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

Posts tagged ‘herbs’

Annual Spring Native Plant Sale at Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center

Spring Equinox at the Chattanooga Arboretum.

THE SPRING SALE DATES: Friday April 27th and Saturday April 28th, 9-5pm

The annual spring native plant sale at Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center (Reflection Riding) is always a huge success. Very few garden centers and nurseries offer such a wide selection of plants native to the Cumberland Plateau and Ridge and Valley ecosystem.

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.

Fall tree ID: yellow tulip poplar and its uses

 

Liriodendron tulipifera, yellow poplar, or tulip poplar tree, turning yellow in autumn. Poplar is one of the first hardwoods to lose its leaves.

 

The tulip poplar is one of the first trees to turn its fall color of yellow and lose its leaves with early autumnal wind. We must learn to recognize it before it takes on its winter appearance.

Standing prominently, and prolifically, as one of the straightest trees in the forest, one can spot the tulip poplar trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) if looking for the grey, straight lines in the woods with deep furrows in the bark at the base and lightly textured bark above.

Distinctive poplar leaves look like little T-shirts, and the spring blossoms resemble yellow and orange tulips—hence the name, tulip poplar. Low-reaching branches of tulip poplars offer a delightful surprise of delicious nectar-manna awaiting the forager. After the blooms fade in early summer, sharp, little gun-shaped remnants of the flowers litter the ground. When I was a child, I used the tiny spears to poke other kids.

Tulip poplars, or yellow poplars as they are also known, are ubiquitous in Southern woods and grow rather quickly, thus it a fairly sustainable tree to use.

 

Jesse, native of Rabun County, GA, and maker of berry buckets out of yellow poplar bark sells his buckets in North Georgia and North Carolina, with artist Honor Woodard, painter, photographer, and author: http://silvermoonfrog.blogspot.com. Both are standing at the West Fork of the Chattooga River.

 

Its bark is popular for the craft of berry buckets, a skill still practiced among Appalachian old-timers, like Jesse of Rabun County, GA. Jesse sells his poplar berry buckets at Highlands, NC festivals.

Medicinally, tulip poplar is a remedy for arthritis, rheumatism, and intermittent fevers associated with malaria. In the 19th century, poplar bark was used as an alternative to expensive, imported cinchona bark, source of quinine for malarial fevers. A recent study at Rutgers published in the Journal of Ethnobotany supports the historical use of tulip poplar leaves and bark as an antimalarial remedy.

A tea from tulip poplar inner bark can offer some relief from joint inflammation found in arthritis and rheumatism, as will most trees of the Magnolia family. The tea is also beneficial for stimulating appetite and proper digestion in illnesses which lower a person’s desire to eat. American Indians also used the bark as a cough syrup.

Bitter-tasting tea from the leaves, twigs and inner bark is also considered an aphrodisiac due to a combined calming and stimulating effect on the nerves.

Flower buds from the tulip poplar have been used by American Indians as a soothing salve for burns. Squirrels love to eat the buds of tulip poplars, which might indicate the buds’ strong nutritional value.

Tulip poplar wood is used for lumber and canoes. In the virgin woods of Cooper Creek Scenic Area of North Georgia, the poplar can grow to a spectacular circumference of 18 or more feet. When poplars are four feet in radius or more, they have a hard, yellow heartwood, lending the wood to applications where it must tolerate weather, as has been used in old, cabin building. In the Highlands, NC area, poplar bark is used as exterior shingles.

 

A berry bucket made from poplar bark by Jesse.

 

Poplar is great kindling to start fires with because it burns very fast and is entertaining when it snaps, crackles and pops. Poplar wood doesn’t form coals, though, so you need to add oak or pine if you want sustain the fire.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager of Athens Banner-Herald, October 10, 2010.

 

Satolah, Rabun County, GA. The view from Jesse's property.

 

Perilla frutescens (shiso) is a novel vegetable

Perilla frutescens var. crispa, shiso, in Crawford, GA. Notice the ruffled edges.

Perilla frutescens, a relatively new green-leafy vegetable introduced to North America from Asia and naturalizing throughout the eastern US, is popular in Asian dishes and a source of expensive omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements.

Growing in the Athens area are two variants: one is called shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), which is either green or purplish-burgundy with ruffled, deeply serrated edges, and the other is egoma (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens), which has flat, green leaves with serrated edges.

When identifying either variety of Perilla, a distinguishing characteristic is in the anise-basil smell of the foliage when it’s crushed. Since Perilla’s in the mint family (Lamiaceae), it will have a square stem. Flowers rise up on four-sided stalks, resembling basil, but are taller and more pronounced. I usually find Perilla in a moist, semi-shade habitat, such as the Fred Birchmore Nature Trail in Athens.

Listing the health-promoting properties of Perilla would appear to place it in a panacea, cure-all category of potential world crops. Evidenced-based research matches the claims, which might make this a top-ten plant in usefulness.

Perilla frutescens var. frutescens, egoma, on the Fred Birchmore Trail in Athens.

Perilla’s antimutagenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities lend it to be a traditional herb for treating cancerous tumors in Asia. Research studies of Perilla leaf extract have found the herb efficacious in treating human leukemia and human hepatoma cells by increasing apoptosis-related genes and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the cancer cells. In one study on liver cancer, scientists compared the Perilla leaf extract to rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant compound found in high quantities in Perilla, to determine whether the activity is attributed to the rosmarinic acid. The study found the whole-leaf extract of Perilla was significantly more effective than the isolated constituent—a possible argument for wholeness.

Scientific studies have also verified the efficacy of using Perilla as an antidepressant. The studies were based on a Japanese herbal remedy which uses Perilla for its effect on depression associated with chronic unpredictable stress. There’s a lot of that going around.

Oil extracted from the seeds is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, and can be an alternative to fish oil. Perilla oil has a neuroprotective and cardiovascular-protective effect, and is a possible preventative for strokes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s no need to make an alcohol tincture or water extract of Perilla because it’s an excellent, flavorful, cooked veggie, which has up to five times the carotene found in carotene-rich vegetables. Nutrition studies compared Perilla to spinach and found Perilla to be significantly higher in lutein than spinach. In addition to the carotenes, Perilla has an abundant supply of antioxidants, such as rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.

The omega-3-rich seeds of the flat-leaf Perilla can be used as a topping for salads or a spice. In Japanese cooking, the leaves of the ruffled-leaf Perilla are dredged in tempura batter and fried. The purple leaf variety is added to vinegars, pickled foods and rice to give flavor, a pinkish hue, and antimicrobial properties.

There’s no telling who is responsible for introducing Perilla to the US, but since it’s here, I’ll learn how to put it to good use.

Elder offers a dose of preventative medicine

Sambucus canadensis, elderflowers along 316 heading west.

The elder tree is in an honored class of plants reaching a legendary, supernatural status. European folklore surrounds elder with stories of its powers, rumors of it being the tree from which Judas hanged himself, and warnings to anyone who treats it disrespectfully, as it is a protector from evil and home to the fairies.

Before harvesting any part of elder, the custom is to make an offering to the spirit of the plant. Reading of such superstitious hocus-pocus, skeptics will likely dismiss the plant, needing to experience its medicinal qualities to become true converts.

Early summer displays elder’s (Sambucus nigra, European, and Sambucus canadensis, North American) white, lacey, flat-topped blooms along roadsides. As the summer peaks, the flowers give way to sprays of pellet-sized purplish-black berries. Elder loves moist areas; I’ve found it growing along the pond at Oconee Forest Park in Athens, and in wet ditches along roadsides. According to Dr. Michael Dirr, elder will tolerate dry soils, but has an “unkempt habit” and easily naturalizes, giving elder a weed status in his book.

Traditionally, elder is considered a blood tonic among Europeans, American Indians and Appalachian people. Without knowledge of the mechanisms of the immune system, people theorized illness came from “bad blood”. Blood tonics, as a historical class of herbs, are excellent immune boosters and cancer fighters. Externally, elderflower water was popular among European women for removing freckles and sunburn.

As Civil War medicine, according to Confederate surgeon Dr. Francis Porcher (1863), elder leaves were heated in lard as a salve for wounds and sprains. Dr. Porcher also reports the berries make better spirits than the finest malt.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) at Oconee Forest Park in Athens, GA.

Current research reveals elderberry and flower’s antiviral efficacy on influenza, colds, sinusitis, and Herpes simplex and zoster. The flavonoids of elder contain immunostimulatory properties for influenza A and B. An in vitro study on H1N1 demonstrated how elderberry flavonoids would bind to and prevent H1N1 infection, by blocking the virus’ ability to infect host cells. Studies suggest elder’s immunostimulatory properties can be transferred to help with cancer and AIDS.

In cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), where therapeutic options are limited, elder is an alternative to antibiotics by preventing some of the mechanisms for Staphylococcus aureus to survive.

Elderflower’s flavonoids could be effective in the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance, stimulating insulin-dependent glucose uptake. The berries’ polyphenol antioxidants help lower the risk of metabolic diseases and cardiovascular illnesses.

The flowers and berries are edible. Berries make delicious jams and syrups, which kids love, and elderberry wine for the adults. When they’re ripe, though, I just like to add them to my yogurt, getting an ounce of preventative medicine for the day. Steep the flowers as a tea, or fry them as a fish-tasting fritter.

When harvesting elderflowers, lay the flower tops on plastic garbage bags for an hour or more to rid the flowers of resident insects. The bugs cannot tolerate fumes coming from the plastic. Berries don’t need the same treatment.

And please remember to respect your elder, making an offering of thanks to the elder tree spirits.

This article originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald, August 1, 2010.

Hawthorn is good for the heart

Hawthorn berries (Crataegus sp.), from Dawson County, GA

For people who aren’t sure whether herbs are safe or effective, the herb hawthorn, which has been used medicinally for centuries, has been through the evidence-based wringer and received approval from medical research to safely treat heart disease, angina, arrhythmia and hypertension. Hawthorn is also approved by the German Commission E, a strict governmental regulatory agency on the therapeutic use of herbs.

Random-controlled trials have confirmed hawthorn’s efficacy in treating heart disease symptoms, namely exercise intolerance, such as shortness of breath and fatigue due to the weakening of the heart muscle and the heart’s inability to efficiently utilize oxygen. Hawthorn helps the heart consume oxygen more efficiently. Participants subjectively report a greater sense of well-being, and scientists objectively note a reduction in signs of chronic heart disease.

Clinical trials show that hawthorn improves coronary blood flow by increasing the integrity of blood vessel walls. In rats hawthorn has counteracted heart muscle dysfunctions which occur when the heart experiences a pressure overload. To accommodate the pressure, the left ventricle of the heart begins to structurally remodel, losing its adaptive capacity. In the study, hawthorn modified the left ventricle remodeling disease process, and helped restore the heart muscle’s structural and functional health.

The medicinal compounds found in European hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, or C. laevigata, formerly C. oxyacantha), native to Europe and North Africa, are flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs). North America has several native hawthorn species, some of which grow in Georgia. Since much of the research on hawthorn occurs in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the chemical make-up of native species has not been analyzed and compared to the non-native species; however, herbalists have used various species of hawthorns interchangeably. In fact, if you were to purchase capsules of hawthorn, it is likely the botanical name reads (Crataegus sp.)–“sp.” means species unknown, or a mix of species. The theory is that Crataegus species have similar medicinal compounds because they freely hybridize with each other, making identification difficult even for botanical experts.

Hawthorn, or Washington Thorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum at Oconee Forest Park behind the UGA Intramural Fields, Athens, GA

Growing in the woods of the UGA Intramural Fields and occasionally on UGA’s campus is a small-tree hawthorn species with long, thin thorns so strong and sharp you could use them to pierce ears. This showy native species of hawthorn looks to be Washington thorn (C. phaenopyrum), which has white flowers, beautiful red berries, and crimson foliage in autumn. Washington thorn was a colonial plant used at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and as a living fence at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The leaves, flowers and berries are medicinal. The fresh flowers contain the highest amounts of OPCs and flavonoids, but not when they’re dried. The berries, fresh or dried, are secondly most potent, and the leaves, fresh or dried, follow closely behind in comparison of active constituents.

Many companies provide capsules of hawthorn for medicinal doses; however, for prevention, I make a syrupy jam using either raw or dried berries with honey, which is delicious and super healthy. Adding the leaves and fresh flowers to a tea can give the cardiovascular system a boost. Please consult with your primary practitioner before adding herbs to your health plan.

The above article appeared in Athens Banner-Herald July 18, 2010.

Recipe for Hawthorn & Berries Ginger Jam: Excellent for cardiovascular, capillary and vision health. Designed by the Willow Oak Flower & Herb Farm herbalist Maria Price-Nowakoski in Severn, MD.

  • Use 2 cups of dried berries of all of one of the following, or a blend: Hawthorn berries, elderberries, rosehips, bilberries. Add a half of a tablespoon of thinly sliced ginger. Place berries & ginger in a saucepan, cover with water, then add 2 cups of water. Simmer until the water level just covers the fruit. Remove from heat & let cool. Puree in blender. Return to pan, add honey to taste. . Warm until you can just mix the honey thoroughly. Store in the refrigerator or freeze.

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