Why Your Gallbladder is Necessary and How to Keep It Healthy
When a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery after discovering a gall stone following a gallbladder attack, I had to ask, why? It was her first gall bladder attack, and yes, they are excruciatingly painful, but to agree so quickly to surgery was deeply concerning. It wasn’t the first time that a friend or family member had rushed to have their gallbladder removed, and not all were without repercussion. In answering the above question, I feel pretty confident that it comes down to education and support. This is why after studying and teaching about this condition for over forty years I felt compelled to share the following information. Shouldn’t we be asking why there is an epidemic of gallbladder surgery and how can we take better care of this organ? It is my hope that the information contained in this article may empower you to take another look at why your gallbladder is necessary.
Unfortunately, it is not very likely that you will be encouraged to forgo gallbladder surgery by a doctor, nurse or surgeon, or that they will tell you that keeping your gallbladder is a realistic option. There are a few reasons for this and one is that the Western mechanistic model of allopathic medicine uses drugs and surgery as its main tools, and if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, all of the reference points are within the model and alternatives are rarely considered, let alone known, used or understood. If you want to learn about alternatives you will need to seek an alternative practitioner like an acupuncturist, herbalist, naturopath, or chiropractor. Medical practitioners who are serious about Integrative and Complementary medicine are also seeking out alternative practitioners in order to learn what is not being taught in medical school.
Another reason you will most likely hear from your doctor or surgeon for having a cholecystectomy is that 1 in 5 newly diagnosed patients with acute cholecystitis who do not have surgery readmit to the emergency room within about 12 weeks. Also, people who have a medical procedure to eliminate gallstones have them return 50% of the time and 80% of those return to have their gallbladder removed. Those are not bad odds considering most of those people are probably not making dietary or lifestyle changes, but it is still being used as an argument as to why you should just go ahead and get the surgery.
In my experience, the main reason most people choose to have their gallbladder removed, in addition to lack of reliable alternative information, is because most people aren’t willing to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes that would keep them gallstone free, or to follow a protocol that could help to eliminate existing gallstones. It takes time to empower ourselves with information that could help us understand what may have caused the problem in the first place and most people don’t know the right questions to ask when seeking alternatives. We also live in an instant gratification society and when it comes to physical pain, most people will take the easiest and quickest route to avoid and prevent it. This makes us vulnerable to the drug and surgery pushers who capitalize on fear and cause us to make hasty decisions that may not be in our best interest long term.
I think it’s important to note here that I am not a medical doctor and that surgery and drugs can be lifesaving. So please make your informed decisions in partnership with your health care provider. I recommend that you continue to be monitored as gallbladder disease can be serious and life threatening. The information presented here is for educational purposes only so that you can make an informed decision. I am an herbal practitioner in the Energetic Model aligned with the Wise Woman and Western European Herbal Traditions, and drawing from the wisdom of Chinese Medicine and Five Element Theory.
In Chinese Medicine, Five Element Theory is the study of relationships and organ systems are paired within each of the five elements. The gallbladder is a yang organ (hollow), paired with the liver, a yin organ (solid), and corresponds with the Wood Element. Yin balances yang and when the gallbladder is removed it sets up an imbalance in the paired organ system that causes other systems to weaken and collapse. You can live without your gallbladder, but should you? I would suggest you read the literature for yourself, especially testimonials from people who suffered long term complications and quality of life issues after gallbladder removal.
Cholecystitis, or biliary colic, is the most common type of gallbladder disease as either an acute or chronic inflammation often due to gallstones blocking the duct and causing bile to build up. Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder until the body needs to digest fats. If the liquid bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts, or bilirubin, and the gallbladder doesn’t empty completely or often enough, it can harden into pieces of stone-like material forming gallstones. Two types of gallstones are cholesterol and pigment. For the purposes of this article I will be discussing cholesterol as they account for 80% of stones.
Gallbladder disease is more common in females, especially post-partum when estrogen levels are high. Gallstone related disease is a leading non-obstetrical cause of hospitalization in the first year postpartum. This is why I began researching this dis-ease over forty years ago as a practicing midwife. Most hormonal imbalances postpartum develop due to estrogen dominance. Birth control pills also increase risk and effect the ability of the gallbladder to contract and excrete bile.
Dietary factors are important considerations and one that you won’t see commonly discussed is vegetarian diets, which are implicated in gallbladder disease. In fact, you are likely to read that vegetarian diets can prevent gallbladder disease because it reduces the amount of cholesterol in bile and increases fiber in the diet. The fiber part is accurate, but the reason vegetarian diets are implicated is that very little bile is produced since the liver is not stimulated to produce it. This results in large fat molecules not being properly emulsified, making it difficult for lipase to bind, leading to incomplete or reduced fat absorption. Lipase is necessary for fat-soluble vitamin absorption (Vitamins K, D, E & A).
A shortage of the enzyme lipase may lead to high cholesterol. A deficiency of lipase, taurine, or lecithin can lead to a lack of bile and the formation of gallstones from cholesterol. Raw butter and cream is the highest source of lipase, with the highest source of lipase and lecithin being fertile eggs. Another cause of fat and mineral malabsorption, and inflammation, is gluten sensitivity.
One of the most important dietary considerations also happens to be the most deficient in the modern diet. It is the inclusion of the bitter flavor. When the time comes for the body to digest fats, the gallbladder contracts and pushes bile into the common bile duct that carries it to the small intestine where it aids in digestion. The bitter flavor is responsible for toning the gallbladder so that its action of contracting and pushing the bile into the bile duct is maintained. Our ancestors knew the importance of bitter, which also stimulates the production of saliva when introduced into the mouth and they included herbal bitters as part of their health regimen.
So, what are the risks of having or not having gallbladder surgery? While there is some chance of developing an infection necessitating emergency removal (5%), with a little support your body is capable of passing gallstones on its own. That said, cholecystectomy is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States according to the Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons with 1.2 million done annually and largely covered by Medicaid. In fact, cholecystectomy was the most common operating room procedure for Medicaid and uninsured stays while ranking 8th most common operating room procedure among patients with private insurance. The increase in surgeries can largely be attributed to the advent of laparoscopic surgery and the laparoscopic cholecystectomies in the early 1990s.
Bile duct injury continues to be a significant complication and is the leading cause of litigation against general surgeons. While the advent of laparoscopic procedure has substantial benefits (outpatient, quicker recovery, less pain) these did not come without risk, most notably a doubling of the rate of major biliary tract injury. Injury to the bile duct often results in additional surgical procedures, increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality.
Cholecystectomy also increases the risk of bowel cancer because without your gallbladder, bile drips continuously into the digestive system and can also cause diarrhea and may lead to higher cholesterol levels. It can leave you sticking close to the bathroom and no longer tolerating certain foods.
So when a friend of the family recently announced her upcoming gallbladder surgery, I had to ask, Why not try a simple alternative before undergoing surgery? And why not implement some simple changes that might leave you never having another gallbladder attack again?
Some people claim that a gallbladder cleanse or flush can help break up stones and empty the gallbladder, but that is not recommended here. It is good to remember that the body is naturally able to cleanse and flush itself when supported properly and that is the approach and philosophy of the Energetic Model and Wise Woman Tradition.
Our goal is to increase the amount of bile created by the liver and secondly to assist the easy passage of that bile through the liver and gallbladder. Certain herbs can bring about an increased production and flow of bile, including bitters. This may be enough to help break down existing stones and carry that debris through the duct. Recommendations below are generalized suggestions, do not include dosages and are not meant to be a complete protocol. To learn more about the liver and gallbladder, or when and how to do a flush, Please consider enrolling in Love Your Liver: Spring & the Wood Element at Five Element Academy.
Dietary & Lifestyle Recommendations:
• Increase your exercise to 2-3 hours a week to reduce risk
• Increase fresh fruit and vegetables
• Include bitter greens like romaine lettuce and dandelion
• Increase water and soluble fiber intake
• Eliminate gluten and potential food allergens, and foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. The more refined and processed food the higher incidence of gallstones. Go for high fiber, low sugar.
• Include parsnip, apple (particularly Granny Smith) radish, pear, seaweed, lemon, lime, raw butter, cream, milk, egg, avocado, parsley, barley, beets, and cucumber in the diet.
• Apple cider vinegar daily
• Use olive, coconut and flax seed oils.
• Raw, fresh pressed apple juice may soften gallstones and can help them pass.
• Acupuncture may be effective in relieving pain and spasm, reducing inflammation and volume of the gallbladder and restoring proper function. In combination with Chinese herbs, Acupuncture may be highly effective.
• Lose weight slowly if necessary. Obesity increases your risk for developing gallstones.
• Eat slowly and mindfully
• Avoid large meals
• Vitamin C can help change cholesterol to bile
• Potassium Iodide, Iodine and Seafood high in iodine (helps dissolve cholesterol)
• Fish oils and Omega 3s
• Disodium Phosphate – supports liver and gallbladder functions (Standard Process brand)
• HCL acid and pepsin
• Bitter roots like Dandelion, Burdock, Yellow Root, Yellow Dock
• Take herbal bitters daily before meals
• Drink mildly bitter teas like Chamomile
• Turmeric reduces inflammation
• Anti-lithic herbs, also known as “stone breakers” can help dissolve stones taken in tinctures or teas: corn silk, gravel root, stone root, parsley root, and enteric-coated peppermint oil.
• Spasmolytic, Chanca Piedra for relaxing smooth muscle and expelling stones
• Castor oil packs can relieve pain and can support the passing of stones.
The use of castor oil packs in aiding gallstone passing cannot be over emphasized. This and the use of bitters and herbal infusions were well known by our ancestors. It is this Wise Woman Tradition that has brought us this far and we would do well to not lose sight of it. Let your care provider know, “I’ll keep my gallbladder, thank you!” And then ask for their support and guidance to make the wisest and most informed choice.
Disclaimer: Talk with your doctor before trying to treat gallstones on your own. If you have yellowing of the eyes, fever or chills, and intense abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately.
Trauma Acute Care Surgery, Mestral C, Rotstein O, Laupacis A, et al. A population-based analysis of the clinical course of 10,304 patients with acute cholecystitis, discharged without cholecystectomy. 2012;74(1):26-30.
Sedona called me back this winter to gather three specific medicines; juniper, chaparral, and piñon pitch. The American Southwest holds an abundance of botanical medicine. When I moved to Tucson over thirty years ago as Director of Resources for World Health, a non-profit organization supporting Indigenous healers, I became fortunate to work and study with native elders. Even after moving back east to Appalachia, I can still be found making a yearly pilgrimage back west to gather medicinal herbs.
This post is dedicated to juniper, which has an affinity for the kidneys. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the winter season and emotion of fear corresponds with Kidney and the Water Element. The color that corresponds with the Water Element is the same bluish-black shade of Juniper’s berry-like, female cones.
Juniper berries may take up to three years to mature. The berries I collected were fat and ready for picking. The impermeable seed coat protects seeds that may last for years and can be dispersed over long distances. Juniper is a non-flowering gymnosperm, or naked-seeded plant, making it one of the oldest and most primitive plants on the planet, like spruce and ephedra.
I have primarily used juniper berries as a culinary spice in stock, soup, or stew, especially stews that include beef, turkey, or wild game. Four berries, dried or fresh, replace 1 bay leaf in a recipe. Juniper is the predominant flavor in Gin, which was my English mother’s alcoholic beverage of choice. It is also commonly used for flavoring and preserving pickled foods. The berry has a smell reminiscent of pine, and flavor energetic that is warming and pungent, and slightly bitter-sweet*.
I also use juniper essential oil in a diffuser when anyone in my house becomes, or threatens to become sick. It has been used by Native Americans and the ancient Greeks to combat epidemics. As recently as World War Two, juniper was diffused in hospital rooms to reduce infections, and before that during outbreaks of the Plague. Juniper’s antimicrobial, antiviral, and antiseptic actions have been well studied, and it’s volatile oil is valuable for respiratory infections and congestion.
If you have visited a Navajo hogan or Pueblo home, juniper may have been the first thing you smelled. In addition to burning wood for heat and in the cook stove, branches are placed on hot coals to fumigate the house with juniper smoke. The resulting ash is used to add calcium to bread, tortillas, and pancakes made from blue corn flour. The Navajo are said to sweep their tracks with boughs so that death will not follow them. Navajo women painstakingly drill holes in the berries and make necklaces to wear for protection.
Through my own Celtic roots I carry a memory of rites performed on the last day of the year, what would be our Gregorian calendar New Year, when burning juniper smoke accompanied by prayers, cleansed, blessed, and protected everyone in the household. I have always kept a few berries in my medicine bag for purification and protection from fear. Juniper branches have also been called, “boughs of the supernatural.”
While hiking and connecting with juniper in Sedona, I became curious about which species to collect. Piñon-Juniper woodlands are expanding down from the hilltops and their abundance amazed me. Scientists believe this unnatural and invasive spread of western juniper is aided by decades of livestock grazing, unnatural fire cycles, and the invasion of exotic species. Juniper is a genus of conifers containing approximately sixty species. It is member of the cypress family. With so many species and common names like; Chinese juniper, Greek juniper, Phoenician juniper, East African juniper, Himalayan juniper, Russian juniper; Spanish, Tibetan, Mexican, and California juniper, just to name a few, I had a powerful need to know which ones grew in Sedona near the Mogollon Rim.
While juniper is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, the berries that are made into tinctures, or purchased as a culinary spice, are Juniperus communis, “common juniper,” or “alpine juniper,” and are mostly sourced from Eastern Europe. The two most common New World species found in Sedona are Juniperus deppeana – “alligator juniper,” with distinctive bark unlike other junipers and resembling alligator skin; and Juniperus osteosperma – “Utah juniper,” whose shoots are fairly thick compared to most junipers. Berries from both species are edible.
This year while in Sedona I especially wanted to connect more deeply with juniper’s medicine after learning that a dear friend had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Juniper has many uses, but I knew it would take some digging to learn about Juniperi fructus in a medical herbalism context.
The list of herbal actions for juniper is long with both internal and topical applications. These are well known and documented including: topical for joint pain, sore muscles, coughs and congestion; a tonic for the uterus to relieve PMS water retention and menstrual cramps; diuretic to increase urine output, reducing edema and high blood pressure; and antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Juniperus communis is listed in Native American Medicinal Plants by Daniel E. Moerman, as one of ten key species with the greatest number of uses by the most Native American groups.
The Chinese, Native Americans, and old European cultures regarded juniper as a blood purifying kidney tonic. This points to the TCM Five Element relationship between Water (Kidney), Wood (Liver), and Earth (Spleen). The Kings Dispensatory suggests that kidney infections (pyelo-nephritis, and pyelitis), and chronic bladder infections, especially in older people, are relieved by juniper. Also according to the Kings Dispensatory, “Uncomplicated renal hyperemia is cured by it.” Renal hyperemia is excess blood in the kidneys.
My friend had been diagnosed with a tumor on his Kidney after passing large amounts of blood in his urine. I wondered about juniper’s cytotoxic (anti-cancer) properties found to be useful in the treatment of some cancers. My intuition told me that it was no accident I had come to harvest juniper in the Southwest, where my friend also lives, so recently following his diagnosis. Could junipers stimulating, softening, and dissolving qualities, along with cytotoxic and astringent properties help to shrink my friend’s tumor?
Almost every article I found on juniper berry carried a warning against its use in the presence of kidney disease or inflammation. Peter Holmes, doctor of Oriental Medicine describes juniper as follows:
Dispels wind/damp/cold, stimulates circulation. Drains damp. Relieves kidney fluid congestion (lower body edema and puffy eyes). Stimulates immunity, reduces infection, antidotes poison, promotes tissue repair. Used as a preventative in epidemics, and for chronic viral and bacterial infections. Best used in conditions of cold and damp and for treating Spleen and Kidney Yang deficiency. Tonifies yang, stimulates will power and increases physical stamina. This means that juniper should be used in cold conditions only. Kidney also relates to how we manage and process our fears.
Richard Whelan, Medical and Registered Herbalist, however, questioned these warnings. He found research that supported the use of juniper for the kidneys, and traced the source of misinformation back to 1898. Experiments done at that time were with animals using high doses of juniper essential oil. Recent toxicological studies on rats using high doses of juniper oil found no damage to their kidneys. Whelan concluded that once a caution like that gets published, no one thinks to question it with every subsequent author quoting the previous one.
The cautions about juniper being contraindicated in people with kidney disease are overstated, the potential for juniper to over-stimulate kidney function is not.
Eric Yarnell, ND, RH, stated that juniper is not nephrotoxic:
During the Eclectic era of herbalism (mid 1800s–1900s), writings discussed that juniper was specifically used for kidney disease. At some point following that era, a belief came about that juniper is toxic to the kidneys and is contraindicated in patients with kidney disease. This belief persists today, though it’s basis is highly dubious. There are a variety of clinical situations in which juniper is a specific and valuable remedy, and shunning it out of irrational fear is not helpful to patients.
I have seen much miraculous healing in my life. Could my friend be healed of his cancer using juniper? Perhaps junipers encroachment on human civilization is trying to get our attention with a message that its medicine is needed at this time. I believe that when the Western Mechanistic Medicine model is integrated with the Eastern Energetic Model of Medicine that came before it, our possibilities for healing will exponentially increase. At present it is an unknown. More research is needed. When we have support and funding for independent research along with a health care system that recognizes the need and efficacy of alternative healing modalities only then we will build the healing centers and hospitals of the future. It is my hope and vision that the answers will come. Perhaps Juniper’s gift of medicine and food holds even greater possibilities for healing in our future. Healing that takes place in the context of relationship as described by the wisdom of the Chinese Five Elements, where we “do no harm” and protect the next seven generations.
Essential oil not to be used internally during pregnancy. Juniper berry essential oil is FDA approved for limited internal use. May stimulate uterine contractions and induce miscarriage. Herbalist, Michael Moore considered juniper a uterine vasodilator. However, drinking an infusion once a day starting two weeks before due date is a good uterine tonic to prepare for labor as an alternative to blue cohosh. Check for possible allergic reaction by doing a skin patch test as some people have allergic responses to junipers.
Preparation and Dosage:
General recommended dose (unless otherwise recommended): 2g to a maximum of 10g/day of whole, crushed, or powdered berries, corresponding to 20-100mg of the essential oil, for infusions, decoctions, and alcohol extracts. Avoid long term therapeutic doses. Dosage is vital to a successful outcome. It is advisable to increase the dosage gradually, and not use it for too long. This is best done with an infusion or tincture.
Note: 1 tsp = 5 g, 1ml = 15 drops
Infusion (use crushed or ground, fresh or dried juniper berries): 3 teaspoons of berries (15g), in 2 cups of hot water (approx. 500ml), cover and let steep for 20 minutes, strain and take 1 tsp, 2-3x/day (6-10 g). Medical Herbalist, Thomas Bartram recommends 1 teaspoon of crushed berries, steeped for 30 minutes in 1 cup of freshly boiled water, strain and drink ½ to 1 cup daily for five days.
Tincture (to cleanse and strengthen the kidneys): 1:5, 1-4 ml/day in divided doses. Herb Pharm sells Juniper tincture at a recommended dosage of 611 mg (1:4, 20 drops 3x/day between meals) for 6 weeks. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends 1:5 in 45% ethanol, 1-2 ml up to 3/day.
Essential Oil (made by steam distillation of the crushed, dried, or fermented berries is more antiseptic and detoxicant): Can be inhaled (diffused), taken orally, or massaged with a carrier oil. Orally: 20-100 mg for indigestion. 1-2 drops in a gel cap topped with olive oil. When buying juniper essential oil, look for organic, food-grade.
Note: Juniper oil distilled from ripe berries can be used safely while maintaining a healthy respect for their potency. Dosage is vital to a successful outcome. It is advisable to increase the dosage gradually, and not use it for too long. This may best be done with a tea or a tincture.
Disclaimer: The information presented is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using these or any product during pregnancy or if you have a serious medical condition.
On a recent field trip to H Mart, an Asian supermarket near Atlanta, Georgia, I drove south from my mountain home in anticipation of new discoveries and old treasures. Having previously lived in San Francisco, I knew the excitement of exploring an Asian grocery store, large or small.
Asian markets are a great way to save on medicinal herbs, exotic foods, seaweeds and fungi — an experience not to be missed. Lost in extensive rows of mushrooms and seaweeds between a fish market and food court, I could have easily spent an entire day at H Mart. The “H” in H Mart is short for Han Ah Reum, meaning “One Arm Full of Groceries.” One of the medicinal herbs I brought home is Polygonatum, native to east Asia. It is also a plant that grows in my backyard, in the surrounding woods where I live in Asheville, North Carolina.
Polygonatum is a perennial herb that belongs to the Asparagaceae (Asparagus) family, and in older classification systems, like many of the lilioids, was placed in the broadly defined lily family. A genus that contains approximately 50 species of flowering plants known as Solomon’s Seal, it is a common plant in the Appalachians, and can be found flowering between May and June.
Some species are considered medicinal, most notably; Polygonatum biflorum, odoratum, and sibiricum. The species common to Eastern North America is Polygonatum biflorum, referring to the pairs of flowers growing along the leaf axis. The young shoots are edible and may be cooked like asparagus.
The medicinal part of the plant is the rhizome, which is harvested in the fall, then dried and sliced. Native Americans used it as food and medicine. Early settlers valued the rhizome as a food for its starch content. Young shoots can be collected in the spring, not unlike asparagus, and added to soups and stews. Roasted rhizomes can be ground into flour. Solomon’s Seal can be ethically harvested by leaving the portion of the rhizome connected to the stalk intact. New shoots will grow from where the rhizome had been cut.
An elegant Native American woodland plant, Solomon’s Seal likes to grow at the edge of moist woods. Its foliage is poised along a graceful arched stem with dangling pairs of creamy white, tubular fairy bellflowers. These are followed by attractive black seedpods.
The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the healed over scars of the rhizome left by old leaf stems and which resemble a wax seal, presumably the official wax seal of King Solomon. Stem scars also tell us how old the plant is, with one scar for each year of growth. When the rhizome is cut, the cross section reveals a 6-pointed Star of David. Solomon became king during the reign of his father, King David, and was credited with possessing the precious quality of wisdom.
“The Medicine Wheel Garden as it exists on Earth is a three-dimensional representation of the ‘as above, so below mysteries.’ It is in the shape of a circle that contains a six pointed star, and it is a mirror of the heavens. As it sits on the earth in three-dimensional reality, it represents the six directions: east, south, west, north, above, and below. Within this garden grows all the food and medicine that sustains us in our current form while simultaneously feeding our evolution into our light bodies.”
Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth
When Solomon prayed to God for wisdom he did not pray for wealth, nor did he wish death to his enemies, but rather he longed for discernment in the administering of justice. The metaphor is one of wise governance and possessing the ability to distinguish between good and evil through an understanding of the universe. For this reason, “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)
Wisdom and Heart (Heart-Mind) both correspond with the Fire Element in Chinese Five Element Theory. The Fire Element rules the nervous system, and Solomon’s Seal helps us adapt to stress by restoring the cooling fluids of the deep feminine yin, which keeps masculine Fire from burning out of control. Solomon’s Seal relaxes the nervous system and treats yin deficient conditions, especially when they involve emotional disturbances and stress. In this manner, Solomon’s Seal acts as an adaptogen.
The key actions of Solomon’s Seal are demulcent, expectorant, sedative, and tonic. In Chinese Medicine it is known Yu Zhu, and is most prized as a yin tonic. Yin tonics work by restoring the Water Element (Kidney), which cools the Liver (Wood Element). Tendons and ligaments are the body part that correspond with the Wood Element, and this is why Solomon’s Seal is used to help heal injured tendons, and restore proper tension to ligaments. It does this by its ability to nourish yin, moisten dryness, and to nourish and moisten sinews. Solomon’s Seal also quells wind, relieving pain and spasms due to wind generated fluid deficiency.
Connective tissues that are dry lack flexibility. Yin fluids must be adequate if we are to remain flexible, especially in times of change. Otherwise, an overheated Liver from lack of fluids will cause Wood to break when the winds of change blow, no different than a tree from lack of Water. By increasing synovial fluid, Solomon’s Seal also helps to reduce inflammation in the joints.
Historically Solomon’s Seal was also used for respiratory and lung disorders. It has an affinity for the lung and stomach. Yu Zhu is used in Chinese herbal soups to relieve dry coughs due to lung yin deficiency. It moistens dryness in the lungs and acts as spleen and stomach tonic, improving appetite and reducing fatigue.
We would not want to conclude this discussion of Solomon’s Seal without mentioning False Solomon’s Seal. False Solomon’s seal is a completely different genus and species, Maianthemum racemosum and should be avoided, as it resembles other deadly plants when young. Itproduces terminal flowers in a feathery plume while Solomon’s Seal produce non terminal flowers from the axils of the leaves. The way to know the difference between the two is like knowing the difference between a true and a false friend. A real friend you can depend on to be true through and through (the way the flowers are dispersed on Solomon’s Seal) and a false friend puts on a good front (feathery flowers at the end of the stem.)
By coming into relationship with the healing power of plants we become empowered to be our own healers. Solomon’s Seal is an especially important ally for these transformational times, beckoning us to enter the forest’s hidden secrets on a lesser-traveled path, a path lighted by breaking waves of Polygonatum’s fairy-like lanterns. Enter…
Energetics: Sweet, slightly cold, Neutral
Nourishing soup stock: Add dried Polygonum to your favorite soup stock and simmer for a minimum of two hours. Rinse and soak briefly before using. Choose dried herb that is soft and has a white yellowish color. Can be found in most Asian markets and herbal shops.
Decoction: 1 ounce dried rhizome to 1 quart water, or 2 tablespoons per pint. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then steep for 40 minutes, strain.
Dosage: Drink 4 ounces, three to four times a day.
Tincture: Fresh root – 1:3 in 95%. Dried Root, 1:5 in 50%.
Dosage: 5-10 drops, 3x/day, or follow product label directions
Contraindications:Polygonatum is considered safe: The American Products Association has given it a class 1 rating, meaning that it can be consumed safely when used appropriately. Due to its sweet and cooling nature, Polygonatum is contraindicated in spleen deficiency with dampness, or coughs with profuse phlegm, stomach deficiency, phlegm-damp, phlegm stagnation, or qi stagnation. Do not use in case of loose stools due to cold.
I am blessed with a daughter and son-in-law who are talented massage therapists. When they undertook opening and running a successful massage therapy center in Asheville’s hip west side, I couldn’t have been more proud. Not only would they experience the growth opportunities inherent in owning their own business, they would also be providing a valuable service in these unprecedented and transitional/transformational times. Now that spas have come back on line, they are again able to serve their community at a time when it is needed most.
Massage is not only essential for tense, overworked muscles and to calm the mind, it also helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. I have personally found the benefit received from a massage with moderate pressure from a good therapist, to be an invaluable investment in restoring my deep yin, adrenal reserves.
When my daughter was a young girl, she would rub and massage me, and I would say to her, “You have great hands! You should be a massage therapist.” Not only did she become an excellent therapist, she partnered with one! I have been getting professional massages for over forty years, and now that I am 65, I can’t imagine a wellness, or longevity plan, that doesn’t include regular massage.
Many of us over the years have burned the candle at both ends, pushing ourselves with caffeine, sugar, and chocolate, until “burn out” left us searching for ways to replenish and restore. The toll of stress on our nervous system, which keeps us in sympathetic nervous system response, goes mostly unnoticed as we continue to push through our day. We have become valued for human doings, rather than human beings.
The sympathetic nervous system is where fight, flight, or freeze gets turned on. If the switch gets stuck in the “on” position, our deep, cooling, yin reserves become depleted. The result is that we become anxious, fearful and angry. It is well known that massage helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The Parasympathetic nervous system is where rest and digest gets turned on. The heart rate slows, and energy is conserved and sent to the digestive system.
Stress in the form of driving and eating, being late for work, loud sirens, a cell phone constantly dinging, a sick child at home with a fever, a flat tire, or a fight with your spouse… all cause muscles to tense, heart rate to increase, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to dump into blood stream. Sustained stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system stuck in the “on” position, never allowing the parasympathetic to relax and recover. This can result in GI dysfunction, weight gain, chronic disease, inflammation, insomnia, and decreased immunity. When the cycle of repair and healing gets disrupted, it becomes a vicious cycle.
In no other system is the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of our being as apparent as in the nervous system. All psychological processes are anchored in the nervous system. Herbal medicine addresses the way in which plants affect human consciousness and the physical action of nervine herbs is but one side of the whole interface between plant and mind. Many scientists are now calling the totality of neurons in the gut, “the second brain.” Not only does this second brain regulate muscles, it also manufactures up to 90% of the serotonin in your body. Many neurologists now realize that antidepressants are often less effective in treating depression than dietary changes are.
Massage, breathing, meditation, walks in nature, yoga and moderate exercise are all important strategies for calming the mind, ensuring adequate digestion, and are an important component of any longevity plan. You may also want to consider using the follow nervines for additional support:
Hops: Humulus lupulus
You may be surprised to learn that Hops, primarily used as a bitter to flavor and stabilize beer, is in the same family as marijuana, cannabaceae. It is sedative, hypnotic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and astringent. It has a relazing effect on the Central Nervous System and is used extensively to treat insomnia, to ease tension and anxiety, and is appropriate when tension leads to restlessness and indigestion.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, capsules, dried extract, tablet or tea. And of course if you live in Asheville, known as one of the Best Craft Beer Cities in the U.S. ~ you could drink a nice “hoppy” high IPA beer.
Tincture: 1-4ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)
Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 tsp dried herb and infused covered for 15 minutes, drink 1 cup at night to induce sleep, increasing as needed.
Wild Oats: Avena Sativa
The same common oat grain that is widely used as food if allowed to fully mature, Wild Oats may be either wild or cultivated, and is also known as oatstraw and milky oats. It is a nervine tonic, antidepressant, nutritive, demulcent, and vulnerary. Wild Oats feed the nervous system especially when under stress. It is a specific remedy for nervous debility and exhaustion associated with depression.
May be taken as a tincture, infusion, bath and as food.
Tincture: 3-5ml 3x/day (1:5 in 25%), or 1-2 droppers full up to 3x/day for at least 3 months for long term benefits.
Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-3 teaspoons of dried straw and infuse for 15 minutes, strain, drink 3x/day.
Bath (use for neuralgia and irritated skin): Boil 1 pound of shredded oatstraw in 2 quarts water for ½ hour. Strain and add to bath.
Broth: Boil oats in a broth, strain, and drink to soothe esophagus, stomach, and irritated mucous membranes of the bowel.
“There are a great many interventions that are possible with plant medicines and unlike pharmaceuticals, viruses don’t develop resistance to them.” – Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections
“So, you are an herbalist. What would you recommend as a preventative, or to help someone get over the coronavirus?”
This question is posed to me often during this challenging time of viral spread. It makes me stop and think. I have been thinking about it a lot, even before the questions started coming. It is a difficult and dangerous question for an herbalist, especially in our present political and medical climate.
The strength of herbal medicine lies in its tonic ability to restore bodily systems, and not necessarily in treating disease. A tonic is an herb that must be taken consistently over time. Herbalists do not diagnose or treat illness and disease. Our strength lies in prevention, and in health and wellness support of the body to heal itself.
That said, there is much that we can do in support of healing. Aside from everything we already know to do to prevent the spread of a virus, I would like to offer my perspective and some recommendations that may be supportive.
At the moment, the therapeutic strategies employed by Western Medicine to deal with viral respiratory infections are mostly supportive, and prevention is aimed at reducing transmission. In spite of the recent spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus is much less contagious than the measles. Seven strains of coronavirus are now known to infect humans. Four cause common colds, and two rank among the deadliest of human infections: SARS, and MERS. Covid-19 is number seven.
Because the symptoms take longer to emerge than a seasonal flu, it’s spread is more rapid. Many who are only mildly ill and not sick enough to stay home, and others who are infected but don’t get sick, will continue to spread their infection to others. Those numbers will include people who never had symptoms, or had a flulike illness but never got a test for Covid-19.
The coronaviruses have become a growing concern in infectious-disease outbreaks world-wide. Pathogenic virus infections are still the leading cause of death in humans worldwide, and as population growth continues this will become even more of a concern.
The answer is not a simple one. The main reason being the lens through which we view health and dis-ease. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees the flu, or a virus with symptoms like the coronavirus, as a wind-heat condition. Plants that reduce inflammation in the lungs and expel the virus also alleviate wind-heat, and expel wind-heat invasion. The TCM view is through the lens of relationship and interconnectedness. It is an energetic model based on natural law, where healing takes place in the context of relationship with correspondences to season, food flavor, element, color, spirit, emotion, and more. It sees the ways in which we are in relationship with viruses not as a “virulent other,” but as an essential, underlying part of life on this planet. There is no avoiding them, and they cannot be killed off without killing off every form of life on Earth.
While Western Medicine basically leaves it up to the individuals immune system, advising rest, plenty of fluids, and over the counter medications as needed, the Chinese have been developing herbal combinations with very good outcomes when compared to Western approaches.
Viruses are very intelligent life forms, even if they are argued to walk between the worlds of the living and non-living. They are masterful shape-shifters.
Covid-19 is an RNA virus and as such can alter its structure very quickly. RNA is a single-stranded molecule, the messenger molecule if you will, that is used to carry genetic information (DNA) intimately involved in the synthesis of proteins needed as the building blocks for all forms of life, including our own. Viruses have genes that alter proteins which allow it to attach to a new species. They are talking among themselves, as are all life forms on planet earth.
Viruses are very good at surviving, and at hiding from the human immune system. They can analyze the nature of immune response launched against them, and can alter the host immune defenses in order to avoid it. The ability of RNA viruses to replicate unreliably and with great genetic variation makes it very hard, if not impossible, to create a vaccine for an RNA virus. They are also very hard to treat with pharmaceuticals as they mutate the moment they encounter one. And it all happens very quickly.
“Epidemiologists have been warning, with increasing insistence, that a worldwide pandemic similar to the one that covered the globe in 1918… is due soon.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2012
In spite of the many advances in medical technology, warns Buhner, there is very little modern medicine can do to treat a widespread pandemic of deadly influenza. He goes on to explain that pharmaceutical antivirals are only partially effective and the stocks of those antivirals are insufficient to deal with a true pandemic. Buhner predicted that the system would begin to shut down, quarantines would force people to stay in their homes, and that we would survive, just as we always have.
A careful analysis of the re-created forms of the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, and its physiological damage, show that the reason the disease is so severe is that the virus creates a tremendous cascade of cytokines in the body that can become a cytokine storm. Cytokines are immunoregulatory proteins stimulated by the body’s innate immune system in response to infection. The cytokine cascade is the body’s attempt to kill off the invading pathogen. It is this overreaction, much more so in individuals with a strong immune system, that kills so many, so quickly. Susceptibility to more serve infection in older populations is primarily due to age-related physiology, declining immune systems, and pre-existing inflammations like arthritis.
Unfortunately for us, influenza viruses have learned how to use our own immune response for their purposes. They love the lungs and this is where they cause the greatest damage. Once inhaled they use the epithelial cell as a docking port and attach to lung epithelial cells with a glue-like substance called hemagglutinin. As soon as the virus is attached to the cell, it uses an enzyme called neuraminidase to alter the cell surface and trick the cell into taking it inside of itself where it can’t be found by the immune system. This is why neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu are effective when taken immediately and at the first sign of infection. Neuraminidase inhibitors inhibit the ability of the virus to enter host cells and thus stops the infection. Please see the list of herbal neuraminidase inhibitors below.
The virus also has a protection system it puts in place around itself during replication using what is called an M2 ion channel. M2 inhibitors block this process and literally stop the virus from replicating. Unfortunately, the extensive use of M2 inhibitors in poultry farms has now created resistance to them. The herb, Lomatium, is one of the most powerful M2 inhibitors known and does not create resistance (see below).
Once the virus unpacks itself and releases its viral RNA into the cytoplasm (viral budding and shedding), cells are depleted and die, and the whole process begins again in a vicious cycle. Pneumonia is when this process becomes severe with fewer and fewer functional alveoli. Throughout this process, the virus is also stimulating the release of cytokines in such a way to keep the parts of the immune system that can kill the virus suppressed for as long as possible.
In severe influenza, the infected airway cells begin generating specific cytokines, including type 2 interferon (Interferon-gamma IFN-y), which is responsible for most of the negative effects of the cytokine cascade. This is where the mortal damage occurs. The virus stimulates it, thus initiating a positive feedback loop in the cytokine process that can lead to a cytokine storm. Blocking IFN-y through the use of inhibitors has been found to significantly reduce airway infiltration of immune cells (see herbal inhibitors below).
Other cytokines are also released and inhibiting them, especially TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha) can reduce the cytokine-based inflammation that occurs during influenza, alleviating symptoms and inhibiting viral spread. Plants that inhibit cytokines that the virus stimulates will help to lessen severity and lung damage.
A factor in the vicious cycle of a cytokine storm is the release of a cytokine like protein, HMGB1, which has been implicated in sepsis-induced cytokine storms and is highly elevated in all patients who die from sepsis, including sepsis generated by influenza. The higher the cytokine levels go, the more HMGB1 is released. When HMGB1 is expressed in lung tissue, as it is during a severe flu, it causes massive neutrophil infiltration and acute lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation. Steroidal drugs, aspirin, and ibuprofen have no effect on HMGB1 levels. However, a number of herbal constituents do have a direct suppressive action against HMGB1.
To assist drainage of mucus in the lungs, the lymph nodes in the lungs begin to increase in size to drain fluids from the lungs and prevent suffocation. Supporting the lymph to assist in this drainage is essential. Herbal lymphatics are well known to assist in this drainage.
An influenza virus that stays in the upper respiratory tract is much easier to work with than a more severe infection in the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia is one serious complication, as are cytokine storms should the infection really take hold. Herbal antivirals work best to prevent these serious complications.
Antivirals work by inhibiting penetration of host cells, and preventing the virus from releasing viral proteins into the host cell interior. They don’t directly “kill” the virus, which is not “alive” in the sense that a bacterium is alive and can be killed.
While viruses don’t develop resistance to herbal medicine like they do with pharmaceuticals, many influenza strains are developing resistance to the primary pharmaceutical neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat them, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Resistance has become common to M2 inhibitors as well, especially due to their overuse in agribusiness. When oseltamivir ends up in our waterways, unaffected by wastewater treatment, it comes into contact with waterfowl and is exposed to avian influenza strains. The avian strains develop resistance, and as the avian, human, and swine strains commingle the resistance is passed on into strains that infect humans. The emergence of a highly infective avian strain resistant to all known pharmaceutical antivirals is one of the things that keeps viral researchers up at night.
The good news is that herbal medicine and herbal antivirals do not create resistance and support the body to heal without the harmful side effects. It is time to come into relationship with our medicine.
10 Herbs to Help You Fight the Flu
*See Herbal Protocol below the list of herbs to determine which specific herb to take during each phase of the flu.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture, tea, powder, capsules, or in food. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops, up to 4x/day as a tonic. As a preventative for the flu or chronic illnesses, 1 teaspoon, 4-6x/day, and for acute conditions every 3 hours. Tea: 2 oz. herb in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand 4 hours, strain and drink throughout the day. Powder: 1 tablespoon, 3x/day. In acute conditions, 2 tablespoons, 3x/day. Food: Can be added to soup stocks and immune enhancing broths (has a tendency to shred so be sure to strain well).
Uses – Active against influenza A, other viruses, and respiratory infection. Immune potentiator and modulator. Enhances spleen function (spleen deficiency). Is considered a superior immune tonic in Chinese Medicine. Normalizes white blood cell count. Useful in reversing immunosuppression from any source.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity, or side effects. Contraindicated for some people in late stage Lyme, as it can exacerbate autoimmune response. May increase effects of interferon and acyclovir. Synergistic with echinacea and licorice. Not for use in people with organ transplants.
2. Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum – not native to China
Part used – Aerial parts in flower or just before flowering.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Dried or fresh root tea or tincture. Tea: cold tea – 1 oz. dried herb in 1 qt. boiling water and let steep overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day. Take cold as a liver tonic and for mucous membranes, take hot to reduce fever. Hot Tea: 3 0z. dried herb to 1 gallon of hot water. Steep 30 minutes. Drink hot with honey, 8 oz. every 2 hours. Tincture: Fresh herb in flower, 1:2 @ 95%, 20-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. Dry herb use 1:5 @ 60%, 30-40 drops in hot water up to 3x/day. For acute flu or bacterial upper respiratory infections take 10 drops of tincture in hot water every ½ hour, up to 6x/day.
Uses – Reduces fever and body aches accompanying the flu. For general debility, pneumonia, cough, epidemic influenza, colds.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Mildly emetic when taken in large doses. Possible allergy due to plant being in the ragwort family (chamomile, feverfew, etc.). No known drug/herb interactions.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea, capsules, or tincture. Tea or Capsules: Root powder, 3 grams every 3-4 hours, or 1 teaspoon 3-6x/day (may be dissolved in water, taken in tea or put in capsules). Tincture: Root powder tincture, 1:5 @ 50% ¼-1/2 teaspoon 3x/day. In acute cases double the dosage.
Uses – Viral infections, especially pandemic influenza and encephalitis, respiratory infections, pneumonia, infections that affect the CNS (Lyme, meningitis, etc.), fevers, seizures, convulsions, sleep disturbances, headache, hypertension. Root tincture specific for reducing inflammation in the brain, reducing cytokine cascades initiated by viral agents.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – May interfere with the metabolism and effectiveness of drugs and herbs, increasing their uptake in the body. May increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.
4.Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis, dong chong xia cao
Part used – Caterpillar body, fruiting body.
Actions – Adaptogen, anti-asthmatic, antibacterial, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antitumor, antitussive, bronchial regulator, cardiotonic, expectorant, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immunomodulator, neuroprotective, renoprotective. TNF-a, IFN-y, cytokine inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cilia-protective. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Taken in tea or tincture. Tea: Powder, 3-9 grams/day, or as high as 50 grams (2 oz.)/day for acute disease conditions, drink in warm water. Buhner recommends 3-4 tablespoons of the powder 3x/day. Tincture: 1:5 @ 50%, tonic dosage ¼-1/2 tsp., 3x/day. Double for active infections (1 tsp. 6x/day). Can also be infused in an alcohol liquor. The best results occur with 6 grams daily as a baseline for acute conditions.
Uses – Respiratory viral infections, CNS inflammation, unproductive or chronic cough, asthma, joint inflammation, low libido, altitude sickness, thick mucus in the lungs that will not move, tinnitus. Increases kidney strength. Tonifies the lungs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Synergistic with closporine and antidiabetic medications affecting dosage requirements.
5.Elder, Sambucus nigra – not native to China
Part Used – Ripe berries & flowers.
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, antioxidant, moderate immune stimulant. Neuraminidase, TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Increases T cell count. Cytokine modulator.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1 & 2) Taken as a tea, tincture, or decoction. Can be made into jams and jellies. The berries must be heated during preparation to reduce cyanogenic compounds. Flower tea: 1 oz. flowers (dried or fresh) in 1 quart of hot water, cover and let stand until cool, drink freely. To make an Elderberry syrup (Thea’s Gyspy Cold Care) for colds and flu please visit theaskitchen.com
Uses – Respiratory infections, and influenza.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, depending on the part of the plant you are using and how it is prepared. There are few reports of side effects. Start with low doses and work up. No known drug/herb interactions.
6.Ginger, Zingiber officinale, gan jiang (dried older rhizome), shen jiang (fresh, young rhizome)
Part used – Fresh (not dried) root (rhizome). “Baby” or young ginger can be obtained at your local farmers markets and frozen for later use.
Properties – Pungent. Dried root is hot & drying, fresh root is warm & moistening. Dispels wind-cold.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1) Taken as a fresh juice, tea or tincture. Fresh juice: ¼ cup fresh pressed juice in 8 oz. hot water to which lemon, lime, honey and cayenne may be added. Drink every 2-3 hours at the onset of a cold or flu. Tea: Use the leftover plant matter from juicing to make a tea by steeping in hot water for 4 hours, strain, drink as above. Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 in 95%, take 10-20 drops up to 4x/day
Uses – Viral infections including colds & flus, digestive aid, calms nausea, improves circulation, reduces diarrhea and stomach cramping, reduces fever through sweating (diaphoretic), reduces chills and inflammation, thins mucous, reduces coughing, pain relieving, relaxes blood vessels, synergistic with other herbs.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy (emmenagogue), but the dried root can be used to ease morning sickness. May aggravate gallstones. May rarely cause gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea (usually from using dried, powdered root.) Synergistic with antibiotics, usually increasing their potency.
7. Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, gan cao
Part used – Root (3 year old roots or older).
Actions – Antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mucoprotective, adrenal tonic, analgesic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antispasmodic, antitussive, cardioprotective, demulcent, estrogenic, gastric secretion inhibitor, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, immunomodulator, immune-stimulant. Upregulates the production of type 1 interferon and increases T cells, which reduces the influenza severity. TNF-a inhibitor. Reduces the virus’ ability to inhibit the production of macrophages (white blood cells) by stimulating monocyte and dendritic cell maturation. Cytokine inhibitor, strongly inhibiting cytokine cascades. IFN-y modulator. Binds HMGB1 inactivating its actions in the body. Increases T cell count.
Note: As an immune-stimulant, it stimulates interferon, and enhances antibody formation. As an immunomodulant it will reduce interferon levels if they are high and upregulate if low.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as tincture, tea, infusion, or decoction. Best used in combination formulas. Tincture: Dried root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-60 drops up to 3x/day. Acute dosage for viral infections, ½ – 1 tsp. (approx. 50-100 drops) 3-6x/day (blended with other herbs) for a maximum of six weeks. Infusion: ½-1 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz. water, simmer for 15 minutes uncovered, strain, drink up to 3 cups/day. In acute conditions drink 1 cup every 2 hours. Decoction: 6 grams root powder in 16 oz. water, bring to a boil, uncovered and simmer until reduced to approx 8.5 oz., then add enough water to bring volume up to approx. 32 oz., drink throughout the day.
Note: Do not use deglycyrrhized licorice if using as an antiviral. Look for between 2.5 & 4% glycyrrhizin content. 2.5 % should render approx. 50 mg glycyrrhizin.
Uses – Influenza of all kinds, respiratory viral infections, pneumonia, and coronaviruses. Moistens the lungs and reduces coughing. Sore throats as a gargle. Eases abdominal cramping.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – Long-term use can lead to numbness, dizziness, headache, hypertension, potassium depletion. This herb should rarely be used in isolation or in large doses for longer than 4-6 weeks, especially if you are pregnant. It is contraindicated in hypertension. Short term use in low doses, especially when combined with other herbs is very safe. Is synergistic increasing the potency of other herbs. It should not be used in combination with estrogenic pharmaceuticals, hypertensive drugs, cardiac glycosides, diuretics, corticosteroids or hydrocortisone.
8.Lomatium, Lomatium dissectum – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, mucous membrane tonic. One of the most potent M2 inhibitors known.
Properties – Bitter, cooling, clears-heat and dampness.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3) Taken as a tincture or infusion: Tincture: Fresh root, 1:2 @ 70%, 10-30 drops up to 5x/day. Acute dosage, 10-30 drops every hour. Same dosage for dry root, 1:5 @ 70%. Infusion: Cover 2 tsp. powdered root with 8 oz boiling water, cover and let steep for one hour, strain and drink up to 3x/day.
Note: Common influenza tincture blend (as recommended by Stephen Harrod Buhner) is equal parts lomatium, red root, licorice and pleurisy root. In acute conditions take 1 teaspoon, 6x/day. Have also been traditionally eaten as food.
Uses – Upper respiratory viral infections, all influenza strains including coronaviruses, pneumonia, eases coughs. Is synergistic when combined with other herbs including: red root, and licorice. May be used as a single.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known toxicity. May cause an allergic rash (1%) in some people (more commonly with fresh, not dried root), and will pass on its own within a week. Contraindicated in pregnancy. No known drug/herb interactions.
9. Red Root, Ceanothus americanus – not native to China
Part Used – Root
Actions – Lymphatic, tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, alterative, antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, and blood coagulant. Increases T cell count.
Properties – Aromatic, slightly warm, not widely used in TCM. Has a long history of use in the Americas primarily as an astringent.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 1, 2 & 3)Taken as a tincture, tea, or strong decoction. Tincture: Dry root, 1:5 @ 50%, 30-90 drops up to 4x/day. Tea: 1 tsp. powdered root in 8 oz. water, simmer 15 minutes, strain. Drink up to 6 cups daily. Decoction: 1 oz. herb in 16 ounces water, cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, take 1 tablespoon 3-4x/day. Make a strong tea as a gargle for throat inflammation and tonsillitis.
Uses – Clears lymph. Useful for coughs including whooping cough, and bronchitis.
Drug/Herb Interactions & Contraindications – No known side effects. Contraindicated in pregnancy. Should not be used with pharmaceutical coagulants or anticoagulants.
10. Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea, Hong Jing Tian
Part Used – Root
Actions – Adaptogen, yin tonic, antidepressant, cardiotonic, endocrine tonic, nervous system tonic, neuroprotective. Neuraminidase inhibitor. Protects cells from hypoxia, significantly reducing lung damage. Prevents hypoxia-induced oxidative damage, increases intracellular oxygen diffusion and the efficiency of oxygen utilization. Reduces autoimmune response and protects endothelial cells.
Properties – Sweet, cooling, adaptogen tonic.
Preparation & Dosage – (Phase 2 & 3) Tincture or capsules. Tincture: Dried root 1:5 @ 50%, Tonic dose: 30-40 drops, 3-4x/day. Acute dose ½-1 teaspoon 3x/day for 30 days then back to tonic dose. Capsule: 100 mg., 1-2 per day. In acute conditions up to 1,000 mg. daily. Standardized to 2-3% rosavins. Take just before meals.
Cleavers – Lymphatic with some of the same effects at Red Root. Fresh juice of the plant is best.
Echinacea Angustifolia – (Phase 1 & 2) Antiviral, found to be effective against swine origin flu. Inhibits receptor cell binding activity of the virus and strengthens protective power of the mucous membranes making it harder for the virus to penetrate.
Umckaloabo – A potentially life-saving herb. The main cause of death in an influenza virus infection is pneumonia. Learn how Umckaloabo prevents this at Wisdom of the Plant Devas.
Vitamin D3 –Vitamin D3 deficiency among ICU patients increases mortality by more than 70% compared to those who are not deficient. Dosage: 3-6,000 iu/day
Quercetin – Neuraminidase and HMGB1 inhibitor.
Zinc – Increases T-cell count. Has been shown to be active against a number of viruses and is supportive in treatment of influenza. Studies have found zinc supplementation can triple the survival rate for children with pneumonia and reduce the duration of the common cold in children and adults. Dosage: 10-25 mg./day, 25-40 during acute conditions. Works synergistically with selenium, 200 mcg/day.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil – Olbas, or Eucalyptus inhalation to reduce coughing and improve airflow.
Note: The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only. You should seek medical attention at the first signs of an infection, and be under the care of, and in communication with a licensed physician, even when you are using herbal alternatives. Be sure to disclose any herbs or supplements you may be taking. The recommendations made in this post are based on the work of, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Paul Bergner, and my own clinical experience.
Phase One – Early onset: Take at the first signs of infection, equal parts redroot tincture and licorice root extract, 30 drops, every hour until symptoms are resolved. Fresh ginger can be juiced, drink warm added to whatever liquids you are drinking. Drinking it in hot water or tea is diaphoretic helping to lower a fever. Use up to 2 oz, 2xday. Elderberry syrup as directed on label. Echinacea angustifoliainhibits the virus, 20 drops every other hour. Hold in mouth, then swallow slowly so tincture comes in contact with mucous membranes. Only useful in stage one. Lomatium tincture dosage, 20 drops every hour until condition improves. Boneset tincture or tea for body aches and fever. While some may recommend raw garlic at this stage, it may be too hot and pungent for this condition and it destroys good gut bacteria along with the bad. Learn more in Wisdom of the Five Flavors: The Energetics of Healing with Food and Herbs.
Phase Two – Moderate infection: A combination of Chinese skullcap, licorice, lomatium, cordyceps, astragulus, rhodiola, boneset, and elder. Antiviral Tincture Formula: Equal parts Chinese Skullcap, licorice, lomatium, redroot. 60 drops every hour. Immune Tincture Formula: Equal parts astragulus, cordyceps, and rhodiola. 60 drops 3x/day.
Phase Three – Severe infection: Double the dosage of Antiviral and Immune Tincture Formula.
3. Viral Infectious Disease and Natural Products with Antiviral Activity, Kitazato, Kaio & Wang, Y & Kobayashi, N. (2007). Drug discoveries & therapeutics. 1. 14-22.
4. Effects of Toll-Like Receptor Stimulation on Eosinophilic Infiltration in Lungs of BALB/c Mice Immunized with UV-Inactivated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Related Coronavirus Vaccine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135953/ J Virol. 2014 Aug; 88(15): 8597–8614. Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, et al.
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/
Look who I discovered hiding behind my house this spring! This escapee was most likely introduced into New England as a horticultural plant and has now become a naturalized flower of Southern Appalachia. In the six years I have lived here, nestled against the Pisgah National Forest, I have only seen it flowering twice clustered beneath a wild apple tree, next to a wild rose and untended, overgrown butterfly bush.
The first time was the morning after my son had arrived at my house in post-traumatic shock. He had driven 2 days straight in his motorhome after the violent death of a close friend and was clearly in shock. As I stood in front of his motorhome that morning while he slept making prayers for his healing, I gazed up the hillside in contemplation and spied a cluster of tiny white flowers on the embankment that beckoned me.
At first I didn’t know what they were. They seemed familiar and I felt certain it was some kind of medicine. My trusted field guide confirmed the lily like structure was indeed, Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, used as a flower essence for shock, grief and trauma. It was no accident that they had shown up at this time in my son’s hour of need. Our medicine is as close as we are right now.
The flower essence remedy of Star of Bethlehem had been one of my allies many years ago when I used it as a practicing midwife for mother and baby following a traumatic birth. This was the first time, however, that I had seen it growing naturally in the wild. It is a beautiful delicate flower whose name is based on its star shaped flowers after the Star of Bethlehem that appeared in the biblical account of the birth of Jesus. It is one of the most commonly used flower essences for post-traumatic stress, trauma, grief and depressed states. It is also one of five essences that make up Rescue Remedy designed for use in situations of acute stress and an essential part of any holistic medicine cabinet.
While Autumn is generally a time when feelings of loss, sadness and grief are expressing, there is a reason why Star of Bethlehem comes to us in the spring. When the naturally descending energies of Fall move into the frozen state of Winter and one remains stuck in this state or is not able to come out of the stagnancy of winter into the rising energies of Spring, this flower essence may support depressive feelings that are an indicator of where a person is experiencing some type of imbalance or disharmony which needs addressed. Dr. Edward Bach referred to Star of Bethlehem as “the comforter and soother of pain and sorrows.” This essence can help soothe our imbalances like beautiful music that brings in vibrations that harmonize our whole being.
The three most foundational elements of grief are loss, longing and feeling lost. We live in a culture that encourages us to deny our grief and to continue functioning in spite of the fact that we may be suffering from PTSD. We fear the darkness grief and loss bring and a flower essence like Star of Bethlehem is a light in the darkness that can awaken the personality, which has withdrawn due to pain and sorrow, and lead us back to our Higher Self. It re-establishes an energetic link so that residual trauma can dissolve and allow energy, vitality, mental clarity and inner strength to return.
Energetic trauma often doesn’t appear until years later with a person exhibiting psychosomatic conditions that have no apparent cause in their current life. Clients with psychosomatic conditions that have proved untreatable by conventional means often respond and find relief when this flower essence is added to their recommendations.
This being the second time I have seen Star of Bethlehem flowering behind my house, and knowing that our medicine is as close as we are right now, I had to ask myself, “Why is this showing up for me now?” The answer isn’t a mystery. I had been seeing a trauma specialist for several months for PTSD. I knew I had been suffering with it, but it was my daughter whose observations led her to recommend that I work with a specialist. Even though I had known about Star of Bethlehem after the incident with my son I had never employed it for myself. Sometimes we need the extra support of a therapist or health practitioner in combination with an herbal remedy. It is no accident that this medicine has shown up for me at this time, just as it had for my son, in our hour of need. Perhaps it is showing up for you now, too.
Toxic to grazing animals and the bulbs contain toxic alkaloids
In the Back Flower System, Star of Bethlehem is in the category of remedies indicated for Despondency and Despair.
Also highly effective for animals who have suffered any type of abuse or trauma. Rescue Remedy is a good starting point for rescue animals while helping them to settle into a better situation with greater ease.
A decoction of the bulbs has been used for congestive heart failure, but has serious safety concerns. Bulbs are washed and cut in half, covered with water and boiled for 20 minutes, steeped for an hour and the process repeated 3 times, adding a little more water each time.
Used as a homeopathic remedy for stomach ailments and possibly for cancer of the intestinal tract especially of the stomach. Single doses of mother tincture, await action.
It is Spring and a carpet of Purple Dead-Nettle is covering my garden. Even though I had put the vegetable garden to bed, tucking it in with straw, this “weed” decidedly took over. These Dead heads not only look like a weed, they smell like one too! Unlike the followers of a particular psychedelic rock band there is nothing distinctive about this plant that would indicate it might be edible, useful or medicinal. While I was never a Dead Head I do march to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and just because I harvest, juice and infuse what most people think of as useless weeds it doesn’t mean I’m tripping or that I smell bad, but it does mean that I’m ahead of allergy season.
Introduced from Europe and listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America it can frequently be found growing alongside Henbit Dead-nettle, Lamium amplexicaule.Amplexicaule means “clasping” and refers to how the leaves grab the stem. Both have similar leaves and bright purple flowers, but the difference between the two can be seen in the leaves. Purple Dead-nettle’s leaves are stalked on the flower stem compared to the un-stalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle.
If you were called to inspect this plant more closely you would find that it has a square stem typical of the mints but the smell would never let on that it is in the mint family. It smells more like earth and grass with the flowering tops and leaves being edible. The harvested young aerial parts can be finely chopped and used in sauces, salads or as a spring vegetable and while it may be nutritious it has no flavor of great interest. It is one of the first plants to flower in the southeast where I live and may continue flowering throughout the year even during the milder winter months providing a food source to bees (and humans!) when few other nectar sources are available.
Purple Dead-nettle has long been used in folk medicine in Europe, Asia and Africa and unlike stinging nettles (Urtica) it has no sting and is therefore considered, “dead.” There is evidence of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and free radical scavenging properties comparable to that of ascorbic acid. It can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea or tincture for allergic inflammation. A natural source of flavonoids including quercetin Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. The anti-allergy properties of flavonoids come from their ability to reduce the release of histamine. Research has shown that L. purpureum is significantly anti-inflammatory with pain-reducing properties and works through inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the principle mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions. This is good news for allergy sufferers (see recommendations below.) The whole plant has also been used to relieve pain in rheumatism and other arthritic ailments. A rich source of antibacterial essential oils Purple Dead-nettle has a wide range of antimicrobial activity and antifungal properties, which may be useful for staph, E. coli and candida.
Never before has one weed so thoroughly taken over my garden. It definitely has my attention. Previously L. purpureum was only vaguely familiar to me, as I had seen it on my daily walks growing along the roadside. It was so far off my radar as a medicinal plant that I had trouble remembering what it was. My apprentice pointed it out to me one day on a plant walk and I felt totally incompetent asking her – what is that plant again? In my defense, it is indeed rather obscure in the herbal literature. There is still so much we don’t know, but I do know that our medicine is never any further than where we are right now.
Taking Purple Dead-nettle when you suffer from allergies will help prevent secondary infections of the sinus, throat and lower respiratory tract. There are no known contraindications. Purple Dead-nettle’s actions have not been extensively researched and documented but may include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antifungal and purgative. Collect entire above ground, aerial parts for food and medicine. I am happy to report that due to the following protocol I am now allergy free!
Tincture: 1-2 ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)
Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried herb and infuse covered for 10 minutes. Strain and drink as often as desired. To use as a daily tonic for chronic conditions put 1 oz. dried herb in a quart jar, or 1/3 jar filled with chopped fresh herb, fill with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 3-4 hours and drink one quart per day just prior to and at the start of allergy season.
Supplements: This supplemental regimen may be continued throughout the allergy season. Quercetin (800 mg) with Bromelain (165mg) 3x/day, NOW is a good brand. Bioflavonoids (1,000 mg) 2x/day, and Vit. C (1,000 mg) 3x/day.
Living on the Blue Ridge of the Southern Appalachian Mountains is a blessing. Multiply that by the abundance of medicinal herbs that also live here, and what you have is a rich haven for herbalists. Having survived the advance and retreat of glaciers during the last ice age, the Appalachians, which are some of the oldest mountains in the world, became a botanical treasure. It is here that I am blessed to study, gather and prepare herbs, and practice herbal medicine.
I have been coming to these Smoky Mountains of North Carolina for as long as I can remember, and living here full time for the last sixteen years. Like me, lots of folks are finding their way to the mountains in search of a saner, healthier lifestyle, and communities in which to raise families and grow old. Unfortunately, more people also means more scars upon the land. While it is my belief that there is enough for everyone, I also believe that we have a responsibility to future generations to be good stewards of the land that feeds, sustains, and heals us. For this reason I would like to share one of my harvesting expeditions.
Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is an attractive shrub but nowhere near as flamboyant as her cultivar cousins that are cherished as ornamentals. Wild Hydrangea is native to the Southern Appalachians, which has allowed me the opportunity to get to know it more intimately. What I discovered is an excellent remedy for inflamed or enlarged prostate. While not a “prostate” herb, per se, because herbs are not so easily pigeon holed, it holds a genetic knowledge of its lineage that stretches back for millennia. This brings forth many healing potentials and we are still discovering them. To simply call it a prostate herb would not give it the credit or respect that it deserves as a wise elder.
The study of an imbalance in a person, such as a prostate issue, is called pathophysiology. Modern Medicine studies pathophysiology from the narrow lens of the reductionist viewpoint because the medicines they use are very narrow in action. Herbalists have a more broad perspective because the plants they use are broad acting and have many actions. This broad energetic perspective or holistic view naturally leads to searching for patterns. Energetics is another way of saying, patterns of organization.
Patterns of imbalance within our body mirror the patterns found in nature: heat/cold, dampness/dryness, contraction/expansion. Self-organization into ordered patterns is ubiquitous in nature. Studying and learning how to read the patterns will help us understand that healing takes place in the context of relationship. Plants are sentient beings that communicate through biochemistry and the understanding of this chemical language is in its infancy. Energetically, Hydrangea is cool and neutral. Its herbal actions are diuretic, anti-lithic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It is useful for various kidney, gallbladder and urinary tract problems.
My first trip into the woods (many years ago now) to identify and harvest Wild Hydrangea was on a Full Harvest Moon with my mentor; herbalist, Patricia Kyritsi Howell. It was the perfect time to go digging for Hydrangea’s roots. Carrying a basket, canvas bag and some hand clippers we headed out into the North Georgia woods in early fall. The white flower clusters that bloom May through July were faded and brown, but still clung to the shrubs that grow between four to six feet tall. Varying numbers of showy sterile flowers may be present and the cultivated forms may consist of nothing but the showy sterile flowers. The opposite, broadly ovate and sharply toothed edges of the leaves, which are slightly paler underneath made identification easier in the absence of bloom. The stem bark has a tendency to peel off in thin layers, each a slightly different color and thus the common name, sevenbark.
Patricia writes about Wild Hydrangea in her book, Medicinal Herbs of the Southern Appalachians, and I was thrilled that she had agreed to personally introduce me to this native plant. There is nothing like a personal introduction. As we walked through the woods she pointed out a few shrubs that were growing on a steep embankment. Getting to them would be difficult. Following Patricia’s lead I clamored up the bank, digging my heels into the soft deciduous dirt and began to dig. This was no easy root to free from its tenacious hold. I dug, sweated, pulled and cut until I held the most amazing rhizome and wildly branching roots in my hand. I filled the gaping hole that remained with as much dirt and leaf litter as I could manage and clamored back down.
Looking up at the embankment where I had just been perched, it looked like a bear had been digging up there. I had taken the root of one of three Hydrangea plants that grew in that spot, knowing the importance of leaving enough to ensure continued propagation. Then we decided to climb up to the ridge above the embankment to continue our search. I thought it might be easier to dig from above rather than climbing up from below. Not far from where I had dug the first Hydrangea I saw another small grouping. In the end I would dig three roots, but not before I climbed down over the edge of the bank I had previously climbed up. While hanging off the side I lost my footing with nothing to hold me but my body pressed against the loose, humus rich soil and one hand clinging to this small, but very deep root. I looked down and realized the slide and tumble to the bottom would not be pretty. I turned back to the root that was holding me up determined that if I was going down, she was going with me. So I dug my heels in deeper, freed the root from its tenacious hold, and managed to grab a vine and pull myself up just enough to get one foot in the hole left by the root, enough to propel myself up over the top of the bank. I was very grateful that I didn’t crash and burn. Life, after all, is an adventure.
This gave me a deeper appreciation for the roots of plants that hold and support the soil and its microorganisms on steep mountain slopes. My clamoring had left the mountainside unmistakably vulnerable to erosion even though I had done my best to fill in the holes. We should never underestimate the impact that we have on natural systems when we impose our needs. May we always do our best to keep that impact to a minimum and never take it for granted. I thanked the rich soil beneath my feet and Hydrangea for her medicine root. Even if I hadn’t been totally spent by this point I knew that three roots were plenty. It was all I needed. Not taking more than we need is one of the keys to ethical harvesting.
The week prior to this I bought some dried and sifted Hydrangea root from a wholesale distributor so that I could connect with the plant and have enough on hand for making medicine. But I also know that preparing wild crafted medicines from the area where a person lives is 1000 times more potent energetically than commercially prepared medicines. These roots that we had gathered would become fresh root tincture, started on the full moon and decanted on the new or dark moon — dark like the earth in which she grew. The roots would more readily release their medicine and active constituents during this phase of the waning moon.
“So that’s all you need?” Patricia inquired. And my response was, “Yes, it is enough.” I had accomplished what I had come for: to feel, smell and connect with the medicine plant that was serving my clients. Sometimes healing takes a certain kind of aggressiveness, a willingness to go that extra mile, or climb that mountain. Patricia, then made a very thoughtful suggestion, “Add a little of the fresh wild root tincture to the commercial dried root tincture. It will remind her who she is,” and that this is where she came from.
The trail I am following runs parallel to a trickling creek. It leads straight up the hilly cove beneath a canopy of hardwoods and is named the Lily trail. Not named after the fragrant flower but in the memory of a little dog whose name was Lily, a Scottish Cairn Terrier who lived with a friend of mine in this hidden cove.
Alongside the Lily Trail there are statuettes of gnomes, elves, fairies and even one of Lily tucked among the ivy and medicinal plants. The trail was lovingly constructed with wee bridges that cross a spring fed creek. There is even the occasional bench for resting and listening to the sounds of nature and running water. Crystals, mobiles, wind chimes and sun chasers dance from various branches at regular intervals along this magical trail.
I walked this trail among the woodland flowers, medicinal plants and wild edibles frequently when I lived here in a community affectionately known as “The Cove.” It was here that I noticed the fuzzy, rich green plant known as clubmoss. Club-like it grows in abundance alongside the trail because it likes the moist banks above the creek. I had yet to discover its medicinal value. That discovery began quite unexpectedly when a gardener friend handed me, Healing Through God’s Pharmacy, by Maria Treben. My friend is from England and while she is not an herbalist she grows and uses herbs in the Western European Herbal Tradition for herself and her family.
I quickly flipped through the pages of the book and judged it as being archaic and outdated. I thought surely our current research and understanding of the phytochemistry and active constituents of plants had surpassed the simplicity of this book. So, I thanked my friend and handed it back.
Several months later while house sitting for this very same friend I saw the book on her bookshelf and thought, what the heck. So I picked it up and randomly opened to a page describing the moss-like evergreen commonly known as clubmoss. I recognized it immediately as the same plant I had seen in The Cove. Later, I learned that this book has been translated into 24 languages and has sold over 8 million copies even though I had never heard of it.
I was surprised by what I found there. Published in the 1980’s it wasn’t as old as I had thought even though the information contained within it was. Maria Treben was an amazing herbalist. She was a pioneer of the renewed interest in natural remedies and traditional medicine at the end of the 20th century. This book was a treasure.
Maria used traditional German/Eastern European remedies handed down by previous generations. These consisted of using only local herbs and diet to successfully treat a wide range of conditions. She used clubmoss to treat cirrhosis, inflammation, and malignancies of the liver. My English friend had been living and suffering with Hepatitis C for decades. I got very excited to think that this might actually be a useful plant for her. So off to The Cove I went to gather clubmoss.
When gathering a plant for medicine I never take more than is needed and always leave an offering. This could be something as simple as a breath given in gratitude, or a hair plucked from my head. In the Native American tradition it is common to leave tobacco or corn meal. Anyone born on American soil is a Native American. So, kneeling down on the soft duff of the forest floor, I offered some hair, knowing that the plant would read my intention and my DNA. Then I gently lifted its trailers with hair like roots from its bed. Mosses have no roots, but this plant I learned is no moss at all. It is an archaic plant over 300 million years old. Club mosses were the dominant land plants during the Carboniferous period and related (as in cousins) to the firs and conifers. Perhaps this partially explains the “archaic” feeling I had when first introduced to Maria’s book.
In memory of Mathabo Photo by Thea
The second time I was called to harvest clubmoss at the The Cove was for a South African friend. Her name was Mathabo and she was a beautiful young woman whose work included teaching women in her village how to become more self-empowered. I was contacted when she began suffering with severe swelling and pain in her liver, most likely from something she had picked up in the drinking water. By the time I was notified and able to gather the clubmoss, it was too late. She had passed away. I was deeply grieved by the loss of this young one. She lacked money for proper medical care and I will always wonder if there was something more that could have been done for her. It is this desire to help alleviate suffering that keeps me walking the trails, talking to the plants and doing the research.
Clubmoss is very diverse and there are two related families, Lycopodiaceae and Huperziaceae. The genus name Lycopodium means “wolf’s foot”. It is no accident that I discovered Wolf’s Foot growing extensively in The Cove, a community based on the teachings of Seneca Wolf Clan elder, Grandmother Twylah Nitsch. How appropriate to find this medicine named for its resemblance to a wolf’s foot growing so abundantly in a wolf clan community.
Clubmoss is a spore bearing plant that grows mostly prostate along the ground with vertical stems up to 3-4 inches high. Hundreds of millions of years ago the ancient earth contained vast forests filled with giant club mosses. They grew to a hundred feet in height and such primeval forests dominated the landscape of earth millions of years before humans appeared. The remains of these giants in their petrified form constitute the fossil fuels of today.
The four-year-old plants develop a yellowish spore cone whose pollen is high in sulfur and called lycopodium powder. The powder is highly flammable when mixed in high enough density with air and was used historically as flash powder in early photography. It was also used explosively in fireworks, theatrical special effects and the magic arts. This magical plant that had caught my attention on a magical trail, in a magical cove fully warranted further investigation.
The use of lycopodium powder from the dry spores of clubmoss doesn’t stop with its highly flammable uses. It was also used in baby powders, fingerprint powders and as a lubricating dust on latex condoms and medical gloves. In physics the powder is used to make sound waves in air visible for observation and measurement, as well as to make an electrostatic charge visible. The powder is highly hydrophobic; if the surface of a cup of water is coated with the powder and you stick your finger straight in, it will come out dusted with the powder and completely dry. In 1807 inventors used lycopodium in the fuel of the first internal combustion engine.
While I had long been aware of Lycopodium as a homeopathic remedy, I had not connected it to this plant. Homeopathic Lycopodium is made from the crushed spores and is a remedy used for digestive failure, deep-seated and progressive chronic diseases, liver disease, and carcinoma. This herb has been used medicinally since the Middle Ages and Homeopathic Lycopodium is presently the most widely used form of this plant.
In the Western European Herbal Tradition, clubmoss was used for treating kidney and bladder related conditions. The whole plant was dried, chopped and prepared as an herbal tea. It is a potent anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic which makes it useful for treating kidney stones.
As I followed the trail in search of more information on Lycopodium I discovered that it is endangered in many areas and protected in certain states. It is considered as critically endangered in Luxembourg and in the past few decades even considered to be extinct. Some of the reasons cited included; threatened by logging, herbicide application, road construction and maintenance, and extirpation.
This threw up a huge red flag for me. If this plant was imperiled in the Appalachians, why was there so much of it growing in The Cove? What began to emerge connected back to Maria Treben’s book on the healing powers of Lycopodium.
Maria Treben points out that what makes clubmoss such an important ally in treating cirrhosis and liver cancer is that it contains radium. Plants absorb radium from the soil and clubmoss concentrates it. Radium occurs at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, water, plants and animals.
Mountain Top Removal Photo via the Widdershins
Radon is a radioactive colorless gas that occurs naturally as the decay product of radium. It is in lethal abundance here in Western North Carolina due to our mountain top removals. The Environmental Protection Agency shows a clear link between lung cancer and high concentrations of radon with radon induced lung cancer deaths second only to cigarette smoking. I knew of such a mountain top removal project less than two miles from The Cove. Where exactly was this wolf’s foot leading me? Could the abundance of Lycopodium be in response to the increase of radon: Radon that was being released into the atmosphere from the nearby mountain top removal? Was it helping to bio-remediate the radon? If Lycopodium concentrates radium, what is its relationship to radon? I have not been able to find any information or sources on this subject. Clearly more research is needed.
Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898. Marie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 1911. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for isolating radium, discovering another element, polonium, and her research into the new phenomenon of radioactivity, a word she coined herself.
Once upon a time radium was manufactured synthetically in the US around 1910 and ended up in a lot of products for its purported magical healing properties. Some examples of those products are; chocolate, toothpaste, cosmetics, suppositories, heating pads, wax rods inserted in the urethra to treat impotence, radium water that would cure any number of ailments, and clocks, watches and toys. Needless to say radium got a bad name. Especially when overexposed people started showing up with radiation sickness.
Marie Curie, discovered new elementals.
We live on a radioactive planet and it is well known that if we are exposed to too much or too little radiation, we get sick. Low-dose radiation is documented to be beneficial for human health, but for political reasons, radiation is assumed harmful at any dose. Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological functions with no adverse affects. There are even radium hotsprings where people go to soak for health benefits.
Radon is the single largest contributor to our background radiation dose and is responsible for the majority of the public’s exposure to ionizing radiation. Radon is formed as part of the normal radioactive decay chain of uranium. Uranium has been present since the earth was formed. High concentrations of radium exist in water and air especially near uranium mines. Plants absorb radium from the soil and animals that eat these plants accumulate radium. It may also concentrate in fish and magnify up the food chain. Uranium, radium and thus radon, will continue to occur for millions of years at about the same concentrations as they do now except that levels of Radon have increased due to burning coal and other fuels and now mountain top removal. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer and birth defects usually caused by gamma radiation of radium, which is able to travel long distances through air. How paradoxical that radium gas extracted from uranium ore is used for cancer treatment.
Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element in the environment and little information is available on the acute (short-term) non-cancer effects in humans. Radium exposure has resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects. Cancer is the major effect of concern. Radium, via oral exposure, is known to cause bone, head, and nasal passage tumors in humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not classified radium for carcinogenicity.
According to James Muckerheide in a paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Nuclear Engineering in 2000, he stated:
“Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological responses for immune systems, enzymatic repair, physiological functions, and the removal of cellular damage, including prevention and removal of cancers and other diseases. Research on low-level radiation has also shown it to have no adverse effects. Yet, current radiation protection policy and practice fail to consider these valid data, instead relying on data that are poor, ambiguous, misrepresented, and manipulated.”
Wolf in the Seneca tradition is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. It is in this tradition that that I share my theory with you about Lycopodium clavatum, also known as clubmoss or wolf’s foot.
“Wolf medicine empowers the teacher within us all to come forth and aid the children of Earth in understanding the Great Mystery and life.” — from Wolf, Chapter 15, Medicine Cards by Sams & Carson.
Thea and Washee
It is my belief that clubmoss made into a pillow and used as recommended by Maria Treben helps to recalibrate and restore the body to it’s natural radioactive frequency in harmony with the Earth. This is Earth-Spirit Medicine, an exciting field of herbal medicine that has appeared on the horizon. We vibrate at a specific frequency creating a resonance and emitting an electrical signal, not unlike those commonly used to keep track of time or to transmit and receive radio signals. The signals that we transmit and receive are part of a grid system that creates a circuit around our crystalline structure. This crystalline structure is part of our Earth and our physical bodies.
“Not really new at all, Earth-Spirit Medicine is being rediscovered at the same time it is evolving to meet our current physical and spiritual needs.” — From Wisdom of the Plant Devas, by Thea Summer Deer
We know that if we are exposed to too little or too much radiation we get sick. When correctly calibrated our cellular structure is restored. I believe that clubmoss restores us to the proper radioactive frequencies. Radio waves, microwaves, EMF’s and all manner of invisible polluting frequencies are bombarding us. If we paid closer attention to the qualities of vibrancy and life-force energy, how different would the choices be that we make with regard to what surrounds us or goes into our bodies? How much closer and in harmony would we be to the frequency of the Earth that heals us and the spirits of the plants that restore us and from which we are made?
How to use clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum):
Actions: anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic
Dosages of different preparations made from the club moss differ and depend on the client.
Clubmoss pillows can be made by filling a small cotton pillowcase or cotton cloth bag with the clubmoss then place over the liver and/or under your pillow while you sleep. This will remain active for up to one year and can greatly help as an anti-spasmodic while recalibrating. It may also help reduce post menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. You can trim off the brown bits that were beneath the ground and while it may seem a bit prickly, when the pillow is stuffed full it will be more cushion like.
Infusion: Simmer 1 ounce of small cut up pieces of the plant (make sure you have a positive identification of Lycopodium clavatum) in one quart of water. Drink one cup per day sipping throughout the day.
Tea: 1 teaspoon per 2 cups of boiling water poured over, steep for ten minutes and drink 2 cups per day on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning.
Homeopathic Lycopodium remedy as directed by your practitioner.
Chinese Medicine:Shen Jin Cao, Property: slightly bitter, pungent, warm; liver, spleen and kidney (Wood, Earth, Water). Action: dispels dampness (Wind), soothes tendons. Indications: weakness and numbness of limbs; traumatic injury. Dosage for topical application is 3-12 grams, used in decoction.
Disclaimer: This blog post does not intend to diagnose or treat. Please seek the advise of a licensed practitioner in your area for any medical related issues. I welcome discussion and feedback, which is critical to ongoing and future research. Please do not ask me to comment beyond the contents or scope of this blog post.
Note: There is another type of clubmoss in the same Lycopodiaceae family growing in the Southern Appalachians and is Appalachian fir-moss, Huperzia appalachiana. Unlike many of the Lycopodium it likes well drained rather than moist soils, direct sunlight and doesn’t creep about over the ground. Appalachian fire-moss is considered imperiled and rare in North Carolina making it vulnerable to extirpation.