Saturday, March 27, 2010

Yellow Dock: Super Cleanser

Yellow Dock
(Rumex Crispus)

Early in spring, its raggedy, bespeckled leaves first emerge in a basal rosette from the tough, deep taproot that has wintered below. The edges of the elongated leaves are wavy and somewhat crinkled, giving definition to its other well-known moniker, Curly Dock. Gardeners as a rule are not particularly fond of this tenacious garden interloper, knowing full well that the profusion of seeds it produces late in every growing season will spell disaster for their carefully tended beds. Each root must be carefully dug out from its firm grip on the earth far below the surface, for even a small piece of the brittle root, snapped off in an attempt to extricate it from the soil, will produce an even sturdier offspring. Hoeing is out of the question; the best thing to do is to make peace with the rugged invader and relentlessly continue to harvest this valuable herb for its medicine.

The name “Dock” which refers to a broad leafed weed sometimes causes some confusion; another useful wild plant called Burdock (Arctium lappa) is actually of no direct relation to Rumex crispus. The environment they favor tends to share many similarities however; waste places, overgrown meadows or pastures, roadsides, ditches, abandoned farmland and cultivated ground such as your garden are all locales where one may find Yellow Dock languishing. Be sure to use common sense when harvesting any wild plants and avoid places where toxic chemicals may be present in the ground, particularly by the side of roads and landfills.

Rumex crispus (also known as Sour Dock) is considered to be cold and dry, a restoring, bitter astringent that decongests and dissolves accumulations. Its effects are felt most strongly in the intestines, the liver, the lymphatic system and the kidneys.  It can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing both topically and internally. It has been prescribed for a variety of ailments including herpes, syphilis, vaginitis, ovarian cysts and fibroids, tumors, boils, acne, thrush, ulcers, dysentery, hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, kidney and gallstones, acidosis, and as an adjunctive support for diabetics.

As its name suggests, the root of this perennial herb is yellow which can be a signature or a reminder for some of its medicinal effects. Well known as a spring tonic, Yellow Dock is hepatic in nature, supporting and restoring the functioning of the liver. As a boost for the liver and gall bladder, Rumex crispus assists the digestion of fatty foods by enhancing bile production. Historically, its use in spring was truly revitalizing after a long season of mostly meat and fats in the winter diet. The judicious use of this herb can be of great benefit to people who frequently indulge in the rich and over processed foods of a modern diet as well.

The root of Curly Dock is known to help the intestines increase its absorption of minerals; therefore it has been used effectively in the treatment of malabsorption issues, including Crohn’s disease. Herbalists sometimes prescribe the remedy to people with various food allergies because this symptom generally indicates an imbalance with the liver. Other conditions that may point toward Liver imbalance include gout, certain skin diseases, congestive dysmennorhea, and of course jaundice. When used to help decongest the liver, we frequently will pair Yellow Dock with Dandelion root.

Because of its ability to increase mineral absorption, and the significant amount of iron it contains, Yellow Dock has been used extensively for building blood in the treatment of anemia and has even been used successfully in extreme cases of leukemia. It is wise to remember however, that this is a cold and decongesting herb and by itself is not appropriate for the treatment of blood deficiency. When used for anemia it is excellent in combination with nettles, peony root, dang gui, red clover and molasses. These herbs, prepared as a decoction and taken at a dose of one cup three times daily most often will resolve anemia within three months. Following this method from time to time will help keep blood levels balanced and prevent the reoccurrence of anemia.

The bioflavonoids Yellow Dock contains also have a strengthening effect on the capillaries and the herb can be of great benefit where there is portal congestion. It can actually help to regulate menstrual blood when there is a tendency toward early flooding or slow, heavy and delayed menstruation. Slow, heavy menstrual blood can often be a sign of congestion; I frequently see a correlation between such conditions and uterine/ovarian cysts or fibroids. In these cases, Yellow dock can be helpful when part of a carefully constructed formula.

Perhaps the most common use for this Sour Dock is as a safe laxative for chronic constipation, especially if there is concurrent liver imbalance. Its purgative function is due the presence of anthraquinone glycosides that stimulate peristalsis. It is less irritating than other herbs like senna, cascara sagrada or rhubarb because of the high tannin content. Combining it with a carminative like cumin or fennel seed to make the remedy even more harmonious to the body is a good idea; often Yellow Dock will stimulate a bowel movement within a few hours of ingestion. A tincture of the herb can be taken starting with a low dose of ¼ teaspoon two to three times daily, up to one teaspoon for each dose, but do not exceed taking the remedy for more than one week.

Like all peristaltic herbs, laxative dependency is possible, so use only when necessary and if constipation persists, seek out an experienced herbalist to get to the root of the problem. It is also important to note that Yellow Dock also contains a considerable amount of oxalic acid, a compound found in many plants and foods such as spinach, strawberries, rhubarb, beets, Swiss chard, wheat bran, nuts, chocolate, and tea. An excess of oxalic acid in the diet can interfere with calcium absorption and increase the risk of kidney stones, so although herbs are frequently much safer to use than pharmaceuticals, it is wise to seek the expertise of a professional herbalist when embarking on an herbal regimen.

The sour leaves of Yellow Dock are a tasty and refreshing young leafy green to add to an early spring salad, but eating too much may cause gastric upset for some people. Because the newly emerged leaves contain a small amount of chrysophanic acid that can irritate the mouth and cause a tingling numbness that lasts for a few hours, be sure to wash the young leaves well before eating them which will remove all traces of the irritant. Curly Dock can also be cooked as a vegetable; some sources say to cook in several changes of water, but personally, I prefer to simply steam it or boil it briefly in a small amount of water. The leaves are also a valuable source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly iron.

The seeds are prolific, and as a rich source of riboflavin, can help the body absorb Vitamin C more efficiently. Although some wild food enthusiasts find hulling them to be too labor-intensive, others simply don’t bother to do more than sift through trays of seeds to remove insects, pieces of stem, twigs and leaves before grinding the seed, hull and all in a spice mill to use as a coffee substitute, or grind them extra fine for use as flour. I found at a recipe for Yellow Dock Seed Crackers that combines equal amounts of Rumex crispus seed flour and any other type of flour you like with, salt and water to make a dough to be rolled out and baked. Simple enough, I plan to make some next fall!

Lastly, the magical uses of Yellow Dock are to attract success, commerce and prosperity; perhaps it is the profusion of seeds the plant produces, or the opportunistic habits of this common plant that bring abundance to mind. Whatever the reasoning, if you want to experiment with drawing in wealth by utilizing a wash of this weed on the doorknobs of your business, what could it hurt? Just let me know how it works out!

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.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sweet Honeysuckle: Faithful Friend or Scourge of the Country?

“…how sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hush’d night…” 

Just inhaling the fragrance of Honeysuckle on a warm evening breeze is enough to make anyone pause and seek the source of her sweet cologne. Oh, there… that overgrown vine enveloping the hedge that your eyes always skip over on their way to a more pressing engagement, that’s where that heavenly aroma is coming from… the Honeysuckle. Beloved by bees and hummingbirds alike, this tenacious climbing plant boasts creamy white and yellow, or sometimes pink, two-lipped flowers in pairs. These delicate blossoms measuring one to two inches long, offer a sweet nectar making her very poplar with the wee winged ones.

Not long ago, when most people were still fairly attuned to nature, it was commonly noted that her flowers resembled lovers entwined, thereby making “Love Bind,” as she was sometimes called, a symbol of devotion and love. In Victorian times, it was said that if one brought a Honeysuckle bouquet into the house, a wedding would follow within the year. Prudence being the operative theme in those days, perhaps marriage was the only possible option for release of wanton desires, for it was well-known that the perfume that spills from her honey-lipped blossoms would spark dreams of passion and desire.

  “The trumpet flower whose ivory bugles blow scent instead of sound.”  -Pepys

Look at the way her trailing vines twist around each other as they reach new heights in their quest for sunshine. The interlacing vines certainly do bring to mind an intimate embrace, but as we all learn at one point or another, clinging is not necessarily the most sought after characteristic in a person or a plant. Fidelity and devotion is one thing certainly, but it is this very quality gone to the extreme of suffocation that has made Honeysuckle an invasive scourge in most parts of the country.

Lonicera is a genus of plants from the family Caprifoliacae, of which the Elder is another well-known member. The name lets us know that goats like to eat the leaves- think “foliage” and “Capricorn”- and goats aren’t the only ones who enjoy browsing on the tender tips; the Honeysuckle is a major food source for the white-tailed deer. Over 100 of the approximately one hundred eighty species of Lonicera originated in Asia, the species used mostly in herbal medicine is L. japonica. The Honeysuckle is listed as a USDA National Invasive Species; it grows quickly, doesn’t succumb easily to pests or diseases and has a grip that can strangle a small sapling.

Honeysuckle propagates by seed or by the nodes on its trailing runners; these root runners can explore the area up to ten feet from the main plant and root down to depths of 4 feet. The seeds are generously scattered by the birds who enjoy the bright clusters of fleshy red (or occasionally black) berries and add a bit of fertilizer as they distribute them. The berries are not edible to humans, in fact, except for one elongated bell-shaped blue variety (L. caerulea), the fruit of the Honeysuckle is slightly toxic to people. 

The berry is not the medicinal part of the Honeysuckle; it is the young flower buds and the stems that contain the properties used to ward off disease. In fact, well-known herbalist Michael Tierra calls Lonicera the “Echinacea of Traditional Chinese Medicine.” According to medical traditions dating back thousands of years, Jin Yin Hua, literally “gold-silver flower,” is powerfully effective for the treatment of hot purulent infections. In TCM, Honeysuckle belongs to a class of remedies that Clear Heat Toxicity; in other words, the aspect of pathogens or infectious disease that makes one physically sick. Examples of Heat Toxicity can include swellings or inflamed eruptions with fever and malaise, dysentery, abscesses, encephalitis, appendicitis and the like.

Lonicera is anti-inflammatory, and anti-infectious, particularly suited to treating issues of the throat, eyes, skin, breast and intestines. For sore throats, headaches and conjunctivitis, Lonicera has been shown to be highly effective at providing relief, and for the early stages of contagious diseases it is often taken in a formula called Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien (pronounced “yin chow chee dew peein”). Cheap “patent formulas” are often available at Asian grocery stores or online, but often contain pharmaceutical agents that aren’t listed on the label. There is very little, if any, regulation when it comes to retail products from China (as we have sadly learned), so be sure to get your Yin Chiao from a trusted source. Excellent and safe brands that are regulated by strict US codes for safe manufacturing and handling are available, usually though a credentialed herbalist. For myself and a great number of my patients, we can’t get through a winter without the help of our legendary Yin Chiao!

This renowned formula contains a combination of antibacterial and antiviral herbs, the most noteworthy of which is Forsythia fruit, and is indicated for the onset of severe colds and flu-like symptoms including sore throat, headaches, fever and possible chills. It is a very balanced prescription that addresses the infectious nature of the pathogen while keeping the body harmonized. It has been taken for upper respiratory infections, flu, acute bronchitis, measles and even for early stages of encephalitis and meningitis. Because it is an energetically cooling formula specific for virulent Heat-type symptoms, it is ineffective for colds with profuse, clear, watery mucous accompanied by a pronounced chilly feeling.

In laboratory trials, Lonicera has been shown to inhibit the growth of various pathogens in vitro such as streptococcus pneumonia, the two most prevalent anti-biotic resistant hospital infections, staphylococcus and pseudomonas, as well as being especially effective against salmonella. Other studies have confirmed that its use against tuberculosis is particularly warranted. It is antiviral against several strains of influenza, and is used in ophthalmology for corneal ulcers, keratitis and conjunctivitis. Honeysuckle has even been shown to lower cholesterol in lab studies, making it a possible alternative treatment for balancing lipid metabolism.

As if that weren’t enough, in Europe Lonicera is used to treat urinary problems (it is also diuretic), as well as asthma and to ease the discomfort of childbirth. In Japan, it is frequently included in products taken for the treatment of bloating, nausea, vomiting and even Hepatitis C. Recent research is investigating its use in the treatment of breast cancer and for the clinical suppression of AIDS. It is a mild herb that is safe for children and elderly alike, but it is not recommended if there is chronic diarrhea.

Generally it’s the flower buds that are used medicinally, gathered May through June early in the morning before they open- mind the bees! Soothing syrups can be made from these sugary buds, or add the open blossoms to salads for some added charm. The tender stems gathered in autumn or winter, are also used in herbal medicine for the treatment of joint pain with inflammation or for sores and abscesses; in Pinyin it is called Ren Dong Teng, literally “stem that resists winter.”

If the stem resists winter, then it’s no surprise that folklore once touted Honeysuckle’s ability to resist evil, especially on Mayday. Planted in the garden, it was supposed to protect the home and property from malevolent spirits. Modern practitioners using flower essences hold Honeysuckle in high esteem for its ability to attract wealth; the characteristics of the vine also represent ascension in the quest to find one’s highest self.

Our highest self is reflected in our integrity and our peaceful bliss which comes when we are able to release our grip on the past and the illusion of safety when we clutch tightly to what no longer serves our highest potential. Honeysuckle energetically can help us to have the courage to accept struggles with grace and ease and move forward with purpose. So take advantage of the plethora of wild Honeysuckle; harvest and dry some buds for the next flu season, toss a few flowers in with some greens, or bring a fragrant bouquet home to enjoy… just remember that it could mean a wedding in your future!

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH, RH
Diplomate Chinese Herbology (NCCAOM), Registered Herbalist (AHG)
”Herbalisl” is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, 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 plant photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher of Herbal Medicine and Medicinal Aromatherapy 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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sweet Violet:: A Gentle Friend

Viola odorata

To me, one of the most welcome sights of spring is my special friend, Sweet Violet. Although diminutive in size, their heart-shaped leaves and happy blue, white or violet faces fill me with such delight that I use them as often as I can while they are in season. Although considered by some as a weed, (perish the thought!) this precious plant should have an honored place in everyone’s garden. I have even gone so far as to transplant them into the garden bed from the lawn or walkways instead of tossing them into the compost pile when weeding. 

For starters, Sweet Violet is delicious. For anyone who still uses weed killers and pesticides, you’ll just have to sit on the sidelines while the rest of us enjoy our wild, healthy and delicious “weeds.” Tender, young Violet leaves and flowers in a salad make it not only more beautiful and enticing, but it also is a very healthy addition because of the high content of vitamins A and C. Another culinary option would be to steam either young or older, tougher leaves, as a cooked green vegetable or to use the cheerful blossoms either candied or plain to decorate desserts or as an edible garnish. By carefully drying the leaves and fresh flowers slowly in a cool, dark area with good air circulation until just crisp, then storing the herb in a glass jar in your pantry, a wonderful herbal tea will be available to delight your senses year-round.

Violet is not limited to being a choice edible however, it is also a mild and effective remedy for a myriad of conditions. In traditional Chinese medicine, a species of Viola has been used for over two thousand years as a powerful detoxifier. The local variety boasts properties quite similar to her Asian cousin. Cooling and soothing, Violet had earned a reputation for reducing fever, relieving a sore throat and as an effective expectorant for a variety of lung complaints from asthma to bronchitis. As an effective diuretic, it is often prescribed in the treatment of urinary tract infections. Many skin conditions are also helped by the use of Violet due to its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties; eczema, sores, suppurations, swellings, and allergic rashes can benefit from either internal or topical applications of this useful herb.
Last summer, while strolling with a visitor around the property, she suddenly began hopping on one foot, obviously in pain. It became apparent that she had stepped on a bee in her bare feet and was stung on the bottom of her foot. While sitting her down on the patio steps, I noticed the Violets clamoring for my attention. I quickly grabbed some leaves (while thanking them for the reminder) and had our friend chew the leaves and apply the poultice to the now-swollen bee sting. Her relief was immediate and the swelling and pain promptly subsided. Within five minutes she was up and walking around again, but this time with her sandals back on!

That in itself would seem reason enough to add Viola to your list of herbal friends, but the most impressive qualities of Viola include some of the more recent studies that show her to be antimicrobial in vitro against Tuberculosis, cleansing to a congested lymphatic system, and as an antihistamine for childhood allergies to cow’s milk. The seeds of Violet are especially diuretic and assist in the dissolving and flushing of kidney stones. It has also been reported to be very useful in the treatment of cancerous tumors when taken at 2-3 times the normal dosage. Caution should be used when ingesting large amounts of the herb as it can cause vomiting due to the high saponin content, not to mention that when treating any serious imbalance or illness, consulting a professional is always advisable.

The essential oil of Violet has also been valued for centuries. Its fragrance speaks of calming and nurturing support for times when we experience emotional fragility and mental depression. It can help to open our hearts in a safe, gentle manner and allow us to speak our Truth in a loving way. Truly, Sweet Violet is a charming and devoted friend that we can be grateful for when she appears so abundantly each spring.

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.