**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**
Botanical Name: withania somnifera
Other Names: Winter cherry, Indian ginseng
Description: a small woody shrub resembling eggplant. It has yellow/green flowers yielding small orange/red berries in the fall. The leaves are dull green and oval-shaped. Native to Africa, India and the Mediterranean, ashwagandha prefers dry, subtropical climates. Ashwa means horse and gandha means smell. Its Sanskrit name loosely translates to “horse essence, suggesting strength & stamina.
Parts Used: primarily the root, but leaves, seeds and fruit also have history of topical use
Energetics: warming, dry, sweet, bitter, pungent
Actions: calming adaptogen, reproductive tonic, aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, immunomodulatory, thermogenic, antitussive, galactagogue, sedative, stimulant
Uses: In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is a Rasayana, or a rejuvenative tonic that promotes longevity and overall wellness. Ashwagandha promotes memory and cognition, protects against neurodegenerative disorders, and boosts GABA, promoting neural growth and repair. It is high in iron and can build blood when there is deficiency. It nourishes ojas, increasing sperm count and libido. And it directly nourishes the thyroid gland, making it useful for hypo-thyroid conditions. It calms you down while giving you more energy, helpful for when people have insomnia due to adrenal fatigue. It regulates sleep cycles over time and facilitates a more restful sleep in the long-term. As an immunomodulatory, it can strengthen a weak immune response or calm down a hyper immune response.
Indications: general debility, low libido & fertility, nervous exhaustion, convalescence, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis), loss of memory, loss of muscle, tissue deficiency, autoimmune conditions effecting the muscles & joints (rheumatoid arthritis), iron-deficiency, hypothyroid, general tonic for graceful aging.
Contraindications: Ashwagandha is generally safe when used as recommended, though large doses have been known to cause gastrointestinal upset and have abortifacient effects. Ashwagandha can be stimulating to some; do not try it for the first time before bedtime. Because of its heavy & anabolic properties, it is contraindicated for states of high ama/severe congestion.
Preparation & Dosage: Traditional Ayurvedic preparations combine the powdered root with ghee, warm milk or honey. Standard dosage is 3-6 grams/day of powder. KP Khalsa recommends 10 g a day to promote a restful sleep. As a tincture, 2 ml , 2-4 times a day. 1 tsp twice daily of herbal ghee or honey.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis with very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that gets you high. Legally, in order to be grown and sold across state lines, hemp must contain less than 0.3% of THC. Hemp can be bred for higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), one of many therapeutic compounds found in the cannabis plant, as well as for fiber and seed. Hemp-derived CBD products are saturating the market, as CBD has received a lot of attention from the medical community in recent years. Keep in mind, however, that while CBD is indeed a powerful constituent in hemp, and the most researched, it is not the only one. It is simply the most common phytocannabinoid in hemp. Hemp as a whole plant has thousands of years of use. The actions and uses listed here are for hemp as a whole plant. Please visit this article to learn more about the benefits and risks of CBD specifically.
Parts Used: aerial parts. This materia medica focuses on the use of the flower
Energetics: Hot and Dry
Description: Cannabis sativa is an annual plant growing 3-9′ tall. The lower leaves are often opposite, while the upper leaves are alternate. These leaves are palmately compound with 3-9 leaflets (usually there are 5-7 leaflets). On large plants, these leaves can span up to 10″ long and across. Each leaflet is narrowly ovate and coarsely serrated along the margins; the middle leaflets are larger in size than the lateral leaflets. The upper surface of each leaflet is dark green and sparsely covered with hair.
Constituents: Cannabinoids (including CBD,* cannabigerol (CBG),* cannabichromene (CBC),* cannabidivarin (CBDV) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)).Terpenes, Flavonoids, Fatty Acids, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals
Actions: nervine, sedative, analgesic, anticonvulsant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, antibacterial, immunomodulator, antioxidant, neuroprotectant, neurogenic, antipsychotic
Indications: anxiety, depression, sleep issues, adjunct therapy for chemotherapy, pain (including neuropathic, inflammatory and physiologic forms of pain), opiate addiction, PTSD, anxiety, nausea, cancer, nerve damage/degeneration (M.S., Parkinson’s Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic injury), epilepsy, seizures, hypertension, eye degeneration (macular degeneration, glaucoma), Diabetes, metabolic disorders.
Ethnobotanical Uses: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hemp flower is considered acrid in taste, a sign that the plant will have a relaxing effect on the viscera. It is said that frequent consumption “frees the spirit and lightens the body” (Tao, 1999). It is said to break up and disperse stagnation in the body, suggesting that hemp has a blood-moving quality. Hemp is also used to dispel wind (wind is associated with spasm and tension, which correlates to its Western use as an antispasmodic and relaxing nervine), and to relieve pain. It is indicated for pain accompanied by restricted movement, as well as gout, withdrawal, mania, insomnia, cough, headache, and menstrual irregularities (3)
Modern Research: The phyto-cannabinoids found in hemp bind with various receptor sites throughout our bodies. This system is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and it underlies and regulates our nervous system, promoting homeostasis, and balancing mood, appetite, body temperature and our inflammatory response. Essentially, the ECS keeps us in the “rest and digest” mode (as opposed to the “fight or flight” mode), which encourages good sleep, digestion and memory.
Our bodies produce our own (endogenous) cannabinoids. The most prominent endo-cannabinoid that is discussed is called Anandamide (AEA), also known as the bliss hormone, whose main function is promoting a feeling of safety and well-being. AEA decreases pain, nausea, inflammation, nerve damage and anxiety while increasing exploratory behavior and learning.
Ideally, we produce enough AEA to keep our nervous systems running smoothly, and keep inflammation in check. However, chronic stress, exposure to pesticides, and chronic use of opiates and alcohol as well as certain medications reduce our body’s production of AEA. We can supplement with cannabis to help get us through periods of endocannabinoid deficiency. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED) is a theory formed around the idea that deficient endocannabinoid It purports that many disorders such as depression, anxiety, even neurogenerative disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions, are caused by a deficiency in endogenous cannabinoids, and that cannabinoids are not “curative” but rather essential nutrients.
The terpenes found in hemp are found in many aromatic plants, and are the basis of aromatherapy. Terpenes also interact with neurotransmitters and bind with our cannabinoid receptors. Generally speaking, terpenes have a positive effect on neurotransmitters including GABA, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. They can have anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antidepressant, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, analgesic, antipsychotic, anti-mutagenic, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. There is a lot of information being discovered about the specific actions of specific terpenes. Beta-carophyllene, for example, has strong anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties. It binds with endocannabinoid receptors, specifically with CB2 receptors, which modulate inflammation. Terpenes and cannabinoids have a synergistic interaction. They both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and have antimicrobial action against antibiotic resistant bacteria.
This synergistic effect is why it is important to use whole plant medicine, or full-spectrum extracts of cannabis instead of isolated constituents. And the synergistic relationships extend beyond just terpenes and cannabinoids. There are hundreds of other phytochemicals present in every plant, each one created to support homeostasis in the plant. The effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The scientific community is starting to realize this ancient truth. This is whole plant medicine, and is how herbalism has been practiced for thousands of years.
Homeopathic/Plant Spirit: Hemp has been used in European homeopathy for hundreds of years. Its indications include psychological disorders, headaches, infections of the urinary tract, and spasms/paralysis of the legs and lower limbs (often combined with backache).
As a flower essence, cannabis is said to bring playfulness and lightness to the heart. It can be used in shamanic journeys and vision quests as an ally to assist you in your journey between realms.
Energetics– Cannabis is hot and drying, which means that long-term use of cannabis in any form can exacerbate conditions of heat or dryness in the body. This can be balanced with cooling, moistening herbs such as marshmallow root for people with hot/dry (i.e. Vata or Pitta) constitutions. If you notice symptoms of dry skin, dry tongue, dry hair, dry, cracking joints, you might want to use in combination with Solomon’s Seal.
Pregnancy/Lactation– mothers should be aware that cannabinoids are excreted in breastmilk (our endogenous cannabinoids help our babies feel safe & secure), and through the placenta (our endocannabinoids play a role in implantation to the uterus and in communication between mother & fetus), which means that a growing fetus or a nursing infant will get some amount of cannabinoids from their mother if she is consuming hemp extracts. The exact amount that is transferred isn’t clear, as little research has been done in this area. I can speak from experience as a nursing mother who occasionally uses moderate doses of CBD (15 mg/day) that I have not noticed any changes in my daughter’s mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, appetite, etc. after taking it.
Master Plant- Cannabis is not a tonic herb like oats or nettles. Cannabis is a master plant, and has traditionally been used as a shamanic herb to induce altered states of consciousness and help people connect with their intuition, explore subconscious realms and mature spiritually. Usually this purpose is supported by plants with higher amounts of THC than what is found in industrial hemp, but even without the psychoactive properties of THC, hemp is still a powerful plant and should be used with respect and intention, just like any species or strain of cannabis. Since it is a master plant, it is not meant to be consumed daily in perpetuity. One should always offer gratitude for the plant and be aware that misuse/abuse of the plant can lead to unwanted effects, including depletion of the body’s vital energy.
Preparation & Dosage:
To extract the resinous material from hemp with traditional methods, high-proof alcohol and oil-based methods are best. Hemp can also be infused into honey. And it can be smoked.
Making a tincture is the best way that I know of to extract the broadest range of constituents, but this can be a little complicated. If you are intending to extract CBD, you will need to first “decarboxylate” the plant material to convert the inactive CBDA to the active form CBD. By applying heat, however, you will damage many of the terpenes, which degrade at temperatures above 100 F.
Then you will need to do some math to figure out the potency. In order to determine this, you will need to first have an idea of how much CBD is present in your plant material, which can only be determined through a lab test. But knowing the strain will give you a ballpark estimate of what you are working with.
The specifics on how to make a full-plant hemp tincture are beyond the scope of this article. I do hope to write an article on this at a later time, and when that happens I will post the link here. For now, I encourage those of you with medicine-making experience to experiment with fresh or dried plant tinctures. There is a window of time where the CBDA will convert to CBD naturally and without heat, but the exact length of time is unknown. Perhaps the traditional time frame of 6-8 weeks is sufficient. Let us know by commenting to this post if you have tried this!
A more concentrated and efficient way to use hemp is to source a full-spectrum resin extract from a reputable company. Read about the importance of full-spectrum extracts, how they differ from isolates, what dosage to use, and how to make sure that you are buying from a reputable company here.
Appropriate dosage very much depends on the person, preparation and the intention behind its use. As a holistic herbal practitioner who advocates minimum effective dosing, I always recommend starting small and working your way up until you find a dose that feels good to you.
(1) Endocannabinoid System- Online Course by Tammi Sweet: https://heartstone-online.teachable.com/
(2) “Hemp – THC – CBD – Cannabis Endocannabinoids – What’s all the BUZZ?” PPT by Dr. Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, AHG-RH, AHN-BC: file:///C:/Users/tonic/Desktop/Hemp%20Slideshow-%20Gaia%20Herbs.pdf
(3) Brand & Zhao. “Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids?” ( 2017) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345167/
**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**
With Spring in the air, it feels appropriate to celebrate calendula, also known as Herbal Sunshine. Calendula is a great herb for spring detoxification as well as warm-weather skin conditions & first aid.
Names: pot marigold
Parts Used: whole flowering head
Energetics: primarily bitter, subtly sweet & pungent, warming, drying
Actions: lymphagogue, alterative, vulnerary, bitter tonic/cholagogue, antiseptic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue
Properties & Uses: Calendula brings warmth & light to cold & stagnant places in the body, for the “places where the sun don’t shine” (Chris Hafner, acupuncturist). As a lymphatic herb, Calendula maintains balance in fluid metabolism by clearing stagnation, keeping the channels of elimination open and detoxifying. This helps to keep pathogenic bacteria at bay. Calendula is also antiseptic and vulnerary (speeds tissue repair), making it especially useful in purulent wounds, slow-to-heal wounds, and “swollen, hot, painful, pus-filled tissue” (Matthew Wood). All of these are conditions of damp heat, usually the result of stagnation or coldness in the tissue. Calendula has a soothing, anti-inflammatory quality, reducing itchiness and irritation. It is a valuable remedy for inflammations external and internal in the GI tract. As an alterative, it supports immune function by cleansing the blood of lymphatic congestion & lingering infections. Its warming qualities promote sweating, thin fluids and warm the stomach/solar plexus (Matthew Wood). Calendula is best suited for cold, damp, Kapha conditions & constitutions.
Indications: swollen glands, lingering, unresolved infections (look for swollen tongue with red papillae), sunburn, burns, sores, ulcers, insect bites, swollen, painful, pus-filled tissue, hard-to-cure wounds, candida, gum disease, diaper rash, GI inflammation, leaky gut, painful menstruation, Seasonal Affective Disorder, psychological melancholy, immunological deficiency, symptoms worse in cold/damp weather
Contraindications: avoid large amounts during pregnancy due to emmenagogue action; not appropriate for signs of excess heat/ for hot/fiery constitutions.
Preparation & Dosage: Infusion- 1 ounce of flowers to 1 quart of boiling water; drink 2 cups a day or use externally as a local application. Tincture- 1-4 ml three times a day. Topical preparations include fresh plant poultices or infused oil. Infused oil can be used neat or turned into lotions & salves.
**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**
Shatavari is an herb from the Ayurvedic tradition. In Hindi, its name means “one who possesses a hundred husbands,” a hint that this herb has been used traditionally as a fertility tonic. Like all herbs, it has dozens of uses. Read on to learn more about some of its applications.
Energetics: sweet, bitter, cooling, moistening
Actions: adaptogen, immunomodulator, yin tonic, antitussive, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, galactogogue, diuretic, haemostatic
Chemistry: contains steroidal saponins, isoflavones, polysaccharides and mucilage.
Uses: Traditional use in the Ayurvedic traditions lists dozens of conditions where Shatavari may be helpful. These include rheumatism, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, gastric irritation, infertility, threat of miscarriage, menopausal symptoms, bleeding disorders, chronic fever and any other signs of internal heat or irritation. It is considered to be a nutritive and rejuvenative tonic, especially to pitta constitutions.
In recent studies, shatavari has been shown to increase both the weight of mammary lobulo-aveolar tissue and the total volume of milk produced. It was found to inhibit oxytocin-induced contractions in vivo. It has shown significant antitussive activity in mice, and in vitro, has proven effective against E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella and Staph. All of this supports the traditional use in treating cough, dysentery, diarrhea, and as a support during pregnancy & breast-feeding.
Probably the most common use of shatavari is among menopausal women suffering from hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats and vaginal dryness. Again, traditional use of shatavari for menopausal health and as an overall female reproductive tonic has been validated. One study found that over 80% of participants experienced better sleep and reduced hot flashes from using shatavari (Shrestha et. al, 2003).
Shatavari is thought to strengthen the reproductive organs in both men and women by nourishing the ojas, or the highly refined and nourishing substance that resides in the reproductive tissues of the body. The steroidal saponins in shatavari support the production of reproductive hormones.
As a nutritive tonic, shatavari enriches the body’s fluids, plasma and white blood cells, strengthening the immune system and providing lubrication and nutrition for the entire body. This is what makes it a yin tonic in Chinese Medicine.
Its cooling and demulcent properties soothe all forms of heat and irritation in the urinary, respiratory and GI tracts. Shatavari may be useful for any form of excess heat in the body such as chronic fever, ulcers, and bleeding disorders such as menorrhagia. Bleeding is actually considered to be a heat condition. The cooling quality of shatavari causes blood vessels to constrict which is why it’s used as a haemostatic.
Indications: infertility, vaginal dryness, low libido, dry, achy joints, anemia, low immunity, inflammation of the GI tract (IBS, gastritis), GI irritation to alcohol consumption, gastric ulcers, menorrhagia, chronic fever, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia due to yin deficiency, food poisoning, dysentery, diarrhea due to heat or infection, dry, ticklish coughs, threat of miscarriage, insufficient milk flow, postpartum weakness, irritation of the urinary tract (cystitis, urethritis) and any other sign by heat or dryness (even dry skin)–especially when accompanied by chronic stress or adrenal fatigue.
Contraindications: because of its cooling and moistening properties, avoid in cases of sluggish digestion with watery diarrhea, or excessive mucus production. This can be balanced in a formula with warming & drying herbs.
Dosage: 40-80 drops tincture (1:5), 2 tsp/ 20 g dried powdered root per day, either mixed into food or decodted for 10-15 minutes in 8 oz of water.
Schisandra is a deciduous climbing vine that is native to China & Eastern Russia. It’s a highly prized tonic herb in traditional Chinese medicine, used to promote longevity and overall wellness. Because it contains all 5 flavors recognized by Chinese medicine (bitter, sour, salty, pungent & sweet), its effects on the body are broad, as each flavor is associated with an organ system. The flavors will come through differently for different people, and there is a saying that whatever flavors you taste first are the flavors you need the most to restore balance. Because it contains a balance of all 5 flavors, it is considered safe for any constitution.
Parts Used: berry
Energetics: sweet, sour, warm, all 5 flavors
Actions: adaptogen, astringent, tonic, antioxidant, hepatoprotective
Uses: As adaptogen, schisandra strengthens the hypothalamic/pituitary/
adrenal axis (HPA) and normalizes the endocrine and immune systems. It has historically been used as a longevity tonic, a sexual tonic, and a tonic for vital energy. Out of all the adaptogens that exist in the world, schisandra stands out as one that is both calming and invigorating. It can give you sustained energy and endurance while calming the spirit and helping you stay focused. And it is simultaneously nourishing, calming, rejuvenating and detoxifying.
Schisandra is also hepatoprotective, meaning that it protects the liver against damage caused by environmental toxins, viruses or alcohol/drugs. In Chinese medicine, it is considered to nourish the liver yin, or the cooling & nourishing aspect of the liver’s functions. Modern research has shown that schisandra increases metabolism of heavy metals, and can help to decrease elevated liver enzymes. This is helpful for anyone with a liver that is overheated and overworked due to high levels of stress, anger, and controlling personalities as well as anyone exposed to a high level of toxins. It can be a useful herb for someone recovering from hepatitis, mono, or undergoing a hepatotoxic drug regimen such as chemotherapy.
As an astringent herb, schisandra astringes excess fluid, tightening loose tissues to prevent leaky/boggy/atonic conditions such as urinary frequency, prolapse of the bladder, and diarrhea. It is used in Chinese medicine for leaky chi (involuntary sweating, premature ejaculation and ‘wasting & thirsting diseases’) when vital energy is slowly dissipating from the body.
I think of schisandra as an herb for anyone who is feeling puny or sluggish, with poor detoxification, brain fog, blood sugar lability, and a lot of anxiety/stress/overwhelm. It’s great for type A people who have burnt themselves out and are experiencing signs of adrenal fatigue such as metal fog, low energy, low libido, weak immunity. These people would do well to kick the coffee habit, as coffee depletes the adrenals, and schisandra makes a wonderful replacement for your morning coffee, perking you up while helping you to adjust to the symptoms of withdrawal (keeping you feeling stable and focused, alleviating jitteriness, headache and palpitations).
Indications: tuberculosis, mild asthma with wheezing , diabetes, blood sugar lability, diarrhea, nocturnal emission, involuntary sweating, insomnia, forgetfulness, low energy, chronic stress, brain fog, difficulty focusing, anxiety, palpitations, weak immune system, low libido, bladder prolapse, quitting coffee addiction, hepatitis, heavy metal toxicity, mono, cancer
Contraindications: because the sour flavor can increase gastric secretion, use schisandra cautiously if you have gastric ulcers acute gastric inflammation. Its liver detoxifying actions may affect the metabolism of certain medications (inhibiting CYP3A4). Schisandra has shown no harmful effects to fetal development, but it does have a traditional use of inducing labor (20-25 drops of tincture per hour), so large amounts should be avoided by pregnant women. If you are pregnant, seek the guidance of a professional herbalist or midwife before using schisandra regularly.
Dosage: 3-9 grams daily of powder, or 1 tsp of dried berries to 8 oz of water, decoct for 5 minutes or steep for 30 min. Tincture: 30-60 drops (1.5-3ml) qid
Names: Guggulu, Myrrh, Mirra
Parts Used: gum resin
Energetics: bitter, pungent, warming, drying
Actions: anti-microbial, astringent, carminative, anti-catarrhal, expectorant, vulnerary
Uses: Myrrh is directly anti-microbial, making it useful for relieving bacterial or fungal infections, both topically and internally. It also stimulates the production of white blood cells, strengthening the body’s ability to fight pathogens. Use myrrh as a mouthwash for ulcers, gingivitis, or as a gargle for laryngitis or strep throat. The astringent and vulnerary actions helps speed up the healing of tissues, making it doubly useful as a wound-healing herb. Externally apply to wounds and abrasions as an antiseptic and Internally, it can be useful in treating intestinal candida overgrowth, boils, staph, bronchitis, and the common cold.
Another species of myrrh called Guggul (Commiphora mukul-burseaceae), is known for its detoxifying properties. Like all resins, it is warming, bitter, and antimicrobial. All species of myrrh help to move the blood and to cleanse the blood of toxins. One of my Ayurvedic teachers described Myrrh as having as a scraping action. Imagine a tiny scraper clearing all excess debris from your blood vessels and joints. All myrrhs have this action and can be used to lower moderately lower cholesterol levels, enhance circulation and relieve stagnation in the joints.
As a warming, bitter & detoxifying plant, myrrh can also be useful in obesity by stimulating digestive secretion, improving blood flow, and eliminating toxic build-up that slows down metabolic functions (i.e. insulin receptivity), thereby improving cellular respiration & metabolism. In Ayurveda, these warming and clearing resins are said to “burn up” ama or toxins. Think of it as helping your metabolic fire to burn nice and hot, preventing creosote build-up in your pipes.
Myrrh also has a reputation for purifying space, creating a sacred atmosphere, and focusing the mind. Burn the pure resin, mix it in with other herbs to make an incense blend, or add the essential oil to a spray bottle to evoke myrrh’s aromatic properties.
Indications: arthritis, high cholesterol, obesity, hyperglycemia, blood stagnation due to injury or toxic accumulation, would-healing, bacterial and fungal infections, gangrene, boils, ulcerated mucosa in the GI tract, vaginitis due to candida, pelvic stagnation leading to amenorrhea, atonic uterine tissue, uterine tumors or infertility, sore throats, bad breath, canker sores, bleeding gums, respiratory infections accompanied by profuse mucus secretion, and creating sacred space for ceremony (as incense)
Dosage: Tincture: take 1-4 ml three times a day. Externally, use undiluted tincture on the skin 2-3 times a day.
Contraindications: Theoretically, myrrh may interfere with antidiabetic therapy, since hypoglycemic properties have been documented. The essential oil can be irritating to the skin and mucosa. Always dilute your essential oils. We don’t recommend using essential oils internally, regardless of purity/quality claims. They all have the potential to disrupt your microbiome.
Names: Kava Kava, Ava Pepper, Ava Root, Kawa
Parts Used: rhizome
Energetics: bitter, pungent, warming
Actions: relaxing nervine, hypnotic/sedative, antispasmodic, local anesthetic, urinary antiseptic, antifungal
Uses & Indications: Kava is primarily used to treat anxiety. It has been shown to reduce anxiety without dampening mental alertness or reaction time. In fact, it seems to improve concentration in some. As an antispasmodic, Kava also relaxes muscular tension and spasm, which makes it especially helpful for those who need to relax both body and mind. In addition to relaxing tension, it has mild pain-relieving properties and has demonstrated “significant analgesic effects in animal studies, apparently via non-opiate pathways” (1). As a hypnotic, it can also be an ally for those struggling with sleep due to anxiety or muscular tension/pain. Kava has a reputation for helping menopausal women who struggle with mood swings and sleep troubles. Because it is warming, it may exacerbate hot flashes in some.
Kava is traditionally used among Pacific Islanders in ceremony. It is drunk during important political meetings and councils to facilitate an environment of peace and cooperation (How can we get our current leaders to give this a try!?) Kava Chai is a favorite beverage at herbal gatherings, shared at the end of the day, usually accompanied by live music and bare feet in the grass. I can assure you that it is effective at promoting a mild state of euphoria, sometimes resulting in uncontrollable giggles:)
Kava effects everyone differently. For some, it will make you feel giddy, light and uninhibited. For others, it can make you very sleepy. I believe that how kava effects your mood is highly dependent on what your body needs at that time, as well as the dose. Start small. You can always take more.
Alleged Hepatotoxicity & Safety Concerns: Kava should not be taken concurrently with alcohol and should be avoided by heavy alcohol users or anyone with pre-existing liver damage. There is a lot of controversy around the safety of kava, and some regulatory bodies have reacted to allegations of kava causing liver damage, leading kava to be restricted in some countries. As of 2004, a total of 78 cases of liver toxicity associated with kava use had been reported worldwide. However, most case reports had other drugs/alcohol involved (2). After review of the hepatotoxicity cases, it has been concluded that “the hepatotoxicity cases that were definitely attributable to kava were most likely immunologically mediated idiosyncratic drug interactions (IDRs), rather than a direct toxic effect” (3)
One study conducted in 2012 suggested that kava extract caused liver cancer in rodents who were fed massive amounts of kava extract in corn oil (Exposed rats received either 0.1, 0.3 or 1 gram of kava kava extract per kilogram of body weight and mice received 0.25, 0.5, or 1 g/kg), 5 days a week, for 2 years (2). This dose would be equivalent to 17-68 grams a day for a 150 lb human! That is over 100 times the dosing range recommended by Commission E.
Joseph M. Betz, Ph.D., a scientist with the National Institute of Health has a great presentation that discusses the controversy. After reviewing his presentation, it seems clear than when taken in appropriate doses, hepatotoxic effects are rare. Three studies that he reviewed (Sarris et al 2009, Conner et al. 2006, and Gasbur and Klimm 2003) all reported that Kava was well-tolerated among the participants and that no evidence of hepatoxicity was found (2).
Of coarse, every herb effects every person differently, and Kava does seem to have a higher potential than other plants to produce some kind of allergic reaction, especially among Caucasians. So, if you are interested in trying kava for the first time, please start with a low dose and listen to your body. The most common adverse reaction reported are in the form of dry, itchy skin rashes that have been known to occur among heavy kava users. If you notice any symptoms, on your skin or elsewhere, discontinue use. Most cases of clinically documented reactions have subsided within 24 hours of discontinuation.
Contraindications: Kava is probably safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women, when used in moderate doses, but caution should be used. Commission E and the Australian TGA recommend that kava-containing medicines are avoided by pregnant and nursing women, “but these ensued from lack of data rather than from any direct concerns” (3). “Women in some areas of New Guinea traditionally drank kava during pregnancy to promote the flow of milk…” “to induce an easy labor and to correct displacement of the womb” (3). There is no evidence of harmful effects on the fetus in animal studies or case studies. In Hawaii, women avoid any kava immediately after becoming pregnant. And there are reports of kava leaf being used topically to induce miscarriage (3). Taking all of this into consideration, it’s probably best to avoid kava during the first trimester.
Dosage: German Commission E recommends preparations equivalent to 60-120 mg of kavalactones taken 3 times a day (1). That’s about 840 mg/week. Kava does have the potential to be abused, like all mind-altering substances. Please use the plant with respect and gratitude, and remember that while all plants are here to help, they will let you know when you have crossed a line.
1. Hoffman, David “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine” (2003) Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont
2. Joseph M. Betz, Ph.D. “Kava: Piper methysticum Forst.ppt presentation” from the Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH. December 8, 2013.
3. Bone & Mills “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Second Edition.” Edinburgh London: Churchill Livingstone (2013).
Names: Yun-Zhi, Kawarate
Parts Used: fruiting body
Energetics: bitter, salty, neutral
Actions: tonic, adaptogen, immunomodulator, anti-tumor, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant
Uses & Indications: In Japan and China, turkey tail preparations are used as an adjuvant therapy in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments such chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer. Compounds in turkey tail and other mushrooms have been found to activate the immune cells, which enable the host to fight cancer cells. Notably, the increase in cancer-free survival was among patients with esophageal, stomach, and lung cancers. Turkey tail has also been studied in breast cancer patients. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health among breast cancer patients suggests that turkey tail may correct radiotherapy-related immune system defects. The patients in the study exhibited enhanced lymphocyte numbers and increased tumoricidal (tumor-killing) effect of the natural killer cells. It is postulated that relapse after primary breast cancer treatment may be related to the innate and adaptive immune system defects, which may be offset by the use of turkey tail, making this a useful remedy for both breast cancer patients and breast cancer survivors (2).
Contraindications: none known
Dosage: In clinical trials a dose ranges from 3 to 9 grams per day of an enzymatically processed turkey tail extract were used for prevention. About 25 g or approximately 1 ounce of shredded or powdered fruiting body in a decoction is taken before meals twice a day or 2 grams per day of powdered water-based extract (3).
1. Lindequist, Ulrike, Timo HJ Niedermeyer, and Wolf-Dieter Jülich. “The pharmacological potential of mushrooms.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2.3 (2005): 285-299.
2. Torkelson, Carolyn J., et al. “Phase 1 clinical trial of Trametes versicolor in women with breast cancer.” ISRN oncology 2012 (2012).
3. Hobbs C. Mushroom medicine: challenges and potential. Journal of the American Herbalists Guild. 2014; 12(2):9-13.
This month, in celebration of medicinal mushrooms and their immune-supportive properties, we are offering 10% off of our immune-building broth packets with shiitake (in store & online). We are also offering 10% off of our Host Defense Mushroom capsules including Chaga, Cordyceps, Reishi, Turkey Tail and Lion’s Mane (in-store only)
Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Monday: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Wednesday: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Thursday: 11:00 am- 6:00 pm
Friday: 11:00 am- 6:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am- 6:00 pm