Herbal Search

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Artemesia Under the Snow

For the last week we've been receiving a fairly steady coating of snow, which is great because the SW can use all the moisture we can get. I will admit though, that it makes me long for spring and the arrival of new baby plants. But today, wandering about while checking out the sumach buds, I noticed a single silver finger peeking up through the snow. Digging down a bit, I discovered one my favorite plants, locally called Estafiate, happily growing in the cold and wet. Estafiate, one of the most common plants of the Gila, is one tough plant. Growing in near desert, mountains, grasslands and even under the snow, she seems to be able to survived most anything. Closely related to the oft-used Mugwort, Estafiate can be used nearly identically as long as you keep in mind that she's a bit stronger and certainly more bitter than her cousin. I've been using this plant primarily for wound healing and digestive upset lately, but it has a huge range of uses and is usually one of the most important medicines in any region where it grows.

I'm posting here an essay I wrote about Estafiate last Spring, and updating it with a few new observations.

Estafiate: The Grandmother Sage
by Kiva Rose

Artemesia spp.
Energetics: Stimulating/Sedating, Cold, Bitter & Pungent
Primary Actions
: relaxing tonic, nervine, emmenagogue

They’ve come from all over the country to learn the medicine of this restored river canyon. On a guided plant walk through the lush green river woodland, they point to vines, twisting tree trunks and bright faced flowers, asking the name and use of each. The rich smell of cottonwood leaves and wild mints mingles with the ever-present desert undertone of sand and sage. They’re excited to learn the strange names of seemingly exotic plants, such as Scarlet Guara, Mexican Skullcap and Rocky Mountain Beeplant. One woman, an aspiring herbalist and new mother, asks me what the most important indigenous medicine was to the Natives. I look around, past the lithe willows and pink penstemons, on further past the hypnotic Sacred Datura and delicate Sego Lilly. Pointing at a sandy stretch away from the river, we walk over to a small, scraggly sagebrush-like weed. I pluck a single leaf and crush it between my fingers and offer it for all to smell. The pungent, sagey aroma wafts in the breeze, lighting up their surprised faces. Surely they expected a rare relic of the ancient rainforest. She is Estafiate, I say, the grandmother herb. In Russia they call her Zabykto, meaning forgetful, because she is so often forgotten.

Estafiate, while frequently overlooked, is nonetheless a powerful herb. A trickster plant taking many forms, those new to this shapeshifting desert native should forgive themselves any confusion in its identification. One of the first to come back in the Spring, it pushes up fat, feathery green leaves that provide welcome change to a landscape of predominantly cacti and yucca. As it matures, it grows into a lanky, silver-leafed shrub that’s almost lost among the bright flowers of May. It begins flowering around June, bearing inconspicuous yellow-green flowers on slim stalks. As Summer comes to its end, Estafiate begins to stoop, flower-heads often bent nearly to the ground. By this time, the plant has taken on a ragged, hag-like appearance and its leaves have mostly changed from several pronged hands to single pointed lances. If not watched closely, it can be hard to tell these three stages as the same herb. Yet once we get to know this sometimes elegant, sometimes ragged little plant, we’ll always recognize our Grandmother Sage.

Largely ignored by modern herbalists, Estafiate has long been a favorite among native peoples, gypsy healers, curanderas, yerberas and old-time “root doctors” for its broad range of uses and dependable availability. Its effects include the reproductive, digestive, urinary and and nervous systems. A stubborn emblem of folk medicine in the West, Estafiate’s shimmering silver-green foliage persists under the hot New Mexico summer sun long after all other greenery has withered and crisped. Cooling and bitter, this plant is rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamin B complex, necessary for a healthy nervous system and emotional stability, and also contains copious amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and iron. It’s closely related to the ubiquitous Sagebrush as well as the infamous Wormwood, whose potent leaves were used to give Absinthe its characteristic deep green color.

A plant with hundreds of names, I’ve used Estafiate because of its Southwest association. This Spanish version is probably a corruption of the Aztec Iztáuhyatl, which translates to some approximation of: silver, fragrant plant of water. By “of water,” the Aztecs meant that this plant cured what they thought of as illnesses caused by too much water in the body such as epilepsy, leprosy and gout. It is also sometimes referred to in Spanish as Ajenjo, Romerrillo, Istafiate and Altamisa, its many names evidence of its renown in both Mexico and the Southwest. Well used and beloved among the Mayan, they call it Zizm and have their own cornucopia of uses for its leaves, flowers and root. It’s also known as Silver Sage, little Sagebrush, Prairie Sagewort and Western Mugwort– “plant for the mug”– a reference to its historical use in Europe as a flavoring in beer prior to the popularity of hops. Estafiate’s latin name Artemisia identifies it as an herb traditionally associated with the greek moon goddess, Artemis. The patroness of all things wild and free, it’s said she gave the plant her own name in thanks for the healing it provided her and the wild creatures in her care.

A plant traditionally associated with dreaming and magic by Europeans and indigenous Americans alike, a crown of its flowering tops was at one time worn by maidens on Midsummer’s Eve to call the fairies to their Solstice celebrations. Even now, it is quite common for small pillows to be stuffed with Estafiate to encourage sound sleep and vivid dreams. Held sacred since ancient times, it is burned as a pungent smudge or ceremonial smoke and is often used in the sweat lodge to purify and heal.

Called Women’s Sage by some Native tribes, Estafiate has traditionally been known as a women’s herb as well. It’s an effective emmenagogue, a tea or infusion encourages delayed or infrequent menses to return to their natural rhythm. A wonderful ally for women of all ages, it can also ease common PMS symptoms such as headache, depression, cramps and water retention. It may also be used externally as a poultice or oil on the pelvic area to soothe painful cramps. A daily tea encourages the slow dissolution of dermoid and ovarian cysts. And because of Estafiate’s gentle but thorough nervine and anti-depressent qualities, it can be safely used when a woman is feeling extra sensitive or vulnerable due to hormonal shifts such as the onset of menopause or puberty.

Often best known medicinally as an herb for the stomach, Estafiate lives up to its reputation as a bitter tonic and powerful stomachic. A tea or infusion of the leaves taken daily does an admirable job of preventing and treating food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. Its anti-inflammatory, bitter, antimicrobial and carminative actions also make it an extremely effective treatment for sluggish digestion, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, flatulence, dyspepsia, dysentery and almost any form of intestinal inflammation. The bitterness of the plant makes it tonic to the liver, stimulating bile secretion, reducing elevated liver enzymes and protecting the liver from a wide variety of toxins. Also a safe and mild diuretic, the herb can help with kidney or gallstones as well as intermittent cystitis.
The plant is mildly yet broadly antimicrobial, and strongly inhibits outbreaks of herpes simplex I and II when used used either internally or topically as an oil or salve. It can also be used externally as a wash or salve on any kind of fungal infection, including thrush or ringworm. Estafiate is also anti-inflammatory and soothing to the nerves and is useful as an oil in the treatment of sciatica, wounds, burns, swellings, bruises, strains, muscle and joint pain. The fresh juice is especially helpful in eliminating the irritating itch of poison ivy and is also used as a bug repellent. An old-time remedy for arthritis and rheumatism, it can be taken internally as sips of tea, or externally as a bath or oil to ease chronically aching joints.

Estafiate is a gentle but powerful herb, and my favorite ways to use its healing qualities is through a tea, infusion, or an herbal vinegar. The tea and infusion are very bitter, so you might want to try drinking with a little lemon and honey. Vinegar works very well as an effective medium to extract the valuable vitamins and minerals as well as the other medicinal qualities of the plant in a concentrated form.

To make Estafiate vinegar, my participants and I fill, but don’t pack, a jar with fresh, chopped Estafiate. We cover the herb with apple cider vinegar (never use white vinegar), until the jar is full. We stir to release any trapped air bubbles, cap and label with the contents and date. We will have to let it sit for four to six weeks in a cool place away from sunlight, before they can strain and rebottle their vinegar. It will be used in salad dressings or soups, or be taken by the teaspoonful for its effects.

We gather together to continue our plant walk, our exploration of Southwestern plant-spirit medicine. Estafiate is a like a bent and silvery old woman, I tell my participants, alternately ignored, pulled from our gardens and tossed into bonfires. Yet she continues to bloom most everywhere one looks in New Mexico, gracefully offering up her stories, her lessons, her powerful remedies to those with the eyes and hearts to recognize her.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Note on Energetics (with a little help from a friend...)

In my last post I said
"I've also noticed that the temperature conundrum is also common to
many mint family plants, as is their strange tendency to be called
simultaneously stimulating and sedating." (it's so much fun to quote myself).

But then Great Lakes herbalist Jim McDonald (http://herbcraft.org) commented to me that a better way of understanding this supposed conundrum is to realize that stimulation "refers to bolstering the body's vital force" and that relaxing/sedating "is acting not on the vital energy as much as on the resistance to the free flow of that energy in the body." Jim says that a good visceral way of understanding this is "vigorously scratch your head; it relaxes that tension and stimulates circulation and energy."

So no more condundrum! Those smart Mint family plants, I knew they knew what they were doing...

But what about the simultaneous hot & cold energies?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Salvia: A Plant Teacher for Grounding & Presence

(Salvia spp., Salvia reflexa, Salvia subincisa, Salvia officinalis, Salvia militiorrhiza, Salvia apiana, etc.,)

Although the Salvias are sometimes referred to as warming, I have always experienced them as cooling, with certain Sages being downright cold (S. apiana springs to mind) Their astringent qualities point to a drying affect but I think of them as balancing to the bodily fluids, as are many members of the Mint family. I’ve also noticed that the temperature conundrum is also common to many mint family plants, as is their seemingly strange tendency to be called simultaneously stimulating and sedating. In fact, I feel that the energetics of many of the Mint family are innately balancing and this is part of the integral medicine of this plant family.

Historical & Modern Usage of the Many Sages
My main use of our local blue-flowered Sage (S. subincisa also known as Sawtooth Sage) has been for grounding/anti-anxiety purposes... it has worked extremely well for the shaking, nervousness, inability to focus, etc that I’ve experienced since childhood and has allowed me the space and feeling of safety and calm necessary to deal and heal. I have also used the tincture to stop stress-induced tachycardia on numerous occasions. Chinese Sage root (S. militiorrhiza) is a traditional heart and circulation remedy and I wonder if our sages might possess like actions. I have given Sawtooth Sage to clients exhibiting a similar symptom picture to mine with great results every time. It has also been successful as a general grounding agent post-dentistry and post-trauma.

I recently noticed that my experiences closely correspond to the use of blue Salvia flower essence for grounding and also Paul Bergner’s use of Salvia flower essence for extreme stress, I have no experience with flower essences and so was quite surprised and pleased to discover this.

The common Salvia officinalis works similarly but seems to require a larger dose. It is more amenable to tea and food uses, and even as a pleasant and mild smoke or smudge. Maude Grieve quotes Gerard as saying “Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory... restores health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.” Grieve herself says, “Sage is a valuable agent... in the nervous excitement frequently accompanying brain and nervous diseases... It is highly serviceable as a stimulant tonic in debility of the stomach and nervous system...” T. J. Lyle writes “The leaves are a pleasant, mild, diffusive, stimulating tonic, slightly astringent. In hot infusion it is gently diaphoretic and quite soothing to the nerves” and William Cook recommends Sage for its nervine properties.

I believe there’s something in all of the Salvias that help us let go of the past and be completely present. This is a specific kind of grounding that connects us to our real selves, calming without distancing ourselves from the issues at hand, simply soothing us enough to look life in the face. I think of the Salvias as mother plants, protective and nurturing while teaching us how to take care of ourselves. In a funny way, I feel this corresponds with the old saying that where a sage plant grows well, there lives a strong woman.

Specific Indications
Extreme stress, nervousness, stress headaches, nervous stomach, shaking, dizziness, heart palpitations, inability to mother, nurture or protect one’s self, dissociative disorders with panic, nervous exhaustion...

Science Confirms Experience (Again)
A recent article published by HerbalGram (http://www.herbalgram.org/youngliving/herbalgram/articleview.asp?a=3035&p=Y) explored studies done on S. officinallis’ effect on mood, anxiety and performance. The studies concluded that sage increased alertness, calmness, and contentedness in human trials with a mechanism quite similar to Lemon Balm. This conclusion is in harmony with my own sage experiences and I’m very pleased to see this info available to a larger audience. It’s wonderful when common and widely available plants such as Sage or Elder get some credit in the midst of the Pharma-marketing of endangered or exotic plants and their constituents. Using these plants allows people to grow them in their house or garden, to get to know the plant personally, providing a more intimate and powerful form of healing.

A Cornucopia of Salvias
The well known Garden Sage is but the most common of the many useful sages. Here in the Southwest, there are dozens of Salvia species that are useful in both food and medicine. If you do use Garden Sage, be sure to purchase high grade, organically grown herb or grow your own to ensure the highest quality medicine.

Salvia root, or Dan Shen (S. miltiorrhiza), is traditionally used by the Chinese to sedate or calm the mind. Matthew Wood notes that White Sage is more stimulating than Garden Sage, and I suspect that it might be specifically useful in depression, both internally and as aromatherapy. S. coccinea is quite relaxing, with a stronger sedating effect than Garden Sage or Chán, and has been reported by some to be psychotropic in large doses. Garden Sage is gentle but thorough, not over-stimulating but invigorating nonetheless. The familiar scent and taste is comforting to those who feel shaken, constantly worried and over-extended. Sawtooth Sage (is more intense and specific to the nervous system than many other sages, I recommend 2-4 drop doses of the tincture.

Sage makes a great simple, but is so versatile that it has a myriad of complexities that can be developed in herbal combinations. I especially like to use Sage with Rose for women who have been abused or deeply traumatized and are experiencing shaking, confusion and exhaustion with or without nightmares. I also sometimes combine Sage with Motherwort for moody menopausal women experiencing hot flashes, dizziness and tension caused heart palpitations. Used with Skullcap for insomnia caused by tension or fear, I find that the Sage can help to balance the vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams that Skullcap triggers in some individuals. Sage enhances the nerve toning qualities of Skullcap as well. It is also a valuable aspect of many pain formulas as it helps prevent one from the leaving their body because of pain or fear of pain.

Related Uses
I have also found Sage an invaluable ally for headache, failing memory and poor circulation, traits usually credited to its relatives Rosemary and Lavender. These uses have been known traditionally but seem to have fallen out of common use. Grieve states that “A cup of the strong infusion will be found good to relieve nervous headache.” and Culpepper is quoted as saying, “Sage is of excellent use to help the memory, warming and quickening the senses.” Scientific studies have also shown potential for use of S. lavandulifolia as a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Charlie Kane, Sage’s use as a wound and burn remedy is also comparable to Lavender. My experience with the infused oil, infusion and tincture correspond with this as well. White Sage especially, is an excellent treatment for wounds and burns of all kinds. I recently used White Sage on an old, festering infection that was refusing to heal while becoming more and more painful, two applications of dilute White Sage tincture resolved the infection in twelve hours.

Sage lends itself well to any number of herbal preparations including tincturing, vinegar, infused oil, tea, glycerite and honey. I harvest the whole flowering tops of Salvia, but the leaf is what is most commonly available in commerce. I love a combination Rose/Sage glycerite/tincture, the flavor is divine and I carry it with me regularly to ward off tension and the blues. Another excellent preparation is an Sage honey paste made with the whole powdered plant. To make, simply powder freshly dried Sage leaves (Garden Sage is likely the tastiest sage widely available), then heat high quality raw honey until thin and pourable (without boiling), then drizzle over the sage powder and stir until it becomes a thick paste, if the mixture is too thin add more sage powder and if too thick add more heated honey. You can take the honey paste by the spoonful, add it to tea or spread it on toast. You can also form small balls out of the paste, roll them in licorice or maple syrup powder and use them as convenient and tasty herbal pills. Be sure to wrap each pill in plastic wrap or wax paper and store in a cool, dry place.

Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications For Herbs and Herbal Formulation by David Winston
American Extra Pharmacopoeia by David Winston
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charles Kane
Journal of Medical Herbalism by Paul Bergner
The Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve
The New Menopausal Years by Susun Weed
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Wildness We Have Forgotten

“Leaning down to sniff a wild rose, I smell instead the dew-damp ashes. It is as though we have built a great bonfire, and we are heaping onto it everything we can seize— hawks and herrings, swamps and mountains, rivers and soil. If I open a book written in our time, and I do not hear the crackle of flames, I soon close it again, not because I enjoy the reminder of havoc, but because I cannot take seriously an art that ignores this holocaust.”
-Scott Russell Sanders

I heard on the radio this morning that the cherry trees are blooming New York City. It is January 8th.

There is something important that we have forgotten, knowledge necessary that we have left behind, there is a language we speak but brokenly, in fragments, in words we no longer know the meaning of. The green tongue of this earth, of the plants writhing from the ground to meet the rain, of the rocks shattering from heat, of our skin planted on earth, our bodies against the ground to share tears, saliva, blood and the cyclic fluids of love. We will forget who and what we are without this certain language, the one with no words.

The moon shines through my cabin window, full but waning. The river is singing to the alder trees with their roots dipping and tangling in the water, their silver bark a glint in the moonlight, their green catkins apparent, even under the snow.

“Again, you say, why do you not become civilized? We do not want your stinking civilization!”
-Crazy Horse

The Elder Mother

I’m so in love with this plant, I’ve loved it since I was a little girl without even knowing why. Long before I understood the medicine or mythology of Elder, I just knew that I loved to be around her, I’ve even always loved the slightly rank smell of the leaves. When I lived in the NE (the bad old days), I was forever propagating small Elder bushes, much to the dismay of more refined gardeners who couldn’t understand why I insisted on spreading a common weed.

The medicine I make the most copious amounts of is my Elder Mother Elixir, I’ve used it time and time again to ward off an impending virus. I’ve used it to prevent the bug, to ward it off when showing first symptoms and to quicken recovery time once the bug has been fully contracted. This is the way I do it: I make a tincture of dried elderberry with 2 parts brandy, 1 part glycerine and 1 part alcohol. Very simple and very yummy tasting, I find this an easy alternative to syrups (and you or your children won’t run around in a sugar induced ADHD haze after a dose of this either). For good measure, I usually prepare tinctures of rosehips and ginger using the same ratios, then blend 80 percent elderberry with ten percent rosehips and ten percent ginger. For an adult, use one dropperfull every hour and a half to two hours until symptoms disappear. In case you don’t have these tinctures on hand, you can make a decoction or overnight infusion using the same ratio of plants in a quart of water (I use a pint for children 5 and up and haven’t yet used it for children younger than that), taken over a period of some hours, this seems to work great.

I’ve found that for many people, especially sensitive individuals and children, the tincture or tea can give a pleasant sense of calmness accompanied by renewed energy, especially if your feeling run down or overtired. This is why Elder has come to be called an adaptogen by some herbalists (most notably cancer specialist Donald Yance) and its stress reducing capabilities have been tested on jet fighters and the like.

I have experienced no side effects with this herb, it is a gentle and nutritive plant (berries and flowers only please, the leaves and bark are an entirely different matter). I have also observed no problems when used by people with auto-immune diseases as of yet.

Elder is cooling and drying, it has been traditionally used to bring down fevers and it can also help women experiencing hot flashes with menopause. I’m posting below an essay about Elder I wrote for an herbal column that I do for a regional paper that includes more of the mythology etc of the plant.

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Adaptogens: New Conceptions and Uses,Personal Insights and Recent Advances by Donald R. Yance, Jr.
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Darcy Williamson
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charlie Kane
The New Menopausal Years by Susun Weed
The Complete Women’s Herbal by Anne McIntyre

Elda Mor: The Healing Properties of the Elder Mother
by Kiva Rose

“If the medicinal properties of [Elder] were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds.”

- John Evelyn

Common Name: Elder

Botanical Name: Sambucus spp., local variations include Sambucus mexicana and Sambucus neomexicana.

Our five year old daughter, Rhiannon, lays with me under the wide branches of the canyon’s largest Elder tree, watching the Summer Solstice’s full moon through it’s vibrant green leaves and ivory flower clusters that nod in the gentle breeze. We can smell both the bitterness of the leaves and the strangely intoxicating perfume of the flowers, a heady mix that leaves us dreamy but aware. It’s been said for centuries that should a person rest beneath an Elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve that they may be swept away to the enchanted land of Faerie. And once you’ve smelled the evocative but peculiar scent of its creamy clumps of star-shaped flowers, you’ll understand just how transportive Elder can be. Rhiannon has her very own “faery house” here beneath this tree, a little ways downriver from our small homestead, always collecting rose petals, pine-cones and other treasures to nestle among the roots now surrounding us. The native peoples of California called Elder the “tree of music,” and believed that if you listened carefully in the darkest part of the night you would hear the high pitched and wild music of the tree singing, while the ancient Greeks said that the very pipes of the great forest god Pan were made from its hollow stems. But the oldest legends name the tree, Elda-Mor, The Elder Mother who protected and healed her people.

Called the medicine chest of the country people, Elder is gentle enough for children and older folks, but is an impressively powerful plant that can be used for everything from the flu to wounds to nervous tension. Revered by the Gypsies as sacred and inspirited, they showed their respect for its medicine by never burning or cutting any Elder wood. It was also forbidden in much of Europe to chop an elder down or to even break a limb off for any use. When any part of the Elder was taken, permission had to be asked in the form of a simple chant before being allowed to continue. The Mexicans call the tree Flor de Sauz or Capulín de Silvestre and have long known the value of this wonderful remedio. Elder has been esteemed wherever it has grown, used by the Europeans, Native Americans, Egyptian and Arabic people alike. A recipe for an Elderberry syrup called a “rob” was even preserved within the pages of Arabian Nights. Most homestyle herbalists still count Elder among their most valuable allies in healing all sorts of illnesses and ailments. So innumerable are the uses of this amazine plant that no one book or teacher can tell all them, and it’s a lifetime study coming to fully understand the extent of its healing properties. Perhaps the simplest way to begin your association with this plant is through an old-fashioned elderberry syrup. Thick and and sweet and wild-tasting, this deep purple treat compliments even the finest pancakes but also delivers a good dose of powerful medicine, especially if made with raw honey.

A simple but effective recipe for Elderberry syrup is to place one ounce dried elderberries in a quart canning jar, fill to top with boiling water. Cover, and let steep overnight, or for 6 to 8 hours. Then strain, reserving liquid and heat two cups of the liquid over low heat, never allowing it to boil, until you are left with one cup. Add enough raw honey to sweeten and thicken the syrup to desired consistency, then add a teaspoon or two of good brandy to help preserve the syrup. Pour into a pretty glass bottle and keep nearby to fend of any sniffles, fevers or tummyaches.

Yummy variations include adding a handful of dried rose hips to the jar before filling with water for extra taste and Vitamin C content, or adding some grated fresh ginger (or chopped candied ginger) during the heating process to make a spicier, warmer syrup. I also love a hot cup of elderberry tea, a wonderful brew just for its pleasurable taste, but Elderflowers and berries are also wonderful as a vinegar, a brandy, steeped in honey or as a homemade wine.

A plant varying in stature from a small shrub to a sizable tree, Elder can be found in nearly every region of the United States. And while definitely a water loving plant, it thrives even here in the often arid Southwest. Huge Mexican Elders grace the Tanque Verde wash and other areas in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona while smaller New Mexico Elders grow near wild roses, ponderosa pine and alligator juniper in our own riparian Gila canyons. Look for Elders set back from river banks and arroyo walls, usually near roses and conifers. The parts most commonly and safely used internally for medicine are the flower and berries, available for gathering in the Southwest from about June to September. Do make sure you only gather from the trees with blue or black berries, as the red berried variant has been known to cause severe stomach pain. The leaves are effective and safe when used externally and can be gathered the entire growing season. If you’re unable to find an Elder tree near you, Silver City is blessed to have two herb stores, Desert Bloom Herbs and Bear Creek Herbs, which will be happy to supply you with the berries and flowers of this amazing plant year round.

Elder has also long been considered an invaluable aid to longevity, encouraging overall health and protecting the body from many of the detrimental effects of aging through it’s ability as an incredibly effective anti-oxidant. Elder has potent free-radical scavenging ability and provides widespread cellular protection. This results in increased resistance to vascular disease, cancer and cataracts. Elderberry has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and atherosclerosis, helping reverse damage that’s already been done while guarding against future problems.

Elder is also a powerful yet nearly unrecognized adaptogen. Popular adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, rhodeola root and schizandra, and are well touted by the media for their energizing and protective benefits for the whole body. Yet these adaptogens are all either imported from far away countries or very rare, and therefore very expensive. Elder is so common as to be called a weed in several parts of North America. Easily accessible, it’s free to gather or cheap to buy just about anywhere you go. Adaptogens are plants that assist our bodies achieving peak physical performance at all times by increasing energy and work capacity under normal conditions. When our bodies are under stress due to sickness, stress or environmental factors, adaptogens help us by activating the organism's systems, protecting the body from damage (especially, stress induced damage) and also stimulating regeneration and repair. Austrian research on Elderberry shows it to possess remarkable stress-reducing ability. In one study, Elderberry shortened recovery time from physical exertion. In another study conducted by the US Air Force, Elderberry extract significantly reduced the stress load endured by pilots. In addition to helping the body deal with stress, Elder also offers a gentle but impressive effect on the nervous system, calming upset nerves and helping to instill a deep sense of peace. I especially like to combine Elder with Rose for the best results in lifting the spirits for an overall feeling of well-being.

Elder is also a non-specific immune enhancer, containing a unique protein that acts as a messenger to help regulate immune response. This means that unlike simple immune stimulants such as Echinacea that can wear down the body’s immune system by overstimulating its defenses, Elder helps the body know when to fight and when to rest, resulting in a more effective and efficient defense against viruses and other illnesses. And I’ve had great success when taking elderberry syrup myself or giving it to family and friend to fend off cold and flu bugs, making it my number one choice for immune enhancement and viral protection. Powerfully active against at least fourteen strains of flu (including the infamous Avian Flu), as well as Herpes Simplex virus I and II, HIV and Epstein-Barr. Well researched in Austria, Switzerland and Israel, Elderberry has just recently begun to be recognized in modern medicine for what folk medicine has known all along. In extensive tests, Elderberry was shown to reduce recovery time from flu by a full half and lessens symptoms almost immediately. It effectively soothes coughs, calms stomachaches and lessens headaches. And it’s so tasty that you won’t have to try very hard to convince your little ones to take their medicine.

The berries and flowers both protect the liver from damaging chemicals and other malignant influences, this important property combined with Elder’s powerful antiviral properties and it’s ability to heal damaged tissue could be potentially crucial for those living with viral Hepatitis. An herbal diuretic that both replenishes the body’s potassium supply and acts as a urinary disinfectant, Elder tones the mucous linings of the body, helping to prevent infection in susceptible areas such as the respiratory tract and urinary tract. Because of this protection for the respiratory tract as well as it’s ability to act as a systemic decongestant for uric acid and other wastes that can cause allergies and arthritis, it has been traditionally used as a preventive measure as well as a treatment for the symptoms of allergies and arthritis.

The leaves or flowers can effectively be used as a poultice or bath for swellings, sprains, burns or any inflammation or infection. My favorite all-purpose salve is made with fresh elder leaves steeped in olive oil and then blended with honey scented beeswax. For centuries women have soaked the flowers in water or buttermilk and used it as a lotion to refine the complexion and tone the skin. Such a multi-purpose herb surely deserves a place in every household, and I always keep a bag of berries and flowers on hand for a variety of uses.

Just as Rhiannon is slipping off into dreamland, we hear the echo of an owl hoot, the yip of a single coyote and the sudden surge of frog songs down by the river. The flute-like melody of the Canyon winds weave in and out of our woodland bed, and by the smile on Rhiannon’s face I can see she, too, hears the sweet lullaby of the Elder Mother.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Current Favorite Top Fifteen Wild Plants (subject to change at any moment)

1. Elder
2. Salvia (absolutely all of them, but especially S. reflexa, and S. apiana)

3. Wild Rose (my namesake, such an under-appreciated medicine)

4. Monarda/Oregano de la Sierra
5. Yarrow

6. Skullcap (esp. our sweet little native skullcaps)

7. Nettle

8. Mullein

9. Mexican Vervain

10. Western Mugwort

11. Goldenrod

12. Cottonwood

13. Yerba de la Negrita (Globemallow)

14. Red Root
15. Usnea

I’ve been digging Mullein roots and harvesting Alder bark recently, and I’ll hopefully have the chance to gather Red Root this week. And cottonwood buds sometime this month. I’m already anxious for Spring to arrive, I have a whole list of plants that I’m looking forward to exploring, especially Veronica, who grows wild by the river and seems sorely neglected by modern herbalism. As I learn, I shall post experiential info on her for all to see.

Once Upon a Time...

And like an attentive lover, we lean closer and closer to that which we adore, learn from, give to and depend upon. In the course of such courting and knowing we may find ourselves bending ever lower, in order to see better the psychedelic patterns of river water coursing over our legs, or the complex arrangement of the pine needles and green acorns blanketing the forest floor– and then getting down on one knee to luxuriate in the many smells of wild mountain flowers. We may then ease onto our bellies to see the world the way one of the myriad canyon insects do, as infinitely immense and thoroughly irresistible. At the end of our walk, at the end of the day, we might find ourselves rolling onto our backs– right there in the middle of the feral Gila wildlands, in the center of the enchanted canyon, on a soft sandbar in the center of the San Francisco river, centered in our feelings of sensuousness, connectedness and caring. It’s then, grounded in this spinning globe of rock and flesh, we can feel most comfortable shifting our gaze for awhile.... from the living Earth we’re each an inseparable extension of, upwards to the fecund cosmos we and this planet lie forever bedded with and in.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin, from Home

Since I was a child I have loved all things wild.… I was always stumped by the widespread appeal of florist shop flowers and domestic vegetables. Why have these pale shadows, when we could be feasting eyes and mouths on sweetbriar and mulberry, dandelion and violet? Always creeping to the edge of the lawn, I was most fascinated with the lush plantain and fairy touched yarrow that lived there, the smells deeper and stranger than the greenest grass or carefully cultivated tulips. I begged my mom to give up mowing and let us grow sage and clover for a lawn instead, and refused to pull weeds from the garden.

Now I live in one of the wildest places left in North America, a large chunk of New Mexico called the Gila, where bald eagles and great blue herons are frequently seen just outside my cabin window, and lion tracks are found in the woods just beyond the clearing. The plants here are fierce, almost ferocious in their display of wildness, spikes of banana yucca, barbed Parry’s agave and the prickly canes of cholla cactus line the paths here. Our fruit is the spine laden flesh of prickly pears and small sour berries of wild sumach. And my greatest pleasure is still all about getting down on my hands and knees to see it all close up, the microcosm of irrepressible life.

This land is my lover, and I love her well. The river winding through this narrow canyon beats against the bank with my pulse and the flowers glitter with my tears. Likewise, my skin is volcanic rock and snapdragon vine, my fingers rose thorns and vine tendrils.

I work and play with the plants here, for healing and vision and solace and sanity. I’m an herbalist and Medicine Woman, I’m a poet and dancer... I’m a girl in a fairytale, I’m as tangled and wild as the roses.

This blog is all about the wild plants, but it’s also about deep ecology and bio-regionalism, about healing and bliss and life.

The Medicine Woman is glad you came...

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