Tag Archive | Medicinal plants

Allergy Sufferers Get Ahead with Purple Dead-nettle

dead nettle

Lamium purpureum © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

It is Spring and a carpet of Purple Dead-Nettle is covering my garden. Even though I had put the raised vegetable garden to bed and tucked it in with straw this particular weed decidedly took over. These Dead heads not only look like a weed, they smell like one too. And unlike the followers of a particular psychedelic rock band there is nothing distinctive about this plant that would indicate it might be edible, useful or medicinal. While I was never a Dead Head I do march to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and just because I harvest, juice and infuse what most people think of as useless weeds it doesn’t mean I’m tripping or that I smell bad, but it does mean that I’m ahead of my time, so to speak, meaning ahead of allergy season.

dead nettle_1522Introduced from Europe and listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America it can frequently be found growing alongside Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule.) Both have similar leaves and bright purple flowers, but the difference between the two can be seen in the leaves. Purple Dead-nettle’s leaves are stalked on the flower stem compared to the un-stalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle, L. amplexicaule. Amplexicaule means “clasping” and refers to how the leaves grab the stem.

If you were called to inspect this plant more closely you would find that it has a square stem typical of the mints but the smell would never let on that it is in the mint family. It smells more like earth and grass with the flowering tops and leaves being edible. The harvested young aerial parts can be finely chopped and used in sauces, salads or as a spring vegetable and while it may be nutritious it has no flavor of great interest. It is one of the first plants to flower in the southeast where I live and may continue flowering throughout the year even during the milder winter months providing a food source to bees (and humans!) when few other nectar sources are available.

Purple Dead-nettle has long been used in folk medicine in Europe, Asia and Africa and unlike stinging nettles (Urtica) it has no sting and is therefore considered, “dead.” There is evidence of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and free radical scavenging properties comparable to that of ascorbic acid. It can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea or tincture for allergic inflammation. A natural source of flavonoids including quercetin Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. The anti-allergy properties of flavonoids come from their ability to reduce the release of histamine. Research has shown that L. purpureum is significantly anti-inflammatory with pain-reducing properties and works through inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the principle mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions. This is good news for allergy sufferers (see recommendations below.) The whole plant has also been used to relieve pain in rheumatism and other arthritic ailments. A rich source of antibacterial essential oils Purple Dead-nettle has a wide range of antimicrobial activity and antifungal properties, which may be useful for staph, E. coli and candida.

800px-Illustration_Lamium_purpureum0

Never before has one weed so thoroughly taken over my garden. It definitely had my attention. Previously L. purpureum was only vaguely familiar to me, as I had seen it on my daily walks growing along the roadside. It was so far off my radar as a medicinal plant that I had trouble remembering what it was. My apprentice had pointed it out to me before and one day on a walk together I felt totally incompetent asking her – what is that plant again? In my defense it is indeed rather obscure in the herbal literature. There is still so much we don’t know, but I do know that our medicine is never any further than where we are right now.

Recommendations:

Taking Purple Dead-nettle when you suffer from allergies will help prevent secondary infections of the sinus, throat and lower respiratory tract. There are no known contraindications. Purple Dead-nettle’s actions have not been extensively researched and documented but may include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antifungal and purgative. Collect entire above ground, aerial parts for food and medicine.

dead nettle infusion_1525Tincture: 1-2 ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried herb and infuse covered for 10 minutes. Strain and drink as often as desired. To use as a daily tonic for chronic conditions put 1 oz. dried herb in a quart jar, or 1/3 jar filled with chopped fresh herb, fill with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 3-4 hours and drink one quart per day just prior to and at the start of allergy season.

All content except where otherwise noted © 2016 Thea Summer Deer

References:

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Clubmoss: Nature’s Radiation Therapy

© 2014 Thea Summer Deer, all rights reserved

Lycopodium lucidulum

Lycopodium lucidulum

The trail I am following runs parallel to a trickling creek. It leads straight up the hilly cove beneath a canopy of hardwoods and is named the Lily trail. Not named after the fragrant flower but in the memory of a little dog whose name was Lily, a Scottish Cairn Terrier who lived with a friend of mine in this hidden cove.

Alongside the Lily Trail there are statuettes of gnomes, elves, fairies and even one of Lily tucked among the ivy and medicinal plants. The trail was lovingly constructed with wee bridges that cross a spring fed creek. There is even the occasional bench for resting and listening to the sounds of nature and running water. Crystals, mobiles, wind chimes and sun chasers dance from various branches at regular intervals along this magical trail.

I walked this trail among the woodland flowers, medicinal plants and wild edibles frequently when I lived here in a community affectionately known as “The Cove.” It was here that I noticed the fuzzy, rich green plant known as clubmoss. Club-like it grows in abundance alongside the trail because it likes the moist banks above the creek. I had yet to discover its medicinal value. That discovery began quite unexpectedly when a gardener friend handed me, Healing Through God’s Pharmacy, by Maria Treben. My friend is from England and while she is not an herbalist she grows and uses herbs in the Western European Herbal Tradition for herself and her family.

I quickly flipped through the pages of the book and judged it as being archaic and outdated. I thought surely our current research and understanding of the phytochemistry and active constituents of plants had surpassed the simplicity of this book. So, I thanked my friend and handed it back.

Several months later while house sitting for this very same friend I saw the book on her bookshelf and thought, what the heck. So I picked it up and randomly opened to a page describing the moss-like evergreen commonly known as clubmoss. I recognized it immediately as the same plant I had seen in The Cove. Later, I learned that this book has been translated into 24 languages and has sold over 8 million copies even though I had never heard of it.

I was surprised by what I found there. Published in the 1980’s it wasn’t as old as I had thought even though the information contained within it was. Maria Treben was an amazing herbalist. She was a pioneer of the renewed interest in natural remedies and traditional medicine at the end of the 20th century. This book was a treasure.

Maria Treben

Maria Treben

Maria used traditional German/Eastern European remedies handed down by previous generations. These consisted of using only local herbs and diet to successfully treat a wide range of conditions. She used clubmoss to treat cirrhosis, inflammation, and malignancies of the liver. My English friend had been living and suffering with Hepatitis C for decades. I got very excited to think that this might actually be a useful plant for her. So off to The Cove I went to gather clubmoss.

When gathering a plant for medicine I never take more than is needed and always leave an offering. This could be something as simple as a breath given in gratitude, or a hair plucked from my head. In the Native American tradition it is common to leave tobacco or corn meal. Anyone born on American soil is a Native American. So, kneeling down on the soft duff of the forest floor, I offered some hair, knowing that the plant would read my intention and my DNA. Then I gently lifted its trailers with hair like roots from its bed. Mosses have no roots, but this plant I learned is no moss at all. It is an archaic plant over 300 million years old. Club mosses were the dominant land plants during the Carboniferous period and related (as in cousins) to the firs and conifers. Perhaps this partially explains the “archaic” feeling I had when first introduced to Maria’s book.

Mathabo2_8697

In memory of Mathabo Photo by Thea

The second time I was called to harvest clubmoss at the The Cove was for a South African friend. Her name was Mathabo and she was a beautiful young woman whose work included teaching women in her village how to become more self-empowered. I was contacted when she began suffering with severe swelling and pain in her liver, most likely from something she had picked up in the drinking water. By the time I was notified and able to gather the clubmoss, it was too late. She had passed away. I was deeply grieved by the loss of this young one. She lacked money for proper medical care and I will always wonder if there was something more that could have been done for her. It is this desire to help alleviate suffering that keeps me walking the trails, talking to the plants and doing the research.

Clubmoss is very diverse and there are two related families, Lycopodiaceae and Huperziaceae. The genus name Lycopodium means “wolf’s foot”. It is no accident that I discovered Wolf’s Foot growing extensively in The Cove, a community based on the teachings of Seneca Wolf Clan elder, Grandmother Twylah Nitsch. How appropriate to find this medicine named for its resemblance to a wolf’s foot growing so abundantly in a wolf clan community.

Clubmoss is a spore bearing plant that grows mostly prostate along the ground with vertical stems up to 3-4 inches high. Hundreds of millions of years ago the ancient earth contained vast forests filled with giant club mosses. They grew to a hundred feet in height and such primeval forests dominated the landscape of earth millions of years before man even appeared. The remains of these giants in their petrified form constitute the fossil fuels of today.

Lycopodium clavatum

Lycopodium clavatum

The four-year-old plants develop a yellowish spore cone whose pollen is high in sulfur and called lycopodium powder. The powder’s highly flammable when mixed in high enough density with air and was used historically as flash powder in early photography. It was also used explosively in fireworks, theatrical special effects and the magic arts. This magical plant that had caught my attention on a magical trail, in a magical cove fully warranted further investigation.Flashmanw046

The use of lycopodium powder from the dry spores of clubmoss doesn’t stop with its highly flammable uses. It was also used in baby powders, fingerprint powders and as a lubricating dust on latex condoms and medical gloves. In physics the powder is used to make sound waves in air visible for observation and measurement, as well as to make an electrostatic charge visible. The powder is highly hydrophobic; if the surface of a cup of water is coated with the powder and you stick your finger straight in, it will come out dusted with the powder and completely dry. In 1807 inventors used lycopodium in the fuel of the first internal combustion engine.

While I had long been aware of Lycopodium as a homeopathic remedy, I had not connected it to this plant. Homeopathic Lycopodium is made from the crushed spores and is a remedy used for digestive failure, deep-seated and progressive chronic diseases, liver disease, and carcinoma. This herb has been used medicinally since the Middle Ages and Homeopathic Lycopodium is presently the most widely used form of this plant.

In the Western European Herbal Tradition, clubmoss was used for treating kidney and bladder related conditions. The whole plant was dried, chopped and prepared as an herbal tea. It is a potent anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic which makes it useful for treating kidney stones.

As I followed the trail in search of more information on Lycopodium I discovered that it is endangered in many areas and protected in certain states. It is considered as critically endangered in Luxembourg and in the past few decades even considered to be extinct. Some of the reasons cited included; threatened by logging, herbicide application, road construction and maintenance, and extirpation.

This threw up a huge red flag for me. If this plant was imperiled in the Appalachians, why was there so much of it growing in The Cove? What began to emerge connected back to Maria Treben’s book on the healing powers of Lycopodium.

Maria Treben points out that what makes clubmoss such an important ally in treating cirrhosis and liver cancer is that it contains radium. Plants absorb radium from the soil and clubmoss concentrates it. Radium occurs at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, water, plants and animals.

Mountain Top Removal Photo via the Widdershins

Mountain Top Removal
Photo via the Widdershins

Radon is a radioactive colorless gas that occurs naturally as the decay product of radium. It is in lethal abundance here in Western North Carolina due to our mountain top removals. The Environmental Protection Agency shows a clear link between lung cancer and high concentrations of radon with radon induced lung cancer deaths second only to cigarette smoking. I knew of such a mountain top removal project less than two miles from The Cove. Where exactly was this wolf’s foot leading me? Could the abundance of Lycopodium be in response to the increase of radon: Radon that was being released into the atmosphere from the nearby mountain top removal? Was it helping to bio-remediate the radon? If Lycopodium concentrates radium, what is its relationship to radon? I have not been able to find any information or sources on this subject. Clearly more research is needed.

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898. Marie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 1911. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for isolating radium, discovering another element, polonium, and her research into the new phenomenon of radioactivity, a word she coined herself.

Once upon a time radium was manufactured synthetically in the US around 1910 and ended up in a lot of products for its purported magical healing properties. Some examples of those products are; chocolate, toothpaste, cosmetics, suppositories, heating pads, wax rods inserted in the urethra to treat impotence, radium water that would cure any number of ailments, and clocks, watches and toys. Needless to say radium got a bad name. Especially when overexposed people started showing up with radiation sickness.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie, discovered new elementals.

We live on a radioactive planet and it is well known that if we are exposed to too much or too little radiation, we get sick. Low-dose radiation is documented to be beneficial for human health, but for political reasons, radiation is assumed harmful at any dose. Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological functions with no adverse affects. There are even radium hotsprings where people go to soak for health benefits.

Radon is the single largest contributor to our background radiation dose and is responsible for the majority of the public’s exposure to ionizing radiation. Radon is formed as part of the normal radioactive decay chain of uranium. Uranium has been present since the earth was formed. High concentrations of radium exist in water and air especially near uranium mines. Plants absorb radium from the soil and animals that eat these plants accumulate radium. It may also concentrate in fish and magnify up the food chain. Uranium, radium and thus radon, will continue to occur for millions of years at about the same concentrations as they do now except that levels of Radon have increased due to burning coal and other fuels and now mountain top removal. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer and birth defects usually caused by gamma radiation of radium, which is able to travel long distances through air. How paradoxical that radium gas extracted from uranium ore is used for cancer treatment.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element in the environment and little information is available on the acute (short-term) non-cancer effects in humans. Radium exposure has resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects. Cancer is the major effect of concern. Radium, via oral exposure, is known to cause bone, head, and nasal passage tumors in humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not classified radium for carcinogenicity.

According to James Muckerheide in a paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Nuclear Engineering in 2000, he stated:

“Low-dose radiation has been shown to enhance biological responses for immune systems, enzymatic repair, physiological functions, and the removal of cellular damage, including prevention and removal of cancers and other diseases. Research on low-level radiation has also shown it to have no adverse effects. Yet, current radiation protection policy and practice fail to consider these valid data, instead relying on data that are poor, ambiguous, misrepresented, and manipulated.”

Wolf in the Seneca tradition is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. It is in this tradition that that I share my theory with you about Lycopodium clavatum, also known as clubmoss or wolf’s foot.

“Wolf medicine empowers the teacher within us all to come forth and aid the children of Earth in understanding the Great Mystery and life.” — from Wolf, Chapter 15, Medicine Cards by Sams & Carson.

Thea and Washee

Thea and Washee

It is my belief that clubmoss made into a pillow and used as recommended by Maria Treben helps to recalibrate and restore the body to it’s natural radioactive frequency in harmony with the Earth. This is Earth-Spirit Medicine, an exciting field of herbal medicine that has appeared on the horizon. We vibrate at a specific frequency creating a resonance and emitting an electrical signal, not unlike those commonly used to keep track of time or to transmit and receive radio signals. The signals that we transmit and receive are part of a grid system that creates a circuit around our crystalline structure. This crystalline structure is a part or our Earth and our physical bodies.

“Not really new at all, Earth-Spirit Medicine is being rediscovered at the same time it is evolving to meet our current physical and spiritual needs.” — From Wisdom of the Plant Devas, by Thea Summer Deer

We know that if we are exposed to too little or too much radiation we get sick. When correctly calibrated our cellular structure is restored. I believe that clubmoss restores us to the proper radioactive frequencies. Radio waves, microwaves, EMF’s and all manner of invisible polluting frequencies are bombarding us. If we paid closer attention to the qualities of vibrancy and life-force energy, how different would the choices be that we make with regard to what surrounds us or goes into our bodies? How much closer and in harmony would we be to the frequency of the Earth that heals us and the spirits of the plants that restore us and from which we are made?

How to use clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum):

Actions: anti-spasmodic, sedative and diuretic

Dosages of different preparations made from the club moss differ and depend on the client.

Clubmoss pillows can be made by filling a small cotton pillowcase or cotton cloth bag with the clubmoss then place over the liver and/or under your pillow while you sleep. This will remain active for up to one year and can greatly help as an anti-spasmodic while recalibrating. It may also help reduce post menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. You can trim off the brown bits that were beneath the ground and while it may seem a bit prickly, when the pillow is stuffed full it will be more cushion like.

Infusion: Simmer 1 ounce of small cut up pieces of the plant (make sure you have a positive identification of Lycopodium clavatum) in one quart of water. Drink one cup per day sipping throughout the day.

Tea: 1 teaspoon per 2 cups of boiling water poured over, steep for ten minutes and drink 2 cups per day on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning.

Homeopathic Lycopodium remedy as directed by your practitioner.

Chinese Medicine: Shen Jin Cao, Property: slightly bitter, pungent, warm; liver, spleen and kidney (Wood, Earth, Water). Action: dispels dampness (Wind), soothes tendons. Indications: weakness and numbness of limbs; traumatic injury. Dosage for topical application is 3-12 grams, used in decoction.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not intend to diagnose or treat. Please seek the advise of a licensed practitioner in your area for any medical related issues. I welcome discussion and feedback, which is critical to ongoing and future research. Please do not ask me to comment beyond the contents or scope of this blog post.

Note: There is another type of clubmoss in the same Lycopodiaceae family growing in the Southern Appalachians and is Appalachian fir-moss, Huperzia appalachiana. Unlike many of the Lycopodium it likes well drained rather than moist soils, direct sunlight and doesn’t creep about over the ground. Appalachian fire-moss is considered imperiled and rare in North Carolina making it vulnerable to extirpation.

References:

Health Effects of Radon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_radon#cite_note-USPHS90-1

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_for_Toxic_Substances_and_Disease_Registry

Tell the Truth About the Health Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation, by James Muckerheide, Science & Technology Magazine: http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/nuclear.html

Resources:

James Muckerheide audios: https://archive.org/details/TheBeneficialEffectsOfLow-doseRadiation1896-1950.JamesMuckerheide

Radium Hot Springs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_Hot_Springs

 

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 an effective treatment for Helicobacter 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 the show 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 kefir was mentioned 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

Helicobactor 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.

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A Mid-Summer’s Evening Primrose and Menopausal Ally

PrimroseThea_8084

Photo by Nicholas

Hiking in the high desert with renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, at the beginning of my menopausal years was a gift from the goddess. Susun had come to Tucson, AZ to meet with her editor, Betsy Sandlin, in order to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years manuscript. With Betsy in the midst of her change it couldn’t have been better timing.

Pollinator bee approaching

Pollinator bee approaching

A mutual friend had gathered us together for a morning hike through the saguaros in the Santa Catalina Mountains beneath Mount Lemmon, named for the botanist and mountain trekker, Sarah Plummer Lemmon. Sarah trekked to the top by mule and foot in the late 1880’s with Native American guides who called this granite mountain above the heart of the city, “Frog Mountain.”

Oenothera biennis

Oenothera biennis

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 and wondered if it was normal to be experiencing this kind of bleeding. She reassured me that it was a symptom of early menopause and suggested that I take capsules of Evening Primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with Vitex berries (aka Chasteberry) to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even gave me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol (see below). 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 the Wise Woman way.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a biennial wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. 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). 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.

Primrose_0944True to its name 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 possibly due to some phosphorescence in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are specifically designed to gather pollen from the Evening Primrose flowers are effective pollinators. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall and it is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil.

Primrose_0948Evening Primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. This rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid is 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.

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 topically to aid the cervix in ripening for birth.

This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory 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.

Evening Primrose Photos by Thea

Evening Primrose
Photos by Thea

Back home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina Evening Primrose grows abundantly all around me. 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 joint pain. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of the manuscript Susun had shared with me. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:

“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 claimed a new name. So, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, Evening Primrose is an ally that serves the goddess well.

Recommendations:

Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommended dosages for specific needs.

Evening Primrose seed oil 1,300mg softgel 2x/day (Solgar or Barlean’s) up to 3,000/daily

Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus is a slow acting herb and it may take up to 3 months to see an effect. Supports women achieving menopause either naturally or through surgery, radiation or drugs. Naturally increases levels of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (by nourishing and increasing the responsiveness of the body’s own feedback systems). While this can be helpful during early menopause it needs to be used more judiciously during the “melt-down” years when too much LH is dilating the blood vessels causing hot flashes and palpitations. Inhibits prolactin and over 50% of women experiencing PMS have high levels of prolactin. Helps to keep cycles more regular. Especially useful for women experiencing fibroids, endometriosis (anti-inflammatory effect on the endometrium), emotional mood swings or hysteria, and fertility issues. Long term results come from long term use up to two years. Not for use during pregnancy except as directed by your midwife or health care practitioner. Is an anti-aphrodisiac for men hence the name “chasteberry,” yet increases women’s libido when taken over time.

Vitex Extract: 1000 mg. daily (Gaia Herbs) Vitex Tincture: 1:4 Take 1 dropperful/1 ml (approx. 30 drops) of tincture 3-4/x day.

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.

Solomon’s Seal

May’s Flowering Fairy Bells

Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum biflorum

Solomon’s Seal in Flower
Photo by Thea

“Set me as a seal upon thy heart” – Song of Solomon

One bright Southern day I was blessed with a field trip to Super H Mart, an Asian market near Atlanta, Georgia, courtesy of my friend and herbal mentor, Patricia Kyritsi Howell. Wow. Never in my life have I experienced anything like this. The farmer’s market section alone would have been enough, let alone getting lost in extensive rows of medicinal herbs, exotic foods and abundant varieties of seaweeds and fungus. And on top of that: a fish market and food court.  I would have needed a whole day, no a week, to take in this place: the epitome of culture shock for this mountain girl. The “H” in H Mart by the way is short for Han Ah Reum, meaning “One Arm Full of Groceries.”

Luckily, I was on a budget. So the one-arm-full-of-grocery finds that I brought home, while exotic, was not anywhere near as expensive as it could have been had it been purchased from my local health food store or online. One of those finds was dried polygonatum from China. Polygonatum is a genus that contains approximately 50 species of flowering plants known as Solomon’s Seal, a common plant in these here Appalachian hills. Patricia writes about it in her book, Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians. It is a perennial in the Asparagaceae family and in older classification systems, like many of the lilioids, was placed in the broadly defined lily family. Solomon’s Seal can be found blooming May through June – so this being May, I headed off into the woods.

Some species are considered to be medicinal. The young shoots are edible and cooked like asparagus while the roots, which are the medicinal part of the plant are also edible. Berries, leaves and mature stems should not be eaten. Native Americans used it as both food and medicine, and early settlers valued the rhizome as a food for its starch content. Young shoots can be collected in the spring, not unlike asparagus, and added to soups and stews. Roasted roots can be ground into flour. Solomon’s Seal can be ethically harvested in late summer or early fall by leaving a portion of the root intact. New shoots will grow from where the root was cut.

Dried Polygonatum

Solomon’s Seal is found in North America, Eastern Asia, Western Asia and Europe. The species common to Eastern North America is Polygonatum biflorum, referring to the pairs of flowers growing along the leaf axils and commonly known as, Great Solomon’s Seal. A subspecies, commutatum, is known as Smooth Solomon’s Seal. Other species include: hirsutum, Broadleaf Solomon’s Seal (latifolium in Europe) and pubescens, Hairy Solomon’s Seal. A number of species are derived from Asia, but the Super H Mart packaging didn’t give that information and was simply labeled, “Dried Polygonatum, Made in China.”

Photo by Thea

An elegant Native American woodland plant, Solomon’s Seal likes to grow at the edge of moist woods. It will draw you in with its foliage poised along a gracefully arched stem, dangling pairs of creamy white, tubular fairy bellflowers, which are followed by attractive black seedpods. It is as if this plant were the entryway to a lesser-traveled path, lighted by breaking waves of fairy lanterns beckoning us to enter deeper into the forest’s hidden secrets. Odoratum (Europe) known as, Scented Solomon’s Seal and commutatum (a colonizing giant) are the two shade loving species most widely used in landscaping because of their beauty and attraction. The foliage is food for White Tail deer that will chomp it to just above ground level – and you should know by now that anything deer like to eat, is calling my name.

There are many plants that are included in both the Eastern and Western herbal materia medica, though different species are used. The integration of Western and Chinese herbal therapeutics is an area greatly in need of expanded research and spearheading that movement are herbalists such as Micheal Tierra, author of Planetary Herbology, and Peter Holmes, author of The Energetics of Western Herbs.

Medicine Wheel Garden from
Wisdom of the Plant Devas

Solomon’s Seal root

The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the healed over scars of the rhizome left by old leaf stems and which resemble a wax seal, presumably the official wax seal of King Solomon. Stem scars also tell how old the plant is with one scar for each year of growth. When the rhizome is cut the cross section reveals a 6-pointed Star of David. Solomon became king during the reign of his father, King David, and was credited with possessing the precious quality of wisdom. I write about the power of this 6-pointed star in my book Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth. When Solomon prayed to God for wisdom he did not pray for wealth, nor did he wish death to his enemies, but rather he longed for discernment in the administering of justice. The metaphor is one of wise government and possessing the ability to distinguish between good and evil through an understanding of the universe. For this reason, “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24) This is the same wisdom that is expressed by the Fire Element in Chinese Five Element Theory.  The Fire Element corresponds with the heart is seen as being inseparable from the mind. Heart-Mind is where the spirit resides. Learn more…

By coming into relationship with the healing power of plants we become empowered to be our own healers.  The key actions of Solomon’s Seal are: demulcent, expectorant, sedative and tonic. In Traditional Chinese medicine it is known as Yu Zhu. Tea from the decocted root soothes inflammation of the lungs and intestinal tract.  Fresh roots can be applied to bruises and sprains as a poultice. According to herbalist, Jim McDonald, Solomon’s Seal is a useful remedy for treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system. He has used it very successfully in tincture form taken internally to strengthen connective tissues and to treat broken bones, sprains, injured tendons, ligaments, tendonitis, arthritis and herniated discs.  He states that, “Solomon’s Seal has the remarkable ability to restore the proper tension to ligaments, regardless of whether they need to be tightened or loosened.”  One of the ways it does this is by its ability to nourish yin, moisten dryness, clear wind, and to nourish and moisten sinews. It has an affinity for the lung and stomach.  Historically Solomon’s Seal was used for respiratory and lung disorders, and as an astringent and anti-inflammatory.

Yu Zhu is used in Chinese herbal soups to relieve dry throat or dry coughs due to lung yin deficiency. It is mildly cooling and nourishes the yin of the lung and stomach. It moistens dryness in the lungs and strengthens the stomach.  It requires a long cook time of 2 or more hours and should be avoided by those with stomach deficiency or damp phlegm.

False Solomon’s Seal
Photo by Thea

We would not want to conclude this discussion of Solomon’s Seal without mentioning False Solomon’s Seal. False Soloman’s seal is a completely different genus and species, Maianthemum racemosum and should be avoided, as it resembles other deadly plants when young.  It produces terminal flowers in a feathery plume while Solomon’s Seal produce non terminal flowers from the axils of the leaves. Patricia told me a story that illustrates the way to know the difference between the two is like knowing the difference between a true and a false friend. A real friend you can depend on to be true through and through (the way the flowers are dispersed on Solomon’s Seal) and a false friend puts on a good front (feathery flowers at the end of the stem.)

References:

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians, Patricia Kyritsi Howell

Resources:

Super H Mart – online grocery for Asian food lovers

2550 Pleasant Hill Rd
Duluth, GA 30096

http://www.hmart.com/

Hmart photo credit

http://tarrytown.patch.com/users/jerry-eimbinder