Goldenrod vs. Ragweed: Don’t Blame an Innocent Bystander for Your Seasonal Allergies!

Late summer – with its sunshine, abundance of harvest-ready produce, flowers, and extra fun squeezed into evenings, weekends & precious days off – is marred for many by the return of hayfever. Allergy symptoms are seriously blech, to use a technical term. If you are still suffering, ask me about natural solutions for your allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies, or read more here.

 

And in the meantime, enjoy the beauty of late summer flowers without fear of sneezing by learning which plant is really to blame.

 

This is goldenrod (Solidago canadensis and other Solidago spp), a beautiful yellow flower offering great herbal medicine.

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod’s aerial parts are used as a tonic for mucus membranes, meaning it is often found in herbal formulas for such things as sinus infections, bladder infections, and even to treat seasonal allergies! It has been used historically as a kidney tonic, and also for the skin. Note the leaf shape to help identify the plant before it flowers. Note, also, that it grows fairly tall on a single stalk. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be airborne – rather, it is pollinated by insects. Thus it is an innocent bystander, falsely accused as far as seasonal allergies are concerned.

 

 

This is ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya).

Ragweed in bloom

Ragweed in bloom

It has less showy green flowers, and a very different leaf shape. Ragweed pollen is lighter and IS airborne. If you suffer from hayfever, ragweed is not your friend! While ragweed and goldenrod do grow in similar environments, ragweed is usually shorter than its pretty medicinal companion, and can be differentiated long before flowers and pollen based on the leaves. With this information, you can weed it out of your yard to decrease your local pollen exposure.

 

 

 

Here is another picture of ragweed that I took, this time with goldenrod in the background to drive home the innocent bystander point:

Ragweed (foreground) vs Goldenrod

Ragweed in the foreground, getting goldenrod into trouble

 

 

 

And here is a side-by-side from the folks at The New England Academy of Herbal Medicine:

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

 

 

 

So, now you know, right? Ragweed has pretty leaves and small flowers with light pollen that causes “blech” symptoms. Goldenrod has pretty flowers with heavy, innocent pollen, and long skinny leaves off a tall main stalk. Spread the word: Enjoy goldenrod’s lovely late summer blooms, and help stop the false accusations!

Red Raspberry Leaf in Pregnancy

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus): Myths & Facts, Safety & Efficacy, Mechanism of Action

Red raspberry leaf tea is perhaps the best-known herbal medicine used in pregnancy. It has a long

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

tradition of use in both Europe and North America.  Many women have heard it is “good for you” and so they drink it.

Did your mom drink it when she was pregnant? Mine did. It is an excellent choice of herbal ally during pregnancy. Considering how useful it is, and how popular, I think it should be better understood.

MYTH: Red raspberry leaf induces labor.

NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE!

Fact: Red raspberry leaf is safe and useful throughout pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. It does not induce labor.

This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Rubus ideaus is used to prepare for labor. The herb is a wonderfully effective uterine tonic, meaning it has a toning, strengthening, and nourishing effect on the tissue and function of female reproductive tract (Hoffman, 2003).

Via its mineral content (especially calcium) and various polypeptides, it enhances the ability of the uterus to contract when labor begins, and can make labor more efficient.

The herb affects smooth muscles, meaning it has gentle action beyond the uterus in the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract. As a herb for digestion, it is most often used when stool is loose, but can also be part of a formula to address constipation.

Red raspberry leaf is also rich in tannins, lending it a whole other realm of actions. Tannins astringe,

Rubus idaeus

Rubus idaeus

or pull together tissue. Think of the feeling of black tea – also rich in tannins – in your mouth. It is a little bit drying, but also toning & tightening, making it great for skin and mucous membranes. Tannins are a good fit when there is excess fluid, as in diarrhea or certain kinds of gut inflammation, and can also be used to address bleeding. Indeed, a red raspberry leaf mouthwash is used for bleeding gums. Further down in the body, Rubus idaeus tea is used for postpartum uterine bleeding as well as bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Red raspberry leaf plays a role in supporting fertility as well, as it is thought to help thicken the uterine lining (Gilbert, 2015).

Actions

Uterine Tonic (also tones pelvic floor); Partus preparator; Astringent; Nutritive

Uses

Pregnancy; Fertility; Painful periods; Diarrhea; Constipation (mild); Decreasing excess bleeding (eg postpartum, but also gastrointestinal, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums)

Note: some references list Red Raspberry leaf as a galactagogue, aka promoter of lactation, but this is not a primary action of the herb, and for most folks, not the best herb for this action. The herb is also listed as a nausea treatment in pregnancy, but clinically, nausea would not be my reason to choose Rubus ideaus. The herb may also lower blood sugar if it is elevated, but, again, this is not a primary action of the herb.

What is a partus preparator?

An herbal combination used traditionally to help someone prepare to give birth, usually taken in the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. The combination is designed to tonify the uterus, encouraging efficient contractions, as well as being mildly soothing and astringent. While the herbs used vary considerably, common choices include Red Raspberry Leaf, Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh, Partridge Berry, Cotton Root and Spikenard.

Blue Cohosh in particular does not have a good safety profile. There have been case reports of infants with bleeding in the brain or heart attacks (Romm, 2010) – and this herb should be used only with the advice of a trained herbal clinician.

In fact, modern herbal medicine practitioners are now divided as to the efficacy or necessity of a partus preparator formula, and may prefer to select specific herbs to meet the needs of the individual pregnant client. Many practitioners will use homeopathics and acupuncture rather than a partus preparator formula.

Constituents of Red Raspberry Leaf

Flavonoids, tannins (8-14 %), polypeptides, minerals (eg calcium, iron, phophorus).

Some sources reference an alkaloid, fragrine, but recent research has not confirmed its presence.

Dose

Most commonly taken as a tea: 1 tsp to 2 tbsp per cup, steeped 10 min to overnight depending on desired action. (Longer steeping will result in a stronger medicinal action, as well as higher mineral content). 1-4 cups per day.

Studies have found efficacy with certain extracts in tablet form as well.

Tincture: 2-4 ml (1:5 in 40% alcohol), 3 times per day.

Preparations

Check out this Pregnancy Tonic Tea featuring Red Raspberry & Nettle Leaves.

Or become a kitchen herbalist with this fancy/simple Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar.

Research

I will refer below only studies on pregnant women, leaving out studies on rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits, and isolated uterine muscle as these do not replicate the complex physiology of a pregnant human drinking a herbal infusion.

It is worth noting that from the studies on isolated uterine muscle, red raspberry leaf appears to have a tonic effect – that is, it increases tone of relaxed smooth muscle, and induces relaxation where muscle tone is already high (Mills & Bone, 2005; Mills, Duguoa et al 2006). It is also noteworthy that Rubus ideaus has an apparent relaxing effect on the muscle of the small intestine (specifically the ileum), at least in Guinea pigs (Rojas-Vera J1Patel AVDacke CG, 2002).

Although nearly two thirds of US midwives report prescribing Red Raspberry leaf to their clients red raspberry leaf with teapot(McFarlin et al 1999), and many, many women self prescribe the tea, there have been relatively few human studies.

One randomized controlled trial of 192 women with low-risk single pregnancies compared red raspberry leaf tablets (2 x 1.2 g per day) to placebo from 32 weeks gestation onwards. There were no adverse effects for either mothers or babies.

Those who took the herbal tablets had a shorter second stage of labor, as well as lower rates of forceps delivery (Simpson et al, 2001).

Another study involving 108 women (57 in treatment group, 51 in control group) confirmed that the herb is safe. They also noted lower rates of pre and post-term gestation – meaning fewer babies were born too early or late – as well as less likelihood of obstetric interventions, including caesarian section, and vacuum or forceps delivery (Parsons et al 1999).

Safety & Concerns

Considered safe in pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

Due to the high tannin content, the herb may interfere with absorption of iron and other minerals, similar to black tea. So, take supplemental iron at a different time than you drink your tea. Note that the herb itself contains iron along with other minerals. In balance as they occur in nature, this mineral content is considered well-absorbed.

 

References

 

Boon, Heather & Smith, Michael. 2004. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gilbert, Cyndi. 2015. The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gladstar, Rosemary. 1993. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

Hoffmann, David. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, a division of Inner Traditions International.

 

McFarlin B, Gibson M, O’Rear J, Harman P. 1999. A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. Review of the literature and recommendations for practice. J Nurse Midwifery, 44:205-216.

 

Mills, Simon & Bone, Kerry. 2005. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Mills, Edward, Dugoa, Jean-Jacques, Perri, Dan, Koren, Gideon. 2006. Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy & Lactation: An Evidence-Based Approach. London & New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

 

Rojas-Vera J1, Patel AVDacke CG. 2002. Relaxant activity of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf extract in guinea-pig ileum in vitro. Phytother Res. Nov;16(7):665-8.

 

Romm, Aviva. 2010. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. 2001. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Women’s Health, 46:51-59.

 

Weed, Susun. 1986. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.

 

Wood, Matthew. 2009. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Kitchen Herbalism: Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar

Red raspberry leaf in spring

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Wildcrafting note:

Raspberry is abundant in wild and semi-wild spaces throughout temperate North America and Europe, and perhaps can be found in your own yard or a local abandoned lot. Ideally harvest the leaves for use before the fruits appear. In the Toronto area, this means later June or early July.

NB: Always be sure to confirm the identity of a plant before harvesting or consuming.

What you’ll need: 

  • Red Raspberry Leaves (fresh or dried)
  • Organic Vinegar (apple cider, wine, or rice)
  • Mason Jar

What to do:

  1. If using fresh leaves, let them wilt and dry out a little before starting and make sure there is no additional moisture (water drops etc) on your leaves.
  2. Fill your clean, DRY jar with raspberry leaves.
  3. Warm vinegar in a non-reactive pot. Pour warmed vinegar of your choice over the leaves, submerging them completely and filling the jar with liquid.
  4. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.
  5. Strain the vinegar through a cheese cloth or a clean, white cotton cloth.
  6. Rebottle your vinegar (keep bottle out of direct sunlight).
  7. Enjoy! As part of dressing for green, bean, or grain salads or as an aperitif to aid digestion (1 TBSP in a cup of water before meals)

 
WHY red raspberry vinegar:
 
Vinegar is especially valuable for extracting alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals from plants. Vinegar is a good choice for tonic remedies that are intended for regular use over a long period of time to strengthen and build the system. Vinegar extractions can be used by children and are a good choice for adults who avoid alcohol. One tablespoon of this vinegar extract provides about 150-200mg of calcium. And…it’s delicious!

Read here for more about using Red Raspberry Leaf as medicine.

 

Pregnancy Tonic Tea: nettle & raspberry edition

 

Red Raspberry & Nettle Pregnancy Tonic Tea

Red Raspberry & Nettle Pregnancy Tonic Tea

Starting at 20 weeks or so:

  • Place ¼ cup (8 g) dried red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) and 1 cup (8-9 g) dried nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) in a large French press (eg Bodum) or sturdy jar. Add (~1 – 1.5 L) boiling water.
  • Let steep 4 hours or up to overnight.
  • Strain and enjoy at room temp or chilled.
  • Drink within 24-36 hours. So, 3-4 cups daily.

For extra calming and nerve nourishment: consider adding 1-2 tbsp of oatstraw (Avena sativa).

For extra digestive support (especially for gas and bloating), consider adding 1 tsp fennel seeds.
 
Benefits: see Red Raspberry Monograph for the specifics of this wonderful herbal ally in pregnancy. Nettle is another highly nutritive herb supporting a healthy gestation. Additionally, it is a natural anti-histamine, and can help with allergies. 

Natural Solutions for Seasonal Allergies

Good news: you can manage your seasonal allergies naturally!

Naturopathic News: there isn’t one natural medicine that works for everyone.

 

What’s good for allergies? Seasonal allergy symptoms occur when the level of inflammation in our car-exhaust590_284x213bodies reaches a certain threshold. For some, this is purely due to extreme sensitivity to pollens, along with dust, animal dander, etc. For others, it relates also to the level of smog they are breathing in, the amount of stress they are currently swimming in, and any foods they might be eating that aren’t a good fit for their systems.

Personally, my “seasonal allergy” symptoms go away when I go camping, as this is a happy, no-stress place for me, and there is way less smog in the back woods. (Luckily, pine pollen is not a trigger for me!). Others notice that when they are in other provinces, even in a city, their symptoms vanish. This can be related to the change in local pollens, the air quality, decreased stress of vacation, or any combination of these things.

 

allergies_flowers&tissueOn a physiological level, seasonal allergy symptoms relate to increased histamine release in the upper respiratory system. Thus, many people find relief by using natural antihistamines such as quercetin and nettles. For others, though, the inflammation needs to be stopped at a different point in the inflammatory pathway. A common intervention point for seasonal allergies is the liver. Using herbs such as milk thistle and antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine for liver support can vanish allergy symptoms completely for a subset of people.

Other people’s symptoms respond immediately to a targeted homeopathic remedy, or to gemmotherapy, while still other people find acupuncture gives them the best relief.

While there are some common prescriptions for allergy relief, the right fit for you will be as unique as your life situation, your history, and your current physiology.

My advice? Don’t guess, and don’t suffer needlessly. Book a consult to get your body ready for allergy season, sneeze & sniffle-free.

Holy Basil

holy_basil

Tulsi, or holy basil, is a great ally for winter, for cold and flu season, for when you are feeling stressed and sad.
Holy Basil is a restorative and tonic herb. It is uplifting, calming, and supports a balanced stress response. It is also antiviral. This is a herb I look to often for clients who are stressed, wired, and having trouble sleeping. As well, I like to include holy basil in mood formulas. I blend it into tinctures, teas. I will share a secret: I think it is an important part of what makes the potions I offer people “magic potions”.
Think of holy basil for stress management, for anxiety & depression, for insomnia, and for fending off winter’s supply of viral infections.
This month, try it as a tea. You can drink it straight, or blend it with other ingredients like lavender, rose petals, hibiscus or chai spices.
Cautions: avoid during pregnancy/if trying to conceive. Monitor your blood sugar if you are on insulin – you may need to lower your dose while using tulsi tea.
For more about this amazing herb, check out this monograph by Rosalee de la Foret.

PMS Prevention Plan: 10 Tips For a Happy Menstrual Cycle

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND


Umm, happy? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? No, no it is entirely possible and reasonable. Read on. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is not inevitable or unavoidable. PMS is common, but it is not “normal”.
 
Did you know that PMS can include over 100-300 different symptoms? While mood changes like anxiety, depression, irritability and lability (moodiness) are the most recognized, other common symptoms include breast pain or swelling, bloating, bowel changes (e.g. constipation, diarrhea), insomnia, headaches, migraines, food cravings, acne, back pain, fluid retention in the legs, and fatigue. For some people, PMS takes the form of increased clumsiness and brain fog. For others, it means less vocal range (an issue if you are a professional vocalist!), or even seizures. Finally, many women notice that their immunity is decreased at this time of the month. It is a time when cold sores or genital herpes might erupt, when asthma symptoms may flare, or when a yeast infection could make itself known. It is considered PMS if the symptoms occur in a cyclical pattern, related to the menstrual cycle, over several months. Symptoms may begin at ovulation (around day 14), or 1-2 days before the period begins.
 
The majority of women will experience PMS symptoms at some point in their lives.
 
So, shouldn’t we all know how to stay healthy, happy and stable in the face of Premenstrual Syndrome?  

Here are my Top 10 Tips for PMS Prevention:

 

  1. Nourish yourself with food. Eat lots of vegetables, eat home-made, eat clean protein. Eat organic whenever possible (in this case because xenoestrogens in pesticides impact your hormone balance). Remember that organic junk food is still junk food. Enjoy your treats.

Careful with caffeine. Most of us have figured out the therapeutic power of good chocolate, and I won’t be the one to take this away, but caffeine does make breast tenderness worse, and it can destabilize mood and worsen digestive symptoms. Consider cutting down on coffee.

  1. Cut the sugar. Refined sugar and processed foods aggravate pain and mood issues, even though they seem like a good idea in the moment. (Except a bit of good, dark chocolate).

 

  1. Move your body. Regular movement of any kind is effective, but yoga stands out in its efficacy in the clinical trials.

 

  1. Increase target micronutrients with supplementation:
  • B6: especially helpful for mood symptoms, B6 is essential for the metabolism of estrogen. Take it as part of a good-quality B complex.
  • Cal-Mag: Both calcium and magnesium are proven effective for managing premenstrual symptoms, from fatigue to depression to cramps. Consider supplementing with one or both.
  • Fish Oil (especially EPA): while more researched for other health concerns, fish oil is known to be effective for mood balance, and for shifting physiology to decrease inflammation. Thus, it is a good choice for certain types of PMS.

 
5. Work with an herbal ally or few

  • Herbs to consider for PMS include: St John’s Wort, Vitex agnus-castus, gingko, black cohosh, kava, motherwort, skullcap, passionflower. The specific herbs best for you will depend on your particular symptoms. Some people use combination formulas, while others see great results with only one or two herbs. Ask me for a personalized herbal prescription.

 

  1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Women with a regular sleep routine have more stable hormone levels than those whose sleep patterns are all over the place. Go to bed at the same time every night. For maximum benefit, go to sleep well before midnight, and sleep in total darkness (see melatonin, below).

 

  1. Increase your melatonin. You know how it feels like your hormones are crazy when you have PMS? Well, in fact the only hormonal difference scientists have found between women with severe PMS and controls is melatonin levels. That’s right, no estrogen excess or deficiency, no progesterone excess or deficiency. The other hormone issues are believed to stem from changes in hormone receptor sensitivity. But, this is still theory. In the meantime, you can increase your melatonin naturally:
  1. Sleep in complete darkness (blackout curtains, an eye mask if light is unavoidable)
  2. Start sleeping sooner. Melatonin production is higher before midnight.
  3. Ensure you give your body the building blocks. Pumpkin seed is a great source of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin. The reaction requires B6 (see above).
  4. Alternate nostril breathing can stimulate the pineal gland to increase melatonin production (and generally promotes calm when done before sleep).
  5. If you have been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), consider supplementing with melatonin. Start with 3 mg per day before bed. And, contact me for more (nonprescription) options.

 

  1. Honor the wisdom within you. If you are exhausted and feel irritated by anyone talking to you, maybe this is the time of the month to carve out a couple hours to curl up with a novel, or journal, rather than pushing yourself to maintain your usual pace. For those who experience intense shifts in mood, think of PMS as the time when the tide is out, and all the feelings and nagging thoughts that you can push down (under the water) the rest of the month are exposed. Sometimes PMS emotionality is just PMS, but often there are important nuggets of truth buried in the sad or mad or irritable state. Look for these truths and give them space at other times in the month. If the nagging thought is “this (job/relationship/etc.) doesn’t feel right”, then make space to explore that. Make changes. As things in your life shift in response to you listening to your inner voice, watch your PMS symptoms abate.

 

  1. Cultivate a happy microbial community:
  • Eat fermented or cultured foods regularly (e.g. unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kosher-style dill pickles).
  • Consider reseeding your flora with a quality probiotic supplement, especially if you have taken antibiotics.
  • (Good gut flora are associated with better mood, and good gut flora are also important for hormone balance)

 

  1. As always, I highly encourage you to seek out personalized naturopathic care to help map out the big picture, and tunnel down to the right supports for you. Constitutional homeopathy, acupuncture, flower essences, therapeutic nutrition and custom formulated herbal medicines can all offer incredible healing & resolution for PMS symptoms. With professional guidance and the advantage of an outside eye, meet your health goals faster, with less time lost to the contradictory information offered by Dr Google.

Contact me for information on becoming a client/patient.

What is St John’s Wort good for?

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Mahalia Freed, ND

Hypericum

For many years, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been a top selling plant in the marketplace for depression. Long an important herb in European medicine, settlers brought it with them to North America and Australia, and it can now be found in sunny, dry fields around the world. It is well studied, and meta-analysis finds the herb more effective than SSRIs or placebo in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Hypericum can be an excellent herb for depression, and I regularly incorporate it in my treatment plans for people seeking mood support. But, look at the incomplete list of causes of depression, above. St John’s Wort (or St Joan’s Wort, as herbalist Susun Weed calls it) is not for all depressions. It is for healing.

Viewing at St John’s Wort as an antidepressant limits the power of the herb to what can be understood from an allopathic linear paradigm. An allopathic paradigm question is, what herb can act as an SSRI? But, herbs are not substitutes for drugs. Plants are living medicines, crossing body systems to heal people, rather than addressing diagnoses. St John’s Wort is no exception, and looking at the history of its use along with modern phytotherapeutic trials reveals the breadth of its role in healing.

This herb has long been used in topical applications for wound healing, and it is great for this. Think of it for scrapes, and think of it for healing the perineum post-partum. It is also antiviral against herpes, shingles, and even against HIV. It is famous in homeopathic  form for its efficacy in addressing nerve pain, whether from dental surgery or due to a skeletal issue like disc compression. Hypericum has been studied for PMS, and found more effective than placebo for physical and behavioral PMS symptoms. In clinical trial, it is also effective for menopausal symptoms in combination with Black Cohosh (another misunderstood herb!).

So, what is St John’s Wort for?
For healing.

Who is St John’s Wort for?

Since herbs treat people, this is a question with a juicier answer. Hypericum is for someone with Type A blood more than Type O blood. For someone who needs more sunshine (eg depression in winter), for frayed nerves. For a “weak” stomach, for normalizing stomach acid whether too high or too low, for liver support, for disinfecting and healing wounds (including deep wounds), for nerve damage, for third chakra issues, for emotions influencing the bladder, for radiation burns.

Who Shouldn’t Take St John’s Wort?

Anyone taking any prescription medication, including oral contraceptives, should consult with their herbalist or naturopathic doctor. St John’s Wort is metabolized through the liver and interferes with/decreases the effectiveness of many drugs. If taken at the same time as oral contraceptives, St. John’s Wort can diminish their effectiveness. i.e., this could – and does – lead to an unexpected pregnancy. So please ask your herbally-trained health care provider!

Additional Effects (Cautions):

Cows who graze excessively on Hypericum are known to get sunburns. This is almost never seen in people, as we do not consume it as a dietary staple.

Conversely, St John’s Wort oil is in fact an excellent sunscreen when applied topically (Per Susun Weed).

Selected Sources:

·      Bruton-Seal, Julie and Seal, Matthew. Backyard Medicine: Harvest & Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. New York, NY: SkyHorse Publishing. 2009.
·      Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 2004.
·      Weed, Susun. Lecture at the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors annual conference. Toronto: Oct. 13, 2012.
·      Wood, Matthew. Earthwise Herbal. A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2008.
·      Wood, Matthew. Herbal First Aide. Accessed online at http://www.woodherbs.com/Indispensable.html. July 7, 2013.

urban herbalism: nettle joy

Mahalia Freed, ND

I live in the city.

10 minutes by public transit and I am in the downtown core. There is a highway very close to my house. And also, there are green spaces, and there are wild plants. Medicinal, weedy, wild plants. The blessing of using medicine from the earth, the beauty of it, is that the medicines we need are very often right in our (metaphorical) backyards.

Today I harvested wild nettles. I truly love nettles. They are not only a medicine I prescribe often – for everything from seasonal allergies to low iron – but they are delicious and nutritious as food. Allergic to spring pollens? Nettle tea to the rescue! Pregnant? Nourish with nettles! Gathering this particular weed, then, brings me great joy.

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

 

By their sting, nettles teach us to be fully present, fully aware of our bodies in space. If your mind wanders, and your shirtsleeve doesn’t entirely cover your forearm, nettle will bring you back with a sting that lasts and lasts. I was reminded. Thank you, nettle. If you are thinking about gathering nettles yourself: wear long sleeves, long pants, and gardening gloves, and make sure to pull the gloves up over your sleeves!

 

Because I was harvesting near home in a well-used public park, I happily engaged in quite a bit of impromptu herbal education. I answered people’s friendly queries as to why I was choosing to pick a stinging weed with musings on potential recipes I could choose for dinner, and I expanded on some of nettle’s uses in addressing inflammation, seasonal allergies, pregnancy, and more. I learned from one woman passing by that she grew up eating nettles in India (different species, same idea), and another couple paused their workout to tell me about a raw nettle eating competition in England (don’t do it. Remember, it stings!)

 

transporting the urban nettle harvest

 

Wildcrafting guidelines teach that one should never harvest things that are endangered or rare in the area in question. Pick plants that grow abundantly, and then take no more than 30% of the stand in that place. But please, harvest only what you will use. Depending on the plant, a little may go a long way. Lucky for me and the other urban harvesters, nettle is prolific. I harvested nearly the maximum I could fit in my bike’s panniers, which in this patch was maybe 2%.

 

 

Drying Nettle

A Wildcrafting ND’s Office

While in the past I have preferred to dry herbs spread out on a screen, our current space doesn’t allow for this. Hanging herbs in bunches is another easy, reliable way to dry them in any (indoor, ventilated) space. I strung some twine across the bay window in my treatment room, and tied bunches of 5-9 stalks across it. When that row was full, I moved onto the hallway.

 

Prep Tip

Gather any loose leaves and put them aside for dinner. If the loose leaves don’t add up to enough for your pesto or soup or frittata or sauté plans, keep some stalks aside. Wearing your gloves (you always wear gloves when handling raw nettles!), grasp the stalk near the top and strip off the leaves from top to bottom. They should come off easily this way. Strip as many stalks as you & your crisper drawer need. If you aren’t using them all right away, store fresh nettles in the fridge in a plastic bag, like most produce.

 

Wild Nettle Pesto with Rice Linguini

Ingredients

  • ~5 cups fresh raw nettles
  • 2-4 cloves raw garlic, finely chopped or pressed (4 was intensely garlicky)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts (or sunflower seeds or almonds)
  • 1 tsp celtic sea salt, or to taste
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • Pasta of choice (I used organic brown rice “linguini-style” noodles, and made enough for two generous servings of pasta. We have pesto leftover)

 

Preparation

Nettle Pesto

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Wearing gloves, add your nettles to the water to blanch them. Simmer 1-3 minutes, then remove and drain off excess water. Reserve the nettle-blanching water to cook the pasta. Add pasta to the boiling water. While pasta is cooking, roughly chop your squeezed out nettles and measure them. You should have about 2 cups now. If not, adjust other ingredients as needed. Dump nettles into a food processor along with pressed garlic, olive oil, sea salt and nuts/seeds. Process until smooth-ish. Add lemon juice and process again. Taste it. Isn’t it delicious? Adjust seasonings as desired. I ran out of olive oil so I increased the nuts, and then had to add salt to balance out the bitterness in the walnuts. Delicious results, though!

 

Dump cooked, drained pasta into a big bowl, and toss with pesto to generously coat. Add more pesto. People never use enough pesto.

Top with whatever you fancy and have on hand.

Nettle Pesto Linguini with Grilled Chicken & Sun-dried Tomatoes

 

My choice today: chopped leftover grilled organic chicken breast and sliced sundried tomatoes. Would also work with other leftover meat, grilled veggies, marinated tofu.

 

I gathered weeds instead of going grocery shopping today, and I had a delightful day. I highly recommend taking a week-day afternoon off from your to-do list, and getting to know a local weed. And your neighbours 🙂

 

Flexible Strength: Willow Medicine

Salix spp

Willow is a distinctive tree that many people recognize, and many more are drawn to.

Willow’s story offers many examples of the power of tree medicines, and the difference between living plant medicines and pharmaceuticals or isolated extracts.

There are over 400 species of Willow, growing all through the Northern Hemisphere. In botanical medicine, White Willow (Salix alba) is most commonly referenced, although other species like Black Willow (Salix nigra) and Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) can be used interchangeably in many cases.

Willow has a long history of medicinal use. Indeed, I first learned about willow at age 12, when I did a science fair project on what was then referred to as “alternative medicine”. Willow was – for me – a gateway plant to the world of plant medicines. Perhaps it has played this role for you as well, or perhaps it still may!

Experience & History
There is a calm elegance to willows. Their comforting, flowing grace draws us to sit beneath them and share their ease. They prefer damp areas, often growing along river banks or lakes’ edges. The notion of flow is reflected in their form and in the water beside them. Willow’s historical use for rheumatism, a condition worse with dampness, mirrors its habitat of choice as well as its chemical action.

The flexible branches have long been used in making baskets, as well as wicker furniture. Elsewhere, willow wood is used for clogs, and for cricket bats.

Phytochemistry
Willow bark contains salicin, the precursor to salicylic acid. When we ingest willow tea or tincture, we convert salicin to salicylic acid in out digestive tract. From salicylic acid you can manufacture acetyl salicylic acid, or ASA, the active ingredient in Aspirin. Willow bark is in fact one of the plants from which Aspirin was originally made! It follows, then that like ASA, salicin has an anti-inflammatory effect in our body, making willow an excellent medicine for muscular and joint pains, fever pains, and gout.

Flower Essence
Willow flower essence helps us to find flexible strength. The essence is used for stiffness in body and mind, helping to address rigidity in thinking as well as in our muscles or joints. Willow helps people to let go, to accept, to forgive, to adapt. It addresses feelings of resentment or victimization. It supports the our feminine – or yin – nature.
From the FES flower essence repertory,
“Willow restores a more “spring-like” disposition, helping the soul to respond with greater resilience and inward mobility to challenges and problems. In this way, the Self takes more responsibility for its condition, and learns to flow more gently and graciously with rather than against the flow of life.”

Actions
Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antipyretic

Indications
Arthritis, rheumatism, low back pain & other general muscular aches and pains, period pain, gout, fever, diarrhea

Preparation
Tincture or decoction of bark.

Cautions
Plants are not like drugs, and here is another example. You cannot use willow bark as a substitute for Aspirin if you are taking the drug for blood thinning. Willow does not thin the blood. And while Aspirin is notorious for causing stomach side effects (it increases ulceration & bleeding in the gut), white willow does not.

References:
Conway, Peter. Tree Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide to the Healing Power of Over 170 Trees. London, UK: Judy Piatkus Ltd. 2001.
Godfrey, Anthony & Saunders, Paul (with Kerry Barlow, Matt Gowan, Cyndi Gilbert, Rebecca Blok & Mahalia Freed). Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine. Volume 1: Botanical Medicine Monographs. Toronto, ON: CCNM Press. 2012.
Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. 2003.
Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 1986/2004.