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

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 @

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.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Oneirogenic Herbs: Masters of Dreaming

Oneirogenic is not a word you come across every day.   It is used to describe a plant that induces lucid, or at least vivid dreaming when you sleep.  The dreams often are profound.  Sometimes they illustrate present circumstances, hashing out the psychological and spiritual knots for you; less often they can illustrate events "that have not yet come to pass..." (Galadriel's voice there).  Different oneirogenic plants will take you to distinctively different dream worlds, if you will, with their own unique landscapes and/or moods.  They are rich with symbolism; our subconscious mind thinks with symbols.

I've mentioned before how plants can work on the mind-body-spirit connection to bring about wholeness and healing.  The dream world is just another route that some plants are able to work through.  In dream state, when we recess partially back into the fullness of who we are outside of this limited material reality, our rational linear mind is out of the way and our subconsciousness takes over, sorting through events and issues for us.  Some plants are teachers that work through dream time.

Cultures the world over have discovered green allies where they live that are dream-inducers.  It's not witchcraft, it's not voodoo, it's really just the natural way of some plants' medicine.  And if you are willing and able to listen to what they have to show you, you can benefit from dream medicine.  Shamanic plants are a natural phenomenon, though not all people have the understanding to work with them.  Here we will discuss a few oneirogenic herbs and some of their other medicinal properties.  If pregnant or breastfeeding it is always important to avoid partaking of stronger plants like these.  You are responsible for what you put in your body.

Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris

Ah, Mugwort.  One of the most common of the Artemisias (vulgaris means common) and possibly the most well known dream inducing herb.  Mugwort is the cousin of Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, the most famous (or should I say infamous) of the genus.  Wormwood is one of the main herbs in Absinthe, giving the drink its famous green color and its name.  But woe to the person who uses Wormwood without caution.  It is a powerful vermifuge (expels parasites) and contains large amounts of thujone which is toxic in high doses.  Mugwort, on the other hand, does not have the toxicity of Wormwood, though all Artemisias do have vermifuge properties to varying degrees.

Mugwort (and Mugwort species similar to A. vulgaris that grow in other countries) is the plant used in moxibustion , which is the practice in acupunture of smudging (burning/smoldering) the plant material over an acupuncture needle/point to remove a blockage at the acupuncture point and open the channel by stimulating circulation.

Mugwort is famous for inducing dreams.  Primarily the fresh plant is used.  You pick a sprig and place it under your pillow while you sleep at night.  The dried herb is commonly used in dream pillows, but it is not as effective as using the fresh plant.

The dreams brought on by Mugwort tend to deal with boundaries and protecting the "wounded feminine" (√† la Matthew Wood, confirmed by my own experience) side of a man or woman.  They have a neutral feel to them while you are dreaming, upon waking and reflecting on the dream, they tend to, at least in my experience, have a serious tone that exposes the shadows.  Artemisias are all associated with Artemis, or Diana, the virginal goddess of the hunt.  Her aim is true and she is a tireless warrior.

Speaking of tireless, there are times when Mugwort will not allow you to dream, instead she will keep you awake.  The solution to this is to remove the sprig of Mugwort from under your pillow.  Maybe even change the pillow case if the scent of the plant still lingers and keeps you alert.  This will mainly happen if you are trying to use it for a second or third night in a row, or are going to bed with a racing mind.  Mugwort will give you specific messages but when used multiple days in a row may cease "working" because you are expected to take time to digest what lessons have been presented.

Avoid using internally during pregnancy.

By Sqpi177 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Xhosa, Dream Root, White Ways/Paths, Silene capensis, Silene undulata

Xhosa is a plant from South Africa with delightfully scented flowers.  The root is used as an oneirogen.  The name "White Ways" comes from the dreamscape this plant offers, which is often white, the mood cleansing and pure, and it is reported that on these "White Paths" you can communicate with ancestors.  Thus, no surprise, it has historical shamanic use by the female diviners of the Xhosa people of South Africa.  However, Xhosa is known to only open the White Paths to people receptive/sensitive enough to do the work.

The Xhosa root is the part used.  It is high in saponins, or foaming agents.  Saponins are known to be toxic in higher doses.  A traditional preparation involves mashing the root and mixing it briskly in water until foam forms.  Then you eat the foam until you have a feeling of fullness and ultimately burp.

This plant is sometimes taken multiple nights in a row (usually three) with increasing effects.  It does seem to matter that you avoid meat before taking the herb, and resume eating meat afterwards, for maximum benefit.  This is traditional practice.

Using dried root material seems less successful than using fresh as an infusion.  It may be more effective to coarsely grind the dry root up before adding the water and making the bubbles.  The fresh or dried root can also be chewed.

Xhosa reportedly gives no side effects besides a feeling of well-being and lightness of heart the next day.

Dog Grass, Dream Herb, Leaf of God, Calea zacatechichi, Calea ternifolia

Calea zacatechichi is a hot-climate bitter and astringent plant that grows in Central America, Costa Rica and elsewhere.  The Chontal Medicine men of Oaxaca, the people known to use this plant, give Zacatechichi the name "Leaf of God."  They state it sharpens and clears the senses.  It also has important uses beyond is oneirogenic effects.  Bitter is the key, as bitter plants work on the digestive cascade, priming it to receive and digest food.  Thus, for this purpose it may be used before meals.  Zacatechichi (means bitter grass) has uses for a variety of digestive complaints, especially coupled with its astringent nature which aids in cases of pathogen-induced diarrhea.  It is a febrifuge as well.  Zacatechichi also gives a feeling of euphoria when ingested.

Apparently the state of Louisiana and the country of Poland have banned human consumption of this plant and that list may grow.

As a dream inducing plant, Zacatechichi is taken before bed because it will make you sleepy, and is used in a two or threefold manner.  The traditional method is thus:  first, before bed, an infusion is made from the leaves.  It is very bitter.  Second, a cigarette is rolled out of the leaves and smoked.  Reportedly one knows they have ingested all the plant material necessary when a state of relaxation is reached in which you can hear and feel your heart beat, strong and slow.  Then, a leaf of the plant is slid under the pillow and you drift off to sleep.

Reportedly the dreamscape is ultra vivid, as with many oneirogens, and some people experience a suspension of time, as if much more time is "lived through" if you will, in a night than the normal dream process would allow.  There seem to be no reported side effects the next day.

Many people solely smoke the Zacatechichi cigarette, but if you wish to follow tradition, gather your wits and drink the tea first...cheer yourself on with the saying from San Salvador Island..."What goes in bitter, comes out sweet and what goes in sweet comes out bitter."  Translation: bitters do good things in the body, sweets do bad things.

May sweet dreaming visit you tonight...

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.  You are responsible for what you put in your body.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Inherent Handfasting of Permaculture and Herbalism + Lasagna Raised Beds

"Uhm...what is perm-uh-culcher?"  That is something that I have been asked quite a few times.  Permaculture is basically the practice of utilizing the resources and layout of the land in sustainable, ecologically beneficial, self-supporting, and eco-restorative ways.  This includes all sorts of practices from using rain barrels, building grey water filtration systems, monopolizing on microclimates, to growing "food forests" and building permaculture beds that build the soil structure and its moisture retentive value rather then degrade and erode as plowing and rota-tilling do.  Other permaculture activities include worm farming, bee keeping, composting, companion planting, natural building....and many, many other concepts around and in-between that I am definitely not a guru on (but maybe one day?).  Sepp Holzer is a famous permaculturist from Germany that has managed to utilize his habitat in the Alpine regions to allow lemon and peach trees to grow...and they continue to come back year after year.  Yes, I said lemon trees and yes, I said in the Alps.

Permaculture and Herbalism co-mingle because they are both natural ways of living that benefit each other.  "Permies," or folks who utilize permaculture practices, have an interest in propagating/incorporating healing plants for self sufficiency and ecology's sakes; folks who have a natural interest in healing with plants by proxy have the desire to grow plants in low-impact, ecologically restorative ways, to ensure the plants that heal are as healthy as they can be for their own benefit and that of those who use them as food or medicine.

So, would you like to learn how to make a permaculture bed that you can direct-plant your herbs, flowers, or vegetables into this spring?  Yes?  Let me introduce you to the "lasagna" style raised bed...

In case you have never made nor eaten lasagna, it consists of layers of sauce, cheese, noodles, repeat.  And then it is baked in the oven.  "Lasagna" raised beds are made by using different materials that will be nutritionally beneficial and/or moisture retentive and layering them between dirt.  You can start lasagna beds in the fall, adding lots of compost-ables, covering it with landscape fabric and let the worms do the work until the next spring ("baking"), but you can make the lasagna beds ready for immediate planting by using already composted materials.

So, you buy some top soil and have it delivered.  Then you buy some bone meal (calcium and phosphorus which your plants need to fruit and flower), obtain some composted chicken or horse manure,  worm castings, lime, sawdust (as long as it is free of treated wood which is toxic!!!) or old, rotting wood from the woods, and a big stack of newspapers (no glossy pages--the ink has heavy metals), or pull up the old moving boxes from the basement that you don't know what to do with (remove the tape).  Oh, and get the watering hose ready.

So, since you are not disturbing your soil, its structure will stay in place, and be enriched by what you are about to place on top of it.  But note the grass.  Who wants grass in their raised bed?  No one.  So, we must kill the grass.  But not with pesticides!!  This is what the newspaper and/or boxes are for.  After taking out the glossy pages from the newspaper and discarding them, and/or the tape from the boxes and discarding that...lay the cardboard flat on the ground (cut the box down one side to make it a flat piece) or layer the newspapers multiple sheets thick (~5-10 pgs).  As you put them on the ground, spray the paper/cardboard with the watering hose.  This not only weighs down the paper/cardboard so it will not fly away if the wind kicks up, but the moisture helps get it ready to compost over time as well as invites little worms up the the surface.

Now, while the paper/cardboard is still wet, shovel a layer of top soil a couple of inches thick on top.

Next sprinkle a light layer of composted manure.  You want it to be the oldest composted manure you can find so the nitrogen has mellowed a bit.  Manure is intense so resist the urge to add more because "it doesn't look like much...."  You don't want to burn the roots of your plants.  Many places will let you haul composted manure away for free because their piles get so large over the year.  Call around.

Next spread bone meal (following sq. foot recommendations on package) and/or crushed egg shells.

Then, sprinkle a generous layer of saw dust (free of treated wood) or rotten wood from the woods.  This helps the soil retain moisture.  You can also add a layer of coir here, which is the husks of coconuts.  Avoid peat moss.  It not only is rather destructive to the environment to harvest, but it also encourages algae growth and squelches soil aeration.  Blegh.  Maybe mix in your worm castings and compost to this step!!  Mushroom compost is great if you can find it.

Otherwise, add worm castings and/or vegetable/leaf/mushroom compost on top the the sawdust.

After that, sprinkle a dainty layer of lime.

Also consider adding in grass clippings from a pesticide free lawn and your coffee grounds and banana peels from morning breakfast.

Top it all off with a final, generous layer of top soil.  Voila!  You are ready to plant.  In the following year, your lasagna bed soil structure will be optimal, but it will grow plants delightfully well in the first year.

Don't forget to mulch around your plants!  It keeps down weeds and helps keep in moisture on a hot summer day.

Also, if you make these in the fall to overwinter and use the next year, you may add more compost-ables (leaves, vegetable scraps, lawn clippings) and less dirt.  Don't forget to cover it up with landscape fabric!

Enjoy practicing Permaculture!  Plant some herbs!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Salvia the Savior

Salvia officinalis
Source:  Koehler Images

Sage.  The very name evokes notions and emotions.  Images of wise elders with crinkled skin, wizard hats and hooded capes, the recollection of the comforting, warming, smokey, green, earthy scent of Garden Sage's leaves and crackling sausage on the griddle that makes you relax and grin, your belly knowing it will be satisfied.

The genus of Sages is Salvia, whose root word means Salvation.  Straight away you know that to earn such a name these plants have long been held in high esteem for their healing powers.  Out of the plethora of Sages, many of the varieties are used medicinally.  Today we shall focus on Salvia officinalis, or Garden Sage. Any time you see "officinalis" in the Latin name, that indicates it is (or was) the official medicine in the pharmacopoeia.

Sage is one of the herbs sung about in the famous song Scarborough Fair.  It is a cryptic song whose quatrains describe seemingly impossible tasks within each of which is curiously sandwiched, "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme."  This may, perhaps, be a reference to these herbs being the "Four Thieves" that helped grave robbers avoid succumbing to the Black Plague...a seemingly impossible task of the time.  It is easy to see why with such a use, Sage was commonly called "Savior" through that time period.  (Other herbs reported to be used:  Lavender (antiseptic), Garlic (antibacterial), Wormwood (antifungal, vermifuge)).  Parsley is anti-inflammatory and cleansing, Sage we are about to talk about, Rosemary is a powerful antimicrobial as well as anti-inflammatory, and Thyme is as antimicrobial well (its essential oil kills just about any bacteria and will burn your skin).

Sage is antibacterial, astringent, fluid balancing, adrenal supporting, helpful with fevers and colds, all sore throats, has an affinity for skin complaints (especially dry skin), the lungs, and digestion to name a few.

Sage is used in sausage not only because it tastes delicious, but because its antibacterial properties preserves the meat and makes it last longer.  This was a highly valued virtue back in the days before refrigerators and electricity. This also is good news for when we get sick and have bacterial infection set in our sinuses, throats, lungs, intestines, or elsewhere.

Sage is the holy balancer of fluids.  It will increase where there is too little or decrease where there is too much (gobs of phlegm in your sinuses, junky cough, sore throat from post nasal drip, too much sweating, etc.).  Sage is contraindicated for lactating women as it will dry up their breast milk.  Sage perceives milk as an excess of fluids.  So, breastfeeding mothers should not cook with sage or use it as medicine unless they are weaning.  If you do accidentally eat some Sage-seasoned sausage (or stuffing, or gravy...) and notice your milk supply has reduced, two or three cups of galactagogue tea should get you back on track.  I'm a big fan of Traditional Medicinal's Mother's Milk Tea.  It works like gangbusters.

Matthew Wood, in The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, points out that Sage has the ability to thin the blood and safely dissolve dangerous clots and shares several successful case studies.

Sage, Salvia officinalis
The Cloisters Museum & Gardens at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

It has an affinity for oil and skin, always being of use in really dry conditions, increasing the moisture and suppleness.  The leaf is even textured like skin!  "Sage is for Sages" my first teacher Kathleen always says, referring to its useful influence in the well-being of elders (and their aged skin).  I learned from Phyllis Light that Sage helps the adrenal cortex take over as the main hormone producer post menopause.  Matthew Wood has also documented this indication from Phyllis and has used it to the same effect in his own practice.  Sage has an affinity for fats--be it helping the skin stay toned and moisture-retentive, or supporting the hormonal functions of the body (hormones are made up of cholesterol and a steroid--and hormones run the show), or helping your body digest fats by supporting liver function.

Sage can be very helpful in with asthma, coughs, colds and more.  Its variety of applications is astounding and to be honest they are barely touched on in this brief article.

Recently, my Aunt caught a nasty, gunky head cold and their local store was out of Elderberry syrup.  I was searching my brain for anything she might have on hand in the house that would help and had a flash of insight.  I asked if she had Sage in her spice cabinet.  She did and I instructed her on how to make an infusion.  I called back a few days later and she sounded like she had never been sick.  She told me that after her third cup of Sage tea she was good to go.

Because sage is so strong, some, like Matthew Wood, recommend not using it as high-dose medicine long term (past 3 weeks) in case its extended use is too drying.

So here we have another friendly medicinal kitchen spice, and this one truly can save your life.  Salvia the Sage.  Sage the Savior.  Salvia salvatrix.  Perhaps I've talked you into keeping a Sage plant in your windowsill or in your garden this year!

"Cur moriatur homo cui salvia crescit in horto?" (Why should a man die who grows sage in the garden?)  --Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum

This information 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.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Yarrow

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium by Walter Siegmund

Today I am going to introduce you to a likely familiar face and it is my hope that you will learn something new about its virtues.  I have seen Yarrow growing almost every place I have traveled, from the chilly, windy peak of Mt. Hood to the boggy beaches of New England and beyond.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a common plant found the world over and everywhere it grows it has been used medicinally.  The wild white variety is the official medicine.  Gardeners are familiar with intense yellow and red flowering yarrow, but they are not used in herbal medicine and better suited for dried flower arrangements.  Sometimes the white variety is tinged with a pink hue.

Armies of old knew this plant well.  The leaves and flowers of this plant may be chewed and used as a poultice for wounds.  Yarrow is a hemostat, anesthetic and antiseptic.  Thus is stops the bleeding by stimulating the blood flow to the surrounding capillaries, numbs the pain and keeps the wound clean.  Yarrow has come in handy for more kitchen whoopsie-daisies than I care to remember and is invaluable in the wilderness.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium by O. Pichard

If there ever was an herb to have in a first aid cabinet, this is it.  You can keep powdered Yarrow on hand for wounds, or I like to infuse honey (which is bacteriostatic and powerful in wound healing in and of itself) with Yarrow leaf and flower and I refer to this as my "herbal 'neosporin.'"  I coined that term, you heard it here first.  (Don't worry Neosporin®, I'm not selling it or marketing it under that name.)  It heals wounds so nicely.  The anesthetic effect takes a bit longer to take effect than poulticing with fresh Yarrow, but it gets the job done.

Like many external hemostats, Yarrow "normalizes" blood internally.  That is, it will check internal bleeding or dissolve blood clots/stagnation internally, depending on what action is needed.  It is really fabulous in menstrual complaints.

Not to be outdone by its already marvelous powers, Yarrow is a stimulating diaphoretic.  It is warming and opens up the periphery of the circulation and the pores, allowing an illness to sweat out or a fever to break, as needed.

The stimulating properties of Yarrow have been capitalized in other ways.  Peoples in various parts of the world are known to use powdered Yarrow as a stimulating snuff (it's good for nose bleeds, too, that way I hear), and before the days of sedating Hops in beer, Yarrow was used in many brews for its bolstering effect and preservative virtues.  

The dried stems of Yarrow are traditionally used when casting the I Ching.  There are also old folk incantations that were coupled with Yarrow to bring visions of future mates or to determine if love was requited. 

Achillea millefolium is a plant everyone should know.  Because no matter where you go, cuts and scrapes happen.  And when you know this plant ID positively--you will wonder how you ever went through life without it.  Take the away the sharp pain from a cut?  Remove the throbbing dull ache of a burn?  All while keeping the wound clean??  Why wouldn't you, if you could?

Just a note to the wise...

Be sure you know how to differentiate Yarrow from Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum--it's deadly.  It's the plant that killed Socrates.  They really look nothing alike.  Yarrow grows maybe a foot tall with a rigid stem and leaves made up of innumerable little hair-like leaflets (this is where millefolium comes from in its Latin name).  Hemlock grows much, much taller (5 ft.+), has a mottled stem with reddish flecks on it and a large umbels of flowers, with leaves almost shaped like a dainty flat leaf parsley.  But to the careless armchair botanist who gives little thought to employing observation and intuition...or a child--it could be a deadly error.

Poison Hemlock,
Conium maculatum
Image sourced through Wikipedia and originally from [] : William & Wilma Follette @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Dat

This information 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, January 23, 2013

Herbal Medicine: The Elder Queen

Black Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis
©William Needham, The Hiker's Notebook

No doubt you've heard about how "the flu is worse than it has ever been" and "holy crapballs, you better give us your money and get a flu shot that contains mercury (Thimerosal preservative), could very well make you wretchedly sick (though they insist it doesn't), give you Guillain-Barr√© Syndrome (verified by the CDC) or narcolepsy (thanks swine flu jab)!!!!"

I have no doubt vaccines, like most things, started with good intentions.  Obviously nobody wants their children or themselves to die of any disease.  That would be heart breaking and earth shattering for anyone.  But far too many people have experienced first hand that permanently impairing their child's development or their own personal health--mental, physical, or both--for life is a cruel, debilitating, expensive and avoidable consequence in the case of vaccine induced "injuries."  Hence the turn around in the status quo attitude about vaccinations as they are presently administered.  This shift has led to the awful backlash from the vaccine industry labeling anyone who refuses a vaccination as a "threat to society," "dangerous" and a "child abuser" among other ridiculous, bullying, false accusations.

So what if you don't want a shot and you get the influenza virus this year?  Or let's say you do get the shot and you still contract the flu...are you helpless?  At the mercy of fate?  Is there anything you can do?  Is there anything that can shorten the life of the virus?

Smile and rejoice, because the answer is a delicious YES!  Elderberry, the tasty fruit of the Elder Tree, Sambucus nigra, has been proven to kill the virus by disabling its ability to attach and replicate itself in cells, thus shortening the span of the illness drastically.  When I say drastically, I mean the duration is cut more than 50% if you begin taking it at the first sign of symptoms.  So we are talking 2-3 days of misery instead of 7 or more!!!  That deserves a little dance, don't you think?  Our American variety is Sambucus canadensis and is interchangeable, if not a little more medicinal than the European Sambucus nigra.  There is also a blue variety in the Pacific Northwest/West, Sambucus caerulea that may be used as well.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea
©2005 Walter Siegmund

Scientific studies seem to not have explored taking Elderberry every day as a preventative, but tradition in Folk Medicine holds that you may do so effectively.  1 tsp. of Elderberry syrup a day is regarded as the generally effective preventative dose for an adult.  Some people make Elderberry jelly and put it on their toast at breakfast.

Elderberry is antiviral, active against the influenza viruses (flu), rhinoviruses (colds) and herpes simplex viruses (cold sores and their below-the-belt equivalent).  The berries of the black variety are a dark purple, indicating their high anthocyanin level.  Anthocyanins are pigments that are antioxidants, and Elderberries far surpass the antioxidant capacity of blueberries, cranberries and most other fruits!  The seeds are slightly toxic but are rendered safe during cooking.  The flowers have no toxicity in any stage.  People make Elderberry pies and jams.  Jellies, wines and syrups are also made.  All of these have the medicinal properties of the berries.

The flowers are also antiviral and they have the benefit of being diaphoretic, which means they will produce or break a fever, as necessary.  You may be familiar with the liqueur's made with Elder flowers!

Elder Flowers

Elderberry syrup is safe to take during pregnancy, is safe for babies (baby doses) and the elderly.  In fact, the lore of the Elder Tree is that it is ruled by the Elder Mother, who guards the gates of Life and Death.  She is the Queen who reigns over the Underworld.  When you think about the flu, those particularly vulnerable to die from the illness are babies, the elderly and the infirmed.  Typically it is not the flu, but its secondary infection friend, pneumonia, that kills in these cases.  The Elder Mother offers her medicinal protection against the primary illness to these fragile people with her berries and flowers.

The bark of the Elder Tree is mildly toxic.  Please do not use it internally as medicine.  It once was a common practice to make a flute from the hollow branches, though making children's cradles out of the Elder Tree was considered foolish, because it was believed that the Elder Mother would steal your baby's life away in the night for cutting down her tree.  There is a variety of Elder, Red Elder (Sambucus racemosa) that is toxic with red berries.  Red Elder is not safe for use of any kind--flute, syrup or otherwise.

There are many versions of Elderberry syrup on the market today which you can find at any health food store.  Store bought syrups taste fair, but they are delicious if you make them at home with cinnamon, ginger and honey.  At the store you can also find tinctures of Elderberries, Elder Flowers, and teas.  Jams are sold, wines, and liqueurs, though they are harder to find.

Every year when my daughter has started with a runny nose, I have given her Elderberry syrup.  So far, both times it has happened, the runny nose was gone within 24-48 hours and no other symptoms developed.  When she was under one I would take Elderberry syrup as a preventative through the winter and she would get it through my milk.

A guideline for dosing of syrup when you have contracted a cold or the flu is 1 Tbs for a teenager/adult, every 2-3 hours for the first two days, and then cut back to 1 tsp 3-5 times a day until symptoms are gone.  For children ages 2-10 would be around 1 tsp. 3-4 times a day at onset, then cut back to 1/2 tsp. 3-4 times a day, the more frequent dosing for older children.  You can also follow the dosing on the bottle (which tends to be around 1 tsp., 3-5 times a day) but I think it best to take higher doses for the first couple of days as the virus has had plenty of time to incubate and take hold before symptoms appeared, unbeknownst to you. Mothers of newborn babes can take the syrup at adult dosing levels and the babies will receive it through her breast milk.  It is a safe and effective form of administration.  Babies around 12-23 mos. can have 1/4 tsp 2-3 times a day.

Keep in mind dosing can be flexible, especially for older children and adults.  A slice of Elderberry pie is obviously much more than the equivalent of a few teaspoons of syrup a day and is completely safe to eat.

It is important to remember that children under 1 are not supposed to have honey.

I also recommend the homeopathic Oscillococcinum.  One year I had that but not Elderberry syrup on hand and it was very successful at alleviating symptoms.  There is also a coupon on their website! Yeahhh rock on.

I hope this flu season is now a little less scary for you.  If you'd like to learn about more antivirals, how to make syrup, or make it formulated to alleviate a variety of cold and flu symptoms, please sign up for the Cold & Flu Herbal Care Intensive that I am teaching at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio!  You can read more details under the post Herbal Medicine Courses for Winter/Spring Semester 2013.

This information 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, January 15, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Sumac
Staghorn Sumac
When I say the word, "Sumac" many of you might think "poisonous!"  In fact, Rhus vernix, or Poison Sumac, is just one species in a large genus that contains many safe and medicinal varieties such as Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) and others of the red berried nature.

So let's get to the $1,000,000 question, how do you differentiate the poisonous variety?  There is a lot of confusion out there if you google pictures on the internet.  Knowing your plant ID is important, and Sumac makes it very easy for us to differentiate the poisonous plant from the non-toxic ones by the berries.  Poison Sumac fruits greenish-white berries that are sparsely scattered together. The safe varieties produce red berries in compact, clustered heads.  White berries are often (not always) a trademark of toxic plants--Poison Ivy bears white berries too.  "Berries of white, take flight" is an old adage.  Poison Sumac also enjoys mucky, swampy areas while other varieties tend to grow along roadsides, field edges and wood lines.
Poison Sumac

Poison sumac has an acrid sap that causes contact dermatitis.  Upon exposure and depending on your sensitivity, as with Poison Ivy, one can have an obnoxious rash or a more severe allergic reaction.  So it's best to know what species of sumac you are dealing with before clearing the landscape and especially before making medicine.

Let's talk about 3 of the varieties of safe, red-berried Sumac I mentioned earlier:  Smooth, Staghorn, and Winged.  Smooth Sumac is named such because the red berries are smooth.  Staghorn and Winged Sumacs have red, fuzzy berries.  Staghorn Sumac got its name because it grows very tall, bold, with the berry head growing in an upright fashion like antlers.  Matthew Wood points out that Sumac growing on the edge of the woods where the deer hang out classifies it as a "deer medicine"--a kidney medicine.  Winged Sumac derives its name from the leafy "wings" that grow along the branch between leaflets, kind of like a flying squirrel's "wings".

The red berries are tangy and delicious, containing malic acid that is found in apples and can be used to make a delicious, lemonade-like tea.  Because it is water soluble, a heavy rain will wash away all the taste (and most of the medicinal attributes), so one harvests the ripe berries before the rain comes or after it has been dry for a while.  However, if it is towards the end of the season and a big rain comes, you can say goodbye to harvesting for the year.  I postponed picking Sumac once and a hurricane came through.  After waiting about two weeks afterwards and it had been relatively dry, every single red Sumac cluster I could find was absolutely tasteless. 

If you look at the anatomy of the berry, especially that of Smooth Sumac, it looks like a red blood cell.  This is our first clue to one of Sumac's main medicines.  The red exterior is a blood red tacky, tangy, almost oily covering hiding a perfectly kidney shaped, tiny black seed.  So, blood and the kidneys, what is the connection there?  Sumac is superbly helpful in kidney anemia as was taught to me by Phyllis Light.  Sumac helps build blood because its action on the kidneys encourages them to release the hormone erythropoietin.  Erythropoietin is made by the kidneys and signals your bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.  

Phyllis also teaches that it brings the element of earth into watery conditions.  Indeed, Sumac will stop excess of fluids from the sinuses, armpits if you sweat too much, heavy menstrual flow, excessive salivary secretions or urination, etc.  Earth dams water.  She also considers it a great substitute for Elderberry with influenza and often combines the two together.  Sumac also helps the loss of water/diarrhea side of the flu.

The tangy Sumac berry is still used widely in the Middle East as a spice and seasoning.  So here, once again we have a food that can be medicine.  It is delicious on meat, in salad dressings, and makes a delicious infused vinegar if you macerate it in apple cider vinegar.  It is great to add in jellies or jam.  The tang of the Sumac cuts the sweetness of the sugar content and creates a more complex and satisfying flavor.  Herbal medicine can certainly compliment and boost your culinary skills to manage not just food's flavor profile but also your personal nutrition and health better.

Maybe you will be interested to see what types of Sumac grow near you!  The berries redden and ripen near the end of August, give or take a couple of weeks depending on your location.  There are male and female plants and only the females produce the berries.  Maybe this year you can safely enjoy this plant that the Native Americans used and cultures around the world still employ in their daily lives.

This information 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.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Alehoof


Also known as Ground Ivy and Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea is my all time favorite yard herb and I believe quite possibly the most under used and invaluable herb today.  Also not found on the market anywhere.  It is often found sprawling over your garden beds and under bushes and pine trees.  Ground Ivy is a familiar face with a very familiar musty, menthol scent.  One man had a spark of recognition as he smelled the crushed leaves I handed him and said, "Oh!!  That reminds me of playing football when I was a kid and having my face smashed in the dirt!"

I personally remember it from my childhood and running through fields with my cousins with little baggies looking to make perfume.  We picked any stinky plant we could find.  Mainly Ground Ivy.  It was the prevailing scent anyway.

Ground Ivy grows year round, only disappearing if there is a really harsh winter.  It will tolerate being buried in the snow for a long time.  The only time I've seen it disappear for good in the winter was in Massachusetts, but then again we were constantly buried under 4 feet of compacted snow there, so I really can't say if it went away fully.  You will often see it growing with Violet.  They like each other and the same environs.  It loves temperate, tree laden regions though it will sport itself in the sunshine if the ground retains enough moisture.  It grows from Oregon to Virginia and most places in between and beyond.

Ground Ivy has square stems, being in the mint family.  It blooms in the springtime and there seem to be plants that carry male flowers and those that carry female flowers.  The flower is pretty, light purple and looks like a person hanging their head down in a weary fashion.  The male flower's anthers form two unique white X's affixed to the upper petal (the "head" of the figurative flower person), one where sinuses would be and another father down on the throat.  X marks the spot as I see it.  

This plant is fabulous for sinus infections and is a sustainable and more gentle alternative to Goldenseal.  It will dry up a post nasal drip that is causing a sore throat.  I really enjoy it during allergy season to control rhinitis.  It is cooling and sops up all that snot.  

Widely regarded as safe, Ground Ivy has been employed to treat a plethora of conditions throughout history.  It is a panacea of sorts. 

Like many medicinal plants, it has been used as a food, the leaves eaten fresh in a nice green mix salad.  Maude Grieve in her Modern Herbal points out that French peasants ate a little "hairy tumor" found on the leaves sometimes in the fall, which she notes has a concentrated flavor of the plant.  This reminds me of Chaga mushroom on Birch trees, which extracts the cancer-and-other-disease-fighting betulinic acid from the wood, which otherwise would not be digestible by humans, into its fruiting body.  Whatever fungus it is that makes the growths on the Ground Ivy leaf seems to do something similar--concentrate its medicinal powers.  So if you come across some leaves with little "hairy tumors" don't cringe--rejoice!  It's edible, and probably twice as medicinal. (Update July 2013:  So this past Spring I noticed these tumors growing on some Ground Ivy and I got all exited.  Most had a red flush to them which I found interesting.  They were really almost crunchy, best when tender and small, but if large were tough, fibrous, pithy... over all unappetizing.  And also, I discovered that this tumor is not caused by a fungus as I had assumed, but by a little grub that is not noticeable in the small stage.  HAHA oh man...I chalked it up to eating "more protein".......and maybe still get a little grossed out that I ate that.  I don't even know what kind of worm it was!  Whatever, they eat insects all over the world so.......  I can say that the small nodules were very high in the unique essential oils of Ground Ivy, and that would make sense as it would be a defense response of the plant.  The larger ones were worn out if you will, over all lacking in menthol and flavor.  Also, the little worms, as they get bigger are encompassed in a tiny, circular, almost impenetrable dark shell unless you exert good force to crack it...I imagine it is produced by the plant but am not sure.  Maybe the worm does it?  The little plant tumor on the whole looks like fibrous tissue, and I would take it to be a rather significant signature for fibrous tumors or fibrous/knotted tissues in the body, perhaps particularly if caused by a pathogen re: warts? something?  I would be keen to know if it would have any affect on such conditions.  The red flush  atop the tumor could indicate heat, or blood, or both.  Makes me think of piles.

.....Alas, I'd really like to know what that little grub is.)

Ground Ivy bears the name Alehoof because it was used to give ale a better flavor, preserve and clarify it.  "Better flavor? But--it's stinky," you say?  Well, I can say a tincture of it in brandy is actually rather delicious!  Its flavors practically transform into minty, stimulating deliciousness.  So one of these days, I'll make some beer and add Ground Ivy.  They used to use a lot of different herbs in beer, making it more stimulating and, dare I say psychedelic, until the Protestant Reformation came along and sedating Hops were promoted as a preservative in place of the other herbs.  Thanks for that one...Hops also has full blown replicas of estrogen which makes things grow--bad for beer bellies and swollen prostates in middle aged men.

Among Ground Ivy's more wonderful powers is its ability to remove soft heavy metals from the body that accumulate.  It was employed with great success for Painter's Poisoning, or lead colic, during the lead paint days.  Perhaps that's useful to know today given the mercury laden light bulbs and flu shots being pushed on the masses.

It is wonderful for colic in babies, and their fussy digestive pains in general.  When I had my daughter, I started out using Catnip for her digestive complaints which is frequently used for babies' tummy troubles, but when I switched to Ground Ivy the difference was remarkable.  It worked much, much better for my baby and seemed to have a nice, soothing effect overall.

Ground Ivy has a history of use in cancer and in modern preliminary studies on the essential oil, the non-toxic but powerful insecticidal Gleheda (a lectin, or sugar-binding protein)  "preferentially agglutinates" to red blood cells carrying the Tn antigen.  Cancer cells are known to carry the Tn antigen.

The juice of the leaf applied to the eyes has a long historical use for clearing up cataracts in humans and animals.

Anyway, I could go on, but this is probably a good place to stop for today.

Now go, make friends with Ground Ivy!!

This information 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.