Wildcrafting: Developing a bioregional approach to herbalism

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

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

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

Here are a few links for plants specific to Oregon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rosa woodsii

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

lomatium dissectum

Lomatium dissectum

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

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

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

Ethical Wildcrafting and Stewardship:

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

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

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

 

 

Teasel, Wild Rose and Parsnipflower Buckwheat

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

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

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

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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.

Artemisia Tridentata-Big Sagebrush, a Valuable Medicinal Herb

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Sagebrush Country

I live in the big sky country,  the high desert of Central Oregon.  Everywhere I look I see Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).  The genus Artemisia comprises hardy herbaceous plants and shrubs, which are known for the powerful chemical constituents in their essential oils. In a  search of artemisia on the USDA plants database in Oregon there are 150 species of artemisia that appear. The name Artemisia comes from Artemis, the Greek name for Diana. There are any number of artemisia species that are popular in our modern herbal materia medica,  from wormwood to mugwort.   The intent of this post is to continue to explore my bio-region and develop herbal protocols based on the use of local plants and to that end, sagebrush (artemisia tridentata) will certainly play a  role.  This is by no means a definitive article but a written documentation of my search through the literature related to traditional uses and potential current applications.

My exploration of plants always starts through the eyes of First Peoples/Native American’s, who have had a long relationship with using artemisia species throughout North America.  The focus of this blog is to explore the use of Artemisia tridentata, which is mostly relegated to the western states. Big sagebrush and other artemisia species are therange dominant plants across large portions of the Great Basin.

Any number of tribes used artemisia tridentata including tribes affiliated with my bio-region, Okanagan-Colville, Paiute, Shuswap and the Thompson.  Many of the tribes used it similarly. These uses include the following:  respiratory and gastrointestinal aids, cold and cough remedy, antirheumatic both internally and externally, antidiarrheal, ferbrifuge, dermatological aid, eye wash, gynecological aid, analgesic, diaphoretic, emetic, pulmonary aid, and antidote for poisoning.  All parts of the plant were used including the leaves, stems, seed pods, branches and roots.

tridenta

Artemisia tridentata

It was used both externally and internally.*   Externally it had many uses including: as a poultice of fresh and dried leaves for chest colds, as a wash made of the leaves and stems for cuts and wounds, as a leaf decoction for an eye wash, the leaves were packed into the nose for headaches, the ground leaves were used as a poultice along with tobacco for fever and headaches, the leaves were powdered and used for diaper rash or packed into shoes for athlete’s infection, a decoction of the leaves were mixed with salt and gargle for sore throat, mashed leaves were used for toothaches, a leaf decoction was used in a bath for muscular ailments. *  There are many references to it being used internally as an infusion or decoction, but as one informant indicated it was too strong and powerful to drink, “you wouldn’t have any more kids, no children”.  Internal use is not recommended due to some chemical constituents found in the plant.  There are many references to artemisia being inhaled for headaches, for spiritual cleansing, to produce sweat and rid the body of colds, respiratory infections and pulmonary issues.

Artemesia annua

Artemisia annua

An interesting fact is that the Paiute’s and Okanagan-Colville indicated that they used a decoction of leaves for malarial fever, which is also similar to the use of other artemisias around the world.  Most of artemisia’s research as an antimalarial is focused on Artemisia annua (sweet annie).   Artemisia annua is a very interesting plant and is the source of the most powerful antimalarial drug ever discovered, artemisinin.  It is also being investigated in treatment of breast cancer.

Many of its traditional uses can be attributed to artemisia’s active medicinal constituents including camphor, terpenoids, and tannins. Sagebrush essential oil contains approximately 40% l-camphor; 20% pinene; 7% cineole; 5% methacrolein; and 12% a-terpinene, d-camphor, and sesqiterpenoids.  The essential oils present account for its use in inhalation.  Sesquiterpene lactones are among the prominent natural products found in Artemisia species and are largely responsible for the importance of these plants in medicine and pharmacy.

For my own purposes I can definitely see incorporating it into liniments, antiseptic washes, chest poultice, fumigation, powdered for use as foot powder.  Although there is tremendous oral history of its internal use I personally would be hesitant and look to other herbal options.

A few of my references:

Adams, James D., Garcia, Cecilia.,  Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. Abedus Press, 2009.

Moreman, Daniel E., Native American Medicinal Plants.  Timber Press, 2009.

Parks, Willard Z.  Notes of the Northern Paiute of Western Nevada, 1933-1944.  Compiled and edited by Catherine S. Fowler.  University of Utah, Anthropological Papers, Number 114, 1989.