Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ginkgo: More Than A Memory

Maidenhair Tree
Ginkgo biloba

Almost everyone has heard about Ginkgo’s ability to improve memory, but this beautiful tree has a long history of medicinal and epicurean use. In fact, the Ginkgo predates human existence on this planet; it is a living fossil. The species that we know today has been in existence for 160 million years! During the last Ice Age, it was very nearly extinct, but somehow a few of these magnificent creatures managed to survive in Eastern China. Thousands of years ago, Taoist and Buddhist monks, expert gardeners and finely tuned to the natural environment, recognized the power of Ginkgo biloba and planted them on their temple grounds. These revered trees were tended lovingly at their sacred sites so that the species, already rare, would not be lost forever. These monks saved the life of the Ginkgo.

China introduced the Ginkgo to its neighbors in Japan and Korea, where it was adopted and treasured as well; the Ginkgo thrived throughout Asia. In 1712, European scientists “rediscovered” the Maidenhair tree in China after believing that it had died out long before. In their excitement, trees were cultivated widely and Ginkgo became quite popular all over Western Europe. Its hardiness is evident when one pauses to consider this amazing fact: the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 decimated all life except for four Ginkgo trees, one of which was located only .7 miles from the epicenter of the blast. All four of those trees blossomed as usual the following spring, and ever since these particular Ginkgos have been considered especially sacred, representing hope, indomitable spirit and World Peace. Today there are still many trees in Japan that are over one thousand years old and many elder trees exist in Korea including the famous “Snake Tree” in Seoul.

Its strength, tenacity and dignity are indicative of its power as a medicinal, particularly for the elderly. The leaves of the Ginkgo have recently come into vogue as the latest and greatest “fad” remedy for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The leaves of the Ginkgo contain Ginkgolides, an allergy-controlling compound unique to this “time-traveler,” and what has been classified as a Platelet Activating Factor (PAF), which inhibits blood cells from sticking to each other, thereby improving circulation. In particular, micro-circulation and circulation to the brain is enhanced which increases cognition, memory and focus. Improved circulation to the head has other benefits as well: hearing, eye dis-ease, tinnitus, vertigo, senility, mood and social ability have all been shown to benefit from the use of Ginkgo supplementation. This blood moving effect applies to the rest of the body too; arthritis, rheumatism, peripheral blood circulation, varicosities, leg cramps and various pains have shown marked improvement in various studies of Ginkgo leaf. It is also helpful as a uterine stimulant and for the treatment of arteriosclerosis: it increases coronary and capillary circulation, lowers cholesterol, relieves chest pain and pressure, disperses clots and is a powerful antioxidant.

When preparing remedies from the raw herb, gather the leaves in autumn as they begin to turn, otherwise they are too tannic to use. Ginkgo should be decocted for no longer than twenty minutes; the leaves can also be tinctured for longer storage. To prepare the nuts in a decoction, keeping the shell on will balance the mild toxicity of the seed. Ginkgo is available in all health food stores; most research has been conducted on preparations containing a 24% concentrated leaf extract taken at a 40mg dose, three times daily for a minimum of 3 months. It is not recommended that Ginkgo be used in high doses or long-term, it is powerful and must be respected

The Ginkgo speaks of endurance and long life, it is beset by no disease or insect, for any that may once have plagued her, have long been extinct. It grows slowly and takes three human generations to mature, but can attain the height of 100 feet and its trunk can reach three feet in diameter. The leaves are unusual; they form a ribbed fan shape, notched in the middle. This shape reveals its origins long ago when it diverged from the conifers and its needles fused together to become a leaf. The tree divides itself into two sexes, the male has barely noticeable flowers that appear in early spring, and the female produces a small apricot-colored fruit in the fall. The fruit is somewhat toxic and foul-smelling, but beneath its putrid flesh is a valued treasure: the ginkgo nut.

The ginkgo nut has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years for the treatment of lung disorders and “Damp” conditions (as classified in Traditional Chinese Medicine). Ginkgo has the ability to dilate the bronchia and blood vessels and is used for coughs with easily expectorated thick phlegm, asthma and wheezing. It is also used for other “Damp” type conditions such as urinary problems with turbidity, incontinence and/or frequent urination. Ginkgo nuts are antifungal and antibacterial, considered to be somewhat astringent, slightly sedative and are a frequent addition to TCM formulas treating urinary and bronchial ailments as well as dis-eases of the reproductive organs.

Considered a delicacy for thousands of years, the ginkgo nut remains today a sought after treat that is rarely found in stores or on restaurant menus…they are immediately gobbled up by those lucky enough to have laid claim to a nearby female Ginkgo tree! In the fall, the most opportune time to gather the ripe fruit is right after a storm knocks most of them to the ground. Arrive early, as you may find that you have some stiff competition from other Ginkgo nut lovers! Since the flesh of the fruit has a scent similar to vomit and causes dermatitis in about one out of fifty people, it is best to clean the nuts with a pair of gloves on, right at the base of the tree. Prepare them as soon as possible, they won’t last more than a few days in the refrigerator, but once they are cooked they can be preserved by freezing. They should be roasted in their shell –stirred occasionally- in a 275 oven for twenty-five minutes before enjoying. Low in fat and high in protein, ginkgo nuts are rich, tender, savory and delicious when prepared properly. Very rarely, adverse reactions such as headache or digestive disturbance have resulted when too many Ginkgo nuts are consumed, so use restraint and don’t gorge yourself on them.

The famous German poet Goethe wrote this heart-felt tribute to Ginkgo which links the hollowed tree with the harmonious philosophy of Taoism:

This leaf from a tree in the East,
Which has been entrusted to my garden,
Reveals a secret meaning,
Which pleases those who know.

Is it one living creature
Which has divided itself?
Or are these two, which have decided,
That they should be as one?

To reply to such a question, I found the right answer:
Don’t you feel in my songs and verses
That I am One and Two?

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 Master Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over twenty years. She is available by appointment. HerbaLisl.com
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email LislMeredith@hotmail.com if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Angelica: She is Royalty

(Angelica archangelica)

When you come upon a mature Angelica in flower, you will feel it deep within your soul. She is a queen: magnificent, glorious, elegant and stately. Growing from six to nine feet in height, she will hold court in your garden while every favorable insect within 5 miles will seek out her enormous globe shaped flowers to pollinate. Her flower umbels are her crown and she wears them with pride; her gown, a full skirt of large green foliage that sweeps the ground. Angelica’s stalk can be several inches around, giving the appearance of permanence, strength and power…but her stalk, however solid it may appear, is hollow; that is the essence of her spirit’s medicine.
Her stalks create a tube from her base to her crown, and if you take the time to be still in her presence, you will feel that tube within your own body become filled with her energy. Many times I have brought my clients out to our resident Angelica in order to receive her strength and every time their experience was described in similar terms. “I felt like the hollowness inside me was finally being filled up.” “I became intensely aware of my grief and loss, and then felt a soothing presence, a balm to my soul.” “I feel rooted, strong and powerful. I can stand in my space and hold it with loving compassion.”

Hollow stalks, from the perspective of plant spirit medicine, are a signature for some of the plants that assist with journeys to other planes of existence. Angelica’s association with angelic realms is apparent in her name and she has been closely linked to Archangel Michael for centuries. Legend states that during the time of the Plague, an Archangel appeared with the message that Angelica would help to ward off the illness. Over the course of time, people have continued to draw upon her authority to dispel evil spirits or “bad vibes.”

Angelica has been one of the most important herbs utilized worldwide throughout history. The genus Angelica consists of several species used medicinally: Angelica archangelica, imported from Europe and usually cultivated; A. atropurpurea, native to the eastern US; A. sylvestris, its wild European cousin, A. glauca, popular in India’s Ayurvedic tradition; and A. sinensis, commonly known as the important Chinese herb, Dang Gui. The Chinese and Ayurvedic varieties have much more tonifying qualities than their western relatives, but all are considered warming, stimulating and transformative, as well as potentially causing photosensivity.

The varieties of Angelica that were made the most famous throughout Asia and India are beneficial to the Blood and nourishing to the Yin. The Ayurvedic herb “Choraka” and the Chinese herb “Dang Gui” are considered to be female tonics used to regulate the menses, restore the body to balance post-partum, ease the transition through menopause and to build Blood if there is anemia. The dense “head” of the root is more Blood building, while the root “tails” are more effective for moving the Blood.

Angelica sinensis is found in a vast number of Traditional Chinese formulas that affect the Blood; whether for trauma and injury or female reproductive imbalances, Dang Gui is rarely used outside the context of a carefully constructed formula. Although it is occasionally an ingredient in some remedies prescribed during pregnancy, like all Angelicas, its strong blood stimulating effects makes it absolutely contraindicated during pregnancy, unless under the alert supervision of a qualified practitioner.

Classified as pungent, warm, bitter-sweet, Angelica archangelica is a wonderful carminative that dispels gas, bloating and colic. Transformative properties make her helpful for many mucolytic conditions and congestion. She “opens the pipes” for respiratory ailments, such as wheezing, asthma, chronic colds and coughs. Those with vascular stagnation can also profit from the regular use of Angelica, as she can help move and circulate blood to the periphery, easing rheumatic and arthritic complaints.

Diaphoresis, used judiciously in the presence of a pathogen can help protect the body from attack; sweating was once used universally to cure disease during the early stages of pathogenic invasions. Being diaphoretic, Angelica possesses the ability to push a pathogen out of the body through the pores and to defend against contagions. It’s no small wonder that she was such a valuable asset during the time of the plague.

The Angelica essence used in medicinal-grade aromatherapy is also warming and stimulating to the body while relaxing to the mind. Her application helps to increase the production of white blood cells, balance the hormones and calm spasms. A few drops can make all the difference when a migraine headache begins! The Angelica essential oil that I am blessed to be using has facilitated the profound connection I now share with the spirit of this heavenly herb.

Angelica has a warm, aromatic and rich fragrance and its flavor has notes of Juniper, Fennel, Parsley and Pepper. As a culinary herb, the stems of Angelica are candied and applied as a stylish decoration to cakes and pastries. Her seeds add a unique spiciness to the flavor of baked goods, meats, and liquors; her distinctive and pungent taste is found in vermouth and coupled with Juniper berries for making gin. Angelica is actually the secret ingredient used to flavor muscatel grapes in some wines and continues to be a popular cultivar throughout France.

Typically classified as a biennial (meaning that the flowering stalk appears in its second year of growth), Angelica is anything but typical, as you will come to realize if you cultivate a relationship with her. When Angelica finally gathers the strength enough to flower, her tightly curled flower heads begin to emerge from the dense bush of foliage she has created. As the protective sheath wrapping the burgeoning treasure start to unfurl, each flower bud of the umbel seems to enthusiastically release itself from the constraints of her leafy vestments and rejoice at newly found freedom.

As you develop your relationship with Angelica, you too will feel like shedding your old worn-out emotional garments and shine wholly from a place of personal sovereignty. You will come to rule yourself with ease and confidence, and your poise will attract the people and situations that are beneficial to your path. This is Angelica’s gift to you.


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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ginseng: How Well Do You Know Her?

(Panax ginseng)
Everyone has heard of Ginseng. Many people think they already know it, but despite the fact that there is more folklore written about Ginseng than any other herb in history, it is one of the least understood yet widely used herbal remedies available today. Ginseng has gained popularity among American consumers in the last decade or so for its energy-boosting properties as well as its reputation for being a male performance tonic. When taken appropriately, this would be an accurate description of some of its benefits; however, many people, not fully enlightened about when to take it or not, consistently misuse it (and its close relatives) only to their detriment.

The name Panax comes from the Greek “panacea” meaning “all-healing” and originated from China where its history stretches back over 7,000 years. In pinyin it is called Ren Shen (or Jen Shen) and most translations simply put it as “man-root” because the shape of the root resembles the form of a human. The Chinese name can be literally translated to mean “a crystallization of the earth’s essence in the form of a man,” which more closely honors its revered place in herbal medicine. It has been said that Ginseng would be found where lightning hits a clear spring because the alchemy of Earth, Water and Fire created the sacred plant.

Ginseng has been more highly valued than any other plant in history. Once it would have fetched its weight in gold and up to 250 times its weight in silver. One Chinese emperor paid the equivalent of $30,000 for a single root; in Moscow, a Ginseng root worth more than $25,000 is on display at the permanent agriculture exhibit. The wild Ginseng, which has always been very rare, is considered the most precious and valuable. Wars were fought for control of forested regions known to be inhabited by the cherished Ginseng, bandits frequently hijacked Ginseng hunters, lives were lost in the pursuit of the financial rewards that an exceptional specimen could fetch. It’s interesting to ponder the duality of a plant that can both enhance the essence of our being and seduce our shadow selves as well.

Emperors and royalty were not the only consumers of Ginseng; aging common men would purchase the best Ginseng root they could afford and judiciously decoct small pieces of the herb for an occasional tonic to bring good health and promote longevity. Another way they conserved the costly root was to tincture it in brandy and eek out small sips from time to time, serving modest portions only to their most honored guests.

Spiritual masters and sages have always been enamored by the spirit of Ginseng too; it has been said that ginseng was not discovered by man, but that man was found by Ginseng. The spirit of Ginseng was considered to be exceptionally friendly and helpful, especially to the downtrodden. One Korean legend tells of a man who was in the last days of a fatal illness and his loyal son prayed night and day for a cure. When the boy at last fell asleep, exhausted from his constant vigil, Ginseng appeared to him in a dream and showed him precisely where to locate it. After drinking the decoction his son had prepared, the man made a complete recovery.

The legends accurately describe the qualities of Ginseng; it has a strong ability to increase endurance, dispel fatigue and promote longevity. As an alterative, it can adapt to the body’s specific needs and adjust metabolism to its optimal functioning. Known as the “King of Tonics,” Ginseng soothes mental, emotional and physical stress and aids in recovery from chronic illness, weakness and deficiency. Panax can help maintain vitality and peak physical health, as well as enhance athletic performance. It is also known to be an aphrodisiac, so it will enhance amorous performance as well. Taken for depression, Ginseng can help to smooth out emotional stressors and surprisingly, it has also been prescribed for some types of insomnia, especially when associated with nervous exhaustion. When the body requires sleep, the ginsenosides in the herb mimic the body’s natural anti-stress hormones and act as a sedative.

Panax Ginseng is a whole body strengthener; it helps to improve immune functioning and to build Qi (vital energy), thereby improving all systems. By improving Lung Qi, Ginseng will help with shortness of breath, wheezing and difficulty breathing caused by exertion. By improving Spleen Qi (the energy that supports vitality and digestive functions), Ginseng will help improve the appetite, restore vigor, arrest chronic diarrhea and prolapses, as well as dispel abdominal bloating. As a hepatic and cardiac tonic, Ginseng helps to improve circulation throughout the entire body, normalize blood pressure and is even used in some cases of anemia because of its ability to nourish the blood.

Ginseng is frequently used in the treatment of diabetes because it helps to reduce blood glucose levels significantly. Some studies have shown lasting results up to two weeks after the herb was discontinued. For moderate cases of diabetes, marked by lassitude and pronounced thirst, Ginseng improves symptoms, increases fluids and its proper use can often lead to lowered insulin dosages. Blood cholesterol levels also show pronounced improvement with appropriate dosages of Ginseng, therefore showing promise for the prevention of heart disease.

Ginseng is considered a very “Yang” herb and is not prescribed for individuals showing signs of heat or excess such as inflammation, a red face or a flushed and ruddy complexion, as well as most types of migraine headaches or exaggerated dizziness. Caution should absolutely be used when treating any person with high blood pressure, and Ginseng is rarely prescribed to pregnant women. The proper dose ranges from 1-9 grams depending on a person’s weight and requirements; interestingly, regular dosages tend to be stimulating, whereas large dosages can be more sedative. Ginseng has a low toxicity; however overdosages can lead to headaches, insomnia, palpitations and raised blood pressure (an antidote for raised blood pressure is mung bean soup). The effects of Panax Ginseng are compromised by tea (Camellia sinensis) and turnips, and although it is not recommended that Ginseng be taken with alcohol, it can help with intoxication.

The name Ginseng is associated with many of its related and some non-related species, causing confusion about its usages. Even the one name Panax Ginseng can refer to either Red Ginseng, which is steamed in its processing, giving it a red color and a hard, shiny surface; or White Ginseng, which is sun-dried and has a whitish-yellow hue. Although Eleutherococcus senticosus (formerly Acanthopanax senticosus) is not a true Panax, it is also known as Siberian Ginseng; it is similar to Panax Ginseng but considered to be even stronger and less heating.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is antirheumatic and reduces inflammation; it can be a helpful addition to Lyme disease treatment protocols when there is migrating joint pain and fatigue. It is often used for convalescence, menopause and in geriatrics, as well as short term stress to the body, mind and spirit. Because it increases the appetite, improves energy, and enhances the immune system, herbal practitioners prescribe it as an adjunct treatment for cancer patients to assist in recovery after chemotherapy and radiation. In fact, in 1986 it was given to people who had been exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals at Chernobyl.

Eleuthero (called Wu Jia Pi in pinyin) boosts endurance, allowing the body to withstand extreme temperatures and conditions; astronauts take it to cope with weightlessness, students use it during challenging exams, and athletes utilize it to considerably ramp up performance levels and stamina. Siberian Ginseng stimulates virility, more so than Panax, and is useful for impotence and premature ejaculation. Because Eleuthero is so potent, it should be used responsibly; it is seldom given to women or appropriate for men under the age of forty and is prescribed for no more than 3-6 weeks at a time. As with Panax Ginseng, it is not advisable to take a higher-than-recommended dose or combine it with caffeine.

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a bittersweet tonic that is also similar to its cousin Panax Ginseng, but tends to be more Yin in nature. Its particularly nourishing for women and more gentle for children, the elderly or the infirm. American Ginseng was known as powerful medicine to Native Americans and popular in the Ozarks and Appalachia where ‘seng hunters would sell the valuable specimens to Asian traders for a hefty fee. Today, American Ginseng is endangered, and wild plants should be left alone; the United Plant Savers provides resources and instruction to reintroduce this precious herb back into the environment, for it not only enhances human health, it also has a positive impact on its natural environment. Cultivated American Ginseng is grown in Canada and the US, notably in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and tends to be rather costly.
Panax Pseudo-ginseng is called san qi or tienchi in Chinese and is considered nearly identical, if not completely identical to another herb called Panax Notoginseng. It is a true Panax, but has completely different qualities than the Panax Ginseng or Panax quinquefolius varieties. The main ingredient in a famous Chinese patent herbal formula named Yunan Bai Yao, Pseudo-Ginseng strongly stops bleeding –both internally and externally- and was used extensively on wounded soldiers in the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Other herbs have earned the name “ginseng” because they too are powerful adaptogens, but they are completely unrelated species. The scope of this article cannot begin to explore their individual uses, however it may be useful to recognize them by name as helpful herbal tonics when your practitioner prescribes them for you. 

Southern Ginseng (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is an antioxidant and tumor inhibitor that is associated with immortality…well, at least longevity; it is also called Jiaogulan.

Peruvian Ginseng (Lepidium meyenii), better known as Maca Root, is considered a super-food that enhances sexual vitality and increases endurance. Many health food stores offer the root powder to add to smoothies as a highly nutritious dietary supplement.

Prince Ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla) is called tai zi shen in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is known as a diverse remedy for the lungs; it enhances immune functions and treats asthma, tumors, emphysema and various chronic respiratory ailments.

In Ayurvedic medicine, Indian Ginseng (Withania somnifera) is more often referred to as Ashwagandha -meaning “horse smell” in Sanskrit- and is known as an overall harmonizer for all stages of life promoting vitality, fertility and sexual arousal.

Brazilian Ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata) is the root of a South American vine better known as Suma that increases endurance, balances hormones, restores libido, boost the immune system and is believed to inhibit cancer.

Alaskan Ginseng (Oplopanax horridus) is actually a related Panax species that is more commonly known as “Devil’s Club” or “Devil’s Walking Stick” and had been used for generations as a nutritious food and a medicine for tumors. Today it is showing promise in the treatment of adult-onset diabetes and Tuberculosis, but it too is becoming progressively more rare in the wild.

It takes at least four years for a cultivated ginseng to mature and it is preferable to allow them 6-7 years before they are harvested. The older the root, the more potent its healing powers; a German ginseng expert claims to have found a Ginseng in the wild that was over 400 years old. Unfortunately, Ginseng is becoming increasingly endangered due to its demand, so it is even more important that people use it wisely and respectfully. Even the so-called “ginsengs” of varying species are becoming more scarce, so please understand the circumstances when it is most appropriate to take these potent adaptogens, do not take them longer than necessary and better yet, help to reintroduce these wonderful medicines back into the wild for our future generations.

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