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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Successes and Failures

plantain soothes at times

This past week I had an experience that caused a need for first response!  How poignant since this is what I have been thinking about a lot.  As an  herbalist, every situation of need is a learning experience.  But this time, I was challenged to examine my tool kit, my judgement, and my faith in a plant based modality.

The situation in question was a bee sting, poison ivy, and plenty of bug bites to go with it. Nothing life threatening, but of course these conditions may turn into cuts which are then open to things like infection (oh my!).  When I think about ‘first aid’, most of the time I think blood, wounds, breaks and sprains. But ‘first aid’ also refers to little scratches, bug bites, headaches, cramps, and bruises. Believe it or not in living an active and out of doors life style these issue come up more often than not.

Sometime I see plants as companions in the body’s natural function, such as Calendula or Comfrey as helping the body to produce more cells to grow skin or soft tissue. Other times I see natural remedies as supporting natural defense mechanisms.  At the first thought of infection due to a cold or even a small cut, or spider bite, I am reaching for garlic as quick as I can say infection!  This might be a fear mediated response, but I guess better safe than sorry.

Despite having an idea of what plants to help in respective situations, having them in a prepared form (such as powder, salve, tincture, etc.), on hand, and easily accessible are all part of the art form of this plant based lifestyle! It’s not easy to drive to the store as immediately as the need, not to mention the unknown quality and source of the products sold on the shelves.

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It is an on going process for me to assemble a kit that I know is trusted, fresh, potent, and versatile. I’ll let you know when I come up with it. Of course, aside from the basics, each family will have a different sub-set of issues, ailments, and situations.  What are your successes (and maybe failures) with herbal first aid?

An Aster and A First Responder

Credit: Beautiful Photo by Graziano Propetto
Credit: Beautiful Photo by Graziano Propetto

Some miracle stories exist about the healing powers of plants; people who were healed from cancers, gangrenous limbs, infections, and other debilitating diseases from herbal preparations.  I do think that it is possible, in many cases, for plant medicine to make an extraordinary difference in people’s lives.  While the heroic uses of herbs are possibly, it is beneficial and, even, essential to be aware of the plants which are first responders in everyday life and are an addition to any first aid kit. One such plant is Arnica.

There are several different species of Arnica (Arnica sp.), which are classified in the Aster family, scientifically known as Asteraceae or Compositeae.  Other plants in this family include: calendula, chicory, dandelion, goldenrod, and yarrow.  While I was under the impression that Arnica flowers are purple, I learned that they are YELLOW, with broad leaves at the base of the plant.  Arnica is native to most areas of North America and grows in sandy soil. While I didn’t find this in my research, I believe that this wild plant likes to grow at high altitude.

I almost always have Arnica within reach, in the form of homeopathic beads to take internally and cream for external use.  More than a handful of times since I discovered this remedy, I have relied on it for healing for sprains, bruises, sudden impacts/falls.  While Arnica is helpful for external use, it is not recommended if the skin is broken.  I also find that it helps most when taken immediately from the injury.  The healing properties of Arnica stimulate circulation, so an increased blood supply to the damaged area as soon as possible is crucial in healing.  It is good to carry Arnica on your person when out for a hike, bike ride, or other possibly dangerous activity.

Since this remedy comes to me in the form of a homeopathic remedy, I feel strangely disconnected from the medicine as a plant. But I know that it is happily growing all over the country (and the world, ie: Europe).  Majestically yellow, and with the bumps, bruises, strains, and sprains along life’s journey, Arnica is a companion.  This plant is one I have yet to meet face to face, but I look forward to the day when we do!

Post Script Notes about homeopathic remedies: There are different dosages available in the homeopathic pellet form, smaller is usually better but in cases of sever trauma (car crash, for example) a large does would be helpful.  Avoid caffeine, coffee, or tea as this is a contraindication.  Store in a cool-dark location away from radiating frequencies.

Thank you to all of the sources for this article:

http://www.homeopathy-homeopathics-remedies.naturalhealthdoc.net/Homeopathic-Dosage-Recommendations-Guidelines.htm

The New Age Herbalist. By: Richard Mabey, Anne McIntyre, Michael McIntyre

Photos from: http://luirig.altervista.org/flora/taxa/index1.php?scientific-name=arnica+montana

Plantain

Plantago major

A stand of Plantain
This small, broad plant grows with incredible abundance in pastureland, meadows, lawns and  along hedgerows. One source claims that it may be the most abundant ‘weed’ that was spread with European colonization.  Lucky for us, it is a perennial and is readily available.  It is highly likely that you’ve noticed this plant in passing but did not think twice about it as being useful.

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P. Lanceolata

Plantago major or it’s common name Plantain is not to be confused with the banana-like fruit. The leaves are broad and low to the ground with a small stem.  In late summer, tall stalks appear with small, mucilaginous seeds (as seen in the photos).  The counterpart to Plantago major is a different species called P. lanceolata, which has taller and thinner leaves, but both species share the same uses.
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The Plantain plant (or English Plantain) is most notably helpful in its drawing properties. That means it is helping in drawing out venom, infection, or poisons from the system,  which may be a result of bacteria, insect bites or stings, or imbalance in the kidneys.

If you get a bee sting or mosquito bite and then see this plant, immediately pulverize a leaf and apply it to the sting, repeatedly.  It is known to draw out the poison within an hour’s time.  And, I do believe that immediate application is crucial!

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the broad leaves of Plantago major

I have witnessed the magic of this plant where the pulverized, fresh leaves were applied to an infected wound and helped to expel infected fluids!  The fresh leaves can be used at any time (during the plant cycle), and this the most common use for the plant. There are, however, many more ways in which the leaves may be prepared and used for healing…

In addition to the leaves, the seeds are known for healing, and eating!  A wild food enthusiast who is bringing wild food to The People, taught me about the value of eating the seeds of Plantago major.  This was the inspiration for my blog since I passed several stands of the plant will tall, luscious seed stalks. I did taste some seeds along the way.

I am amazed at the heroic ways in which a simple plant can be used in serious and perhaps life threatening situations, or helpful to incorporate into your diet (the leaves can be eaten in salad too!).  It’s like the power of this plant is dormant to the population, but waking up slowly as consciousness grows around plants and their uses in our daily lives.

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P. major has tall seed stalks bearing eatable seeds

Tweefontein and Friends

Everywhere is in the middle of nowhere.
Until the landmarks are discovered.
A pair of parents are having a baby, the whole world in one little bundle.
Highways interconnected; corporate box stores erected.
The framework for modern-day survival, swinging in the wind, less stable than an unsteady bridge.
Standing in a parking lot, in a field, on a mountain top,
The four directions are there.
Walk up the hill, there’s fresh water.
Plants’ fearless, fecund propagation throughout all landscapes.
Ancient scouts walked without shoes,
but on my feet there are boots.
Soothed by the sun and the stream;
the medicine for the soul holds the body close.


I recently visited my dear friends who are expecting a baby. They live in a beautiful mountain town amongst wild plants, fresh water streams, and others who are cultivating and spreading the beauty of plant medicine.

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Tweefontein Herb Farm is just outside of New Paltz, New York. This project is run collectively by a group of individuals. They are committed to being stewards of the land, to collective and cooperative living, and to selling herb products to the greater New York area. When I met some of the members of TweeFontein Herb Farm, they were in between market days, so my friend and I volunteered to help them gather some more fresh herbs. We worked on harvesting peppermint and lemon balm. They use the fresh herbs to make wonderful tea blends.

I was totally inspired by this group’s enthusiasm to market their tea blends and within that the fresh mountain air, minerals, and overall good energy. The way that we harvested the peppermint and the lemon balm was such that the plants would continue to branch out and to grow.  We cut the tops of the plants just above a branching stem. In the photo above, the tails of the peppermint stems are visible.

In addition to the plants at Tweefontein Herb Farm, many more plants were found! Wild yarrow, mullein, blackberries, sumac (tree, pictured below), and Saint John’s Wort (also pictured below).

Sumac tea was new to me! It tastes high in vitamin C, having some resemblance to Hibiscus.  In addition to tasting a new tea, I was seeing St. John’s Wort growing somewhat in abundance! I have only seen this plant thriving in the Northeast, but it is known to grow throughout the US (and Europe).  The latin name is Hypericum perforatum.  In the future, I would like to try to propagate this plant because of  it’s many practical uses.

It’s a plant for the Nervous System. In Europe, physicians  prescribe St. John’s Wort for clinical depression. A topical preparation may be used for sciatic nerve pain.  My herbalist friend uses oil infused with St. John’s Wort as sun protection, while other sources have suggested it’s ability to increase photosensitivity, when taken internally (ie: tea).  Another herbalist I know recommends Hypericum perforatum combined with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) for a topical wound healing salve.  The essence of St. John’s Wort appears often in Flower Essences as a protective spirit.  The yellow flowers are bright and uplifting.  The plant has ovate leaves that are covered with oil glands that appear to be dots when the back of the leaf is held up to the sun. It is one of those plants that has a lot to say!

Roadside Weeds

Amidst the suburban life that I am living, the highlight of my day today was noticing weeds in bloom on the side of the road!

I noticed flowers of all colors poking their heads out to find the sun, and smiled. I guess it is the little things in life.

Thoughts went through my head, “If only people knew what these weeds could be used for, there would be more of them.” I will be crossing my fingers that they go to seed before the mowers come. “These few plants have a big responsibility to carry on their species and continue their struggle against pollution, development, and environmental degradation.” The roadside weeds are warriors in this world!

My first sighting was cattails standing tall near a drainage pond. I thought of Tom Brown, a native New Jersian, from whose book I first learned about Cattails! These magnificent marshy plants have so many uses, from natural tooth care to food. Just about every inch of this plant is eatable. Native Americans are known to have used the young plant for wounds, sores, boils, inflammation, and more.

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Next, I saw Chicory. Little, light blue flowers dispersed on a long thing stalk. The root of this plant is commonly toasted and made into tea as a coffee substitute.

Then, Queen Anne’s Lace stood out to my eye. The umbels of this common weed are in full white flowering beauty, although do not mistake it with poison hemlock, which is in the same family.  The Umbelliferae family also contains plants like anise, angelica, osha, parsley, parsnip (and more).  Queen Anne’s Lace is also known as wild carrot, the seeds of which are used in natural birth control methods.

Daucus carota
Daucus carota

Another! Mullein. Which is an expectorant and can be made into a tea or used dried in herbal smoking mixes. The leaves of mullein are soft and broad while the seed stalk is thick and tall.

flowering mullein plants
flowering mullein plants

Finally, two plants I have seen along the roads are red clover and mugwort. Red clover is one of the special female toner herbs, for example it can be used in place of synthetic hormones during menopause.

The wisdom of the plants is littered along the roadside, and they remind me about hope. I will continue to hope for the wellbeing of this plant life because their medicine has a place in all of this.