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!

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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!

photo 4

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.

photo 2
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.
photo 1
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!

photo 3
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.

photo 1
P. major has tall seed stalks bearing eatable seeds

The Naturist

indigenous-plant-medicines-mexico-circa-1520

One of my part time jobs this summer is as a cook at a mental rehab facility. I like to think that the food I prepare and serve is a healing force. There is a specific diet, which is based on a whole grain rotation and an incorporation of as many vegetables as possible. The basic philosophy of this diet stems from the connection between chemical and nutrient imbalance as a cause for mental disabilities. Each patient is also prescribed a vitamin regiment. Furthermore, the programming at the facility is based in a holistic approach to self-care through diet, exercise, and spirituality. Several teachers come to host classes and outings where the patients, called students, participate in doing art, tai chi, drama, exercise. Rather than writing about the food or the program, I am most intrigued by a book and a system of medicine that came to me through the director of the facility.

Samuel Thomson
 The Thomsonian System is a course of herbal-medical treatment designed and taught by Samuel Thomson in the late nineteenth century. Samuel Thomson wrote a book (several volumes) called the New Guide to Health, in 1822. This is not the book to which I was introduced but rather a book about the Thomsonian System, written by Doctor R. Swinburne Clymer, called The Medicines of Nature. The book contains a sampling of Materia Medica of Thomson’s System as well as his main formulas. I have been reading an original copy of this book from 1926 with it’s stained yellow pages and musty smell.
I think it is important to look at the history of botanical medicine, from early indigenous peoples and ethno-botanical studies to pioneers in clinical herbalism and naturopathy in western civilization. In the 1800’s, Samuel Thomsan was an outspoken herbalist. It is clear that the rift between natural medicine and the allopathic model is endemic throughout most of western civilization, especially in America.


There are modern practitioners of all sorts who maintain that natural medicine is the best mode of treatment, but in this age, most people are skeptical of this position! Dr. Thomson’s philosophy is that, “Nature and Nature alone, will be the basis of all curative activity.” He notes that disease is dis-ease (an un-ease) or an imbalance due to a lack of certain elements or minerals.
Of course modern medical research has disproved this blanket statement. For example, a common disease in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dysentery. We now know this is caused by different types of microorganisms (Shigella sp. and Entamoeba histolytica). Nonetheless, his book contains herbal remedies to treat this serious disease.
The basis of this thought, however, is rooted in science. The human body’s natural state is that of homeostasis or equilibrium of functioning, and its inability to do that results in disease. In this example, Dr. Thomson’s system selects healing plant-life according to the organic mineral element content. This method of treatment is to enhance cellular activity for the body to achieve homeostasis on its own. The practitioner merely supplies the body with food.

A metaphor for food as medicine
A metaphor for food as medicine

Beyond Beauty

This week I wanted to add some color to the blog, and talk about a famous purple flower: Lavender. 

lavender

Just the thought of this aromatic plant calms me. I have a home-made eye pillow with lavender (and rosemary), and the relaxation effect is so great. It is comforting to smell the lavender and to rest it on my forehead each night. I know people that have chronic headaches who swear by carrying a bottle of lavender essential oil with them and apply a few drops of the oil to their temples at the onset of a headache.

I was surprised to learn of the many uses of lavender beyond just stress relief and a tension headache remedy.  Lavender is also a known antispasmodic, antibacterial and antiseptic plant.  An article that I read mentioned using a few drops of lavender on a ringworm infection! This is amazing considering the potent anti fungal antibiotic that a doctor would prescribe for such a scary parasite.  It’s a whole new approach to self care (and child care) when you first ask yourself ‘what can I do to help the situation,’ and  ‘what do I Have already that can help’, then to rush to urgent care, and a huge bill.

The most common type of lavender that is grown are different species of english lavender.  I see a lot of ornamental lavender plants and those just don’t have the same healing properties.  There are also varietals that are grown specifically for producing essential oils.

In the summertime when the plant is producing its flowers is the time to prune the plant back and dry the flowers for a time you may need them. As in the picture below, hang bundles of the stems to dry and then pull the buds from the stems.  The buds can then be soaked in olive oil, and after about a month, strain the buds out with cheese cloth and voila, lavender infused oil! The oil can be applied topically to sooth headaches, minor skin irritations, or ingested as a delicious culinary treat! (Note: In the case of the ringworm situation, this would not be helpful and one would need the essential oil to dry out the infection; I have not tried this since I’ve never experienced ringworm, thankfully.)

drying-lavender-lo

I am amazed, each week as I write this blog, at the amount of information (both scientific and metaphysical) that can be gathered about each plant. Below are two article that I referenced in writing this post. I am so thankful for my knowledge of the world of plants and look forward to sharing more in weeks ahead.

Botany-related Source: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/herbs/crops/culinary/lavender_mccoy.html

Other reading: http://www.jenniferschulman.com/content/50-uses-essential-lavender-oil-around-home-and-family#.VWzLdEvPJZg

Women’s Health is Community Health

Rubus idaeus Rubus idaeus

Some people who garden may know this plant. In late summer it produces sweet red berries that are a delicious treat! While the plant has thorns to turn away the non committed forager, those who know this plant are not deterred. Not only are the sweet, ripe, red berries a treat during summer but the leaves of the plant can be made into tea and drank with medicinal value. This plant is Red Raspberry.

For the herbalist, red raspberry is known generally as a female toner.  (Yes, this post is most speaking to women’s health, but men should note that this does not mean the plant is toxic to you.) “Female Toner” is an umbrella term that encompasses the many properties of this plant!  Red raspberry leaves aid the endocrine system, which is the body system that regulates hormone balance.  Since the female reproductive system is directed by a specific flow of hormones, this plant will help with: infertility, pregnancy, morning sickness, premenstrual stress, menopause symptoms, and even anxiety.  Red raspberry leaves are a companion throughout all of the childbearing years and beyond!

Hormone replacement therapy  (HRT) is commonly recommended by western medical doctors to women who are experiencing strong symptoms of menopause. The health risks of this option are greater than the benefits.  Synthetic hormones can shock your body system and pose a risk to families with a risk of estrogen dependent breast cancer, they should be used at the lowest effective dose if used at all.  Back the the plants.

A healthy and nourishing alternative to hormonal balance, that will work in most cases with consistent intake, is red raspberry leaf tea. There are also herbal compounds on the market which include red raspberry leaf, red clover, blue and black cohosh, vitex, valerian root and more.  At home, a tea can be made of the dried, or fresh, leaves of red raspberry:

2 TBS crushed leaves to a quart of hot water. Let sit for at least an hour until the tea is dark in color.  Drink consistently (3-4 times) throughout the day.

While the mother’s of herbalism share the uses of plants in a folklore sense, there is science to support these claims.  I am amazed at the fact that plants contain hormones themselves which aid in our own hormone balance.  I really believe in this delicate balance with the systems of the body and the plants that we accept into our lives. Science, folklore, sustainability, and stewardship intertwine to create a wholesome experience of well being.

To learn more about Rubus idaeus, check out this link from The School of Natural Healing: http://online.snh.cc/files/2100/HTML/100hs_raspberry__rubus_idaeus.htm