May 26th, 2008 § § permalink
Do you see the motherwort in this picture? Hint: its vertical. Mmmm…Motherwort! I have been craving the bitter herb for a steady week running – and as a tea! Who in their right mind drinks motherwort infusion? Someone who needs it, or who likes the bitter zing. Have you ever eaten a motherwort flower? Try it, I dare you. I have been drinking motherwort infusion to calm my critical and exacting PMS self to a down to a low roar; its working quite well. It is also nourishing, stockpiling nutrients that will soon be shed; for this purpose I add a bit of nettle or oat straw. At this time in my cycle I tend to see things very clearly, which can either enrich my life with wise insight or keep me up at night ruminating. Motherwort, along with hops, eases my mind.
In the middle of winter, I dream of a sunny day and a garden full of motherwort. There is something very awakening and attracting about the upright member of the mint family. A friend once became very aquatinted with a particular motherwort plant and described her as juicy. I have yet to have a garden full of motherwort, as my seeds never seem to germinate. This year I am trying really hard to get my seeds sprouted…so wish me luck.
Motherwort promotes menstruation, reduces nervous tension and cramps, and is regulating to stress and anxiety caused heart problems, racing and/or irregular heartbeat (tachycardia). Culpepper says about motherwort, “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry”. Yes, motherwort is warming in taste and even color with the sweet downy pink with white whorls of flowers, soothing to the heart and demanding emotions, and a wonderful ally for women of all ages and at all times of their cycles. The way it stands in the garden, attracting bees like mad, reminds me of an seemingly innocent attention-seeking amorous Leo. Well, not that innocent, if you have ever been tangled amongst their sharp seed pods at the end of the season!
It is called Ectes Herzgespann in German, which in an excruciatingly literal translation is “common heart team”; luckily a German woman described it to me as meaning “it pulls the heart forward, as one would lead a team of yoked oxen”. What a wonderful way to visualize this herb’s actions. Like many herbs, motherwort contains a myriad of chemical compounds that give rise to its unique uses. From its taste we know that it works on the digestion; Tierra says it is specifically a carminative. The tannins make it astringent to the uterus, and according to Wikipedia, “the herb contains the alkaloid leonurine, which is a mild vasodilator and has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles. For this reason, it has long been used as a cardiac tonic, nervine, and as an emmenagogue.”
As an emmenagogue, I view it as enriching the blood and circulating it, rather than starting delayed menstruation, as the latter has never worked for me. It still has an important pre-menstrual use of allying stress, anger and rage, worrying that keeps you up at night, and anxious palpitations. Stress and anxiety keeping your period away? Try motherwort. Motherwort may be helpful include during the last few weeks of pregnancy to promote uterine tone. Ruth Trickey states in Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle that motherwort “is one of the many herbs which posses the apparently contradictory actions of relieving spasm and stimulating uterine activity–an effect which seems to be brought about by a reduction in the irritability (spasticity) of the uterine muscle. This allows contractions to be followed by an adequate rest period when blood can circulate through the muscle again”(470). Of course, motherwort is useful for peri-menopausal women, adressing palpitations, night sweats and worrying keeping you up at night, Trickey combines hops, motherwort and black cohosh for this reason with “excellent results”.
Tierra, Micheal. Planetary Herbology.
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html
Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal.
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”
January 18th, 2008 § § permalink
Safflower, Cathamus Tinctorius, is an herb I know little about. Even when I taste a simple of it, the taste and properties still flee my senses and intuition. Upon a single sip of a Safflower infusion, the center back of my tongue is stimulated, with a production of saliva following seconds later. Next the stimulation/saliva production moves from the center back tongue to the edges. When I open my mouth and move my tongue around, I feel a slight tingle in the tip of my tongue. The taste and smell are similar, light and flowery with a bit of oily coating. One thing I can definitely say about it is that it is warm in temperature. hen I can’t get a feel for the herb on my own, I hit the books. But alas! hardly any of my references mention this yellow-red member of the aster family.
The Spring 1996 issue of The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine includes a brief listing of Safflower in the botanical materia medica for ovarian cysts. This listing is scientifically orientated:
Theraputic Class: Hemokinetic, analgesic
Compounds Present: Carthamin, safflor yellow A, safflor yellow B, carboxylic acid, and a polysaccharide that has demonstrated immune stimulation in vitro (144)
Considering this is the only bit of information I have about Safflower in my available references, let’s decipher this chemistry jargon. Hemokinetic must refer to blood flow mechanics, since hemo means blood and kinetic means to move. We know that analgesics are used to reduce pain through a number of different mechanisms. The compound carthamin is a pigment found in Safflower, and has been used as a natural dye since ancient times. Wikipedia states that carthamin “…was used extensively in the past for dyeing wool for the carpet industry in European countries and to create cosmetics for Geisha and Kabuki artists in Japan”. I found many titles of research articles and a few abstracts concerning safflor yellow A and B compounds online, but little substance about the nature of these compounds. Here is a quote from an abstract (available at http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=18603193) “…SYB [safflor yellow B] might act as a potential neuroprotective agent against the cerebral ischemia-induced injury in rat brain through reducing lipid peroxides, scavenging free radicals, and improving the energy metabolism”. Carboxylic acids are organinc acids, and are present in many food stuff. Citric acid from citrus fruits, malic acid from apples, acetic acid from vinegar, oxalic acid from many foods stuff like spinich, beets, buckwheat and sorrel, as well as fatty acids and amino acids (protein building blocks) are forms of carboxylic acids; but I don’t know what type of carboxylic acids are present in Safflower.
Some internet research led me to learn that it is used in Chinese Medicine (pin yin: Hong Hua) to promote blood circulation, clear up blood stasis (which can relieve pain). It lends itself to the uterus, perhaps because of its blood circulating nature, so it is used for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea and abdominal masses. Likewise safflower can be used topically for traumatic injuries and swellings. Western herbalists have also used hot safflower infusion to encourage sweating during cold and flu. According to herbplace.com, safflower is antiseptic, expectorant, diaphoretic, promotes to onset of menstruation and is sooting to the lungs. I originally purchased this herb to try on a bad case of conjunctivitis (pink eye). An eye wash of the strong infusion soothed the itching and gooey-ness, it did not reduce the redness in my bloodshot eyes (I am going to try goldenseal diluted in saline next, on recommendation). Henriette’s Herbal (http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/carthamus.html) has an informative entry about Safflower.
December 27th, 2007 § § permalink
It was the last day of a two-month long internship at an herbal retreat center in Vermont. Between the sadness at leaving the enchantedly beautiful mountain-top and the wonderful plant people I met, and the excitement of being in New York the next afternoon, I felt one last hike through the woods would allow me a chance to say goodbye and collect my thoughts. Against my better judgement, I was taking pictures of the plethora of the blooming fungi while walking. I know it may not sound dangerous to some, walking plus camera equals and accident waiting to happen for me. Sure enough, after returning my camera to its bag, I tripped over a tree root and sprained my ankle for the second time in five weeks.
I surrendered to the pain; and laid down on the exceedingly soft forest floor to rest until I could walk (hobble) on it more confidently. It was there that I met Solomon’s Seal, growing in a pair underneath the maple and birches. He was such a beautiful sight, with ripe blue berries where were once a pair of flowers dangled, weighing down its delicately curved stalk. The slightly fall-faded leaves were translucent in a bit of afternoon sun that made its way through the forrest canopy. Look at the interesting way the leaves bend in the picture below; some reach to the sky, some twist to show the underside of the leaf, others hang parallel to the earth or make hairpin folds to point both up and down. If I were to dig to expose the roots, we would see how Solomon’s Seal got it’s name. Here is Matthew Wood’s description:
“The name Polygonatum means ‘many-jointed’, referring to the nodes on the stems and on the jointed roots (or actually, rhizomes), which look like a gnarled mass of knuckles in some instances, and like a series of vertebra in others. When the stem dies back at the end of the season, it detached from the root leaving behind a round mark that looks like a little ‘seal’(397).
The apparent seal on the rhizome has long been associated with King Solomon. Maude Grieve cites evidence that it was thought Solomon himself was aware of the plants virtues and named it after himself. Wikipedia states that “[i]n Medieval…legends, the Seal of Solomon was a magical signet ring said to have been possessed by King Solomon, which variously gave him the power to command demons (or jinni), or to speak with animals”. Yet others believe the seal has less to do with Solomon and more to do with its affinity to “seal up” (mend) broken bones, fresh wounds, too tight or loose “tendons, ligaments, attachments, joints…making the muscular and skeletal system stronger and more harmonious in its actions”(399).
Wood is the only resource I have on Solomon’s Seal; all of the below information can be cited to him. He says Solomon’s Seal, along with Mullein, has the rare ability to set a broken bone in the correct place; use with Comfrey and Boneset for that purpose. It can be used for weak joints (particularly the hips), weak and irritated digestion, vaginitis, fever recovery, and as a “mild cardiac tonic” since it contains a small amount of convallarin, the cardiac glycoside found in Lily of the Valley. It can calcify or decalcify when needed, thus useful in bone spurs. To rebuild cartilage, use with Horsetail, as they will “often cure joints damaged by torn ligaments and deteriorated cartilage” (400). These nutritive and bone/attachment actions may be due to the sweet, cooling, mucilaginous, tonic and astringent qualities of the root.
I have used Solomon’s Seal only once, in a formula for a broken hand, along with horsetail, boneset and other mineral-rich herbs. The person’s doctor was pleasantly surprised after a few weeks of taking the formula; he’d never seen such strong and fast healing of a bone before. Since the broken bone was the middle bone in the palm of the hand, I guessed there may of been some damage to the ligaments and tendons in the hand (not a far off guess since they are plentiful in the hand) and included Solomon’s Seal specifically to “harmonize” the healing of the bone and tendons. I would like to have it on hand, but I am not sure how freely it grows here in Minnesota and thus don’t feel comfortable digging it up. In fact, I have never seen it here, just false Solomon’s Seal! But just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it is not around…every year I discover “new” plants I never thought were in Duluth. This spring I’d like to plant it behind the garage in a shade garden, so I’ll have it around regardless.