teasel and bee
This summer, I have not harvested or made much medicine beyond blending teas. Instead, I find myself staring off at plants, wondering about them. One that has attracted much of my attention and wonderment is teasel.
It’s not hard to be intrigued by teasel. It grows tall and stately, and its stems, ribs and flower heads are lined with sharp spikes. The leaves join the stalk and create a cup where rain gathers. The flowers form a band or patch on the flower head with little sweet-smelling, tube-like periwinkle flowers. When that band or patch of flowers is done flowering, other parts of the flower head will be filled with flowers, traveling up, down and around.
Teasel is in its own family (the Teasel family, related to the Asteraceaes) and is an European introduction. All over the world, the sharp, bristle-like dried flower heads have been used for carding (or teasing) wool. Though it hasn’t been used much in Western and Native American medicine, it has a traditional use in Chinese medicine, where its name means “restore what is broken” (Wood, 234) or “heal fracture”.
teasels in bloom
I first came across teasel medicinally while working at The Medicine Tree is St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. Every so often people would purchase a tea by Herbalists and Alchemists called “Teasel Combination Tea”. It is an eclectic blend of Chinese and Western herbs: mulberry root, Japanese teasel root, du huo root, sarsaparilla, fennel and cardamom. Here is what David Winston has to say about it:
“Based on a traditional formula, these herbs open the channels (meridians) promoting circulation of blood and qi. This tea also acts as a systemic anti-inflammatory, reducing stagnation and pain associated with joint injuries, tendon and ligament damage as well as arthritic pain and bursitis.” (103).
This makes teasel a good herbal choice for Lyme disease and other conditions where with painful joints. Although I tried the Teasel Combination Tea for taste (tasted slightly warm and bitter), I never used it specifically for treating joint pain or injury. I do not have a Chinese herbal at my disposal, but it seems obvious that teasel is used in cases of cold, damp and blood deficiency. Lesley Tierra does say that teasel tones yang, and has hemostatic, anti-rheumatic, bone-healing, and analgesic properties (77). Tierra precautions its use in signs of deficient yin and heat, but indicates it in
“sore and painful lower back and knees, stiffness in the joints, weak legs, uterine bleeding, white vaginal discharge…pain, traumatic injuries, healing of bones, skin sores, arthritis, rheumatism” (77).
Matthew Wood writes the most about teasel, citing many interesting case studies. He says;
“As far as I know, Teasel is a superlative medicine for the kidney esesnce. The muscle and joint pain, the deterioration of structure, the helplessness and loss of purpose, ect., all relate to this pattern.” (237)
teasel, dried in the fall
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
Remember that the Kidneys are the root of both Yin and Yang, even though in and of themselves the Kidneys are considered Yin. Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yang is the “pilot light for our energy system”. When deficient, the warming ability of the Kidneys decreases and can manifest in one or more of the following patterns:
- Cold, sore, weak low back
- Copius clear or pale urine, incontinence, nighttime urination, weak or dripping urine stream
- Coldness, cold limbs, avoiding cold and wanting warm
- Weak legs, leg edema
- Poor appetite, loose stools
- Sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission
- Chronic vaginal discharge, leukorrhea, spermatorrhea
As you can see, some of these Kidney Yang deficiency patterns overlap with other Kidney deficiency patterns, although the bolded symptoms are the most tell-tale of Kidney Yang. We should also keep in mind that a person may very well have Kidney Yang deficiency and another pattern of excess, and maybe more deficiency patterns, as our bodymind is connected on so many levels. For example, the Kidneys receive from the Spleen and give to the Heart and Pericardium, so if the Spleen is out of balance that may be the underlying reason for Kidney deficiency. It is also a good practice to add a bit of yin tonic (like lycii) to balance a yang tonic.
A few Yang tonics:
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a warm, bitter and aromatic seed has a multitude of culinary and medicinal applications. As a Yang tonic, it is used for coldness, sore lower back, pain in the torso and extremities, morning sickness and indigestion. Make into a gruel with milk or tea to nourish the body and stimulate the appetite during or after debilitating diseases and sicknesses, including infant diarrhea. Lesley Tierra suggests sprouting and eating the seeds to aid digestion.
- Fenugreek gruel: 1 1/2 tablespoon fenugreek ground coarsly simmered low in 1 cup milk or water, for a 5 minuets or until it thickens. Add herbs to flavor or thicken, cinnamon, fennel, slippery elm, marshmallow, ect. Turn off heat, let sit to cool, covered. Three times daily.
Damiana‘s (Turnera aphrodisiacea) spicy leaves combined with cinnamon, dried ginger and lemon peel are one of my favorite ways to warm up and tonify yang in the winter. The herbalist/acupuncturist at the Medicine Tree in St. Croix Falls formulated this “Libido Lifter/Kidney Tonic”, one of the most popular tea blends. Damiana is attuned to the Kidneys as it is a well-known aphrodisiac (just check the botanical name) that also treats impotence. The Tierras use it for irritable coughs, which I have yet to try, but I don’t doubt its soothing expectorant abilities, as I have felt how calming damiana can be to the nerves.
Blend and drink as needed. I like it strong; 2 tablespoons to a pint of boiling water, steeped an hour.
- 2 parts Damiana
- 1/2 part each cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel ground coarsely
- 1 part Spearmint
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) tastes bitter, with an underlying sweetness and a slight warming to the body. Its has yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent and adaptogenic properties. Some yang tonic can be too stimulating (think deer antler, yohimbe), but ashwaganda apparently does not overstimulate and in fact is used for improving sleep and clearing the mind when stressed or overworked. I have witnessed a complete turn around for a friend with lower back pain, creaky knees, low libido and a general state of low energy by mixing a teaspoon of the powder in heated raw milk daily. Personally, I have used ashwaganda tincture in adrenal formulas, which I always seems to need in spring. Perhaps I should be taking some right now for to tonify my Kidney Yang so to prevent adrenal exhaustion.
- Delicious dosage to nourish yang: Mix 1/2 teaspoon powder with warm milk (can be rice, almond, soy, or ghee), take twice a day.
Other notable herbs:
Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)
Celery Seeds (Apium graveolens)
False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum)