Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Echinacea: Reclaiming this powerful plant


Echinacea

Botanical name: Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida

Family: Asteraceae (Aster)

Common names: purple coneflower, Rudbeckia, Kansas snakeroot, hedgehog, black sampson

Parts used: whole plant, flowers, roots, leaves

Properties: cool and dry, immunostimulator, sialagogue, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, vulnerary, lymphagogue, alterative, anti-pyretic, circulatory stimulant

Used for: infected wounds, colds and flu, acne, boils, abscesses, septicemia, mouth infections, warts, venomous bites, fevers

Plant preparations: tincture, tea, decoction, mixed with clay, mouth wash, poultice



‎"Under the older classification of remedies, echinacea would probably be classified as an antiseptic and alterative. Strictly speaking, it is practically impossible to classify an agent like echinacea by applying to it one or two words to indicate its virtues. The day is rapidly approaching when these qualifying terms will have no place in medicine, for they but inadequately convey to our minds the therapeutic possibilities of our drugs." 
King's American Dispensatory 1898

King’s American Dispensatory is an Eclectic materia medica book first published in 1854. Echinacea boasts quite a long entry in this book and it certainly was a darling of the Eclectics. Reading the above quote we can see the author was very opposed to simplifying one of their greatest herbs to an “antiseptic” and an “alterative”. 

That kind of makes me wonder if they are rolling over in their graves now that their beloved herb has been mass marketed around the world as the “cold and flu” herb. 

Egads! 

Echinacea is endemic to North America and before it was over-harvested it grew abundantly through the east to the middle of the continent. First used by many native tribes in a wide variety of ways, it became an official part of the botanical medicine in the 1880‘s. Its use became popularized and within decades it was considered one of the most important herbs in practice. 

Were people impressed with its ability to fight off a cold or flu? 

Actually, the first popularized use of echinacea was for rattlesnake bites! 

Historical references say Dr. Meyer had learned about using Echinacea for snake bites from a Native American woman. He then experimented with it for a number of years before going to John King and John Uri Lloyd with his findings. He claimed he had treated 613 cases of rattlesnake bites in animals and humans using his special blend of herbs (Echinacea, hops and wormwood). At first he was brushed aside and ridiculed for making such outrageous claims. 

Dr. Meyer offered to send John King a rattlesnake so that he could experiment with treating animals who had been bitten. Dr. King declined. Dr. Meyer then offered to travel to Dr. King and allow himself to be bitten by the snake to prove the efficacy of his herbs in person. Dr. King again declined, but the persistence of Dr. Meyer inspired him to take a closer look at this plant. 

Although Dr. Meyer didn’t get bit by the rattlesnake in Dr. King’s presence, there are reports of him willingly submitting to this venomous reptile in order to prove his remedy’s effectiveness. In 1919 the Eclectic physician Ellingwood reported that Dr. Meyer willingly injected himself with the venom of a rattlesnake on his right hand. After six hours significant swelling had reached his elbow. He then dosed himself with his blend of herbs, taking them both internally and externally, went to sleep and woke up four hours later to find the pain and swelling was gone. 

In this day and age, if you are hiking through rattlesnake country, certainly take your echinacea tincture along for the ride. If you happen to get bitten by this venomous creature, take your echinacea tincture liberally - on your way to the hospital. 

Echinacea - some serious medicine
Dr. Meyer popularized Echinacea through his rattlesnake exploits but he also claimed it could cure a wide range of ailments. Besides ameliorating the bites and stings of venomous creatures (including snakes, scorpions, spiders, bees, etc) he also used it for serious infections like typhoid and malarial fever, cholera, trichinosis, and what would later be known as strep. He used it for a variety of “bad blood” conditions such as boils, carbuncles, acne, hemorrhoids, eczema and abscesses. And yes, he even used it for what could be cold and flu symptoms, nasal and pharyngeal catarrh. 

Sounds too good to be true? 

During this time in history it was common to sell “snake medicine,” patented medicines making claims of outrageous miracle cures. And it was for this reason that Dr. Meyer was at first brushed aside as a quack. 

But after the Eclectic physicians really started to work with Echinacea, all of Dr. Meyers’ claims were proven true. 

For twenty to twenty-five years, echinacea has been passing through the stages of critical experimentation under the observation of several thousand physicians, and its remarkable properties are receiving positive confirmation... All who use it correctly fall quickly into line as enthusiasts in its praise. 
Ellingwood, 1919

Echinacea angustifolia with a tiny little spider. Can you see it?
The Eclectics later wrote extensively about Echinacea and used it for many of the same ailments that Dr. Meyer did, as well as rabid dog bites, rheumatism, syphilis, uterine infections, vaginal infections, gonorrhea, blood poisoning and cerebral meningitis. They also used it for prolonged infections due to poison ivy/oak poisoning. 

Pretty amazing for a plant pigeon-holed as the cold and flu herb! 

How does Echinacea work? 
Undoubtedly Echinacea works in a myriad of ways that we can only begin to comprehend. But modern science has been able to figure out some of the miraculous ways of this magical plant. 

One way that it works is to increase phagocytosis. Phagocytosis means “to devour” and is an immune response that includes the engulfing and destruction of micro organisms as well as damaged or old cells and other cellular debris. This is a major way that the immune system removes various pathogens, bacteria and other cellular debris. 

Eclectics considered Echinacea, above all, to be an alterative. In his book on Echinacea, herbalist Paul Bergner says of alterative, “The term comes from the word “to alter,” meaning to change the composition and quality of the extracellular fluid and blood.” He then goes on to quote Dr. Harvey Felter as stating, “If there is any meaning in the term alterative, it is expressed in the therapy of Echinacea.” 

Herbalists also classify Echinacea as a lymphagogue, which means it promotes the flow of the lymphatic fluids and can also include the process of phagocytosis. 

Bergner maintains that Echinacea not only promotes the flow of lymph and stimulates the immune system at the level of white blood cells but that it also promotes blood circulation. So it not only increases the actions of the immune system, it also delivers those natural defenses to the area where it is needed. 

When you taste Echinacea you’ll immediately notice a tingly sensation on your tongue followed by profuse saliva. This action is called a sialagogue. By promoting the flow of saliva, Echinacea can address mouth infections and promote digestion. According to Paul Bergner, Echinacea was used as a dental remedy by many Native American tribes, including the Omaha Ponca, Oglala Dakota, Cheyenne, Crow and Commanche. 

Echinacea can lower fevers by stopping the spread of infection. It was used extensively by the Eclectics as an antiseptic and they used it to clean wounds, to sterilize the skin and surgical instruments before surgery. 

How we can use Echinacea today
Chances are that most of you probably won’t be using herbs to combat typhoid or malaria or rattlesnake bites or rabid dog bites. 

Echinacea angustifolia growing on a farm
However, there are lots of indications for Echinacea that we can commonly use it for. Keep in mind that energetically it is cooling and drying and is specific for signs of heat, ulcerations and fetid tissues. 

Common health complaints that fall under these categories are ulcers that won’t heal, acne, infections and boils (Echinacea is my favorite remedy for boils). It is commonly used for vaginal and urinary infections. 

There are a couple of considerations when dosing Echinacea. One, if you are dealing with something on the external surface such as bug bites, wounds, acne, boils etc. then it’s most effective when applied externally as well as taken internally. I personally like to take the tincture internally while applying a fomentation of the decocted root. You can also dilute the tincture for external use. 

Secondly, consider how often you dose Echinacea. Eclectics used Echinacea in smaller doses frequently; the exact amounts and frequency varied by practitioner. When dealing with an acute condition, taking 30-60 drops only three times a day is not ideal. Echinacea is better taken every hour or every couple hours. 

What about using Echinacea for colds and flu? No doubt that taken at the first sign of a cold or flu it can stop the illness from progressing. However, one thing to consider is that we don’t want to use Echinacea as a band-aid for a weakened immune system brought on by poor diet and lifestyle choices. If someone is frequently coming down with colds and flu, consider addressing the weakened immune system with building therapies such as rest, a nutrient-dense diet, regular exercise, joy and tonic immune-building herbs like astragalus.


In Volume 14, Number 2 of the Medical Herbalism Journal, herbalist Paul Bergner suggests this protocol when working with Echinacea for abating upper respiratory infections: 
A typical protocol of a contemporary North American medical herbalist for the use of Echinacea in the common cold:

1) A well-made tincture of the root of E. angustifolia or E. purpurea.
2) The medicine administered at first onset of symptoms.
3) A high dose of a teaspoon or more per hour for the first few hours, then tapering to 4 tsp per day on the second day and continuing while symptoms are present.
4) Aggressive treatment with Echinacea especially for those with chronic immune weak- ness rather than those in generally good health who happen to have a minor respiratory infection.

Fact or Fiction? 
Does one need to stop taking Echinacea after a certain number of days? This once popular belief came about from a misinterpreted German study. The Eclectics used Echinacea for 9 months or more without any problems. 

Should Echinacea be avoided by those with auto-immune diseases? There have been some problems associated with those who have auto-immune conditions and some herbalists say it should be avoided by those populations. However, this is a contentious issue in the herbal world and, in reality, while Echinacea may not work for some people with autoimmunity, it may work for others. 

Echinacea angustifolia


Is Echinacea angustifolia better than the other varieties? I don’t think there is a black and white answer to this. Some herbalists maintain that E. angustifolia root is the best material to make Echinacea products from. But plants are hard to pin down and you can find many differences between plants of the same species (depending on growing conditions, etc). For me, the most important thing is that whatever plant you are using it has that strong special Echinacea zing when you taste it. 

One thing to note is that Echinacea angustifolia is harder to grow than E. purpurea and grows less robustly. Therefore it costs more. 

Botanically Speaking
There are around nine plants in the Echinacea genus and all are herbaceous perennial plants. Recently Echinacea plants have been hybridized into cultivars for gardeners. 
Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea are the most commonly used species for medicine and E. pallida is sometimes used. For this botanical exploration we’ll look at E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. 

The term for the genus “Echinacea” is derived from the Greek word meaning hedgehog or sea urchin and refers to the center cone of the flower. 

First, let’s look at E. angustifolia, which grows up to 30 inches tall. 

The composite flowers of E. angustifolia bloom from summer to early fall. The pale pink ray flowers are less showy than E. purpurea. You’ll notice the spiky center of the flower, which is likened to a hedgehog. 




The leaves are narrow (angustifolia means narrow leaf).  






Both the stems and leaves are significantly hairy. 




The roots are taproots. 



Here is the Range Map for Echinacea angustifolia




Echinacea purpurea
Echinace purpurea grows more readily and robustly than E. angustifolia. The showy composite flowers have purple ray flowers. Purpurea means purple. 




The leaves of E. purpurea are broader than E. angustifolia. 

The roots grow from a caudex with fibrous roots. 



Photo by Luanne Marie
Here is the Range Map for Echinacea purpurea



The Future of Echinacea
The widespread use of Echinacea during the time of the Eclectics as well as the current market in North America and Europe has led to this plant’s demise in the wild. Never, ever buy wildcrafted Echinacea. There is no longer a way for anyone to wildcraft this plant sustainably. Instead, consider growing this beautiful plant in your own garden or buy it from organic cultivated sources. And if you live in this plant’s natural habitat, go on walks, spread seeds. 


Echinacea harvest on a biodynamic farm
I hope after reading this article you’ll have a new appreciation for this “cold and flu” herb. Remember, anytime marketing sums up a plant with a couple of words there is going to be a much larger picture of what it does as well as how we use it. Echinacea offers us a treasure chest of important remedies - let’s reclaim their varied uses and support the growth of this plant, both in our gardens and in the wild. 

Book Resource
Paul Bergner wrote THE book on Echinacea that I highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about this plant. You can find this book for super cheap at used book stores. 
The Healing Power of Echinacea & Goldenseal, Paul Bergner

This monograph was originally written for HerbMentor.com. If you love herbs then I highly recommend subscribing to the site. 

The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Review


The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production by Peg Schafer

Over the past few years I’ve started to grow some Chinese medicinal herbs. Astragalus, codonopsis and baical skullcap were herbs I just couldn’t imagine being without. This year was my first harvest and I was a little disappointed about the yield. Two years of effort brought forth very little roots. If only I had had this beautifully photographed and incredibly informative book to guide me, I would have easily avoided mistakes! 

This book is written for both the casual home gardener interested in growing a few plants and the farmer interested in entering the market of Chinese Medicinal Herbs. 

Authored by Peg Schafer, who is not only a pioneer and authority on the subject (after having been an organic Chinese medicinal herb farmer for over a decade), but also who has a gift for writing in an engaging and very clear manner. 

Part I of this book starts off by addressing many common concerns about growing Chinese Herbs. Why would someone be interested in growing Chinese herbs? Are they as potent as plants grown in China? Will the grower be introducing invasive species? Is there a market for these herbs? 

In her concise yet thorough manner, Schafer addresses all these concerns. 

Why grow Chinese plants?
As Schafer points out, there are many reasons to grow Chinese herbs. First, there is a lot of concern about the quality of herbs coming from China. Plants in the wild are being over-harvested and all plants coming out of China could potentially be exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Secondly, there is a growing concern about the availability of herbs from overseas. By learning to grow our own we ensure our access to these plants no matter the political climate. 

Are Chinese plants cultivated in the west medicinally potent?
I often hear from practitioners that the most potent Chinese herbs only come from their native habitat. Peg Schafer has an interesting analogy about this hypothesis in relation to wine. Not too long ago it was thought that the best wines could only be grown in the French terroir. However, after years of experimentation, the western coast of the United States has proven its ability to grow wines just as coveted as the French. 

Moving beyond analogy, Schafer addresses the concern of cultivated vs. wild plants by sharing her specific ways of growing potent plants. (Tip: growing medicinal herbs is nothing like growing vegetable crops!) She backs up her claims with scientific testing (her herbs vs. imports) as well as organoleptic testing by Chinese Medicine Practitioners. 

Covering the basics
Although this book is mainly geared towards Chinese herbs, any herb gardener will find the first part of this book full of interesting tips. From building the soil, to managing the crops, to harvesting, to seed collecting, Schafer expertly covers many areas of organic herbal gardening. 

Fresh codonopsis root


Specific Plants (79 of them!)
In part 2 Schafer delves into specific cultivation techniques for 79 different Chinese plants. This section covers germination requirements, troubleshooting techniques, harvesting methods, processing methods, beautiful photos and even medicinal information for each plant. 

All of the information presented in the book comes from Schafer’s years of direct experience on her own farm and is a treasure for western dwellers who have grown fond of Chinese herbs, although I wouldn’t limit this book to strictly Chinese herb growers as the western herbalist will also find many familiar plants among the pages, such as Angelica sinensis and burdock (Arctium lappa). 

I’ve been pouring over this book for the past couple of weeks and, while the ground is covered in snow, I am already dreaming of my spring garden and the Chinese plants I will grow there. With Schafer’s informative book in hand I know I’ll have a lot more success growing my favorite Chinese herbs. I am looking forward to a garden full of peonies and codonopsis and skullcaps and on and on. 

To purchase this book and support Schafer’s important work (and farm), buy it from her directly at: 


Contents:

Part One: Cultivating to Conserve Connecting with Quality Asian Botanicals
Chapter One: Farming to Be Part of the Solution
Evolving Herbal Traditions
Risks to the Future of Herbalism
Solutions for Continued Availability

Chapter Two: Herb Quality
Wild Quality
Assessing Herb Quality
Regulating Herbs
Like Fine Wines . . .

Chapter Three: Cultivation in the Nursery, Garden, and Field
Planning
Seed Starting and Propagation
Managing Your Soil
Planting
Seasonal Care
Managing Invasive Plant Risk

Chapter Four: The Harvest and Marketing
Harvesting Medicine
Drying Herb Crops
Storing Dried Herbs
Shipping Fresh or Dry Herbs
Collecting and Saving Seed for Sowing
Selling What You Grow
Good Agricultural Practices
Make Alliances

Chapter Five: Conservation and Global Trade in Medicinal Plants
Current Status: Factors and Reasons for Concern
Who Needs Protection?
Protective Measures
How Effective Are the Protective Strategies?
Cultivate to Conserve
How to Be Part of the Solution

Part Two: 79 Medicinal Herb Profiles


BOOK DATA 
ISBN: 9781603583305 Year Added to Catalog: 2011
Book Format: Paperback
Book Art: Full Color Throughout
Dimensions: 8 x 10
Number of Pages: 336
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green
Pub Date: December, 2011
Retail Price: U.S. $34.95 / Canada $38.50
Category: Gardening & Agriculture

Baical Skullcap

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arrow Leaf Balsam Root Through the Seasons: A monograph








Balsam Root through the Seasons
I live in the Methow Valley in the northeastern cascades of Washington State. The valley is just over 50 miles long and is located a couple hours (as the crow flies) from the Canadian border and 4 hours from the Pacific Ocean. 

The valley boasts of large tracts of wilderness and a variety of ecological niches, from the sagebrush steppe to riparian rivers, to evergreen forests to alpine peaks. 

Each season in the Methow is distinct with intense variations in temperature and plant life. In May, the otherwise drab hillsides of the sagebrush steppe burst alive with a diversity of wildflowers, the most prominent being the flower of the valley, Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta). 

This wild flower of the Asteraceae family covers hillsides from April to June, peaking in the middle of May. Besides being a visual delight, this plant has played an important role in the ecology of the Methow for thousands of years. Dense roots run deep into the rocky soils, preventing erosion; large leaves provide habitat to many scurrying animals and the leaves, flowers and seeds provide an important food source to mammals as small as field mice, to ungulates to humans. The resinous roots have been an important medicine for humans for countless eons. 

This plant grows all over western North America. The USDA range map shows it growing as far east as the Dakotas, as far south as the US/Mexican border and throughout western Canada as well. 

Spring

As the snows are receding in the valley, balsam root offers its first gifts of the growing season. Locating last year’s foliage, smashed flat by the heavy snow, we can find the beginning sprouts of this year’s growth. These sprouts are best eaten when they are about an inch in length. As some of the first fresh food to appear, these sprouts are a welcome sign of the turning of the seasons. 

We harvest these sprouts by taking only one or two from each plant we walk by to ensure plenty of new growth for the plant. We’ve eaten them raw or cooked them in stir-fries and soups and we mostly prefer them raw, eating them one by one as we harvest from large stands. The sprouts have a strong resinous taste that is mildly pungent and overall pleasant. 

We’ve read ethnobotanical reports of the roots from very young plants being eaten. We’ve tried this multiple times, harvesting very small roots - about the diameter of a pencil - and cooking them for extended periods of time, but have yet to yield anything other than a hard woody root that is not edible. 

As the spring continues on, the sprouts grow into leaves and flower stalks, both of which can be peeled and eaten, again taking precautions not to over harvest from one plant. 


In late April the hillsides are turning green, the first flowers are beginning to emerge and the anticipation of yellow hillsides fills the community. Talk at the farmer’s market centers around whether this will be a good flower year or not. Tourists ask, what are those wild sunflowers on the hills?

The leaves are large and arrow shaped, hence the common name. Ethnobotanical reports indicate these large leaves were poulticed and used on burns and wounds. 

Recently, someone commented to me that this flower grows like a weed, but I was quick to interject. Although it’s very common in our valley, arrowleaf balsamroot plants take many many years to mature and are difficult to transplant. When we harvest this plant we harvest with respect for each plant, understanding the abundance of this plant is a gift of the valley. 

Summer 

The last of the flower show is fading by mid June, and July and August will bring the next gifts of this sunflower plant, seeds! 


We’ve experimented harvesting the seeds in a couple different ways over the past years. There is a small window of time to optimally harvest the seeds. We like to collect the seed heads when the seeds are visually mature but the head is still somewhat tight. Mature seeds are black instead of a dark green color. If we wait too long to harvest the seeds then many have already been eaten or have fallen to the ground. 

We harvest the whole seed head and then lay them out on a sheet in the sun. As the seed head dries, the mature seeds will fall from the seed head and onto the sheet. The seed heads can be further shaken to loosen a few stubborn seeds, but not overly so. 

One year my husband did his best to get every single seed from the seed head. He diligently split open the seed heads in his quest for thoroughness. He discovered this is not the way to go about it. Besides getting a few stubborn mature seeds, this method will also remove any seeds that are not mature and. worse, will also loosen irritating hairs that will then have to be painstakingly removed from the seeds. 

It’s far better to only take what gingerly falls from the seed heads and leave the rest to go back to the earth. We find that in a couple of hours one person can gather about a quart of seeds. I do not know the exact nutritional value of the seeds but I assume that, like most seeds, they are high in proteins and oils, making them a good source of food. 

The seeds are quite small. Shelling these is not an energy efficient way to spend your time and the shell is hard enough to be annoying to eat. We’ve tried milling the whole seeds by grinding them with a mortar and pestle but the seeds go rancid amazingly fast. Roasting them does not soften the shell quite enough to make them pleasant to eat. 

The best way we’ve found to eat them is by putting them in our stew pot and simmering them for several hours. 

Seed heads are an important food source for birds, rodents and deer so we consciously harvest these from a large area and leave plenty for the wildlife.  

By mid-August the arrowleaf balsamroot is a brown shell of its spring glory. The once green leaves are brown and crinkled and only a few dried out seeds heads stand where hundreds of yellow flowers shone just months before. But, as herbalists, we know the plant is still pulsating and alive beneath the soil surface. 

Autumn

The root is the main part used as medicine. Herbalist Michael Moore describes arrowleaf balsamroot as a cross between echinacea and osha. I can’t personally attest to arrowleaf balsamroot being an immunomodulator but it certainly has an affinity for the respiratory system. 


Like many resins the root is decidedly pungent in taste. A small taste of the root and I feel the warming and drying qualities as the energy goes to my lungs, creating the need to clear my throat or cough. Oftentimes taking a few drops of the tincture creates a reflex of taking a large breath. 

I recently was teaching a class to a group of students, many of whom had a cold. Passing around the tincture of arrowleaf balsamroot, students with congestion in their lungs reported feeling expectoration from their lungs and students with head colds felt stuck mucous in their sinuses start to release.

I prefer to use arrowleaf balsamroot as a fresh root tincture in 95% alcohol. I often combine this tincture with elderberry, osha and honey. 

Arrowleaf balsamroot is a stimulating expectorant, stimulating diaphoretic, and an antimicrobial suitable for sore throats. 

I’ve received the best results when using it as a simple for productive coughs that last beyond other symptoms of the original cold or flu. 

For sore throats I like to mix 10 - 20 drops of the tincture with a spoonful of honey that is then swallowed. I often combine it with a tincture of cottonwood buds.  

I have yet to use arrowleaf balsamroot for a UTI, but Michael Moore describes arrowleaf balsamroot as an disinfecting diuretic. Darcy Williamson reports that taken in too large of a dose it will create kidney irritation. 

For external use it infuses into oil very nicely; because of the resins I use heat to extract the root. This warming aromatic oil relieves pain brought on by blood stagnation such as sore shoulder muscles or tension associated with coldness. Used as a liniment it also lends itself well to sore muscles and can also be used to disinfect wounds or kill fungi living on the skin. 

Although lacking experience with this myself I’ve seen ethnobotanical records indicating that arrowleaf balsamroot is useful for gastrointestinal complaints and toothaches. 

I only need one small root a year to make enough tincture and oil for myself and clients. Heading out into the brown forest outside of my cabin I look for plants with a modest amount of foliage indicating the size of the root. 

Large plants can be several decades old and boast a large gnarly root. These large roots can easily be 5-8 feet deep into the earth. Harvesting arrowleaf balsamroot is no easy task, so I am content with my smaller sized roots and leave the mature plants to grow. 

Besides searching for the right size I also look for plants on flat ground. Those plants on steep hillsides are doing an important job of keeping the hillside in place. Lastly, I harvest from a well-developed stand. 

Traditional style digging tool made from ocean spray and douglas fir. 

I use a traditional digging tool for my root harvests. I find sticks are often easier to use as a harvest tool than shovels since shovels can easily slice roots and can often get caught on the plethora of rocks hiding in the soil where arrowleaf balsamroots live. Patience and time rewards me with a taproot the size of a large carrot. A hard outer bark envelopes a woody root in the center. I break apart the outer bark with a hammer, mince the inner bark and tincture them both. The resins from the root cover the cutting board, knife and hands. Alcohol works well to clean them off. 

Winter

In the north, winter is a time for animals and plants to rest. In our valley the ground is covered with many feet of snow blanketing all the plants beneath the soil. Arrowleaf balsamroot rests in its roots, waiting until spring to bring forth its many gifts once more. 

Above ground we nestle next to the wood stove and give our thanks for the medicine of arrowleaf balsamroot.
Plant Specifics
Common Name: Arrowleaf Balsamroot
Scientific Name: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Family: Asteraceae

Description: Perennial growing throughout western north America as far east as the Dakotas, as far south as California and throughout western Canada as well. It grows in a variety of habitats, including forested mountains to the sage brush steppe. 

The taproot is covered in a hard bark and is fairly resinous. Depending on the growing habits and age of the plant, the root can reach several meters into the ground and weigh over 30 pounds. 

The leaves can be fairly large, around 20 inches in length and are arrow shaped or triangular. 

The flower looks like a sunflower with yellow ray flowers. The entire flower head is about the size of a small fist. 

The seeds are the size of a grain of rice and are darkly colored ranging from green to brown to black depending on the maturity. 

Properties: Pungent, warm/dry, stimulating expectorant, stimulating diaphoretic, anti-microbial, anti-fungal

Strong affinity for the respiratory system. 


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This article was originally published in the Plant Healer Magazine.