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.
I’ve always been a fan of bitters; my taste-buds appreciate the wake-up call, my belly the appetite stimulation. I have taken them from time to time, and felt they were effective. Until this morning, I never gave them my undying support much thought…until I read in Simon Mills’ The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine that bitters may not be indicated in cold conditions or people. I am a cold person (just listen to my screaming boyfriend when I crawl into bed at night and lay my icy paws on his back), and here I have been using bitters the whole while! After some investigation, I have found that aromatic digestives (sometimes simply referred to as aromatics) are indicated for cold people and conditions like myself. Aromatics will be discussed in the next post.
Mills (226) states that bitters are indicated for hot conditions, such as liver conditions like jaundice and food/drug toxicity, gall-bladder disease, poor digestion, food intolerances, “chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin, joints, vascular system and bowel, migrainous headaches and fevers”, and blood-sugar regulation.
Bitters work quickly through stimulation of the taste buds that seconds later trigger gastrin secretion, which is why they are effective as in cooling hot conditions (430). Since bitters stimulate bile, and bile your body’s natural laxative, some bitters are gently stimulating laxatives. Here is Mills’ description of the bitter action (321):
“Comprised chemically of the most diverse array of molecular structures, the bitter principles have in common the ability to stimulate the bitter receptors inside the mouth, and thus evoke the taste of bitterness. Unlike other taste effects that of bitter stimulation seems to involve no electrical event on the surface of the cells: the conclusion is that each bitter molecule acts on cell membrane receptors to produce intercellular biochemical change. The immediate result is a rise in the concentration of calcium within the cell: this is likely to initiate the signal to the gustatory nerve.”
For the chemistry geeks out there, a group of terpenoids include most of the bitters. They are iridoids (gentian, dandelion, wild lettuce, valerian), sesquiterpenes (Artemisias, blessed thistle, gingko), diterpene (white horehound, Curcubitacea), and some alkaloids (coffee, goldenseal, quinine) (321-2).
Just a few bitters:
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a digestive and hepatic (liver) tonic. The leaves are nature’s perfect diuretic as it contains a large amount of potassium and well suited for edema but will not strain the heart, and the root is a mild laxative and detoxifier (434).
Gentian (Gentaina lutea) is an important bitter as it stimulates digestion and has an anti-inflammatory action. It is used “as a foundation for any prescription seeking to use the cooling, drying, and digestive stimulant effects” that may be present in inflammatory conditions (435).
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a bitter with a warm temperament. When I first purchased wormwood and brewed a cup on an chilly Minnesota spring day, I took two extremely bitter sips and felt a welcomed long-lasting warmth spread through my body and last the rest of the day. It is so bitter as well as astringent that its acrid constituents actually raises the temperature. As it name implies, it is useful for purging parasites, but let’s focus on wormwood as a bitter. Used for gastrointestinal infections, inadequate stomach acid, colic, and spasmodic dsymenarrhea, wormwood has been quite effective (438).
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most healing and astringent remedies to the gut wall and other irritated mucosal linings, and is a bitter digestive stimulant and cholagogue (liver stimulant) (440). “Dyspepsia with hepatic symptoms [is seen as] the main indication for using goldenseal”, as it is a strong bitter (441).
Anyone who has tried a tripled-hopped beer can attest to hops’ (Humulus luplus) bitterness…and also to its relaxing qualities. Hops has a relaxing effect on the nervous system similar to chamomile, as well as tension-related indigestion (it’s tannins lend their astringency quite nicely here) and headaches (Hoffmann, New Holistic Herbal 206). Hops can be useful in upper-digestive infections, irritable bowl syndrome, Crohn’s or diverticulitis, nervous coughs, palpitations, nervous dyspepsia or “whenever there are signs of visceral tension in the body” (460), so long as it is indicated. Would one use hops with watery loose, stools? I would say not.
A gentle and sometimes forgotten bitter is cold chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea. Another visceral relaxant with bitter properties. Chamomile is great for children–indeed some of it’s best uses are for anxiety, teething pain, colic, and sleeplessness. Chamomile beautifully and subtly combines its calming and bitter qualities; it both calms the gut wall (useful for nervous digestion) and stimulates digestion, bile flow and pancreatic action (454-5).
Rue (Ruta graveolens) combines anti-spasmodic and bitter properties like chamomile, but not so sweetly. Don’t get me wrong, rue is a very nice plant, it is just very bitter in the cup. Hoffmann suggests using it for relaxing smooth muscles “especially in the digestive system where it will ease griping and bowl tension” (229). It is known to bring on suppressed menstruation. I have no experience of using is as a woman herb…have any of you used it as such?
That is just the beginning to bitter herbs. Try them where indicated, enjoy the peace in the belly that may follow.