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I have been practicing herbal medicine since 1979 and teaching it since 1985. That year I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) playing basketball.

I went to an MD friend who was a practicing herbalist who recommended treating it with a hot herbal compress, rather than surgery, the traditional approach in allopathic medicine.


Long story short, I was playing full-court hoops again in six weeks!

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I Can Breathe

Mullein plant

I Can Breathe

I formulated a respiratory tea when I had a serious case of the influenza virus many years ago and was having difficulty breathing. It contained these parts by weight:

4 parts Mullein leaves
4 parts Coltsfoot leaves
3 parts Peppermint leaves
2 parts Lobelia herb

I added honey to the tea to make it taste better and help coat the throat.


Verbascum thapsus, the great mullein or common mullein, is a species of mullein native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, and introduced in the Americas and Australia.

I was surprised that it wasn’t native to San Diego as it is found in outlying areas and not around town at all, unless in someone’s yard.

Mullein plant

Doctrine of Signatures is the concept that herbs often give clues for the part of the body they are good for.

The fuzzy leaves of mullein are a doctrine of signatures for lungs with the hairs acting like a bottle brush to help clear out the alveoli, the air sacs in the lungs allowing for gas exchange.

These fuzzy leaves are, in fact, a traditional treatment for respiratory problems, such as chest colds, bronchitis and asthma, normally taken as a tea.

Phytochemicals in mullein flowers and leaves include saponins, polysaccharides, mucilage, flavonoids, tannins, iridoid and lignin glycosides, and essential oils.

The combination of these act like a team

The mucilage is soothing to irritated membranes while tannins are astringent and tighten up an inflamed “spongy” pleural lining and saponins which are like a detergent, loosening up mucoid material in the lungs making coughs more productive.

Care must be taken with saponins as they can cause the breakup of red blood cells.

Also, handling dry mullein leaves might require wearing a mask as it can be irritating to the throat and lungs. Once in water it is not a problem.

man coughing

Research has shown that the herb has strong anti-inflammatory activity, and studies indicate that mullein flower infusions have antiviral properties, as well.

It is also considered a lymphatic cleanser.

Mullein flower oil is a good remedy for earaches and has also been used for treating hemorrhoids.

Some Native Americans also used the plant’s roots. The Creek Indians drank a decoction of the roots for coughs; other tribes smoked the roots or dried leaves to treat asthma.


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an herb with fuzzy leaves in the daisy family that’s long been cultivated for its medicinal properties.

It originated in parts of Asia as well as in Europe, but the plant also grows throughout damp areas of North America.


The Genus name Tussilago refers to its cough dispelling quality

The action of coltsfoot is thought to be the opposite of that of an expectorant (an agent that helps with the expulsion of thick productive mucous).

Rather, coltsfoot is a relaxing expectorant that acts as a sedative as well as a demulcent, which is good for spastic and irritable coughs of both acute and chronic presentations.

The flavonoids also help to reduce inflammation in the bronchioles which make up the lower respiratory tract.

Coltsfoot has been traditionally used as:
  • An antioxidant to strengthen the immune system
  • To ease coughs
  • An antimicrobial
  • An anti-inflammatory

People take coltsfoot tea for:
  • respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pertussis (whooping cough)
  • sore throats
  • cough and horseness
  • flu
  • fever
  • asthma
  • gout

Lobelia inflata, also known as asthma weed, Indian tobacco or puke weed, is a plant in the Bellflower family native to North America, with stems covered in tiny hairs.

lobelia herb

It is sometimes used alongside conventional medications to help treat symptoms of asthma attacks, such as wheezing, uncontrollable coughing, and chest tightness.

This is because lobeline, an alkaloid in lobelia, is a smooth muscle relaxer for airways, stimulating breathing, and clearing mucus from the lungs.

Lobelia is also used to relieve pneumonia and bronchitis, two types of lung infections that cause coughing and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms.


Compounds found in lobelia may also help protect against mood disorders, including depression.

depressed woman

Specifically, lobeline may block certain receptors in the brain that play a role in the development of depression.

One animal study in mice revealed that lobeline significantly reduced depressive behaviors and levels of stress hormones in the blood.

Lobelia cautionary note

Lobelia is a strong emetic which means it is great if you need to empty the stomach.

Although relatively safe in normal amounts, care must be taken when taking it. Side effects can include sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma, and possibly death.


Peppermint, Mentha × piperita, is a hybrid mint, a cross between watermint and spearmint.

Indigenous to Europe and the Middle East, the plant is now spread and cultivated in many regions of the world.


It has a high content of menthol which has local anesthetic and counterirritant qualities, and is used to relieve minor throat irritations.

It is widely used in cough drops and in 2017, menthol was the 193rd most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than two million prescriptions.

Peppermint also contains terpenoids, volatile oils that are warming and disinfecting.
It also tastes great.

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Treating Sports Injuries

no ice

Treating Sports Injuries

The Question: Does cryotherapy, the use of extreme cold in surgery or other medical treatment, improve outcomes for acute soft tissue injuries?

I have been playing basketball for more than six decades and although it is purported to be a non-contact sport, I have sustained a plethora of injuries, so I have some experience treating them.

I also taught herbal medicine at several massage colleges for more than thirty years and many times to students who had already taken a course in sports massage, where they were taught to respond to soft tissue injuries with RICE, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

The use of ice or cold water with soft tissue injuries is often advocated, but what research is there to prove that it actually works?

I have been teaching that heat is more effective in assisting the body to heal itself.

RICE is the accepted model, but Ice and Compression are but allopathic (suppress the symptoms) responses to inflammation, which the body produces naturally in flooding the area with blood and lymph to bring healing.

After much push-back from my students, I did an internet search for evidence of any benefit to icing an injury in the acute stage, such as immediately after you sprain your ankle.

I found that the effect of cold therapy on the most common acute soft tissue injuries, including strains and bruises, has not been proven.

The effects of ice have been demonstrated in numerous animal models and human studies. Ice reduces tissue temperature, blood flow, pain, and metabolism. However, and possibly more important is the question, “Does the application of ice actually impede the natural healing process?”

Does treatment facilitate achievement of goals related to functional limitations and sudden transient disability after injury or surgery?

Reports indicated that cold seemed to be more effective in limiting swelling and decreasing pain in the short term (immediately after application to one week post injury) but did not improve recovery times.

Let’s look at the two supposed benefits of icing a sports injury.

ice reduces pain

The experience of extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, is the same – it hurts!

By the time you become numb from the extreme cold, the area is in hypothermia which is defined as a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat.

And pain, by the way, is the body’s message to us to give it a rest. So elevation and rest are appropriate.

And, if required, a cup or two of willow bark tea, a natural aspirin, can help alleviate the pain without the use of ice.

DMSO (dymethyl sulfoxide) and CBD (cannabidiol) are also incredible pain relievers applied topically.

DMSO has analgesic properties

DMSO is a natural organic compound in the sulfur cycle of plants produced as a by-product of papermaking, extracted from lignin, an insoluble fiber in wood pulp.

Research shows that DMSO slows or blocks conduction of impulses along nerve cells, which in effect reduces pain from musculoskeletal injuries, postoperative incisions and other sources.

It is also warming to the area, which relaxes muscles and increases local blood and lymphatic circulation, assisting natural repair mechanisms.

A hot water bottle is also helpful here and is preferred to heating pads as heating pads emit EMFs, electromatic fields that impede the healing process and actually promote abhorrent cell growth.

After the initial stages of injury, heat can be applied with alternating cold. Long heat, short cold. This is known as hydrotherapy and can accelerate the healing process.

CBD may offer an option for treating inflammation and different types of acute and chronic pain

CBD is an active compound in cannabis derived from the hemp plant.

A study from the European Journal of Pain showed, using an animal model, CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis.

Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat.

ice reduces inflammation

The question here is, “do we really want to do that?”

As previously stated, ice and compression are allopathic responses to inflammation. Allopathy is the treatment of disease by conventional means, i.e., with drugs having opposite effects to the symptoms.

And inflammation in allopathic medicine is seen as a pathogenic condition to be reversed, in this case with anti-inflammatory drugs or ice.

Whereas in holistic medicine we don’t impede the body’s natural response, we assist it, in this case with the application of heat.

A tornado in Ocean Beach

A smallish tornado passed through the alley a number of years ago, knocking a few out buildings off their foundations and knocking down a few fences. Not a major disaster.

Where I lived in Michigan growing up we had “real” tornadoes. They would zig zag along taking out some houses while missing others.tornado damage

If that happened up on the hill where we live, the local parking would become seriously impacted by trucks delivering lumber, plumbing and electrical supplies and the like, as well as the workers clearing the debris and reconstructing the buildings.

local traffic only sign

The folks whose houses didn’t suffer damage could get upset about the lack of parking and put up a sign on the corner stating, “local traffic only”.

Can you imagine how much longer it would take to haul off the damaged stuff and bring in the materials to do the repairs.

That, in effect, is what happens when we employ ice and compression.

It is counterproductive.

Heat, on the other hand, will assist the process and get you back on your wheels faster.

So we have a new acronym. Rather than RICE we have HER, Heat Elevation and Rest.

Rice at weddings

An urban legend about not throwing rice at weddings because it could kill birds eating it is, of course, absurd. I mean what do we put in bird feeders. Seeds such as rice.

bubbles at wedding

The real reason some establishments still outlaw its use is because of difficult cleanup and potential hazards for slipping and falling.

So rice is out at weddings, but also with the initial stages of soft tissue injuries.

Read more about the benefits of DMSO.

Read more about the benefits of CBD.

Read about a product with DMSO and CBD.