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.

Wildcrafting: Developing a bioregional approach to herbalism

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

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

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

Here are a few links for plants specific to Oregon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

index

Rosa woodsii

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

lomatium dissectum

Lomatium dissectum

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

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

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

Ethical Wildcrafting and Stewardship:

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

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

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

 

 

Teasel, Wild Rose and Parsnipflower Buckwheat

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

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

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

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Hercules eriogonum

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

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Fullers Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum

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

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

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

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

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Rosa woodsii, Woods’s Rose

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

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

Making Medicinal Herbal Fruit Leather

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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.

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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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