Rare Plants and Diversity

For any plant lover, finding exotic and rare plant species may be the most exciting part of one’s day! Today, I found a wild orchid: Cypripedium acaule. In North Carolina, there are a number of native, terrestrial orchids where the orchids grow with their roots in the ground. Mostly, orchids are epiphytes, because they grow on a substrate like rocks or tree bark, with their roots exposed to the air. The roots have a special coating called velamen to keep in moisture.

 

The topic of rare plant species is coming up a lot recently in part because it is spring and plant life is waking up. Also because one of my classes this semester is focusing on an endemic and threatened plant species. This plant, which I recently met although not yet flowering, is Hudsonia montana (Mountain Golden Heather). Hudsonia montana is only found within two counties in North Carolina, and no where else in the world. (Albeit, other species of Hudsonia are found elsewhere in the world.) Hudsonia montana has a very specific habitat; it only grows on rocky outcrops, in higher elevations, and largely depends on wild fires to spread. This species in in danger in part because wildfires are less common in its habitat and people tend to trample this low-lying subshrub.

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The orchid, Cypripedium acaule, was found in a tract of woods nestled between an interstate highway and a local busy road. The location of the Hudsonia montana is within designated wilderness area where there is nothing but mountains in all directions. The stark difference between the sightings of these native plants is indicative of the importance of ALL natural areas. Despite proximity to human activity, all natural areas may provide habitat and refuge for rare and threatened species.

Natural habitat is everywhere.  Not only do we need a focus on wilderness conservation, but also effort to conserve, to respect, to tend to the natural world in our own backyards, wherever we live. In a way, a single flower blooming among traffic is even more appreciated than the threatened shrub that people trample on when they drive for hours to arrive at the wilderness.

A diversity of plant life contributes to the biodiversity of our local ecosystems. When looking at diversity, we can look on so many different levels, from microbe diversity to human diversity. To the impassioned botanist, it goes without saying that we should respect, value, and protect native and threatened plant species. But most people may not understand why this is important, or why a plant sighting would make someone’s day. Well, biodiversity is essential to the longevity and the health of an ecosystem, of which humans are a part. For example, within the healthy human gut lining is found multiple species of bacteria, which function to maintain immunity, digestion, and emotional balance. Within a natural ecosystem, flowers have a mutualistic relationship with pollinators, so certain insects may rely on specific plants. Also, the genetic diversity of a plant population depends on large populations. These rare plants have a bigger role in our natural world, and in our backyards, than we may realize on a daily basis. I challenge you to learn a new plant in your backyard and to think about reasons why plant life may be important to protect.

“Cold” Season

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Image Cited

I recently had to battle the common cold! I felt the cold itself moving around my upper respiratory tract, from my nasal cavities and sinus, to my throat and chest. So many people experience the common cold and during “cold season” this bug circulates around small communities on a daily basis like wildfire.

What do you do when you feel yourself getting sick, or suddenly find yourself completely ill?

So much emphasis in holistic medicine is on prevention. Not prevention in the sense of a flu shot, but prevention in the sense of nutrition building so that your body can be ready to fight when it needs to (ie: the immune system defense). Most of the time when I ‘catch the common cold,’ I am completely stressed out, overworked, and full of stress hormones. Then, there is an emotional component attached to the state of being sick.

Catching a cold provokes blameful thoughts like, “I did everything to prevent this…how did I get sick?!” But this always challenges me to slow down, to listen to what my needs are, and to address them. It’s as if your body is saying, no, I need rest.

In the herbal community, we are encouraged to pay close attention to our body’s responses and symptoms. For example, if you have a cough, know everything about the cough. Is it a dry cough or a cough where you’re expelling mucus? Simple clues are important to help you to choose which remedies will help. Also, knowing these clues will help your care provider in treating you as well, not only with seasonal issues (as those are mostly cured with rest and nutrition) but also with other ailments. I think that this is the root of “being you own doctor.”

My friend shared a healing story where she caught strep throat and healed it through eating only nourishing soup for a number of days. In the soup she put: garlic, bok choy, mushrooms, onion. When I am sick I focus on ingesting high amounts of nutrients: vitamin C, garlic, honey, hot herbal infusions, chicken soup, and miso. I know that we all have our own ways of coping with the common cold, or other seasonal illnesses, please feel free to share some tips!

Food: the thing that keeps you going

I’m not sure what the dictionary definition of Winter Break is, but I have a suspicion that it goes something like: time to rest, reprieve, regroup, and recover.

As I use this time to catch up with myself, one of my main focuses is developing a meal planning strategy for the upcoming semester. It takes a lot of food energy to keep going during the semester. More than calories, it is so essential to maintain a balanced diet so that the body system can be supported to function properly and to avoid sickness and sluggishness.

My sister told me about a book called Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. The book contains recipes for a $4 a day food stamps budget. This got me thinking because, while not on food stamps, this is my basic budget range for buying food each week.

Budget aside, my values for natural healing also tend to govern choices that I make when it comes to both purchasing and preparing food. I learned how to prepare whole meals from fresh and raw materials. Without a doubt it takes skill to transform a head of cabbage, a sack of onions, a bunch of kale, a pound of raw meat, and a gallon of water into a week’s worth of food.

It makes sense to me to eat whole foods, not because the grocery conglomerate is so hip, but because that is food in its most naked form. Raw materials are what come from the farm and these types of foods do not have corn, sugar, or hydrogen injected into them, for who-knows-what-reason. Looking at food as raw material deconstructs diet into the four basic chemically necessary macromolecules: lipids, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and proteins.

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Photo Credit to J. Todd

But the sustenance part is the focus here. Digestion is a key player in mood stability, hormonal balance, immunity, the ability to handle stress, and to adapt to environmental changes. So, with budget and well-being in mind, I am preparing meal ideas with the help of some stellar resources including (and not limited to): Dr. Christopher’s The School of Natural Healing and The Moosewood Collective’s Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special.

Some highlights include: homemade mayonnaise, freshly prepared soup stock, raw salads with basic vegetable combinations, freshly baked breads and biscuits. Basic combinations offered by Dr. Christopher include: carrots, raisins, and celery; cauliflower, peas, parsley; apples, celery, parsley; cabbage, celery, onions, olives. One cooking tip is that you can make variations to salads with the way in which you chop the vegetables, for example: shredding versus dicing or finely chopping.

Garlic stock from the Moosewood Collective contains: fresh garlic cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, potatoes, celery, carrots, thyme, and parsley. Another tip is that if you need some quick protein and buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, use the carcass to make chicken stock by throwing in all kinds of vegetable scraps (potato peels, dried mushrooms, carrots, celery, onion skins, and dried herbs of all kinds). Stocks like this contain nutrients essential for your sustenance; just add rice and some fresh kale and miso paste (fermented soy)…. May the SOUP be with you.

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Garlic (Allium sativum) Photo Credit: http://www.prodifact.com/1allium-sativum.html

Aloe vera

 

These images are almost as soothing as Aloe vera itself! When I look at this plant I feel relieved.  The juice inside of this succulent is perfect for applying to burns and to dry skin. It also may be taken internally (although I’m not sure of the preparation of this, Aloe vera drinks are readily available), to help with gut issues.  One tip is that you can harvest an entire Aloe rind and put it in the freezer for later use.  It’s helpful to have this in the kitchen since it’s easy to reach for if your skin gets burned.  Another tip about growing Aloe in a container is that it does not to be watered frequently.  Since it’s a succulent, Aloe uses water very efficiently and can be watered twice a month, or every two weeks, only when the soil through the container is dry.  Happy Aloe!

Flowers in a Winter greenhouse

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

The common name for this place is Bleeding Heart Vine.  The flower of this plant is a common flower essence used in healing one’s heart.  The essence is said to help to differentiate ones own emotions from others or to mend relationships that diminish ones own integrity.  Of course a few days after I took these picture, the flower opened up and the stamen popped out, ready to reproduce!  So delicate and intimate to witness the subtle transition of the plant.  Clerodendrum thomsoniae is native to West Africa.

 

Lobelia inflata

Lobelia inflata

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This plant is native to the eastern united states and parts of Canada.  The common name for Lobelia inflata is Indian tobacco.  The flowers are tubular in shape and blue or white in color, although the parts used medicinally are the leaves, seeds, and seed pods. I have not been acquainted with this plant in its wild form, but the reputation of its medicinal uses precedes it.

I was taught about Lobelia inflata as a necessary addition to any first aid kit.  The tincture of the dried plant is used in emergent situations from anaphylactic shock and asthma attacks to other situations that may require regurgitation.  The tincture may cause vomiting, but this dosage is dependent on age and weight, and varies from two drops to a whole dropper-full.  The recommendation is that if lobelia is needed, then vomiting would be a mere side effect to a state of shock or labored breathing.

The tea of lobelia dried is also a used as a nervine tonic.  It is soothing, and can be mixed with mullein to promote smoking cessation.  Or mixed with chamomile to soothe a headache.  In addition to an alcohol based extract (tincture) and infusion (tea), a fellow herbalist told me that she used a salve (oil extract) with lobelia to soothe muscle spasms.  In soothing the nervous system, organ and muscle functioning is aided and regulated.

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This herb is a great example of a plant which has many uses, and different applications for each respective preparation.  I think the way in which the plant chemicals are extracted from the plant lends to various potencies.  I have not been in the situation where I needed to use lobelia as an emergency herb.  But I have experienced its soothing effects from an infusion: I bought dried lobelia from an herb shop where they sell bulk herbs, and prepared tea.  It is without a doubt potent, but I did not vomit!  Rosemary Gladstar recommends that when learning about herbs, it is best to try the herbs, smell them, look at them, and keep a small amount in your apothecary.  In doing this, you will assemble a small index of plants and refer to their uses and preparations time and time again, so that a stranger becomes a new friend.

Black Walnut, Part III

The Walnuts that I collected weeks ago have finally dried. I went ahead and made powder from the hulls, which turned from bright green to dark brown, using a mortar and pestle.  This was my first time processing the Walnut hulls, and it couldn’t have been better! I found that most of the hulls were easily pulverized by gently crushing them by hand.  I plan to prepare a tincture with this, and to keep some powder dry.

In her book Healing Wise, Susan Weed recommends a ratio of:

5 oz (volume) of liquid menstruum

for every 1 oz (weight) of dry plant material

The menstruum is a liquid vector which extracts the compounds from the plant material.  This can be brandy, 100 proof vodka, a homemade dilution of pure grain alcohol, or vegetable glycerine.  If you’re making tinctures at home, choose what works best for you.

Once you begin your tincture, be sure to keep it in a cool, dark place for up to six weeks.  Then strain with a piece of cheesecloth, bottle, and be sure to label the end product. Injoy!

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