Lemon Balm, a Powerhouse of a Medicinal Herb

 “Lemon Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens

the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy”.

John Evelyn, an English herbal physician

Did you know that lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, has been used medicinally for centuries? Lemon balm is native to Southern Europe. Still, with its strong lemony smell and deliciously pleasant flavor, it was so popular that by the middle ages, it was cultivated throughout all of Europe, even making its way to the Middle East. Avicenna, an 11th-century Arab herbalist, said of the herb: “It causeth the mind and heart to become merry.” Melissa means “bee” in Greek, and as the name suggests, bees adore Melissa’s tiny but sweetly scented flowers. Legend has it that medieval beekeepers rubbed the crushed lemon balm in hives to encourage nesting. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed that lemon balm was an “elixir of life” and claiming that it would increase strength and lengthen life. North America, too, was soon enamored with lemon balm brought over by the colonists who used it for tea and potpourri, as well as for increasing production of honey by honeybees.

Lemon balm is a powerhouse of a medicinal herb; in fact, it treats so many conditions it could be considered a cure-all. It has been used for treating dyspepsia, IBS, acid reflux, stress and anxiety, herpes simplex, brain health, hyperthyroid, Alzheimer’s, and insomnia, to name a few. Lemon balm long known for its ability to improve digestion contains volatile oils, known as terpenes, which help to relax muscles and relieve symptoms of gas, food stagnant, ease abdominal cramping, and promote the overall digestive health.

Some herbalists consider lemon balm as a nervous system trophorestorative(Hoffmann, 2003), a word which indicates that over time, it tonifies and repairs the nervous system. Part of the reason for this is that lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid, which increases the availability of GABA in the brain, where low levels are believed to be associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. In addition, rosmarinic acid has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, with studies indicate that using topically on herpes simplex sores has shortened healing time and recurrence (Gaby, 2006). If that wan not enough, recent research has shown that lemon balm is also radioprotective and shields DNA from radiation-induced damage (Zeraatpishe et al., 2011). An extract of lemon balm is one of the treatments, based on research, suggests that it stops the processes that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the thyroid receptor, specifically in patients with Grave’s disease (Auf’mkolk, 1985). Clinical research shows that taking a standardized extract of lemon balm daily for four months reduces agitation and improves symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (Akhondzadeh, 2003). For the first time, chronic Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract treatment has been demonstrated to improve mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders, its associated symptoms and insomnia in humans (Cases, 2011)

Once you realize all the ways you can benefit from the many uses of lemon balm, I’m sure you’ll be itching to grow some in your garden. Lemon balm can be grown from seed, but in Central Oregon with the wind, heat, and its short growing season, I recommend starting lemon balm from established plants, rooted stem cuttings, root divisions, or seedlings from a nursery. It prefers fertile, loamy soil, with mid to full-day sun, but always appreciates a bit of afternoon shade and soils that retain moisture.

As a perennial herb (which means it will come up year after year), it can reach heights of 12-24 inches with equal width of spread. Lemon balm is hardy to zones 3 and 5, making it perfect for Central Oregon’s growing climate. If starting lemon balm from seed, you have several options, including starting seed in the spring, in the fall, or indoors. When starting seed in spring wait until the soils have warmed up and the danger of frost has passed or if planting in fall, plant seed in early fall to late winter. The challenge of fall planting is that with soil movement from ice and snow, the seeds can become too deep to germinate in the spring. To start lemon balm indoors, sow seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost. I sprinkle seeds in small pots filled with a seed starting mixture and barely cover. Seeds generally take seven to fourteen days to germinate at 70°F, but longer if indoor temperatures are cooler. Once seedlings have their second set of true leaves, either thin them or repot individual seedlings into larger containers, after all, the danger of frost has passed, seedlings should be set in the garden twelve to eighteen inches apart. Whichever method you choose, recognize that lemon balm seeds are slow to germinate. Once your lemon balm plant is established, and if left to go to seed, you will have many lemon balm babies the following year.

Lemon balm can always benefit from mulching year-round, but winter mulch is of the utmost importance to insulate the plant from being heaved out of the ground in times of repeated freeze and thaw cycles. To prevent scraggly or spindly growth, divide mature plants every three to five years. Lemon balm also is an excellent companion plant for squash as well as it repels mosquitoes and squash bugs.

Harvesting lemon balm is super easy, you can harvest a handful of fresh leaves to use immediately, or you can collect and dry the leaves for later use. Harvest the leaves just before its flowers open when volatile oils are at their most potent concentration. It is often possible to get two harvests a year, once in mid-summer and another in the fall, just remembering not to remove more than two-thirds of the growth at a time. For lemon balm, I remove the leaves from the stalks by holding the tip (top) of the stem firmly between your left thumb, index, and ring fingers. With the same three fingers of your right hand, pull firmly downwards along the stem. For drying, I either use a dehydrator set on low or spread the leaves on a cookie sheet and set somewhere that does not get direct sun and has good air circulation. Luckily living in Central Oregon herbs dry fast and are typically done in two to three days.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Salve

  • 1 cup of coconut oil
  • 15 g St John’s wort dried herb
  • 15 g Lemon Balm dried herb

Step #1-Melt coconut oil in a double boiler/in a glass bowl over water that has reached a simmer, add herbs and mix well, infuse for two-four hours. Strain through cheesecloth/nut milk bag. Return oil to the bowl and heat slightly.

Step #2-Melt two tablespoons chopped/grated beeswax and two tablespoons grated cacao butter into the slightly heated lemon balm oil. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and add ten drops of lemon balm essential oil.

Step #3-Pour the oil into lip containers or small pots, let cool and harden.

Optional ingredients:

  • Two drops of clove oil pain relief
  • Four drops peppermint essential oil anti-viral, cooling, pleasant scent
  • Two drops tea tree essential oil anti-viral

So now that your garden is full of lemon balm, how do you use it? Lemon balm is quite versatile as either a culinary or medicinal herb. As a medicinal herb, the most obvious preparation is to infuse the leaves in hot water for tea. Typically, a therapeutic dose of an herb is one ounce of herb to 2-3 cups of water. Put the lemon balm leaves in a mason jar, pour in hot water, cover with a lid and let sit for 10-15 minutes, strain and drink throughout the day. One example of a tea formula that includes lemon balm for addressing digestive issues is to combine, one heaping teaspoon of chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaves, and catnip leaves, along with a half teaspoon of fennel or dill seeds. Pour boiling water over herbs and steep for ten minutes.

Fresh lemon balm can be used in drinks or added to steamed vegetables and fruit salads. A great way to use fresh lemon balm leaves is to make a lemon balm pesto. Just mix one-part new lemon balm to one-part fresh basil leaf along with olive oil and garlic (if desired), and you have yourself a delicious pesto, that is ready to add to pasta, chicken or fish. If that was not enough, lemon balm could be used as a base for making a liqueur. Add four tablespoons of chopped lemon balm, a scraped peel of a fourth of a lemon, one-quarter teaspoon of coriander seed, and one-third of a cinnamon stick, four leaves of peppermint, and one cup of vodka. Place all the ingredients in a bottle, shake vigorously, and steep for three weeks. Shake the jar daily during the steeping period. Strain and filter into a dark bottle, adding sweetener to taste, let sit for two months, and then enjoy it.

Lemon Balm Martini

A favorite of mine is a lemon balm martini. Combine one ounce of lemon juice, four ounces of vodka, two to three teaspoons of simple sugar, along with a handful of lemon balm leaves. Pulse ingredients in blender and strain into a shaker filled with ice. Stir, then strain into martini glasses with a spring of lemon balm as a garnish.

When taking any herb, it is essential to determine if it might interfere with any medications or health issues you have. This website has detailed information on dosing and interactions https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-437/lemon-balm.

Holly Hutton, Herbal Goddess Medicinals

References:

Akhondzadeh, S., et al. (2003). Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Neurosurgery Psychiatry, Jul; 74(7): 863–866. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863

Auf’mkolk, M., et. al. (1985). Extracts and auto-oxidized constituents of certain plants inhibit the receptor-binding and the biological activity of Graves’ immunoglobulins. Endocrinology, May; 116(5):1687-93

Cases, J., et. al. (2003). Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Medical Journal Nutrition Metabolism, Dec; 4(3): 211–218. Published online 2010 Dec 17. doi: 10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. (2003).

Gaby, A. R. (2006). Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Alternative Medical Review, Jun;11(2):93-101.

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.

IMG_3698

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.

Artemisia Tridentata-Big Sagebrush, a Valuable Medicinal Herb

IMG_3765

Sagebrush Country

I live in the big sky country,  the high desert of Central Oregon.  Everywhere I look I see Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).  The genus Artemisia comprises hardy herbaceous plants and shrubs, which are known for the powerful chemical constituents in their essential oils. In a  search of artemisia on the USDA plants database in Oregon there are 150 species of artemisia that appear. The name Artemisia comes from Artemis, the Greek name for Diana. There are any number of artemisia species that are popular in our modern herbal materia medica,  from wormwood to mugwort.   The intent of this post is to continue to explore my bio-region and develop herbal protocols based on the use of local plants and to that end, sagebrush (artemisia tridentata) will certainly play a  role.  This is by no means a definitive article but a written documentation of my search through the literature related to traditional uses and potential current applications.

My exploration of plants always starts through the eyes of First Peoples/Native American’s, who have had a long relationship with using artemisia species throughout North America.  The focus of this blog is to explore the use of Artemisia tridentata, which is mostly relegated to the western states. Big sagebrush and other artemisia species are therange dominant plants across large portions of the Great Basin.

Any number of tribes used artemisia tridentata including tribes affiliated with my bio-region, Okanagan-Colville, Paiute, Shuswap and the Thompson.  Many of the tribes used it similarly. These uses include the following:  respiratory and gastrointestinal aids, cold and cough remedy, antirheumatic both internally and externally, antidiarrheal, ferbrifuge, dermatological aid, eye wash, gynecological aid, analgesic, diaphoretic, emetic, pulmonary aid, and antidote for poisoning.  All parts of the plant were used including the leaves, stems, seed pods, branches and roots.

tridenta

Artemisia tridentata

It was used both externally and internally.*   Externally it had many uses including: as a poultice of fresh and dried leaves for chest colds, as a wash made of the leaves and stems for cuts and wounds, as a leaf decoction for an eye wash, the leaves were packed into the nose for headaches, the ground leaves were used as a poultice along with tobacco for fever and headaches, the leaves were powdered and used for diaper rash or packed into shoes for athlete’s infection, a decoction of the leaves were mixed with salt and gargle for sore throat, mashed leaves were used for toothaches, a leaf decoction was used in a bath for muscular ailments. *  There are many references to it being used internally as an infusion or decoction, but as one informant indicated it was too strong and powerful to drink, “you wouldn’t have any more kids, no children”.  Internal use is not recommended due to some chemical constituents found in the plant.  There are many references to artemisia being inhaled for headaches, for spiritual cleansing, to produce sweat and rid the body of colds, respiratory infections and pulmonary issues.

Artemesia annua

Artemisia annua

An interesting fact is that the Paiute’s and Okanagan-Colville indicated that they used a decoction of leaves for malarial fever, which is also similar to the use of other artemisias around the world.  Most of artemisia’s research as an antimalarial is focused on Artemisia annua (sweet annie).   Artemisia annua is a very interesting plant and is the source of the most powerful antimalarial drug ever discovered, artemisinin.  It is also being investigated in treatment of breast cancer.

Many of its traditional uses can be attributed to artemisia’s active medicinal constituents including camphor, terpenoids, and tannins. Sagebrush essential oil contains approximately 40% l-camphor; 20% pinene; 7% cineole; 5% methacrolein; and 12% a-terpinene, d-camphor, and sesqiterpenoids.  The essential oils present account for its use in inhalation.  Sesquiterpene lactones are among the prominent natural products found in Artemisia species and are largely responsible for the importance of these plants in medicine and pharmacy.

For my own purposes I can definitely see incorporating it into liniments, antiseptic washes, chest poultice, fumigation, powdered for use as foot powder.  Although there is tremendous oral history of its internal use I personally would be hesitant and look to other herbal options.

A few of my references:

Adams, James D., Garcia, Cecilia.,  Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. Abedus Press, 2009.

Moreman, Daniel E., Native American Medicinal Plants.  Timber Press, 2009.

Parks, Willard Z.  Notes of the Northern Paiute of Western Nevada, 1933-1944.  Compiled and edited by Catherine S. Fowler.  University of Utah, Anthropological Papers, Number 114, 1989.

 

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

.

Herbal Remedies for Cold and Flu Season

coldsEvery fall I teach a class at the local community college on herbal remedies for cold and flu season.  I teach from a primarily Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, that contends that we are surrounded by pathogens and the way to prevent “catching” them is to ensure a healthy immune system.  In other words, prevention is the first order of defense.  I would suggest you read my blog post at Changing of the Seasons. to get a better idea of some ways you can increase your immunity.

To get started there are several Westerns categories of herbs that are particularly useful for addressing cold and flu symptoms including:

  • Alterative-Alters or improves functioning
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antibiotic
  • Antipyretic-lowers fever
  • Diaphoretic-induces sweating
  • Expectorant-expels mucus

The good news is that there are numerous herbs that are helpful for colds and flu, although in this article we are only going to cover a few,  I would encourage you to continue to read and learn.  Many herbs have several properties and in Western Herbalism they would use them according to what symptoms are being presented. Many herbs cover several categories, so it is important to know their individual actions.comparison It is helpful to know all of the properties of herbs, for example Goldenseal, which is antibacterial is also very astringent, drying up mucous, yet with colds mucous is a natural and necessary body defense, mucus should not be stopped, it is better to thin the mucus, using expectorants rather than a drying antibacterial.

Wearing a scarf can help reduce exposure to cold

Wearing a scarf can help reduce exposure to cold

Prevention:  Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing, enough said.  There are several tactics that I recommend for increasing immunity as we go into the fall season.  Although not a herb, adequate supplies of Vitamin D, which contain calcitriol are a must. Recent research indicates that calcitriol enhances innate immunity by prompting cells to produce a large numbers of antimicrobial peptides that are like broad spectrum antibiotics. Fatty fish is the only natural source of vitamin D. A 3.5 oz serving of cooked salmon, for example, has 360 IU; 3 oz. of canned tuna has 200; and 13.4 oz. of canned sardines has 250.  Most experts now believe 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day from all sources—sun, diet, supplements—may be what we need for optimum health.  Look for supplements that contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is three to four times more potent than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).

Mushrooms are another go-to in terms of building immunity.  In Japan and China, medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake and reishi, have long been regarded as longevity tonics. Research indicates that all these fungi are powerful allies for strengthening the immune system.  Shitake and maitake can both be incorporated into our meal preparation, reishi needs to be taken as a supplement.  Here is a web site that has much more detailed information on using reishi medicinally.

Last but not least Astragalus, (Astragalus membranaceus) is considered an adaptogen, providing deep immune-system support.  There have been many clinical studies showing how astragalus not only boosts the immune system, but also encourages an increase in immune cell (T-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, immunoglobulin) activity, production, and function.  Both astragalus and mushrooms contain polysaccharides, which have been found to improve immune function by increasing the activity of macrophages, which have a voracious appetite for harmful microorganisms and cancerous cells. Since astragalus is a mild tonic herb, 1 oz a day is the suggested dosage, for chronic

Taking action: We can take several steps to try to mitigate or reduce the symptoms of colds and flu by tuning into our bodies.  At the first sign of an imbalance, sneezing, runny nose, or sore throat, take immediate action.  One of the remedies that I swear by, is Fire Cider Vinegar.  In fact I just received a call a local actress, who had used my Cold and Flu Kicker (fire cider vinegar) and was desperate to get some more before her play started.

Fire Cider Vinegarfire cider

Fill a mason jar with:

  • 1 part minced garlic
  • 1 part grated horseradish (let it sit for three minutes in a bowl before adding it to the mix.)
  • 1/2 part grated ginger (no need to peel)
  • 2 parts minced onion
  • 2 rhizomes of grated turmeric (optional)
  • ¼ -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Cover with organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for 4-6 weeks. Strain off. At this point you can add ¼ -1/2 cup of honey and take by the tablespoon full as a daily tonic or when you feel a cold coming on, although I usually just add some to water and drink straight. Warning it can be quite potent.

Scallions:  The record shows that the Chinese started use scallions in the late Han dynasty (25-220AD). This remedy is for the very early stages of wind cold.  It induces sweating by warming and unblocking the yang and can treat both abdominal pain and distention or nasal congestion when the blockage is from “cold”.

Cinnamon and Scallion Cure: Finely chop the white part of one scallion. Put it into a teacup and add two slices of raw ginger and a dash of powdered cinnamon. Fill the cup with hot water, let the herbs steep for 10 minutes, then drink. The cinnamon and ginger induce sweating, and the scallion clears the sinus.

garlicGarlic:  Cultures around the world have embraced garlic as a cure for everything from colds to cancer. Prior to the discovery of penicillin, garlic was the treatment of choice for infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis and dysentery.    It is believe that the sulfur compounds that imbue garlic with its characteristic odor and flavor that are responsible for the herb’s health benefits. Most of the research has focused on the sulfur compound allicin, which has antimicrobial properties. Allicin is created when alliin, a sulfur-containing amino acid in garlic, comes into contact with another garlic compound, the enzyme allinase. This enzymatic reaction takes place when garlic is chopped, crushed or chewed, but it is destroyed during cooking.  Eating raw garlic, or better yet, combining it with olive oil and spreading it on bread is a great way to get lots of garlic into your system.  Suggested dose is 3-5 cloves a day, at the first sign of symptoms.

Echinacea (ssp): Echinacea has been used for as a natural antibiotic in that it activates leukocytes and T-cell formation to assist your body ability to fight off infections.  Echinacea is considered an alterative, a class of herbs that alters your body ability to function.  The trick with using Echinacea is to take it every two hours, due to our livers filtering system.  Furthermore according to several leading herbalists, it becomes ineffective after 10 days.  Again it is one of those herbs that one should use immediately when one starts to experience symptoms.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra): All parts of the elder tree are medicinal but for this elderberriesblog we are going to concentrate on the berries and flowers.  The berries are not only delicious but they are antiviral and effective for dispelling colds. In research conducted in Israel, Hasassah’s Oncology Lab, determined that elderberry stimulates the body’s immune system and they are using it therapeutically. My preferred method of preparation is making a decoction of elderberries and then preserving it with 30% alcohol.  For every cup of water I add one oz of elderberries, simmering this covered for 1 to 2 hours (crook pots work well).  Straining the mixture, I measure and add 30% alcohol which acts as a preservative.  There are

Is it a Cold or the Flu:  Although a seemingly simple question it can make a big difference in an herbal treatment protocol.  This is a simple chart that help to distinguish whether you are dealing with a cold or flu.

Cold or Flu Chart

Cold or Flu Chart

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) a cold is considered wind cold and the flu is considered wind heat.  Wind is considered one of several pernicious influences in TCM.  Why this is important is that the herbs that are used to address a cold or the flu are based on the energy or nature of the illness.  A simple way of looking at this is that stimulating or heating herbs are used to address wind cold and cooling or cold energy herbs are used to address wind heat.  Furthermore if we know the constitution of the person experiencing the illness, we can then include herbs to strengthen the person’s response.

A Wind-Cold pattern may include a slight fever with more chills than fever, aversion to wind coldcold, sudden onset and the throat is itchy and slightly sore. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness include releasing the exterior with stimulating diaphoretic herbs. Some Examples of stimulating diaphoretic herbs scallions, cinnamon, cayenne and ginger, or Fire Cider.

Cold be Gone Tea: 1 Tablespoon cinnamon cassia stick, broken up and  simmered in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes.  After I remove from heat, I add  1 Tablespoon of grated ginger and 1/8 tsp of cayenne.  I then sweeten with honey and sip throughout the day.

wind heatA Wind-Heat pattern may include a high fever with slight chills, sweating, aversion to heat, yellow secretions (through coughing, nasal discharge or even a yellow coating on the tongue) and a swollen sore throat. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness includes releasing the exterior through relaxing diaphoretics and using bitter, cooling herbs.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):  Yarrow is one of my favorite herbs in that it grows all around my house and has enough uses that it deserves its own chapter, but in this case it can be very specific for fever.  It works as a diaphoretic by opening up the pores and letting trapped internal heat escape.   It causes sweating relieving the first signs of flu, fevers, chicken pox and measles (it helps eruptions come out faster). and is extremely effective for breaking a fever.

  • Create an infusion by covering one ounce of dried yarrow with a quart of boiling water. After 4 hours, strain the infusion. For small children, add the infusion to a tepid bath (ask your doctor first.) For older children and adults, the infusion may be sipped as tea.
  • Alternatively, yarrow tea may be made by steeping 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb in one cup boiling water. Drink three times daily. In capsule form, 2-4 grams may be taken three times daily.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum): is in the aster family. Boneset is a fabulous herb for fevers, colds and flu. It does not taste good, but it does the job, although it needs to be taken when warm to be effective. It was considered a miracle herb in the 1918 epidemic influenza. It should only be used for a short time, for acute conditions. Infusion of 1 T in cup of water, or 10-40 drops of tincture.

Fever Reducing Teatea

2 parts catnip

2 parts yarrow

1 part peppermint

1 part echinacea root

In parting, a Traditional Chinese Patent formula that I always include when talking about Wind Heat is Yin Chiao. Yin Chiao is known to remove excess heat in the blood which, in yin chaotraditional Chinese medicine could become a health hazard for many body systems. It also helps remove harmful toxins in the body through expelling heat.

The most interesting thing about this formula is the comparison between it and the best-selling cold and flu medicine “Airborne”.  Planetary Herbs Yin Chiao contains Forsythia Fruit, Japanese Honeysuckle Flower, Platycodon Root, Chinese Mint Aerial Parts, airboneLophatherum Leaf, Chinese Licorice Root and Rhizome, Schizonepeta Whole Plant Parts, Prepared Soy Bean, Burdock Fruit and Phragmites Rhizome. Notice the small print on the label of “Airborne”, many of the herbs are the same, begging the question of whether “Airborne”  is effective due to its vitamin content or the Chinese Traditional herbs that are specific to reducing fever and having antiviral properties.

 

 

 

 

“Chios tears” Pleases, Perfumes, Relieves and Heals

chio mastic

Chios Mastic

Recently I was talking with a good friend of mine and mentioned that I was having a bit of a hard time, emotionally.  He reminded me how healthy gut flora was tied to our emotional health.  In speaking about his process to become “gut healthy” it included  chewing  Chio mastic and he offered me up a bag of the resin. As an herbalist, I was familiar with the use of resins in other traditional cultures, but not this particular variety.  Needless to say, it peaked my interest.  I started chewing and researching.

Chio mastic comes from the Pistacia lentiscus of the pistachio genus , which is mainly cultivated on the Greek island of Chios.  When you first pop a piece of the resin in your mouth it is hard and I was somewhat concerned that it might stick to my teeth, but the more I chewed the more it soften and turned into opaque gum.  In fact, it has primarily been used as a chewing gum for 2,400 years.  Besides chewing gum, it is used in cooking especially in Greek, Turkish and Arabic kitchens.

JP-GREECE-1-articleLarge

Harvesting Chios Mastic

Although Pistacia lentiscus is considered a tree, it has more of the appearance of a large shrub.  Incisions are made in the trunk and branches, where the juice slowly exudes and hardens into tears of resin.  Several parts of the plant are used medicinally, including the leaves, fruits and resin.  The healing properties of mastic gum have been known since antiquity.  Dioscorides used it for coughs, stomach aliments and to sweeten the breath.  Galen recommended it for inflammation of the stomach, intestines and liver. Al-Razi prescribed a mixture of alum and mastic to fill decayed teeth.  In Milan in 1712, it was included in “Jerusalem Balsam” and was a considered a panacea medicine-curing everything from stomach aches to protection from the plague, along with aloe, frankincense, and myrrh.

Today it is exported all over the world and is the basis for many products including bakery, sweets, jams, ice cream, chewing gums, ouzo and wine.  The resin is added to several popular burn medicines.  The Chios Mastiha Growers Association who promote, educates and ensures proper cultivation of the tree’s products,  has several links to research on the antibacterial, dermatological, antioxidant and anticancer properties of this unique resin.

images

Chio Tears

According a much referenced article in the New England Journal of Medicine published in December 24th, 1998.

“Even low doses of mastic gum — 1 mg per day for two weeks — can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly, but the mechanism responsible has not been clear. We have found that mastic is active against Helicobacter pylori, which could explain its therapeutic effect in patients with peptic ulcers.”

According to a research paper on the anti-inflammatory activity of Chios mastic gum, its terpenes can account for some of its medicinal effects including the hypotensive effects of oleanane, euphane and lupine, alpha-tocopherol and polyphenols, as well as, the anti-bacterial activity of verbenone, alpha-terpineol, and linalool.  In the same paper, which surveyed other research done on the resin, it indicated that it traditionally was regarded  as an anti-cancer agent, especially on tumors of breast, liver, stomach, spleen, and uterus. As stated in the paper “surprisingly enough, these traditional beliefs are in line with recent studies demonstrating that Chios mastic induces apoptosis and possesses antiproliferative activity in colon cancer cells”. The paper  also went on to say that Pistacia lentiscus research also indicates that it has  cardiovascular protection and hepatoprotection by reducing oxidative stress.

As is so often the case, modern scientific findings verify Chio mastic’s traditional medicinal uses.  Finding it available for sale is a bit difficult though, although I did find it on Amazon at 100g for $32 with free shipping.  The growers chios masticassociation’s products were the only ones I could find in chewable resin form.  There are several  dietary companies that are encapsulating the powder, although I would venture to say that the act of chewing and the manufacturing of saliva might have a more medicinal effect than popping a pill.  As a resin it is soluble in alcohol, so making a tincture would be a viable option, although I still believe that the act of chewing, which initiates an alimentary system chain reaction is probably the best option.

Links to more information about Chio Mastic

http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/usdisp/pistacia_lent.html

http://www.gummastic.gr/index.php?contentid=55&langflag=_en

http://scholarsresearchlibrary.com/JNPPR-vol4-iss1/JNPPR-2014-4-1-48-51.pdf

Bear Springs, Sister Ranger District, Oregon

My latest adventure was on the east side of the Cascade Range, close to Sisters.  It is still relatively early in the season, early June, but it seems like this year things are about two weeks ahead due to the drought conditions.  The first cluster of flowers we came upon was

Lonicera ciliosa

Lonicera ciliosa

Locincera ciliosa (Orange honeysuckle).  A beautiful and fairly prolific flower grows primarily in forest, thickets, from sea level to 5500 ft.  A native utilized by several Indian tribes  including the Chehalis, Cowichan, Klallam, Lummi, Skagit, Squaxin, Swinomish and Thompson.  It is primarily a gynecological aid, although different parts are used for contradictory issues, the leaves as a contraceptive  (Chehalis) and the vines stems used to help conceive (Thompson).  The bark and chewed leaves were used for colds (Swinomish) and  sore throats.  Thompson Indians thought the plant acted as an anticonvulsive and used the woody part of the vine internally or as a bath for epilepsy.  They also used the vine pieces under a pillow for insomnia.  Lastly they took the peeled stems in a decoction as a tonic (this was the wording captured by the ethnographer, therefore it might have a different cultural meaning from tribe to tribe or from what we think of a tonic, that which strengthens the body systems).  The Chehalis used an infusion of the crushed leaves as a rinse for the growth of hair.

IMG_3053

Mimulus guttatus

The second plant that was in abundance was Mimulus guttatus (Seep Monkeyflower), used by the Kawaiisu, Shoshoni and Yavapai tribes.  It is found in wet or moist places, throughout western North American, Alaska and North Mexico.  The Kawaiisu used it as a pain reliever, making it into a decoction of stems and leaves in a steam bath.  The Shoshoni crushed the leaves and applied it to wounds or rope burns,  Lastly the Yavapai took it as a decoction for stomach ache.  Physicians historically used it as a poultice, or tea to treat a variety of symptoms ranging from rheumatism to a throat spray for bronchitis.

2276

Clintonia uniflora

Third on the list was Clintonia uniflora (Bride’s Bonnet) used by the Bella Coola, Cowlitz, Haisla & Hanaksiala and lastly the Micmac.  A small little lily it is found in moist and shaded forest through out (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=clun2, AK, CA, ID, MT, OR, WA), Mostly used externally the whole plant was used as wash for the body, the toasted leaf was poulticed and applied to wounds.  It was used for eye medicine by several tribes for sore eyes. Primarily the plant was either juiced or poulticed (smashed).  The only recorded internal use was from the Micmac, where the juice was taken with water for gravel (urinary calcili).

IMG_3041

Maianthemum racemosum

Next on the list and in great abundance was  Maianthemum racemosum (False Solomon’s Seal).  Used similarly to Solomon Seal, the plant was used my many Indian tribes.  This plant is found in moist shady places throughout most of North America, except for Texas.  It has demulcent properties and was used internally and externally.  The uses are almost too many to list, but some of the more interesting ones include the Iroquois who used it for witchcraft medicine, hunting medicine (fishing), psychological aid (Meskwaki) to bring people back from insanity and cancer treatment (Thompson).  As a demulcent it  forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation.  As such it is used internally as a tonic in an infusion, or used for sore throats, kidney and as a gastrointestinal aid.  It is one of those plants that has such a wide scope of medicinal uses it is worth delving more into its uses.

images

Lilium washingtoniaum

Another interesting plant that we came across, but I could not find any mention in the literature of its medicinal uses is Lilium washingtoniaum.  It is uncommon according to http://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/lilium-washingtonianum. A beautiful plant that seems to change colors depending upon the soil that it is growing in.

 

Having a colorful delicate flower and quite prolific was the Aquilegia

Aquilegia formosa

Aquilegia formosa

formosa (Crismon Colombine).  The Paiute tribe that did their season round through Central Oregon used the plant for analgesic and antirheumatic uses.  It was considered a panacea plant and used for throat, gastrointestinal, dermatological, cough and colds. All parts of the plant was used.  The leaves were chewed to treat coughs and sore throats, as well as, applied to bee stings. Roots were mashed and massaged into aching joints.  Seeds were chewed for gastrointestinal issues, and a poultice of the leaves were applied externally.

Valerian-Plant

Valeriana sitchensis

The last plant that was sporadically placed was Valeriana sitchensis ( Mountain Valerian).  It is found all over the Oregon Cascade and coastal range.  Valerian has a long history of use for treating insomnia and anxiety.  Primarily used by the Okanagon and Thompson tribes.  It was used as an analgesic, cold remedy, antidiarrheal, and dermatological aid.  The roots were poulticed and applied to cuts, wounds, bruises and inflammation.  In western medicine it was used by physicians as mentioned above for treating insomnia, anxiety as well as, analgesic for aches and pain.  Currently herbalists recognize that for some people valerian can have the exact opposite effect acting as a stimulant.  It has a warm energy and is more specific to individuals that have cold constitutions, although in my case, despite the fact that I have a cold constitution, I find it very stimulating and use skullcap as an alternative sedative herb.

Previous Older Entries