An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘herbal medicine’

Medicinal Plant Symposium, Oct 15 at State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Artemisia annua, or sweet Annie, is related to wormwood which is the key ingredient in Absinthe. Sweet Annie has been used effectively in Africa for malaria. Traditionally in Appalachia it was made into wreaths to hang on the door, smelling sweetly all winter.

Artemisia annua, or sweet Annie, is related to wormwood which is the key ingredient in Absinthe. Sweet Annie has been used effectively in Africa for malaria. Traditionally in Appalachia it was made into wreaths to hang on the door, smelling sweetly all winter.

I hope to see you at the 2013 Medicinal Plant Symposium. I presented two years ago on the healing chemistry of plants. Topics this year are on Traditional Chinese herbs, Latin American Ethnobotany, growing and using medicinal plants through the seasons, and a special talk on the anti-malarial properties of Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua).

This is my topic:

A Professional Herbalist’s Perspective in Matching People with Plants

People have a personality. Dis-eases have a personality. Plants have a personality. Professional herbalists play match-maker in introducing plants to people who are experiencing an emotional-physical-spiritual imbalance. This whole-systems approach to herbal medicine recognizes the complexity of plants and people, going beyond the reductionist model of active constituents for physical symptoms. Using case studies, Holli Richey will illustrate how herbs in their whole form provide a healing complement to mind-body illness.

Attached is a pdf of the brochure.
medplant2013

Ironically, chaste tree can be used for fertility

Historically, the chaste tree’s spicy, aromatic, ripe berries, high in diterpenes and flavonoids, were used in small doses like pepper during the medieval period by young monks in the Mediterranean region to lower their sexual libido and excitability, helping them to honor their vows of celibacy.

Lavender, bottlebrush flowering tree-shrubs predominate the University of Georgia’s campus, buzzing with all sorts of pollinators.

In the past few decades, the Mediterranean-native chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) has become a popular ornamental shrub or small tree in the South, and makes its twice-a-year flowering show in most landscapes.

Besides being a showy ornamental, this five-fingered leaf, drought-tolerant plant has an important role to play. Not only does the chaste tree increase fertility in the plant kingdom by attracting pollinators to fertilize our vegetables, it also addresses the issue of infertility among women, which is a growing issue among working women who are waiting later to have children.

Historically, the chaste tree’s spicy, aromatic, ripe berries, high in diterpenes and flavonoids, were used in small doses like pepper during the medieval period by young monks in the Mediterranean region to lower their sexual libido and excitability, helping them to honor their vows of celibacy.

This gave the plant two of its common names — chaste tree and monk’s pepper. Chaste tree’s botanical name, Vitex agnus-castus, refers to the religious use of the plant, as “agnus” is Latin for lamb, and “castitas” is Latin for chaste, or pure.

Even before the Middle Ages, Vitex was used by women for a variety of reproductive complaints, including infertility and irregular menstruation. Obviously by increasing fertility, one is not appearing chaste. This would seem contradictory to the way monks used Vitex, but Vitex works in a dose-dependent fashion, either raising or lowering hormone levels, which stimulate libido and infertility.

Several research studies using Vitex on small mammals and in clinical trials with humans successfully confirm the efficacy of Vitex for regulating the menstrual cycle by decreasing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and increasing fertility, especially among women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome.

The mechanism in which Vitex works in correcting infertility is quite complex. When a woman is under stress, there’s an increase in the thyroid hormone TRH (thyroxin releasing hormone) that triggers prolactin, a hormone from the anterior pituitary. Prolactin can block ovulation by creating a progesterone deficiency and shortening the luteal phase when the egg follicle normally would be released.

Evolutionarily, it makes sense that a woman who is stressed, or already is nursing a child, would not ovulate because her biological resources to carry a child to term might be compromised.

A woman can have anovulatory menstruation cycles, which means she has a menstrual period but has not released an egg that could be fertilized, in which case, she would be infertile. Anovulatory cycles are often irregular, either occurring more or less frequently than the ideal 28-day cycle following the patterns of the waxing and waning moon or tidal rhythms of the ocean.

Other interesting current uses of chaste tree berries are in harm-reduction therapy with heroin addicts. The diterpenes in Vitex bind to opioid receptors in the reward center of the brain, which decreases cravings.

For addressing fertility or regulating the menstrual cycle, a typical dose for a woman is 500 mg of powered ripe berries once a day.

This article originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald, June 19, 2011.

Yarrow, a pharmacy in itself

Yarrow’s reputation as a first-aid hemostat has spread throughout the world with the herb, and its common names — soldier’s woundwort, knight’s milfoil, carpenter’s weed — reflect those who were most appreciative of its powers.

A medicinal powerhouse of the cultivated garden and wild spaces alike, Yarrow carries within its botanical name a recommendation from antiquity. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is named after the Greek hero Achilles who healed the bleeding wounds of his soldiers with its foliage. Millefolium means thousand-leaves, referring to its ferny foliage.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Database, yarrow is native to the U.S., but there also are introduced Achillea species. It appears to be a gift to the globe.

Yarrow’s reputation as a first-aid hemostat has spread throughout the world with the herb, and its common names – soldier’s woundwort, knight’s milfoil, carpenter’s weed – reflect those who were most appreciative of its powers.

I can attest to yarrow’s fast-acting blood-staunching properties. Once, when I sliced my palm open on a yucca leaf – it’s called Spanish bayonet for a reason – I quickly found yarrow growing nearby, as it often does, and applied a poultice of leaves to my wound. Within five minutes or less, the pain and bleeding were gone, and within 24 hours the cut was completely healed. A couple days more and all evidence of my suffering had disappeared.

Some of the hemostatic, blood-staunching properties come from the bitter sesquiterpene lactones specific to yarrow, achillian and achillicin. Like chamomile, yarrow also contains asulenes, which contribute to its anti-inflammatory actions. Several essential oils lend yarrow its antiseptic qualities: pinine, borneal, camphor, eugenol, saponine and terpineol. With loads of polyphenol flavonoids, yarrow is great as a tonic for depression and memory maintenance.

When studying herbal medicine at Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, my instructor, Simon Mills (who is Senior Teaching Fellow in Integrated Health Care, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, the first medical school in Britain to establish a program in Integrated Health Care) said of yarrow, that with hundreds of complex constituents, it is “a pharmacy in itself.”

Mills frequently used yarrow in his formulas as a “top up,” a British term for adding a bit more to someone’s drink. He became convinced that yarrow, with its synergistic compounds that we are only beginning to understand, was often the key ingredient of his formulas.

When he neglected to “top up” the formula with yarrow, filling the formula with herbs more specifically indicated for the condition, returning clients reported the formula was less effective.

Yarrow is particularly suited for healing the predominant ailments of cold, damp climates, bestowing upon it a type of panacea status in Ireland and the British Isles due to its efficacy for reducing rheumatic pains, soothing flatulent bowel complaints, healing colds and fevers, and countering depression.

Usually, in contemporary herb texts, yarrow is known as a diaphoretic, an herbal action that causes one with a fever to sweat, thereby bringing down a fever instead of suppressing it.

With yarrow’s complex chemistry, its uses are far more extensive than merely fever management. Native American tribes all over North America widely used yarrow, perhaps more than any other plant, for ailments ranging from digestive cramps, wounds and colds to neuralgia, venereal disease, as a blood purifier, to revive an unconscious person who had fallen, and as a remedy for multiple infant sicknesses – just to name a few.

Likely, if Achilles could have had only one herb to use on the battlefield, it would have been yarrow. But his legendary application begs the question: Did Achilles apply it to the mortal blow to his heel, or was it just out of reach?

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, May 29, 2011.

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