A bit on Southern Herbalism

February 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Passionflower - Passaflora incarnata

With all the pertinent issues in modern American herbalism, like endanger species, failing health care system, drug companies, FDA regulations, GMO’s and GMP’s, it still is a great time to be in this field, as a student, participant and practitioner. One thing I am particularly grateful for is the plethora of learning opportunities, like classes, blogs, seminars, home-study courses, videos, recordings, conferences, and so on.

A few years ago, I took a class with Matthew Wood and Phylis Light. As soon as they started discussing Southern folk herbalism, I was enthralled with the regional flavor that and the South brought to herbalism. It has also gained a new appreciation for the Southern herbs I adore like passionflower, peach leaves and sassafras.  Here is a little bit of what I have pieced together about the background of Southern herbalism, after listening to Light, reading Wood’s Earthwise Herbal and a few more sources.

To many people of the United States (and around the world), the South is its own distinct entity with unique cultural nuances, food and dialect. Upon closer investigation we find that, just like any other locale, the South’s identity is the mixture and steeping of various factors coming together over time. Anthony Cavender, writing in Folk Medicine in South Appalachia, reminds the reader that “[t]here never was nor is there now a variety of folk medicine unique to Appalachia.” (preface). The distinction of southern herbal medicine is not solely created by piecing together the ethnic beliefs and practices of the people of the South: the Cherokee, European immigrants (largely Irish, English, Scottish and French), and African slaves implanted in the south and through the Caribbean. It is also due to understanding of health and medicine of the groups of people at the time they settled in the South, geographical isolation and relative economic misfortune (Cavender, 24).
Although there were differences in the European folk medicine and Native American systems around the time of European immigration, one obvious commonality was the reliance on plant medicines. During the Civil War, Confederate doctors working in the battlefield expanded their use of herbal medicines to what they could learn from local folk herbalists, as the only common medicines to which they had regular access were whisky and quinine, and both were quite expensive (Jacobs). Many of the remedies used during the war are still used frequently in the South by herbalists (and indeed all over the States) and include red oak bark and sodium bicarbonate used as antiseptics, slippery elm, wahoo and salt employed as emollients, poppy and nightshades for pain, boneset and pleurisy root for intermittent fever, mayapple or peach tree leaves for stomach upset, mustard seeds for pneumonia, black haw, black cohosh and partridge berry for women’s complaints (as thousands of women assisted in the camps), and so on (Jacobs).

The folk herbal practitioners used these herbs and more, as they were never as dependent on imported herbs or manufactured patent medicines like quinine, belladonna, senna or opium. Like many in the Western world, the herbalists had in their ancestral knowledge base the Greek Humoral system of hot/cold, damp/dry. Being dependent on the natural world around them for food, shelter, clothing and medicine, the folk herbalists observed the way the sap fell and rose in the trees with the changing seasons and applied their observations to the humoral system to develop a system of blood typology (Light). Wood quotes a saying in the south,

“In the spring collect the spicy, warm sassafras root bark to thin the blood; in the fall collect the mucilaginous bark to thicken the blood” (13).

Blood typology is a systems of energetics, one system of many used around the world. On the surface, energetic systems like the Ayurvedic doshas, Chinese Five elements, Native American four directions, Greek humoral, physiomedical cross and Southern blood typology are systematically different, yet they all share a treatment philosophy of looking at underlying patterns in an individual (often called constitution) formulate a diagnosis directed by the person, not the disease.
Energetics do not just address an individual’s diagnosis, but also extend to the remedy. Energetic treatment protocol can include taste (sour, sweet, pungent, acrid, bitter, meaty, salty, and so on), temperature (hot, warm, cool, cold), humidity (dry, moist), directionality (up or down, in or out), and tone or general state of being (constricted, tense, relaxed, atrophy), and can be gross (physical) or subtle (energetic) in nature.
Imagine, for example, that a person’s pattern of disease exhibits one of the four Greek humors, heat, as an underlining pathology. To counteract the heat and assist the healing process, a practitioner administers a cooling agent to sooth the irritated tissue and increase the body’s capacity to cool itself. As a remedy, slightly sweet and sour hawthorn berry is given to help cool and constrict the tissues back to a healthy tone. Red or blue pigmented fruits like hawthorn berries contain high amounts of flavonoids, a particular class of chemical constituents that seem to have an affinity for the blood, heart, capillaries and vessels (Bove). The sourness of hawthorn berries, like most other fruits, are thought to tighten, cool, promote salivation and thus cooling. In Western traditional medicine and herbalism, energetics often extend to include the actions of plants (astringent, tonic, diaphoretic, syptic, ect…) which then can further be extrapolated to chemical constituents, thus bridging Western medical traditions, American herbal medicine and modern biomedicine views.

Sources:
Bove, Mary. “Four Super Fruits”. Medicines from the Earth lecture notes, 2010.
Cavender, Anthony. Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia.
Jacobs, Joseph. “Drug Conditions during the War between the States”.  Southern Historical Society Papers, Col XXXIII. January-December 1905. civilwarhome.com/drugghsp.htm.
Light, Phyllis. “Southern herbalism: Southern Herbalism, My Story”. An article from: New     Life Journal [eDoc/Amazon Short].
Light, Phyllis. Lecture notes: Southern Folk Herbalism. 2007.
Matthews, Holly F. “Rootwork: Description of Ethnomedical System in the South.” Southern Medical Journal, July 1987, Vol. 80, No. 7.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal
Plants.

Physician, heal thyself

December 31st, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

I am at the end of a much-needed three week break from school. Of course, before the end of the term I was already plotting and planning all the wonderful super important and constructive things I would do with the immense amount of free time. Then break arrived. I spent the first three days still doing homework, since I came down with a weird 24-hour bug during finals and fell behind. After that, I threw away my list of things to accomplish and undertook a new plan: relax, rejuvenate and have fun.

This is an herbal blog, and yes, there are plenty of herbs for rejuvenation. In another entry, I’ll share my two allies of the moment for just that. But as I grow, so does my relationship with health and my thoughts on healing. All the herbs in the world can’t replace a decent night’s sleep, healthy relationships, creative expression, faith and optimism. Herbs are just one of the many tools we are able to graciously call upon for nutrition (literally and figuratively) and balance. My point here is that taking a break from engaging with herbalism on an educational level might just help me be a better herbalist later.

Some people from my school have studied over break. That simply amazes me; you couldn’t pay me to study right now! Before I got to school, I thought that I would be an incredible superwoman of productivity. I thought of all the things I wanted to do with every area of life. I took notes from Portland blogger Eric at Deepest Health about his year of sagely living in hopes that I could do it all, too.

Then I realized that we each have our own path and ways of doing things, and while I seek inspiration and insight from others, I have no need to try to be like anyone but myself. Things will unfold when they ought to, I need not push my way through the joy of working alongside plants and judge success on how many blog entries I write a day, how many clients I have, how many herb books I read or species I identify.

This is the start of my schooling, one term down eleven to go! I figure now is a good time set the tone for rejuvenation so when I return to intellectual zone, I’ll be ready. Rosemary Gladstar once commented that our society doesn’t take time for convalescence and that if we had our heads on straight we would do just that. Just think of all the people who don’t take their sick and vacation days off from work. And if people do take vacation time, it is sometimes spent doing work around the house rather than relaxing or doing something special.

“Physician, heal thyself” comes to mind, as does the saying that “the cobbler wears the worst shoes”. During the first weeks of school, I turned these phrases around and held them against the institution of education, thinking in a huff, “how am I supposed to be a good healer and take care of myself if I have to study all the time”? It took a while, but I changed that statement from an accusation to a point of reflection. Instead of getting angry about it, I answered my own question. I think we all know what we need to do to be healthy. They answer isn’t flashy, too time consuming or expensive; eat right, sleep, keep up with your tasks but don’t overdo it, recreate, exercise in ways that are a joy and value your family and friends, and so on.

We also are just as aware of the things we know we need to stop doing. You don’t need a doctor to tell you if something – whether it be a food or behavior – isn’t agreeing with your biology and life. Can it really be that simple? Do what what serves you, stop doing what is harmful? I say it’s a pretty solid start to being congruent or in alignment with your life.

Yes, it is difficult to stay balanced and healthy during school, but how is it any different with our future clientele and their lives? If I can do my best to learn to take care of my health now, then I can be like a physician who has taken her own good advice, or a cobbler who has taken the time to craft quality shoes

.

Back to Eden, Faries and Fuschia find

November 22nd, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

I admit that one of favorite things to do is go to estate sales. Yard sales are cool, too, but there is some sort of added interest by walking through someone’s house and property; it gives the material objects for sale a bit of perspective, place and meaning. A couple of weekends ago, I went to my first estate sales in Portland. One was in a sweet old three story Victorian triplex, with the sale on the top two floors. This sale was quite different than most sales, mainly the person having the sale was significantly younger than most estate sale-ers, a collector of beautiful things, and obviously downsizing before she moved into a new place. So instead of an apartment filled with of functional gadgets and wares accumulated over the decades, it was filled with objects chosen for their aesthetic value. Here’s what I left with:

Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss

This is a classic herbal and health book that I have read a little of in the past, but never added to my collection. I am excited to read more of it. Jethro Kloss was born in April 1863 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and later lived in St. Peter, MN, where he died in 1946. Kloss was a Seventh Day Adventist, a religious denomination that is known (at least in the holistic health community) for it’s emphasis on holistic health, wellness, vegetarianism and ‘clean’ living (John Kellogg, also an Adventist, developed his breakfast cereals in the spirit of the religion).

Back to Eden was published in 1939, and has been reprinted a number of times since then. The copy I bought (for one whole dollar) was printed in 1985. This particular copy contains extra chapters examining the life and works of Jethro Kloss, much in his or his daughters’ own words. Back to Eden covers just about every aspects of holistic health you can imagine, from talking about soil and gardening, to fresh air and exercise, to cooking methods, to hydrotherapy (aka ‘water cure’), massage, the eliminating diet (I assumed this was a modern idea; not so!), and a large section about how to use medicinal herbs.

I first heard about Jethro Kloss while reading Rosemary Gladstar’s herbals, as she talks about “Kloss’s Liniment” often and requires students of her Home Study Course to make one of their own. It has been a long time since I have made one, but I ought to soon since it is so effective as an antiseptic and sore muscle/joint rub. Here is the recipe from the book (216):

  • 2 oz. myrrh
  • 1 oz golden seal
  • 1/2 oz African red pepper [cayenne]

Add the powdered herbs to a quart of rubbing alcohol, or to a pint of raspberry vinegar and a pint of water. Let stand for 7-10 days, shaking daily. Use externally for healing wounds, bruises, burns, strains, sunburns, ect… I don’t see any reason why coptis, bayberry or even Oregon Grape couldn’t be substituted for the goldenseal.

Flower Fairies Miniature Library, by Cicely Mary Baker

Perhaps you have seen these beautifully illustrated children’s poetry books in gift shops, stores or libraries; you can even order Cicely Mary Baker checks. Baker was an English illustrator and, like Kloss, a devout Christian. According to Wikipedia, fairies were popularized in the beginning of the 20th century with the publication of books like Peter Pan, and The Coming of the Fairies (Sir Arthur Conan Boyle). Baker’s first book was Flower Fairies of the Spring, which features illustration of (you guessed it) flowers, fairies as well as poems about plants like crocus, scilla, forget-me-not, tulips and narcissus. You can see more of her fairy work at the “official’ Flower Fairies Website.

The night previous to finding these tiny books, I put many works of Cicely Mark Bakers on one of my online wish-lists, thinking I’d get them for gifts for little ones on my list, or perhaps even myself (I admit it, I am a softy for cutesy fairy stuff). After reading more of her poems and admiring the beautiful illustrations, it is clear that Baker was quite perceptive and in tune with nature – and fairies!

Here is a little excerpt about finding fairies in the wayside (from her book, Fairies of the Wayside, 1948)

To shop, and school, to work and play,
The busy people pass all day:
They hurry, hurry, to and fro,
And hardly notice as they go
The wayside flowers, known so well,
Whose names so few of them can tell.

They never think of fairy-folk
Who may be hiding for a joke!

O, if these people understood
What’s to be found by field and wood;
What fairy secrets are made plain
By any footpath, road, or lane –
They’d go with open eyes, and look,
(As you will, when you’ve read this book)
And then at least they’d learn to see
How pretty common things can be!

There is one more find from the estate sale adventure: a pot of fuchsias and creeping jennies. I had to get rid of about 45 house plants for the move from Minnesota to Oregon. I know that houseplants are easy to find, whether it be from greenhouses, grocery stores or cuttings from friends, but I still miss some of them. Needless to say, I was happy to add a new one to my collection, and one that is so ridiculously flashy as fuchsia (a friend likened them to ’80′s attire, and I have to agree), a bright antidote to the gray Portland winter.

References:

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden.

Baker, Cicely Mary. Flower Fairies Miniature Library.

Actions/Directions of Plant Parts

October 7th, 2010 § 0 comments § 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!

David Hoffmann’s New Holistic Herbal

September 1st, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Here in the Western world, in addition to formal education, apprenticeship, and first-hand experience, reading books is still one of the main ways to accrue information and learn a particular subject. Luckily for those studying herbalism we have many valid opportunities to engage in all of these forms of learning. Home study courses, classes, conferences and books abound, and of course we can take a walk and meet some plants along the way.

There are many types of herbalism out there, and there are many corresponding books. When people ask for a book recommendation as they begin or expand their herbal education, I first ask a few prying questions to get a feel for their style of herbalism and learning. Matching an herb book to a person is not always transparent, though. For example, I knew one medical student who, contrary to my first impression, didn’t want any research-driven, phyto-chemistry heavy, plants as drugs resources (think Tyler’s Honest Herbal). Instead, it turned out she was craving the more New Age-y, mystical, plant spirit medicine type books as a break from the daily grind. The beauty of herbalism is that there are little rules – both ways are perfectly valid!

But when it comes down to it, most people that I talked to didn’t really care what they read, especially starting out. They were open to and thirsty for any decent herbal information. For pretty much everyone, Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is a good starting place due to it’s beauty, wisdom, variety and practical bent. Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom was recommended often, as it dedicates many pages to a single herb to help the reader get to know the plant, it’s energetics, and plethora of uses. There are more similarities then differences within herbalism (at least I think so); if it works and promotes health, it’s medicine.

Back to the book. Last week I finished re-reading a well-known herbal, The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann. I choose to bring this book with me on vacation for a number of reasons. Mainly, it has a good herbal section, an alphabetical section of well over 200 herbs containing growing habitat, parts used, constituents, actions, dosage and of course indications. I am building an herbal reference notebook, so the book I brought with me had to have a decent herbal. The other reason I brought it with was simply to re-familiarize with a book I often recommend to as an introductory book (the last time I really sat down with it was in 2004). If I am telling others to read it, I better know well what’s in there!

In addition to the herbal, The New Holistic Herbal has information about preparation, chemistry, action categories, a small section on harvesting (the suggested harvest times are not for every bio-region, especially Minnesota!), self-care and prevention and a brief section on creating an herbal protocol for yourself. The uses of the herbs themselves and examples of formulas are in a body systems format. Basically, this book as a little bit of everything which is what makes it so useful for those discovering herbalism.

The edition in my possession was updated and printed in 1990, nearly 20 years ago, but it originally was published in 1983. Some ideas have changed with the times, and having read his much newer Medical Herbalism book, I know Hoffmann has updated some things, too. One example of this is seen in dietary recommendations. A healthy diet in the early 1990′s often emphasized whole grains, limited fats and lots of fruit. Nowa days, quality protein and veggies reign.

Details and dates aside, I’d still recommend this book as an introduction because of it’s underlining emphasis on holistic herbalism. Holistic in this sense emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, within the earth and withing out bodies, and moves us to overcome “…centuries of conditioning to ‘apartness’ thinking”. The first page of the book says, “A herbal celebrating of the wholeness of life”.

Instead of listing all the herbs good for this or that, Hoffmann keeps reminding the reader of two underlining principles of herbalism. First assist the person, not the disease, and secondly, to learn the qualities of herbs (like action categories) – advice that is more pertinent now then ever.

Reflections on Chinese Medicine, Resolved

June 14th, 2010 § 9 comments § 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.

Upcoming Women’s Health and Botnaical Medicine Classes

June 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I have three classes scheduled before I move from Duluth. This series of classes combines two subject very near and dear to my heart: women’s health and herbalism. I find that they support each other nicely, for many years I have seen these two topics as partners. It is my wish that mainstream women’s studies continues (or starts) to embrace empowering modalities that help us learn to care for ourselves.

Herbal Aspirations

May 28th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

All this time away from the internet has created a lot of space for reflection. I am a constant question asker, and of course I ask myself questions related to herbalism. One such point of reflection is simply: what are my goals?

  • Attend more conferences. I love conferences. I have gone to a few and always learn a ton. Plus, it is great to be surrounded by all the plant people! I can only be a solitary learner so long before I start craving learning from an actually person, not a book. Here are a few I have my eye on:
  1. Medicines from the Earth. I am going this year and can hardly wait.
  2. Mid America Herb Symposium. Held in Winona, MN.
  3. Women’s Herb Conference. I got to go in 2007, and it was a such a blast! It was good for the soul to be around so many fabulous women herbalist.
  4. Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I have never been to the Southwest. Now I have even more of a reason to get down there; this conference sounds amazing!
  5. Years ago, I spied an international botanical medicine conference in India that seemed interesting. Of course now I can’t find it. Here is the International Herb Symposium that happens every other year in New England.

  • Finish Home Study Course. When I was an intern at Sage Mountain, I received a copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s home study course in herbalism. I read through it all when I was interning, but didn’t start the course work. That was almost 3 years ago, and I have barley started since. It is such a gift to have received it and I want to finish it! I love how it combines different aspect of herbalism; materia medica, body systems, action categories, food and nutrition, health philosophy, ect…
  • Learn about Western herbal history, from way back when to Greece to present day. I am fascinated by healing and medical theories, and want to learn more. Much of my interest was sparked by this comparison of the history of Chinese medicine and Western medicine By Roger Wicke, Ph.D.
  • Explore different types of herbalism. Who are the Eclectics, the phisomedicalists, Thompsonions? They all interest me. The little taste of Southern folk herbalism history I heard from Phylis Light was brand new and intriguing to me. And what’s going on in European herbalism? I majored in Anthropology and delight in exploring the cultural implications of different schools of thought. I would like to  delve deeper into plant spirit medicine, shamanism, and Native American herbal traditions, too.
  • Continue meeting plants. Plant identification is a journey that never ends. I have lost some of my taxonomy sharpness since I’ve been out of college, so I need to brush up on my plant families and the relations in between them. This year I have meet a few new plants and want to figure out who they are! Soon I’ll post some questionables.
  • Streamline classes. I have been teaching a couple basic herb classes for a while. Each time that I do, I find that I make them more simple and to the point. I have learned that information needs to be accessible and built on a solid foundation, I’d like to apply this to more classes.
  • Learn from other herbalists. One of the reasons I am moving from Duluth is that I need an educational community. I don’t have a lot of experience, so I thirst for the opportunity to learn from others’.  Which is one reason I love reading blogs and books!
  • Read intro books on Chinese medicine. I know I’ll be steeped in Chinese medical theory in school this fall, but I can’t wait.  This summer I want to read/reread these three books:
  1. Between Heaven and Earth. A Guide to Chinese Medicine. by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold.
  2. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. by Gail Reichstein.
  3. The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. by Ted Kaptchuck.
  • Organize and downsize! My herb paper work is a disaster. My overzealous tincture making is bursting at the seams. Do I really need 20 ounces of bugelweed in brandy? Help!
  • Work as an herbalist. Yes, I’d like to be a practicing herbalist someday! I have seen a few clients, but I would like to see more. When I’m ready I’d love to embrace herbalism as my full-time job. This is a long-term goal.
  • Promote herbal teas. People ask me all the time where they can buy my teas, besides the web. I have them in one store (Rooted Folks Community Wellness), and I think I could find a couple others, too. I need to get over my fear of marketing and being in business. Yes, I admit it, it is challenging to me. But I’m working on it and realizing that being in a healing field doesn’ t mean that it’s a sin to charge for your services, and that promoting a product doesn’t mean your deceptive.

Upcoming Herb Classes!

January 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

intro-herb-classesmaking-medicine-classes-fly1


Study Group Update for August

August 12th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

The August herbal study group has been rescheduled. We will meet one week later, on Monday, August 24th from 7 – 9 pm. The topic is adaptogens. Want a preview of this exciting topic? Check out the Wikipedia page here.

The woman’s health circle will be held on Sunday, August 23rd from 5 – 7 pm, and we will be talking about charting fertility. I look forward to you coming!

Action Categories and Chemical Constituents

May 14th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

I must reiterate my love affair with discovering action categories. Action categories “reflect traditional observations of outcomes” (Hoffmann, 483). I find they make Western herbalism more accessible in day to day herbalism and easier to remember because it organizes herbal information. Action categories answer the question that a beginning herbalist may ask often, “what action will this plant have on a body system?”.

Herbs are multifaceted. They are not just card-carrying member of one action category only. Again, knowing the different actions an herb possesses can be indispensable in finding the most applicable herbs. For example, say we are looking for a relaxing nervine to assist someone who is under a lot of stress. If this individual has a racing heart, then choose herbs with a calming action on the cardiovascular system like motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) or linden (Tilia platyphyllos). If the person experiences digestive discomfort along with stress like a “nervous” stomach, then carminative or bitter herbs like chamomile (Marticaria recutita) or lavender (Lavandula officinalis) may be a indicated.

Action categories:

  • Adaptogen – increases the body’s ability to cope with non-specific stress
  • Alterative – alters the body tissues back to it’s proper health
  • Analgesic (anodyne) – reduce pain or the perception of pain
  • Anthelmintic – expels worms
  • Anticatarrhal – removes excess phlegm
  • Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation
  • Anti-lithic – reduces urinary stone formation
  • Antimicrobial – aids the body against pathogens
  • Anti-pyretic/febrifuge- reduces feverish states
  • Antirheumatic – helps reduce rheumatic symptoms
  • Antispasmodic – reduces muscle spasms and cramp
  • Astringent – reduces excess secretions and tones tissues by precipitating excess proteins
  • Bitter – stimulates digestive function
  • Cardio-tonic – acts on the cardiovascular system
  • Carminative – supports digestion and relives gas
  • Cholagogue – stimulates bile production and works on digestion
  • Demulcent – soothes irritated tissue
  • Diaphoretic – stimulates perspiration and opens the pores
  • Diuretic – stimulate urine production
  • Emetic – promotes vomiting
  • Emmenagogue – stimulate menstrual activity (some say enriches blood flow in general)
  • Emollient – soothes and softens irritated external tissues
  • Expectorant – removes phlegm from the respiratory system
  • Galactogogue – increases flow of breast mil
  • Hepatic – strengthen the liver and promotes bile production
  • Hypnotic – promote deep sleep
  • Hypotensive – promotes a normalization of blood pressure
  • Laxative – stimulates the bowels
  • Nervine -  works on the nervous system
  • Rubefacient – externally stimulates circulation, often used for reducing topical pain
  • Stimulant – promotes a quickening of physiological fuctions
  • Tonic – steadily strengthens the body or body systems over time
  • Vulnerary – externally promotes the healing of wounds

Herbal actions are more broad than chemical constituents, which are specific active chemical components of plants and can be scientifically observed. It is interesting to learn about chemical constituents, especially if you are more scientifically minded. A little science can go a long way when it comes to herbs. Its best not to over-analyze and expect chemistry to explain all the wonders of plant medicine. Science can be handy when it comes to providing skeptics with something to chew on instead of herbalists putting up their dukes. Yes, handing over some chemical equations and studies is much more peaceful…

Usually when people ask me “where’s the scientific evidence?” , I reach for information about chemical constituents rather than double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. My personal thought it that herbs are not drugs and therefore are not best tested like drug. Pharmaceuticals are more one-size-fits-all while herbs treat the individual, not the disease. I remember a group of professional herbalists in a particularly heated discussion about a study about using turmeric for reducing inflammation. One person lamented, “turmeric may be too hot and stimulating for some people; it messed up the study”.

Constituents:

  • Carbohydrates (monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, polysaccharides. glycoproteins, glycosides, gums and mucilage)
  • Lipids (fatty acids)
  • Terpenes (monoterpenes, iridoid, sespuiterpenes, sesquiterpenes lactones, diterpenes, triterpenes)
  • Phenolics (tannins, lignans, isoflavonoids, flavanoids, anthraquinones, coumarins, phenylpropanoids, simple phenolics)
  • Alkaloids (piperidines, tropanes, purines, isoquinolines, indoles, quinolizidines)

The link between the broad action categories and the specific chemical constituents is materia medica.

Action categories – observable ways that herbs work

Materia medica – individual herbs

Constituents - specific active chemical parts of an herb

Chemical reaction – how the constituents react in the body to cause an effect, which can be obseverd

in the action categories

Astringent - herbs that tone

Blackberry root – used for all sorts of loose stools

Polyphonol compound – gallic acid, a tannin

Precipitate proteins to tone tissues and check excessive secretions

References:

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.

Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.

What is a Healer?

March 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

rose
There are as many varieties of healers as there are areas of life. One can heal relationships, finances, bodies, the earth, broken social structures, or attitudes that on longer serve. No matter what realm of healing they are engaged in, a healer applies their art with detached compassion and deep respect. In the same manner, a healer is still a healer even if removed from their healing practice; it follows them into other areas of life.

The healer’s art manifests through a unique combination of inherent ability, earned and practiced skill, and self-esteem. It is essential for the healer to seek out teachers, formal training, and a have a supportive community in preparation to practice their healing art. In this way being schooled plays a role in the healer’s own personal development, especially as one excavates out and identifies that which creates illness.

Being healthy and harmonious has been twisted into meaning “being 100% flawless” and “always being good” about your body, diet and lifestyle. Healers know that turning health into a battle of good and evil is futile because sometimes illness is an important part of personal and spiritual development. Why should illness be treated different than any other life experience that we learn so much from? In fact, some of the most profound healings occur when we practice genuine acceptance of the fact that we are indeed ill.

Thus, a healer is a facilitator of the healing process and while they certainly promote health and harmony, they are not responsible for the healing, nature is. Throughout the healing process, a healer can help keep things in perspective and respond to the evolving needs of the client or situation. They understand that healing is truly a lifestyle, and that everyday is a chance to renew the body and mind. People are drawn to healers because they feel better afterwards. Perhaps this is because a healer understands that words and thoughts are vessels so they choose them wisely, staying optimistic while never making promises they cannot keep about another’s healing process.

In essence, healers are effective because they raise the level of health and promote fluid adaptability and harmony within a system. To do this they can inspire something wonderful to come out of hiding thus spreading healing, and/or they can make a something harmful decrease or be neutralized. There is no exact formula for this; sometimes they work together, other times one is used much more than the other. For example, one can relinquish a harmful pattern by encouraging an uplifting part to animate rather than simply acting to fight a negative health pattern.

A healer has the stamina to hold her- or himself together in the face of other’s disregarding their art, by honoring their art enough not to let their egos become upheld by it. They understand that by physically and energetically engaging with a substance, philosophy or practice, it becomes activated and then can be used to assist another person.

Excellent communication skills, being personable and professional combined with the true desire to assist others along their healing path prompt people to seek out healers. Through focus, a healer develops a sense of the client’s needs well beyond their own ability to communicate that what they cannot see for themselves.

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