Tag Archive | wildcrafting

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I quickly flipped through the pages of the book and judged it as being archaic and outdated.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

 

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

Grindelia

Grindelia squarrosa

By Thea Summer Deer

all photos by Thea

I must confess. I am having a love affair with the American Southwest. Granted, I lived there for practically a decade and go back almost every year to visit, but sometimes it feels like being torn between two lovers. In the Southeast my love is for the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains where I live and it is rooted in personal history and medicinal plant life diversity. The Southwest on the other hand is the new frontier where fragile and powerful medicinal plants have adapted to the harshest of extremes. They grow protected within the arms of desert canyons, surrounded by cathedrals of stone and mountain ranges with names like, Sangre de Cristo, that reflect what is sacred and holy. One place is yin, cool, moist, and holding. The other is yang, hot, dry and expansive. Migrating between the two seems to be one of the ways I restore personal balance.

So it is that I return to the Southwest year after year in order to satisfy my longing for a greater sense of space and light, the smell of roasting chili peppers and piñon pine, Native culture and a landscape sacred and sublime. It has become my ritual on this yearly pilgrimage to find and name one new plant with whom to spend the year communing.

Grindelia

This past year it was Grindelia squarrosa, or more affectionately, Curlycup Gumweed. A small, aromatic plant in the Asteraceae family, Grindelia is known for its copious amount of milky white resin found on the immature flower heads. When I first started wildcrafting this herb I found its resinous sticky latex to be quite sexy, but it serves as protection against herbivores, not for procreation. The medicinal properties of this plant also seem to reside in the resin that it exudes, a resin that may replace pine resin in some applications. A patent has even been issued for a freeze resistant latex prepared from Grindelia extract that is added to latex paint. Grindelia contains a storehouse of chemicals, including resins, diterpenes (grindelic and tannic acid), flavonoids, volatile oils and the alkaloid grindeline, which may be responsible for its bitter principle.  It has a balsamic (pine) odor and bitter taste.

Rob Hawley

I was introduced to Grindelia on a plant identification walk in Taos, New Mexico led by Dr. Rob Hawley, co-founder of Taos Herb Company* and a student of Michael Moore. Officially recognized in the United States Pharmacopoeia in the late 1800’s it was Michael Moore, the “godfather” of American herbalism who rescued it from obscurity. The flowers are yellow and small, about 1 inch in diameter with distinctive curved bracts around the base of the flower head. It is a biennial or short-lived perennial that blooms from June through September and propagates itself through oblong, cream colored seeds. There are some 50 species; camporum and robusta to name a few, and all are native to Western North America and highly drought resistant. Robusta most closely resembles squarrosa.  Grindelia can be found in pastures, rangelands and in disturbed or waste areas.

Native Americans used this plant as a remedy for poison ivy, poison oak and a host of other ailments. Early American settlers used it for whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and colds. It has been described as sedative, tonic, antispasmodic and stimulating expectorant. Medicine is made in the form of tinctures or infusions from the leaves and flowering tops, which are collected when the plant is in full bloom and can be used fresh or dried.

Today, Grindelia is considered to be valuable in dealing with cases of bronchial asthma due to its anti-spasmodic and expectorant action. It acts to relax smooth muscles including the heart muscle which may explain its use in the treatment of asthmatic and bronchial conditions, especially when associated with rapid heartbeat and nervous response. It also slows and regulates the pulse through its sedative action and may reduce blood pressure. The internal use is of particular interest and value to me because I have a granddaughter who suffers with asthma. It is no accident that the spirit of Grindelia called for me to come closer so I could get to know her better, or that my friend Toni Leigh*, owner of Desert Blends of Taos, would send me home with a Grindelia tincture she had wildcrafted and made herself. If we learn to listen we will be called, and if we come when we are called we will be gifted for the gifts of nature are infinitely abundant.

Grindelia can be easily taken as an infusion by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of the herb, steep for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3x a day. In the form of a tincture (1:5 with 80% alcohol) take 1.5-3 ml (20-40 drops) up to 3x a day.

*Taos Herb Company carries wildcrafted Grindelia, and Toni Leigh’s products have been personally tested by me and are of the highest quality.

References:

Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, by David Hoffmann

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, by Michael Moore