Moringa Miracle Herb or Case of Consumer Beware

Recently I came across a book on African Herbs which contained numerous herbal moringa treemonographs.  The monograph that caught my eye was  on Morniga oleifera.  I was intrigued by Morniga’s popularity among breastfeeding mothers.  Moringa has followed the superfood path of being the latest and greatest remedy for everything under the sun.  In reading through the monograph, I found some support for these health claims but not for others.  Below is an example of how health claims are perpetuated and the importance of looking beyond the headlines.
Los Angeles Times – “Scientifically speaking, Moringa sounds like magic. It can rebuild weak bones, enrich anemic blood and enable a malnourished mother to nurse her starving baby. Doctors use it to treat diabetes in West Africa and high blood pressure in India …. And it’s not only good for you, it’s delicious.”

Indigenous to sub-Himalayan regions of Northern India and Pakistan, Moringa now has world wide distribution. All parts of the plant have numerous medicinal actions including antibacterial, anthelmintic, anti inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-hypertensive, to name a few.  The Moringa tree is know by different names throughout the world including “drumstick tree” or it’s common name of “horseradish tree”. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as Shigru and Jacinto in Spain.

 

Moringa is considered a food and medicinal herb. Moringa oleifera grows in many  health claimscountries where malnutrition is widespread and has been used to increase vitamin and protein levels, providing a valuable source of antioxidants and vitamins.  The leaves are the most common part of the plant used in commerce.  When one searches the web there are numerous links to the health benefits of Moringa. A blog post by Wellness Mama on the super food claims of Moringa covered a important point:

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the health claims that gram-for-gram, Moringa has more protein than yogurt, more potassium than bananas, more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than oranges.  While this is technically true, it is important to note the distinction that this is “gram for gram,” and not by volume. Since Moringa leaves are relatively lightweight, 100 grams of Moringa leaves would be substantially more volume than 100 grams of an orange.

Consider this: a medium size orange is approximately 130 grams, or 4.5 ounces. Now consider a leafy substance like Moringa leaves. For simplicity, we’ll use a similar leaf, Spinach, for comparison. The FDA estimates that 1 cup of raw spinach is about 30 grams. This means that to get the same “gram for gram” comparison, a person would have to eat 4+ cups of fresh spinach leaves to consume the same number of grams as one orange.  This comparison becomes even more glaring with some of the other nutrients. For instance, it is claimed that “gram for gram” this plant contains two times the protein of yogurt, but 100 grams of yogurt is only about 1/2 cup, while a person would have to consume 3+ cups (or six times as much by volume) fresh leaves to get to 100 grams.  Additionally, while it is a good natural source of the nutrients listed above, 1 cup of fresh Moringa leaves provides only 10-20% of the RDA for these nutrients listed above, so a person would have to consume a lot to obtain “superfood” levels of these nutrients. Most Moringa supplements are dried, not fresh, which reduces the amount of certain nutrients and concentrates others.

This points to the faulty logic used as the basis of advertising.  So although Moringa is full of vitamins and protein, it is important to look at the detail, this isn’t a case of comparing apples to apples.

 

bookBack to the monograph.  The monograph reported on traditional uses of Moringa.  According to the monograph Moringa leaves and seeds were used as food:

  • Soup is made from the leaves and is used to treat hypertension
  • Fresh leaves are eaten like spinach, the leaves are used for making sauces
  • Moringa pods are eaten as a vegetables
  • The leaves are used as a protection against malnutrition
  • Moringa leaves are a rich source of Vit. E, A and fatty acids
  • The fruits or seed pods, known as drumsticks, are a culinary vegetable commonly used in soups and curries
  • The flowers are featured in some recipes as well, although they need to be cooked slightly to neutralize toxicity.

The bark, leaves, and root of Moringa have also been used in traditional healing:

  • Leaves used as poultice aiding in wound healing
  • Leaves are used against nervous ailments
  • Juice from crushed bark, flowers, roots and leaves, mixed with honey is used for nervous disorders
  • Bark or leaf used for its antispasmodic properties
  • Root chewed against mouth ulcers
  • Root chewed to aid in digestion
  • Root pulp is poulticed against pulmonary diseases
  • Root decoction if drunk against epilepsy, hysteria, fever.
  • Lightly boiled leaves, bark or root pulp or pulverized root is applied to painful joints
  • Extract of bark or root for scurvy
  • The root and pounded flower are used on wounds
  • Infusion of root is used as gargle
  • Root poultice is a stimulant, used for some forms of paralysis and fever.
  • Juice extracted from crushed roots ear drop for ear infections
  • The leaf infusion contains oxytocin
  • Leaf pulp used as dressing against inflammation
  • Whole plant decoction used against viral hepatitis
  • Used as gargle for throat related infections
  • Seed oil is rubbed on joints.
  • Used as a traditional supplement for infants. One rounded soup spoon contains about 8 g of powder with 2.2 G protein.
  • During the 19th c. Plantations in the West Indies were exporting the oil. It is pleasant tasting edible oil which does not become rancid.
  • In one study the seeds of Moringa were used to purify water. (Gilpin et al., 1994)

Moringa is promoted as a galactagogue or milk stimulating herb by many commercial moringa plantsources.  In a review of literature on Moringa some cultures used it primarily for increasing protein levels during breastfeeding. The Philippines have documented use of its ability to augment breast milk production.  There is a survey of studies that does show it has a demonstrated  significant increase in milk produced 4-7 days after treatment. The caution is that the internet is filled with much misinformation about whether Moringa leaf should or should not be taken during pregnancy, at this point I would air on the side of safety.  The other parts of the plant should not be taken and can cause miscarriage or bleeding.

Cautions:  The leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree are generally considered to be safe and edible, but there is some controversy regarding the roots and stems pointing to potentially harmful effects, especially in women. These parts of the plant may not only act as a contraceptive (both temporary or permanent) but may also lead to miscarriage and other problems.  There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done. Additionally, the leaves of the plant have been shown to have a mildly laxative effect and may cause digestive disturbances in some people. Supplementation of the seeds or one extract of the leaves (methanolic) at doses around 3-4 fold higher than the recommended dosages appears to be associated with genotoxicity and should be avoided; water extracts of the leaves do not appear to confer this risk.  Moringa oleifera has anticoagulant properties of unknown potency and biological significance.

Important drug contraindications:  Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Moringa might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking moringa along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications.

  • Levothyroxine-Interaction Rating: Moderate.  Be cautious with this combination.  Levothyroxine is used for low thyroid function. Moringa might decrease how much levothyroxine your body absorbs. Taking moringa along with levothyroxine might decrease the effectiveness of levothyroxine.
  • Moringa might lower blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking moringa along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
  • Moringa might lower blood pressure. It has the potential to add to blood pressure lowering effects of antihypertensive drugs.
  • There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done.

This points to my initial concern about the over marketing of an herb, where it becomes almost impossible to filter through the numerous web pages to find reality.  As the global use of herbal medicinal products continues to grow and many more new products are introduced into the market, public health issues, and concerns surrounding their safety are important.  I am not in the camp of over regulation at all, but I do feel that for the most part consumers are not doing the level of research needed, or looking to clinical herbalists, who for the most part are trained to dig deep for efficacy and contraindications.

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Shi Hu, Dendrobium Nobile- “Immortality Herb”

This last May I was fortunate to travel to China with my school, East West School for Planetary Herbology, to do clinical training in a Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.  On one of our field excursions, we toured a demonstration garden for the school.  In one greenhouse there were rows and rows of a low growing plant called Shi Hu. I found a piece of the plant on the ground put it into my pocket, hoping to root it when I got home.  At this point, I have a very small plant that made the long plane trip and is starting to put on growth.

Shi hu is an orchid plant that often grows adjacent to trees such as pear or peach.  The plant consists of a long, thin stem, which is golden yellow in color, with a flower at the end. Dendrobium Nobile, also known as the Noble Dendrobium or Shi Hu in Pinyin, has been used for the medicinal purpose for at least 2,000 years. Different varieties of dendrobium have different colors, but the most common colors are yellow and pink. The plant has a long thin stem that is used for various herbal and medicinal treatments. Shi Hu grows wild and is harvested from November to February although at this point, wild Shi Hu is overharvested and it is now being cultivated in greenhouses like the one we saw.  True Shi Hu refers to dendrobium orchid, but much of what is available on the market is a substitute rather than true dendrobium.  It is common to see products that are sold as “wild” Shi Hu, but this is a case where much of it is cultivated and not wild. Most frequently Shi Hu is available in bulk or granules. According to Eric Brand of Blue Poppy, the best way to test the quality of Shi Hu is to chew it. The more fibrous the less quality, the more sticky it is the better quality it is.

Shi Hu has been used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine.  In the Taoist Canon, a collection of Taoist literature from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it refers to Shi Hu as the first of nine “celestial herbs” with great health benefits.  In the Compendium of Materia Medica, written during the Ming Dynasty, Shi hu is described as affecting three channels of energy – the stomach, the lungs, and the kidneys.  The Chinese believe that the Dendrobium plant is ‘yin’ in nature and can be used to replenish fluids. It is commonly used as an Yin tonic to moisten the stomach, lungs and to replace kidney yin jing. It is very effective for treating conditions such as dry mouth, stomach pain, mouth sores, sunstroke, and other conditions caused by dry weather, pollution or smoke.

Let’s face it as we age we tend towards dryness and ingesting herbs that help to replenish fluids can be helpful.  Another reason that I love Shi Hu is that I often incorporate herbs into my soups and broths.  Shi hu has been used this way in Chinese cooking along with ginseng and chicken, duck, or lamb, for general health. Shi hu is now being adapted to new and creative uses including being made into juices and even dishes available at health spas. In a news article, I recently read, the flower of Shi Hu is made into a tea drink and even brewed into a clear liquor with 38 percent alcohol.

Among its many uses, the Chinese use dendrobium as a tonic for longevity. It is believed that when mixed with licorice roots and made into a tea it transmits healing energy to all parts of the body. There is a whole host of uses that are promoted in the commercial literature including the following:

  • Dendrobium helps moisten and nourish the skin and prevents dryness and flaky skin.
  • When air pollution and smoke dry out the lungs and air passages and increase thirst, dendrobium can be consumed for quick relief and to moisten the passageways.
  • Dendrobium is used as an effective tonic for the treatment of tuberculosis, flatulence, night sweats, anorexia, fever, and dyspepsia.
  • Dendrobium tonic improves the functioning of the lungs, kidneys, and stomach. It can reduce stomach pain and cramping and reduce vomiting.
  • It is believed that regular consumption of dendrobium can also treat sexual impotency.
  • Pain in the feet and hands, lumbago, and arthralgia can be treated with dendrobium extract.
  • Dendrobium can boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
  • Dendrobium has long since been used to replenish lost fluids from the body and reduce severe thirst.
  • Natives of the Eastern Himalayas use dendrobium to heal problems with the eyes.
  • Dendrobium blossoms and stems are edible. Countries like Thailand and Singapore, deep fry these delicacies and eat them as snacks.
  • In Europe, dendrobium blossoms are used as edible cake decorations and as garnishes.
  • The Aborigines consider dendrobiums as emergency bush food.
  • Pickle is made from dendrobium flowers in Nepal.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Energy: sweet, slightly cold

Actions: Generates body fluids for the stomach; nourishes stomach Yin, mildly nourishes kidney Yin; clears heat; brightens the vision; strengthens the lower back.

Uses:

Nourishes Yin, clears Heat and generates fluids Parched mouth, severe thirst or intractable fever associated with Yin Deficiency, most commonly when the Fluids are injured during a warm pathogen disease
Enriches Kidney Yin and reduces Heat from Deficiency Yin Deficiency Heat and depleted Fluids with a recalcitrant low-grade fever, dry and painful throat and a red tongue with no coat
Tonifies the Kidneys, augments Jing, brightens the eyes, strengthens the tendons and bones and strengthens the low back Dull vision, dizziness and low back weakness and pain associated with Kidney and Liver Deficiency
Nourishes Stomach and Lung Yin Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire Rising

http://www.americandragon.com/Individualherbsupdate/ShiHu.html

Additional Note:  According to Eric Brand it can trap an EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) in the body and prolong the sickness. If there is a chance of EPI, Mai men dong or Yu zhu is a better choice.

  • Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1986.
  • Flaws B (translator). The Book of Jook. Chinese Medical Porridges: A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 1995.

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)

Sources:

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

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156286.php

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 1,000–1,200 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.

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.

Consumer Beware: The Rampant Under Dosing of Herbal Products

The world of herbal supplements is often confusing and making heads or infusiontails out of dosages, etc. takes time, research and a bit of math. Many folks buy herbs from their local health food stores, through the Internet or from alternative care providers. More often than not, they follow the instructions that appear on the bottle. I have analyzed many formulas that clients have brought to me and I am always struck by the fact that what they are taking is far below the recommended daily therapeutic dosage. As an herbalist, I contend that if folks are not seeing the intended effects it is either due to under dosing or not addressing the root cause of their condition. For the purposes of this article I am going to concentrate on the issue of under dosing and although I know that this topic is potentially controversial, it nonetheless needs to be examined.

I believe that under dosing is rampant due to the following: the true cost of taking herbs therapeutically, herbal profit margins and the risk adverse nature of supplement manufactures. To illustrate my point we will look at several forms of existing herbal products in relationship to recommended daily therapeutic dosages.

Let’s start by picking an herb. An average recommended dose of Vitex (Chaste Tree) berry is 3-6 grams a day of dried ground herb, as stated in several prominent books on herbalism. For this analysis I will use this as my baseline for establishing a daily therapeutic dose. When we look at using tinctures several leading tincturesbrands provide Vitex tinctured at a 1:5 ratio (a standard ratio that many manufactures use, I believe based on profit margins). This measurement is an herb to liquid ratio, meaning that 5 milliliters of liquid equals one gram of herb. If you want to take the therapeutic dose of 3 grams of Vitex a day, you would need to take 1 teaspoon of tincture, three times a day (1 tsp is approximately 5 milliliters). When we look at the cost of this dose, a standard 1-ounce tincture bottle would last two days (1 oz equals 6 teaspoons). At an average cost of $10 a day this would cost $40 a week. If you take the upper range of the recommended dose – 6 grams, you would need to double the amount of tincture equaling an ounce of tincture a day at $10 a day this would be approximately $70 per week.

Most tincture bottles provide recommendations based on a drop dosage. In the case of Vitex a review of several manufacturers suggest an average of 30 drops (30 drops equals approximately 1 ml although this depends on the viscosity) three times a day. There are several ways to look at this, but the simplest is to remember that 5 milliliters of a 1:5 ratio equals one gram of Vitex. If this amount is taken 3 times a day you would be taking 3 milliliters of Vitex or less than 1 gram of herb which is far below the low range of the 3-6 grams a day. Some herbalists would make the case that tinctures are a more concentrated form of herbal preparation due to their bio-availability of chemical constituents thereby lower dosages are appropriate. This might indeed be true and depends on your frame of reference. Either way it behooves us to take the time to do the research and math to figure out the actual dosage that you are taking or recommending.

When we look at the comparison of therapeutic dosage in relationship to herbal capsules under dosing becomes even more apparent. For examplecapsules many leading manufactures supply Vitex at 400 mg per capsule (400 mg equals .4 gram) with a recommend daily dose of 2 to 3 capsules a day. In doing the math this translates to consuming .8 gram of Vitex at 2 capsules a day and 1.2 gram of Vitex at 3 capsules a day, far below the recommended daily therapeutic dose. In fact to get to 3 grams you would have to consume 8 capsules a day and at 6 grams a day you would have to consume 16 capsules a day.

I have done similar analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicine, medicinal mushrooms and standardized herbal supplement formulas only to find that the dosages on the bottle fall far below therapeutic recommendations. So what is the answer?

  1. Invest in a comprehensive book on herbs that lists therapeutic dosages in grams for example Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra.
  2. Determine the therapeutic dose for a given herb.
  3. Read the information in the box (Supplement Facts panel). What is the recommended serving size? What is the suggested dosage?
  4. Do the math. Compare the supplements recommended daily dose to the therapeutic dose.
  5. Look for fluid extracts which are tinctured at 1:1 or 1:2 ratio or other concentrated forms of herbal preparations.

 

Making Medicinal Herbal Fruit Leather

IMG_3815

Herbal Fruit Leather

A few years ago I bought a food dehydrator and started to play around with making a whole host of raw foods, including fruit leather, crackers, granola, taco shells, etc.  At one point I started to add powdered medicinal herbs to some of my fruit leathers.  These included elderberry, astragalus, ashwagandha, shatavari, chlorella and many others.

IMG_3812

Around the same time I started experimenting with making concentrated herbal decoctions for clients.  During this time I remembered a lecture I attended when Christopher Hobbs was describing how to make dried decoctions, so I began to experiment with drying my concentrated decoctions.  At that point I stated adding fruit, vegetables and whatever else I could think of. In terms of client compliance, it has been exceptional, people like eating their medicine.  I would encourage you to use your imagination and start experimentation.

IMG_3813The following is the process I use to get five full sheets of herbal fruit leather:

I start with 2 pounds of whole herbs (roots) and add 8 quarts of water. I cook the mixture with the lid off for 2 hours and then remove the lid cooking for an addition 2 hours.  I then strain the herbs out of the liquid and continue to reduce it down until reduced to 10 cups of decoction. At this point I add  aerial herbs, cover and let infuse until cool. I strain it again to remove herbs and add any additional powers that I have on hand, for example maca, acai, beet powder, green foods, etc. If I am adding any additional fresh food, for example blueberries, I will dump the whole thing in a blender. When I have finished adding additional items I add 1 tablespoon of marshmallow root powder and 1 tablespoon chia seeds per cup of liquid. I let it sit for an hour to thicken up, if it isn’t thick enough I add more marshmallow or chia seeds or if too thick, I add liquid.   You want it to be thick enough that it flows like thick pancakeIMG_3814 batter, but not too thick that it doesn’t flow. You can even add tinctures to enhance the action of the decoction. Dry in your dehydrator between 95-100F, for as long as it takes to have it be completely dry.

I am a big proponent of incorporating medicinal herbs into our daily food and think this method is just another option.  Use your imagination but remember not all herbs taste great, so this method isn’t great for all herbs.  Taste the herb and this will tell you whether or not if might lend itself to this methodology.  The sky is the limit so feel free to experiment.

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