Artemisia Tridentata-Big Sagebrush, a Valuable Medicinal Herb

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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

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“Chios tears” Pleases, Perfumes, Relieves and Heals

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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.

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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.

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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

Arrowleaf Balsam

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Arrowleaf Balsam (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

I have written about Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) before, and it is by far my current favorite plant in Central Oregon.  I just harvested new root this spring for my cough syrups.  It grows all over Central Oregon, but finding a patch that is legally harvested is often the toughest part.  If you are harvesting on forest service land, just make sure that you get a plant permit from the forest that you are harvesting on, to avoid costly fines.

Arrowleaf Balsam, is part of the Aster Family, Asteraceae, a species of the Balsamroot genus, and is a perennial herbaceous plant. Harvesting the plant can be tricky in that it often grows in rocky soil and using a cupn, or digging stick is advised. Take as much of the root as you can in that it took a long time for that root to get that big, so wasting it would not honor the plant.  A search for ethnobotanical applications turned up 109 uses (http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Balsamorhiza+sagittata). This should not be surprising, as plant names often reveal the plant’s characteristics, in this case, the root as supplying balsam: “Balsam is a term used for various pleasantly scented plant products. These are oily or gummy oleoresins, usually containing benzoic acid or cinnamic acid, obtained from the exudate of various trees and shrubs and used as a base for some botanical medicines.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balsam).

  • This is a summary of uses from the University of Michigan ethnobotany database; its properties classify it as an analgesic, disinfectant, antirheumatic (internal), dermatological aid, venereal aid, gynecological aid, urinary aid, diaphoretic, eye medicine, antidiarrheal, oral/throat aid, burn dressing, cathartic, pulmonary aid, hemostat, tuberculosis remedy, dietary aid, cold remedy, febrifuge (lowers fevers), gastrointestinal aid, panacea, sedative, beverage, candy, food, incense/fragrance, tool/containers, and gathered for trade. If you follow the blog to the bottom it shows pictures on processing the root.

Here is a partial listing of traditional uses of Arrowleaf.

  • -Root smudge smoke inhaled for body aches.
  • -Poultice of chewed roots applied to blisters and sores.
  • -Infusion of leaves, roots and stems taken for stomach pains and headaches.
  • -Steam of decoction of plant inhaled for headache and used as wash on head.
  • -Decoction or infusion of leaves, roots and stems taken for stomach pains/stomachache.
  • -Infusion of leaves, stems and roots taken for colds.
  • -Decoction of root taken when labor begins, to insure easy delivery.
  • -Root chewed for toothaches.
  • Infusion of roots taken for whooping cough, tuberculosis, or to increase urine
  • Poultice of root infusion used for wounds, cuts and bruises.
  • -Decoction of root taken to produce profuse perspiration for rheumatism.
  • -Poultice of mashed root applied to insect bites or swellings.
  • -Poultice of powdered, dried root applied to syphilitic sores.
  • -Pulverized root sprinkled on sores and boils.
  • Infusion of root rubbed into hair and scalp to help hair grow.
  • Infusion of leaves used as a wash for poison ivy and running sores.
  • Seeds eaten for dysentery.
  • Young shoots eaten raw or baked in the ground or oven.
  • Young stems and leaves eaten raw as a salad.
  • Roots eaten raw and cooked.

Below is a series of pictures that depict how to process it for cough syrup:

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After harvesting rinse dirt with water and clean roots with brush.

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Then smash with hammer, or meat tenderizer to expose roots removing outer layer and tearing into strips.

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Tear the root into strips and put into large cast iron dutch over.  Add honey and simmer on low heat for 4 hours, let cool overnight, and simmer again for 2 hours, let cool overnight, strain.

 

 

 

Agrimony

Agrimony is a herb that has fallen out of favor.  Some herbs have so many uses that they lose their place in the pharmacopeia.  Agrimony has many uses but is specific both external and interval uses related to liver functioning.  Agrimony contains a particular volatile oil, which may be obtained from the plant by distillation and also a bitter principle. It yields in addition 5 per cent of tannin, so that its use in cottage medicine for gargles and as an astringent applicant to indolent ulcers and wounds is well justified. Dried, above-ground parts of the plant, harvested shortly before or during summer flowering. Research published as recently as April 2005 tends to confirm Culpepper’s use of agrimony to treat various environmental toxins. Agrimony extracts do seem to protect against viral infections in general and hepatitis B in particular, providing the tea is made with boiling, rather than merely hot, water. Agrimony prepared at any temperature may support liver function.

  • anti-inflammatory [an agent to ease inflammation]
  • antiseptic [an agent for inhibiting the growth of micro organism on living tissue or destroying pathogenic or putrefactive bacteria] – mild
  • antiseptic activity against certain disease-causing bacteria and fungi
  • astringent (mild) [an agent that contracts organic tissue, reducing secretions or discharges]
  • deobstruant [an agent that clears away obstructions by opening the natural passages of the body]
  • diuretic [an agent that increases the secretion and expulsion of urine] 
  • tonic [an agent that strengthens or invigorates organs or the entire organism]
  • vulnerary [a healing application for wounds]