March 13th, 2008 § § permalink
One of the first herbs I used was dang gui. Still, I have a hard time understanding this herb so here is my attempt at gaining clarity. Any comments about indications for or experience with this herb would be much appreciated!
Its botanical name is Angelica sinensis (a common species name, meaning “of China”). Dang gui is one of them many members of the volatile oil containing Apiaceae (parsley) family. It is one of the most popular Chinese herbs in the US. Foster and Chongxi state that dang gui is the most used herb in China, for “it is used more frequently and in larger amounts that ginseng and licorice, often considered the most widely used Chinese herbs”.
Its flavor is sweet with an earthy bitterness. The taste can be strong for some, but I have witnessed that those who need it crave it and love its distinctive smell. I have a entirely non-technical and strange way to associate herbs with colors; to me dang qui conjures a dusty lavender taupe color. Every time I smell it I think of chalk and afternoon recess in 5th grade and I feel as if I am smelling it with my jaw. Don’t ask me why! Weird, I know, but it happens every time so I feel it is worth noting although they are very individual. I digress…
Dang gui has quite the reputation as a woman’s herb, mostly because it is warming and tonifying to the blood, and can regulate menstruation. It has emmenagogue, mild laxitive and analgesic properties. Also, it Harmonizes vital chi, nourishes the blood and returns them both to proper order, like for headaches due to blood deficiency or traumatic injury. Of course, men and non-menstruating women can use this herb for Blood Deficiency; in fact my dog will walk over to where I keep my powdered Chinese herbs and whine until I give her some. She has skin problems, and is dry and flaky half the time. Within my references, these are some indications for dang qui:
- building blood, anemia
- menstrual complaints of all kinds: dysmenorrhea, irregularity, amenorrhea
- menopausal complaints
- fibroids (most likely does not contain phytoestrogens)
- some vaginal infections
- abdominal pain
- circulatory problems such as angina, thromboses, coronary heart problems
- “Damp Wind” conditions with joint and muscle pain and inflammation
- injury, arthritis, rheumatism
- dry skin and skin eruptions
- promoting circulation (it moistens the intestines)
- sores and abscesses
- blurred vision and headaches due to Deficient Blood
As mentioned, dang gui is a well known emmenagogue, so it generally not to be taken during the heaviest days of menstruation if you are a heavy bleeder, nor during the first trimester. However, it can be quite helpful during scanty menses and amenorrhea. This leads me to think that dang gui would be of good use for pain towards the end of the period, not necessarily for pain at the start of the period (possibly due to Stagnant Blood). Michael Tierra precautions to avoid use if there is abdominal bloating and congestion (damp Spleen), as well as in Deficient Yin with heat symptoms (since dang gui is heating itself).
We see in the above list many of the tell-tale signs of Deficient Blood. In Chinese medicine, the blood nourishes and moistens the cells and organs, which warms the body. “Deficient Blood arises when there isn’t enough Blood in the body to preform its nourishing and moistening functions” (Tierra, 148). Let’s not forget that patterns of imbalance do not manifest on their own but relates to other organs and functions in our body. For instance, Blood is related to the Heart (directs the blood), the Liver (which stores it and works to renew it while we sleep) and the Spleen (holds blood in the vessels, and builds it through digestion). Bleeding, over-exertion, yin deficency or spleen chi deficiency (resulting in poor digestion and lack of assimilated nutrients) can lead to Blood Deficiency.
Here are some patterns of Blood Deficiency. Does anyone else see a relation to the Kidneys, adrenal glands, and Shen? Can you see how dang gui would help?
- blurry vision
- restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, sometimes irritability
- scanty menses
- tendency towards thinness
- dark spots in visual field
- dry skin, hair, eyes
- lack of luster, pale face and lips
- tiredness or overwhelmed
- easily startled
- poor memory (Tierra, 148)
Lesley Tierra, “Healing With the Herbs of Life”
Michael Tierra, “Planetary Herbology”
Simon Mills, “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine”
February 17th, 2008 § § permalink
After I wrote the entry on headaches, I started to get one. What’s with that? I haven’t had a headache in at least three or four years! Anyways, it was an annoying and painful experience, since I had it for seven days. Maybe it was because I needed to write more about headaches…
This headache was dull, located in the temples down into the face for six days. The fixed pain was so mild I didn’t realize it was there most for most of the day but made itself apparent when I laid down at night. I was under a lot of emotional stress, especially the last day when the pain was the worst.
The seventh day it was located in the same place, but became progressively stronger as the day wore on. By the time I went to bed it was unbearable, keeping me up for hours. The pain was mediated when I rubbed my whole head, neck and shoulders, but I as soon as I stopped it would assuredly return. The headache had no relation to eating.
Pain in the temples can indicate heat in excess or deficiency or stagnant Liver Qi. The Gallbladder meridian was very tender, painful even, to the touch. Pressing the points on my face and neck felt wonderful, as if it was releasing pressure.
Since pressure made the headache feel better (albeit temporary) a deficient condition is indicated here. The fact that the pain increased at night is due to Deficient Blood, as does the fact that the worst part of the headache occurred at the end of the period.
Deficient Blood and Stagnant Liver Qi describe more than just a headache pattern, it also fits in with my general constitution. Blood Deficiency is aided by nourishing herbs like equal parts of dang qui, cooked rehmannia, lycii, ligusticum, white peony, jujube with a half part of licorice with blackstrap molasses. For the latter, Tierra recommends two capsules each of turmeric and cumin taken with fennel tea and five drops of lobelia tincture.
Unfortunately, my herb supply is low so couldn’t try any of Tierra’s suggestions. The only thing I had to work with is a tincture of black cohosh, blue cohosh, skullcap, kava and lobelia. I took three teaspoon doses of this on the last night when the pain was the worst. A mug of miso soup helped sooth the nauseousness caused by the lobelia, and in thirty minuets I fell into a headache-free sleep.
The origin of this headache can be traced to a sub-par diet, muscular tension and emotional stress. My work situation has caused much worry and placed me in a definite funk, and the lack of funds has impeded on purchasing fresh food. Because of the below zero weather with 30 below wind-chill, I have not taken my regular hikes. I have no real excuse for not practicing yoga, though, unless you count the uninspired funk.
The tincture I used is actually quite indicated when the causes of my headache are taken in consideration. A response to the intense stress was to gather tension in the neck and upper back, which I feel caused the muscles of my head to get out of whack. The lack of exercise combined with the bitter cold further tensed my whole body, and stagnated the liver because of decreased circulation. Of course lack of nourishing food further slowed the liver and depleted the blood.
Skullcap alleviated the pain and relaxed the mind from its constant stewing. Kava had a similar action, with more of a sedative, anodyne and sleep-promoting action. In the future I will try kava for tension headaches more often. Blue cohosh invigorated the blood and acted on spasmodic muscles, as did black cohosh especially on my tight neck and spine. This was the first time I used lobelia, but I could feel its presence in both my nerves and muscles as soon as it touched my lips.
Reference: Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
February 10th, 2008 § § permalink
A while back I was talking to a friend who had migraines about six times a year, but came two at a time. She would have one for two days, then within a week she’d come down with another. I felt very sympathetic for her and everyone else who are prone to headaches, and thought to myself, “I’d rather have horrible menstrual cramps then a headache any day”. At least with cramps, you know when they are coming and when they will be done.
To be honest, the main reason I’d rather have cramps is because there is something so elusive, so hard to pin down about headaches. Feverfew has been proven to help migraines, but I have known it to not work on some people. Laying down with a wet rag over their eyes help some people, but others feel the headache actually get worse when resting. When I got Lesley Tierra’s Healing with the Herbs of Life I became enamored with her chapter about headaches. Part of the mystery of headaches dissolved as I discovered that there are about twenty different types of headaches from a Chinese perspective. Consider the nature of the headache in combination with the temperament of the person.
Where is the headache located?
Temples (one side or both), top of the head, sides of the heads, behind the eyes, forehead, back of head, whole head, face.
How often does it occur?
Twice a year, twice a month, twice a week. Acute or chronic.
What is the nature of the pain?
Dull, sharp, heavy, stabbing, empty, pulling, stiff, changes from one sensation to another.
How is it related to your state of health or life style?
Menstrual cycle, sinus infection, addiction withdrawal, hypertension, stress, high cholesterol, holidays, during work, pregnancy and postpartum.
How is it related to your emotional state?
Frustrated, angry, after crying, worried about money, relationship problems, anxiety or fear.
When is it triggered? Is it worse or better during the following:
Eating in general, eating specific foods, resting, pressure, cold, heat, activity, lying down, daytime, damp weather, menstrual cycle.
Tierra recommends equal parts of Feverfew, Chamomile, Willow Bark, and Angelica, with the Feverfew as a general formula for acute headaches. An alternate formula is Rosemary, Poplar, Willow, Wintergreen and Angelica. A general formula from Simon Mills for nagging but mild headaches is Linden, Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wood Betony. These help by dilating the blood vessels, stimulating blood circulation, and dulling the pain sensation. Sounds like a perfect cure-all until you consider that not all headaches are caused by constriction of the blood vessels. Mills explains:
“…most migraines are accompanied by vasoconstriction of blood vessels, a significant minority are not; sufferers of the former often obtain relief by applying hot packs to the head and are probably more suited to Feverfew than those of the latter.”
These “general formulas” can also be called generic. They help symptomatically, they are formulated for the condition, not the personal constitution. Here is just one example of headache differentiation for someone with Blood stagnation, who shows:
- Headache fixed in one place
- Intense, severe pain; stabbing and boring
- Side of body, ribs, abdomen may be painful/sore
- Dark tongue, purple
- In women there might be painful periods with dark blood clots
- Dark complexion
Equal parts of Corydalis, Motherwort, Salvia, Cyperus and Ligusticum is recommended by Tierra. In this formula, the Corydalis is an anodyne for severe pain and breaking up stagnant blood, Motherwort and Salvia stimulates blood circulation without being too warming and also soothes the nervous system, Cyperus addresses stagnant Qi, while Ligusticum moves both stagnant Qi and Blood that can cause the intense, stabbing pain. But even the twenty patterns of headaches can be generic when the focus is still on the condition, not the person.