February 28th, 2011 § § permalink
I am in 2 of 12 terms in school. The pace at which we learn things is incredible. Study a subject for one week and bam! you are expected to know everything (yes, this is an overstatement) about the muscles of the thigh, the Spleen meridian, the integument system, and (as luck would have it) certain categories of herbs. Tomorrow is out first herb test, which will consist of answering questions about the 14 herbs we learned in the “Warm Herbs that Release the Exterior” category.
Starting in 2002, I regularly studied herbs in earnest. That meant that on most day of the week, I read about, tasted, looked at, sat with, thought of, gardened, identified and wildcrafted, and took notes about the herbs that I was studying. Since I was in a self-education situation, I tended to migrate towards herbs that myself or my friends and family needed. There is the time to sit and digest (literally and figuratively) all the information and subtleties about the plants.
With all the ways I studied herbs, I never though to add memorization to my ways of understanding herbs.
But now I have to.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t seek to be centered and connected to the plants I am learning about. We have samples of the herbs to gaze at, nibble, and smell. The texts that we have are amazing at describing the energetic nature of the herb, comparing and contrasting similar herbs, and using references from the classics. I do work study in the clinic’s herbal dispensary, where I fill bulk and granule formulas, so I get to further familiarize with the herbs as I see them in formulas, and I did some gardening in the herbal garden in the beginning of the year.
One thing I like to do that I don’t really have a chance to do is taste the herbs. I could find a way to get some, but the school won’t let you but herbs unless a faculty has signed off on a formula, like a prescription. Apparently it’s a liability issue. This is probably my biggest frustration: HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN ABOUT THE HERBS IF I CAN”T PREPARE AND USE THEM? There, I am done ranting.
Here is a sample of the information we need to know:
Jing Jie (Schizonepata tenuifolia, Lamiaceae)
- Slightly Warm
- Enters the Lung and Liver meridian
- Dose: 3-10g, short cook
- ~Relieve exterior syndrome by eliminating wind, promoting skin eruption, stop bleeding.
- Headache, fever, aversion to cold with no sweating, for either wind-cold or wind-heat.
- Itchy skin, urticaria, slow skin eruption in measles.
- Epitaxis, hemafecia, urinary bleeding due to various causes.
- Early stage of carbuncles or boils with exterior syndrome.
- Deficiency of exterior (wei qi, yin, or deficient heat).
- Opens sores.
- Absence of pathogenic wind.
- Fully erupted measles.
Jing Jie or Schizonepata is very aromatic. A classmate asked if it is related to lavender, because the spikes resemble lavender tops and also because of it’s smell. Indeed, they are in the same family! I think the dried herb smells like a cross between a wild mint that grew next to stream in Minnesota and sweet pennyroyal, but I bet there are similar species like that all over the world.
I find it odd that Jing Jie is said to be slightly warm, because as a minty-mint I expect it to be slightly cool, like spearmint (although I can see how peppermint is sometimes considered warm, cool and sometimes both). It is considered to be antipyretic, diaphoretic, antibiotic (the decoction is effective against staph, strep-B, salmonella, Bacillus tubercuili), hemostatic (according to Chen, charred Jing Jie speeds coagulation time by 77%, while regular Jing Jie does by 30%), analgesic, and a bronchiodialator that relieves spasm and wheezing. As you may of guessed, it is full of volatile oils, along with flavanoids, phenolic acids, and monoterpine glycosides.
Since it is slightly warm, it can be used for both heat and cold situations. It is relatively mild all-around, so it doesn’t damage yin, and is not as drying as the other herbs in this category, but it still is drying. According to the texts, the important factor for it’s effectiveness is that wind must be present. Wind is one of the six exogenous (outside) pathogenic factors and is characterized with sudden, acute situations (like colds and flu), aversion to wind, itching, convulsions, spasms, trembling,as well as stiffness or paralysis (where wind is internal and not moving).
It can be used with spasms in general, especially muscle spasms. The texts say it is useful for postpartum spasm and muscle cramps. It is featured in many topical formulas for itching or wind attacking the skin like with rashes or eczema.
I able to get an intern to sign off on a 10 gram order of this herb for me to try on my dog. She has been very itchy, with pretty bad eczema. I made a wrapped Jing Jie and calendula in a thin cotton towel, poured some boiling water over it, and let it steep, covered, for about 30 minuets. Isis (my dog) seemed to like it, but she pretty much always likes compresses. I did notice she was much less itchy for the rest of the night, and the inflammation decreased. I would combine it with comfrey next time, because it was more drying to her than the calendula alone (which is not a particularly demulcent plant itself). I think it might be a good herb to add into a dry, itchy skin salve… and it has been such a long time since I’ve made a salve…
One more thing about Jing Jie. The tea was quite tasty, very aromatic with sweet, warm mint undertones. I am actually surprised that it is not considered “sweet”, because it strikes me as very sweet in both smell and taste. The flavor has a touch of licorice or stevia sweetness to it. Now that I think about it, the flavor reminds me of many herbs, but anise hyssop, pennyroyal and wild mint come up the most in my mind. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. I did experience a little nervine effect, not as pronounced as lavender or lemon balm, more similar to that of spearmint.
Sigh, I suppose I should go back to studying now…
October 7th, 2010 § § permalink
One of the first books I read on herbalism and health was Elson Haas’ Staying Healthy with the Seasons. There were many interesting little bits of knowledge and graphics in that book, including one relating parts of herbs to actions in the body systems. Here is how I remember it:
Plant parts along a surface-deep continuum from a Western view.
A week ago, I checked out a neat book to help me learn more about Chinese herbal formulations. Traditional Chinese Medicine Formula Study Guide by Qiao Yi walks the reader through all angles of formulating and a bit about pathology. The more I read about Chinese herbalism, the more I see similarities with what I’ve learned studying Western herbalism. Take this categorization about plant parts and actions from the study guide:
Plant part actions, Chinese medicine view.
I have looked in a few other sources in attempt to find more information about plant part and action/direction for both Western and Chinese herbalism, to no avail. (If you know of a resource, let me know!) One aspect in particular I’d like to get more information about is the Chinese medicine view about seeds, nuts and fruits. Why were they not mentioned along with flowers, roots and the rest? Are they included in flowers (which is where they originate)? There are a plethora of fruits and seeds in the pharmacopoeia, which is why I am confused.
Speaking of seeds…
Over the years there have been times when I relied on aromatic herbs and seeds/fruits. Kitchen spices like coriander, fennel, anise, dill, cardamom were my go-to’s for abdominal distention, gas and lack of appetite, ect. It seems to me that many seeds are very centering and assist the digestive process. The aromatic qualities of many seeds seem to be earthy, grounding, spicy, musty, as opposed to pungent roots like ginger, floral high notes like lavender, or bitter, stinging goldenseal. Of course not all seeds are aromatic, and not all aromatics are seeds, but perhaps there happens to be a digestive quality to them. Hmmm… Milk thistle seeds support the liver and detoxification (important for digestion) and even hawthorn berries are used to help ease the effects of over-eating or eating too much fatty food. Seeds, nuts and beans are a good source of fiber, too. Yet another good reason to eat your herbs!
When I first saw Haas’ continuum of cleansing herb part-deeper acting one, I felt there were important exceptions. I have to remember that models are just that, models, not rules. That’s one thing I like about herbalism – the lack of rules!
June 14th, 2010 § § permalink
The reflections continues.
This fall I will be starting a program in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I am excited to start a new adventure down the healing path, but I also have a few points of concern.
The main concern I have is a common one for me: local versus global. Western herbalism is present in my backyard and spice rack. I can walk three steps out my front door and harvest nettles (yes, I stupidly planted nettle right in front of my house), chickweed, plantain, yarrow and more.
My family is of European descent, I live in the USA, I grew up acculturated in Western linear, rational thought, and have been studying Western herbalism for over eight years. My roots lie here.
Chinese medicine is present around me too, but more in theory and than practice. Acupuncture needles don’t grow on pine trees, and even if I did have Chinese herbs growing around (which I do, actually), I don’t know a lot about harvesting or preparing them. How do you make ‘raw’ versus ‘cooked’ rehmannia? What herbs have to be aged? Soaked in wine? Boiled for days? How do they make those little teapills I see everywhere?
Like most (all?) medical and healing traditions, Chinese medicine has within its roots legends of how people met certain plants. But by and large, there isn’t a whole lot of green vitality present in Chinese medicine. Growing and gazing at plants has helped me learn and appreciate the medicine and beauty they offer. Will a lack of live plants influence my appreciation for and understanding of Chinese herbalism?
When I was taking a tour of the gardens at the school I’ll be attending, someone pointed to little plantain and asked the typical question, “what’s this one good for?”. The tour guide said, “Oh that? It’s just a weed. The seeds of a related species are the source of psyllium”. To me, plantain is one of those plants that scream green, fresh, juicy aliveness. I haven’t heard of any herbs being used fresh in Chinese medicine (I could be very wrong, though).
The process of writing this has cleared the air! I feel a lot better already…
First, as if I have grown or met every single herb that I have taken. Ha!
Point in case: right now I am loving ashwaganda. It kept coming up in books, intuition and conversation, and seemed like a good herb to try. Just because I don’t have ashwaganda plants around me doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it’s healing power nor have some sort of connection with it.
Secondly, it’s no shock that I am interested in a “global” modality. My BA is in anthropology, and I have always been seeking to learn about the people and their ways of life on this planet we all call home.
And so what if my ancestors would’ve used Western herbs in their homelands? They also ate rotten cod soaked in lye and drank horrendous coffee that sure isn’t native to Sweden. There’s no harm expanding the palate, of food, medicines or philosophy, especially if done so consciously and sustainably.
Another thing that just resolved itself is that I can’t try to make three and a half years studying Chinese medicine anything it is not. I am not doing this to learn a ton about growing herbs or Western herbalism. It’s not the point. It’s not called “Western Medicine School with a dash of Plant Spirit Medicine”.
Instead, let me recall all the fun reasons I have pursued this in the first place; to take pulses, look at tongues, learn the organ systems, five element theory, energetics, acupuncture (I’m a body person, of course I’d be attracted to a modality that incorporates working with my hands with a manual yet energetic form of healing), and on and on.
Most of all, I pursued this to help people. I wish to develop skills to assisting others on their healing path. This is just one of many ways to do so.
March 18th, 2010 § § permalink
Most everyone in Minnesota is floating on cloud nine about the early spring we are having. It is seriously beautiful, 50 some degrees, bulbs poking through the soil, buds on the trees and so on. Personally, I am still hoping for a monster snow storm, since I loooove snow and we had only one blizzard this winter – and it was in December! How unsatisfying…
We have late springs, so why not have an early spring? I guess I gotta accept it is here. I’ve already talked about Wood, the Chinese element of spring, in an emotional, symbolic and philosophical perspective in the past. The funny thing is I published that entry on May 19th, and now it is March 16th. Did I say spring was early?!
The Liver and Gallbladder represent the element of Wood in the body (these nouns are capitalized to remind us of their symbolic, not literal, meanings). Here is a brief list of qualities associated with these organs. See if you can recognize the thread of Wood qualities like growth, healthy ego and self-esteem, the creative spark among them.
The Liver, a Yin organ:
- Rules smooth flow – “The Liver is exquisitely sensitive to boundaries and demarcations and maintains the smoothness and harmony of movement throughout the body” (Kaptchuk, 81).
- Stores the Blood - Menstrual cycles can be influenced by the liver.
- Controls the tendons, ligaments and nails – A healthful circulation of blood ensures that the connective tissue and skeletal muscles remain supple without excessive spams or tightness.
- Opens to the eyes.
- Absorbs what can’t be digested - Blood flows through and is filtered through the liver, so everything excess in the blood could be absorbed by the liver through the detoxification process.
The Gallbladder, a Yang organ
- Makes and stores bile – Bile is the body’s natural lubricant of the bowels; in this way the Gallbladder may affect digestion.
The Yin organs store fluids or energy, and their function is to transform and regulate the activity of that particular organ. Chinese medicine puts more emphasis on the Yin organs than the Yang organs. The Yin organs are often deeper in the body while the Yang organs are closer to the bodies surface.
On the other hand, Yang organs are more active in getting our body the energy it needs to be active in the world. They tend to act to break down and absorb food, and transport and excrete wastes.
Organ pairs, and associated season:
- Liver and Gallbladder – Spring – Wood
- Heart and Small Intestine – Summer – Fire
- Spleen and Stomach – Late summer – Earth
- Lungs and Large Intestine – Fall – Metal
- Kidney and Bladder – Winter – Water