Monday, July 6, 2009

A walk in the forest finding herbs with an affinity for the urinary system

We had a fabulous hike in the woods today and I saw so many beautiful flowers that just happen to be medicinal as well.

After getting home and reviewing the photos I was amazed of how many plants I saw that are commonly used for the urinary system. And so a theme (and motivation) for a blog post was born: A look at the forest’s offering of herbs commonly used for the urinary system.

First up is Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) in the heath family. (I just love the heath family with their beautiful earn-shaped flowers.)

Pipsissewa is astringent, anti-septic and a diuretic making it useful in cases of urinary tract infections and cystitis. Like all of the plants we are exploring today it has cooling and drying tendencies.

I took a lot of photos of Pipsissewa because it was so alluring.

I was surprised to find this flowering patch of Cleavers (Galium aparine) in the deep forest.

We had reached an area closer to a creek that was moist – just the way cleavers likes it.

Like most herbs used for the urinary system, cleavers is cooling and drying. It is a relaxing diuretic, supports lymph flow and is also quite nutritious. Sharol Tilgner says that cleavers has been shown to reduce stones and fibrocystic tissue.

I like using cleavers when they are fresh rather than as a dried herb. I was recently shown a great way of "juicing" cleavers by adding a large amount to a blender along with a little water and then blending on high. After straining off the plant material you are left with a deep green juice that is so fresh and cooling.

A few weeks ago while cooling off by a steam I bumped into American Speedwell or Veronica americana. This is a close relative, Alpine Speedwell which may or may not have been used in the same manner. (Anyone know how about different Veronica spp.?)

I couldn't find any specific listings of Veronica spp. being used for the urinary system, however because they are both astringent and diuretic it could be a possible choice for urinary tract infections.

What would a listing of plants for the urinary system be without Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi)? Uva ursi is hands-down my first choice for urinary tract infections.

Uva ursi is quite astringent (try popping a leaf in your mouth and record how quickly you no longer have saliva) and is also a diuretic.

It's not for everyone however. It can upset stomachs and is no longer recommended during pregnancy. Whenever I use uva ursi I like to blend it with more soothing and mucilagenous herbs like marshmallow root.

I harvest the leathery leaves in the fall which is when the leaves are said to have the highest levels of arbutin. Whether or not you are into fancy chemical constituents you can easily observe this yourself by comparing how the spring leaves compare to the fall leaves, or even the new growth to the old growth.

This certainly isn't an all encompassing look at materia medica for the urinary system, but it was so fascinating to me to find such a grouping in one area. I didn't take photos, but yarrow, is another abundant plant I saw on the walk that I also use extensively for UTIs. I recently did an anatomy and physiology article of the urinary system, so I will post that soon along with a longer piece I've been working on for UTIs.