Monday, April 14, 2008

Methow Valley Update (Mid April)

We went on a beautiful evening walk tonight and I want to record all that is happening so that I can compare notes with the following years.

Today was the first day we noticed the river growing - caught us totally by surprise. A few days ago we were down by the river chasing marmots when we found a hawthorn! Quite the find. It's strange we've never seen it before, but we've been eating a lot of hawthorn berry vinegar lately and it's like it jumped out of the landscape.

So many plants have just shot out of the ground. Lomatium dissectum, or chocolate tips, is out and flowering and seems to be everywhere!

Buttercups are dotting the hillside as are yellow bells and blue bells.

It's the perfect season for harvesting yellow dock leaves - see all that green? It's all dock!

Switching from flora to fauna - can you see the marmot tracks? They like to hang out in my dock field.

Oregon grape is getting ready to bloom its tart yellow flowers.

Today we also noticed the elderberry is starting to sprout leaves and we did a little pruning to clear out the dead branches and make room for the new. (My elderberry wine is sitting in bottles right now and I can hardly wait for it to be ready... just six more months!)

Arrowleaf balsam root was just peaking it's head out of the ground a few days ago and now the leaves have grown tremendously and the flower heads are out as well.

Mullein is looking healthy and the sqaw currants are completely leafed out. The pussy willows outside the house are covered in green fuzzy tips and the bees have been busy buzzing around while the warblers and swallows have been busy eating them up. The red wing blackbirds are constantly crying out to "poke yerrr neighberrr" and at times there are at least fifty robins eating in the field.

Dandelions are growing in the garden as are little tiny leaves that are too young to identify. Xavier wonders if it will be all the squash we composted last fall... In general the hillsides are getting greener, but there is still snow in the not to distant mountains.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Roots: Valerian

Common Name: Valerian
Botanical Name: Valeriana officinalis, V. sitchensis + 150 spp.
Plant Family: Valerianaceae
Major Plant Constituents: Isovaleric acid, valeric adic, valerine, chatinine alkaloids, volatile oil
Parts used: Roots

Historical Uses: Some Pacific NW tribes cooked and ate the leaves and roots - not very palatable reports Tilford. Pied Piper had these roots in his pocket to lead the rats off the island.

Uses: Mainly known as a safe sedative. It is also anti-spasmodic, carminative, and hypotensive. Useful for insomnia due to the mind racing about. Because it is also stimulates digestion, lungs, and cardio output, a thorough understanding of a person's systems should be known before using. (Michael Moore)

Contraindications/Cautions: Some people do react poorly to this herb, especially in high amounts. It's suggested to not use it daily for more than three weeks. The dry root tincture has more stimulus and accumulative effects.

Personal Experience: I use valerian for menstrual cramps, especially at night. This time around I tinctured some of the fresh root, and currently some is drying for a dry root tincture - just to explore the differences. I remember the first time I smelled valerian and had the typical reaction of "that is so gross." This time around I really loved it. It was earthy and pungent in a good way. Gail Faith Edwards suggests that those who don't like the smell probably should find another plant to work with.

I had read about animals being attracted to this plant and got a nice first hand experience of that this time around. I walked through our door with lots of bags in my hands and set them all down on the kitchen floor - including a brown bag of valerian roots. Almost immediately our cat, Alfalfa, was brushing up against the bag, though, I'll admit I didn't really pay attention. I just thought he was so happy to see me. (Yeah right.) After greeting my husband I turned around to see Alfie plunged head first into the bag. Quite adorable. The entire time I was making a tincture and preparing it for drying, Alfie was right there with me incredibly interested in all that I did. I've never seen him get that excited over catnip, but valerian, let me tell ya, was a big hit.

Works consulted:
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, Michael Moore
Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, Gail Faith Edwards
Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory Tilford

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Roots: Elecampane

My local herb farm, Ancestree Herbals, harvested some spring roots that I had signed up for. I've been watching the slowly emerging new plant growth thinking it was going to be a long time before actually getting my hands on plant materials and then surprise! They emailed to let me know I had a pound of elecampane waiting for me.

Common Name: Elecampane
Botanical Name: Inula helenium
Plant Family: Asteraceae
Major Plant Constituents: Inulin, alantolactone, helenin
Parts used: Roots

Historical Uses: Alleviate suppressed menses, strengthening tonic. Very important herb to Greeks and Romans who even used it as a seasoning (Wild Hearts, Edwards). Cherokee used the roots as a remedy for all lung ailments and women used it to strengthen their womb during pregnancy

Uses: For chronic respiratory illness especially bronchitits and asthma. Indicated for cold, wet coughs. Promotes expectoration, is warming and soothing for mucous membranes. Effective against TB and whooping cough. Expels intestinal parasites like pinworm and giardia. Bitter-tonic to promote digestion. Bacteriacidal, fungicidal, sedative, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, antiseptic, and anti-bacterial.

Contraindications/Cautions: Because it has been used to promote menstruation, care is needed for use in pregnancy. Diabetics should use smaller amounts and approach with caution.

Personal Experience: I have very little experience with elecampane so I had a great time getting to know this plant. I tasted some of the root - a great bitter that produced a lot of saliva. (I gave some to my husband who looked at me like I played a practical joke on him.) I made some infused honey, tinctured some in Scotch Whiskey, and then dried some for later use. I also had a whole root ball with trailing roots, so I put that in the garden - we'll just have to wait and see.

I am looking forward to trying a cordial recipe that I found on Herbalpedia. It's basically infusing a syrup of elecampane root in port wine.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cold Sore Care

Well, I took a little break from blogging, first because we had an intensive training here at ISM and then second because I came down with a cold for a week. It was a typical cold, sore throat, a little coughing, a little achiness and stuffiness. I never like getting sick, but it's always fun to be able to try different herbal allies. I drank a lot of elder tea and made some slippery elm lozenges that I learned about from

The worst of the sickness actually came at the end of the cold - the dreaded cold sore. I was thinking about it the other day and I think cold sores are the first things that I started treating naturally when I was a teenager, so I've learned a few things over the years. This time around I even learned a few more tricks.

It's best to head off a cold sore before it starts. I've done this in several ways. The first less herbal approach is to take a lot of lysine at the very hint of the tell tale tingle that says a cold sore is on it's way. I take as much as 3,000 mg every hour until it is gone. It is usually quite effective. I've heard it explained that cold sores occur when there is an imbalance of the amino acid arganine to lysine. Arganine can be found in beer, chocolate, peanuts, and grains, so I limit my intake of these foods as well.

I've also used St. John's Wort oil, again at the very onset of a cold sore. I've used both the oil straight as well as a lip balm that I made. This tends to work some times, but isn't as effective as the lysine. I've heard that lemon balm can be effective against cold sores, but I have never had this work for me.

The last thing I use, right at the onset, is tea tree oil. I apply it with a Q-tip straight to the spot that is tingling. This is also very effective.

In my past experience, once a cold sore has formed a blister, there is very little you can do to help it go away. At this point it just has to run it's course. I have a special salve I made up of cottonwood, plantain, and St. John's Wort that does help to alleviate pain. If my lip becomes swollen I use an ice cube to get the swelling down.

I first got the virus about 12 years ago. At first I would get cold sores often and seemingly for no reason. I was in high school at the time and terribly self conscious about having the herpes virus. At first I just stayed home when I had one, but later I went on prescription drugs to control the outbreaks. (Obviously I was a little different back then.) Over the years I tend to get them less and less and now only when I am sick.

Well, as I said the worst part of the cold this time around was the cold sore. I've never had one this severe before. My lip started tingling so I start my usual regimen, but nothing worked! Not lysine, or tea tree oil, or anything. It soon became apparent that this was not an ordinary cold sore. Instead of a small sore on my lip it was going to cover my entire lower right lip and part of my chin. I watched in horror as it grew in size and pain. My lip felt like a softball it was so big. I iced it to shrink it's size, but then of course the blisters started. I can't really explain to you how incredibly gross this thing was. It was so huge and puss was literally weeping down my chin. I was applying my favorite salve, which helped with the pain, but felt like I was going to have this monstrosity for a long while.

Finally, I thought, enough is enough. I am an herbalist, the plants will help me. I started getting ideas about wanting to create some kind of bandage around the wound. I experimented a little and here's what I came up with.

I grounded red clover flowers, chamomile flowers, and rose petals into a powder. I then added a little white clay and mixed it well. To this I added a little St. John's Wort Oil and a little water to form a nice paste and then applied this to the entire area. Immediately I felt better psychologically. Instead of having this horrible gaping wound on my face I now had some beautiful plants - just like a facial. :)

I chose the herbs for what I had on hand. Red Clover for it's alterative properties and because I always think of it as nourishing for the skin (probably due it it's action on the liver, but it felt like the right thing to put in there), chamomile for it's anodyne properties, and rose petals because I needed a little beauty at that point. I really wished that I had plantain, but unfortunately I had run out.

I let the mixture stay on my face for half the day, I wiped it off, and then re-applied. I slept all night with another application, which was great because it really helped to protect it while I was sleeping. The next day I was absolutely amazed. The cold sore had all but disappeared. I had expected this to last for a least a week, so it was shocking to me to see most of it completely gone.

This cold sore made me feel very grateful to be on the path that I am. It was empowering, once again, to be able to help myself heal.

I'd love to hear other people's remedies for cold sores.