Gotu Kola

(Centella asiatica)

What do pain, Celiac’s disease, world peace and yoga have in common? Well, they are all national themes for the month of September, AND they can all be improved with the help of a little herb called Gotu Kola- a sub-tropical creeping plant that thrives in swampy habitats.

Maybe you have heard of this plant and its potential for improving cognitive function? It’s true that this tiny creeping vine can revitalize the brain and nervous system, increase mental concentration, and combat cognitive decline associated with aging. But it does much more than that! Gotu Kola is also a tonic for our blood vessels and connective tissue.   As a systemic anti-inflammatory, it is helpful for autoimmune conditions.  And it has a reputation for relieving depression, anxiety, and expanding consciousness. Read on to learn more about the wonderful benefits of this humble herb.

Brain Tonic

Gotu Kola, also known as Brahmi (not to be confused with Bacopa, which is also referred to as Brahmi), is an important herb to the Ayurvedic lineage of herbal medicine.  In fact, “brahmi” means “godlike,” which shows just how revered this herb is in India  where it us used to aid in meditation.  It is considered a rasayana, or a rejuvenative tonic for the brain and nervous system and it is said to re-vitalize the nervous system, increase attention span, and support graceful aging (5).

Studies have demonstrated cognitive-enhancing and anti-oxidant properties in rats, supporting the idea that gotu kola could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive deficits that result from oxidative damge and neurotoxicity (1).

More recently, a study out of Korea shows that components in brahmi/gotu kola show potential for supporting healthy memory. It is, afterall, the food of elephants, and we know that their memories are excellent (5)! This is why gotu kola is the main herb in our Sparkling Mind Tea formula.

Vascular & Connective Tissue Tonic

Gotu Kola also nourishes and tonifies our vascular tissues. According to herbalist Matthew Wood, gotu kola stimulates blood flow in the capillaries, reduces venous stagnation, improves cholesterol balance, helps break down aged red blood cells, reduces urea in the blood (acidity), and increases circulation to the extremities and the brain. (4).  This makes gotu kola useful in any condition involving vascular insufficiency, leading to hypertension, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, or edema.

As a  nourishing tonic to the connective tissue, gotu kola can be useful in conditions involving damaged or inflamed tendons, ligaments and joints, such as arthritis, rheumatism, and tendinitis. This relief is further amplified by gotu kola’s systemic anti-inflammatory effect. Herbalist David Winston teaches that gotu kola is specific for “connective tissue disorders and skin conditions where the tissue is red, hot, and inflamed” (3). He uses gotu kola in many formulas for auto-immune conditions and skin conditions, including lupus, psoriasis and eczema.

Wound-Healing

Many auto-immune conditions begin in the gut, from chronic inflammation (often related to food allergies/sensitivities) in the intestines, which leads to leaky gut, which leads to an over-reactive, hyper-sensitive immune system. Gotu kola, with its cooling and anti-inflammatry properties, can heal damage to the intestinal lining, making it useful for Celiac’s disease, as well as any condition with red, hot, inflamed tissue. This vulnerary, or tissue healing, action applies to internal or external wounds, speeding the healing of ulcers and burns and preventing scarring from surgery (1, 3).

Effects on Mood & Consciousness

A nerve tonic, rejuvenant, sedative, and antidepressant, gotu kola has been traditionally used to modulate anxiety and improve mood. It is believed that these effects are partly due to an increase in neurotransmitter production (1). In both Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions, Gotu Kola is considered a supreme Shen (spiritual) and Sattva (reality enhancing) tonic herb.  It has been shown to harmonize trans-hemispheric communication in the brain, which is likely why it is used by yogis, monks and meditators for its psychic and awareness-enhancing effects (2), and why we include gotu kola in our Yogic Tea. Brain hemisphere synchronization produces changes in brainwave states associated with expanded states of consciousness (2).

The Hindus consider it a powerful herb for balancing and opening the crown chakra, which is one of the primary points through which intuition is believed to enter the mind/body (2).  Gotu kola is also said to act directly on the pineal gland (brow chakra) (2). Taken long term, gotu kola may increase intuitive awareness, an idea that is certainly supported by thousands of years of antecdotal evidence. What an incredibly useful plant for our times! And a perfect ally to get to know this September, as we celebrate yoga, set intentions for world peace, and spread awareness around safe therapeutic options for chronic pain.

Tastes & Energetics: bitter, sweet, astringent, cooling, drying

Indications: mental and physical fatigue, anxiety, depression, senility, loss of memory, hypertension, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, edema, lupus, scleroderma, dermal tuberculosis, psoriasis, leprosy, septic wounds (external), arthritis, rheumatism, damaged ligaments and tendons, tendinitis, cellulitis, Parkinson’s disease, low thyroid function contributing to depression, dry skin, cold extremeties, poor digestion, weight gain and/or little endurance., eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, cellulitis

Contraindications: Gotu Kola has no known toxicity when used in recommended doses (approx. 1 gram daily of dried leaf or 4-8 ml of liquid extracts) and there are no reports documenting negative interactions between gotu kola and medications (1). There is always the potential for allergic reaction to any herb, but this risk is greatly reduced when using whole plant preparations. Theoretically, gotu kola is not recommended for women who are trying to get pregnant. And little information is available on the safety of this plant for nursing mothers. My personal opinion is that in moderate doses, it is perfectly safe, but please do your own research and only do what makes you feel comfortable.

Shop Gotu Kola products at tonicherbshop.com:

Yogic Tea
Sparkling Mind Tea
Gotu Kola-Dried Herb
Gotu Kola Extract

Sources:

  1. Gohil, K. et al. (2010). Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sept-Oct; 72(5): 546-556.

2. Faerman, Justin. 3 Powerful Ancient Herbs To Raise Consciosuness and Awareness; Waking Times: February 2016. <https://www.wakingtimes.com/2016/02/01/3-powerful-ancient-herbs-that-raise-consciousness-and-expand-awareness/>

3. Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs & Formulas, 11th edition.  Broadway, NJ: Herbal Therapeutics Research Library, 2017. p.130.

4. Wood, Matthew (2008). Earthwise Herbal, Volume 1: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2008. p. 174

5. Khalsa, KP. Five Great Ayurvedic Herbs for the Mind and Memory; The Banyan Vine: August 21, 2018. <https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-banyan-vine/details/five-great-ayurvedic-herbs-for-the-mind-and-memory/>

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Reishi

(Ganoderma lucidum)
REISHI: FOR BALANCE AMIDST CHAOS

Have you noticed the ever-increasing speed of time? The ceaseless barrage of activity, of information, of news that seems to spiral from us and around us at a faster rate than it did ten years ago? Do you feel overwhelmed by the demands that you place on yourself, trying to keep up with your desires to be more, do more, be better? This is the sentiment of our time, and it is felt by all, even those of us who try to consciously avoid the pitfalls of mainstream capitalism and consumerism. There is no way to participate in society without absorbing the collective anxiety that we are all co-creating. But there are ways to resist being overcome by the madness. Yoga, meditation, positive thinking, play, good food, soulful music, gardening–all can help to ground us and brighten our days. And the plant kingdom is full of allies for helping to bring us back to center: ashwagandha, milky oats, blue vervain, rose, hawthorn, devil’s club, motherwort, too many to name. The one that I want to share about today is Reishi. This is an herb that we should all know.

Image result for ganoderma lucidumRed-orange, fiery fungus, primordial mushroom of the forest, tapped into the matrix of the underworld, full of ancient wisdom, Reishi is well known as a tonic herb from the Chinese medical tradition. Highly revered for centuries, reishi has a long history of use as a longevity tonic with immune-modulating properties. 
Today ancient and modern science convalesce to create a three-dimensional understanding of this plant, and its applications are myriad. We know reishi to be an energy tonic that specifically supports the vital energy of the physical heart and the spirit or the “shen” that resides in the heart. It has been shown to stabilize blood pressure, lower cholesterol and to protect and revitalize the liver. Research has shown reishi to be effective in protecting the liver from the toxic effects of chemotherapy and reduce the likelihood of metastasis. As an immune modulator, reishi strengthens the immune system without stimulating it. In fact, it has the ability to calm down a hyperactive immune response (i.e. allergies or autoimmune conditions) or to activate an immune response depending on what the body needs. The list goes on and on. It truly has an application for every body system, and is generally safe for almost anyone to use daily. An adaptogenic herb by definition is one that is non-toxic and produces a non-specific response, meaning that it is a tonic in the truest sense.  It is nourishes and restores balance to the system.  It also supports the body in its intelligence to make use of it as it sees fit rather than eliciting a strong action in one direction or another, which usually results in some kind of side effect.  

Reishi is all about balance. And context. At first glance, its bright orange color and rigid structure suggest that it embodies the fiery and active energy of yang. And it does, to an extent, represent the fire element. Yet it cannot grow without the soft, moist, mossy surroundings of the forest, representing the yin, the water and earth elements. (Well, technically it can be cultivated, but wild reishi is considered to be stronger medicine). My experience with reishi is marked by a feeling of groundedness, of earth, of support, without the feeling of heaviness that the earth element carries. It gently restores fire to the system without creating excess heat . Reishi’s reputation for calming the mind and the spirit makes it a wonderful ally for anyone experiencing emotional shock, PTSD, or living in a state of chronic stress with the sympathetic nervous system (yang) in overdrive. It will help you to get into the more nourishing and replenishing parasympathetic mode (yin). It seems to contain every element and plant and mineral of the forest ecosystem in its fruiting body and to nurture both yin and yang. It works best when used in the context of lifestyle change, meaning that it will help with adrenal burnout as long as you also pause, make space, slow down and give the body time to recharge. If you don’t change your lifestyle, you are only putting a band-aid on a wound and is a waste of a precious resource such as reishi.

In the wake of Summer Solstice, when the yang energy of productivity is at its peak, we can all take reprieve from the heat in the shade of the metaphorical forest contained in the form of reishi mushroom. Summer can be a time of intense heat and energy and activity. It can also be a time marked by socialization, lazy days, cook outs, camp outs and vacations. Heat can be both relaxing and stimulating, depending on the degree of heat, and the context. It’s all relative. It’s all up to us as individuals to find a rhythm, a system, an intentional state of dis-order, whatever we need to do to feel our way to center, over and over again, multiple times a day. Remember to breathe deep and that we are all ultimately more strong, productive and useful when we are able to approach the chaotic events of modern life from a place of calm & center.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Blue Vervain

(Verbena hastata)

Blue Vervain is a wonderfully relaxing plant with many uses. Native to the United States, Vervain is a beautiful perennial herb, growing 3-8′ tall. It prefers full sun and medium-wet soils. Often found in wet meadows and river bottoms in the Great Lakes region, Blue Vervain attracts butterflies and other pollinators and makes a great addition to your medicinal herb garden.

Family: Verbenaceae

Parts Used: aerial (above ground)

Energetics: bitter, acrid, cold, drying

Actions: bitter tonic, relaxing nervine, febrifuge, hypotensive, diaphoretic, emetic in large doses

Uses: a strongly relaxing nervine, vervain calms states of anxiety as well as hysteria and seizure. It is useful for occasions (or periods of time) when the sympathetic nervous system is stuck in overdrive, such as acute and chronic stress, or when body is shivering due to a fever. In fevers, the diaphoretic action of vervain opens the peripheral blood vessels to bring on a sweat and break a fever. It can also be useful following a debilitating illness to restore digestion and tone. As a bitter tonic, small doses of vervain are stimulating to digestive secretions, and decongestant to the liver and gallbladder. Vervain also has a reputation for helping to relieve hot flashes and night sweats.

Indications: hot flashes, night sweats, fevers, and any time the pores are tightly closed and the body needs to vent. Constitutionally speaking, vervain is suited to people who are intensely driven with perfectionist tendencies. These people often have very high and unreasonable expectations of themselves as well as others. Their strong mental and emotional focus draws energy away from the digestive and reproductive centers. And without that grounding lower body strength, they often overexert their upper bodies, resulting in tension in the upper shoulders and neck. Matthew Wood writes that vervain is for people with “strong above, weak below.” He also recommends it for women who have intense food cravings during menses (Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants p.351).

Dosage: As a tincture, use 2-4 ml per day according to the British Pharmacopeia. Matthew Wood recommends 1-3 drops 1-3 times a day.

Contraindications: not recommended during pregnancy. It is not a nourishing or tonic herb so prolonged use and/or high doses are not recommended.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Teasel

(Dipsacus sylvestris)

Teasel is a very common sight in this area. As a biennial, the young thistle-like leaves begin as a low-growing rosette its first year, before shooting up a flower stalk in year 2. The flowers, which can grow to 8′ tall, are generally whitish-purple, and attract many pollinators. Its seeds are a favorite source of food for birds. The genus includes about 15 species. Of these, D. sylvestris, D. fullonum, D. japonica, D. asper and D. sativus have been reported to have medicinal value.


Family: Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle family)

Parts Used: primarily root (although some American herbalists have suggested that the seed is also of value)

Energetics: bitter, pungent, slightly warming

Actions: bitter tonic, yang tonic, tonifies the ‘essence,’ nourishes sinew and bone, hemostatic

Uses:  Dipsacus sylvestis, the European native, was used to tease wool, but was only recently introduced to the Western materia medica by the late herbalist William LeSassier. He used it as a substitute for the Eastern variety, Dipsacus japonica, which has a long history of use in traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic to restore kidney ‘jing’ or ‘essence’ (Wood, The Earthwise Herbal).

In Chinese Medicine, the kidney jing refers to our inherited chi, or vital essence, our constitution, the blueprint material for the body, which is housed in the kidneys. Jing is similar to our trust fund, our foundational storage of energy. We can draw on this supply of reserves whenever we need to, but it’s difficult to replenish, so we must manage it well.

According to TCM, the kidneys include much more than the blood-filtering organs that we think of in the West. The Chinese kidneys store the essence and govern the deeper tissues of the body including bone, connective tissue, nerve tissue and reproductive tissues. The kidney system has a direct effect on the endocrine system, sexual function, growth, maturation, and the immune system.  Seen from this perspective, it’s no surprise that as a kidney tonic, teasel root can be used to treat a wide variety of issues from broken bones to weak prostate to preventing miscarriage, which are all signs of depleted kidney chi.

Teasel, as a kidney tonic, is used to promote the healing of broken bones and torn, injured or inflamed connective tissue. This makes it useful in treating the symptoms of Lyme disease, since the Lyme-inducing bacteria often targets the nerve, muscle & connective tissues. Herbalist Matthew Wood introduced the use of teasel as a specific therapy for Lyme, explaining that teasel “teases” the spirochete out of its hiding so that the immune system or antibiotics can effectively deal with them. This makes teasel an important adjunct therapy for use with antimicrobials. Many other herbalists have corroborated that small doses of teasel root can product a Herxheimer reaction, or a healing crisis, as the increase of toxins from the dying bacteria flood the bloodstream. While this is not a one-size-fits-all remedy for Lyme disease (remember, we treat the person, not the disease), it is an exciting addition to our herbal tool bag.

Indications for Teaseldysmennorrhea, menorrhagia, uterine bleeding during pregnancy and after childbirth, spermatorhea, frequent urination, cold hands and feet, injuries to tendons and ligaments, lower back pain (all signs of deficient kidney or liver energy in TCM) (Reid, Daniel, A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs), fractures, rheumatism, bruises, Lyme disease (Wood)

Fun Facts: The points where leaves merge at the stem form a cup, which collects rain water. This has the function of preventing sap-sucking insects from climbing the stem.

The dried flower heads of teasel have historically been used as a natural comb to clean and raise the nap on wool.

Contraindications: not recommended for yin-deficient conditions

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Pleurisy Root

(Asclepias tuberosa)

Pleurisy root is a cousin of milkweed, native to North America. It is not used so often in today’s herbal community, but was a favorite medicinal plant to both Native Americans and early American electic physicians.


Family: Asclepidaceae

Names: butterfly weed, orange milkweed

Parts Used: root

Energetics: sweet, slightly bitter, slightly salty/minerally, moistening

Actions: antispasmodic, expectorant, diaphoretic, carminative, tonic, sedative, mildly laxative

Uses:  Highly valued in treating pleurisy, pneumonia, and influenza to reduce inflammation and assist expectoration (1). As a diaphoretic, pleurisy root can be useful in breaking a fever. It also has a moistening effect to both the skin and the mucus membranes, lubricating dryness and loosening secretions that have become stuck or stagnant. Asclepias relieves sharp pain associated with pleurisy and acute bronchial trauma or infection (2). IHistorically pleurisy root was also used for consumption, diarrhea, dysentery, rheumatism, typhoid and eczema (3).

Indicationssharp, cutting chest pain that comes on suddenly and persists for hours or days (2), pleurisy, pneumonia, acute fever.

The American Eclectic physicians favored this medicine as a treatment for any disease where the skin is hot or dry, or in which the pores are weak and allow for passive sweating, with a flushed face, a full pulse, and pain that is worse with movement. Contemporary herbalist Matthew Wood recommends pleurisy root for a “cough that is dry in the upper lungs, wet in the lower lungs,” “pneumonia in the early stages, especially in children,” “coughs that are tight, dry and constricted,” and “sharp, stitching pains in the chest; pain in the chest from coughing” (4).

Contraindications: can be emetic and purgative in high doses

1- David Hoffman Therapeutic Herbalism
2- Finley Ellingwood American Materia Medica
3- Maude Grieve A Modern Herbal
4- Matthew Wood The Earthwise Herbal 

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Cardamom

(Elettaria cardamomum)

Cardamom is a well known and loved spice from the Indian subcontinent, often used as an ingredient in chai tea and used to flavor curries, desserts, and liqueurs. In Egypt and the Middle East, cardamom is ground and put into coffee to offset the acidic effects of coffee in the body (and it adds a delicious flavor)!


Family: Zingiberaceae (Ginger family)

Parts Used: dried ripe seeds

Energetics: pungent, aromatic, warming, drying

Actions: digestive stimulant, expectorant, carminative, diaphoretic

Uses:  Excerpted from The Yoga of Herbs by Dr. Frawley & Dr. Lad:

“Cardamom is one of the best & safest digestive stimulants. It awakens the spleen, stimulates samana vayu (similar to the solar plexus), enkindles Agni (the digestive fire) and removes Kapha (excess water & mucus) from the stomach & lungs. It stimulates the mind and heart and gives clarity and joy. Added to milk it neutralizes its mucus forming properties and it detoxifies cafein in coffee. Its quality is sattvic and its particularly good for opening and soothing the flow of the pranas in the body.” (p.109)

The stand-out characteristic of cardamom for me is its ability to break up. I think of cardamom for any condition involving too much mucus, whether in the lungs, sinuses or GI tract. I love adding cardamom to milk, yogurt or ice cream to “warm” the cold nature of the dairy and neutralize its mucus-forming tendencies.

Indications: nervous digestive upset in children, belching, flatulence, indigestion (especially when dairy leads to digestive upset), excessive mucus production, wet/boggy coughs

Description: excerpted from A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve:

“The large perennial herb. yielding Cardamom seeds is known in its own country as ‘Elattari’ or ‘Ilachi,’ while ‘Cardamomum’ was the name by which some Indian spice was known in classical times.It has a large, fleshy rhizome, and the alternate, lanceolate leaves are blades from 1 to 2 1/2 feet long, smooth and dark green above, pale, glaucous green and finely silky beneath. The flowering stems spread horizontally near the ground, from a few inches to 2 feet long, and bear small, loose racemes, the small flowers being usually yellowish, with a violet lip. The fruits are from 2/5 to 4/5 of an inch long, ovoid or oblong, bluntly triangular in section, shortly beaked at the apex, pale yellowish grey in colour, plump, and nearly smooth. They are three-celled, and contain in each cell two rows of small seeds of a dark, reddish-brown colour.” (p.159)

Contraindications: large amounts of cardamom can aggravate ulcers or other excess Pitta conditions.

Recipe: Baked Pears with Cardamom 


Ingredients:
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 whole pears
1/2 cup water

Preparation:

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Lay pears down on a baking dish.
3. Coat the bottom of the dish with water.
4. Sprinkle the pears with cardamom.
5. Bake at 350 til tender.

source: http://www.joyfulbelly.com
Check out this website for many wonderful Ayurvedic recipes! You can type cardamom into the search field to see a full list of recipes using this incredible spice.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Mistletoe

(Viscum album)

Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant, found growing on the branches of trees. It forms pendent bushes, 2-5 feet in diameter. The genus Viscum has thirty or more species, but this variety of Mistletoe is found throughout Europe. It has a long history of use as a medicine, but is also highly toxic in large doses. Please read the full materia medica, including the cautions, and do not use this herb without the guidance of a qualified practitioner.


Family: Loranthaceae

Names: European Mistletoe, All-Heal, Golden bough, Devil’s Fuge

Parts Used: leaves/young twigs/berries.

Energetics: warming, drying; taste is slightly sweet, acrid & bitter.

Actions: nervine, narcotic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, vasodilator, cardiac depressant, vagus nerve stimulant, diuretic, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory

Uses:  hypertension, insomnia, nervous excitability, hyperactivity, anxiety, limb-twitching, epilepsy (petit mal), vertigo, tinnitus, rabies, headache, migraine, whooping cough, dizziness, fatigue, benzodiapepine addiction, cancer

Viscum has been beneficially employed in epilepsy, hysteria, insanity, paralysis, and other nervous diseases. It stimulates the production of oxytocin and is used to restrain postpartum and other uterine hemorrhages and for amenorrhea. It is also reputed a heart tonic. According to Dr. Tascher, it is a remedy for cardiac hypertrophy and dropsy (edema), associated with enlarged heart.

Mistletoe was at one time supposed to have properties resembling digitalis, and has been used in the treatment of cardiac and other dropsies; also in albuminuria and arteriosclerosis. In reality it has a depressant action on the heart (unlike digitalis), and it is said to lower arterial tension. The berries are purgative and emetic, and are said to have emmenagogue and ecbolic properties when given in large doses. Its principal action is to depress the nervous system, especially the medulla.

Greek physician Hippocrates and 17th century herbalist Culpepper both prescribed Mistletoe for disorders of the spleen. Native Americans used it to induce abortion and stimulate contractions during childbirth. American 19th century eclectic physicians, recommended it for epilepsy, typhoid fever, menstrual cramps, and postpartum hemorrhage.

Rudolf Steiner reintroduced the use of mistletoe extracts for the treatment of cancer in 1916. It is currently used in Germany as a complimentary treatment for cancer. Mistletoe has been found to have cytotoxic activity against cancer cells in vitro. In vivo, mistletoe has been shown to increase quality of life for people undergoing cancer treatments. It seems to stimulate immune activity and increase angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels). See the reference at the bottom for more information on mistletoe and cancer treatment.

Specific Indications  flushed face, recurring headache; tearing, rending rheumatic or neuralgic pains, coming on in paroxysms; weak, irregular heart-action, with dyspnoea, cardiac hypertrophy, and valvular insufficiency.

 Cautions: This plant possesses toxic properties. Vomiting, catharsis, with tenesmus and sometimes bloody stools, papillary contraction, muscular spasm, prostration, coma, convulsions, and death have been reported from eating the leaves and berries. This herb should only be used under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.

History/Folklore:  Since druidic times the herb has been used applied to external cancers. Both Pliny and Hippocrates report its use for cancers and epilepsy. Pliny writes that the Druids believed it an antidote for all poisons and called it ‘All-Heal.’

Maude Grieve says that Mistletoe was held in great reverence by the Druids, who “went forth clad in white robes to search for the sacred plant, and when it was discovered, one of the Druids ascended the tree and gathered it with great ceremony, separating it from the Oak with a golden knife. The Mistletoe was always cut at a particular age of the moon, at the beginning of the year, and it was only sought for when the Druids declared they had visions directing them to seek it.”

Shakespeare calls it ‘the baleful Mistletoe,’ an allusion to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses, and Mistletoe was afterwards given into the keeping of the goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate.
*This month I cheated a bit and used someone else’s mateira medica. This information is paraphrased and excerpted from the Belfast Herbalist at http://belfastherbalist.blogspot.com/2011/12/miseltoe-monograph.html. There is a lot more information about mistletoe on this website, including research. Please check out her page to learn more and see her list of sources.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Hawthorn

Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

A dense tree or shrub with small, sharp thorns, hawthorn grows up to 25’ tall.  Clusters of small, white, rose-like petals appear in May, leading to bright red berries in the fall and remain on the tree until winter.  The berries resemble tiny apples.  The laevigata variety is native to Europe and North Africa where it has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today it is most famous for its tonic effect on the cardiovascular system. It is a safe, versatile, delicious herb with a rich history of use and lore.


Family: Rosaceae

Names: May bush, May tree, Tree of Chastity, thorn-apple, red haw, summer haw

Parts Used: leaf, flower and berry

Energetics: Flowering tops—cool, astringent
Berries—sour, slightly sweet, warm

Actions: Cardiotonic, diuretic, astringent, hypotensive, diaphoretic

Uses:  As a cardiotonic, the berries act in a normalizing way upon the heart by either stimulating or depressing its activity depending on the need. It improves the nutrition and energy release in the heart muscle, strengthening it without stimulating or depressing activity. It helps maintain healthy arteries, veins and heart by enhancing the connective tissue structure of the endothelial lining of the heart, blood and lymphatic vessels. This gives these structures resiliency against injury, disease and the normal wear and tear of aging. Hawthorn also has  a normalizing effect on cholesterol, lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels, and helps to dissipate clots. Taken regularly, hawthorn can prevent the development of coronary disease.

These uses are  relatively modern. Historically Hawthorn was used in Europe for kidney and bladder stones and as a diuretic. The berries were used for diarrhea. in Chinese medicine, hawthorn berries are mainly taken for symptoms of ‘food stagnation,’ which can include abdominal bloating, indigestion, and flatulence.  They are believed to move blood and are used to relieve stagnation, especially after childbirth for postpartum abdominal pain and clumps due to blood stasis.

As a flower essence it is used to open the heart chakra and enhance the expression of love. It’s recommended for broken hearts, disappointment, anger or bitterness after a failed love affair

Indications: angina, coronary artery disease, weakness of the heart, irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, artery spasms, hypertension, hypotension, congestive heart failure, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and heart problems caused by hepatitis or other liver disease. Mental indications include attention deficit, restlessness, irritability, anxiety and nervousness. It is also indicated for allergies, sinusitis, colds, asthma, and food stagnation leading to fermentation and indigestion.

Contraindications: Hawthorn may be taken over long periods of time, as there is no risk of toxicity.  It does make the body more sensitive to digitalis and should not be used concurrently with digoxin. Prolonged use can lower blood pressure; people using blood pressure medications should take care that their BP doesn’t drop too low.

History/Folklore: In England, the branches were used for the maypole. While a propitious tree at Mayday, Hawthorn is at other times considered unlucky.The flowers are reputed to have magical properties, and are believed to bring about a death in the family if they are taken into the home.  This may have something to do with the trimethlamine present in the flowers—this substance is one of the first products formed when the body starts to decay. Many country villagers believe that hawthorn flowers still bear the smell of the Great Plague of London (the flowers are mostly fertilized by carrion insects which are attracted to the smell of decomposition).

A tree sacred to the faeries, Hawthorn is to be regarded with respect, as it stands at the threshold of the Otherworld. Some warn that one who falls asleep beneath a Hawthorn will be taken to the faery realm. Hawthorns often stand over holy wells, also traditional thresholds of the Otherworld. Hawthorn is reputed to have provided Christ’s crown of thorns, as he faced his decent into hell to pay for the sins of humanity.

Some believed witches rode on hawthorn brooms, as they made their journeys between realms. Despite these seemingly negative associations, there are also traditions of placing sprigs of hawthorn above cottage and stable doors to keep witches out. In some places, to sit beneath a hawthorn afforded protection from the same (‘Creep under the thorn/It will save you from harm’). In either scenario, hawthorn seems to be respected as a powerful plant with otherwordly connections.

Perhaps these judgments about evil and witches and danger come from a lack of understanding about the nature of darkness, and the lessons and insight that can be gained from a metaphorical visit to the underworld, a sojourn to the subconcious realms, of the many forms of death and release that are necessary to allow for new growth. This is a great time of year to go to those dark places within ourselves. We do this, ultimately, so that we may connect more deeply with spirit, with the metaphysical backdrop of the world. Perhaps Hawthorn is one plant that can aid us in our journeys to become more whole. more conscious and spiritually adept beings.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Mugwort

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Mugwort is a common plant that is found all over the world. There are many different varieties, but this post will focus on the one most prevalent in our Mid-Atlantic region–artemisia vulgaris. The species name vulgaris speaks to how common this plant is. In fact, it is quite invasive, but every weed has a virtue.


Family: Asteraceae

Names: croneswort, moonwort

Parts Used: aerial parts

Energetics: bitter, aromatic, warming

Actions: bitter tonic, carminative, nervine, emmenagogue

Uses:  Mugwort is the herb that is most often used in moxabustion. Internally it is used to counter depression and rheumatism. Mugwort will stimulate menses when delayed, stagnant or absent.  Mugwort is also known to promote highly vivid dreaming. For dream support, you can burn mugwort as a smudge before bed or put some under your pillow. As a bitter tonic, mugwort stimulates digestive secretion, including the synthesis and release of bile. It can be used to prevent and diminish gallstones. With an affinity for the liver, mugwort is cooling and antioxidant to the liver, enhancing hepatocyte function. It can improve nearly all digestive issues, from acid reflux to constipation, when used regularly and in small doses (3-10 drops of tincture).

IndicationsStagnant digestion, irregular menstruation, menstrual cramps or pain, depression, rheumatism, sciatica, gout, tension, colds, bronchitis, and other cold or damp conditions.

Fun Facts: The name mugwort refers to the fact that mugwort was used in brewing beer before hops gained the monopoly on bittering agents. The genus name of Artemisia is associated with the goddess Artemis. It’s correspondence to Artemis is reflected in her silvery foliage that glows under the moon, in her action on menses, as well as in her spiritually therapeutic powers to help heal aspects of the wounded female, including marks of abuse from the astral body.

Contraindications: not recommended during pregnancy. It is not a nourishing or tonic herb so prolonged use and/or high doses are not recommended.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

St. John’s Wort

(Hypericum perforatum)

An herb that begs to be recognized this time of year is St. John’s Wort. It’s named after St. John the Baptist because it blooms around St. John’s Day. Some herbalists prefer to call this plant St. Joan’s Wort after Joan of Arc. Either way, the association with the sun and with fire is insinuated in the name and its medicine is sometimes called “sunshine in a bottle.”


Family: Hypericaceae

Names: St. John’s Wort, St. Joan’s Wort

Parts Used: flowering tops

Energetics: slightly sweet, mildly bitter, somewhat astringent, cooling

Actions: Nervine, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, analgesic, anti-viral, antiseptic, vulnerary

Indications: St. John’s’/Joan’s wort has a special relationship with the sun. It is one of the plants that help to bring sunshine to the dark places, illuminating the shadows of the body and mind. It has a long history of treating melancholy and gloominess (mild to moderate depression), as well as anxiety, nightmares and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It was considered a remedy for possession by evil spirits in Medieval times, which is sometimes interpreted as referring to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, phobias and nervous breakdown.

It also has an affinity for preventing and healing all degrees of burns. Some sources caution that St. John’s Wort taken internally may cause photo-sensitivity and increase one’s susceptibility to sunburn, but others say that only applies to the capsules and standardized extracts, and that whole plant preparations like tinctures do not produce that effect. Susun Weed uses the infused oil as a sun-protectant for the skin. I use it as a remedy for both sunburn and regular burns from the oven. It reduces pain and redness from the skin very quickly, and I find that only 4-5 applications after a minor burn is needed to resolve all pain & redness, prevent peeling, blisters and scarring.

St. John’s Wort is considered cooling and can help to balance our internal fires when they get too intense. The fire element governs our sense of self worth, our abilities to transform food, and to make decisions. When our fire element is overactive, it can lead to irritability, anger and a desire to control everything. This type of chronic stress fries the nervous system, creates inflammation in the body, and makes us more susceptible to injury. St. John’s wort can ease inflammation, strengthen the nerves, decongest the liver, strengthen our gut-level instincts and heal our aches and pains when we overdo it or accidentally injure ourselves because we were too hasty.

St. John’s wort is wonderful remedy for wound-healing as it relieves pain, helps with tissue repair, and strengthens the integrity & elasticity of the capillaries, arteries & veins.

As an antiviral, St. John’s Wort has been shown to be useful in countering viruses such as HIV, herpes, measles, hepatitis A & B, and influenza.

It is overall a widely applicable plant and an indispensable part of any medicine cabinet, for its abilities to cheer you up, ease your aches & pains, strengthen the nerves, heal burns and counter infection.

External Uses: for wounds, burns, blisters, rashes, abrasions, bed-sores, bruises, boils & stings. It also makes a great massage oil for nerve pain, muscle spasm, stiffness & sprains. Its antiviral properties do pass through the skin and can be useful in cases of shingles.

Contraindications
St. John’s Wort should not be taken concurrently with prescription anti-depressants. Because St. John’s wort is such a potent liver cleanser, it is also contraindicated for any medications that are metabolized via the CYP-450 pathway in the liver. It will cause your body to eliminate these drugs much more quickly. Please do your due diligence to make sure that St. John’s Wort does not interact with any of your medications before taking this herb.

This information is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.