Herbal Search

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Goldenrod Strikes Again

So yesterday I had this nice long walk from the mesa to the road where we park. We normally have a big four wheel drive truck for going in an out through the usually shallow seven river crossings. However, with all the lovely Spring rain we had last week, the river's been too high to drive through. So I was walking, and carrying a few things while I walked (a backpack, and a heavy object in each arm). Now, I'm quite used to carrying heavy things up and down mountains, in and out of the river. Occasionally I'll get sore muscles or tweak my neck a bit from carrying a heavier load than I should but nothing more than that. Imagine my surprise then, when I got home, took of my pack full of groceries and found that I suddenly was unable to move my right shoulder without excruciating pain shooting through my neck and down my arm. Interesting, I thought, and sat down very quickly. My shoulder continued to tighten until I was completely unable to lift the pound bag of sugar with that hand, and my head was screaming with a tension headache. Not good, I thought, and went fumbling to my little wooden medicine box. I promptly dug out the Goldenrod oil, eying it with some doubt. While Goldenrod has worked wonderfully on sore or pulled muscles, I hadn't yet tried it something truly acute. So I applied it liberally to my right shoulder and neck and waited a while. Nothing. So I did it again, more liberally, and then went on my one handed way. An hour later the pain was significantly lessened, by bedtime two hours later, it only hurt when I reached up and out, directly engaging the hurt muscles. By this morning, the headache was gone and there's a minute amount of pain and stiffness in the shoulder.

We have a friend visiting who has had more than his share of horse wrecks and other kinds of accidents that are common on Wyoming ranches. This includes a badly separated deltoid with lots of chronic pain and stiffness with little alleviation from standard alopathic or alternative procedures. One application of Goldenrod oil last night significantly reduced the symptoms. He'll be trying it out more today to see if he can regain more movement and perhaps initiate some long term healing. He also has some badly damaged muscles in his thigh I'm hoping to help with the Goldenrod.

I think I've said it elsewhere but I want to reemphasize how well I think Goldenrod oil externally works with Peony root internally for overtightened, stressed out muscles. Peony is rather cooling, so if you're already the cool type you might try it with something a bit more warming, like Ginger, which is also anti-inflammatory and soothing to riled up musculature. Vervain would be complementary if the muscle problem originates in the neck. And so on...

The benefits of my long walk is that I found just huge amounts of Corydalis growing among the Nettles I stopped to harvest. I was very pleased to see how well it's spreading and thriving. I harvested a bit more, enough to make a little more tincture and to dry some for tea.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Stinging Nettles

The seedlings are starting to pop up, a few salad greens, a few little herblings here and there among the already huge Mugwort, Mullein and Monarda. The rain's stopped, the sun's come back out but the river is still rushing above its banks. It's Spring in the Gila! Have I said that already?

I've been eating and using tender new Nettle greens since December, but it's really lush and vibrant just now, and last week I made a tincture of roots and leaves together to experiment with. I love the look of Nettle tincture, all those beautiful emerald leaves suspended in liquid green.

Besides being incredibly nourishing (all that Magnesium, yum!), Nettle has countless applications as a medicine. I consider it one of my Top Ten Herbs I Can't Live Without, and as prevalent and persistent as Nettle is, I'll probably never have to.

My most recent successful uses of Nettles have been for gout, allergies, psoriasis and low energy related to depleted kidneys (thankfully not all in one person). For the client with gout I recommend consistent doses of Nettle infusion to flush out some of that excess uric acid. For the allergies and psoriasis I use the fresh plant tincture, as it seems to work more reliably and rapidly in that form. In addition to the tincture, I use a Nettle leaf salve or oil directly on the psoriasis (White Sage Oil and Mugwort Oil also work nicely). For the allergies, I also suggest long term Nettle leaf infusion. Either dry or fresh plant seems to work great for the kidneys, as well as for bladder/urinary tract infections. I recommend Nettle soup to EVERYONE.

As Boulder herbalist Paul Bergner has often pointed out, Nettles can be drying to those of us living in the arid Southwest or individuals with very dry constitutions. If you feel that Nettles is too drying for you, try adding a bit of Licorice, Mallow root or Asparagus root to your infusion or formula. It won't improve the taste but it will certainly moisten up the mix.

I'm not going to go into all the uses for Nettles here, because I would be typing all damn night, Nettle is just that good. And besides, it has already been written about extensively by many talented (and infamous) herbalists.

As per Michael Moore and Susun Weed's advice, I prefer to use powdered Nettle rather than other strange green powders such as Spirulina and Chlorella. It has much the same nutritional impact without the price, environmental impact or really weird taste. Anything you've read about adding either of the aforementioned "superfoods" to, try Nettles for instead... The energy kick is great.

I'm looking forward to trying Nettle seed this Summer after hearing from
Henriette and Jim McDonald what an amazing adaptogen is. You can read the post that originally inspired me here. I would have tried it this Winter had been able to track down some dried seeds.

Below is the recipe for my favorite soup in the world, created by my dear Loba. It is excerpted from her phenomenal cookbook, The Enchanted Pantry.

Quester's Soup
(Serves 2)

1 big bag of fresh wild nettles
6 cups water (use filtered or spring water)
Butter Toasted Almonds
3 cloves garlic, minced and sauteed till just golden in a little butter
1 big organic carrot, chopped
3 or more tablespoons miso (I use Westbrae Mellow Brown or Genmai)
2 or more tablespoons almond butter (optional)

If using fresh picked nettles, put on gloves to strip the leaves from the main stem. Rinse well if needed. Put the water in a pot over high heat and submerge the greens. Let come to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer the greens until tender– about 10 minutes for nettles. Add the garlic and carrot and simmer for another minute, then turn off the heat and add the miso and almond butter, mashing them with a spoon against the side of the pot and stirring, mashing and stirring until you don’t see any big chunks in the pot and the soup has a creamy texture. Taste often, and add more miso or almond butter as you like. Serve in warmed bowls topped with chopped butter toasted almonds...

Add 1 tablespoon fresh grated and toasted ginger when you add the greens.

Nettles by Janice Schofield

Healing Wise by Susun Weed

The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism and The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West and Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

Paul Bergner's excellent article on the
Mineral Content of Herbal Decoctions

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

One Herbalist’s Pain is Another’s Gain

It’s been a little while since my last post, mostly due to an ongoing series of illnesses here at home. They haven’t been too much fun for me (except that weird thrill some herbalists get at the opportunity to experiment on themselves and their loved ones), but I thought they might be helpful to readers.

First, my daughter broke out in welts and blisters all over her shoulders that rapidly spread down her torso. It looked a great deal like poison ivy to me, but was actually an allergic reaction to the juniper bark and sawdust (or some bacteria contained therein) she was working with. The rash was radiating huge amounts of heat so we did repeated applications of diluted Rose petal vinegar, and she kept a cloth soaked in it on her shoulders whenever she was outside, and slept with the cloth near her so she could reapply if she woke up itchy or hurting. This stopped the spreading of the rash and immediately relieved a lot of the pain and terrible itching she was experiencing (diluted Mugwort tincture is also great that kind of thing). She also experiences lots of constitutional heat that is especially affected by spicy or warming food, so eliminated all heating foods from her diet and focused on neutral nourishing foods like brown rice and added quite a bit of fresh fruit as well. As the blistering receded, I coated her in a paste made with marshmallow, rose petals, elder flowers, plantain, honey and aloe... it was sticky but very healing. She also took Rose/Mallow tincture internally and ate a paste made of unrefined coconut oil, Marshmallow, Rose petal and honey. I also rubbed small amounts of a soothing cream containing Blue Chamomile and Neroli (thank you, Ananda) onto her shoulders and chest to moisturize the area without holding the heat in. I do think that the diluted Rose petal vinegar played the biggest part in stopping the spread of the rash and soothing it... We’re continuing to maintain a neutral/cooling diet and integrate some cooling/moistening herbs into her food/drinks, though you can’t even see any remains of the rash at this point.

Next, it’s Juniper pollen season here in NM, which many folks have serious allergies too... you can’t walk through the village without seeing many distressed and red faced sneezing people every time the wind blows. I’ve been treating two ongoing cases typified by congested sinuses, sneezing, coughing, itching skin, burning eyes and the dizziness and disorientation that often accompanies respiratory distress. Both individuals are dry, one is hot and one is cold in constitution. For both I recommend facial steams with Monarda and Sage, which eases symptoms immediately if temporarily. I also recommend a Neti pot with salt and a Calendula/Plantain infusion as well as copious amounts of Nettle leaf infusion (with Licorice added for the dry individual. For the cold, dry individual I gave Osha ten drops at a time for when her allergies get really out of hand and the inflammatory response takes over, this seems to help a lot and will sometimes help to clear the sinuses as well. She also takes a strong Fire Cider concoction (Horseradish, Ginger, Garlic, raw Honey and Onion in apple cider vinegar) which symptomatically clears the sinuses. She takes an Ambrosia/Elderflower/Mullein leaf tincture for her burning eyes, dry coughing and general allergy symptoms. She also uses Rose petal infusion as eyedrops which soothes the burning (though the Neti pot is much better at actually clearing the burning from the eyes for a period of time.) The hot individual I give infusions of Mugwort/Dandelion/Lavender/Burdock/Calendula/Nettle and a tincture of Milk Thistle/Dandelion/Rose/Goldenrod because his allergies are directly liver related (well, I think everyone’s is essentially, but he has Hep C with accompanying inflammation and hyperimmune response). I won’t say these treatments resolve severe allergies, because they unfortunately don’t. But they do provide symptomatic relief and often lessen the allergic response significantly. Oh, I also use a nose spray with with Elderflower/Ambrosia/Goldenrod and others depending on the individual. For my own (much lighter) allergies which involve a stuffy nose and burning eyes I use a tincture of Goldenrod/Elderberry/Nettle, this clears me up completely. For a really good treatment of allergies, it’s necessary to look at (and if possible, adjust) the big picture of stress, food allergies, genetics and other concerns. I’ll do a longer, more in-depth post on that in the future, for now, go read Jim McDonald’s excellent article on Sinusitis.

Then I got an abscessed tooth, and of course there’s no dentist in the village right now... so I took copious amounts of Usnea/Oregon Grape root which got rid of swelling and pain, but I still had sensitivity in that area, very swollen lymph nodes and pain that kind of moved around my jaw and head with no direct focus. I then switched to a tincture of Red Root (large amounts, about a teaspoon four times a day), Balsamroot (half a dropperfull four times a day) and Alder (1/3 of a dropperfull four times a day) which took down the lymph swelling and seems to have resolved the remaining infection and sensitivity. It’s only been a week though, so it’s a bit early to tell.

Next I got the single worst bladder infections I’ve ever had, and I’ve had kidney infections and numerous forms of UTIs, but this was truly hellish, with severe stabbing pains in my bladder and urethra, that terrible urgency, burning, scanty urine.… all that, times twenty. Went from feeling fine to being unable to speak because of the pain in six hours. Still not sure what triggered it, but immediately began downing cranberry pills and juice and a tincture of Echinacea/Goldenrod/Yarrow/Monarda, taking two dropperfulls every hour as well as drinking large amounts of water. I also took a dropperfull of Elderberry tincture to support my immune system every hour as well. The pain begin to recede after about three hours but I had still was in enough pain at bedtime to take about twenty drops of Skullcap in order to sleep peacefully (I usually only need 1-5 drops to get to sleep when I’m bothered by anxiety or pain). Three days later, I’m still taking the tinctures (though I’m taking less with more time between) and Cranberry and am nearly symptom free. We’ll see though, these things love to hang on. You may be wondering why I didn’t utilize Uva-Ursi (or its local equivalent, Manzanita), and that’s because (as Henriette so helpfully reminded me), Uva-Ursi works when the urine is alkaline, and Cranberry works when it's acid.... In retrospect, Mallow probably would have helped enormously, and I definitely recommend it for UTIs.

On a brighter note, I gathered Corydalis aurea today, using the whole flowering plant to make a tincture... I’ve harvested it before, but haven’t worked with it much. Michael Moore says that it’s safer and more effective used in combination than singly so will be trying it alongside Skullcap and Mexican Poppy this year for pain, nervousness, trembling etc this year. I also wrote a chapter on Bioregional Herbalism for my book, I’ll post an abbreviated version here sometime soon.

And it’s RAINING!!!! I can’t tell you how excited I am for this sprinkle we’re getting.… the flowers are going to be so happy. In fact, if I stick my head out the door I think I can hear them singing a hallelujah chorus. Big dark clouds so hopefully it will last for a day or two.… Happy Spring Equinox!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spring Tidbits: New Flowers, Cottonwood Buds & Mugwort Sprigs

It is definitely Spring! The Vervain (see pic to the right), Corydalis & Mountain Candytuft are all flowering their hearts out now. The Monardas, Pennyroyal, Asters, Lupine and a host of other beauties are growing at an incredible pace. Every time I poke my head out the door there's a new leafy face to greet.

Though southern California & southwestern Arizona are already in a severe drought (with parts of Cali already burning), New Mexico still has enough Winter moisture to hopefully give us a glorious Spring flower season with only a moderate fire season. Here's hoping...

Yesterday I gathered the last of the Cottonwood buds for a strong tincture (also lovely as an oil and a vinegar), and the first of the Western Mugwort (assorted Artemisia species), also for a tincture.

Both Cottonwood and Mugwort make excellent liniments for sore or tight muscles, tendinitis and damaged ligaments, I do think they work best when combined with a specific for the exactly condition (Goldenrod for muscle complaints, Comfrey for ligaments or tendons and so on.) They're also lovely for wounds, as they take down swelling and disinfect in an efficient and yummy smelling manner. Another use they share is as a stomach tonic, both very protective and healing for the digestive tract. The Artemisias are very powerful when used in liver bile insufficiency not just as a bitter digestive stimulant but perhaps as an overall liver tonic. It seems to work best if taken before a meal rather than after. A useful quote on Western Mugwort from Arizona herbalist Charlie Kane:

Western Mugwort has a number of effects on the liver. Overtly it is choleretic, increasing bile synthesis and release. If prone to gall stone formation Western mugwort will thin bile enough to diminish precipitants. Deeper, these plants have a cooling, antioxidant effect on hepatocyte function. These liver centered effects tend to reduce elevated liver enzyme levels -- all stress markers evident in viral and general hepatitis. In addition, the plant inhibits glutathione depletion within hepatocytes...

Mugwort is also a fine relaxant nervine (though it can evoke vivid and sometimes unpleasant dreams), and I find it can work wonders in providing a sense of security & well-being for fearful individuals, especially when taken in small doses over a period of time. I have personally found that it is specific for women who have lost their sense of physical and emotional security through being abused by a loved one or physically harmed/betrayed in some way. This coincides quite nicely with Artemis' special protection of women. Mugwort is quite powerful and can even be burned or carried for these specific effects if you find the tincture too strong. This plant has just recently become one of my closest allies, and seems to be one of the single most versatile plants commonly available.

This time of year also reminds me of my great love for intermountain West herb books, especially Michael Moore's Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Charlie Kane's Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest & Darcey Williamson's Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains. They'll be nested in my backpack all growing season.

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Spring Update

Today I found the first of the sprouting Monarda pectinata up here on the mesa near the cabin. Just a few little green leaves poking out from under the rock walls, but already full of rich lemon-oregano fragrance. I’m so excited about them that I’ve taken to watering them in case the Spring rains are less than abundant this year. I haven’t used M. pectinata much yet, having mostly focused on our M. menthaefolia thus far. But one thing I know both Monardas excel at is treating burns, the fresh leaf poultice of either species is incredibly soothing to sunburns, stove burns and even steam burns obtained in an extra hot sweat lodge.

The Speedwell is popping out everywhere, covering the river banks and providing a refreshing splash of vibrant green. The Mugworts are already small silver shrubs, rapidly covering nearly every sandy spot in the Canyon. The wild Dock is almost eating size and the Mustard is getting more and more leggy as Spring arrives. Still no sign of Watercress yet, but she’s always a few steps behind the Speedwell so I’ll remain patient a bit longer (as if I have a choice). The Nettles are beautiful and we've had several wonderful Nettle soup dinners (with almond butter, miso, toasted ginger and dollop of sour cream, mmmm).

Twelve Tips for Cultivating Intimacy with your Plant Allies

When we use the same plant day in and day out, or when we have a significant experience with that plant we start to feel a strong bond with it, similar to the relationship we might have with a lover or friend. But also very different than any human relationship, the plants may work their way into your dreamtime and inner thoughts, images or voices may appear when you least expect them. The plants are both subtle and terribly forthright,sometimes you have to work hard to earn their trust, and you may be asked to follow certain guidelines in order to be able to work with a certain plant. And sometimes you just have to ask. I recently had this experience with our native Mugwort, though I had used her dozens of times for stomach troubles, cramps, rashes and other general uses, I hadn’t yet experienced her in a powerful or personal way. Not to say I hadn’t tried, I’d slept with her, eaten her (no small task, what with that intense bitterness), spent hours at her side and had even used her in a sacred manner in the Sweat Lodge. And yet, I couldn’t clearly feel the spirit of the plant, she felt distant and removed from me, even while she assisted me each time. Finally, it occurred to me that maybe I should ask her personally for help, instead of just thanking her in advance. And you know, just after I made this request I used her for some painful cramps and suddenly could feel her loud and clear, could absolutely sense the plant in my bloodstream an psyche in the clearest and gentlest way. This experience may sound a bit silly if you’re not familiar with working with plants on a spiritual level, but once you’ve spent time with them in this context, you’ll be able to experience the inner working of the plant world for yourself ☺

Below are a few suggestions for cultivating a deep and meaningful intimacy with your plant allies.

1) Sleep with the herb under your pillow or near you, either as a whole sprig or placed in a muslin bag, NOT in plastic. Go to bed with the intent to dream of the herb, this doesn’t always work but when it does it can be a profound experience.

2) Carry the herb on your body, in a cloth or leather pouch, in a pocket or even tucked into your clothing.

3) Try to find the plant in its still living form to spend time with it. If your plant is so exotic or rare that you can’t find a living plant, consider find a local, more accessible plant. We build the best relationships with plants that live near us and share air and soil with us.

4) Talk to the plant. Yes, I said talk to the plant even if you feel like a fool while doing it. You don’t feel silly talking to your dog do you? I assure you that all plants are at least as sentient as any dog. And anyone who’s ever had a houseplant or garden knows that attentiveness and care truly affect the plant. Talking is a way to focus and express that caring energy. Of course, the effects of this may be more obvious is you’re working with a still living plant body. But lovingly harvested plant material also contains the spirit of the plant.

5) Eat the herb (if safe and sensible), many roots are tasty in soups or stirfries, leaves make lovely salads and flowers can be used to garnish almost anything.

6) Take the herb in tea or infusion form at least a few times, if just to enjoy the intimacy of knowing the full taste and texture of the plant.

7) Ingest the herb during a quiet or meditative time so that you can really BE with the plant without being distracted by outside influences.

8) Next, use the herb when you’re under stress, and in a variety of situations, to see how it helps or hinders you. Also try it when you’re attempting something creative, to see how the plant adds to the experience.

9) Use the herb consistently over a long period of time, as with most human relationships, we know someone better the more we spend time with them.

10) Although anthropomorphizing can limit your scope of vision, imagining the plant spirit in human form can also help you better understand your ally. Just remember that the plants are NOT people and while they are extremely sentient, they do not behave or feel in the same way humans do.

11) Now focus on how the plant is ~other~ than human, experience its unique green energy and non-human spirit. Is it easier to imagine the plant as a person than to confront its differentness? Even if you find it difficult to recognize or feel the ways in which the plant communicates, feels and lives in a different way than you, be persistent in your attempts to observe and participate. Then integrate this consciousness into your own perspective. As humans we tend to be remarkably self-centric, much to the detriment of our environment and plant friends, as well as to our own capacity to interact with other life.

12) After you’ve gotten to know your ally thoroughly through personal experience, read about how other cultures and people have understood and known the plant. If possible, spend time with a group or individual who is also close to the plant, this will help broaden your understanding and knowledge of your ally.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

An Introduction to Specific Medicines

We’ve all seen those ads in slick alternative health magazines pushing Goldenseal as an “herbal antibiotic”, and we’ve read those generic herb articles proclaiming the next miracle herb that “studies show” will cure arthritis, build sexual endurance, give you energy when you haven't slept in a week, help you win the lottery and give you a slim, youthful figure. These commercial, and often ignorant, generalizations can make the most tolerant herbalist cringe. What practicing plant people know best is that each herb has an individual spirit and personality that makes it entirely unique unto itself. Sure you can use Cinquefoil instead of Rose to tighten up tissues, as they are both rose family astringents, but on an plant to person level, the effects can be totally different. Cinquefoil is about releasing tension and asserting one’s true self, while Rose helps us open up and cool anger. So in order to best address the ~whole~ person, we search for just the right plant for person and situation.

Modern Western herbalism has been partially built around the allopathic mindset of “this herb for this problem”, touting immune stimulants as the answer cold and flu, and chinese tonic herbs as the herbal remedy for impotence. Sometimes this approach can work, often Echinacea will help someone avert coming down with a cold, or Ginseng will give them the energy boost to keep on trucking through bad jobs, a divorce and bankruptcy but in neither case do the herbs actually heal, because they don’t address the underlying systemic weakness. And in fact, they make actually do harm, allowing a person to do more damage to themselves instead of dealing with the actual state of their whole self. What we’re lacking is an understanding of how to use specific herbs for specific people and specific imbalances. While Goldenseal does indeed act as an anti-bacterial, that doesn’t necessarily make it ideal for treating all bacterial infections. Another example would be of classifying both Boldo and Vervain as “liver herbs”. They both affect the liver, but how do they affect the liver? Boldo stimulates the liver, but Vervain relaxes it, making Boldo useful in cases of a cold, sluggish, underperforming liver that results in PMS, bad skin and digestive headaches. Vervain, on the other hand, is ideal for people with inflamed, overheated livers that cause red eyes, insomnia, nervousness and a tendency to easily anger. In my previous posts on Herbs for headaches and for injuries, I’ve tried to include a few hints on how to most specifically apply each herb. Unlike the “this herb for that problem” style of herbalism where students can memorize charts of illnesses and corresponding herbs, specific medicines require our direct participation in the process. For each person, there is an herbal helper. When we can approach healing from the standpoint of wholeness, we realize we don’t need to worry so much about the definition of the pathology, or the chemistry of the remedy. Instead, we can take the time to focus on the relationship between person and herb, working as a matchmaker rather than a fixer.

Specific medicine has to do with a general sense of energetics and actions, but it has more to do with the very particular qualities of each individual herb. While energetics can teach us how to find a certain subset of herbs for a problem (using pelvic oriented blood movers like Rose or Peony or Salvia root or Mugwort for ovarian cysts), specific medicine can help us find the exact herb for that particular person and problem (using Rose for a woman with ovarian cysts who’s been sexually abused, has an overheated, moist constitution and an inability to express love). While we can generally be assured of overall good results simply using a broadly energetic approach, the most profound results will be seen when we find the “perfect” herb for a person. I think this has been shown most dramatically in flower essences where each essence is accompanied by a clear emotional/spiritual symptom picture, or in the specific indications of the Physiomedicalist’s literature. As an example, here is an excerpt from William Cook’s excellent The Physiomedicalist Dispensatory on Dandelion:

Properties and Uses: The root is a mild laxative and alterant, of the relaxing-tonic grade, slowly and gently influencing the liver, small intestines, and kidneys. It is most useful in mild grades of chronic hepatic obstruction and torpor, with biliousness and weakness of the stomach; in engorgements of the liver and spleen, and abdominal dropsy dependent on these conditions. Though slow. in action, it is well received by the system; and if gathered at the proper season, and used in cases not too degenerate, it deserves consideration, though concentrated preparations are required. When the stomach or bowels are irritable, it should not be employed...

Ideally, we include emotional and spiritual indications as well. We can look to others’ experiences hints and tips on how to approach an herb, and sometimes we can actually get a very good idea of the situation and person who might most need the plant. But to really understand the inner workings and subtle details of each plant we need to interact with the plant ourselves. The best plant to person relationships are built by spending time with the plant, watching it in all seasons, smelling and tasting it, and then trying it over and over again. Most of all, it requires that we listen to what the plant is trying to tell us. There have been many times when I’ve heard the name of a plant over and over in my head even when all my book knowledge and common sense has indicated otherwise. Once, while experience a week long bout of restless insomnia that none of my regular herbal allies seemed to be able to help me with, I got a very strong urge to dig out my one ounce of St John’s Wort tincture, a plant I hadn’t even previously worked with at all, and that is rarely indicated for insomnia. Sure enough, two drops of St John’s Wort allowed me to sleep peacefully all night, and put an end to further instances.

While learning to accurately intuit the right herb for each person can seem intimidating and suspiciously spiritual to some, much of the process is defined by common sense and experience. Most important is the perspective of the practitioner, with a strong focus on intimacy with both plants and people.

A few introductory tips:

1) Intimacy: Get to know just a few plants at a time. As with people, it’s much easier to be intimate with an individual than with a whole dinner party.

2) Exploration: Spend time exploring the subtleties of each plant. Don’t just focus on that plant’s primary strength, or you could miss the larger picture of how that plant might effect someone. You may not think of Sage an herb for anxiety or depression, but she might surprise you.

3) Participation: Connect with the plant on a personal level, and allow that plant to permeate your life, dreams and thoughts. In many ways, getting to know a plant is much like getting to know a lover. And you can’t become acquainted with either from a distance.

4) Wonder: Remember to be amazed. It’s easy for some of us to become cynical or jaded after reading piles of scientific journals, constituent reports and case studies. Cultivate the joy and magic of the plants in your daily life by staying in close physical contact with them through taste, touch and sight. You can’t get to know the plants through books, lectures or the web...

There are no hard and fast rules to herbal medicine but for some excellent guidelines for using specific medicines, turn to the Physiomedicalist/Eclectic herbalists of yesteryear such as John Scudder, Finley Ellingwood, William Cook and T. J. Lyle. Many of their writings can be found at the websites of Michael Moore & Henriette Kress. And for the best modern resource for understanding specific medicines, check out Matthew Wood’s books. Also see my herb links on the right hand bar, as most of my favorite herbalists have a firm foundation in herbal intimacy and specific medicines.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Eat Your Medicine

Why take a tincture when you can have a tasty salad instead? While some situations call for strong doses of an infection-fighting decoction or a sedating tincture, in most cases it's preferable to take your medicine in your food. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but we'll cover a few here.

1) Healing with food is generally a very gentle, safe and slow way of adjusting the balance of the body. You'll fully assimilate needed nutrition and your inner ecosystem will have the opportunity to integrate the medicine of the whole plant. Food is nourishment, and nourishment is always the foundation for vibrant health.

2) You're much less likely to have any kind of negative reaction to the plant or experience any too sudden changes in your body, spirit or psyche.

3) The enjoyment of the texture and the taste of the plant is usually more pronounced in the context of a sensually flavored meal. It's too easy to miss the subtleties of the herb when you're slugging back a shot of elderberry decoction or sucking down a dropperful of chamomile tincture. Take time to savor your dandelion and watercress salad, the burdock stir fry and elderberry wine. This is great way of becoming more intimate with the herbs.

4) All foods are either medicine or poison, and sometimes the same food can be a poison to one person and a medicine to the other depending on constitution, amount and situation. Consciously adding familiar medicine to a salad or soup will help you to make mindful and healing food choices for all your meals. It will also help you to observe what foods best serve your overall health and wholeness.

5) I'm a fan of honoring traditional wisdom wherever it applies. In most traditional cultures medicine was most frequently consumed as a food, from Chinese herbal soups to Ayurvedic medicinal wines to Appalachian cooked greens to just good old-fashioned chicken soup. This is the kind of medicine anyone can take: babies and elders and the bed-ridden alike, unlike stronger medicines that could easily upset the systems of such delicate individuals.

Be mindful of the effects each food has upon your state of mind and general well being. If garlic upsets your stomach or gives you hives, it doesn't matter how healing garlic CAN be, it's probably not what your body needs at that time. Honor basic energetic truths, if you're already overheated and flushed, avoid dense, oily or spicy foods and try heat clearing foods like dandelion greens and kelp instead. If you constantly struggle with overly dry skin and cracked mucus membranes, focus on moist, sweet foods like sweet potatoes and asparagus.

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford (Paul focuses on a vegetarian diet within a Chinese medicine approach to whole foods, I do not in most cases advocate a vegetarian diet, but this is a great resource for healing foods).

Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection by Jessica Prentice (A great traditional foods approach to sustainable foods and our individual connection to healing through foods)

The Herbwife's Kitchen, a blog by Vermont herbalist Rebecca Hartman includes numerous great posts on using food as medicine.

This lupus case study by Paul Bergner is a great example of the amazing healing qualities of food, see his references to tonic soups.

The Medicine Woman is glad you came...

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