Charles R. Garcia, Director
1. About Specific Plants
Index to writings about individual plants, found on this page
2. Herbs for Emergency First Aid
Index to the 25 plants (plus charcoal and honey) that appear on the
articles page, part of the chapter "On Wilderness Herbal First Aid" written by Charles R. Garcia,
for the book Wilderness Emergency Care, Steve Donelan, 2nd edition, to be published in 2014.
3. Urban and Country Hispanic Survival
Index to the 8 plants that appear in the
articles page, part one of the online class "Urban and Country Herbal Survival", since retired.
4. Migraines, Meds, and Herbs
Index to the 3 plants that appear in the
articles page, "Migraines, Meds, and Herbs".
5. Garlic and Cayenne
Index to the 2 herbs that appear in the
articles page, "Garlic and Cayenne".
6. Herbs for My Patience
Six herbs to help reset and restore:
7. Recipes & Preparations
Plant combinations appear in sections on other pages:
8. Notes on My Favorite Poisons for those coming to my lecture in September.
Index to the 8 plants that appear in the
articles page, from the class on "Healing Poisons".
Charles R. Garcia, Director California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism fb
My Favorite Poison
Aconite is our most poisonous herb, and the most poisonous you will ever use if you decide to practice. I have been criticized because I’m liberal in the amount of aconite I use in my practice. But most of my colleagues do not deal with as many chronic pain clients, or cancer clients as I do. I am very careful in applying it, combining it with other herbs, harvesting it, and in my decisions to use it.
I respect the plant as a very powerful healer…so powerful that it can and will bring death to those who fail to give it the respect it deserves. This is the dragon to be tamed, because it cannot be defeated.
So let us start.
The Latin name for the type you will most likely find in California is Aconitum columbian. Some ornamental varieties found in California are, A. fisheri, A. japonicum, and A. napellus. A. napellus was the most common variety used in Europe and the United States for medicinal purposes. Folklore names give a decent description of the plant; monkshood, wolfsbane, and translated from Chinese, man killer cloak. There is a variety of aconite in the Himalayas, which is a true aconite but is not poisonous. There is an ornamental flower called Winter Aconite. It sometimes mistaken for another aconite called Wholesome Aconite. Both have yellow blossoms. Culpepper believed Wholesome Aconite to be effective against vegetable based poisons and scorpion stings. It’s not. It’s poisonous. Winter Aconite resembles true aconite, but is not a member of the aconitum family. When in doubt, consider it poisonous.
Aconite is a perennial, with a very thin stem, and a violet-blue blossom shaped like a hood. The leaves are dark green and palmated. Some varieties have a yellow, mauve or white blossom. A garden variety will grow from two to four feet. In the wild, the plant can reach over six feet…especially in Alaska. It grows throughout northern Europe, China, and in patches throughout the United States. It prefers cooler climates, and wet meadows. Leaves, stems, flowering tops are usually harvested when the plant first comes into bloom. In California this varies with the weather. Roots can be harvested any time, but seem to be strongest in the autumn. The plant can be dried in the open air, and looses very little strength. It should be harvested with gloves, as the juice is extremely toxic. If a bit falls in the eye, the pupils will contract for several hours. If the plant juice enters a cut, the person will become disoriented and possibly see double for an hour or more. The poisonous substance in the plant is called Aconitine, followed by lesser amounts of Benzaconine, and aconine. The entire plant is toxic.
The Greeks gave us the legend that aconite grew on the hill Aconitus, where Hercules fought and killed the three head monster canine Cerebeus, who guarded the gates to Hades, but later turns up in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Which proves you can’t keep a good monster down. The poisonous saliva of the dog fell onto the plant and cursed it forever.
Hecate, the Greek goddess of magic arts and spells used it to poison her father…and Medea was suppose to have used it to kill Theseus. Aconite was also called the Love Poison, because according to legend girls who were fed minute amounts from childhood could kill through sexual contact. The ultimate venereal disease.
The great Greek healer, botanist, military surgeon, and pharmacologist, Pedanius Dioscorides, named it Aconitum lycotonum. (Off topic: Dioscorides wrote a five volume treatise on healing plants as used in the Greco-Roman world…with colored illustrations…and it was used as late as 1610. It was free of superstition…which is more than you can say of Culpepper.)
Anglo Saxon vocabularies had a simpler name for it. They called it Thung.
The name Wolf’s Bane comes from two sources: It’s use as poison for wolves, and the myth that it repels werewolves. Considering it was used to kill wolves generally, I can see why the Lon Chaney jr. variety would be leery of it. In the middle ages, “witches” combined it with belladonna and other psychotropic plants to make an ointment that caused a sensation of flying. Internally the plant can cause irregular heart beat and a sense of vertigo. Mixed with whatever magick plants popular at the time, you would feel like you were flying. Rosemary Gladstar has a recipe for the ointment in one of her older books…for information purposes only. I have some respect for those old witchy herbalists who applied on themselves. You had to be very very careful mixing it and applying it.
Outside of legend, men found a use for it as practical poison. On the island of Ceos in the Aegean sea, teas of aconite were given to old people who were too ill to be healed and might become a burden to the state. Hunters made an ointment of it to put on their arrows and darts. In Asia and Europe, soldiers used it to poison opposing forces water supplies. As did armies in India who used A. ferox for exactly the same thing, but sometimes smeared it on their arrows just to make sure. In the years 1524 and 1526 two condemned prisoners in Britain were given the opportunity to eat it, rather than face a more traditional fate of hanging. Contemporary accounts report they died within minutes.
Aconite kills by slowing the heart, and in heavy doses stopping the heart completely. A tincture made from the root can kill a full size man with as little as twelve drops or roughly one gram. A tincture made from the aboveground portions will kill but would take more than 20 or more drops depending on various factors. Sources suggest that as little as two grams of the roots would do the same. If the dose of aconite is only near fatal the effects of poisoning is as follows: Tingling, numb mouth and tongue, lowered blood pressure, incontinence, cold and clammy skin, gastric pain, giddiness, staggering, excessive salivation, irregular heart beat, chest pain, prostration, a sensation of ants crawling on the skin, nausea, vomiting…all while your mind stays clear. Psychological effects are sleeplessness, anxiety, panic, a sense of suffocation. Not a pleasant way to die. On the other hand…if you take a large enough dose, death is quick. Intravenous application of aconite avoids stomach issues…but there is not a great deal of information on this other than a few writings in Victorian and Edwardian medical and crime journals. More on that topic later.
Despite the fact that aconite was used in folk healing and by the better educated herbalists of the day, it was considered so poisonous it did not enter European Materia Medicas or pharmacopoeias until 1763, and was not listed in the British or American pharmacopoeias until 1788.
The Chinese on the other hand were using aconite as early as 400 BCE. The Asian variety, called A. chinensis, was and is used today, but is highly processed. The root is the only portion used and is soaked in vinegar for one month, then soaked in salt water for another month. This is repeated three times before the root is used medicinally. Even then, Taiwan and mainland China leads the world in aconite deaths. The root is often made into a liniment, ointment, or ground into very small pills. Topically the root is used as an analgesic for strained muscles, neuralgia, broken bones, arthritis, and now for painful surgical scars. A more traditional method is to heat the processed root with salt, and quickly place the heated salt in silk packets and place those on the affected areas. In some areas of China, the entire fresh plant is used. Oddly, those areas have a high rated of aconite deaths, but folks swear by it regardless.
Internally the root is taken in minute doses for inflammation of the kidneys, rapid heart beat (tachycardia), and congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
The Chinese and Western herbalists consider aconite as a warming herb, as it will bring on a sense of warmth in minute doses. What does this suggest to you? Here’s a hint, western herbalists and doctors used it for hypothermia. Right! Circulatory stimulant.
I know what you’re thinking. How can an herb that depresses heart function be a circulatory stimulant in small doses. Easy question. I don’t know. In herbology this type of plant action would be called an adaptogen function…though in the case of aconite, that is really debatable…as the HERBALIST must adapt the amount of herb to the needed condition.
Remember when I mentioned that aconite poisoning caused gastric distress? In the late 1880’s a vinegar tincture of aconite was used to alleviate gastric distress.
Michael Moore, the great southwestern herbalist only used the weaker above ground portions of the plant, as does my mentor Adam Seller. The majority of herbalists in the US and Europe make no attempt to use it with the exception of homeopathic doses…which in this herbalist’s opinion is worthless.
I use the entire plant, including the deadliest portion…the root.
If you ever use aconite without exception you will be using small amounts. The easiest way to do this is to make a standard tincture of aconite, 1 to 5 fresh herb or 1 to 10 dried herb …preferably in Everclear, or at the very least 151 rum. As a liniment you can make it 1 to 2 in 90 % isopropyl alcohol.
So what is this plant good for? Writing in 1931, the great compiler of herbal knowledge , Maudie Grieve, considered it as one of the most useful herbs of modern times. She considered it from the English herbalist point of view as a pain killer, diuretic and diaphoretic. Michael Moore suggests that the most practical and safest use for this plant is pain. And I’m thorough agreement. Topically it can be applied to any surface of the skin that is unbroken. For nerve derived pain, such as in cases of sciatica, neuralgia, and even shingles, aconite tincture can be painted on with a q-tip. Adam Seller has used this to stop pain after the removal of genital warts by electrical burning. I have used for pain on healed surgical scars…especially lumpectomies and heart bypass scars. For deeper pain it can be used as a cool compress. The moistened cloth can be left on the affected area for several minutes.
Inflammations of the skin respond well to aconite as long as the skin is unbroken, or if the skin is broken but blood is not evident. Deep tissue injuries may require a carrier for the aconite. In these cases, a liniment with mint is advised. Again, a compress can be used to keep the liniment against the skin. If longer term contact is needed, a salve, made from comfrey, Arnica and perhaps Calendula, spiked with aconite liniment is recommended. In the UK and most of Europe, a salve with aconite is limited to 1.3 parts aconite to 100 parts lotion. You might as well throw out the aconite altogether at those amounts. May I suggest a more useful amount would be eight to twelve ounces of salve, to one half ounce of liniment. The tincture or liniment of aconite should be added while the salve is still hot. It should be quickly stirred into the salve and then allowed to cool.
A comfrey based aconite salve is useful for sun burn. It will reduce swelling and help lessen pain.
The same salve can be used on radiation burns common with certain cancer treatments. It will prevent blistering if used immediately after treatments.
As Maudie Grieve wrote, it is a diaphoretic. And while Michael Moore would prefer not to use it as such, he has in some cases. Michael suggests, four to five drops of the aerial portion tincture, every fifteen to twenty minutes, will help break run away fevers. The client will begin to sweat profusely, so be prepared to rehydrate with water or electrolyte drinks. While I don’t like to use this for fevers in general, it can be used when yarrow or turkey mullein fail.
As a topical anti-inflammatory, it ranks with arnica and above chamomile in this regard. Aconite and mint can be used for diabetic swelling of the legs or feet, edema, or swellings due to injury. While most anti-inflammatory herbs should be used immediately when swelling is evident, aconite can be used for chronic or long term swelling. Absorbed into the skin it will produce a warm tingling sensation and then numbness, although chronic pain clients say they have never felt the warmth or tingling. Combined into a salve, or made into a liniment, it has been used for neuralgia, and rheumatism. There is no evidence it breaks down uric acid crystals in cases of “hot” arthritis, but it will stop pain by deadening the nerves in the affected area.
In the case of night sweats from HIV or diabetes, when other herbs fail, aconite will usually help if not outright alleviate the symptoms. This is not an overnight cure, but it should kick in within 72 hours. Two drops at bedtime of the 1 to 5 tincture, with another two drops if the client wakes in the middle of the night is the dose I’ve used for my clients.
While not my first choice, it would be my choice for a pleurisy treatment when all other herbs have failed, and the client is convalescing at home. In the early 20th century, an injection of aconite was used as quick diuretic for emergency treatment of congestive heart failure. The amount used is difficult to determine. Experiments on myself suggest the following: five drops of aconite tincture, mixed with one ounce of water. Beginning with 10 drops every 15 minutes, the body should begin losing fluids within 30 to 45 minutes. I had no serious side effects.
Both Grieve and Moore, writing over 50 years apart warn that it should not be used on debilitated individuals. The chronically ill, depressed or debilitated are not good candidates for aconite. On the other hand, I have used it on individuals who have suffered chronic nerve pain, fibromyalgia, and RSDS. And none of those folks were in the peak of health. Because aconite can be a stimulant, I think Grieve and Moore were concerned about a rapid rise of blood pressure and perhaps a sudden irregular heart action. These are reasonable concerns.
In all three cases I have combined California Poppy tincture, tincture of Passion Flower, and full strength aconite in the following amounts. ¾ of an ounce of CA. Poppy, ¼ ounce of passion flower, and twenty drops of aconite, plant and root tincture. I’ve begun treatment with 8 drops every hour as a baseline for pain reduction. Eventually 16 to 20 drops became a standard treatment. While pain did not disappear from the subjects, enough pain was reduced to allow the person work and do mild housework. This allowed the subjects to cut down on narcotic pain killers which interfered with everyday functions.
Aconite poisoning is quite rare in the United States. As far as I know, I’m the only imbecile to accidentally poison himself twice. The first was time was harvesting it on Mt.Whitney. I did not use gloves. As it is topical painkiller, I did notice a bit of the plant juice had entered a small cut on my hand. While driving down the mountain several minutes later, my vision became doubled and the voice of my passenger sounded as if she were in an echo chamber. I felt lightheaded, so I pulled over and let her drive. An hour and a half later I felt human again, but I also drank several cokes due to a sudden thirst. The second time was as follows. I accident spilled several drops of chickweed tincture on my hand. I quickly licked it off. I then realized it wasn’t chickweed. My heartbeat slowed down by a third, my blood pressure dropped to normal, sensations were blunted, my lips and tongue felt numb, time slowed, and there were faint color distortions. Pains in my back and shoulder disappeared. I called for my daughter to help me, explaining I had poisoned myself with aconite. After calling me a sonofabitch, my daughter also called me an idiot. I was in no condition to argue.
She asked what she could do, and I told her to put on my Sheryl Crowe CD.
In a serious poisoning, artificial respiration will be required, and a heart stimulant administered. As I didn’t have a heart stimulant and syringe, I had my daughters make me some strong coffee (black, no sugar), and I took a large dose of Guarana and a smaller dose of Yohimbe. Guarana is a stimulant and Yohimbe fires the nerves in the spinal chord. This allowed my body to work the poison out. I peed copiously. I was unable to drive for several hours.
I believe I ingested no more than four to five drops of straight aconite tincture. I estimate that 20 drops would have been fatal.
Can aconite be used for severe pain, such as cancer? Yes. But it would only be ethically justified when narcotics fail to work, or allowed to fail when not given in larger doses. The use of aconite would be very dangerous; as to be effective it would need to injected or introduced to an existing shunt in the body. Small amounts injected with sterile water would have to be used as a pain baseline. A careful check of blood pressure and heart rhythms would be absolutely necessary. Is it an effective painkiller? Yes. But if common sense prevails amongst the people who control pain medications aconite should not be necessary. I have yet to see a terminally ill person become a junkie and begin robbing liquor stores to get money for their fix. Heroin should be made available for such people.
Though I no longer remember the test for it, aconite along with arsenic where the first poisons forensic science were able to test for after arsenic. The test for aconite is no longer common in the U.S., but is still done in Asia. Very recently I was asked if aconite could be found in a body after death. Sadly I don’t know. There is a strong possibility it was used in a murder-suicide three years ago of a former Hollywood producer and his daughter.
Should aconite be used by those individuals, who of sound mind, wish to end their terminal suffering? Yes. And I say this because physicians who have attended end of life situations have noticed that narcotics often fail due to either insufficient amounts, or the body’s inability to absorb a lethal dose for whatever reasons. Remember, Rasputin ate lethal amounts of poison in some sweet cakes on his last day on earth, and it only gave him a case of the burps. A lack of stomach acid made the poisons useless. A body battered by cancer and cancer treatments can no longer absorb medications quickly, especially when given orally. Often times the unconscious though still living person must be asphyxiated.
Aconite in a high enough dose, especially given intravenously, will stop the heart. Even taken orally in a large enough dose, it will end life before painful side effects occur.
So there you have it. Aconite. Killer and healer in one plant. Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 7:39pm PT
Christine Borus Hmm. Don't give this info to some states. They'll start using it in their lethal drug cocktail for death row inmates. (Sardonic laugh) Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 9:12pm PT
Christine Borus I like the part where your daughter swore at you! Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 9:23pm PT
This is a repost of an article I wrote some years ago. But for us IT IS AVOCADO SEASON! And thus this short piece should be re-read.
Avocado: Not Just for Guacamole
I don’t get to see my friend, Karen Roberts MD, very often. But thanks to the Internet we are able to exchange updates on our lives a bit more often via e-mail. On occasion, we even chat on the phone. Regardless of the type of communication, one topic always comes up: Guacamole.
Karen, my wife Lynn, and I shared an apartment three decades ago in the San Francisco east bay. Karen was completing her degree in nutrition while Lynn and I were beginning our lives as newlyweds.
Living with a nutritionist was much like having two winos living with a reformed alcoholic. This was in our white flour phase of life, and Karen never let us forget the dangers of Wonder Bread and red meat. (Twenty plus years later I was sitting in Karen’s kitchen watching her gulp down black coffee, smoke cigarettes and eat Pop-Tarts…but that’s for another column.)
One of the few dishes we agreed on and actually shared was guacamole. A week hardly passed when, stained with avocado goo, we did not indulge in a high caloric orgy of tortilla chips and guac. Though we all knew how fattening avocado can be, we just didn’t care. There were very few gratifications for us in those days. We refused to give up guacamole. On any night of the week, assuming we could get enough avocados, we would dice up one or two tomatoes, two or three green onions, mash a finger of garlic or add a half teaspoon of garlic powder, squeeze in a slice of lemon, a table spoon of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and beat it all to a super smooth consistency. A two-pound bag of chips rounded things out nicely. Later variations were to use red onions instead of green ones, salsa picante to taste, a few more garlic fingers, and lots of black pepper. Some of these variations worked out better than others, but we never threw away a bowl of guacamole, good or bad.
We drank a bit in those days, and a nice cold tequila sunrise was a pleasant addition to our guacamole fest. After a huge bowl of guac and two pounds of chips, not to mention the booze, dinner seemed like an over-indulgence. We then staggered off to bed and spent the rest of the evening burping. Ahhh, the simple pleasures of youth!
Eventually, my wife and I moved away to the mountains and spent a year at Columbia College. Avocados were not something readily available at the local market, and when they were, they tended to be out of our budget. On the rare occasions when we did indulge, the guacamole tasted wonderful, yet lacked one thing. Food is best eaten with a friend. When we returned to the bay area it would not taste much better. Karen Roberts had gone south to UCLA medical school.
Avocado, known as Aguacate in Spanish, (The British name, Alligator Pear, thankfully never caught on) is the PORK of fruits and vegetables. Technically a fruit, legally a vegetable, avocado is filled with oils and fats that will clog your arteries as quickly as a slice of ham and a scoop of potato salad. Curiously, in clinical studies of human beings, the oil of the West Indian variety of avocado has actually been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. (There’s always a white sheep in the family somewhere.)
The avocado probably originated in southern Mexico, but was being cultivated from the Rio Grande to central Peru before the arrival of Europeans. There are currently twenty-seven commercial varieties of avocado sold throughout the world. All were developed in the Americas.
Although originally a semi-tropical tree, avocados have adapted to a wide range of habitats. They do well in the mild-winter areas of California, Florida, and Hawaii. Some hardier varieties can be grown in the cooler parts of northern and inland California and along the Gulf Coast, though arguably the flavor is less pronounced. The northern limits of avocado adaptability in my home of California is approximately the chilly northern reaches of Cape Mendocino and westward inland to blazing hot Red Bluff. Avocados do best some distance from ocean influence but are not adapted to the desert interior. So, while snooty Palm Springs may have movie stars and oranges, we Northern Californians have avocados. A fair trade to my mind.
These are tough trees, sometimes reaching eighty feet in height. The West Indian varieties thrive in humid, tropical climates and are still viable at or near 32° Fahrenheit. The Guatemalan type are adapted to cool, high-altitude tropics, but can survive a killing frost down to 26° Fahrenheit. Mexican types are native to dry subtropical plateaus and thrive in a Mediterranean climate. Despite this, it takes a downward temperature of 24 - 19° Fahrenheit to break their spirit. Avocados need some protection from high winds that may break the branches. Although trees will grow between buildings, full sunlight is needed to bring the tree to full bloom.
These are long-lived trees. Outside of Mission Santa Barbara is one of the original avocado trees planted in California. Despite earthquakes, fires, and wind storms, it has kept growing since 1871. Seeds taken from this particular tree have been used to create 12 of the current commercial varieties purchased throughout the world.
Herbally, leaf and seed extracts have been used for a variety of medical applications, including treatment of diarrhea and dysentery and as an antibiotic. Native Mexican people used a paste of the fruit to ease the pain of burns and to reduce scarring. The paste was also used to reduce stretch marks. I do not suggest the immediate use of avocado on burns or on any serious second or third degree burn. The chance of infection is too great. I do suggest that fresh avocado can be used on mild burns, and sun burns, after the burn has been treated or cooled with water. It will keep the damaged skin supple and ease scarring.
A decoction of the peel can help lower blood sugar levels in diabetics by several points. Strong cups of the decoction were given to volunteers who then had their blood tested every hour on the hour. These brave men and women uniformly showed a drop in blood sugar levels. Urine tests on the volunteers showed a high level of sugar being expelled. Although how this works is not well understood, Mexican researchers at the University of Mexico suggest a chemical component from the peel binds with the sugar and helps with its elimination through the urine. I’ve done this experiment on myself only once, but refused to test my blood each hour. My test kit indicated a drop of some fifteen points in my blood sugar within a two hour period. The taste of the decoction was bitter and difficult to swallow. But in my limited test, it did work.
So there you have it. The humble avocado. Not just for guacamole anymore.
But eat it with a friend. I guarantee you, it will taste even better. July 06, 2014 at 10:39am PT
Karen Roberts What can I say, it's an herb!? A regrettable pre-medicine habit. Pop tarts? I do not ever remember eating those! I still love coffee. July 06, 2014 at 10:54am PT
Lecture Notes on California Poppy
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is native to grassy and open areas from sea level to 2,000m (6,500 feet) altitude in the western United States throughout California, extending to Oregon, southern Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, south Texas and in Mexico in Sonora and northwest Baja California.
It can grow 5–60 cm tall, with alternately branching glaucous blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately divided into round, lobed segments. The flowers are solitary on long stems, silky-textured, with four petals, each petal 2-6 cm long and broad; their color ranges from yellow to orange, and flowering is from February to September. The fruit is a slender dehiscent capsule 3-9 cm long, which splits in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It is perennial in mild parts of its native range, and annual in colder climates; growth is best in full sun and sandy, well-drained, poor soil.
It grows well in disturbed areas and often recolonizes after fires. In addition to being planted for horticulture, revegetation, and highway beautification, it often colonizes along roadsides and other disturbed areas. It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens. It is also pictured in welcome signs while entering California.
The California poppy is the California state flower. It was selected as the state flower by the California State Floral Society in December 1890, winning out over the Mariposa lily and the Matilija poppy) by a landslide, but the state legislature did not make the selection official until 1903. Its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State. April 6 of each year is designated "California Poppy Day."
Horticulturalists have produced numerous cultivars with various other colors and blossom and stem forms. These typically do not breed true on reseeding.
A common myth associated with the plant is that cutting or otherwise damaging the California poppy is illegal because it is a state flower. There is no such law. There is a state law that makes it a misdemeanor to cut or remove any flower, tree, shrub or other plant growing on state or county highways, with an exception for authorized government employees and contractors (Cal. Penal Code Section 384a).
Because of its beauty and ease of growing, the California poppy was introduced into several regions with similar Mediterranean climates. It is commercially sold and widely naturalized in Australia, and was introduced to South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. In Chile, it was introduced from multiple sources between the mid 1800s and the early 1900s. It appears to have been both intentionally imported as an ornamental garden plant, and accidentally introduced along with alfalfa seed grown in California. Since Chile and California have similar climatic regions and have experienced much agricultural exchange, it is perhaps not surprising that it was introduced to Chile. Once there, its perennial forms spread primarily in human-disturbed environments (Leger and Rice, 2003).
Interestingly, the introduced Chilean populations of California poppy appear to be larger and more fecund in their introduced range than in their native range (Leger and Rice, 2003). Introduced populations have been noted to be larger and more reproductively successful than native ones (Elton, 1958), and there has been much speculation as to why. Increase in resource availability, decreased competition, and release from enemy pressure have all been proposed as explanations.
Opium Poppies are the most well known of the Papavar family as far as medicinal uses. Historically, Opium derived from these poppies been used medicinally mainly for pain relief and sedation, always by eating or smoking the Opium. Today, derivatives of Opium Poppies (one of the most cultivated medicinal herbs in existence) are used in many familiar medications that are strictly controlled by the government because of their addictive properties. These include morphine, heroin, and codeine, to name just a few familiar ones.
California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically. The seeds are used in cooking. Native American Indians assessed the California poppy for being a source of food and for the oil extracted from the plant. Due to its medicinal properties, the California poppy seed is used: as a source of calcium (a mineral that must be consumed because the human body can not produce it by itself) and phosphorus (a mineral with poisonous properties), it would be desirable to be used by pregnant and lactating women, otherwise children would catch rickets and women would catch osteoporosis, this poppy contains great levels of proteins too. This poppy is also used as a medicinal treatment in diseases such as: dry itch, insomnia, sleeplessness, dysentery, and dehydration.
The US Formulary of 1918 says of this botanical; “Attention has been brought to this California member of the Papaveraceae, as a powerful- herb for calming and supporting sleep" Native American tribes from different parts of California used this plant for many medicinal purposes especially as a calming agent. The Pomo tribes from areas north of what is now Sacramento reportedly used the crushed seeds as a topical application, while the Mendocino used a root preparation as an external cleansing agent and internally. It was used by the Costanoan tribes from what is now Monterey to promote healthy sleep (Soporific). It has a long tradition of use in Western Botanical medicine as a Nervine and Trophorestorative (promotes nutrition uptake at the cellular level).
Dr. James Duke lists 298 known active constituents for California poppy including the antioxidants Rutin and Zeaxanthin, as well as appreciable amounts of the alkaloids Berberine and sanguinarine. It is a botanical with high concentrations of other alkaloids especially Protopine and Allocryptine which are known Soporifics. Alkaloids are nitrogenous organic molecules that have certain positive effects on humans and animals. Most alkaloids have a bitter taste. Although there is not an overwhelming amount of in vivo research on California poppy it has a strong reputation with traditional Herbalists for its calming and supportive actions for the entire nervous system. More research is needed to fully understand the exact mechanism of Eschscholzia’s therapeutic activity in humans.
Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked. The effect is far milder than that of opium, which contains a different class of alkaloids. The California Poppy has been used traditionally mainly as a remedy for toothaches (the root cut and the juices applied directly), and as a tea for headaches, anxiety, and insomnia. Children seem to benefit from this for mild cases of colic, sleeplessness, and tension or anxiety. Prepare as above for these conditions.
Today it is used as a gentle soothing remedy for children and the elderly.
It has shown promise in treating behavioral disorders such as ADD and ADHD. In addition to its calming effects, it can improve concentration and intellectual capacity. It can also improve memory in young children and the elderly.
California poppy extract can also treat anxiety and stress as well as relieve headaches and insomnia.
This American herb has become a popular pain medicine in Europe. The German Commission E - an expert committee established by the German government in 1978 to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbs and herbal combinations - lists it as an antispasmodic and sedative.
California poppy is relaxing, so it works well in cases of pain with anxiety and insomnia. A 1991 animal study from France showed a definite anti-anxiety effect. Higher doses were sedative. A key alkaloid (chelerthyrine) inhibits a body protein (kinase C) that contributes to persistent pain.
Traditional Hispanic native and Hispanic uses are as a fresh decoction for rheumatism. Arthritis, early symptoms of gout, and less so for fevers, diarrhea, and colic. It is often combined now with Kava Kava. Kava Kava has anti-anxiety, anodyne (pain-relieving) and muscle-relaxing properties and may have a useful effect on muscle tension, aches, urinary tract irritations, cystitis, vaginitis, leucorrhoea, nocturnal incontinence, gonorrhea, water retention, gout, rheumatism, bronchial ailments and libido. A German study showed that a combined extract of the plants had analgesic properties in the test tube and in small clinical tests. Heavy doses were compared favorable with vicodin tablets.
Since California poppy is relaxing and promotes sleep, don't take it while driving, and exceed the recommended dose only with caution. Increase the dose gradually until you are familiar with the pain relieving and sedative effects. As tea, a typical dose is 3 to 5 tsp. of chopped dry herb, brewed, taken when necessary. As a tincture*, start with 5 ml when necessary, and adjust for pain.
Preparations & Dosage: Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto l-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leave to infuse for l0 minutes. A cup should be drunk at night to promote restful sleep. Tincture: take l-4 ml of the tincture at night.
There is controversy among researchers and herbalists concerning the use of dried California poppy as a tea. In my opinion, dried California poppy is almost worthless. But frozen poppy plants can keep their efficacy up to two years. It may be possible to freeze-dry California Poppy and powder it effectively.
: The California poppy seed is also used in some dishes such as: noodles, fish, cakes, strudels, fruit and vegetables salads as a dressing in some international cuisines: Indian, Moghlai, German, Jewish and Slavic. Its seeds are also used for cooking because it has edible oil. These are more than enough reasons to keep California poppy seeds in your kitchen. Wednesday, July 01, 2015 at 5:16pm PT
Thoughts on Cinnamon
One of the more popular sections of herbalism I teach is called Kitchen Herbs. Since the heart of every Hispanic home (and most other homes for that matter) is the kitchen,
I decided to teach about healing herbs from the kitchens of our mothers and grandmothers. Most of my students are surprised at the number of medicinal herbs people regularly
sprinkle, stew, fry, chop, marinate, and steam in their foods.
As this is the holiday season it is only fitting and proper that I highlight one of my favorite herbs, not just for this season but any season, cinnamon.
I FOUND THIS OLD COLUMN I WROTE FOR THE ZAPATA TIMES, A SMALL WEEKLY NEWSPAPER I WROTE FOR IN TEXAS. AS THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF CINNAMON SEASON FOR MY FAMILY I THOUGHT I WOULD SHARE PART OF THIS COLUMN. HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.
In the Garcia home, cinnamon is used extensively in coffee, teas, desserts, cookies (not just a dessert but a tradition!), breads, and in my clients for an appetite stimulant,
stomach anti-spasmodic, a wash for the sore nipples of nursing mothers, and douche for yeast infections. Some cultures even consider it an aphrodisiac. (It’s not, but who's to
say it doesn’t work for some folks.)
Native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, dates back in Chinese writings to 2800 B.C.E., and is still known as kwai in the Chinese language today. Its
botanical name derives from the Hebraic and Arabic term “amomon”, meaning fragrant spice plant. Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming process as a preservative.
From their word for cannon, Italians called it canella, meaning "little tube," which aptly describes cinnamon sticks. In the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder wrote of 350
grams of cinnamon as being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight. If there had been a fourth Wise Man to visit
the Holy Family, he would have brought cinnamon.
Medieval physicians used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats. As a sign of remorse, Roman Emperor Nero ordered a year's supply of cinnamon be
burnt after he murdered his wife in a fit of rage. Not only did this show the citizens of Rome the Emperor was sorry for his crime, it also drove up the price of cinnamon for
the average person.
The spice was also valued for its preservative qualities for meat due to the phenols, which inhibit the bacteria responsible for spoilage, plus the aroma masked the stench of
In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the world's largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese, demanding outrageous quotas from the poor laboring native
caste. When the Dutch learned of a source of cinnamon along the coast of India, they bribed and threatened the local king to destroy it all, thus preserving their monopoly on the
prized spice. In 1795, England seized Ceylon from the French, who had acquired it from their victory over Holland during the Revolutionary Wars. But, by 1833, the downfall of the
cinnamon monopoly had begun when other countries found it could be easily grown in such areas as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius, and Guyana. It is now also grown in South
America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates. Unfortunately this meant the need for more slaves to harvest the bark. It is sad to think how much pain this delightful
spice has caused in death and slavery.
The origin of cinnamon was a highly guarded secret of the Arabs, who first brought cinnamon to the West. They concocted a number of magical myths to hide the location of the crops
and enhance the mystique of this spice fit for a king and no doubt jack up the price. Herodotus III wrote of the large Phoenix bird gathering the priceless spice sticks. Gatherers
would lure the bird with heavy pieces of meat which the bird would laboriously haul to their nest. As legend would have it, the weight of the meat would cause the nest to fall,
allowing the valuable sticks to be harvested. At which point the salesman who was passing on this tale to a gullible middleman usually added, “…and you can see why this costs an
arm and a leg. But I like your face, tell you what I’m going to do.” As you can imagine, the cinnamon salesman of the past is spiritually connected with the car salesman of our time.
You may be surprised to learn that most commercial ground cinnamon is actually cassia or a combination of cinnamon and cassia, permitted with no restriction by most countries,
including the United States. Native to Burma, cassia is Cinnamomum aromaticum or Cinnamomum cassia, a member of the same family as true cinnamon; but it has a stronger flavor, thus
requiring less in volume in recipes. Cassia is usually a better choice for savory dishes, rather than sweets. Dried cassia buds resembling cloves are used in the East for pickles,
curries, candies and spicy meat dishes. Tiny yellow cassia flowers are preserved in a sweetened brine and used to perfume sweets, fruits, teas and wines. Cassia leaves can also be
used as a flavoring in the same manner as bay leaves.
Cinnamon and cassia both come from the bark of a tree in the laurel family which can grow up to 30 feet tall, but most farms keep them short and bushy to make harvesting easier.
After three years, the bark is peeled from the trees during the rainy season and left to dry and ferment for 24 hours. Then the outer layer of the bark is scraped off, leaving the
inner, light-covered bark, which curls into quills as it dries. Removal of the outer bark makes the cinnamon less biting and mellows the aroma.
True cinnamon quills or sticks will be curled in a telescopic form, while cassia quills curl inward from both sides, like a scroll. Ground cinnamon is more difficult to distinguish
from ground cassia. True cinnamon is tan in color with a warm, sweet flavor, whereas ground cassia is a reddish brown, usually coarser in texture, with a more bitter, stronger
flavor and a more aromatic bouquet. Small pieces of the quills are known as quillings. Cassia comes in peeled and unpeeled quills, as well as ground.
Old home remedies use cinnamon in preparations to combat diarrhea and morning sickness since it is a carminative (an agent that helps break up intestinal gas). Recent studies show
that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels. Although these tests have not been conducted on humans yet, many diabetics
have added 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon per day to their daily diet, proclaiming favorable results. Controlling diabetes can help prevent coronary artery disease and high blood pressure.
Cinnamon also has antiseptic and astringent properties. A study by Alan Hirsch, M.D. at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found cinnamon scored high
as an aphrodisiac for males. I would personally like to see the full report on that. If he was using young healthy college men for those tests ANY smell might be an aphrodisiac
including but not limited to pizza (hold the anchovies!), new car aroma, and French fries.
I use heavy doses of cinnamon tea for my clients recovering from chemo-therapy treatment and HIV therapies to improve their appetites. Though marijuana can and is used effectively
for this, some of my clients cannot smoke due to damaged lungs, and it is illegal under most state and all Federal laws. Besides, cinnamon tastes better.
Recently a former client who is now pregnant with her first child contacted me about cinnamon and miscarriages. She had been informed that eating cinnamon would cause a miscarriage.
This fear has a basis in fact, but is widely misinterpreted. Cinnamon oil, which is made from the crushings of discarded cinnamon debris, has been connected to the causation of
miscarriages. The oil should only be used to add a cinnamon aroma to potpourris or decorations requiring a cinnamon smell. It is consider toxic and may cause a miscarriage if ingested.
On the other hand, to ingest the same amount of oil through cinnamon sticks or powder would require the ingestion of several hundred pounds of cookies, cinnamon rolls, or the
equivalent amount of gallons in cinnamon tea or flavored coffee. So go for it! September 29, 2011 at 9:22pm PT
Pamela Heyda Mmmm, I think I'll put some in my smoothie this morning. September 30, 2012 at 6:58am PT
Inspi Peeks Fantastic piece! Especially love the detailed descriptions of "true" cinnamon vs. cassia. You are amazing - what else is stored in your jellyware? :) September 30, 2012 at 20:30am PT
Whiskey, Rebels, and Tortillas
I will start teaching new herbal classes in September, and will be much surprised if there are no ethnobotany students this time around. I usually have one or two. Ethnobotany is currently a very trendy course of study at UC Berkeley. It is the study of plants and their importance in societies. Curiously most of the ethnobotany students who have taken my classes seldom study the effects of plants on North American societies. Instead, they dream of flying to the Amazon or at least the wilds of Borneo and discovering a tribe of headhunting cannibals munching on some undiscovered citrus fruit (before the main course). Assuming they do not become a Hannibal Lecter type feast themselves, true ethno-botanists would then publish a paper on how important the fruit is to the tribe and how it molded tribal society.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to study corn?” I ask.
“Corn?” they reply.
“Corn. It shaped the destiny of an entire continent.”
Corn or maize (Zea mays) is a domesticated plant of the Americas. Maize originated as a wild grass native to Guatemala and was domesticated between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago in central Mexico. Recent research at the Bat Cave (the one in New Mexico, not Batman’s) indicates that domesticated maize was being harvested about 3,000 BCE. Widespread cultivation through several different tribes began sometime between 1200 BCE and 1000 BCE in that area. It gradually became and has since remained the most revered and important staple of Southwest native peoples.
When the Spanish arrived in the New World, they found several varieties of corn being grown by the Aztecs. Far north, the Hopi, Zuni and Dineh (Navajo) people had experimented with developing new corn for at least 1000 years before the conquest of Mexico. It is now believed that one of the most important varieties, Maiz de Ocho, was developed by the Mogollon people of Southwest rather than in Mexico as first believed. One of the major influences that the Spanish had on corn-based food was the introduction of the Mexican way of soaking corn in ash water. This new idea, and new varieties of corn brought in from Mexico, introduced tamales, tortillas, and especially posole to the world of cooking.
At this point in my dissertation some one will usually ask how corn affected American society as whole, rather than just its tummy.
Food is the story of society, I remark. “The pilgrims might have dined on turkey the first Thanksgiving, but they survived the first winters living on Indian corn. Their wheat had long since disappeared or failed to grow. More likely than not, our Pilgrim ancestors where eating corn tortillas and didn’t even know it. The poor wretches didn’t even have salsa.”
Depending on what study you find, corn may have originated in the highlands of Guatemala, central Mexico, or somewhere in the Southwest. Wherever the truth may be, corn became a staple food for many native people of America as far east as Virginia and as far north as Montreal.
“Furthermore, without corn there would have been no test of federal tax authority.” My students’ eyes turn up in their sockets in disbelief.
On August 1, 1794, I relate, there occurred in this country the "Whiskey Rebellion," which offers a few lessons on taxation, political deal making, George Washington and the advancement of civilization.
The chain of events that led to the Whiskey Rebellion began when Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, put together an agreement between the states and the federal government that said the feds would assume all debts incurred by the states after the Revolutionary War. In return the states agreed that the nation's capital city would be moved south from Philadelphia to a piece of backwoods, mosquito-infested swampland located on the banks of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. (It is not true, as has been supposed, that the location was chosen because it was close to George Washington's home and therefore would make it easier for him to commute.)
In any event, Hamilton had to find a way to pay those debts. So he came up with the brilliant idea of imposing an excise tax on whiskey. In this case, the whiskey was made from corn.
Now like all good taxes, a whiskey tax was bound to hurt some more than others. In this case it was bound to hurt those in the west most of all (at this time the western frontier was actually western Pennsylvania). Why? For one thing, these westerners, mostly farmers, were considered backward and a little slow-witted, so it was assumed that one could tax them with impunity. Besides, those uncouth westerners both drank and produced more whiskey than did the sophisticated easterners, whose tastes tended toward wine and port over the hard stuff. Corn whiskey was also easier to market than corn bushels. Whereas many westerners earned a living making whiskey, more easterners earned a living making politics (I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide which poses more long-term health risks). So, the combination of a (perceived) lack of political clout on the part of the westerners, and the fact those easterners would pay proportionally less due to their drinking habits and livelihood, made a whiskey tax seem ideal, at least to the easterners.
Not so to the westerners, who revolted against the tax. Their rebellion spread swiftly but they were no match for the power and prestige of George Washington. He may have been president at the time, but was not averse to donning his old military uniform and getting back into the fray (imagine our former president pulling out the ol' Texas Air Guard uniform out of mothballs and deciding to lead an invasion of Panama, Iraq or Somalia). Washington, with Hamilton by his side, led an army of some 12,000 men into western Pennsylvania and easily put down the revolt. That was the end of the Whiskey Rebellion although, if memory serves, the excise tax was either repealed or (unlike the whiskey) diluted.
Being the man he was, Washington pardoned two of the ringleaders much to the dismay of the government. (William Jefferson Clinton was not the first president to anger congress with pardons.) It should be noted that Washington considered himself a connoisseur of good corn mash whiskey and operated three stills on his own farm. His heart may have been with the rebels.
“All this happened over corn whiskey?” my students usually ask.
“Well you have to understand that whiskey had become part of the culture. Deals were made over a mug or two (or often three) of whiskey. It was as legally binding as a handshake to drink whiskey after a land deal, work agreement, or marriage proposal. Weddings were blessed with whiskey. Most medicines had a whiskey base. Not to mention human and animal liniments. All made from corn whiskey.”
The next question is, “No one actually drinks this stuff anymore, do they?”
“What do you think good bourbon is?” I ask. “It must be at least 81 percent corn whiskey, although some cheaper distilleries only use 51 percent. The difference in taste is noticeable to most people.”
Of course I have to add one more aspect of corn. The healing component.
Corn silk, those fine soft threads from the female flower, is a soothing relaxing diuretic. Used as a decoction it is also a strong remedy for acute inflammation of the urinary system; for such conditions as cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis. It is particularly useful for calming bladder infections in children when used with Usnea. It has been used successfully for urinary stones in conjunction with chamomile.
For post bladder surgery irritations, corn silk provides a gentle antiseptic and healing action.
Finally, by reducing fluid retention it can also help lower blood pressure.
Not bad for a plant that fed starving Europeans, prompted a rebellion against the newly formed United States, and makes a heck of a tortilla.
“So,” I ask, “who wants to go to Borneo?” Friday, July 31, 2015 at 4:12am PT
Michael Warner Screw Borneo. I'm from Colorado. I'll take some posole (favorite food by the way...) and a couple of shots of Corner Creek Kentucky Bourbon any day. Seriously, if you need me somewhere, just tell me "Michael, there will be posole..." and I AM THERE! Equally effective is the promise of sopapillas, stuffed or sweet, coffee or the promise of hot springs... Adam used to make really good blue corn atole. It was good! But not as good as a good chicken or pork posole. Friday, July 31, 2015 at 4:40am PT
Mark D. Steele Good article although you kind of lost me at bat cave.
Once I get back to my normal mild mannered persona I'll get to the rest. smile emoticon Friday, July 31, 2015 at 4:40am PT
Tamara Becerra Valdez Incredible! Wish I could sit in your class. In DF and noticing the many varieties coming in from other pueblos. I live in Texas and have never seen corn like these! Friday, July 31, 2015 at 7:28am PT
Sun Cat At last, the power of corn silk revealed! Friday, July 31, 2015 at 7:08pm PT
I don’t remember the first time I tasted cranberry sauce. I must assume it was on a Thanksgiving early in my childhood, but I’m not sure. The first clear memory was a dinner at my uncle Florentino’s home. Most of my older cousins were there so I was left to my own amusements. I was bored and re-reading Tom Sawyer most of the day. There was no room for me at the table, so I took my plate and went to one of the bedrooms. I scooped a bunch of the red jelled sauce into my mouth. The taste was wonderful though it seemed to leave a slight bitter after taste. All in all it seemed a great treat, but only available once a year.
I tasted cranberry juice much later when I started mixing drinks in my twenties. Distinctly I remember a party at my apartment involving my campus cop pals and numerous members of the college drama department. It was an odd party even by my standards. I had a small part in a college production of The Man Who Came To Dinner, which my police colleagues thought hilarious. I played a cop. My training officer at the time, a dark-haired young woman named Linda Damay, chugged a mixed drink of vodka and cranberry juice with the comment, “The next time I get a bladder infection, this should really kill the pain.” I didn’t understand the reference to bladder infections at that time, but we were all well lubricated by that time so I ignored it.
In the years that followed numerous women informed me that drinking cranberry juice would stop urinary tract infections IF caught early. Most believed that the acidic properties of cranberry juice destroyed bacteria in the urinary tract. It seemed to make sense. Cranberry juice is highly acidic. It will eat the bluing right off a handgun. Don’t ask me how I know.
Cranberry is a member of the same family as bilberry, blueberry and manzanita. It is a North America native and grows in bogs in the northeast and northwest regions of the United States. The ripe fruit is used, but can only be eaten if heavily sweetened.
Amazingly Americans eat about 117 million pounds of cranberry sauce each year, most of it during November and December. I have lately wondered if the incidents of urinary tract infections actually dropped during those months. Unfortunately no studies have been done on this.
For generations, doctors have routinely advised patients to drink cranberry juice to prevent urinary infections. In fact, it is cited as an effective remedy for this problem in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the official listing of drugs in the United States. At one time, scientists believed that cranberry acidified the urine, and in the process, killed invading bacteria that could cause infection.
A decade ago Dr. Anthony Sabota, a scientist at Youngstown State University in Ohio, offered another possible explanation. His studies suggested that cranberry prevents bacteria from sticking to the wall of the bladder, thus flushing the potential troublemakers out of the body before they can do their damage. He was right.
In a landmark study, scientists have pinpointed why drinking cranberry juice may be an effective strategy to help ward off urinary tract infections - an often reoccurring, painful problem that accounts for more than seven million doctor visits annually.
Published in a letter, October 8, 1998, in The New England Journal of Medicine, the research is the first to document the specific components in cranberries that promote urinary tract health.
Led by a team from Rutgers scientists isolated compounds called condensed tannins or to use the mouth twisting scientific name, proanthocyanidins, from cranberry fruit, which were found to be capable of preventing Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria from attaching to cells in the urinary tract. E. coli are the primary bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections.
"We already know from previous reports that cranberries have a beneficial effect on urinary tract health," said Amy B. Howell, Ph.D., research scientist at Rutgers and lead investigator of the study. "This breakthrough study is the first to identify what's actually responsible for the effect. We found that the condensed tannins in cranberries were capable of preventing the bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract, which would promote flushing of bacteria from the bladder into the urine stream, resulting in the prevention or reduction of symptoms."
The Rutgers researchers believe the cranberry compounds may act by blocking or preventing growth of the part of the bacteria that bind to the urinary tract and lead to infection. Howell estimates that the amount of condensed tannins in a 10-ounce glass of cranberry juice cocktail consumed on a daily basis would help prevent E. coli from attaching to the walls of the bladder and kidney and ward off urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections - including cystitis or bladder infections – are caused by bacteria adhering or sticking to the walls of the bladder and kidney. The urinary tract is routinely cleansed of bacteria through the elimination process, but an infection can develop if the bacteria adhere to the cell walls and multiply.
About one-quarter of the women in this country are estimated to have had at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime. Many are plagued by persistent infections that often require ongoing treatment with antibiotics.
It should be noted that MEN also suffer from urinary tract infections, particularly if they do not drink enough liquids or have suffered kidney problems early in life.
Older men may be susceptible to these infections also, especially after the age of 45, when most of us slow down in our physical activities.
Continuing studies on other members of the same botanical family as cranberries, including blueberries and whortleberries, which contain these, condensed tannins have shown similar bacterial anti-adherence activity. Other common fruits and vegetables that were tested – including lemons, oranges, apples, bananas, carrots, lettuce and potatoes - did not have this activity.
Unfortunately, commercially prepared cranberry juice beverages are heavily sugared and high in calories. Though this would not greatly affect someone on a diet in the long run, it would be potentially dangerous for a diabetic, such as myself. Therefore diet or sugar reduced cranberry juice would be healthier. Capsules of cranberry extract available in health food stores are not only more potent, but also less caloric. For those individuals who are not fond of the taste of cranberries, capsules would be a good substitute for juice.
Three sixteen ounce glasses of juice (not the cocktail) is now considered the right amount for most urinary tract infections. How researchers arrived at the therapeutic dose is not known. Many women have told me they drink up to a gallon of cranberry juice at the first sign of a bladder infection. Hopefully the same effect can be had by taking one five hundred milligram capsule three times a day. It would certainly prevent long periods of time reading in the bathroom.
Still I do love cranberry sauce and am willing to double my diabetic medicines to enjoy it. Arguably, Ocean Spray makes the best commercial cranberry sauce in the world, but nothing can beat homemade.
In the years my daughter Jennifer was home for Thanksgiving dinners we would partake in her homemade cranberry sauce. It took patience, the right amount of sugar and spices, and perhaps a bit of magic. She’s continued this into her own home in New Zealand and continues Thanksgiving for her family and expat friends. While I am certain everyone suffered a bit of over indulgence, I am fairly sure no one had a urinary tract infection.
Cranberry is a member of the same family as bilberry, blueberry and manzanita. It is a North America native and grows in bogs in the northeast and northwest regions of the United States. The ripe fruit is used, but can only be eaten if heavily sweetened. Sunday, August 2, 2015 at 12:36pm PT
Wisconsin cranberry growers are environmental stewards, conserving natural resources and supporting wildlife habitat!
Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the nation and produces more than half of the entire world's supply of the bouncing berry.
Sunday, August 2, 2015 at 12:45pm PT
Darlene Almeida Great article. You should publish Monday, August 3, 2015 at 2:37pm PT
Kristi Lammel-Schilling I make homemade cranberry sauce with stevia for my Dad. cranberries themselves have a fair amount of sugar on their own. A dash of salt cuts the bitterness, letting the sweet shine through. Monday, August 3, 2015 at 9:05pm PT
Written for Plant Healer Magazine June 2014
Datura, a Full Moon, and Broken Lungs
It is the last full moon of the season. The night is unusually warm. No breeze from the bay, no overhead clouds, no sound of traffic coming west from 23rd Street. This corner of 28th and Lincoln is a magnet for late-night walkers, a quick puff on a joint, or the more rancid smell of a crack pipe. Tonight there is no smell or conversation wafting into my bedroom window. I amalone and struggling to ease the shoes onto my feet. Perpetually swollen and aching, I consider putting shoes on my feet a challenge, not a chore. Tonight I will be walking to a strange empty lot in my neighborhood. No one remembers why there is no home on this lot; every year, a different flower or herb takes over for a season, dies, and is no more.
This past week I was driven past the lot by a student-caretaker, and I saw a field of Datura. Ordinarily I would not be moved. Datura trees and bushes are everywhere in the San Francisco East Bay. They are the ornamental variety with shocking white trumpet-like blossoms; professional gardeners take care trimming them. One less-than- careful gardener had a small piece fly into his eyes. There was no damage to the cornea, but he was unable to see out of his eye for seventy-two hours. Every bit of the plant is poisonous.
Across the bay, in Marin County, three high school buddies decided to eat the seed podsof the Datura tree for a natural high. One survived, the second walks with a pronounced limp. The last remains in a private institution. All three got off lucky. Some people die. A former student of mine admitted to using Datura seeds somewhere in the Northwest. Luckily he was found and woke up two weeks later after being placed in a coma. They never did find his clothes.
But the type I'm going to see is not the ornamental type. It is the ground-dwelling variety that grows up in the heart of the central valley. It spreads itself along dusty back roads, unplanted field, and in orchards where enough sun can penetrate. It is ugly. The leaves are a dusty green, the seed pod looking like some sort of multi-barbed medieval mace, and the blossom a dull white trumpet, smelling of sweet decay, piss and death. It is here. At last I will seethe truth of this plant that once saved me, and one that I still fear.
My mother called it Tolache. Botanists call the variety we had in the central valley D. stramonium. It is also known as Sacred Datura, Jimson Weed, Loco Weed, Thorn Apple, Satan's Apple, and other less desirable names. Nathaniel Hawthorne referred to it in his novel The Scarlet Letter as Apple-Peru. The plant is as various as its names. But all variations have the same chemicals, though in different proportions. Scopalomine, hysocyamine, atropine are the most common. Even the fungus that can attack the root in wet conditions has been used by medicine people for sacred ceremonies. Long ago it was used on me, but that is a story for another time.
Grandfather and Mother used the plant for a myriad of ills, such as Parkinson's, severe bronchial ailments which would now be called COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease),colico (a folk ailment now considered to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome), heavy obstructive mucusof the sinuses, and lastly, for emotional/spiritual illnesses. The last required the utmost care in harvesting, preserving (either in dried form or in a wine medium) and application. If I anger readers by not giving instructions on how to make these remedios (remedies), too bad. I have enough bad things on my conscience. There's no need to add more if someone makes a mistake. As I tell my students…DFWTP! (Don't fuck with this plant.)
At the age of eight I suffered from asthma, including a rib-breaking cough. To this day Ihave nightmares about suffocation. I had one just last night, waking up, thrashing against my CPAP mask, bathed in a cold sweat. But I know I won't die from it; at eight I wasn't too certain. In those days doctors still made house calls, but only upon certainty of payment. Doctors had stopped taking barter a generation before, so there was nothing to pay with except tortillas and some chickens. And Doctor Hall was not fond of Hispanic food.
It was in the autumn, when mother called me out into the backyard. It was not yet afternoon but I all I wanted to do was sleep. The night before I had coughed and wheezed until I was gasping. My memory tells me I had blacked out. I awoke to the smell of steaming mint and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). Mom was standing outside, a small jam jar filled with a dried herb in one hand, and a slightly shriveled Datura blossom and rolling papers in the other. I knew what was going to happen. She carefully removed a rolling paper, dropped some dried herb into it, then tore a few strips off the white trumpet-shaped blossom and placed them in the rolling paper. With the skill of an old gunfighter, she made a cigarette. In the years that followed, I wondered how a woman who never smoked could roll a perfect joint. Only recently did I realize, my grandfather, a lifelong smoker who became blind late in life, used only loose tobacco. My mother learned to roll cigarettes for him
She told me in Spanish, "Chucky, when I light this and tell you to, I want you to take three puffs just like grandpa used to. It is going to hurt, so take short puffs. Hold it in your chest, count to three and blow it out." Again she told me it was going to hurt. My mother never sugared-coated anything.
Taking a book of matches from a pocket on her blouse, she lit the cigarette. I immediately recognized the smell of Coltsfoot. But it was mixed with another scent; I didn't like either. When the tip of the cigarette was red she had me inhalee.
It was then that my lungs broke.
It was a shattering pain of broken glass, fumes of hell, and the taste of death. My eight-year-old brain understood that she was trying to put me out of my misery. I wasn't angry, just resigned. When I my head cleared and the burning in my chest subsided a bit, she forced another puff on me. This one was worse: My lungs had become a pincushion. Tears drained from eyes and onto my cheeks. I tried counting to three but only made it to the end of one. Even at the age of eight I had my doubts about the church, so I refused to pray. God was an absent parent. Somewhere from a mile away I could hear myself coughing and my mother saying, "Just one more Chucky. Hold it in." "It would end soon," I thought. So I sucked hard. I tasted lemons and atole', smelled the early autumn leaves of the apricot tree not far from us. Then I heard my mother say, "Drink." She had turned on the hose and cool water was streaming past my lips. The water had never tasted so good, not even in the blistering heat of those hated Stanislaus County summers.
I awoke in my tiny bedroom. There had been dreams of the Holy Mother, of floating ona lake while wrapped in a blanket, the smell of roses - so pervasive on our property, and the sound of gulls. The late afternoon sun coming in thru the window made a rainbow on the wall as it bounced off my crystal crucifix. I breathed deep. Very deep. It would be thirty years before I had another asthma attack
Not long after, I asked my mother, "Mom, how do you know which Tolache to use if they are all poison? And if it's poison, why use it?" I'd like to think mom smiled, but I don't remember. I do remember her voice: "Chucky, sometimes you need a poison to fight a poison. And if you want to find the good Tolache, go out on a full moon night. And if the white blossomsglow, then those are the good ones!"
It was decades before I understood that she meant the word 'poison, metaphorically, at least in my case. As for the story of the glowing blossoms…well, this is why I was struggling to get dressed and leave my house as quietly as possible.
My clip-on cap flashlight lit up the dark places avoided by the street lights. To my surprise and relief, no dogs barked as I made my way painfully up 28th Street. I couldn't remember the last time I walked at night alone. To ensure my return I walked with two canes: One is legal in the state of California; the other is not. Despite the surreal quiet of the night, I wastaking no chances.
The moon was bright. Bright enough to almost hurt my eyes. It was what we used to call a bonfire moon. I wanted to believe that in generations past, medicine people sat around bonfires, told stories of fallen kings and princes, of powerful shamams, and evil warlords. Or perhaps a person sick at heart was laid alongside the fire and the smoke of Datura was blown intothe nostrils. And that person would dream.
My pain grows worse at night. My feet and legs cramp, my balance is compromised. Four blocks down and one block over, at night, is akin to climbing Everest for those like me. I wished I could fly the next few blocks. Datura type plants were often used in "flying ointments" in Europe during the medieval ages. There are even a few recipes for it in reputable herbals. If I ever write my own herbal (working title: Memoirs of a Reluctant Curandero), you won't find thatkind of thing there.
Datura seeds are suppose to give precognition. I had chewed a few in my college days when I supplemented my students loans by playing poker. Either it was my skill at poker or the seeds, but I seldom lost. If I had chewed some now perhaps I would know how this would turn out. Do the blossoms glow under a full moon? Would a pit bull rip out my throat? Would a demented homeless person mug me?
A properly harvested Datura, soaked for a certain period of time in a white wine, can act as a pain killer. Why had I thrown out my last bottle ten years ago?
Turning right onto Garvin Avenue, fighting for balance, I know I'm only a few hundred yards from my destination. My night blindness is getting the best of me. I must cast a flashlight beam on every step I take. Why am I doing this?
And then I smelled it.
Sweet decay. A dusty aroma. The smell of death. I slightly lifted my head. At my feet, scores of white trumpet blossoms. I would have walked right past them if not for the smell. My clothes were soaked in sweat. My eyes filled with tears. Each and every blossom glowed under the full moon. Mom was telling the truth to me all those years ago. In glorious pain I knelt slowly on the sidewalk. The Datura, the full moon, and my broken lungs were wrapped in memories solemn, frightening, and eventually joyful.
Reverently I took one blossom in my hand, tucked it into my sweat-stained shirt so it could drink its fill of me. It was the least I can do. With an effort I barely noticed I gripped both my canes and stood up in the moonlight. I smelled of sweet decay, death, and healing. Quietly I walked home.
Date at timepm PT
Some Thoughts on Fennel
The Spanish padres who brought it to California called it Hinojo. Kids call it Licorice weed. The locals of Marin County call it Anise. (A similar tasting plant, but certainly
not found in Marin County.) While carefully harvesting the seeds along the hillside that abuts San Quentin Village and the State Prison of the same name, I call it Fennel. I call
it other things also, which are impolite at best, for I must harvest as far away from the freeway as possible, stumbling through blackberry vines, while praying that some off duty Correctional Officer doesn’t take a pot shot at me. All this for my herbal students.
The Puritans called them Meeting Seeds, chewing them to quiet their rumbling tummies during all those interminable church services -- or, as some say, to hide the smell of the hard cider our forefathers nipped at on the way to church on cold New England mornings. Today fennel is best known as a cooking spice, but this versatile herb also has a long history of therapeutic use as an herbal tea.
The great English herbalist, spy, and astrologist, Nicholas Culpepper (1616 –1654), wrote the following (in the common vernacular of the time, for which he was greatly criticized):
“Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley water and drank are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and
takes away the loathings, which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that
are bitten with serpents, or have eaten poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines to help shortness of breath and wheezing.”
In short, the good Culpepper considered fennel a cure-all. Culpepper also claimed to have seen a leek sprout from the ground fully grown from the discarded antlers of a ram. And for
many New Age herbalists who devotedly believe in astrology, his work on signs of the Zodiac for plants is still the final word on the subject.
Amazingly, with the exception of his belief that fennel is a good antidote to poisons (it isn’t), much of his research is still valid. Fennel is a proven anti-spasmodic for the lower intestines, will aid in passing stones (though not recommended without herbal consultation and physician approval), does increase lactation in nursing mothers, will increase urination and decrease inflammation of the urinary tract, and finally, will help in minor conditions of the spleen and liver.
In my own practice, I have used a mild decoction for colic and too increase and improve lactation with first time mothers with good results.
But the history of this plant goes back beyond post-Elizabethan times to early Greece. The classically educated Culpepper no doubt knew of this story. Fennel also has a connection
with our modern Olympics and the current running craze throughout the world.
The folklore about this aromatic herb begins in a Grecian town named "Marathon," where wild fennel grows in the surrounding countryside. As the story goes, the army of Athens defeated the Persians in a battle deep in the mountains of Greece in 490 B.C. An athlete carried a sprig of fennel as he ran the 26 miles to Athens with the victory news, so fennel was often called "marathon" after that. It should be noted that the Grecian runner was not of the same quality as those that showed their skills in the last Olympics. Upon arriving at his destination the runner shouted, “Victory is ours!” and promptly fell dead. We do not know if he was munching fennel at the time. Fennel was used by soldiers to allay hunger and thirst. If this was the case with the poor messenger, he should have stopped at a stream and had a cool drink.
Fennel "seeds" (actually tiny fruits) have traditionally been chewed to help dispel hunger pains during fasts (as well as long sermons). Fennel is also a popular flavoring in many beverages and foods, because of its strong licorice taste. One constituent of fennel's volatile oil is "anethole," which may be responsible for its reputation as a digestive aid. Anethole assists in the metabolism of fats and aids a thorough digestion. Research has recently verified that anethole reduces the ill effects of alcohol on the body, making fennel a reasonable treatment for providing
short term relief for our present century's most common poisonous state, the hangover.
But I wasn’t trespassing on state prison property for any of those remedies. I was collecting fennel to teach my students how to make a decent and gentle cough syrup. At that time of year, the fennel seeds that have not fallen from the stalk have gone black and useless. The protected plants untouched by the afternoon son still had seeds hanging from rapidly drying blossoms. I picked these seeds one by one until I had about an ounce and half. My hands smelled like Smith Brother’s cough drops by the time I was done.
Racing home, feeling like an escapee from the Big House, I tossed the seeds into a pot of two cups of water with a handful of fresh mint leaves. While this was simmering, I put a pot with two cups of eucalyptus honey on warm. It is important not to overheat the honey, as it will foam and burn very easily. After an hour I strained the fennel and mint into the honey. Carefully stirring with a wooden spoon, I increased the heat until it was hot to the touch, but not painful. I stirred for another ten minutes and then filled several small bottles as samples for my students.
The syrup should be kept in bottles with corks or rubber rimmed lids to allow the gas to escape in the event of accidental fermentation. A tightly sealed bottle might explode. To avoid fermentation the syrups can be kept in the fridge.
A fennel and mint syrup will ease most simple coughs without causing drowsiness. It can be taken by children, the elderly, and anyone who may react unfavorably to over-the-counter-medications.
Though not effective against deep bronchial coughs and conditions, it will ease the discomfort of those deep coughs until a more potent medicine can be found.
So, from an ancient hillside in Greece to a prison hillside in California, the history of fennel covers two millenniums, numerous ailments, and the throats of my students.
December 26, 2013 at 1:36pm PT
Mandy Gough I so love when you share these herbal stories and histories! December 26, 2013 at 2:15pm PT via mobile
Lauren Samuel Me too! You weave together so much more than most doc, I love learning the stories and histories! Thank you for sharing. Part of the old
shotgun syrup eh! December 26, 2013 at 2:45pm PT via mobile
Corin Royal Drummond What an incredible monograph on this great plant. I'm going to have to try making the syrup. Another thing I love about fennel seeds is how every Indian restaurant has a bowl of panch phoran by the cash register. A great way to end a nice meal and keep your tummy from grumbling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panch_phoron
December 27, 2013 at 11:47am PT
Reposted Tuesday, May 20, 2014 7:36am PT
CarolAnn Bauer My comment was for an earlier post I guess. I wonder if this fennel tea would help calm most any digestive distress? Is commercially
bottled fennel seed effective? I love grabbing some of the fennel seed/sugar pearls as I leave Indian restaurants! Tuesday, May 20, 2014 7:51am PT
Inspi Peeks Also a primary spice for...Italian Sausage! yum. Tuesday, May 20, 2014 8:05am PT
Charles Garcia I would certainly it. Go easy at first, make it weak. Then increase the strength of the tea.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 8:30am PT
Darcey Blue i call it yummy Tuesday, May 20, 2014 9:33am PT
CarolAnn Bauer Ok. Trying to figure out how to include all of the good stuff. now looking at probiotics. Any golden words about them?
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 9:33am PT
Pixie Kaminski Come collect it at the beach in alameda!! Much safer Tuesday, May 20, 2014 10:35am PT
Charles R. Garcia, Director California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism
You Gotta Love Ginger
Our beloved spice ginger originated on the islands of Southeast Asia and was being traded by 5,000 BCE. Unfortunately ginger can no longer be found in the wild. It can only be cultivated. And cultivated it is! Roughly 60% of all ginger is grown in southern India. Though able to grow in various conditions it seems to prefer moist areas that are well drain above 8 thousand feet.
Ginger is a very popular spice used worldwide; whether it be used to spice up meals, or as a medicine, the demand for ginger all over the world has been consistent throughout history. Ginger can be used for a variety of food or medicine items such as vegetables, candy, soda (my personal favorite being Vernor’s), pickles, and alcoholic beverages.
Ginger is a fragrant kitchen spice. Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a mild taste. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can be steeped in boiling water to make ginger herb tea, to which honey may be added. Ginger can be made into candy or ginger wine.
Mature ginger rhizomes are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in Indian recipes and is a common ingredient of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many South Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes.
Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes, ginger ale, and ginger beer. Candied ginger or crystallized ginger, known in the U.K. as "stem ginger", is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of confectionery. Fresh ginger may be peeled before eating. For longer-term storage, the ginger can be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen.
Interestingly in both Eastern European and Hispanic cooking ginger is used in soups to bring out flavor for chicken, onions, garlic, and corn. Both types of soups are used for ailing individuals suffering from influenza or other bronchial ailments.
In Hispanic herbalism a strong infusion of ginger, cinnamon, black tea, and pineapple is used to break stubborn fevers.
In many cultures that use ginger the infusion is used to promote blood flow, combat cold hands and feet, improve sexual dysfunction, break up phlegm in the lungs and sinuses, and prevent snow nip.
I have a memory of a very very cold day (at least for the central valley)and walking home from school (eight miles up hill both ways) and smelling the aroma of ginger-pineapple-cinnamon tea when I walked in the house. It was almost overwhelming. I do remember my teeth chattering and then drinking down a whole mug off that concoction and starting to sweat. It was citrus sweet and spicy almost like a mild chili. I must have been exceptionally cold because I crawled into bed without dinner.
We had a wood stove in those days and mom but a put of the drink on top of it to keep it simmering. I stumbled out of bed with a candle and ate some cold chili and rice from the fridge and chased it down with a hot drink.
That's the only personal anecdote I can remember from childhood about ginger. Sometimes I still make it. March 23, 2020 at 1:56pm PT, from Covid-19 Quarantine.
Random Notes On Lavender:
It's time to cut back my lavender bushes so my unsuspecting students will be receiving bouquets of the herb on Wednesday. One bush is blocking the steps on my deck; the other is
pushing out some lemon balm.
Over the years I've picked up some interesting historical herbal tidbits about this plant. I'd like to share them with you.
Jane Foxglove Thank You for this great info! May 13, 2014 at 5:16am PT
Margi Willowmoon Thanks for the very interesting historic info on this wonderful plant. After reading it, now I feel like such a Nard Nerd. May 13, 2014 at 5:59am PT
Karen Roberts Very interesting! What is insect bite dropsy? May 13, 2014 at 8:03am PT
Wendy Olson You are Such an Excellent Researcher Charles… ! May 13, 2014 at 11:24am PT
Charles Garcia To Karen Roberts...Insect bite dropsy (which I've never seen) is the effect of a bug bite which causes fluid retention on or near the site of the bite.
May 13, 2014 at 12:54pm PT
Karen Roberts In allopathic medicine dropsy is a condition where nerves to the foot are damaged,a
May 13 at 2:06pm PT
Karen Roberts and the foot is unable to be lifted properly when walking, so the upper leg is used to lift the foot. It looks awkward.
May 13 at 2:07pm PT
Wendy Olson Maybe that's why young Catnip works so well, with the first insect bites of the season, esp for babies and young children.
I will add Lavender to the chew and spit on the bite/or wilt and poultice, or tea.. nerviness. May 14, 2014 at 8:24am PT
Charles R. Garcia, Director California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism fb (2014), revised (2015)
The Rose in Healing – Thru History: Random Facts In No Order
Roses have a long and colorful history. According to fossil evidence, the rose is 35 million years old. Today, there are over 30,000 varieties of roses and it has the most complicated family tree of any known flower species.
The cultivation of roses most likely began in Asia around 5000 years ago. They have been part of the human experience ever since and mentions of the flower are woven into a great many tales from the ancient world.
Clay tablets excavated in the temples of Ur in Iraq speak of the delivery of rose water intended for the sultan of Baghdad. The sultan used no fewer than 30,000 jars of rose water a year, to make his rooms smell nice for his extensive harem.
The Saracen general Saladin sent camel caravans loaded with rose water through his empire to cleanse the mosques after 'impure' crusaders had occupied the prayer rooms.
Until the early 19th century dried rose petals were believed to have mysterious powers. Napoleon gave his officers bags of rose petals to boil in white wine, to cure lead poisoning from bullet wounds (I have my doubts about the story and the efficacy of the treatment).
A very popular flower in the Old World, rose water, rose water is still used to refresh the hands before a feast or festive greeting, from the Middle East to northern India.
Cleopatra covered the floors of her palace with a thick layer of rose petals every day. The mattresses and pillows of her bed were stuffed with rose petals.It was good to be the Pharaoh(ess).
In an ancient Hindu legend, Brahma (the creator of the world) and Vishnu (the protector of the world) argued over whether the lotus was more beautiful than the rose. Vishnu backed the rose, while Brahma supported the lotus. But Brahma had never seen a rose before and when he did he immediately recanted. As a reward Brahma created a bride for Vishnu and called her Lakshmi — she was created from 108 large and 1008 small rose petals. It’s nice when legends are so specific.
Several thousands of years later, on the other side of the world in Crete, there are Frescoes which date to c. 1700BC illustrating a rose with five-petalled pink blooms. Discoveries of tombs in Egypt have revealed wreaths made with flowers, with roses among them. The wreath in the tomb of Hawara (discovered by the English archaeologist William Flinders Petrie) dates to about AD 170, and represents the oldest preserved record of a rose species still living.
Roses later became synonymous with the worst excesses of the Roman Empire when the peasants were reduced to growing roses instead of food crops in order to satisfy the demands of their rulers. The emperors filled their swimming baths and fountains with rose-water and sat on carpets of rose petals for their feasts and orgies. Roses were used as confetti at celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. Heliogabalus used to enjoy showering his guests with rose petals, which tumbled down from the ceiling during the festivities. There was group of folks who knew how to throw a party!
During the Middle Ages, roses retained a certain religious use, not only as decorations and adjuncts to (now Christian) holy festivals, but also as denizens of the medicinal gardens. Their medicinal associations as well as the simple human delight in their fragrance brought about the distillation-of-rose-essence industry, which still has local importance in a few areas of Europe (formerly France, now primarily Bulgaria).
During the fifteenth century, the factions fighting to control England used the rose as a symbol. The white rose represented York, and the red rose symbolized Lancaster. Not surprisingly, the conflict between these factions became known as the War of the Roses.
In the seventeenth century roses were in such high demand that roses and rose water were considered as legal tender. In this capacity they were used as barter in the markets as well as for any payments the common people had to make to royalty. Using too much water (on purpose) in making this commodity was consider watering down the currency. Same as counterfeiting. But it was not a hanging offense. (You were whipped.)
Cultivated roses weren't introduced into Europe until the late eighteenth century. These introductions came from China and were repeat bloomers, making them of great interest to hybridisers who no longer had to wait once a year for their roses to bloom.
Until the early 19th century dried rose petals were believed to have mysterious powers. Napoleon gave his officers bags of rose petals to boil in white wine, to cure lead poisoning from bullet wounds, Even today, rose water is still used to refresh the hands before a feast or festive greeting, from the Middle East to northern India.
Napoleon's wife Josephine loved roses so much she established an extensive collection at Chateau de Malmaison, an estate seven miles west of Paris. This garden of more than 250 rose varieties became the setting for Pierre Joseph Redoute's work as a botanical illustrator and it was here Redoute completed his watercolor collection "Les Rose," which is still considered one of the finest records of botanical illustration.
From this introduction, experts today tend to divide all roses into two groups. There are old roses (those cultivated in Europe before 1800) and modern roses (those which began to be cultivated in England and France around the turn of the 19th century).
Until the beginning of the 19th century, all roses in Europe were shades of pink or white. Our romantic symbol of the red rose first came from China around 1800. Unusual green roses arrived a few decades later.
Painstaking cultivation has revealed all of the remaining colors, except blue and black. For many, a black rose is a less than attractive prospect with its connotations of death, but the search to discover how to create the blue rose has been likened to a horticultural Holy Grail. Many have tried and none have succeeded...yet!
Ancient literature abounds with references to roses used for medicinal, botanical and cosmetic purposes and speaks of their use for feeding the body, the soul and the spirit. Medical texts written on stone tablets mention possibly a wild rambling rose, referred to as arnurdinnu, for medical purposes.
In Persia the much-sought-after rose oil and oil of attar was made from the heavenly scented damask roses and traded all around the world. The Greeks used rose-scented olive oils for perfume, to keep illness at bay and to anoint their dead. But the Romans outdid the Greeks when Nero, the hedonistic emperor, Ist century AD, dumped tons of rose petals on his dinner guests, nearly suffocating some.
Roses have a long tradition of medicinal use. The ancient Romans used Rosa canina (or Dog Rose) for the bites of rabid dogs, and in the first century A.D., the Roman, Pliny, recorded thirty-two different disorders that responded well to Rose preparations. An oriental species (Rosa laevigata) was mentioned in Chinese medical literature about A.D. 470, and in China, Rose Hips are still used for chronic diarrhea with stomach weakness. It is typically red to orange but may be dark purple to black in some species.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Roses have long been considered "cooling" to the body and a tonic for the mind, and Native Americans used Rose Hips to treat muscle cramps. In 1652, the esteemed British herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, prescribed them for "consumptive persons," for "tickling rheums," to "break the stone" (kidneys) and to help digestion.
Long used for medicinal purposes in Great Britain, Rose Hips remained listed in the official British Pharmacopoeia well into the 1930s, and were considered an overall cooling tonic, an astringent, a great help for sore throats and a source of the essential vitamin C. During World War I and II, there was a shortage of citrus fruit in England, and the British government organized the harvesting of all the Rose Hips in England as a substitute for vitamin C. This illuminated the importance of Rose Hips as a superior source of the vitamin and began its worldwide popularity. Rose Hips have a reported sixty times the amount of vitamin C than citrus fruit, and we now know how absolutely essential vitamin C is to the maintenance of good health and the prevention of many diseases.
Rose Hips are the fruits of the Rose, the ripe seed receptacles that remain after the petals are removed, and they contain many vitamins and other beneficial supplements, including lycopene, essential fatty acids, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, pectin, sugar, resin, wax, malates, citrates and other salts, tannin, malic and citrus acids, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sulfur, zin c and vitamins A, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, C, D, E and K. Rose Hips contain one of the highest measures of vitamin C (about 1700–2000 mgs. per 100 g. in the dried product) than is known in other herbs.
The crusaders, when defeated by Saladin in Jerusalem, returned to the west with rose plants which were then cultivated by monks in their monastery gardens for their medicinal properties. Rose water was successfully used to cure all kinds of ailments, such as trembling, constipation, drunkenness, skin and throat infections and insomnia. There is some truth in this as we now know Rosa rugosa hips contain high levels of Vitamin C. Indeed, rosehip tea is often recommended in pregnancy.
Rose oil can reduce high cholesterol levels. Roses are used in face toners and perfume and are one of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients.
The apothecary rose, R. gallica officinalis, first recorded in the 13th century, was the foundation of a large industry near the city of Provins, France. Turned into jellies, powders and oils, this rose was believed to cure a multitude of illnesses.
Because of their relatively high content of vitamin C, the bright scarlet to deep red, ovoid or pear-shaped fruits or hips of several species of roses always occupy a significant place in discussions of natural medicines. Most commonly, the hips are collected from the dog rose Rosa canina L., but the larger hips of the Japanese rose, R. rugosa Thunb., are valued highly, as are those of R. acicularis Lindl. and R. cinnamomea L.. All are more or less familiar members of the family Rosaceae.
Rose hips are used to prepare teas, extracts, purees, marmalades, even soups, all of which are consumed for their vitamin C content. The extracts are also incorporated into a number of "natural" vitamin preparations, including tablets, capsules, syrups, and the like. Most such preparations are careful not to state on the label exactly how much of the vitamin C content is derived from rose hips and how much from synthetic ascorbic acid The beautiful perfumed rose has many medicinal uses. The leaves and petals have a cooling effect and can be used in tea to bring down fevers and clear toxins and heat from the body when they produce rashes and inflammatory problems.
Rose also enhances immunity, helping to restrain the development of infections through their cleansing action.
An infusion of rose petals can relieve cold and flu symptoms, sore throat, runny nose and blocked bronchial tubes.
An infusion or syrup of the petals or hips strengthens the lungs in their fight against infection and is particularly useful for those prone to chest problems.
Roses also help fight infection in the digestive tract and help re-establish the normal bacterial population of the intestines.
Rose petals and seeds have a diuretic action, relieving fluid retention and hastening elimination of wastes via the kidneys.
Rose petals have a decongestant action in the female reproductive system. Rose petals can be used to relieve uterine congestion causing pain and heavy periods, as well as for irregular periods, infertility and to enhance sexual desire.
An infusion makes a useful astringent remedy for diarrhea, enteritis and dysentery. Interestingly, rose petal tea has also been used as a laxative, as well as a liver remedy, promoting bile flow, stimulating and cleansing the liver and gallbladder, and relieving problems associated with a sluggish liver, such as headaches and constipation.
Rose hips and petals have an uplifting, restoring effect on the nervous system, and can relieve insomnia, lift depression, dispel fatigue and soothe irritability.
In addition to their antiscorbutic (antiscurvy) properties, rose hips have a mild laxative and slight diuretic action.
Although fresh rose hips contain concentrations of vitamin C ranging from 0.5 to 1.7 percent, the actual content of the commercially available dried fruit is extremely variable depending on the exact botanic source, where it was grown, when it was collected, how it was dried, and when and where it was stored, etc. Indeed, many commercial samples of the plant material no longer contain detectable amounts of vitamin C. Even if we assume that they contain an average of 1 percent of the vitamin and that all of the vitamin is present in the finished preparation - two propositions that are not necessarily valid - the present cost of vitamin C from rose hips is about twenty-five times more than the synthetic product.
During World War II when imports of citrus products were limited, rose hips became especially popular in Great Britain. Volunteers spent many hours gathering hips from hedge rows for making rose hip syrup for the Ministry of Health to distribute.
At that time, there were plenty of recipes around for eating the actual berries as “dinner vegetables” and as various kinds of preserves and jams. However, they have gone out of fashion now, and most people buy processed ascorbic acid as an inadequate source of vitamin C to meet the so-called “minimum daily requirement.”
Native American women not only brewed rose hip tea, but they used the pre-boiled rose hips in soups and stews. The tea “leftovers” (the berries expand a lot) are a good dinner vegetable with butter and salt. There is still a lot of remaining food value in the cooked berries.
Syrup of Red Rose, official in the United States Pharmacopceia, is used to impart an agreeable flavour and odour to other syrups and mixtures. The syrup is of a fine red colour and has an agreeable, acidulous, somewhat astringent taste. Honey of Roses, also official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, is prepared from clarified honey and fluid extract of roses. It is considered more agreeable than ordinary honey and somewhat astringent. In olden days, Honey of Roses was popular for sore throats and ulcerated mouth and was made by pounding fresh petals in a small quantity of boiling water, filtering the mass and boiling the liquid with honey. Years ago my daughter brought home a gallon of rose honey she had processed in Alaska during her stint at the university in Fairbanks. The strength and taste was amazing.
Rose Vinegar, a specific on the Continent for headache caused by hot sun, is prepared by steeping dried rose petals in best distilled vinegar, which should not be boiled. Cloths or linen rags are soaked in the liquid and are then applied to the head.
And that, my friends, is the rose throughout history.
Ingrid Guthrie Wow! Fantastic! Thank you! May 13, 2014 at 5:16am PT
Jackie Johnson Wow. Are you putting all of these in a book? I'd sure buy a copy. August 1, 2014 at 3:55am PT
The California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism fb
Greetings Darlene! First let me assure you…Rosemary IS the first herb I always start with but I started with Nettles last week for reasons I already mentioned.
I try to cover as much about the plant as possible, including its folklore and folk healing uses. I will also try, to fit in some of the studies down on the herbs, just so you know that some of this has been studied far beyond my humble kitchen and beyond my family history. Oh yes, before I foget, reading these lessons are more enjoyable with music playing in the background. I prefer traditional folk music, or corridos. One former student said he played Bruce Springsteen In Dublin CD for background music. I was a little surprized until I listened to it. It's mostly folk music!
So let us start!
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. Its trusses of blue flowers last through spring and summer in a warm, humid environment. It will grow to a height of between 3 and 5 feet.
History and Tradition
The name rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or Mary, or even the late great Rosemary Clooney despite Catholic mythology, but derives from the Latin botanical name Rosmarinus for 'dew of the sea', a reference to its pale blue dew-like flowers and the fact that it is often grown near the sea. It is a symbol or remembrance and friendship, and was often carried by wedding couples as a sign of love and fidelity. My youngest daughter promised she will have rosemary in her wedding bouquet when the time comes.
Tradition says that rosemary will grow for thirty-three years, until it reaches the height of Christ when he was crucified, then it will die. Personally I’ve never seen rosemary last longer than twenty years. Sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows at night to ward off evil spirits and bad dreams. This may actually work due to the aroma of the freshly cut stems. It is soothing and slightly hypnotic. The wood was used to make lutes and other musical instruments. If this is to be believed the ancient plants had to be thicker and stronger than our current variety. And that IS possibly.
Rosemary for Remembrance
Like ancient herbalists before him, Thomas Culpeper believed that rosemary improved the memory: “ It helpeth a weak Memory, and quicketh the senses.” Its connection with remembrance made it a symbol of friendship, especially of marriage. Bridal wreaths were decorated with rosemary, and the herb often served as a wedding or New Year’s gift. It has been used as a symbol for remembrance (as in worn during weddings, war commemorations and funerals) in Europe, probably as a result of this reputation; in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance". Coincidently I used rosemary during a performance of Hamlet 20 years ago. The cast was blowing his or her lines, so the following evening I brought in fresh rosemary and had everyone take a hit. No one flubbed their lines and everyone hit their marks!
Culpeper also recommended rosemary for indigestion, flatulence, and jaundice. Smoked in a pipe, dried rosemary was supposed to “helpeth those that have any Cough, or Phtisick, or Consumption.” That’s one hell of a plant. Why do you think it might work for bronchial issues? Ok I'll let you know. It is a gentle antispasmodic and powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antibioticc.
In Belgium an injection of the juices of rosemary, lemon balm, and sage, has been used successfully for early Alzheimer’s treatment. I’ve used the same herbs in a decoction combination for the same issues. It helps. I'm currently using it as a strong decotion on my 94 year old mother in law who is suffering from this terrible disease. Twenty years ago it helped the mother of a teaching colleague. It was successful for about two and half years.
Use an infusion as a rinse to lighten blond hair, and to condition and tone all hair. Try mixing an infusion half and half with shampoo to strengthen hair.
An infusion can also be used as an invigorating toner and astringent. Rosemary added to a bath strengthens and refreshes, especially when used following an illness.
Rosemary and lamb go well together. Make slits in lamb for roasting and tuck in sprigs of the herb. Place larger sprigs over chops for grilling and use chopped leaves sparingly in soups and stews. Use rosemary in bouquets garnis and sparingly with fish and in rice dishes.
Several studies done in the last several years show that oil from the leaves of the very plant sold as a spice for flavoring can help prevent the development of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. One study, led by Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, showed that applying rosemary oil to the skin of experimental animals reduced their risk of cancer to half that found in animals that did not receive the application of oil. In other studies by the same research team, animals whose diets contained some rosemary oil had about half the incidence of colon cancer or lung cancer compared with animals not eating rosemary. And researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana found that rosemary cut by half the incidence of breast cancer in animals at high risk for developing the disease. Future studies will demonstrate whether these properties extend to humans as well.
Though these experiments have used rosemary oil to test the effectiveness in preventing cancer, the oil should not be taken internally. Even small doses can cause stomach, kidney and intestinal problems, and large amounts may be poisonous. Use a tea instead. Pregnant women should not use the herb medicinally, although it's okay to use it as a seasoning.
Other Medicinal Properties
Rosemary helps to relax muscles, including the smooth muscles of the digestive tract and uterus. Because of this property it can be used to soothe digestive upsets and relieve menstrual cramps. When used in large amounts it can have the opposite effect, causing irritation of the intestines and cramps. A tea made from the leaves is also taken as a tonic for calming nerves and used as an antiseptic wash.
Rosemary has been around for a long time, and therefore has a long list of claims regarding its medicinal uses, including use as a tonic, a digestive aid, to treat depression, headaches, and muscle spasms, and as an expectorant, promoter of menstrual flow, and stimulant for production of bile. Externally, its oil made into an ointment has been said to treat rheumatism, sores, eczema, bruises, and wounds. Hispanic families have long used oil of Rosemary, called Acite de Romero as a cure all. Rosemary taken internally as a medicine can be an irritant to the stomach, intestines, and kidneys, so use it sparingly.
Make Rosemary tea for digestive problems, as an expectorant, to relieve cold symptoms, and as a relaxing beverage that may be helpful for headaches and low moods. Take care to preserve the steam with a tight fitting lid in the preparation process.
Interestingly, an infusion of Rosemary mixed with borax and used cold is said to make a nice-smelling hair wash that can possibly prevent dandruff and stimulate hair growth. A variation of this (for dandruff) is Rosemary combined with Mint in vinegar (place the sprigs in a bottle that can be tightly sealed, and let sit for at least a week out of direct sunlight).
Rosemary is also thought to be a protective herb. It can be made into a protection wreath, and can be placed above the door or under the bed for protection from evil. Try it in a dream pillow or put it in a pillowcase to protect and ward off bad dreams. My daughter is now using this application for her four year old daughter who is having bad dreams for the first time. It seems to be helping.
As a cleansing and purifying agent in magic, Rosemary is one of the more important herbs. It can be used in herbal baths - place it in cheesecloth or a coffee filter tied with string and place it under the running bath water. If time is a factor, use it to wash the hands instead of the ritual bath in advance of performing rituals.
Try burning it as an incense for these purposes. Burning also is believed to help with emotional and spiritual healing, especially if burned with Juniper or white sage.
Lastly, and not surprisingly, the fragrance of Rosemary is said to be of benefit for the emotional spirit, youthful outlook, and pleasant memories. Use it in potpourris and sachets for this purpose.
The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine as an herb; a tisane (wash) can also be made from them to help clean vegetables and potatoes freshly plucked from the garden.
Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean climate. It can in fact die in over-watered soil, but is otherwise quite easy to grow for beginner gardeners. It is very pest-resistant.
Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use. The following are frequently sold:
Rosemary can be added as an unusual extra flavoring in lemonade. I learned this from a student last summer. Got to admit, it was pretty good.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it getting too straggly and unsightly, though when grown in pots I try to trim it into the shape of a Christmas tree. When I was separated from my wife I made one for my bedroom at Yule. It helped the pain of a lone holiday.
Rosemary has been found to be a stimulant and mild analgesic, and has been used to treat headaches, epilepsy, poor circulation, and many ailments for which stimulants are prescribed. This not a major stimulant like cayenne. It is gentle and safe for long term use in mild doses.
Can be used as a disinfectant, fever, as a mouth wash especially when added to apple cider vinegar.
Externally it can be used in hair lotions a few drops of Rosemary oil massaged into the scalp then rinsed with an infusion of nettles can revitalise the hair. Used in this manner it supposed to prevent premature baldness. Rosemary is also reported to stop dandruff.
Hungary Water was first invented for a Queen of Hungary to 'renovate vitality of paralyzed limbs'. It was used externally and is prepared by mixing 180g of fresh rosemary tops in full flower into a litre of spirits of wine. Leave to stand for four days then distill. It is also supposed to work as a remedy against gout if rubbed vigorously on hands and feet. Personally I think that is a waste of good wine.
Most evidencefor rosemary's medicinal uses comes from clinical experience rather than from scientific studies. However, recent laboratory studies have shown that rosemary slows the growth of a number of bacteria such as E. coli and S. aureus that are involved in food spoilage, and may actually perform better than some commercially used food preservatives. This may explain its use in preserving foods in Hispanic culture. I preserved a piece of lingua (tongue) for over a year using salts, spices, and herbs. When rehydrated and cooked it was perfectly edible.
As stated above, one traditional use of rosemary has been to try to stimulate hair growth. In one study of 86 people with alopecia areata (a disease of unknown cause characterized by significant hair loss, generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with rosemary and other essential oils (including lavender, thyme, and cedarwood) every day for 7 months experienced significant hair re-growth compared to those who massaged their scalps without the essential oils. It is not entirely clear from this study whether rosemary (or a combination of rosemary and the other essential oils) was responsible for the beneficial effects.
Listed below are the recommended adult doses for rosemary. (Total daily intake should not exceed 4 to 6 grams of the dried herb.):
Externally, rosemary may be used as follows:
Rosemary is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses. However, there have been occasional reports of allergic reactions especially with the essential oil. Large quantities of rosemary leaves, because of their volatile oil content, can cause serious side effects, including vomiting, spasms, coma and, in some cases, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). It should be noted these are rare occurrences and I have never seen any of these effects as of yet.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use rosemary in quantities larger than those normally used in cooking. An overdose of rosemary may induce miscarriage.
Rosemary is a tonic, astringent, restorative herb that relaxes spasm and increases the rate of perspiration, while stimulating the liver and gall bladder. It improves digestion and circulation and controls pathogenic organisms.
That's it folks! Everything I know about this wonderful plant growing in my backyard. Next week, Lemon Balm!! Sunday, May 25, 2014
My Rosemary is huge, I harvest a bunch every year. I use it for many things but I am looking for new ideas this year both for fresh and dried. Anyone have any uses that they have tried, that you would share with me? Bless you
May 26, 2014 at 12:47pm PT
Sergio De La O Put a couple of huge sprigs in fresh made lemonade, tastes crisp and clear! Good for memory too! Plus rosemary Gladstar has a tea that she infuses equal parts of Rosemary, Peppermint, Gotu Kola and Gingko Biloba, great tea! May 26. 2014 at 1:16pm PT
Tohi Rains I mix it with mint, but the lemonade and Rosemary water sounds good to me . tks Sergio. May 26 at 1:36pm PT
Sergio De La O YW! YW! May 26 at 1:41pm PT
Tohi Rains May 26 at 1:48pm PT
Charles Garcia Simmer with sage, mint, and yarrow for a pink eye remedy. Wash the infected eye with the lukewarm water for two days. Make alot. Store in the fridge for the next day. Good for 24 hours. May 26 at 3:04pm PT
Tohi Rains Now that sounds like good medicine Charles , do you think it is good for simple tired red eyes as well ? May 27 at 12:02am PT
Charles Garcia It does help tired eyes. I've used it, but I prefer it slight cooler than body temp. May 27 at 5:15pm PT
Charles R. Garcia, Director Of Pain, Memory, and Healing:
So I've returned after the breakdown of my marriage to face the hopes of a new life in an old landscape. Of pain.
But not all pain is bad…or so I've been told. I remember the cries of an elderly woman (or so she seemed at the time) as my grandfather and mother placed fresh leaves of stinging nettle on her gnarled hands. Every kid in Riverbank was familiar with stinging nettle also known as Ortiga by the Hispanic community. If you wore anything on your legs accept jeans in the summer time you were bound to find it.
"Urtica dioica, often called common nettle or stinging nettle (although not all plants of this species sting), is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine, as a food source and as a source of fibre."
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica and the closely related Urtica urens) has a long medicinal history. In medieval Europe, it was used as a diuretic (to rid the body of excess water) and to treat joint pain. As the plant was once common in Northern Spain, it's use in California as a diuretic no doubt came with the Franciscan padres.
The fine hollow hairs on the leaves and stems that contain the irritating chemicals (which is the same chemical fire ants use to kill their prey), are released when the plant comes in contact with the skin. There is a belief the chemicals are literally under pressure which is released on contact. This seems true, as I have brushed these hairs with fabric and seen a small amount of liquid ooze out. The hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are normally very very painful to the touch. When they come into contact with a painful area of the body, however, they can actually decrease the original pain. Scientists think nettle does this by reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and by interfering with the way the body transmits pain signals.
Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites. The effectiveness of these mediums vary.
Grandfather and Mom repeatedly placed these leaves on this wretched woman's hands as she moaned and grimaced for what seemed like hours. Why I was allowed to watch or even attend this type of treatment I no longer remember. There must have been some reason as grandfather never did anything to no purpose.
And then it was over. Her hands were wrapped in damp clothes and we went home. I do remember crying. I was what was called in those days an overly sensitive child. Decades later I learned the name of this type of treatment was Urtication. This is done as a folk remedy in many cultures for rheumatism, providing temporary relief from pain. The counter-irritant action to which this is often attributed is sometimes preserved by the preparation of an alcoholic liniment which can be applied as part of a topical preparation, but not as an infusion, which drastically reduces the irritant action. When ortiga was out of season my mother brought out a Mason jar filled with the jade green liniment of this plant. She would add spearmint as a transdermal carrier or on occasion comfrey. This treatment more than not worked as a long term pain reliever and as a noticeable anti-inflammatory.
Stinging Nettle Reyes Park
The woman whom I write about is still alive and she is 100 if she's a day. Over a decade ago her grandson asked me to perform the same treatment on her as my grandfather had. In one of her last acts as a healer my mother helped me. For the purpose of this article will call her Tia Tula, as she reminded me of my great aunt Tula. That day she lay in a grotesque twist on her sofa. Even her smile of recognition was little more than a grimace as she mouthed, "Little Chuckie." I smiled and said I was going to help. Earlier I had gone to the Stanislaus River and carefully searched the banks for stands of nettle. With thick gloves and a clean flour sack I picked the freshest and largest leaves. In my mind I was remembering the gnarled hands and fingers that haunted my childhood memories. But this was going to be worse. Far worse.
Tia Tula could no longer move her neck, nor her knees. So we started on her neck. Her body was so immobile we could only tell she felt something by the pain in her eyes. Then we worked on her knees. It did go on for hours. I cried. My mother did not. Nor did Tia Tula. I was always an overly sensitive child. I am told that after several applications a person no longer feels any added pain. I hope that is right. It would help me sleep at night if I was certain it was true.
In the years since that event, I used stinging nettles almost exclusively as a treatment for anemia caused by cancer and HIV therapies. The vast majority of my clients show mild to moderate anemia after undergoing chemo and radiation. The HIV cocktails also have similar side effects. Spring and early summer harvesting of nettles became a labor of love for me during my years in the bay area. Walking on wet hillsides, avoiding poison oak, slipping on eucalyptus leaves and bark were all part of the adventure. After many of my clients improved enough to do their own nettle hunting I would find my traditional stands of already harvested. The few young plants I found went into my soup that evening.
Many herbalists suggest using freeze dried nettle capsules for an early season hay fever symptoms. It works for some, not for others. A preliminary human study suggested that nettle capsules helped reduce sneezing and itching in people with hay fever. Researchers think it may be due to nettle's ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen. More studies are needed to confirm nettle's antihistamine properties, however. Some doctors recommend taking a freeze dried preparation of stinging nettle well before hay fever season starts. I've found this to help older individuals but not necessarily folks under the age of 30.
Some sexual adventurous clients and students have told me the leaf can be used as a sexual stimulant to various parts of the body. At that point I change the conversation or stick fingers in my ears and began to hoot like an owl. There is such a thing as too much herbal information.
Nettles can be successfully frozen in plastic bags when the air is sucked out with fine straw. Warning though, freezing does not stop the sting once it is thawed. Throw it in a pot of boiling water while still rock hard frozen. Stinging nettle has a flavor better than spinach. I tend to cook mine in olive oil, a bit of butter, and garlic. It is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. More important it helps the body retain iron.
Young plants were harvested by many cultures including Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce. Medicine men and women added large amounts to the diet of the elderly who showed signs of chronic illness and the injured who had continual bleeding. Boiling nettles in water or cooking will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled and eaten without incidence of stinging. After the stinging nettle enters its flowering and seed setting stages the leaves develop gritty particles, which can irritate the urinary tract so early harvesting is highly recommended. In its peak season, stinging nettle contains up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable.
If you wish to improve and increase lactation, just cook up some nettles.
Tia Tula survived two more treatments. In a surprisingly short time she regained about seventy percent movement to her neck and more than that to her knees. We gave her grandson a liniment for her back and jaws which also show signs of RA. As I said before, I saw her not long ago. She did not recognize me…and that I think was for the best. Her grandson may have realized it was me, but I disappeared as quickly as I came. Ask me no questions, I tell you no lies. There's no reason why anyone here should know why I've returned.
I am back after 40-plus years for healing.
Gone is the Plantman of Richmond. Gone is the walker of night alleys and non-heated squats.
But the homeless are here. Just as cold, just as demented, just as angry. There were no homeless when I left a generation ago. No meth labs. No tweakers. Just a sad wino or WWII vet down on his luck.
There is pain here. Pain to heal and pain to be healed. And I may need to inflict it more than likely on myself. There are still several females whose actions have injured my relationships for a generation…and they must be confronted. Is there an ortiga to be applied to the soul? If so, I will find it. But for now, it is winter. And the day is bright. Clear. And cold. Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 10:37am PT
Memories of Walnuts and Autumn
This is the way autumn comes to the Central Valley of California: The mornings are wet with silver dewdrops lacing spider webs and colored leaves. The condensation from your breath appears briefly in the sunlight, then disappears. The afternoons turn warm and the quality of light softens like an old sepia colored photograph. Shadows grow long and lean. At dinnertime, a mist appears over street lights and lingers over orchards and fields. In the distance, a gray smoke spreads the sweet smell of burning wood. Walnut wood. Like medieval bonfires, the pruned limbs of the great walnut trees are burned for another year. Children draw close to the blaze to ward off the approaching night chill. Autumn has come to the Valley.
Though I have lived in the San Francisco bay area over a quarter of a century, at this time of year my heart and memories return home. But time changes all things. The huge walnut trees of my youth are long gone. Too difficult to commercially harvest, these orchards were ripped out and replaced by smaller trees. During a trip home last year I saw huge stumps torn from the ground, lying on their sides like tombstones.
On my mother’s former property there are still large walnut tress. Occasionally, a limb will snap off due to its own weight. Despite their age, these trees are healthy and give some of the tastiest walnuts in Stanislaus County.
When I was growing up, walnuts, and to a lesser degree, almonds and pecans, were our winter source of income. Dad, mom, and I would harvest the nuts by knocking them to the ground with long poles. I remember once a rainstorm kicked up while we were picking up the fallen nuts. We just picked faster. The wind from the rain kept knocking more to the ground. It made no sense to let them lie there.
After getting the nuts home, mom would break the shells with a hammer or a vise like device invented by a relative, and we would all clean out the meats with small knives or picks. It was long tedious work. My dad used to joke that mom could crack a hundred pounds in an hour. Thinking back on it, he may not have been joking. The nuts were packed away in ten-gallon containers and driven to the Bay Area. We sold to a well-known natural food store and several bakeries. Our product was never turned down.
Sometimes my high school buddy, David Jameson, would drop in and help us clean a few pounds of walnuts. This was always an iffy proposition when David came by, as he ate as many walnuts as he cleaned. Mom never seemed to mind. She would make up cookies with ground walnuts, flour and a little spice. Between David and I, we went through several dozen a week.
The walnut shells went into the wood burning side of the old stove. They burned hot and long. The house stayed warm all night. I keep a bag of old walnuts to burn in my own stove. Not so much for the heat, but for the smell. It reminds me of home.
The walnuts grown commercially in California are all English walnuts. These are large and easy to harvest. But the most successful crops are grafted onto native California Black Walnut. This makes them more resistant to blight and disease. The Black Walnut, though far more tasty then its English cousin, is smaller and more difficult to harvest. The shells are thick and hard, and the meats must be removed with a small pick. A pound of meats would take most of the day.
Though never a major food source for the California natives, the wood was highly prized for bows. They were also aware of its uses as an herbal remedy.
Boiling the walnut husks gave the natives two things: An effective dye source and a strong antifungal. A wash or a compress of the husks will help athlete’s foot and ringworm. This was also used in cases of yeast infections. One female herbalist of my acquaintance used this method on a stubborn case of vaginal thrush when all prescription medications failed. The strong tannin content and julandic acids quickly killed the infection.
The dried leaves of the walnut tree have been used by Hispanic herbalists for generations as a cure for stomach parasites. It can still be found in many botanicas. A warm tea is made from the leaves and sipped throughout the day. The same tea can also be used as a digestive tonic. It is a mild antispasmodic and laxative.
A decoction of the fresh leaves or the watered down tincture has been used in Europe for pink eye and infections of the eyelid. A poultice using the crushed leaves is a gentle remedy for eczema when the skin is dry but not yet broken.
The Spanish padres probably recognized that California has a bi-annual flea season. These pesky little critters even have a road in Silicon Valley named in their honor. It is called Alameda de la Pulgas. Avenue of the Fleas. The natives may have shared a secret with the good padres about black walnuts. Fleas will not stay in a room strewn with walnut husks. Although the smell is not unpleasant, it can be overpowering. Then again, the natives may have kept the secret to themselves.
The inner bark of the tree is a strong laxative. This is one secret the natives did share with the holy fathers. Where Cascara Sagrada was not abundant, black walnut was used in its place. A tea was made from the bark and used for cases of severe constipation. The Spanish church men seemed overly concerned about their bowel movements. This may be because Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, was chronically constipated throughout his life. Recent European studies have shown that the decoction of the inner bark is a stimulant for a sluggish liver, and will aid in cases of dry flaky eczema.
For me, I use walnuts for memory. My memory. The smell of the burning wood reminds me of how hard my parents worked just to get us through the winter. The taste of the nuts reminds me of how good and special home made cookies really are. The site of a hundred foot walnut tree reminds me of how fragile life is when we are no longer needed.
Walnuts remind me of autumn.
And autumn is here.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10:16pm PT
Inspi Peeks This brings me right there with you. October22, 2014 at 7:32am PT
Karen Roberts Very interesting! I remember husking walnuts with my father as well for hours in the garage. For years after he died I was still using his walnuts, which were kept in the freezer. It made me feel close to him when I was baking with them. I am interested in the precise details of the vaginal treatment for candida, and the eczema treatments. Send details please! October 22, 2014 at 10:03am
Nicole Stathis Love this! October 22, 2014 at 11:03am PT
Charles Garcia For a vaginal treatment, you can make an infusion of the leaves. Leave a dozen or so leaves in a half gallon of water. Let set for two or three days. Then douche' twice a day until the infusion is gone. Wait for three to four days and begin again if needed. It probably will be. Two applications usually works. The eczema treatment is fairly simple...pour boiling water over several fresh leaves, then pound the leaves. Place these directly on the eczema and wrap with clean gauze. Do this daily until the eczema clears up. October 22, 2014 at 1:20pm PT
Virginia Lee Adi beautiful, inspiring post. October 22, 2014 at 7:41pm PT
The California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism fb
Nichole Renee LeMay Staphiate, this is a tes that my great grandma referred to often. My grandmother and I were trying to figure out what it was. I don't know if the spelling is right but we tried to spell how it sounded. Appreciate any feedback on this. October 18, 2013 at 8:59am
Adrian White Sounds like Estafiate, Spanish for Western Mugwort or mugwort in general. has many magical uses, aids in dreaming and dreamwork as well as an amazing aid to the gastrointestinal tract; not to be used at all during pregnancy. I smoke it regularly. I can certainly dig up more on it if you like that's just off the top of my head. October 18, 2013 at 1:06pm
Nichole Renee LeMay Thank You! So Much!!! Yes I would love anymore information you find. October 18, 2013 at 1:13pm
Adrian White Gee, there is so much. Doc could certainly jump up and chime in anytime, I owe a lot of what I know about it from him. It was once used as one of the ingredients of witches' flying ointment. I think it was one of the herbs that also gained a lot of headway in Europe because it warded off insects and kept away malaria, so it thus became a commonly used "protective" herb in magic, and earned a great deal of respect out in Transylvania, amongst the Romani as well, as a classic vampire repellent. but more so, it was used in rituals by holy people from all sorts of healing traditions; the Celts, gypsies, the Calusari. very good for fevers related to malaria, too and it still holds today October 18, 2013 at 1:27pm
Charles Garcia It was used by Native Californians for intermittent fevers (works btw!) and as a smoke to help with dreaming. The tea is also soothing and helps with minor insomnia. The Chinese settlers recognized it and used to to make Moxa. It has an ancient traditions wherever people found it...eastern Europe still favors it while western Europe not as much so. It has never lost favor here in the US by folkhealers and has undergone a bit of a Renaisassnance of sorts.
October 19, 2013 at 2:13pm
Charles R. Garcia, Director The Herbal Resistance fb
In response to a question by my friend Inspi Peeks: White Sage
Found growing wild in various western states and used by all Native Americans with knowledge of it, white sage (Salvia apiana) is antibiotic, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, and may have anti-viral properties. It has a gray stem, blue blossoms, and blue-green leaves. The plant stem can easily reach six to seven feet in height. This distant cousin of the common sage should not be used to stuff a turkey. But if you did the bird might take longer to go bad.
Many hikers in the Southwest mistake the plant Artemisia (It is often called Sagebrush or Silver Sage.) for true sage. Sagebrush is strongly aromatic and bitter to the taste. These “sages” are often gray to grayish white in color and do not have the large prominent opposite leaves of the Salvia family.
White Sage is found from the Great Basin to southeastern Washington, and throughout the southwest to as far south as Sonora Mexico and down the coast of Baja. The limits of its range are not entirely clear as it tends to appear in areas that are arid as well as those that are wet.
White Sage has become one of the most a popular herbal medicines in the United States.
It can be made into a tea which reduces mucous secretions of the sinuses, lungs and throat during allergy attacks, colds and influenza. Drunk hot, an infusion of the leaves stimulates perspiration, thus lowering fevers. The cold tea is often used to help digestion, while a warmer tea is good sore throat remedy. The leaves have been used by Native American women for hundreds of years as a remedy for heavy and painful menstruation when taken as a strong uterine hemostatic tea. Nursing are advised by doctors not to use it since it reduces lactation (unless that is the point).
Southwest and California Indians used sage to make porridge by grounding seeds into flour while leaves are made into flavoring ingredients for cooking. The leaves of this plant was also smoked, eaten and used as a prime remedy for colds and fever. Another herbal use of White Sage which is still being practiced by some tribes is cleansing the eyes by dropping the seeds and rolled under the eyelids while sleeping and removing it during the morning leaving the eyes clean and free of oxidants and contaminants. While possibly effective it is not suggested first aid skill unless you know exactly how to do it. But if any of you camping party is showing symptoms of Pink Eye, better known as conjunctivitis, a strong decoction made from the leaves and used as an eye wash will eliminate this problem quite quickly. Boil the plant material, along with several clothes, allow to cool and carefully wipe the eyes for several hours. Sleep with a decoction infused cloth on the eyes. This should alleviate the problem in 48 hours.
S. apiana is also used for self grooming especially in the outdoors by crushing the leaves and mixing it with water to create an herbal hair shampoo, hair-straightener and dye. It is also used to rid the body of foul odor by rubbing its crushed leaves all over the body or better yet used as a wash.
A tea or decoction of white sage can be used for topical and internal infections.
If necessary the leaves can be mashed into a poultice and placed on wounds. A specific for major bronchial ailments, white sage was once smoked to ease the pain of infected lungs and sinuses. Though smoking is no longer recommended, a steam made from the leaves can have the same effect along with breaking up congestion. The leaves and stems can quickly be boiled in Sierra Club cup and inhaled.
Like many members of the sage family, the leaves are a potent antiseptic, and are used for abrasions, skin inflammations, douches to treat Candida, washes for staph infections and teas for sore throats, colds, and lung infections.
Burning the leaves is a traditional smudge against insects that have taken up residence in tipis, hogans, hooches, lean-tos and more recently tents and clothing. The rich fragrant aromatic smoke must penetrate all the nooks and crannies of camp life to be completely effective. When used for insect abatement, particular care should be taken in not dropping flaming portions of the plant on sleeping bags, favorite sweaters, polar fleece hats, or that well loved Thermarest mat.
Interestingly, while a variant of this plant can be found in the Mediterranean it is not mentioned in the Bible, Greek or Roman materia medica, and even the great compiler of herbal knowledge of the early 20th century, Maude Grieve, wholly ignores it in her eponymous A Modern Herbal. September 30, 2013 at 12:17am
Joe Schilling What about black sage? September 30 at 7:42am
Kristine Dice Nice, Doc. Very well said, as usual. Joe Schilling, do you mean this black sage? September 30 at 10:04am
Charles Garcia Nope...that's Salvia malifera. September 30 at 10:56am
Kristine Dice Interesting. September 30 at 11:26am
Missy Rohs Thanks, Doc! Great info. Just so you know, however, you're more special than you think -- S. apiana only grows in California
(in the U.S. -- perhaps it's in Mexico, too?): http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SAAP2 September 30 at 1:41pm
Charles Garcia Actually the USDA is wrong...and not for the first time :-) White Sage (Salvia apiana) is definitely called California Sage,
but it has been found in Baja, eastern AZ, parts of New Mexico and curiously in the badlands. It's hard to find...but it is there. Also, you
can find at altitudes where it is not suppose to grow. And while it is drought resistant, it loves a good rain now and again. I'm going thru
the problem of determining if I should grow it in my backyard or in a large half wine barrel. My backyard is shrinking. September 30 at 2:30pm
Mustard: Not Just For Hot Dogs
Some years ago driving a young friend through beautiful Sonoma County, he asked me what all the yellow wild flowers were. Luckily for him, or for me, those weren’t wild flowers. While I love wildflowers I can only name one for sure and the other on a good day. What he was marveling at was wild mustard. (If I can’t drink it, smoke it or tincture it, I have no idea what kind of plant it is.) (I’m an herbalist not a botanist.)
This spring I hope to attend the Mustard Festival in nearby Napa County. Although more widely known for its vineyards and wineries, Napa is also home of gourmet mustard makers. It is fitting to have the festival in Napa, as thousands of acres of wild mustard bloom amongst the vineyards at this time of year. Artists and photographers come to this county each year at this time to record the stunning color of the blossoms.
Thousands more come to taste and test new flavors in mustard. The familiar ball park mustard will be featured, along with the classic Dijon styles. More exotic flavors will be showcased, such as, honey mustard, chive and garlic mustard, pepper corns with ginger mustard, fruit mustards featuring apricot, orange, and lemon lime, and finally the new four alarm spicy mustards, with habanero peppers and tomatoes. Over a thousand mustards will be available to the mustard discriminating public. To set this off will be the beautiful fields of wild mustard, blooming like golden yellow lakes throughout the vineyards.
For all this beauty (and mustard mania), we have one man to thank. Founder of the Missions, enslavers of the Indians, and candidate for sainthood, Father Junipero Serra.
Although various species of mustard are native to most regions of the world, wild mustard was brought to California by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra. The legend is he sowed wild mustard to give travelers a path in the spring. If this is true, then the good padre miscalculated. For hundred of miles in all directions the mustard plant is the dominant feature of the landscape. It is a brilliant yellow and extends for to the horizon. Even in vacant city lots, the mustard blossom blooms and momentarily covers up the ugliness of the city. But don’t try and find your way along the coast by following mustard plants. You will end up across the state into the Sierra Nevada range.
Mustard has been known to humankind for several millenniums. It is mentioned in the Bible (I’ll let you find the reference.) and was popular with the Romans. The Romans may have actually created the first mustard condiment (called must) by crushing the seeds and combining it with unfermented grape juice. This was used as a paste to spread on meat. It may have been used also to cover up the rancidity of bad beef. (Then again those tough Roman legionnaires may have just like it on their Roman Meal Bread. Go figure?) This type of wild mustard is known by its botanical name as Brissica rapa. It is the same type brought to California by Father Serra.
Another type of mustard plant is the Brissica alba, a native of the Mediterranean region. This plant produces large yellow seeds, (not the type mentioned in the Bible) and is widely used in the production of American ball park mustard. It is the mildest of mustards and most widely recognized on store shelves.
Various ethnic groups have taken mustard to heart. Germans, English and Italians to name a few. Mustard greens were a cheap and nutritious vegetable green for many people throughout the ages. My mother remembered gathering mustard plants by the bag full with Italian children on the Los Angeles hills in the late 1920's. Her mother cooked them like spinach. (Nowadays you pay a premium for "organic" mustard greens.)
Mustard greens are high in magnesium which helps regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also high in vitamin A and C, both recommended for warding off infections. Native Californians who found themselves incarcerated at the missions had a higher survival rate if they ate a great deal of mustard greens. Properly prepared a pound of these greens can provide 30 percent of your daily protein requirements. Scurvy ridden sailors who stumbled ashore at Mission Monterey were often given the greens to improve their health. It no doubt was a nice break from salt pork and green biscuits.
But Father Serra probably never thought of mustard as a health food. He was more likely aware of its healing power when applied directly to the skin. When the seeds are crushed into a powder, it makes the basic ingredient for the mustard plaster. Once a common cure amongst doctors, herbalists, and grandmothers, the mustard plaster is used to stimulate circulation to various parts of the body. Mixed with wheat or corn flour and hot water, the plaster is spread on a thin piece of cloth and placed on the affected area. A fresh plaster is placed on the same area before the old one becomes cold.
The chemical formulation of mustard actually increases blood circulation in the areas where the plaster dressing is applied. Increased blood flow to inflamed areas will quicken the natural healing process. Care must be taken to see that no chemical burns occur during this process.
Doctors of the last century were able to stimulate blood flow in seriously injured patients by carefully placing mustard plasters near various organs. Though shot in the brain, President Lincoln was kept alive for hours by the judicious use of mustard plasters.
This treatment was also used for patients suffering from pneumonia, bronchitis, and excessive build up of phlegm due to colds or flu. While not the primary treatment for bronchial distress, the plasters did warm the chest and help open air way passages.
For less serious injuries, like sprains, rheumatism, and backache the plasters can provide some pain relief by acting as a counter irritant. The effect is similar to the slight stinging sensation caused by Tiger Balm or Ben Gay salves.
To increase the effects of mustard, powdered red pepper and ginger can be added to the plasters. I’ve done this several times for clients, including my own mother. For one client with an injured shoulder, great care had to be taken to avoid blistering of the skin. After a few applications of the plaster, the chronic pain began to ease. Two weeks of treatment brought enough movement to his shoulder to continue his less than illustrious softball career.
Another client had an ankle injury from a biking accident four months before. The swelling at the ankle was old and hard. We were at a primitive skills conference in Maryland, so I didn’t have access to my usual herbal pharmacy. No problem. I raided the kitchen. The Quaker Peace Camp where the conference was held at had a well stocked kitchen with lots of powdered hot English mustard. I wrapped his ankle with the mustard plaster and wild comfrey which was thankfully growing on the property. His girl friend took notes and applied another plaster that evening. The following day he was literally dancing around the campfire without pain. Much to my surprise he was still out of pain the following morning.
Most of my clients, though, will only experience mustard through their tastes buds. Which is not a bad way when you come to think of it.
So when you spread that mustard, think beyond hot dogs.
January 20, 2014 at 1:00pm CT
Christopher Whitten I haven't worked with mustard plasters yet. This write up inspires me to give one a try, my parents grew up in a generation where
they remember these being applied to their chests when they got sick as children. January 20, 2014 at 1:27pm
Charles Garcia I definitely remember my mom using this on me. Even then I had a quirky sense of humor. I wanted to tell mom to put some ketchup
on...but I was too sick to talk. January 20, 2014 at 3:31pm
Corin Royal Drummond I've been brine fermenting whole mustards this last year. They're wonderful, and never go bad. I'd love to try wild mustard seeds
some time. January 20, 2014 at 3:35pm
Blessed Homestead I have used nmustard plasters on injuries to horses I had in training, primarily leg injuries. Works wonderfully.
January 20, 2014 at 7:57pm
Kristi Lammel-Schilling II remember you raiding my kitchen for mustard. it was amazing watching him dance.
January 20, 2014 at 8:26pm
Joanna Engelhorn I remember mustard plasters on my chest as a child. It was so warming.
February 01, 2014 at 2:55pm
Of Mustard and Assassination
Written for Plant Healer Magazine April 2015
Two weeks from this writing will be an anniversary of a death that altered American history. People remember the event but not necessarily the date. April 15th on Good Friday, one hundred fifty years ago President Abraham Lincoln was shot by the actor, Southern sympathizer, and secret agent of the Confederacy, John Wilkes Booth.
Being a teacher I’m shocked and sickened (yes you read that correctly) by the ignorance of our current crop of X-geners, including budding herbalists, concerning the history of their nation. A national history lethargy has enveloped the majority of our young people. They are ignorant of the most major facts. The Civil War happened in 1776. The signing of the Declaration of Independence happened sometimes before that. The Great Depression which many of our grandparents and parents lived through occurred somewhere in the 1950s. Don’t even ask about the struggle for Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the Summer of Love.
But let us return to the that night in Washington D.C. when the “United” States lost its best chance for a harmonious peace and the repercussions from one shot still haunts us this very day.
Booth had been on the White House grounds with a raucous crowd celebrating the defeat of Robert E. Lee the leading Confederate general when Lincoln came to a second story balcony and made an impromptu speech. While he touched upon ways to re-incorporate the south back into the Union, (“With malice towards none. With charity for all.) he also remarked that the Negro soldiers who fought so hard for the Union and for their freedom, should be allowed the vote, along with intelligent negroes.
Enraged, Booth confided to a friend, “This means n@#$%r citizenship! Now I will end him!” Booth and his motley band of spies and sympathizers had traveled several times to kidnap the president for ransom of Confederate POWs but the plans always fell through.
It is interesting to note that our most beloved and hated President was not murdered because the South lost the war. He was killed because of civil rights. Lincoln being a man of his time was uncomfortable with Negroes and the idea of black suffrage in the beginning of his presidency, but later could not justify preventing it and would have made no attempt to stop it. The presidency, the war, and contact with Negroes gave him the emotional and perhaps spiritual strength to grow beyond his prejudices. Historians of the presidency often write that the office changes the man. That is untrue. Presidents try to bend it to their preconceived notions, good or bad. Lincoln was changed by the presidency and grew with its painful responsibilities.
And so began his last travel into destiny.
The Lincolns arrived late at Ford’s Theatre. A light rain was falling on the carriages and the cobble stones. The comedy Our American Cousin was well into the first act when the President and First Lady appeared with a young couple as escorts. The play stopped and the orchestra struck up “Hail To The Chief.” A somewhat embarrassed Lincoln bowed slightly to the cheering audience and climbed the stairs to the booth. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair, his wife in a comfortable chair next to him, and the young couple on a sofa to the right of the First Lady.
The play resumed. But the ending would never be seen
John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and in the darkness placed a .50 caliber single shot Derringer two inches from the back of Lincoln’s head. Having seen the play several times Booth had timed his shot to coincide with the largest laugh of the play. His shot was muffled slightly, but the sudden movement and screaming in the presidential box, along with the gray and white cloud of black powder smoke caught everyone’s attention. If that didn’t, then certainly Booth’s sudden leap to the stage brandishing a large dagger and his scream, “Sic simper tyrannous! The South is avenged!” certainly put the fear of God into the first row.
Mary Lincoln screamed, “He shot the president! The president has been murdered!” Two Union officers of the Medical Service, doctors Charles Leale and Charles Sabin Taft reached Lincoln almost at the same time. The president was non responsive until Dr. Leale cleared the bullet hole of brain matter while Dr. Taft did a primitive version of CPR, pumping the President’s arms back and forth across his chest. Lincoln started breathing. Understanding the wound was mortal both agreed Lincoln could not survive the ride back to the White House. With help from off duty soldiers and sailors and a detachment of dismounted cavalry men they carried the still living Lincoln across the muddy street to a room in a rented apartment. There upon a borrowed bed Lincoln, laying diagonally due to his great height, the doctors began the longest night of their lives. The medical protocols of that era required them to keep the President alive as long as possible.
So we come to the most humble of herbs. The majority of America sees it as a flavoring. Most “modern” herbalists see it as quaint. I see it as a life saver.
Although some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in ancient Greek and Roman times, there are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be found over west Asia and Europe, suggesting domestication took place somewhere in that area. Mild white mustard (Sinapis hirta) grows wild in North Africa, the Middle East, and Mediterranean Europe, and has spread farther by long cultivation; oriental mustard (Brassica juncea), originally from the foothills of the Himalaya.
Wikipedia notes that mixing ground mustard seeds with water causes a chemical reaction between two compounds in the seed: the enzyme myrosinases and various glucosinates such as sinigrin, myrosin, and other compounds become mustard oil which stimulates heat and acidity.
Mixing this flour allows it to become a plaster or paste that can be placed on the body, usually with a piece of cloth between the mustard and the skin. This results in a type of chemical burn and must be carefully watched.
Doctors as well as folk healers of the era used plasters to circulate blood through the body, along with bringing blood to injured muscles and organs. Thickness and weight of the plaster can be a determining factor in how long it should be placed on the exposed area. An unofficial motto of my school is “Blood follows heat.”
And so it does at least in my practice. Though it tends to be labor intensive the effect on the client can often be seeing within minutes. Acute winter coughs can be eased by mustard plasters placed on the chest and back. (Not at the same time of course.) It was a traditional treatment for pneumonia for a millennium. The heat can soothe strained or sore muscles particular on the neck and lower spine. For a quick treatment for Reynaud’s Syndrome, a careful wrap is placed on the feet and hands. Using a microwave to reheat plasters is perfectly acceptable as long as they are not overheated (read cooked).
It’s difficult to use mustard plasters in my street practice but not impossible. I will pre-make several plasters and while hot place them in therma-lunch box, the ones with a type of aluminum lining. I will even open several hand warmers and throw those in there. It will keep the plasters hot while I hit the streets, looking for my regulars or trying to find their new squats.
My recipe for plasters is one based on the type my grandfather and modified a bit for my own work.
1 part flour to 2 parts hot mustard powder.
½ part ground ginger.
½ cayenne powder
I will add enough water to make a thick hot paste. I tend to use warm water but tepid water will also work.
After that comes years of practice. Using it on myself makes for important and knowledgeable moments in my life.
My recipe for plasters is one based on the type my grandfather and modified a bit for my own work.
But let us return to that night 150 years ago.
In that small bedroom doctors Leale and Taft ordered bowls and more bowls of mustard plaster to be made, as hot as possible. Placing it on the president’s chest elicited a sudden intake of breath and a stronger pulse. Placing the material on his legs kept his body warm and blood flowing. Hour after hour the doctor’s labored to keep the president alive, though no one believed any treatment could save him. Mary Lincoln became so hysterical she had to be removed from the room. Elder son Robert Lincoln came to his father’s bedside and collapsed in the arms of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Over the next several hours the heads of the government came to see the fallen giant, with the exception of the Secretary of State who had barely survived an assassination attempt while injured from a carriage accident and laying in his bed.
In a journal entry a guard noted the strong smell of mustard, blood, and brain matter. The guard would know. He had served at Gettysburg.
Finally at 7:22 in the morning, the Great Emancipator, Savior of the Union, reviled northerner, wily politician, failed husband and loving father breathed his last. Edwin Stanton looked at the once forlorn face and said these words: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Unlike the high school student from Georgia I met a few years ago who told me how glad he was Lincoln had been killed (His eighth grade teacher taught that Lincoln was going to redraw southern state lines, hang all men over 15, and allow marriage between black men and white women…something that made Lincoln’s skin crawl), I see him as our greatest president. I like to think also that though this brain was battered and bloodied, one sense may have remained. He smelled mustard. He breathed its ancient spicy aroma. It warmed his body and gave him a few more hours of life.
He gave us a nation.
How do we mourn such men?
How do we use such a gentle and powerful herb?
June 30, 2015 at 5:28pm PT
Thoughts on Yerba Mansa
For some reason, and I've noticed this for nearly a
decade at least, I'm drawn to the desert at this time of year. I want to drive to the south-eastern Sierra, down into the Mojave. Or perhaps catch a plan to Tucson and mooch of my
friend Darcey Blue for a week or more. And it's not because I necessarily love the desert. Perhaps because it is a place that can and will kill you if you are careless that I'm
attracted to it. Like staring at a Siberian tiger from across a zoo moat, or a serial killer from a courtroom chair...the desert make you more alert. It makes one feel more...alive.
To paraphrase one of my favorite travel adventure writers, Tim Cahill, the desert is a hateful place. There are those who can make you love it…but only if you are in an arm chair sipping
The late ecologist, novelist, and activist, Edward Abbey, made it seem like a seductress. The American Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton found the desert to be a doorway to the soul. Even
Zane Grey used it as a lovely background in Riders of the Purple Sage.
With the exception of Mr. Cahill, they were all wrong. The desert is a hateful place and does not tolerate fools. It must be accepted on its own terms. Or it will kill you.
Every year a few brave (read idiotic) souls run across Death Valley and continue to the top of Mt. Whitney. From the lowest point in the continental United States to the highest point
in the contiguous forty-eight states. This is probably one of the most grueling races in America. Others who simply enjoy hiking and camping walk across Death Valley. Careful planning
for the race and the hike must be made with the Park Service. This includes caching water and supplies, having a separate party check on your progress, and absolving the Park Service
of all liability for your stupidity. Despite all your planning, the United States Park Service will do their utmost to talk you out of it. The smart ones take their advice. Temperatures
on the floor of Death Valley can average 113 degrees. Temperatures directly on the ground have reached 200. Don’t faint or fall. It will be fatal. In 1973, three hikers were found
desiccated on the valley floor. They never even got close to Mount Whitney./p>
I think about this as I step from my car and stare at Death Valley in the gray morning light. My two herbal companions are yawning. It was 5:45 on an August morning. Estimated
temperatures were 115. There are no clear roads out of here.
So what the heck was I doing here, five thousand feet below our campsite on the Panimint range and looking at the coming sunrise with a feeling of dread? Harvesting Yerba Mansa
Yerba Mansa (Anemopis californica) is a semi-aquatic plant, found near hot springs, saline seeps, swamps, and backwater delta areas throughout California. Unfortunately, agribusiness
pollution has made harvesting it very difficult. It should only be harvested in protected and isolated areas. So here I am in Death Valley--one of the most isolated and protected areas
in the state.
Popular belief has it that Death Valley is bone dry. Nothing can be further from the truth. Although there are dunes in one part of the valley, the floor is often a crusty alkaline bog.
At the foot of the Panimint Mountains, there is a small lake maintained by the Park Service. Small, fresh water streams empty into it. An abundance of wildlife flock to this oasis. But
less than a thousand yards in any direction is desolation. Wild donkeys stand near a cactus and stare at us. They shake their shaggy heads in disbelief. Yerba Mansa grows abundantly on
this lake. And I have only forty-five minutes to harvest it before the sun makes the effort unbearable.
All native people who had access to Yerba Mansa used it medicinally. The roots and leaves are brewed into a distinctly spicy tea and drunk regularly for arthritis. It is notably
effective for cases of rheumatoid arthritis. The tea also heals sores of the mucus membranes: mouth and throat sores. The same decoction can be used as a douche for vaginitis.
The powdered herb and root are good dressings for scrapes, cuts, chafed skin, diaper rash, and fungal infections. One of my students used it for a case of athlete’s foot, which
would not respond to any other medication. It worked.
The plant is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, astringent, and warming to the skin when used in a poultice. It can be used much like quinine for night fevers and night sweats. This
wonderful herb should be used as a replacement for the now endangered Goldenseal. Currently, Yerba Mansa is one of my mainstays for HIV support.
Yerba Mansa is spread by harvesting. Uprooting the plant tends to send out its rhizomes into the swampy soil. Within a year five more plants will take the place of one. It is one of
the few herbs I am unafraid of over-harvesting.
But harvesting can be a trick in itself. It grows packed together like sardines. Shovels bring up as much mud as they do Yerba Mansa. Scorpions scamper through the leaves and I thank
God I am wearing long pants. The sky grows red, then gold. Finally, the sun crests over the Panimint Mountains. I take a long drink of water and set my back to digging even faster.
My shirt is soaked in sweat long before the morning temperature hits eighty. My bandanna is dipped in a special solution of alcohol and ice water. I wrap it over my head, babushka
style. A second bandanna is tied around my forehead to catch sweat.
In less than an hour we can no longer bear the heat beating off the valley floor. We are afraid our car may overheat on the ride to our campsite. We throw our shovels, buckets of Yerba
Mansa and mud in the station wagon. Though we drove down to the valley in darkness, the daylight trip five thousand feet upward is no picnic. Dust covers the windshield and the cliffs
seem that much higher in the day. Though we reach our camp and finally eat a quick breakfast of power bars and coffee, the mountain air is hot and miserable.
These are desert mountains, the kind Jesus experienced during his fast of 40 days. I can imagine the Devil coming to us and offering us cold margaritas in exchange for our souls. No such
luck. We pack up and head to Darwin, an old mining town west of Death Valley. About 40 hardy individuals still live there. And one of them sells water, beer and ice cream. All of which
sound wonderful enough to sell our souls for.
We can smell the sweet spicy aroma of Yerba Mansa drifting from the back of the car. I vow never to come here again. The desert is a hateful place.
Postscript: Harvesting plants in any park area is a crime. Herbalists must often break the law for the greater good and health of their clients. Until Yerba Mansa and other wild herbs
become more commercially available, herbalists like myself run the risk of fines and imprisonment. November 1, 2013 at 8:00pm
Joe Schilling Come visit us. November 1, 2013 at 8:55pm
Adrian White I absolutely love the desert. Wonderful article, Doc :) November 2, 2013 at 6:50pm
Jill Fitzpatrick Probably an instictive need to get WARM! November 2, 2013 at 1:01am via mobile
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