On a recent field trip to H Mart, an Asian supermarket near Atlanta, Georgia, I drove south from my mountain home in anticipation of new discoveries and old treasures. Having previously lived in San Francisco, I knew the excitement of exploring an Asian grocery store, large or small.
Asian markets are a great way to save on medicinal herbs, exotic foods, seaweeds and fungi — an experience not to be missed. Lost in extensive rows of mushrooms and seaweeds between a fish market and food court, I could have easily spent an entire day at H Mart. The “H” in H Mart is short for Han Ah Reum, meaning “One Arm Full of Groceries.” One of the medicinal herbs I brought home is Polygonatum, native to east Asia. It is also a plant that grows in my backyard, in the surrounding woods where I live in Asheville, North Carolina.
Polygonatum is a perennial herb that belongs to the Asparagaceae (Asparagus) family, and in older classification systems, like many of the lilioids, was placed in the broadly defined lily family. A genus that contains approximately 50 species of flowering plants known as Solomon’s Seal, it is a common plant in the Appalachians, and can be found flowering between May and June.
Some species are considered medicinal, most notably; Polygonatum biflorum, odoratum, and sibiricum. The species common to Eastern North America is Polygonatum biflorum, referring to the pairs of flowers growing along the leaf axis. The young shoots are edible and may be cooked like asparagus.
The medicinal part of the plant is the rhizome, which is harvested in the fall, then dried and sliced. Native Americans used it as food and medicine. Early settlers valued the rhizome as a food for its starch content. Young shoots can be collected in the spring, not unlike asparagus, and added to soups and stews. Roasted rhizomes can be ground into flour. Solomon’s Seal can be ethically harvested by leaving the portion of the rhizome connected to the stalk intact. New shoots will grow from where the rhizome had been cut.
An elegant Native American woodland plant, Solomon’s Seal likes to grow at the edge of moist woods. Its foliage is poised along a graceful arched stem with dangling pairs of creamy white, tubular fairy bellflowers. These are followed by attractive black seedpods.
The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the healed over scars of the rhizome left by old leaf stems and which resemble a wax seal, presumably the official wax seal of King Solomon. Stem scars also tell us how old the plant is, with one scar for each year of growth. When the rhizome is cut, the cross section reveals a 6-pointed Star of David. Solomon became king during the reign of his father, King David, and was credited with possessing the precious quality of wisdom.
“The Medicine Wheel Garden as it exists on Earth is a three-dimensional representation of the ‘as above, so below mysteries.’ It is in the shape of a circle that contains a six pointed star, and it is a mirror of the heavens. As it sits on the earth in three-dimensional reality, it represents the six directions: east, south, west, north, above, and below. Within this garden grows all the food and medicine that sustains us in our current form while simultaneously feeding our evolution into our light bodies.”
Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth
When Solomon prayed to God for wisdom he did not pray for wealth, nor did he wish death to his enemies, but rather he longed for discernment in the administering of justice. The metaphor is one of wise governance and possessing the ability to distinguish between good and evil through an understanding of the universe. For this reason, “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)
Wisdom and Heart (Heart-Mind) both correspond with the Fire Element in Chinese Five Element Theory. The Fire Element rules the nervous system, and Solomon’s Seal helps us adapt to stress by restoring the cooling fluids of the deep feminine yin, which keeps masculine Fire from burning out of control. Solomon’s Seal relaxes the nervous system and treats yin deficient conditions, especially when they involve emotional disturbances and stress. In this manner, Solomon’s Seal acts as an adaptogen.
The key actions of Solomon’s Seal are demulcent, expectorant, sedative, and tonic. In Chinese Medicine it is known Yu Zhu, and is most prized as a yin tonic. Yin tonics work by restoring the Water Element (Kidney), which cools the Liver (Wood Element). Tendons and ligaments are the body part that correspond with the Wood Element, and this is why Solomon’s Seal is used to help heal injured tendons, and restore proper tension to ligaments. It does this by its ability to nourish yin, moisten dryness, and to nourish and moisten sinews. Solomon’s Seal also quells wind, relieving pain and spasms due to wind generated fluid deficiency.
Connective tissues that are dry lack flexibility. Yin fluids must be adequate if we are to remain flexible, especially in times of change. Otherwise, an overheated Liver from lack of fluids will cause Wood to break when the winds of change blow, no different than a tree from lack of Water. By increasing synovial fluid, Solomon’s Seal also helps to reduce inflammation in the joints.
Historically Solomon’s Seal was also used for respiratory and lung disorders. It has an affinity for the lung and stomach. Yu Zhu is used in Chinese herbal soups to relieve dry coughs due to lung yin deficiency. It moistens dryness in the lungs and acts as spleen and stomach tonic, improving appetite and reducing fatigue.
We would not want to conclude this discussion of Solomon’s Seal without mentioning False Solomon’s Seal. False Solomon’s seal is a completely different genus and species, Maianthemum racemosum and should be avoided, as it resembles other deadly plants when young. Itproduces terminal flowers in a feathery plume while Solomon’s Seal produce non terminal flowers from the axils of the leaves. The way to know the difference between the two is like knowing the difference between a true and a false friend. A real friend you can depend on to be true through and through (the way the flowers are dispersed on Solomon’s Seal) and a false friend puts on a good front (feathery flowers at the end of the stem.)
By coming into relationship with the healing power of plants we become empowered to be our own healers. Solomon’s Seal is an especially important ally for these transformational times, beckoning us to enter the forest’s hidden secrets on a lesser-traveled path, a path lighted by breaking waves of Polygonatum’s fairy-like lanterns. Enter…
Energetics: Sweet, slightly cold, Neutral
Nourishing soup stock: Add dried Polygonum to your favorite soup stock and simmer for a minimum of two hours. Rinse and soak briefly before using. Choose dried herb that is soft and has a white yellowish color. Can be found in most Asian markets and herbal shops.
Decoction: 1 ounce dried rhizome to 1 quart water, or 2 tablespoons per pint. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then steep for 40 minutes, strain.
Dosage: Drink 4 ounces, three to four times a day.
Tincture: Fresh root – 1:3 in 95%. Dried Root, 1:5 in 50%.
Dosage: 5-10 drops, 3x/day, or follow product label directions
Contraindications:Polygonatum is considered safe: The American Products Association has given it a class 1 rating, meaning that it can be consumed safely when used appropriately. Due to its sweet and cooling nature, Polygonatum is contraindicated in spleen deficiency with dampness, or coughs with profuse phlegm, stomach deficiency, phlegm-damp, phlegm stagnation, or qi stagnation. Do not use in case of loose stools due to cold.
I am blessed with a daughter and son-in-law who are talented massage therapists. When they undertook opening and running a successful massage therapy center in Asheville’s hip west side, I couldn’t have been more proud. Not only would they experience the growth opportunities inherent in owning their own business, they would also be providing a valuable service in these unprecedented and transitional/transformational times. Now that spas have come back on line, they are again able to serve their community at a time when it is needed most.
Massage is not only essential for tense, overworked muscles and to calm the mind, it also helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. I have personally found the benefit received from a massage with moderate pressure from a good therapist, to be an invaluable investment in restoring my deep yin, adrenal reserves.
When my daughter was a young girl, she would rub and massage me, and I would say to her, “You have great hands! You should be a massage therapist.” Not only did she become an excellent therapist, she partnered with one! I have been getting professional massages for over forty years, and now that I am 65, I can’t imagine a wellness, or longevity plan, that doesn’t include regular massage.
Many of us over the years have burned the candle at both ends, pushing ourselves with caffeine, sugar, and chocolate, until “burn out” left us searching for ways to replenish and restore. The toll of stress on our nervous system, which keeps us in sympathetic nervous system response, goes mostly unnoticed as we continue to push through our day. We have become valued for human doings, rather than human beings.
The sympathetic nervous system is where fight, flight, or freeze gets turned on. If the switch gets stuck in the “on” position, our deep, cooling, yin reserves become depleted. The result is that we become anxious, fearful and angry. It is well known that massage helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The Parasympathetic nervous system is where rest and digest gets turned on. The heart rate slows, and energy is conserved and sent to the digestive system.
Stress in the form of driving and eating, being late for work, loud sirens, a cell phone constantly dinging, a sick child at home with a fever, a flat tire, or a fight with your spouse… all cause muscles to tense, heart rate to increase, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to dump into blood stream. Sustained stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system stuck in the “on” position, never allowing the parasympathetic to relax and recover. This can result in GI dysfunction, weight gain, chronic disease, inflammation, insomnia, and decreased immunity. When the cycle of repair and healing gets disrupted, it becomes a vicious cycle.
In no other system is the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of our being as apparent as in the nervous system. All psychological processes are anchored in the nervous system. Herbal medicine addresses the way in which plants affect human consciousness and the physical action of nervine herbs is but one side of the whole interface between plant and mind. Many scientists are now calling the totality of neurons in the gut, “the second brain.” Not only does this second brain regulate muscles, it also manufactures up to 90% of the serotonin in your body. Many neurologists now realize that antidepressants are often less effective in treating depression than dietary changes are.
Massage, breathing, meditation, walks in nature, yoga and moderate exercise are all important strategies for calming the mind, ensuring adequate digestion, and are an important component of any longevity plan. You may also want to consider using the follow nervines for additional support:
Hops: Humulus lupulus
You may be surprised to learn that Hops, primarily used as a bitter to flavor and stabilize beer, is in the same family as marijuana, cannabaceae. It is sedative, hypnotic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and astringent. It has a relazing effect on the Central Nervous System and is used extensively to treat insomnia, to ease tension and anxiety, and is appropriate when tension leads to restlessness and indigestion.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, capsules, dried extract, tablet or tea. And of course if you live in Asheville, known as one of the Best Craft Beer Cities in the U.S. ~ you could drink a nice “hoppy” high IPA beer.
Tincture: 1-4ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)
Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 tsp dried herb and infused covered for 15 minutes, drink 1 cup at night to induce sleep, increasing as needed.
Wild Oats: Avena Sativa
The same common oat grain that is widely used as food if allowed to fully mature, Wild Oats may be either wild or cultivated, and is also known as oatstraw and milky oats. It is a nervine tonic, antidepressant, nutritive, demulcent, and vulnerary. Wild Oats feed the nervous system especially when under stress. It is a specific remedy for nervous debility and exhaustion associated with depression.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, bath and as food.
Tincture: 3-5ml 3x/day (1:5 in 25%), or 1-2 droppers full up to 3x/day for at least 3 months for long term benefits.
Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-3 teaspoons of dried straw and infuse for 15 minutes, strain, drink 3x/day.
Bath (use for neuralgia and irritated skin): Boil 1 pound of shredded oatstraw in 2 quarts water for ½ hour. Strain and add to bath.
Broth: Boil oats in a broth, strain, and drink to soothe esophagus, stomach, and irritated mucous membranes of the bowel.
July is National Blueberry Month! If food is our medicine, and indeed it is, then no other native fruit packs as much nutrition into a smaller package than the beautiful blueberry. Indigenous to North America and called “ blue star berries” by the Native Americans because the blossom at the end of each berry forms a perfect five-pointed star. Tribal elders told the story how Great Spirit sent these medicinal fruits to ease the children’s hunger during times of famine. Confirming these stories and legends is the blueberry’s versatility as a food, the ability to be preserved, and its reputation as a valuable medicine. Blueberries, dried in the sun, were added to soups, stews, and meat dishes. They were pounded and added as a preservative to pemmican, and given to the Europeans when they first arrived to help them survive through the winter.
Bears love blueberries, but they are equally important to people as they are to wildlife. Turkey, quail, grouse, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, songbirds, and of course, deer all eat the high-quality fruits of the blueberry. They may be small in size, but they are large in nutritional value. Blueberries should be a part of any longevity plan. They keep our hearts healthy and bones strong. Packed with Vitamin C they are leaders in antioxidant activity and keep us young by neutralizing free radicals. The substances that give the fruit its blue color are phenols, specifically anthocyanins, which contribute to its antioxidant activity. Blueberries are high in fiber and supply manganese, an essential mineral that plays a role in converting proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in food into energy.
Used as food, medicine, and plant dye, botanists estimate that blueberries burst on the scene more than 13,000 years ago. Seeds thousands of years old have been found at several archeological digs in Ontario, Canada. Blueberries grow wild around the world and have many different names. The genus Vaccinium has more than 450 species of plants. The wild buckberry (V. stamineum) is a favorite of deer, and is also one of my favorites. It is fun to discover these dark edible berries growing trailside while hiking through the Southern Appalachians in late summer.
Most of the plump, juicy, and sweet blueberries in the supermarket today are highbush blueberries cultivated in the early 20th century by Dr. Frederick V. Coville and Elizabeth White. Highbush blueberries grow in clusters and don’t ripen all at once prolonging their harvest. You can now buy fresh blueberries all year round. North American blueberries are available April through October, and South American blueberries from November through March.
The lowbush species of blueberry is a wild crop commonly referred to as ‘wild blueberry’ and is one of four fruit crops native to North America. Maine is the leading producer of lowbush blueberries. Michigan leads the production of highbush blueberries. Highbush blueberries require irrigation and milder growing conditions. Currently blueberry farms in the United States boast a total yearly production of 600 million pounds, and sales of over 1.4 million and growing. The United States imports more blueberries than it exports, mostly from Chile (cultivated) and Canada (wild.)
Leaves, roots, and berries have medicinal value, and the fruits have been shown to improve eyesight and protect against ulcers. They are anti-inflammatory, and the juice is useful in urinary tract infections. The root is diuretic, astringent, and antispasmodic, and a decoction of the root treats diarrhea and other bowel complaints. Native American women have used a decoction of the root to ease childbirth during labor. The antioxidant activity of blueberries reduces heart disease risk, strengthens collagen, regulates blood sugar, and improves night vision. Blueberries contain bioactive compounds that have anti-cancer properties and are best when eaten whole and fresh to obtain maximum health benefits.
Both fresh and frozen, the culinary uses for blueberries are practically endless. Native American recipes passed down for generations combined these fruits with sweet corn, fish, fowl, and game, including moose fat or deer tallow. Blueberries simmered into a paste could be preserved for up to two years and then added to cakes and bread. Early Americans made them into jams, jellies, and syrups. In many parts of the South, jars of preserve were a form of barter currency.
Blueberries, as good as gold and equally rich with culinary pleasure, are a sustainable organic crop with deep roots in North American history and tall benefits for human health. Blueberry Festivals are a wonderful way to sample and celebrate the healthy benefits and super flavor of blueberries and are held all over the country from May through August. In celebration of National Blueberry Month, I invite you to enjoy Grandma Thea’s Blueberry Pie. It comes out perfect every time. May you enjoy the sweetness of life…
Grandma Thea’s Blueberry Pie
2 spelt frozen pie crusts (freezer section your health food store)
4 cups of fresh blueberries
¼ cup minute tapioca
1 cup organic sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
¼ tsp. free trade cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1 Tbsp. organic salted butter
½ pint organic whipping cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix fruit, tapioca, sugar, lemon, and spice in a bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Meanwhile, take pie crusts out of the freezer and let defrost for ten minutes. Fill with fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust and slit sides and top. Bake in a preheated oven at 400º for 50 minutes. Cool completely and serve with organic whipped cream.
Whipped Cream Chill mixing bowl and beaters. Whip on high speed adding 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla approx. halfway through. Continue whipping until soft peaks form.
“There are a great many interventions that are possible with plant medicines and unlike pharmaceuticals, viruses don’t develop resistance to them.” – Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections
“So, you are an herbalist. What would you recommend as a preventative, or to help someone get over the coronavirus?”
This question is posed to me often during this challenging time of viral spread. It makes me stop and think. I have been thinking about it a lot, even before the questions started coming. It is a difficult and dangerous question for an herbalist, especially in our present political and medical climate.
The strength of herbal medicine lies in its tonic ability to restore bodily systems, and not necessarily in treating disease. A tonic is an herb that must be taken consistently over time. Herbalists do not diagnose or treat illness and disease. Our strength lies in prevention, and in health and wellness support of the body to heal itself.
That said, there is much that we can do in support of healing. Aside from everything we already know to do to prevent the spread of a virus, I would like to offer my perspective and some recommendations that may be supportive.
At the moment, the therapeutic strategies employed by Western Medicine to deal with viral respiratory infections are mostly supportive, and prevention is aimed at reducing transmission. In spite of the recent spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus is much less contagious than the measles. Seven strains of coronavirus are now known to infect humans. Four cause common colds, and two rank among the deadliest of human infections: SARS, and MERS. Covid-19 is number seven.
Because the symptoms take longer to emerge than a seasonal flu, it’s spread is more rapid. Many who are only mildly ill and not sick enough to stay home, and others who are infected but don’t get sick, will continue to spread their infection to others. Those numbers will include people who never had symptoms, or had a flulike illness but never got a test for Covid-19.
The coronaviruses have become a growing concern in infectious-disease outbreaks world-wide. Pathogenic virus infections are still the leading cause of death in humans worldwide, and as population growth continues this will become even more of a concern.
The answer is not a simple one. The main reason being the lens through which we view health and dis-ease. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees the flu, or a virus with symptoms like the coronavirus, as a wind-heat condition. Plants that reduce inflammation in the lungs and expel the virus also alleviate wind-heat, and expel wind-heat invasion. The TCM view is through the lens of relationship and interconnectedness. It is an energetic model based on natural law, where healing takes place in the context of relationship with correspondences to season, food flavor, element, color, spirit, emotion, and more. It sees the ways in which we are in relationship with viruses not as a “virulent other,” but as an essential, underlying part of life on this planet. There is no avoiding them, and they cannot be killed off without killing off every form of life on Earth.
While Western Medicine basically leaves it up to the individuals immune system, advising rest, plenty of fluids, and over the counter medications as needed, the Chinese have been developing herbal combinations with very good outcomes when compared to Western approaches.
Viruses are very intelligent life forms, even if they are argued to walk between the worlds of the living and non-living. They are masterful shape-shifters.
Covid-19 is an RNA virus and as such can alter its structure very quickly. RNA is a single-stranded molecule, the messenger molecule if you will, that is used to carry genetic information (DNA) intimately involved in the synthesis of proteins needed as the building blocks for all forms of life, including our own. Viruses have genes that alter proteins which allow it to attach to a new species. They are talking among themselves, as are all life forms on planet earth.
Viruses are very good at surviving, and at hiding from the human immune system. They can analyze the nature of immune response launched against them, and can alter the host immune defenses in order to avoid it. The ability of RNA viruses to replicate unreliably and with great genetic variation makes it very hard, if not impossible, to create a vaccine for an RNA virus. They are also very hard to treat with pharmaceuticals as they mutate the moment they encounter one. And it all happens very quickly.
“Epidemiologists have been warning, with increasing insistence, that a worldwide pandemic similar to the one that covered the globe in 1918… is due soon.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2012
In spite of the many advances in medical technology, warns Buhner, there is very little modern medicine can do to treat a widespread pandemic of deadly influenza. He goes on to explain that pharmaceutical antivirals are only partially effective and the stocks of those antivirals are insufficient to deal with a true pandemic. Buhner predicted that the system would begin to shut down, quarantines would force people to stay in their homes, and that we would survive, just as we always have.
A careful analysis of the re-created forms of the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, and its physiological damage, show that the reason the disease is so severe is that the virus creates a tremendous cascade of cytokines in the body that can become a cytokine storm. Cytokines are immunoregulatory proteins stimulated by the body’s innate immune system in response to infection. The cytokine cascade is the body’s attempt to kill off the invading pathogen. It is this overreaction, much more so in individuals with a strong immune system, that kills so many, so quickly. Susceptibility to more serve infection in older populations is primarily due to age-related physiology, declining immune systems, and pre-existing inflammations like arthritis.
Unfortunately for us, influenza viruses have learned how to use our own immune response for their purposes. They love the lungs and this is where they cause the greatest damage. Once inhaled they use the epithelial cell as a docking port and attach to lung epithelial cells with a glue-like substance called hemagglutinin. As soon as the virus is attached to the cell, it uses an enzyme called neuraminidase to alter the cell surface and trick the cell into taking it inside of itself where it can’t be found by the immune system. This is why neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu are effective when taken immediately and at the first sign of infection. Neuraminidase inhibitors inhibit the ability of the virus to enter host cells and thus stops the infection. Please see the list of herbal neuraminidase inhibitors below.
The virus also has a protection system it puts in place around itself during replication using what is called an M2 ion channel. M2 inhibitors block this process and literally stop the virus from replicating. Unfortunately, the extensive use of M2 inhibitors in poultry farms has now created resistance to them. The herb, Lomatium, is one of the most powerful M2 inhibitors known and does not create resistance (see below).
Once the virus unpacks itself and releases its viral RNA into the cytoplasm (viral budding and shedding), cells are depleted and die, and the whole process begins again in a vicious cycle. Pneumonia is when this process becomes severe with fewer and fewer functional alveoli. Throughout this process, the virus is also stimulating the release of cytokines in such a way to keep the parts of the immune system that can kill the virus suppressed for as long as possible.
In severe influenza, the infected airway cells begin generating specific cytokines, including type 2 interferon (Interferon-gamma IFN-y), which is responsible for most of the negative effects of the cytokine cascade. This is where the mortal damage occurs. The virus stimulates it, thus initiating a positive feedback loop in the cytokine process that can lead to a cytokine storm. Blocking IFN-y through the use of inhibitors has been found to significantly reduce airway infiltration of immune cells (see herbal inhibitors below).
Other cytokines are also released and inhibiting them, especially TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha) can reduce the cytokine-based inflammation that occurs during influenza, alleviating symptoms and inhibiting viral spread. Plants that inhibit cytokines that the virus stimulates will help to lessen severity and lung damage.
A factor in the vicious cycle of a cytokine storm is the release of a cytokine like protein, HMGB1, which has been implicated in sepsis-induced cytokine storms and is highly elevated in all patients who die from sepsis, including sepsis generated by influenza. The higher the cytokine levels go, the more HMGB1 is released. When HMGB1 is expressed in lung tissue, as it is during a severe flu, it causes massive neutrophil infiltration and acute lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation. Steroidal drugs, aspirin, and ibuprofen have no effect on HMGB1 levels. However, a number of herbal constituents do have a direct suppressive action against HMGB1.
To assist drainage of mucus in the lungs, the lymph nodes in the lungs begin to increase in size to drain fluids from the lungs and prevent suffocation. Supporting the lymph to assist in this drainage is essential. Herbal lymphatics are well known to assist in this drainage.
An influenza virus that stays in the upper respiratory tract is much easier to work with than a more severe infection in the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia is one serious complication, as are cytokine storms should the infection really take hold. Herbal antivirals work best to prevent these serious complications.
Antivirals work by inhibiting penetration of host cells, and preventing the virus from releasing viral proteins into the host cell interior. They don’t directly “kill” the virus, which is not “alive” in the sense that a bacterium is alive and can be killed.
While viruses don’t develop resistance to herbal medicine like they do with pharmaceuticals, many influenza strains are developing resistance to the primary pharmaceutical neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat them, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Resistance has become common to M2 inhibitors as well, especially due to their overuse in agribusiness. When oseltamivir ends up in our waterways, unaffected by wastewater treatment, it comes into contact with waterfowl and is exposed to avian influenza strains. The avian strains develop resistance, and as the avian, human, and swine strains commingle the resistance is passed on into strains that infect humans. The emergence of a highly infective avian strain resistant to all known pharmaceutical antivirals is one of the things that keeps viral researchers up at night.
The good news is that herbal medicine and herbal antivirals do not create resistance and support the body to heal without the harmful side effects. It is time to come into relationship with our medicine.
10 Herbs to Help You Fight the Flu
*See Herbal Protocol below the list of herbs to determine which specific herb to take during each phase of the flu.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture, tea, powder, capsules, or in food. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops, up to 4x/day as a tonic. As a preventative for the flu or chronic illnesses, 1 teaspoon, 4-6x/day, and for acute conditions every 3 hours. Tea: 2 oz. herb in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand 4 hours, strain and drink throughout the day. Powder: 1 tablespoon, 3x/day. In acute conditions, 2 tablespoons, 3x/day. Food: Can be added to soup stocks and immune enhancing broths (has a tendency to shred so be sure to strain well).
Uses – Active against influenza A, other viruses, and respiratory infection. Immune potentiator and modulator. Enhances spleen function (spleen deficiency). Is considered a superior immune tonic in Chinese Medicine. Normalizes white blood cell count. Useful in reversing immunosuppression from any source.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity, or side effects. Contraindicated for some people in late stage Lyme, as it can exacerbate autoimmune response. May increase effects of interferon and acyclovir. Synergistic with echinacea and licorice. Not for use in people with organ transplants.
2. Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum – not native to China
Part used – Aerial parts in flower or just before flowering.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Dried or fresh root tea or tincture. Tea: cold tea – 1 oz. dried herb in 1 qt. boiling water and let steep overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day. Take cold as a liver tonic and for mucous membranes, take hot to reduce fever. Hot Tea: 3 0z. dried herb to 1 gallon of hot water. Steep 30 minutes. Drink hot with honey, 8 oz. every 2 hours. Tincture: Fresh herb in flower, 1:2 @ 95%, 20-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. Dry herb use 1:5 @ 60%, 30-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. For acute flu or bacterial upper respiratory infections take 10 drops of tincture in hot water every ½ hour, up to 6x/day.
Uses – Reduces fever and body aches accompanying the flu. For general debility, pneumonia, cough, epidemic influenza, colds.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Mildly emetic when taken in large doses. Possible allergy due to plant being in the ragwort family (chamomile, feverfew, etc.). No known drug/herb interactions.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea, capsules, or tincture. Tea or Capsules: Root powder, 3 grams every 3-4 hours, or 1 teaspoon 3-6x/day (may be dissolved in water, taken in tea or put in capsules). Tincture: Root powder tincture, 1:5 @ 50% ¼-1/2 teaspoon 3x/day. In acute cases double the dosage.
Uses – Viral infections, especially pandemic influenza and encephalitis, respiratory infections, pneumonia, infections that affect the CNS (Lyme, meningitis, etc.), fevers, seizures, convulsions, sleep disturbances, headache, hypertension. Root tincture specific for reducing inflammation in the brain, reducing cytokine cascades initiated by viral agents.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – May interfere with the metabolism and effectiveness of drugs and herbs, increasing their uptake in the body. May increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.
4.Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis, dong chong xia cao
Part used – Caterpillar body, fruiting body.
Actions – Adaptogen, anti-asthmatic, antibacterial, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antitumor, antitussive, bronchial regulator, cardiotonic, expectorant, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immunomodulator, neuroprotective, renoprotective. TNF-a, IFN-y, cytokine inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cilia-protective. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea or tincture. Tea: Powder, 3-9 grams/day, or as high as 50 grams (2 oz.)/day for acute disease conditions, drink in warm water. Buhner recommends 3-4 tablespoons of the powder 3x/day. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, tonic dosage ¼-1/2 tsp., 3x/day. Double for active infections (1 tsp. 6x/day). Can also be infused in an alcohol liquor. The best results occur with 6 grams daily as a baseline for acute conditions.
Uses – Respiratory viral infections, CNS inflammation, unproductive or chronic cough, asthma, joint inflammation, low libido, altitude sickness, thick mucus in the lungs that will not move, tinnitus. Increases kidney strength. Tonifies the lungs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Synergistic with closporine and antidiabetic medications affecting dosage requirements.
5.Elder, Sambucus nigra – not native to China
Part Used – Ripe berries & flowers.
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, antioxidant, moderate immune stimulant. Neuraminidase, TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Increases T cell count. Cytokine modulator.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Taken as a tea, tincture, or decoction. Can be made into jams and jellies. The berries must be heated during preparation to reduce cyanogenic compounds. Flower tea: 1 oz. flowers (dried or fresh) in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand until cool, drink freely. To make an Elderberry syrup (Thea’s Gyspy Cold Care) for colds and flu please visit theaskitchen.com
Uses – Respiratory infections, and influenza.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, depending on the part of the plant you are using and how it is prepared. There are few reports of side effects. Start with low doses and work up. No known drug/herb interactions.
6.Ginger, Zingiber officinale, gan jiang (dried older rhizome), shen jiang (fresh, young rhizome)
Part used – Fresh (not dried) root (rhizome). “Baby” or young ginger can be obtained at your local farmers markets and frozen for later use.
Properties – Pungent. Dried root is hot & drying, fresh root is warm & moistening. Dispels wind-cold.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1) Taken as a fresh juice, tea or tincture. Fresh juice: ¼ cup fresh pressed juice in 8 oz. hot water to which lemon, lime, honey and cayenne may be added. Drink every 2-3 hours at the onset of a cold or flu. Tea: Use the leftover plant matter from juicing to make a tea by steeping in hot water for 4 hours, strain, drink as above. Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 in 95%, take 10-20 drops up to 4x/day
Uses – Viral infections including colds & flus, digestive aid, calms nausea, improves circulation, reduces diarrhea and stomach cramping, reduces fever through sweating (diaphoretic), reduces chills and inflammation, thins mucous, reduces coughing, pain relieving, relaxes blood vessels, synergistic with other herbs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy (emmenagogue), but the dried root can be used to ease morning sickness. May aggravate gallstones. May rarely cause gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea (usually from using dried, powdered root.) Synergistic with antibiotics, usually increasing their potency.
7. Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, gan cao
Part used – Root (3 year old roots or older).
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mucoprotective, adrenal tonic, analgesic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antispasmodic, antitussive, cardioprotective, demulcent, estrogenic, gastric secretion inhibitor, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, immunomodulator, immune-stimulant. Upregulates the production of type 1 interferon and increases T cells, which reduces the influenza severity. TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cytokine inhibitor, strongly inhibiting cytokine cascades. IFN-y modulator. Binds HMGB1 inactivating its actions in the body. Increases T cell count.
Note: As an immune-stimulant, it stimulates interferon, and enhances antibody formation. As an immunomodulant it will reduce interferon levels if they are high and upregulate if low.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as tincture, tea, infusion, or decoction. Best used in combination formulas. Tincture: Dried root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops up to 3x/day. Acute dosage for viral infections, ½ – 1 tsp. (approx. 50-100 drops) 3-6x/day (blended with other herbs) for a maximum of six weeks. Infusion: ½-1 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz. water, simmer for 15 minutes uncovered, strain, drink up to 3 cups/day. In acute conditions drink 1 cup every 2 hours. Decoction: 6 grams root powder in 16 oz. water, bring to a boil, uncovered and simmer until reduced to approx 8.5 oz., then add enough water to bring volume up to approx. 32 oz., drink throughout the day.
Note: Do not use deglycyrrhized licorice if using as an antiviral. Look for between 2.5 & 4% glycyrrhizin content. 2.5 % should render approx. 50 mg glycyrrhizin.
Uses – Influenza of all kinds, respiratory viral infections, pneumonia, and coronaviruses. Moistens the lungs and reduces coughing. Sore throats as a gargle. Eases abdominal cramping.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Long-term use can lead to numbness, dizziness, headache, hypertension, potassium depletion. This herb should rarely be used in isolation or in large doses for longer than 4-6 weeks, especially if you are pregnant. It is contraindicated in hypertension. Short term use in low doses, especially when combined with other herbs is very safe. Is synergistic increasing the potency of other herbs. It should not be used in combination with estrogenic pharmaceuticals, hypertensive drugs, cardiac glycosides, diuretics, corticosteroids or hydrocortisone.
8.Lomatium, Lomatium dissectum – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, mucous membrane tonic. One of the most potent M2 inhibitors known.
Properties – Bitter, cooling, clears-heat and dampness.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture or infusion: Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 @ 70%, 10-30 drops up to 5x/day. Acute dosage, 10-30 drops every hour. Same dosage for dry root, 1:5 @ 70%. Infusion: Cover 2 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz boiling water, cover and let steep for one hour, strain and drink up to 3x/day.
Note: Common influenza tincture blend (as recommended by Stephen Harrod Buhner) is equal parts lomatium, red root, licorice and pleurisy root. In acute conditions take 1 teaspoon, 6x/day. Have also been traditionally eaten as food.
Uses – Upper respiratory viral infections, all influenza strains including coronaviruses, pneumonia, eases coughs. Is synergistic when combined with other herbs including: red root, and licorice. May be used as a single.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity. May cause an allergic rash (1%) in some people (more commonly with fresh, not dried root), and will pass on its own within a week. Contraindicated in pregnancy. No known drug/herb interactions.
9. Red Root, Ceanothus americanus – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Lymphatic, tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, alterative, antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, and blood coagulant. Increases T cell count.
Properties – Aromatic, slightly warm, not widely used in TCM. Has a long history of use in the Americas primarily as an astringent.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3)Taken as a tincture, tea, or strong decoction. Tincture: Dry root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-90 drops up to 4x/day. Tea: 1 tsp. powdered root in 8 oz. water, simmer 15 minutes, strain. Drink up to 6 cups daily. Decoction: 1 oz. herb in 16 ounces water, cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, take 1 tablespoon 3-4x/day. Make a strong tea as a gargle for throat inflammation and tonsillitis.
Uses – Clears lymph. Useful for coughs including whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Contraindicated in pregnancy. Should not be used with pharmaceutical coagulants or anticoagulants.
10. Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea, Hong Jing Tian
Part Used – Root
Actions – Adaptogen, yin tonic, antidepressant, cardiotonic, endocrine tonic, nervous system tonic, neuroprotective. Neuraminidase inhibitor. Protects cells from hypoxia, significantly reducing lung damage. Prevents hypoxia-induced oxidative damage, increases intracellular oxygen diffusion and the efficiency of oxygen utilization. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Properties – Sweet, cooling, adaptogen tonic.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Tincture or capsules. Tincture: Dried root 1:5 @ 50%, Tonic dose: 30-40 drops, 3-4x/day. Acute dose ½-1 teaspoon 3x/day for 30 days then back to tonic dose. Capsule: 100 mg., 1-2 per day. In acute conditions up to 1,000 mg. daily. Standardized to 2-3% rosavins. Take just before meals.
Cleavers – Lymphatic with some of the same effects at Red Root. Fresh juice of the plant is best.
Echinacea Angustifolia – (Phase 1 & 2) Antiviral, found to be effective against swine origin flu. Inhibits receptor cell binding activity of the virus and strengthens protective power of the mucous membranes making it harder for the virus to penetrate.
Umckaloabo – A potentially life-saving herb. The main cause of death in an influenza virus infection is pneumonia. Learn how Umckaloabo prevents this at Wisdom of the Plant Devas.
Vitamin D3 –Vitamin D3 deficiency among ICU patients increases mortality by more than 70% compared to those who are not deficient. Dosage: 3-6,000 iu/day
Quercetin – Neuraminidase and HMGB1 inhibitor.
Zinc – Increases T-cell count. Has been shown to be active against a number of viruses and is supportive in treatment of influenza. Studies have found zinc supplementation can triple the survival rate for children with pneumonia and reduce the duration of the common cold in children and adults. Dosage: 10-25 mg./day, 25-40 during acute conditions. Works synergistically with selenium, 200 mcg/day.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil – Olbas, or Eucalyptus inhalation to reduce coughing and improve airflow.
Note: The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only. You should seek medical attention at the first signs of an infection, and be under the care of, and in communication with a licensed physician, even when you are using herbal alternatives. Be sure to disclose any herbs or supplements you may be taking. The recommendations made in this post are based on the work of, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Paul Bergner, and my own clinical experience.
Phase One – Early onset: Take at the first signs of infection, equal parts redroot tincture and licorice root extract, 30 drops, every hour until symptoms are resolved. Fresh ginger can be juiced, drink warm added to whatever liquids you are drinking. Drinking it in hot water or tea is diaphoretic helping to lower a fever. Use up to 2 oz, 2xday. Elderberry syrup as directed on label. Echinacea angustifoliainhibits the virus, 20 drops every other hour. Hold in mouth, then swallow slowly so tincture comes in contact with mucous membranes. Only useful in stage one. Lomatium tincture dosage, 20 drops every hour until condition improves. Boneset tincture or tea for body aches and fever. While some may recommend raw garlic at this stage, it may be too hot and pungent for this condition and it destroys good gut bacteria along with the bad. Learn more in Wisdom of the Five Flavors: The Energetics of Healing with Food and Herbs.
Phase Two – Moderate infection: A combination of Chinese skullcap, licorice, lomatium, cordyceps, astragalus, rhodiola, boneset, and elder. Antiviral Tincture Formula: Equal parts Chinese Skullcap, licorice, lomatium, redroot. 60 drops every hour. Immune Tincture Formula: Equal parts astragalus, cordyceps, and rhodiola. 60 drops 3x/day.
Phase Three – Severe infection: Double the dosage of Antiviral and Immune Tincture Formula.
3. Viral Infectious Disease and Natural Products with Antiviral Activity, Kitazato, Kaio & Wang, Y & Kobayashi, N. (2007). Drug discoveries & therapeutics. 1. 14-22.
4. Effects of Toll-Like Receptor Stimulation on Eosinophilic Infiltration in Lungs of BALB/c Mice Immunized with UV-Inactivated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Related Coronavirus Vaccine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135953/ J Virol. 2014 Aug; 88(15): 8597–8614. Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, et al.
Forty years ago when I embarked on my journey as a midwife and a mother, I learned about the healing properties of comfrey and goldenseal through my herbal studies in midwifery practice. Comfrey, Symphytum officinale is a miraculous plant that long has been used to heal damaged skin and mend broken bones. As a midwife I prepared comfrey leaf and root in an infusion to be used in a sitz bath, or as a compress, for healing perineal tears, abrasions, and episiotomies. Comfrey could also be found growing in my garden where I would gather, chop and simmer it in a nourishing postpartum soup to help with internal healing of the new mother’s placental site, and to build blood and insure an adequate breast milk supply. I later wrote about this magnificent and misunderstood herb for internal healing in my book, Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth.
Goldenseal root powder, Hydrastis canadensis, was the other ingredient I used along with sea salt in the postpartum sitz bath. These ingredients helped to reduce inflammation, prevent infection, soothe and astringe tissue. The results were phenomenal.
Most homebirth midwives forty years ago did not have the ability to carry lidocaine, nor had we been taught how to suture perineal tears. This was one of the reasons I fought in the Florida legislature alongside other women to help change the outdated lay midwifery laws. We were successful in this effort and subsequently founded the South Florida School of Midwifery in order to train and license home birth midwives, otherwise known as lay, or direct entry midwives.
Before I had the ability to suture, I became very skilled in preventing perineal tearing and adept at healing tears and abrasions that may have occurred during delivery. Even after I began suturing it was important to help the perineum heal well and quickly. Comfrey-Goldenseal sitz baths always did the trick.
To illustrate this ability of comfrey-goldenseal to heal perineal tears, I would like to share one of my earliest experiences with a mother who tore severely because of a precipitous birth. She had to be taken to the hospital to be sutured by her back up physician, who lacking in bedside manner made the following statement upon his examination. “It looks like a hand grenade went off in there!”
Determined to help this mother heal I proceeded to prepare comfrey-goldenseal compresses, applied twice daily for the first two days, and then a comfrey-goldenseal sitz bath twice daily for the remainder of the week until her follow up visit. I accompanied her to the follow up, and upon examination the same physician looked up at me, then back at the mother, then back at me and said, “This isn’t the same woman you brought in here a week ago is it?” He couldn’t believe that she had healed so well and so quickly.
I began my midwifery career at the same time that I became a mother. As the mother of two young kids who were always banging their knees, skinning elbows, or otherwise collecting scratches, bumps, bug bites and bruises as they explored their world, I decided to make a healing salve using the same two main ingredients, comfrey and goldenseal, which I had been using in the sitz baths. The result was an amazing salve that healed things quickly, and prevented infection and scarring. It has lived in my medicine cabinet ever since.
What makes this salve different than most that you will find on the market, is the quantity of goldenseal root powder in the formula. Because goldenseal is very expensive (over $100 pound) most herbalists and manufacturers use goldenseal leaf instead, and very little root. It is the quantity of goldenseal root that makes it so effective.
I also use both comfrey leaf and root in my formula so as to achieve the healing benefits of both parts of this plant. Comfrey root may contain 8 to 10 percent allantoin, which is easily absorbed through the skin and found to a lesser degree in the leaves. Allantoin promotes cell growth to speed wound healing. Comfrey leaf also aids in healing mucous membranes and protects the skin against irritants, making it an essential ingredient in salves and ointments for the treatment of wounds, burns, bruises, cuts, sprains, chapped lips, dry vagina, cold sores, diaper rash, bug bites, nail fungus, and skin irritations.
While I have made batches of my Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve over the years for friends and family, it wasn’t until I stared teaching at herbal medicine conferences that I started making it for public consumption. To date it has been used by dozens of people including doctors, veterinarians, and a plastic surgeon who recommended it to his patients because of its ability to reduce scarring. It is especially useful for animals because all of the ingredients are edible and animals tend to lick their wounds.
Because I want for you to also have a relationship with these healing herbs, and because I would like to empower you to make your own salve or to help someone heal after giving birth, I have included my formulas for both postpartum sitz bath and a healing root salve.
Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve
Ingredients (preferably organic):
3 ¼ cup cold pressed olive oil
¾ cup unrefined sesame oil (high in Vit. E and acts as a preservative and skin healer)
2 oz. comfrey leaf
2 oz. comfrey root, cut and sifted
2 oz. goldenseal root powder
golden beeswax beads, approx. 4 oz.
1 tablespoon Vit. E oil, or wheatgerm oil (acts as a preservative and skin healer)
Bake in a warm oven (lowest setting possible ,approx. 170º) in an enamel pot for 4 hours stirring with a wooden spoon every 30 minutes or so. Strain through a fine cheesecloth and press into a measuring cup. Measure and return oil to clean pot on stove top. Add beeswax (1 oz. per cup) and stir on low heat until melted. Add wheatgerm or vitamin E oil, stir well and remove from heat. Fill containers immediately as it will harden quickly upon cooling. Stir once in container with a wooden chopstick to redistribute and prevent settling.
Simmer comfrey and goldenseal root for thirty minutes uncovered. Add comfrey leaf and salt. Stir to dissolve salt then cover and remove from heat. Let steep 15-20 minutes. Strain and use as hot as possible in a compress, or sitz bath. Heat also brings more blood into the area, which aids in healing. Note: may burn slightly at first, but quickly becomes soothing.
That salve is great stuff. I’ve been suffering with lots of hand abuse issues as a hand drummer and musician, and it has expedited healing and helping to cause the shedding of injured tissue and replacing it with new. – M. Olson/Tucson, AZ
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Salve is an amazing healing potion for the skin. I has numerous stiches on my face from surgery due to skin cancer, and now six-months later, after using the salve nightly, the results are unbelievable! People, even my plastic surgeon are amazed with how my face looks. I am so happy to have found such a terrific healer for the skin. – C. Carter/Key Largo, FL
Promise, a Morgan colt born at Carpe Diem Farms, is healing beautifully. I am using the salve daily and we are working on scar reduction/elimination. Dr. Claudle has difficulty believing that he survived and is amazed at the speed in which he healed. Thank you for your help. – S. Blair/Highlands, NC
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Salve healed my son’s diaper rash faster than any other diaper rash ointment I’ve used. – A. Blanton/Highlands, NC
Your salve is the first of many that I have tried on Yazi’s ears (wolf-dog) that affected any healing. His ears are now almost back to normal. Your salve is something very good. Keep telling people about it, I believe in it. – Hannah/Taos, NM
Thea’s medicine salve saved the day. After an irritating condition vaginally, and not accepting hormonal salve as a remedy, my suffering has ended. Thank you. – B. Martz/Tucson, AZ
Thea’s Comfrey-Goldenseal Healing Salve has been wonderful. It provides a soothing quality I haven’t found in any other product. I had an infected tattoo and within 3 days the infection subsided, and the salve soothed my skin to health. I highly recommend it. – A. Graser/Asheville, NC
When a friend approached me about excruciating pain in his spine as a result of nerve damage from a degenerative joint disease, the hauntingly translucent, ephemeral, and ghostly white image of Ghost Pipe, danced before me. He desperately wanted to avoid opiates. I have rarely needed to use this plant that grows in the dense, dark under-story of the forest where I live, but in the past few years I have noticed it growing in greater abundance. It is a rare plant and not commonly encountered, so I took these sightings as a sign that a need for its medicine may be at hand. Could this plant help my friend as he searched for other answers? I wondered.
Resembling a spine and brain stem, Ghost Pipe is a nervous system ally aiding in the modulation of sensory input. The plant has been used as a nervine in Western Herbal Medicine since the late nineteenth century, and a tincture of the whole plant has been used for people in intense physical pain, but it doesn’t make the pain go away. Pain serves a purpose. It alerts us to what needs our attention. With the aid of Ghost Pipe we don’t deaden the pain, but rather distance it so we can work with the pain without being overwhelmed by it. Ghost Pipe puts the person beside their pain, so they can see it and deal with it. It is not your normal analgesic. In the words of Herbalist, David Winston, “…you know it hurts, but simply don’t care.” It reduces sensitivity to painful stimuli and raises the pain threshold. It can help a person feel more grounded and present rather than overtaken by overwhelming pain.
Ghost Pipe also works with emotional pain in a similar manner. Whether the initial shock of emotional pain, people physically paralyzed by emotional pain, or acute anxiety or panic attacks marked by sensory overload, it has the same action as setting the pain beside you (think nervous system modulator). It dulls the perception of pain and may be useful for psychotic episodes or triggering of emotional memories. Herbalist, Ryan Drum, who works with this plant in the Pacific Northwest, believes it has a great future as a psychiatric nervine in acute cases.
In my book, Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth, I propose that if a plant’s medicine is needed, it will show up, and that our medicine is as close as we are right now. Since it showed up for me in relation to my friend, who was trying not to succumb to the opioids his doctors were recommending, I suggested he look into Ghost Pipe as a possible ally. Where I currently live in Western North Carolina, we are experiencing an opioid epidemic that is devastating families and communities. Could Ghost Pipe be showing up here at this time for a reason? North Carolina has been especially hard hit and opioid overdose deaths have increased more than 22% in a single year (2017) over the prior year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, opioid-involved overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, according to the Citizen Times. Could Ghost Pipe provide an alternative to opiates in certain cases, helping us to engage and deal with our pain? Could research on this plant lead to the development of other pain relieving drugs that are less damaging than what is currently available? I believe we are in need of a new mindset where pain is not the enemy, and we can find hope in our relationship with the natural world.
Ghost Pipe, also known as Indian Pipe, or corpse plant, and whose botanical name is Monotropa uniflora, is an herbaceous perennial devoid of plant blood. Lacking chlorophyll it does not generate energy from sunlight. Ultimately, Ghost Pipe gets its energy from the photosynthesis of trees, parasitically sapping nutrients and carbohydrates from the tree roots through the intermediate source of myccorhizal fungus. These fungi colonize the tree roots in a symbiotic, albeit parasitic relationship, and play an important role in soil chemistry, helping to make nutrients available to the tree.
M. uniflora is indeed a ghostly plant, a parasite feeding on a parasite. This three-way relationship between a photosynthetic tree, a mycorrhizal fungus and a parasitic plant is a ménage á trois, but it is not clear who is getting what from the ghostly one. America’s eminent poet, Emily Dickinson, called it “the preferred flower of life,” and she never ceased to wonder at its mystery. The Cherokee and First Nations People also honored this plant for its medicine and its mystery. If you happen to come upon it, take in its unique beauty with reverence. This is a magical gift from the natural world. There’s a lot going on underground that we are only just beginning to understand about this plant.
Ghost Pipe appears from early summer to early autumn after a rainfall and when the weather is warm, bearing a single bell-shaped flower. Spending most of its life underground it grows in the dark because it is not dependent on light for photosynthesis. It may look like a fungus, but it really is a flowering plant. Eventually poking its way up through decaying leaves, Ghost Pipe rises on a slender stalk, and then nods its flower head, thus resembling a pipe with its stem stuck in the ground. Slowly the plant will straighten into an upright position with the flower pointing skyward. It is only about five inches tall and commonly found in small clusters. A fascinating plant, it only grows in select temperate regions with large gaps in-between and can be found in Russia, North America, Asia and northern South America.
The genus name Monotropa, means “one turn,” and refers to the curve at the top of its stem. The species name uniflora, means “one flowered.” It is in the Ericaceae family, which also includes blueberries, rhododendron, azaleas, and arctostaphylos (manzanitas, uva ursi, bearberries), and they all like the same acidic soil. Propagation and cultivation are next to impossible because of the delicate processes it adheres to.
I know from experience that harvesting this plant can be a delicate undertaking and recommend a whole plant tincture in 100 proof vodka. Even a gentle touch can bruise, so it is best to tincture it in the field, harvesting only a few plants from each colony. The resulting tincture is a pleasingly deep violet color.
Please use caution and respect when harvesting as this is considered a rare plant. Very little of it should ever be needed, so harvest sustainably and ethically, and only when large colonies are found. Harvest when the plant’s flowers are curved over and facing the ground. It is too late to harvest if the flowers are upright. After this they will quickly turn black and begin to dissolve. Bring prepared menstruum, jars, and a bowl of water with you so you can tincture immediately after lightly brushing off and washing the roots.
One of M. uniflora’s main constituents is salicylic acid, which is also in aspirin. The Cherokee considered it a pain remedy of the highest order. You will know that this plant is for you if you are willing to journey into your pain, bear witness to your pain, and be an active participant in your healing process. There is information that can be received when we are not completely numb to our pain. To relieve specific types of physical pain it may be paired with anti-inflammatory and anodyne herbs such as willow (Salix spp.), or anti-spasmodics such as wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) and Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). Combine with holy basil to disperse intense emotions that may be coming up.
Overwhelming physical pain (combined with anodyne herbs)
Migraine like headaches associated with traumatic brain injury
Anxiety and panic attacks associated with emotional or sensory overload
Triggering of emotional memories
May also be useful for: Childhood seizures, febrile seizures, and epileptic seizures.
To make a fresh plant tincture:
Pack plant tightly into a pint canning jar filling to top.
Add 100 proof vodka, filling jar to the top
Shake daily for 2 weeks.
You can leave herb in alcohol until all tincture is consumed, or strain and decant.
Frequent small doses seem to work best to disrupt pain cycle. Not recommended for long term use past one month of daily use.
Dosing: (Note: 1ml = 20 drops)
For physical pain: Start with 3 drops and jump to 1ml if no response, up to 40 drops (2ml) every half hour. If severe use 1ml at 5 minute intervals. Once pain level improves, increase the amount of time between doses and reduce dosage amount.
For psychological pain: Up to 2, 1ml doses to manage initially. 2-3, 1ml dose at 5 minute intervals for severe panic and agitation. 1-3ml doses for psychotic episodes. Will work within 15-30 minutes with the person usually falling asleep and waking up more calm and coherent. May be contraindicated for anyone taking stimulants prescribed for ADHD.
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.
2 cups of fresh (deseeded) or compressed tamarind pulp
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.