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.

 

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.

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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

Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is plentiful in Central Oregon right now (early to mid-July)  and the best time to get it is when it goes into flower, harvesting the aerial parts.  Yarrow has a long rich history of usage around the world.  Yarrow has been used by the Chinese for I Ching, an ancient divining system describing changes and cycles.  Its Latin name comes from the Greek hero, Achilles, who used it to stop bleeding. Native Americans also used yarrow for wound healing and treating fevers.  The Paiute used it for several purposes including analgesic for headaches, crushed leaves for swellings.  Decoction of leaves and stems in a liniment for skin sores, cold infusion of leaves for eye wash, and leaves chewed for toothache.

As a diaphoretic, it causes sweating, relieving the first sign of colds, flu, fevers, chicken pox and measles.  It is an astringent and homeostatic that can be used to treat hemorrhoids, hemorrhages, inflammations, abscesses, burns, cuts, excess menstrual bleeding. The organs that it directly affects are the lungs (fevers) and liver (blood).

For fevers, combine one ounce Yarrow  with once ounce Angelica.  Simmer in one quart of water, reduced to one pint.  Strain, Cool, Bottle and store in a cool place, combine with 1/4 c. alcohol for preservation.  Take 2 fluid ounces (warm) every two hours until fever is abated.

For medicated oil, bruise yarrow leaves and flowers.  Fill a mason jar and then cover with oil, masticate for several minutes with a wooden spoon.  Cover and maintain at 110 degrees (in crook pot) or alternating sun during the days and crook pot at night) for one week.

For fresh tincture:  weight out 100 grams of yarrow flower and leaves, bruise with rolling-pin.  Put in jar, add 200 mill of alcohol.  Shake daily for two weeks, then strain.  For dry tincture the rate is 1:5 (100 grams yarrow, 500 millilitres of menstrum at a rate of 75% Alcohol and 25% water).