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

Posts tagged ‘Southern herbal remedies’

Yellowroot a favorite folk remedy for ulcers

Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) in on the West Fork of the Chattooga River in Rabun County, Georgia.

In the most urban areas of Athens, one is unlikely to find a plant which once predominated along creeks. Soil disturbance and invasive plants have made yellowroot’s original home inhospitable. If you find a shaded or semi-shaded stream that isn’t covered in invasive plants, such as on the Orange Trail at the State Botanical Garden or on private lands, you’ll likely see yellowroot performing its ecological, streamside vegetation function of maintaining the integrity of a streambank, preventing erosion.

Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) is an eastern North American, native perennial shrub growing in thick mats with its long, thin root horizontally holding fast to the soil on the edge of the streambank. There is very little demarcation of where the root ends and the stem begins. Greyish, bark-covered stems stand between one-three feet, bare of foliage until a spray of attractive, bright green leaves erupt at the top. The foliage consists of deeply serrated, pinnately or bipinnately compound leaves, meaning several leaflets grow on one leaf stalk, or leaflets grow on smaller stems within a larger pinnately compound leaf.

In April and May, yellowroot’s inconspicuous, yet charming, clusters of brownish-purple flowers bloom, often dangling from under the leaves. As they become fruits, the clusters turn greenish-yellow.

Among the Appalachian and Piedmont area of the South, yellowroot is held in high esteem as a premier tonic herb for healing stomach complaints, such as ulcers, and canker sores.

Old-timey herbalist Tommie Bass provided yellowroot to many people for stomach ulcers with positive results. According to herbalist Darryl Patton’s book with Tommie Bass, the FDA instructed Mr. Bass to stop claiming yellowroot would cure stomach ulcers.

A mechanism behind yellowroot’s success with ulcers is due to an antibacterial, bitter alkaloid constituent called berberine, which is also found in other herbs of the Ranunculaceae family, goldenseal and coptis root. Research confirming a bacterial component to ulcers, from the Heliobacter pylori, gave insight into how yellowroot has traditionally healed ulcers for hundreds of years.

Other medicinal uses for yellowroot include cleansing the liver and gallbladder. Herbal medicines of a yellow nature are often used for liver complaints, which is either coincidental, or it’s an illustration of the Doctrine of Signatures at work: a theory that plants have features indicating what their use is for humans. The yellow color is associated with jaundice.

Yellowroot trying to do its job holding up the streambank. Yellowroot is important for erosion control, which makes me consider it the symbol for integrity. US economic banks could use a little yellowroot, don't you think?

Catawba Indians used yellowroot for jaundice, stomach complaints and as a cold remedy, and Cherokee would drink its tea as a tonic for the blood and nerves, or just simply chew the bitter stem for mouth sores.

Around Georgia, rural roadside stands, country stores and the DeKalb Farmer’s Market are the only places where I have found harvested yellowroot available. In these markets, yellowroot comes either pre-brewed as a yellow tea, or as a bundle of one-inch twigs, which can then be boiled in water at home.

To make a tea of the roots, boil a cup of roots in 24 ounces of water for 20 minutes. Strain and either drink a cup of tea, or gargle with it. Alcohol extract tinctures are also very effective.

This article was originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, May 29th, 2011.

Butterflyweed a dramatic respiratory remedy

Asclepias tuberosa at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Georgia USA

Butterflyweed’s other common name, pleurisy-root, indicates its medicinal value for the respiratory system.

Vibrant-orange clusters of blooms dotting Southeastern roadsides beginning in early June and lasting into late summer attract more than just the human eye. Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), a native host-plant to Monarch, Gray Hairstreak and Queen butterflies, is a fabulous garden addition for both beauty and use.

Considered the most medicinal of the milkweeds, butterflyweed stems also can be used for cord, as with other milkweeds. Cherokee used the cord stems for belts. Butterflyweed, however, is not edible as are other milkweeds.

Butterflyweed’s other common name, pleurisy-root, indicates its medicinal value for the respiratory system. Pleurisy is a painful inflammation of the pleural lining of the lungs. Butterflyweed has long been held in high regard as a traditional lung remedy among Native Americans, and as an official drug among pharmacists and physicians.

One of the best-selling, populist-inspired books in America during the 19th century was the “New Domestic Physician or Home Book of Health” by the Scottish physician Dr. John Gunn.

Gunn says butterflyweed “is a very popular remedy for pleurisy in many places.” Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, author of “Collections for an Essay towards a Materia Medica of the United States” that also was published in the 19th century, viewed butterflyweed as one of the most important of our indigenous species.

Acting as an expectorant and diaphoretic, butterflyweed induces sweating without being overly heating to the system, as are most sweat-inducing sudorifics. Therapeutically, butterflyweed downwardly disperses inflammatory heat occurring in the lungs, or sometimes in the head.

To me, the blooms symbolically indicate that they disperse upward heat, as the center, upwardly reaching petals range from dark orange to red, and the opened petals pointing downward are lighter orange.

Of the Native American tribes that utilized butterflyweed, the Omaha tribe placed the prized plant, used for wounds and lung problems, in a sacred, ceremonial context. Within the Omaha tribe, a selected member of the Shell society was the sole keeper of the remedy. After four days of ceremonial digging, preparation and consecration of butterflyweed, the authorized keeper would distribute bundles of the herb to other members of the society, according to the early 20th century pharmacognosist H.W. Youngken, of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.

The medicinal root, which resembles a small sweet potato, is dug when the plant goes dormant. Old-timey herbalist Tommie Bass suggests slicing large roots to dry and store. For a tea infusion for the lungs, steep or simmer a handful of dried roots in water, and take a tablespoon as often as needed.

For wounds, powder the root, and apply to the sore topically. Some Native American tribes would blow the powdered root onto the wound, which was thought to activate the medicine.

Butterflyweed’s flowers contain cardiac glycosides, the constituent found in foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) that for centuries was used to treat congestive heart failure.

Monarch butterflies ingest this toxic compound, which does not harm them, but serves as protection against various bird predators. Birds poisoned by monarchs with high cardiac glycosides vomit for up to half an hour. Some birds will sample the tip of a Monarch wing for the distinctive taste of the cardiac glycosides before preying on the butterflies. Studies have found female butterflies have a higher content of the glycosides than males.

Current research on butterflyweed offers exciting prospects in sustainability. In May, the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” published a study utilizing the seeds of butterflyweed as a renewable source for industrial lubricants, an alternative to nonrenewable petroleum-based sources.

This article was originally published in Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, June 12th, 2011.

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