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.