Fall, the Time of Letting Go from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

In Chinese Medicine, autumn is the season of the Metal element. The changing of summer to fall is connected to the emotion of grief or sadness. In autumn we are saying farewell to the abundance of summer and preparing for the reflective time that is to come.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on energetics rather than the physical making correspondences between nature and the body. The organs connected with the Metal element are the Lungs and the Large Intestine. We all know that fall and winter is a time that people are more vulnerable to colds, bronchial infections, and allergies. Household air pollution, as well as the cold winds of autumn, stress our immune reserves, making it a good time to support the immune system with some herbs and supplements.

Photo credit from AcuProAcademy.com

The Lungs are the organs of respiration, responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to every organ of the body and eliminating the waste matter from the cells through our expiration.  In TCM the climactic “evil” in Fall is dryness. The lungs are like giant tissue paper in which the tissue is the fine mucosa of the alveoli. The lungs, like the nasal mucosa, need to stay moist, not “damp,” and cool but not cold. During illness, the lungs often become hot, which dries them out. Which is why people recovering from bronchitis often end up with a lingering dry cough. Having a large pot of simmering water with herbs on the stove or woodstove throughout the winter can be helpful.

At first glance, the Lungs and the Large Intestine seem to have little in common with each other, with the lungs involved with respiration and the Large Intestine involved with digestion. The bowel is the organ of elimination and is responsible for helping the body eliminate waste. Only when the body is cleansed of toxic matter can it receive the more refined energy brought in by its partner, the Lung.

Increasing immunity by the consumption of herbal tonics can all be helpful.  These herbs are slow-acting and should be taken for a length of time. 

Elderberry-elderberry has antimicrobial actions against two strains of influenza and several bacteria.  It has immune-stimulating and diaphoretic action.  It has been shown that it can lessen the duration and severity of colds and flu. Making elderberry syrup is easy, I personally preserve my syrup with 25% alcohol rather than sugar, which can degrade the immune system.

Garlic-the active ingredient in garlic, allicin sativum, is proposed to have antiviral and antimicrobial effects on the common cold, but high-quality clinical trials comparing garlic supplements to placebo are lacking. A Cochrane review identified only one trial of reasonable quality following 146 participants. Those taking the garlic supplement for 3 months had fewer occurrences of the common cold than those taking a placebo, but after contracting the cold virus, both groups had a similar duration of illness.

Green tea-cell studies have shown that tea catechins such as those found in green tea can prevent flu and some cold viruses from replicating and can increase immune activity. Human trials are still limited. Two randomized controlled trials found that green tea capsules produced less cold/flu symptoms or incidence of flu than a placebo; however, both studies were funded or had author affiliations with tea industries.

Astragalus is used to protect and support the immune system, preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, lowering blood pressure, treating diabetes, and protecting the liver. Astragalus has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties additionally researchers have looked at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation.

Medicinal Mushrooms-Turkey tail and Reshi mushrooms are both known as immune modulating tonics to boost immunity levels.  Adding astragalus and medicinal mushrooms when making broths for cooking or soups is an excellent way to incorporate them into your daily regimine.

Foods for strengthening the Metal element-sweet potatoes, onions, pears, walnuts, leeks, miso, navy beans, almonds, parsnips, adzuki beans, chestnuts, and dark leafy winter greens.

Spices: bay leaves, black pepper, chili, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and rosemary.

Additional thoughts on increasing immunity:

Reducing stress-Building immunity during this time of a global pandemic is particularly important. For starters, we know the toll that stress can have on our immunity. Chronic stress suppresses the immune response of the body by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with the T-cells(a specific white blood cell) to reproduce and receive signals from the body. Cortisol also reduces the antibody secretory IgA, which lines the gut and respiratory tract, which are our first line of defense against pathogens. To keep your stress in check, practice yoga, meditation, or deep breathing in your regular routine.

Reduce Sugar Intake-Studies have shown spikes in sugar intake suppress your immune system and increase inflammation. When your immune system is compromised, you are more likely to get sick.

Increasing Pro and Prebiotic Foods-A high-fiber plant-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes appear to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes. Certain helpful microbes break down fibers into short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to stimulate immune cell activity. These fibers are sometimes called prebiotics because they feed microbes. Therefore, a diet containing probiotic and prebiotic foods may be beneficial. Probiotic foods contain live helpful bacteria, and prebiotic foods contain fiber and oligosaccharides that feed and maintain healthy colonies of those bacteria.

  • Probiotic foods: Kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, and miso.
  • Prebiotic foods: Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed.

Exercise-Working out on a regular basis has been scientifically shown to boost the immune system. Regular exercise stimulates the T cells, a type of white blood cell which guards the body against infection. That being said, all things in moderation, in that continuous rigorous workout weakens the immune system, leaving you more prone to flu and viral infections.

Sleep-Lack of sleep can cause the inflammatory immune response, reducing the activity of T cells in the body. This can weaken your immune system and response to vaccines. Try to sleep for 7–8 hours.

Get Outside– Natural light is one of the major contributors to the production of Vitamin D in our body. Vitamin D is essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system as it helps the body to produce antibodies. Additionally, the correlation between response  to COVID and low Vit D levels has been linked. 

Letting Go-Holding on or grieving the passage of summer to fall increases the likelihood of stagnation in these organs. We can look to nature to see examples of letting go. Just like the dying leaves on the trees these need to drop away so that new ones can grow next year.  A starting place is address stagnation is to practice letting go both physically and emotionally.  An example is to create some rituals or practices for letting for.  For example, write down a list of your joys of summer then burn or shred the paper, tossing the ashes or paper into the compost bin.

Dress warmly and cover your neck-wear a scarf- add some style to your look!  The back of the neck is particularly vulnerable to invasion by wind and cold. 

Warm Foods-No more cold salads, or summery gazpacho type soups or drinks.  Always eat foods that are available seasonally- fall veggies such as the squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers. 

Keep Hydrated-Preferably warm. The fall is a season of dryness, and staying hydrated helps the lungs and the large intestine function optimally.

Embrace the Fall, recognizing the turn of the seasons.

Wildfire Smoke: Increasing Lung Health

Throughout the West, forest fires are producing unhealthy air quality in vast swaths of the West coast.  Although this year is exceptionally bad, the reality is that we will be experiencing this more frequently as the effects of climate change continue.  This post is dedicated to all of those who are struggling to cope. 

We are quickly closing in on the autumnal equinox—also called the September equinox or fall equinox which arrives on Tuesday, September 22. Looking at this seasonal change from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective can be helpful in determining what steps to take to protect lung health.

In TCM, summer is ruled by the fire element while the autumn is associated with the element of metal in the 5 element theory.  The metal element is associated with the lungs.  The transition from summer to autumn is a time when our Qi is most unstable. The lungs are closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of Wei-Qi (the protective Qi) which is the defensive Qi that protects the body from external attacks by viruses like colds and flu. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making you prone to frequent colds.

The Lungs are responsible for respiration, for supplying oxygenated blood to every organ of the body, and eliminating the waste matter from the cells through our expiration. In emotional and spiritual terms, the Lungs manifest as the emotion of sadness and action of letting go. When the Lung (Metal) energy is out of balance, order and discipline are rigidly maintained, the emotions are kept under tight control, rules and routines become inflexible, and the body begins to stiffen up. Physically we are more prone to bronchial infections and sinusitis. Our allergies are amplified and issues like asthma and heaviness of the chest can appear.

Smoke from wildfires contains thousands of individual compounds, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. The most prevalent pollutant by mass is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, roughly 50 times smaller than a grain of sand. Pulmonary irritation is by far the most common reaction to exposure. Prolonged exposure and irritation can result in injury to the tissues and bronchial spasms as well as triggering inflammation as an immune response that can lead to a wide range of other symptoms. Furthermore, those with any preexisting conditions such as autoimmune conditions, or respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis, etc. can flare up during exposure to smoke because of the immune response.

The following list of herbs includes those that are specific for addressing immunity, dry coughs, asthma, wheezing, irritated mucus membranes, sinus pressure, chest tightness and constriction, and sore throat to name a few. 

Herbs for addressing lung health:

Astragalus root (Astragalus propinquus). Actions: immunomodulator, adaptogen.  Astragalus is a primary herb for increasing immunity, weak digestion, anemia to name a few. 

Bala (Side cordifolia). Actions: demulcent, antispasmodic, expectorant, anti-asthmatic.  This herb is in the Malvaceae family and has mild ephedrine constituents, that help to address dry cough, asthma heart palpitations, and chest pain

Chickweed (Stellaria media).  Actions:  demulcent, expectorant, antitussive. Chickweed a common garden weed moistens and helps with expectoration. It can be used for dry cough, hoarseness, and sore throat.

Cocklebur Fruit (Xanthium strumarium).  Actions: antispasmodic.  This is a leading herb for sinus congestion and allergy symptoms.

Coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara).  Actions: expectorant, antitussive, demulcent, tonic, and transform phlegm.  Use specifically for stopping coughing and wheezing where there is either abundant mucus or dry cough.  It is specifically for those with clear mucus, rather than yellow.  It does contain a small amount of PAs (Pyrrolizidine alkaloids), so should be used for only a short time.

Comfrey leaves/roots (Symphytum officinale).  Comfrey is specific for addressing lung conditions with a sore throat, dry cough, inflamed or irritated lungs. It does contain PAs (Pyrrolizidine alkaloids), so should be used for only a short time. 

Elecampane root ( Inula helenium). Actions: expectorant, stimulant, etc.  Elecampane is drying, helping to address respiratory conditions with mucus by stimulating the cough reflex.  It is warming and helps to stimulate clear abundant phlegm in asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough.

Grindelia buds (Grindelia squarrosa).  Actions:  expectorant, anti-asthmatic, tonic, transforms phlegm. Grindelia helps to address asthmatic attacks, whooping cough, and bronchial spasms.

Horehound (Marrublum valgare). Actions:  expectorant, anti-inflammatory, transforms phlegm.  Growing throughout the Pacific Northwest, horehound is an old-time herb that is used for coughs, colds, and respiratory conditions. It is often combined with other herbs due to its bitter, bitter taste.  It has historically been made into a cough drops for sore throats and respiratory issues.  Recipe below. 

Hyssop leaf/flower (Hyssop officinalis). Actions: expectorant, transforms phlegm.  Hyssop is a great herb for coughs and congestion, asthma, bronchitis, and sore throat.  Can be used as a gargle. 

Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus). Actions: demulcent, expectorant, tonify.  This is an excellent remedy for dry and irritated mucus membranes.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhizae uralenis). Actions: tonic, demulcent, antispasmodic, antitussive, antihistamine, expectorant.  Stir-frying in honey until dry increases the ability to address dry lungs, sore throat, dry cough, shortness and breath, and wheezing.

Lily Bulb leaf petals (Bai he, Lillum brownii, spp.). Actions: tonic, antitussive, expectorating demulcent. It is used dry or chronic cough, sore throat.

Lobelia seeds, leaf, stem, flower (Lobelia inflata). Actions: antispasmodic, expectorant, anti-asthmatic.  As an antispasmodic, it treats respiratory spasms and dispels mucus. It has traditionally been used in asthma attacks. It is a low-dose botanical and is available as a tincture, follow the directions on the bottle.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). Actions: demulcent, mild expectorant, antitussive, transform phlegm heat.  This herb is typically used for addressing lung complaints, with yellow mucus, but in a pinch can be used for addressing irritated throat, respiratory issues. 

Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus).  Actions;  expectorant, demulcent, antitussive, antimicrobial. Primarily used for conditions with abundant phlegm, but not necessarily a dry cough, although it can be used in combination with demulcents to make it more appropriate to help stop coughing.

Ophiopogon (Mai men dong, Ophiopogon japonicus). Actions: tonic, antitussive.  Mondo grass has small bubbles on its roots, these are used for dry throat and dry cough by promoting the secretion of fluids.

Osha root (Ligusticum porteri).  Actions: expectorant, antiviral, transforms phlegm.  Osha addresses respiratory conditions with mucus and helps to stop cough.

Reshi mushrooms(Ganoderma lucidum). Actions: expectorating, transforms phlegm. Known as the spirit mushroom it was traditionally used for improving shortness of breath, treating cough, wheezing, and low energy. 

Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus). Actions: tonic, adaptogen. This herb is in the asparagus family acting as a demulcent and assists in increasing immunity.

Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serotina).  Actions:  antitussive, transforms phlegm.  Wild Cherry bark helps to clam the respiratory system in the face of spasmodic coughing addressing issues of asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions.  Should be cold prepared as a cold or warm infusion, do not boil. 

Yerba Mansa root/leaf (Anemopsis californica).  Actions: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral. It can be used for chronic sinusitis or rhinitis, thick mucus, or bronchitis. Can be used in cases of spasmodic cough, sinus congestion, and dry cough. 

Yerba Santa leaf (Eriodictyon californicum). Actions: expectorant, stimulant, tonic.  It helps to stimulate secretions in the lungs and bronchioles if there is dryness or mucous membranes.  Additionally, it can help to increase circulation when there is chest constriction, being used for asthma. 

Food recommendations as we move into the autumn, include reducing cooling foods (like salads and raw foods), heartier soups and stews made from astragalus, and reshi broth can help to boost immunity. Incorporating sweet potato, cabbage, pears, walnuts, rice, cinnamon, leeks, beans, asparagus, broccoli, greens, apples, plums, grapes, as well as, moderate amounts of pungent foods like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, and mustard into your diet helps to strengthen lungs.

Respiratory tea:

  • 1 oz Chickweed
  • 1 oz Mullein
  • 1/2 oz Marshmallow root
  • 1/2 oz Astragalus
  • 1/2 oz Reshi
  • 1/4 cup Flaxseed
  • 2 T. Licorice root
  • 2 T. Rosehips
  • 3 T. Yerba Santa

Combine together in a container and shake well.  Add 1/4 cup to a mason jar, fill with hot water, let sit for 2 hours or overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day.  Repeat as needed.

Throat lozenges:

  • 1/4 cup of Marshmallow root and or slippery elm powder,
  • 1 T. Licorice powder
  • 2 tsp. ground thyme
  • 1 T. honey

Combine all ingredients together adding a small amount of water to create a stiff but workable dough.  Using a dough roller, roll to 1/4 tsp thick. Use a bottle cap, press down, and make small circles.  Remove excess dough and continue the process until all dough is used.  Coat lozenges in marshmallow or slippery elm powder, then let dry.

Household Herbal Air Purifier:

  • 1 to 2 cups of Cedar leaves or Pine needles
  • 4 Sagebrush tops
  • 1 cup of Mugwort leaves
  • 20 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
  • 20 drops Rosemary essential oil

Combine all of the ingredients in stainless steel or cast iron large pot.  Fill with water, put on a hot plate, stove, or another heating device at a low temperature.  Continue to add additional water as needed.  Use until smoke is no longer an issue.  It can be used during the winter to help with respiratory issues.

Horehound Lozenges:

  • 1 cup of horehound leaves
  • 1 cups of water
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 2 T. honey
  • granulated brown sugar or coconut sugar for coating

Make a strong decoction by combining the horehound leaves with water in a stainless steel pan, covered simmering for 15 minutes, then let cool.  Strain, then add honey and sugar. and stir well.  Bring to boil, then turn down to a low simmer.  Continue cooking to hard-crack stage (330 degrees). Pour mixture into a butter cookie sheet.  Score the surface when firm. Once cool enough to handle, then form into drop shapes, rolling in sugar to coat and prevent sticking.

Sore Throat Tea:

  • 2 oz Chickweed
  • 2 oz Marshmallow
  • 1/2 oz Licorice
  • 1 oz Rosehips
  • 1/2 oz Wild Cherry Bark
  • 2 T. Fennel seed

Combine together in a container and shake well.  Add 1/4 cup to a mason jar, fill with hot water, let sit for 2 hours or overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day.  Repeat as needed.

Sinus Steam- an excellent blog post on herbal steams. https://theherbalacademy.com/breathe-easier-with-a-decongesting-herbal-salt-steam/

Fire Cider- used at the first sign of a cold or flu it can be used to open airways and sinuses. https://theherbalacademy.com/homemade-fire-cider/

Note: As in everything, herbal please do your due diligence and ensure that any herb you’re consuming is appropriate for you and for any medications you are taking.  You can find more info about interactions at the following web site https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/index .

I would like to acknowledge that much of the above information is attributed to Lesley and Michael Tierra, from the East West School of Planetary Herbology.  I would also like to acknowledge the above links to the https://theherbalacademy.com/

Candied Burdock and Elecampane roots w/ Coconut sugar

Both of these herbs are known for their bitter taste and are perfect for an after-dinner digestive chew.

Burdock root is a potent yet gentle herbal medicine. It’s best known as a blood cleanser, often paired with Dandelion in detox formulas. It has a mildly bitter flavor that gets digestion moving and a slightly sweet, earthy flavor that makes that bitter go down a little easier. As a part of our daily diet, Burdock helps keep the digestive tract functioning smoothly.

Elecampane is naturally a fragrant bitter. This is because it contains sesquiterpene lactones and triterpenes which make it helpful in boosting the digestive processes. It could be helpful to those that seem to be failing to thrive without any known cause. It is warming and drying which makes it good for melting old phlegm in the lungs so it can be coughed up. It has anti-microbial effects that help to combat infections which may contribute to why there were phlegm and a cough in the first place.


Candied Burdock and Elecampane roots w/ Coconut sugar

• Fresh elecampane root and burdock root.
• Coconut Sugar

1. Dig up your roots and give them a thorough wash.
2. Slice the root diagonally and weigh the roots.
3. To a skillet, cast iron works well, add the same quantity of coconut sugar as the weight of the roots.
4. Add 2 tablespoons of water or enough water to melt the sugar into a syrup.
5. Put the pan on the heat and heat until the coconut sugar melts.
6. Add the burdock and elecampane roots.
7. Stir well making sure they are coated in the coconut sugar.
8. Keep stirring until all of the liquid is evaporated and starts to bind together into a big clump.
9. Remove from heat
10. Put the root slices onto parchment and spread out to dry
11. Store in an airtight jar, eating a root piece after each meal.

Lotus, Food and Medicine

Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera

Lotus has been used as food and medicine for over 7,000 years, in India and China. The seeds, rhizomes, leaves, stems, and flowers are used in daily cooking in Asia. Besides its use as food, lotus has a long history of historical use throughout many parts of the world in addressing specific health conditions. In Ayurveda, the whole plant is considered sweet, cool, and slightly bitter, and is widely known for reducing pitta, vata, and kapha. In China, it has been used in herbalism for thousands of years, based on its inclusion in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica). Below is an overview of each of its different parts.

Leaf: In Ayurveda, the leaf is considered a bitter and cooling herb that benefits the stomach, spleen, and liver. Lotus leaf (he ye) appears in the Chinese materia medica category of clearing heat and eliminating toxins. Charring lotus leaves increases their hemostatic qualities, helping to stop bleeding. The raw leaves are used for clearing heat in the upper body with an affinity for the lungs and for reducing fever.

Petal: Used in Ayurveda the peals are described as sweet, sour, and cooling, helping to reduce pitta, contain bleeding, allay thirst, and assist in painful urination. The flowers were traditionally used for diarrhea, cholera, fever, and gastric ulcers.

Seed: Its energy is considered sweet and neutral, with an astringent or tightening action in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Used historically for treating chronic diarrhea, premature ejaculation, uterine bleeding, and vaginal discharge. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is known to nourish the heart and clam the spirit treating anxiety, irritability, and dream-disturbed sleep. In Ayurveda, the seeds are considered a tonic and rasayana, as well as specifically helping with vata imbalances.

Seed sprout: The Chinese the sprout or plumule is considered the “heart”. Its medicinal focus is on clearing heat and cooling the blood. It is used in cases of excessive menstrual bleeding, undue mental activity, confusion, delirium, insomnia, and irritability.

Stamen: The stamens are considered astringent, with a phytochemical composition of flavonoids and alkaloids. In Chinese herbal medicine, it is primarily used to stop bleeding addressing leukorrhea, nocturnal emissions, spermatorrhea, frequent urination, uterine bleeding, along with menorrhagia or other bleeding disorders.

Receptacle: The part that is used is where the leaves attach to the stem, know in Chinese medicine for supporting the liver, spleen, and kidney organs. The Lotus receptacle addresses this stagnation by moving blood and staunching the outward flow of blood.

Rhizome: In many Asian countries it is considered a food for promoting health, being high in both mineral and starch content. In Ayurveda, the rhizome is powdered and made into a paste for ringworm or taken internally for dysentery, dyspepsia, and snake bites. In Chinese herbalism, the rhizome is used similarly for diarrhea and dysentery, also used as a primary food for infants.

Rhizome joint: Used primarily in Chinese medicine, the “lotus joint” or rhizome node, ou jie, is a hemostatic for regulates blood and stops bleeding while targeting the lungs, stomach, and liver.


Chen, J., & Chen, T. (2004). Chinese medical herbology and pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press.

Dharmananda, S. (n.d.). Lotus seed: Food and medicine. Retrieved from http://www.itmonline.org/arts/lotus.htm

Nelumbo nucifera. (2020, July 8). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nelumbo_nucifera&oldid=966740664

Pole, S. (2013). Ayurvedic medicine: The principles of traditional practice. London, England: Singing Dragon

Tierra, M., & Tierra, L. (2017). East West professional herbalist program [Online course]. The East West School of Planetary Herbology, Ben Lomond, California.

East meets West: Warming Muscle Rub

Recently I came across a recipe from the Herbal Academy that intrigued me, Warming Ginger Cayenne Salve. I wondered if I could improve upon this analgesic recipe by combining it with additional herbs that have been used traditionally used in dit da jow’s.  Dit da jow is an analgesic liniment traditionally used by martial artists to stimulate circulation, reduce pain and swelling, and improve healing of injuries and wounds. Also known as  “hit medicine”, the main function of dit da jow, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is to unblock blood stagnation and blood stasis. The thought being that when one suffers a trauma type injury, qi is blocked in the meridians causing pain and swelling.

Starting with the Warming Ginger Cayenne Salve recipe as my starting point, I used a combination of arnica and St. John’s wort infused oils as my base.  In the initial recipe it suggested adding turmeric powder which I opted to not include due to its potential for staining.  In brainstorming other herbs to use,  I thought I would kick up the heat by adding dried ginger root, cinnamon bark, black pepper, mustard powder, Thai chilies and wasabi. To this combination I included TCM herbs* which I had pre-soaked in alcohol to help open up the cell walls to increase extraction in the oil. *specific for pain relief see below.

Angelica Pubescens (Chinese: Du Huo) is categorized as an Herb that Dispels Wind-Dampness. These herbs alleviate pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and bones. Angelica pubescens expels cold and promotes Qi and Blood flow. It disperses cold and unblocks painful obstruction (bruises, swelling, etc). It can be used for chronic and acute problems.

Angelica Sinensis (Chinese: Dang Gui) is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine. It’s main purpose is to tonify the blood. But it also invigorates and harmonizes the blood and disperses cold. It is an important herb for stopping pain due to blood stasis.

Psuedoginseng (Chinese: San qi or Tian Qi) belongs to the category of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. This herb stops bleeding without causing blood stagnation, transforms blood stagnation, reduces swelling and stops pain. Because it reduces swelling and alleviates pain this is the herb of choice for traumatic injuries and is used for swelling and pain due to falls, fractures, contusions, and sprains.

Persicae, Peach Kernals (Chinese: Tao Ren) belongs to the category of Herbs that Invigorate the Blood. It invigorates the Blood and is an important herb for dispelling stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelica sinensis for pain due to trauma.


Warming Muscle Rub

  • 1 cup of arnica infused oil
  • 1 cup of St. John’s wort infused oil
  • 2 T. of cayenne pepper powder
  • 2 T. ginger root powder
  • 2 T. ground black pepper
  • 1 T. dried mustard powder
  • 1/4 c. of dried ginger root
  • 1/4 c. of cinnamon bark
  • 1 tsp. of Thai chilies
  • 1 T. wasabi paste
  • 1/4 cup of Angelica sinensis
  • 1/4 cup of Psuedoginseng
  • 1/4 cup of Persicae
  • 1/4 cup of Angelica pubescens
  • 1/2 cup of beeswax
  • 180 drops black pepper essential oil
  • 180 drops cinnamon essential oil
  • 180 drops wintergreen essential oil
  • 180 drops ginger essential oil

Day 1:  Combine Angelica sinensis, Psuedoginseng, Persicae, and Angelica pubescens with 1/2 cup of grain alcohol.  Toss to cover and let sit overnight.

Day 2:  Stain any remaining alcohol from herbs and combine the oil with all of the other herbs into a double boiler.  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours. Leave in the double boiler and allow to sit overnight.

Day 3: Bring the double boiler (check the water) up to a simmer and let herbs/oil cook for another hour.  Uncover and cook for another hour to evaporate any remaining water or alcohol. Remove from the heat and strain.  (Note: I would not used powdered herbs in the future, in that they are difficult to strain).  After straining, add the infused oil back to the double boiler adding beeswax.  Bring the heat back up and stir until beeswax is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and cool slightly.  Add essential oils, stir again and pour into glass containers.

The results is an easily applied warming salve to be used for aches and pains.  I used it on my shoulders and knees after a long hike and the next day I woke up pain free. Avoid use on sensitive skin.

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


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


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.







Tinnitus-Ringing in the Ear, Treatment Options From Many Traditions

The Western allopathic approach to tinnitus is dramatically different from either Western Herbalism or Traditional Chinese Medicine in addressing this condition.

Western Allopathic Medicine: Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actualindex3 external noise is present. Tinnitus is a non-auditory, internal sound that can be intermittent or continuous, in one or both ears, and either a low or high-pitch sound. The sounds of tinnitus have been described as whistling, chirping, clicking, screeching, hissing, static, roaring, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or musical. The volume of the sound can fluctuate and is often most noticeable at night or during periods of quiet. Tinnitus is often accompanied by a certain degree of hearing loss.

Tinnitus can be either an acute or temporary condition, or a chronic health malady. Millions of Americans experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public, over 50 million Americans, experience some form of tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases.

In general, there are two types of tinnitus:

  • Subjective Tinnitus: Head or ear noises that are perceivable only to the specific patient. Subjective tinnitus is usually traceable to auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss, but can also be caused by an array of other catalysts. More than 99% of all tinnitus reported tinnitus cases are of the subjective variety.
  • Objective Tinnitus: Head or ear noises that are audible to other people, as well as the patient. These sounds are usually produced by internal functions in the flow of blood or muscular-skeletal systems. It is often more like the sound of a heartbeat or pulsating. This type of tinnitus is very rare, representing less than 1% of total tinnitus cases.

index2Some medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, certain antibiotics, and diuretics can be “ototoxic” or cause damage to the inner ear, resulting in tinnitus.

Other possible causes of tinnitus are:

  • Head and neck injuries
  • Loud noises,
  • Ear infections
  • A foreign object, or earwax touching the eardrum
  • Eustachian tube (middle ear) problems
  • TMJ disorders
  • Stiffening of the middle ear bones
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Traumatic brain injury

There are also potential risk factors including the following:

  • Noise exposure from work, headphones, concerts, explosives
  • Smoking
  • Gender – men are affected more than women
  • Hearing loss
  • Age – older individuals have a higher likelihood of developing tinnitus

There is currently no scientifically valid cure for most types of tinnitus. There is, however, remedies that focus on diverting attention, addressing the emotional impact, and or cognitive therapy.

Western Herbalism: Tinnitus can serve as an important marker pointing to other potential health issues, since it a symptom and not a disease. Whatever the cause it tends to worsen in times of tension, stress and or muscle spasms. Stimulates like caffeine or nicotine, which increases vasoconstriction, can exasperate it. Furthermore, it can be caused by damaged fine hair cells of the inner ear. Although this cannot be reversed there might we some reduction felt in using some of the suggestions below. Stress reduction can often be helpful. Some herbs have been used to address tinnitus including black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and more recently ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): In TCM we know that the images6kidney qi communicates with the ears and that as we age or because of various states of health this can affect our qi, therefore the kidneys are often identified as root causes of tinnitus.

In approaching treatment of tinnitus, it is important to distinguish between an acute or sudden occurrence or a long-term tinnitus that gets worse over time or comes and goes. Furthermore, it is important to determine whether it is an excess-type or a deficiency-type of tinnitus. A key to this determination is that an excess type of tinnitus is often experienced in only one ear, while a deficiency based tinnitus tends to develop in both ears. The deficiency type usually gets better during the day and gets worse at night. A combination of deficiency and excess syndromes is possible, especially in persons with other illnesses or with tinnitus that has persisted for several years.

The following is a description of excess and deficiency patterns that might be able to better pinpoint treatment principles to be used.

Excess type #1, Hyperactive liver and gallbladder fire:

  • Sudden onset
  • Continual sound
  • Excess symptoms (a headache, flushed face, irritability)
  • Excessive anger, fright
  • Excessive use of alcohol

TCM formula: Long dan Xie Gan Tang (Gentiana Comb) with the addition of moutan, ligustrum, for persistent liver fire weakening the Kidney water.

Excess type #2, Phlegm Fire Syndrome

  • Intermittent ringing in the ears
  • Feeling of blocked ears
  • Chest stuffiness
  • Excess phlegm
  • Dizziness
  • Blockage manifesting as difficult urination or constipation

TCM formula: Wen Dan Tang (Bamboo and Hoelen Comb)

  • with the addition of pear, haliotis, uncaria (liver)
  • with lapis, scute, rhubarb and aquilaria (blockage of chest, constipation)
  • with dampness (Ban Zia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang)

Diet: avoid fat or spicy food

Deficiency type #1, Deficient Kidney Jing

  • Gradual worsening ringing
  • Dizziness
  • Backache
  • Deficient heat symptoms

TCM formula: Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (Rehmannia Six Formula) and schizandra.

TCM formula Er Long Zuo Ci Wan (Tinnitus Left Supporting Pills)

Deficiency type #2, Sinking Spleen Qi (yang def.)

  • Intermittently occurring tinnitus that is relieved through rest and reduced stress
  • Low energy
  • Poor appetite
  • Loose stools

TCM formula: Yi Qi Chong Ming Tang (Ginseng, Astragalus and Pueraria Comb.)

Lifestyle: stress reduction, adequate kidney and spleen building dietimages5

Ear Massage: There are several sites that have detailed directions for addressing tinnitus through massage:

The bottom line is that the early intervention is necessary for long-term success. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms outlined in any of the treatment options, seek the advice of a Physician or Clinical Herbalist (http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbalists-and-chapters-near-you)


Davis, Kathleen FNP. 2016. Tinnitus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. The University of Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine. Available from


Flaws, B Sionneau P. 2001. The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Disease with Chinese Medicine. Blue Poppy Press. p. 55-56.

Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press. P372-373.

Dharmananda, S. Ph. D. 1998. Treatment of Tinnitus, Vertigo, and Meniere’s disease with Chinese herbs. Institute for Traditional Medicine. Available from http://www.itmonline.org/arts/tinmen.htm



Herbal Tinctures: Getting or Giving the Right Dose

tincturesHerbal tinctures are the backbone of Western herbalism.  Generally, herbal tinctures are made from herbs extracted with a combination of alcohol and water, although glycerine and vinegar can also be used.  They are widely available, economical to produce and use, compact enough to stock in considerable variety and have a good shelf life. They can be combined and are convenient to take.   Dried herbs start to loose their potency after 6 months yet tinctures can last up to 10 years or more.  As a primarily Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist, I mostly rely on concentrated decoctions, but in some cases when I am working with aerial parts of  plants, or herbs that could benefit from the effects of alcohol, increasing circulation, tinctures are more appropriate.

This posting is based on tinctures made using the weight to volume method.

Understanding dosage rates are important in achieving therapeutic outcomes.  I find that if someone isn’t responding to an herbal formula then analyzing their dosages can be helpful.

As a starting point most commercially available herbal tinctures indicate the weight to volume ratio.  For example, if the label states that it is a 1:5 extraction, this indicates that 1 gram (weight) of herb is equivalent to 5 milliliters (volume) of liquid.

A tincture formula will state the herb and the ratio of herb (by weight) to solvent (by volume), and the % alcohol (ethanol) in water.

Having this information is crucial in understanding the amount of herb that you are recommending or taking per dose.  Furthermore, this information is required by law to appear on the label. along with the serving size suggestion, which we will discuss further on.

In trying to communicate dosage equivalencies I have developed the following chart based on weight to volume ratios.  The side column indicates the common ratios and the top row indicates the volume of tincture consumed (in milliliters).  For example, if you took 1 milliliter of liquid made at a ratio of 1:2 then you would be ingesting a half of a gram of herb.

Tincture Dosage Equivalencydosage ratioSuggested Use:  Different companies have different suggested dosage rates.   Some companies suggest taking a dropper full and others recommended taking a range of drops as a serving size, for example, 20-60 drops.  When a dropper full is suggested the amount consumed depends on the size of the bottle and dropper.  When the suggested dosage on the bottle indicates a number of drops per dose, the amount consumed depends on the viscosity of the liquid.  Since this can change from one company to the next the best we can do is to have an understanding of some equivalents  recognizing that this is an approximation:

  • 20 drops = 1 ml
  • Dropperful from a one-ounce bottle—30 drops
  • Dropperful from a two-ounce bottle—40 drops
  • 5 ml = 1 teaspoon
  • A one-ounce bottle holds approximately 30 ml, 6 teaspoons, 30 dropper full, and 900 drops.

For example if using the suggested serving of 40 drops, and 20 drops = 1 milliliter, then you are taking approximately 2 milliliters of a 1:5 tincture and getting approximately .4 grams of herb per dose.  Most commonly it is recommended to take the tincture two to three times a day, so using this same example you  would be consuming between .8 and 1.2 grams of herb per day. Knowing the actual amount of herb that is recommended on a daily basis will help with putting the this into context.  Below is a partial list of recommended daily dosage of some common herbs.

Examples of dosages of some common herbs*:

Herb Daily Dosage
Angelica archangelica 3-9 grams
Ashwagandha 3-12 grams
Astragalus 6-15 grams
Black Cohosh 3-9 grams
Burdock 3-10 grams
Codonopsis 9-30 grams
Dandelion 9-30 grams
Dang Gui 3-15 grams
Echinacea 3-9 grams
Grindelia 3-6 grams
Hawthorn Berry 6-12 grams
Lemon Balm ½-6 grams
Motherwort 10-30 grams
Oregon Grape Root 3-9 grams
Passion flower 3-9 grams
Skullcap 3-9 grams
St. Johns Wort 3-9 grams
Uva Ursi 3-6 grams
Valerian 3-6 grams

* Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra

In some circles there has been a discussion that the use of alcohol potentizes the action of the herbs, therefore less herb is needed.  Furthermore, the synergistic action of herbal combinations or formulas also increases effectiveness requring less herb.  These are great discussions but I work with aspiring herbalists who are often confused as to how to determine or convert tinctures to actual grams of herbs.  I hope that this helps and would encourage you to take a moment to actually consider that you might not be taking enough herbs to be effective.

Related blog post:  https://herbalgoddessmedicinals.wordpress.com/category/herbal-preparations/

Up coming blog:  How to make tinctures using the weight to volume method.



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.


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)-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.


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.


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.

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