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 recalibrate 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.
Whenever my daughter would give me a massage as a young girl, 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.
I had wanted to write this article on mastic gum as an effective treatment for Helicobacter pylori for some time now, but it was Dr. OZ’s Christmas Eve show that finally did it. When a friend who knew that I had healed myself of H. pylori reported that this and ulcers were the topic of today’s Dr. OZ Show, I was all ears. I was glad the show was helping the general public to make the connection between ulcers and H. pylori, as this has long been overlooked. Regardless, doctors rarely recommend one of the easy tests that detect H. pylori to patients presenting with ulcer symptoms. While kefir was mentioned for these symptoms, most of the folks on the show had never heard of kefir. And while this helps to increase awareness of the importance and necessity for probiotics, kefir doesn’t cure H. pylori. It was when I heard the final recommendation for H. pylori was antibiotics, however, that I knew I couldn’t put off writing this article any longer.
Let me start by sharing my own story. For years I had this on again, off again burning in the pit of my stomach. It was worse at night and felt like a gnawing hunger that might feel better if I ate something to help coat or soothe my stomach, but eating made no difference. After awhile I surmised that I must have an ulcer. I tried digestive enzymes but that didn’t work. Then I tried antacids and H2 blockers, which are completely against my belief system of treating symptoms and not the cause, and they made no difference whatsoever. I did notice, however, that eliminating sugar helped.
Mastic gum resin
Then I had a recurrent mold exposure that launched a raging sinus infection. My eyes swelled shut with yellow puss oozing from them and my throat was so swollen I could hardly swallow. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. So, I immediately went to the doctor who in an effort to keep me out of the hospital gave me what he called “gorilla-cillin,” without ever diagnosing what I had. It was after this round of antibiotics that my sinus infection got better, but the “ulcer” got significantly worse and I started having pressure in my esophagus. I went back to yet another doctor who recommended an endoscopy, so I paid the gastroenterologist a visit but declined the test in favor of doing additional research on my own. This doctor suggested that I might have an ulcer as well as an overgrowth of candida in my esophagus. In my search for the cause of what was creating this havoc in my body, and without wanting to undergo an invasive test, I discovered the information connecting ulcers to H. pylori infection, something that had not been previously mentioned. I also learned that statistically up to 90% of duodenal ulcers might be caused by a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, and not by stress, spicy food or excess stomach acid as had been previously assumed.
So back to the doctor’s office I went for my yearly exam and to request a blood test for the H. pylori bacterium. Several non-invasive tests exist for evaluating the presence of the bacteria including a blood, saliva, stool or a breath test. However, the most reliable method is a biopsy check during endoscopy. I opted for the blood test.
At least half the world’s population is infected with H. pylori making it the most widespread infection in the world, and while H. pylori is contagious, the exact route of transmission is not known. Findings suggest that it is more easily transmitted via gastric mucus than via saliva. It may also be transmitted via contaminated well water, soil, or from food harvested in fields where workers defecate. It is also very possible that houseflies act as a viable source of spread since they frequently come into contact with human food and fecal matter.
When I returned to the doctor’s office for my blood results I sat in the waiting room for almost an hour before being brought into an exam room. I was left there alone for another hour before the doctor finally arrived. During that time in the exam room I noticed a small paperback reminiscent of a Readers Digest on the counter next to the sink. It contained articles on the latest drug recommendations for various conditions and I busied myself reading it. I was surprised when I turned to an article on H. pylori and the recommended drugs and antibiotic cocktail for curing it. H. pylori is obviously a growing concern in the current pharmacological literature.
The doctor finally arrived apologizing for being late, explaining that she had been going over the results of my blood work and was happy to announce and that everything looked normal; good blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, white and red blood cell count, etc. I had to ask her, “what about the H. pylori?” She had completely overlooked it and had to scramble through her paperwork in order to find the results. “Oh!” she said, quite flustered, “You are positive for H. pylori!” Obviously she had not spent the last hour looking over the result of my blood work. I flashed the article on H. pylori from her magazine that I found in her exam room, and told her she might want to read up. She then prescribed the routine antibiotic cocktail, which included flagyl, (an antibiotic drug also used to treat Candida with serious possible side effects). Since I had good insurance at the time I filled the prescription and carried a grocery bag full of antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors home with me.
As I sat contemplating this turn of events, and the fact that a round of antibiotics had put my “ulcer” symptoms over the top in the first place causing what I felt to be an overgrowth of H. pylori, just like they can cause an overgrowth of Candida, I just could not bring myself to take them. In addition, an increasing number of infected individuals harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria and there is a high treatment failure rate (up to 20%) requiring additional rounds of antibiotic therapy, which further discouraged me. It made sense that I had noticed a difference in a reduction of symptoms by eliminating sugar since perhaps sugar feeds H. pylori, just like it does Candida. Then, I started a time line of my symptoms and realized it had been after a round of antibiotics for an earlier sinus infection (also from mold exposure) that the symptoms had initially started. Further research showed that H. pylori is a member of the normal flora of the stomach and helps to regulate stomach acidity. It is only when there is an overgrowth accompanied by symptoms that it becomes problematic. Common sense told me that antibiotics were contraindicated.
It was clear to me that the H. pylori needed to be brought under control, but not only did I not want to take the antibiotics, I was downright afraid of taking them. So back to the computer I went, this time looking for alternatives to antibiotics. What I found was mastic gum and not surprisingly as I have a lot of faith in plant medicine.
Mastic gum is a tree resin produced by an evergreen shrub from the pistachio tree family, Pistacia lentiscus. It hails from the Greek island of Chios and is also known as “Chios tears” because once the bark is slit, the resin trickles out slowly creating crystal like “tears.” In some shops it is called “Arabic Gum”, not to be confused with gum arabic. The word mastic is a synonym for gum in many languages and is derived from the Greek verb, “to gnash the teeth”, which is the source of the English word, masticate. Greeks have been chewing on these resin granules for centuries. It is consumed to freshen the breath, cut down on bacteria in the mouth, and remove dental plaque. Ground it is used in a variety of baked goods for its rich aroma and licorice-like flavor. Mastic has been used as a medicine since antiquity and for a variety of gastric ailments in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years. It is still used in traditional folk medicine of the Middle East.
One of my herbal mentors, Patricia Kyritsi Howell goes to Greece every year and affirmed the power of this medicine for healing gastric complaints. Mastic production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin and the islands production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages in the south of Chios. Traditionally there has been limited production of mastic, which was further threatened by the Chios forest fire that swept the southern half of the island in August 2012 and destroyed many of the mastic groves. During the Ottoman rule of Chios, mastic was worth its weight in gold. I would argue that it still is. The benefit of this “tree-medicine,” as I like to call it, is now being rediscovered for its antimicrobial effects. The most exciting of these discoveries is its effectiveness against at least seven different strains of H. pylori with no side effects.
Helicobactor pylori is a spiral-shaped bacteria which live in the mucosal lining of the stomach. The genus is derived from the ancient Greek “spiral” or “coil”. Pylori means “of the pylorus” or pyloric valve which is the circular opening leading from the stomach into the duodenum and is from an ancient Greek word meaning “gatekeeper.”
How mastic gum works is that is causes changes within the bacteria’s cell structure, causing it to weaken and die. In an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, “Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter pylori” it was suggested that even low doses of mastic gum can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly. In several studies using mastic gum on ulcer patients, the original site of the ulcer caused by the bacterium was completely replaced by healthy epithelial cells.
The protocol that I have found to be the most effective is to start out slowly and increase the amount taken over a three week period as follows:
Mastic Gum Extract, 500 mg. capsules,
Week 1: take 2 in the morning on an empty stomach one hour before breakfast for one week.
Week 2: Up the dosage to 4 per day, adding 2 in the afternoon on an empty stomach.
Week 3: Up the dosage to 6 for a total of 3 grams per day, adding 2 in the evening on an empty stomach (2 hrs. after dinner, one hour before bed.)
Die off can cause nausea so back off on the dosage if you start to feel nauseous. Some folks take a break and then do another round, but you can be retested via a stool sample after a month or so. A blood test will not be accurate because of the antibodies. Be sure to add a good probiotic to your regimen following treatment.
I have used this protocol to heal myself of H. pylori and very successfully in my clinical practice. One client shared it with her doctor after the stool sample came back negative. This is why we need herbalists with their “feet on the ground” so to speak. The ones who are working first hand with the plant medicines. We cannot always depend on clinical trials that are funded by pharmaceutical companies, or doctor’s knowledge whose education is also funded by pharmaceutical companies. The more of us who share our herbal knowledge, the more we will learn how to alleviate suffering and hopefully bring enough attention to alternative medicine to get the research funded that is so badly needed. It is in this spirit that I share my experience with the tree medicine of mastic gum. I can also attest that the results are long lasting as it has been six years since curing my H. pylori. My yearly physical exam was last month and I am happy to announce that the blood work (I had to specifically request a test for H. pylori) came back negative for the bacterium. And so it is.
6. Al-Said MS, Ageel AM, Parmar NS, Tariq M. Evaluation of mastic, a crude drug obtained from Pistacia lentiscus for gastric and duodenal anti-ulcer activity. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;15:271-8.
 An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that “ingesting lactic acid bacteria exerts a suppressive effect on Helicobacter pylori infection in both animals and humans,” noting that “supplementing with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium containing yogurt was shown to improve the rates of eradication of H. pylori in humans. (see reference below)
 Metronidazole crosses the placental barrier and enters fetal circulation rapidly. It is prescribed during pregnancy for the vaginal infection, trichomoniasis. Metronidazole is a carcinogen and may cause serious central and peripheral nervous system side effects such as: convulsive seizures, meningitis, and optic neuropathy.
Entering the Pisgah National Forest we journeyed over the creek and into the woods to discover the blooming crowns of jewelweed. It made me wonder if jewel-weed isn’t some king of oxymoron like cruel-kindness or definitely-maybe. But there is no maybe about it – she is definitely a jewel of a weed.
The intention for this summer day was for my apprentice, Jamie, and I to harvest the aerial parts of jewelweed in all of its abundance and learn more about her medicine. Ice cube trays full of fresh juice from the stem and leaves would be frozen, popped into baggies and stored in the freezer awaiting the aftermath of someone’s unfortunate encounter with poison ivy, oak or sumac. Even an insect bite or a reactive sting from our dear friend stinging nettle can be soothed by the astringent and anti-inflammatory combination of jewelweed along with the numbing effect of ice.
Equipped with a large plastic bag we gathered about ten jewelweed plants, just enough for juicing through a Champion juicer. You can also chop then succus the aerial parts of jewelweed in a blender or food processor with just enough water to cover in order to release the gel-like soothing mucilage. While out in the woods you can simply rub the fresh plant between the palms of your hands for immediate use as a poultice and to prevent a reaction to poison ivy. It is believed that jewelweed is more effective at washing the oil away that causes a rash from poison ivy than soap. Typically jewelweed and poison ivy can be found in the same area making it a very convenient antidote.
Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis is in the Balsaminaceae, “Touch-Me-Not” family. It is a two to five foot tall annual plant that often forms large colonies in moist or wet habitats. Growing in colonies as it does makes it possible to harvest many plants with very little effort by pulling them up in bunches and trimming off the roots. Once harvested jewelweed wilts quickly. Its alternate and ovate shaped leaves are one to four inches long and are water-repellent. The entire plant is smooth and translucent and after a rain become covered with beads of water that reflect the light presenting a jewel-like appearance and giving it the common name, jewelweed.
Jewelweed flowers are orange or yellow and hang like pendants from a thread-like stalk. They are irregular, with five petals: the upper two are united; the lower three separate with reddish brown spots. I. capensis has orange flowers while I. pallida has yellow flowers. Both species have the same medicinal properties. Jewelweed blooms from July to September and is best harvested during June or July. In late fall the ripe seedpods can be eaten and taste similar to walnuts. It’s common name, “touch-me-not: describes how the ripe seed pods explode when touched, flinging seeds far from the plant.
Not satisfied with just one hike into the woods to admire the jewel like faces of her flowers a few short weeks later we found ourselves hiking out again. This time it was along the Oconaluftee River in the Cherokee National Forest down a path lined with Cherokee medicinal plants. It was here that we found the largest patch of jewelweed we had ever seen. It was literally over our heads. The Cherokee used jewelweed juice for all of the same purposes mentioned above.
According to folklore jewelweed is always found growing near poison ivy, and we found this to be true on both of our hikes into the forest. Poison ivy is actually an imposter and not a true ivy (Hedera). A trailing or climbing vine it is most commonly found along tree line breaks at the edge of the forest and is only somewhat shade tolerant. Development of real estate adjacent to undeveloped land has engendered its formation. Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, has doubled since the 1960’s and will double again as a result of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These elevated levels of carbon dioxide from global warming are creating bigger, stronger poison ivy plants that produce more urushiol, the oil that causes a poison ivy rash. The urushiol isn’t just more plentiful it also more potent. A super good reason to keep some jewelweed ice cubes in your freezer.
Both poison ivy and jewelweed are considered invasive but are not as damaging as invasive exotics. These native plants tend to take over an area but they don’t do as much damage because they evolved with native insects and other plants. Jewelweed’s ability to aggressively reseed enables it to out-compete other native vegetation. We saw evidence of this on the Cherokee trail when we discovered a literal forest of jewelweed. Its replacement of perennial vegetation on riverbanks may lead to increased soil erosion because of its delicate roots. It also produces alluring nectar, which may potentially attract pollinators away from other native plants reducing their seed set.
photo by Marion Skydancer
In Timothy Lee Scott’s controversial book, Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, he asks, “So what happens if we were to shift our point of view and see an invasive plant (weed) as useful?” He points out the waste of energy and the millions of dollars spent enlisting various invasive plant coalitions, universities, environmental conservation groups, state and federal agencies, along with the herbicide industry, in an attempt to eradicate invasive plants. The use of machinery and millions of gallons of herbicides polluting both soil and water throughout the world is costing us billions.
Clinical herbalist, Michael Tierra argues on the topic of whether or not to control invasive plants depends on the invasive. Perhaps poison ivy is phytoremediating carbon dioxide and we would do better to look at how we have contributed to the invasion through the destruction and disturbance of habitat. If poison ivy is the enemy than jewelweed is a fortunate antidote.
If we remain open to the intelligence of plants we will see that there is an interrelationship between invasives and the broader web of life. I, personally, even after a lifetime of camping, hiking and hanging out in the woods and many direct encounters with poison ivy have been fortunate to never experience a rash. As an herbalist, however, I feel a responsibility to keep as many medicines as I can on hand, like jewelweed ice cubes in my freezer.
While out weeding my garden this week I pondered the dilemma of weeds and invasives. Certainly we have always been in partnership with nature, creating beautiful spaces by removing what doesn’t serve the garden landscape and leaving other areas to nature’s hand. It is a partnership gone awry as we disconnect from nature, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal so I offer you my testimony in favor of nature’s hand. Being the eternal optimist I am hopeful that we will continue to find the value in weeds, leave well enough alone where we may, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
Hiking in the high desert with renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, at the beginning of my menopausal years was a gift from the goddess. Susun had come to Tucson, AZ to meet with her editor, Betsy Sandlin, in order to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years manuscript. With Betsy in the midst of her change it couldn’t have been better timing.
Pollinator bee approaching
A mutual friend had gathered us together for a morning hike through the saguaros in the Santa Catalina Mountains beneath Mount Lemmon, named for the botanist and mountain trekker, Sarah Plummer Lemmon. Sarah trekked to the top by mule and foot in the late 1880’s with Native American guides who called this granite mountain above the heart of the city, “Frog Mountain.”
As we retraced Sarah’s footsteps at the base of this city’s backyard wilderness, I confessed to Susun that I was experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and was concerned. “Oh! You’re experiencing menstrual flooding, are you?” she responded. A flood it was. Welcome to perimenopause. I was relieved to have the diagnosis, but I was only in my late thirties and wondered if it was normal to be experiencing this kind of bleeding. She reassured me that it was a symptom of early menopause and suggested that I take capsules of Evening Primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with Vitex berries (aka Chasteberry) to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even gave me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol (see below). It worked like a miracle. I will be forever grateful for the synchronicity of that morning and the information that I now get to share with you as we pass it down the Wise Woman way.
Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a biennial wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The Evening Primrose that most of us are familiar with is the yellow flowering variety in a genus of about 125 species. Native to North and South America it is not closely related to the true primroses (Primula). In the Desert Southwest the fragrant tufted Evening Primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, is a southwestern species that first blooms white, but turns pink or light magenta. Most native desert species are white.
True to its name the flowers open in the evening but will stay open for most of the following day. They can be seen on a dark night from a distance possibly due to some phosphorescence in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are specifically designed to gather pollen from the Evening Primrose flowers are effective pollinators. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall and it is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil.
Evening Primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. This rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid is found in only three other plants: black currants, borage seeds, and hemp seeds. Because the human body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids it is recommended to use evening primrose in combination with fish oil containing omega-3 EFA’s.
The seed oil of O. biennis is used clinically in Britain to reduce the symptoms of PMS, most notably the pain of menstrual cramps and breast tenderness. It may even protect against breast cancer. Additionally, evening primrose oil is thought to aid in fertility by improving the quality of the mucus lining the cervix. The oil extracted from its seeds has long been a favorite of women for female reproductive disorders. Midwives use it both orally and topically to aid the cervix in ripening for birth.
This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory used to ease the symptoms of arthritis, colitis, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension and high cholesterol as well as dry skin conditions and eczema. It eases prostate swelling in older men, too. Evening primrose oil is considered a carrier oil in the world of aromatherapy and is prized for its abundant food, health, cosmetic and medicinal benefits.
Evening Primrose Photos by Thea
Back home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina Evening Primrose grows abundantly all around me. The Cherokee use it as a food source eating the leaves as greens and boiling the young root. While I had been introduced to many naturalized European imports in my herbal studies, it was refreshing to discover a native of North America that had been successfully introduced in Europe and naturalized in England as a garden escapee.
Evening Primrose continues to be an ally for me, even after menopause aiding in keeping my heart healthy, reducing inflammation and alleviating joint pain. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of the manuscript Susun had shared with me. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:
“Betsy and I discovered we both thought of you as anything but ‘Cynthia!’ Hope you don’t object to my shortening your name to ‘goddess,’ Thea.”
Well, of course I didn’t object to being called a goddess! And that’s how I not only met a new herbal ally, but also claimed a new name. So, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, Evening Primrose is an ally that serves the goddess well.
Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommended dosages for specific needs.
Evening Primrose seed oil 1,300mg softgel 2x/day (Solgar or Barlean’s) up to 3,000/daily
Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus is a slow acting herb and it may take up to 3 months to see an effect. Supports women achieving menopause either naturally or through surgery, radiation or drugs. Naturally increases levels of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (by nourishing and increasing the responsiveness of the body’s own feedback systems). While this can be helpful during early menopause it needs to be used more judiciously during the “melt-down” years when too much LH is dilating the blood vessels causing hot flashes and palpitations. Inhibits prolactin and over 50% of women experiencing PMS have high levels of prolactin. Helps to keep cycles more regular. Especially useful for women experiencing fibroids, endometriosis (anti-inflammatory effect on the endometrium), emotional mood swings or hysteria, and fertility issues. Long term results come from long term use up to two years. Not for use during pregnancy except as directed by your midwife or health care practitioner. Is an anti-aphrodisiac for men hence the name “chasteberry,” yet increases women’s libido when taken over time.
Vitex Extract: 1000 mg. daily (Gaia Herbs) Vitex Tincture: 1:4 Take 1 dropperful/1 ml (approx. 30 drops) of tincture 3-4/x day.