Friday, October 30, 2009

Elder: "Your Mother Smells of Elderberries!" Is A Compliment


Of all the European herbs used for centuries by physicians and country folk alike, the Elder has more mythology associated with it than any other medicinal plant due to mysterious connection with the Otherworld. It was once known as the “medicine chest of the country people” because all parts of this small tree were used for various maladies. Although the leaves were once used externally for bruises and injuries while the inner bark was used as an emetic or a purgative, it was found that these parts of the Elder have some toxicity, so today it is mainly the flowers and the berries that are used in herbal medicine.

In European countries, the Black Elder grows to the height of a small tree, while in the US, the plant gets no bigger than a large shrub. The leaves are lance-shaped, finely toothed and grow in opposite pairs - five to seven leaflets to each branch. The whitish flowers appear in late spring in a dense, flat-topped cluster up to eight inches in diameter. From a distance the flowers have a sweet, creamy fragrance, but up close they become slightly fishy; flies pollinate the Elder more than bees.

In the late summer, the clusters of juicy, plump berries ripen to a dark purplish black, and hang heavy from the braches. You must be vigilant to harvest them before the birds do, but be sure to leave enough to share. The stems of most varieties also turn purple at this ripe stage, although some remain green. When processing the berries, it is helpful to run the tines of a fork through the berry clusters in order to remove as much of these stems as possible, for it is widely believed that the stems are mildly toxic.

The name Sambucus is derived from the instrument that was once made from the young stems of the plant- the pan pipes. The stems have a pithy core that can easily be hollowed out to create a tube; the older the plant gets, the more narrow the opening. These hollow tubes found other uses apart from the shrill and haunting whistle it produced as a musical instrument; they were also used as smoking pipes and as a device to blow through in order to encourage a fire to burn hotter. Perhaps this is where the name “Elder” came from, as the Old English word for fire was “aeld.”

Another possible root for the name comes from the Old English “eldo,” which means old age. The Elder is truly an elder of ecosystems; known as a “keystone” species, Sambucus helps to form healthy environments for a plant community to thrive. By interacting with mycelium in the soil and preparing the way for more diverse species to inhabit the developing ecosystem, the Elder is one of the first plants to arrive and will then “call in” other species that will coexist harmoniously within the group. It was once said among the folk people that, “Elder teaches the plants what to do and how to grow.” Truly, a wise elder, is this tree.

The tree has represented protection, stability and forgiveness, the wisdom and compassion that comes with age. The White Goddess, known as “Hildemoer” or the Lady Ellhorn, was the benevolent spirit associated with the Elder. She was the guardian of the Elder and bestowed great healing to the tree and the people who used the medicine. It was important to pay respect to the tree before gathering any parts; an offering or gift was made, or even the whispered reminder that one day this human body would be committed to the soil to nourish the Elders anew. An elder was frequently planted upon one’s grave, sometimes trimmed into the shape of a cross, to bring peace to the departed; if the Elder was productive, it indicated that the deceased was happy on the other side.

It was not uncommon to regularly leave gifts such as beer, milk and bread under an Elder tree to receive the protection of the house spirits in return. People planted Elders near their homes to ensure a ready supply of medicine and protection from disease and malevolent spirits. Leaves gathered on the last day of April were hung on doors and considered particularly potent majick against pestilence and evil. The leaves have a distinctively unpleasant odor that repels insects quite efficiently; hanging a bunch in the stables helped to reduce the numbers of pests. Shakespeare was referring to this quality when he coined the term, “the Stinking Elder.”

But even Shakespeare saw that the Elder was at least equal to the wisdom of the Greek god of medicine and the respect given the most famous of Roman physicians when he was disposed to pay homage to the diversity of Elder’s medicine, “What says my Aesculapius? My Galen? My heart of Elder?” The Elder, with its diverse, powerful properties was popular not only with home herbalists, but was also respected by Hippocrates, Plinius, Doiscorides, Gerard and Galen. Dr. Martin Blochwich, a famous physician of the seventeenth century and author of the well-known Anatomia Sambuci, or “Anatomy of the Elder” wrote, “What the more sober and learned Chymists have attributed to their manifold Mercury, Antimony, Vitriol, we may admit, admire and acknowledge in our Elder.”

The old ways were gradually lost with the rise of Christianity, and the benevolent spirits allied with the Elder morphed into fearsome entities associated with dark magic. Love and reverence for the Elder and her medicine was labeled as Paganism, herbalism re-branded as witchcraft, and although many tried to hold fast to their traditions of honor and respect for the spirits of the Earth, their beliefs were swallowed up by fear of damnation. Fairy tales often depicted the conflicts of superstitions against a backdrop of religion, and Elder trees were frequently representative of the gate to the Unknown.

The Elvin matriarch Hilda was said to live in the roots of the Elder and if one made a point to visit the tree at midnight on midsummer’s day, the procession of the Faerie King and his court would be visible. Care should be taken however, especially to stay awake, otherwise one might be swept into the Faerie realm, never to return. This was considered merely cautionary until the tide of religious fear washed over ancient beliefs. The legends of the beatific White Goddess of light, life and wisdom suddenly became frightening tales about a fanged witch who stole babies from Elder wood cribs-or at the very least, pinched them black and blue!

Newer folklore about the Elder emerged that aligned with biblical stories; Elder was purported to be the tree that Judas hanged himself on after betraying Jesus. It was also said that Christ was crucified upon a cross made of Elder wood, and as this ancient rhyme suggests, the tree was forever changed by the experience. “Ever bush and never tree, since our Lord was nailed on thee.”

Nonetheless, the Elder continued to be a mainstay for herbal medicine, was used for amulets of healing and protection as well as being valued for its use as a dye. The Romans once used the red variety of berries to color statues of Jupiter crimson during festivals to honor their powerful god. For textiles, the leaves and immature berries produce a green dye, the roots and bark create black dye and the berries make a lovely royal purple color. The appearance of these black berries indicated to the farmers that the time to sow the winter wheat had arrived.

The Elder has always been associated with transitional times and passages in life. The hollow tubes of the young Elder stems are a signature for plants that assist a shaman’s travel to the Otherworld, and when we are close to birth or death, the Elder is a safe and helpful remedy to have on hand. For the very old, Elderberry tonics can help open congested lungs and stimulate blood circulation as well as boost the immune system. Mild teas from the flowers or berries can help infants that appear bluish, indicating congestion and stagnation of fluids and oxygen. It has been suggested that Elder may even help in some cases to prevent SIDS in newborns.

Elder flowers can be eaten fresh if dipped in batter and fried like a pancake, but more often are dried and used as a medicinal tea. When the infusion is ingested cool, it is diuretic and helps to cleanse the kidneys by stimulating increased urine flow. Drunk hot, the tea is diaphoretic, generating a mild sweat that reduces fever; in the early stages of a pathogenic invasion, this action pushes pathogens back out of the body, effectively “curing” the common cold or flu. Taken this way, it is often combined with Yarrow flowers and Peppermint.

Elderberries have a stimulating and cooling effect on the blood and currently modern herbalists are utilizing the berries in formulas for anemia. Historically elder was used to treat and cure everything up to and including the Black Plague, while recent lab studies have indicated that Elderberry extract may help to neutralize the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. Syrups are helpful for flu symptoms including lung congestion and lowered immunity, and when combined with hot Elder flower tea, can bring down fever, calm the nerves and bring blessed relief.

If you are fortunate enough to have laid in a supply of dried elderberries this autumn, you can rehydrate them to make this delicious syrup. Fresh berries work just as well, and you’ll have no trouble getting your family to take their medicine when Elderberry syrup is on the spoon. Commercially made “Sambucol” syrup is available at most health food stores, but homemade is really so much better due to the locality of the fruit and the affection involved in the preparation of medicines for your loved ones.

A spoonful of this soothing elixir will help to calm coughs and loosen mucous, as well as improve immunity; brewing the berries with ginger rounds out its sweet flavor and adds another dimension to the healing properties. Experienced herbalists may wish to use a medicinal decoction in place of the cooking water to enhance the desired effect when making the syrup.

In a large stainless steel pot, cover berries completely with cool, pure water; if using dried berries, use a little more water and allow to soak overnight. (In the morning you may need to add a bit more water to make sure the berries are completely covered.) Bring to a boil over high heat, and as soon as boiling point is reached, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer berries for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour juice through a cheesecloth lined strainer into another heavy-bottomed steel pot. Squeeze out all the juice you can through the cheesecloth sieve and compost the mash. Cook over low heat, uncovered until juice is reduced by half. To this concentrated juice add raw honey to sweeten and cook until desired syrupy consistency. If less sweetener is used, you’ll need to keep this syrup refrigerated.

Dried Elderberries can sometimes be purchased at local health food stores, but if you can’t find them, begin scouting your neighborhood for the large shrubs. Be sure to leave enough flowers from your spring harvest to ensure a good crop of berries later in the year, and don’t forget to leave a gift in return for the compassionate spirit of the Elder Mother.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dandelion: Flowers Are Merely Weeds...With a Pedigree

(Taraxicum officinale)

One of the most important herbs in the traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herbal materia medica is the bane of many a lawn-obsessed American: Dandelion! Frustrated homeowners throughout the country have cringed at the sight of delighted youngsters blowing the fluffy seed heads into the wind on a wish. Sunny, bright and cheerful yellow flowers atop a basal rosette of toothed green leaves are easily recognized by adults and children alike. This so-called weed is a miraculous gift of nature and an ally to the vast majority of our friends and family. In many parts of the world, especially France (where it is called Pissenlit -meaning “wet-the-bed” due to its strength as a diuretic), it is even cultivated as a vegetable crop. Its name is translated as “Lion’s tooth” for its yellow flower and the shape of the leaf. Originally brought to our continent by early British settlers for their kitchen gardens, Dandelion is a valuable and safe medicinal herb as well as a delicious addition to a healthy and balanced diet.

According to the Doctrine of Signatures, plants will usually “inform” us of their uses if we carefully observe their appearance. For example, the milky latex the plant exudes when cut suggests its affinity for the breast (an area intimately associated with Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine); this herb promotes lactation, is anti-tumor and can be used for mastitis as well. The hollow stem reminds us of the throat, and amazingly it is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine to clear heat toxins especially in the throat area. The similarity doesn’t end there, the stems also bear a resemblance to veins, and once again that mirrors its ability to purify the blood, cleanse the arteries, promote heart health, and support healthy arterial and connective tissues. It is also believed that plants with a reddish purple stem help to pull toxic heat from the body, which Dandelion does quite effectively.

Antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, Dandelion also contains significant amounts of calcium (in the root) which supports the skeletal system, Vitamins A, C and D, fatty acids such as omega-3, bitter glycosides, inulin, phosphorus, iron, choline, niacin as well as blood regulating and clot-preventing coumarins (especially in the leaf). Its energy is considered cooling, drying and descending and its taste is decidedly bitter, slightly salty and the starchy root can have a wonderful sweetness as well.

The root and the leaf have similar properties medicinally, but the leaf does contain a much higher concentration of potassium (up to 5% in some plants) which makes it a valuable diuretic, especially when used in conjunction with heart stimulating medicinals. Most diuretic substances, frequently used in the treatment of heart disease, pull potassium from the body via the urine which can aggravate cardiovascular problems, but Taraxicum officinale is an effective diuretic that is rich in potassium, making it an essential adjunct remedy in the treatment of various heart diseases. It is often utilized for edema, fluid congestion and hypertension, but can actually regulate either high or low blood pressure.

Often a meat-laden diet too centered on rich, fatty, spicy foods and habitually containing a generous amount of alcohol is the causative factor in “excess” diseases. Because Dandelion is so cooling and reducing, it treats conditions that are described as “excess” in nature: a ruddy complexion, thick coat on the tongue, a rapid pulse, loud voice, biliousness, irritability, pain and cramping are frequently seen in circumstances requiring its use. Pelvic inflammatory disease, appendicitis, ulcers, diverticulitis and many cases of diabetes fall into this category. Many liver disorders such as cirrhosis, gout, jaundice and hepatitis are successfully treated with Dandelion; a high dose (taken up to six times daily) and a light diet consisting of vegetable broths, rice and mung bean porridge has been used to cure hepatitis.

Decongesting the liver and gallbladder as well as the sinus, this invaluable medicinal supports the lymphatic system, and helps remove mucous, poisons and excess fats from the body. Dandelion encourages bile flow to improve digestion and regulate the appetite; it prevents and can even dissolve gall stones. It neutralizes acid, thereby having an alkalinizing effect on the body while it also promotes growth of beneficial bacteria and cell oxygenation. Its benefits as a tonic act as an immune-stimulant and can also regulate blood sugar, help with food sensitivities and allergies as well as reduce fatigue and general malaise.

Taraxicum officinale is used in the treatment of obesity, to reduce cholesterol, for water swelling associated with the menses and other damp-type imbalances such as candidiasis, urinary tract infections, and some types of lung disease and asthma (not for use with a dry cough). Chronic sinus infections often benefit from regular doses of dandelion for three months or more; when the infection begins to compromise the integrity of the bones in the sinus area, dandelion paired with White Oak bark has been shown to actually recalcify the bone tissue. Other degenerative bone diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteomyelitis as well as painful sciatica and rheumatism are also treated with Dandelion.

Obviously, Dandelion acts on many different systems and areas of the body: it relieves fever and headache, clears infectious heat in the throat; it eases abdominal distention and pain in the hypochondria, as well as promoting a healthy urinary tract, strong kidneys and preventing renal calculi (kidney stones). A mild laxative, Dandelion can encourage intestinal peristalsis for “excess-type” constipation and it soothes intestinal abscesses.

People with skin diseases that fall into the “excess” category also profit from the use of Dandelion; boils, abscesses, swellings, acne, eczema and psoriasis have all shown pronounced improvement after several months of regular Dandelion supplementation. Prolapsed tissues such as hemorrhoids and varicosities occurring in a person with an “excess” constitution can be helped significantly in only weeks. Topically the juice of Dandelion can be applied directly to warts or snakebites- a well-known folk remedy.

Several studies have been conducted on the viability of Dandelion in the treatment of infectious disease with great success. In vitro Dandelion has shown an inhibitory effect on several bacterial pathogens including E. coli, salmonella, meningitis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, the ECHO virus and drug resistant staph. Streptococcus pneumonia, the causative factor in pneumonia, infections of the heart, cellulitis, acute sinusitis, middle-ear infection, brain abscess and more is also inhibited by the therapeutic use of Dandelion. Leptospirea, a spirochetal infectious disease, is a close cousin to syphilis and Lyme disease; studies have shown a positive result for the use of Taraxicum officinale against Leptospirea. Time and research may scientifically conclude that it could also be used for the insidious and rampant Lyme disease as well, though it has been used for just that purpose by many practitioners already, often in combination with Boneset, Burdock root and Teasel.

Some of the most compelling research has been in the area of oncology. A suggestive study stated that a hot water extract (decoction) of Dandelion “inhibits sarcoma-180 in mice with an effective rate of 43.5%, whereas the alcohol extract has no effect. The hot water extract contains a polyose substance that is anticarcinogenic and promotes immunity.” Another study seems to suggest that Dandelion enhances liver function, thereby neutralizing estrogen, a causative factor in some carcinomas of the breast. Various investigations have been conducted to verify the usefulness of Dandelion in the natural or complimentary treatment of AIDS, and many practitioners currently add it to their protocol because of its famed immune-stimulating qualities.

The best thing about Dandelion is its profuse availability; its very wildness insures that it has a high potency. Gather the herb anywhere, providing it is located at least fifty feet from roadsides and from areas that are absolutely free of chemical contaminants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Spring is the best time to gather the leaves before the flower buds appear at the base of the basal rosette in May. Leaves can be used fresh as a tasty addition to salads, made into a tincture with brandy to improve its bitter flavor or dried for use as a tea when it is out of season; the dried leaves however, quickly lose potency. When taking Dandelion medicinally, it’s good to know that small doses are restorative and tonifying, whereas a larger dose is considered cooling and clearing.

The root that is dug in the early spring tends to be moist and sweet, particularly tonifying and nourishing. It is great to eat after being added to boiling water and simmered for 15 minutes, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled lightly with salt. The more strongly medicinal and bitter taproot that is harvested around the autumn equinox when at least two years old can be split to ensure fast, even drying in a well-ventilated, warm and arid room. The root can then be decocted by adding 2-3 tsp to one cup water, bringing it to a boil, then reducing the heat and simmering, covered for 15 minutes; drink this three times daily. As a delicious and nutritious coffee substitute, the root can be roasted until fragrant and almost crisp, then ground and steeped or percolated as you would with coffee-liver cleansing and no caffeine jitters!

Do be aware that serious disease should not be treated without the advice or supervision of a qualified practitioner and as always, caution must be exercised with pregnant women. When used as a maintenance protocol or as a food, Dandelion is safe, easy and accessible. It bears noticing that its very abundance should be a message to us written in bright neon: “Attention Humans! You Need My Help!!” Enjoy this diverse and wonderful “weed”, eat it, play with it, talk to it, by golly…Love it!

 Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.

Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Got Pain? Stick It In Your Ear!

The Auriculotherapy Appointment

“Do you mean to tell me that by sticking those little seeds on my ears, you’re going to get rid of my pain?” She asked, with an eyebrow raised.

“You’ll see.” I smirked; I was used to the skepticism. After explaining the procedure and introducing her to the tools I’d be using, I cleansed her ears with a soothing wash while observing the specific qualities of her ear, such as shape, tone and color.
“You said that the pain was in your lower back, are you also having trouble with your left knee?” I asked, knowing from the slight bulge on the upper portion of the anti-helix, that her knee was indeed having problems.
“Yes,” she answered cautiously, not certain that she had actually mentioned anything about her knee. “I had surgery on it about a year ago this January. I took a bad spill getting out of my car on the ice and tore ligaments. It was horrible. The surgery seemed to help for a little while, but lately it seems to be getting pretty achy and stiff. Did I tell you that on the phone?”

“No, but you didn’t have to. I can see it right here on your ear, plain as day. There’s a thickening of the cartilage exactly at the spot on your left ear that represents your knee. It says to me that there is stagnation at that site.” I replied, noting the posture she was holding and the frustrated look of concealed pain in her eyes.
“Oh.” She seemed uncertain. “Well, can you do anything about it?”

“I’ll do what I can.” I told her as I located the shen men point -the one used for pain- and adhered a small black seed to the position. I prepared the hemostats with a small silver sphere this time, located the point that represented her left knee and affixed the nearly invisible tiny dot on a small clear piece of tape to the site. I repeated the procedure with a couple of lower back points and her hip for good measure. I sat back and examined her ear more closely; there appeared to be a slight lump located at the wrist area of her ear. “Any issues with your wrists?”
“How could you know that? I have the beginnings of Carpal Tunnel, my doctor tells me. I wear a brace at work. I must have told you.” She eyed me suspiciously.
“It’s all right here.” I answered, “Come and look in the mirror. Feel this part of your ear. Do you feel that little bump?”

“Oh yeah, I never noticed that before.” She tugged at her ear and looked at the appearance of the tiny “seeds” in the mirror. “You can barely see them.” She said, as she admired her new “punk rock” look. “My kids will get a kick out of these!”

“Walk around a little” I said, wanting her to test out her knee and check in with her back pain. “How does it feel?”

“That’s weird. It doesn’t hurt. My back! It doesn’t hurt!! How did you do that?!” She was getting excited and I saw a tear beginning to well up in her eye.

“How’s the knee feel?” Sharing her joy, but wanting to get a tab on all the issues I’d worked on.

“The knee is fine. It feels…looser, like there’s more room in there…or something. I can’t explain it. My foot is feeling warmer too. I didn’t mention it, but that foot always kind of felt like it was falling asleep or something.”

“Excellent. We’re getting some blood flowing again. Now, sit back down for a minute and I’ll get some energy moving to your wrists too.” I finished up with the last of the seeds and enjoyed watching her roll her wrists around with a huge grin on her face.
“Unbelievable!” she said. “I can’t tell you the last time I wasn’t in pain. I’m going to send everyone to you for this! How long will they stay on?”

“The seeds will stay reliably adhesive for about a week; if people have very dry or very moist skin, it can be less. When they start to feel like they are not firmly adhered to the spot anymore, just find the edge of the tape and peel them off. Make sure that the little seed is on the tape and throw it away. Voila!” I gestured with a flourish.

She laughed. “This is amazing. I have to get up and walk around again. I just can’t get over it.” She began pacing the length of the room. “What about getting them wet?”

“Just leave them alone until they dry and they should be fine. Don’t fuss with them if they’re wet, but you can push on them to help get rid of the pain if it creeps back.” I assured her.

“You know, when my friend told me that you got rid of her migraines with this…what do you call it…Auriculotherapy? Well, I thought it was all in her head-so to speak, but she kept insisting I come to see you. I was curious, yeah, but I didn’t think it would help me. I mostly came here to shut her up.” She shook her head still laughing, whether from her amusement or from pure relief from her pain, I wasn’t sure.

“Well, I’m so glad that you came to prove her wrong!!” I laughed, “It makes me so glad to see people go from pain to no pain. That’s what makes my job the best in the world” I grinned back at her.

“How did you learn this? Where did you ever even hear about it?” she wanted to know.

“I learned about it when I was in school for Chinese Medicine. The tradition I learned is based on Chinese medical theories, but there is also a tradition of Auriculotherapy from France that has become pretty well known too. I actually teach a certification class that makes Auriculotherapy easy to learn for anyone, even without any kind of background in healing. I give my students maps, tools, seeds and a kit to carry it around in. They begin practicing on each other right away in class. It’s so great to see them getting such amazing results themselves. It’s like a lightbulb going on!” I didn’t try to hide my enthusiasm.
“I could learn to do this?” She asked, hopeful. “But I wouldn’t be able to work on myself though, right?” She sat back down, her initial excitement beginning to dull ever so slightly as I watched where her thoughts took her.

“That was my problem too,” I confessed. “This is why you need to have someone you spend a lot of time with take the class with you, then you can practice on each other…and get rid of each other’s pain.”
“Ah! I know just the man!” She brightened. “Does this work only for pain…and migraines?” she asked.

“No, I treat all kinds of things, anxiety, stomach issues, menstrual disorders, lung problems, colds, rashes, blood pressure, eye diseases, the list goes on…you can even lower a fever just like that!” I snapped my fingers.

“Now, I wish I had known that trick last week when my son had the flu! I was beside myself when his fever reached 103ยบ and he had the chills!” The memory of her son’s illness left a note of distress in her voice, then her eyes cleared. “So, how often do I need to do this?”

“On the average, I like to have people come in about once a week. Having the therapy done regularly has a more profound healing effect; rather than just putting a band-aid on the pain, consistent treatment encourages the blood to heal the afflicted area and reminds the body of what balance feels like. Should we book your next appointment?”

“Yes, and sign me and my husband up for the next…Auriculotherapy class. I’m going to make him take it with me. So, what do I owe you for today?” She handed me her credit card.
“It’s just $55 for a pain-free week. Can you beat that?” I laughed. “Actually, you can. I can give you a discount for packs of treatments if you want to pay for them at once.” I handed her the price schedule:
3 sessions…..$150.00 ($50 @ session)

5 sessions…..$225.00 ($45 @ session)

10 sessions…$400.00 ($40 @ session)

“Wow, not bad. I’ll have to see how this does before I commit to paying for more than today’s session.” I understood completely; she was sensible to wait and objectively take in the whole experience before deciding to continue.
I shrugged. “Well, let me know; it’s a short appointment and I can usually squeeze it in, but I don’t want you to have to wait for very long when the pain begins to return.”

“The pain will return?” She suddenly looked let down.

“Well, you’ve only had one appointment. Usually the first time someone gets this done the relief lasts a good day or two after the seeds are removed…so about a week or ten days…then the pain may start to slowly come back.You don’t want to have to start from square one again, so it’s best to stay ahead of it and keep a good healing curve going.”
She nodded in understanding.
“Do people ever get completely better?” Her optimism was restored.
“Absolutely. It just depends on how long the problem has been going on, how well someone responds to healing and other factors that dictate overall health like diet, exercise, emotional health…” I explained.

“Okay, let’s set up another appointment now, and if I have to change it, I’ll give you a call a few days before.” She got out her calendar, set up the date for the following week and stood up. I walked her to the door and watched her stretching and testing her back and legs and she sauntered to the foyer. Spontaneously she turned and hugged me. “Thank you so much again, Lisl! I can’t believe how good it feels to not have pain!!”

“Believe it,” I said. “Your body wants to heal; the relief you feel in your body will have many far-reaching effects on other areas of your life. Watch and see.”

“I do believe it. I’m surprised, but I do. See you next week.” I watched as she practically skipped to her car and drove off. In fifteen minutes, I’d get to do it all over again with the next client; I felt very satisfied.

A few days later, I received a call from my new patient. “Lisl, my husband couldn’t believe the change in me! He’s agreed to sign up for the Auriculotherapy class with me. Can you take my card over the phone? Oh, and he wants to book a session with you too.”

“No problem. How are you feeling?” I asked her.
“I’m feeling great! My knee is a little stiff in the morning, but as soon as I’m up and moving around it feels fine. Next time I see you I want to know more about the herbs and essential oils you use to keep the healing going.” She sounded clear and upbeat, a big difference from the woman who had called a few weeks before to set up her initial appointment.

“Absolutely, I’m at your service!” My heart swelled for her happiness and I knew once again how fortunate it is to love your work, especially when that involves helping others.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.

Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Cardamom - If At First You Don't Succeed, Chai Chai Again

(Elettaria cardamomum)

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When the chill of winter is upon us and the added pressure of another holiday season approaches, it’s a great time to stop, take a deep, aromatic breath and enjoy a true herbal friend: Cardamom. Cardamom has enormous worth and has been appreciated since ancient times for her fragrance, flavor and medicinal properties. Her sweet/spicy aroma is refreshing, opening to the sinuses and invites comforting memories of warmth and happiness. Sometimes known as “Grains of Paradise” or “Queen of the Spices,” cardamom is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. The somewhat round to oblong greenish pods containing twenty or more strongly aromatic seeds ripen at slightly different times, requiring hand harvesting; this partially accounts for its high price. Although native to Sri Lanka and southern India, it is primarily cultivated commercially in Guatemala.

A member of the ginger family, Cardamom can contain up to 8% volatile oils including terpines, cineol, limonene, borneol, camphor, pinene, eucalyptole, sabinene, and myrtenal. It was used as an essential essence in ancient Egypt and continues to remain of great value to aromatherapists the world over. Since the inception of the perfume industry, Cardamom has been a precious ingredient in many formulas. True Cardamom has a warm fragrance like eucalyptus with a hint of lemon while false or inferior products have a harsh, more camphor-like odor. Cardamom brings energetic warmth to the core of the body, allowing the surface to acclimate with the cooler weather. The penetrating aroma promotes clear thinking, improves memory and breaks up congestion in the head, stomach and chest.

This essential essence has a cheerful bouquet that is antidepressant and gives a lift to the spirit, while also calming anxiety and nervousness. If you are able to obtain exceptional quality essences, a wonderful remedy for all types of emotional trauma would include Cardamom layered with the essences of Inula, Goldenrod and Ylang-ylang applied neat to the skin over the heart (please only use the highest quality essences, it is best if you know where they come from first-hand). My friend once applied this combination right before arriving at his dog-sitting job where both dogs were prone to extreme excitability. When he arrived, right on cue both pups leaped on him frantically vying for his affection, yipping and licking his hands and neck where the essences had been applied. Within a few minutes, these normally neurotic dogs calmed right down and were soon curled up, relaxed and sleeping. They stayed calm and mellow for two days afterward, content to wag their tails happily and offer an affectionate lick - not even doing their normal freak-out when the mailman came to the door. Now that’s a powerful combination! Whether using the essence topically or taking the herb internally, she restores strength both physically and emotionally to chase away fatigue, listlessness and nervous exhaustion.

A stimulating herb for the digestion, Cardamom warms the middle and treats a variety of gastrointestinal disorders such as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), dysentery, gastritis, and chronic gastroenteritis. Its ability to sooth frayed nerves and anxiety as well as regulating the appetite makes Cardamom a great herb to choose as part of a treatment plan for many types of eating disorders. Because it can counteract food allergies and sensitivities, Cardamom is often paired with foods that are difficult to assimilate or mucous-forming such as dairy and sweets. Traditionally added to coffee in India and the Middle East, Cardamom also counteracts the harsh effects of caffeine. This herb is a real pal to have around over the holidays when overindulging in rich and heavy foods is the norm. Nausea, heartburn, indigestion and gas no longer need to be the unwelcome holiday guests, so long as you are sure to invite Cardamom to the party!

Cardamom really is a breath of fresh air, not only for conditions like allergies and chronic sinusitis, but also for chronic bronchitis and asthma. It is a well-known expectorant that will help to reduce phlegm, open a tight chest, and relax coughing spasms. It is best suited for Cold Damp conditions, in other words, the mucous would be white and copious; it is not particularly appropriate for hot, infectious conditions unless used in proper combination. As an ingredient in many herbal formulas, Cardamom offers a pleasant taste that improves the overall flavor of medicinal combinations while improving their absorption and digestibility. It really can be a “breath of fresh air” when used to offset garlicky halitosis!! Cardamom has such an agreeable perfume it is one of the few herbs that will cover garlic-breath.
Cooking with Cardamom will almost guarantee a great result, but it can be too strong if used with a heavy hand. When purchasing this splendid spice, be sure to choose whole, plump, undamaged green pods with a thin skin. Grind only as many seeds as needed at any one time for the best flavor, as the volatile oils will dissipate quickly. Freshly ground Cardamom offers an intense and pungent zing to any recipe and is featured in many curries, baked goods, fruit compotes and mulled wines. Using cardamom whole or only slightly crushed will lend a milder flavor to pickles or rice dishes; the pods can be removed easily before serving if desired. Because of the volatile oil content, it is best not to overcook Cardamom or it will lose its balanced flavor and become harsh or slightly bitter.

Here I would like to offer up my personal chai recipe that has received rave reviews to all who have tried it. I will frequently make a large batch of the chai mix to keep on hand for a quick fix while hunkering down in chilly New England from October to March. It really does help to keep me warmer, more focused and contented during “hibernation.” Serve it to all your guests and you will receive kindness and warmth in return.

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Lisl’s Chinese Herbal Chai

2 Tbs Cardamom pods, crushed
2 Cinnamon sticks (approx. three inches each)
5 slices Ginger*, dried (each about the size of a poker chip)
*(Or ¾” piece of fresh ginger, sliced)
2 tsp Black Pepper Corns, slightly crushed
1 tsp Clove buds
1 tsp grated Orange peel
5 Chinese Red Dates, dried
1 Tbs Goji berries, dried
6 cups water
1 heaping Tbs Black Tea
Whole Milk or Half & Half and Honey to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the tea in a medium sized saucepan and soak for about 15 minutes. Over high heat, allow the mixture to come just to the boiling point, then immediately reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, add tea and replace cover. Steep for 5 minutes, strain and add milk and honey as desired. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Nettles - A True Herbal Friend

Stinging Nettle
(Urtica dioica)

I’m thinking that this series of articles aught to be renamed “Weeds to Know” for the fact that most of them are written to clear up the horrible slander imposed on our leafy green friends. I am in love with Nettles. Some call it “Seven-minute-itch” for the itchy rash the plant’s stinging hairs cause on the skin; this rash is quickly cleared up by applying the crushed leaves of curly dock, plantain, jewelweed or violet. An old rhyme is a reminder of the cure for nettle-itch: “Nettle in, Dock out. Dock rub Nettle out!” Many people avoid it like the plague while out hiking, but most folks aren’t even aware of it at all. This is heartbreaking because Nettles are the most fabulous remedy for seasonal allergies, make a delicious herbal tea, are a fantastic cooked green vegetable, have sturdy fibers for making superior cloth and rope, and are really gorgeous (in my opinion). No kidding, I am in LOVE with Nettles!!!!

Okay, okay, so they sting a little. This is due to the small amounts of formic acid in the tiny glass-like stinging hairs found all over the leaves and stem of the plant. Once these beautiful greens are cooked, dried, or cut and stored in the refrigerator for a day or so, they lose their venom. Some people claim to never get stung by them at all; according to Stalking Wolf, a legendary Apache scout and medicine man (known to the fans of Tom Brown Jr.’s books as Grandfather), if you show no fear and talk to them, the nettles won’t sting you. I sing songs of gratitude to the nettles when I pick them and I don’t fear them, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing gloves…just in case!!

The sting isn’t even all bad; people have used the topical application of the stinging plant (called urtication) to treat arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatism and numbness. It was often used by warriors to encourage circulation in order to help keep them warm in cold, damp environments or to keep them awake if need be. According to the Doctrine of Signatures which shows us how the “personality” of a plant will dictate its uses, the stimulating effect of Nettles on the skin reflects its invigorating effect on the internal organs. It has been long used as a spring tonic that jump starts the organs and promotes energy after a long winter’s rest or general fatigue. It is very helpful for stimulating the thyroid, libido and the brain, encouraging hair growth and building tissue strength. It removes old, stagnant mucous, uric acid, stones and other wastes from the body while improving liver function and regulating metabolism. It’s like an herbal “kick-in-the-pants.”

As a potherb, Nettles easily rivals spinach in taste, texture and nutrition. It has very high protein content for a vegetable- up to 24%, plus significant amounts of iron, silicon, potassium and other minerals, as well as heart-healthy fats, chlorophyll, vitamins A, B and C. It is best eaten in the spring when the leaves are still tender, but when the leaves are tougher before flowering, cut the plant tops on an arid day after the dew evaporates to hang dry for nutritious teas… you may even be rewarded by tender new growth for another chance at a culinary treat. Its flavor pairs well with eggs, leeks, mushrooms, goat cheese and potatoes, and when combined all together, make a savory quiche. You could also opt to make a creamy nettles soup, or saute with garlic, mushrooms and white beans for a hearty side dish.
 Nettles tea is also delicious; it’s like a meal in a cup. Medicinally, this is the best form to take it in, other than freeze-dried capsules. I have often prescribed Nettles for all types of allergies, including some types of dermatitis. Nettles taken medicinally naturally decongests the sinus, opens the lungs to stop wheezing asthma and shortness of breath, and acts as an expectorant. It helps rashes that are red and itchy; it’s especially helpful for eczema that causes fingers to swell.

Nettle has an impressive record. It is frequently and successfully used for the treatment of gout, gangrene, chronic cystitis, dysentery and various ulcerations and is recommended in the treatment of tumors and cancer. In cases of “Blood Heat” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where blood appears inappropriately in the stool or urine, nettles controls bleeding when taken internally; the juice or powder is applied topically, as with nosebleeds or bleeding hemorrhoids.

For women, nettles can also be used to promote the menses, for excessive menses, post-partum hemorrhage, or in a formula for bleeding associated with endometriosis. Wise women will also find it to be a useful galactagogue when nursing, helpful for regulating milk when weaning a child and supportive for building blood post partum or in cases of anemia. It is also valuable in the treatment of leucorrhea, edema and various types of urinary dysfunction.

Men need not feel left out, the root is effective for prostate health; the high amount of sterols improves the white blood cell count, which in turn reduces infection and inflammation of the prostate. As a remedy for alopecia, comb in nettles juice daily and wash the hair with nettles tea. If you’re brave enough, urtication of the scalp stimulates the follicles and is sure to impress the ladies as well!

Though often associated with simple country folk, nettles was prized as a home remedy, as food or beverage (including the famous nettles beer), for its strong rope and waterproof netting and rivaled flax in durability and smoothness for linens and cloth. It was cut and added to fodder for all manner of livestock to improve their coats, their health, milk production in heifers and egg production in fowl, and it made all the animals fatter and happier.

Each year, I gather shopping bags of these goodies to feed my family, friends and give away to clients. I harvest a lot, and I always think that there will be plenty dried to last over the winter for tea. That almost never happens; come February, there is never a surplus. Imagine my delight when I discovered  two new patches in the fields around the property that were only a small handful of plants last year. Now I will certainly be able to gather enough to eat AND dry!!!

Did I mention that I am in LOVE with Nettles? I hope that you, gentle reader, will find some to strike up an affair with and then, you too, will fall head over heels.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Lady's Mantle - Green Alchemist

Lady’s Mantle
(Alchemilla vulgaris)

A beautiful addition to any spring garden is Lady’s Mantle. Her large furry leaves provide a lovely spreading ground cover with a moderate height of 12 inches or so, while her chartreuse flowers provide a gorgeous contrast to many other perennial blooms. The common name “Lady’s Mantle” refers to this herb’s affinity for women’s health, while the Latin moniker makes reference to the “alchemy” that the leaves display as they cradle dew drops like precious diamonds that won’t evaporate for many hours.

Alchemilla’s alchemy doesn’t stop there; the way that the leaves hold droplets of water is in fact a “Signature” for some of the herb’s most valued functions. Although Lady’s Mantle is not a diuretic, it has the ability to pull excess water from the tissues in such a way as to be described as “vaporization.” Again, the words that describe her functions, like her formal name, imply a magical quality. Alchemists once classified this quality as Mercurius (or mercury), one of the three foundational substances in the Universe. The first substance, Salis (or salt) refers to the physical aspect of the body as well as integrity and character; the second, Sulphur is the life force or Qi that provides the animate and passionate aspect of our existence, while Mercurius is much more esoteric: it is the very Essence of Being.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the aspect of Essence, called Jing, is governed by the Kidneys and is a quality that we inherit at birth. Essence defines our sexual potency, regulates our development and carries our genetic and hormonal blueprints. Essence is found at the Ming Men (The Gate of Life-located just below the kidneys, in the center of the body, behind the navel), and provides a basis for the alchemical processes, including the vaporization of its vital energy that supports the body, mind and soul and gives us our personal identity. To quote Matthew Wood in The Book of Herbal Wisdom, “Lady’s Mantle must correspond to processes which encourage cohesion on the surface of the droplet and prevent vaporization, while at the same time…it must possess the ability to refine and distill fluids into their most subtle expression or ‘essence.’”

Like many members of the rose family, its value often centers on its benefits as a women’s herb, in particular to the urogenital organs. Lady’s Mantle not only helps to balance the menses and alleviate premenstrual tension, cramps or pain, but also relieves symptoms associated with menopause. Alchemilla will stop hemorrhage, excess bleeding, and discharges; for leucorrhea, preparing a decoction of the leaves (boiling in water) provides the remedy with more concentrated tannins that astringe secretions and halt discharges. A douche prepared from a decoction cooled to body temperature would also be appropriate. This particular usage of the herb (taken orally or vaginally) is also quite effective for the treatment of Candidiasis.

An infusion of the leaves is used to support the uterus in cases of prolapse as well as for traumas such as miscarriage, abortion, IUD’s, surgeries or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. (To prepare an infusion, pour boiling water over the herb and steep for about 20 minutes.) Strengthening the uterus is particularly desirable when there is difficulty conceiving or in cases of habitual miscarriage. Because Lady’s Mantle is a uterine stimulant, it is contraindicated during pregnancy except during the last trimester when it is used to prepare the womb for birth; it can also facilitate labor.

Lady’s Mantle has great worth to post-partum women because of her ability to heal and tone tissues. Taking the herb internally as an infusion or adding the infusion to a soothing bath is a great way to enjoy her beneficial properties. In folk medicine her fame included the capacity to restore a mother’s figure, even by providing a lift for sagging breasts! Reestablishing tissue integrity and strength is her primary gift to women, and Alchemilla does it incredibly well; her reputation for restoring virginity (!) by healing a torn hymen is probably not exaggerated.

Healing damaged tissues is not limited to the reproductive organs however; Lady’s Mantle has been known to repair perforated eardrums in record time. When used with Shepherd’s Purse, she has shown wonderful results in the treatment of hernias and various prolapses, including varicosities. As an adjunct treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Sprue or Graves, Alchemilla can help repair damage to the intestinal lining, reduce inflammation and dry up diarrhea.

Historically, Alchemilla was mostly used as a vulnerary because she can clean the site of injury, is a good infection fighter, promotes new tissue growth and can help stop bleeding. The accordion-like folds on the leaf are a reminder of her ability to “pull together” a wound and tighten up the tissues. Healing torn muscles is within her range of abilities and adding strength to muscles – including the heart – is another reason her value to humankind is not to be underestimated. Many herbalists will prescribe a tincture of Lady’s Mantle to MS patients to help invigorate weakened muscles and ease pain.

Alchemilla contains salicylic acid, a well-known ingredient found in aspirin, making her particularly helpful for injuries with pain. She’s also effective when applied topically to bruises, or infused in oil and applied to painful joints or gout. Taken internally, Lady’s Mantle will help to maintain our delicate salt/fluid balance and improve the integrity of membranes and cell walls, thereby increasing the transportation of nutrients within the body. Once again, this is evident by the way the droplets of water perch upon her leaves.

From a spiritual and emotional standpoint, Lady’s Mantle also offers many personally enriching qualities. Cellular integrity translates to personal integrity, poise and refinement. She provides a shield of psychological protection and once you’ve formed a bond with her, you’ll emanate a sphere of positive influence to the world around you. Cultivating our relationship to the sacred feminine embodies creativity, sensuality, and divinity in the process of nurturing our relationship to the inner child, matron and crone. From that space of compassion, we can accesses the personal power necessary to release the pain from old wounds and support the development of our most radiant self.

It’s not surprising then to know that the dew collected from her leaves would be added to beauty tonics and lotions, or that Alchemists would place a high value upon this precious dew for the longevity tonics they would create. Once upon a time, people would stuff their pillows with the fresh or dried leaves to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep and gardeners would plant this beauty to encourage the faeries to live in their gardens as well. How we have managed to stray so far from these spirit-supporting beliefs in the name of scientific “progress” is beyond my understanding. Much like the sound of music finally penetrating the ears of someone who has been deaf since childhood, our journey home to the gentle heart of the Earth will be a certain balm to all our souls.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level III Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.