Herbal Search

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Walk up the Arroyo: Monarda, Chokecherry, Gooseberries & Saskatoons

Loba and I woke up early this morning to prepare a picnic lunch to take up the arroyo on a berry picking adventure. We were hoping for ripe Gooseberries and maybe even a Saskatoon (Serviceberry, Shadberry, Juneberry or whatever else you'd like to call it) or two.

In the early morning the air was still chilly and quartz studded boulders that make up the arroyo floor were cool and smooth under our feet as we made our way up from the river into the mountains. Brilliantly colored Butterfly Weed was still blooming profusely every which way we looked, certainly its most prolific year in a long time. I can't wait to harvest a good batch of root this fall! Lavender to fuchsia Monarda blossoms were exploding on both sides of the rocky trail, some of them plants nearly four foot tall. Well, we just couldn't resist and harvested armloads and then bag fulls of richly scented flowering tops. As we walked we noticed we felt euphoric and a bit sleepy from the relaxing effect of the Monarda volatile oils. Also known as Bee Balm, the plants were covered in bees, hummingbird moths and butterflies of all shapes, colors and sizes.

Further up the wash, we discovered that our coveted Gooseberries were not yet ripe, but still swelling into fat green balls of goodness, when completely ripe they turn black purple and tasted like grapefruit mixed with currants and grapes, so yummy! There were a couple dozen black ones hanging from the the prickly bushes and I expect that the rest will be ready in about a week. In the meantime we devoured all the ripe ones in a single burst of bliss, there's really nothing better than ripe wild berries.

Even higher, we stopped for a little lunch of berries, eggs, homemade sauerkraut, rosemary sweet potato salad and Monarda pesto, mmm. And then, we discovered the motherload. Near the top of the arroyo where we once found a sun bleached bear skull and where the Oregon Grape Root and Mountain Valerian grow, we found half a dozen Saskatoon trees weighed down with green fruit, red fruit and nice ripe blue purple fruit. Now, we have plenty of Saskatoon trees here but generally the doves, bears and other critters get to them long before us, so what a treat to stumble upon so many ripe and waiting treats.

Now, if you've never had a Saskatoon, you just need to go out and find yourself one. They look just like high bush blueberries, complete with the bottom crown that blueberries have. They're fat and juicy and taste very very similar to blueberries with an almond crunch at the center, where there's chewy little seeds that are a treat all of their own. They leave this lovely, amaretto aftertaste in your mouth that makes you wander madly through the forest searching desperately for MORE.

We gathered all the ripe ones we could reach which was really only a few cups of berries, but for here, that's a LOT of any kind of berry. There's green ones that should hopefully be ripe just about the same time we come back up for the Gooseberries next week. I also harvested some small branches and bark, as Saskatoon was a common remedy among the Ojibwe and other tribes for pregnant women to prevent miscarriage either as a general pre-natal tonic as well as after a traumatic even or injury. It was also sometimes used to ease childbirth or as a general tonic or tea. Those uses open up a whole realm of possibilities for applications as a woman's reproductive tonic. I'm excited to experiment a bit with this plant and get to know her better. And as with many of the sweet, pleasant tasting types of berries, Saskatoons can be used as an effective and tasty blood tonic for pregnant women or anyone wanting to build blood and increase their intake of whole foods nutrition. And being a less astringent member of the prolific Rose family, they no doubt contain copious amounts of antioxidants and other healthful bits.

Back down the arroyo a bit I found a Wild Cherry tree attempting to take over the pathway so harvested some branches for bark. By the time we reached the spot where the rocks spill out into the river, the sun was high and we were unbelievably hot, so we headed for the beaver pond for a nice swim before returning to the homestead to sort and prepare our bounty. And to find out the prime ways to preserve our luscious Saskatoons!

Oh, and I couldn't help but pull the purple flower petal bits of the Monarda flowers off their bases and pack them into a small jar where I poured raw desert wildflower honey over them, stirring them with a chopstick until the honey was well distributed through the flowers. I'll let these steep for a few months, and save this precious substance for Winter chest colds, sore throats, respiratory difficulties and also for use a powerfully antibacterial and healing wound dressing for burns and infections.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How to Survive a Summer in the Wilderness: Remedies from a Thorny Land

This started out as a simple post on Summer Skin Remedies for this month's blogparty but somehow dramatically expanded... I also have a previous post on treating injuries that is in a similar vein.

: I haven't found anything better than Rose petal vinegar, diluted 1:4 in water and applied as a fomentation every few hours. It usually takes the heat and pain out very rapidly. The next step is Prickly Pear gel (or aloe) application and as the skin begins to heal and then a moistening, healing salve of White Sage, Elder leaf & flower and Plantain. Do not apply oils or oil based products to any burn that is still hot, it will only hold the heat in.

: First, cool the area with lukewarm to cool water (never never never ice). Then apply diluted tinctures of Rose, Cottonwood and White Sage (or Monarda). Lavender essential oil (neat) or diluted tincture will also work well. Later on, compresses of Mallow and Elderflower can be very soothing. When all heat is gone from the skin then you can use a salve of Plantain, Sage and Cottonwood to speed healing.

Spider and other venomous, itchy bites
: Plantain & Yarrow spit poultices are great here, have the person make their own poultice and ask them to swallow the leftover juice in their mouth as that will significantly shorten the reaction time. Tinctures can work if fresh plant isn't available. If it is a serious bite, add Creosote bush internally and externally, amazing stuff for bite and sting reactions. Osha can also work to slow allergic reactions to venom. For more minor but painful bites, like those of ants, try Evening Primrose or Rose tinctures externally, if they start to swell eat some fresh Yarrow leaves or take a few drops of tincture. For itchy, evil mosquito and horsefly bites try Wild Rose Petal tincture.

Poison Ivy
: First, get all that volatile washed off with soap and water. Then, apply diluted vinegar or tinctures of Mugwort (make sure you don't have an Aster allergy first of course), Plantain, Yarrow and Rose leaf/petal. Oatmeal, Mallow and Rose petal baths can be helpful too.

Random rashes and contact dermatitis
: Mugwort, Alder, Yarrow & Elder flower applied any way you like.

Swimmer's Ear
: For just about any ear infections I use a couple drops of Elderberry/Mullein flower tincture or oil depending on whether condition needs moistening or drying. Of course, don't stick anything in your ear if you suspect that the eardrum might be perforated.

Sprains, Strains & Sore Muscles:
Some people suggest ice but I try not to overcool the area. Instead I usually rub the area down with oils of Goldenrod, Rose, Cottonwood & Comfrey (or any of these singly, depending upon the situation and what you have available). Poultices, fomentations and baths can all be used as well. Mugwort is another fine herb for this purpose, gets the chi moving and is very healing. And come to think of it, Evening Primrose and Monkeyflower also work nicely here. Use Cottonwood, Evening Primrose and your nervine/antispasmodic of choice internally if there's pain and spasms. You can use Prickly Poppy internally if the pain is very bad.

Wounds, cuts & scratches
: The possibilities are endless. My favorites are Sage, Rose, Elder leaf, Mallow, Plantain or whatever else is around. Mugwort is probably my most frequently used plant on any minor injury, bite or strain. Goldenrod and Monarda are just lovely too.

: Plantain, Mallow and Pine Pitch are my favorites, just make poultice and tape it on after cleaning the area.

Traveler's Diarrhea
: Tincture or tea of Creosote Bush, Mugwort and Alder (and optionally, Honeysuckle). Yes, it will taste awful and yes, it will help. Accompany this with a tea of Mallow, Elderberry, Plantain and Rose to soothe your belly, balance your immune system and help restore a healthy balance of bacteria. Evening Primrose will also help heal the gut and stop cramping but may make you sleepy.

Heat Headaches
: First, hydrate yourself. If you're feeling electrolyte imbalance you can take of the weird fizzy stuff (EmergenC) of you can dissolve some honey and salt in water and drink it, or have a Nettle infusion. An iced tea of Mallow, Rose and Elderberry can keep you cool and moist and prevent the whole thing. To ease the actual headache try some Lavender or Sage or Cottonwood. Sticking your head in a cold river helps a lot too.

There's much much more but I think this is a nice start, I'll probably add to this subject during the Summer as new incidents happen, focusing on one kind of injury at a time rather than attempting to generalize myself to death. It's so lovely to know that we're almost always surrounded by a crowd of healing herbs.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tree Medicine and the Magic of Blisswort

Wolf trimmed some Alders and Cottonwoods the other day, and this small trimming resulted in a whole pickup bed full of branches. Now, I generally gather bark at the prescribed times of Spring and Autumn if only because the bark is generally easier to peel back then, but how I could I resist all that yummy resinous Cottonwood and silvery Alder bark just calling my name. Truth is, I couldn't, so I hauled tarps full of clipped limbs to the Medicine Lodge where I do most of my herb work and proceeded to sort and chop these mountains of trees. At the same time, my floor is already nearly covered with drying Quelites (Lambsquarters) so it's quite a squeeze in there right now, I can't even begin to reach my chest full of dried herbs or the shelves of tinctures and oils.

And I learned something, Narrow-leaved Cottonwood is much harder to dry than regular broad leafed Cottonwoods, they want to blacken right away rather than retaining their cool green crispness the way the other species do. Strange.... Nevertheless, I have successfully dried more leaf and bark that I know what to do with or even how to store. I think I need a new method of storing plants. This year has been bountiful that I have dried plants coming out my ears and all these silly little quart jars that are of no use in such a situation.

The Monarda began blooming yesterday, on the Summer Solstice, and I'll be taking a nice walk through the Arroyo in the morning to harvest the flowering tops and enjoy the lushness of the season.

The Woodrats are destroying my garden, but we won't go into that.... I'll just remain incredibly grateful for the immense amount of sustainable wildcrafting I'm able to do.

It rained today, a storm from the North so not a monsoon though it was full of hail and lightening that ignited multiple small fired in the Gila. The monsoons come from the South, from Tucson and I hope they'll arrive on schedule despite the unusual weather. Regardless of where the rain originated the plants thirstily drank it up. It's been very hot here, in the mid-nineties and oppressively dry. But the Canyon is so very green as a result of the many Spring showers so I can't complain at all, I just take my walks early before the heat becomes unbearable.

The Blisswort (commonly called Skullcap, but what an awful name for such a lovely plant) I harvested earlier this Spring has matured into a wonderfully green tincture full of the nerve restorative qualities of the dreamy purple-blue hooded flowers. Blisswort has, over the last three years, almost miraculously healed my deep fried nervous systems. The shaking the used to be nearly constant is almost gone, I haven't had an anxiety attack in I don't know how many months and my sleep is peaceful and regular. I only take one to two drops at a time and find that the extra bitter nature of New Mexico's Blisswort is extra beneficial for my stomach and liver, both of which have seen their fair share of trouble.

Taken in acutely stressful situation, a bad tension headache or stress induced insomnia, the plant will work her magic quickly, easing the tension from the body and allowing us to slip into a deep sleep. Used over a period of time, it will help restore the overall health of the nervous system from long term stress, drug or alcohol abuse and certain CNS disorders.

It's bitter nature also helps clear heat, infection and toxins, making an extra useful nerve tonic for the Pitta/Adrenal stress person. I've also successfully used Blisswort for Shingles and Sciatica as well as many other kinds of nerve pain.

I especially like her combined with Blue Sage or Evening Primrose for general use, or with Rose Petals, Evening Primrose and Mugwort for delayed onset, crampy menses. But she works just fine on her own too, I suggest a fresh plant tincture as the tea is very bitter (at least from the plants here, I've heard that not all spp., are as bitter).

Oh, and Blisswort gives some people very vivid, intense dreams (not to say pleasant or unpleasant just very intense) so be aware of that if your prone to nightmares or the like.

This plant is one of my best friends and one I've used for many people and for a long period of time on myself, she is dependable and safe; a superb medicine plant that grows the world over.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another Morning in Paradise

This morning I went to spend time in one of my favorite Canyon spots, a little place I call the Alder Throne, where many silver barked Alders come together on the river bank and their roots knot into a throne like seat right above the water. The tree trunks are deeply ridged and scarred from bear claws, the marks are bright red to rust color, depending on their age. A small Box-Elder Maple tree is growing under the Alders enhancing the green lushness of the spot while little Amraranth and Dragonhead plants peek around the corners.

I love these trees in all their fairytale glow and peculiarly scarred beauty, I spend quite a bit of time with my face buried in their ridged leaves and my arms around their silky trunks. The space between the trees and the water is hollowed out so that the river rushes through the empty space singing a sweet little song that echoes up to the throne. Across the river, there is a vibrant green wall of rushes and reeds, and the buzzing and chirping of cicadas, frogs and a hundred songbirds fills the Canyon morning.

I noticed a large branch had broken off of an Alder upstream and floated down the river to be half mired in sand, the leaves were still green and the bark still alive so I carefully gathered a basketful of twigs, leaves and peeled bark to dry for medicine.

On the way back to the cabin I gathered a few mulberries and wild currants, waving to the Silk Tassel bush, baby Grapes and Clematis as I climbed the rocks with my mouth full of ripe berries.

All this on top of a wonderfully tasty breakfast of green chile tamale and eggs, mmmmm. I love my life!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why I have Purple Feet :)

I spent a good part of yesterday up in a Mulberry tree down by Saliz Creek. A friend of mine had asked me to come take a look at her Elderberry tree, and though I was quite perplexed at the thought of Elderberries in June I went on over to check it out. Lo and behold, it wasn't an Elderberry at all, but a White Mulberry (Morus alba) tree weighed down with sweet red-purple berries. So off went the shoes and up I went. To get the best of them I had to back my truck under the tree and climb up on top to knock down the big clusters since the higher branches weren't strong enough for me to stand on.

I couldn't help but eat a few (or so) while I was working, how can one resist berry juice dripping off their fingers anyhow, but I manged to save a few quarts to take home for pie and medicine. My fingers and feet are now stained a lovely violet color....

The picture is of a less ripe but beautifully red berry. We have about half a dozen White Mulberry trees right here in the Canyon, but unlike my friend, we don't have a predatory cat to keep the Rock Doves from eating all the berries before we can get to them.

These Mulberries make an excellent blood tonic for those with signs of blood deficiency (pale tongue, weak nails, breaking hair, dizziness, anemia can be symptoms). The whole plant, from root to bark to leaf to berry is all considered strongly medicinal in Chinese medicine. I've been working with this plant frequently this Spring and I'm still in the process of getting to know her particular magic.

And this morning for breakfast, there was pudding with cream, mulberries, bananas and butter roasted pecans, mmmmmm..... and a very sore hip from hanging from the tree by my left leg while trying to reach the uppermost berries, owww.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Butterfly Weed & Late Spring Storms: An Update

There's been huge, tree breaking winds for the last three or four days and today it soaked the ground with a cold light rain. It was so chilly that Rhiannon wore her little fur coat and I shivered as I walked through the storm in a silk skirt and tank top. Strange weather, usually it's still and hot as an oven all June until the monsoons come in mid July. Usually, the plants are baked into gold skeletons until they're revived by the Summer rains... This year the Wild Sage, normally a monsoon dependent plant that blooms in August, is blooming today.

I drank Elderflower and Wild Mint tea and watched the storm dance through the Canyon, filling the rain barrels and soaking our little garden, urging the wild grasses to grow still higher, and the flowers to bloom in radiant profusion.

But the river is low from the aquecias sucking the water into fields and gardens and cattle drinking containers, it's sad to see the sandbars protruding like bones from the river's body, and I wait for the storms that will fill her to overflowing.

It's been a rich Spring, and I've put up quarts and quarts of tinctures, vinegars and oils.... I've dried I don't know how many pounds of Stinging Nettle, we've gathered wild Currants in the rain and we're waiting for the Wild Cherries, Saskatoons and Gooseberries to be dark and plump and ready to eat. Up in the high mountain areas nearby the Raspberries, Salmonberries and Blueberries are slowly growing in the deep shade of mixed Spruce forests. I love this place, the Gila's rich mixture of forest, grasslands, desert and riparian habitat. I love how the Cottonwoods and mutter and sing with morning breezes and the way the Alders shade cools me on even the hottest, stillest day.

The Mugwort is HUGE this year, about hip high in places just now, with many of the plants have brilliant red stems this year, full of fragrant medicine for the liver, belly, nerves and skin. I'll harvest and dry many pounds of her this year, to use for myself and my family and to pass on as a healing gift to others.

I've already deepened my relationship with several plants this season, especially the Salsify, Wild Honeysuckle, Silverweed, Corydalis, Sweet Clover and Evening Primrose and I'm looking forward to working with the Wild Hyssop later on the in the Summer.

And oh, the Butterfly Weed, I'm so in love with her... She's blooming everywhere right now, all shades of yellow and orange and gold. Every year she's so gorgeous I can hardly bear to harvest her. Otherwise known as Pleurisy Root, the roots of this radiant plant have been traditionally used in cold, damp chest conditions like pneumonia, chest colds, bronchitis and you guessed it, pleurisy. It can also work as a tonic for adrenalin stress (Pitta) type people with blood sugar problems, skin deficiency and pulmonary trouble. I've just begun to work with this use and can't wait to explore it further. As a side note, Butterfly Weed is a real pain in the ass to dig, at least around here, where it's roots work down into the most unknown crevices in hard, rocky ground. Expect to work for your Pleurisy Root! More on this one in the near future. Oh, and please note that this plant is on the United Plant Savers' "to watch" list so be respectful and don't harvest this plant until Autumn when it's already seeded and only gather from a well established, healthy stand.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Weedy Treatments for Liver Heat and Congestion with a Special Emphasis on Viral Hepatitis

These are therapeutic suggestions for conditions that can be caused by underlying constitutional imbalance, that are in turn aggravated by food allergies and deficiencies, lifestyle, environmental factors, solvent poisoning and diseases such as viral Hepatitis.

I personally feel that the overall constitution should be taken into account before treatment, which means if you are a airy, cold, dry and thin type of person who gets liver inflammation from alcohol abuse or the like you should use treatments specific to your body and your condition. The treatment picture below corresponds directly to the symptom picture (Pitta types with liver qi stagnation, liver yin deficiency and liver heat... how do you like that mix of metaphors?)

A Symptom Picture:

rapid, wiry pulse,
red to purple with redder tip, usually uncoated, often somewhat cracked tongue,
stomach upset with poor fat digestion, bloating and gas,
headaches behind the eyes or near the temples,
hot, itchy psoriasis and/or eczema,
irritation, moodiness and bursts of anger,
hot flashes and night sweats, hot palms of hands and soles of feet
frequent sighing (no, for real!)
dry, red eyes,
sharp pain in the liver area
hyper-immune symptoms,

Useful Approaches & Plants

First, address underlying dietary problems such as allergies. Many people with this particular symptom picture have gluten intolerance, try a six week elimination diet if in doubt. Nourish any nutritional deficiencies with whole foods and supplements as needed. Essential Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Selenium, Alpha-lipoic acid, E, C and B vitamins are especially important. It’s always best to get these through your diet but if you can’t or need to get a big boost in something like Magnesium where dietary sources may be difficult to obtain (or digest), make sure you get a very high quality supplement. I’m usually in favor of fairly high fat diets, but in the case of an impaired, inflamed liver, go light on the fat, and eradicate any low quality processed fat (margarine makes your liver scream, don’t do it). Preferred fats include clarified butter (or lacking that, unsalted, cultured butter but clarified unsalted butter is the best), olive oil, coconut oil and of course, fish oils.

People with an inflamed, congested liver often do better with several small meals per day rather than one or two large meals that are difficult for the liver to digest all at once. Especially for people with a Pitta type constitution and (often) accompanying liver inflammation and blood sugar problems, eating regularly throughout the day will help with general mood, digestion, skin and liver health.

This is not an exhaustive botanical list, but rather a compendium of the plants I’ve found most useful for this condition(s) over the last few years. Most are weeds or very common plants that can be found just about anywhere. A majority of the herbs listed are heat clearing, relaxant nervine, liver protective/tonifying and/or immune modulating.

Many Hep C regimens recommend the use of warming, immune stimulating herbs such as Astragalus, but in hot, acute, inflamed viral Hepatitis or any similar liver disorder it’s very important to use primarily cooling, heat clearing herbs(but always with a small amount of warming/stimulating herbs in the formula). Using Astragalus, Garlic etc., as primary herbs will simply aggravate the existing condition. Also note that uses listed are only those that pertain to this condition.

These herbs can be combined in various formulas as infusions, decoctions, tinctures and whole plant depending on your need and the nature of the plant.

The Weeds
Primary Tastes: Bitter and Sweet, with some Sour & Pungent
Primary Energies: Primarily relaxing and cooling, with some spicy Chi regulating herbs

Western Mugwort (probably regular Mugwort would work too, A. capillaris is commonly used in TCM for acute hepatitis and jaundice) - Bitter, pungent - Protects and cools liver and digestive system, moves qi and blood and relieves liver congestion in a big way. A primary remedy for Hep C with inflammation. Relaxant nervine.

Lavender - Bitter, pungent - Cools & relaxes the liver, moves qi, relaxant nervine. Relieves pain and depression related to liver qi stagnation.

Sage - Bitter, astringent, pungent - Similar to lavender in many respects. Cools liver, assists the body in fluid distribution, strong moves blood and qi, relaxant nervine. Relieves pain and depression related to liver qi stagnation.

Skullcap - Bitter - Relaxes and rebuilds in the nervous system, helps to mellow the moods swings and CSN irritability typical of liver inflammation. Stimulates gastric juices for a more relaxed effective digestion process, something of a big deal for many people with liver associated IBS.

Peach leaves/twigs - Relaxing and moistening, helps calm hyper immune response, good for nausea and stomach upset where an inflamed liver is the source of the problem.

Rose petals, leaves and hips - Astringent/Sour - Cooling, liver relaxing, blood moving, relaxant nervine, lymphatic

Dandelion root - Bitter - Bile stimulating, cooling, clears heat, relieves liver congestion (you’ll notice I repeat that a lot, it’s VERY important to keep the liver unstuck and moving).

Peony Root - Bitter, Sour, Sweet - Strongly blood moving and somewhat blood building, clears heat, relaxant nervine. Relieves pain and depression related to blood congestion.

Elderberry - Sour, Sweet - Immune modulating, stress relieving, gently relaxant nervine, liver nourishing as well as supportive to the whole body. Decreases liver related allergies.

Milk Thistle Seeds -Neutral - Liver protective Best prepared as ground seed and sprinkled into foods for this condition rather than tincture or even decoction.

Orange Peel -bitter, pungent- Moves stuck qi, especially liver qi

Evening Primrose Whole Plant- Neutral - Liver nourishing, relaxant nervine, supports liver health and heals inflamed stomachs. Useful for highly driven people with stressed out livers that have resulted in anxiety, GI troubles and eventually, depression.

Honeysuckle Leaves & Flowers -Bitter, Sweet- Strongly heat and infection clearing, lymphatic, helps with pain and anxiety.

Stinging Nettle Leaves -Salty- Nourishing, drains dampness, clears heat, assists with clearing up psoriasis, eczema and other liver related skin conditions.

Reishi -Bitter, Neutral- Immune stimulating, liver protective, adaptogenic, spirit calming, helps with insomnia, restlessness and anxiety often associated with liver inflammation. I make a long decoction (2 or more hours) in a Ginseng cooker and give separately from other formulas. Larger doses (8-10 grams per day) seem to be most useful in acute liver inflammation. Lower doses (appr. 5 grams per day) work well with chronic low grade liver problems.

Mallow Whole Plant -Sweet, Salty- Moistening, nourishing, immune stimulating . Very useful for chronic dryness and inflammation. Well help heal an overheated stomach and system. Also a nice overall tonic for the dry, irritated Pitta type person.

Licorice Root -Sweet- Adaptogenic, strongly liver protective, very useful for harmonizing other remedies in a formula, the contradictions for Licorice are rarely present in those with a hyperimmune constitution and liver inflammation, regardless, the amounts used in formula should not present a problem for most people.

Asparagus root -Sweet, Bitter- Moistening, cooling tonic for overall constitutional balancing. Helps moderate inflammation and gently increases liver function.

The Medicine Woman is glad you came...

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