Cool Surface-Releasing Herbs, East + West

April 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

elderberries

It seems that there are a lot of cooling herbs in comparison to warming herbs, at least regarding what we need to know of Chinese herbs for class. There are cool herbs to release toxicity, cool herbs to clear deficient heat, cool herbs to resolve damp-heat and phlegm, and of course, cool herbs to release the exterior.

Again, these are known diaphoretics and diuretics. And also again, they are working from a Chinese perspective to get some sort of invading pathogenic factor out of the body. We mostly think of pathogens as being microbes of some sort, in this case the common cold and influenza. But really, pathogenic factors can be all sorts of things – it just has to come from outside and make its way inside.

An example of this is seen in people who are sensitive to eating a lot a sugar or drinking alcohol. They may start off feeling a scratchy, sore throat, drippy nose, gummed up ears, low energy, and if they continue to eat sugar over the next few days or so, perhaps their lowered immune response will develop into a full-blown cold. I have seen this happen to people – something lowers their immunity, making them susceptible to a cold, rather than the cold making its way in by itself. This is also an example of a deficient condition rather than an excess one. In an excess condition, the individual will have strong, normal defenses, but the pathogen will be relatively stronger, as opposed to a deficient, run down individual whos wei qi will be weaker than simple run-of-the-mill illnesses.

Many of the cool herbs to release the exterior are acrid or bitter like the warm exterior-releasing herbs, which either lift and disperse, or collect and drain downwards. Some, like kudzu (ge gan), mulberry (sang ya), soy bean (dan dou zhi) and chrysanthemum (ju hua) are sweet. Kudzu and blue vervain help to release tension in the muscle layer to expel pathogens before they penetrate deeper, particularly in the upper back, shoulders and neck. Classic western diaporetics fit in here, yarrow and elderflower. Add mint to those last two herbs and you have the Gypsy Cold remedy.

catnip

Mints – lots of mints – are fitted to release the exterior, whether they are warm or cool in temperature. Catnip, lemon balm, peppermint (bo he) a few of the cooler ones. Catnip is excellent at releasing the exterior, it is quite gentle but effective for bringing on and releasing a fever. Again, like most mints, it is also a nervine sedative and a carminative, a perfect pair of action to add comfort and support during a cold or flu. Melissa is one of my favorite plants, it has so many actions, is easy to grow, and it tastes divine and combines well with other herbs. It is known to be anti-viral and vasodilating, and is an effective carminative and nervine as well. It differs from some of the Chinese herbs in this category because it is sour in flavor.

Bo he, Mentha haplocalix, is the Chinese mint we are learning. To me, it is fairly similar to both peppermint and spearmint, with a little wild, earthy mint undertone. It is indicated for attack of win-heat invasion (as all herbs in this category are), slow skin eruption, headache, sore eyes and sore throat (because it is light and dispersing, mint can ascend to and treat the head), and for liver qi stagnation manifesting in distention of the chest.

Burdock seed (Artica lappa, Nui bang zi) is used in Chinese medicine for treating a sore throat and skin problems caused by toxic heat (think measles, mumps, carbuncles, boils, eczema, acne, ect…). Being a seed, it also moistens the intestines. The lungs and large intestine are paired organs in Chinese medicine, so it is no surprise when an herb (or acupuncture point) acts on both organ systems. Sure enough, cooling and moistening burdock seed is used for cough with sticky, hard to expectorate phlegm. David Hoffmann quotes Priest and Priest on burdock (529):

“…General alterative: influences skin, kidneys, mucous and serous membranes, to remove accumulated waste products. It is specific for eruptions on the head, face and neck, and for acute irritable and inflammatory conditions.”

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and chrysanthemum (C. morifolium, Ju Hua) are closely related herbs that fit well into this category. Both are slightly cold, acrid and bitter and enter the Liver and the Lungs (Tierra, 83). Ju Hua is well-known in Chinese medicine and beyond as an excellent remedy for eye complaints like red, sore eyes or vision problems (often combined with Goji berries/lycii berries/go qi zi for this). It calms Liver yang, which can raise heat and excess activity to the head causing dizziness, vertigo, headache, sore eyes and hypertension. To paraphrase from  Bensky, “All flowers lift and dissipate – only Ju Hua can contain, accept and drain downwards”. This is because it is bitter and sweet in addition to being acrid and aromatic.

Given the Chinese medicine understanding or Ju Hua, the common used feverfew makes a lot of sense even though it is a different herb from a different place and medical system. It has been used as a specific for migraines, and much research has been done to explore its chemical properties and action (which are many – good idea for another post!). Besides certain types of migraines, feverfew has been used for pain, especially joint pain, as an emmenogogue, bitter and diaphoretic.

One last note…

It is sometimes difficult to make connections between my Chinese herb class and what I know about Western herbs. I sometimes wish I could marry the energetic understanding of Chinese herbalism with the scientific world of chemical constituents and botany from the West. Attempts have been made, and really good ones at that. Chen, for one, included modern research, drug interactions and chemical constituents in his book on Chinese herbalism. But he has little information about the classic Chinese texts, comparisons between the herbs and notes on energetics (which is present in Bensky’s book).

Even with all the knowledge coming together, East and West, there is still the whole issue of context and clinical usage. It’s not just an issue of translating Liver Yang rising to migraines, and visa versa, it’s about understanding a particular plant in a multifaceted way.

blue vervain

 

Sources:

Bensky, Dan. Materia Medica.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbology.

Tierra, Leslie. Healing with the Herbs of Life.

 

 

Warm Surface-Releasing Herbs – East + West

April 9th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

The first groups of herbs students learn in Chinese herb classes are the warm and cool herbs to release the exterior. These herbs are active on the surface of the body and useful in externally-contracted conditions, like colds or the flu. Many are diaphoretic and open the pores to promote sweating, vent rashes, treat red, itchy eyes and sore throat in the case of a wind-cold or heat invasion, treat headache of carious causes, or drain dampness by being diuretic.

One thing I love, love, love, love, love about learning Chinese herbs is the emphasis on the energetics of taste/flavor. I already mentioned this in my last post, but I can’t help but (over)state it again, because it has been so helpful in learning the herbs, and providing a bit of theory to base the use of these herbs in.

Overall, the flavor and energy of these herbs goes up and out. Some are aromatic, most are acrid, a few are bitter or sweet. Most but not all of these herbs enter the Bladder and/or the Lungs, since these are the organs most closely related to the exterior (Lungs in the upper body, the Bladder in the lower body). Below I have taken a few herbs from the texts and added a few Western herbs from Micheal Tierra’s The Way of the Herbs, for comparison.

Warm herbs to release the exterior/surface:

EphedraEphedra sinica, Ephedracae family. This herb is classified as  warm, acrid, and slightly bitter, and is known as a one of the best diaphoretics when there is no sweating as it opens the pores when it is blocked by wind-cold. It is also used for asthma or cough, as well as edema since it is a diuretic. It is no accident that it is the first herb often taught; it exemplifies the entire category in many ways even though it is somewhat of a controversial herb and not used often in the states.

There are many representatives from the Apiacea or carrot family, but I want to look at an herb from the Chinese materia medica that has a close relative in Western herbalism, angelica.  Angelica dahurica or bai zhi is warm, acrid and aromatic, which makes it useful for dispersing, unblocking, warming and drying. These qualities are useful draining skin infections like boils, treating leukorrhea, frontal headaches and toothaches due to an attack of external cold-wind, and nasal congestion.

Every herb has at least on of the twelve channels that it enters into, but a few herbs actually guide into the organ itself. Bai zhi guides into the Yang Ming organs, in particular the Stomach. This makes sense because the paired organs of Spleen and Stomach often accumulate dampness and affect the appitite, assim diegstion, and bai zhi is great at expelling dampness. 

Angelica archangelica is also in this category. It is native to Europe has similar energetics to bai zhi, and is known as being carminative, emmenagogue and diaphoretic. Taken during the start of a cold or the flu, it can promote sweating and spread warmth through the body. To me it is especially useful in either damp conditions or damp environments, because it is so aromatic and lifting. I recall a teacher commenting that it is suited to England, where it is cold and damp. I started using it after spending a weekend in southern Minnesota where it was dew-covered and growing abundantly along the steep roadsides during a very hot and very humid June.  I was drawn to use it because of its drying and carminative properties, and found it worked incredibly well in this regard.

magenta hedge-nettle variety on the Oregon coast

Many aromatic, warming and spicy mints show up in this category from the Chinese tradition as well as Western. Hyssop, sage, hedge nettle, basil, thyme, oregano, savory, monarda, perilla and fang feng are a few examples. When I thought of the Western herbs in the category,  I realized that many herbs in surface-releasing category are anti-microbial. Chinese medicine theory doesn’t include germ theory, but it does consider that exogenous pathogenic factors can invade the body when either it’s defenses are down (a deficiency situation) or the pathogen is very strong (an excess condition).

Mints are among my favorite herbs to take at the start of a cold or flu, or even when in chronic conditions when it has moved into the chest (thyme being my standby here). They have the ability to float and vent a congested head, increase circulation, promote circulation and sweating, and even soothe an upset stomach and promote a good appetite, which is often lacking when you are coming down with a cold or flu. I mentioned this to my herb study group a few weeks ago and they were taken aback by my use of thyme for a cold, saying it was awfully hot and caustic. I countered with explaining that I am used to below zero winters so I needed a lot of warming, but that still didn’t win them over. Finally it came up that they thought I was using the essential oil of thyme which is very hot, concentrated and often caustic. But I am a whole herb for my steam sort of gal.

A few other herbs in this category include sassafrass, fresh ginger, cinnamon cassia and two ligusticums: L. sinense and L. porteri. One of my favorite Chinese herbs in the category is qiang huo, Notopterygium incisum. The root of this aromatic Apiaceae is warm, acrid and bitter so it can disperse and raise to discharge wind, cold and damp pathogens from the exterior. Qiang huo enters the Bladder channel, which combined with its lifting and dispersing flavors, can release sore muscles, chills and headache. In particular, it relieves achy joints and bones along the back, the muscles along the sides of the spine (erector spinae), along the scapula, up the back of the neck into the head and across the forehead to the eyes.

I wish would’ve had some qiang huo on hand when I was a preschool teacher and came down with the achy flu from hell 4 times in 3 months. My bones felt like they were in a vice and I was chilled to the bone. I used a lot of diapohretics and warm herbs, but came to rely on boneset for the pain in my hips and femurs. Boneset is so bitter and cold, which brought it down to the lower burner, but it didn’t totally relieve the aches in my shoulders, arms and back – what qiang huo does so well.

Asarum canadense growing abundently in a Minnesota state park


 

Learning Herbs – Chinese Medicine School Style, and Jing Jie

February 28th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

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
  • Acrid
  • Enters the Lung and Liver meridian
  • Dose: 3-10g, short cook
  • ~Relieve exterior syndrome by eliminating wind, promoting skin eruption, stop bleeding.

Indications:

  1. Headache, fever, aversion to cold with no sweating, for either wind-cold or wind-heat.
  2. Itchy skin, urticaria, slow skin eruption in measles.
  3. Epitaxis, hemafecia, urinary bleeding due to various causes.
  4. Early stage of carbuncles or boils with exterior syndrome.

Contraindications:

  1. Deficiency of exterior (wei qi, yin, or deficient heat).
  2. Opens sores.
  3. Absence of pathogenic wind.
  4. 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…

A few of my Favorite Herb Books

February 20th, 2011 § 14 comments § permalink

Herb Books, mmmm… I buy them, read them, and re-read them as often as I can. For every herb book I have, there are three more that I desire. So many amazing herbalists have published books, on just about every topic imaginable.

It was tough to narrow my favorite herb book selection. I sat in front of my bookshelf and paged through title after title; after 20 minuets of “this one is my favorite”, “this one is my other favorite”, I realized that all of them are valuable, useful, inspirational and informative (other wise I would not have shipped three boxes of them from Minnesota to Oregon). Some are sentimental, like Susun Weed’s Healing Wise. That was one of the first herb books I bought, and it significantly shaped both my view of plants and healing philosophy.

Here is the semi-narrowed down list.

#1 Most used, referenced, practical, favorite:

  • “Medicines From the Earth” Conference Notes

These ‘books’ aren’t really books at all, they are a compilation of lecture notes to a botanical medicine conference. Many conferences have these sorts of publications, and even more conferences have recordings for sale. I find them truly, truly indispensable. Almost every day I engage with either the notes or the recordings (my iPod is full of Jill Stansbury, Donnie Yance and Mary Bove, among others). This particular conference is not unique in that there is a variety of herbal practitioners, from wild crafters, TCM practitioners to naturopaths. For a specific condition, and practical applications for practice, these are my absolute favorite.

Books for Understanding The Essence of Herbs:

  • Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom
  • Micheal Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West

The Book of Herbal Wisdom is the herbal that I have read the most. The stories, the history, the energetic details of the plants are enthralling and help the medicinal uses of the plants stick in my head. This book held even more relevance for me because much of it took place in my ‘backyard’ of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I had seen many of the plants in the specific places mentioned in the book, like yarrow on the rocky, windswept north shore of Lake Superior.

A few weeks before moving from Minnesota, a friend gave me her copy of Micheal Moore’s book. I have enjoyed reading it since, a herb or two at a time, as a way to get to know the herbs out here in Portland. Both of these books are very much infused with a sense of place, which I love. Wood seems to connect with the herb’s being or essence, while Moore has a deep understanding on what the herbs do in the physical body, or at lease that is what I take out of them.

Books for the Inner Goddess/Healer:

  • Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Healing for Women
  • Earth Mother Herbal by Shatoiya De La Tour

Anything by Rosmary Gladstar, could be on this list, really. She gets you to touch, taste, dream, sing and tell stories about the herbs, as a way of learning. Her work is infused with wisdom and ‘beautility’, inspiring her readers and students to be stewards of the earth and protectors of the plants. I have to wonder: just how many people have learned about herbal medicine because of her? Rosemary’s body care recipes are my staple, they are are so simple yet revolutionary.

The Earth Mother Herbal is a sweet, succinct and surprisingly diverse book. There is information about growing herbs, harvesting, making products, and for each herb in the herbal section an unique recipe or two follows. What struck me about this book is the encouragement of De La Tour to permeate your life with herbs, and not just for medicine. One section that I particularly love outlines examples of herbal gatherings for different seasons, with food, drinks, favors and activities all related to herbs.

Books for Women’s Health:

  • Ruth Tricky’s Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle
  • Aviva Jill Romm’s The Natural Pregnancy Book
  • The Core Balance Diet by Marcell Pick (one book that are not really an herbal)

When I said there are many herb book that I desire, most of those book are on the topic of women’s health. Australian practitioner Tricky’s book covers in great detail hormones and the menstrual cycle (as the title implies) with sound advice on herbs and supplements. The herbal entries are based both on historical and folk use and on modern research – a blend that not everyone can pull off as well as Tricky. I use this book as a reference constantly for both physiology and herbs. Reading this book helped me further differentiate herbs that may seem similar on the outside (like adaptogens or uterine tonics) through her specific examples based on the herbs themselves and as well as the intricacy of the body.

Romm’s pregnancy book made the list because it is the book that I lend out the most. It is at a beginner level as far as herbs are concerned, but that is a fine place to be at in a pregnancy book; you don’t want to be overwhelmed with herbal details when you have pregnancy, birth and postpartum to focus on.

The Core Balance Diet is indeed not an herbal, but it does have a good deal of herbal information in it. It made the list because I have found that applying the concepts in the book can greatly enhance the way I use herbs in everyday life. Don’t be put off my the word Diet in the title. It is about understanding six different ways our body  interacts with the world (adrenal, hormonal, neurotransmitter, digestive, detoxification and inflammation) and how we can get our trouble areas back on track to lead a more balance life, inside and out. Very pertinent information for herbalists, I believe.

Best quick reference:

  • Micheal Tierra’s Planetary Herbology
  • Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine

Just the other day I was reading in Planetary Herbology‘s “herbs that release the exterior” category and gained some insight about the relationship and differentiation between diuretics and diaphoretics. Little thing like that happen whenever I open this book. When I want to know some basic information about an herb, this book clearly lays out the energetics (taste and temperature), constituents, actions, organs entered (this Chinese concept is useful for western herbs, too) and so on.

Making Plant Medicine seems to get opened in acute situations. Need a direction as to which herbs to use topically like right NOW? Cech has it. After making my much needed remedy, I go back to the book and read some more. I love Cech’s writing style and information. If it’s useful, it’s in this book.

Books for the Chinese Medicine (or the Books I Wish I’d Gotten Sooner):

  • Dan Bensky’s Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia  Medica
  • Dan Chen Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology

Before going to Chinese medicine school, I had an interest in Chinese herbs, but my first love was Western herbalism and I stayed away from the heady, theory-laden tomes of Chinese medicine. What a mistake! You don’t have to know Chinese medicine theory, Yin and Yang, or the 5 elements to benefit from these texts. Both books have the same information about the indications of the herbs, but Chen’s has a more western feel, with medicinal actions (diaphoretic, antimicrobial, brochiodialtor, ect..), chemical constituents and modern research, while Bensky is the standard herbology text and draws more from classical texts.

There are a few reasons I say this. First, because of the incredible organization of the material that is very conducive to learning. The herbs are grouped in ways that make exquisite sense, with explanations to why they are groups that way.

Another reason I love these texts is because of the importance of energetics. After reading one single entry (Ma Huang, ephedra), I understood more about energetics than after 8 years of studying Western herbalism and 4 months of formal Chinese medicine education, combined. What really helped me ‘get’ it was both the comparisons between herbs in the same category and sample herbal combination. Reading things in the line of  “this herb does this to release the exterior, while herb #2, with a different flavor, does more of this action” is so helpful.

Non-herbal Gateway Book:

  • Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisodm

This book has been a catalyst that has lead many people to herbalism. It may seem strange, because it talks a lot about natural health, nutrition, and emotions but not necessarily herbs. I mention it because I have lost count of the number of people I ran into that said this was the book that started their healing journey – myself included, this I consider it a ‘gateway’ book.

Southern Blood Types

February 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Sweet Fern

Learning herbalism is one things; learning pathology is quite another. Just today I was struck yet again with the realization that I can study what herbs do until I am blue in the face, but what good is it if I don’t know when to apply them? It’s an ongoing process to be certain, but one thing is quite useful for this; learning energetic qualities.

Southern blood typology is interesting because it is an energetic system that is rooted in a physical phenomena, blood. Even though blood is quite tangible as a life-giving substance, here it is infused in energetic language and symbols. It makes me think of what I’ve learned about Yin (blood) and Yang (energetic) being both mutually dependent and ever transforming and flowing into each other. Speaking of Chinese medicine, many of the Southern blood classifications share similarities with TCM, like blood deficiency, heat in the blood, and so on. Again, I have to direct you to my list of references (Wood in particular, as this is mostly taken from him), because there is a decent amount of information out there about Southern herbalism.

There are a number of variations of Southern blood typology. A system currently in use by herbal practitioners in and out of the south contains the most adjectives and thus gives rise to more individualized diagnostic and treatment options. Basic blood classifications includes the locations (high or low), viscosity (thin or thick), an overall cleanliness (clean or dirty, synonymous with good or bad), and flavor (bitter or sweet). Other systems may also include temperature of the blood, (hot or cold), speed (slow or fast), or a combination of any of these qualities. For example, sweet blood may be included under high blood (Mathews, 888) and can be treated with bitter herbs to lower the blood from the head, neck and chest to the center of the body. The system illustrated below places sweet blood as cause of thick blood, as excessive amounts of sugar in the blood may contribute to high cholesterol (Wood, 24). Just as the sap flows unconstricted in the warmth of summer, thin, high, hot and fast blood as associated with summer, while cold, low, thick and slow blood are more likely to come up during winter.

Good or clean blood is the state of blood in healthy, strong and vibrant people. It is the state of blood resulting from a good constitution married with healthy lifestyle habits and choices. Herbal tonics are consumed daily and adjusted seasonally to keep the good state of blood stay where it is, like ‘seng (ginseng), sassafras and sarsaparilla.
Bad or dirty blood contains various chemicals (a modern concept), impurities or waste products.  It is called “dirty” or “toxic” in popular natural commerce. Alterative herbs like burdock, dandelion, yellow dock, as well as lymphatic herbs like poke, red clover or echinacea can be used to clean the blood. The bitter flavor is also an important blood cleanser, as seen in the role of spring tonics and salad greens, especially important after the winter, a time of dirty, thick or slow blood easily accumulates toxins.

High blood is located high in the body, accumulating and causing pressure in the head, face or neck. It can also mean high blood pressure and refers to high volume of blood. It is not uncommon to hear people in the south refer to high blood pressure as “high blood”. In its past, Western medicine used blood letting to release high blood. Accounts from the turn of the last century of traditional herbs used for lowering the blood included sassafrass, wild cherry, onions and garlic (Cavender, 123), while modern herbalist use diaphoretics that release the surface and soothes capillaries, like yarrow, hawthorn, peach leaves, vervain, angelica and aspirin (Wood).

Anemia or malnutrition are clinical manifestations of low blood, which can be due to blood that is lacking vitality and is low in volume, low in the body or low in pressure. Fatigue and looking ‘peaked’ are symptoms of low blood, as is dizziness upon standing (Cavender, 124). Blood builders and things that raise the blood, stimulate circulation and tone the veins are used in modern practice. Traditional remedies include cooking on iron pans, adding iron nails to water pitchers, as was eating spring greens and taking a compound of molasses and sulfur (Cavender, 124).
Thin blood is somewhat related to low blood, but it is more watery and occurs in thin and cold people. Frequent bruising, clammy skin, frequent urination and having a blue or purple tinge to the skin are common manifestations of thin blood (Wood, 22). Warming angelica or feverfew can be helpful to increase the circulation, while astringents like raspberry leaf, red root, rose hips are herbs useful as they tone the tissues and stop the leakage of fluid.

Thick blood is sometimes called oily blood. It can be caused by excess fat, sugar and other metabolites in the blood or when waste products from bad blood accumulate and coagulate. Blood viscosity is reduced, leading to stroke, heart attack, high cholesterol and obesity (24-25). Treatments for thick blood are many and share treatments with other blood conditions (especially high blood). Often alteratives are used, along with blood thinners (a bioregional favorite is tulip poplar), cooling fruits like huckleberry and aromatic circulatory stimulants like yarrow, safflower, angelica and sassafras.


Fast blood
is related to hot blood, with the most obvious symptom being a racing heart beat. Hyperthyroidism and chronic stress can be present with fast blood, along with nervous energy or anxiousness. Sedatives are used to calm the nervous system, like poplar bark, motherwort, or hops; stronger antiseptics like figwort, echinacea and baptisia have been traditionally used in chronic, stagnant cases or with throbbing infections or pain (27).
Slow blood develops over a long time, due to chronic influences” (27), and is a more severe form of bad blood often with additional causative factors of cold, low or thick blood. Basically the vitality of the blood has been worn down, whether from constitutional weakness chronic or severe disease. Herbal treatments will vary according to the individual and the reason slow blood developed.
Hot blood can include fevers, infections or rashes, as well as a general hot constitution. Cold blood is similarly obvious in its’ meaning; it refers to states of coldness whether it be due to chills, spasms, arthritis or stiffness. Both hot blood and cold blood cross over a bit from their obvious naturalistic meanings of tending to excess heat and coldness respectively to the psychological realm. At the extremes, hot blooded people anger easily, have violent tendencies and live excessive lifestyles, while cold people are seen as tense, removed and are capable of premeditated crime (28-9).

Sources:

Cavender, Anthony. Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia.
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.

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.

New Place, New Ally: Rosemary

January 27th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

One thing I love about living in an urban area on the west coast is the shear quantity (and quality) of rosemary plants. Rosmarinus officinalis’ silvery green, upward reaching, linear leaves are in practically every other yard, growing to many feet across and high. When the breeze is just right, or when the air is cold and dry, you can be struck by its spicy smell. The flowers never stop – even now in the middle of January a few new blooms appear one after the other.

A few years ago, a fellow gardener introduced me to the idea of eating mint flowers. The only mint flowers I had ever thought of eating fresh were bee balm. Spearmint and peppermint flowers are (expectantly) divine, with a hit of a warm honey-nectar sweetness combined with the cool minty flavor present in the leaves. Motherwort flowers are (expectantly) incredibly bitter with a aftertaste of, well, more bitter. The first few seconds of eating the motherwort flower justifies the whole experience, because they too are deliciously nectary-sweet. Thyme, lavender, oregano, marjoram, anise hyssop, catnip (another favorite) and melissa follow suit. Rosemary is no exception. One little flower is so flavorful that I can still taste it an hour later. Who knows, maybe I have distorted taste buds. Try it for yourself. Matthew Wood quotes Dr. John Quincy from 1736 about rosemary flowers; [they] “abound with a subtle detergent oil, which makes them universally deobstruent and opening.”

As I walk to school, I have a habit of picking a spring or a few flowers to munch on or to crush in my fingertips while I am ruminating about the upcoming day. Usually I don’t pick other peoples herbs without permission, but this place looks like a rental and there are three huge rosemary shrubs in the yard…and I don’t think anyone would really mind.

Fast forward to this weekend. The fourth week of the term is about to start, and around this time the onslaught of information starts to pick up and don’t stop until finals. One night before bed I started reading my text for anatomy, and my mind wandered to thoughts of, “how am I gonna remember all of this stuff?” That night, rosemary popped up in a dream. Of course! Rosemary is there to help us with our memory, among other things.

David Winston talks about rosemary as a ‘nootropic’ in Adpatogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina ans Stress Relief. Winston describes nootropics as “…enhancing emotional and mental well-being and promoting cerebral circulation(222).” From what I can gather, nootropics are like a subgroup of nervines, but with more emphasis on circulation and reducing oxidative stress. They include ginkgo, gotu kola, lavender, rosemary, bacopa, bhringaraj (Eclipta alba), yuan zhi (Polygala tenuifolia), and bai shao (white peony, Paeonia lactiflora, P. albiflora) (223). Overall, it is easy to generalize that these herbs have been used through the ages by different cultures to improve mood and the mind, among other things.

Throughout the years, rosemary has been associated with memory. Nicholas Culpepper says it is for all diseases associated with the head and that “it helps a week memory, and quickens the senses.” Ophelia said in Hamlet “There’s rosemary that’s for remembrance. Pray. you love, remember.” It is often included in so-called memory formulas with herbs like ginkgo and gotu kola, for mild brain-fogginess (with melissa, St. John’s wort), headaches (feverfew, lavender) and general feeling-down (with damiana, tulsi) (Winston, 22 ). Maude Grieve gives a number of interesting historical uses of rosemary, including burning rosemary in hospitals and sick rooms along with juniper to clear the air and prevent infection. She also says that “A sprig of Rosemary was carried in the hand at funerals, being distributed to the mourners before they left the house, to be cast on the coffin when it had be lowered into the grave.” I am not sure if the folk use of rosemary was intended to chiefly lift the depressed spirits of the sick and the mourning through it’s warm aromatic scent, to remember the deceased, or to act as a powerful antioxidant and antiseptic to prevent to spread of disease through its antiseptic volatile essential oils. Probably both, and more.

I became curious to see if smelling a rosemary sprig each day while I walk to school would enhance my memory. It’s hard to tell its effect, since I am judging it upon my own subjective hunches. I am also a very poor participant in my own ‘study’, I don’t walk to school everyday and I have so many things going on with school that I can’t really notice any improvement. Once thing is for sure, it smells soooo good and I am sure it makes me happy, even if for a few minuets.

There are a few studies out there about rosemary’s affect on memory/cognition. One from the International Journal of Neuroscience that was particularly interesting involved testing the recall and mood of 144 participants in three groups: rosemary or lavender essential oil and a control (no smell). The study found that “rosemary produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors” although the rosemary group memory was not as fast as the control group. Not surprisingly, both the lavender and rosemary group reported better moods than the control group.

This isn’t surprising, since rosemary “warms, clears, and oxidized throughout the body (Matthew Wood, 427). It’s energetic qualities obviously include warming and drying (like it’s homeland, the Mediterranean) as well as being oily, diffusive and stimulating (Wood, 430). These energetics lend themselves to correct depressed tissue states, where things are bogged down through dampness, coldness or stagnation. Its name is derived from ros and marinus, which mean dew and sea, since it need no more watering then the morning dew from the seacoast.

Resources:

Winston, David. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: Vol. I, Old World Herbs.

Int J Neurosci. 2003 Jan;113(1):15-38. “Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults”. Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P. Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Division of Psychology, Northumberland Building, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK. mark.moss@unn.ac.uk

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.

Herbal Sitz Baths

November 22nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Herbal sitz baths; here is one type of bath that I have seen work time and time again, particularity for genito-urinary purposes. Sitz baths are pretty much exactly like they sound – a bath that you sit in. Sitting in a bath is actually quite different than laying in a bath, however. A sitz bath covers the hips and pelvis, while the legs and torso are not immersed in the bath. This posture ensures that the blood flow of the body is concentrated around the area in the water.

I attempted to make directions with specific quantities of water and herbal infusion, but had to stop because each sitz bath is a little different. That being said, here is a solid starting place:

  • Add 3 ounces of dried herbs to just boiled water in a large pot with a lid. Steep for 20-30 minuets, covered. Like with other herbal baths, straining is optional and is dependent upon personal preferences. Do you like bits of re-hydrated herbs floating among your bath water and possibly sticking to you when you leave the bath, or would that bother you?
  • Pour the herbal infusion into a bin/sitz bath. Add tap water to adjust water temperature. Hot water is generally used, but alternating between hot and cold is also recommended. A cold or room temperature sitz can be quite therapeutic as well, especially if there is a hot, itchy or inflammatory condition.
  • Lower yourself down in the bath carefully, and soak for 20-30 mins. It is a smart idea to try your sitz bath out before adding the water, to make sure it is possible to get in and out easily. Don’t hesitate to ask loved ones for a hand. Fold up a towel to sit in the sitz bath to make it as comfortable as possible.
  • If no infection present, the water may be reheated and used again – or use the bath at room temperature.
  • Use as frequently as needed, once a day during an acute situation, every other day or weekly for health maintenance.

When I started out as a doula, I read about sitz baths for healing the perineum after birth, but I never heard of anyone actually using one. At one of the birthing hospitals in Duluth, I noticed a locked door with a sign on it that said “Sitz Bath”. I inquired with a nurse about the “Sitz Bath” room, she said there was a indeed a special sitz bath tub in there, but she never heard of anyone using it. Here is the sitz bath that eventually came up with, it was the one I used most with doula clients, friends and sold to midwives:

Postpartum Sitz Bath

  • 3 tablespoons comfrey herb (root and leaf mixed)
  • 3 tablespoons yarrow
  • 3 tablespoons uva ursi

I chose comfery because of its soothing, tissue healing properties. I am in the works on writing a post about the constituents of time-honored Symphytum officinale, so more to come on that front. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), another ‘wound wort’, stops bleeding and is especially effective in healing stitches and tears. Even if there’s no tears, yarrow is still helpful because it moves the blood and disperses bruising and inflammation. Matthew Wood says it can “actually help the arteries suck up blood that has flowed out through a torn vessel into the tissues” (70). Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a creeping, evergreen, berry-bearing member of the Ericaeae family. The leaves are very antiseptic with an affinity for the genito-urinary system. I first became familiar with this plant while researching herbs for bladder infections. Tannin-rich uva ursi helps heal the skin by tightening the tissues and discouraging infections (75, Earthwise Herbal).

There are a variety of herbs that can be used to postpartum your sitz bath. Sea salt is a great addition, as are any astringent, tonifying herbs. If there is a lot of bleeding add a stiptic like Shepard’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), or if there is a over-relaxed state, add astringents and tonics like Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) or cranesbill (Geranium maculatum).

Here is another herbal sitz bath I heard about from Mary Bove, ND from a 2009 lecture on herbs for pelvic congestion. Although I was familiar with and had good success with herbal steams for genitourinary complaints (particularly pelvic congestion and inflammation), for some reason I never thought to do a sitz bath for pelvic congestion. Bove says these herbs are particularly beneficial for labial varicosities.

  • Lady’s mantle
  • White or red oak bark (Quercus spp.)
  • Bayberry root (Myrica spp.)
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

For a while, I thought of sitz baths as a modality of delivering herbal medicine useful specifically to postpartum women. While postpartum sitz baths are indeed incredibly useful in that way, it is not the only application of sitz baths. There are so many genito-urinary complaints that sitz baths can be useful for, but what about the other areas of the body that are immersed in a sitz bath? Could digestive problems be comforted with sitz baths; what about the lower vertebrae and pelvic bones? Oh the possibilities…

Herbal Foot Baths

November 2nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

When I talked about herbal baths a couple months back, I mentioned that you don’t need to have a bath tub to benefit from therapeutic baths. True to my word, here is a little bit about one of my favorite ways to administer botanicals, relax and ease symptoms: Herbal foot baths.

Have you ever had a therapeutic foot bath? If not, I highly recommend it. I found that they are saviors to ease symptoms of colds, especially when used in conjunction with a herbal steam to clear the sinuses. You may wonder how a foot bath can help alleviate the stuffiness, headache, chest tightness, itchy ears, coughing, or sore throat that comes along the common cold. Foot baths work simply: sticking your feet in a vat of aromatic tea directs your energy downwards, that is away from your aching head, stuffy throat, and whatever else is bothering you ‘up there’. It’s like a having a 20 minuet foot massage that smells divine, boosts circulation and lymph flow, and relaxes the nervous system…particularly useful if a stuffy nose or headache is keeping you awake at night.

Foot baths are useful in a variety of situations, however, not just when you caught the latest bug that’s going around. Here are a few situations when I use or recommend herbal foot baths:

  • Colds and flu
  • Respiratory infections
  • Insomnia
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Local pain or inflammation of the foot, ankle or leg (alternating between cold and warm foot baths during an acute sprained ankle is akin to hot and cold packs and can assist the healing process)
  • Topical irritations of the foot or skin, like athlete’s foot, cracks, dry skin, calluses, ingrown nails, ect…

So here another question to consider: what makes a herbal foot bath more special than a water bath? (Note to self: quit asking rhetorical questions that don’t have a pat answer). Hot baths (and cool baths) are therapeutic and pretty awesome in and of themselves, but the addition of aromatic herbs takes the baths up a notch. For example, ginger and mustard make warming baths even warmer, peppermint and eucalyptus make a cooling bath even cooler.

What herbs are good for a foot bath? Many herbs will do for a foot bath, and often you can take them right out of the kitchen cupboard. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, ginger and mustard are a few herbs great for colds and flus. Catnip, elder flowers, hibiscus and lavender are fine choices for kids (and adults!). I find a simple ginger and peppermint foot bath is balancing in the evening to help one fall asleep in times of stress or insomnia. For dry and cracked feet, comfrey root or leaf and calendula make a great pair; add a drop or two or tea tree essential oil for fungal infections.

Directions for a foot bath:

  • Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Turn off heat.
  • Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of your herb or herbs of choice to pot, cover. Let steep for 20 minuets.
  • Pour your ‘tea’ into a big pot or a tub (like a dish tub, basin, ice bucket – whatever you can find that will accommodate your feet comfortably). Straining the foot bath ‘tea’ is optional.
  • Adjust the water temperature to your desired temperature.
  • Set your feet in the water, soak and enjoy.

I have a habit of making my foot baths a little too hot to sink my feet in right away, so I skim the rough part of my soles over the surface of the water as much as I can stand. Just touching your feet ever so slightly on the steaming water for a second or two sets the body’s circulatory and nervous systems in motion and feels amazing to your feet, legs, and all over, actually. Immediately you are drawn into your senses. Foot baths are best followed with a lotion or oil foot massage of to lock in moisture, pair of comfy socks, a cup of tea and bed time…

Herbal Miscellany from Europe

October 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

A collection of Berlin Botanical Garden's marker tags from the past 100 years.

"A folio from a translation of Dioscuride's work on Medical Herbs. Three seated men intensely discuss the question of how the quick use of medication can accelerate the healing process." 1224, showcase in Islamic art, Berlin History Museum.

Over a hundred varieties of herbal tea on display at large department store in Berlin. In the foreground is a Chocolate Tea, yum...

Three super cute kids DVD's in a gift shop: "Blossom Zoo", "Blossom Apothecary" and "Blossom Games".

Plant man and woman.

This large book was a handwritten log of botanical research and knowledge, until the Berlin Botanical Garden was fire-bombed in WWII. Years of information and thousands of rare, old and endangered plants were destroyed. Yet another reason why war sucks.

"Discover the mystery of nature in through the fertilization of flowers". A plaque in honor of pollinators.

Plants organized by families (or order, it's been a long time since Biology). It's a little dated, yet still interesting. Karlsruhe University, Germany.

A display of old Danish "Good and Effective" pharmaceuticals, including glycerin, bronchial tincture and good old turpentine.

A vintage jar of a sort of pine-cone (Tannen-zaphel) used for medicine.