Herbal Search

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Simple Belly Brew

Below is a simple recipe that I use for general ~excess~ stomach problems, and for what could be called IBS, although Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a broad name for any otherwise undiagnosable stomach problems. Symptoms might include bloating, flatulence, intermittent diarrhea & constipation, digestive headaches, sour stomach and other damp heat symptoms.

This isn't to be used for people who are cold, weak or generally deficient, this is for ~excess~ type people who need heat cleared in order to re-adjust and heal their digestion. This is a very common ailment for overworked, burned out individuals who's digestion has essentially shut down or works very erratically. Many of these herbs are considered to have Pitta reducing properties, and I do find this brew to be cooling and soothing overall.

These plants help to physically heal the stomach as well as calm the nervous system and act in an overall protective manner. This brew isn't meant to be a cure, but it has a remarkable ability to calm and heal many types of excess stomach problems over a period of time. I generally prepare this as a decoction simmered for about twenty minutes.

My formula is based on a somewhat similar tea found in Paul Bergner's ¨The Healing Power of Ginseng¨on the tonic herbs. I've adapted it to my own needs and have found it most effective.

3 Parts Chamomile

2 Parts Mallow Leaf & Root

2 Parts Dandelion Root
2 Parts Fennel Seed
1 Part Burdock Root

1 Part Licorice Root

If you find this mix a bit too cooling for your taste, try using honey-fried Licorice instead of plain, or adding a bit of Orange peel, Ginger root or other complimentary warming belly healing herb.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Goldenrod - New Uses for an Old Friend

Goldenrod works great on neck troubles, generally loosening up the neck muscles and relieving the tension, but this is primarily symptomatic and won't cure a popped out disc etc., but it'll help take the swelling down and speed the healing process once you've addressed the root of the problem.

It's also helped arthritis for a lot of folks, taking down the swelling and pain. Once again, this is a symptomatic application, not anything like a cure. It seems similar to the regional use of Snakeweed/
Escoba de la Vibora in the Southwest. I've noticed Snakeweed tends to be better for arthritis and Goldenrod tends to be better for muscular problems. Funny how they've both got those beautiful golden blooms. As does St John's Wort, who I've used very little but also seems to have lots of similar applications.

Goldenrod's most profound use in my experience tends to be directly on the muscles, healing pulled muscles in amazing time periods with repeated application (every three hours or so), and often soothing strained or spasming muscles with only a single application.

For muscle spasms, I recommend combining Goldenrod oil/liniment with Peony root tincture internally, although Scullcap, Black Cohosh or Betony may be more appropriate depending on the situation and individual's constitution. It might also be worth trying Goldenrod internally for muscular problems, though I haven't personally noted any antispasmodic or similar action. Please let me know what your findings are in this area, I'd love to know.

As a side note to Peony, you can use the common available Chinese White Peony root, or your garden Peony root (make sure it's the old fashioned kind though, and it works better if its run a bit wild rather than being pampered and overwatered) or you can use the native Brown's or California Peony root, all are similar but with their own variations.

I've been getting tons of questions about Goldenrod oil and how to make it, where to get it etc., so here's the info I have.

First off, if you want to buy it, the best Goldenrod oil I've ever tried was created by Ananda Wilson of
Amrita Apothecary, I regularly trade herbs and medicines with her, and she makes marvelous, yummy smelling magic. I think she's selling Goldenrod oil right now, though I expect she has a limited quantity.

The way I make Goldenrod oil is using Extra Virgin Olive Oil (as does Ananda), preferably organic first pressing, of course. I fill a pint jar with freshly picked Goldenrod flowering tops, then I fill it again with olive oil, I poke around to get the air bubbles out, put a lid on the jar, and set in the sun for a while, usually about a month. Sometimes I add a shot of Chapparel (Larrea) oil to help preserve it, sometimes not. Store in a dark, cool place. Very simple, old fashioned simpler style.

Tincture seems to work fine as a liniment as well, though I haven't had a chance to really compare results just yet.

It's important to remember that while every herb has its specialty where it really excels, NO plant is the be all end all of herbal medicine. Every plant has its place, and we each have individual connections to the plants. The indigenous people of nearly every land have recognized that some plants do certain things for certain peoples, having an intimate relationship to the individual.

So go out and get to know the Goldenrod living in your backyard and the fields near where you live. It's always amazing to get to know a new side to an old friend.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Dream of the Earth: A Return to the Wisdom of Roots, Leaves & Flowers

Little could I have known what strange paths I would walk once I remembered the ancient language of Earth and plant and animal and gave myself up to its voice.
-John Seed

A truly human intimacy.... is needed. We are returning to our native place after a long absence, meeting once again with our kin in the Earth community.... participating in the original dream of the Earth.
-Thomas Berry

You've been here before, but you might not remember. Look around and breathe in the sweet vanilla scent of the summer breeze, that's the Melilot. And don't step on those little thorny plants, they're quite sharp. Here, take my hand.

Oh, look at this one! Her flowers are lapiz blue, tiny and tubular. They're so small that we could almost miss them among the more brazen purple Snapdragons and paper white Prickly Poppies. But hear how she calls to us, and see how her vibrant petals draw us down to look more closely. The Earth is always calling us closer to her, we need only awaken our senses to her courtship. As integral parts of her body we are each able to participate in the constant love affair within her. This great dance in which all aspects are at once consuming, creating and nourishing the other parts of the whole.

The plants speak to us through this great romance, beckoning to us to come closer. Inviting us to eat and be eaten, to heal and be healed, to love and be loved. The love of the Earth is consistently honest, passionate and expressive. Not one to hold back her feelings, she surges and quakes, burns and withers in accordance to her motion and emotion. While we cannot trust the Earth to always protect our bodily welfare, we can trust her to act according to need, to promote diversity of life and to express herself in the most unpredictable and beautiful ways. She, and so the plants, are benevolent but not benign.

In the stillness I looked inside and saw the wound laid down within all of us... The wound that comes from believing we are alone amid dead uncaring nature. And then I took a breath and began to share stories of a time when the world was young, when everyone knew that plants were intelligent and could speak to human beings... A time when it was different.
-Stephen Buhner

Our kind is forgetful and has wandered far from the dream of the Earth, leaving many of us lonely and disconnected. We ask questions like "why are we here?", "are we alone?" and "is there any meaning?" Our ancestral mothers knew the land they lived on as their own grandmother, and the green nations as friends and allies. The meaning was in the living, and living was a celebration of both pleasure and pain. How could they be alone when the spirits spoke to them on the wind and the animals came to them in powerful dreams? We say there is no one left to teach us the old ways, but even now, the plants remember and dwell always within the dream of the Earth. It is the reality that we are each born into, and that we often spend most of our lives trying to find a way back to. In the dream of the Earth, we remember that the plants speak to us, that the animals are our kin and that our source is just below our feet. In this reality we are each (plant, beaver, woman and bird) an integral part of the story and every piece contains the necessary magic to remedy the rest, to create wholeness. In this place, our wisdom extends back to our ancestors, when we learned from spirits and badgers and from little blue flowers, just like this one.

Don't you want to know what she's saying? Silly girl, you'll never get to know her from way up there. Come down here, get on your hands and knees, stick your nose in the dirt and look at the underside of a single carefully serrated leaf. Ah, now you are a little bit closer. Let your vision slip out of focus, like you did as a kid, and watch the shifting images of plant and earth and rock and sky until you can see the way the patterns link and fit together. Now you are even closer.

Place your face inside a Morning Glory or one of the Sacred Daturas over there, observe the light that filters through the thin skin of petal and pigment. See the texture, veins, marks and scars that make each flower as individual as your own body. Notice how the pollen of every flower is different, the taste and weight and color of it. Breathe deep, breathe in the flower's breath, you are almost there.

Dig your fingers gently down into the ground. Feel the threads and fibers of the roots below. Sense the life that pulses from the living soil, bacteria and insects, the flow of sap through a thousand roots that tangle and weave, that range over miles, carrying back nourishment from far away. Look! The plants are not still, only subtle. Watch our beautiful little blue one. See how she bends and curves, moves this way and that. How her leaves fold in and expand outwards depending on the angle of the sun, the temperature of the ground, the moistness in the air. She dances an eternal dance that is unique just to her but is also intertwined with the larger dance of this ecosystem, this continent, this planet and the whole of all life.

Lay here for a long time, all night even. Be still until you begin to hear her hum, to feel the vibration in your throat and belly and fingers, until you know this song as your own heartbeat. Until you recognize it as the anthem of the Earth rising up through the plant into you. When this happens, you will have entered into the dream of the Earth, the timeless and cyclic center of all flowering. And you will have a portal, the one door that leads back into your true self. In our hearts, we know that we can only come to know ourselves through our roots, our birthplace, our home.

I remember tasting my first wild mustards, cress and dandelion greens. I knew I was being entered into... While I only half-listened to the to the talk of people, I immersed myself fully in the language of the green... Everything in me felt green. I felt the plants singing in me, making me their song.
-Rosemary Gladstar

There are countless ways of entering this state, many people ingest psycho-active plants to gain easier access to the plant world. Some use forms of meditation or trance, and others, especially children, seem to fall into it without even trying. Often we need a good teacher to show us the way, and sometimes it's easier alone. Once you've re-entered into it, you'll need less help returning each time. Eventually you'll realize that the dream of the Earth is the only reality and it will be impossible to see anything else.

While there's no one right way to initiate a relationship with the green world, certain understandings will help you on your journey. First, recognize that all plants are psycho-active, that all (even maple trees, even marigolds) have a definite influence or action upon the psyche, and it's not always necessary to ingest them. Depending on your own affinities and needs, your entire sense of reality can be changed by a plant as simple as the wild rose, or a common weed such as dandelion. This can occur instantly or over a period of time, what is most important is how you approach your relationship with the plant.

It is not half so important to know as to feel.
-Rachel Carson

Go to the plant with openness and awareness, releasing any preconceived notions of what the plant's "properties" are from your consciousness. Instead, observe how you feel (physically, emotionally, spiritually) when you are near the plant, during harvesting, while burning the plant as smudge, when you eat its body as food or ingest the tincture as a medicine. Cultivate a reverent attitude, for these plants are our teachers. Much older than our own species, they are infinitely wiser than us in the ways of the Earth's dance. They have seen the complex and interwoven web of life develop, expand, change with each generation. They have much to teach us.

Our little blue flowered friend here is a native Gila Sage. Little is written of her in the literature, and though she shares some of their healing properties, she doesn't have the familiar sagey smell or fuzzy leaves of many of her relatives. She has escaped the notice of most, yet I felt her call from the moment I first saw her standing among the mugwort and alders. Like many sages she calms anxiety and relieves feelings of extreme stress, but has a special way all her own of grounding us firmly in the dreaming of the Earth. Not the cold, hard perspective our culture calls reality but the lucid fluidity that forms the molten core of our blessed planet. It is with her assistance that I have healed my once hurt and ungrounded spirit, and it was her calming touch has allowed me to grow into the healer I am becoming more and more each day.

There are holes inside all of us. Holes that can only be filled by certain plants. Empty space needing tree or stone or bear. Emptiness that can only be filled by some of the other life of this Earth...
-Stephen Buhner

Pay attention to your intuition and inner ear. Listen when a plant calls to you, even when it's not the plant you expected, or even wanted. You'd be surprised how often much maligned plants like Ambrosia (also called Ragweed) turn out to be powerful teachers and medicines. Every plant, from the littlest Chickweed to the most volatile Poison Ivy to the oldest Oak has a message to give. The message may be one of simple healing or great love, but it may also be the immense hurt and rage of the wounded Earth rising up to teach us in a new way since we could not hear her gentler messengers. Whatever the teaching, listen closely. We have heard only the roar of human voices for too long, and now is the time to be quiet.

Try not to pick plants that represent what you already know. Don't pick an Oak tree because you think you need to be strong. Forget everything you think you know. Listen. Just listen, because it may well be that instead of strength you need the flexibility of the Willow, the visionary dreams of Skullcap or even Elder's ability to break and regrow from the roots. Let go of everything and let the Earth touch and transform the vulnerable center of you. Allow the plants to recognize you, and with their help you will learn to recognize yourself.

Knowing the plants, and the whole of the Earth, is not just sensation and knowledge, but also commitment. Commitment to keeping your heart open, your senses alive, and to a reciprocal relationship in which you use the wisdom of the plant in a meaningful way. To heal what is broken, to maintain the sacredness of self and land and to protect the interconnective web of life. But most of all, to pass on this precious gift of awareness to our generation and the next. To teach the children to hear the plants again, to return to the dream of the Earth.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Sap is Running

The Cottonwood trees are budding, the Pink Filaree is already blooming and the Mugwort and Mallow are growing so rapidly I can hardly keep up with them. We had Spring Nettle soup a few nights ago and I'm eagerly anticipating the return of the Watercress (provided the Spring floods don't come early this year). The river is up from recent precipitation in the form of snow and rain, and probably a bit of snow melt from higher up as well.

Of course, I'm already plotting about what new plants I might find this Spring (I know there's Spikenard around here SOMEWHERE), what greens and herbs I want to grow (amazingly hard here on a lot of levels, but worth it) and what plants I need to harvest and propagate. I've got extra help with the gardens this year since I found Lisa Rayner's book Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains, an amazing permaculture guide to arid mountain ecology.

I'm also already planning this May's
Medicine Woman's Wild Plant Workshop, a four day intensive on relationship with the plants. I expect this workshop will turn into one long wonderful rambling plant walk. Those interested can write to me or register at the above link.

I'm also leading a plant walk, and teaching a Medicine Woman workshop with my partner Loba at this year's Women's Retreat at
3SidedWhole in the desert outside of Albuquerque in early May.

I love Spring in the Gila!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So Many Mallows: A Native Nourishing Tonic

(Althea spp., Malva spp., Sphaeralcea spp. etc)

Energetics: cool/moist
Primary Actions: yin (fluid) tonic, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, diuretic

This exceedingly common plant manages to grow in near desert conditions, parking lots, gardens and fields. It possesses many of the same valuable mucilaginous qualities that Slippery Elm has gained fame for, but is in much less danger of being overharvested. When in doubt, use weeds!

The most common mallows to the Gila are the Sphaeralcea spp., locally called Scarlet Globemallow or Yerba de la Negrita. This beautiful scarlet to orange flower flourishes through drought and flood, and provides a nice slimy mucilage even in July. We also have many of the Malva spp., often called Cheeseweed or Mallow, or sometimes just “that damn weed” by New Mexico gardeners.

Primarily ignored as a weed in North America, Mallow deserves more attention for it’s many healing talents. Central to it’s abilities is the gooey mucilage in the herb and its roots. The slime has a unique ability to locally stimulate the immune system, provide moisture for the skin and other organ systems, soothe hot, dry conditions, and reliably heal any abraded, irritated surface, inside or out. And here in the hot, dry Southwest, these qualities are of great importance.

Mallow is a perfect Winter plant, remedying the deep dryness that infiltrates so many of us this time of year from the inside out. If you have a tendency towards chronic coldness, try spicing it up a bit with some cinnamon or ginger.

You’d be surprised what a difference this simple plant can make in irritated stomach conditions where many other more popular herbs have failed to make a permanent difference. My standard digestive tea for IBS consists of Burdock, Dandelion, Chamomile, Licorice, Fennel and copious amounts of Mallow root and leaf. This works great to cool down a hot, overworked and under-functioning and belly. Mallow also has a gentle nervine action and this assists in the tension generally associated with IBS.

A classic for hot (notice a trend here?), burning urinary tract infections. I generally blend it with a bit of dried Manzanita or Uva-Ursi for a nasty tasting but very effective tea. Also for hot, irritated kidneys, gallbladder, lungs and so on. Remarkably healing and powerful, you must be patient to gain the full benefits as it’s generally a slow but steady acting plant not meant for acute situations

Mallow poultices are wonderfully cooling for burns, sunburns, rashes and other hot, dry skin conditions. It’s a very drawing substance, and helps pull out splinters, pimples, boils and the like. Also traditionally used on hard swellings, sprains, broken bones and similar swollen, painful conditions. I usually combine it with Mullein or Comfrey for these uses, but it works quite well on its own.

Mallow root oil is lovely and slimy, a great addition to general salves. I often prepare Mallow infusions in my Ginseng Cooker, as it seems to allow for a better extraction of both mucilage and starch, though plain old cold infusions work great to extract the mucilage, and regular hot infusions for the starch. I’ve also made some really lovely honey pastes with powdered mallow root that can be used for an inflamed throat or stomach. It can also be placed directly on burns or abrasions. But recently I’ve been using the paste as a nourishing yin tonic for fluid deficient individuals. I suspect it would be extra nourishing (for the dairy tolerant) taken with raw milk, yogurt or cream and a bit of ghee.

I prepare mallow leaves stir-fried or chopped fine in salads. It does have a peculiar, moist taste that some don’t care for, but I think it’s lovely. And why take medicine when you can eat food?

The Mallows all share a very sweet spirit that attracts gardeners, herbalists and people who just like flowers. While I don’t use flower essences per se, I do sometimes add a bit of Mallow flower tincture to formulas for those who need a little extra nourishing sweetness in their life.

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charlie Kane

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Choice Injury Herbs

Living the Southwest means you get injured a lot: volcanic rock, an extraordinarily diverse array of cacti, pokey plants like Yucca, Agave and Nolina and lots of venomous insects like scorpions and spiders makes for good experience in general injury aid. While these herbs are primarily local SW herbs, you’ll usually be able to find local equivalents wherever you live.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) -cold, dry- A powerful disinfectant and anti-inflamatory that seems to share Lavender's ability to take the pain out of wounds, papercuts, cuts and burns. Other odiferous sages will work too, but this one is my favorite so far. I've had great results treating old, inflamed and infected wounds with it. It has a rather amazing ability to reduce pain in a big way (combine with Cottonwood and Pine for best results). For run of the mill scrapes and cuts I use a salve, but for deep infections, puncture wounds or burns in danger of infection I always use the diluted tincture.

Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia -warm/cool, dry- Wonderful for burns and any hot, irritated skin condition, rashes or wounds. I recommend using a fomentation or diluted tincture. I do expect that most Monardas would behave in the same way, but as I haven’t tried them, I can't be sure.

Mugwort (Artemisia spp.)-cool,dry- Great for itchy, hot rashes, the very best thing I’ve ever used on poison ivy and contact dermatitis conditions. Also makes a lovely (but terribly bitter) spit poultice for an array of wounds, rashes and other injuries. I’ve used it with very good results on tendonitis, sore muscles and contusions.

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) -cool/warm, dry- Yarrow is such a familiar wound herb I almost feel silly talking about it, but seeing as it’s one of my very favorites I must babble on a bit about it. Great for both deep and shallow wounds, very disinfectant, hemostatic and pain relieving. The roots are perhaps even more powerful than the flowering tops and preferable in the severe pain of toothaches. Spit poultices are phenomenal for insect stings and bites, but it works MUCH better if you add your spit than if you just smush the herb. Tincture & powdered flowering tops are my preferred preparations though I’ve had good luck with the vinegar as well.

Rose (Rose spp.) petal, leaf, bark or root -cold, dry- Excellent for blisters, burns, wounds and sunburns. Rose is a wound medicine of primary importance for many Native tribes. Diluted Rose petal vinegar is a wonderfully soothing way to treat a sunburn, takes the heat out quick. And Rose petal pastilles work great for a sore throat, Rose petal honey is wonderful, perhaps unsurpassed for burn care (I like it combined with Sage honey). Some indigenous people used branch/root ashes for burns too. You can pack wounds with ground Rose leaf and twigs, and fresh rose petals make a handy (and elegant) backwoods bandage (just lick it to make it stick better). And because Rose is such an efficient blood mover, I like to use a fomentation or vinegar on both small bruises and larger contusions, it can be combined with Peony root for even better results. And Rose leaf spit poultices are another great one for insect stings and bites.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) -cool, dry- A lovely and effective hemostatic, do be sure to use the ~dried~ leaves though. A salve made of the fresh plant is wonderful for eczema, psoriasis and other hot, dry rashes. It can also be used on strains, sprains and tendonitis. The fresh plant has been used as a counterirritant for arthritis but I haven’t tried that yet myself.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) -cool, moist- We've all heard about the amazing feats Comfrey has accomplished in the way of broken bones and wounds, but I was still quite shocked at the impressive results I obtained by using a simple Comfrey leaf salve on a knee ligament injury recently. The knee had been bashed in a truck door, severely bruising the ligaments and causing remarkable swelling with great pain and complete immobility. Now ideally, I would add something warming and diffusive to keep the injury from getting stuck and hard, but all I had on hand right then was a large container of comfrey leaf salve. Surprisingly, with each application the injury became noticeably less swollen and painful and eventually mobile. Through the healing process (the last month or so) I've tried various other herbs (liniments with lobelia and cayenne, arnica oil, Mugwort, Cottonwood, Mullein root and so on), the only things that came close were Cottonwood bud oil and Mugwort oil, but they still weren't quite as effective. Now most of you will already know this but I must mention it (no, I’m NOT going to talk about PLAs), but be sure not to use Comfrey on ANY open wound that might have even a TRACE of infection. It may cause the skin to heal so quickly that it closes right over a festering infection, leading to all kinds of systemic nastiness. This is a WONDERFUL herb used properly, but it’s powerful enough that we need to understand where it’s indicated and where it’s not.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) -cold, dry-
Great for scorpion stings, caterpillar hairs in your fingers (you know those little prickly haired caterpillars that crawl into bed with you and then leave their stingy hairs in your hands) and other venomous insects. A generally wonderful herb for all kinds of cuts, scratches, burns, wounds, fungal infections, rashes and just about anything else.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp) -warm, dry- An absolute miracle for pulled muscles, even when nothing else works. Better than ANY other herb I’ve ever used (including Arnica) for pulled, strained or overworked muscles. It works great for any wounds too, as well as arthritic swellings and the like, but it's specialty seems to be in the muscles. This is one of the twenty or so herbs I would NEVER be without, luckily it’s a very common weed in North America. I've used it primarily as an oil, but I suspect a liniment would be lovely too.

Pine (Pinus spp) -warm, dry- Pine resin makes an excellent if messy (ever tried getting melted pine resin out of the bottom of small mouthed quart jar? Impossible!)tincture vinegar or oil. The resin can also be used straight on wounds and burns. Anti-inflammatory, astringent and disinfectant, this is another very multi-purpose herb that can be used for just about any wound, nerve pain, burn, muscular aches or skin condition. Also great as a counterirritant to draw out splinters, boils an other things you don’t want in your flesh. And though I haven’t seen it confirmed in the literature, I find that it is often quite pain relieving. The needles and bark can be used as well but I like the resin best, for a milder preparation I mix all three together.

Cottonwood (Populus spp) -cool, dry- One of my very favorites, with many many applications. I make a vinegar with bark for burns, sunburns and scrapes. An oil of the buds is a great all purpose salve that relieves pain, disinfects and creates a protective coating over the wound. It also works remarkably well on contusions, tendonitis, injured ligaments, and strained or sore muscles. You can also use a high proof tincture of the buds and bark for any of those purposes.

Alder (Alnus spp.) -cool, dry- Astringent and anti-bacterial, Alder makes a wonderful salve, fomentation or liniment for sunburns, burns, all manner of wounds, infections and skin irritations.

Mullein root and flower (Verbascum thapsu) - A first rate herb for swellings, wounds, spinal injuries, bruises, burns, wounds and so on. The root and flower are especially anti-inflammatory though I find the leaves to be more directly healing. All parts of the plant are quite pain relieving.

Elder leaf, bark and flower (Sambucus nigra spp.) -cool, dry- Though a bit strange smelling, these Elder bits works very well for almost any inflammation, infection, rash, wound or pain. That sounds a bit broad, but Elder is one of the most multi-purpose plants I’ve ever worked with, energetically conforming to whatever need is present. I’ve used it for bruises, sprains, arthritis, nerve pain, cuts, infections, sunburns, severe burns and hot rashes all to good effect. I generally mix a little Elder into any wound preparation I’m making, just for good measure.

Mahonia spp -cold, dry- This lovely little berberene containing plant makes a great root powder for all kind of stubborn infections and various first aid needs. I find to work best in a mixed first aid powder containing other wound healing plants.

Plantain (Plantago major) -cool, neutral- The first plant to think of in venomous spider bites, especially those from the brown recluse, use poultices of the fresh plant. Extraordinarily healing and pain relieving for wounds, sprains, cuts, bruises, burns and insect bites and stings. The spit poultice works best, though oil based preparations are effective as well.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) pads and flowers -cool,moist- An excellent all around anti-inflammatory and wound healer. Of great use on stubbed toes, broken bones, burns or any other kind of swelling that you need to take the inflammation down on quickly. Just be sure not to hurt yourself worse with the stickers which are best burned off.

Vervain (Verbena spp.) -cool, dry- A specific for nerve & muscle pain, the powdered herb was traditionally used but the liniment seems to work very well too. It’s also quite useful for wounds, burns, eczema, sprains and insect stings and bites. For nerve pain, I recommend taking internally as well.

Snakeweed (Gutierrezia spp.)-warm, dry- A resinous and strange plant that populates huge sections of the West as a symptom of the overgrazing so prevalent here. Ranchers, gardeners and even the EPA seems to hate it, but Indigenous and Spanish peoples have long recognized it’s extraordinary value, and even considered to be sacred. The whole plant is very anti-inflammatory and pain relieving and has a long history of use in arthritis. Traditionally the dried plant was used in the bath and drank as a tea at the same time. It’s also effective made into an oil or salve and used on arthritic joints, sore muscles, and wounds. A poultice works very well for insect sting and bites as well as all manner of injuries, including sprains, broken bones and bruises.

Marshmallow, Mallow & Scarlet Globemallow (Althea spp., Malva spp. & Sphaeralcea spp.) -cool, moist- A very soothing demulcent plant, wonderful as a fomentation for burns, scrapes and rashes. Also as an all-purpose wound healer as it stimulates the immune system locally and allows the wound heal quicker. It’s also very drawing for splinters, boils and other things that need to come to the surface. I use as a fomentation, plaster or oil.

Usnea spp. -cool. dry- An intensely antibacterial lichen that can be powdered straight from the tree and used on any irritation, inflammation or infection. A high proof tincture is also effective. Decoctions will work but not all constituents are water soluble.

Cow Parsnip ( Heracleum maximum) seeds and root -warm, dry- A specific for nerve pain or injury and toothaches but useful for all wounds and swellings. I primarily use the diluted tincture.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Shamanic Herbalism & Sacred Plant Medicine

I'm posting here the essay about "getting" herbs that Henriette referenced in her blog post the other day. This is an introductory piece to Shamanic Herbalism that I wrote for my students. I'll post more in-depth information and insights on the same subject soon.

Entering the Green World: Shamanic Herbalism & Sacred Plant Medicine

by Kiva Rose

If it is the highest and the greatest that you seek,

the plant can direct you.
Strive to become through your will,
what without will, it is.

Come with me into the juniper woodlands, into the green world where the garden still grows wild. Feel in your body the wild canyon gales of the sacred southwest, the river lapping at your feet and the soft mud rising up between your toes. Move with me as if the mother were holding you to herself, as if you are being embraced by emerging light and damp earth... as it is, and as you are.

Know in your bones, in that small, hollow space between your ribs that you are the beloved of both land and water, born to feel the ecstasy of the fecund earth as well as the death throes of each being. We are all living extensions and sensory feelers of the body of the earth, of our mother Gaia. We are the poets and priestesses of this fertile, verdant wildness. There is nothing so fulfilling as the love of the land, of being not so much filled, but opened, as a conduit for the force and rush of energy and light, this is what we are born to be, and an integral part of each our individual purposes and callings.

Look! The plants are all around us, the brilliant orange flowers of Yerba de la Negrita, the fierce spikes of Agave and grandmotherly arms of the ancient Cottonwoods. these vibrant green beings are some of the very first peoples. Not only do they provide the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, but they have the ability to provoke a wide range of feelings, reactions and states of mind. From the tongue tingling tastes of plump mango fruits to the gently protective properties of milky oat tops to the sensual evocation of the red rose to the reality shifting shamanic powers of the salvias and the poppies, the plants move us, tantalize us, heal us and sometimes irritate us like nothing else.

Shhhh, listen... deep within us, somewhere much deeper than ears or skin we can sense and hear the songs and speech of the green ones. Since before the first ceremonies and the first healers, we learned from these ancient teachers, and dreamed of their subterranean world of roots and soil. As with our ancestors and the indigenous peoples across the world, we use the plants in medicine, ritual and pleasure.

Shamanic Herbalism

...there is other music in these hills, by no means audible to all... on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and... you may hear it --a vast pulsing harmony-- its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.

-Aldo Leopold

Understanding and connecting with the plants begins with opening our awareness to their energy and presence. Simply noticing that they are there, whether the dandelions in our apartment parking lot or the leafy shade of ancient oak trees in the city park, they each have individual personalities and energies. Each possesses its own mode of healing and signature song.

There are many ways to meet the plant spirits. They may come to us in our dreams, speaking in the symbols and whispers of our dreamtime or they may grab us in their thorns, holding us fast and waking us to their language and presence. Still others may lure us with their lovely ephemeral scent or the mutter of the wind in their leaves. Whatever way they catch our attention, it is up to us to look closely, to feel fully and listen attentively. We cannot expect any teacher to instruct us over the chatter of our own voices and minds, and the plants rarely shout.

All forms of art require a dedication to focus, and none more than the shamanic arts. Before we can learn to hear we must learn to be silent, to quiet our minds and allow our bodies to sense the intricate, active world around us. The best times to hear and fully feel the spirits of many plants seems to be dawn and dusk, the traditional times of the emergence of the faery folk, ancestral spirits and wild animals. During these between times our senses are more aware and the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual fade and blur. Take advantage of these brief magical hours by venturing outdoors to spend quiet time with Gaia and her plant children.

Two of my students accompany me out into the early morning woods. Dawn is emerging in a lavender mist as we lay together on the cool ground, listening with our whole bodies, and with our expectant spirits. When we become still, we are able to hear the rhythm of breath, the beat of life, the hum of song, the intricate pulses of the plant world, the drinking and eating, breathing and opening into sun and air, withering and rotting back to earth. We must be fully attentive to feel the energy of the plant pressing against us, entering into us, sensual as a lover touching flesh, sharp as a knife slipping under skin, warm as wine spreading through the river of our veins.

Sacred Plant Medicine

People (like soil, bears, butterflies, and monkeys) have made their medicine by percolating water through plants, eating them whole, soaking them in water for teas, or rubbing them on their skin... for we, like all other life, have long been inextricably interwoven into the fabric of the plant world.

Stephen Buhner

We, along with many of our relatives, from the elephants to the bears to the birds to the ants, have used the plants as medicine. We have healed our wounds, eased the pain of our dying, aided our births and traveled into vision and ecstasy with the help of our green allies.

It is only recently that we humans have forgotten and destroyed much of our knowledge of the ways in which our ancestors used the plants to heal, this has happened primarily through cultural annihilation and assimilation. We must begin again, by salvaging the remains of our great, great grandmothers’ knowledge. By watching the animals around us. By learning from each other and by asking the plants for their help. And we must teach our children what we learn, passing on through story and shared experience, as well as inherited cellular knowledge, the power and beauty of herbal healing... so that we will not forget again.

At the same time, we must also remember that the plants are just what they are: plants, and not humans. And that while they are often happy to help us when we ask, it is not our interests that they are most concerned with, but the wider web of plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, with the beloved body of Gaia who is the mother and Creatrix of us all. Knowing this, we enter into relationship with the plants respectfully, prayerfully, humbly, remembering we are but one part of the living, feeling whole.

Into The Green World

Only through the earth may we be as one with all who have been and all who are yet to be, sharers and partakers of the mystery of living, reaching the full of human peace and the full of human joy.

-Henry Beston

In my hands, the vibrant violet blue flowers radiate the cooling calmness of the Salvia clan, she is a lush plant, her bright green leaves standing out in stark contrast with the Summer’s dusty grasses and withered wildflowers. She grows throughout this riparian canyon, with riverside watercress and up against the prickly cholla cactus. I gather her slowly, mindfully, cutting the flowering tops from the stem with a quick snip, and thanking her for her medicine. Even after I place the Salvia gently in my woven basket, I can feel the life of the plants still in my hands, feeding me not only oxygen but something undefinable in scientific terms: magic! And I can still hear their songs weaving through the mountain air. We are all, whether aware of it or not, nourished and affected by their spirits as well as bodies. By the fertile beauty of their dying, by the fierceness of their flowering and the radiant fullness of their fruiting.

Join me, on this journey ever deeper into the green world... into the wild garden.

Elemental Energetics

The energetics of primary importance for the practicing herbalist refer to temperature and moistness: hot, cold, dry and moist in varying degrees. If you simply learn to recognize those energies in humans and plants, you will be well on your way to utilizing the enormous potential of herbal energetics.

Although there is varying ways of understanding the systems in which energetics are organized in the traditional schools of thought, for practical purposes we can simplify it down to a few fairly universal basics. I call my approach Elemental Energetics because I have attempted to simplify my analogies down to the essential elements and because I favor a natural elements based approach to energetics (and because I like to name things). There's nothing here especially profound or new, this is a gentle, common sense synthesis of ancient and modern practices for practicing herbalists wanting a better understanding of energetic herbalism.

First of all, use your innate senses to figure out what the qualities of the individual are. Are they overheated all the time or do they generally feel cold and need extra blankets and clothing to keep warm? Do they have a tendency towards heartburn or constipation? A propensity for scaly rashes or for oily skin and hair? There's plenty of books out there on diagnostics, but old-fashioned observation will tell you a lot. Make a practice of observing the ways in which these different elements manifest, what does a hot, dry person smell like as opposed to a cold, moist person? What does their skin, hair and nails look like?

Now do the same with the plants. How does the plant feel in your mouth and on your skin? Is it slimy when you rub it between your fingers or does it make your tongue dry up in your mouth like strong black tea? Does it warm your belly like a fine curry or leave you cooled down like a fresh garden salad? Of course, there's always your idiosyncratic herbs that don't conform to one end of the spectrum or the other, like Yarrow, which is both warm and cool, but many herbs will fall rather naturally into a category. And even when they don’t you’ll be able to tell, because of they way they feel, you won’t need a medical book to tell you.

Whatever you do, don't give your cold, dry individual a cold, dry detoxifying herb like dandelion or fringe tree, you'll only make them worse. Though current alternative medicine fads dictate detoxing and cleansing just about everything, that approach is only valid when there's an excess that actually needs to be cleared. You'll find that as you correct energetic imbalances, many other symptoms and complaints will naturally subside without even being directly treated.

It's really this simple: if you have a cold, frail individual with cracked, dry heels and lips, then they most likely need a warm, moistening herb. You then find the corresponding herb that best fits with their overall constitution and symptomology. It's all about paying attention to the individual and to the plant. After you've worked within a basic understanding of energetics for a while, it will come to you spontaneously and you won't have to think "hrrmmm, ginger is definitely warm, I wonder if it's dry though? Maybe I should go have some ginger tea. Nope, it's not really dry, maybe neutral or even a little moist..." But then, that's half the fun.

Energetics & Actions

Nearly every herb book on the market contains list upon list of what is generally termed herbal actions. You know what I'm talking about, it's that half page of hyphenated words separated by commas: anti-pyretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-bacterial, refrigerant, demulcent, hypotensive and so on and so forth. These terms are only useful in so far as they actually indicate what the specific plant will do in the body (NOT what they will do in a petri dish or in lab rats that are bred to have cancer). Many of the more modern actions actually refer to biochemical actions that will often be of little use to someone actually working with the whole plant in a practical setting.

The actions I prefer to use are the ones I can observe for myself in practice. As with basic energetics, these can be understood by anyone with a dedication to paying attention. While labratories and allopathic uses of standardized extracts may have their place in our culture, I want most of my medicine to be simple, down to earth and common sense, bringing the power of healing and health back to the hands of the people who need it most.

It is possible to match up energetics with actions in a useful way. For instance, bitter alterative herbs such as dandelion, oregon grape root, mugwort, gentian, goldenseal and vervain are almost invariably cold and dry, while demulcents such as comfrey, mallow, slippery elm and chickweed are usually cool and moist. It can be very useful to chart these energetics/actions out in order to better understand the way a given herb works and how it can be best used in an individual. I'm in the process of doing this for the herbs I most commonly use and will post it when it's done.

Deficiency & Excess

Excess exists when there is too much of something, so that the overall balance of the body is disrupted. Excess can be triggered by too much food, too much alcohol or stimulants or even too much sex. Individuals with excess conditions are often overheated, overfed, aggressive, restless and loud. In other words, stereotypical American. Excess conditions are generally treated with alterative herbs such as burdock, dandelion and barberry, although in cases of cold excess warming digestive herbs such as fennel or may be used.

Deficiency occurs when there's not enough of some necessary force in the body. Dry skin and scanty urine point to a deficiency in fluids. Chronic fatigue, low sex drive and a prolapsed uterus can indicate a deficiency in the vital energy. Deficiencies are usually treated with tonic herbs such as ginseng, peony root and bilberry. Chinese Medicine classifies four primary deficiencies: Yin (fluids), Blood, Chi (vital energy) and Yang (adrenals). Understanding these subtleties is very useful in clinical practice, but unecessary for a basic sense of energetics. I recommend Paul Bergner's The Healing Power of Ginseng & The Tonic Herbs, Matthew Wood's The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism and Michael Tierra's Planetary Herbology for a better grasp of the subject. Or you can wait until I do a post on it here :)

Recognizing False Heat.

This one's bit tricky at first. Say you have a woman experiencing hot flashes, headaches, irritability and painful urination. She's got excessive heat, right? Well, yes, but not directly. Heat can occur in direct proportion to lack of vital fluids in the body, so check for dryness and other deficiency symptoms before automatically giving her a detoxifying, alterative formula. If she's actually fluid deficient with false heat, you'd want to first provide her with mucilaginous tonic herbs like Marshmallow Root or Black Sesame Seeds.

I'll be adding posts related to Elemental Energetics periodically, including one on basic constitutional types, on Western tonic herbs, and energetics and the organs. I'm also hoping to come up with some graphics that will make illustrating the finer points of energetics a bit simpler.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Few Herbs for Headaches

I seem to have a special gift for obtaining terrible headaches, a fun hobby I've had since grade school, and not for any one reason, but a huge variety: neck tweaks, migraines, hormonal, tension, kidney-related. Here's a few of my experimental findings from my own pain as well as treating others.

The herbs used tend to be limited to my personal favorites and local plants, which explains while I'll leave out certain popular headache herbs.

Headaches are generally quite changeable symptoms of a deeper problem. So, while these herbs can work very well for the pain, especially if you choose an herb specific to your imbalance, they're not cures. It's very important to find the underlying reason (like constipation, allergies, an imbalanced constitution, stress, nervous system disorders, hormones, poor digestion and just about anything else) for the headache and treat that.

: A great overall headache remedy that works for tension and neck tweaks and even for hormonally caused headaches.

Skullcap: A specific for those I'm so tense I can't breathe kind of headaches, where your neck is spasming and you're getting ready to scream at the next person who speaks to you. Other indicators are if you grind your teeth (asleep or awake) or have lots of jaw tension pain or find that your fists are constantly clenched.

: Great for digestive headaches caused by an overindulgence or too much animal fat. Also one of the better herbs for hormonally caused headaches, especially with hot flashes. In a larger dose, it works great for tension headaches too.

: Specific for kidney yin deficiency caused headaches, it will probably work well for general adrenal insufficiency headaches as well. And for some people, it works on all headaches, all the time. It's contradicted for people with a tendency towards water retention and general bogginess.

Peony: For crazy neck spasms, general tension and sensory over stimulation. I've found it to work wonderfully for PMS headaches (and it helps the cramps and moodiness too). A great and underused herb (see Michael Moore's Medicine Plants of the Mountain West for an in-depth discussion, or just wait until I get around to doing a full post on Peony). Keep in mind it's a rather cool herb so if you have a tendency to feel cold and find your headache aggravated by cold, then choose a warmer herb and combine peony with something warmer like ginger.

(Artemisia spp. ): Best for what I call "liver headaches" when your body just doesn't want to digest the food in your belly, especially when there was a high fat content. You feel nauseous, bloated and heavy. I like Mugwort tinctured in ACV (Apple Cider Vinegar) for this. Also works remarkably well as an oil for external use on neck pain (and tendinitis for that matter).

/Cottonwood: Ah yes, all that wonderful salicin and populin, that relieves all sorts of pain. It's specific for hot, flushed kind of headaches. I also combine it with whatever specific headache herb is called for to potentiate the mix. Contradicted in people with aspirin reactions or those on anticoagulants.

: My favorite for disorienting PMS or neck tension headaches... when it's really called for, you only need a very small dose of the fresh plant tincture. In fact, I find that if I take more than I need, it will actually aggravate the tension (anyone else found this?) The tincture works so well that I'll often get shivers from the rapid release of my neck muscles, makes me feel like a limp fish (in a happy way).

Ginger: For cold headaches, and those caused by external influences such as viruses. Also seems to work really great for headaches caused by circulatory congestion and cold, stuck sinus infections. Also works well as a migraine preventative by keeping blood vessels dilated.

: A migraine and cluster headache specialty, but will often work in other headaches as well. Michael Moore says that it has a vasoconstricot effect on the brain lining but a dilating effect on the veins. Try both the tea and the tincture to see which works best for you.

Dandelion: Another heat clearing herb specific to liver/digestive headaches, or where there's lots of damp heat stagnating in the body.

: Externally, the oil on the neck and skull can relieve intense muscular pain. It's actually quite a remarkable plant this way, works on arthritis, pulled or strained muscles, better than more popular herbs like SJW or Meadowsweet for these purposes in my experience. Internally, for sinus infections and allergy headaches related to stuffiness.

(ragweed): Sinus headaches with stuffiness.

Rose Petal
: for hot, damp, congested headaches that are often accompanied by feverishness, hot flashes, gas and bloating.

Flower & Root: For all kind of neck/back induced headaches, also great for tension and digestive caused headaches. Actually, this is an excellent herb for just about any kind of pain. The temperature feels pretty neutral to me, so you cool it down or warm it up with other herbs according to your constitution and kind of pain.

Jamaican Dogwood
: Ok, I don't usually like herbs this exotic, but I've found this plant specific for toothache headaches in those people for whom just about NO nervine or pain reliever will work. This is a strong sedating herb, so no heavy machinery ok?

Elder Flower
: Deep, hot, tense headaches. If the tincture doesn't work, try a cup of the tea.

Black Cohosh
: I've don't know Black Cohosh very well, but I've learned that the indications are dull, aching, cold kind of pain, possibly with depression (doom and gloom type). According to Michael Moore, Baneberry has identical indications, but again, I haven't used it.

: Another great one for digestive headaches. Also good for toothache caused headaches (try the root), it's also good for stagnant, dull aching headaches.

Oregon Grape Root
: For those hot, gooey, face exploding kind of sinus infections that result in terrible headaches. Another one for congested liver headaches.

: Headache with altitude sickness, inability to get enough oxygen.

PS A big thanks to
Henriette for her sweet words about my blog.

Monday, February 5, 2007


Monarda is a common Gila plant, preferring to grow in pine-inhabited arroyos. It's hardy and thrives through both floods and droughts, making it one of my most dependable primary medicines. Although this plant has a huge variety of uses, one area it really stands out is yeast infections. I have never used any herb (or even any pharmaceutical) that works so consistently. Especially if caught in the early stages, Monarda will keep the infection from ever getting off the ground. I take half a dropperfull of the tincture every two hours for the first few days, and then taper off as symptoms disappear. I've also used an infusion of dried leaves with similar results, I recommend mixing it with mint, roses and oatstraw to mellow out the intense taste. As a warning, it makes me rather sleepy even in small doses, though it doesn't seem to effect everyone that way.

Below is yet another one of my herbal essays (yes, I am writing a book). It was written this past fall after the extra abundant monsoon rains we experienced, making for some very happy Monarda.

Mountain Monarda: One of North America’s Most Important Medicines By Kiva Rose

(Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia)
Common Names: Wild Bergamot, Monarda, Bee-Balm, Wild Oregano, Oregano de la Sierra , Sweet Leaf

Energetics: warm feeling, but cooling at core, diffusively stimulating/relaxant

Primary Actions: Diffusive stimulant, relaxant nervine, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, carminative, emmenagogue

I have long been amused by accounts of medical anthropologists running off to the Amazon to discover new drugs, when I have learned so much... right here in North America.

-Matthew Wood

The sun is just beginning to peak over the mist laced canyon walls as my partner Loba and I walk up the narrow arroyo that winds like a serpent from the canyon bottom deep into the Saliz Mountains. All around us, Autumn is beginning to blossom in innumerable shades of gold. The bright flowers of Groundsel, Snakeweed and Deer Vetch peek from around almost every rock, and the Goldenrod is just beginning to open its sunny spikes. On on a rocky ledge above us, we see a brilliant and unexpected splash of magenta, and from where we’re standing we can smell the pungent oregano aroma wafting our way. Excited to discover such profusion so late in the season, Loba and I eagerly clamber up to the ledge and begin to fill our harvesting baskets with the bright blossoms and aromatic light green leaves of Mountain Monarda.

According to herbalist Matthew Wood, Monarda is one of the primary healing plants native to North America and has long been used as a primary medicine by Native Americans across the continent including the Hopi and Cherokee, and is still included in many Plains Tribe ceremonies like the Sweat Lodge and the Sun Dance. Seemingly neglected by anglo herbalists and doctors, it is currently enjoying a small surge in interest thanks to Monarda enthusiasts who have been touting its benefits for years. I’m thrilled to be surrounded by this beautiful plant in New Mexico, where it’s found in nearly every arroyo I’ve visited in the mountains.

Often confused with
Monarda pectinata, with whom it shares many characteristics and traits. In my experience, Mountain Monarda has very bright pink to purplish flowers and grows in damp, rocky areas such a arroyos, while M. pectinata has white to pale lavender flowers and generally grows in less rocky environs such as river banks roadsides and grassy meadows. Both Monardas have a very strong lemon-oregano scent that Loba and I enjoy as a tasty addition to salsa, beans or any Mexican or Italian dish instead of Oregano, and can also be used as a delicious ingredient in many salads. Some people greatly enjoy the flavor of the tea as a relaxing beverage. The leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant, but the flowers are also excellent and extra spicy. The midsummer flowering season – when its aromatics are at their peak – is the best time to harvest it, but it can be gathered at any time. It can easily be preserved in a tincture, glycerite, vinegar, oil or syrup and it works just fine hung up in bunches to dry as well. Both Monardas have very similar uses, but I will be specifically referring to Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia throughout this article since most of my experience has been with that species.

Although folks here in the Southwest are most likely to call it Wild Oregano or
Oregano de la Sierra for its strong spicy aroma and tendency to grow in the mountains, Monarda has a great many common names. Some refer to it as Sweet Leaf in reference to the old Indian names for the plant, or Indian Perfume. Many people know it as the Bee-Balm of their hummingbird and butterfly gardens, and I’ve also heard people from back east call it Oswego Tea after the eastern relative used a tea substitute. I’ve taken to calling our particular species Mountain Monarda to distinguish it from its myriad relatives.

Many members of the mint family share certain similar characteristics. Monardas, Sages, Mints, Thyme and Oregano are all strongly anti-bacterial, nervine and anti-inflammatory, making them excellent for a wide variety of ailments and afflictions. Collectively, they may be best known as a remedy for an upset stomach, our own Mountain Monarda being no exception. A strong tea or small dose of tincture can be used to soothe almost any gastric upset including heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache or gas.

Powerfully anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anesthetic, styptic and anti-fungal I frequently use the leaves and flowers in salves and oils for wounds, sprains, bruises, burns, rashes and other external pains to bring down swelling, eliminate infection, reduce irritation, dull pain and stem excess bleeding. It’s especially good combined with Sage or Yarrow for an even stronger blend, or apply the salve to a bandage made of Usnea lichen for any sort of infected wound. I also use Mountain Monarda as a cooling wash or vinegar for sunburns and other burns.

Long recognized as a powerful woman’s herb by Native peoples and old time doctors, Monarda was considered an excellent reproductive tonic in the 19th century and was given as a traditional gift to young brides to regulate and improve their cycles. Combine Monarda infused (not essential) oil with Mugwort or American Pennyroyal infused oil and apply to the lower abdomen to ease menstrual cramps or other cyclical discomforts. It has also been employed traditionally to bring on delayed menses. Because of this, it probably should not be used in infusion or tincture form during pregnancy, though it can still be eaten as a food without problem. A key herb in treating recurring or chronic yeast infections and leaky gut syndrome, try the tincture in small doses over a period of time if you have symptoms of either of these illnesses. Oil of Oregano is currently a popular item in alternative medicine for combating candida and various infections, but what most people do not know is that the active constituent of Oil of Oregano is present in large amounts in our own Monarda. For anything you might use Oil of Oregano for, you can substitute the prolific (and cheap) Monarda.

Its also recently become well known as a valuable remedy for cystitis, especially urinary tract infections with symptoms of severe burning. Monarda will help cool the irritated membranes while also eliminating the infection. I have personally found this to be the quickest acting remedy for almost any “hot” bladder problem with symptoms of burning and inflammation, combine with Manzanita and Goldenrod for the best results. A gentle but effective nervine, Mountain Monarda acts upon the nervous system in a soothing way, and can be used as a calmitive and antidepressant much in the same way as its cousin Lemon Balm. It shares Lemon Balm’s sunny disposition and easy going ways, making it a fine remedy for children. It is quite gentle and completely non-addictive, not acting as an outright sedative so much as a physical reminder to relax and smile. Monarda has also been used successfully for nervous system related disorders such as Meniere’s disease and tinnitis.

Diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic and anti-viral, Mountain Monarda is an excellent treatment for any cold or flu you might catch this coming Winter, especially those accompanied by coughing, sore throat, chest congestion and fever. It’s particularly effective combined with Elderberry and Yarrow. The same anesthetic properties that make it useful for wounds and burns also make it a wonderful cure for sore, abraded throats. It’s extra nice when made into a simple honey syrup to soothe and heal many coughs, sore throat or lung trouble. For this you’ll need a canning jar and some good raw honey (it’s importantly to use raw and unpasteurized for it’s powerful antibiotic qualities) plus enough fresh Mountain Monarda flowers to fill the jar. First, place the flowers in the jar, then cover them completely with honey, stir with a chopstick or long handled spoon to remove air bubbles. Then cap, and sit in a sunny window for 4 to 6 weeks. That’s it! Then you can either strain the honey from the flowers and compost the plant matter, or else leave the flowers in the honey. Either way, store in a cool place away from direct light. Add the syrup to tea or take it straight.

The warm sun is almost directly overhead as Loba and I finally head back down the rocky path towards home. Our baskets are nearly bursting with Monarda, Valerian root, Goldenrod, Yarrow, Sage and a few choice wild mushrooms. The cool crisp breeze fills the air with the rich aroma of wildflowers and the previous night’s rain as we weave our way through glittering stones and knotted tree roots. We’re eager to hurry home so we can carefully bundle and hang our harvest from the cabin ceiling, preserving our abundance for wonderfully warm winter meals, lovingly brewed medicines and spicy teas.

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

Friday, February 2, 2007

Winter Greens

Some of you might be surprised to learn that here in the Gila we have a year round supply of yummy salad green right outside our door. Right now, we're munching on wild Mustard and Stinging nettles. We have native mustards as well as the introduced London Rocket, they both have quite a strong bite and are useful in medicine as well.

In about a month we should start seeing new growth on the Watercress and Veronica (speedwell) that grows by and in the Sweet Medicine (San Francisco) River just below the mesa where our cabin sits... Later on in the Spring we'll have lots of tasty Dock greens, I don't know exactly what type of Dock it is, certainly not Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) or even CaƱaigre (
Rumex hymenosepalus)... whatever it is, it's got yummy tart leaves, and we keep our patch watered in the dry months so can eat it all Summer long.

Across the river we've also got Wood Sorrel in the Spring and Summer, and there's Canyon Grape leaves growing everywhere there's even a hint of water. We eat Quelites (Lamb's Quarters) and Amaranth from Spring til Fall, and dry them for the Winter.

I'm always trying to pick a favorite green, but keep changing my mind, my current favorites are Stinging Nettle, though pickled Wood Sorrel is REALLY good too...

The Medicine Woman is glad you came...

All writings & posts (c)2007 Kiva Rose
All artwork & photographs (c) 2007 Jesse Wolf Hardin