(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

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**


(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 

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


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**


(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 (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 (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.

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.

Rose Petal

(Rosa spp.)

Dubbed the “Queen of Flowers,” Rose has been a favored plant throughout human history. It has been cultivated for thousands of years, and has always been associated with love, sensuality and beauty. This materia medica applies to both wild & cultivated roses.

Family: Rosaceae

Names: Rosa centifolia, gallica, and damascena are the most common varieties used medicinally)

Parts Used: Flower & Hip

Energetics: aromatic, slightly bitter, astringent, cooling, drying

Actions: Nervine, carminative (aromatic), emmenagogue, aphrodisiac, antibacterial, antiseptic, nervine, anti-inflammatory, cardio tonic, vulnerary (heals tissue)

Properties: astringent, soothing, calming, uplifting, uplifts spirits, disperses melancholy, eases anxiety & tension, clear heat and toxins, decongestant to female reproductive system, nourishing to the heart & circulatory system.

Indications: as an aphrodisiac, rose teaches us to walk the line between fierceness & vulnerability. It softens our walls and encourages us to be open, while at the same time reinforcing personal boundaries. Rose has a profound opening effect on the heart and is a lovely salve for broken hearts as well as those who have been the victim of violence, sexual abuse or betrayal. Rose teaches self love and helps us to see the inherent beauty in ourselves & our surroundings.

As an astringent, rose petal tea can be used as a gargle for sore throats (especially when combined with rose-infused honey). It dries clear mucus discharges, relieves runny nose, brings down a fever and enhances immunity by clearing heat and toxins. The cooling, astringent petals are also helpful for inflammation in the digestive tract (IBS, infection, leaky gut).

As a cardiovascular tonic, rose can soothe a racing heart and strengthen the blood vessels, improving elasticity, healing microwounds & combating oxidative stress.

Its aromatic and dispersive properties make it useful in uterine congestion manifesting as pain, cramping and heavy periods. Irregular menstruation caused by blood stagnation. And it improves mood and may balance out mood swings associated with PMS (another sign of stagnation). Rose petal tincture is my favorite remedy for menstrual cramps.

And, its cooling, anti-inflammatory properties can be applied to headaches due to stress/high blood pressure with a pounding quality.

External Uses: compress for sore eyes, diluted rose petal-infused vinegar is amazing for sunburns, a liniment of the petals is good for sore muscles, esspecially in Pitta types, and for dislocate discs with swelling. A simple spit poultice is soothing for bug bites & scratches. A salve or paste made of powdered petals is useful for itching rashes and inflamed skin.

Avoid rose oil internally if you have gallstones. Because of its astringent nature, long-term use of rose may exacerbate constipation and dryness.

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


(Aralia nudicaulis)

A native woodland species found throughout Appalachia, this plant is not related to the tropical Sarsaparilla most people are familiar with, but it has many overlapping uses.

Description: The Aralia genus also contains Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), another Appalachian plant, and wild sarsaparilla is sometimes referred to as “little spikenard.” They are in the same family as ginseng, and like ginseng, the Aralias are normalizing to the metabolism and strengthening to the adrenals. Jamaican Sarsaparilla (Smilax regeii) is an entirely different plant that grows as a thorny vine in the Caribbean and Central America. Jamaican sarsaparilla and the smilax genus made its way into the European materia medica as a treatment for syphyllis and quickly became known for its blood-cleansing properties. To add to the confusion between these species, we do have another native woodland plant that grows around here called Greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), that is related to this tropical sarsaparilla vine. Greenbrier is also used as a more direct substitute for true sarsaparilla. In this materia medica, we’ll be talking about the wild sarsaparilla of Appalachia (Aralia nudicaulis).

Actions: pectoral, diuretic, diaphoretic, alterative, adaptogen, vulnerary, stimulant

Parts Used: Root

Energetics: Cooling, Sweet, Dispersive

Uses: As an alterative, wild sarsaparilla has similar properties to “true sarsaparilla” (Smilax regeii) and both have been used to treat rheumatism, syphilis, inflammations of the skin, hormonal dysregulation, and diseases of the blood. Alteratives are often thought of as “blood-cleansers”, but this is a very vague way of understanding their action. As blood medicine, wild sarsaparilla is particularly suited for conditions where circulation is impeded, resulting in the accumulation of wastes. A syrup from the root can be useful for an irritating, mucus-producing cough or tuberculosis. Externally, fomentations of the root are useful for ringworm. As an adaptogen, wild sarsaparilla is balancing to states of sympathetic excess, when the fight-or-flight response is in constant alert.

Indications: hormonal excess, acne, sluggish cellular metabolism, gout, syphilis, blood infections/toxicity, rheumatism & inflammatory joint conditions, boggy lungs with irritation & excess mucus, skin eruptions, ringworm.

Preparations: Decoction, tincture, syrup, fomentation

Cautions: no side effects or drug interactions found.

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


(Viola odorata)

A common herb found in backyards, gardens, fields and forests, this lowly plant is often overlooked as medicinal, but don’t let its small stature or quiet disposition deceive you. It’s full of nutrients and makes a lovely spring potherb, tea, and is a soothing, anti-inflammatory & detoxifying tonic.

Actions: vulnerary, lymphatic, alterative, emollient, expectorant, mild diuretic & mild laxative

Parts Used: Leaf & Flower

Energetics: cooling, moistening

Uses: Vioilet flowers are rich in vitamin C and the leaves are packed with Vitamin A (carotene). The leaves affect the nerves, lungs, immune & reproductive systems, with a special affinity for the breasts. Violet supports lymphatic circulation and mildly enhances bowel, liver & kidney function. Violet has a long history of being used in cancer treatment, in combination with other therapies. On its own, violet has been known to help dissolve tumors, cysts and some cancers, especially in the breasts. It essentially dissolves hard masses while relieving congestion of the lymphatic glands.

Indications: Breast congestion, cystic breasts, lymphatic congestion, dry or spasmodic cough, red, itchy & inflamed skin conditions. Hippocrates recommended violet for headaches, hangovers, bad eyesight, and excess of bile. Pliny said they induced sleep, strengthened the heart muscle & calmed anger. They have been used in Arabic medicine for constipation, tonsillitis and insomnia.

Preparations: eat the leaves and flowers in a spring salad, use as an infused oil for breast massage. as a salve or poultice for topical relief of irritations to the skin, as an infusion for a nourishing & detoxifying tonic, as a tincture for its alterative action, or as a syrup for coughs.

Cautions: no side effects or drug interactions found.

Dose: Tincture: 1-2 ml 3 x a day; as an infusion, use 1 cup of dried herb to 1 quart water. Steep 4-8 hours, then strain. Drink 1-3 cups a day.

Homeopathic Use: for breathlessness & spasmodic coughs, whooping cough and breathing problems associated with anxiety. It is also for headaches with burning of the forehead & pain above the eyebrows and vertigo. A Violet person easily gets tense & over-excited. It particularly suits thin, nervous girls.

Flower Essence: for profound shyness; suited for people who are delicate, sensitive and timid. Violet engenders a sense of warmth & openness.

Folklore: Violet has been grown commercially since Greek times. The blooms were sold in Athenian street markets. The Romans adored the flowers and used them to adorn the heads of poets, civic leaders and other officials. Both cultures wore garlands of violet to prevent drunkenness. It was also used in love potions.

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