Tag Archive | liver

Solomon’s Seal: Adapting to Stress & Achieving Flexibility in Times of Change

Solomon’s Seal in Flower, photo by Thea ©2020

On a recent field trip to H Mart, an Asian supermarket near Atlanta, Georgia, I drove south from my mountain home in anticipation of new discoveries and old treasures. Having previously lived in San Francisco, I knew the excitement of exploring an Asian grocery store, large or small.

Asian markets are a great way to save on medicinal herbs, exotic foods, seaweeds and fungi — an experience not to be missed. Lost in extensive rows of mushrooms and seaweeds between a fish market and food court, I could have easily spent an entire day at H Mart. The “H” in H Mart is short for Han Ah Reum, meaning “One Arm Full of Groceries.” One of the medicinal herbs I brought home is Polygonatum, native to east Asia. It is also a plant that grows in my backyard, in the surrounding woods where I live in Asheville, North Carolina.

Polygonatum is a perennial herb that belongs to the Asparagaceae (Asparagus) family, and in older classification systems, like many of the lilioids, was placed in the broadly defined lily family. A genus that contains approximately 50 species of flowering plants known as Solomon’s Seal, it is a common plant in the Appalachians, and can be found flowering between May and June.

Some species are considered medicinal, most notably; Polygonatum biflorum, odoratum, and sibiricum. The species common to Eastern North America is Polygonatum biflorum, referring to the pairs of flowers growing along the leaf axis. The young shoots are edible and may be cooked like asparagus.

The medicinal part of the plant is the rhizome, which is harvested in the fall, then dried and sliced. Native Americans used it as food and medicine. Early settlers valued the rhizome as a food for its starch content. Young shoots can be collected in the spring, not unlike asparagus, and added to soups and stews. Roasted rhizomes can be ground into flour. Solomon’s Seal can be ethically harvested by leaving the portion of the rhizome connected to the stalk intact. New shoots will grow from where the rhizome had been cut.

An elegant Native American woodland plant, Solomon’s Seal likes to grow at the edge of moist woods. Its foliage is poised along a graceful arched stem with dangling pairs of creamy white, tubular fairy bellflowers. These are followed by attractive black seedpods.

The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the healed over scars of the rhizome left by old leaf stems and which resemble a wax seal, presumably the official wax seal of King Solomon. Stem scars also tell us how old the plant is, with one scar for each year of growth. When the rhizome is cut, the cross section reveals a 6-pointed Star of David. Solomon became king during the reign of his father, King David, and was credited with possessing the precious quality of wisdom.

“The Medicine Wheel Garden as it exists on Earth is a three-dimensional representation of the ‘as above, so below mysteries.’ It is in the shape of a circle that contains a six pointed star, and it is a mirror of the heavens. As it sits on the earth in three-dimensional reality, it represents the six directions: east, south, west, north, above, and below. Within this garden grows all the food and medicine that sustains us in our current form while simultaneously feeding our evolution into our light bodies.”

Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth
Medicine Wheel Garden, ©2020 Thea Summer Deer

When Solomon prayed to God for wisdom he did not pray for wealth, nor did he wish death to his enemies, but rather he longed for discernment in the administering of justice. The metaphor is one of wise governance and possessing the ability to distinguish between good and evil through an understanding of the universe. For this reason, “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)

Wisdom and Heart (Heart-Mind) both correspond with the Fire Element in Chinese Five Element Theory. The Fire Element rules the nervous system, and Solomon’s Seal helps us adapt to stress by restoring the cooling fluids of the deep feminine yin, which keeps masculine Fire from burning out of control. Solomon’s Seal relaxes the nervous system and treats yin deficient conditions, especially when they involve emotional disturbances and stress. In this manner, Solomon’s Seal acts as an adaptogen.

The key actions of Solomon’s Seal are demulcent, expectorant, sedative, and tonic. In Chinese Medicine it is known Yu Zhu, and is most prized as a yin tonic. Yin tonics work by restoring the Water Element (Kidney), which cools the Liver (Wood Element). Tendons and ligaments are the body part that correspond with the Wood Element, and this is why Solomon’s Seal is used to help heal injured tendons, and restore proper tension to ligaments. It does this by its ability to nourish yin, moisten dryness, and to nourish and moisten sinews. Solomon’s Seal also quells wind, relieving pain and spasms due to wind generated fluid deficiency.

Connective tissues that are dry lack flexibility. Yin fluids must be adequate if we are to remain flexible, especially in times of change. Otherwise, an overheated Liver from lack of fluids will cause Wood to break when the winds of change blow, no different than a tree from lack of Water. By increasing synovial fluid, Solomon’s Seal also helps to reduce inflammation in the joints.

Historically Solomon’s Seal was also used for respiratory and lung disorders. It has an affinity for the lung and stomach. Yu Zhu is used in Chinese herbal soups to relieve dry coughs due to lung yin deficiency. It moistens dryness in the lungs and acts as spleen and stomach tonic, improving appetite and reducing fatigue.

We would not want to conclude this discussion of Solomon’s Seal without mentioning False Solomon’s Seal. False Solomon’s seal is a completely different genus and species, Maianthemum racemosum and should be avoided, as it resembles other deadly plants when young. It produces terminal flowers in a feathery plume while Solomon’s Seal produce non terminal flowers from the axils of the leaves. The way to know the difference between the two is like knowing the difference between a true and a false friend. A real friend you can depend on to be true through and through (the way the flowers are dispersed on Solomon’s Seal) and a false friend puts on a good front (feathery flowers at the end of the stem.)

False Solomon’s Seal, photo by Thea ©2020

By coming into relationship with the healing power of plants we become empowered to be our own healers. Solomon’s Seal is an especially important ally for these transformational times, beckoning us to enter the forest’s hidden secrets on a lesser-traveled path, a path lighted by breaking waves of Polygonatum’s fairy-like lanterns. Enter…

Energetics: Sweet, slightly cold, Neutral

Preparations:

Dried Polygonatum

Nourishing soup stock: Add dried Polygonum to your favorite soup stock and simmer for a minimum of two hours. Rinse and soak briefly before using. Choose dried herb that is soft and has a white yellowish color. Can be found in most Asian markets and herbal shops.

Decoction: 1 ounce dried rhizome to 1 quart water, or 2 tablespoons per pint. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then steep for 40 minutes, strain.

Dosage: Drink 4 ounces, three to four times a day.

Tincture: Fresh root – 1:3 in 95%. Dried Root, 1:5 in 50%.

Dosage: 5-10 drops, 3x/day, or follow product label directions

Contraindications: Polygonatum is considered safe: The American Products Association has given it a class 1 rating, meaning that it can be consumed safely when used appropriately. Due to its sweet and cooling nature, Polygonatum is contraindicated in spleen deficiency with dampness, or coughs with profuse phlegm, stomach deficiency, phlegm-damp, phlegm stagnation, or qi stagnation. Do not use in case of loose stools due to cold.

Resources:

Plum Dragon Herbs

The Alchemist Kitchen

Learn more in Thea’s Five Element Classes online at Wise Woman University

References:

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians, Patricia Kyritsi Howell

Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth, Thea Summer Deer

A Mess of Creasy Greens

Creasy Greens_2328Last year spring blasted us early and fast. The ephemerals were here and gone in a flash like the wave of solar flares that interrupted satellite communication and bumped webinar schedules. This year spring arrived in a more typical and erratic fashion: warm one day, cold the next; windy one day, calm the next. Luckily nature has provided us with spring greens that cool the liver from winter excess and keep us healthy at the turning of the season.

As I gaze out across the pasture on what would seem to the untrained eye like a profusion of yellow spring flowering weeds, a closer look reveals ragweed, creasy greens, butterweed, and wild mustard. What is of particular interest to me, however, is the creasy green, a southern culinary delight. Cultivated as a leaf vegetable since the 17th century they are a now a naturalized European heirloom import. Being the wild food forager that I am, creasy greens, also known as early winter cress, are a vitamin rich feast when not much else is available. Fortunately, the greens are edible right up to the point when they begin to go to seed and the yellow flowers are yummy in salads. Creasy greens are very tasty and extraordinarily high in vitamin A and vitamin C, both hard to come by in the colder months. They are also high in vitamin K. Young leaves are delicious raw in salads and older leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Creasy Greens_1331

Barbarea verna

Creasy green, Barbarea verna, also fondly known as “creasies” in these here parts of the Southern Appalachians are a biennial, land-lovin’ cousin of watercress. Back in the day an old England cress seller would walk through the streets with a basket full of cress yelling, “creases, creases!” In the Appalachians, originally settled by folks from the British Isles, cresses eventually became creasies or creecy and the name has remained. Other species like Barbarea vulgaris (common winter cress) found father north, or Barbarea orthoceras (American winter cress) found in the Pacific states can also be enjoyed almost year round. Barbarea is an Italian name given to this group of land cresses in honor of Saint Barbara’s Day, which falls on the fourth of December, implicating its use as a winter green. The Italians are very fond of these plants that hail from the brassicaeae or mustard family, especially the cresses and rockets, and they used them extensively in their cuisine. The Irish part of me welcomes the comin’ o’ spring each year with a freshly harvested basket of creasies.

Creasy by the Creek

Creasy by the Creek

Creasies readily self sow (though not invasive) and are frost tolerant and winter hardy surviving sub-freezing temperatures.  The outside leaves can be harvested continuously starting within a couple of weeks of emerging. Their leaves form a basal rosette and have from five to ten sets of lateral leaves below a bigger leaf at the end of the leaf stalk. They are pungent with a peppery kick similar to watercress, somewhat bitter when eaten raw, but rather mild and sweet when cooked. As the heat of the season progresses so also does the peppery heat in the greens. In addition to finding them growing everywhere around my house, I was delighted to discover them stocked as a seasonal spring item in the canned goods section of my local Southern Appalachian grocery store labeled “Creecy Greens.” I like to cook them southern style in bacon grease (from organic, un-cured local bacon) with a splash of burdock root vinegar, or vegetarian style in sesame oil with a dash of toasted sesame seed oil for added flavor, also with a vinegar finish. In the South they are eaten as cooked greens served with buttermilk corn bread and many consider it a traditional Southern Christmas dish. They are also good in soups, stir-fires, and quiches.

Creasy_1348Legendary creasy greens, which have 3 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and twice the amount of vitamin A as broccoli, have even found their way into folk songs and ballads. Doug Elliot on his Crawdads, Doodlebugs, and Creasy Greens CD performs one of my favorite creasy green songs. The accompanying songbook even has more Creasy lore!

And if you would like to plant some in your garden upland creasy green seed is available from the Appalachian Seed Company, Sow True Seed, featuring heirloom, organic and traditional varieties, and non-hybrid & GMO-free seeds. http://sowtrueseed.com/greens-cress/upland-creasy-greens/

So go get yerself a mess of creasy greens this spring!

Easy Creasy Greens
2 tablespoons sesame oil or bacon grease
2 bunches fresh greens, about 8 cups, washed, de-spined and coarsely chopped.

1 onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup water, vegetable or chicken stock

dash of herbal or apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and coarse grind pepper

Heat oil or drippings in a large skillet over medium heat and add onions, sautéing until translucent. Add greens and stir to coat with oil. Stir-fry until greens are wilted. Reduce heat and add stock and stir, allowing greens to steam until tender. Finish with a dash of vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4.

All photos ©2013 Thea Summer Deer

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

News Flash! I am sorry to report that Betty Ann canned Creecy Greens are no longer on the market and I have not been able to find a replacement. Side note: they are much better fresh anyway!

Headache Free in Every Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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