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Posts Tagged ‘Spokane Herbalist’

Elder Sambucus spp.

When you come across an Elder in the wild, it is difficult to tell if it is a tree or a bush. Its leggy, hollow branches bend and sway, sporting delicate sprays of flowers in early spring and laden with heavy clusters of fruit by fall (A bush! you’d think). Yet in maturity it towers over you with a rather commanding presence (A tree, perhaps?). In the literature and folklore discussing Elders, both terms are used. Though I can’t imagine that Elder actually prefers one to the other, I find ‘tree’ to be a little more flattering, and I will explain shortly why I strive to be polite in my dealings with this particular plant.

Elders grow all over the world and have been used medicinally for thousands of years. In Medieval times, nearly every part of the Elder tree was used for different medicinal properties (bark, leaf, flower, berries)*.  Perhaps because of this prodigious usefulness, clever Elder devised an ingenious strategy for protecting itself.  There is a persistent superstition throughout Europe and the British Isles that something terrible will befall you if you disrespect an Elder tree. Where did this idea spring from? I am not pointing fingers, but only the Elder tree itself stands to gain. This dark glamour is still effectively protecting Elders from abuse in the Old Country, where reportedly even loggers refuse to cut them down. (Well played, Elder!)Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea)

Though I feel I’m on good terms with all the plants I pick, this is clearly not one to be trifled with.  I take great pains to gather the powder blue berries of our native Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) in late summer, snipping each cluster very precisely, so as not to snap one of the hollow supporting stems (and possibly become cursed). Note: The Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), native to Western Washington is not edible or medicinal (but still magical).

Elders command respect, and like another of my slightly standoffish plant friends, Stinging Nettle, they have earned it. We need their medicine.  Throughout our long history with Sambucus, it has evolved a unique set of chemicals that allow it to be as wicked as it wants and we’ll forgive. You see, Elder is a foe to the dreaded flu.

This is how it seems to go- chemicals in Elderberry disarm the spikes on viruses that allow the influenza virus to stab into your cell and inject it with viral babies. (If you aren’t scared of the flu yet, do a little research on viral infections and replication–it’s terrifying!) Anyway, Elder just snaps that little viral arm right off and it can’t do its evil viral business in your cells anymore! (It‘s a little more complicated than I am making it seem, it’s more of an enzymatically mediated arm breaking than a literal one).  Researchers have recently discovered that taking the syrup of Elderberry reduces the duration of the flu to just 3-4 days in most cases and promotes increased levels of antibody production. It has been shown in in-vitro studies to be effective at inhibiting ten different strains of the influenza virus!  I have made an Elder syrup that combines the immunostimulating, viral arm-disabling, antibody-boosting properties of Elderberry with the gentle but powerful diaphoretic** effects of the Elder flower.  Here at the Radicle lab, I make a Black Elderberry glycerite (Sambucus nigra) and a Blue Elderberry tincture (Sambucus cerulea) and they both taste lovely (Thanks, Elder!). With flu season in full swing, I recommend stocking your medicine cabinet full of fine preparations such as these. Most of us have lowered resistance this time of year after battling some of the more common viruses, and that’s when the dastardly flu attacks. This season- Fight Back with Elderberries!

Elder flower
*A word of caution: Though the medicinal properties of Elder leaf, root and bark are espoused in many ancient texts, I cannot recommend taking them internally for any reason. These plant structures contain tricky compounds that are violent purgatives, laxatives and emetics. There have even been cases of poisoning from the leaves and stems due to the presence of active cyanide-like compounds. Only the flowers and blue or black berries from a properly identified Elder plant are safe to ingest.
**A diaphoretic is a substance that reduces fever by causing you to sweat. While the standard practice is to suppress a fever,  herbalists tend to support the process, encouraging its quick resolution. Unless a fever becomes dangerously high, fevers are healthy response and play an important role in disrupting viral takeover.

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Here are some photos of Spokane’s hottest new herb clinic:

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I'm talking to you.

Please allow me to do something I try never to do- prescribe something to each and every one of you, without even knowing who I am speaking to, let alone your physical constitution or state of health. I will also be making claims that are not legal, and may sound hyperbolic and hard to believe- but every one of them is true. Yes, dear readers, at the risk of sounding like a charlatan, I present to you the most important class of herbs in the world- The Amazing ADAPTOGENS.

Adaptogens are poorly understood by researchers because they are so damned incredible. They seem to work primarily upon the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. This means that they help improve communication between your brain and your adrenal glands. The adrenals become less reactive to non-life threatening stressors and we stop squirting out adrenalin and cortisol when they aren’t needed. In consequence, we sleep better, and suffer less anxiety, depression, and in general, diminish the ravaging effect of stress on our bodies. We have nourished and pacified our depleted adrenals. In this manner, we are better able to weather the storms of life. Adaptogens make us cool, calm and collected.

The term adaptogen was coined by a Russian scientist and researcher in the 1940’s to describe a class of substances that possess these 3 criterion: (Guess what “substances” these are- plants!)
1. Adaptogens are non-toxic. Most adaptogenic herbs are taken for long periods of time and only good things happen.
2. Adaptogens increase resistance to stress in non-specific ways. This means that regardless of the origin of stress (emotional, physical, environmental), adaptogens help your body respond better to it.  Adaptogens help you adapt to stress so the physiological consequences are reduced. You become fortified, self possessed.
3. Adaptogens have a normalizing effect on the body. This means if an organ system is hypofunctioning an adaptogenic herb can stimulate function, and if it is hyperfunctioning, an adaptogenic herb may sedate function. This will happen without you telling it what to do. Adaptogens are super smart.

Adaptogens do these miraculous things by strengthening the body’s regulatory systems,  namely, the neuroendocrine system and the immune system. They can also normalize cardiovascular, pancreatic and renal function. Many of them are potent antioxidants that protect cells of the brain, liver, heart, and lungs from oxidative damage. Some of the herbs that we now classify as adaptogens have long been revered and used to promote longevity in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (the ancient medical system of India).

This may sound a bit dry to those of you that aren’t into physiology but love my plog anyway. Here’s what you need to know:
I use adaptogens most commonly for the following conditions (with great success):

Unrelenting stress, grief, anxiety or depression from any cause. Insomnia.
Hormone imbalance in men and women- including menopausal symptoms, infertility, pms, endometriosis, postpartum depression, erectile dysfunction and low libido.
Immune dysfunction- lowered immunity or autoimmune conditions.
Improved athletic performance- increased stamina and recovery time, improved performance of lungs and cardiovascular system during exercise.

This is where I may strain my credibility a bit, but bear with me- there is more.
Adaptogenic plants are also used for mental focus, weight management, cardiovascular health, improved digestion, blood sugar regulation, longevity and even cancer prevention. I could literally go on and on, but it is just unbelievable! (To be fair, no one adaptogenic herb does all of these things. I am generalizing here.) But most adaptogens have broad and varied effects. They each have many talents.

As a class of herbs, adaptogens are capable of correcting nearly any imbalance in your body, because your body is capable of this feat. Adaptogenic herbs support your innate healing mechanisms and can “re-regulate” the body’s important control systems that govern literally every function of the body. Sound important? They are. In the next post, I will highlight adaptogens that I use frequently. I have a feeling some of these compelling plants will be speaking to you.

Yours Truly,  Sarah “Cool as a Cucumber” Patterson


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Hi Friends,

THIS JUST IN:   Radicle the business will be transplanted this Summer from Seattle to Spokane, WA. The Radicle Review will remain at this original location in cyberspace.

How will this affect you? Well, if you just read the plog, it will likely affect you very little aside from probably having more to read every month. If you purchase Radicle’s Excellent Extracts or herbal products you are also in luck. I will be shipping orders direct from Spokane, and I will now have a public location in which to sell my products- The South Perry Farmers Market! From July 7th on, I will have a booth every Thursday at the market. So come on down and chat, sip some tea and pick up your herbal tonics, balms, salves, oils and medicinal honey’s all hand crafted by yours truly.  Here is a link to the market’s facebook page.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Perry-Farmers-Market/118908248137385

Plant Kingdom

Sadly, this means that I won’t be offering classes in the Seattle area this season, though I may pop back over next year for a weekend workshop or two. If you would like to get on my mailing list for updates, please contact me at radicletea@gmail.com. Spokanites- I will be an herbalist in residence in your city as of July 1. For classes, consultations and the like, see the contact above.

Thanks Seattle, and lets keep in touch.

Love, Your trans-Washington herbalist, Sarah P.

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