Herbal Search

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Fogotten Tonic Herb: Evening Primrose

I’ve done some forgotten herbs for this month with Monkeyflower and Wild Honeysuckle, and I think even Wild Rose has been a bit forgotten... there’s also the Alder post from last month. Yet I had a few more thoughts specifically about our lovely Evening Primrose and wanted to share before the month was over.

Oenothera spp.

Parts used: whole plant

Energetics & Taste: Sweet, sl. bitter, sl. spicy, sl. moist & neutral temp
Primary Actions: vulnerary, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, relaxant nervine

Organ affinities
: lungs, musco-skeletal, upper GI, liver, nervous system

Suggested Dosage: 1-15 drops of whole plant tincture up to 3-4 times per day, 1-3 tsp whole plant in infusion per day, 1tb of ground root or plant in honey as needed, 1-2 tb ground seed in flaxseed oil per day

Cautions: This is really a very gentle and safe herb at the proper dosage, but research suggests that the refined seed oil should be used with caution in epileptic patients or those who routinely experience seizures.

We’re blessed to have about six different kinds of Evening Primrose here in the canyon, but the most commonly used medicinal species are the upright biennials. We have two of those, one white that I haven’t keyed out yet and then a beautiful golden variety called Hooker’s Evening Primrose. This year the white species is especially prolific, carpeting meadow and roadside with a soft white luminosity that begins in early evening and continues through the night into the morning. Very much a moon plant, this beauty seems to shine with its own light in the dark, and when the petals are pressed, they become tinted with an iridescent rose blush. This is an energetic medicine for the solar plexus and heart, balancing receptivity with expression and allowing us to open fully to love without fear of rejection or betrayal.

Evening Primrose is most popularly known in its seed oil form frequently sold in health food stores for its high gamma-linolenic acid content. While I’ve seen the oil be very useful for many people, what I’ll be talking about here is the whole plant, including leaves, buds, blooms, roots and seeds.

In my experiences, I feel the plant most strongly in my nervous system and muscles, which become very relaxed but without affecting my mental state very much. To tell the truth, the first time I used it, I felt a bit like I’d been slipped a muscle relaxant when I took about 7 drops of the whole plant tincture. I had a hard time walking without feeling like a rag doll but I somehow also felt energized at the same time (I am very sensitive to nervine effects and experience has shown that it takes most people at least twice that dosage to experience such effects). Chewing on a bit of fresh root was distinctly relaxing but had less direct effect on the muscles. I’ve also seen the tincture be useful for severe menstrual cramps, it doesn’t always eliminate the pain but it can lessen it on par with more powerful and less safe herbs like the Nightshades. The tea/infusion is also useful for cramps but so far I feel that the tincture or whole plant in honey is the most effective for muscular issues.

A key word in the symptom picture of this plant seems to be irritation -- hyper sensitive nerves, muscles and mucus membranes that just want to overreact to everything often respond very well to this plant. William Cook notes that the properties combine:

“some stimulation with considerable relaxation; acting on the peripheries of sensory nerves, relieving local and reflex excitability... It has proven useful in hyper-sensitiveness of the stomach with indigestion, uterine irritability, hysteria, hysterical vomiting, tenesmus, spasmodic cough, and other difficulties of reflex origin.”

David Winston has introduced the use of the leaves as a remedy for GI related depression, and it seems to me through personal experience as well as hearsay from well known herbalists like Paul Bergner, that GI problems are the root of many peoples’ depression, making this potentially an incredibly useful remedy.

Evening Primrose definitely soothes the stomach, especially in tea form, being relaxing, antispasmodic, slightly astringent and somewhat mucilaginous, very healing and gently tonic. This is an ideal remedy for dyspepsia with gastric inflammation, a large, coated tongue and an overall sense of gloom. It is especially useful where there is a spasmodic cough/asthma and/or pelvic fullness and reproductive irritation. Clymer wrote that it is indicated when a person had been consuming a bad diet over a long period of time that resulted in toxins accumulating in the digestive system. This kind of diet often negatively effects the liver as well, and Evening Primrose is indicated both in modern research on the seeds as well as through traditional usage of the whole plant for a debilitated or sluggish liver.

I believe that Evening Primrose is an excellent tonic for what Michael Moore calls Adrenalin type stress where the GI, liver, skin, reproductive system and kidneys tend to all be deficient but the nervous System and musco-skeletal are in excess which leads to eventual burnout and chronic digestive disorders, often accompanied by pelvic congestion. This is a gentle, neutral remedy that can be used over a long period of time without adverse effects. Certain species are more bitter than others and I prefer to use the non-bitter white flowering type here for most uses, and reserve the slightly bitter plants for more heat clearing, stomach stimulating purposes.

Matt Wood associates this herb with a rare class of medicines he calls balsams, that have such an evenly balanced blend of energies and tastes as to be nearly neutral and gently stimulate the solar plexus and revitalize the whole body. Other herbs of this class include Lemon Balm and St. John’s Wort. Note that both of these of plants, like Evening Primrose, are very useful for both anxiety and depression and significantly effect both the solar plexus and the heart. These are balancing remedies for the mind, spirit and body.

Outside of these tonic uses, Evening Primrose is definitely useful for simpler cases, such as any spasmodic cough, asthma, belly distress of varying kinds and causes, menstrual/muscle cramps, joint/muscle pain and all sorts of wounds.

A nice way to ingest the plant that I learned from Michael Moore is to grind the dried root (or whole plant) to a fine powder and mix with warm honey (Michael suggests boiling the root in honey but I prefer to retain the medicinal virtues of my raw honey), take by the tablespoon for sore throat, spasmodic coughs and so on. Especially nice for small picky children who whine about eating anything besides candy. Combine the Evening Primrose with Rose, Anise or Fennel and a tiny amount of Osha or Balsamroot for an especially nice syrup.
Another trick I’ve learned from Michael is to take advantage of the nutritional GLA aspects of the seeds by grinding the seeds into a powder and blending with enough Flax oil to preserve and take a few tablespoons per day. As with all EFA supplements, I keep the container in the fridge (well, I don’t have fridge, so the pantry will have to do) to slow rancidity.

I’m infusing Evening Primrose flowers, buds and roots into an oil right now, I expect it will make a fabulous wound healing and muscle relaxing balm, and I’ll update you with my experiences later on. In the meantime, leaf spit poultices work very well for bites, stings, wounds and rashes.

William Cook - A Compendium of the New Materia Medica Together With Additional Descriptions of Some Old Remedies

Matthew Wood - Admirable Secrets of Herbs, Roots & Barks: A Practical Materia Medica of Western Herbal Medicine

David Winston - an interview with Nature’s Path - The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Master Herbalists, by Gina carrington and Kelly Holden

Michael Moore - Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Interview with Robin Rose Bennett: Wild Carrot, Fertility and a Vision

I wanted to share a new interview Jesse Wolf Hardin just did with Robin Rose Bennett, a wonderful Wise Woman herbalist who will be coming to the Sanctuary this August to teach an exciting herbal workshop!

Interview With Robin Rose Bennett
Visionary Herbalist
by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Introduction: Robin has been a practicing herbalist for over 20 years, focusing on the spiritual and ecological lessons of the plants as well as the treatment of illness. What she is best known for is her rather extensive study of the wild carrot, particularly as an ancient and still viable means of natural birth control.

JWH) When is earliest mention of wild carrot (Daucus carota) being utilized for natural contraception, and what is the history of your own relationship to this special plant?

RRB) The earliest written accounts are about 2000 years old from ancient Greek medical writers such as Dioscorides, Scribonius Largus, Hippocrates, and Pliny the Elder. I imagine that women’s oral tradition regarding this usage is likely to be older still.

I first heard about it when I was in college in 1978. A young man showed me a bowl of bristly seeds and told me his girlfriend would chew one teaspoon of them within 24 hours after sexual intercourse and that it was effective for birth control. I was stunned! I began using Wild carrot seeds in 1985 after I’d completed an apprenticeship at the Wise Woman Center with Susun Weed. Susun’s first book included a paragraph about wild carrot for implantation prevention. Being a heterosexually active young woman in my 20s I wasn’t likely to forget having heard about a natural method with no side effects! By this time I was developing my trust in the plants and began to use it as my sole means of birth control. I began teaching about it over the next few years.

JWH) I understand that you can’t prescribe this, but only cite cases for women to consider in making their health and fertility choices. But the reports are amazing. Briefly describe the double-blind survey you took, and the results

RRB) When I lived in NY City I did a grassroots study with 13 local women, 10 of whom had established their fertility through previous pregnancies. The women were given monthly calendar charts to note their cycles of ovulation and menstruation and when they had sexual intercourse and when they took their wild carrot seeds. This small study ended up with a 98% success rate over 13 months. I do want to clarify that this was not a double blind study. None of the women was given a placebo in place of wild carrot. Honestly I don't think I would have had too many volunteers under those conditions! Since then I’ve learned about even more effective dosage protocols. Wild Carrot is a great gift, a Goddess-send for women and their partners. That said, the life force is a powerful thing and no form of contraception is guaranteed.

JWH) It would take quite a leap of faith, to depend on this method, don’t you think?

RRB) I agree! And yet, we take leaps of faith all the time, don't we? Every time a woman trusts that the condom won't break or give her a yeast infection, or that an IUD won't cause heavy menstrual bleeding, a pelvic infection, or perforate her uterine wall, or that her birth control pills won't give her breast cancer later on, or even that she won't get pregnant using these devices or drugs, none of which have a 100% success rate at preventing pregnancy. I personally know of pregnancies that have occurred in women who’ve had their tubes tied! I envision a time when our daughters receive the plant wisdom of wild carrot from their mothers with easy trust (like a young woman today trusts her IUD or her birth control pill) because it is what her mother used, and what her grandmother used. The more generations that go by, the more natural it will seem to accept and trust a plant to help you choose how you want to direct your fertility and use your creative energies.

JWH) This would seem to be another way to empower women, by giving them conscious control over their fertility, without the side effects of birth control pills or the loss of sensuality in condom use. You believe in individuals taking personal responsibility for not just their fertility, but their well being.

RRB) I do. You can’t control fertility, though you can engage it and to a certain extent, direct it. This is true of healing, too. It’s about engaging the life force itself and that offers us a different way to look at health. Culturally we’re taught to conceive of healing and illness as if it were a military operation that we have to win, as if our bodies were against us from the beginning and we have to be armed and ever vigilant to prevent “them” from failing “us”. Even natural healers are prey to this conditioning. Growing beyond this perspective into a more compassionate and loving approach to taking responsibility for your well-being takes time and experience to see what works and what doesn’t, what actually supports healing. Cultivate a deeper relationship with your body, learn to listen to it and you will find that your body is wise, truthful, and its messages/symptoms are always rooted in love for you.

JWH) What is the role of medicinal plants, among our healing choices?

RRB) The medicinal plants offer us physical and spiritual nourishment. My teacher Keewaydinoquay said, “Of all the creatures of Earth the plants have remained truest to their original purpose, which is to give of themselves generously to all beings.” The plants are our elders and our healers. These healers know who they are, and what their purpose is. On a spiritual level what you are making part of yourself when you take a medicine plant into your body is that knowing, that wholeness. The plants and trees, and the weeds of the seas invite us back home to the Earth, to the living heart of Gaia. This then brings us home to the heart of ourselves, and that allows us to truly heal. Physiologically, the medicine plants match us on a cellular level and are able to be assimilated into the structure of our bodies more completely than nutrients that we ingest in any other form. They offer us primary nourishment for systemic healing, and tonic properties to restore or optimize the functioning of our body systems. The plants not only help us heal our physical ailments, they also help us to become more fully human. They subtly but surely help us reclaim our true nature of generosity, compassion, kindness, and joy.

JWH) Very well said. In the practice of Anima, we teach that healing is the restoration of wholeness, that we are inextricably connected to our environment, and that we need to treat (work towards the wholeness of) the natural world as essential extensions of our selves. I’d like to hear you describe the relationship between ecology and natural healing.

RRB) What is good for us is good for the Earth and what is good for the Earth is good for us. The clearest connections between natural healing and ecology happen when people learn to recognize, grow, and gather their own medicines because then the relationship between natural healing and ecology is experiential rather than conceptual. Indigenous and Wise Woman ways teach us that plants gathered with gratitude and respect share their best medicine, while those that are not asked for and gathered properly leave their best medicine in the Earth. We can’t just take the plants, make them “things” for our consumption without concern for their well-being, their abundance, their continuing healthy presence on the planet. The plants have to have healthy soil and water in order to grow and be of benefit to us, just as we need these things in order to grow and be of benefit to each other.

JWH) What is the role of the Wise-Woman – the Medicine Woman – in today’s society?

RRB) The Wise woman teaches from her own well of experience, walks her talk as truthfully as she can, and holds a vision of the sacred web of life. She freely commits to using her gifts in service of Gaia and all her relations. When you come for help with a physical and/or spiritual challenge, Nature, and especially the plants, are her allies in helping you heal yourself. The Wise Woman’s role is to help one who comes to her in a time of transition, not only to heal illness, but also to guide you to awaken your true nature, your full aliveness, to step into your wisdom, to own and develop your gifts and responsibilities as a human being. She helps you to awaken your physical senses and rekindle your direct relationship with all that is divine by guiding you to joyfully connect with Earth, especially the plants, flowers and trees. She is a mirror of the magic in the everyday and the power of self-love. What the Wise Woman offers her people today isn’t necessarily different than it once was, but extending the teachings out to as many people as possible has an urgency about it now.

JWH) Indeed, human societies have never been more in need of empowered women, rooted to the natural world and their own directed natures. How do you yourself stay intimately connected nature, and informed by the earth-spirit? Gardening? Time in a forest or wilderness?

RRB) Yes. I live in NJ and behind my home is a state forest I have access to, and I transformed my front lawn into my herb gardens. But, remember, I spent my first 10 years as an herbalist in NYC so I developed a certain determined mind-set to listen to and observe Nature. She’s there, even among the buildings and asphalt. I observe the plants and birds wherever I go. The weeds will wave to you from the side of the road if you pay attention to them.

JWH) Besides writing books and instructing apprentices, you also travel and teach, including at the Anima Center in New Mexico in mid-August. What kinds of experiences do they have?

RRB) Participants enjoy getting to “stop the world,” to encourage personal transformation and/or replenishment. A warm, supportive community usually forms quickly. We enjoy sharing weed walks, plant stories and medicinal information, harvesting, making medicines, planting, Goddess songs and dances, moving meditations, working with the elements, meditating with the moon, and creating joyous rituals for healing. There is often much laughter (and some tears) and we savor delicious, lovingly prepared foods. Guided meditations take you into sacred spaces, inside yourself, a plant, a stone, or even deep within Gaia herself. Sometimes we craft Spirit art. Always, we commune with the medicine plants and trees, the birds, insects, and animals, the water, air, and sun, helping us to awaken to the magic of every moment so that when the retreat is over we can take that magic back out of the circle into our lives, into the world. I’m excited and honored to be coming to work at Anima and am so looking forward to visiting your sacred land and working with Loba and Kiva Rose and the women.

JWH) All the world is inspirited and communicative, with every species having a unique story and lesson to share. What do you think the plants, and medicinal herbs especially, are trying to communicate to us?

RRB) The plants don’t speak as one voice, but essentially they “say” that they are here to help and guide us in healing ourselves. They teach that everything we need is already here. They enjoy being noticed, even admired, as well as being loved and appreciated and approached with gratitude. The plants are offering us a mirror of our own nature as human beings living in a web of relationship with everything around them/us. They guide us to be who we came here to be, both uniquely and as a species, and to share our gifts of beauty freely, for the benefit of all, as they do.

JWH) And if you knew that only one message would be heard by the majority of humanity, what would you personally hope to advise them?

RRB) We are being invited, cajoled, threatened, and encouraged to live from a new paradigm of love not fear, connection not separation, generosity rather than greed. It is obviously scary, but it is also exciting. There is a heartbreaking amount of deathing going on in our time and it will continue. However, just beneath the surface there is a great rebirthing happening from within people and it will become more and more visible over time. We are each more than we seem to be. The time we live in is full of promise and many people are feeling the call to fall back in love with life on Earth. If not now, when? Now is the time. Choose to renew and pursue your sense of connection with the immanent Spirit that is within everything on Earth for Earth holds the key to opening your heart to joy, and joy awakens your spiritual wisdom. You have to turn the key in order to evolve. You matter. There is only “us” and we are all inextricably intertwined.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is a founder of the earth-inspired practice of Anima, caretaking a restored river canyon where he coshosts folks for wilderness retreats, quests, and events like the Women’s Wisdom Plant Retreat with Robin Rose Bennett, Aug. 25-28: Anima Wilderness Learning Center, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830, www.animacenter.org. For more information on Robin’s courses, books and events, please go to: www.robinrosebennett.com, or call (973) 728-5878.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monkeyflowers in Heaven

Mimulus, of Bach flower remedy fame, is also a lovely wildflower and indigenous remedy... I've mostly used it for pain, externally on wounds, burns, nerve injuries and have been recently using it internally for pain as well, especially joint pain and neuralgia (a use gleefully taken from Kings American Dispensatory ).

This is an incredibly joyful little plant, and is proving to be an effective anti-depressant for those who feel the joy of life has completely left them, who feel terribly vulnerable and constantly anxious. These are flower essence indications but they're very accurate to the action of the plant. Monkeyflowers have a big spirit and just sitting with them can be uplifting and well, just plain fun.

I have a hard time picking the plant because they seem so animated and child-like that I can barely stand to harvest them. Thankfully, small doses seem to be very effective and so I don't feel I need to take very much.

Monkeyflowers like to grow near clean, running water. They seem to be fairly common throughout the West, especially in Alaska and New Mexico. Here, they thrive on the riverbanks, especially in wet Springs like this one. During dry years I'll only see a few here and there, but this year they're nearly everywhere even remotely damp, springing up like eager children to play in the sun and wind.

I'm off to the river to see the Monkeyflowers again!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kiss Your Plantain!

Recently, an apprentice of ours was bitten by a tick on her arm. I've never ever ever seen a tick here and neither has Wolf, and he's been here nearly thirty years. But ah well, she pulled a tick off of her arm (inner elbow crease area), and the bite site proceeded to swell up, get a ring of red around it, become white and pitted in the center and cause her muscle pain in the surrounding area. Now, I wasn't home when this happened, I was in South Dakota. She was worried it might be lyme's disease. I've had no experience with Lyme's so I was worried too.

When I got home I looked at it and thought to myself, "hmmm, looks like an infected spider bite, where's the Plantain?" and said so too, but with the ring of red and muscle pain I was concerned and spaced out the Plantain. I looked at various medical picture of the bull's eye type rash that sometimes accompanies Lyme's, it didn't look anything like her red ring but some of the symptoms were the same. I printed off David Winston's excellent handout on Lyme and shared it with the apprentice.

The red was getting bigger and meaner looking, though she was using clay poultices and applying various antibacterial herbs like Melissa (the apprentice is an herbalist too). Next, I asked a good friend of mine, Ananda Wilson, about her Lyme's protocol since I knew she'd dealt with it several times, she also suggested a green plant poultice (she might have even said Plantain, damned if I can remember now) as well as other good plants.

She ended up going to the clinic and getting a Lyme test (which of course came back negative, those things are infamously incorrect and count on antibodies being present, which doesn't usually happen in the first month after the bite). The doctor insisted she take a two week course of very strong antibiotics. The apprentice reluctantly complied and got a bad bellyache despite lots of probiotics. The bite site didn't get any better, at all. If anything, it got redder and madder looking.

A week later, the apprentice started having strange tingling in her fingers and toes... Soon, any temperature change for her extremities (like river water on her toes or walking a long while) caused her excruciating pain and the tingling/pain was moving up her hands and feet. Well shit, thought I. Nerves or circulatory? We couldn't figure it out and were worried about Lyme related nerve damage. It wouldn't respond to nerve herbs though, so back to the clinic we went. Turns out she was having a rare reaction to the antibiotics and now had rapidly spreading vasculitis. They said that they hoped it would heal if she stopped the antibiotics. She paid her now $300 bill (who knew that you had to pay for vasculitis?).

So, finally, I walked down to the river and picked four Plantain leaves and told her to make a spit poultice and leave it on the still infected bite site overnight, repeat every night for four nights. And whaddya know? The infection is nearly gone, a quarter of the size that it was, no more muscle pain, very little redness. A couple more nights of Plantain poultices and I expect a complete recovery.

We're doing a flavanoid rich regimen for the vasculitis (rose, hawthorn, elderberry, bilberry and so on) which is also receding.

There's a lesson in this, isn't there? Not that one shouldn't get tested/treated for Lyme ASAP, one certainly SHOULD, it's a dangerous disease that can easily go agonizingly chronic. No, it's that one should listen to one's intuition... if we'd just used Plantain at the first sign of infection/redness, we would have been saved $300, stress and vasculitis.

Now, go outside and kiss the nearest Plantain leaf!

Wild Honeysuckle Impressions

Part used: Flowers & Flower buds
Taste - bitter, sweet
Energy - very cooling, slightly moist

I've been trying out the Honeysuckle the last few days and want to share my impressions.

I generally have a deep wiry pulse, Honeysuckle caused it be closer to the surface, slower and calmer (it almost seemed like a normal pulse LOL), while increasing circulation. It is distinctly relaxing and cooling, an opening impression can be felt in the chest and the sinuses are relaxed as well. It's one of those herbs that moves energy up towards the head making one feel lighter. I can feel how it is very suited to acute feverish states and infections.

It seems very Pitta reducing, and therefor a good nervine for hot-headed, tense, type A people. It calms the edgy CNS brittleness so common in burned out Pitta personalities, it cools and seems to moisten just the tiniest bit, soothing the nerves and thoroughly relaxing without inducing sleepiness. I do believe it would help cranky feverish children (or adults) relax enough to aid sleep. It also eradicated the minor headache I had. I look forward to trying in other aches and pains as it is reputed to be great for virus induced achiness and well as headaches etc.

I would not advise it for naturally spacey/airy people of a Vata type constitution except for use with an acute infection/inflammatory/febrile disorder.

I would be very interested to hear experiences others have had with this plant.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Great Honeysuckle Study

Check out this great study on Japanese Honeysuckle done by the Canadian Institute of Postgraduate Studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine here. It is of course rather reductionist in nature, but still quite useful. It says that the japonica species is the strongest of the Honeysuckle species, but I won't quite believe it until I experience it myself (typical of my skeptical nature).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A New Infatuation: Wild Honeysuckle

I was milling about in the heat of the day yesterday, trying to key out some wonderful smell traveling through the warm air.... strangely enough, it was emanating from this little purple and green leaved bush/vine creature whose identity I'd never been able to key out before. I looked down and the creature was bursting with creamy colored Honeysuckle blossoms! I've tried growing Japanese Honeysuckle here for the medicinal uses (and because I grew up in love with the feral Honeysuckle that had invaded my island home) but it always shriveled up and died in the dry air here. So imagine my absolute ~delight~ to find a Wild Canyon Honeysuckle vine/bush, and imagine my jumping up and down thrill to discover that the whole canyon is actually filled with them (all these evidently previously invisible green creatures) and just about to burst into bloom, prime time for harvesting!!!

I've used the dried flowers on occasion and have always been impressed by their effects in wounds, cold/flu and fevers. I'll describe here my current knowledge and then, as with Pulsatilla, come back and update when I get to know the plant on a more intimate level.

Names: Honeysuckle, Jin Yin Hua, Woodbine, Goat's Leaf
Energetics: cold, dry, bitter/sweet

Primary Actions: clears heat, alterative, immune stimulant, expectorant, diuretic, antispasmodic, strongly antiviral and antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, uterine stimulant, relaxant nervine, astringent, lymphatic

Primary organs: Stomach, lungs, liver

Parts used: flower buds (primary in TCM), flowers, leaves, stem, root (berries are said to be cathartic/emetic, haven't tried them).

Most popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Honeysuckle also has a strong history of use among Native Amercians, Europeans and other peoples.

Like it's cousin the Elderberry, Honeysuckle is considered to be strongly antibacterial and antiviral, and Michael Tierra has even suggested that it is the "Echinacea of Chinese Medicine". Tierra also says that recent studies in China show it to be an effective treatment for certain cancers, especially breast cancer. My research indicates that flower has recently been successfully used in the clinical suppression and treatment of AIDS and has a history of widespread use with Pneumonia, asthma and respiratory infections/viruses. It is commonly utilized in TCM for acute cold and flu external type afflictions accompanied by fever and other heat signs. It is in this context I have had the most successful experience with and I plan on trying it together with Elderberry and Rosehip in the near future, I think they'll make a fabulous trio.

Because of it's broad antimicrobial action against a variety of bugs including strep, staph, salmonella and pseudomonas, it's very useful both internally and externally for any inflamed infection.
Honeysuckle's mild and safe action make it safe in appropriate circumstances even in children and elders. It also has a place in the treatment of acute, hot urinary tract infections, damp heat in the stomach, ulcers, acute hepatitis, hot upper respiratory infections, menstrual cramps, arthritis and some forms of high blood pressure. I imagine it will be of use in hyperacid stomach conditions but have not yet confirmed this. The short list of uses above is not meant to be all inclusive, these are merely a few suggestions for what might be appropriate uses considering Honeysuckle's energy and affinities. Also, please note that this is a plant most suited for hot, feverish and acute problems as well as to overheated, hot excess people and not so much for the cold and deficient as it is very cooling in temperature.

Culpeper would disagree with me, and in fact said that:

Honeysuckles are cleansing, consuming and digesting, and therefore no way fit for inflammations. Take a leaf and chew it in your mouth and you will quickly find it likelier to cause a sore mouth and throat than cure it. If it be not good for this, what is it good for?

Now I'm not sure what Honeysuckle Culpeper was chewing on, but our species is definitely cooling and is in fact, traditionally used for sore, inflamed throats. Perhaps European Honeysuckles are more warming than American or Asian? I'd love to know...

I've also found it to be exceptionally useful in stress headaches aggravated by heat (a common occurrence in New Mexico I'm afraid).

It's very healing on wounds, boils, psoriasis (use internally and externally), hot swellings, abscesses, rashes, skin irritations and the like. I've only used the diluted tincture and fomentation for this, but I'm going to be trying out an oil of the flowers and flower buds in the next week, I'm so hoping to infuse some of that intoxicating fragrance!

Based on my experiences with the plant, it seems to impart a sense of presence and appreciation of surroundings, allowing one to release tension or anxiety and be fully in the moment. I need to go check out the flower essence book though.

Considering the way Japanese Honeysuckle flourishes (most would say it is invasive, on par with Kudzu and Multiflora Rose, thank goodness they're all wonderfully medicinal plants) in many parts of the country and how many native species of Lonicera there are it seems as if this underused medicine should be granted a bit more popularity!

And in other news, I'm officially studying with Michael Moore now, his was my first herb book (not counting that silly Rodale's Herbal Encyclopedia I slept with all the time when I was like six, how embarrassing) and his knowledge of SW plants is so enormous I feel like I can't pass up an opportunity to work with my region's preeminent herbalist. I think I might have signed up just for the 4,000 plant monographs that comes with the course, good lord.... I'm also excited to see the Howie Brounstein is teaching lots of parts of the course, since I've always loved his work. There's also lovely sections on ethnobotany taught by great herbalists like Phyllis Hogan and Julie Cordero.

Oh, and I found Silk Tassel too, but that's another post...

Monday, May 7, 2007

Wild Plants from the borders of the Gila and beyond...

This weekend, at the far edge of the Gila proper, near Socorro, I was blessed to find a thriving community of Mormon Tea and beautifully blooming Creosote Bush! I've been looking for a local source of Creosote bush since I first came to this region, so was thrilled to be able gather a very large supply of leaves and flowers for drying, tincture and oil. I also harvested a good amount of Mormon Tea to dry for tea. And I'll be sure to stop by and visit this lovely miniature ecosystem whenever passing through the Socorro area.

Then, while teaching in the desert outside of Albuquerque, I came across many bloom laden bushes of Desert Wolfberry (Lycium pallidum), a native relative of the ever popular Goji berry. I was sadly unable to take pictures but Michael Moore has a very nice picture here. And Tucson herbalist, Charlie Kane, has a very nice account of its medicinal properties of it here. It's very similar in many ways to its close relatives, Tobacco and Datura, but milder in effect and lighter in spirit. Nevertheless, it shares the intensity of all of the Nightshade family plants and should be respected as such. The fruits of the plant were considered to be very sacred by some SWestern indigenous tribes and were/are used in ceremony. Less tasty than their Chinese counterparts, the berries are still a good medicine (nutritive blood tonic), especially when cooked.

Other plants found at the workshop site included Mormon Tea (picture), Fourwing Saltbush (picture), Artemisia, Spectacle Pod (yummy flowers and seeds for salads, picture), Puccoon/Stoneseed (picture), Scorpionweed (picture), One-seeded Juniper, Tufted Indian Paintbrush, Evening Primrose and Banana Yucca. Many of these same plants grow right here in the Gila as well, so I was pleased to be able to give a fairly comprehensive plant walk for the other women attending the retreat. It was also wonderful to have the chance to give a workshop on Healing as Wholeness with my partner Loba.

And here at last are a few lovely pictures of the Anemones I found while traveling through Estes Park, Colorado. These Anemones are synonymous with the Pulstatillas of herbal commerce. Michael Moore has a very nice PDF monograph of the Anemones here. I was very charmed by this delicate and somewhat hypnotic little flower, and look forward to working with her on a deeper level. This plant has very specific indications, and are best used by individuals with deficient (cold, wan, weak and weepy in this case) conditions rather than excess, it's effect is primarily on the nervous and reproductive systems and can work wonders for those with painful cramps, deep sadness, anxiety, insomnia and migraines . It is effective in very small doses (1-5 drops) and should not be used in larger amounts as its effect on the body can lead to unpleasant nervous systems symptoms such as increased coldness and dizziness. I've only worked with Pulsatilla a little bit as of now, so will return with deeper insights when more personally experienced.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sweet Medicine: Healing with the Wild Heart of Rose

This is a shortened version of my newest piece on my very favorite herb and namesake, enjoy!

Rosa spp.

: cold/dry

Primary Actions
: astringent, blood moving (emmenagogue), refrigerant, aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory,

Organ Systems
: immune, digestive, reproductive, heart/circulatory, nervous

Parts used
: every little bit, even the thorns

Common names
: Sweetbriar, Shatapatri, Yeu ji hua, Briar Rose and many more

In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose.
— Rumi

Growing up, I scorned garden Roses for weedier, wild plants. Though I loved all things green, I had a hard time understanding the common emphasis on the dandified and often weak hybrid flowers that populated gardens, lawns and windowsills. Never having been pampered myself, I didn’t have any use for domesticated and over-fertilized prima donnas. Instead, I fancied berry brambles and Nettles -- rampant and untameable children that overtook gardens and yards, climbing fences and walls as they spread through waste areas and forgotten lots. As I erupted into adolescence as an angry runaway from an abusive home, I could identify with their tenacity and fierce will to not just survive but thrive in even the poorest soil.

I was surprised then, by the wildness and ferocity of the first Wild Roses I met along the bank of a now forgotten river. The thorns snagged the hem of my long frayed skirt and held tight. I turned to untangle myself from them and found myself faced with obscenely pink petals unfurling in the morning sun, and the alluring scent of something both earthy and etheric, surely a creature apart from the nearly scentless and carefully made up faces of the tea roses my mother grew. As I struggled to unwrap my skirt from the thousands of spines, I was repeatedly poked and cut by the needle fine thorns that guarded the sweet smelling flowers, until my own blood streaked across the flowers. The intensity and insistence of the plant amazed me, though I still held onto a deep resistance against America’s symbol of love, femininity and romance.

The moment I arrived in New Mexico, with its red volcanic rock faces and lush green river banks, I knew I was home. Here in the Gila, Wild Roses grow in thick protective hedges along the river... immediately, I loved their needle sharp thorns combined with the delicate vulnerability. As an exotic dancer from the streets turned canyon wild child, I could relate, though I didn't feel nearly as vulnerable as the slowly unfolding flowers looked. Their long red canes shimmer come springtime, and they are one of the first woody plants to leaf out, providing a welcome splash of vibrant green.

There are as many varieties of Rose as there are shades of green, and every kind holds some profound therapeutic value. My favorite variety is the New Mexico Wild Rose (R. neomexicana), the very same beauty that graces the river banks and cliff bottoms of this wild canyon sanctuary deep in the heart of the Gila. Though her scent is subtler than some of her middle eastern sisters, I find her medicinal values to be myriad and powerful. In general, any strongly scented, old-fashioned or wild Rose can be used medicinally, and the rest are still strong medicine through their gentle presence and lovely appearance. I prefer my Roses complete with thorns, and avoid modern hybrids with little or no thorns, feeling that this takes away from the special balance of fierceness and vulnerability the Rose embodies.

Rose is a broadly acting and gentle yet effective medicine that is both nourishing and enlivening. The beautiful flower is one of my primary allies and finds its way into almost every formula I create. I have experienced first hand the power this plant has on mind, body and spirit and can only hope to pass on a fraction of that those I teach and work with.

The rose was not searching for darkness or science:
borderline of flesh and dream,
it was searching for something else.

Rose hips are best known for their Vitamin C content, and are indeed a widely available and abundant source of this necessary substance. Rose hips are also rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, Niacin, Bioflavanoids, K, and E as well as polyphenols and heart healthy pectin. And even the Rose petals are rich in polyphenols, B vitamins and bioflavanoids.

Rose petals also contain as much or more antioxidants as green tea, making them a wonderfully healing and caffeine free beverage. Some people find the taste of Rose petals too perfume like, but I have found that it depends largely on the species used. My favorite Rose of commerce to use for tea is, hands down, R. centifolia, it’s lovely, spirited and sweet without the strong aftertaste of some other species such as R. gallica.

Its rich nutrition makes the Rose, and especially the hip, a fine blood tonic for those experiencing fatigue, anxiety, vertigo, pallor, dry skin and hair and other signs of blood deficiency. If the individual is also experiencing feelings of coldness, I recommend adding warming blood tonics such as blackstrap molasses or Dang Gui.

The entire plant is incredibly anti-inflammatory, Scandinavian studies show that Rose hips and seeds significantly reduced the need for painkillers in individuals suffering from osteoarthritis. I have found all parts of the rose to be strongly anti-inflammatory, and have used a liniment of rose petals for traumatic injuries, sore muscles and chronic muscoskeletal pain in individuals that fit the Pitta type profile Rose is most useful for. I’ve had remarkable success treating dislocated discs with accompanying swelling, stiffness and pain with topical applications of Rose petal liniment and infusion. Just this liniment, with no other treatment, recently resolved a dislocated disc with severe pain, swelling, tension and loss of movement. It’s also been effective in less serious cases typified by inflammation and pain.

Though primarily a medicine for overheated Pitta types, it can be helpful (or at least pleasurable) for just about anyone, and is easily warmed up with a bit of ginger or cinnamon for colder individuals. I find it calming and wonderful for keeping my red-headed temper mellowed out.

Rose can effectively balance hyperimmune disorders (think Pitta) where the body overreacts to every perceived threat. It also generally enhances immune function through its cooling, cleansing effect. I use Rose as a standard remedy for any cold or flu type illness, the hip is traditional for this but I often use both hip and petal in my preparations. Many Native tribes were known to use the root or bark in the treatment of cold and flu, and while I haven’t yet tried this, I imagine it will be at least as effective as the petal or hip. I make Rose petal pastilles with honey for sore or inflamed throats. Rose infused honey can be used as a syrup for the same symptoms. And an infusion of petal and leaf will also help symptomatically with sinus congestion, runny nose or damp heat in the lungs.

Rose is classified in most traditional medicine as a blood mover, with a special affinity for the reproductive system. I’ve found it to be very useful in treating general pelvic congestion resulting in scanty menses, cramps, water retention, cysts and mood swings. Rich in the building blocks of hormones, Rose helps nourish the endocrine system through its provision of these basic hormonal elements. An age old aphrodisiac, stirring up both blood and libido as well as opening up the heart, it has a history of treating sexual dysfunction such as impotence and frigidity.

Partially due to these same blood moving decongestant properties, Rose is also strengthening and healing to the heart and circulatory system. It is especially indicated in high blood pressure and/or poor circulation in individuals with Pitta symptoms such as inflammation, constipation, headaches, feverishness, red face, heart palpitations and hot flashes. Note that several of these symptoms can also be caused by a congested or inflamed liver, which Rose also serves to relax and cool.

That same uptight, overworked and congested liver can also cause any number of digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, gastric inflammation, IBS, hyperacidity and conversely, food fermenting in the stomach from sluggish digestion (usually rooted in stagnant liver Qi). Rose can help these symptoms through addressing the liver problem at the root, as well as cooling, healing and protecting the gut lining, assisting the digestive process to help things move a bit better and by generally nourishing the mucosa as well as the intestinal bacteria. I have personally found Rose petal infusions to be a very effective long term treatment for IBS with signs of internal heat and inflammation (diarrhea, food allergies, nausea, burning/churning stomach, red, cracked tongue with anxiety and restlessness).

Traditionally considered one of the finest wound medicines in North America, Rose is no longer a common remedy for wounds and injuries. In modern use, it often seems to be relegated to the ranks of simple astringents. It certainly does make a fine smelling astringent, but has a plethora of other properties adding to its wonderful wound healing abilities. The whole plant, but especially the root, has pain relieving properties when used externally, and is also a very good antibacterial agent for treating nearly any kind of infection, inside or out, including UTIs, yeast and vaginal infections. Indigenous peoples use the hips for severe infections externally, making a mash of the hips and using as a poultice. An acquaintance from Alaska recently told me a story of her mother using rose hips alone to successfully treat a severe wound on a dog. I've since used rose hip poultices on several infected wounds with great results.

Rose oil can be used externally for menstrual cramps and Canadian herbalist Terry Willard recommends Rose petal infused wine for uterine cramps and labor pains. I find that Rose works best internally for cramps when both hip and petal are used and are appropriately combined other herbs such as Mugwort or Peony root.

Diluted Rose petal vinegar is amazing for sunburns, clearing the heat from the skin and relieving a great percentag of the pain. A universal remedy for sore, inflamed eyes and even cataracts. Petals are most often used, but many indigenous tribes used the roots. Rose leaf spit poultices are great for bug bites and cuts and scratches, Rose petals will work too, but it's usually easier to get a leaf most times of the year. Gentle enough for babies, many cultures have used Rose petal infusion for teething, fussiness and diarrhea in infants. I frequently give our daughter, Rhiannon, Rose glycerite when she gets into a overheated, hyperactive and irritable state that often results in a nervous stomach and diarrhea. I find that it helps to cool and calm her, and also helps settle her belly.

Also appropriate for delicate areas other herbs might irritate, finely ground petals or leaves can be used as a powder for rashes, itchy or inflamed areas and wounds anywhere on the body. A traditional recipe of the Mesquakies involves boiling down Rosehips to make a paste to be used for itching anywhere on the body, including hemorrhoids. All parts of the plant will help the itching and pain of red, inflamed eczema, contact dermatitis, hives, poison ivy etc., a diluted vinegar of Rose petals and Mugwort is my potion of choice for such cases.

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
— James Oppenheim, "Bread and Roses"

While the healing power of the Rose is pervasive in how it touches nearly every part of a person, perhaps the most remarkable aspects of this flower are found in its ability to affect the heart and spirit. Long praised for its anti-depressant qualities and ability to open the heart, it has been used across the world to raise the spirits and heal broken hearts. An amazingly uplifting herb, I often use it as an antidepressant/antianxiety agent, especially for those who have been the victim of violence, sexual abuse or betrayal as well as anyone who can use more self-love. It has a profound opening effect on the heart and on sexuality, and is a deeply nourishing tonic for the nerves.

In my own time spent with this plant, taking in both her body as well as spending time with her spirit, I have found a great healing. She has the remarkable ability to allow vulnerability while reinforcing personal empowerment and freedom. This plant teaches a deep self love and knowledge that results in nourishment and wholeness. While the term rose colored glasses often applies to seeing the world in an unrealistically positive light, what Rose really gives us is the ability to see the earth and ourselves in all of its true and inherent beauty.

My good friend and talented herbalist Ananda Wilson says she finds Rose to help “when I get neurotic about things, or mysteriously desperate feeling”. I agree with her findings, and have used it for very similar indications, especially when those neurotic feelings are hormonal or heart centered. Minnesota herbalist Matt Wood believes that it turns down excitement in the limbic centers which control both heat and passion. I consider it to be an emotional modulator, balancing out both intense feelings and intense apathy, and provides a solid foundation from which to sense and connect to the world we are a part of.

Rose is very calming and balancing, assisting us in finding a ground level state from which we can access our real emotions rather than just react. In this way it can help those suffering from anxiety, anger, insecurity, grief and depression. It can be used as a baseline in any nerve strengthening, emotionally balancing formula including more specific herbs for the exact person and situation.

My favorite formula for recovering from a crying jag or traumatic experience is Sage and Rose, either externally as a scented oil or internally as a tincture, infusion or elixir. You don’t need too much Sage for this, just enough to give a grounding base for the Rose to ride on. Skullcap is a nice addition to this in cases where insomnia or deep muscle tension is an issue.

Throughout my experiences in the wilderness while rediscovering my own lost little girl, the Rose has played an important role in revealing my true self. She’s comforted me in my tears, cheered my sad moments and instructed me in being fiercely free while remaining deeply vulnerable and open to love and beauty. When overwhelmed by grief or stress, I anoint myself with Rose oil or cream, and drink an elixir of Rose petal, hip and leaf. Just these two small acts help me reconnect to my spirit and reaffirm my commitment to self nourishment. This is an important way for me to maintain personal balance after years of self imposed denigration and abuse. In the Rose, I have found my own nature and I have learned to deeply love her.

As Spring emerges in my third year here in the Sweet Medicine Canyon, the Roses start to swell with promising buds, and in a month, new pink blossoms will begin to open. Their petals will unfold, slowly and deliberately, in the warm May sun, stretching past barriers and known limitations to soar skyward. As I carefully gather petals and leaves from their graceful forms, I will feel my own heart continue to open, slowly and deliberately, stretching towards the warmth and great love of this beautiful life.


The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood

The Complete Floral Healer by Anne McIntyre

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rocky Mountains and Neighbouring Territories by Terry Willard

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

The Yoga of Herbs by David Frawley and Vasant Lad
Ananda Wilson - Personal Correspondence

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Yucca Petal Yumminess

Yucca Petal Pasta:
Lemony Yucca Petals With Pasta, Sunflower Seeds & Arugula

One of the many wonders of Spring in the Southwest is the annual blooming of the banana yuccas. These amazing plants have stiff stiletto shaped green leaves and tall stalks that bear pale bell-shaped flowers throughout May. The creamy blossoms are pollinated by one species of moth that has specially evolved alongside the banana yucca. These yucca moths often rest within the blooms during daylight hours, so Rhiannon and I gently blow them out of the flowers as we pick them.

The taste of Yucca petals is extremely mild, reminding one of artichoke hearts. They have a lovely texture, smooth and slippery on the tongue. While some prefer to eat the petals raw in salads, I find that their flavor is better accentuated by sautéing them for just a few minutes with butter, garlic, lemon and onions.

(Serves 2 or 3)

30 -50 yucca blossoms

1 or 2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
Toasted sunflower seeds, at least 1/4 cup
1 bunch arugula (or watercress)
Homemade Pasta
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

First, remove the petals from the central part of the flower. Rinse the petals in a large bowl of water and then drain. Slice the onion and melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, cook the onion until it’s tender without being totally limp. Add the garlic and yucca petals and cook, stirring every 20 seconds for about 2 minutes (or until the petals are nearly translucent but haven’t begun to shrink). If using artichoke hearts instead, slice them into quarters and cook with onion until very hot. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and grated rind, cover the pan and set aside while you cook the pasta. If you’re using dried pasta rather than fresh, be sure and get it in the water well before you start the stir-fry. When the pasta is done, toss with a little butter or oil. Add the stir-fry, arugula and sunflower seeds and toss again. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve in warm bowls topped with the oil of your choice. Offer fresh Parmesan or Romano at the table alongside your favorite black olives.


•This stir fry can also be served as an appetizer, minus the pasta. Simply arrange the stir fry on a plate with a few pieces of arugula, sliced organic carrot, a chunk of fresh Parmesan and several Calamata olives. Homemade sesame crackers and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds and/or grated lemon peel are a nice touch too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I've always loved traveling and once upon a time, considered myself a lifelong gypsy. I've lived all over the country and visited just about everywhere in th mainland US. So I thought a little journey to the Black Hills for a symposium in Deadwood, SD would be alright. And there's always the plus of meeting a a few new plant friends along the way....

We drove up through Santa Fe to Denver and on to Cheyenne and finally into South Dakota. There were lovely plants along the way, lots of Artemisia species, Docks, Dandelions, Birches, Roses and Aspens. They were all quite beautiful in their own right, as were the remarkable landscapes we passed through, especially the glittering stones and towering pines of the southern Black Hills. I loved the little town of Hot Springs, where the river is warm year round and waterfalls pour from red rock walls. Yet I found myself focusing on plants and landscapes that reminded me of home.... searching for yet another variation of Mugwort or Wild Rose, all while feeling the pull of the canyon in the soles of my feet and the palms of my hand, and in my heart and gut. Who needs a compass or map when your body is that sure of the direction of home?

The most exciting part of the trip was finding Pulsatilla blooming near Estes Park, CO on the way home... I'd been looking for it during the whole journey and was disappointed to learn that they wouldn't be blooming until next week in SD. I was pleasantly surprised then, to discover a meadow covered in silky haired purple and yellow flowers. Wolf took gorgeous pictures that I'll post soon and I was able to gather enough for a bit of tincture as well! I'm very excited to get to know this ephemeral but powerful plant.

Arriving home today on the brink of a dramatic thunderstorm was possibly one of the best moments of my life. It felt like I'd been trying to breathe with only half of my lung capacity for the last week... The canyon is singing her nightly lullaby of frog song, owl cries and river babble now and I'm so intensely grateful to have found such a partner and mate in this place, this land that reaches out to hold me under starry skies.

Though I'm teaching a workshop in Albuquerque this weekend, I don't think I'll be roaming very far from home for a long time to come...

The Medicine Woman is glad you came...

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