Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Myrrh's Bitter Tears of Sacrifice

(Commiphora myrrha)
From the seemingly barren lands of the Far East grows a thorny tree that has shaped the nature of our civilization. The desire for Commiphora myrrha created trade routes throughout Asia and Europe, introduced new herbs and spices to the West, advanced knowledge of traditional medicines and ancient healing methods as well as promoted vast cultural exchange that has made us who we are today. Myrrh was frequently used in ancient cultures as an embalming agent; it was also burned to help cover the odor of decay. Frankincense was often paired in the offering of incense, as the sweet high notes of Boswellia beautifully counter the dark, acrid tones of the Myrrh.

The resin is still gathered in the same way that it has been done for thousands of years; after deliberate cuts are etched into the trunk of the tree, tears of resinous sap begin to ooze from the wounds as the sacred tree seeks to heal itself. After allowing these small reddish-brown nuggets to gather and harden for a couple of weeks, collectors return to reap their harvest. Today the best quality Myrrh comes from Yemen, Somalia and Eastern Ethiopia, although related species such as C. momol and C. gileadensis (also known as Balm of Gilead) are grown in Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

Another member of the Myrrh family is referred to as bdellium, and although there is a bit of confusion as to its correct nomenclature (C. wightii, C. africana or C. stocksiana), this so-called “Indian Myrrh” is generally regarded as being inferior to true Myrrh. This species can be referred to by a trade name “guggul”, from the Sanskrit gulgulu, and has recently received a bit of attention for its potential cholesterol lowering properties. In Ayurvedic medicine guggul is used for a variety of imbalances, particularly those involving circulatory disorders.

True Myrrh also has a long history of use in ancient therapeutic practices; in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is prescribed for issues pertaining to painful obstruction or traumatic injury and taken internally in small doses or applied topically. Mo Yao, literally translated as “bitter medicine” is considered to be an excellent remedy to move Blood, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and promote healing. Because it is so effective for moving blood, it is absolutely contraindicated during pregnancy.

Due to their mutually complementary actions on traumatic injury, for most applications Myrrh is generally paired with Frankincense. According to the book Dui Yao: The Art of Combining Chinese Medicinals by Philippe Sionneau, Bernard Cote and Bob Flaws, “One tends to rectify the blood; the other to rectify the qi. When these two medicinals are combined together, they complement and mutually reinforce each other. Together, they effectively move the qi and quicken the blood, dispel stasis, free the flow of the viscera and bowels and channels and network vessels, disperse swelling, stop pain, and constrain (weeping) sores and engender muscle (i.e. flesh).”

“Ru Xiang {Frankincense} quickens the blood; Mo Yao breaks the blood.”
-Li Shi Zhen, the Father of Chinese Medicine

The resins and oils of Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Galbanum, Cistus and Agarwood are frequently mentioned in the Bible and other religious texts because they were so exceedingly valued for their medicinal properties. Scientific research has indicated that these highly prized essential oils contain Monoterpenes, Sesquiterpenes, and Phenols; these chemical compounds have been found to help repair damage to the DNA that can lead to certain cancers. Other benefits include strong anti-bacterial components, anti-oxidants and the ability to cleanse the body of toxins, support liver function, balance hormones and bring an overall sense of well-being. Sesquiterpenes directly affect the glands that control our emotions, so using these oils as a personal sacrament could potentially alleviate depression, as well as raise consciousness.

Myrrh is commonly used today to support healthy gums and to treat abscesses of the mouth; in fact, myrrh is often added to mouthwashes and oral hygiene products. Rubbing the soothing, anti-septic oil of Myrrh on your gums stimulates blood flow; I have seen it restore a friend’s inflamed, bleeding gums in a short amount of time, much to his dentist’s approval. Its analgesic qualities also make it ideal for topically applied salves in order to promote the healing of painful ulcerations. A student recently told me that her husband quickly healed his hemorrhoids with an undiluted application of the medicinal-grade essential oil of Myrrh that I had provided for them. (Please note that an essential oil must be of a particularly exceptional quality in order to be applied neat to the skin; inquire with the author for a source.)

Religious references to Myrrh are frequent; in the Old Testament, Moses was given instructions for specially preparing incense that contained rare and precious agents, including Myrrh. The precious oil of Myrrh was used for anointing during sacred ceremony, and was notably used after the crucifixion to prepare Christ’s body for burial. It is even said that a statue of Nicolas, the beloved saint of the Greek Orthodox Church, miraculously bleeds a healing myrrh resin that has cured many pilgrims to the church where it is housed. In Roman Catholic mass, five grains of Myrrh, representing the five wounds of Jesus, are solemnly placed in the Paschal candle to be burned on Easter Sunday.

"All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces,
whereby they have made thee glad." –Psalm 45:8

The deep, rich penetrating bitterness of myrrh was once a luxurious attractant for only the wealthiest of merchants, traders, politicos and priests that could afford to perfume their garments with the resinous bitter scent that announced their authority. Imagine a time long ago where the sinuous fragrance of myrrh, aloes and sandalwood wafted on the air accompanying every layered movement of precious silk and linens. The offering of Frankincense and Myrrh burned upon hot coals carried to heaven not only the prayers of worthy supplicants but also the tears of the thorny trees that bore the precious resin.

"Who is this coming up from the wilderness
Like palm-trees of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
From every powder of the merchant?"
-Song of Solomon 3:6

Perhaps Myrrh is most famous for being one of the gifts of the Magi to the Holy Child in Bethlehem, but biblical references connecting Christ to Myrrh didn’t stop at His birth. One scripture tells that Jesus was offered a goblet of wine spiked with Myrrh on His way to the crucifixion, but He declined to partake of the slightly narcotic drink. We may presume that He intended to fully experience the transcendent sacrifice He was about to make.

“And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.”
–Mark 15:23

Myrrh’s blood-red tears shed from wounds etched in her trunk and used as a sacrament in funerals forever connects her to The Blood of Christ that spilled from His pores as a painful endowment to humanity for the sacredness of life everlasting. If a tree could cry for the dark reign of humanity, certainly throughout the ages, that tree has been Commiphora myrrha. The bitter tears that have been scratched from her flesh year after year caused myrrh to be sold as a commodity valued as highly as gold. Although trade routes were established and cultural exchange thrived as a result of the precious resins and spices of the East, humanity’s brutal hunger for authority and control also managed to exploit these gifts of Creation and bring pain and suffering to the homeland.

Our behavior today is far from improved; our Mother Earth has been ravaged by humankind’s greed, lust for power, and corruption. The scars Gaia bears on her lands and in her oceans is a bitter reminder of the sacrifices that we seem unwilling or unable to make. That we may learn to sacrifice some of our unnecessary desires and honor what is truly sacred is the lesson Myrrh continues to assert for us. We may begin by living from our hearts and acting from a place of compassion and integrity. Embodying love is hardly a sacrifice and saving our species and our home will be our reward.

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for over 20 years.
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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Clove Bud: "C" to the Love

Clove Bud
(Syzygium aromaticum
seu Eugenia aromaticum, E. caryophyllata)

Clove, a commonly known and easily recognized spice is the dried, unopened flower bud of an evergreen tree from the Myrtle (Myrtaceae) family that is native to Indonesia and grown throughout the Middle East. The tree must be at least five years old before it produces the bright pinkish-red flower buds, which are carefully hand-harvested and dried. When one considers the insubstantial weight of a flower bud, it is impressive to consider that a mature tree can produce up to forty pounds of flower buds in a single harvest! Talk about abundance!!

 Like all aromatic herbs and spices, Clove has a long and rich history as an ally of humanity. Originally found on the “Spice Islands” of Indonesia, the indigenous people there once planted the tree to venerate the birth of their children. Each soul was then linked to the health and longevity of the Clove tree, in this way the tree was an honored member of their community. In the 1600’s, the Dutch seized control over the spice trade and began to burn down clove trees that were out of their sphere of direct command; imagine the devastation of discovering that the sacred tree that was linked to your spirit, or that of a loved one had been unceremoniously burned to the ground.

At this time in history, Cloves were worth their weight in gold; the high value placed on the spice was ample temptation for greedy traders to disregard all but their own monetary advantage. However, the trees were eventually so widely planted during the 1800’s by the British that the price came down and Cloves became commonly available. Today, the fact that we can easily obtain an abundance of Clove Bud is testament to the widespread wealth that many westerners enjoy on a regular basis.

The name is derived from the Latin “clavus” which means nail, of which the whole spice bears a striking similarity. The intense flavor of Cloves is as distinct and precise as its namesake and is used in small amounts to enhance cuisines throughout the world. In Mexico, the sweet, hot flavor of “clavos de olor” is blended with cumin, cinnamon and other exotic spices in Abuela’s secret molĂ© recipe. In Germany, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Cloves for the pfeffernuesse, and the Dutch speculaas and the Greek kourambiedes cookies wouldn’t have the same appeal either.
 In France, it is traditional for some cooks to stud an onion with a clove or two and add it to a simmering stock. Of course we can all relate to the holiday ham bedazzled with Cloves and where would pumpkin pie be without Clove’s distinctive pizzazz? Cloves are integral in Indian curries, Chinese five spice blend, mulling and pickling spices and is a surprising ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Cloves are best enjoyed in the autumn and winter; the energetic coziness of this toasty spice brings thermal heat to the core of our body, thereby cooling the surface and harmonizing with colder temperatures.

Medicinally, Cloves have a myriad of uses and has been incorporated in traditional medicines for thousands of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ding xiang is used as a carminative, especially for Cold-type digestion characterized by nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, with cold extremities and pallor. In the same way, its spiciness can transform a cold deep in the chest with an unproductive cough, so long as the mucous is white or clear and there is no fever or signs of heat. Sometimes it is used for morning sickness when combined with ginseng and patchouli; this combination concurrently warms the center, aromatically transforms damp-heavy congestion and nourishes the body.

Cloves are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiseptic; in West Africa they are called Ogun Jedi-jedi, and traditionally have worked quite effectively in the treatment of scabies, cholera, tuberculosis, and malaria. As a vermifuge, cloves -having the added benefit of promoting peristalsis- can be combined with walnut hulls, various Artemesias and other herbs during a case-specific parasite-purge regimen.

Current scientific studies indicate that cloves may help inhibit the herpes virus and shingles. Some practitioners are now incorporating the use of Clove in the treatment of diabetes, as early scientific data suggests that the herb may reduce blood sugar. Some cautions should be taken when working with Clove bud; because it thins the blood, it is contraindicated with blood thinning medications and prior to surgery. Due to its powerfully warming nature, it is not to be given to people with inflammation, or other signs of internal heat. There is some concern about the potential poisonous properties of this pungent prescription, but its toxicity is very low, one would need to consume about a ½ lb of Clove in order to get a lethal dose.

As an aphrodisiac, cloves can stimulate the fire of passion; putting a few drops in a small amount of carrier oil and then sharing the pleasure of massaging this romantic oil on your partner can enhance ardor and excitement. The mildly numbing oil can also be diluted a bit more and applied in small amounts to overly sensitive areas in order to dull amorous sensations and prolong intimate encounters. One old folk remedy for headaches calls for Cloves combined with milk and salt to be applied to the temples, so if your partner is willing, this spicy friend can even take care of “Not tonight, Honey.”

Clove’s numbing effect was once considered an invaluable asset in dentistry before Novocain was commonly used. Clove oil continues to be helpful for toothaches and gum abscess, and due to its efficacy is still very popular for treating dry socket. A rubifacient, Clove can help stimulate circulation of blood, not just to heal problems with the teeth and gums, but also as a helpful addition to liniments for traumatic injury, healing salves for sores, and muscle rubs for cramps, aches and spasms.

The spicy fragrance of Cloves is a desirable commodity even beyond the scope of food and medicine. Cloves, blended with up to 80% tobacco, are smoked in cigarettes called “kretak” in Indonesia. Clove cigarettes, increasingly popular in the west, were recently banned in the U.S., but a loophole currently allows them to be sold as “filtered clove cigars.” The smooth and warmly scented smoke is an even lovelier element in much of the incense burned for religious offerings throughout Asia. Other uses for the spice are even more diverse; Japanese katana swords are polished with mineral oil enhanced by a drop of clove oil. In oil paintings, a tiny bit is used to prevent oxidation of seed oils in the paint during drying.

Pomanders are a popular holiday craft these days but were once used to ward off insects and disease, or to mask unpleasant odors. This simple bit of folk art makes a festive decoration and a cheerful homemade gift.

Holiday Pomander
You will need:
Citrus Fruit (apples and pomegranates also work)
A thin skewer or knitting needle
About a cup of Cloves (with head and “nail” intact)
Powdered spice mixture (cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, etc)

If you wish to hang your pomander, apply masking tape around the fruit where you will tie the ribbon later. Carefully pierce fruit with skewer in a pattern that pleases you, keeping each hole about 1/8-1/4 inch apart; the fruit will shrink as it dries and the holes will get smaller and closer together. Insert Clove buds into each hole, being careful not to crush the delicate crown. Gently roll each decorated fruit in the spice mixture to help preserve it, leave in a dry area and allow it to desiccate. Once it dries, you can tie it with ribbon; if mold forms, compost the pomander, and chalk it up to a learning experience!

Valuable and useful on so many levels, Clove bud naturally has a message not just for the body, but for the soul and the mind. The shape of a Clove bud may remind us of our brainstem; its piquant aroma and fiery flavor seems to pierce our very consciousness, sharpening our collective memories. As we breathe in its penetrating warmth, its heat spreads through our chest, infusing our heart with tenderness and compassion. From this heart-centered perspective we may then C-LOVE as it exists all around us and allow this abundance and generosity to flow through us to our community. The wealth of cloves available to us is without a doubt something to savor and appreciate as a symbol of great prosperity, health, endurance and of course, Love.

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), 
a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. 
Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, 
an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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 or are interested in participating in classes, workshops or retreats.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Black Cumin: Oil of the Ancients

“Let fall these Black Seeds upon you, these contain cure for all diseases except death.”
-The Prophet Muhammad

Although Black Cumin is the moniker that most people in the West know the herb Nigella sativa by, it’s about as closely related to Cumin Seed as Broccoli is to Chamomile. Some of its other names are even more confusing: Black Seed, Black Onion Seed, Black Caraway, Black Sesame, and Roman Coriander., but Nigella sativa is absolutely unrelated to onion, caraway, sesame or coriander. Perhaps the Biblical name “fitch” should make a come back to mitigate the confusion, or we should honor the holier references like “Blessed Seed” or “Herb from Heaven.”
Nigella sativa is a charming plant in gardens; it is approximately 18” tall and adorned with feathery leaves and white blossoms that may sport a bit of pale blue at the tips of the petals. Take note that the popular garden ornamental Nigella damascus (also known as “Love in a Mist”), is a related species, but is not considered medicinal; another relative, N. garidella is considered toxic. Nigella’s seed head is as attractive as her flowers; a balloon-like pod that encapsulates the pale seeds opens in the shape of a five pointed star. The small triangular seeds, covered with fine hair turn a matte black as they dry and mature.

Growers of Black Cumin will harvest large bunches of stalks laden with pods before dawn to keep the dew from settling upon them, and dry them evenly over sheets so that the seeds will be easily gathered when the pods open. Some of the seeds are sown in September to ensure the next year’s crop, while the bulk of the harvest is ground and cold-pressed into oil in the traditional way. Some producers will seek to get more of the final product by extracting the oil with solvents; these chemically treated oils should never be used for healing. Always know your source and do not trust “sale items.” The best oil comes from Egypt, where traditional methods of cold expression have been passed down through generations.

Black Cumin is native to the hot, dry climates of the Middle East, where the herb is so popular that more acreage is devoted to growing the Blessed Seed every year, and families are stockpiling the esteemed herb and its oil. Nigella sativa has a long history of healing human-kind, a reference to its value above wheat is found in the Old Testament, Book of Isaiah. For thousands of years the seed and its oil have been used for health conditions ranging from asthma and allergies to wounds and worms. A vial of the precious seed was found in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamen, presumably to ensure his health in the afterlife.

Black Cumin was frequently praised by the forefathers of modern medicine; In the Cannon of Medicine by Ibn Sina (980-1037) it states, “{Black Cumin}stimulates the body’s energy and helps recover from fatigue or dispiritedness.” Doiscorides used the herb to treat a variety of ailments and Hippocrates particularly favored it for liver and digestive complaints. Modern medicine recognizes that its strong anti-bacterial qualities make Black Cumin effective against Cholera, E. coli, and nearly all strains of Shigella (except S. dysentriae), comparing favorably –and it some instances outperforming- several pharmaceutical antibiotics.

Black Cumin seeds are very nutritious; they contain 35% oil, most of which are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and 21% protein. The EFA’s like Linoleic Acid (LA) and Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) acid help strengthen and maintain cell integrity, heal skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, reduce wrinkles, and heal wounds. My friends and I discovered that Black Cumin Seed Oil (BCSO) makes an amazing sunscreen! To fancy it up a little, we would add a couple of drops of medicinal grade Lavender essential oil (my preference is Spike Lavender). With nothing but this, we have all avoided sunburn, even with our fair skin! Naturally, you will use common sense and not unduly expose yourself to irresponsible amounts of strong sun.

Cleopatra herself used Black Cumin to enhance her beauty and vitality; taken internally or applied topically, the oil encourages smooth skin and a radiant complexion. Try infusing  a half cup of raisins in 8 oz of BCSO for about a week and then take one tablespoon of the mixture daily for beautiful skin. Beauty is not just skin deep however, and BCSO also addresses numerous internal conditions such as lowering blood pressure, improving brain function,  as well as regulating the CNS and activating the immune system.

Since 1960, over 200 university studies have been conducted on the medicinal properties of Black Cumin. A study conducted in India in 1991 found that the herb was 100% effective in preventing the growth of Ehrlich ascites carcinoma, a common form of cancer. The study concluded, “It is evident that the active principle isolated from Nigella sativa seeds is a potent anti-tumor agent, and the constituent long chain fatty acid may be the main active component.”

Immunomodulators in BCSO balance the immune system in order to increase resistance to pathogens, and protect against auto-immune diseases. Studies conducted in 1986 and 1993 concluded that the majority of test subjects given the BCSO displayed a significant increase (up to 72%) in the ratio of helper to suppresser T-cells as well as an improvement of natural killer (NK) cell function. This is profoundly important when it comes to the treatment of various Cancers, AIDS and other auto-immune diseases. When combined with Garlic and administered in normal dosages, the immunomodulatory action rivals that of interferon because there are no side effects from BCSO.

Science has isolated more than one hundred chemical components in Black Cumin including 15 amino acids- eight of which are essential and cannot be produced by the body. Vitamins and minerals such as carotene, potassium, calcium and iron, as well as mono and polysaccharides also contribute to the overall benefits of BCSO. Thymoquinone and other volatile oils in BCSO exhibit strong anti-cancer properties that have been shown to increase apoptosis (programmed cell death) and can effectively suppress leukemia and pancreatic cancer. With the addition of Astragalus, the effect on normalizing white blood cells would be amplified.

One of the volatile oils in BCSO, called Nigellone is a powerful anti-histamine that is excellent for treating seasonal allergies and asthma symptoms triggered by a histamine response.  The active properties of Black Cumin are vasodilating, mucous reducing and relax the airways, making it perfect for the treatment of asthma and chronic bronchitis. Taking a teaspoon of the oil twice daily in hot water or nettles tea and a little raw honey is a delicious way to reduce asthma and allergy symptoms without side effects. When taken long-term, at least 3-6 months, studies have indicated that BCSO can bring  up to 90% improvement in allergy symptoms.

Black Cumin is often used as a culinary herb, and like most herbs found in the kitchen, it has a beneficial effect on digestion. As a carminative, Black Cumin prevents bloating, gas and cramping, as well as relieving diarrhea and vomiting. It’s pedantic effects on the alimentary canal does nothing to decrease the deliciousness of Black Cumin seeds sprinkled on naan, a tasty flatbread from India traditionally baked in a clay oven. Black Cumin seed is also a wonderful seasoning for stews, beans, cabbage and is indispensable when making curries or garam masala.

Add this wonderful, health-promoting seed to your spice cabinet, and don’t forget to include it in your recipes. For even more profound effects on your well-being, ask your herbalist for a bottle of high-quality Black Cumin Seed Oil from Egypt and take a teaspoonful twice a day in tea. The benefits listed in this article barely skim the surface of the numerous advantages that BCSO can give you in the form of Vitality, Vigor, Strength… and oh, did I mention Libido?

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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 or are interested in participating in classes or retreats.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Treating Cold Sores

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) a cold sore is considered to be an expression of excess Heat -generally of the “Liver Channel”. An easy way to understand this classification is to observe the “hot” quality of the sore itself: it has an inflamed, raised, and red appearance and is very painful. Usually these types of sores are located on the lips although they can appear anywhere in and around the mouth. 

Photo by Jef Poskanzer
Prevention of cold sores is simply a matter of keeping a balance of Yin and Yang energies in the body, especially for the Liver channel. Moderation is the key: a diet that includes whole foods and plenty of green vegetables is a good start. Too much sugar, alcohol, fried, spicy, and highly refined foods, greasy or rich and heavy meals on a regular basis creates heat in the body and a lot of work for the Liver and Gall Bladder. Similarly, drugs and pharmaceuticals are processed by the liver, so be conscious of the amount of work that your liver needs to do for you on a daily basis and limit the amount of toxins that it must manage. 

photo by Maxwell GS
TCM also attributes our emotional state to the health of the Liver as well. Too much stress, frustration or anger is a helpful warning that the Liver is overworked, while a genuinely calm and relaxed demeanor indicates the smooth flow of Qi and a relatively balanced Liver. A regular practice such as Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi or Chi Gong helps to ease stress and promotes emotional equilibrium. Frequently taking silent walks in nature provide inner calm and a sense of well being so that we may align with our core self and personal integrity.

I also recommend Black Cumin Seed oil taken internally on a regular basis for clients who are prone to viral outbreaks. It has an overall healing effect on the body, strengthening immune functions, improving digestion and reducing inflammation. The prophet Mohammed once said that Black Cumin cures all illnesses except death.

Treating cold sores once they erupt is simply a matter of balancing the repletion Heat with Cold herbs applied topically as a powder, or herbs to Cool Liver Heat, taken internally. The herb Coptis root (Goldthread), is very helpful for clearing this type of Heat, and is usually combined with other herbs that drain Heat and share its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Huang Lian Jie Du Tang (Coptis Formula to Relieve Toxicity) is the most famous classic Chinese formula suited to this purpose.

Genital sores have the same characteristics and are treated in much the same way, the only difference in the addition of herbs specific for that location. Gentiana is frequently used in TCM for painful sores located in the Lower Burner. The formula Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (Gentiana Drain Fire) is most often the remedy of choice.

Because energetically Cold herbs are difficult to digest, they can cause weakness of the Spleen and an overall deficiency for the body when taken for extended periods of time. These extremely cooling herbs are only taken when there are clear and outward signs of Heat and discontinued as soon as harmony is restored-often within a week.

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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 or are interested in participating in classes or retreats.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mugwort: Contradictions, Dreamtime and Thin Spaces

(Artemisia vulgaris)

A powerful herbal ally, Mugwort is just one of approximately 300 species in the genus Artemisia, named for the goddess Artemis. As the goddess of fertility and childbirth, she was frequently called upon by midwives and new mothers to ease labor; Artemis even delivered her twin brother Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, of the hunt; she is often depicted with her golden bow and quiver accompanied by the Stag.

The goddess is a hunter, a bringer of death, yet a friend to all wild animals; she is the goddess of fertility, yet she herself has remained always a virgin; she is a divine midwife that can ease birthing though she may extinguish the flame of life on occasion. She represents what appears to be opposition in our modern world, but just as Artemis herself presents many seeming contradictions, Mugwort also embodies apparent incongruities when it comes to her medicine.

Like the goddess she was named for Artemisia is associated with the moon and with women’s moon cycles. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this warming, bitter herb is used to stop prolonged menstrual bleeding when the patient is weak, cold and fatigued. “Ai Yi” is also used to calm a “restless fetus” and to prevent miscarriage -again the woman would present with pronounced signs of deficiency, cold and bleeding. Herein lies the apparent contradiction: since the herb has been shown in many studies to stimulate uterine contractions, if you are pregnant, it is unadvisable to use Mugwort in this capacity without a strong understanding of TCM diagnostics.

Here in the West, the herb is used to hasten and promote menses in instances of energetic Cold; the warming qualities of Mugwort will stimulate menstrual blood when it is congealed, slow to start, or if there are cramps that are soothed by warmth and massage. In this case the herb may be taken internally as a tincture or an infusion, or externally a strong tea or its essential oil could be added to a hot bath for a relaxing soak. Although I am a sucker for a comforting bath, when it comes to quick relief of cramps, I sometimes prefer to burn a preparation of dried leaves referred to as moxa in TCM.

Moxa has a strong tradition in TCM, and some resources suggest that burning moxa along the meridians of the body actually predate acupuncture. Moxibustion is the practice of burning Mugwort in order to deliver its deep penetrating heat to various areas of concern, thereby invigorating circulation, easing pain, and releasing constraint. It can loosen cold, stiff, arthritic joints, relieve achy knees, bring comfort to a tired and sore back, is a true blessing for monthly cramps, and is extraordinarily effective for turning a breech baby! It’s no small wonder that Artemisia earned her name and admiration from hunters and midwives alike!

Moxa is prepared by grinding dried Mugwort leaves or by scraping the soft downy fuzz from the underside of them. This fluff can then be compacted into a cigar-like roll and its warming ember of may be hovered over the skin, or it may be rolled into small balls to be burned on the end of an acupuncture needle. Stick-on moxa is placed on acupuncture points with an adhesive and a slightly insulating bit of material that keeps the ember from burning the patient, while allowing the therapeutic heat to reach the site. Some practitioners prefer to compress the loose herb and place it into a specially devised container that can be laid upon the body, or held in skilled hands for more precise work.

When ingested, Mugwort is an effective digestive bitter that was once widely used as a culinary herb to flavor meats and to protect against food-born illnesses and parasites. The entire genus is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the “wormwoods,” and as the name suggests, members of this tribe are effective vermifuges. Mugwort is a powerful anthelmintic, but unlike her brother Wormwood (A. absinthium), she is gentle enough to use with children. Mugwort has been shown to be effective against roundworm and threadworms and has been used for centuries with all parasitic infections.

It seems that the Artemisias are notorious for keeping all undesirable bugs at bay; this genus of herbs is repellant to insects, parasites, as well as a large variety of infectious pathogens. Research has shown A.vulgaris to be antibiotic against Staph, Typhoid, dysentery, Strep, E.coli, and even Pseudomonas-the second most resistant infection in hospitals. The list goes on: pneumonia, salmonella, shigella and even malaria have all been treated successfully with decoctions of Mugwort. Perhaps less impressive than curing malaria, but several changes of fresh, crushed leaves per day for about a week could even cure your warts.

Laboratory studies have isolated the compound Artemisinin as the active component that is antimalarial and can prevent certain types of cancers. Unfortunately, myopic thinking has focused solely on this single ingredient rather than testing the plant as a whole. The results of these limited studies has been less impressive than the clinical work done with the whole plant, but studies are only funded for solitary elements of a plant that could one day be synthesized into drugs and patented. Nature herself is far more adept at creating balanced and effective medicine than even the most learned human could ever hope to create artificially.

Mugwort is close kin to other well-known medicinals like Sweet Annie and Wormwood. Sweet Annie (A. annua) has received much notoriety these days for her ability to treat Lyme Disease. This tall, fragrant garden plant is strongly antispirochetal and has been shown clinically to inhibit Borrelia burgdorferi –the gram negative spirochete that causes the dreaded disease. In Africa A.annua is currently in high demand due to its effectiveness against malaria; it has come to replace quinine as the preferred treatment.

As mentioned above, Wormwood is strong medicine for intestinal parasites; however, this energetically male herb is also the notoriously famed ingredient in the elixir favored by bohemians and artists, Absinthe. Also known as “The Green Fairy,” absinthe became enormously popular with the French after troops were rationed the spirit as a preventative measure against malaria in the 1840’s. Due to its overblown reputation as a hallucinogen, the drink was banned in 1914, and the whole culture that had grown up around the ritualized drinking of this green spirit dissolved like so many sugar cubes.

Perhaps it is not as potent a hallucinogen as the hysteria proclaimed it to be, but there is some truth to Artemisia’s ability to promote a dreamy perspective. Mugwort is commonly used by herbalists and spiritualists to promote lucid dreaming. It is said that if you have trouble remembering your dreams, Mugwort will inspire more vivid and memorable images during sleep. If you have vivid dreams, but would like to have more conscious participation, she will encourage lucidity during dreamtime. For the purpose of inviting visions and dreams during meditation or sleep, Mugwort may be smoked, taken as a tea or tincture, or applied as an essential oil. Some resources even suggest that placing a bundle in your pillowcase will infuse your nights with colorful dreams.

The genus Artemisia is home to many other well-known herbs and shrubs; garden ornamentals such as southernwood and silver mound and the culinary herb French tarragon are her polite domesticated cousins. Even the high desert is home to vast landscapes of Sagebrush (A. tridentada), another well-known and ceremonial member of the Artemesias. Whether utilized as a smudging tool to clear negative energy, used as an insect repellant, taken as a medicine for infectious disease or ingested to promote visions, without contradiction Artemisia is our ally and a powerful gatekeeper for the thin spaces between worlds.

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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 or are interested in participating in classes or retreats.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Earth’s Harvest of Health

We can feel the transition approaching. The days are getting shorter and the crisp scent of fall is in the air. Nights are finally cooler and more comfortable for sleeping. The sound of wood being split punctuates the still air that is sweet with the smell of apples and sawdust.
We’re overwhelmed with the choices available from the garden and the farm stands and frantic to find yet another recipe featuring zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Autumn is approaching. For many this time of year continues to be a favorite for the vast array of culinary choices it offers. It is a time of stocking up our larders and our bodies in order to survive the cycle of death and transition in our natural world.

Ancestrally it was a busy time to finish repairs, chop and stack wood, return from distant travels, preserve the harvest and enjoy the last of the warmer weather before the forced confinement of winter. There was much to be done. Grains needed to be cut, gathered, and dried, winnowed and stored. Whole families would gather in the kitchens of their grandmothers to preserve fruits, pickle a variety of fresh vegetables, dry herbs, and prepare baked goods.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is the time of year corresponding to the Earth element (or more accurately, phase), the time of transition and harvest: late summer. The Earth element encompasses the organs Spleen and Stomach; the sweet foods naturally available to us during this time assist in the optimum functioning of this organ system. The key word would be nourishment, as Earth relates to Mother energy, our center. Stocking up on fruits, nuts, grains, root vegetables, squash, beans and all the rest of the incredible array of seasonal foods provides a layer of protective fat that will help keep us warm and begin the process of moving our energies inward for the long hibernation ahead. Even the animals know this as evidenced by deer raiding our gardens with a passion. The waxing of our girth during this time of year is a tribute to the season’s bounty; it is only natural that we begin to put on a little weight.

We, as a product of Mother Earth, are designed to live in harmony with her seasons. It is no surprise that this time of year offers such a cornucopia of produce. Our grandmothers knew that all of it could and should be preserved to keep us nourished and healthy during the leaner months ahead. Canning, preserving, pickling, and drying, freezing and salt curing all had a place and offered an aspect of necessary nutrition for the winter hibernation. Since refrigeration was not readily available, freezing was done by digging deep caches down to the layer of permafrost. Root cellars were used to keep potatoes, root vegetables, squashes and hearty fruits, such as apples fresh for as long as possible. Even still, canning made more sense once pottery, and eventually glass were commonly available.

Canning often used salt and/or lacto-fermentation to keep the hard-won harvest from spoilage and to increase its nutritional value. The beneficial bacteria available through fermenting foods provide robust health to the individual that consumes it; lactobacilli wards off disease and greatly enhances the immune system by crowding out harmful bacteria. It should be noted that modern and commercial methods of preserving use not whey -a nearly clear liquid obtained by separating soured curds from whole, raw milk- but vinegar, which does not readily provide us with beneficial bacteria and can make our systems more acidic. Simply using salt for canning vegetables is sufficient, the lactic acid will form on its own after sitting for a few days at room temperature and proliferate as the product is stored. A modern consumer can easily strain plain yogurt through cheesecloth to get two products: whey for canning and preserving and delicious yogurt cream cheese.
 Every ancient culture in the world offered a variety of fermented foods including cheese, sausage, preserved meats, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, chutney, relish, wine, beer and more. Most of these were eaten sparingly as condiments to help ensure the best digestion of heavier foods. Even ketchup and mustard were fermented condiments once upon a time. The beneficial and symbiotic bacteria that were once a regular part of our diet increased resistance to disease and warded off pathogenic yeasts; reintroducing lacto-fermented foods to our regular diets will provide a cascade of health benefits, particularly if the produce preserved is fresh, organic and local.

The Earth phase is an excellent time to shake off lethargy and stagnation, use centering practices such as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Ayurvedic breathing exercises to align with the ‘middle path’ often described in Zen or Buddhist teachings. When we become deficient in Earth energy -often described as Qi (vital energy) deficiency or Spleen Qi deficiency in TCM- we lose vitality, our muscles become sore and weak, we may experience shortness of breath, or sweat more easily. Our digestion may become impaired, marked by bloating, flatulence, weight issues, and lack of appetite, nausea or loose stools. A diet of highly refined fats, sugars and flour, processed meats and dairy, especially when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the health and well-being of an individual, in particular their Spleen and Stomach Qi; the Earth element.

Returning to the old ways of storing and preserving the season’s harvest reduces our dependence on the fossil fuels used for refrigeration and the shipping of produce from other climates which ultimately puts us out of balance with out natural circadian rhythms. Being prepared with a stock of nutritious foods would be invaluable during the inevitable power-outages of tempestuous weather. We can reclaim our autonomy and healthy vigor through this sort of self-reliance and the economic advantages will quickly become evident: less trips to the grocery stores that burn expensive fuel, the price of out-of –season factory farmed fruits and vegetables, and the less obvious, but incredible cost to our health. Time spent in unfulfilling leisure activities become time spent with family or friends preserving the harvest and gaining the confidence of self-sufficiency. As a result, we not only enhance and strengthen our own personal Earth element, but we also ensure the vitality of our Mother Earth.

Lisl Meredith Huebner is a Chinese Herbalist nationally board certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), an Auriculotherapist, a certified medicinal Aromatherapist, and is a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. In addition, she is also skilled in a wide variety of energy-healing techniques, has published volumes of articles and photographs espousing the magic of nature and teaches certification classes and workshops on a plethora of modalities and spiritual subjects.
She is available by appointment at her private practice.  
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thy Goldenrod & Thy Staff, They Comfort Me

(Solidago canadensis)

Late each summer we are greeted by a profusion of Goldenrod’s gloriously radiant and cheerful yellow blooms decorating our views in meadows, fields and roadsides. Jovial golden blossoms adorn the sturdy stalks that will never appear alone; vast colonies of this herbal ally will prodigiously populate pastures and paddocks if given half a chance. There are a dizzying variety of species of Solidago; some sources estimate that there are over eighty, while more conservative approximations are about half that figure. Nonetheless, it is notoriously difficult to differentiate members of the genus and although most are medicinal, the variety that is usually referred to in herbalism is S. canadensis.

The enormous plethora of Solidago makes it easy to understand her long-held reputation for generating abundance, luck and love. Astrologically, Goldenrod is assigned to Venus, making her a popular herb for ceremonies to attract true love. Some legends claim that a tea or a bouquet of her flowers will draw your soul-mate to you. Planting it near your front door is said to attract prosperity, and if she volunteers to make a home in your garden, she brings good fortune with her. The most fragrant of the Goldenrod native to New England is S. tenuifolia, more readily distinguished by its many branches of slightly rounded flower clusters; it smells exactly like honey and the bees adore it.

Because her bloom-time is shared with the invisible green flowers of ragweed, poor Goldenrod gets blamed for seasonal allergies, but this is simply untrue. Ragweed has tiny pollen grains that are carried by the wind, grains that are small enough to irritate and inflame sinus tissues; Goldenrod sports a small amount of sticky, large-grained pollen that are exclusively picked up by bees and other pollinating insects, and do not cause allergy symptoms. The irony is that Goldenrod is in fact a helpful remedy for sinusitis and chronic hay fever.

The leaves and flowers are the most helpful part of the plant to use when treating upper-body imbalances such as mouth abscesses, sore throat, scrofula, nasal congestion, cough or asthma; a refreshing tea or a tincture will do the job nicely. The homeopathic dose is effective when treating seasonal allergies or sensitivity to dander –especially feline. The roots of Solidago taken as a decoction or in tincture form are more appropriate to use when treating lower-body or deep-seated imbalances, such as gout, diarrhea, menstrual troubles and kidney or bladder problems. Famed herbalist Nicolas Culpepper wrote, “The decoction also helps to fasten the teeth that are loose in the gums.” This is of particular interest to me because according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys rule the bones and teeth.

Goldenrod is particularly helpful for the Water Element, not only for its diuretic and cleansing effect on the bladder and kidneys; Solidago can help with infections and inflammation as well as stones and gravel. In addition to its heat clearing and soothing properties, Goldenrod is also fortifying; it can help to boost Kidney Qi, the physical energy that governs the organ’s functions, and enrich the Yin, a moistening, receptive, nourishing quality. Solidago can even somewhat nourish the precious “Essence” or “Jing” -the very foundation from which we grow and thrive- that is stored energetically within the Kidneys.

We inherit our Essence from our parents (ultimately all of our ancestors), and we are born with a fixed amount. I like to call this Kidney Essence a “trust fund;” one could spend carefully, budget wisely and save for a rainy day in order to make even a meager inheritance last a long time. Some may be privileged enough to have inherited great genetic riches, but it is quite easy to squander a fortune!

For our body’s daily requirements we utilize energy (Qi) that we receive through food, water, rest, air and relationships (obviously it’s imperative to seek the highest quality in all of these life-sustaining requirements). We use our Essence to fill in the gaps when we can’t rely upon our steady income of Qi and we may never be aware that we are using it. Our Kidneys also help to process our emotional toxins, so when we experience extreme stress, frayed nerves, repressed or excessive emotions and cease to take proper care of ourselves, our inheritance gets spent.

This is where the spiritual and energetic benefits of Goldenrod can help us the most. The name Solidago means “to make whole” which not only refers to her value as a wound healer, but also to her ability to facilitate our recovery from emotional trauma. Deep grief and poignant loss can leave us broken and scarred, in need of potent healing; Goldenrod can help us to mend these painful injuries to our heart and soul.

The fragrance, color, and form of the whole spiritual expression of Goldenrod are hopeful and strength-giving beyond any others I know. A single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief and melancholy. 
– John Muir

Heartrending ordeals can leave us fractured and lost, searching for the way back to our personal center. It is said that the Druids once used the stiff stalks of Solidago as divining rods because the plant would always help locate hidden treasures such as fresh, drinkable water or buried gold and silver. Dowsing for lost objects can include our own search for the path back to self. We may lose our faith; we may find that our strength to endure is flagging; we may feel that we cannot take another step and that’s when the staff of goldenrod can be our support.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
-Psalms 23

Goldenrod offers to fortify our reserves and assures us that we can hold on just a little longer. Herbalist Matthew Wood says that Goldenrod gives us determination so we may “endure to reach the goal.” The Ojibwe described the formation of the roots as gripping the earth in preparation for the difficult times ahead. The promise of rebirth, abundance and found riches is just ahead upon the Path… yes, that’s the one… The Path back to Your own Heart. Hang in there. You can do it.

I lie amid the Goldenrod,
I love to see it lean and nod;
I love to feel the grassy sod
Whose kindly breast will hold me last,
Whose patient arms will fold me fast!
Fold me from sunshine and from song,
Fold me from sorrow and from wrong:
Through gleaming gates of Goldenrod
I’ll pass into the rest of God.
Mary Clemmer – last stanza from “Goldenrod” (1883)

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
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 or are interested in participating in classes or retreats.