Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guinea Pig Time

Today was my first test (on myself) of the leaves of the Verbesina virginica (White Crownbeard) in an infusion.   I found mention online in a facsimile copy of a very old  materia medica where the tops and leaves of the plant were used for urinary tract support and as a diuretic, and that one doctor in Texas used this plant extensively in his practice.  It stated a strong decoction was made and was safe to use regularly.

As I cannot find any other information yet except scant mention that the native Americans did have some uses for the plant, I decided to test it only on myself beginning with a  few sips of the leaves in an infusion (less strong that a decoction).   It was pleasant in taste, noticeably but not irritatingly astringent, and may have use even at that strength as a mild diuretic.  I was testing for any allergic reaction, with my Benadryl close at hand.

I just have a feeling about this plant, which is not enough to speak for its use for anyone but myself (I'm making that very clear here).  It is found everywhere here this time of year, hardy and making itself seen at the same time goldenrod and the sunny wild helianthus (sunflowers) are all along the roadsides.  It's allergy season here for some and there's a slow shifting in the weather.  A lot of the plants I've been documenting and trying to identify recently (since we don't know as many of our wild plants yet as we'd like) are immunity boosters and also kidney supportive.  I have not tried any of the others I've documented yet.  But this feeling I have about this mild plant is that its abundance may be a signal of its appropriate matching to the changing season and the vulnerabilities those of us who live here have as the climate makes it way towards winter....which is mild here, but is a change nonetheless.

Like I said, it's a hunch, but it's also pretty well established in herbalism worldwide that despite the exceptions (no set "rule" for this...) many plants are naturally suited to being supportive nutritionals for the human ills of that particular area.  In a sense, this is locavore herbalism if we pay attention to the native and wild plants that seem to thrive in our own areas.  It really makes sense to me.  Like I said, I'm very new to this, but I find it exciting and it makes me notice things in a different way.  It makes me take a second and further looks at the humble and beautiful plants I often noted only in passing before, and it makes me want to know more about them.  I start thinking of them as "friends" that mark the progression of the changing seasons and the changing needs of the community at large and it also makes me feel very grateful that God's design works this way...this wisdom of having in beauty and our own backdoors or backwoods the very things that we need for a particular time and place.

I'll continue to be my own guinea pig and I'll document for my own uses my own results while I still will be on the lookout for others who have a lot more experience and knowledge about these plants.  Some plants are so well documented in their benefits and energies (the effects they produce within our bodies), especially those plants found in Ayurveda and TCM dating back 3,000-5,000 years, that there's no "starting from scratch" in the same way that western herbs are (except for the ones common to both sides of the pond).  It may be there's an Asian equivalent to the Verbesina virginica that I can find.  Or there may be some specific source in native American documentation or specific folk herbalists here in North America (or even South America, etc) to be found.

The thrill is in the hunt :)  In the meantime, we find new wildflower "friends," we learn a lot, we begin to notice our world differently and more appreciatively, wonder more at the generosity and wisdom of how God ordered things and see His ultimate joy in spreading so much bounty so freely for us humans to enjoy and benefit from.  It's all good!

And next time I'll test a little stronger infusion of the leaves and tops.  I could use a great locally-available (my backyard!) diuretic from time to time :-D

That's all for now... :-D

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Treben Triad

One of the first herbals I read years ago was Maria Treben's  Health From God's Garden.  It was probably my first real introduction into the wonderful world of healing with herbs, and a cherished gift from my former mother-in-law. She herself was an avid herbal enthusiast and her house always had corners filled with odds and ends jars, dated and labeled, full of steeping tinctures or bulk herb finds, the pungent and fragrant whiffs of that collection so reminiscent of her herbal realm.

I thought I would keep that copy of my Maria Treben book forever, but as with many things that are precious, the day came when it needed to be passed along to be pored through by another.  One of my past clients, in her nineties, gave me so many valuable herbal tips from her remembrance dating all the way back to her childhood in pre-WW2 Poland, and I am grateful for her fanning the embers of my curiosity and love of traditional medicinal herbs through those conversations.  Among her conversations were the mentions of the late herbalists Father Kneipp and Maria Treben.  She lamented the loss of some writings of theirs she had owned in the past, so I was delighted to pass along my own book to her and see her joy at being reunited with an "old friend."

Since that time, I've discovered many books on traditional herbals, and I never seem to tire of unearthing more finds, comparing opinions and seeing what favorites other respected herbalists like to rely on.  It's an entry into a conversation spanning thousands of years and immensely varied cultures and traditions...fascinating historically, biologically, medically, botanically...the filtered wisdom of many ages.

I do find that I return periodically to Maria Treben's book, the smaller of which I now own, Health from God's Pharmacy.  In many of her formulas, the reader will quickly notice her reliance on a backbone of three herbs -- yarrow, stinging nettle, and calendula.  Indeed, they are indicated for such a broad range of conditions, there seem to be few formulas in the book that don't call for them.  I tend to think of them as the Treben Trio, or Treben Triad.  In the many notebooks in which I've scribbled ideas for particular formulas based on my readings, I find the same three cropping up regularly.

We currently have not grown any yarrow, calendula, or stinging nettle in our own yard, though we do have many others, but I wanted to go ahead and test this formula on the willing members of my own little household (just my husband and myself at the moment) and to note any results or preferences before deciding whether they prove to be the all-round workhorse formula in our own experience that they seem to be in the Treben writings.  I am beginning with them because yarrow, stinging nettle, and calendula are historically proven traditional medicinals, mild, and considered to be safe, though I don't find from recent authors that calendula is taken internally as much now as in decades past.

I also found a more reliable "brewing" container, an enamel coffeepot from a thrift store, gutted of its strainer and now put to use making infusions with loose herbs.  It holds about a quart and is great for keeping warm at the back of the stove.


Maria Treben's formulas call for fresh herbs, for the most part.  Since I don't have any of these available fresh to me at this time, my experiment was done with dry herbs from reliable suppliers.  The joy of running my hands through the bright colors and textures was as much fun as enjoying their beauty and sipping my first cup of the infusion.  It was pleasant and deeply green in taste, mild and with a mildly bitter undertone.  Since the general health benefits are what we're going for rather than flavor, the fact it was not unpleasant was welcome.  It was really nice sipped while relaxing together, and so far neither of us has had any allergic sensitivity to be concerned about.

Before mixing up a big batch of mixed herbs, be sure to test for sensitivities such as allergies, using a very small amount of the single herbs before committing to a bigger blend.

For specific medicinal benefits purported by Maria Treben's books for this combination, please consult her books directly.  In general, it is said to be both blood cleansing and building, immunity-stimulating, tissue healing, hormonally regulating, adaptogenic, digestively soothing, and rich in flavanoids.

As I note any specifics in our own experience, I'll write about them more here.

Do you have any experience using any of these three herbs internally, and if so, what was your experience?

As always, I learn from our shared experiences!

Be well!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Small Starts -- A Basic Healing Tea

I'm really excited to have ordered the dry herbs for my first herbal healing blend.  I've based it on some of my family's and friends' general health needs so it can be used to nourish, support, and heal a broad array of imbalances while other herbs can be added separately to further individualize things.

I based it on my readings of Maria Treben's writings.  I began noticing that a high percentage of her herbal recommendations repeated use of infusions that included three herbs:  stinging nettle, yarrow, and calendula.

One of my goals in selecting specific herbs for formulas is to stay with those whose actions are safe and also time-proven.  I also prefer a blend that supports balance and is not harsh, but is effective.

The only caution I can find for the use of a couple of these herbs is to not use them during pregnancy or while trying to conceive.  I suspect that applies as a precaution against using them in large quantities if pregnant, but I prefer the better-safe-than-sorry approach at all times.

So far, my herbal blend will use Maria Treben's basic three, but will also add a few others in time.

To date, the one I'll start with will include:

Stinging Nettle

(at later date, perhaps, will also include)

I like the idea of a blend to use daily for improvement in a broad range of areas and body systems, more as a tonic.  I have yet to figure out how the energetics rate in terms of TCM and ayurveda, since I'm so new to them.  But I like a base "tea" that can be tweaked with the addition of other specific herbs as needed, and I love the proven track record the Basic Three has, and plantain seemed a cohesive partner.

I'll follow up with the properties of each herb in another post.  Just wanted to note my Starter Healing Tea, and that my family and some friends will be trying them and keeping notes on any effects, positive or negative...and reporting back :)

Do you have a blend of herbs you use as your base for other blends, and what led you to choose each of them?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pipewort, Gu Jing Cao?

This is a repost from my main BackForty blog. I'm still investigating any medicinal uses for Pipeworts. TCM utilizes one type of pipewort, known also as Gu-Jing-Cao.  Below is the original post.  I still have yet to specifically identify this particular pipewort  shown in the picture, growing on our Someday Farm.
Whitehead Bog Button variety of Pipewort, maybe??  Lachnocaulon anceps??

If anyone can help me identify this wildflower, I'd love it!  It is very small and seems to grow in clusters here in wetland edges in southwest Florida.  The stem is long and thin and the blossom is a small globe shape, bright white.

Syngonanathus flavidulus?  If so, this is the Yellow Hatpins variety of Pipewort

I believe this is the same kind of flower, a little closer look.

Thanks for any help you might give me in identification.  These are new to me :-D

~ Robbyn

Update!   I believe the second picture is for sure some variety of pipewort in the Eriocaulon species , such as Syngonanthus flavidulus (Yellow Hatpins), and the first is maybe Lachnocaulon anceps (Whitehead Bog Button)?  I think they are all in the Eriocaulacae family.  Still not sure if they're one and the shall keep on looking.  And next time I'll get a better closeup of the foliage.  Even this helpful page isn't much help unless I have a foliage comparison...

August 21, 2012 update....Here is a link for the king of Pipewort used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and its actions:

This might be the one closest in ID to what I saw:   Tenangle Pipewort - Eriocaulon decangulare,


Monday, June 25, 2012

Rosy Camphorweed, an Arnica Substitute?

I just identified this plant, and I'm pretty excited at my first forays on the internet as far as researching its medicinal properties.  At this interesting site I found other types of Camphorweed listed among wild medicinals.  I'd like to know specifically what the Pluchea baccaris' properties are and any traditional uses.  I'm delighted to find mention of some of the camphorweeds properties being listed as a substitute for exciting!

This will bear more investigating!

If you have any additional information or sources for me to check, I'd love to know!

Update August 21,2012
Here's a link I found that includes some preparations:

What's a Wort?

In Old English, the suffix wyrt meant plant and was used to denote a plant used medicinally.  Its older origin comes from the Germanic, and means "root."  Wyrt became wort over time, and there we have what survives as a plant name suffix from long ago.

I'm on a mission to begin identifying the native plants in my surroundings and to investigate any of their known medicinal qualities.  Orange milkwort (shown above) is one of the first in this project. All I know so far is that the Creek nation used some part of the plant as an emetic.  But the plant in general bears more research because there are some other Polygalas with better-known uses.  Here's what Green Dean has written about it so far...

I'd love to know if anyone has further information about Orange Milkwort!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Herbal Monographs Link, and Update

Fresh Moringa leaves from the backyard jungle
It's already the middle of June...where has the time gone?

I have been in the thick of the wonderful readings and herbal school coursework -- what a dream come true!  As I progress, I'm definitely in new territory.  The concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda are so new to me, it's like reading something in a completely foreign language while simultaneously trying to get my head around a completely foreign set of paradigms.

One of the great benefits so far has been beginning to learn about herbal and dietary Energetics and the importance of balancing the different body systems and all the elements of lifestyle for optimal health and for healing.  As I begin to understand these things better, I'll write more here.  My silence has been more about the newness of what I'm reading and the time it's taking for some of it to sink in.  I do a lot of repeat chapters, but it's so interesting the repetition is not boring.

In addition to the actual knowledge I'm trying to soak up, the fun part and rewarding part will be its application to real life, and that starts with my own family -- and with addressing my own health concerns and imbalances.  I do feel for once like the integrated approach of Western herbalism/TCM/Ayurveda will help me arrive at a highly personalized and far more accurate understanding of the root causes of particular health problems, and teach me how to nourish deficiencies and reduce excesses necessary for better health.

The herbs themselves, the plants I'm drawn to time and time again and the original "lure" of these studies initially, continue to engage and comfort me in ways that are hard to verbalize.  I have experienced (and continue to) the real benefits plants/weeds as prolific, available, and underestimated in western culture (such as dandelion, plantain, burdock, yarrow, nettles and so many more)  effect on human health.  I feel consistently confident about the ones which can be safely used, regularly, for tonics/foods/teas/supplements.  There are some herbs best used in regulated and specific doses, especially the "low dose" herbs such as wormwood and others.  My concentration just now, aside from the guided materials in the herbal school coursework, will continue to be on utilizing the safest herbs for healing, vitality, seasonal/climate-based body changes, and deep nourishing.

There are so many wonderful free resources on the East-West web site -- I'm only now beginning to feel my way around it better.  Today I ran across a wonderful document, a comprehensive list of herbal monographs, and I have to share!  I love detailed herbal information that's easily accessible, and especially appreciate the inclusion of the specific energetics of each plant...their "heating" or "cooling" characteristics so important to pair with body conditions they will best complement and help heal rather than aggravate or deplete.  Here's the link to the list authored by John Freeman entitled East-West Herbal Energetics Monographs.  And while you're on the East-West website, check out the rest of the pages, too...enjoy!

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Quiet Corner
Study corner, up and ready to roll!

Our house is somewhat small and our office area is high traffic, considering there's just the two of us right now. I needed a specific space to study, so I dedicated the small alcove in the living room to that purpose.  I've been slowly collecting and reading herb books during the past year (of waiting to be in herb school!), so those treasures had to be close at hand and easily accessible.  A cupful of fresh highlighters, some notebooks, and flowers from my daughter for Mother's Day...not a bad set up!  The table was a roadside freebie, and couple of discount and thrift store lamps...voila...instant girly study corner!

Wonderful herb poster sent with love from my dear friend Deb
To top things off, my kindred spirit friend, Deb, sent me the beautiful herb poster, as practical as it is lovely...and my husband framed it for my birthday.  My cup overflows with blessings!

I'm happy to have already made it through most of the first study unit.  I simply love what I've studied so far. Navigating the website is something I'm easing into since I'm not as computer-savvy as most modern third graders, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it eventually.

The only thing missing from this picture is my loyal  Australian shepherd footwarmer named Kaleb who curls up under the table as I'm sitting there and takes long naps.  Isn't any reading more enjoyable accompanied by soft dog snores?

Where's your getaway to read and dream and plan?  I'd love to see pics or hear about them...


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Herbalist-in-training, at last!!

I am overjoyed, ecstatic, humbled, and overall, grateful!!  After a lengthy process of a lot of work, saving, hoping and antcipating..and waiting some more...the day has finally come in which I've enrolled in herbal school!!!  I thank God with all my heart for allowing me the opportunity and providing enough resources to meet our needs and having enough to squirrel away for this very moment... and thanks to my friends for their prayers and their patience in listening to so many of the details that went into the process.  A great debt of gratitude is also owed to my husband, without whom it would not only not be possible, but would never be as much fun growing, learning, and experimenting with plants...all of which have been integral (and will continue to be) to both of our being IN LOVE with the magnificent plants right around us.  Oh, how our eyes have been opened to the newly-seen worlds, and oh the wonders we experience daily when we stop to marvel, and even participate, in them.   What wisdom God crafted in all His living variety!

It finally happened!!  I enrolled in the East West School of Planetary Herbology, a school I consider a gold standard in the herbal world.  Many considerations went into my choice, but I think the clincher was reading Michael Tierra's book The Way of Herbs.  His integration of three major world traditions of herbalism...western, Chinese traditional medicine, and Ayuveda...impressed me as a fluid framework that allows for intuitive use of many well-known and globally-used herbs, with solid training, supportive staff, and an enthusiasm for pairing diet and herbs for safe and powerful healing and vitality.

My big box of books arrived in the mail, and I've been on a "new book high" ever since!  I'll learn to navigate the website, which is part of the distance learning process, but am SO SO happy to have real, solid proof of this step in becoming an herbalist...a fresh new stack of books, a new pack of highlighters ready to mark them up to my heart's content (it's how I read!), and the spiral-bound coursework that I've already dived headlong into.  Color me HAPPY!!!

My main blog is The Back Forty, but this blog is the offshoot that will specifically detail this herbal journey, specifically.  I want to walk this out a step at a time and SAVOR it, this playing in the herbs!  I believe plants  are simply miracles, and many of the most overlooked of our herbs (numerous ones considered weeds) are some of the most magnificent gifts to this world, beneficial to all parts of the world around them and without which we would be woefully lacking, or even cease to exist.

I can't express it well enough in type, but I am excited to be regaining ground my own family has lost in recent generations.  Too much collective wisdom has been lost to the arrogance of "progress."  May this path of Return be both joyful, grateful, and restoring!!

I thank God in all things for giving me another day to learn more about His natural world.  Profound JOY!!!

The She-hecheyanu
Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam sheh-echeyanu ve'qi-ehmanu va' higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are you Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion!