February 22nd, 2010 § § permalink
If you’ve been to a natural food store, you’ve probably seen boxes of raspberry leaf tea sitting on a shelf. You may of looked at that box and read words like “uterine tonic”, or “pregnancy tonic”. Perhaps you even tried the delicately sweet, slightly sour and astringent (but mostly just…green tasting) member of the rose family.
Raspberry leaf is a perfect tonic for during pregnancy. Generally, it is demulcent (soothing to tissues), astringent, tonic to smooth muscles (especially uterus and large intestine). Since it is rich in vitamins and minerals, raspberry is a well-known nutritive herb. It is also helpful as an astringent tonic is excessive urination and diarrhea, and when the uterus and bladder feel heavy or prolapsed. Raspberry’s more thorny cousin blackberry is one of the most effective remedies for diarrhea for whatever the cause, in childhood contagious bugs, food poising, traveler’s diarrhea, or digestive diseases. It is a good thing to have in your globe trotting first-aid kit – and it’s cheaper and easier on the body then antibiotics.
Raspberry leaf has been used for hundreds of years during and after pregnancy. It can reduce morning sickness in the early months of pregnancy, and can also be helpful in arresting post-partum bleeding. Australian nurse-practitioner Ruth Tricky says that researchers “…suggested that Rubus would prevent or reduce the risk of in-coordinate uterine action (a common cause of difficulty and failure to progress in labor), by regulating the action of the uterine muscles.” (Tricky, 423).
To use raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy, start drinking it after the first trimester. Don’t hesitate–steep strong! One tea bag in one cup of hot water steeped 10 minuets is definitely not going to have the same effect as a medicinally prepared tea. Dried raspberry is quite fluffy, so go more for a fourth or third cup of the dried herb steeped, covered, in 3-4 cups hot water for 2 – 4 hours. Strain and drink daily. Blend with other nutritious tonic herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired. Midwife Aviva Romm suggest drinking the tea with a slice of fresh orange or lemon, since the vitamin C of the citrus will increase the rate of absorption of the vitamins and minerals in raspberry leaf tea (iron, for one).
Tonic seems like a quint word of Victorian yesteryear, but it is used often in herbalism. Tonics are called so because they tone or strengthen a body system(s) or the body as a whole over a period of time. To be considered a tonic, an herb usually has a medium to high nutritive profile (like nettle, for instance) and must be safe and mild enough to take everyday indeterminately. Another important feature of tonics are that they seem to have a rich ethnobotanical history of use. Basically, they have been safely used by people for hundreds or thousands of years.
As far I know, every herbal system has tonics, but Chinese medicine has a disproportionate amount of tonics to offer. Ginseng, He-Shou-Wu, Dang Qui, and Astragalus are a few examples. From Roy Upton:
”Chinese herbal medicine has long revered the use of herbal tonics to promote health, longevity, and counter the effects of aging. The highest ideal of Chinese medicine is to promote the highest level of health for the longest period of time, in contrast to simply applying herbs or therapies for the treatment of disease”(124, Medicines from the Earth 2006).
There are many types of tonics; lung tonics, uterine tonics, cardiotonics and so on. Herbs that are used as tonics also have other uses. For example, cordyceps is a yang tonic used to increase warmth, energy and growth when deficient, but is also used for restoring adrenal activity, strengthening the immune system and enhancing athletic output. As you can see, the underlying tonic action is often related to the short term uses of the herb.
There are a few similarities tonics share with each other, but we can’t overgeneralize their actions. Some are astringent (raspberry leaf, a uterine tonic), some are adaptogenic, others are nutritive. Here are a few examples: Schisandra, reishi and shiitake mushrooms, milky oats, licorice, raspberry leaf, alfalfa, astragalus, red clover, licorice, ashwaganda, skullcap, motherwort, linden, hawthorn, gingko.
It may seem that herbal tonics might not be strong action or illicit marked change in the body because they are food-like, relatively safe in large and continual doses (1-4 cups of tea a day for a year or more), and act generally to promote health. This is definitely not the case. Each of these herbs (even alfalfa or raspberry leaf) have their unique medicinal actions. It is through understanding the action and energetic details (like its taste or temperature) of the plant that can help you find the herbal tonic right for you.
Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
Tricky, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
February 1st, 2010 § § permalink
A native Minnesota variety of an astragalus relative.
Astragalus membranaceaus is a native to China and other areas of Asia and is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family. It tastes sweet, starchy, slightly warm and moist. According to Lesley Tierra, astragalus has adaptogenic, diuretic, antiviral, cardiotonic, antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties. Astragalus has gotten a lot of press as an adapotgen and for helping people with cancer and rightfully so as it “…helps prevent immuosuppression caused by chemotherapy and has tumor-inhibiting activity”(Winston, 149). It is a personal favorite of mine for preventing and/or treating regular-old colds and related infections.
The Chinese name of this herb is huang qi, huang meaning yellow (the color of the root) and qi meaning leader, as it is considered a “leader” among the tonics in the Chinese pharmacopeia because it can be used by a wider range of people than other tonics like ginseng. Astragalus strengthens spleen qi to aid weak digestion, nausea and vomiting, bloating, assimilation and lack of appetite. It also bolsters wei qi (protective energy or immunity) and lung qi. Not surprisingly, astragalus has been adapted into Western herbalism because of its use in strengthening the immune system and aiding in defense of colds, flus and infections of the respiratory system.
Astragalus is usually sold in root slices or pieces. It is mostly prepared as a tea although it also comes n powdered and tinctured forms. To make astragalus tea at home, bring 4 cups of water to boil, add about 4 tablespoons of the root and simmer covered for 20 mins. Let cool slightly before pouring a cup or two and straining. It is quite palatable, and people don’t usually have a problem drinking 3 cups of it in a day. A little honey or a simmering a cinnamon stick along with the astragalus extenuates both the sweetness and the moistening quality.
I like to drink astragalus tea daily in the winter, often for a month or longer, when everyone around me is getting sick or when I feel on the verge of a getting a cold. Just recently my husband came down with a horrible cold. I knew I’d be next, so I loaded up on astragalus tea so when I got the cold myself it wasn’t that bad – just a runny nose without a cough or constricted chest. It also combines well with other immune enhancing herbs like shiitake, eleuthero, ginger and echincacea, and is safe for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
August 23rd, 2009 § § permalink
teasel and bee
This summer, I have not harvested or made much medicine beyond blending teas. Instead, I find myself staring off at plants, wondering about them. One that has attracted much of my attention and wonderment is teasel.
It’s not hard to be intrigued by teasel. It grows tall and stately, and its stems, ribs and flower heads are lined with sharp spikes. The leaves join the stalk and create a cup where rain gathers. The flowers form a band or patch on the flower head with little sweet-smelling, tube-like periwinkle flowers. When that band or patch of flowers is done flowering, other parts of the flower head will be filled with flowers, traveling up, down and around.
Teasel is in its own family (the Teasel family, related to the Asteraceaes) and is an European introduction. All over the world, the sharp, bristle-like dried flower heads have been used for carding (or teasing) wool. Though it hasn’t been used much in Western and Native American medicine, it has a traditional use in Chinese medicine, where its name means “restore what is broken” (Wood, 234) or “heal fracture”.
teasels in bloom
I first came across teasel medicinally while working at The Medicine Tree is St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. Every so often people would purchase a tea by Herbalists and Alchemists called “Teasel Combination Tea”. It is an eclectic blend of Chinese and Western herbs: mulberry root, Japanese teasel root, du huo root, sarsaparilla, fennel and cardamom. Here is what David Winston has to say about it:
“Based on a traditional formula, these herbs open the channels (meridians) promoting circulation of blood and qi. This tea also acts as a systemic anti-inflammatory, reducing stagnation and pain associated with joint injuries, tendon and ligament damage as well as arthritic pain and bursitis.” (103).
This makes teasel a good herbal choice for Lyme disease and other conditions where with painful joints. Although I tried the Teasel Combination Tea for taste (tasted slightly warm and bitter), I never used it specifically for treating joint pain or injury. I do not have a Chinese herbal at my disposal, but it seems obvious that teasel is used in cases of cold, damp and blood deficiency. Lesley Tierra does say that teasel tones yang, and has hemostatic, anti-rheumatic, bone-healing, and analgesic properties (77). Tierra precautions its use in signs of deficient yin and heat, but indicates it in
“sore and painful lower back and knees, stiffness in the joints, weak legs, uterine bleeding, white vaginal discharge…pain, traumatic injuries, healing of bones, skin sores, arthritis, rheumatism” (77).
Matthew Wood writes the most about teasel, citing many interesting case studies. He says;
“As far as I know, Teasel is a superlative medicine for the kidney esesnce. The muscle and joint pain, the deterioration of structure, the helplessness and loss of purpose, ect., all relate to this pattern.” (237)
teasel, dried in the fall
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
May 19th, 2008 § § permalink
For the second time on this blog, I have to state how much I love Iona Teeguarden’s The Joy of Feeling. This entry is drawn from her writings.
What energies and activities do we associate with spring? First and foremost, we see that THINGS ARE GROWING! This is very exciting, and I think it sets the mood for spring. No longer are seeds simple potential-packets, nor are the trees and other perennials satisfied to energetically chill out in their roots. No sir, now is the time for living things to actuate.
Hun is aspect of the psyche (as well as an aspect of nature herself) that is associated with spring. Hun could be described as the forces “which allow us to carry out our functions and responsibilities.” The tree is the symbol of Hun, wood the substance. Teeguarden explains that the tree is a symbol for self-actualization, and that “the psychic activity of Hun is like the force that causes a little seed to sprout, to push its way through obstructions of the dark soil, to finally emerge into the light, growing towards the life-giving rays of the sun.”
The website Renew 5 (http://renew5.org/index.php?page=the-five-elements explains beautifully the aspects of Hun and Spring; here is an excerpt:
“[On an individual level] Spring is a time to articulate vision both long and short term; a time to be strategic with plans for the future, and to take specific actions right now. This is an excellent time to be creative and filled with determination. [On an organizational level] Spring is a time to mobilize resources; to set the vision for the year ahead and to do fiscal planning. It is time for teams to set plans in motion; a time of movement, of creation. Tough decisions need to be made in order to ensure success in the year to come.”
If you are new to Chinese Medical philosophy, it may seem strange to include wood as a basic element, along with water, fire, earth and metal. Most of us are used to the ancient Greek humoral theory, there are four elements: fire, air, water and earth. These four elements are present among some Native American peoples, and associated with the four seasons and for directions. In contrast, Aryuveda has three elements of fire, water and earth. The five elements are related to each other both in the shape of a star and a clock-wise circle.
As you can see, Hun and the element of wood is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder. The feelings and qualities of the wood element are those which help us actualize and direct ourselves outward: inspiration, planning tasks and carrying them out to their end, assertiveness, using verbal communication positively, developing responsibility and being efficiently organized. On the road to becoming the the person we want to be and taking up our space in the world, we are bound to experience either too little or too much of the Hun energy. Teeguarden describe the difference between the deficient feelings of powerlessness and the excess feelings of aggressiveness: “One extreme is being unable to express oneself or take charge; the opposite extreme is a tendency towards over-control, or an egotistical desire to demonstrate power over others (p. 73).”
No matter where we find ourselves on the spectrum, we would be well off to strive for a middle ground of asserting ourselves without force. For me, this takes place in the daily tasks on my to-do list. I tend to try to accomplish as much as possible one day, then the next day or two (or three!) I have low energy and can’t seem to get anything done. There is nothing wrong with taking impromptu time off from the daily grind, but I wish I had more energy during those days off to really enjoy them, rather than be frustrated because I am falling behind. At this point, I may become angry with myself, placing blame and beating myself up for “not doing enough”. The cycle starts again when I overcompensate by busily take care of stuff all day long, trying to control everything in sight, and becoming angry with myself when I can’t control it enough.
How do you think one could reach middle ground when in this cycle? I have found that being more regular and steady with my activities has helped; I try to do a little of my “have-tos”everyday rather than a lot one day and nothing the next. Also, I have learned to recognize the difference between motivation and the desire to control my surroundings (which usually stems from being frustrated or angry with myself). Now I know that when I am motivated to do something, it is more enjoyable and I do it better and more complete. The more I act on motivation and inspiration the more it comes to me; and the less I try to make myself do things, the less room there is to feel inspired.
It is normal to feel angry when we are not being the self we want to be. It is difficult to not become frustrated when restrictions get between us and what we think should be (p. 74). When we get to this point, we must remember to be self-assertive enough to channel frustration into creative ways to actualize our potential.
Teeguarden, Iona. The Joy of Feeling