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

Calamus-Smart Soup, Brain Protectant and Traditional Uses

Calamus, Sweet Flag, Acorns calamus, Vacha, Shi Chang Pu, rhizoma acori tatarinowii(石菖蒲)

Recent research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of c4f6301f8e8504f05b68c1b5d558dacdBiochemistry and Cell Biology in Shanghai found a traditional Chinese medicine known as smart soup (聰明湯) could help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, of which calamus was one of the ingredients.  The soup, which is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula used for many centuries and is still prescribed by Chinese medical physicians to patients with aging-related cognitive impairment.  Smart Soup is officially documented in Gu Jin Yi Jian, a book published in 1576.  It is composed of Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii (calamus), Poria cum Radix Pini and Radix Polygalae.  Calamus has been shown to exhibit a neuroprotective action and attenuate learning and memory deficits.  According to the research the scientists found the smart soup, or more specifically radix polygalae, could significantly reduce the generation of amyloid beta, with the levels in treated mice more than 18 per cent lower than in those untreated.  They found that the other two herbs – rhizoma acori tatarinowii (calamus) and poria cum radix pini – appeared to protect the neurons against the damaging effect of ama.

index1According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calamus is aromatic, acrid, bitter and warm. It belongs to the category of aromatic substances that open the orifices and enters the Heart and Stomach channels. It strengthens the Spleen and Stomach, opens the sensory orifices, dislodge phlegm, transforms dampness, calms the spirit, enhances digestion, and promotes blood flow and movement of Qi. It is often used in the treatment of dizziness, dulled senses, stupor and coma.  It has been combined in many other formulas including:

1) Di Tan Tang from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is combined with Ban Xia (Pinellia), Tian Nan Xing (Arisaema), Ju Hong (Exocarpium Citri Erythrocarpae), etc. to treat stoke due to phlegm confusing heart, unconsciousness, and a hardened or stiff body of the tongue impeding speech.

2) Chang Pu Yu Jin Tang from Wen Bing Quan Shu (Complete Compendium of Warm Disease). It is formulated with Yu Jin (Tumeric Tuber), Pinellia, Zhu Li (Succus Bambusae), etc. to cure blocking of phlegm-heat, high fever, coma, and delirium.

3) Qing Xin Wen Dan Tang from Gu Jin Yi Jian (Mirror of Ancient and Contemporary Medicine). It is coupled with Zhi Shi (Citrus Aurantium), Zhu Ru (Bamboo Shavings), Huang Lian (Coptis Root), etc. to heal epileptic seizures caused by phlegm-heat.

4) Ru Lian Po Yin from Huo Huan Lun (Treatise on Cholera). It is matched with Coptis, Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), etc. to treat dampness forming with heat, retention of damp-heat, vomiting and diarrhea accompanied with fever, chest and epigastric fullness and distress, and yellowish glossy coating of the tongue.

5) Kai Jin San from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations). It works with Coptis, Fu Ling (Poria), Shi Lian Zi (Sinocrassula indica seed), etc. to cure no desire to eat and rectal tenesmus after dysentery due to the accumulation of damp turbidity and heat toxic in colon.

6) Bu Wang San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment) and Kai Xin San from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). Both of them are equipped with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Poria, Chang Pu (Acorus calamus), etc. to heal forgetfulness.

The article on smart soup peaked my interest, in that I knew that calamus also played an extensive role in Ayurveda herbal traditions, as well as, in Native American use.

Calamus, is a tall perennial, wetland monocot in the Acoraceae family.  It index4is a strongly aromatic, semi-aquatic perennial herb with a ginger-like stem which spreads into the ground. Originating in Asia it was widely exported across the globe.  The leaves and rhizomes have been used medicinally and as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  The aroma of calamus essential oil is valued in the perfume industry while its, crystallized form, is called “German ginger”.

index6In Native American traditions calamus has been extensively used for a variety of conditions and is considered by some tribes as a panacea herb or cure-all.  Used by Canadian, northern and mid western tribes, its use ranged from treatment of digestive issues to blood medicine and everything in between.  The Cherokee, from which I descend, used it for headaches, diarrhea, gas, colic, colds, kidney disease, worms and urinary infections.  It was ground up and mixed with tobacco and smoked for headaches by the Blackfoot. An infusion of the roots along with chokecherry was taken for coughs by the Algonquin tribe from Quebec.  Not only used internally calamus was used in charms for keeping spirits away, to protect warriors, keep children safe and as hunting medicine by the many of these tribes.  The most common use of calamus throughout all tribes was as a carminative, tooth aches, cold remedies, and sore throats.  In a review of ethnographic records, it had limited use as a herb for improving clarity of thought , although the Rappahannock specifically used the fresh juice as a tonic for older people and several other tribes considered it a beneficial tonic.

In western pharmacology it is classified as a stimulant, emetic, nauseant, stomachic, aromatic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic and nervine sedative, antioxidant and antimicrobial.

acorus%20calamus%20(2)In Ayurveda calamus is known as Vacha.  It has been used in nervous system issues and for mental and emotional disorders.  It has been used to quite the mind especially in the case of disorders characterized by an impairment of concentration such as ADD and ADHD.  As in other herbal traditions it is used in digestive disturbances.  Todd Caldecott, an esteemed herbalist specializing in Ayurveda, wrote an extensive monograph about its use.  In Ayurvedic tradition, Vacha is a ‘sattvic’ herb in its action as a stimulating nerve tonic that helps support brain functioning. It is also used as a rejuvenate for the brain and nervous system, it is used to promote cerebral circulation and to help support overall brain health and functioning. It has long been used to counter the effects of drug use, as in the case of heavy marijuana use, from fatty tissues within the liver, nervous system and brain. It is often used in post-Stroke (CVA) recovery protocols in the treatment of aphasia.

There has been some concerns regarding its safety. Calamus and products derived from it (such as its oil) were banned in 1968 as food additives and medicines by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Per the FDA’s website “Food containing any added calamus, oil of calamus, or extract of calamus is deemed to be adulterated in violation of the act based upon an order published in the Federal Register of May 9, 1968 (33 FR 6967)”. 

Jim McDonald a highly respected herbalist wrote extensively on calamus and is excellent reading.  According to information from his website and through info gleaned various other internet searches the ban was the result of a laboratory study that involved supplementing the diets of rodents over a prolonged period of time with massive doses of isolated chemicals (?-asarone).  The subject animals developed malignant tumors, and the plant was thereafter labeled procarcinogenic, although it  is not clear whether the observed carcinogenic effect in rats was relevant to the human organism, particularly given the large dosages and protracted duration of the regimen. Most authorities advise against ingesting the Indian Jammu strain. (Four varieties of Acorus calamus strains exist in nature; diploid, triploid, tetraploid and hexaploid. Acorus calamus americanus is widely used and believed completely safe in appropriate therapeutic dosages). No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages of Calamus of European or American origin (triploid strain, up to 15% beta- asarone in volatile oil)  but long-term use of this herb should be avoided and use should be intermittent.

Other sites with extensive information on calamus:

http://www.herbcraft.org/calamus.htmlhttp://toddcaldecott.com/herbs/vacha/

http://www.mariatrebenherbs.com/?pid=55&sid=57:CALAMUS-SWEET-FLAG

use as essential oil-http://oilhealthbenefits.com/calamus-essential-oil/

Information on Smart Soup Research

ww.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0111215

Seeds available through Horizon Herbs

https://www.horizonherbs.com/product.asp?specific=384

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