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The sum of Us

While teaching an herbal fundamentals class in the holistic health practitioner program at a local massage college, we got deep into the relationship between plants and people, and ultimately, among all things animate and inanimate.

 

The concept of treating the whole body or the whole person, including body, mind and spirit brought up the question of where the body, or for that matter, the person began and ended.

This came up in the discussion of secondary compounds, substances that the plants manufacture, although they have no particular use for them. This seemed at first curious since the plants have had billions of years to develop their routine. Why would they devote energy and resources manufacturing compounds that have nothing to contribute to their functioning, survival or well-being?

vinca-rosea

These same compounds have a medicinal effect in our bodies. Curious, yet if we look into these bodies of ours, we find something quite similar going on. Our liver produces a substance we call bile which has no immediate use in the liver, but acts to emulsify fats in the small intestine to facilitate their absorption and triggers peristaltic action in the large intestine.

We accept this notion as specialization of function within the organs of the larger organism. In fact, each individual cell within us may be seen as an autonomous living thing, hooked into the jungle telegraph via neuropeptides and, thus, functioning as a part of the whole. This we can accept.

What seems a bit of a stretch for us is to extend this concept outward to gain a perspective of each individual organism (those autonomous elements we identify as ourselves) comprising but one part of a larger whole. If we see ourselves in this way, the action of the plants fits into our model of specialization of function, with one part of the whole dutifully providing something for another part. If we hold to our egocentric notion of ourselves as isolated and apart from the whole, the connection between us and the plants seems ludicrous, if not sacrilegious.

God made us, after all, the crown of creation, in his image. The rest is all set and scenery in the grand drama, with us (each one of us) as the star.

flat earth

At one point we believed the Earth a flat and stationary stage upon which we made our entrance and uttered our lines. We now see ourselves in a much larger set, and yet we cling to a very limited notion of ourselves within this ever growing universe.

And what, pray tell, are we contributing to this wonderful organic whole? Besides pollution, nuclear and industrial waste, global warming, herbicide, pesticide and genocide. We seem more a crown of thorns than the crown of creation.

And yet, there is something divine about us. But that same divine spark, elan vital, life force, conscious creative energy animates all of creation. Life is sacred. Not just in people.

This notion is not new. The peoples who inhabited this land before us held these principles. They treated the plants and animals as their brothers and sisters and lived in harmony with nature. The Great Spirit was seen to connect every thing in a magnificent garland of mutual respect and admiration. They were connected and interconnected, not separated and isolated.

native w buffalo

If we isolate the medicinal compounds in plants and apply them without their associated (so called inert) parts, we create imbalance and experience side effects from the medicines. If we take these same compounds within their natural matrix of plant materials, we don’t get those side effects, but a balanced and natural medicine.

At some point, this must become clear to us. We are part of a much larger whole. Cut off from this larger part of ourselves, we represent imbalance, and the side effects of our actions are killing the planet and everything on it.

Holistic health isn’t just about addressing the whole person. It’s about owning our connection to the whole of it all, becoming responsible for the whole of it all.

Symbol of scales is made of stones on the cliff

And it’s about experiencing the joy and harmony that connection brings.

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Spring Tonic for the Spirit

lavender
Ah Spring!

spring lavender

I love the longer and warmer days of Spring with abundant rain triggering a transformation within the heart of little seeds, spurring them on their life cycle as a cog in the great wheel of life.

We’ve discovered some of these green beings in our garden, dancing in Spring’s blustery moments.

One, particularly, seems to be waving at us, trying to get our attention.

lavender

The faint fragrance of Lavender somehow triggers remembrance at a very subtle level.

In this remembering is our spirit lifted

Lavender evokes greater relaxation in states of higher spiritual ecstasy and deeper states of meditation.

This is the signature of Lavender. Strong enough to wake us up. Gentle enough to guide us in the ways of gentleness. It’s a restorative and tonic against faintness.

We’ve seen the image of the Southern bell in a fainting state, waving her handkerchief before her face. The act would have little intrinsic value save for the application of Lavender essential oil to the handkerchief.

The lasses then were mostly fainting from too-tight corsets, but that’s another story.

Lavender for burns

The essential oil of Lavender is also quite wonderful for the outside of us. Its association with the planet closest to the sun, Mercury, may give insight to Lavender’s ability to heal burns.

In fact, its healing influence on burns was revealed when a French cosmetic chemist, Rene-Maurisse Gattefosse, suffered a third degree burn in a lab explosion.

lavender for burns

In his extreme pain, he plunged his arm into what he thought to be a pot of water, but soon realized that it was Lavender essential oil. The oil relieved some of the pain and accelerated the healing.

He continued to apply the oil topically and experienced the absence of scaring.

I like to keep aloe vera gel with a bit of lavender essential in the refrigerator to apply to sunburn and bug bites.

Lavender essential oil has many other applications
  • The benefits of to treat anxiety, fungal infections, and hair loss have been demonstrated.
  • One study concluded that lavender aromatherapy could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.
  • It is said to relieve pain from wounds, headaches, toothache, neuralgia, sprains, and rheumatism.
  • A few drops in a hot foot bath helps relieve fatigue.
  • Research suggests that it may be useful for treating insomnia, depression, and restlessness.
  • In disorders characterized by debility and lack of nerve power, as in paralyzed limbs, Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant.
  • It is very disinfecting. We apply it to a paper towel and wipe it around a hotel room when we check in to purify it and to evoke a welcoming fragrance.
  • It is highly regarded for skin and beauty and is commonly used in lotions, creams, and shampoos to help purify the skin. I incorporate it in our Self-Heal Herbal Cream.
Lavender for women

It is an especially good ally to women. There is an old tradition of tying a bouquet of Lavender on each wrist during childbirth to give courage, support and strength to the mother to be.

rosemary with lavender

My teacher and mentor, Rosemary Galdstar, writes in her book, Natural Healing for Women, “Today most women are introduced to lavender as a potpourri and sachet herb. Though certainly these are two of its many uses, lavender is far more than just a lovely aromatic flower. A potent healing plant, it is a crone among herbs – wise, ancient and powerful.”

Lavender for depression

Although a great deal has come to light recently about the virtues of Saint John’swort in treating depression, there is little in nature that acts more surely and immediately than Lavender.

I was sitting on a bench in our garden one fine afternoon when my partner, Jane, brought her class out to make a flower essence. One of the students came over to me and inquired what I was doing.

I asked her what it looked like I was doing. “It looks like you have lavender flowers shoved into your nose.” she answered. “But why are you doing that?”

I suggested that she try it herself and see. As it turned out all of Jane’s students did that.

Later that day the student came to me with the flowers still in her nostrils and proclaimed that she had the best day of her life!

Grow your own

A member of the mint family native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, Lavender is quite easy to grow in a pot or garden and is readily available at your local nursery. Ask them about the variety best suited for your area.

The most common form in cultivation is the common or English lavender Lavandula angustifolia (formerly named L. officinalis).

Other commonly grown ornamental species are L. stoechasL. dentata, and L. multifida (Egyptian lavender).

They flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun.

Is Lavender Essential Oil Safe?

Although natural, essential oils are extremely powerful and need to be respected.

There is some evidence that long term regular use of concentrated lavender can cause hormone imbalance in males and can be toxic if taken internally in large doses.

Enjoy Lavender, but treat it with respect.

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Herbal Alteratives

dandelion root tea

Herbal Alteratives

There is an array of mood-altering medicines in pharmaceutical use, as well as a number of legal and controlled plant substances that alter the psyche or consciousness. So we are familiar with the concept of alteration.

Blood Purifiers

Herbal alteratives are known as blood purifiers because by cleaning up the blood, they alter our internal environment. This doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually over time.

They are employed for toxicity conditions of the blood such as infections, arthritis, cancer and skin eruptions. Most natural healers agree that when the blood is pure, no disease can reside in our bodies.

Blood purifiers help with the elimination of toxins by stimulating stimulating the organs engaged in this activity, mostly the skin, kidneys and colon.

The liver is also an integral part of the elimination process. So herbs that stimulate these organs to exercise their elimination functions can help the person with pimples, as well as someone with cancer.

Body Signs

dark circles under eyes

Besides eruptive skin conditions and eruptive anger, physical symptoms indicating the need for blood purification include:

  • dark circles under the eyes indicating weak liver function
  • bags under the eyes indicating weak kidney function
  • nervous disorders
  • digestive disturbances
  • loss of hair, eyesight and hearing
  • stiff joints
  • low vitality
  • frequent infections.

bags under the eyes

A familiar picture?

Actually, the modern world we live in offers quite a challenge for our processes of elimination. Besides the natural toxins that are by-products of our own metabolism, we ingest a load from our Standard American Diet (SAD). Junk foods and even processed “health foods” contribute to the problem.

The air and water are loaded with toxic materials. When we get so toxic we lose our natural ability to manage pathogens in our system, we get an infection, which generally makes us feel sick. Much of the awful experience of being sick is from the incredible amount of toxic material produced by an overrun of pathogenic microorganisms in our system.

Any elevated level of toxins will make us feel less than optimal. If you feel you could benefit from purifying your blood, you may want to know how.

Were Barbers Barbaric?

blood letting

In the old days you’d look for one of those kinetic candy-striped poles, the barber pole, an icon for blood running down an arm. Up until the 19th  century Barbers were known as barber surgeons because they didn’t simply offer a shave and a haircut.

They performed a wide variety of tasks including treating and extracting teeth, cutting out gallstones and hangnails, setting fractures, giving enemas, and lancing abscesses.

They even kept jars with leaches to carry out their work. Many patients would go to their local barber for semi-annual bloodletting, much like you take your car in for a periodic oil change.

The idea was that disease was the result of bad (impure) blood, and that by getting rid of some, the body would make fresh new blood. The trick is not to take too much. George Washington died after losing forty percent of his blood from frequent blood-lettings administered by his physician for a bad sore throat.

Herbal Alteratives

Herbal blood purifiers don’t release blood, rather they assist the body in purifying it. The herbs you would choose to accomplish this task would depend on which part or parts of your elimination process needed help doing their jobs.

dandelion root tea

An herb like dandelion, Taraxacum officinale,  would be great for almost anyone. It helps digestion, stimulates both the liver and kidneys to process toxins for release, and helps alkalinize the system.

To stimulate elimination through the sweat, diaphoretic herbs such as elder, Sambucus spp., and sassafras, Sassafras albidum, are normally taken in hot teas.

For eruptive conditions such as sties and boils, burdock, Arctium lappa,  is recommended. It is a root vegetable in the Aster family that can be eaten or taken in tea. One cancer tea, essiac, incorporates burdock and is reported to be quite effective.

Red clover is of great benefit in the process of assimilation. Its usefulness in cancer has found it a place in many of the cancer teas.

red clover

Other common Western blood purifiers include yellow dock, Rumex crispus, sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella, and echinacea, Echinacea spp.

Proper Hydration

Whether through the breath, urine, sweat, or feces, toxins are released in watery solutions. Most folks just don’t drink enough water to allow for these processes to function at an optimal level. We drink lots of dehydrating fluids such as coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks.

Even fruit juice, because of its high content of fructose, is dehydrating. Health authorities advise us to drink half our body weight in fluid ounces of water each day to maintain a level of hydration that will allow our body to function properly, especially our excretory functions.

The Healing Crisis

When taking blood purifiers, remember that when releasing toxins a “cleansing cycle” often occurs, producing symptoms resembling the flu. Skin rashes may even temporarily become aggravated.

The more toxic a person is, the more slowly the elimination must proceed. If you attempted to dust a room that hadn’t been dusted for years, you could well choke on the dust. Releasing a load of toxins into the bloodstream too quickly could make conditions worse or even be fatal.

Those with serious health concerns are advised to consult a health professional before endeavoring to cleanse.

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How Sweet it is!

Stevia Plant and Sugar

How Sweet It Is!

Stevia Plant and Sugar

What allows me to sleep well at night is the knowledge that while I sleep, agencies of our government are vigilantly protecting me from harm. The FDA in particular has been working late to keep a potentially dangerous herb from creeping into our food supply. This perennial shrub, Stevia rebaudiana, is from the aster family. It contains two compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside, that have been linked to infertility in rats and mice.

Of course, the problem with these studies, like those cited to keep comfrey off the market in much of the world, is that they involve ridiculously high concentrations of isolated principles injected into or forced down these lab animals. We would be about as well served if the government placed signs above drinking fountains warning that consumption in excess of 5 gallons a day might pose a threat to our health. So are these public servants just stupid, or are they protecting something besides our health?

A review of what we know about this menacing weed may serve to illuminate us

stevia

Although it has been used for centuries in its native Paraguay, where it is known as kaá hè-é (honey leaf or sweet leaf), it was first described by Moisés S. Bertoni, an Italian botanist, in 1899. In one published observation in 1905, Bertoni states: “The fact is that the sweetening power of kaá hè-é is so superior to sugar that there is no need to wait for the results of analyses and cultures to affirm its economic advantage.”

Naturalized to grow in cooler climates

Being indigenous to the tropics, stevia was unable to survive temperatures below fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Two of our students had a green house in North County San Diego and grew many stevia plants inside. They put them outside after the last frost in Spring. As the weather grew colder in the fall, most of the plants died, but not all. They took cuttings from these plants and propagated them. You can now buy naturalized stevia plants at nurseries and grow your own!

Stevia plants

Stevia is still banned as a food additive or sweetener in the US, Europe and many other countries

Under the current law, stevia may be marketed as a food supplement. It poses no threat as such. But if you try to market it as a sweetener, it is regarded as an “unsafe food additive.” So it isn’t the substance that’s got the FDA up in arms, it’s the words on the labels! More specifically, it seems a threat to patented chemical sweeteners. There is strong evidence that initial complaints against stevia’s use as a sweetener in herb tea blends came from certain players in the $700 million US artificial-sweetener industry.

What are they afraid of from this herb?

It grows naturally. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. It contains about as many calories as water. It not only may be considered a safe sweetener for those with blood sugar regulation problems, but is actually therapeutic. Research has shown that a whole leaf concentrate has a regulating effect on the pancreas and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Stevia is therefore useful to people with diabetes, hypoglycemia, and Candidiasis.

It has been studied extensively, especially in Japan, where it has been found without health risk and has, since the 70′s, been incorporated in numerous foods including candies, ice cream, pickles and soft drinks (including some manufactured by Coca-Cola). In 1988, in fact, refined stevia extract commanded a 41% share of Japan’s high-intensity sweetener market.

Stevia May Lower Blood Pressure

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that oral stevioside, one of the sweet glycosides in stevia, taken at doses of 250 mg, three times a day for one year resulted in significant, lasting decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension. A longer, subsequent study by the same research team that lasted two years and with an increased dose of stevioside (1,500 mg) replicated the decreases in blood pressure found in the initial study.

Traditional uses of stevia
  • Zero calorie natural sweetener
  • Lowers elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Digestive aid that also reduces gas and stomach acidity
  • It is a wonderful aid to weight loss and weight management because it contains no calories. In addition, research indicates that it significantly increases glucose tolerance and inhibits glucose absorption.
  • People who ingest stevia daily often report a decrease in their desire for sweets and fatty foods.
  • The herb acts as general tonic which increases energy levels and mental acuity.
  • Has been shown to inhibit the growth and reproduction of bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay, making it an excellent addition to tooth pastes and mouthwashes. Many people have reported improvement in their oral health after adding stevia concentrate to their tooth paste and using it, diluted in water, as a daily mouthwash.
  • Many individuals using stevia have reported a lower incidence of colds and flu.
  • Stevia is useful in healing a number of skin problems. Whole stevia concentrates may be applied as a facial mask to soften and tighten the skin and smooth cut wrinkles.
  • A drop of concentrate may be applied directly to any blemish, acne outbreak, lip or mouth sore.
  • Stevia concentrate is also effective when used on seborrhea, dermatitis, and eczema.
  • Reportedly, cuts and scratches heal more rapidly when stevia concentrate is applied.
FDA Sign
The best government money can buy!

Based on overwhelming support from research and widespread use in human populations, Lipton and several herbal tea manufactures in the US have petitioned the FDA to consider stevia as a sweetener in the US. But the FDA won’t budge and has been accused of imposing “a restraint of trade to benefit the artificial-sweetener industry.”

Sweetened with stevia

One reply from the FDA probably best sums up their position, “if we wanted to make carrots against the law, we could do it.” Yes, it is comforting to know that such a powerful agency is looking out for us. Heck, the government is even mandating fluoride in the water to further protect us. Never mind that the Environmental Protection Agency scientists endorse the initiative prohibiting fluoridation. Sleep well, Big Brother is watching.

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Rosemary – An Herb to Remember

Rosemary tea

Rosemary – An Herb to Remember

A shrubby evergreen herb graces our garden. It requires so little care that one may not give proper notice until beautiful blue flowers provide evidence of its royalty among plants. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to its many virtues.

rosemary

The name rosemary is derived from the Latin “ros“, meaning dew, and “marinus“, meaning sea.  This  probably stems from the fact that is native to seaside regions of North Africa and the Mediterranean. Hence the ancient legend that rosemary grows “where one can hear the sea”.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a larger member of the mint family, all of which seem to have a double-edged effect on our physiology. They are at the same time stimulating and relaxing. I particularly enjoy a Rosemary bath to relieve sore muscles and joints after a few hours playing hoops outside on concrete. It’s also great in a footbath.

This is nothing new. Rosemary’s uses have been well known and documented since ancient times. It has a reputation for strengthening the memory. Due to this, it became an emblem of fidelity for lovers. It was used at weddings, but also funerals, and for decking churches and halls at festivals. An old French name, Incensier, refers to its use as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

flowering rosemary

It was a custom to burn Rosemary in sick chambers, and in French hospitals to prevent infections, and to purify the air. In Spain and Italy, it has been considered a safeguard from witches and evil influences.

The Spaniards revere Rosemary as one of the bushes that provided shelter to the Virgin Mary in her flight into Egypt. They call it Romero, the Pilgrim’s Flower. It has been said that Rosemary grows better in a garden where the mistress is master of the household.

A liniment formula dated 1235, said to be in the handwriting of Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, is prepared by putting 1½ pounds fresh Rosemary tops in a gallon of white wine and allowed to stand for four days. She rubbed the liniment on her partially paralyzed arms, legs and feet until she was completely cured. We make the now famous “Hungary Water” with vinegar, rather than wine.

Rosemary is also great for the hair and scalp. It stimulates growth, imparts a pleasant odor and color, and helps prevent dandruff.

Rosemary tea

Rosemary tea, made by steeping the young tops, leaves and flowers in warm water is a good remedy for headache and nervous depression, colic and colds. Since some of Rosemary’s important medicinal constituents are aromatic oils, it is best to steep it with the lid on the pan to prevent their escape.

Rosemary also contains high concentrations of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. The electrolytic balance of fluids surrounding the nerves and cardiac tissues relies on these minerals.

One primary use is the lowering of blood pressure. The flavonoid pigment diosmin in Rosemary decreases capillary permeability and fragility, contributing further to cardiovascular health. In Germany, among doctors still practicing natural medicine, Rosemary is considered a valuable remedy during a convalescence and during old age for quickening and quieting circulation, for rheumatism and for neuralgia.

So much has been written through the millennia extolling the virtues of Rosemary, it is a challenge to give it justice in a few paragraphs. Perhaps the most famous quotation, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is both a tribute to this revered herb and a gentle reminder that we not overlook it, “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

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Algae

Algae

Algae

One single-celled organism, available as a whole, natural, wild food may well be the answer to many of the problems facing us in the world today.

mt saint helens

The Algae Story
Although it has been around for billions of years, this part of its story starts more than six thousand years ago when a volcanic eruption in the Cascade Mountains of Southern Oregon hundreds of times larger than Mt. Saint Helens’ literally blew the top five thousand feet off Mt. Mazama.
This colossal event formed what we now know as Crater Lake.

In the process, millions of tons of mineral-rich volcanic ash was deposited on the area which drains into Upper Klamath Lake, creating a perfect spawning ground for the blue green algae, Aphanezomenon flos aquae, that flourished there, soaking it all up like a giant organic sponge.

klamath lake

So rich, in fact, is this natural fertilizer that the annual algae bloom, over two hundred million pounds, makes Upper Klamath Lake one of the most prolific biomass producing areas in the world.

Algae

Organic compost is the secret

The lake freezes every year killing most of the algae which settles to the lake bottom to compost with the significant amount of bird droppings deposited by the myriad of birds that visit. This compost is thirty five feet deep in some places.

The algae has adapted to take advantage of the two abundant sources of nourishment in Upper Klamath Lake, high desert solar energy from the sun, and the nutrient-rich sediment in the lake.

It operates a little parachute to rise to the top of the lake to feed on sunlight, then returns to feed on the bottom. Unlike soil-based agriculture, a nutrient-rich aquatic environment provides optimum nutrient exchange.

Rather than commercial crops competing for the few remaining nutrients left in our farmlands, Upper Klamath Lake algae have sixty times more nutrients than they need to fulfill their nutritional requirements.

They represent a life form living in abundance.

chemical farming

Our chemically-based agricultural system produces foods that are little more than a hollow shell, often containing more chemical fertilizer and pesticide residues than nourishment.

A can of spinach serves as the example for iron availability in commercial agriculture. One can of spinach in 1940 contained as much as seventy five cans today!

But where were the soils at in 1940? In the late 30′s, the United States Department of Agriculture released a report indicating that our soils were virtually bankrupt of minerals.

Minerals are important for controlling mood swings

Cells depend on minerals to facilitate chemical reactions necessary for the production of vital hormones and other chemicals, such as serotonin.

Magnesium, zinc, and iron are important in the treatment of mood swings because they help the muscles relax, reducing cramping and pain that lower serotonin levels.

When I started adding blue green algae to my daily supplementation I was amazed at how much of a mood elevator it was!

organic tomato

Remember what a real tomato tasted like?

The missing taste in tomatoes are minerals, ground up pieces of the Earth.

Chemical agribiz doesn’t contribute minerals, so as crops gobble up the minerals year after year, where are they going to come from?

Because this flavor is missing in most of our food, we add flavoring agents, like MSG, to placate our taste buds.

But inside, there is a growing hunger for elements vital to our continued health and well being. We call it false hunger. For we surely get enough to eat, and yet remain deficient.

Grow your own food?

Even organically grown produce may not contain all the important trace minerals we need to maintain optimal health.

In fact, the natural wild-growing blue green algae in Upper Klamath Lake may be one of the only remaining expressions of nature’s balance and abundance remaining in this developed world.

Besides a storehouse of vitamins and minerals, it contains significant amounts of beta carotene and other carotenoids, chlorophyl, and an amino acid profile almost identical to human breast milk.

freeze dried algae

A few grams of freeze dried algae will not replace a diet of organically grown whole foods. However, by supplying the necessary trace minerals, it enables us to absorb and utilize the mineral factors in our food.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, nature’s first food, algae, may be our best hope.

For more information about this natural superfood or how to add it to your daily diet call 619 224 1268 or contact Jane via email at janerichmond@cox.net.

For info about other superfood nutraceuticals we enjoy and recommend, click here.

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Smart Medicine

Smart Medicine

CNN coverage of the Gulf War impressed people around the world with the ability of weapons developed for the military to be directed against specific targets, while leaving the surrounding real estate intact. And while “smart bombs” must be the quintessential oxymoron of our modern age, I’ve always been struck by the ancient and inherent wisdom in herbs, and by their ability to provide intelligent and specific medicinal actions in the body. A single herb may raise or lower blood pressure (Cayenne), estrogen levels (Vitex), or nerve response (Valerian).

On a recent trip to Florida we were strolling in a park on Key Biscayne and encountered an amazing plant that is actually a “smart poison.” The Rosy or Madagascar Periwinkle, which is often grown as an ornamental, is a member of the genus Vinca which also includes the greater and lesser periwinkles commonly found throughout San Diego. Its plant family, Apocynaceae, includes many tropical trees and shrubs, a large number of which are poisonous, including our lovely Oleander.

vinca-rosea
Vinca rosea

In 1923, the Rosy Periwinkle, Vinca rosea, aroused interest in the medical world when it was found to have the power to cure diabetes, and was thought it may prove to be an efficient substitute for insulin. One of its alkaloids, vincristine, is currently employed in the fight against childhood leukemia. It acts as a mitotic spindle poison.

In mitosis, the process of cell division, the mitotic spindle helps to pull the two halves of the cell apart. Vincristine preferentially poisons the mitotic spindles in malignant cells in the process of dividing, while leaving normal cells alone. Periwinkle has a long history as a friend to man. Culpepper recommended it for nervous disorders, the young tops made into a conserve for the nightmare.

ointment

An ointment prepared from the bruised leaves has been used as a soothing and healing medicine for all inflammatory ailments of the skin, and is an excellent remedy for bleeding hemorrhoids. It has astringent and tonic properties. If you might hope that a smart herb might also make you smarter, periwinkle won’t disappoint you.

Studies in Germany have confirmed that the lesser periwinkle, Vinca minor, is one of the most powerful herbal cerebral vasodilators, opening micro-circulation to the brain.

Vinca minor
Vinca minor

Since ancient times periwinkle has been held in high esteem. It is considered a protector plant. Being also called “Joy of the Ground,” it was said to place one in a state of grace. It was worn as a garland or girdle to ward off misfortune.

While not at risk from car jackers, people of olde, mostly traveling on foot, were subject to inclement weather, robber bandits and predatory animals. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Grown near a gate or door, it was thought to keep away unwanted visitors. Another old name for it is “Sorcerer’s Violet.”

It was a favorite with the “wise folk” for making charms and love-potions. Old herbals tell of its potency against “wicked spirits,” having the power to exorcize evil and demonical possessions. The superstitions about it were repeated by all the old writers. It was said to induce love between man and wife.

In France, it is considered an emblem of friendship. Germans called it the “Flower of Immortality.” If you wish to grow periwinkle yourself, it is commonly found in nurseries. Just be sure to place it where it is well bordered as it tends to choke out other vegetation and will eventually stand alone in the allotted area.

As an apple a day keeps the doctor away, periwinkle at the gate keeps unwanted at bay. Shielded and ever prosperous in a state of grace, that’s smart medicine!

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Refreshing Nettles

Nettles

Refreshing Nettles

When the weather heats up, we look to beverages for refreshment. Beer is often the beverage of choice. It is also a favorite during the winter holidays. And while commercial beer can present health risks because of the chemicals used in the process, herb beers have been a traditional part of folk medicine for generations.

In fact, herbs have been an integral component of the beer making process. Before hops were used, mugwort and other herbs imparted their slightly bitter flavor.

Nettles

The number of micro brewery selections and folks brewing their own at home is on the rise. One herb brought to San Diego by Europeans for its many applications, including great herb beer, is Nettle (Uritca dioica), also known as nettles or stinging nettle for the sting imparted by the many sharp, hollow hairs adorning the whole plant. It can be found growing along stream banks and shaded areas of the county.

Mrs. M. Grieve, in her twentieth-century version of the medieval herbal, A Modern Herbal, first published in 1931, offers the following recipe for Nettle Beer. “The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but apart from this purpose it forms a pleasant drink.

How to make nettle beer

Take 2 gallons of cold water and a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4 large handsful of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass) [Cleavers], and 2 oz. of bruised, whole ginger.

Nettle Beer

Simmer gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of organic raw sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted bread, spread with 1 oz. of compressed yeast, stirred till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar.

Keep it fairly warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort of ginger beer.

The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs may be added to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock, Meadowsweet and Horehound, the combination making a refreshing summer drink.”

Nettle as food

Nettle has also been valued in cultures around the world as a delicious and nourishing food source. The tender, young spring leaves eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable enrich the blood and nourish the nervous system. They contain Vitamins A, C and K, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Formic Acid and Sulphur.

Nettle juice may be poured into ice cube trays and frozen to be stored and later thawed and drunk as an internal anti-inflammatory and nutritive tonic.

It is an excellent medicinal and nutritive tonic supporting overall health. Old herbals abound in recipes for Nettle, including Nettle Pudding and Nettle Porridge.

External application

When dried or steamed, the needle-like hairs lose their ability to impart a sting. The sting, sometimes applied by lashing with the plant, is a remedy for poor circulation and gouty joints. An antidote for the sting, which wears off after 24 hours, is the juice of Nettle, Yellow Dock, Rosemary, Mint or Sage.

Also finding use as a hair tonic and in the making of paper and cloth, Nettle may be considered as one of our most useful plants. Hikers along stream beds beware!

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Magical Dandelion

Dandelion Wishes

Magical Dandelion

Dandelion Wishes

While in our herb garden the other day my daughter picked a dandelion that had gone to seed. She blew heartily till all the seeds flew off and floated away in the afternoon breeze. Remembering having done the same as a child, I inquired if she had made a wish. She had indeed. It made me think how funny it was that as adults we also have the task of keeping these pesky “weeds” out of our lawns. The children propagate. The adults eradicate.

A native to the Old World, this short member of the sunflower family has become well established in every temperate climate in the world. Its widespread distribution may be a hint from Mother Nature that everyone has need of it.

Dandelion

Although a relatively recent addition to the medicinal repertoire, dandelion has become one of the most widely used medicinal herbs in the world.

Its common name was apparently given by a 15th century surgeon who likened the cut of the leaf to a lion’s tooth, called in Latin Dens leonis. The botanical name, Taraxacum officinale, derives from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), or good for what ails you, referring to its curative power. It is widely cultivated and harvested from the wild. All parts of the plant are useful.

Dandelion Leaf

The yellow composite flowers indicate the plant’s affinity for the liver and its capacity to bring joy to all who use it. They are lavishly supplied with nectar and are a favorite ingredient in herb beers and the famous dandelion wine. The white milky sap of the stem and root can be used as a topical remedy for warts.

The young leaves are a slightly bitter addition to salads acting as a digestive tonic. They supply an abundance of vitamins and minerals of great value to the nerves and blood. 20 ml of the fresh juice is taken three times a day as a diuretic. A less effective diuretic is made from a tea of the leaves.

The tincture is often added to remedies for failing heart to insure adequate potassium intake. The tap root of dandelion, much like a carrot, extends at least a foot into the Earth, drawing mineral energy. Roots are collected in Autumn of their second year. They are best left uncut as much of their medicinal virtue depends on the milky juice which would be wasted in bleeding.

A favorite liver stimulant with many herbalists, it is a cleansing tonic for problems including gallstones and jaundice. It clears liver congestion and will cure hepatitis in short order. It can be useful for constipation and toxic conditions such as joint inflammation, boils, abscesses, eczema, and acne. It aids digestion in the stomach and stimulates the pancreas and spleen. A curative starch, inulin, contained in the root is a safe remedy specific for hypoglycemia and diabetes.

Dandelions
A field of blooming dandelions creates a sea of yellow.

Because of their high concentration of vitamins and minerals, both the root and the leaf are considered restorative and adaptogenic aids in building the body and restoring energy reserves. Not being poisonous, quite large doses may be taken. The roasted root makes a very agreeable coffee substitute and is often combined with roasted chicory, Chichorium endiva, which has similar properties. This “weed”, dandelion, may be the most beneficial plant in the world. Maybe it’s time we take a lesson from the children and experience the joy and cleansing this magical herb brings.