February 7th, 2011 § § 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.
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
December 31st, 2010 § § 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
November 22nd, 2010 § § 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.
Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden.
Baker, Cicely Mary. Flower Fairies Miniature Library.
October 7th, 2010 § § 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!