Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Needs to Change

Recently Brigit Strawbridge wrote post that ties into something that is always on my mind.  I left a comment on her blog and it didn't post-perhaps it needs to be approved, or maybe it was too long, or maybe Google was just being stupid.  Either way, I decided I should write it here and expound upon it a bit as well because this topic needs to be heard.

I live in the midst of an agricultural wasteland and it's awful...not only is the land dying and the water is poisoned as a result of these agricultural practices, but the people are dying slowly, too and no one seems to care.  It has been very much impressed upon me lately that, as the lack of caring stems from a complete divorce from interaction with the natural world and how it functions and we function with it, we need to bring back the initiation rites that Native Americans and innumerable cultures worldwide used on a community level.  These rites served several purposes...  It was a time for a person to understand their space within the natural world; to ply themselves with nature and understand the unity of all things as they entered into shouldering and sharing more personal & tribal responsibility and cooperation to survive with and within the planetary ecosystem.  The knowledge of Oneness provided the Initiate with deep respect and knowing of the sacredness of All Things.  Initiation rites also served as a public acknowledgement from one's community that a person had indeed come of age, they had reached a stage in life where they were ready to participate in a more autonomous and responsible way.

How many teens and young adults of university age hunger to be acknowledged respected and taken seriously from their superiors and society, but lack the skills and life experience to garner such attention...it drives them batty and instead they become arrogant, laughable and pushy.  We hunger for the recognition, for the Initiation.  On top of that, our disconnect from the Natural World produces not just narcissistic self-centeredness and ignorance of how to properly care for our world throughout our life, but it creates a very real and pervasive social sociopathy that leads to fairly rapid destruction of our planet as we are seeing now.  Furthermore, it creates a blindness and a lack of caring or sense of responsibility, a failure to believe that we are really pushing it to that point.  Not just with "oil"...screw oil (though we truly must use it wisely), how about the trees?  It's not just the Amazon....focus is on the Amazon....because we already hacked down our other forests and thanks to every generation being born anew, we have generational amnesia and do not remember our forests because they were never there in our lifetime.

Ohio, where I live, was once 90% forested.  Then it was reduced to 10%.  It is currently hovering around 30% which is still not good enough. I marvel that it comes as any surprise to people that the winds whip so strong without trees to break them, forming sheer winds and rashes of tornadoes?  I marvel that it is a wonder to people that without trees wicking water up from deep in the earth and respiring it out through their leaves, creating moisture and attracting more moisture to them, that the land dries and dies?  It was the Brits who planted trees at the top of the great barren mountain of Ascension Island to attract rain to ensure water and food enough for people to live there and have an outpost for the nation in the middle of the Atlantic.  We must remember these things and adopt a Forest Economy.  They are food, medicine, shelter, and bio-regional, environmental security.  We must replant the forests, and not just a monoculture forest as logging companies do, we must remember the innumerable biodiversity from the trees to the understory, to the fungi and the microbes in the soil.  We must remember the natural order of succession forests necessary to re-establish old growth forests. There were millions of Native peoples who thrived, and yet they did not decimate the land as we have....Ohio was still 90% forested with old growth when the newcomers found it and the Natives living harmoniously here.  We killed them, we took their land in the name of it being "unused" as the Europeans failed to acknowledge any form of agriculture but their own destructive version...  We killed the land in the name of development and agriculture, and "progress" and "superiority"...we decimated the bison....

We must undo this.  We must.  To do so, we must return to the Ways that Once Were.  We must emulate the Native practices of wild cultivating the land with permaculture forestry practices and honor the initiation rites that are so important in honoring one's life stages and establishing a deep and spiritual connection with the planet that we are all a part of.  How this moves forward I am unsure, I do not know what my role in it will look like, but I do know with every cell in my body that it is these two things that must be done.  My family is committed to doing this on our own piece of earth.  Will you?

If you are interested in replanting the forests and cultivating abundant and harmonious food resources from them in a sustainable manner that ensures the entire ecosystem not just survives, but thrives, I recommend reading these two books as a starting point:

It is us, through our own personal choices like these, that can change the world and yes, save it from ourselves.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Day in the Life

So, I've become a little bored with just typing up plant profiles...while it is nice to read one's unique experience, knowledge and perspective from a monograph format, I'd like to go a little off the cuff here and just discuss how plant medicine works itself into my daily life around here.  After all, anyone can be an armchair herbalist or take a correspondence course and call themselves a "master herbalist," but the reality is that there is no replacement for real life experience.

You might note I deleted my "Catharsis" post, and I did that on a whim weeks ago when I felt it might sound a little too whiny.  While Ohio has not magically changed in recent weeks, nor do I ever anticipate it to...it horrifies me to look around me with open eyes at times and see all the ills walking and talking and sulking around here sometimes...we have chosen changes in our daily lives to promote wellness of being and more positive thinking and perhaps I have been blessed with goodwill from some persons I may or may not know.  Winds of change are blowing and the Cardinal Grand Cross is passed its peak...Spring has finally sprung and the green leaves of our Elder trees bring us more joy and therapy than anything else could.  So we are focusing on the uplift.  And I'm still developing products and items that are very exciting to me, and I think will be to the rest of the world when they are ready for unveiling.  The lesson of the turtle, "slow and steady wins the race," is what I keep reminding myself.  Sometimes life feels as rushed as a horse race, or as crazy as a scatterbrained rabbit but the turtle sneaks up on and passes by the hare in the end.  There are lots of hares in the world and in this industry.  We live in a very ADD and "pay attention to me--oh what's that-something shiny!" world, but that is not what creates something lasting and of substance.  Just chaos.

At the end of my Catharsis post I mentioned how I made a burn care kit for someone whose iPhone caught fire in his pocket.  Yes, in his pants pocket.  He had third degree burns and contacted us after his healing had been minimal, and his pain not subsided in the least.  Hospital had provided Vaseline and colloidal silver.  Colloidal silver is great, it will prevent infection, but as you can imagine it's not stimulating tissue regeneration.  Vaseline helps prevent scarring by keeping the area moist, if you will.  Same thing you do with tattoos, keep the area lubricated so the tattoo doesn't scar.  Anyway, I developed a burn care kit that he was very grateful for, and he reported that he could watch the burns heal up by about 1/8" every 12 hours!  I'm not going to give you my formula, because I plan to sell my products one day, but I will highlight the areas that one needs to consider when developing a protocol...in this case we will consider burns (and this can apply to cuts and irritations too):

1.  Numb the pain
2.  Antiseptic action
3.  Tonify the tissue
4.  Stimulate cell proliferation to speed up healing
5.  Protect the tender skin and keep moist (for lack of a better word) while healing

Any number and combination of herbs and first aid supplies can fit the bill here.  Some herbs alone cover many of these actions.

More recently a woman called me who had given birth two days previous.  Her milk had come in but she already had mastitis setting in and the baby wasn't feeding well.  Any woman who has breastfed can imagine the pain she must have been in.  When your milk comes in, it comes in fast and babies have tiny tummies that need to stretch and grow and learn to digest and it can take some time before they are eating everything you can produce.  While I was there I discovered a number of things:

1.  The hospital "expert" taught her how to breastfeed wrong.  They suggested she bring the baby to the nipple and put it in its mouth.   This is an old school, stuffy mode of thinking that surprisingly still permeates the medical world here in the midwest...and it creates a bad latch, makes the baby fussy and unhappy, causes unnecessary soreness for the momma and creates minimal milk flow.  Babies operate on scent and instinct.  They need to smell the milk and root for it and latch naturally, from below.  If you just hold a baby to you skin on skin he or she will actually "root" around, sniffing for the milk and wiggle their way to find it.  I was taught to consider the dip above the upper lip and below the nose the "nipple rest," (you can imagine my husband had some good jokes for that) as it lets the baby smell the milk and they naturally open their mouth and latch on properly.  And they need to have a proper latch in order to stimulate the proper letdown of milk.  And a proper latch should never hurt.
2.  In this case, a couple day's worth of less than ideal latching during the colostrum stage caused irritation and thus inflammation for the momma as her milk came in.  As the milk came in, it couldn't go anywhere very fast and mastitis set in.  Also the baby couldn't even try to latch now because the breasts were basically rocks.  Inflammation was so severe the breasts couldn't even leak milk.
3.  Momma had tried pumping for relief, unsuccessfully...basically nothing was coming out...pumping made irritation worse, thus inflammation worse and now it was just crisis mode which is when she called me.

So, we had to do a number of things:

1.  Manually express milk to soften immediate tissues (so we could later have the baby try to nurse again), and massage out clogged passages.
2.  Poultice with fresh cabbage leaves.  Green cabbage.  Cabbage reduces the inflammation.  You keep them on under a nursing bra or tank top with a shelf bra built in and leave them there until they wilt.  Then replace with fresh leaves and repeat.  Some people do hot cabbage compresses but I was always taught to do fresh as you want the sulphur present in the cabbage to do its thing.  Heat drives off sulphur.  You heat the leaf, you destroy the sulphur.
3.  After poulticing for a bit, we got the baby to nurse.  I explained how to help the baby properly latch.  The baby caught on fast.  We kept cabbage leaves on the sides of the breast to keep reducing inflammation so the milk could flow.  Pretty soon the baby was getting a healthy letdown and really jammin'.  Momma got relief.  Baby got milk.  Win-win!!
4.  After every feeding, momma must apply lanolin.  Lanolin is safe to use.  It keeps the skin happy until it can adjust to the friction of breast feeding.  Here again we see that raw skin loves lube.  Sounds wrong, but it's so right.

Her protocol was to be thus:  Cabbage leaves, nurse, apply lanolin, repeat.  After 24 hours momma reported baby was a nursing machine and she felt loads better.  With mastitis you want to keep nursing.  The milk flow will wash any infection out that might want to start if you resolve the inflammation...plus breast milk is very antibacterial since it is laden with probiotics.  Raw cabbage leaves are always your best friend and don't be ashamed to walk around with them on your boobs all day.  :)

For Easter we visited my in-law and there is a patch of woods behind her house, where we saw a plethora of True Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing.

True Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Photo copyright Patrick J. Alexander @ USDA-NRCS Plants Database

My husband and I got very excited.  I could, and should, devote a whole post to this beautiful and powerful plant.  I was explaining to my in-law's significant other the virtues of the plant...how the rhizome knits bones together, resolves bruises and fixes tendons that are too tight or too loose, or if you pull one, how it will just take the pain away like magic.  He asked me to make him some salve for his stiff tendons behind his knees.  It's hard to find True Solomon's Seal from herb suppliers.  You can use the Polygonatum subspecies (Polygonatum ssp.) and even False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina racemosa) (these are what retailers sell), but the official medicine is True, and I honestly don't know that I trust all wildcrafters to not be harvesting Twisted Stalk, which looks like Solomon's Seal, but isn't.  It is daintier and it's stalk grows in a zigzag from leaf to leaf (this is its "twist").  Anyhow, usually one harvests rhizome in the fall, after the plant has died back and the energy goes back into the roots.  However, the plants were recently emerging and not full grown nor in flower, not to mention sometimes you have to use what you have available to you.  The Springtime rhizomes made fine medicine, and I am happy to say that I discovered the tenacity of Solomon's seal... After I cleaned and scrubbed the rhizomes, I felt bad breaking off the shoots and discarding them, so I broke them off with the previous year's node still attached, which is about 1" of rhizome, and replanted them.  They had zero transplant shock.  I'm not familiar with another plant that can take that much of a roughing up and not care at all...?  So, this is a very sustainable way to preserve your Solomon's Seal patch, break off the node that is or will be the new shoot with the previous year's growth, about 1", and replant.  Easy peasy.

And as a last note, it's allergy season again.  Wheee!  I've been using my allergy tea when needed, and it works wonders!  However, this year, I rarely need it.  What's changed?  There are way more flowers this year than last...  Well...I cut out dairy.  Except for butter.  But first I started taking enzymes at the nagging of my husband.  He was right.  The enzymes I've been taking are Garden of Life's Women's Enzymes, because they really have the best products in my opinion.  No, I'm not getting paid to say that.  I don't have ads on my blog!  I noticed my allergies reduced in severity by over 50% when I started taking the enzymes, which Garden of Life's brand includes lactase amongst the 20+ enzymes, enzyme-generating probiotics, mineral enzyme activators and vitamins.  I've often figured I was probably allergic to dairy but I just like it so much, it's hard to cut it out.  Phyllis Light says you crave what is bad for you.  She's right.  So then I cut out dairy and my pollen allergies have 95% disappeared.  I should be fairly miserable and hiding indoors this time of year.  Since cutting out diary, if I accidentally eat cheese or milk, I start having a reaction to the pollen within 30 minutes...  I still take the enzymes every day.  I feel great with them.  This thing about the dairy really shouldn't be surprising as dairy makes phlegm and thus damp heat in the digestive tract and thus stagnating the lymphatics, bogging everything down and causing subsequent inflammation.  Then the inflammation causes a hyperactive response to other things that one wouldn't otherwise be sensitive to.  This is the domino effect of dairy, or other food allergies!  One day I might cut out gluten too, but baby steps, baby steps.  I'm not ready to cut out gluten until I find some seriously good baking recipes that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference in the end result if I didn't otherwise know what was in it!  :)  Or at least that's what I tell myself now.  Who knows, if I cut out gluten, perhaps the remaining 5% of allergies will disappear...or maybe if I cut out the butter.  I could always compromise and go with ghee!

This lesson in food and digestion is a firm reminder that herbs can only do so much if we are not having a proper diet and nutrition, and one specifically appropriate for our particular constitution. Herbs are much more effective and perhaps maybe become unnecessary in some instances if we make the appropriate dietary changes.  It was wise old Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine as he is called, who said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."  That doesn't necessarily mean eating something to create a change, sometimes it means not eating something that isn't doing you any favors.  Let me tell you, I really love being able to spend all day outside enjoying the Spring.  It's been over 18 years since I could.  I feel a reclaimed freedom, and deep inside I know I've made one of the healthiest choices of my life, as even any western physician will tell you:  inflammation is the primary cause of disease.

As usual, everything written here is for educational purposes and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall/Winter Semester Classes and Courses 2013

Classes are offered at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center in the art studio front room.  You may register at their website, at the Center in person or over the phone.  Per the Center's policy, classes must be paid in full before the class starts.  Checks are made payable to the instructor, Carla Hunolt.

Beginning Oct. 5 in Troy, Ohio:

Beginner’s Intro to Herbal Medicine:  A Comprehensive Course

This is a 6 part course for the beginning student who wants to learn about traditional herbal medicine in depth. Here we take the main lessons of a typical 9 month Foundations course and condense it into a serious study, without the 4 digit cost.

We will cover botany, apothecary practices, forms of administration, tissue states, tongue diagnosis, organs and their energetics, digestive, allergy, wound and nervous system care through herbs as well as make remedies to take home and more!  Remedies will include tinctures, tea, vinegar and a salve.  Weather permitting there will also be a plant walk!  A class text is provided but please bring a pen or pencil and paper to do some extra note taking.

This class is fitting for anyone who wants to learn about how plants work in the body, is mystified and confused standing in the supplement isles at health food stores, and/or would like to be empowered with a foundation for caring naturally for their basic health and that of their loved ones.

Age: Adults

Fee: $300 + $75 supply fee that covers text, raw materials for class projects such as salve and tincture making, tea served in class, etc.  Total cost $375

Meets: 10:00am to 12:30pm, 6 Saturdays,  10/5, 10/19, 11/2, 11/9, 12/14, 12/21 (Note irregular dates--we have to work around Holiday events at the Hayner Center)

Cold and Flu Herbal Care Intensive

Are you really supposed to use Echinacea to fight a cold?  Come learn the who, what, how and why of herbs that are traditionally employed to alleviate colds and the flu, as well as common secondary infections that may accompany them.  We will have hands on medicine making of syrup and tea to take home to bolster your bag of home remedies for cold and flu season!  Text provided, bring a pen or pencil for note taking.

Age: Adult

Fee: $100 + $30 supply fee, total cost $130

Two dates to choose from:

Option 1:  9:30am to 2:30pm Sat 11/23/13  

Option 2:  9:30am to 2:30pm Sat 1/18/14 

We will break for lunch, people can go out on the town to buy lunch or pack their own.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer Semester Classes & Courses

Classes are offered at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center in the art studio front room.  You may register at their website, at the Center in person or over the phone.  Per the Center's policy, classes must be paid in full before the class starts.  Checks are made payable to the instructor, Carla Hunolt.

Beginner's Introduction to Herbal Medicine:  A Comprehensive Course

This is a 6 part course for the beginning student who wants to learn about traditional herbal medicine in depth. Here we take the main lessons of a typical 9 month Foundations course and condense it into a serious study, without the 4 digit cost.

We will cover botany, apothecary practices, forms of administration, tissue states, tongue diagnosis, organs and their energetics, digestive, allergy, wound and nervous system care through herbs as well as make remedies to take home and more!  Remedies will include tinctures, tea, vinegar and a salve.  There will also be a plant walk!  A class text is provided but please bring a pen or pencil and paper to do some extra note taking.

This class is fitting for anyone who wants to learn about how plants work in the body, is mystified and confused standing in the supplement isles at health food stores, and/or would like to be empowered with a foundation for caring naturally for their basic health and that of their loved ones.

Ages 21+

6 parts, all Saturdays:

Sat 6/22, 7/6, 7/20, 8/3, 8/24, 9/14
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

$375 includes all supplies


Learn how to make your own lacto-fermented foods!  This simple and ancient form of food preservation predates canning, retains available nutrients, makes them more assimilable and provides your body with probiotics.  We will discuss how lacto-fermented foods help with allergies, liver health, digestive woes, healthy skin, hair and nails and more!  Students will get to sample lacto-fermented foods and take home recipes for condiments and soda as well as some simple fermentation supplies.

Ages 18+

September 28, 2013

Starts at 10:00 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m.

$50 includes all supplies

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tree Medicine: The Bee Tree

Flowering Linden, captured by Ezzat Goushegir

The Linden Tree, Tilia europaea, is also called Lime Tree, Basswood and Bee Tree.  It is a soft and light-wooded tree.  It is used for carving and weaving mats or baskets due to its light and flexible nature.  You will frequently see it planted through towns along sidewalks.  When in flower, it is a sensation to be experienced!  The heavenly honey scent hangs in the air, and it is this that initially draws you to find the tree.  As you approach, you see countless little blossoms and hear a faint buzz in the air.  Up close you notice there is barely a dainty flower unattended by a honey bee or other pollinator and the buzzing grows to a loud humming whirling up and around the tree.  And if you bravely step under the Linden Tree and into the spiral sound, you can not only hear, but feel the collective vibration of hundreds, if not thousands of honey bees swirling around you as they busily tend to the delectable flowers and the sweet scent carries you upward by the shoulders into the vortex of sound.  It feels like, and literally is, sound and aromatherapy at the same time.  I've not experienced anything else like it!  It is amazing.

Linden is a cooling nervine, assuaging nervous conditions of heartache and sorrow, relieving tension and discord.  There are many varieties that are used interchangeably:  Tilia europaea, Tilia cordata, Tilia americana, Tilia vulgaris and others.

Linden leaf and flower make a delightfully delicate and tasty tea, astringing and bringing comfort that I would describe as being enveloped in an angel's wings.  It is light, warm, happy, cozy and uplifting all at the same time.  The more vulnerable and distraught the person feels, the more noticeable the effect is.  It relaxes without being sedating.

The nervine properties of Linden are also known to be of use with hypertension induced by stress, and it even has historical use with seizures as a number of nervines do (Valerian, Skullcap).  Please don't attempt to treat seizures without a medical professional.  

Administration is typically given by infusion, or for anxiety and heart palpitations the infusion may also be added to bathwater for a calming and relaxing soak.

Tilia americana at landscapeontario.com

It is true that town meetings used to be held under a Linden Tree--and wisely so.  Why today we have forgotten such a lovely practice is rather sad to me--we opt for florescent lights, stuffy, toxic air and irritable tensions all closed up in one room instead of the fresh, cleansing breeze of the outdoors, life-giving sunshine stimulating our bodies to synthesize vitamin D (the "happiness" vitamin) and receiving calming aromatherapy from one of Nature's most beautiful scents--the Linden.  Back when we relied fully on plants as medicine and in practical applications, we understood the value of such a practice.  Today it would be scoffed at as a silly, romantic notion by most people ("Ohh yeahhh, let's go meet under the tree, ha ha ha you tree hugging hippie!").

If there is one thing I want people to remember, it is how light our spirits really are.  Not just on the other side of this sometimes heavy, dense physical world, but before the age of...what shall we call today, the Age of Progress, Age of Science, Age of Expediency, Age of Narcissism, Age of Indulgence by Proxy of Convenience?  For all our tools and technology and advances, we have gained a vast new ignorance and severely severed our connection to our life-giving planet and Spirit of who we really are.  Technological material things make up reality for us, and we poison our bodies and minds to the point where we think things are not and were not possible or viable when they are and were, even more so than many of the fancy contraptions and methods we have come up with today.  Our food is lifeless and sterile, our medicine is cold and caustic, our hearts are hard and lonely, our earth's soil is poisoned and leached of life.

Sometimes, oftentimes, simpler truly is better.  Nature's model works for a reason.  And to trust in simplicity is to have faith....a faith which has been forgotten or worse--warped.

So brew up some Linden tea and settle in your heart, listen to your soul and remember the Age of Faith.  Faith in the natural order of things to provide what we need.  To arise from heaviness, heartache and sorrow with wings.  Linden helps us to achieve this, it helps us relax and feel light again...light for who we really are out outside of this physical reality and light for who we were within it in the past.

It is not to say that there were not dark struggles, severe challenges in ages gone by because there absolutely were.  But there was a faith and a merriment to life that we have completely lost to time today.  And we can create a much brighter future by combining the knowledge hard earned and accessibility of Spirit from the olden days with the new scientific advances of the current age to create the Age of Enlightenment as a reality in our lifetime and beyond.  If we practice this now, we  can transform our hopeful visions into a concrete reality.

Simplicity Meets Science:  this is what Linden speaks to me.

This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Allergy Relief

The sniffles in my nose have let me know that yep, Spring is finally here!  I love this time of year but my body does not enjoy all of the plant fertility blowing around on the breeze.  We just covered Allergy & Respiratory Care in our 6 week comprehensive course during part 4 this past Saturday.  I am currently sipping on the Allergy Care Tea we made as our class project.  Everyone took a bundle of tea bags home with them.  I am so grateful for the soothing effect of this tea on my sinuses, clearing of the post-nasal drip, clarity brought my vision and the opening of my lungs.  And it tastes great!  Here in Ohio, the pollen is just getting started because of our long winter, so this tea will be my best friend for the next 3 months.  I try to use all herbs for allergies in the form of tea or tincture to ensure a rapid response.

Not meaning to be a tease, but I'm keeping the tea recipe secret (you'll have to take the next class!  oh devilish me), but because I really want everyone to be able to find some tried and true natural alleviation of symptoms, I will share with you a few of the herbs and some other natural methods that work well for me--and better than any combo of pharmaceuticals ever did (mainly, Zyrtec-D, Nasonex and Singulair combined, to be specific).  I'm not saying I never sneeze, have eye itching, running noses or other things, but I can say since embarking on herbal medicine my springtime pollen allergies drastically improved to a degree never before seen with conventional medicines.  My allergies are much more manageable, I rarely contract a sinus infection, and I can spend more time outdoors all without compromising my immune system, lowering my blood pressure to crazy levels or other side effects that pharmaceuticals delivered...all thanks to plants!  

So let's see, what major common symptoms come with pollen allergies that need to be addressed?  

  • Itching eyes
  • Itching, running nose, sneezing
  • Swollen, congested sinuses
  • Wheezing lungs/asthma

All of this comes from your body inappropriately responding to the influx of pollen as a pathogen, triggering a hyperactive immune response and inflammation, the inflamed tissue getting irritated further by continued exposure, and the cycle compounds itself miserably.  Next thing you know, you are stuck inside laying on the couch, tissues stuffed up your nose and ice cubes melting over your eyes, water dripping down your face.  So the goal is to not only manage symptoms when they appear, but to keep them from popping up severely in the first place.

Allergy Alleviating Ally #1:  Goldenrod, Solidago ssp.

Goldenrod, pictured is one of many Solidago ssp.

I love this plant.  Goldenrod is blamed for Fall allergies, because it is showy and blooms everywhere in the fall.  However, it is insect pollinated, not wind pollinated and really is not the culprit.  The true devil for Fall allergies is in disguise--Ragweed, which has green, inconspicuous flowers, no nectar and large, wicked looking pollen that is wind-pollinated and takes to the breeze with much enthusiasm.

Pollen of Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia
picture by Marie Majaura on Wikipedia
The Solidago canadensis strain of Goldenrod is considered official, but there are oodles of varieties and they are generally considered interchangeable.  Goldenrod is phenomenal at keeping your body from having an allergic response to pollen or animal dander, or calming a reaction down!  Yes, if you turn into a puffy-eyed, stuffy-nosed monster around cats, dogs, trees, grass or flowers, this is the plant for you.  It is wonderful at stopping the eye itching.  I could not get through allergy season without this plant.  Goldenrod also is astringent and tightens up your sinuses that get all puffy and runny.  The leaf and flower are used.

Allergy Alleviating Ally #2:  Mullein, Verbascum ssp. including Verbascum thapsus, Verbascum olympicum (West Coast), Verbascum densiflorum

Mullein, Verbascum thapsus in flower
Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

Mullein is a biannual whose leaves are excellent for the lungs.  They open up the lungs, reduce inflammation and constriction, and moisten and nourish the tissues.  Mullein leaves are also great at reducing muscle pain.  Mullein flowers are antimicrobial and the main ingredient in ear oils!  This plant really helps reduce the wheezing of springtime allergies.  Phyllis Light taught me that Native Americans powdered together Mullein root and Black Walnut Hulls and sprinkled this mixture in water to stun fish.  Who says you need a fishing rod?  Cultures the world over have used various plants in this method.

Note to all asthmatics, you should always carry a rescue inhaler with you at all times, even if you get relief from some herbal supplements.  It's a sensible rule of thumb.

Allergy Alleviating Allies #3 & #4, The Mint Family Duo:  Peppermint, Mentha piperita & Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Peppermint, Mentha piperita

Peppermint.  Ever been annoyed at this plant taking over your garden??  Mints are invasive, but oh so helpful.  Stimulating and cooling both at the same time, Peppermint is diaphoretic, deeply stimulating, contraindicated in pregnancy other than in small amounts, and its potent aromatic oils open and cool congested, irritated sinuses.

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea @ extension.umass.edu

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, is also in the mint family and acts similarly on the sinuses as Peppermint, being soothing, cooling, anti-inflammatory and opening. Ground Ivy has the bonus of being fabulous at knocking out sinus infections.  It is also widely regarded as safe, and not contraindicated in pregnancy as it lacks the potent stimulating action of Peppermint.  This plant I give major credit to with regards to my drastic reduction in sinus infections.  I always use this plant every spring.  If you want to learn more about Ground Ivy, read my post dedicated to this most wonderful of plants.  Ground Ivy is not commercially available, so if you do not have it growing in your yard (or have a positive ID of the plant), Peppermint will be easy enough to find.

Other Natural Allergy Care Methods

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in onions, mainly in the skins of red and especially yellow onions.  The white varieties carry low amounts of quercetin.  Other plants contain it too.  Quercetin is sold concentrated in tablet form and is amazing at stopping a histamine reaction. The tablets with bromelain (a pineapple enzyme) are best for easier digestion of the tablet.  Quercetin is pricey, but even if you take only half the recommended dose to make it last longer, it is a worthwhile investment.

Local Bee Pollen and Local Honey. I find the dark fall wildflower honeys to be best, as they contain more antioxidants than light honeys, plus have goldenrod nectar in them which delivers that allergy soothing goodness. The nectar from plants that comprises honey is medicinal...I've heard (not tried) that taking poison oak honey (which is supposedly delicious and buttery) will keep you from having an allergic reaction to poison oak.

Nettipot after coming inside for the day so pollen doesn't sit in your sinuses all night.  Boil water first to kill microbes/potential deadly amoebas and let cool to lukewarm before using, or alternatively used distilled water.  Add 1/4 tsp. baking soda or sea salt, or a salt packet that comes with the nettipot to a nettipot full of lukewarm water.  Stir until completely dissolved and follow instructions that come with the nettipot.  First you flush one side, then repeat on the other.  I've noticed it is easier to do this in the shower than over a sink.

Shower after spending time outdoors, especially before bed.  Otherwise the pollen will fall out of your hair and get on your pillowcase, and you get to breathe it in and mash it in your eyes while you sleep.  The goal is to wake up without allergies going wild, as you will have had about 8 hours without any allergy supplements in your system.  You want your body to re-set to calmness in your sleep, not have constant aggravation.

Allergy Eyedrops are a lifesaver for when the wind kicks up a load of pollen into your eyes.  You can wash it out!

There are plenty more herbs out there that can help deal with spring and fall allergies, but this is just meant to give you a good, solid introductory foundation.  If you want to learn more, I will be offering another 6-week Comprehensive Course on Herbal Medicine this summer (dates to be posted soon) or look for an herbalist near you!  Alcohol or glycerine extracts of the herbs discussed here as well as quercetin tablets and nettipots should be readily available at your local health food store.  If not, ask and they can probably special order them for you!

Happy Spring.  May the pollen not be so bothersome to you this year.

These statements obviously have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tree Medicine: Willows, the Utilitarians

Paul Strauss calls trees "the big herbs."  When folks think of herbal medicine, they often think of herbs as plants, about 1'-5' in height and do not realize many of the very trees they walk by have powerful attributes as well.  Today I am going to discuss willows.

White Willow, Salix alba

With wispy leaves and branches, a willow is mainly regarded as an enchanting tree we see growing along streams or ponds, the stuff of fairy tales and lore.  Remember the man-hungry Old Man Willow in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings??  Willows have an age old association with the Underworld.  There is far more to willow trees than just mystery and romance.  The instinctive notion that there is something mighty and powerful lurking in such a soft-wooded tree is correct.  Herbalists often talk about willows containing salicin, a plant hormone that is metabolized into salicylic acid.  Salicin was first isolated from White Willow, Salix alba, to compound acetylsalicylic acid, or asprin.  And the word "aspirin" was derived from another famous plant with salicylates, Meadowsweet, whose Latin name used to be Spiraea ulmaria, before it was changed to Filipendula ulmaria.  White Willow, Salix alba, and Black Willow, Salix nigra, are the two primarily used in herbal medicine.

Unlike aspirin, plants with salicylates are not irritating to the stomach nor the rest of the digestive tract.  They have the ability soothe tissues, including healing the irritation caused by aspirin.  Salicylic acid is also well known for being helpful in topical acne treatments.

Plants have a spike in the production of salicylic acid as part of their defense response to being attacked.  This helps the plant to acquire "immunity" if you will to the invading pathogen.  It is called systemic acquired resistance (SAR).  Think of it as a plant's equivalent to antibodies.  Plants can also use salicylic acid to trigger SAR in surrounding plants by converting it to methyl salicylate, which is volatile, and can radiate out to the surrounding periphery with the sun's heat.

The Native Americans and settlers to the "New World" used White Willow and Black Willow to lower fevers, help with rheumatic pains, and pretty much capitalized on their anti-inflammatory, analgesic and febrifuge properties in any fashion necessary.

Being so high in hormones, Matthew Wood in his Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants points out that Black Willow was used as a sexual tonic, listing specific indications of "nocturnal emissions, impotence, ovarian pain before and after menses, nervous disorders, and leucorrhea" during the 19th century (pg. 313).  White and Black Willow have both been used for worms in the intestines.

Salicin and other plant hormones are found more so in the young green branches and especially buds of Willows, and not so much in the mature bark.  Mature Willow bark is incredibly high in tannins.  The combination of anti-inflammatory salicylates and astringent tannins is very helpful for a variety of digestive disorders and many plants possess varying degrees of both of these attributes.  Astringents tighten and tone the tissues, making them impervious to pathogens.

Willows also contain fairly large amounts of indolebutyric acid, another plant hormone, and this causes plants to root easily.  Because of this, green willow branches of any willow species can be cut, plunked in the ground, watered and they will immediately grow roots.  You will see the branches produce leaves in 2-3 weeks!  This special function of willows means that you can use tender willow branches to make your own natural rooting hormone to help cuttings of other plants grow roots that would not do so voluntarily, and the salicin helps keep cuttings healthy while they are growing roots.

This characteristic ease of rooting has lead the imagination of many to come up with multiple practical, beautiful and interesting uses of Willows...the most fascinating being planting live canes into the ground and weaving them together as living hedges or fences, arbors, playhouses, trellises and more.  It is like sculpting with plants!  This is much more popular in the UK and Europe; sadly there seem to be few people in the USA utilizing or selling living willow canes for this use.  Maybe that will change in the near future.

Auerworld Palace, Germany, A Living Willow Structure
See more at Jan Johnsen's Blog

Apparently Willows have been used to plant living hedges for eons, dating back to the Middle Ages if not farther.  Willow is also used to control soil erosion along waterways thanks to its prolific root system, and you can even use branches to weave sides for stream banks, raised beds or even make living furniture with the right variety (some grow giant, some stay small).  Because it grows so fast, it makes a good sustainable option for fueling rocket stove thermal mass heaters which require little wood, providing rods for basket weaving (in a variety of colors, no less) and larger branches for making conventional furniture as well.

If you weave a Willow fence in your yard, be sure you are using branches from a variety that does not grow to be a giant, such as White or Black Willows.  Shorter, more compact varieties are suitable for fences.  Not just because of their end size, but because of their water seeking roots.  The large varieties have been known to destroy septic systems, even leaky foundations because of their large, exploratory root systems.  It's generally advised to not plant any trees around septic systems, as all will eventually use their roots to try to get to the moisture, but Willows are particularly fast growing.  Choose the right variety for your particular project and project location.

To close, here I will give you a recipe to make your own rooting hormone from any variety of Willow.

How to Make Your Own Willow Rooting Hormone

Cut a large handful of young, green willow twigs (new growth) about 5" long, preferably with buds on them.  If there are leaves and not buds, strip off the leaves.

Cut the twigs into 1" pieces and place in a quart mason jar.  It should be around half full.

Boil water in a kettle.  Once it is boiling, remove from the heat and pour over the twigs, filling the jar.  Let steep for 12 hours, then strain.  Alternatively, cover twig pieces with cold water and let them cold infuse for several days before straining.

To use, stand your cuttings to be rooted in the willow water for about a day and then plant in soil, or water cuttings placed in soil a couple of times with the willow infusion.

You can keep your rooting hormone for reuse by putting a lid and label on it and storing it in the fridge for at least a month.

This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.