More Than Medicinal: Herbal Love Medicine

I recently finished teaching a wildcrafting class on medicinal herbs of Central Oregon. This year I incorporated other cultural uses of plants, in particular, focusing on “Love Medicine”.love   Native peoples used plants, not only as medicine, but also for their ability to affect an outcome. Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, offers a compilation of ethnographies with over a hundred stories of tribal use of plants including ceremonial, hunting, witchcraft and love medicine.

The term love medicine was used for plants that were often suggested by tribal healers, elders or through the oral transfer of information to have powers beyond their medicinal attributes. Both men and women would use various plants as love charms to lure potential suitors or hold the attention of a “special person”.   In researching this topic it is a bit murky how the plants were utilized. In some cases special perfumes were prepared, in others, rituals were conducted with specific plants. In the book Plains Apache Ethnobotany by Julia A. Jordan people spoke about tribal members who specialized in preparing “love medicines”. In this book, the author describes the use of perfumes that were worn during certain times and specific places. In Daniel Moerman’s book he briefly describes how various plants were used or prepared. As contemporary herbalism as evolved over the last century, many of these spirit-based uses are being lost to us. With that in mind, here are some plants surrounding Central Oregon and how they were used as “love medicine”.

Aquilegia formosa

Aquilegia formosa

Various species of columbine were used as Love medicine. Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) was used by the Thompson Indian’s who used it as a charm for women “to gain the affection of men”. The Pawnee along with the Ponca’s used the crushed seeds of columbine, as a love charm also used columbine as love medicine.

larkspur

Delphinium menzieessi

Larkspur, (Delphinium menziessi)- a plant that was toxic to livestock and considered poisonous ironically was used for love medicine. The Thompson tribe’s women used it “to help them obtain and hold the affection of men”, although it wasn’t clear on how it was utilized.

MeadowrueMeadowrue, of which Central Oregon has a few species was not used by local tribes but was used by the Potawatomi as both hunting and love medicine. The seeds were mixed with tobacco by and smoked by men when going to call upon a favorite lady. Meadowrue, (Thalictrum occidentale), was used by the Thompson as a poultice on open wounds for healing. Meadowrue’s root contains berberines, one of the few plants aside from Oregon Grape Root to contain that particular constituent. It was used to loosen phlegm, as blood medicine, and as an analgesic. The powdered fruits were mashed into a paste with water and used on the skin and hair.

spreading-dogbane-apocynum-androsaemifolium-01

apocynum-androsaemifolium

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)-although considered toxic was used extensively by Native Americans as love medicine. The Okanagan-Colville tribe chewed the leaves and the juice, as well as, smoked the dried leaves as an aphrodisiac (Not advised). If you break a spreading dogbane stem or leaf, you will see that the plant contains a bitter, sticky, milky white sap. The sap contains cardiac glycosides that are toxic to humans. The root also contains a potent cardiac stimulant, cymarin. These toxic compounds help protect spreading dogbane from grazing animals. Despite its toxicity, the plant has been used medicinally for a variety of ailments. However, this plant is best enjoyed for its beauty and not as a medicine. Native Americans used the tough fibers of this and other native dogbanes to make threads and cord.

Platanthera leucostachys_Mono Lake Cty Park_2002-07.05

Platanthera leucostachys

Bog Orchid (Platanthera leucostachys)-a plant we recently identified in the Ochoco Mountains, was used extensively by the Thompson tribe as a wash for various joint and muscle aches. It was used in the sweat lodge for rheumatism. Women “hoping to gain a mate and have success in love” used the Bog Orchid as love medicine as a wash. Although I could find no report of its toxicity, it was only used externally, so beware.

arrowhead

Sagittaria latifolia

Arrowhead, (Sagittaria latifolia) which is found in northern Jefferson County and on the west side crest of the Cascades was used as love medicine by the Thompson is usually found at the margins of ponds or marshes. The enlarged rounded starchy tubers from the plant form at the ends of underground plant runners (rhizomes). When dislodged from the mud, these tubers will float to the surface. They are edible, and may be boiled or baked and eaten as a potato-like food. Native Americans harvested and consumed these tubers, which in some areas were known as wapato. The Thompson spoke about its use as a love charm and for witchcraft.

pineappleweek

Matriciaria disoidea

Pineappleweed (Matriciaria disoidea)- was used by native peoples ranging from Alaska to Montana. A close relative to German Chamomile it had similar uses for digestion and fevers.   Native peoples used the aromatic plants as perfume, sometimes mixing them with fir or sweet-grass and carrying the mixture in small pouches to concentrate the fragrance. Pineappleweed, provided a pleasant smelling insect repellent, and the fragrant dried plants were used to line cradles and stuff pillows.  The Okanagan-Colville buried the tops of Pineappleweed mixed with human hair to prevent loved ones or relations from going away.

prairie smoke

Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke or three-flower avens (Geum triflorum)-is in the rosaceae family; so that tells us that it probably has astringent actions. Avens were used by many native peoples ranging from toothache remedies, fevers, antidiarrheal, gastrointestinal and as a gynecological aid. Primarily the roots were used. Several tribes used it for love medicine, including the Iroquois, who used the compounded roots as an emetic to vomit and cure themselves of love medicine. The Okanagan-Colville used and infusion of the roots as a love potion by a woman who wanted to win back the affection of a man. Mathew Woods wrote about it in his book The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guild To New World Medicinal Plants. He spoke about the roots of avens containing phenols, tannins and essential oil, along with noting that he felt Prairie Smoke has an affinity to the female system: the latter for Stagnant blood .

sierra shoot star

Dodecatheon jeffreyi

Last but not least Sierra Shooting Star or Tall Mountain Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) was used as love medicine by the Thompson tribe. Women used the flowers “to obtain the love of men and to help them control men”.

This is just a small sampling of the vast number of plants that were utilized. As the profession of herbalism evolves in North America there is greater and greater emphasis being put on evidenced based medicine and a movement away from traditional knowledge along with the reduction in the number of the plants that are used in commerce. Despite this tendency towards retraction, my hope is that we continue to keep love 2plant stories, and other cultural values which plants offer, alive.

Wildcrafting: Developing a bioregional approach to herbalism

Much has been written about the importance of developing a bioregional approach to herbalism particularly in relationship to sustainability.  As anSlide01 herbalist having an understanding of your bioregion allows you to more fully engage with your surroundings and to have an intimate knowledge of its micro environments and plant populations.  Many of the “popular” herbs that we rely on are grown all over the world.   Their energy footprint including transportation costs, etc., as well as, the sometimes unethical practices of harvesting can be mitigated by utilizing herbs “outside your door”.  I believe our challenge as herbalist’s is to discover, utilize and teach others about what grows locally, so we can become more self-reliant and less dependent upon mail order herbs.  This article is an outline of the process that I have used and teach in my bioregional wildcrafting classes.

Slide04Defining a bioregion:  This is a helpful process in trying to understand the various ecosystems that encompass a specific area and to being able to identify various plant populations that grow within in them.  In my case I live in Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties) which comprises a variety of ecosystems.  Using the following link: http://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-oregon-ecoregions-l4-map.php  which is specific to Oregon I have identified the various ecosystems that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined that make up the area that I live.  I assume that these interactive maps are available for all parts of North America.

Plant Identification:  This by far is the most challenging part of the process and I have spent endlessSlide09 hours scouring photo’s and plant descriptions to determine a plants identity. We are fortunate that we live in an era where there are so many resources available to us including on-line plant databases, plant identification apps and books.  Searching for plant lists is another helpful tool.  These lists are often available through native plant societies, university databases, herb schools and various other sites.

Here are a few links for plants specific to Oregon:

http://science.halleyhosting.com/nature/bloomtime/lists/or/or.html

http://www.oregonflora.org/atlas.php

http://www.botanicalstudies.net/botany/plantlists.php

Slide06Before you start this process it is vitally important to identify poisonous plants that grow in your area.  Typically I will review plant lists and determine if the plant that is listed has a history of use (see traditional use section below). Having a plant list in hand is a great first step, but you still have to be able to positively identify plants that you find.  Having a basic understanding of botany is particularly helpful in reading through plant descriptions or having the ability to identify plant families at least narrows down the Slide17possibilities.  Having a working knowledge of plant families can be quite helpful in at least narrowing down your search. A great book is Thomas Elpel’s “Botany in a Day: the Patterns Method of Plant Identification” and his website:   http://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/Plant_Families/Plant_Families_Index.html

In looking for a plant identification book I prefer one that is indexed by the color of the flowers the number and type of leaf pattern.  A rule of thumb is to identify the plant from three different sources before making the final confirmation as to its identification.   There are some excellent websites featuring photos of plants in the Pacific Northwest, Mark Turner’s book and internet site is extremely helpful:  http://www.pnwflowers.com.

Finally Hitchcock and Cronquist book “Flora of the Pacific Northwest” is an invaluable resource for species identification.  Once you have identified the plant then researching its medicinal value is the next step in the process.

Traditional Uses:  There are numerous books written about the medicinal value of medicinal herbs although they tend toroot digging feature more common or popular herbs.  In my bioregion which is mostly scrub and sagebrush these are not helpful.  Identifying Native American use of plants has been the most helpful path as I have found.  For my area I have identified the following Native American tribes who have used plants specific to my bioregion.

  • Cowlitz-South central Washington
  • Klamath-Southern Central Oregon
  • Okanagon-Colville reservation in Washington and British Columbia border.
  • Warm Springs-North central Oregon
  • Paiute-Great Basin region, Warm Springs reservation*
  • Shuswap-Southern interior plateau of British Columbia
  • Skagit- Upper, Northern Cascade Range, Washington
  • Snohomish-Northeastern side of Puget Sound, Washington
  • Thompson-Southwestern British Columbia
  • Umatilla-along the Umatilla and Columbia Rivers in Oregon
  • Washo-Near Lake Tahoe on the Calif.-Nevada border.

*Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Indian Reservation comprised of Warm Springs, Paiute and Wasco tribes.

Armored with this information I have done searches and read some of the original ethnographies that are available through inter-library loan.  Additionally I have almost wore out my copy of Daniel Moreman’s amazing book “Native American Medicinal Plants“.   Two other invaluable books in researching traditional uses are Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs, “Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs” and  “American Medicinal Plants” by Millspaugh.  It is important to recognize that the information we have available is by no means exhaustive and only a reflection of the information that was collected through a colonial framework.

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Rosa woodsii

Materia Medica:  Once you have identified the plant’s traditional and/or contemporary uses it is helpful to start to categorize its medicinal properties so that you can incorporate into your materia medica and medicine making, noting which parts of the plant are used.  For example, if a plant is within a certain family such as Rosaceae you already know that it is probably astringent due to the tannins. For example Woods’ Rose (Rosa woodsii) was used by the Paiute tribes as a decoction of the root for diarrhea, a poultice of various parts of the plant as a burn medicine, a decoction of the inner bark of the shrub for colds, a poultice of the mashed fungus galls for open boils, and an infusion of the leaves were taken as a spring tonic.  The Thompson tribe used the hips to help women in labor to hasten delivery and a decoction of the roots were taken by women after childbirth to tonify the uterus.  They also made a decoction of branches of rose, chokecherry and willow for diarrhea and vomiting.  Pioneer women used the hips of wild rose in jelly, pudding and syrups.  Knowing these uses helps you to incorporate it into your arsenal for addressing any number of conditions where you might have used other astringent herbs.

lomatium dissectum

Lomatium dissectum

Another example is Fernleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) which was used by the numerous tribes including the Paiute, Northern Paiute, Thompson and Okanagan-Colville tribes.  It was used as a dermatological aid for sores, for pulmonary issues including tuberculosis, as an analgesic for pain and arthritis, a decoction of the roots was taken for colds and numerous other uses. In looking at contemporary information on this plant, it has been found to have antimicrobial and antiviral potential.   It is fairly easy to see how one could incorporate the roots into oil for salves, cooked roots into cough medicine and roots soaked in alcohol as a liniment.

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

Research pays off, for example some plants have a documented use of being used internally yet they have emetic potential such as Wooly-pod Milk Vetch (Astragalus purshii).  Astragalus purshii  was  primarily used externally as a wash, although the Kawailsu tribe did use it internally for menstrual pains.  As a dermatological aid a decoction of the whole plant was used as a wash for the head, hair and body.  It was also used in the sweat lodge as a disinfectant, and was poured over hunting equipment, when the hunter was having “bad luck”. Since it does mention that it could be an emetic I would recommend only using this plant externally.  It is important to be stewards of the land therefore ensuring continued abundance of the plants that we harvest.  There are several websites that outline the steps to take to ensure we are properly caretakers of our bioregion.  Explore, learn and share your knowledge.

Ethical Wildcrafting and Stewardship:

  1.  Follow the abundance
  2. Avoid and protect unusual, threatened and endangered plants
  3. Gather in small, thoughtful numbers
  4. 
Browse, don’t graze
  5. 
Know where (and where not) to harvest
  6. Be okay with an empty basket
  7. Err on the side of less
  8. Promote abundance
, spread seeds, try to take parts of roots, not the entire plant
  9. Harvest to the plant’s needs
  10. 
Bring the right tools
  11. Assess for environmental toxins
  12. Share your gratitude-giving thanks

https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/images/pdf/2012_nursery_directory.pdf

http://7song.com/files/Wildcrafting%20Herbalist.pdf

 

 

Teasel, Wild Rose and Parsnipflower Buckwheat

It is that time of year to get out in the woods and start identifying medicinal herbs, shrubs, trees that grow in Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties).   This year I will be doing my first official plant walk through COCC into the Ochoco’s National Forest and am excited to be sharing this info with others who have an interest in plant medicine.

This past weekend I attended a wildflower walk with our local land conservancy non-profit.  They were showcasing a large-scale project bringing back the historical flow of the Whychus river.  As much as I enjoyed the hike and appreciated the project they were undertaking, I was struck by the language the leaders of the plant walk used when talking about plants that they considered “bad” in relationship to their conservation efforts.  I certainly understand the importance of ecological balance based on historical misuse of land and how some plant species adapt and out-compete other plant populations, yet when one of the attendees asked about whether a particular plant was a “good” plant or a “bad” plant (mullein) it doubled my efforts to try to expose more people to the value that plants contribute to the health of our planet and ourselves.  I realize this is an uphill battle, but the slash and burn terminology and disregard of the value of plants in the name of conservation, is an issue near and dear to my heart.

Below are a few of the plants and their medicinal values we found on the hike.

IMG_3978

Hercules eriogonum

As usual there are many different common names for this particular plant.  The folks on the plant walk referred to it as Northern Desert Buckwheat, Peterson’s Field Guild-Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs,  refers to it as Umbrella plant, Moerman-Native American Medicinal Plants refers to it as Parsnipflower Buckwheat, yet all indicate its Latin name to be Hercules eriogonum from the buckwheat family.  An important lesson in the use of Latin names to make sure everyone is referring to the same plant.  Native American historical use by the Okanagan-Colville tribes indicated that the roots and stems were taken for colds.  They also used it topically as a poultice (smashing the leaves) for cuts and sores, or as a decoction (cooking) of roots and stems in a wash for infected cuts.  The Thompson tribe used it as pain medicine, the leaves were used as disinfectant, an infusion was used for ceremonial purposes for purifying the sweat house, a steam bath of the for rheumatism, infusion and decoction of the plant used in lung disease.  Key attributes:  analgesic, antirheumatic, disinfectant, dermatological, gastrointestinal aid, and pulmonary aid. *sources:  Steedman, E. V. 1928.  The Ethnobotany of the Thompson Indians of British Columbia, Smithsonian Institution.  Turner, Nancy J. et al. 1990. Thompson Ethnobotany:  Knowledge and Usage of Plants .  Victoria: Royal British Columbia Museum.

IMG_3985

Fullers Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum

Fullers Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum Originally from Europe and northern Africa, common teasel was first introduced to North America in the 1700’s and has since spread from coast to coast and is considered a noxious weed.  The genus name is derived from the word for thirst and refers to the cup-like formation made where sessile leaves merge at the stem and capture rain water.   There has been some evidence that this water provides a natural insect barrier to sap sucking aphids.  As is the case of many plants they have been used for dyeing fabric.  A blue dye obtained from the dried plant is substitute for indigo and yellow is obtained when the plant is mixed with alum.  The plant contains theine (caffeine), tannin, gallotannic acid, boheic acid, volatile oil, aqueous extract, protein wax, resin, ash and theophylline.  There is little evidence of its use by Native Americans with the exception of the Iroquois who used it as a dermatological aid, infusing the leaves in a tea as a wash for acne.  They considered the roots were poisonous.

In the past, people believed that the rainwater that collected in the bowl-like depression of teasel leaves was helpful in providing relief from irritation and swelling in the eyes.  In ancient Greece, Dioscorides thought the root of teasel possessed purifying attributes and suggested the use of a decoction prepared by simmering the roots of teasel in wine for treating warts as well as fistulas effectively. In addition to Dioscorides, several other herbalists of the ancient times also advocated the use of the roots of this herb to treat jaundice and as a diuretic to augment the flow of urine.

There has been more recent exploration of the value of Dipsacus follunum root tincture (low dose) by herbalist Matthew Wood in treating chronic inflammation of the muscles, one of the major symptoms caused by spirochetes associated from Lyme Disease.  In fact the  Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, volume 11/number 2/Autumn 2013 published a special issue on Herbal Treatment of Lyme Disease, including information on the use of teasel.  An overview of the use of teasel in the treatment of Lyme can be read at the following web site:  http://www.flaatthjelp.net/to-sma-flattbitt/teasel/

According to the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine who conducted wrote an abstract on two types of Dipsacus utilizing first a systematic literature review consulting historic and modern texts and second a semi-structured interview was conducted with three herbal practitioners skilled in teasel use. The results were analyzed using thematic analysis, a qualitative method, and the results or themes composed separately. Both forms of literature were then compared and contrasted to ascertain Dipsacus spp’s therapeutic properties.  Analysis of the interview and literature data appears to show that teasel still holds a place within the British herbalist’s dispensary and is suitable for treating chronic skin disorders and musculoskeletal inflammation and damage. With our over-reliance on importing herbs from all corners of the Earth, this nuisance plant may once again fulfill a role within our modern dispensary.

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Rosa woodsii, Woods’s Rose

A shrub, Woods’s Rose, was also pointed out during the walk.  Wild roses are a bit hard to identify so my best attempt was Rosa woodsii.  Roses has been used historical by cultures throughout the world with all of parts of the shrub finding their way into our materia medica.  In fact it is far beyond the scope of this post to elicit all the wonderful attributes of roses on our health and psychic. In the America’s many tribes used a variety of wild rose species.  In this bioregion the Paiute tribes used a decoction of the root for diarrhea, a poultice of various parts of the plant as a burn medicine, a decoction of the inner bark of the shrub for colds, a poultice of the  mashed fungus galls for open boils, and an infusion of the leaves were taken as a spring tonic.  The Thompson tribe used the hips to help women in labor to hasten delivery and a decoction of the roots were taken by women after childbirth to tonify the uterus.  They also made a decoction of branches of rose, chokecherry and willow for diarrhea and vomiting.  Pioneer women used the hips of wild rose in jelly, pudding and syrups.  Kiva Rose has an outstanding write-up of the multiple ways that you can utilize rose in medicine and food. http://medicinewomansroots.blogspot.com/2007/05/sweet-medicine-healing-with-wild-heart.html

Herbal  Goddess Medicinals provides this information as a way to continue to educate ourselves about the medicinal use of plant.  Never use any plant unless you are 100% of its identification and  always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

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

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