Think You Have an Ulcer? Think Again: H. Pylori and Mastic Gum

Pistacia lentiscus in flower

Pistacia lentiscus in flower

I had wanted to write this article on mastic gum as a cure for H. pylori for some time now, but it was Dr. OZ’s Christmas Eve show that finally did it. When a friend who knew that I had healed myself of H. pylori reported that this and ulcers were the topic of today’s Dr. OZ Show, I was all ears. I was glad he was helping the general public to make the connection between ulcers and H. pylori, as this has long been overlooked. Regardless, doctors rarely recommend one of the easy tests that detect H. pylori to patients presenting with ulcer symptoms. While he mentioned kefir for these symptoms, most of the folks on the show had never heard of kefir. And while this helps to increase awareness of the importance and necessity for probiotics, kefir doesn’t cure H. pylori.[1] It was when I heard the final recommendation for H. pylori was antibiotics, however, that I knew I couldn’t put off writing this article any longer.

Let me start by sharing my own story. For years I had this on again, off again burning in the pit of my stomach. It was worse at night and felt like a gnawing hunger that might feel better if I ate something to help coat or soothe my stomach, but eating made no difference. After awhile I surmised that I must have an ulcer. I tried digestive enzymes but that didn’t work. Then I tried antacids and H2 blockers, which are completely against my belief system of treating symptoms and not the cause, and they made no difference whatsoever. I did notice, however, that eliminating sugar helped.

mastiha_tear2

Mastic gum resin

Then I had a recurrent mold exposure that launched a raging sinus infection. My eyes swelled shut with yellow puss oozing from them and my throat was so swollen I could hardly swallow. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. So, I immediately went to the doctor who in an effort to keep me out of the hospital gave me what he called “gorilla-cillin,” without ever diagnosing what I had. It was after this round of antibiotics that my sinus infection got better, but the “ulcer” got significantly worse and I started having pressure in my esophagus. I went back to yet another doctor who recommended an endoscopy, so I paid the gastroenterologist a visit but declined the test in favor of doing additional research on my own. This doctor suggested that I might have an ulcer as well as an overgrowth of candida in my esophagus. In my search for the cause of what was creating this havoc in my body, and without wanting to undergo an invasive test, I discovered the information connecting ulcers to H. pylori infection, something that had not been previously mentioned. I also learned that statistically up to 90% of duodenal ulcers might be caused by a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, and not by stress, spicy food or excess stomach acid as had been previously assumed.

So back to the doctor’s office I went for my yearly exam and to request a blood test for the H. pylori bacterium. Several non-invasive tests exist for evaluating the presence of the bacteria including a blood, saliva, stool or a breath test. However, the most reliable method is a biopsy check during endoscopy. I opted for the blood test.

At least half the world’s population is infected with H. pylori making it the most widespread infection in the world, and while H. pylori is contagious, the exact route of transmission is not known. Findings suggest that it is more easily transmitted via gastric mucus than via saliva. It may also be transmitted via contaminated well water, soil, or from food harvested in fields where workers defecate. It is also very possible that houseflies act as a viable source of spread since they frequently come into contact with human food and fecal matter.

When I returned to the doctor’s office for my blood results I sat in the waiting room for almost an hour before being brought into an exam room. I was left there alone for another hour before the doctor finally arrived. During that time in the exam room I noticed a small paperback reminiscent of a Readers Digest on the counter next to the sink. It contained articles on the latest drug recommendations for various conditions and I busied myself reading it. I was surprised when I turned to an article on H. pylori and the recommended drugs and antibiotic cocktail for curing it. H. pylori is obviously a growing concern in the current pharmacological literature.

The doctor finally arrived apologizing for being late, explaining that she had been going over the results of my blood work and was happy to announce and that everything looked normal; good blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, white and red blood cell count, etc. I had to ask her, “what about the H. pylori?” She had completely overlooked it and had to scramble through her paperwork in order to find the results. “Oh!” she said, quite flustered, “You are positive for H. pylori!” Obviously she had not spent the last hour looking over the result of my blood work. I flashed the article on H. pylori from her magazine that I found in her exam room, and told her she might want to read up. She then prescribed the routine antibiotic cocktail, which included flagyl, (an antibiotic drug also used to treat Candida with serious possible side effects[2]). Since I had good insurance at the time I filled the prescription and carried a grocery bag full of antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors home with me.

As I sat contemplating this turn of events, and the fact that a round of antibiotics had put my “ulcer” symptoms over the top in the first place causing what I felt to be an overgrowth of H. pylori, just like they can cause an overgrowth of Candida, I just could not bring myself to take them. In addition, an increasing number of infected individuals harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria and there is a high treatment failure rate (up to 20%) requiring additional rounds of antibiotic therapy, which further discouraged me. It made sense that I had noticed a difference in a reduction of symptoms by eliminating sugar since perhaps sugar feeds H. pylori, just like it does Candida. Then, I started a time line of my symptoms and realized it had been after a round of antibiotics for an earlier sinus infection (also from mold exposure) that the symptoms had initially started. Further research showed that H. pylori is a member of the normal flora of the stomach and helps to regulate stomach acidity. It is only when there is an overgrowth accompanied by symptoms that it becomes problematic. Common sense told me that antibiotics were contraindicated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was clear to me that the H. pylori needed to be brought under control, but not only did I not want to take the antibiotics, I was downright afraid of taking them. So back to the computer I went, this time looking for alternatives to antibiotics. What I found was mastic gum and not surprisingly as I have a lot of faith in plant medicine.

l_410709Mastic gum is a tree resin produced by an evergreen shrub from the pistachio tree family, Pistacia lentiscus. It hails from the Greek island of Chios and is also known as “Chios tears” because once the bark is slit, the resin trickles out slowly creating crystal like “tears.” In some shops it is called “Arabic Gum”, not to be confused with gum arabic. The word mastic is a synonym for gum in many languages and is derived from the Greek verb, “to gnash the teeth”, which is the source of the English word, masticate. Greeks have been chewing on these resin granules for centuries. It is consumed to freshen the breath, cut down on bacteria in the mouth, and remove dental plaque. Ground it is used in a variety of baked goods for its rich aroma and licorice-like flavor. Mastic has been used as a medicine since antiquity and for a variety of gastric ailments in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years. It is still used in traditional folk medicine of the Middle East.

One of my herbal mentors, Patricia Kyritsi Howell goes to Greece every year and affirmed the power of this medicine for healing gastric complaints. Mastic production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin and the islands production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages in the south of Chios. Traditionally there has been limited production of mastic, which was further threatened by the Chios forest fire that swept the southern half of the island in August 2012 and destroyed many of the mastic groves. During the Ottoman rule of Chios, mastic was worth its weight in gold. I would argue that it still is. The benefit of this “tree-medicine,” as I like to call it, is now being rediscovered for its antimicrobial effects. The most exciting of these discoveries is its effectiveness against at least seven different strains of H. pylori with no side effects.

Chios, Greece

Chios, Greece

Heliobactor pylori is a spiral-shaped bacteria which live in the mucosal lining of the stomach. The genus is derived from the ancient Greek “spiral” or “coil”. Pylori means “of the pylorus” or pyloric valve which is the circular opening leading from the stomach into the duodenum and is from an ancient Greek word meaning “gatekeeper.”

How mastic gum works is that is causes changes within the bacteria’s cell structure, causing it to weaken and die. In an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, “Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter pylori” it was suggested that even low doses of mastic gum can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly. In several studies using mastic gum on ulcer patients, the original site of the ulcer caused by the bacterium was completely replaced by healthy epithelial cells.

The protocol that I have found to be the most effective is to start out slowly and increase the amount taken over a three week period as follows:

Mastic Gum Extract, 500 mg. capsules,

Week 1: take 2 in the morning on an empty stomach one hour before breakfast for one week.

Week 2: Up the dosage to 4 per day, adding 2 in the afternoon on an empty stomach.

Week 3: Up the dosage to 6 for a total of 3 grams per day, adding 2 in the evening on an empty stomach (2 hrs. after dinner, one hour before bed.)

Die off can cause nausea so back off on the dosage if you start to feel nauseous. Some folks take a break and then do another round, but you can be retested via a stool sample after a month or so. A blood test will not be accurate because of the antibodies. Be sure to add a good probiotic to your regimen following treatment.

Mastiha_productionI have used this protocol to heal myself of H. pylori and very successfully in my clinical practice. One client shared it with her doctor after the stool sample came back negative. This is why we need herbalists with their “feet on the ground” so to speak. The ones who are working first hand with the plant medicines. We cannot always depend on clinical trials that are funded by pharmaceutical companies, or doctor’s knowledge whose education is also funded by pharmaceutical companies. The more of us who share our herbal knowledge, the more we will learn how to alleviate suffering and hopefully bring enough attention to alternative medicine to get the research funded that is so badly needed.  It is in this spirit that I share my experience with the tree medicine of mastic gum. I can also attest that the results are long lasting as it has been six years since curing my H. pylori. My yearly physical exam was last month and I am happy to announce that the blood work (I had to specifically request a test for H. pylori) came back negative for the bacterium. And so it is.

References:

1. Wang KY, Li SN, Liu CS et al. (September 2004). “Effects of ingesting Lactobacillus- and Bifidobacterium-containing yogurt in subjects with colonized Helicobacter pylori. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80 (3): 737–41.

2. Pounder RE, Ng D (1995). “The prevalence of Helicobacter pylori infection in different countries”. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 9 (Suppl 2): 33–9.

3. Cave DR (May 1996). “Transmission and epidemiology of Helicobacter pylori“. Am. J. Med. 100 (5A): 12S–17S; discussion 17S–18S

4 Brown LM (2000). Helicobacter pylori: epidemiology and routes of transmission”. Epidemiol Rev 22 (2): 283–97.

5 Blaser MJ (February 2005). “An endangered species in the stomach”. Sci. Am. 292 (2): 38–45. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0205-38

6. Al-Said MS, Ageel AM, Parmar NS, Tariq M. Evaluation of mastic, a crude drug obtained from Pistacia lentiscus for gastric and duodenal anti-ulcer activity. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;15:271-8.


[1] An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that “ingesting lactic acid bacteria exerts a suppressive effect on Helicobacter pylori infection in both animals and humans,” noting that “supplementing with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium containing yogurt was shown to improve the rates of eradication of H. pylori in humans. (see reference below)

[2] Metronidazole crosses the placental barrier and enters fetal circulation rapidly. It is prescribed during pregnancy for the vaginal infection, trichomoniasis. Metronidazole is a carcinogen and may cause serious central and peripheral nervous system side effects such as: convulsive seizures, meningitis, and optic neuropathy.

The Weed and the Vine: Anecdotal Evidence for Nature’s Antidote

By Thea Summer Deer with Jamie MacLeod

Jewelweed (Impatients capensis)

Impatients capensis

Entering the Pisgah National Forest we journeyed over the creek and into the woods to discover the blooming crowns of jewelweed. It made me wonder if jewel-weed isn’t some king of oxymoron like cruel-kindness or definitely-maybe. But there is no maybe about it – she is definitely a jewel of a weed.Jamie Woods

The intention for this summer day was for my apprentice, Jamie, and I to harvest the aerial parts of jewelweed in all of its abundance and learn more about her medicine. Ice cube trays full of fresh juice from the stem and leaves would be frozen, popped into baggies and stored in the freezer awaiting the aftermath of someone’s unfortunate encounter with poison ivy, oak or sumac. Even an insect bite or a reactive sting from our dear friend stinging nettle can be soothed by the astringent and anti-inflammatory combination of jewelweed along with the numbing effect of ice.

Jamie_JewelweedEquipped with a large plastic bag we gathered about ten jewelweed plants, just enough for juicing through a Champion juicer. You can also chop then succus the aerial parts of jewelweed in a blender or food processor with just enough water to cover in order to release the gel-like soothing mucilage. While out in the woods you can simply rub the fresh plant between the palms of your hands for immediate use as a poultice and to prevent a reaction to poison ivy. It is believed that jewelweed is more effective at washing the oil away that causes a rash from poison ivy than soap. Typically jewelweed and poison ivy can be found in the same area making it a very convenient antidote.

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis is in the Balsaminaceae, “Touch-Me-Not” family. It is a two to five foot tall annual plant that often forms large colonies in moist or wet habitats. Growing in colonies as it does makes it possible to harvest many plants with very little effort by pulling them up in bunches and trimming off the roots. Once harvested jewelweed wilts quickly. Its alternate and ovate shaped leaves are one to four inches long and are water-repellent. The entire plant is smooth and translucent and after a rain become covered with beads of water that reflect the light presenting a jewel-like appearance and giving it the common name, jewelweed.

jewelweed

I. capensis

I. pallida

I. pallida

Jewelweed flowers are orange or yellow and hang like pendants from a thread-like stalk. They are irregular, with five petals: the upper two are united; the lower three separate with reddish brown spots. I. capensis has orange flowers while I. pallida has yellow flowers. Both species have the same medicinal properties. Jewelweed blooms from July to September and is best harvested during June or July. In late fall the ripe seedpods can be eaten and taste similar to walnuts. It’s common name, “touch-me-not: describes how the ripe seed pods explode when touched, flinging seeds far from the plant.

Jamieweb100_1333Not satisfied with just one hike into the woods to admire the jewel like faces of her flowers a few short weeks later we found ourselves hiking out again. This time it was along the Oconaluftee River in the Cherokee National Forest down a path lined with Cherokee medicinal plants. It was here that we found the largest patch of jewelweed we had ever seen. It was literally over our heads. The Cherokee used jewelweed juice for all of the same purposes mentioned above.

According to folklore jewelweed is always found growing near poison ivy, and we found this to be true on both of our hikes into the forest. Poison ivy is actually an imposter and not a true ivy (Hedera). A trailing or climbing vine it is most commonly found along tree line breaks at the edge of the forest and is only somewhat shade tolerant. Development of real estate adjacent to undeveloped land has engendered its formation. Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, has doubled since the 1960’s and will double again as a result of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  These elevated levels of carbon dioxide from global warming are creating bigger, stronger poison ivy plants that produce more urushiol, the oil that causes a poison ivy rash. The urushiol isn’t just more plentiful it also more potent.  A super good reason to keep some jewelweed ice cubes in your freezer.Jamie YellowJW100_1334

Both poison ivy and jewelweed are considered invasive but are not as damaging as invasive exotics. These native plants tend to take over an area but they don’t do as much damage because they evolved with native insects and other plants. Jewelweed’s ability to aggressively reseed enables it to out-compete other native vegetation.  We saw evidence of this on the Cherokee trail when we discovered a literal forest of jewelweed.  Its replacement of perennial vegetation on riverbanks may lead to increased soil erosion because of its delicate roots.  It also produces alluring nectar, which may potentially attract pollinators away from other native plants reducing their seed set.

photo by Marion Skydancer

photo by Marion Skydancer

In Timothy Lee Scott’s controversial book, Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, he asks, “So what happens if we were to shift our point of view and see an invasive plant (weed) as useful?”  He points out the waste of energy and the millions of dollars spent enlisting various invasive plant coalitions, universities, environmental conservation groups, state and federal agencies, along with the herbicide industry, in an attempt to eradicate invasive plants.  The use of machinery and millions of gallons of herbicides polluting both soil and water throughout the world is costing us billions.

Clinical herbalist, Michael Tierra argues on the topic of whether or not to control invasive plants depends on the invasive. Perhaps poison ivy is phytoremediating carbon dioxide and we would do better to look at how we have contributed to the invasion through the destruction and disturbance of habitat.  If poison ivy is the enemy than jewelweed is a fortunate antidote.

If we remain open to the intelligence of plants we will see that there is an interrelationship between invasives and the broader web of life.  I, personally, even after a lifetime of camping, hiking and hanging out in the woods and many direct encounters with poison ivy have been fortunate to never experience a rash.  As an herbalist, however, I feel a responsibility to keep as many medicines as I can on hand, like jewelweed ice cubes in my freezer.

While out weeding my garden this week I pondered the dilemma of weeds and invasives. Certainly we have always been in partnership with nature, creating beautiful spaces by removing what doesn’t serve the garden landscape and leaving other areas to nature’s hand.  It is a partnership gone awry as we disconnect from nature, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal so I offer you my testimony in favor of nature’s hand.  Being the eternal optimist I am hopeful that we will continue to find the value in weeds, leave well enough alone where we may, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

References:

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians by Patricia Kyritsi Howell

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, by Timothy Lee Scott.

Study with Thea Summer Deer at Wise Woman University ~ reweaving the healing cloak of the ancients.

Secrets of Wood Nettle

by Thea Summer Deer with Jamie MacLeod

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Jamie with Laportea canadensis

Sipping our freshly harvested and dried batch of wood nettle infusion, we can’t help but ponder on the goodness contained within this chlorophyll rich plant. Her color is an iridescent, deep forest green, singing with aliveness. The word psychedelic comes to mind. My apprentice, Jamie, is too young to truly appreciate the reference to an era that exploded into our consciousness more than four decades ago. She wasn’t even born yet. But this is the beauty of our journey together with the wood nettle, a journey that starts with a hike into the forest to teach and learn about plants that can heal us. It is a timeless journey: An older woman with long white hair makes an offering to the earth and a prayer of gratitude to the spirit of the plant she is gathering. The younger woman, strong and lithe, bends to cut and gather the herb with her long blonde curls falling around face and shoulders.

We are carrying on an ancient wisdom tradition. It is the Wise Woman Tradition. And while much of what we know about these plants originated in the Western European Herbal Tradition, which was largely lost during the inquisition and systematic persecution of “witches,” we are keeping it alive and carrying it forward in a new way. Aided by the tools of science we know much more about these healing plants than we did in our ancient past. When we bring the healing modalities of the ancients together with the best of current models of medicine a new model emerges: one in which the whole person is seen in the light of a new understanding. The Wise Woman model teaches us this, and to trust our inner guidance and intuition. Wisdom comes as a result of marrying heart and mind.

Early flowering

Early flowering

Curious about the medicinal properties of wood nettle as compared to its cousin the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) we can only assume that it offers similar benefits. It is surprising how little information we could find to confirm this. It becomes immediately apparent that more research is needed. We sip our wood nettle infusion and confer. It clearly holds the same energetic properties: cooling, slightly bitter, salty and astringent.

Wood nettle is native to the eastern half of North America and is prized by foragers as food and medicine. Its species name, canadensis is a term used in taxonomy to describe species that are indigenous to North America, whereas stinging nettle is native to Europe. Wood nettle has fewer stinging hairs, but don’t get too cozy with it as Jamie’s gentle brushing action still ended her up with a few painful stings. Or you could get cozy and experience the practice of urtication, a folk remedy that dates back over two thousand years. Urtication includes intentionally stinging oneself to provoke inflammation and stimulate the immune system providing relief from arthritic pain and rheumatic complaints.  By actively stinging the skin around an affected joint the inflammation will subside for up to a week. This topical application makes use of nettles’ rubefacient action, which produces redness of the skin by causing dilation of the capillaries and increasing circulation.

It was a beautiful cool day in the mountains when we found wood nettle growing in the woods near my house. A perennial, we harvested it only a couple of weeks before it flowered in mid June. One of the ways wood nettle can be distinguished from its close relative is by its alternate rather than opposite leaves that are larger and wider with more rounded bases. There are also differences in the characteristics of their flowers. Wood nettle is monoecious plant, meaning it holds both male and female flowers on a single plant while stinging nettle is a dioecious plant having both make and female strains with the flowers appearing on the female plant. Both plants, however, are in the same nettle family, urticaceae.

stinging hairs

stinging hairs

Nettles have a long history of medicinal use and as a remedy in the treatment of arthritis.  Nettle leaf contains active compounds that reduce inflammatory response.  It is also used as galactagogue to increase mother’s milk and promote lactation.  Nettle root extracts have been extensively studied in human clinical trials as a treatment for the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

As a food, wood nettle has a flavor similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It is a tonic that builds the blood. Native Americans harvested the young plants in the spring and boiled them as a pot-herb. They also knew about its ability to strengthen and support the whole body and its use as general detoxifying remedy. The Meskwaki, a Native American people originally from the Great Lakes region, used the inner bark of the wood nettle to make a nettle thread that was used in the making of cattail mats. A fiber obtained from the stem is used for making nets and cordage and is considered 50 times stronger than cotton.

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

Stellarie from Learning Herbs.com

So why is there so little information available about wood nettle?  She must be the best kept secret in the Appalachian mountains where we found her growing not too far from the creek in the Pisgah National Forest. For the record, we found her to be every bit as tasty, and a wee bit less inhospitable as her cousin, although you still wouldn’t want to rub her the wrong way. And with all of the known benefits of stinging nettles, from her chlorophyll rich fortifying tonic to her ability to restore the kidneys and adrenals ~ inquiring minds want to know what woodland secrets wood nettles has yet to tell. As renowned herbalist David Hoffman says, “When in doubt, give nettles.” Does this apply to wood nettle? Surely someone is the keeper of this mystery ~ and I’ll bet it’s the wood nettle fairy. I’ll be green with envy if you find her first. I have a feeling wood nettle knows the secrets of the earth.

Note:

Jewelweed is the antidote for nettle stings ~ watch for her story in an upcoming blog post.

All photos ©2013 by Thea Summer Deer except stinging nettles hair.

To make a nettles infusion: Place 1 ounce of dried herb in a quart jar cover with boiling water, cover and let stand 4 hours or overnight. Strain and drink one quart daily.

References:

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman

Wisdom of the Plant Devas by Thea Summer Deer

Plants For A Future

A Mid-Summer’s Evening Primrose

PrimroseThea_8084

Photo by Nicholas

It all began a long time ago when Susun Weed came to Tucson.  She had come to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years with her editor, Betsy Sandlin. It was 1992.  Betsy was in the midst of her change and I was just beginning mine. A mutual friend of ours, who knew that I had previously worked with Susun, gathered us together one morning for a hike through the saguaros beneath Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Mount Lemmon is named in honor of the botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, who trekked to the top by mule and foot with Native American guides in the late 1880s. Called “Frog Mountain” by native Tohono O’odham people, it is a granite massif above the heart of the city.

Pollinator bee approaching

Pollinator bee approaching

As we retraced Sarah’s footsteps at the base of this city’s backyard wilderness, I confessed to Susun that I was experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and was concerned. “Oh! You’re experiencing menstrual flooding are you?” she responded. A flood it was. Welcome to perimenopause. I was relieved to have the diagnosis, but I was only in my late thirties. The important part of this story is what came next – Evening Primrose. Susun suggested that I take 4-8 capsules of evening primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with vitex berries to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even offered to send me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol, which she did. It worked like a miracle. I will be forever grateful for the synchronicity of that morning and the information that I now get to share with you as we pass it down in the Wise Woman Tradition.

Oenothera biennis

Oenothera biennis

In the desert southwest the fragrant tufted evening primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, is a southwestern species that first blooms white, but turns pink or light magenta. Most native desert species are white. The evening primrose that most of us are familiar with is the yellow flowering variety in a genus of about 125 species. Native to North and South America it is not closely related to the true primroses (Primula).

Evening Primrose is a biennial wildflower with opposite leaves and yellow flowers, which bloom in mid-summer. The flowers open in the evening but will stay open for most of the following day. They can be seen on a dark night from a distance when there is no other light source available, possibly due to some phosphoric property in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are morphologically specialized to gather this pollen effectively pollinate the flowers. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields, but may eventually be out-competed by other species. This may explain why it was so profuse in the pasture next to my house last year and nowhere to be seen this year. It is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall.

Primrose_0944

Evening primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. The seed oil of O. biennis is used clinically in Britain to reduce the symptoms of PMS, most notably the pain of menstrual cramps and breast tenderness. It may even protect against breast cancer. Additionally, evening primrose oil is thought to aid in fertility by improving the quality of the mucus lining the cervix. The oil extracted from its seeds has long been a favorite of women for female reproductive disorders. Midwives use it both orally and apply it to the cervix to aid in ripening for birth.

Primrose_0948This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory; it is used to ease the symptoms of arthritis, colitis, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension and high cholesterol as well as dry skin conditions and eczema. It eases prostate swelling in older men, too. Evening primrose oil is considered a carrier oil in the world of aromatherapy and is prized for its abundant food, health, cosmetic and medicinal benefits. This oil is a rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid found in only three other plants: black currants, borage seeds, and hemp seeds. Because the human body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids it is recommended to use evening primrose in combination with fish oil containing omega-3 EFA’s.

After leaving Tucson and moving back east to the Appalachian Mountains I was delighted to find evening primrose growing in my yard. The Cherokee use it as a food source eating the leaves as greens and boiling the young root. While I had been introduced to many naturalized European imports in my herbal studies, it was refreshing to discover a native of North America that had been successfully introduced in Europe and naturalized in England as a garden escapee.

Evening Primrose continues to be an ally for me, even after menopause aiding in keeping my heart healthy, reducing inflammation and alleviating arthritis. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of that manuscript Susun had sent me so long ago. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:

Evening Primrose Photos by Thea

Evening Primrose
Photos by Thea

“Betsy and I discovered we both thought of you as anything but ‘Cynthia!’ Hope you don’t object to my shortening your name to ‘goddess,’ Thea.” Well, of course I didn’t object to being called a goddess! And that’s how I not only met a new herbal ally, but also received a new name. The name stuck and so did the plant. Evening primrose, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, is a plant that serves the goddesses well.

References:

New Menopausal Years, by Susun Weed

Delmar’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, by Martha Libster

A Modern Herbal ,Volume 1, by Mrs. M. Grieve

Frog Mountain Blues, by Charles Bowden

Register now for Thea Summer Deer’s work-at-your-own-pace class, Heal Your Heart: Summer & the Fire Element at Wise Woman University.

Meet Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea

Glechoma hederacea

When Charlie comes a creepin’

You’ll be meetin’ a new friend,

And he’ll be true to you, ya know,

Not kept away by winter snow:

He’ll be comin’ back to sow,

The seeds of friendship that will grow,

Within our hearts and keep us lively,

‘Cause Creepin’ Charlie, aint just any ivy!

~~ ~

This time last year I was walking the trail with energetic healer, priestess and aspiring herbalist, Carolyn Bye. This year Carolyn is no longer with us having recently made her transition. She fought the cancer as long as she could and then passed surrounded by the priestesses who loved her. I met Carolyn only three times when she was visiting our healing community in the beautiful blue mountains of Western North Carolina. She was closely associated with Registered Herbalist, Matthew Wood and her knowledge, and her spirit intrigued me.

CreepingCharlieWe initially met on one of my plant walks and our second meeting occurred during one of my workshops. That was when she learned about my mercury poisoning and recommended a plant that helps to remove heavy metals from the body. That plant is Creeping Charlie. I had heard of this plant, but wasn’t familiar with its medicinal properties. So, I wrote down the name and intended to research it at some future date.

The third and last time that I saw Carolyn was an unexpected surprise. We had been trying to connect before she headed back north, but couldn’t find an opening in our busy schedules. On Carolyn’s last day in North Carolina I stopped by a friend’s house in a small mountain town near to where she was staying to drop off some herbal salve. Upon my arrival I was surprised to find Carolyn there. A small impromptu gathering was underway to say farewell. No one knew this would be the last time that we would see her. While Carolyn and I may have seemed surprised to see each other, we also knew that we were meant to connect.

Glechoma heredacea © Réal Sarrazin

Glechoma heredacea
© Réal Sarrazin

“Did you find yourself some Creepin’ Charlie?” she asked.

I laughed and said, “No, not yet, but I will.”

“Well look no further,” she replied and pointed down at our feet. I looked down and saw that we were standing on a carpet of Creeping Charlie. She pulled some up showing me its stolons, or runners, and square stems. I was in awe of how our medicine always seems to be no further than where we are right now. She was providing me with a personal introduction to this plant and it is always better to have a personal introduction when meeting a new friend. I felt incredibly grateful for having been led to Carolyn in that moment. And as one of my herbal mentors, Willie Whitefeather, always says, “Look down! You are standing on your medicine.” And this is how my relationship began with Creeping Charlie. I offer it up as a tribute to Carolyn Bye.

Glechoma hederacea, is an aromatic creeper of the mint family Lamiaceae, more affectionately known as Creeping Charlie. It is an evergreen perennial, which means it is available all year long, even here in the Appalachian Mountains beneath the snows of winter. It has numerous medicinal uses and is commonly used as a salad green. Introduced by European settlers it has become naturalized in North America.

GroundIvy3It is not to be confused with Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, whose leaves are rounder and flowers are yellow. The size of Creeping Charlie’s fan-shaped, round-toothed edged leaves depends on environmental conditions. The opposite leaves are attached to a square stem typical of the mint family. The flowers tend toward a bluish-violet and flower in clusters of 2 to 3 in the spring. They like moist shaded areas and grow in abundance beneath the trees and along the banks of the creek near my house. Once introduced to Creeping Charlie it wasn’t hard to spot on my daily walks. I used to think it was just some kind of ground ivy, which of course it is. Its botanical species name, hederaceae finds its roots in the Latin word for ivy, hedera. Creeping Charlie also appears in sunnier areas especially where the soil has been disturbed and in grass lawns as it is undisturbed by mowing. This is where I initially discovered it with Carolyn.

Illustration_Glechoma_hederacea0Creeping Charlie spreads easily through root division and seed dispersal and is potentially invasive: one of those pesky weeds. Ha! I have to laugh at the amount of time, energy and money some people are willing to spend trying to eradicate a pretty little edible and medicinal plant. It is an attractive plant and occasionally grown as a ground cover. But make no mistake; Glechoma was brought to America because of its culinary and medicinal uses. It can be made into tea, cooked in soups, or eaten in salads. It has a long list of herbal actions including: diuretic, astringent, expectorant, anti-catarrhal, anodyne, digestive, vulnerary, mild stimulant, diaphoretic, antioxidant, anti-cancer, tonic and vermifuge. Creeping Charlie is known to relieve congestion and inflammation of the mucous membranes associated with colds, flu, and sinusitis. Studies have concluded that it has anti-inflammatory action, but no clinical human trials on the actions of G. hederacea have been concluded to date. Information on this plant has been purely based on traditional and empirical knowledge. For a plant with such a wide spectrum of pharmacological activity there are very few references of the phytochemical details and chemical composition of its essential oil.

Unfortunately, it has long been discarded from the Materia Medica in favor of other plants with a greater certainty of action. Clearly more research is needed. Plants that were once considered cure alls, like Creeping Charlie, in my opinion fall into the category of herbal actions known as alterative. Alteratives gradually restore proper function to the body, increasing overall health and vitality. Their primary action is to favorably alter disordered metabolic processes, especially those associated with the breakdown and elimination of metabolic waste. Their secondary action is to enhance better overall absorption and assimilation of nutrients.

Because Creeping Charlie is used as a kidney tonic and a “cure for consumption,” this tells me that it works on the level of the Wood (Liver) and Water (Kidney) Elements by relieving liver congestion and tonifying the Kidneys. In the past it was thought of as a blood purifier, as were most alteratives, further pointing to the liver, which filters 2.5 liters of blood every hour. Its mildly bitter flavor is stimulating to the liver and gallbladder and it relieves headaches, also indicating its effect upon the liver (see “Headache Free in Every Season”.)

Finding any reference as to how Creeping Charlie pulls heavy metals, specifically aluminum, lead and mercury out of the body was practically nonexistent. Yet both herbalists, Matthew Wood and David Winston have used it for this purpose and that was how its knowledge came down to me through Carolyn Bye. The most telling reference I could find was its use in a tincture form by painters who experienced a kind of lead poisoning called “lead colic.”

© Réal Sarrazin

© Réal Sarrazin

Creeping Charlie, abundant and neglected in the Materia Medica though it may be, brings us an important lesson. That lesson is on the importance of having herbalists whose feet are literally on the ground. Researches and scientists in laboratories may be looking down through their microscopes, but knowledge of plant medicine begins in the field by looking down at what is right beneath our feet. It begins with a need for a particular medicine and the receptivity to receive information about a plant from sources other than scientific data. Both perspectives are necessary, but unfortunately the availability of good research is receding from our grasp. This is partially due to government regulation and control of herbal supplements, which relies on the opinions of those who have never given herbs to patients: researchers, manufacturers, bureaucrats, and academics. Other factors include funding sources. With the amount of money that it takes to accurately evaluate the safety and effectiveness of herbal products, government and pharmaceutical company’s involvement is necessary. This further controls and limits, not expands, our choices in health care.

I am looking forward to my personal journey with Creeping Charlie and resurrecting this herb from the slumber of disuse. Perhaps this will lighten the toxic load of heavy metals in my system. I know these plants show up in our lives in divine right timing and at the exact moment when their medicine is needed. This is what the Wisdom of the Plant Devas teaches us – It is an Herbal Medicine for a New Earth.

Goodbye Carolyn Bye and thanks for introducing me to Creeping Charlie in that last brief moment we shared together. May your journey into the light continue to be guided by those plant spirits and devas that you loved and who love you. The plant devas are already in light body and they are holding open the door.

Creeping CharlieTo treat digestive disorders, colds, flu, sinusitis or to improve liver and kidney function or as an antidote for heavy metal poisoning, prepare and use as follows:

• 1 teaspoon of dried leaves, or 2 teaspoons fresh leaves per cup. Cover with hot, almost boiling water and infuse for 15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x a day. Add peppermint or honey to taste.

• Express fresh juice with press and take 1 teaspoon 3x a day.

• Tincture dosage: 1 – 4 ml 3 x a day, folk method (see The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green.)

• Note: To use fresh harvest aerial parts April – June.

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s classes at Wise Woman University.

A Mess of Creasy Greens

Creasy Greens_2328Last year spring blasted us early and fast. The ephemerals were here and gone in a flash like the wave of solar flares that interrupted satellite communication and bumped webinar schedules. This year spring arrived in a more typical and erratic fashion: warm one day, cold the next; windy one day, calm the next. Luckily nature has provided us with spring greens that cool the liver from winter excess and keep us healthy at the turning of the season.

As I gaze out across the pasture on what would seem to the untrained eye like a profusion of yellow spring flowering weeds, a closer look reveals ragweed, creasy greens, butterweed, and wild mustard. What is of particular interest to me, however, is the creasy green, a southern culinary delight. Cultivated as a leaf vegetable since the 17th century they are a now a naturalized European heirloom import. Being the wild food forager that I am, creasy greens, also known as early winter cress, are a vitamin rich feast when not much else is available. Fortunately, the greens are edible right up to the point when they begin to go to seed and the yellow flowers are yummy in salads. Creasy greens are very tasty and extraordinarily high in vitamin A and vitamin C, both hard to come by in the colder months. They are also high in vitamin K. Young leaves are delicious raw in salads and older leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Creasy Greens_1331

Barbarea verna

Creasy green, Barbarea verna, also fondly known as “creasies” in these here parts of the Southern Appalachians are a biennial, land-lovin’ cousin of watercress. Back in the day an old England cress seller would walk through the streets with a basket full of cress yelling, “creases, creases!” In the Appalachians, originally settled by folks from the British Isles, cresses eventually became creasies or creecy and the name has remained. Other species like Barbarea vulgaris (common winter cress) found father north, or Barbarea orthoceras (American winter cress) found in the Pacific states can also be enjoyed almost year round. Barbarea is an Italian name given to this group of land cresses in honor of Saint Barbara’s Day, which falls on the fourth of December, implicating its use as a winter green. The Italians are very fond of these plants that hail from the brassicaeae or mustard family, especially the cresses and rockets, and they used them extensively in their cuisine. The Irish part of me welcomes the comin’ o’ spring each year with a freshly harvested basket of creasies.

Creasy by the Creek

Creasy by the Creek

Creasies readily self sow (though not invasive) and are frost tolerant and winter hardy surviving sub-freezing temperatures.  The outside leaves can be harvested continuously starting within a couple of weeks of emerging. Their leaves form a basal rosette and have from five to ten sets of lateral leaves below a bigger leaf at the end of the leaf stalk. They are pungent with a peppery kick similar to watercress, somewhat bitter when eaten raw, but rather mild and sweet when cooked. As the heat of the season progresses so also does the peppery heat in the greens. In addition to finding them growing everywhere around my house, I was delighted to discover them stocked as a seasonal spring item in the canned goods section of my local Southern Appalachian grocery store labeled “Creecy Greens.” I like to cook them southern style in bacon grease (from organic, un-cured local bacon) with a splash of burdock root vinegar, or vegetarian style in sesame oil with a dash of toasted sesame seed oil for added flavor, also with a vinegar finish. In the South they are eaten as cooked greens served with buttermilk corn bread and many consider it a traditional Southern Christmas dish. They are also good in soups, stir-fires, and quiches.

Creasy_1348Legendary creasy greens, which have 3 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and twice the amount of vitamin A as broccoli, have even found their way into folk songs and ballads. Doug Elliot on his Crawdads, Doodlebugs, and Creasy Greens CD performs one of my favorite creasy green songs. The accompanying songbook even has more Creasy lore!

And if you would like to plant some in your garden upland creasy green seed is available from the Appalachian Seed Company, Sow True Seed, featuring heirloom, organic and traditional varieties, and non-hybrid & GMO-free seeds. http://sowtrueseed.com/greens-cress/upland-creasy-greens/

So go get yerself a mess of creasy greens this spring!

Easy Creasy Greens
2 tablespoons sesame oil or bacon grease
2 bunches fresh greens, about 8 cups, washed, de-spined and coarsely chopped.

1 onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup water, vegetable or chicken stock

dash of herbal or apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and coarse grind pepper

Heat oil or drippings in a large skillet over medium heat and add onions, sautéing until translucent. Add greens and stir to coat with oil. Stir-fry until greens are wilted. Reduce heat and add stock and stir, allowing greens to steam until tender. Finish with a dash of vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4.

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s class, Love Your Liver: Spring and the Wood Element, a work at your pace, online class at Wise Woman University. For an edible spring weed recipe visit: Thea’s Kitchen. Visit Thea Summer Deer: www.theasummerdeer.com

Read more articles like this from Thea Summer Deer and many other contributors by signing up for a Personal Mentorship with Susun Weed. Your subscription helps herbalists continue to contribute their knowledge and skill.
banner2-susunweed-affiliate-468x60

Headache Free in Every Season

RedClover Illus_webHeadaches sufferers know that this is no way to live yet most don’t know the cause of their debilitating condition. I frequently hear “dehydration,” “too much sugar,” and “stress,” mentioned as common triggers. While dehydration may seem like an easy fix, many don’t understand the effects of long-term dehydration resulting from depletion of deep yin fluids. Making the effort to correct a yang driven, stress filled lifestyle doesn’t always come easy when living in a driven society. Headache powders and pills can keep us going most of the time and for those severe migraines, forced down time can result in loss of work and productivity. We frequently push ourselves to keep going even when our bodies are crying for us to slow down. This pattern, especially when reinforced with toxic mimics like caffeine, can be incredibly depleting. The question that comes to mind is: Why has so much value been placed on the human doing while neglecting the human being and at what cost? It’s a story as old as time, but that story is changing. The human potential movement has us demanding new answers and new solutions. The paradox is that answers have been here all along. They are no further than we are right now. We are standing on our medicine.

Orthodox medicine considers the underlying cause of migraine to be unknown.  What we do know, and what migraine sufferers are constantly aware of, is that there are triggers that generally precede the onset of a migraine headache. Headaches in general are the most common health problem and the most common side effect from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. All prescription medications are yin depleting, or in other words, drying to deep yin fluids necessary to not only cool the liver and keep it from overheating, but also to lubricate the entire body. In a society where it is easy to simply take a pill for a headache, we have not thought to differentiate between types of headaches as is done in Chinese Medicine according to the meridians and specific symptoms.  Just like the Eskimo have many words to describe snow, there are many different ways to describe headache. The two most common types are vascular headaches (dilation of blood vessels) and tension headaches (muscle spasms).

burdockrootThe most common triggers for migraine headache are stress (physical, emotional or mental) and fatigue.  Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an elegant system that describes patterns of disharmony through its Five Element Theory. We all know that stress affects hormones. In the energetic model of TCM the Liver, or the Wood Element, is largely responsible for regulating hormones.  The Wood Element is responsible for holding and releasing substances at the proper time including hormones and emotions.  Disharmony in the liver disrupts these processes and is almost always implicated in any kind of headache, especially cyclical or seasonal headaches. Other triggers can include environmental and dietary.  In all cases, migraines are the result of disruption of liver qi.

When liver qi or energy is disrupted due to liver congestion and stagnancy, liver heat rises, causing a turbulent inner wind.  This is a ‘wind’ that smacks us upside the head, so to speak.  Migraine symptoms like light sensitivity (Wood Element sense organ correspondence is the eyes) nausea (rebellious liver qi, energy moving up instead of down) or a migraine provoked by anger (repressed or otherwise) along with an increasing frequency of migraine episodes in the spring, all implicate the liver’s role in migraine headaches. We see this through the Wood Element’s correspondences of eyes (sense organ), anger (root emotion) and spring (season.)

spring salad2_9777Relieving liver congestion is fundamental to improving headaches of any kind and can be achieved with proper diet, rest, nutrition, and nourishing and tonic herbs.  Tonic herbs are herbs that are taken over a period of time usually from 3 months to a year. The longest lasting result from herbs is seen in their tonic ability to restore bodily systems. Some of the better know hepatic tonics include: dandelion, burdock root and yellow dock.  Herbs that help to restore the yin fluids that cool the liver are: licorice root, reishi mushroom, schizandra, nettles and red clover.  Eating a lighter diet that includes the bitter flavor and lots of spring greens with herbal vinegar dressing or fresh lemon is helpful in clearing liver heat (see recipe link below.)  Full sweet (whole grains, legumes, sweet potato, winter squash, etc.) is harmonizing to the liver and increases liver qi (energy for the liver to do its work.)  If you suffer with migraines you may do well to work with an alternative medicine practitioner (herbalist, naturopath, chiropractor, acupuncturist) who understands and uses these concepts in their practice.

Adaptogenic herbs become a very important consideration when helping the body adapt to environmental and internal stress. They help restore balance and are another strategy to increase the body’s resistance to stressors and provide a defense response to acute chronic stress. Adaptogens are unique in their ability to restore balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system, prevent and reduce illness while strengthening the body.  Indandelion_9765 TCM adaptogenic herbs are considered qi tonics that strengthen and stimulate the immune and defense functions of the body. Some examples of adaptogenic herbs are He shou wu, Ashwaganda, Licorice, Schisandra and Reishi. By normalizing neurotransmitter levels in the brain adaptogens are used to prevent and treat neurological health problems including headaches and migraines.

The more we wake up and realize that increased productivity actually comes from replenishing and nourishing ourselves at the deepest level the more we realize our human potential. Nourishment comes in many forms including wholesome foods and the herbs listed above as well as creative expression and a life filled with purpose and meaning. The good new is: There is hope for headache sufferers in every season.

Learn more in Thea Summer Deer’s class, Love Your Liver: Spring and the Wood Element, a work at your pace, online class at Wise Woman University. For an edible spring weed recipe visit: Thea’s Kitchen. Visit Thea Summer Deer: www.theasummerdeer.com

Read more articles like this from Thea Summer Deer and many other contributors by signing up for a Personal Mentorship with Susun Weed. Your subscription helps herbalists continue to contribute their knowledge and skill.
banner2-susunweed-affiliate-468x60