Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Today I am excited to be posting an article by my friend and mentor, Kiva Rose. 

Kiva  is a well-known herbal blogger, and co-founder of the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.

She is finally coming out with her secrets of how she learns so much about plants without using books. Her plant monographs, like the one below, are famous for their deep exploration into herbs that you will not find in other places.

Do you REALLY know chamomile?  Enjoy the article…

Earth Apple: The Bittersweet Medicine of Chamomile

By Kiva Rose

I am excited to finally be able to go deeper into explaining herbal energetics in my upcoming course, Herb Energetics

Let’s begin with an herb we all know and love, chamomile.

However, do you REALLY know Chamomile?

Chamomile means “earth apple” which is easy to understand when we accidentally trample the flowers and underfoot and suddenly smell the welcome fragrance of apples rising from the earth. In the same way, Spanish speaking peoples often use the name Manzanilla, literally meaning “little apple”. 

Even for those largely unfamiliar with herbs, the distinctive sweet scent of Chamomile is often both familiar and comforting. This plant is many people’s first and perhaps only introduction to herbalism, often from a cup of honey-sweetened and belly-calming tea from their grandmother.

Many children enjoy eating the buds or just opened flowers, savoring the sweet aromatic taste of the plant, and rarely seeming to mind the slightly bitter aftertaste. Some patches of Chamomile, depending on phase of flowering and availability of moisture, are much more bitter than others but the fragrant sweetness persists even in the most bitter batches.

Far from irrelevant, these signature sensory characteristics of Chamomile that make the plant memorable in our minds are also the primary keys to understanding how to work with Matricaria as a medicine.

As with almost any herb, the taste and scent of Matricaria tells us a great deal about its properties, allowing us to use our senses to listen to the plant and understand its essence as a medicine. That blissfully apple-like scent that children so love to breathe in from the flowers tends to bring relaxed smiles to their faces and anyone who’s ever drank a cup of the tea can testify to the relaxing, tension alleviating effects of the plant.

That aromatic component, stemming from the plant’s high volatile oil content, is predictably nervine, meaning that it has a discernible effect on the nervous system. In this case, a specific relaxing, calming effect. Additionally, that same volatile oil content is responsible for Chamomile’s actions as a carminative, relieving digestive stagnation in the form of gas, gut cramping and mild constipation. A traditional remedy by several North American indigenous tribes for the uterine cramps of girls just beginning their menstrual cycles, Chamomile is a mild relaxant for the smooth muscles of the gut, uterus, bladder and respiratory tract with a specific affinity for the gut.

Matricaria is not just aromatic, even in the sweetest Chamomile flowers we find a notably bitter aftertaste. Rather than ruining the flavor of an otherwise tasty herb, that bitter element enhances and expands the medicinal properties of the plant. The bitter flavor tells us that it has a distinct effect on the digestive system, even beyond the aromatic/carminative qualities.

The bitterness increases the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes in the gut, thereby improving digestion wherever there is a lack of secretions, which is a common cause of heartburn and many cases of general gut discomfort. This combined with its obvious nervine properties; Matricaria excels at treating what is commonly known as a “nervous stomach”, which generally implies digestive upset concurrent with anxiety and nervous tension.

Volatile oils and bitter principles together make for a powerful ability to reduce inflammation and promote healing, especially in the gut. I rarely create a formula for those with leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome or even Crohn’s disease that doesn’t contain some proportion of Chamomile. Even as a simple, this pleasant tasting plant can very effectively reduce gut inflammation, pain and cramping while promoting healing of the mucosa and improving overall digestion. And of course, reducing any anxiety that may be aggravating or triggering the gut issues in the first place.

Just as it soothes and heals internally, Matricaria is also a first-rate external application for almost any case of inflammation, irritation, swelling and even potential infection. It finds its way into many of my compress formulas for eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and other common inflammatory skin conditions.

Steams, baths and infused oil are other effective ways of utilizing the calming, decongestive and healing properties of the herb. It’s also the first plant I think of in addressing the discomfort, irritability, insomnia, belly upset and fever of teething in small children.

Chamomile is one of my favorite remedies for all sorts of eye inflammations and infections. It can be used as a warm compress or saline eyewash to reduce inflammation, possible infection and pain in the treatment of styes, conjunctivitis, pink eye and similar maladies.

It teams up especially well with any Rosa spp. petals where there is a great deal of redness, irritation and swelling in the eye and the surrounding area. Just be sure to strain all those tiny (and potentially irritating) bits of Chamomile flower before using as an eyewash.

Chamomile has a well-deserved reputation as an archetypal remedy for children (or as Matthew Wood says “children of any age”), especially where there is fussiness, restlessness, frequent digestive upset and a tendency to react strongly to any irritant or discomfort. If one were to read the first dozen monograph on Matricaria they came across, the word “soothing” would be likely to show up in nearly every one. While now a somewhat clichéd representation of this common herb, it is nonetheless very accurate.

There’s a tendency by some of us to be less interested in the classic gentle herbs whose effects seem obvious, mild and less than profound. And yet, Chamomile has retained it’s popularity and reputation over the years for a very a specific reason. It works. It’s an effective, widely applicable, safe medicine well-loved by countless generations of mothers, herbalists and more recently, even medical doctors. This small but fragrant apple of the earth remains an invaluable medicine for all of us. Through both sweet and the bitter tastes, Chamomile provides us with a simple yet essential remedy.

Considerations: People with sensitivities to plants in the Aster family may have similar problems with Matricaria. Also note that Pineapple Weed (M. discoidea) often has a stronger bitter component and overall action than the common garden grown M. recutita.

The low down…

Common Name: Chamomile, Manzanilla, Pineapple Weed
Botanical Name: Matricaria recutita (as well as M. discoidea)
Botanical Family: Asteraceae

Taste: Aromatic, sweet, bitter

Vital Actions: relaxant nervine, relaxant diaphoretic, aromatic bitter/carminative, vulnerary,

Specific Indications: Irritability, tension, heat, hypersensitivity to pain

Energetics: sl. Cool, dry

So, exactly how does Kiva learn about plants by using her senses?

A FREE Webinar on the Taste of Herbs

The Taste of Herbs: A Planetary Exploration of Their Therapeutic Uses

Join me for a Free Webinar on October 19

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Herbal traditions from all over the world use the tastes of plants as an integral tool for understanding their effects.

In this webinar, world renowned herbalist Michael Tierra, will introduce herbalist Rosalee de la Foret, who will explore the concepts of tastes and their biochemical implications for therapy from a planetary herbal perspective. Planetary Herbal Medicine as taught in the East West Herb Course, represents an integration of the three great systems of herbal medicine, Western, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine.

The goal is to bring the planetary perspective of the tastes to use in both dietary and therapeutic perspective as an essential experience into your practical daily life.

This highly informative and colorful webinar is suitable for both students and herbal practitioners as well as the general audience who have an interest in healing and wellness.

Title: The Taste of Herbs: A Planetary Exploration of Their Therapeutic Uses

Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Time: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM PDT

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Image courtesy of:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Marshmallow Herb: Our slimy and sweet medicine

Botanical name: Althaea officinalis
Family: Malvaceae
Parts used: flowers, leaves, roots
Energetics: Cooling, moistening, sweet
Properties: Demulcent, emollient, expectorant, vulnerary, immunostimulant, diuretic, nutritive, yin tonic

Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.

I love single herbs that seemingly do everything.

Their complexity could inspire a lifetime of devotion to learning the intricate ways they could be used for food and medicine, as well as the ways they support their habitat and the gifts they bring the earth. Single herbs that can be used in a variety of ways are called "polycrest herbs."And marshmallow herb is certainly a polycrest. 

Marshmallow is known primarily as a demulcent that is specific to the mucous membrane tissues. Because of its thick and slimy brew you can easily imagine that it is used to soothe and coat irritated tissues. Mouth ulcers, sore throats, peptic ulcers, and inflamed intestines all get relief from this gooey brew. 

Marshmallow herb works in complex ways. It can even be used as a lubricating demulcent for the lungs and for the urinary tract, even though it never comes in direct contact with these surfaces. Herbalist jim mcdonald explains: 

Though it makes sense that demulcents coat tissues, the physical mucilage is actually very poorly absorbed by the body, and certainly isn’t traveling through the blood to the kidneys. Rather, the ingestion of mucilage seems to promote a systemic moistening of tissues throughout the body, with some demulcents being more specific to particular organ systems.
jim mcdonald

According to a survey published by Paul Bergner, marshmallow is one of the top 20 herbs used by herbalists in the US. 

Urinary problems...
It frequently gets used for urinary problems such as cystitis, kidney stones, and UTIs. Besides being a demulcent specific to the urinary tract it is also a diuretic, which can be of further aide in many urinary problems. 

Marshmallow is almost always included in protocols for inflammatory problems in the digestive tract such as ulcers, colitis, and constipation. Besides being able to soothe inflammation, marshmallow root is also a vulnerary, healing any wounds within the digestive tract. 

Cold and flu season....
Marshmallow is a wonderful plant for the cold and flu season. It can soothe an inflamed and sore throat. It stimulates phagocytosis, an important part of the immune system and it’s even used to moisten the lungs in the cases of dry hot conditions, such as hot coughs with little to no expectoration. Recent scientific research has shown it to be a powerful anti-tussive herb as well. 

But don’t let this little herbal wonder fool you. Its propensity to heal goes far beyond the common uses of present times. 

Historical use...
Like many of the herbs still in use today, marshmallow has a long history of use, going back at least 2,000 years, though most probably even more than this. Most herbalists use the root for medicine today, but the leaves and flowers are also very viable.

The genus name for marshmallow is derived from the Greek word altho, which means to cure. This gives us a great indication of how highly regarded this plant was in ancient times. 

Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper relates this story about a mallow’s ability to heal. 

You may remember that not long since there was a raging disease called the bloody flux ; the College of Physicians not knowing what to make of it, called it The Plague in the Guts, for their wits were at ne plus ultra about it. My son was taken with the same disease ; myself being in the country, was sent for ; the only thing I gave him was Mallow bruised and boiled both in milk and drink ; in two days it cured him, and I have here to shew my thankfulness to God in communicating it to his creatures, leaving it to posterity."

Marshmallow is an amazing topical treatment for wounds and burns. In the past it was called mortification root because of its ability to prevent gangrene. 

Externally, marshmallow root is very useful in the form of poultice, to discuss painful, inflammatory tumors, and swellings of every kind, whether the consequence of wounds, bruises, burns, scalds, or poisons; and has, when thus applied, had a happy effect in preventing the occurrence of gangrene. The infusion or decoction may be freely administered. 
King’s American Dispensary

Besides the roots, the leaves are also used as a fomentation to soothe rashes and other irritations of the skin. 

Marshmallow and other members of the Malvaceae family were historically eaten as foods. The roots of the marshmallow are especially high in nutrients, and the young leaves and flowers are quite tasty in salads. 

Check out my recipe for marshmallows made from marshmallow root here! 

Marshmallow root can be used similarly to slippery elm for people who are weak and unable to eat many foods. 

In pulmonary consumption and other wasting diseases it is one of the finest strengthening medicines to which employment can be given; possessing so much nutriment that it may with propriety, with the addition of milk, be taken as a food agreeing with and remaining in the stomach when that organ has become intolerant of other foods.
Hatfield Botanic Pharmacopoeia

In Traditional Chinese Medicine marshmallow root is considered a yin tonic. It can be used for signs of deficient heat such as hot flashes, five palm heat and  night sweats. 

Botanically speaking...
Marshmallow is in the Malvaceae family. This is derived from the Greek word, malake, which means soft. Almost all members of this family are used in similar ways to marshmallow. 

Members of the Malvacaeae family that you might be familiar with include: 

Hibiscus Hibiscus militaris
Hollyhock Althea rosea
Common Mallow Malva neglecta
Globemallow Sphaeralcea acerifolia
Cotton Gossypium herbaceum

Malva neglecta, or common mallow, can be used very similarly to marshmallow and it grows virtually all over the US. 

Botanical Description
Marshmallow originally comes to us from central Asia but has spread out from there. It natively grows in salt marshes and is an easy herb to grow in your garden.

Marshmallow grows to about 3-5 feet in height. It’s a perennial herbaceous plant, meaning that it dies back in the fall and reappears in the spring. 

Marshmallow flowers are pinkish to white and have five separate petals and many stamens. The stamens form a column around the pistil, giving it a distinct shape. 

The leaves are shaped like hearts with irregular serrations. 

Leaves are covered with small soft hairs on both sides of the leaves.

The roots are a pale yellow color and are tapered, long, and thick. 

The leaves and flowers can be harvested in the late summer to early fall. You can usually get two clippings from the plant. After cutting the aerial portions I tie it up in bunches and hang them from the rafters to dry. Once dry, I separate the leaves and flowers from the woody stalk. 

The roots are harvested in the fall from the second or third year plants. They are chopped while still fresh and then dried. 

Making medicine with marshmallow root...
From a chemical constituents perspective, marshmallow root is best used as a cold infusion. 

To see a step by step article on making cold infusions with marshmallow check out the free HerbMentor Newsletter.  

Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches. By using a cold infusion you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. If you simmer the root you also extract the starches in the plant (which is okay; the cold infusion is considered to be a purer extract of the mucilage.)

Alcohol above 20% percent will break down the polysaccharides. Some herbalists make a decoction of the root and then preserve it with 20% alcohol. 

Marshmallow root can be drunk as a tea, used externally as a wash, added to other tea blends, made into a syrup and used as a powder infused into water, honey, or ghee. 

Marshmallow leaves and flowers can be made into a tea, syrup, or used as a fomentation. 

Marshmallow is considered safe for everyone to use although it is recommended to take it hours after taking prescription medications as it may inhibit the absorption. 

All parts of the plant can be infused into oil for use as a salve or ointment. 

Marshmallow plant is specific for many common ailments, yet has a complexity that renders it useful for a myriad of problems. I hope you enjoy learning about marshmallow and are able to create a variety of herbal remedies from this versatile plant for the enjoyment and well-being of you and your family.