November 27th, 2013 § § permalink
This summer I grew Feverfew for the first time, in a pot with Mexican Oregano and Dusty Miler. It grew well, and tolerated frequent harvest of its flowers and leaves for tincturing, sprouting new buds and growth many times. I hope it comes up next year so I can enjoy it all over again.
Feverfew had always confused me. I rarely heard it used for any other use besides migraines, and since I rarely experience migraines or headaches myself or treat many headaches, I didn’t gain experience with it. It seems that there were differing opinion about it. Some said it was only good for headaches with specific indications, some said to take it as a prophylaxis daily for any sort of migraine. Some said it was overrated and some said it was highly reliable. » Read the rest of this entry «
September 6th, 2013 § § permalink
The last 4 weeks have been a whirl-wind. But I made out out on the other side! Yes, I officially graduated.
My last board exam was the herbal one. I spent a week doing practice tests, reading through my notes and fondling my samples. My herb samples came from the free table at school. Some samples were missing, some had pre-made notes and some had lost their, um, freshness, but I didn’t care. They did the trick. It is much easier to memorize things when the thing you have to memorize is in your hands, or at least it is for me. I would’ve preferred to taste each one individually, see it growing, learn the botany, chemistry and ethnobotanic history in an attempt to really learn it. How much can you know about a plant by just reading about it? A lot, true, but so much can be gleaned experientially. » Read the rest of this entry «
August 11th, 2013 § § permalink
I am almost done with school; 3 weeks until graduation. My heart is bursting with joy. As the end nears, I find myself needing some reflection, processing, integrating and closure at my experience, so please forgive this semi-gushy personal post. » Read the rest of this entry «
May 28th, 2013 § § permalink
There is a clinical shift in my education program called Herbal Internship. Herbal Internship is solely dedicated to, you guessed it, herbal consultations. There are 4 one hour slots to treat 4 patients with herbs. Do an intake, take pulse and look at tongue, determine diagnosis and treatment principles, discuss a formula, send the formula off to be filled. Seems pretty basic, no?
Despite the fact that I have elected to do extra Herbal Internship shifts and know the drill, it is a far cry from basic.
First of all, people are complicated. There are often 3-5 major complaints. Rarely does someone have just one single thing as their chief complaint.
Secondly, conflicting signs are commonplace. Heat and Yang Xu (deficiency). Dampness in the Middle Jiao (digestion), which is an excess condition, and Blood Xu (deficiency).
Thirdly, we make it up as we go along. This is not a bad thing at all; it is simply challenging and pushes me to the limits and forces me to expand my way of thinking. There is a uncharted territory for a new practitioner. What I end up doing in the clinic can be completely different from what I learned in the classroom or what is laid out in a book. A neat things about Chinese medicine is that we treat the pattern, not the disease. With this, we don’t have to have figured out the pathology and etiology of every single disease state. We listen to how the body is expressing itself and use that to determine the course of action.
Then there’s the normal, worldly limits: time constraints, the dynamics of working in a group where we are all really nice and don’t want to be bossy, computer problems, ect…
I suppose this is what it would be like to have gone to an herbal medicine school. This is what you would do all day! IS this so, herbal school graduates? We do mostly acupuncture shifts which include herbal medicine and formula writing.
I shared the challenges. Now I would like to share the gems which come from these shifts.
First and foremost, my favorite part of Herbal Internship is the opportunity to be mentored by incredibly knowledgeable and experienced practitioners. Every supervisor is unique, with their own blueprint of background, world view, lineage, educational style, patient rapport, formulation style, ect…
This term my supervisor is Dr. Jin. There is so much I could say about Dr. Jin, but I’ll limit it to a few of the main things she has transmitted to our group. One is extremely practical and grounding – time management and doing brief intakes. For the first few weeks, she did the intakes and one of us wrote chart notes to demonstrate how to do an interview. Nobody had done this before, and it rocked my world in the best way possible. Take the intake on the chief complaints, take tongue and pulse, ask a few more questions to get a sense of the constitution and confirm or rule out a diagnosis. This is quite different from what we normally do, which is ask about the chief complaints and then every other body system, take tongue and pulse, then come up with a diagnosis.
The tongue and pulse tell us a lot; it is the major diagnostic tool we have, so listen to it sooner than later! If you do an intake with someone who’s chief complaint is anxiety and the pulse is slippery and the the tongue has a greasy yellow coat (indicating damp/phlegm), then different follow up questions will be asked than if the pulse was weak and deep and the tongue was pale pink and purple with a thin white coat (indicating deficiency of Blood). Asking all the body system questions can be too broad. You get so much information that you simply won’t use. I have heard in China that there are doctors who diagnose and treat simply by looking at the tongue and pulse; yet most will ask a few questions to get a clear picture.
Last term, my supervisor was John. There were two things I learned from working on John’s shift; one is to always keep the nature and flavors of the herbs in mind to help you make your herbal choices. The second thing that I took away was to write down tongue and pulse and come up with a clear, like really clear diagnosis and treatment strategies before thinking of herbs and formulas. You have to know where you are going before you can get there!
I did three make up shifts with another supervisor, Michael, who I will have next term. From those few shifts, I learned about formula families and the concept of people having formula constitutions (reminded me a bit of homeopathy or Matthew Woods), as well as the relevance and use of taking the meridian, organ, seasonal and cosmological influences into consideration. As above, so below. Microcosm, macrocosm. Really neat stuff.
There are other cool things about herbal internship, of course. Patients get better, which is awesome. Major patterns change, minor patterns transform, the person feels whole. Suddenly someone stops having vivid nightmares which make them feel exhausted all day, which they have had their whole life. Yes, herbs can do that (not that I had any doubt).
I am learning the art of formulation, which is something Chinese Medicine has down. I am learning new applications of herbs. With herbal medicine, you have to have a very clear picture of the diagnosis, because it is possible (not likely, but possible) to mess someone up with herbs if you don’t know what your doing, or there could be no improvement or not as much improvement. Acupuncture is much more forgiving, plus you have the body, channels and Qi to tell you what to do.
Herbal Internship is a group setting; 4 interns and a superiors working together. It is neat to work though cases with a group, what can I say. We all work together and have different ideas to bring to the table. One intern may be trained in a different pulse diagnosis, one may be a nurse and know the effects of medications like the back of her hand, one may be receptive to the emotional and spiritual state of the person through their tone and body language, one may of experienced the exact problem the patient is going through and can speak from experience. When all of these forces come together, it is can be magic.
As I write this, I feel my excitement rising up through my body. I feel like I have been handed the keys to the castle, and my gratitude for these talented teachers and herbalists is beyond words. I may not be ‘getting it’ or coming up with the best, most perfect formulas, but at least I feel I have been given the best education I could have to build a solid foundation to work from.
April 26th, 2013 § § permalink
Gan Mai Da Zao Wan is a Chinese formula from the Jing Gui (The Golden Cabinet), a medicine text written by Zheng Zhong-Jing in 220 AD. It is in the Calm Spirit category and its strategy is to tonify Heart Yin and Blood deficiency as it calms the spirit. » Read the rest of this entry «
April 21st, 2013 § § permalink
It seems like everyone is talking about (and taking) adaptogens. Perhaps you have heard of Rhodiola? Or Eleuthero? American Ginseng, Panax Ginseng, Oplopanax and Eleuthero are well-known adaptogens from the Araliaceae family and have been used for a long time. Holy Basil or Tulsi is another popular and very tasty adaptogen that I see all over the place. » Read the rest of this entry «
April 17th, 2013 § § permalink
Chinese herbs + gangsta = awesomeness. Check out their tumblr.
April 4th, 2013 § § permalink
Even a Chinese medicine student knows Gui Zhi Tang is an really important formula. Gui Zhi is Chinese for Cinnamon Twig; Tang means ‘soup’ or ‘decoction’. It is named so because of the chief (representative) herb of the formula, Gui Zhi/Cinnamon. This formula is simple yet complex, and demonstrats the elegance of Chinese herbal formulation. I am not attempting to disseminate the theory behind this formula or its combinations, which I do not feel prepared to do as I am still exploring it as we speak, but instead will share a bit of my experience with this awesomely tasty and effective tea. » Read the rest of this entry «
March 21st, 2012 § § permalink
I have been preoccupied with school. It is my constant companion, my ball-and-chain, my ultimate teacher, my inspiration, the first thing I think about when I wake and the last thing on my mind at night. » Read the rest of this entry «
September 4th, 2011 § § permalink
I don’t have any numbers, statistics, or reports, but I’d bet that chamomile is one of the most well-known herbs we use. It is sold in the most typical of grocery stores, served at restaurants and referenced in the media and literature. I remember reading about it as a child in Beatrix Potter stories.
How many people without an herbal background would recognize bupleurum, eleuthero, hyssop or damiana if they heard them? Not many. How many would recognize ‘chamomile’? Many more, even though they may not know how to pronounce it (cha-mole-y, anyone?).
Despite being commonly known, Chamomile is not just a benign little flower that tastes sweet in your cup, it packs a powerful medicinal punch. Chamomile should not be thought of in terms of what specific diseases it can be used for, because there are too many uses to list, nor is is helpful to only think of what herbs can ‘do’. After reading though my favorite herb books, I summarize the actions of chamomile as being:
- Relaxing nervine for states of tension
- Aromatic and bitter for regulating digestion
- Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy
- Safe, tasty and suitable for everyone, including babies, children, pregnant women and the elderly
- Matthew Wood says that “The fresh preparations preserve the oils, so they are more relaxing, the dried preparations are bitter and promote secretions to the stomach, G.I. and liver.”
Here are some of the chemical constituents present in chamomile and their generalized actions (mostly from Wood, but also from Simon Mills, David Hoffmann and Chanchal Cabrerra)
- Flavanoids - cooling and relaxing
- Bitter sesquiterpene lactones – stimulate digestive juices
- Volatile oils - antipyretic, anti-spasmodic, can reduce histamine-induced inflammation
- Mucilage – soothing, nutritious and immuno-stimulating
- Amino acids, fatty acids and many more
Cabrerra describes volatile oils as being helpful in allergic situations. These volatile oils reduces histamine-induced reactions mostly because Mills says they inhibit contractions provoked by histamine, acetylcholine, and bradykinin. Some, if not most, volatile oils have a counter-irritant effect on the body and cause local vasodilation, bringing fresh oxygenated blood to the area, and thus stimulating a healthy healing response. This explanation of inflammation makes me view anti-inflammatory herbs are actually pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is our body’s healing response. If we value inflammation as a positive, helpful and intelligent response from the body, then we would want a pro-inflammation response.
Chamomile isn’t my go-to herb for cold and flu, but after reading more about it, I will remember to add it in to steams, baths and teas the next time I catch a cold. Who doesn’t need a relaxing, tension reducing, and GI soothing and regulating herb when your sick in bed? Not to mention that it is used for people who are acting like babies, which I, for one, admit to feeling when I am sick. The gastrointestinal tract starts with the teeth well before it reaches stomach and intestines. Chamomile has been used in Europe for centuries for treating child complaints including teething, pain, whining and fussiness. One of the main indications for homeopathic chamomile is teething.
“Chamomile can be used for all sorts of tension, it can be used for menstrual cramps or people with a low tolerance for pain”, including “‘babies of any age’, petulant, self-centered, intolerant of pain or not having their way, inclined to pick quarrels, yet adverse to being touched, soothed or spoken to”.
I wish I would’ve had some chamomile candy to disperse when I was working with kids, because I have seen its effectiveness against babyish behavior. I have taken it for cramps, and although it didn’t decrease their severity, I did notice that the mental loop of negative, complaining thoughts ceased.
Aromatherapists Kathy Kevill and Mindy Green describe chamomile as an antidepressant, especially in individuals who are oversensitive, stressed out, anxious, hysterical, insomniacs or suppress anger. I think chamomile is indicated for people with a history of eating disorders, especially when digestive issues or sensitivity linger years after recovery.
Chamomile is a yellow, sunny, light herb with a depth to it. Flowers tend to ascend and disperse, but the bitterness weighs it down. It is a flower that has an affinity to the solar plexus, the middle jiao, and it is both dispersing to food stagnation and promotes coordinated movement of the digestive system due to its aromatic nature. It has been shown to speed up the healing of peptic ulcers, (Mills). The carminative properties of chamomile, with its volatile oils, helps relax the gut; at the same time, it has bitter properties that promote healthy bile flow, so that the system is not only relaxed, but keeps moving as it should (Mills).
My purely opinionated guess it that from a Chinese medical perspective, it enters the Spleen, Stomach and Liver meridians, possibly the Intestines or Lung. The Spleen and Stomach are the Earth organs, and are associated with our solar plexus, transformation and transportation of food, worry/over-thinking and with the flesh and muscles of the body – quite in alignment with the calming, relaxing and digestive properties of this herb, no? I think the Liver is involved because the Liver’s job is to circulate Qi freely around the body. When this isn’t happening efficiently, as can easily be caused by emotional upsets (especially pent-up anger or frustration), one can very easily feel stuck, tense and irritated, but luckily chamomile can release states of tension. A close cousin to chamomile and another white/yellow flower, chrysanthemum, helps calm the Liver, too.
If you remember from my previous entry about chamomile, I mentioned that Matricaria D genus name for German chamomile came from the word matrix referring to mother. Considering this, it is no surprise that chamomile is a gentle remedy for problems of the female reproductive system. I suppose it can be used in all sorts of situations, but I like to use it the best for morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy, tension during menstruation, menstrual cramps, and problems in appetite or digestion related to nervousness, your debility, or premenstrual tension. Aviva Rome, a midwife and an herbalist, also uses chamomile to relieve heartburn.
To get the most out of a simple cup of chamomile tea, steep it strong. 1 heaping tablespoon of herb for every one cup boiled water. Cover the vessel while it steeps and wait 10 to 20 min. before straining. If you wait longer, for the chamomile too cool from hot to room temperature, the bitter principals will strongly present themselves in your cup of tea; sweet gentle chamomile no more! I have heard of people steeping one handful dried herb to 2 cups water, steeped covered for an hour or home.
Cabrera, Chanchal. Lecture notes, Medicines from the Earth. 2006.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.
Keville, Kathy and Mindy Green. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art.
Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.
Romm, Aviva. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
Wood. Matthew. Earthwise Herbal: Old World Plants.
April 24th, 2011 § § permalink
It seems that there are a lot of cooling herbs in comparison to warming herbs, at least regarding what we need to know of Chinese herbs for class. There are cool herbs to release toxicity, cool herbs to clear deficient heat, cool herbs to resolve damp-heat and phlegm, and of course, cool herbs to release the exterior.
Again, these are known diaphoretics and diuretics. And also again, they are working from a Chinese perspective to get some sort of invading pathogenic factor out of the body. We mostly think of pathogens as being microbes of some sort, in this case the common cold and influenza. But really, pathogenic factors can be all sorts of things – it just has to come from outside and make its way inside.
An example of this is seen in people who are sensitive to eating a lot a sugar or drinking alcohol. They may start off feeling a scratchy, sore throat, drippy nose, gummed up ears, low energy, and if they continue to eat sugar over the next few days or so, perhaps their lowered immune response will develop into a full-blown cold. I have seen this happen to people – something lowers their immunity, making them susceptible to a cold, rather than the cold making its way in by itself. This is also an example of a deficient condition rather than an excess one. In an excess condition, the individual will have strong, normal defenses, but the pathogen will be relatively stronger, as opposed to a deficient, run down individual whos wei qi will be weaker than simple run-of-the-mill illnesses.
Many of the cool herbs to release the exterior are acrid or bitter like the warm exterior-releasing herbs, which either lift and disperse, or collect and drain downwards. Some, like kudzu (ge gan), mulberry (sang ya), soy bean (dan dou zhi) and chrysanthemum (ju hua) are sweet. Kudzu and blue vervain help to release tension in the muscle layer to expel pathogens before they penetrate deeper, particularly in the upper back, shoulders and neck. Classic western diaporetics fit in here, yarrow and elderflower. Add mint to those last two herbs and you have the Gypsy Cold remedy.
Mints – lots of mints – are fitted to release the exterior, whether they are warm or cool in temperature. Catnip, lemon balm, peppermint (bo he) a few of the cooler ones. Catnip is excellent at releasing the exterior, it is quite gentle but effective for bringing on and releasing a fever. Again, like most mints, it is also a nervine sedative and a carminative, a perfect pair of action to add comfort and support during a cold or flu. Melissa is one of my favorite plants, it has so many actions, is easy to grow, and it tastes divine and combines well with other herbs. It is known to be anti-viral and vasodilating, and is an effective carminative and nervine as well. It differs from some of the Chinese herbs in this category because it is sour in flavor.
Bo he, Mentha haplocalix, is the Chinese mint we are learning. To me, it is fairly similar to both peppermint and spearmint, with a little wild, earthy mint undertone. It is indicated for attack of win-heat invasion (as all herbs in this category are), slow skin eruption, headache, sore eyes and sore throat (because it is light and dispersing, mint can ascend to and treat the head), and for liver qi stagnation manifesting in distention of the chest.
Burdock seed (Artica lappa, Nui bang zi) is used in Chinese medicine for treating a sore throat and skin problems caused by toxic heat (think measles, mumps, carbuncles, boils, eczema, acne, ect…). Being a seed, it also moistens the intestines. The lungs and large intestine are paired organs in Chinese medicine, so it is no surprise when an herb (or acupuncture point) acts on both organ systems. Sure enough, cooling and moistening burdock seed is used for cough with sticky, hard to expectorate phlegm. David Hoffmann quotes Priest and Priest on burdock (529):
“…General alterative: influences skin, kidneys, mucous and serous membranes, to remove accumulated waste products. It is specific for eruptions on the head, face and neck, and for acute irritable and inflammatory conditions.”
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and chrysanthemum (C. morifolium, Ju Hua) are closely related herbs that fit well into this category. Both are slightly cold, acrid and bitter and enter the Liver and the Lungs (Tierra, 83). Ju Hua is well-known in Chinese medicine and beyond as an excellent remedy for eye complaints like red, sore eyes or vision problems (often combined with Goji berries/lycii berries/go qi zi for this). It calms Liver yang, which can raise heat and excess activity to the head causing dizziness, vertigo, headache, sore eyes and hypertension. To paraphrase from Bensky, “All flowers lift and dissipate – only Ju Hua can contain, accept and drain downwards”. This is because it is bitter and sweet in addition to being acrid and aromatic.
Given the Chinese medicine understanding or Ju Hua, the common used feverfew makes a lot of sense even though it is a different herb from a different place and medical system. It has been used as a specific for migraines, and much research has been done to explore its chemical properties and action (which are many – good idea for another post!). Besides certain types of migraines, feverfew has been used for pain, especially joint pain, as an emmenogogue, bitter and diaphoretic.
One last note…
It is sometimes difficult to make connections between my Chinese herb class and what I know about Western herbs. I sometimes wish I could marry the energetic understanding of Chinese herbalism with the scientific world of chemical constituents and botany from the West. Attempts have been made, and really good ones at that. Chen, for one, included modern research, drug interactions and chemical constituents in his book on Chinese herbalism. But he has little information about the classic Chinese texts, comparisons between the herbs and notes on energetics (which is present in Bensky’s book).
Even with all the knowledge coming together, East and West, there is still the whole issue of context and clinical usage. It’s not just an issue of translating Liver Yang rising to migraines, and visa versa, it’s about understanding a particular plant in a multifaceted way.
Bensky, Dan. Materia Medica.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbology.
Tierra, Leslie. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
April 9th, 2011 § § permalink
The first groups of herbs students learn in Chinese herb classes are the warm and cool herbs to release the exterior. These herbs are active on the surface of the body and useful in externally-contracted conditions, like colds or the flu. Many are diaphoretic and open the pores to promote sweating, vent rashes, treat red, itchy eyes and sore throat in the case of a wind-cold or heat invasion, treat headache of carious causes, or drain dampness by being diuretic.
One thing I love, love, love, love, love about learning Chinese herbs is the emphasis on the energetics of taste/flavor. I already mentioned this in my last post, but I can’t help but (over)state it again, because it has been so helpful in learning the herbs, and providing a bit of theory to base the use of these herbs in.
Overall, the flavor and energy of these herbs goes up and out. Some are aromatic, most are acrid, a few are bitter or sweet. Most but not all of these herbs enter the Bladder and/or the Lungs, since these are the organs most closely related to the exterior (Lungs in the upper body, the Bladder in the lower body). Below I have taken a few herbs from the texts and added a few Western herbs from Micheal Tierra’s The Way of the Herbs, for comparison.
Warm herbs to release the exterior/surface:
Ephedra – Ephedra sinica, Ephedracae family. This herb is classified as warm, acrid, and slightly bitter, and is known as a one of the best diaphoretics when there is no sweating as it opens the pores when it is blocked by wind-cold. It is also used for asthma or cough, as well as edema since it is a diuretic. It is no accident that it is the first herb often taught; it exemplifies the entire category in many ways even though it is somewhat of a controversial herb and not used often in the states.
There are many representatives from the Apiacea or carrot family, but I want to look at an herb from the Chinese materia medica that has a close relative in Western herbalism, angelica. Angelica dahurica or bai zhi is warm, acrid and aromatic, which makes it useful for dispersing, unblocking, warming and drying. These qualities are useful draining skin infections like boils, treating leukorrhea, frontal headaches and toothaches due to an attack of external cold-wind, and nasal congestion.
Every herb has at least on of the twelve channels that it enters into, but a few herbs actually guide into the organ itself. Bai zhi guides into the Yang Ming organs, in particular the Stomach. This makes sense because the paired organs of Spleen and Stomach often accumulate dampness and affect the appitite, assim diegstion, and bai zhi is great at expelling dampness.
Angelica archangelica is also in this category. It is native to Europe has similar energetics to bai zhi, and is known as being carminative, emmenagogue and diaphoretic. Taken during the start of a cold or the flu, it can promote sweating and spread warmth through the body. To me it is especially useful in either damp conditions or damp environments, because it is so aromatic and lifting. I recall a teacher commenting that it is suited to England, where it is cold and damp. I started using it after spending a weekend in southern Minnesota where it was dew-covered and growing abundantly along the steep roadsides during a very hot and very humid June. I was drawn to use it because of its drying and carminative properties, and found it worked incredibly well in this regard.
magenta hedge-nettle variety on the Oregon coast
Many aromatic, warming and spicy mints show up in this category from the Chinese tradition as well as Western. Hyssop, sage, hedge nettle, basil, thyme, oregano, savory, monarda, perilla and fang feng are a few examples. When I thought of the Western herbs in the category, I realized that many herbs in surface-releasing category are anti-microbial. Chinese medicine theory doesn’t include germ theory, but it does consider that exogenous pathogenic factors can invade the body when either it’s defenses are down (a deficiency situation) or the pathogen is very strong (an excess condition).
Mints are among my favorite herbs to take at the start of a cold or flu, or even when in chronic conditions when it has moved into the chest (thyme being my standby here). They have the ability to float and vent a congested head, increase circulation, promote circulation and sweating, and even soothe an upset stomach and promote a good appetite, which is often lacking when you are coming down with a cold or flu. I mentioned this to my herb study group a few weeks ago and they were taken aback by my use of thyme for a cold, saying it was awfully hot and caustic. I countered with explaining that I am used to below zero winters so I needed a lot of warming, but that still didn’t win them over. Finally it came up that they thought I was using the essential oil of thyme which is very hot, concentrated and often caustic. But I am a whole herb for my steam sort of gal.
A few other herbs in this category include sassafrass, fresh ginger, cinnamon cassia and two ligusticums: L. sinense and L. porteri. One of my favorite Chinese herbs in the category is qiang huo, Notopterygium incisum. The root of this aromatic Apiaceae is warm, acrid and bitter so it can disperse and raise to discharge wind, cold and damp pathogens from the exterior. Qiang huo enters the Bladder channel, which combined with its lifting and dispersing flavors, can release sore muscles, chills and headache. In particular, it relieves achy joints and bones along the back, the muscles along the sides of the spine (erector spinae), along the scapula, up the back of the neck into the head and across the forehead to the eyes.
I wish would’ve had some qiang huo on hand when I was a preschool teacher and came down with the achy flu from hell 4 times in 3 months. My bones felt like they were in a vice and I was chilled to the bone. I used a lot of diapohretics and warm herbs, but came to rely on boneset for the pain in my hips and femurs. Boneset is so bitter and cold, which brought it down to the lower burner, but it didn’t totally relieve the aches in my shoulders, arms and back – what qiang huo does so well.
Asarum canadense growing abundently in a Minnesota state park