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Archive for the ‘Research on Herbs’ Category

The snow level has fallen and the mountains, now colored black and white, threaten to begin blanketing the river valley with the same frozen rain that will cover them through the winter and into summer. Smoke from the moxa Ellen made wafts out of the bamboo box it burns in and the room is doused in the earthy smell of Artemisia. The smoke drifts through the air and I sence it has latched ahold of my spirit and carried it with it. Bundles of dried Pearly Everlasting, Lavender, Pink Hardhack and Goldenrod hang from a solid wood beam and serve as reminders of summers flourish. The grasses outside remain green and tendrils of Usnea hang from tree branches while the staunch Cedars wave their feathery arms in the cold wind.

Pacific Mugwort ~ Artemisia suksdorfii

Plants are full of medicine, medicine of the mundane and medicine of the surreal. They evoke their healing powers in ways both physical and ethereal. They are our co-inhabitants of this planet, our green ancestors who have sprouted from this earth from times well before their mobile offspring. Their existence is a spiritualists dream, organisms that consume nothing more than light, rooted in place, presence must not be a practice but a compelled state of existance.I come to the plants for healing, they heal the body and do so with intelligence that begs the existence of a god. I come to the plants for more healing, they heal the spirit with undue compassion the likes of which a buddhist could only strive for.

Red Cedar ~ Callitropsis nootkatensis

The magic of this healing is twofold, much time is spent speaking to the physical healing aspects of the plant, but I experience so much of the work in mere communion. A barefoot walk to the river brings my body in direct contact with plantain, chickweed, grasses, dandelion and fallen pine needles. A glance out the window frames a world of varied, green giant trees. An evening meal is comprised roots and leaves and flowers. All of this is plant medicine.

Walking fern ~ Polypodium hesperium

The plants have the power to evoke experiences both unique and universal. The smell of the  Cottonwoods in a river valley rouses memories of smelling them before and affords me the ability to remain in the present and yet ply it with the experiences of the past allowing for an ever-growing sensation of life. Rather than life loosing its lustre after so many years of living, it gains the depth of feeling and love and color given only by many layers.  Think of memory and presence as co-celebrants, creating a life full of depth just as a painting is comprised of so many layers of paint but only one picture.

Goatsbeard ~ Aruncus dioicus

The plants also lend us a macro model for the micro-experiences of our life. They offer a model of strength and a promise of outcomes. In the winter, when much is dead or dormant, the plants that remain green remind us that the wheel will turn again. The spring is likened to the quickening, the first sence that life is growing among us, tender and new. Summer is a glorious and intense labor: long days and short nights, heat and power and production. And Fall is the ecstatic moment of sitting back and holding the harvest in our hands: a ripe tomato, a newborn baby and a deep full breath. It is followed again by the pause and the promise.

Devil's Club ~ Oplopanax horridus

In an abstract sence, healing the body begins first with healing the mind. The plants are an access point, a way to engage in the act of returning to wholeness. I suppose we are born whole and either through outside guidance or our own mis-informed acts we begin chipping away at that wholeness. Many of us later engage in a conscious path of healing or home-coming. We seek to return to the place we sence we once were. This, for me, is the true power of the plants, their physical acts of healing are merely door shows meant to entice us to buy a seat to the Big Top.  And once inside the path home is illuminated in green. Step outside, notice your ecosystem, let the green neighbors conjure images of what our lives could look like if we remembered ourselves as unbroken and again intact.

Old Man's Beard ~ Usnea longissima

Near my little home, a walk in the woods gleans views of trees strewn with long strands of Usnea longissima hanging from the giant rainforest trees like fairy-made tinsel. Usnea  is a powerful anti-microbial, assisting our bodies  in warding off unwanted intruders. But there is more. Walk through the woods and bring your awareness to the lichen: half plant, half fungus. Notice where it takes you, what thoughts it excites or inhibits. Sence your place on the planet in connection to it’s environment. Breath deep. Do this again with dandelion, with hawthorn, with beebalm, with whatever grows around you.
The plants evoke shifts in consciousness, they remind us to think of healing as wholeness and to notice that the planet is a web of healing. Everything we need is here and every living being, every mineral and every formation truly is our kin.  We are whole and we are not alone, never are we separated from other life. Let the plants remind us of the closed system we live in, let them tell us how our bodies feed the smallest life forms and make soil, which feeds the plants, which in turn feed us.  We all share air that has been breathed in and expelled by countless bodies, we drink water that has been ingested by inumerable entities and travelled through the skies and down mountains and rivers and again to the ocean. The basic elements that afford formation of our cells come from the rocks and the soil. Remember that the very air we breath is a creation of the plants.  It is the elixir they released and began summoning us out of the waters and into life. They are light eaters and without them we would not exist.  Look to the plants and let them remind us that we all live off light.

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On September 17 2009,  I welcomed my first baby into the world.  I was either incredibly lucky that my labor lasted only nine hours or incredibly unlucky that my labor began at midnight with back to back contractions that didn’t let up for nine hours straight:)  Either way, it was an incredible experience that began nine months prior.

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 Throughout my pregnancy and now with the little baby here, I have utilized so many of the plants I have come to know over the years.  Many of them I used only topically, as so many herbs are contraindicated for pregnancy.  But here is a list of the plants and preparations that I found indispensable throughout this process.

 

 

  

Pregnancy

Nettles–  This plant seems to come up often for possible treatment of so many ailments in herbal medicine,  and I certainly found it essential for my pregnancy.  I opted not to take prenatal vitamins and instead drank a daily infusion of nettles and thimble berry leaves.

Nettle’s nutritional and medicinal qualities are well known to many but I thought  I would detail a bit of what it can do specifically for the pregnant woman. Nettles contain large amounts of calcium, iron,sulphur, phosphorus, and potassium as well as vitamins A, C, D, and K.  Taken as an infusion throughout pregnancy, nettle can help reduce or eliminate leg cramps and muscle spasms and ease the pain during and after child birth.  It is high in absorb-able mineral salts, including calcium which helps with leg  and uterine pains.

It is famous as a tonic for the urinary tract, and while many women suffer from UTI’s while pregnant a stiff decoction can help flush out the marauding, painful bacteria.  A pregnant woman also has 50% more blood circulating through her body than she did before pregnancy and therefor her kidneys are working 50% harder.  Nettle’s help keeping the kidneys healthy is a boon to any pregnant women.

Vitamin K shots are often given to newborns to prevent internal bleeding, drinking or eating large amounts of nettles in the last month of pregnancy can help ensure that there is already ample vitamin K in the blood stream eliminating the need for supplementation and the concer of potential bleeding.

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Thimble berry (wild raspberry) Leaves– Thimble berry grows in dense thickets around my land,  and after finding that it can be used interchangeably with Red Raspberry leaf for pregnancy, I opted to use it.  I collected and dried many basketfuls of this herb. Raspberry leaf has a long tradition of being used for pregnant women.  Known as  a “birth herb”  it is a uterine tonic that both relaxes the uterus and tones it for the work of expanding and then contracting.  Raspberry leaf  is rich in vitamins including C, A, B1, B3 and E.  Taken as an infusion, it is also useful in the postpartum period to help increase milk production and ease uterine cramping.

Comfrey–  The only other plant I was really able to utilize during my pregnancy was comfrey in the form of a topical cream to help prevent stretch marks. Comfrey is soothing, relaxing and healing to the skin, it contains allantoin which is a cell proliferater and tissue healing agent perfect for rapidly stretching skin.  I did not end up with any stretch marks, and whether that is due to the skin healing properties of comfrey or my own genetics I can’t say, but I will definitely use it again.  I also found another use for this cream by accident.  After spreading the cream on my belly I would rub the excess into my face.  I was struggling with some hormonal acne and as long as I put the comfrey cream on my face the acne seemingly disappeared.

Labor and Postpartum

I had on hand a few herbs to use during labor. In my case I didn’t end up needing them, but I thought I would list them anyway.

Labor Enhancer Tincture–  I made a simple tincture of equal parts Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh and Trillium Root.  However my labor progressed so fast that the idea of enhancing it seemed ludicrous.  Unfortunately, blue and black cohosh do not grow  in my area so I relied on dried herbs for the tincture.  However, trillium does grow here.  According to Micheal Moore, dried trillium root offers little more than nutrition and therefor is not recommended for use.  The plant also has a slow and tenuous growing cycle and is becoming ever more limited in its growing area therefore wasting the dried herb seems unethical.  I live in the woods and was able to find a large stand where I harvested but one root and tinctured it in a very small amount of alcohol.  Seeing as I was only hoping to use it once,  I certainly did not need much.  All three of these herbs promote uterine contractions, this can be very useful in the event of stalled labor.  If you are having and out of hospital birth,  a tincture like this can come in very handy if your labor is not progressing and you are being threatened with hospital transfer.

Shepard’s Purse Tincture– Shepard’s purse is commonly used to stop  bleeding or hemorrhaging, particularly from the uterus.  It is a hemostatic herb, meaning that it works as an internal astringent to stop bleeding.  The herb works so well that one midwife tried giving the herb preventively only to find that the afterbirth was heavily clotted and did not pass easily.  I had this herb on hand just in case. I didn’t expect to use it but thought I would rather be safe than sorry.  I also did not end up needing it’s assistance. My uterus was just as anxious to contract as it was to labor 🙂

Motherwort–  Beginning at 36 weeks gestation , I began taking a half dropperful of motherwort daily.  I had a wonderful pregnancy but was beginning to find those final weeks a little tiring.  Motherwort has calming and mildly sedative properties owed to the presence of bitter glycosides that are beneficial in treating the anxiety and trauma related to ensuing child birth.  It also helps prepare the uterus for the upcoming birth.  While it is considered safe for the final weeks it is definitely not recommend to be taken before.

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I also have found it indispensable for these postpartum weeks when the hormonal changes that inevitability ensue after birth began to take hold and nights of diminished sleep began to add up.  A dropperful a day of this plant has certainly kept my nerves from getting frayed and allowed me to continue to enjoy this experience.

Mastitis–  It has only been three weeks that I have been a mom, but in this time I have had or been threatened with 4 cases of mastitis.  The first two times I was unprepared and spent a grueling day with flu like symptoms, painful breasts and a high fever.  After a few Internet searches I found there were two schools of thought  in terms of treatment. The common choices seemed to be to take antibiotics or to put a cabbage leaf on your breast.   I chose the cabbage leaf.  The first time I used it, I went to bed with a fever and very sore breasts,  4 hours later I woke up to feed the baby and the fever had broken and the pain in my breasts had gone away.  Since then I have also started taking a tincture of Echinacea when I feel those first electrical like pains  in my breasts and that seems to have kept it at bay since.

Nipplewort–  This plant grows profusely in my garden.  My local field guide describes it as a plant that was traditionally used to treat sore nipples.  The french name is herbs aux mamelles, indicating its traditional use for treatment of cracked or ulcerated breasts. What is strange is that is all the information I could find on this plant,  perusal of all my herbals and extensive Internet searches turned up no information on it use for treating sore nipples.  Despite the lack of information I infused the leaves of this plant in olive oil early this summer.  I made a salve with it by adding a bit of beeswax and equal parts pure lanolin and infused oil.  From the day the baby was born I applied this directly to my nipples after each feeding.  My breasts still ached, cracked and blistered, but after only six days of breast feeding they were fine and feedings became painless.  This seems awfully fast in comparison with other mothers who claim it took least two weeks and up to three months for the pain to cease.  Maybe its time this plant was reintroduced to the postpartum world!

Baby

Whenever possible I want to avoid using chemicals or drugs on me or on this new little baby.  In that vain, I created a few products to help her little bottom.

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I read so many rave reviews of Weleda’s diaper rash cream.  After reading the label I decided that I could make a similar cream and save the money.  I can say in our short three weeks together,  I have only noticed a sign of diaper rash twice, and each time it was gone at the next changing after applying this cream.

Diaper Rash Cream

3/4 cup  Sweet Almond Oil infused with Calendula and Chamomile

1/3 cup Coconut Oil

3/4 oz  beeswax

Melt these ingredients on the stove top, cool to room temperature in a bowl.

With a stick blender, mix

3/4 cups Aloe Vera Juice

Pour into containers and use whenever there is a sign of rash.

The last item I’ve used is a simple baby powder.  Avoid using talc on the little ones,  its is similar in composition to asbestos and has been linked with lung cancer.  Commercial powders are also full of fragrances that should be avoided.

Baby Powder

1 cup Cornstarch or Arrowroot Powder

2 Tbls. Betonite Clay

2 Tbls. Kaolin Clay

1/4 cup Lavender Flowers

Grind the lavender flowers in a blender or coffee grinder and run through a sieve to winnow out any big pieces.  Combine ingredients and mix.  Apply to baby’s diaper as needed.

I hope this might help a few of you out there.  My pregnancy was really a delight, my labor ( though intense)  couldn’t have been better,  and my baby is a dream.  I really do feel that I owe much of the ease of the entire experience to the plants that helped me through it. 

Blessings- Kate

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My experience with plants and using them for medicine has included a lot of reading. There are many books that lay out common usage of plants, dosage information, chemical constituents and preparations. And though I find many of these book to be priceless in their breadth of knowledge and information, I also find that the plant is the best teacher. I have been fortunate in my life to deal with very little illness and hope to maintain that record, however, there is a strange bit of excitement when encountering a new ailment and I get the chance to test a different plant on the problem. For then I see, first hand, its magic. Some plants work subtly, some take patience, and some help create the needed change that facilitates healing immediately. Elder has been that sort of teacher for me, affording immediate witness to its healing powers.

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On this side of the Cascades, beautiful Red Elders grow profusely. However, they are not the plant to use as there is much  dispute over their medicinal value versus thier apparent toxicity. It generally takes a trek over to the Eastside of the mountains, with the dry, ponderosa forests and sage to find the Blue Elder. But if you are lucky like me and keep an eye out, you might find a rogue Blue Elder growing near your house. In September, when the berries are blue with a yeasty bloom it is much easier to spot. Look for large swathes of soft blue amid the wall of green that covers our area. Collect the flowers in the early summer and dry them to use as a decoction at the first sign of cold or flu. You can also wait until September and gather the berries, cover them with Vodka or Brandy and let steep for a couple of weeks to make a tincture.

Blue Elder is a healing powerhouse has been used by our native peoples as well as by our European ancestors as a top choice remedy for the common cold and influenza. Paul Bergner recommends its use in prevention of the A1 H1 virus that is so heavily talked about these days. A recent clinical trial in Israel showed that a preparation not only ended cases of the flu within three days, but also increased antibody production. The researchers concluded that Elder seems to be designed specifically as a weapon against the flu virus. The flu virus has tiny spikes covered with an enzyme which helps penetrate healthy cell walls and allows the virus to then begin reproducing within that cell. The researchers found that the active ingredients in Elder disarms the flu’s cell deteriorating enzyme in 24-48 hours halting the spread of the virus.1 The effect on influenza of a syrup made from the berries of the elderberry has been studied in a small double-blind trial.2 People receiving an elderberry extract (2 tablespoons [30 ml] per day for children, 4 tablespoons [60 ml] per day for adults) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo. Animal studies have shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.3

Clinical studies like these offer nice support for using this plant but my strongest confidence in this plant comes from my own direct experience. My initial introduction was at a women’s retreat in New Mexico. I had just arrived at the grounds from a taxing plane ride and a few weeks of very high stress. The morning after arriving I awoke with a biting sore throat, phlegm in my chest and a deep buzz in my head. All of the tell tale signs illness had found its way into my weakened body. I was resigning myself to the illness when the local herbalist gave me one dropperful of a sweet elixir that tasted like port wine. I rested and took another dropperful in the evening and by the next day all of signs and symptoms of illness had passed. Amazed by this outcome, I now have this medicine on hand at all times. My husband works in a large building in downtown Seattle and seems especially sensitive to flus . Illness commonly makes its rounds through the office and before my introduction to this herb, he was often home sick. He now keeps a large bottle of elder near him at all times and has not been sick in many moons. Any day now, a new little baby will join our household and though I am not generally one to get caught up in the mania associated with “possible” pandemics or the media focus on the upcoming flu season, I think that we will certainly take extra precaution and dose up just to help that weak and developing little immune system. I have found that the trick to preventing the illness on the spot is to take the elder in the form of a tincture at the first signs of illness. If caught soon enough, it seems surely to ward off the full blown sickness. Some of my friends and relatives who have not been so vigilant have noted benefits from taking the tincture even after the flu has gotten hold. In that scenario, it does not seem to offer an immediate turn around but does bring the intense symptoms down to lasting only around 3 days. It is said that a tea of the flowers is just as powerful, but my personal use is limited to the alcohol infusion or honey laden tincture.

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Yesterday I climbed the small hill to reach that rogue tree that grows nearby. I pulled down all the branches I could reach and broke off umbels of the robin’s egg colored fruit. I quickly filled my basket and returned home to free the berries from their stems. I filled a jar and covered it Vodka, and layed the rest on the screens to be dried in the dehydrator. In a few weeks, I will strain off the tincture and add a cup of honey to it and fill small apothecary bottles. They will go to the office, be stashed in cars and purses and be put up in the medicine chests of my friends and family. All fall and winter I will lift a dropper to my mouth and take in the sweet medicine and be thankful for the healing.

 

Botanical Names– Sambucus nigra, Sambucus caerulea-

Common Names-Blue Elder, Mexican Elder, Black Elder

Parts Used– Berries and Flowers

Preparations– Decotions made from the dried flowers, alcohol extractions of the fruit, and syrups made from the berries.

herb walk 039Sweet Elderberry Tincture

One ounce Elderberries-dried or fresh

One pint Vodka

1/2 Cup Honey

Steep the berries in the liquor for at least two weeks, strain and press out all the juices that you can, mix with honey and pour into apothecary bottles. Stable for at least a year if it last that long.

 

 

 

 

 

References

1-Mumcuoglu, M. Sambucus nigra (L), Black Elderberry Extract: A breakthrough in the treatment of influenza. Skokie, Illinois: RSS Publishing, 1995

2-Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361-9.

3-Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 1987;1:28-31.

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