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.


Voila! Violets!

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.

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

My apologies for giving all of you the silent treatment for a brief spell there, but I have some exciting news to announce and you will soon forgive me.  This new year I have been hard at work preparing to open Spokane’s first herbal clinic devoted to western herbs!  Flora Herbal Clinic is opening next week and I will be offering herbal consultations and classes as well as top notch herbal tinctures and teas out of this unique healing space.  My new location is in the historic Binkley Building on the corner of 7th and Maple.

Imagine a place where there is always tea brewing, the smell of fragrant herbs in the air, books about healing plants and medicine, and someone to listen to your health problems and help you figure out what you can do about them. A place to take classes, fill your herbal formulas and be part of an herbal community. This place exists now! I am looking forward to sharing this herbal hot spot with all of you, whether it’s for classes, workshops, or herbal consultations for those of you wishing to get serious about healing with plants.

I am offering a special discounted price for my Spokane readership- For the month of February, you can come in for an initial consultation (60-90 minutes) for only $40! (This is a major steal, by the way).  A consultation gives me the time and information to get at the root, so to speak, of your health challenges. Sometimes it takes personalized attention to find the right combination of herbs, nutrition and supplments to deal with long standing issues or complicated conditions. All of my clients receive individualized treatment plans and custom herbal formulas from the on-site dispensary.

My emphasis is on giving you the information and resources to use plants wisely (and the freshest, most vibrant herbal products around, of course). Having a dedicated space here in Spokane allows me to do that better- and help us all make connections with other interesting plant people in our community.

To schedule your consultation, please call 509-570-2777

Here’s the link to the new website- www.floraherbalclinic.com

More information to come-  Look for the new Winter/Spring class schedule and the dates of our upcoming OPEN HOUSE!

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?

Preface to the Adaptogen Monographs
How do you choose an adaptogen? Most herbs are multi-taskers. As you read through the articles that follow, [quite possibly in stunned disbelief] you will find that these herbs share the ability to regulate stress hormones, but they also have a unique character and a specific skill set. Some will nourish the nervous system better than others, some will be better for women than men, some will support the liver or kidneys. Some are more stimulating, others more calming. Or some may call to you in a way that you don’t fully understand. My advice is to go with it.


What’s in a name? Well in the case of Ocimum sanctum or Tulsi, quite a lot. This humble, leafy herb has been known by many names, with common translations including “Holy Basil”, “Sacred Basil”, “ The Incomparable One” and “The Beloved One of Vishnu”.  Though botanically quite similar to ordinary basil, this is not the stuff of pesto. This is literally the stuff of legend.

Tulsi is a revered herb in India and throughout Southern Asia. In India it is considered to be a Goddess that took form on earth in order to aid humanity. Through regular use, Holy Basil is said to cultivate virtue in human beings. Just your every day, basic virtues like Compassion, Enlightenment, Spiritual purity, and Perfect Health. While I cannot vouch for all of the above claims, they do not strike me as outlandish. I truly believe in the power of pants to transform our ways of thinking and relating to the world and our bodies. And Tulsi does have a certain way about it.

As an herbalist, there is quite a bit of science to support this herbs wide application for physical complaints, if not the metaphysical ones. Tulsi is classified as an adaptogen, and as such helps improve our resistance to stress. In addition, it has been shown to have a normalizing effect on blood sugar and on triglycerides and cholesterol, with obvious benefit for those with diabetes and heart disease. Tulsi also exhibits a profound effect on mental performance. In addition to being a top notch anti-oxidant, Holy Basil improves cerebral circulation, mood, memory, concentration and presence of mind. (Enlightenment?) In terms of psychic benefit, I would equate a cup of Tulsi tea with about a 20 minutes of yoga practice or meditation (this is not an exact conversion).

On the more banal side of things, as a warming aromatic herb Tulsi improves digestion and reduces acidity in the stomach. It is also an excellent tonic for those with asthma and a treatment for bronchial congestion, sinusitis, colds and influenza.

“And where can it be found?” you might ask. Well, though it seems exotic, its as easy to grow as common basil. Alternatively, you will find it in my newest tea for the fall and winter which I simply call “Tea of Many Virtues.”  (For obvious reasons).

Oh, and the clincher- Holy Basil tastes….. divine. Really.

Tea of Many Virtues contains: Holy Basil, Nettle, Oat Seed, Astragalus, Licorice.

Deeply restorative to the nervous, immune and adrenal systems. You probably need a cup right now.

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