A Planetary Approach to Making Herbal Pain Relieving Patches

Picture1A few years ago I had the opportunity to go to China and study at Longhua Hospital Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  During our training we toured different departments at the hospital.  In the Traumatology department they had several crock pots full of herbal plasters or gaos which they painted on muslin.  They were unwilling to discuss the contents of the crock pots but this challenged me to devise my own methods for making medicated plasters.

In Chinese medicine, gaos are a suspensiIMG_1523on of ground herbs in a paste like medium that allows it to be spread on the skin. Sometimes this is a cream, salve or patch.  Patches are convenient I have had great success using them afor the temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints.

This post is a documentation of the process that I used for making the patches including lessons learned.  To begin with, I had to figure out what type of medium to suspended the herbs in.  After a lot of rumination, I decided to use a oil and beeswax base, which I thought would be thick enough to be painted onto the muslin or in my case pre-made bandages.  When mixed properly, the beeswax also acts as a preservative, allowing the gao to keep for an extended period of time without spoiling.

For this experiment I started with myrrh and dragon’s blood resins.  After using a hammer to break up the large pieces into small grains, I covered the ground resins with organic, pharmaceutical grade 190-proof neutral corn, alcohol.  The use of alcohol for extraction is based on its ability to extract chemical constituents which are not water soluble.  I let this sit for one month, shaking daily.  When I started this process I was not sure what base I would eventually use but as stated above I settled on using a oil/beeswax medium.

At this point I had a alcohol tincture that needed to be to converted into oil. I used an Ayurvedic oil making process to do this conversion.  I strained the resins from the alcohol and combined the mixture with 16 parts water in a stainless steel saucepan.  I cooked this uncovered on low until the water  evaporated.  Comment:  I particularly like the process for making medicinal oils with this technique, which I believe provides a clarity that is not achieved through other methods.

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Before (alcohol/herb) and After (oil)

The next step in the process I added additional herbs to the oil mixture.  I chose to add Chi Shao and Tian San Qi, both herbs that are used internally and externally for addressing pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  This is where I made a mistake. I used IMG_5905herbs that had I had on hand that had already been processed and included a binder.  The binder congealed together turning into a glob ball.  Had I just used ground herbs then everything would have worked fine.

After starting over again, I ground the safflower and tian san qi, into powder and added it to the oil,  (covered) cooking over low heat overnight in the crook pot.  The next step in the process was to determine how much beeswax to add.  I used 1/3 cup of beeswax to 1/2 cup of oil, based on wanting it to be thick enough to be able to paint, but not thin enough to rub off on the skin.  This seemed like the perfect amount of beeswax.  After the beeswax melted I removed the herb/oil mixture from the heat, adding 1/2 tsp of menthol crystals, stirring until dissolved (do this in a well ventilated room).  To this I added 15 drops of ginger and black pepper essential oils.

IMG_5904Using a paint brush I applied the mixture to ready made bandages, applying several coats.  Hint:  I kept the mixture liqIMG_5907uid by keeping it on low heat until I was done.

The results are perfect.  I used one of the bandages on a sore wrist and it worked like a charm.  Painting the mixture on muslin would work as well, using gaze to hold the muslin in place.

There are any number of herbs that can be used topically, the following is a list of mainly Chinese herbs.

Er Cha

Black Catechu (Chinese: Er cha, Acacia catechu) belongs to the category of Substances for topical application. It moderates pain, stops bleeding due to external trauma

Da HuangChinese Rhubarb (Chinese: Da Huang, Rheum palmatum L ) belongs to the category of Downward Draining Herbs. These herbs are commonly used to stimulate or lubricate the gastrointestinal tract and facilitate the expulsion of stool. According to our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist Da Huang whose main purpose is to drain heat and purge accumulations also has the effect of invigorating the blood and dispelling blood stasis and it is used for blood stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelicae sinensis (dang gui), Semen Persicae (tao ren) and Carthami (hong hua) for blood stasis.

Pu Gong YingDandelion (Chinese: Pu gong Ying, Taraxaci Mongolici) belong to the herbal category Herbs that Clear Heat and Resolve Toxicity. This herb can disperse Qi stagnation and reduce swelling.

dragons_blood-product_1x-1403631315Dragon’s Blood (Chinese: Xue Jie; Botanical name: Sanguis Draconis) is a resinous secretion of the fruit of Daemonorops draco. Our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist says that it gets its name because of its resemblance to dried blood. It belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It dispels blood stasis and alleviates pain and is used for symptoms related to injury from falls, fractures, bruises, and sprains. It is used with Olibanum and Myrrh for bruising, swelling, and pain from trauma. It can stop bleeding when applied topically to an external injury. It invigorates the blood, disperse stasis, and stops pain. Sanguis Draconis is often combined with Olibanum and Myrrh. All three of these herbs have similar functions but Sanguis Draconis is most able to promote the regeneration of tissue, help sores heal, and stop bleeding.

Gu Sui buDrynaria (Chinese: Gu sui bu, Drynaria roosii) is a Yang Tonifying Herb. It tonifies the Kidneys and strengthens bones. It promotes the mending of the sinews and bones and is used for traumatic injuries such as falls,fractures, contusions, and sprains. It is especially useful for ligament injuries and simple fractures.

long guFossilized bone (Botanical name: Os Draconis; Chinese: Long gu) belongs to the category of Substances that Calm the Spirit. It is used topically for chronic, non-healing sores and ulcers.

Zhi Zi

Gardenia (Chinese: Zhi zi, Gardeniae jasminoidis) belongs to the Category Herbs that Clear Heat and Drain Fire. It can reduce swelling and move blood stagnation due to trauma.

Jin yin huaHoneysuckle (Botanical name: Lonicera; Chinese: Jin yin hua) belongs to the category of Herbs that Clear Heat and Resolve Toxicity. It disperses heat, resolves toxicity, cools the blood, and stops bleeding. It can be used for hot painful sores and swellings.

saflowerSafflower (Botanical: Carthami; Chinese: Hong Hua) belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It invigorates the blood, dispels stasis, and stops pain. Because it is light in weight it is said to have a rapid effect on the movement of blood and the transformation of stasis and stopping pain.

xu duanTeasel (Botanical name: Radix Dipsaci; Chinese: Xu duan) is a Yang Tonifying Herb. It tonifies the Liver and Kidneys, strengthens the sinews and bones and is used for sore and painful lower back and knees, and stiffness in the joints. Our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist says that it also promotes the movement of blood, alleviates pain, and reconnects the sinews and bones. It is often used for trauma especially for pain and swelling in the lower back and limbs from trauma.

Ru XiangFrankincense (Chinese: Ru Xiang, Resina Olibani) is a sap that comes from the Boswellia tree. This herb belongs to the category of  Herbs that Circulate Blood.  It is said to invigorate the blood, promote the movement of Qi, stop pain, and promote the healing and regeneration of damaged tissue. It is often used for traumatic pain due to blood stasis (e.g., bruising). Gummi Olibanum can also relax the tendons and reduce swelling.

Myrrh_Gum_Resin_OG_2019-04-16-product_1x-1555445293Myrrh (Chinese: Mo Yao) is a fragrant gum resin that also belongs to the belongs to the category of  Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It in said to break up blood stagnation to stop pain, reduce swelling, and generate flesh. It promotes healing. When used in conjunction with Olibanum both the Qi and Blood are addressed. Our East Earth Trade Winds Herbalist says that while Olibanum invigorates the blood, Myrrh disperses blood. Myrrh is said to be better for stagnation. Both of these herbs can stop pain, reduce swelling and promote regeneration of damaged tissue. For this reason the two herbs are often used together.

Du HuoAngelica Pubescens (Chinese: Du Huo) is categorized as an Herb that Dispels Wind-Dampness. These herbs alleviate pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and bones. Angelica pubescens expels cold and promotes Qi and Blood flow. It disperses cold and unblocks painful obstruction (bruises, swelling, etc). It can be used for chronic and acute problems.

Chuan XiongLigustici Wallichi (Chinese: Chuan Xiong) belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It warms and unblocks the blood vessels invigorating the blood, promoting the movement of qi, expelling wind, and stopping pain. It can be used for any blood stagnation pattern. It is often combined with Angelica Sinensis for pain and numbness from stagnant Qi blocking the Blood channels.

Tao RenPersicae, Peach Kernals (Chinese: Tao Ren) belongs to the category of Herbs that Invigorate the Blood. It invigorates the Blood and is an important herb for dispelling stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelica sinensis for pain due to trauma. It is also used with Carthami for invigorating the blood as both herbs promote the flow of blood and dispel stagnation.

Dang GuiAngelica Sinensis (Chinese: Dang Gui) is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine. It’s main purpose is to tonify the blood. But it also invigorates and harmonizes the blood and disperses cold. It is an important herb for stopping pain due to blood stasis. It is commonly used for traumatic injury. It is combined with Olibanum and Myrrh for strains and fractures.

Pu HuangCattail Pollen Typhae (Chinese: Pu Huang) belongs to the subcategory of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. Pollen Typhae is the yellow colored pollen from cattail or bulrush. It is known to stop bleeding and is used for external bleeding associated with traumatic injury. It also invigorates the blood and dispels blood stasis. Using this herb can relieve pain from blood stagnation.

tian san qiPsuedoginseng (Chinese: San qi or Tian Qi) belongs to the category of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. This herb stops bleeding without causing blood stagnation, transforms blood stagnation, reduces swelling and stops pain. Because it reduces swelling and alleviates pain this is the herb of choice for traumatic injuries and is used for swelling and pain due to falls, fractures, contusions, and sprains. According to our East Earth Trade Winds Herbalist in Chinese medicine Blood stagnation causes pain and when the stagnation is removed then the blood can resume its normal circulation which helps eliminate pain and swelling.Other herbs:  African basil (Ocimum gratissimum L) herb oil, Cinnamon oil, fang feng root, Formosan sweet gum (Liquidambar formosana Hance) Resin, Fragrant angelica root extract, Greater galangal root extract, Ginger root extract, Huo xue dan [Glechoma longituba (Nakai) Kuprian] aerial part, Natural latex rubber, Nux vomica (Strychnos nux-vomica L) seed, Rosin, Safflower flower, Schizonepeta (Schizonepeta tenuifolia Briq.) flowering aerial part on a cotton pad.

Happy Medicine Making

Nettle Gomasio

I don’t know about you, but I love Gomasio.  Gomasio is a dry condiment traditionally made from toasted unhulled sesame seeds and salt.  It is often used as a toping sprinkled over rice.  In my case, I sprinkle it over just about everything that comes out of my kitchen.

Gomasio is typically made with tan or black sesame seeds. The seeds are toasted before being mixed with the salt. Occasionally the salt is also toasted. The ratio of sesame seeds to salt varies according to taste and diet, generally ranging between 5:1 (5 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt) and 15:1.

Gomasio made it claim to fame in the US as part of the macrobiotic diet movement and is thought to be a healther alternative to ordinary salt. Generally, the gomasio used in macrobiotic cuisine contains less salt than traditional Japanese gomasio (a ratio of 18 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt.

Interesting factoid: Gomasio is also used in Japaneese to describe a head of hair containing both white and black hair strands that intermingle, similar to the English idiom for hair that is salt and pepper.

In this version of Gomasio, I started with left over Nettle Chips.  If you haven’t had nettle chips, it is just a variation on the more popular Kale chips populating the grocery isle.

Nettle Gomasio

Suribachi

4 cups of Nettle chips

1/2 cup of pine nuts

1/2 cup of sesame seeds

1/4 cup of nutritional yeast

2 T. of kelp

1 T. of rosemary

2 T. of corriander seed

1/2-1 cup of Himalayan Pink salt

 

 

Step one: dry roast the sesame seeds by gently warming them in a pan over medium heat, tossing or stirring constantly, until brown, then move to a bowl.

Step two: combine the corriander seed and pine nuts in the same pan and dry roast until slightly brown, then combine in bowl with sesame seeds.

Step three: combine the remaining ingredients into the bowl and stir together until well mixed.

Step four:  place ingredients in food processor, suribachi or other type of grinder.  Process until done and store in glass jar.

Sprinkle on soups, pizza, rice, cooked vegetables and anything else you can think of that you would be using salt for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutritious and Tasty: Nettle Chips

Recently I discovered Nettle chips.  I love kale chips, but I thought using nettles was brilliant, since nettles are packed with vitamin C, calcium, potassium, flavonoids, histamine, and serotonin along with a host of medicinal goodness.  After an online search, I was a bit disappointed by recipes so into the kitchen I went.

indexActually, I started with visiting my secret patch to gather nettles.  When harvesting nettles, don’t forget your gloves and to wear a long sleeve shirt to prevent stings.  The best time for harvesting nettles is while the leaves are still young and haven’t gone to seed.  Once the plants start to go to seed the formic acid increases and can be irritating to the bladder.  Formic acid is one of the chemicals present in nettle stings along with along with histamine and acetylcholine.

After gathering a grocery bag full of nettles, I carefully rinsed them and let them dryIMG_4223 before I took the next step.  In my experience making tasty kale chips is all about the sauce, or in this case the paste.  After some experimentation and based on my kale chips recipe this is what I came up with.

I combined the following in a blender:

1 cup of tahini

1/2 cup of soaked sunflower seeds

1/4 cup soaked pepitas

3 cloves of garlic, skins removed

1/4 cup of sesame seeds

1 tsp of smoked paprika

1/2 tsp of dried ground gingerIMG_3691

2 T. of nutritional yeast

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp of Himalayan salt

1/2 tsp of black pepper

1/2 cup of beet kavas

After blending the ingredients into a paste, I continued to add more beet kavas until I got the consistency was somewhere between a paste and dressing.  Using gloves, I poured the blender contents finishedover the nettles and massaged until the leaves were well coated.  At this point, I filled food dryer trays with the coated nettle leaves and set the temperature to 115 degrees.  It took about 8-10 hours to completely dry, but again, this varies from one dryer to the next dryer.  They turned out great, the only caveat is that I could have added more salt.

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Moringa Miracle Herb or Case of Consumer Beware

Recently I came across a book on African Herbs which contained numerous herbal moringa treemonographs.  The monograph that caught my eye was  on Morniga oleifera.  I was intrigued by Morniga’s popularity among breastfeeding mothers.  Moringa has followed the superfood path of being the latest and greatest remedy for everything under the sun.  In reading through the monograph, I found some support for these health claims but not for others.  Below is an example of how health claims are perpetuated and the importance of looking beyond the headlines.
Los Angeles Times – “Scientifically speaking, Moringa sounds like magic. It can rebuild weak bones, enrich anemic blood and enable a malnourished mother to nurse her starving baby. Doctors use it to treat diabetes in West Africa and high blood pressure in India …. And it’s not only good for you, it’s delicious.”

Indigenous to sub-Himalayan regions of Northern India and Pakistan, Moringa now has world wide distribution. All parts of the plant have numerous medicinal actions including antibacterial, anthelmintic, anti inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-hypertensive, to name a few.  The Moringa tree is know by different names throughout the world including “drumstick tree” or it’s common name of “horseradish tree”. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as Shigru and Jacinto in Spain.

 

Moringa is considered a food and medicinal herb. Moringa oleifera grows in many  health claimscountries where malnutrition is widespread and has been used to increase vitamin and protein levels, providing a valuable source of antioxidants and vitamins.  The leaves are the most common part of the plant used in commerce.  When one searches the web there are numerous links to the health benefits of Moringa. A blog post by Wellness Mama on the super food claims of Moringa covered a important point:

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the health claims that gram-for-gram, Moringa has more protein than yogurt, more potassium than bananas, more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than oranges.  While this is technically true, it is important to note the distinction that this is “gram for gram,” and not by volume. Since Moringa leaves are relatively lightweight, 100 grams of Moringa leaves would be substantially more volume than 100 grams of an orange.

Consider this: a medium size orange is approximately 130 grams, or 4.5 ounces. Now consider a leafy substance like Moringa leaves. For simplicity, we’ll use a similar leaf, Spinach, for comparison. The FDA estimates that 1 cup of raw spinach is about 30 grams. This means that to get the same “gram for gram” comparison, a person would have to eat 4+ cups of fresh spinach leaves to consume the same number of grams as one orange.  This comparison becomes even more glaring with some of the other nutrients. For instance, it is claimed that “gram for gram” this plant contains two times the protein of yogurt, but 100 grams of yogurt is only about 1/2 cup, while a person would have to consume 3+ cups (or six times as much by volume) fresh leaves to get to 100 grams.  Additionally, while it is a good natural source of the nutrients listed above, 1 cup of fresh Moringa leaves provides only 10-20% of the RDA for these nutrients listed above, so a person would have to consume a lot to obtain “superfood” levels of these nutrients. Most Moringa supplements are dried, not fresh, which reduces the amount of certain nutrients and concentrates others.

This points to the faulty logic used as the basis of advertising.  So although Moringa is full of vitamins and protein, it is important to look at the detail, this isn’t a case of comparing apples to apples.

 

bookBack to the monograph.  The monograph reported on traditional uses of Moringa.  According to the monograph Moringa leaves and seeds were used as food:

  • Soup is made from the leaves and is used to treat hypertension
  • Fresh leaves are eaten like spinach, the leaves are used for making sauces
  • Moringa pods are eaten as a vegetables
  • The leaves are used as a protection against malnutrition
  • Moringa leaves are a rich source of Vit. E, A and fatty acids
  • The fruits or seed pods, known as drumsticks, are a culinary vegetable commonly used in soups and curries
  • The flowers are featured in some recipes as well, although they need to be cooked slightly to neutralize toxicity.

The bark, leaves, and root of Moringa have also been used in traditional healing:

  • Leaves used as poultice aiding in wound healing
  • Leaves are used against nervous ailments
  • Juice from crushed bark, flowers, roots and leaves, mixed with honey is used for nervous disorders
  • Bark or leaf used for its antispasmodic properties
  • Root chewed against mouth ulcers
  • Root chewed to aid in digestion
  • Root pulp is poulticed against pulmonary diseases
  • Root decoction if drunk against epilepsy, hysteria, fever.
  • Lightly boiled leaves, bark or root pulp or pulverized root is applied to painful joints
  • Extract of bark or root for scurvy
  • The root and pounded flower are used on wounds
  • Infusion of root is used as gargle
  • Root poultice is a stimulant, used for some forms of paralysis and fever.
  • Juice extracted from crushed roots ear drop for ear infections
  • The leaf infusion contains oxytocin
  • Leaf pulp used as dressing against inflammation
  • Whole plant decoction used against viral hepatitis
  • Used as gargle for throat related infections
  • Seed oil is rubbed on joints.
  • Used as a traditional supplement for infants. One rounded soup spoon contains about 8 g of powder with 2.2 G protein.
  • During the 19th c. Plantations in the West Indies were exporting the oil. It is pleasant tasting edible oil which does not become rancid.
  • In one study the seeds of Moringa were used to purify water. (Gilpin et al., 1994)

Moringa is promoted as a galactagogue or milk stimulating herb by many commercial moringa plantsources.  In a review of literature on Moringa some cultures used it primarily for increasing protein levels during breastfeeding. The Philippines have documented use of its ability to augment breast milk production.  There is a survey of studies that does show it has a demonstrated  significant increase in milk produced 4-7 days after treatment. The caution is that the internet is filled with much misinformation about whether Moringa leaf should or should not be taken during pregnancy, at this point I would air on the side of safety.  The other parts of the plant should not be taken and can cause miscarriage or bleeding.

Cautions:  The leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree are generally considered to be safe and edible, but there is some controversy regarding the roots and stems pointing to potentially harmful effects, especially in women. These parts of the plant may not only act as a contraceptive (both temporary or permanent) but may also lead to miscarriage and other problems.  There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done. Additionally, the leaves of the plant have been shown to have a mildly laxative effect and may cause digestive disturbances in some people. Supplementation of the seeds or one extract of the leaves (methanolic) at doses around 3-4 fold higher than the recommended dosages appears to be associated with genotoxicity and should be avoided; water extracts of the leaves do not appear to confer this risk.  Moringa oleifera has anticoagulant properties of unknown potency and biological significance.

Important drug contraindications:  Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Moringa might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking moringa along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications.

  • Levothyroxine-Interaction Rating: Moderate.  Be cautious with this combination.  Levothyroxine is used for low thyroid function. Moringa might decrease how much levothyroxine your body absorbs. Taking moringa along with levothyroxine might decrease the effectiveness of levothyroxine.
  • Moringa might lower blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking moringa along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
  • Moringa might lower blood pressure. It has the potential to add to blood pressure lowering effects of antihypertensive drugs.
  • There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done.

This points to my initial concern about the over marketing of an herb, where it becomes almost impossible to filter through the numerous web pages to find reality.  As the global use of herbal medicinal products continues to grow and many more new products are introduced into the market, public health issues, and concerns surrounding their safety are important.  I am not in the camp of over regulation at all, but I do feel that for the most part consumers are not doing the level of research needed, or looking to clinical herbalists, who for the most part are trained to dig deep for efficacy and contraindications.

Shi Hu, Dendrobium Nobile- “Immortality Herb”

This last May I was fortunate to travel to China with my school, East West School for Planetary Herbology, to do clinical training in a Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.  On one of our field excursions, we toured a demonstration garden for the school.  In one greenhouse there were rows and rows of a low growing plant called Shi Hu. I found a piece of the plant on the ground put it into my pocket, hoping to root it when I got home.  At this point, I have a very small plant that made the long plane trip and is starting to put on growth.

Shi hu is an orchid plant that often grows adjacent to trees such as pear or peach.  The plant consists of a long, thin stem, which is golden yellow in color, with a flower at the end. Dendrobium Nobile, also known as the Noble Dendrobium or Shi Hu in Pinyin, has been used for the medicinal purpose for at least 2,000 years. Different varieties of dendrobium have different colors, but the most common colors are yellow and pink. The plant has a long thin stem that is used for various herbal and medicinal treatments. Shi Hu grows wild and is harvested from November to February although at this point, wild Shi Hu is overharvested and it is now being cultivated in greenhouses like the one we saw.  True Shi Hu refers to dendrobium orchid, but much of what is available on the market is a substitute rather than true dendrobium.  It is common to see products that are sold as “wild” Shi Hu, but this is a case where much of it is cultivated and not wild. Most frequently Shi Hu is available in bulk or granules. According to Eric Brand of Blue Poppy, the best way to test the quality of Shi Hu is to chew it. The more fibrous the less quality, the more sticky it is the better quality it is.

Shi Hu has been used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine.  In the Taoist Canon, a collection of Taoist literature from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it refers to Shi Hu as the first of nine “celestial herbs” with great health benefits.  In the Compendium of Materia Medica, written during the Ming Dynasty, Shi hu is described as affecting three channels of energy – the stomach, the lungs, and the kidneys.  The Chinese believe that the Dendrobium plant is ‘yin’ in nature and can be used to replenish fluids. It is commonly used as an Yin tonic to moisten the stomach, lungs and to replace kidney yin jing. It is very effective for treating conditions such as dry mouth, stomach pain, mouth sores, sunstroke, and other conditions caused by dry weather, pollution or smoke.

Let’s face it as we age we tend towards dryness and ingesting herbs that help to replenish fluids can be helpful.  Another reason that I love Shi Hu is that I often incorporate herbs into my soups and broths.  Shi hu has been used this way in Chinese cooking along with ginseng and chicken, duck, or lamb, for general health. Shi hu is now being adapted to new and creative uses including being made into juices and even dishes available at health spas. In a news article, I recently read, the flower of Shi Hu is made into a tea drink and even brewed into a clear liquor with 38 percent alcohol.

Among its many uses, the Chinese use dendrobium as a tonic for longevity. It is believed that when mixed with licorice roots and made into a tea it transmits healing energy to all parts of the body. There is a whole host of uses that are promoted in the commercial literature including the following:

  • Dendrobium helps moisten and nourish the skin and prevents dryness and flaky skin.
  • When air pollution and smoke dry out the lungs and air passages and increase thirst, dendrobium can be consumed for quick relief and to moisten the passageways.
  • Dendrobium is used as an effective tonic for the treatment of tuberculosis, flatulence, night sweats, anorexia, fever, and dyspepsia.
  • Dendrobium tonic improves the functioning of the lungs, kidneys, and stomach. It can reduce stomach pain and cramping and reduce vomiting.
  • It is believed that regular consumption of dendrobium can also treat sexual impotency.
  • Pain in the feet and hands, lumbago, and arthralgia can be treated with dendrobium extract.
  • Dendrobium can boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
  • Dendrobium has long since been used to replenish lost fluids from the body and reduce severe thirst.
  • Natives of the Eastern Himalayas use dendrobium to heal problems with the eyes.
  • Dendrobium blossoms and stems are edible. Countries like Thailand and Singapore, deep fry these delicacies and eat them as snacks.
  • In Europe, dendrobium blossoms are used as edible cake decorations and as garnishes.
  • The Aborigines consider dendrobiums as emergency bush food.
  • Pickle is made from dendrobium flowers in Nepal.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Energy: sweet, slightly cold

Actions: Generates body fluids for the stomach; nourishes stomach Yin, mildly nourishes kidney Yin; clears heat; brightens the vision; strengthens the lower back.

Uses:

Nourishes Yin, clears Heat and generates fluids Parched mouth, severe thirst or intractable fever associated with Yin Deficiency, most commonly when the Fluids are injured during a warm pathogen disease
Enriches Kidney Yin and reduces Heat from Deficiency Yin Deficiency Heat and depleted Fluids with a recalcitrant low-grade fever, dry and painful throat and a red tongue with no coat
Tonifies the Kidneys, augments Jing, brightens the eyes, strengthens the tendons and bones and strengthens the low back Dull vision, dizziness and low back weakness and pain associated with Kidney and Liver Deficiency
Nourishes Stomach and Lung Yin Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire Rising

http://www.americandragon.com/Individualherbsupdate/ShiHu.html

Additional Note:  According to Eric Brand it can trap an EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) in the body and prolong the sickness. If there is a chance of EPI, Mai men dong or Yu zhu is a better choice.

  • Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1986.
  • Flaws B (translator). The Book of Jook. Chinese Medical Porridges: A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 1995.

Two Immortals- Help with Menopausal Symptoms and Hypertension

Er Xian Tang (Two Immortals Teapills)

TCM action: warm kidney yang, tonify kidney essence, and drain deficient fire

Last year one of my esteemed herbal teachers, Leslie Tierra, talked about the great results that she was getting treating women with Er Xian Tang who had yin deficiency with deficient fire. This peaked my interest and I started to look at the history and herbs that comprised the formula. In a nutshell, deficient fire is often seen in women who are experiencing pre and post menopausal symptoms which might include hot flashes, night sweats, facial and malar flushing, irritability, palpitations, insomnia, decreased sex drive and vaginal dryness to name a few.

The formula Er Xian Tang was developed in the 1960’s at a hospital affiliated with Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Er Xian Tang was designed as a treatment for cases of hypertension (Western terminology) where there was a combination of kidney yang deficiency and deficiency fire of the kidney, two seemingly contradictory conditions. Yang deficiency include signs of internal cold and weakness including coldness, lassitude, edema of the legs, loose stools, sterility or infertility, frequent urination, urinary incontinence, while the signs listed above indicate deficiency of Kidney fire.

A comparison of the role of the heart and kidney in allopathic and TCM can be helpful in understanding the intent of the formula. Er Xian Tang treats renal hypertension.   Renal hypertension from an allopathic perspective results impaired functioning of the kidneys, reduced urinary elimination and excessive renin (a protein and enzyme secreted by the kidneys) production. The heart sends a continuous supply of oxygenated blood around the body. The kidney filters the blood, extracting waste in the form of urine, and also helps regulate the water and salt levels to control blood pressure. When the heart is no longer pumping efficiently it becomes congested with blood, causing pressure to build up in the main vein connected to the kidneys and leading to congestion of blood in the kidneys. The kidneys suffer from the reduced supply of oxygenated blood. When the kidneys become impaired, the hormone system, which regulates blood pressure, goes into overdrive in an attempt to increase blood supply to the kidneys resulting in renal hypertension. This eventually damages the heart, which has to pump against higher pressure, in the arteries.

In TCM Er Xian Tang treats kidney yang deficiency and deficiency fire of the kidney. In TCM, according to the five elements theory, the Heart is categorized as yang and the Kidneys are considered yin. Normally, the Heart yang (fire) descends and joins with the Kidney-yang to warm and propels kidney-yin (water) to ascend to nourish heart yang (fire) to prevent it from hyperactive. Think of it as a continual loop with fire warming the kidneys, while water helps to contain heart fire. Or as Western medicine describes: the heart sends a continuous supply of oxygenated blood to organs including the kidneys that help to regulate water and salt levels to control blood pressure. In both systems the heart and the kidneys are closely related, with a mutually dependent function. If this functional relationship becomes abnormal in TCM it results in a condition termed “non-coordination between the heart and the kidney”.

This gets us back to yin deficiency with deficient fire. In Chinese medicine, the Heart and Kidney energies should work together. The Heart sends Fire down to warm the Kidneys: in return, the Kidneys send pure fluids up to nourish the Heart. In Heart and Kidney Yin deficiency with Deficient Heat the downward action or upward action is severely reduced. This leaves too much Yang (fire), due to lack of cooling Yin (water), hence deficient heat, resulting in night sweats, insomnia, and steaming bone syndrome. Normally you expect to see symptoms of deficiency fire of the kidney associated exclusively with yin deficiency, yet in this case, this type of fire is described as yang excess which arises from an imbalance of yin and yang (the deficient yin can not control the yang). When yin and yang are both deficient, one can experience symptoms of each deficiency, which may either flip back and forth between the two or manifest simultaneously.

Er Xian Tang, Two Immortals

Xian Mao-Curculigo, Golden Eye-Grass Rhizome

Tastes and Energies: spicy-hot,

Category: Tonify the Yang

Actions: Warm Kidney yang and tonify Kidney essence,

Contraindications: Yin Deficiency w/ Heat

Yin Yang Hou-Epimedium Leaf

Tastes and Energies: spicy, sweet, warm,

Category: Tonify the Yang

Actions: Warm Kidney yang and tonify Kidney essence, tonify Yin, harnesses Liver yang,

Contraindications: Yin deficiency w/ Heat

Ban Ji Tian-Morinda Root

Tastes and Energies: spicy, hot, toxic,

Category: Tonify the Yang

Actions: warm Kidney yang and tonify Kidney essence,

Contraindications: Yin deficiency w/ Heat amp heat

Huang Bai-Phellodendrum Bark, Amur Cork-Tree Bark

Tastes and Energies: bitter, cold

Category: Clear Heat Dry Dampness

Actions: nourish Kidney yin and drain fire from deficiency, used for steaming bone disorder, night sweats.

Contraindications: Spleen Qi Deficiency w/ Cold

Zhi Mu-Anemarrhena Rhizome

Tastes and Energies: bitter, sweet, cold

Category: Clear Heat, Drain Fire

Actions: nourish Kidney yin and drain fire from deficiency, nourish yin and moistens dryness, generates fluids and clears heat.

Contraindications: Spleen Qi Deficiency, diarrhea

Dang Gui-Angelica Sinensis Root

Tastes and Energies: sweet, spicy, warm

Category: Tonify the Blood

Actions: Moistens and nourishes the blood and regulates the penetrating and conception vessels. Invigorates blood, moistens the intestines, increases circulation

Contraindications: Spleen Qi Deficiency, dampness

Er Xian San cautions:  during pregnancy, during early states of acute illness, loose stools, diarrhea, poor appetite or chronic digestive weakness.

The intriguing aspect of Er Xian Tang is that it contains herbs that are contraindicated (not used) in cases of yin deficiency with deficient fire. It contains hot natured herbs, Xian Mao, Yin Yang Hou, and Ban Ji Tian, which tonify yang but can also increase fire. The formula also contains Huang Bai and Zhi Mu that are bitter and drying, which may damage yin. Huang Bai and Zhi Mu are considered a traditional Dui Yao, or herbs that are often used together to reinforce and complement each other. Together they clear heat, enrich yin and drain deficient fire. Huang Bai is bitter, cold, consolidates yin, drains deficient fire, while Zhi Mu, is sweet, cold, enriches yin, moistens dryness, and supplements the kidneys. Dang Gui builds blood, increases red cell proliferation, normalizes heart contractions and dilates coronary blood vessels increasing peripheral blood flow. Huang Bai and Zhi Mu are cold energetically and help to balance the spicy and heating energies of Xian Mao, Yin Yang Hou, and Ban Ji Tian.

Er Xian Tang serves as an example of evolving TCM formulation, where a new formulations are being utilized to address modern disharmonies by combining strongly warming yang tonics with cold, fire-purging herbs. In this case and the studies that have been conducted the formula appears to be effective for hypertension and for some other applications, such as menopausal syndrome and male infertility.

Additional notes:

Xian Mao and Yin Yang Huo are used to tonify the kidney and according to the Taoist’s aid in prolonging life. The name “Two Immortals” references the use of the word Xian.   Xian Mao was named in the Bencao Gangmu (by Li Shizhen; 1596) as one of the herbs believed to contribute to immortality. Xian Ling Pi (Epimedium, now know as Yin Yang Huo) alludes to the immortals’ intelligent nature, boosts the qi and strengthens the will. Around 100 B.C., a poem about attaining immortality, the ode Yuan Yu (Journey to Remoteness, or Roaming the Universe) was written. It depicts the transition to immortality:

Having heard the precious teaching, I departed,

And swiftly prepared to start on my journey.

I met the feathered ones at Cinnabar Hill,

I tarried in the ancient Land of Deathlessness.

In the morning, I washed my hair in the Hot Springs of Sunrise,

In the evening, I dried myself where the suns perch.

I sipped the subtle potion of the Flying Springs

And held in my bosom the radiant metallous jade.

My pallid countenance flushed with brilliant color,

Purified, my Jing began to grow stronger,

My corporeal parts dissolved to a soft suppleness,

And my spirit grew lissome and eager for movement.

 

Comfrey, Maggot Therapy and Cell Regeneration

I recently when down the research rabbit hole the other day when looking for comfreyinformation on comfrey (Symphytum officinale) finding an article about allantoin in the Society of Cosmetic Chemist, vol. 9, no 1, in 1958. The article was a survey of literature dealing with the therapeutic and cell proliferate action of allantoin, which of course, we know is an active chemical constituent in comfrey. What I did not know, was that maggots specifically Licilia sericata (sheep blowfly), were used during and immediately after World War I in the treatment of hard to heal wound infections.

Allantoin was first isolated and synthesized from uric acid in 1800. Naturally, it is found in comfrey, in small amounts in the urine of most mammals (with the exception of humans) and in greater amount in the urine of pregnant women.index It is a normal by-product of the oxidation process of uric acid by purine catabolism. Allantoin, in both maggot therapy and comfrey, works by increasing the water content of the extracellular matrix and enhancing the skin peeling or desquamation of upper layers of dead skin cells, increasing the smoothness of the skin, promoting cell proliferation and wound healing. Allantoin’s synthesized version is purported to be chemically equivalent to natural allantoin. It is deemed safe, non-toxic and is used in cosmetics, with over 10,00 patents. It is used extensively in the cosmetics industry primarily in moisturizers, toothpaste and in topical drugs to remove warts.

Maggot therapy or the use of maggots in healing have historical roots in use by aboriginal tribes, as did physicians during the Renaissance, and American Civil maggotsWar. Secretions from maggots have been found to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity including allantoin, urea, phenylacetic acid, and proteolytic enzymes. The resurgent interest in maggot therapy is currently underway with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granting permission to produce and market maggots for use in humans and animals in 2004. In fact, a company in Wales is now marketing teabags filled with maggots for wound healing.tea-bags-maggots

This brings us back to comfrey. In 50 AD, Dioscorides’ Materia Medica prescribed comfrey to heal wounds and broken bones. Comfrey, has long been viewed as a herb for treating broken bones, bronchial and respiratory issues, sprains, arthritis, healing wounds, and tissues. The plant contains allantoin, along with mucilage, saponins, tannins and pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s). Unlike maggot therapy, the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids prevents comfrey’s use the treatment of open wounds, where it is thought that it is absorbed. In fact, there is some speculation that the PA’s in comfrey are also absorbed through the skin, so harmful amounts may build up in the body. Comfrey is no longer sold in the U.S., except in creams or ointments. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany also have banned the sale of oral products containing comfrey. It is advised to not use comfrey on open woods or broken skin, consume internally if you have liver disease, a history of alcoholism or cancer. Furthermore, it is contraindicated for the elderly, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. Leslie Tierra in an article “Comfrey Comfort” states, in an article “it is important to realize that a constituent with a negative effect may be neutralized, or greatly diminished when combined with other herbs in formulas”. This is true for many plants and might be considered in this instance. In both maggot therapy and comfrey, there are indications that both contain other substances that aid in the healing process.

Medicine making: Allantoin is slightly soluble in hydroethanolic solutions, but can be made to dissolve in an oily solvent with the use of an emulsifier, which comfrey naturally contains. It also is very soluble in alkaline or hot water. It can be decomposed by acids should be kept at a slightly acid Ph value. The roots contain higher amounts of PA’s than the leaves and flowers.

Resources:

Allantoin-Its properties and uses. A. M. Posner. http://journal.scconline.org/pdf/cc1958/cc009n01/p00058-p00061.pdf

Comparative Study of the Biological Activity of Allantoin and Aqueous Extract of the Comfrey Root

Savić VLj1, Nikolić VD2, Arsić IA1, Stanojević LP2, Najman SJ3, Stojanović S3, Mladenović-Ranisavljević II2.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25880800https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25880800

Controversial Comfrey: Super Healer or Lethal Poison. https://simpleunhookedliving.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/controversial-comfrey-super-healer-or-lethal-poison-3/

East West School of Planetary Herbology, Leslie Tierra “Comfrey Comfort”.

https://www.planetherbs.com/lesley-tierras-blogs/comfrey-comfort.html

 

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