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Archive for the ‘Plant friends’ Category

If I find it hard to speak of the medicinal properties of ‘herbs’ to a certain type of person, without getting a conspiratorial wink and them saying “Yeah, I know of one herb with medicinal properties, huh huh huh huh huh (laughter)”, imagine the delicacy with which I must proceed in announcing that I also sell mushrooms- MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS.  I’m not going to lie, mushrooms are special, weird, and some are psychedelic. But there are a few species in particular that must be taken seriously. Therefore, in the following article, if you detect an air of cool factuality when discussing said mushrooms, it is so that we may examine them in the rational light of day rather than under a trippy black light. You feel me?

So, lets explore some of the non-consciousness-shifting properties of the world of fungi. I’d like to begin with one of my personal favorites for enjoying ordinary reality, The Royal Reishi.

Reishi mushroom is a polypore. This type of mushroom is dense and hard, usually found growing on trees, and not at all lending itself to be sauteed in butter and eaten on a steak. According to Chinese medicine, where the virtues of Reishi have been extolled for over 4000 years, there are at least 6 varieties of Reishi mushroom, classified according to color, and possessed of different medicinal properties.  We will be focusing on the use of the Red Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum, which grows around the world, even in the US, but sadly, not my corner of it. It is frequently cultivated, however, and much easier to find in commerce than the other varieties. We do have two species to be found in the NW, Ganoderma tsugae and G. oregonense, both of which grow on conifers- and so rare I have yet to see one in the wild (but, to be fair, I am mostly looking at green things, which makes me a terrible mushroomer).reishi 1

Here is why you should be taking Reishi mushroom (the short list):

Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms have a remarkable trait in common. Due to the presence of certain chemical constituents, mainly polysaccharides and triterpenes, Reishi mushrooms are immunomodulators. This means that they exhibit the unique ability to stimulate a depressed or weakened immune system, or dampen and calm excessive immune function, as in the case of auto-immune conditions. This makes them appropriate for nearly any immune dysfunction, and one of the only herbal treatments for auto-immune conditions. In this same vein, Reishi can sedate the hyperactive immune cells that create allergies and arthritis, thereby acting as an anti-inflammatory when your immune system is causing a ruckus.

Medicinal mushrooms have gotten a lot of well deserved attention for their anti-oxidant and anti-cancer benefits. Reishi is a potent anti-oxidant that helps protect healthy cells from free radicals and inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells. Its chemical arsenal targets and kills cancer cells through activation of the immune system. I use Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms as long term immune tonics with cancer patients and survivors with good effects.

Reishi is also a tonic to the heart, helping lower both blood pressure and cholesterol, a rather useful trait. It’s also protective of the liver and lungs. It is especially useful for chronic bronchitis, allergic asthma and altitude sickness, as it improves oxygenation of the blood.

Here’s where we get a bit metaphysical- Reishi is known as Ling zhi or ‘Spirit plant’, in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has also been referred to as the “herb of spiritual potency”. It is used for disturbances in the spirit, heart and mind, known collectively as ‘shen’ in TCM. In clinical practice, this means Reishi is used for anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, and hyper-emotionalism. I think of Reishi for people that suffer from excessive mental activity, but who’s energies are so scattered that they rarely accomplish anything. This mushroom is clarifying and grounding for those prone to confusion and unsteadiness, with mental agitation and an underlying state of exhaustion and depletion. It is not difficult to find people in need of Reishi.

Wild Reishi has always been in rather short supply.  In ancient China, it was often reserved for the emperor or other important people in the high court. Ancient Chinese medical texts refer to Reishi as ‘the plant of immortality’ and it’s reported to make you live forever. Don’t let the obvious holes in this argument throw you off, like the fact that everyone who wrote this stuff has been dead for centuries. It’s reputation for extending and improving life may not be that far off the mark, considering how it protects the body from inflammation, oxidation, heart disease and cancer in one fell swoop.

To prepare Reishi extract, I make a double extraction out of the dried mushrooms- a two part process that involves extracting first the water soluble chemicals, then the alcohol soluble ones, and combining the two. The capsules are also valuable medicinally. Traditionally the tea was taken daily, but I find that the bitter, sour, flavor makes it impossible for me to do so. The dose varies based on the condition, but a good tonic dose, to be taken over a period of months or years is as follows:reishi 2

Tea (good luck with this one) <gag> 1-3 C per day
Tincture- 60-90 drops 2-4X per day
Capsules- Three 500-1000mg capsules 1-3X per day

Contraindications: Don’t use mushrooms if you have a mushroom allergy (obviously).
And be cautious using Reishi with blood thinning medication, as it may potentiate this effect.

You will find Radicle Reishi offered singularly or in the following formulas:

Mighty Mushrooms: A blend of Reishi, Maitake, Chaga, Turkey tail, and Shitake Mushrooms, for the long term tonic effects of medicinal mushrooms. This blend enhances Reishi’s broad spectrum immune-regulating, anti-cancer actions and further supports liver, lung, and heart health. I could write volumes about all the other fungal heroes in here, but that’s for another day.
Dose: 60-90 drops 2-3X per day

Pollen Proof: For allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma. Decongests respiratory passages and regulates excessive immune response to seasonal and environmental allergens. Contains: Reishi mushroom, Fresh Turmeric rhizome, Fresh Nettle leaf, Yerba Mansa root, Yerba Santa leaves in a base of grain alcohol, water and Glycerin. This can be taken daily before allergy season begins and acutely as needed. (It’s really best to preempt the pollen season.)

Dose: Maintenance 30-90 drops 2X per day
Acute: 30-90 drops 1-5X/day
That should keep you off the ‘hard stuff’.

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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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IT’S FLU SEASON!!!!!! Oh My God!!!
Don’t just lay there and turn into a glassy-eyed zombie while mutant viruses hijack your cells and turn them into viral reproduction centers! DO SOMETHING! Fight back!  So you didn’t get the flu vaccine for whatever reason, you can still protect yourself, your friends, your kids, and grandma. You’ve got to STAY STRONG, okay?  Here are a few simple things you can do to avoid being a disposable pawn in viral warfare.

Support The Resistance

Let me begin by stating that I am profoundly grateful to have been born after The Germ Theory of Disease became widely accepted. And yet, being sort of a firebrand when it comes to modern medicine and how it is practiced, I take issue with our narrow fixation on a bacteriological or viral cause for disease.  Though I strive to practice very diligent hygiene, washing ones hands fifteen times a day does not strengthen the immune system, it just protects a fragile one (and may even weaken it by letting it off the hook).  My problem with germaphobia and compulsive hand-sanitizing is that it ignores the whole concept of host resistance.  It is curious to me that scientists can inject the cold virus directly into the noses of study participants, and some get a cold while others do not.  Sometimes you have to step back from the microscope and look at the big picture.  In doing this we see that viruses and bacteria are clearly not the only factor in illness.  And as all of you gardeners out there know, if the soil is rich and the plants are healthy and robust, it doesn’t matter if there is a pest or two hiding out, the plants are strong enough to handle it.  Rather than attempting to tightly control the environment and eliminate any factors that may be challenging for us, (it doesn’t work in agriculture either) we could concern ourselves with supporting our natural defenses. This is a heartening thought for those of us that don’t want to live in a bubble.

Folk medicine may have evolved before microscopes (and therefore any notion of germs) but it did understand the concept of strengthening innate resistance.  This was accomplished by bolstering defenses and avoiding pernicious influences that undermine health.  I treasure these little pearls of folk wisdom wherever I find them.  Here are a few pre-germ theory practices that we would do well to revisit.

Stay Warm

Exposure to cold is considered a weakening factor in most traditional systems of healing such as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. While I don’t have the western science to support the claims of your Russian grandmother,  I do feel more robust and healthy when I keep my feet warm and wear long-johns under my pants. Try soaking in the bathtub and raising your body temperature when you are feeling stiff, cold or worn out. Remember “Put a scarf on or you’ll catch your death!” ?  Well, there may be a bit of truth in that. Though lack of scarf-wearing may not be an official cause of death, it might hurry you to your eventual arrival at death’s doorstep.

Cook food

Staying warm also pertains to the temperature of the food you eat. Though it seems rather obvious, December is not the time for frozen banana smoothies. Cooked foods are easier to digest in the cold months when you need all your strength to stay warm and ward off germs and other morbid creatures.  Raw foods and even salads (!) are not suitable choices in the winter for all of us living off the equator. Try switching to sturdier cooked greens like kale, collards, chard or mustard greens, sauteed with garlic, ginger and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Raw foods are  cooling and cleansing by nature and can be weakening to digestion during these challenging winter months. We need warm, nourishing and building foods when the weather has turned against us. This is especially prudent if you feel spacey, chilled and fatigued and are suffering from loose stools.

It turns out that a good homemade chicken soup, full of tissue-healing protein, alkalizing greens and veggies, immune-boosting marrow and nourishing electrolyte-rich broth, may actually be the most healing food you can eat when you are feeling under the weather.  See, you already knew that!  Just quietly tune in to what your body wants and give in.

Rest

Put yourself to bed.  Seriously.  Sometimes you just need to let go and sleep it off.  The dishes may be piled up in the sink, the floor may be unswept, but that’s why we sleep with our eyes closed.  Never underestimate the power of sleep.  Our culture’s disapproval of rest is a powerful hex on all of us, who feel guilty catching a little shut eye.  Often all it takes to avoid a cold or flu is leaving work a bit early and going to bed.  While you are alive and desiring to remain in that state, there is no higher authority than the bodies’ demands. Winter wellness depends upon your compliance. You could be sleeping right now! (if this wasn’t such a damn good read!)

Take your herbs!

Echinacea, E. purpurea, E. angustifolia

You have probably heard of Echinacea, as most people who are inclined to try herbs have taken it at one time or another, if a little half-heartedly.  That’s the thing with this one, you’ve gotta trust it.

There are a few herbs that have to be taken in small, measured doses to avoid unpleasant side effects or danger.  Echinacea is not one of them.  It’s a friendly little prairie plant that has powerful effects on the immune system.  The only contraindications are that it not be taken in autoimmune conditions, where the immune system is already too active, or by those with HIV or AIDS, or if you are allergic to the plants in the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family.   For all of the rest of us, there is nothing to fear.  In my professional opinion, Echinacea must be taken liberally to have a noticeable effect.  Some tinctures that you buy in the store might recommend meek little doses on their labels, but I am here to tell you, this is how people lose faith in Echinacea. Taking one capsule or a few drops of the tincture per day probably won’t speed your recovery.  The optimal dose is one dropperful every 30 minutes to an hour when you are coming down with something or in the acute suffering stage. I have averted many plagues with this “pulse” dosing routine.  For general prevention, I recommend taking  2-3 dropperfuls once or twice per day, for a couple of weeks, then take a couple weeks off.  Echinacea in therapeutic doses stimulates the immune system from many different angles, increasing white blood cell production, interferon (the body’s natural virus-killing substance), and gently buffering waste products and speeding their removal from the body.  Echinacea works best if you take it just as soon as you think you are falling prey to a bacterial or viral infection, but it can still help even if you are in the throes of illness.  Just have faith and take frequently.

Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum

This lovely plant is a less popular cold and flu remedy, but it’s been around for a long time.  It was a favorite of the old Eclectic physicians, back in the times when the drugs were plants (often tinctures).  Boneset seems to be very well suited for helping us humans out with that damn clever virus, the flu. Specifically when the flu causes horrible “bone breaking” aches and pains.  This is another prairie plant, though the batch of tincture I made is from plants grown in Twisp, Washington by some lovely herb growers.  It is a tall crinkly-leaved plant with flowers that look like butterfly bait.  Beautiful bone-white clusters rising above the prairie grass. (I am imagining here, having never seen it in its natural habitat).  Like Echinacea, Boneset can be used in the early or late stages of illness to swiftly resolve the matter.  The indications for Boneset are as follows: aching, stiff muscles, fever, fatigue, upper respiratory congestion, sluggish digestion, malaise and hopelessness about having the flu.  Basically it will relax the muscles, relieve aches and pains, break a fever,  brighten the eyes, stimulate digestion and expectoration and restore faith.  And all this from only 30 drops every hour or two until you are feeling better (shouldn’t be long, now!)
(Caution: Don’t go overboard on this one. Though not actually toxic, it will make you barf in high doses.)

Next time: The Excellent Elder Plant: Another foe of influenza!

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Dear Readers,

Here’s one from the vault! This article appeared in my very first issue of the Radicle Review in 2008 (printed on paper back then, if you can believe it!). You will see that I have moved ever nearer to my beloved Hawthorne patch in NE Washington, where I am writing to you from now. I’ve finished up the Haw harvest once again this year, and have gallons of cordials and tinctures made from it. I am, as always, smitten with this plant, and I may just drink them all myself if you don’t claim some.

Crategus douglasii (among many other species)
The featured plant in this issue is the Hawthorne tree.  Hawthorne is a native to North America, though there are a few European escapees that have naturalized here, and the ever-popular varieties that are sold in nurseries as ornamentals. Many of these are also medicinal, and I have used the cultivated Hawthorne in the past with success as well as the wild, which I prefer.  I traveled last month to North Eastern Washington in a mad dash to gather ripe Hawthorne berries in order to make my famous Hawthorne Cordial.  Since Hawthorne grows abundantly throughout Washington, I did debate this long journey eastward as an impractical use of my time, seeing as how I could probably obtain them closer to home. However, I am nothing if not impractical, and I am partial to these particular trees that are growing on my friend Phyllis‘ land.  So, familiarity won out, and I made the trek across the North Cascades Highway, gathering wild ginger and pipsissewa from high in the mountains as I went.

Phyllis’ property is at elevation, a large meadow bordered by a beautiful stream to one side and a forested area to the other.  It rained the night before, but the grasshoppers had returned to the eternal chirping that signals the end of summer. One step through the tall grass sends hundreds (seemingly) leaping hither and thither, just to fall in the path of your next step, and so on and so forth.   The Hawthornes grow on the edges of the meadow, on the banks of the stream and edge of the forest. They look like tall shrubs when they are young, only after many years do their trunks require you to acknowledge them as a proper tree. They tend to grow closely together in a clump or thicket, with their thorny branches hanging low, protecting the heart of the tree.  The thorns appear more wicked and bloodthirsty than they actually are, and I am rarely stabbed when I gather the abundant, reddish black berries that hang in clusters off the branches.  Hawthorne doesn‘t wish to harm anyone, it just knows how to protect itself.  This, it turns out, is one of its virtues.
Herbalists know Hawthorne to be a superior heart tonic. Unlike many herbs, which exert equal influence on multiple organ systems, Hawthorne’s effect is direct and focused on the cardiac muscle. The activity of this plant is a mystery to science, as only the whole plant preparations show any physiologic effect (a confounding trait when you are focused on isolating the active constituent and removing it from its crude form- tree form, in this case).  Though it won’t reveal its secrets, the effects are predictable.  Therapeutically, Hawthorne dilates blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood supply to the heart muscle, and reducing spasms and the likeliness of a heart attack.  It is also effective in relieving shortness of breath, tachycardia (rapid pulse), brachycardia (slow pulse), and the general effects of aging on your most important pump. In combination with other herbs it is useful in treating both hypertension and arteriosclerosis, and many other heart related disorders. The berries contain flavonoids that are both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Hawthorne nourishes and tones the heart muscle, I like to think of it as heart food. As you can see by the broad range of effects, Hawthorne is an all-purpose heart herb, capable of normalizing function depending on what is needed. It can dampen excessive function or nourish and support deficient function.  And you don‘t even have to tell it what to do, it just knows!  This is but one example of the intelligence of plant medicine. (After having evolved with plants over hundreds of thousands of years, you could say that the plant kingdom has got our number).

Through my many dealings with the plant, I have found Hawthorne to promote openheartedness and soften grief and anger.  I give Hawthorne not only to those who suffer from heart related pathology, but also those that are working on developing courage and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships.  If I may borrow liberally from Chinese Medicine, Hawthorne seems to strengthen what is called the ‘Heart Protector’, and therefore ones ability to allow experiences and emotions to touch the heart without damaging the person.  Our defenses must be intact but permeable so that life can penetrate and change us. As Hawthorne demonstrates with it’s thorns just visible beneath a protrusion of berries, true generosity has limits.  An attempt to ravage the tree would leave you rightly shredded. Indeed, a healthy level of self-protection is what allows us to remain open and giving without fear.

As I gathered berries that day in the meadow, I ran across a disturbingly large pile of fresh bear droppings, studded with partially digested Hawthorne berries!  It seems that humans are not the only creature to make use of this tree’s generosity. I nervously finished picking and packed my things to go, hoping that this particular bear may have been a little less prone to an irrational burst of anger and dismembering after its meal of medicinal berries?  As I did not catch a glimpse of the bear, we can imagine Hawthorne engenders a sense of rational self-protection and equanimity in bears as well.
The effects of this gentle, safe plant are felt (in humans) after a month or so of continuous use, so do not expect a quick fix. However, the benefits are long lasting and it has no recorded side effects.  I suggest those with clinical heart conditions try my Hawthorne Heart Tonic, a blend of the fresh flowering tips and the dried berries.   Those who wish to work on the emotional heart primarily will enjoy a nip of my Hawthorne Cordial each evening.  You will be pleased to know that both are ranked among the most palatable of all of my creations.

TROUBLED? DOWN? TAKE HEART! TAKE HAWTHORNE HEART TONIC!

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Shepherd’s Purse, or Capsella bursa-pastoris, is a country plant. It has a few predictable effects, relatively simple chemistry and a gentle nature. It is also one the only herbs that could save your life as you lay dying.
The main claim to fame here is that Shepherd’s Purse is a styptic herb. This term (along with the terms hemostatic and anti-hemorrhagic, which you may also encounter when researching Shepherd’s Purse) describes its ability to arrest bleeding. Uses include- treating a nosebleed, a heavy menstrual period, a cut that won’t quit, gum bleeding due to aggressive tooth flossing, or excessive uterine bleeding after childbirth. (It is employed by many midwives to help check bleeding in this situation). In World War I it was used to slow bleeding on the battlefield when other medicines weren’t available. (Wouldn’t be my first choice for a bayonet wound, though).
There are a few herbs that can be used in this manner and they combine well with Shepherd’s purse for bleeding issues. These include Yarrow (another E. Washington native), Cinnamon, and Cottonroot bark. Of these, Shepherd’s Purse if probably best known, most used, and the easiest to gather. After a few words of caution, I will provide instructions on doing so.
Cautions: This may seem obvious, but if my arm got bitten off, I would never rely on this humble weed instead of, say, a tourniquet. Or use it in a life threatening situation if there were any better, more modern treatments at my disposal. This is an herb for non-fatal bleeding issues, like a heavy period or a flossing accident, or something to take while you wait for the ambulance. Most home birth midwives carry something like this (and the stronger stuff, too) to births just in case. It is considered a great first aid plant for wilderness medicine. If its all you have around, you’ll be glad you have it.
In the case of Capsella, fresh plant tinctures work best, although a tea of the recently dried plant is sometimes used as well. The dried plant loses potency rather quickly and even the tincture has a limited shelf life. One study showed that Shepherd’s Purse tincture is at its peak potency and effectiveness within 3 months of manufacture. Since I can only get the fresh herb during its growing season (now!), I make a new batch every year and throw out the old stuff. It is still effective after a year, but it’s blood staunching genius is most pronounced when its hot off the tincture press.
In the Northwest, look for Shepherd’s Purse in June or July before it gets too dried out. It has a wide range across globe and it flowers all summer long (all year long in more temperate climates), so chances are its something you can find. I usually come across it growing in alleys and overgrown yards, behind a barn, around the margins of parks. It loves growing by its friend Cleavers (Galium aperine). Shepherd’s Purse is not known for its good looks, being a rather plain looking member of the mustard family. Graceful, slender stalks support nondescript white flowers sporting 4 tiny petals each. These mature to become cute little triangular heart-shaped green seedpods (SP’s most distinguishing feature) that alternate up the stalk. There are a lot of mustard family plants that look similar, but the heart shaped seedpod is a dead giveaway. The entire plant is usually only 6-18 inches or so and easy to overlook, growing as it does, in wayward places.  Gather the above ground parts of the fresh green plant from a clean area because Shepherd’s Purse can concentrate heavy metals in the ground. That said, it doesn’t always grow in clean areas, so be discriminating here. Chop up the whole plant except the roots (basal leaves, stalk, seeds, flowers), then just pack mason jar with the chopped fresh herb and cover it with vodka. In three weeks, strain your tincture and store in a dark amber bottle for up to one year. Most likely, anything you could buy in commerce is far older than that, so well done, you.
To check bleeding, Shepherd’s Purse tincture works best in a pulse dosing pattern. That means you take it frequently in smaller doses. I usually recommend 1 dropperful (1ml or 30 drops of the tincture) every 10 minutes until bleeding slows or stops (usually within an hour). Then you can do it every hour or two to maintain the results if you still require it. For uterine bleeding from fibroids or a heavy period you may start with this pulse dosing pattern for an hour and then take 1 dropperful 4 times a day for the rest of your period. It won’t make it stop completely if its your time of the month, but it may make it more tolerable and spare your sheets, good undies and iron stores. It works by inducing the little arteries in the uterus to clamp down, and due to this stimulating effect, it is not advised during pregnancy.


Other skills? Shepherd’s Purse helps to excrete uric acid from the body, so it can be helpful for gout and inflammation in the urinary tract. It has a peppery, weird taste. Did I mention it stops bleeding? It doesn’t really need any other skills.
Shepherd’s Purse is an essential part of an herbal first aid kit, and like so many things, much better when you do-it-yourself.

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This spring violets are in! (In season, that is). You’ll see them sprouting up in yards, marshy places, stream-sides, and on the edges of moist forests. They are a must-have for your home medicine chest and oh, so seasonal.

Violet leaves and flowers are a spring delicacy. They are abundant in the most mundane areas (grass lawns), and are the perfect introduction to urban foraging.  Here are some tips on hunting the varied species of the Viola genus, and why you might want to, of course.

That said, the only way to spy a violet is to look down. Way down, just below the tips of grass in a lawn. Scan your yard (or any other moist, green collection of plants) and look for a slight purple hue. Then zoom in, ending up on your hands and knees, face to face with the cutest of flowers. Despite their reputation, violets are not shy, per se. They just prefer to grow amidst blades of grass or behind other plants. This isn’t due to insecurity, they’re just doing their own thing.

The beauty of the violet is that we have to stop, really see and come down close to the earth to spend time with them. They demonstrate that “living small” can be a powerful position. They are highly economical and efficient little flowers. There are over 80 species of wild and cultivated violets growing throughout North America. Apparently, as a genus, Violas are doing quite well for themselves. Their thrifty use of energy affords them the luxury of creating a sterile flower (and, in some wild varieties, a frivolously floral and girly scent). That’s right, in most species, the flower has no part in reproduction (which is done discretely under leaf cover by a plain-looking seed sac close to the ground), it seems they flower just because they know they‘re gorgeous. Hardly the move of a painfully shy plant, wouldn’t you say?

The Edible Violet

Both violet leaves and flowers are very palatable in salads or as a garnish. The flowers make a conversation-starting edible cake decoration (great for boring weddings and parties).  The leaves have a mucilaginous (slippery) quality when chewed and apparently can be used to thicken soups and stews (though I haven’t tried this one, personally). They have a mild, slightly sweet and grassy flavor, and the earlier in the season, the more tender they are (but wait until they flower to make a positive ID). I’m telling you, this common weedy volunteer that you can literally harvest in your yard will have you hailed as a culinary innovator at your next dinner party. The fact that violet blooms at the very end of winter- the most flower deprived, scurvy prone time of year- doesn’t hurt either. In any case, you are a star. Just gather both leaves and flowers from an organically grown lawn or a wild place and toss into salads as desired. For instant class, put one flower in each cell of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze, then toss into fancy beverages. Like I said, you’re a star!

The Medicinal Violet

Though cultivated species of Violas also produce edible flowers,  wild violets take all of that energy that could be spent on luxuriant growth and height, bigger blooms and a stronger scent (as some of its less thrifty ornamental cousins have done) and invest it in potent, effective medicinal compounds.
Nutritionally, violets supply ample amounts of vitamin C and bioflavonoids such as rutin, making it a useful tonic to those with venous insufficiency such as hemorrhoids, spider veins, varicose veins, broken capillaries and easy bruising. They are also loaded with carotenes, the precursor to Vitamin A. Both of these important vitamins are associated with increased immune function and wound healing. Violet’s a healer, you see. Violet roots reach way down into moist spring soil and pull up vital nutrients and minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium. The leaves become little green vitamin tablets.

Violet leaves also contain a good deal of mucilage, the slippery stuff that appears in your mouth as you chew. This has soothing, moistening effect in the body and is responsible for much of violet’s medicinal activity. Mucilage makes for easy bowel movements, moist, healthy lungs and mucus membranes and it helps soothe and heal abraded tissue externally and internally (g.i. tract, bladder irritations, etc.) Violet has been employed for such diverse conditions as: bronchitis, constipation, urinary tract irritation, and chronic skin conditions.

The presence of chemical compounds called saponins gives violet the ability to dissolve troublesome cysts, tumors and nodules, specifically those in the breasts. Violet has been used for centuries for dissolving both cancerous and benign lumps in the breast. I use it as a preventative for women who are worried about breast cancer and for women with benign lumps or fibrocystic breasts. When a woman has cancer, violet leaves can be a supportive therapy in addition to other treatments, though I wouldn’t rely on violet alone. For cysts, lumps and tumors, the tea or tincture is taken internally and warm compresses are applied externally to the breast and wrapped with a cloth. Susan Weed’s excellent book Breast Cancer? Breast Health! details the use of violet for various breast conditions. Violet is also a  gentle lymphatic tonic, aiding the body in removing waste products from the bloodstream. As such, it is an effective detoxifier and a specific remedy for treating chronic skin conditions such as eczema, dry skin, rashes- especially the oozing, weeping variety- and cradle cap in infants. Violet leaf and flower can be consumed as an infusion (tea), tincture, syrup, glycerite or used topically as an oil, compress or poultice for skin conditions. Caution- Plants with a high saponin content can cause nausea and vomiting if taken in excessive doses. I have yet to see this happen, so I imagine the upper limit is pretty high- just a warning to those of you who might try to subsist on violet leaves alone.

Lastly, another name for violet is Heartsease, which refers to its gentle strengthening effect upon the heart.  I feel like violet is a soothing friend that cools anger and irritation- like retreating into the shade of a forest on a hot day. (You may actually meet violet there in real life. She likes to keep things shady, moist and low-profile.) When I take violet, I feel restored and nourished, and somehow stronger overall.

The Violet of Lore

Folklore and myth surround this plant. Though the above mentioned, proven benefits were also known and have been employed for the last 2000 years or so, there many uses that may be, ahem, a bit more difficult to explain scientifically.  Here are a few gems as reported by Pojar and Mackinnon in the book Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast-

“If violets bloom in autumn, there is going to be a death or epidemic. It is unlucky to bring only a small number of flowers into the house; this may harm the laying capacity of hens;… spiteful neighbours might encourage children to take only one flower home. Violets worn as a wreath around the neck were said to prevent drunkenness.”

As your trusty herbal reporter, held to the highest standards of journalistic integrity, I vow to at least try out the last bit there. And soon. It’s basically my top priority right now.

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Some plants just sing. From the forest or meadow, where ever they grow, I can hear them calling to me. However, it is rare that a plant that I have never met in person exerts this mysterious pull on me. It is not as common that the pages of a textbook sing where it is described, where the dried herb sings from its jar on the shelf of an herb shop. This is precisely the case with Rhodiola. While I have taken the herb myself, and dispensed it to many of my clients and customers, I have yet to observe it growing free.
Here is how I imagine our meeting: I am high in a mountain range. Siberia? Tibet? The Olympic Mountains? (Rhodiola grows circumboreally, this fantasy could be taking place at any of these locations). A chill grips me, but I press on. Wind whips my hair around a fashionable fur cap that I am wearing. (Mongolia?) God, I’m cold.  I’m beginning to feel a bit flimsy up on this mountain alone, my muscles are fatigued from the days of hiking. As time wears on, my mind reels with anxiety from the mental challenge of enduring the elements.  I rest on a rocky outcrop, where I succumb to a feeling of utter hopelessness, and despair. I can’t go on. (Despite the thermos of delicious hot Yak soup that I am carrying.)

In a typical fashion, I decide to just give up at this point. I move to the protected side of the rocky outcrop to lie down and probably die. As I curl up pathetically against the frigid stone, I notice a light from somewhere near the ground.  Not an artificial light, but the subtle bioluminescence that emerges from the deepest source of living things. A golden glow is emanating from the flowers of a tall, sturdy looking plant. A robust succulent-  a stonecrop? In one of the coldest regions on earth, at elevations above 10,000 feet, there stands a flower. I recognize it at once. Rhodiola rosea. Rhody rose. Thus fortified by our meeting, I make it down the mountain with my new friend.     The End.

This deliberately phrased anecdote attempts to illustrate the metaphoric and literal challenges that Rhodiola can help you through. People of the high altitude regions of Siberia, China and Tibet have all used Rhodiola to help their bodies adapt to the punishing climate (something I think this plant can relate to) and promote physical endurance and mental harmony. Of all of the adaptogens, Rhodiola is best for reigniting the spirit when it is at its lowest ebb. When describing this herb to people, I always use the word “bright”.  As in it brightens depressive states, lifts the veil that keeps you from really seeing and participating in life. Lightens your burdens. Washes your windows.

The science behind this, though a bit more limited in its choice of descriptive phrasing, is still there. Rhodiola appears to have a monoamine modulating ability, which influences seratonin and dopamine levels (and is the rationale behind a whole class of antidepressant drugs, the MAO inhibitors).
In the case of Rhody rose, I find this less compelling than the cold hard empirical data that I have been amassing. For anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue- everyone totally loves Rhodiola. This is a what you might call a shamanic spirit plant. It calls you back to yourself.

Other handy skills? Rhodiola nourishes and strengthens the adrenals, thyroid, nervous and immune systems. It is reported to improve fertility and sexual performance (and inclination) in both sexes. In fact, one of it’s primary uses is to improve athletic performance, so I guess you can use that how ever you like. (wink).

The flavor is sort of astringent, and floral. The name stems from both the rose color of the root and also its rose-like smell (due to the presence of Geraniol a fragrant volatile compound famously found in roses). Yes, Rhodiola goes down easy. The combination of color, fragrance, flavor and medicinal affect, with the archetypal story of blooming despite staggering environmental hardships makes it a contender for Best Plant Ever. Can you hear its sweet song?

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