I have cleavers on the brain. They are growing tall and thick this time of year in the city and in the woods and meadows. I’d like to share a few links about this awesome and prevalent herb I found out there on the interwebs. » Read the rest of this entry «
After a bout of tossing and turning, I got out of bed and wandered to my book shelf. Matthew Wood’s Healing Wise – New World Plants edition called to me, so I picked it up and randomly opened it to the entry on blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides. As I read, I realized that I needed to learn much more about this Eastern US woodland herb in the Berberidaceae than I thought. » Read the rest of this entry «
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.
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…
One of the first plants in my garden to awaken in the spring (and one of my favorites in general) is Lady’s mantle. Its round, accordion folded leaves start to perk up and green in the warming sun, though they are still tightly curled up on themselves. Each summer Lady’s mantle grows bigger and bigger, usually until it sprawls out into the yard or path. It’s minuscule lacy greenish-yellow flowers may seem like nothing special at first, especially compared to showier garden flowers, but upon closer examination they are quite delicate and stunning, like little shimmering five-petaled peridots.
Lady’s mantle is in the rose family, and contains no less allure or folk lore then the other well-known Rosaceaes like rose, hawthorn, or blackberry. The rose family seems to embody a wildness along with their beauty. They charm our senses with their fruits, flowers and scent so we invite them into our gardens. But anyone who grows roses or keeps raspberries know that they are anything but tame; they require strict boundaries or they will take over! Speaking of, here is a little something about the brambles in an ecosystem I wrote a while back.
Lady’s mantle is ‘Lady’s’ rather than ‘ladies’ to denote that it is the virgin Mary’s mantle (another word for rain jacket or cloak). Of course, before Christianity took over the Western world, Lady’s mantle was associated with local goddesses, like Freya in Germanic tribes (Wood) as well as Tatiana, the queen of the faeries. “It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels. Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana” (Gladstar, 245). These associations are logical, as this herb has many uses for women.
The botanical name, Alchemilla, or “little alchemist” speaks of the uses of Lady’s mantle which have the ability to transform. Matthew Woods writes an account of this in The Book of Herbal Wisdom. The alchemists found interest in the fact that the morning dew gathers like a translucent pearl in the center of the fan-like leaves, well into almost mid-day, when other plants are all dried off.
The first recorded instances of Lady’s mantle classified it as a supreme wound wort. Wood relays that it was called Greater Sanicle, trumping another wound wort called Sanicle, and since Lady’s mantle was an even better for first aid then the original it was bumped up to greater status. Though not nescessarily used for wounds in this day in age, Lady’s mantle is still used to “…restore the integrity of torn, ruptured, or separated tissues, as seen in hernias or perforated membranes” (Wood, 119). In that case it is not too surprising to hear that it was said to restore virginity in folk herbalism. Women of the Alps used packed Lady’s mantle leaves around the abdomen and breasts to tone the body after birth and nursing. William Salmon wrote about this in 1710.”Inwardly also taken, and outwardly applied to Woman’s Breasts, which are great and over-much flag, it causes them to grow less and hard.”
Lady’s mantle theraputic actions include:
- vulnerary (David Hoffmann, 525)
Like other members of the Rosaceae family, it contains a fair amount of tannins, along with trace amounts of salicylic acid. It has been used for all sorts of woman’s health issues; excess menstruation and pre- and post-menstrual spotting, prolapse or feelings of heaviness, hemorrhage, irregular cycles and vaginal irritations.
In general it is “…astringent, toning, and strengthening the abdominal tissues and structures” (W00d, 115). Lady’s mantle and shepherd’s purse blend well together for prolapse and hernia. This is a handy combination for hernias during pregnancy, or to arrest hemorrhage after birth. Its astringency also lends it to be used as a mouthwash for mouth sores or gargle for laryngitis (Hoffmann, 525).
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
If solar infusions utilize flavor to accentuate medicinal qualities, then lunar infusions (or moon teas) add an element of ritual and seasonality. Ritual can take place in many ways, but in all cases, ritual involves conscious intention. Lunar infusions naturally add an element of dreaming, introspection, quietness to the tea. Lunar infusions are definitely more yin and receptive, and the qualities can be influenced by the phase of the moon, too.
I can’t say the words “lunar” and “herbs” in the same sentance and not think of the Artemisias! Mugwort, wormwood, sweet Annie, tarragon, sagebrush, southernwood… those silver-y, upward pointing trident-like leaves seem very moon-like. Not to mention the whole being named after Artemis thing. That calls for another post down the road!
My favorite early summer moon tea for dreaming is quite simple:
- a few mugwort leaves
- a few violet leaves and flowers
- a sprig of California poppy
Find a still spot out of doors to steep your tea. Set your intention. Add the herbs to a glass jar after sundown, fill with water. Leave the tea alone for a few hours. The tea will work best if you are taking care of yourself while you wait for it to steep; doing yoga, meditating, stargazing, not worrying, ect…okay, I am totally kidding about that one, but it can’t hurt! Recall your intention and drink the…ah…interesting (bitter!) moon tea. Of course you may add things to make it more palatable, if you wish. Go to sleep and dream away.
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.
Last spring I started seeds inside to get a jump-start on the growing season. When I planted the healthy seedlings out the first week of June, the weather consisted of downpour, near-freezing temperatures overnight, and incredible winds that smacked my innocent seedlings around with no pity. None of the fifteen or so different species made it. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I made another go with direct seeding, with varying degrees of success; zinnia, globe amaranth, chickweed, sunflower, teasel, elecampane, wild carrot germinated while the light-dependent germinators like tobacco, zahir poppy, foxglove, figwort, evening primrose, bee balms and holy basil did not.
Then while weeding the gardens in the middle of summer, I stumbled upon an uplifting surprise–holy basil! It was hiding underneath a canopy of bee balm and overgrown lamb’s quarters. Some how it made it through six weeks of gardening before I noticed it. Did it shoot up fairly recently? Or has it been there the whole time and I never payed attention? However baffling it may be, it is very welcomed.
Mmm…the aroma of tulsi is sublimely spicy and complex, yet hits the nose in a clear way. I use the names Tulsi and holy basil equally,but the plant is the same; Ocimum sanctum. Like the common kitchen herb basil, holy basil is in the Lamiacea or mint family originating from India and growing through Indo-China (southern China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand) (Winston, 168). It looks a little like basil, with serrated leaf edges and the pinkish-purple flowers. There are a few different varieties of holy basil, the one I chose from Horizon Herbs was rama tulsi because it is a more cold-hardy.
Tulsi has been (and still is) used in Ayurveda for as long as we know, which is at least three thousand years (168).
“Holy basil is sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu and is used in morning prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. String of beads made from the plant’s stems are used in meditation to give clarity and protection. The ancient ayruvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita (approx. 100 BCE) and Sushruta Samhita (400-100 BCE) both mention the use of this herb to treat people with snakebites and scorpion stings.” (168).
Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress of all kinds (or non-specific stress). In particular, tulsi promotes a sense of mental clarity and calmness. Winston describes its medicinal actions as: adaptogenic, antimicrobial, antidepressant, antioxidant, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, glactogogue, radioprotective, stress-reducing and supporting the immune system. There are numerous studies on holy basil which are all interesting in their own right. I suggesting reading Winston’s Adaptogens book for those of you who, like myself, are intrigued by scientific studies.
To summarize an herb with so many medicinal actions isn’t always possible, but there are some ways , holy basil is an adapotgenic herb well-suited for treating the mental and emotional body, at least in my opinion. Winston uses holy basil for reducing a “mental fog” and “stagnant depression” when people cannot seem to move past an event or trauma that brought them down. Holy basil makes a worthy addition to just about any uplifting/antidepressant or memory tea or tincture blend.
Here is my one of my favorite teas with holy basil, used for seasonal depression:
- 2 parts Holy basil
- 2 parts Lemon balm
- 1 part Rosemary
- 1 part St. John’s wort
- 1/2 part Rose hips
- 1/2 part Hibiscus
- 1/2 part Fennel seeds
Winston, David. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.
Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara. Another asteraceae family member, coltsfoot has antitussive, expectorant, astringent (due to tannins), sedative, demulcent, antispasmodic and diuretic properties. The genus name tussilago means “cough dispeller”, and indeed it is a general respiratory tonic. “Coltsfoot was so popular in medieval times that it was chosen as the emblem to identify the local apothecary” (Gladstar, 324).
Relating to the doctrine of signatures, Matthew Wood said that “Hairy or hirsute leaves and stems are a signature for the…hairs of the mucosa” and that “leaves that are thick from the content of mucilage (Slippery Elm, Coltsfoot) are good lung and mucosa remedies” (21). I first met coltsfoot while at Sage Mountain, often as a garden companion to another Old World respiratory remedy lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). It grew abundantly along the edges of the gardens, its broad, gray-green leaves spilling over into the lawn. The leaves are interesting to the touch, squishy and thick with a fine hairy layer that rolls off between your fingers.
Since coltsfoot is a soothing antispasmodic, it’s useful for chronic respiratory conditions for general coughs and bronchial congestion. More specifically, use coltsfoot for constant or chronic coughing with lots of phlegm that doesn’t want to come up. Sometimes the coughs are dry or spasmodic. Coltsfoot spills over into being used for asthma, emphysema, recovery from smoking and wheezing, not just for acute coughs (Tierra, 71).
Coltsfoot is quite mucilaginous, a cold infusion of the dried leave yields a tea for soothing a dry and irritated throat and airway. It makes a fairly pleasant tasting tea. I use the tincture for it’s relaxing expectorant qualities. Mills says it is “a particular standby for children’s coughs, associated as these are with a nervous, spasmodic element” (481).
Gladstar, Rosemary. Family Herbal.
Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
There are many Western herbs for helping the respiratory system: stimulating or relaxing expectorants, anticatarrhals, antispasmodics and relaxants, support for the immune and cardiac systems, antimicrobials, demulcents. Then there are the respiratory tonics like elecampane, coltsfoot and mullein. I have already talked a little about mullein. David Hoffmann describes this category as:
“…pulmonaries, or amphoteric expectorants, have a beneficial effect upon both lung tissue and function.” (321).
I like that explanation of respiratory tonics because elecampane, mullein and coltsfoot can be used more generally than other categories. They do, however, have their specific indications as well. Matthew Wood says (147) says that it along with other big leaved plants (mullein, comfrey, burdock)
“…have strong actions on the skin and lungs” as they “stand for surface area and gas exchange or breathing hence the lungs and the skin”(147).
Let’s look at elecampane. Preparations of the root of this Asteraceae family member have been used as an expectorant (on the stimulating side), diaphoretic, antimicrobial, and antitussive to stop coughs (560). Hoffmann states that it is indicated for “copious catarrh” and in bronchitis acute and chronic, asthma, tuberculosis, and “irritating bronchial coughs, especially in children” (560). It is more that simply relaxing the lungs, it also has an stimulating expectorant quality useful for wet bronchitis.
One of the ways herbs shine for the respiratory system is that they can both help symptomatically and aid in fighting an infection. Combine elecampane with echinacea, propolis, goldenseal, thyme, astragalus or others for bronchial infections.
Like many roots, elecampane has a mucilage quality that soothes irritation. The root also contains a fair amount of inulin (as indicated in the botanical name), an polysaccharide. Because inulin is indigestible in the stomach, when it reaches the gut it stimulates the growth of beneficial bacterial flora (Wikipedia). How much inulin is available in an elecampane tincture is unknown, but I imagine that eating the roots or drinking a decocted tea would provide more available inulin. Other natural sources of inulin are onions, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, jicama, burdock, garlic, dandelion root, agave and wild yam. Yet another reason to employ the vitality of wild foods!
Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is one of the first herbs many think of for the lungs. It has many uses besides being a superb respiratory tonic and expectorant though. The flower can used for ear aches, topically with the leaf for the musculoskelatal system and as nervine.
Have you ever smelled mullein flowers? They are incredibly sweet, delicate and flowery to the nose. Mullein is a member of the the Scrophularia (snapdragon) family and originally from Europe, and is one of the easiest herbs to distinguish with its downy lobed leaves, yellow flowers and tall flower stalk. I welcome mullein into my gardens (even though they can proliferate quickly) because they remind me of garden sentinels, keeping watch and adding interesting texture and line to the garden horizon.
Just looking at the velvety soft lobe-like leaves one can see that they must have demulcent actions. At the same time, mullein is also a little irritating if it is rubbed in the skin too much. These soothing yet irritating qualities may seem contradictory, but this is precisely how respiratory tonics work. The demulcents soothe the tissues which encourages mucus stuck here to loosen. The stimulating action irritates the lungs and makes for more productive coughs. There herbs work to help the body along and fulfill the purpose of the cough: to clear the airways of mucus (Hoffmann, 322).
Wood says that “Mullein is definitely the remedy for harsh coughs which have worn down the villa of the lungs” (27). That is, coughs that shake the whole body, almost hurting the chest and ribs. He also says “it is useful for harsh, hacking coughs with a dry irritated membrane and irritated cough reflex, where there is a lack of secretion” (494). I have heard of a case where a smoker who refused to give up the habit asked an herbalist for something for a horrible hacking cough. Mullein was smoked along with the tobacco and the cough went away. It has been incorporated into smoking rituals, as it is calming to the mind and has a sweet and vanilla-like flavor.
Mullein can be taken many ways for soothing the lungs, but infusions are my favorite. Mullein leaves are extremely easy to harvest, they are much less delicate than most other leaves. Pick leaves from the first year rosettes, slice down the middle stem to ensure proper drying, and lay out to dry. I like to dry them in the fall, when the weather becomes dryer, otherwise they seem to reabsorb the moisture from the air. When you are ready for making an infusion, take out a leaf or two, break them up a bit, and steep in hot water.
You can also find mullein in tincture form. I like it for blending with other expectorants (David Winston recommends elecampane, yerba santa, horehound and grindelia)(87), but I prefer the infusions for taken specifically mullein. Perhaps this is because I remember learning that starches are not extracted in alcohol,
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.
Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
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”.
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)
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.