Health Through Herbs & Natural Healing

Karin C. Uphoff

Herb of the Moment

Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the old favorites in traditional herb gardens and kitchens and is still a popular herbal medicine throughout the world. The name stems from Greek “ground apple” for its lovely apple-like scent. In Spanish the name Manzanilla (“little apple”), describes the same. The two most popular types are German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla/recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Though different species, they are used to treat the same common ailments, however German chamomile contains much higher amounts of azulene, an important medicinal oil.   Chamomile flowers resemble the daisy with white petals circling a cone-shaped yellow center and depending on conditions, bloom between May and October. German chamomile leaves are fern-like light green and feathery whereas Roman chamomile has finely divided parsley-like leaves that are thicker and flatter. For growing, German chamomile likes poor, clay soil whereas Roman chamomile prefers well-drained and moderately fertile soil. Although both chamomiles thrive in open, sunny locations, Roman chamomile will not tolerate hot, dry weather. There are other wild chamomiles, common to foragers, for instance, the well-know side-walk variety Matricaria discoidea, commonly known as pineapple weed whose leaves, have the lovely scent and can be used as a tea or in salads in a similar manner (the flowers are more bitter).   Wherever you travel and ask for an herbal tea, you are bound to have two consistent choices: mint and chamomile – and that’s a good thing! Chamomile’s most popular use is to calm upset stomach and nerves. It is combined with fennel and/or dill in baby ‘Gripe Water’ for colic and included in many intestinal soothing formulas as well...

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Mullein has long been one of my favorite tonic herbs and a special winter into early spring companion. This magnificent plant is like the elephant of the garden with its ears of broad, basal, furry leaves and its flowering trunk of nearly six feet tall. It is a native of Europe and temperate Asia, but has been naturalized across the globe. Upon its arrival in America, Native American culture quickly adopted the plant and used it in ceremonial smoke and as medicine. It takes two years for mullein to produce a stalk of its lovely yellow flowers, which like the leaves and the root, can be used medicinally. The stalks themselves can be made into torches by dipping them in beeswax or suet, and were traditionally used in religious ceremonies. The leaves of mullein can be picked in the first year and into the second spring, before the flowering stalk is formed. Their broad nature and tiny hairs remind us of the microvilli (little hairs) that live on the inside of our mucus membranes in the lungs and intestines, which serve to sweep mucus out of the body. Therefore mullein is a specific remedy for moving excess mucus out of the respiratory passages and digestive tract. It works for acute respiratory illness, congestion and dryness of the tissues, including; coughs, hoarseness or irritated throat, asthma, and bronchitis. I discovered its virtues while living in Britain with cigarette smokers. I included mullein in my daily herbal tea blend to keep away a ‘smokers cough’ and soothe my irritated throat. I highly recommend it when traveling to places with high levels...

Boneset Herb

Boneset herb (Eupatoria perfoliatum) is a perennial native of northeastern America and was commonly used by the Native Americans living there. It likes to ‘keep its feet wet’ by growing in the margins of swamps, marshlands and streams. The leaves are slightly rough and serrated and grow alternately, joining at the stem as if one leaf. It can grow up to 5 feet and then has clumps of small bone-white flowers that are coveted by bees.   The leaves and tops are used and gathered at the beginning of flowering. If harvested earlier or later, then only the leaves are gathered. European settlers were taught by Native Americans, how to use boneset for influenza with strong chills and aching bones. It became widely popular as treatment for malaria and was brought back to Northern Europe where it naturalized.   Boneset may have gotten its common name from being able to relieve “bone-breaking” fever (that which causes severe bone-pain), but it has also been traditionally used to help set and heal broken bones. As a bitter, it is also used to heal intestinal lining and appetite, post illness. I like to keep some on-hand during the winter months to add to a tonic tea when there is the first sign of chill that could be due to cold of flu. As a diaphoretic, it will help to increase heat and move it to the periphery of the body, helping to drive the pathogen out. Drinking it in a warm tea with other diaphoretic herbs like elderflower, yarrow and ginger can help ward off potential illness. If one does come down with feverish...

Cranberry

Cranberry grows in the cold, northern wetlands of Europe and America. Though the larger American variety (V. macrocarpon) has stolen the culinary show and is most widely available commercially, wild cranberries have been eaten by Arctic peoples for millennia and are still a very popular fruit for wild-harvesting in Scandanavia and Russia. Traditional Native American use of these sour, astringent berries was to incorporate them into “emmican cakes” along with dried deer meat and fat. Cranberries were also used as a dye, and for medicine that reduced fever, addressed urinary complaints and as a poultice to draw poisons out of arrow wounds. Early American colonists, who dubbed the berries “craneberry” (perhaps because cranes like to eat them) cooked them with maple syrup and ate this sauce with meat. They are highly nutritious as a regular food and juice, as well as a medicine. Cranberry fruits and juices contain large amounts of vitamin C, along with vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, E & K, plus potassium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, sulphur, selenium, zinc, iron and copper. Not forgetting the other pharmacological bio-active antioxidants known as proanthocyanidins/anthocyanidins and beneficial organic acids: ellagic, citric, malic, quinic, benzoic, chlorogenic, eugenol, ferrulic; also beta carotene, lutein and quercetin. In the 1920’s cranberry juice was widely used to prevent chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs) as it still is today. UTIs are usually caused by E. coli, that, like many bacteria have a hairy exterior which sticks to cells and allows the pathogen to take up residence there. This sticking is required for infection, so anything that prevents the sticking thus prevents infection...

Yarrow

Looking out my window into the pre-dawn darkness, I am met by the bright white of yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium and A. lanulosa) that have finally appeared in my garden. The flower heads are actually a flat-topped cluster of tiny individual white to slight-pink flowers that seem to grin at me from the shadows. Most of the year, the ground is covered with the lacy, feather-like plumes of leaves that are supported by a dense mat of roots. I first planted yarrow along a muddy slope to hold the soil back and now I can say, it has done more than its job. Its thick root mats effectively ended erosion and broke up the clay for two years while I harvested its medicine. Yarrow can be found as a field herb throughout the northern hemisphere. Everywhere it is found there is a tradition of use as a remedy for external or internal hemorrhage and fever. In fact it’s name Achillea comes from the name of the Greek warrior Achilles who was taught how to use yarrow to heal battle wounds. All parts of the plant will help stop bleeding, although it is usually newer leaves or flowering tops that are used. Yarrow is an important herb to have available for first-aid needs. It can be chewed and applied directly to cuts or a poultice can be made. It is rich in volatile oils that are antiseptic, and the herb itself has a drawing quality that makes it very effective for treating wounds that have filled with pus (or better yet, preventing that from happening!) and pulling stagnant heat out of an injured...

Anything but plain: Plantain

There is a weed that grows on the edges of most parking lots and fields and most of us are so used to tromping on it, that we pay it little heed: plantain, either narrow-leaved (Plantago lanceolata) or broad-leaved (P. major). This common plant, an immigrant from Europe, is a veritable medicine chest of remedies that is now freely growing on nearly every continent across the globe. It is the same plant that provides us with psyllium seed and husk, used as a mucilage and mild laxative even by the early Anglo-Saxons. The Romans used plantain in recipes for boils and severe, blistering shingles. In fact, this herb is helpful for skin eruptions of all kinds, soothing itchy and inflamed outbreaks. I use it as field first-aid because it helps stop bleeding and prevent infections of cuts and scrapes – just chew the fresh leaf a bit to release the juices and place directly on a cut. One of the most notable attributes of plantain is its ability to draw out splinters, dirt, pus and infection out of wounds. It will also draw the venom out of bee stings, spider bites and snakebites. There are several herbs that have this attribute, but plantain is the most powerful in preventing and treating blood poisoning when used as a fresh poultice. Many times in my travels, I have come across those with an active case of blood poisoning from a wound. This commonly appears as heat, inflammation and pus along with a red line moving away from the wound toward the center of the body. In all cases, fresh poultices of...

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