meningitis, and optic neuropathy.

The Weed and the Vine: Anecdotal Evidence for Nature’s Antidote

By Thea Summer Deer with Jamie MacLeod

Jewelweed (Impatients capensis)

Impatients capensis

Entering the Pisgah National Forest we journeyed over the creek and into the woods to discover the blooming crowns of jewelweed. It made me wonder if jewel-weed isn’t some king of oxymoron like cruel-kindness or definitely-maybe. But there is no maybe about it – she is definitely a jewel of a weed.Jamie Woods

The intention for this summer day was for my apprentice, Jamie, and I to harvest the aerial parts of jewelweed in all of its abundance and learn more about her medicine. Ice cube trays full of fresh juice from the stem and leaves would be frozen, popped into baggies and stored in the freezer awaiting the aftermath of someone’s unfortunate encounter with poison ivy, oak or sumac. Even an insect bite or a reactive sting from our dear friend stinging nettle can be soothed by the astringent and anti-inflammatory combination of jewelweed along with the numbing effect of ice.

Jamie_JewelweedEquipped with a large plastic bag we gathered about ten jewelweed plants, just enough for juicing through a Champion juicer. You can also chop then succus the aerial parts of jewelweed in a blender or food processor with just enough water to cover in order to release the gel-like soothing mucilage. While out in the woods you can simply rub the fresh plant between the palms of your hands for immediate use as a poultice and to prevent a reaction to poison ivy. It is believed that jewelweed is more effective at washing the oil away that causes a rash from poison ivy than soap. Typically jewelweed and poison ivy can be found in the same area making it a very convenient antidote.

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis is in the Balsaminaceae, “Touch-Me-Not” family. It is a two to five foot tall annual plant that often forms large colonies in moist or wet habitats. Growing in colonies as it does makes it possible to harvest many plants with very little effort by pulling them up in bunches and trimming off the roots. Once harvested jewelweed wilts quickly. Its alternate and ovate shaped leaves are one to four inches long and are water-repellent. The entire plant is smooth and translucent and after a rain become covered with beads of water that reflect the light presenting a jewel-like appearance and giving it the common name, jewelweed.

jewelweed

I. capensis

I. pallida

I. pallida

Jewelweed flowers are orange or yellow and hang like pendants from a thread-like stalk. They are irregular, with five petals: the upper two are united; the lower three separate with reddish brown spots. I. capensis has orange flowers while I. pallida has yellow flowers. Both species have the same medicinal properties. Jewelweed blooms from July to September and is best harvested during June or July. In late fall the ripe seedpods can be eaten and taste similar to walnuts. It’s common name, “touch-me-not: describes how the ripe seed pods explode when touched, flinging seeds far from the plant.

Jamieweb100_1333Not satisfied with just one hike into the woods to admire the jewel like faces of her flowers a few short weeks later we found ourselves hiking out again. This time it was along the Oconaluftee River in the Cherokee National Forest down a path lined with Cherokee medicinal plants. It was here that we found the largest patch of jewelweed we had ever seen. It was literally over our heads. The Cherokee used jewelweed juice for all of the same purposes mentioned above.

According to folklore jewelweed is always found growing near poison ivy, and we found this to be true on both of our hikes into the forest. Poison ivy is actually an imposter and not a true ivy (Hedera). A trailing or climbing vine it is most commonly found along tree line breaks at the edge of the forest and is only somewhat shade tolerant. Development of real estate adjacent to undeveloped land has engendered its formation. Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, has doubled since the 1960’s and will double again as a result of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  These elevated levels of carbon dioxide from global warming are creating bigger, stronger poison ivy plants that produce more urushiol, the oil that causes a poison ivy rash. The urushiol isn’t just more plentiful it also more potent.  A super good reason to keep some jewelweed ice cubes in your freezer.Jamie YellowJW100_1334

Both poison ivy and jewelweed are considered invasive but are not as damaging as invasive exotics. These native plants tend to take over an area but they don’t do as much damage because they evolved with native insects and other plants. Jewelweed’s ability to aggressively reseed enables it to out-compete other native vegetation.  We saw evidence of this on the Cherokee trail when we discovered a literal forest of jewelweed.  Its replacement of perennial vegetation on riverbanks may lead to increased soil erosion because of its delicate roots.  It also produces alluring nectar, which may potentially attract pollinators away from other native plants reducing their seed set.

photo by Marion Skydancer

photo by Marion Skydancer

In Timothy Lee Scott’s controversial book, Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, he asks, “So what happens if we were to shift our point of view and see an invasive plant (weed) as useful?”  He points out the waste of energy and the millions of dollars spent enlisting various invasive plant coalitions, universities, environmental conservation groups, state and federal agencies, along with the herbicide industry, in an attempt to eradicate invasive plants.  The use of machinery and millions of gallons of herbicides polluting both soil and water throughout the world is costing us billions.

Clinical herbalist, Michael Tierra argues on the topic of whether or not to control invasive plants depends on the invasive. Perhaps poison ivy is phytoremediating carbon dioxide and we would do better to look at how we have contributed to the invasion through the destruction and disturbance of habitat.  If poison ivy is the enemy than jewelweed is a fortunate antidote.

If we remain open to the intelligence of plants we will see that there is an interrelationship between invasives and the broader web of life.  I, personally, even after a lifetime of camping, hiking and hanging out in the woods and many direct encounters with poison ivy have been fortunate to never experience a rash.  As an herbalist, however, I feel a responsibility to keep as many medicines as I can on hand, like jewelweed ice cubes in my freezer.

While out weeding my garden this week I pondered the dilemma of weeds and invasives. Certainly we have always been in partnership with nature, creating beautiful spaces by removing what doesn’t serve the garden landscape and leaving other areas to nature’s hand.  It is a partnership gone awry as we disconnect from nature, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal so I offer you my testimony in favor of nature’s hand.  Being the eternal optimist I am hopeful that we will continue to find the value in weeds, leave well enough alone where we may, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

References:

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians by Patricia Kyritsi Howell

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, by Timothy Lee Scott.

Study with Thea Summer Deer at Wise Woman University ~ reweaving the healing cloak of the ancients.

Secrets of Wood Nettle

by Thea Summer Deer with Jamie MacLeod

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Sipping our freshly harvested and dried batch of wood nettle infusion, we can’t help but ponder on the goodness contained within this chlorophyll rich plant. Her color is an iridescent, deep forest green, singing with aliveness. The word psychedelic comes to mind. My apprentice, Jamie, is too young to truly appreciate the reference to an era that exploded into our consciousness more than four decades ago. She wasn’t even born yet. But this is the beauty of our journey together with the wood nettle, a journey that starts with a hike into the forest to teach and learn about plants that can heal us. It is a timeless journey: An older woman with long white hair makes an offering to the earth and a prayer of gratitude to the spirit of the plant she is gathering. The younger woman, strong and lithe, bends to cut and gather the herb with her long blonde curls falling around face and shoulders.

We are carrying on an ancient wisdom tradition. It is the Wise Woman Tradition. And while much of what we know about these plants originated in the Western European Herbal Tradition, which was largely lost during the inquisition and systematic persecution of “witches,” we are keeping it alive and carrying it forward in a new way. Aided by the tools of science we know much more about these healing plants than we did in our ancient past. When we bring the healing modalities of the ancients together with the best of current models of medicine a new model emerges: one in which the whole person is seen in the light of a new understanding. The Wise Woman model teaches us this, and to trust our inner guidance and intuition. Wisdom comes as a result of marrying heart and mind.

Early flowering

Early flowering

Curious about the medicinal properties of wood nettle as compared to its cousin the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) we can only assume that it offers similar benefits. It is surprising how little information we could find to confirm this. It becomes immediately apparent that more research is needed. We sip our wood nettle infusion and confer. It clearly holds the same energetic properties: cooling, slightly bitter, salty and astringent.

Wood nettle is native to the eastern half of North America and is prized by foragers as food and medicine. Its species name, canadensis is a term used in taxonomy to describe species that are indigenous to North America, whereas stinging nettle is native to Europe. Wood nettle has fewer stinging hairs, but don’t get too cozy with it as Jamie’s gentle brushing action still ended her up with a few painful stings. Or you could get cozy and experience the practice of urtication, a folk remedy that dates back over two thousand years. Urtication includes intentionally stinging oneself to provoke inflammation and stimulate the immune system providing relief from arthritic pain and rheumatic complaints.  By actively stinging the skin around an affected joint the inflammation will subside for up to a week. This topical application makes use of nettles’ rubefacient action, which produces redness of the skin by causing dilation of the capillaries and increasing circulation.

It was a beautiful cool day in the mountains when we found wood nettle growing in the woods near my house. A perennial, we harvested it only a couple of weeks before it flowered in mid June. One of the ways wood nettle can be distinguished from its close relative is by its alternate rather than opposite leaves that are larger and wider with more rounded bases. There are also differences in the characteristics of their flowers. Wood nettle is monoecious plant, meaning it holds both male and female flowers on a single plant while stinging nettle is a dioecious plant having both make and female strains with the flowers appearing on the female plant. Both plants, however, are in the same nettle family, urticaceae.

stinging hairs

stinging hairs

Nettles have a long history of medicinal use and as a remedy in the treatment of arthritis.  Nettle leaf contains active compounds that reduce inflammatory response.  It is also used as galactagogue to increase mother’s milk and promote lactation.  Nettle root extracts have been extensively studied in human clinical trials as a treatment for the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

As a food, wood nettle has a flavor similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It is a tonic that builds the blood. Native Americans harvested the young plants in the spring and boiled them as a pot-herb. They also knew about its ability to strengthen and support the whole body and its use as general detoxifying remedy. The Meskwaki, a Native American people originally from the Great Lakes region, used the inner bark of the wood nettle to make a nettle thread that was used in the making of cattail mats. A fiber obtained from the stem is used for making nets and cordage and is considered 50 times stronger than cotton.

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

So why is there so little information available about wood nettle?  She must be the best kept secret in the Appalachian mountains where we found her growing not too far from the creek in the Pisgah National Forest. For the record, we found her to be every bit as tasty, and a wee bit less inhospitable as her cousin, although you still wouldn’t want to rub her the wrong way. And with all of the known benefits of stinging nettles, from her chlorophyll rich fortifying tonic to her ability to restore the kidneys and adrenals ~ inquiring minds want to know what woodland secrets wood nettles has yet to tell. As renowned herbalist David Hoffman says, “When in doubt, give nettles.” Does this apply to wood nettle? Surely someone is the keeper of this mystery ~ and I’ll bet it’s the wood nettle fairy. I’ll be green with envy if you find her first. I have a feeling wood nettle knows the secrets of the earth.

Note:

Jewelweed is the antidote for nettle stings ~ watch for her story in an upcoming blog post.

All photos ©2013 by Thea Summer Deer except stinging nettles hair.

To make a nettles infusion: Place 1 ounce of dried herb in a quart jar cover with boiling water, cover and let stand 4 hours or overnight. Strain and drink one quart daily.

References:

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman

Wisdom of the Plant Devas by Thea Summer Deer

Plants For A Future

A Mid-Summer’s Evening Primrose and Menopausal Ally

PrimroseThea_8084

Photo by Nicholas

Hiking in the high desert with renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, at the beginning of my menopausal years was a gift from the goddess. Susun had come to Tucson, AZ to meet with her editor, Betsy Sandlin, in order to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years manuscript. With Betsy in the midst of her change it couldn’t have been better timing.

Pollinator bee approaching

Pollinator bee approaching

A mutual friend had gathered us together for a morning hike through the saguaros in the Santa Catalina Mountains beneath Mount Lemmon, named for the botanist and mountain trekker, Sarah Plummer Lemmon. Sarah trekked to the top by mule and foot in the late 1880’s with Native American guides who called this granite mountain above the heart of the city, “Frog Mountain.”

Oenothera biennis

Oenothera biennis

As we retraced Sarah’s footsteps at the base of this city’s backyard wilderness, I confessed to Susun that I was experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and was concerned. “Oh! You’re experiencing menstrual flooding, are you?” she responded. A flood it was. Welcome to perimenopause. I was relieved to have the diagnosis, but I was only in my late thirties and wondered if it was normal to be experiencing this kind of bleeding. She reassured me that it was a symptom of early menopause and suggested that I take capsules of Evening Primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with Vitex berries (aka Chasteberry) to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even gave me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol (see below). It worked like a miracle. I will be forever grateful for the synchronicity of that morning and the information that I now get to share with you as we pass it down the Wise Woman way.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a biennial wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The Evening Primrose that most of us are familiar with is the yellow flowering variety in a genus of about 125 species. Native to North and South America it is not closely related to the true primroses (Primula). In the Desert Southwest the fragrant tufted Evening Primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, is a southwestern species that first blooms white, but turns pink or light magenta. Most native desert species are white.

Primrose_0944True to its name the flowers open in the evening but will stay open for most of the following day. They can be seen on a dark night from a distance possibly due to some phosphorescence in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are specifically designed to gather pollen from the Evening Primrose flowers are effective pollinators. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall and it is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil.

Primrose_0948Evening Primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. This rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid is found in only three other plants: black currants, borage seeds, and hemp seeds. Because the human body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids it is recommended to use evening primrose in combination with fish oil containing omega-3 EFA’s.

The seed oil of O. biennis is used clinically in Britain to reduce the symptoms of PMS, most notably the pain of menstrual cramps and breast tenderness. It may even protect against breast cancer. Additionally, evening primrose oil is thought to aid in fertility by improving the quality of the mucus lining the cervix. The oil extracted from its seeds has long been a favorite of women for female reproductive disorders. Midwives use it both orally and topically to aid the cervix in ripening for birth.

This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory used to ease the symptoms of arthritis, colitis, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension and high cholesterol as well as dry skin conditions and eczema. It eases prostate swelling in older men, too. Evening primrose oil is considered a carrier oil in the world of aromatherapy and is prized for its abundant food, health, cosmetic and medicinal benefits.

Evening Primrose Photos by Thea

Evening Primrose
Photos by Thea

Back home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina Evening Primrose grows abundantly all around me. The Cherokee use it as a food source eating the leaves as greens and boiling the young root. While I had been introduced to many naturalized European imports in my herbal studies, it was refreshing to discover a native of North America that had been successfully introduced in Europe and naturalized in England as a garden escapee.

Evening Primrose continues to be an ally for me, even after menopause aiding in keeping my heart healthy, reducing inflammation and alleviating joint pain. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of the manuscript Susun had shared with me. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:

“Betsy and I discovered we both thought of you as anything but ‘Cynthia!’ Hope you don’t object to my shortening your name to ‘goddess,’ Thea.”

Well, of course I didn’t object to being called a goddess! And that’s how I not only met a new herbal ally, but also claimed a new name. So, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, Evening Primrose is an ally that serves the goddess well.

Recommendations:

Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommended dosages for specific needs.

Evening Primrose seed oil 1,300mg softgel 2x/day (Solgar or Barlean’s) up to 3,000/daily

Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus is a slow acting herb and it may take up to 3 months to see an effect. Supports women achieving menopause either naturally or through surgery, radiation or drugs. Naturally increases levels of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (by nourishing and increasing the responsiveness of the body’s own feedback systems). While this can be helpful during early menopause it needs to be used more judiciously during the “melt-down” years when too much LH is dilating the blood vessels causing hot flashes and palpitations. Inhibits prolactin and over 50% of women experiencing PMS have high levels of prolactin. Helps to keep cycles more regular. Especially useful for women experiencing fibroids, endometriosis (anti-inflammatory effect on the endometrium), emotional mood swings or hysteria, and fertility issues. Long term results come from long term use up to two years. Not for use during pregnancy except as directed by your midwife or health care practitioner. Is an anti-aphrodisiac for men hence the name “chasteberry,” yet increases women’s libido when taken over time.

Vitex Extract: 1000 mg. daily (Gaia Herbs) Vitex Tincture: 1:4 Take 1 dropperful/1 ml (approx. 30 drops) of tincture 3-4/x day.

References:

New Menopausal Years, by Susun Weed

Delmar’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, by Martha Libster

A Modern Herbal ,Volume 1, by Mrs. M. Grieve

Frog Mountain Blues, by Charles Bowden

Register now for Thea Summer Deer’s work-at-your-own-pace class, Heal Your Heart: Summer & the Fire Element at Wise Woman University.

Headache Free in Every Season

RedClover Illus_webHeadaches sufferers know that this is no way to live yet most don’t know the cause of their debilitating condition. I frequently hear “dehydration,” “too much sugar,” and “stress,” mentioned as common triggers. While dehydration may seem like an easy fix, many don’t understand the effects of long-term dehydration resulting from depletion of deep yin fluids. Making the effort to correct a yang driven, stress filled lifestyle doesn’t always come easy when living in a driven society. Headache powders and pills can keep us going most of the time and for those severe migraines, forced down time can result in loss of work and productivity. We frequently push ourselves to keep going even when our bodies are crying for us to slow down. This pattern, especially when reinforced with toxic mimics like caffeine, can be incredibly depleting. The question that comes to mind is: Why has so much value been placed on the human doing while neglecting the human being and at what cost? It’s a story as old as time, but that story is changing. The human potential movement has us demanding new answers and new solutions. The paradox is that answers have been here all along. They are no further than we are right now. We are standing on our medicine.

Orthodox medicine considers the underlying cause of migraine to be unknown.  What we do know, and what migraine sufferers are constantly aware of, is that there are triggers that generally precede the onset of a migraine headache. Headaches in general are the most common health problem and the most common side effect from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. All prescription medications are yin depleting, or in other words, drying to deep yin fluids necessary to not only cool the liver and keep it from overheating, but also to lubricate the entire body. In a society where it is easy to simply take a pill for a headache, we have not thought to differentiate between types of headaches as is done in Chinese Medicine according to the meridians and specific symptoms.  Just like the Eskimo have many words to describe snow, there are many different ways to describe headache. The two most common types are vascular headaches (dilation of blood vessels) and tension headaches (muscle spasms).

burdockrootThe most common triggers for migraine headache are stress (physical, emotional or mental) and fatigue.  Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an elegant system that describes patterns of disharmony through its Five Element Theory. We all know that stress affects hormones. In the energetic model of TCM the Liver, or the Wood Element, is largely responsible for regulating hormones.  The Wood Element is responsible for holding and releasing substances at the proper time including hormones and emotions.  Disharmony in the liver disrupts these processes and is almost always implicated in any kind of headache, especially cyclical or seasonal headaches. Other triggers can include environmental and dietary.  In all cases, migraines are the result of disruption of liver qi.

When liver qi or energy is disrupted due to liver congestion and stagnancy, liver heat rises, causing a turbulent inner wind.  This is a ‘wind’ that smacks us upside the head, so to speak.  Migraine symptoms like light sensitivity (Wood Element sense organ correspondence is the eyes) nausea (rebellious liver qi, energy moving up instead of down) or a migraine provoked by anger (repressed or otherwise) along with an increasing frequency of migraine episodes in the spring, all implicate the liver’s role in migraine headaches. We see this through the Wood Element’s correspondences of eyes (sense organ), anger (root emotion) and spring (season.)

spring salad2_9777Relieving liver congestion is fundamental to improving headaches of any kind and can be achieved with proper diet, rest, nutrition, and nourishing and tonic herbs.  Tonic herbs are herbs that are taken over a period of time usually from 3 months to a year. The longest lasting result from herbs is seen in their tonic ability to restore bodily systems. Some of the better know hepatic tonics include: dandelion, burdock root and yellow dock.  Herbs that help to restore the yin fluids that cool the liver are: licorice root, reishi mushroom, schizandra, nettles and red clover.  Eating a lighter diet that includes the bitter flavor and lots of spring greens with herbal vinegar dressing or fresh lemon is helpful in clearing liver heat (see recipe link below.)  Full sweet (whole grains, legumes, sweet potato, winter squash, etc.) is harmonizing to the liver and increases liver qi (energy for the liver to do its work.)  If you suffer with migraines you may do well to work with an alternative medicine practitioner (herbalist, naturopath, chiropractor, acupuncturist) who understands and uses these concepts in their practice.

Adaptogenic herbs become a very important consideration when helping the body adapt to environmental and internal stress. They help restore balance and are another strategy to increase the body’s resistance to stressors and provide a defense response to acute chronic stress. Adaptogens are unique in their ability to restore balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system, prevent and reduce illness while strengthening the body.  Indandelion_9765 TCM adaptogenic herbs are considered qi tonics that strengthen and stimulate the immune and defense functions of the body. Some examples of adaptogenic herbs are He shou wu, Ashwaganda, Licorice, Schisandra and Reishi. By normalizing neurotransmitter levels in the brain adaptogens are used to prevent and treat neurological health problems including headaches and migraines.

The more we wake up and realize that increased productivity actually comes from replenishing and nourishing ourselves at the deepest level the more we realize our human potential. Nourishment comes in many forms including wholesome foods and the herbs listed above as well as creative expression and a life filled with purpose and meaning. The good new is: There is hope for headache sufferers in every season.

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s class, Love Your Liver: Spring and the Wood Element, a work at your pace, online class at Wise Woman University. For an edible spring weed recipe visit: Thea’s Kitchen. Visit Thea Summer Deer: www.theasummerdeer.com

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Grindelia

Grindelia squarrosa

By Thea Summer Deer

all photos by Thea

I must confess. I am having a love affair with the American Southwest. Granted, I lived there for practically a decade and go back almost every year to visit, but sometimes it feels like being torn between two lovers. In the Southeast my love is for the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains where I live and it is rooted in personal history and medicinal plant life diversity. The Southwest on the other hand is the new frontier where fragile and powerful medicinal plants have adapted to the harshest of extremes. They grow protected within the arms of desert canyons, surrounded by cathedrals of stone and mountain ranges with names like, Sangre de Cristo, that reflect what is sacred and holy. One place is yin, cool, moist, and holding. The other is yang, hot, dry and expansive. Migrating between the two seems to be one of the ways I restore personal balance.

So it is that I return to the Southwest year after year in order to satisfy my longing for a greater sense of space and light, the smell of roasting chili peppers and piñon pine, Native culture and a landscape sacred and sublime. It has become my ritual on this yearly pilgrimage to find and name one new plant with whom to spend the year communing.

Grindelia

This past year it was Grindelia squarrosa, or more affectionately, Curlycup Gumweed. A small, aromatic plant in the Asteraceae family, Grindelia is known for its copious amount of milky white resin found on the immature flower heads. When I first started wildcrafting this herb I found its resinous sticky latex to be quite sexy, but it serves as protection against herbivores, not for procreation. The medicinal properties of this plant also seem to reside in the resin that it exudes, a resin that may replace pine resin in some applications. A patent has even been issued for a freeze resistant latex prepared from Grindelia extract that is added to latex paint. Grindelia contains a storehouse of chemicals, including resins, diterpenes (grindelic and tannic acid), flavonoids, volatile oils and the alkaloid grindeline, which may be responsible for its bitter principle.  It has a balsamic (pine) odor and bitter taste.

Rob Hawley

I was introduced to Grindelia on a plant identification walk in Taos, New Mexico led by Dr. Rob Hawley, co-founder of Taos Herb Company* and a student of Michael Moore. Officially recognized in the United States Pharmacopoeia in the late 1800’s it was Michael Moore, the “godfather” of American herbalism who rescued it from obscurity. The flowers are yellow and small, about 1 inch in diameter with distinctive curved bracts around the base of the flower head. It is a biennial or short-lived perennial that blooms from June through September and propagates itself through oblong, cream colored seeds. There are some 50 species; camporum and robusta to name a few, and all are native to Western North America and highly drought resistant. Robusta most closely resembles squarrosa.  Grindelia can be found in pastures, rangelands and in disturbed or waste areas.

Native Americans used this plant as a remedy for poison ivy, poison oak and a host of other ailments. Early American settlers used it for whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and colds. It has been described as sedative, tonic, antispasmodic and stimulating expectorant. Medicine is made in the form of tinctures or infusions from the leaves and flowering tops, which are collected when the plant is in full bloom and can be used fresh or dried.

Today, Grindelia is considered to be valuable in dealing with cases of bronchial asthma due to its anti-spasmodic and expectorant action. It acts to relax smooth muscles including the heart muscle which may explain its use in the treatment of asthmatic and bronchial conditions, especially when associated with rapid heartbeat and nervous response. It also slows and regulates the pulse through its sedative action and may reduce blood pressure. The internal use is of particular interest and value to me because I have a granddaughter who suffers with asthma. It is no accident that the spirit of Grindelia called for me to come closer so I could get to know her better, or that my friend Toni Leigh, former owner of Desert Blends of Taos, would send me home with a Grindelia tincture she had wildcrafted and made herself. If we learn to listen we will be called, and if we come when we are called we will be gifted for the gifts of nature are infinitely abundant.

Grindelia can be easily taken as an infusion by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of the herb, steep for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3x a day. In the form of a tincture (1:5 with 80% alcohol) take 1.5-3 ml (20-40 drops) up to 3x a day.

*Taos Herb Company carries wildcrafted Grindelia

References:

Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, by David Hoffmann

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, by Michael Moore