Herbalism - Foundation & Essentials
To best understand the direction we need to go as a culture, it’s helpful to reflect on our history. We’ll explore the history of healing, the role of Herbalism presently as well as it’s great future importance. One key question to start with is “what is medicine?” Is it a chemical that removes a symptom, a food that nourishes, or a state of right relationship? We’ll cover this along with many essential herbal remedies such as the familiar Red Clover, the legendary Chaga Mushroom, and the Queen of the Meadow, Achillea Mellefolium (more commonly known as Yarrow) - - and much more!
Chad Cornell discusses how the traditional healthcare system cannot keep up with the demands of our lifestyle and ageing population.
2. HERBAL video series: MASTERS IN MOTION with CHad cornell and robert rogers
Covering plants in their natural environment. In each video, Chad and Robert explore the common and traditional uses of these healing plants. Each plant reference is accompanied with full text followup by Robert Rogers.
Instructors: Chad Cornell M.H. and Robert Rogers AHG
Videos and Introductory Text Courtesy The Next Generation Herbalist Program
Bloodroot is a perennial member of the poppy family that grows throughout Eastern Canada woodlands and as far west as Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan. Its flower is so delicate that the lightest breeze will cause petals to fall off the same day they open. Each flower is unique having from 7 to 16 petals but usually thirteen. Later, each seedpod will contain 25 or more seeds.
Birch trees attract various medicinal fungi, including Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), and Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). They require boiling to liberate polysaccharides, so one approach to creating a healthy product is to add one kilo of powdered Chaga to 40 litres of birch sap and reduce down to syrup. This will preserve the medicinal value in a tasty form for daily maintenance of your immune system.
The fresh root is used for a variety of skin disorders, probably due in part, to anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. It is first and foremost an alternative or blood purifier, which means that it helps the liver and kidneys detoxify more efficiently.
Burdock root has the ability to dredge toxins from the connective tissue and move them into the bloodstream. Therefore, it is important to choose complementary herbs to find a balance between tissue detoxification and toxin elimination.
The Wild Touch Me Not is an important wilderness remedy for rashes, and allergic reactions to aggressive plants like nettle, cow parsnip and poison ivy.
It relieves the pain of insect bites, burns, sprains, and a variety of skin diseases including ringworm. This mild fungicidal action makes it a good choice for athlete’s foot, especially on the trail. Work by Thomas Sproston, at the University of Vermont in 1950, tested 73 plant extracts for anti-fungal activity and found Wild Touch Me Not, Nasturium and Muskmelon the most active.
Calendula is often thought of for healing a variety of skin disorders and wounds. In an open study, 30 patients with first or second-degree burns were treated three times daily for two weeks with a hydrogel containing 10% flower tincture. All steadily improved. Baranov et al, Dtsch Apoth Ztg 1999 139.
But calendula is more than simply a first aid remedy for cuts and burns.
The root of evening primrose (O. biennis) has been found to be strongly anti-fungal. It is probably due to the gallic acid and unknown constituents. The root can be made into syrup by chopping freshly harvested and cleaned pieces in twice the amount of honey and slowly reducing. It is great for irritating coughs or tickle that does not respond to other demulcent, relaxing herbs.
Evening-Primrose leaves, stems, flowers, fruit and roots have been extracted with water, ethanol, ether and alkalis. Activity against gram negative, gram positive and mycobacterium has been found.
Fireweed is a healer of burns, including mother earth. Whenever forest fires have devastated, the beautiful magenta blooms begin the healing process, and prepare the soil for willow and poplar to follow. Fireweed is indifferent to soil pH, and is adaptable to both acidic and alkaline soils.
The fireweed starts flowering from the bottom up, each blossom lasting only two days. On the first, it produces sticky turquoise colored pollen, and on the second no pollen, but is receptive to fertilization and gives off a strong fragrance from its nectar. Older blossoms contain more nectar, giving bees a drink first, before they climb up to scrape pollen out of the younger flowers.
Hazelnuts are a rich source of vitamin E, necessary for reproductive health. Hazelnuts are also the perfect heart food, helping ensure that the blood vessels remain flexible and blood pressure is reduced. Circulation is improved, helping those who suffer from cold hands and feet.
Hazelnuts are high in protein and fasts, and low in starch and sugar, making them useful for those suffering blood sugar problems. The nuts are also extremely rich in boron, at 2.72 mg/100 grams. Boron is a very important mineral in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, by playing a key role in controlling calcium excretion and retention.
Wild sarsaparilla is abundant among the poplar and birch forest of the aspen parkland and sub-boreal forests of the prairie. I call it Alberta Ginseng, as this plant and Devil’s Club are our two resident members of the famous herbal family.
The plant is unusual in that the flower and leaf stems separate just above the root. Mature plants may live up to forty years. Bristly sarsaparilla is found on dry soil in the boreal forests of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Spikenard is fully hardy to our area but its native turf is further south and east.
Hawthorn berry, leaf and flower are all heart tonics, slow and gentle in action, but strengthening the heart function overtime. The herb is a mild vasodilator, increasing the supply of blood to heart muscles, thus reducing the chance of spasms, angina and shortness of breath in the elderly. Studies have shown berry extracts help decrease lactic acid during angina attacks.
Horsetail reminds one of the days of dinosaurs and swamps, as these prehistoric plants have been around for some 300 million years. In the rainforest of Panama I have seen horsetail (H. myriochaetum) over thirty feet tall. It is found everywhere in the world save for Australia and Antarctica. Field Horsetail is a perennial, while Meadow Horsetail is an annual.
Western Wild Ginger is found in British Columbia, while the Eastern variety can be found into Manitoba and southeast. The leaves can be crushed, and smell like lemon ginger. The eastern species grows up to a foot tall, with large heart-shaped leaves. The Western has long whip-like ends on the three purple sepals, and is lower to the ground.
Spreading dogbane is a tiny, inconspicuous shrub with beautiful, pink, fragrant flowers. All parts of the plant release a latex sap if bruised. This milky sap resembling mother’s milk led to an early plant signature for promoting lactation.
The flowers have been collected and used as part of love mixtures. They secrete a sweet liquid that is very attractive to flies.
Motherwort is an introduced perennial that has sporadically established itself throughout the Canadian prairies. It thrives in well- drained, alkaline and sandy soil, It is a member of the Mint family, with the familiar square stem, opposite leaves, and flowers in the upper leaf axils. The flowers are white to pink, with purple spots. The pink lips of the flower, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, look like a vagina, and hence are useful for menstrual problems.
Like raspberry, the leaves of strawberry help settle morning sickness and prevent miscarriage. The iron-rich leaves help those with tendency to anemia, without creating constipation. The leaf tea stimulates breast milk production in nursing mothers, and helps regulate the menstrual cycle. The root, however, will reduce breast milk flow.
Bilberry extracts are used for skin diseases as well as ulcers, eczema, folliculitis, and varicose veins. The anthocyans soothe sensitive areas such as eyelids, and anthocyanidins protect skin problems.
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Comfrey is native to Europe, but naturalized here for several hundred years. It will grow to three feet tall, and quickly fill in with prickly dark green leaves. The flowers have a white to pink/blue appearance that reminds you that comfrey is in the same family as Borage.
Young pine needles make a very pleasant, and yet, strong tasting tea with mild diuretic and expectorant action. The vitamin C content is five times that of lemons, also contributing benefit.
The compound D-pinitol has been found in water-stressed pine needles, and leaves of legumes. In the body, pinitol is converted to D-chiro-inositol, which influences several metabolic processes including blood sugar control.
Cleavers is used for skin and urinary problems. Skin conditions that are the result of poor lymphatic drainage respond to both internal and external treatment. Dr. Scudder recommended using cleavers for nodulated growths and deposits on the mucous membranes or skin.
Western Red Cedar (T. plicata) is a strongly anti-fungal and anti- bacterial remedy. The tincture is a stimulant to smooth muscles, and used for various respiratory, urinary and reproductive problems.
Both the leaves and dried inner bark of alder are bitter, helping stimulate digestion. Decoctions of the dried bark are astringent and hemostatic, reducing inflammations and even stopping internal hemorrhage.
Although each Artemisia has its own distinct constituents, it is possible to generalize a bit. All are intensely bitter and strongly aromatic. They are used for stimulating sweating during dry fevers by drinking hot tea or drunk cold for indigestion and stomach acidity. They all contain excellent stomach and bitter tonic constituents.
This brings to mind the old saying, “bitter on the lips, sweet to the heart.”
Calamus root is used, as a cold infusion, for all manner of digestive complaints, including hyperacidity. It stimulates the salivary glands, and yet counteracts acidity and reduces heartburn and gas; combining well with meadowsweet or queen of the meadow.
Asparagus contains histones, protein compounds believed to act as cell growth normalizers on cancer cell division. This may partially explain the reversal of various cancers, involving cooked asparagus juice.
Asparagine is a strong, persistent diuretic that will give some individuals a violet odour to their increased urine flow. The peculiar smell of asparagus urine is due to the sulphur compound S-methylprop-2-enethioate, a metabolite of asparagusic acid.
Two main organs are affected by goldenrod, the kidneys and upper respiratory system. To both these areas, a drying, cooling and restorative property is imparted due to the bitter and pungent nature of the plant.
Couch grass is perhaps our most versatile urinary plant remedy. It is a urinary demulcent that soothes, with its sweet, cool, moist properties, all in ammations of the urethra.
Nettle is amphoteric, meaning it can adjust the flow of breast milk, making its own adjustment higher or lower.
Dr. Vogel of Switzerland suggests, “no other plant can equal nettle in cases of anemia, rickets, scrofula, respiratory diseases and especially lymphatic troubles”. It can be of great help in alleviating the itch associated with Hodgkin’s disease, swollen glands, enlarged lymph nodes, and infection.
Catnip’s cool, dry quality is ideally suited externally to painful, hot swellings, mumps, hives and lesions, or to muscular cramping and pain. Inflammation of the stomach, indigestion, and abdominal colic are relieved by the tea, internally at body temperature, and with external application of hot poultices, fomentations, or tincture/water rubs.
The French recommended the leaves of BETEINE for liver, gall bladder, spleen and lung affections. In Italy, the entire plant is used for healing varicose veins, ulcers and infective sores. An infusion of the root is used to aid gastro-intestinal disturbances.
Woundwort received its name for stopping bleeding, promoting healing, and drawing out boils and splinters.