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Feb 132011

At the core of how I practice herbalism are two elements. The first is my personal relationship with the herbs, and my intense adoration of both plants and fungi (and lichen, I might add). The second is the sensory and common sense approach I take to working with both herbs and humans. I teach herbal energetics as being primarily organoleptic, perceivable to a great degree through our senses. While I am certainly (and constantly) informed by passed-on knowledge (tradition, texts and teachers), scientific research and biomedical understandings it is the experiential that underlies it all. Because after all, how will I integrate and utilize something unless it functions well in the context of my work? So I start here, with characteristics that I can observe with my senses and learn to understand as something meaningful and indicative of the larger picture of wellness in each person.

The plants speak to us through our bodies. Every time we taste the acrid burn of Cayenne or the slippery coolness of Mashmallow root, our bodies respond to their unique makeup in specific ways. When we learn how the human body in general tends to respond to a plant, and then how people of certain constitutions are likely to respond, and then how our own body specifically responds, then we begin to perceive and remember the actions of each plant on a variety of types of people and imbalances.

In order to best match herb to human we need to be able to describe and differentiate patterns. These include patterns of effects on the human body by plants that are currently termed “energetics” such as cold, hot, moist or dry, relaxing or stimulating. They also include various types of diagnostics in which we look at observable patterns of function or dysfunction in the body. Tissue states falls into the latter category, and has its origins in in Greek humoral medicine, then the work of Physiomedicalist doctor, J. M. Thurston, as recorded in his book The Philosophy of Physiomedicalism in 1900. Matthew Wood has recently revived, popularized and expanded upon this incredibly useful diagnostics tool. Jim McDonald has also helped to both expand and simplify the tissue states into a yet more accessible format and terminology.  What is presented here is how I understand and use the tissue states in my own practice and the way I teach them to my students and what makes best sense to me.

Those of you familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, Kampo, Jamu, or other traditional systems of medicine will immediately recognize the usefulness of being able to quickly and competently identify these patterns. By now you are likely asking what a tissue state actually IS. Some herbal or medical terminology are obtuse and borderline incomprehensible but this one is fairly straightforward. It is simply the condition of the tissues, usually system-wide but potentially localized. Matthew Wood defines them as “conditions of imbalance”. These are just the elemental extremes our bodies are prone to told in the language and metaphors common to our culture.  Depending on innate constitution, some of us are more prone to certain tissue states than others, and some disorders/diseases trigger specific tissue states in most people.

Observing the overall tissue state of the person as well as any local deviations can greatly enhance the practitioner’s ability to to discern the nature of an ailment, as well as its corresponding treatment. Let me note that this is not necessarily a replacement for biomedical diagnosis and related testing. This is a dynamic tool born of observation and experience and thus can greatly compliment conventional test results and even give us a headstart on emerging issues or imbalances.

Six Qualities & Three Energetic Spectrums

In order to fully understand tissue states, we need to first look at the components and concepts tissue states are made up of. The most commonly referenced aspects of energetics are sometimes known as The Four Qualities, which are cold, hot, damp and dry. These can be applied to states in the human body or to the effects that food or medicine has on the body.

These original four qualities are enormously helpful in holistic diagnostics all on their own, but adding tense and lax to the mix makes for an even more useful and common sense system or identification. Matthew Wood says:

“Galen acknowledged only the four qualities of Aristotle, but for the sake of completion, and better clinical work, we need also to include the two basic conditions described by his opponents, the methodist physicians: too much tension (status strictus) or too much relaxation (status laxus). The four qualities represent fixed, oppositional imbalances, while the two states represent dynamic imbalances due to change or exhaustion. Putting them altogether we have a system of six types, which corresponds to the system of six “tissue states” introduced by the physiomedicalists, or botanical physicians (the descendants of Samuel Thomson) in the early twentieth century.”

Don’t get too caught up in the names of the states when you read about them in books, just focus on hot, cold, dry, damp, lax and tense and it will probably make sense to you more quickly. These are common sense qualities that you can easily experience in your own body and not just abstract theory. Consider that these six qualities are really three primary energetic spectrums. Rather than approaching them as polar opposites, try looking at them as spectrums on a color wheel where there will be inevitable overlap and blending of colors and tones.

Thermal Spectrum: Cold-cool-neutral-warm-hot

Note that cold and hot in this context specifically mean diminished (cold) or heightened (hot) physiological activity. Cold in diagnostics will often refer to a subjective sense of cold as a part of a larger picture of depressed metabolic and other vital functions. Likewise, hot is associated with excited (increased) metabolic/vital function sometimes resulting in hyperfunction.

Fluid Spectrum: Very dry-dry-neutral-damp-very damp

A very literal and easily observable spectrum for the most part. Here we’re looking for either fluid deficiency (not holding enough fluids) or excess (holding too much fluid) in the tissues.

Structural Spectrum: Lax-neutral-tense

Structural Energetics are those that directly effect the tension and laxity of the tissues, often most noticeable in the musco-skeletal and nervous systems but having important effects on all systems in the body.

To relax is to make less tense, rigid, tight or to loosen. From the Latin “lax”, literally “loose”. I have picked up the habit of using the word lax itself rather than relaxed from Jim McDonald, who rightly points out that the specific use of such a general and commonly used word such as relaxation, can be misleading and easily misunderstood. Tension is to be stretched tight. Excess tension is associated with restricted circulation of blood, fluids and most importantly, the vital force.

Additional Energetic Spectrums

Additional spectrums include the Vitality Spectrum of excess and deficiency and the Flow Spectrum of stimulation and relaxation. They’re also important but less necessary for the current look at tissue states.

The Six Tissue States

Hot (Excitation)

Definition: This is the state in which there is general overactivity, sometimes termed “excitement”, of the organism. This hyperfunction can result in irritation, overstimulation and a tendency to easily triggered inflammation. There is often an overreaction to allergens, bacteria, viruses etc.,

Observable Characteristics: Redness and general inflammation of tissues (especially mucosa), subjective sensations of overheatedness, perceived oversensitivity to stimuli, including pain.  Red tongue, with or without coating, often with a pointed tip. Rapid pulse.

Corresponding Herbs: Herbs most suited for this tissue state will usually be cooling. The tastes sour and bitter are often the best for calming excitation and cooling heat in the tissues. Herbs with these primary tastes are almost invariably cooling, and can calm excitement and reduce irritation. Matthew Wood terms the herbs that cool and calm the hot tissues state as “sedatives” with a especial emphasis on sour, fruity remedies such as Strawberry leaf and Rose hips.

Heat can arise from several different primary sources, including irritation which will call for the simple sour sedatives, also heat from dryness (also see the dry tissue state) where a lack of vital fluids is causing the vital heat to roar out of control and indicates a need for demulcents, many of which are bland or sweet tasting. Lastly, bitters commonly used to calm the hot tissue state are often also considered calming to the nervous system as well, and some, like Alder, also have a somewhat sour secondary taste.

Sour: Rosa fruit, Fragaria leaf, Crataegus fruit, Filipendula leaf and many other remedies in the Rosaceae family. Many Rumex species are also sour and cooling, and do a commendable job of reducing inflammation and overall heat. Rhus spp., (especially the fruit) and Melissa also fall under this heading.

Demulcent: These are simple moistening herbs that are usually neutral to cooling in nature, with bland to sweet taste. Althaea, Malva, Sphaeralcea, Alcea and many others in the Malvaceae family are cooling and moistening and excellent for this application. Tilia is another soothing and moistening herb often appropriate here.

Bitter: Included are Artemisia (an aromatic bitter sometimes classified as warming, but that clearly reduces inflammation and the hot tissue state, especially in the hepatic/digestive tissues), Scutellaria (a slightly to extremely bitter calmative, depending on the species), Frasera, Gentiana, Alnus bark (sweet, sour and bitter), Matricaria flower and Achillea leaf and flowers.


Cold (Depression)

Definition: The state in which there is a general underactivity/depression of the organism. This hypofunction can result in a lack of response to normal stimulation due to a deficiency of vital force, lack of digestive fire and thus, malabsorption of nutrients. There is often a lack of appropriate immune response to allergens, bacteria, viruses etc.,

Observable Characteristics: Pallor, subjective sensations of coldness, slow movement, decreased intensity of sensation. Feelings of tiredness and difficulty thinking clearly. Pale tongue or bluish and slow pulse. Achy, dull pain that feels better with heat or warming herbs. Bloating, food stagnation, flatulence and belching may occur as a result of impaired digestive fire. Matthew Wood asserts that “Depression in the peripheral vasculature can cause heat symptoms, but the underlying cold still needs to be treated with warming, stimulating herbs.

Corresponding Herbs: Remedies most appropriate for this tissue state are very often warming and aromatic and/or spicy in taste. Matthew Wood calls this category of herbs “stimulants” since they stimulate increased physiological activity. Many warming Lamiaceae plants belong here, as do a number of Brassicaceae and Apiaceae members. A great many herbs are relevant here, including most kitchen spices.

Spicy: Rosmarinus, Capsicum, Thymus, Monarda, Cinnamomum spp., Capsella, Sisymbrium irio, Armoracia rusticana, Allium spp., etc.,

Warming Aromatics: Pinus, Abies, Lavandula, aromatic Salvia spp., Juniperus spp., etc.,

Aromatic Bitters: Solidago spp., Juglans spp., Artemisia spp. (also included under the Heat tissue state because of the phenomenal ability of this genus to both increase physiological activity while also soothing excess tissue excitement), Ligusticum spp., Acorus calamus, Angelica spp., Inula helenium, etc.,


Dry (Atrophy)

Definition: The state in which there is a lack of fluids in the tissues, either because not enough oil or water is actually being produced or because it is not being properly contained by the body. This dryness, if long term and/or severe can eventually lead to a state of atrophy (lack of function) in the tissues (Wood). As Matthew Wood and Jim McDonald both point out quite often (and for good reason), there is more than one kind of dryness. Both oil and water are necessary to the proper function of the body, and someone may be deficient in either one or both fluids. Wood also notes that a lack of digestive secretion can also be considered an indication of a dry condition.

Observable Characteristics: Dry (progressing to withered) skin, hair and mucosa, constipation with dry, hard stools. Tongue usually thin and dry, and may be withered if dryness has progress to atrophy (Wood). In some cases the tongue may seem lax or swollen but is still dry and may be cracked as well. There may also be stiffness in the joints from a lack of lubrication and feeling of brittleness throughout the body.

Corresponding Herbs: It is important to note when using herbs to address dry conditions that using herbs to simply stimulate secretion can actually cause MORE dryness rather than less by triggering further loss of fluids. It is not just a matter of producing or introducing fluids but is equally important to help the body best hold, absorb and utilize them. Thus we have several different categories of herbs most appropriate to this tissue state, depending on whether they actually help to build more fluids in the body (adaptogens), help tonify tissues to better hold in fluids being lost through excessive sweating, urination, bleeding or similar (astringents, see also the lax tissue state) or simply provide additional immediate moisture (as with oily tonics and demulcents). Further expansion on the subtleties of fluid energetics and dynamics will be elaborated on in later posts.

Adaptogens & Sweet Tonics (Builds Fluids): Withania somniferum, Panax spp, Aralia spp., Glycyrrhiza glabra and allied spp. Codonopsis pilosula, Avena spp., Polygonatum spp.,

Demulcents (Contributes Fluids): Althaea, Malva spp and other Malvaceae, Ulmus rubra, Ulmus pumila (and other mucilaginous U. species), Linum spp.

Oily Tonics (Contributes Oils): aromatic Salvia spp., Ligusticum spp., Angelica spp., Aralia spp., Arctium lappa, Linum spp.

Astringents (Holds Fluids): aromatic Salvia spp., Rhus spp.,


Damp (Stagnation)

Definition: As opposed to the previous tissue state where there is not enough fluid in the body, the damp tissue state occurs where there is too much fluid in the organism, which will eventually result in stagnation and torpor. This generally seems to happen because the usual channels of elimination are somehow being blocked or impaired or there is weakened metabolic function.

Observable Characteristics: Full, overly plump tissues (edema), dull looking skin,  lessened tissue expression (most easily seen in the face, rendering the person somewhat dull or expressionless looking), hypoimmunity with lymphatic stagnation. Excessive phlegm and an overall feeling of heaviness or being weighed down. Tongue usually coated, often swollen and damp.

Corresponding Herbs: Remedies most appropriate to this tissue state usually increase elimination and encourage greater metabolic function. In Western herbalism we tend to think of these sorts of herbs as alteratives or blood cleansers. Almost all of these plants are at least somewhat bitter in taste, and some have an aromatic element as well. These herbs drain dampness, move stuck lymph and generally increase circulatory, hepatic, renal and digestive function. There is also a class of nutritive, salty herbs that supplement the metabolism and aid in gently increasing elimination.

Digestive Bitters: Gentiana, Cynara, Frasera, Iris, Taraxacum, Berberis, Rumex crispus, Juglans spp., etc.

Salty Metabolic Tonics: Urtica spp., Trifolium pratense, Stellaria media, Galium aparine, Sambucus spp. flowers etc.


Tense (Constriction)

Definition: Tension is basically to make tight. If you play a musical instrument, you will be well aware of the importance of having just the right amount of tension. Too little tension and the strings will be loose and soundless, the drumhead dull and the voice flat and expressionless. Too much tension and the strings pop, the drumhead splits and the voice goes sharp. Just the right amount and we have dynamic, easily adaptive and beautiful sound. The same is true of the tissues, just enough tension and our bodies respond as intended, absorb blows and recover, hold and move fluid efficiently and age gracefully and gradually. Too much tension creates emotional irritability, spasmodic afflictions and eventual wearing down of the tissues that are wound too tight. The tense tissue state is associated with restricted circulation of blood, fluids and most importantly, the vital force. This often results in muscular (smooth and skeletal) tension, muscle spasms, nervous tension, and feelings of restlessness and irritability. Eventual exhaustion can follow chronic constriction due to long-term energy stagnation and lack of vital circulation.

Observable Characteristics: Emotional irritability and tension, spasms, spasmodic pain, repeating or alternating symptoms (Wood) such as rotating chills and fever or alternating constipation and diarrhea. Random bouts of hiccoughing and vomiting can also be associated with the tense tissue state. Impaired or irregular circulation due to vascular constriction, shaking hands, tremors and a shaking tongue (although this can also be due to straight up deficiency) are also telltale signs of this tissue state.

Corresponding Herbs: The primary category of herbs suitable for the tense state is acrid. Like astringent for the lax tissue state (and remember that Tense~Lax is a spectrum), acrid is not a flavor but an impression. It is the burning, prickly sensation (especially noticeable on mucus membranes) caused by certain plants to one degree or another. It is most obvious in herbs such as Cayenne where breathing in even a tiny bit of the powder can cause a burning, tic-like feeling in the back of the throat. In the same way, getting freshly chopped Anemone leaves or roots on your cuticles, mouth or just anywhere ~near~ your eyes can cause notable discomfort.

The acrid taste in the correct amount relaxes tension and lessens constriction in the tissues. These herbs are relaxant (anti-spasmodic) in a specific way that is particularly good for relaxing excess tension. Acrid herbs come in many flavors (literally), including the straight up acridity of Lobelia to the sweet (with varying amounts of bitter) flavor with acrid impression of Actaea rubra and racemosa to the oddly aromatic acridness of Valeriana. All are excellent for eliminating spasms and reducing tension but have different subtleties based on their primary flavors.

Acrid: acrid Anemone spp., acrid Lobelia spp., Capsicum spp., Agrimonia spp., Morus alba leaf,

Acrid & Sweet: Actaea rubra, Actaea racemosa, Liriodendron, Chrysanthemum flowers.

Acrid Aromatics: Symplocarpus foetidus, Piper methysticum,, Valeriana spp., Mentha arvensis, Nepeta cateria, Vitex spp.

Acrid Bitters:  Verbena spp., Humulus lupulus, Garrya spp.


Lax (Atony)

Definition: Laxity is commonly seen as overtly relaxed tissue that lacks expression and no longer holds their form or fluids. This can be observed in skin that has lost its elasticity, organ prolapse, water-logged mucus membranes (as with spongy gums), varicose veins and a wet, flabby tongue. Fluids tend to flow through lax tissues rather than properly containing and transporting them, creating a swampy, inefficient environment, usually accompanied by disrupted bacterial ecology. There is often excessive fluid loss through urine, sweat, diarrhea and blood, depending on the situation. In cases of moderate to severe tissue laxity there will also be a drain on improper containment of the vital force, resulting in long-term fatigue and general low energy.

Observable Characteristics: Loose, expressionless tissue (especially noticeable in the face), organ prolapse, vulnerable to chronic infections, excessive fluid loss via urination, sweat, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding etc., which may result in long term constitutional dryness. Tongue may be wet and formless.

Corresponding Herbs: Here we are looking for herbs that give tone and help the tissues to hold their form and function efficiently. To tone is to tighten and pull together, thus lessening the permeability of the tissues. Astringents fit the bill perfectly here as they cause the contraction of tissue they come in contact with, and as such help prevent loss of fluids while assisting the organism in proper function wherever there is excessive relaxation/laxity.

Astringents often (but not always) have a sour flavor, some may instead (or also) be sweet or bitter or aromatic or some combination. Note that overuse of astringents, can eventually impede nutrient absorption via the gut, by tonifying to the point of making the tissues impermeable. Gentle astringents tend to be better, especially in chronic issues. Strong astringents do have a place in the treatment of acute fluid loss, such as hemorrhaging or life threatening dysentery. Astringency is caused by tannins in the plant, which gave their name to the process of tanning hides. Tanning an animal skin renders it less vulnerable to breakdown and also makes it much less fluid permeable. Astringent is an impression, meaning that it effects any tissue it comes in contact with rather than being dependent on being tasted or ingested, so astringents are very useful in the same way externally although of course treating a systemic lax tissue state should be done internally as well.

Astringents: Quercus spp., Rosa spp., Rhus spp., Malus spp., Myrica spp., Agrimonia spp., Geum spp., Rubus spp., Camelia sinensis, Collinsonia, aromatic Salvia spp., Hamamelis virginiana,


A Reminder: Don’t get stuck in forcing things into categories, tissue states and other diagnostics are general observable patterns not hard and fast rules. There are plentiful exceptions and idiosyncrasies so be flexible in your approach and think of these as guideposts rather than a set route. Seeing mixed tissue states in an individual is very common and should be expected, and this is where the beauty of formulating comes in.

Resources and References

The Philosophy of Physiomedicalism: Its Theorem, Corollary, and Laws of Application for the Cure of Disease by J. M. Thurston (1900)

The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood

Study Guide to the Six Tissue States handout by Matthew Wood

Herbal Properties & Actions by jim mcdonald

Personal correspondence with jim mcdonald

The Western Herbal Tradition by Graeme Tobyn, Alison Denham and Margaret Whitelegg

Out of the Earth; the Essential Book of Herbal Medicine by Simon Mills

Culpeper’s Medicine by Graeme Tobyn


All photos and content ©2011 Kiva Rose

Jan 182011

Pantry Medicine: Onion Poultices, Syrups & Tinctures

by Kiva Rose

Botanical Name: Allium cepa
Botanical Family: Amaryllidaceae
Taste: Spicy, sweet, acrid, diffusive
Energetics: Warm, dry
Vital Actions: Diaphoretic, diuretic, rubefacient, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant
Therapeutic Effects:  Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cough suppressant (not a true suppressant, but does usually reduce frequency and intensity of spasmodic and insistent lingering coughs)

As a little girl growing up in both urban and rural areas, I was fascinated by the wild onions that grew in my family’s yard and all in surrounding fields and riversides. I grew up with gardens, but the very idea that a familiar food in the form of a much more smelly feral relative was right there in there in the grass, growing without assistance or permission, seemed like a profound miracle to me. In fact, I liked them so much I gave myself a bellyache more than once by eating an excess of them during my regular foraging forays where I would wander through the woods and fields eating bits of whatever wild plants I had been told were safe to eat, not limited to wild onions but also including crabapples, apples, dandelion greens, elderberries, gooseberries, wild strawberries, yellow dock leaves and even some bites of the unpleasantly textured burdock leaves.

I was also intrigued by the stories I heard from our oldtimer neighbors about how their mothers or grandmothers had cured pneumonia or the croup with onion poultices. This also seemed miraculous to my mind, that a common kitchen food could somehow serve a similar purpose to codeine or other strong prescription medications.

Usually, I stick to talking about local plants or common weeds, but Onion is such a ubiquitous pantry item and easily grown garden plant, that I figure it qualifies just fine. Keep in mind that, in general, the stronger the taste and smell of the Onion, the stronger the medicine. The milder it is, the weaker it is. However, the milder varieties can actually be desirable in small children or those with some sensitivity to the volatile oils or other components that comprise the Onion.

Strangely enough, some of these well known “home remedies” like onion poultices get more flack and criticism than more fancy herbal treatments like standardized Echinacea extracts. Perhaps it’s that the latter sounds like something officially medical or maybe it’s just that anything old fashioned must be wrong. Either way, onions remain a very effective herb in a variety of circumstances. Some think of it as just a milder form of Garlic (Allium sativum) but in my opinion, it seems like a distinctive medicine with its own characteristics and subtleties. Many hot-natured people (Pitta, as it were), including myself, DO find Garlic entirely too irritating to their skin and mucosa and more prone to cause aggravation of a problem than soothe it. While Onion is not just a wussier form of Garlic, there is enough overlap in uses to make a useful substitute in some cases, especially for respiratory issues.

Onion is specific to damp, cold conditions, but also works well where there’s spasmodic coughing and copious phlegm even when there are also some heat signs. I use Onion poultices (recipe/instructions below) with roasted or sauteed Onions for spasmodic coughing, an insistent hacking cough and/or lower respiratory congestion with difficulty breathing. There have been times when even after large doses of other relaxant or even cough suppressing herbs the cough has continued on unabated, usually with the person unable to sleep or rest well. In many of these cases Onion poultices and syrup (often accompanied by frequent small doses of Lobelia) were the only things to soothe the cough enough to let them breathe and sleep long enough to recover. This is the herb to use when you or your child can’t sleep because they’re having difficulty breathing or can’t stop coughing, especially if they’re listless, pale and exhausted from coughing or struggling to breathe.

Onion poultices are one of those nearly fool-proof, widely applicable remedies that everyone should know. I have many times showed up on a house call and no doubt initially alarmed parents when I explained what I’m going to do as I pull out some Onions and start chopping, but they often catch on and start using this simple medicine of their own volition. Some of my most rural clients, and especially the Hispanic families, already know this particular bit of herbalism and will immediately go get some cloth to wrap the poultice in and then tell me stories about how their grandmother taught them to do this same thing when they were young.

Not all children are very excited about the idea of someone wrapping them up with a sack of warm, oily onions but often the results of the first time are enough to have them coming back for more, especially if the cough has become painful because of inflammation and/or sore muscles. In fact, even adults often take some convincing that this actually constitutes medicine rather than some sort of bad joke. But again, the results are usually obvious and significant enough to overcome their initial hesitation.

“Onion is stimulant, expectorant, and diuretic. A syrup of onion, prepared by drawing the juice with sugar, is a very effectual expectorant cough medicine for infants, young children, and old persons. If given in moderate quantities it is very soothing; if too freely administered it may cause nausea and disorder digestion. It, together with the onion poultice, are among the good things inherited from domestic medication, and might well be considered in preference to less safe and less depressing pulmonic medication.” – Harvey Wickes Felter, Eclectic Physician

This same entry by Felter inspired me to make a tincture of fresh Onion (yes, I said a tincture) for use in chronic urinary tract infections. Despite the dubious taste, it can work quite well in UTIs where there are signs of dampness and coldness, usually not in acute, quick onset infections but in long-term or reoccurring infections accompanied by achiness, mucusy discharge and lethargy. I usually combine it with Beebalm (Monarda spp.) and a tiny bit of Juniper berry or Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)  for such cases.

Raw onion poultices are also an old and effective treatment for insect stings and bites, as well as bruises, sprains, strains and so on (but not black eyes please, too much chance of getting the stuff in your eye). I usually chop the onions roughly and then smash them good and proper until juicy and either apply directly or wrapped in muslin (depending on sensitivity of skin and how long I expect to leave it on). Onion juice directly in the ear is also an oldtime remedy for all sort of ear infections, but not something I’ve ever used as Alder and Elderberry tincture in the ear and internally work so well. And remember, don’t EVER be putting anything in the ear if you suspect there’s any chance of a ruptured eardrum.

Onions seem to have similar benefits for the cardiovascular system as its close relative, Garlic. There is a traditional basis for this as well as modern medical research backing it up. However, I have not worked with Onion specifically for this (although I certainly have with Garlic) and can’t report anything from personal experience.

Raw vs. Cooked

Research(1) indicates that the phenolic compounds in Onion (and many other aromatic plants) responsible for at least part of the antimicrobial properties of the plant are destroyed by heat. So, while I do use a cooked Onion poultice for spasmodic coughing and earaches (uses obviously having little to do with any anti-bacterial properties), I prefer the raw Onion poultices for stings, bites and for the Onion syrup.

Dosage: Syrup dosage is about 1 tsp ever 3-4 hours for a medium sized child of about 7-11 years of age or 1 tbs every 3-4 hours for a medium sized adult with normal Onion tolerance. Less for smaller people or those with delicate digestion, more for larger people. Tincture dosage depends on specific use but about 10-30 drops for most things in an adult.

Considerations: Onion is less appropriate where there’s signs of overt heat (especially in childhood eruptive diseases) and large doses internally can cause digestive upset. Better to use small frequent doses than large, sporadic doses both for level of effectiveness and for one’s belly health.


Basic Onion Poultice

  • 2-3 medium sized onions (this is for an entire chest or back poultice on a medium sized human), finely diced. If you choose to roast or steam your Onions rather than saute them, you may prefer to leave them whole.
  • 1/4 C Flour or corn meal (optional, helps to more evenly distribute the poultice)
  • Muslin or similar cloth large enough to fold over poultice and cover chest or upper back
  • Hot water bottle
  • Medium sized towel
  1. You can either steam, roast or sauté your onions, depending on your preference. I’ve used all three methods but usually end up just sautéing them in some olive or coconut oil in cast iron frying pan on my woodstove. Cook until tender and somewhat transparent (we’re not going for caramelized here).
  2. Stir in flour or corn meal until a gooey paste is achieved.
  3. Spread onto muslin and fold over to hold poultice and heat in.
  4. Place on chest, upper back or wherever needed. Use as hot as can be tolerated, but not hot enough to cause pain.
  5. Cover with hot water bottle. Again, as hot as is not painful.
  6. Cover area with towel.
  7. Let sit for 15-30 minutes before removing.
  8. When using because of coughs or congestion, it’s great to follow this with a thorough application of some kind of chest rub. I like a salve made with a blend of Pine, Fir and Cottonwood infused oils.

Simple Onion Syrup

  • 1 Cup roughly chopped fresh onion
  • Small handful of fresh or dried Sage or Thyme or Monarda (or equal amount of fresh chopped White Fir, Abies concolor, needles). (Optional)
  • Juice of half a lemon (Optional)
  • 1 tsp freshly grated Ginger root (Optional)
  • Enough honey to cover herbs

Just place the onion and other herbs in a jar, cover with honey, stir to remove air bubbles and cover. Let sit overnight. The honey will very effectively suck all the juice out of the Onion.  Use by the teaspoonful beginning the next morning. Some people like to eat the onion bits with the honey and some people prefer to strain the solids out. It’s up to you.

Footnotes and References:

Felter, H.W. and J.U. Lloyd. 1985. King’s American Dispensatory, Vols. 12. Portland, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications [reprint of 1898 original]. 146.

Eavesdropping on conversations by old rural folks in Missouri

Personal conversation with Hispanic, Indigenous and Anglo folks in New Mexico and Arizona


All Photos ©2011 Kiva Rose

Jul 132010

Common Name: Virgin’s Bower, Traveler’s Joy, Love Vine, Lady’s Bower, Sugar Bowls, Devil’s Darning Needles, Pepper Vine, Leather Flower, Vasevine

Botanical Name: C. neomexican, C. chinensis, C. virginiana  and other related species.

Botanical Family: Ranunculaceae

Botanical Description: Generally semi-woody climbing vines with opposite leaves, trifoliate. Dioecious flowers with four sepals, no petals and numerous stamen. Achene fruits that look like long, narrow feathers.

Parts Used: Leaf, vine, root bark

Flavor: Spicy/pungent, salty

Impression: Acrid

Energetics: Hot, dry

Actions: Vascular tonic (vasodilator), relaxant nervine, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory

Specific indications: Arthritis worsened by cold, damp conditions or weather. Migraines from vascular atony. Anxiety, fear and weepiness with concurrent feelings of ungroundedness and a sense of disconnection from reality. Uterine and overian cramping pain with a sense of coldness.

The sprawling, tangly lianas of Wild Clematis climbing Juniper, Oak and even Alder trees are a familiar and sweet sight here in the Gila. Their vibrant light green foliage wraps itself around tree and stone. I’m always amazed by how its long, winding roots can manage to grow a tight grip into even narrow rock crevices and hard, dry soil. With ivory to bright white flowers, they stand out against the blue-green shade of the Oak woodlands, and their feather-tailed seeds are a distinctive mark of this prolific and abundant vine of the mountain Southwest and beyond. Sometimes given innocent and romantic sounding names such as Virgin’s Bower or The Lady’s Vine, Clematis has also been known as Devil’s Darning Needles. While I surely don’t care for the value judgement imposed upon the plant by such a title, I do agree that this powerful herb can do an excellent job of mending the pain and discomfort of a wide variety of ailments.

Clematis was at one time a very large genus, containing about 300 species. It has recently been broken down into several smaller subgenera, but Clematis itself is retained and the species most typical of it botanically are still included under that name. I have listed some of the species above I know to be medicinally active, but to my understanding and experience, any species that demonstrates a significantly acrid (as in, it burns the shit out of your mouth) taste will work just fine. I have no idea if this extends to any of the hybridized or domesticated cultivars as I’ve worked exclusively with wild Clematis at this point.

Strongly active Clematis will be acrid and burn your mouth quite noticeably. Young leaves are by far the best and I try to harvest it when the leaves are not quite grown and at least a month before flowering. Not to say it won’t work later, but it will be stronger and have more relaxant (both nervine and anti-spasmodic) effects if it is harvested while still very acrid.

In Western herbal practice, the arial parts of leaf and stem are most often used, while in Chinese medicine the root bark is often utilized as well. If you’ve ever tasted the spicy bite of Clematis leaves, you still haven’t tasted anything until you’ve taken a nibble of the root bark. This innocuous looking root is acrid enough to make your eyes water and burn when you chop the root bark and certainly more than strong enough to make most of us spit the offending piece of burning matter right back out of our mouths. This is fairly typical of many members of the Ranunculaceae, most of whom certainly tends toward the acrid taste in general. This is exactly why so many of them make excellent anti-spasmodics, a quality directly associated with the acrid taste by many systems of traditional medicine.

Clematis has some overlap in actions and effect with the famed Pulsatilla (now Anemone). This is not surprising considering they share some important constituents. I first learned from Southwestern herbalist Mimi Kamp that Clematis can act as a nervine in ways similar to Anemone. It’s certainly not exactly the same medicine, but close enough to be very useful.

As with its cousin Anemone, this herb is most indicated for those who experiencing cold signs, with or without symptoms of dampness as well. These individuals will likely have a pale tongue, a middling to slow pulse, pale skin, an overall sense of tiredness and an aversion to cold weather. These people are often easily upset or disoriented, and may be referred to as “spacey”. They often have difficulty remaining ungrounded, especially when feeling strongly emotional.

Also similar to Anemone, Clematis has a marked affinity for the reproductive system. I especially like it wherever there is a tendency to spasmodic uterine or ovarian pain of a cold nature, typified by dull but insistent aching and often accompanied by sadness, despondency and joint pain. From King’s American Dispensatory:

“Clematis virginiana has been highly spoken of as a nervine in uterine diseases.… Clematis recta, being particularly useful in nervous insomnia, neuralgic and rheumatic headache, toothache, reflex neuroses of women from ovarian or urinary irritation, neuroses of men with pain in testicles and bladder, cystitis, urethritis, gonorrhoea, orchitis, and swellings of the inguinal glands.”

Clematis has a history in traditional medicine in the treatment of cold, sometimes damp, arthritis, muscle spasms (including leg cramps) and similar afflictions. I find it most effective when formulated with other appropriate herbs which may include Black Cohosh, Ginger or Turmeric. I have even found it to have some significant use in the treatment of joint pain in fibromyalgia, especially when combined with Ashwagandha.

This plant is almost always recommended for migraines by herbalists in the US. Clematis is indeed an excellent and effective vasodilator that can be extremely helpful for those experiencing migraines, especially when other typical treatments have failed to have an effect. I learned from Michael Moore that Clematis is:

“…a useful treatment for headaches in general and migraine and cluster headaches specifically… Most effective in classic migraines where there are head flushes or visual disturbances in advance of the actual headache and most effective then, when drunk at the first sign of these presymptoms. Some folks find the tea works better, some find the tincture more effective. Try both.”

I have mostly worked with the fresh plant tincture, but the tea is indeed effective as well and I usually keep a bit on hand to try for folks not responding to the alcoholic extract. While I find a fresh plant tincture made with significantly acrid leaves and root bark and high proof alcohol to be the strongest and most active preparation, I’ve also seen a 5 year old tincture made with brandy and wilted flowers and leaves that had little acrid taste be effective in the treatment of migraines and arthritis when used in somewhat larger than usual doses.

Considerations & Contra-indications: Not generally an appropriate herb for those with heat signs. Caution should be used when using over a long period of time, especially as a simple and not for people with dominant deficiency in anything more than acute situations. I tend to think it’s best as a short term approach or buffered by an well thought out formula. Nevertheless, I find reports of the plant’s toxicity to be somewhat overstated, as long as it is used appropriately and with due respect for its strength. Strongly acrid species can be moderated by always using the dried plant and by briefly frying it in a hot pan, especially the root bark.

Dosage: 5-60 drops of fresh plant tincture, depending on the intensity of the plant and the constitution of the individual. Otherwise, a tsp of dried plant in 1 cup of just boiled water.

References & Resources

King’s American Dispensatory

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

Recorded Lecture by Mimi Kamp

Recorded Lectures & Written Notes by David Winston


All Photos © 2010 Jesse Wolf Hardin

Feb 022010

Botanical Name: Salvia subincisa Sawtooth Sage

Botanical Family: Lamiaceae

Common Name: Sawtooth Sage

Energetics: Cool, dry

Taste: bitter, aromatic (skunky)

Actions: Relaxant nervine, nervous system trophorestorative

Parts Used: Flowering tops

Come August and our annual summer rains, a lush abundance of flowering plant will grow in the cool shade of Alder trees. Among these will be a diminutive and graceful plant with tiny blue flowers and sharply toothed leaves. At first glance, it is barely noticeable among many larger and more brightly colored plants. Closer up, its classically Lamiaceae type blossoms draw the eye and rich green foliage invite touch. Rubbing a leaf between the fingers releases a savory and pleasant, yet somewhat skunky aroma. This lovely little herb, a native of the American Southwest, has been a longtime helper in my own healing, and has become an important ally in my practice as an herbalist.

While I have written about the genus Salvia previously at some length, I would like to bring special attention to this specific species. Salvia subincisa is endemic to New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Mexico (and perhaps parts of western Texas) and primarily grows in rocky or arroyo type areas that are usually dry but experience seasonal moisture. It is a monsoon dependent annual, delicate in stature and easily overlooked except when in flower. Its blooms are a vivid dark to indigo blue that, while small, are distinctive and beautiful. The whole aerial plant, when rubbed or crushed, has a moderately strong skunky smell. It has a slightly diffusive impression and bitter and aromatic taste on the tongue. As a note, I have never seen or heard reference to this plant being used medicinally, even among local indigenous people as of yet.

While this plant shares many medicinal characteristics with other members of its genus, it’s particularly strong affinity for the nervous system makes it of special note to herbalists. I consider most bitter and aromatic Salvias to be nervines and nerve tonics to some degree, and use many native and imported species in my practice. However, none quite compare to Salvia subincisa’s specific relevance in this area.

Sawtooth Sage is specifically indicated where there is nervous exhaustion and hypersensitivity, which causes generally innocuous things such as sunlight and whispers to seem similar to a good slap in the face. It is doubly indicated if there is muscular tension in the shoulders and neck, mild to moderate trembling or shaking (often most obvious in the hands), irregular heartbeat and a tendency to insomnia and intense anxiety with occasional panic attacks. Its indications have significant overlap with Scutellaria, and combines well with it in formula.

This herb does not have a strong general sedative effect, but rather a specific impact upon a particular type of person and set of symptoms. This makes its usage somewhat limited, but seems very important therapeutically in the reparation of worn out, over-stimulated nervous systems. It may be especially applicable for those who have a history of methamphetamine or other stimulant use and have reached the burnout stage. It is also helpful for those who have suffered from chronic malnutrition (usually due to a deficient diet, including some vegan and related dietary choices), with concurrent anxiety and nervous exhaustion. Salvia subincisa cannot, of course, correct the underlying deficiency, but may be of symptomatic help during a process of healing and nourishment.

It is safe and usually effective even for those individuals (usually with a vata dominant disposition) with such sensitive or frayed nervous systems as to cause most relaxant nervines to feel somewhat stimulating. These people usually have very active, wordy mental activity that is exacerbated by stress. Sawtooth Sage tends to quiet the mind and soothe general anxiety. It can be a useful daily calming agent, but is also of special service when a normally anxiety producing activity such as a dental appointment, work deadlines or traveling trigger acute stress or even panic. If it is found to be of some use in panic attacks but is not quite strong enough to stop a panic attack once triggered, it can be well combined with Anemone or Scutellaria, depending on the person. It also has a place in treating anxiety induced (rather than those of an organic origin) tremors, especially with Corydalis aurea. Over time, it has a tendency to reduce the frequency or eliminate the onset of panic attacks in many people. It will also lessen overall nervous system hypersensitivity and irritation, and I have certainly seen it prove restorative in the long term for many clients.

Salvia subincisa’s bitter and cooling nature also make it of use in the recovery from irritable bowel syndrome with accompanying symptoms anxiety, nervous irritation and general nervous system hypersensitivity. This is a fairly common pattern, especially in those healing from chronic food intolerances, leaky gut and long-term stress. It is best combined with gut healing herbs such as Oenothera, Epilobium, Matricaria, Pectis angustafolia etc., for optimal tissues healing and reduction of inflammation.

Harvesting: From July to September with adequate rainfall. Most frequently found in rocky areas with seasonal moisture, often growing beside it’s close relative, Salvia reflexa. The latter is a more weedy and widespread species of Southwestern acequias, arroyos and rivers. Salvia subincisa is less common and more diminutive in stature.

Preparations: A tea or tincture of the fresh plant (1:2, 95%) is my preferred preparation. Because the plant is only available for a short time, and not every year, I tend to prefer the tincture. The freshly dried leaf and flower can also be smoked to good effect.

Dosage: 2-5 drops.

Considerations and Contraindications: Large doses may cause feelings of giddiness, confusion and nervousness. Start small and work up slowly to an appropriate dosage.

Note: The photograph above is not the best, and the flowers are actually a darker shade of blue than shown, see this link for better pictures of this species.

Nov 102009

Mullein-fl3Common Names: Mullein, Punchón, Gordolobo, Wild Ice Leaf, Our Lady’s Flannel, Hag’s (or Hedge) Taper, Torches, Candelaria, Quaker’s Rouge,

Botanical Name: Verbascum spp.

Parts used: root, leaf, flower, flower stalk resin

Energetics – Root: neutral, sl. drying. Leaf: cool, sl. moistening. Flower: cool, neutral

Taste: salty, bland, vanilla

This velvet leafed plant with its brightly bloomed flowerstalk is one of the most easily recognized and well known of almost any wild or domestic medicinal herb. Around here, the old-timers refer to it as Indian Tobacco and even the most botanically impaired individuals tend to know at least one of its names, although it often comes out as a slightly mangled “Mew-lin” or “Mully-in” from those who’ve only read about the oddly titled herb on paper. It is believed that the name Mullein comes either from the French word moleine of Celtic origins, meaning “yellow” or from the Latin mollis, meaning “soft”.

Although not native to North America, this now ubiquitous weed was quickly and widely accepted into the materia medica of this continent’s indigenous peoples, which itself is a clear indication of its broad applicability and benevolent nature. I view Mullein as an important guardian plant, emphasized in how it followed European immigrants to the Americas, and served to create an herbal bridge between old world and new world healing traditions, to the point that very few herbalists or folk healers could imagine a practice without this beloved and widespread remedy.

Mullein makes a very appropriate first herbal ally for many children or beginners in herbcraft. Its safe, wise and grounding presence helps take us deeper into not just this its own medicine, but into all herbal medicines. This plant provides itself as a guiding light and guardian for all healers who live within its range. Simultaneously a towering torch herb and fluffy comforter once called Our Lady’s Flannel, it has a long history as a benevolent and nurturing sentinel to healers, children and all those who ask for its assistance.  Maude Grieve said that:

“Both in Europe and Asia the power of driving away evil spirits was ascribed to the Mullein. In India it has the reputation among the natives that the St. John’s Wort once had here, being considered a sure safeguard against evil spirits and magic, and from the ancient classics we learn that it was this plant which Ulysses took to protect himself against the wiles of Circe.“

MulleinClan2I have also seen Mullein flower tincture work very well in guiding and providing focus and grounding to those who feel they have lost their way or can’t see their path. They often feel in the dark and disjointed, and the confusion leaves them tense and with a deep sense of abandonment. Consider it the perfect plant for those “hiding their light under a bushel”, instead of letting it shine, usually from fear of rejection or out of confusion of how to shine. Mullein will help provide the internal sense of safety and confidence needed for them to grow into their glory.

Some view this large plant with its tall phallic flower stalk and dermatitis-causing hairs as quintessentially masculine in nature, but my experience with its velvet soft leaves, first year basal rosette and sensual flowers is that this is truly an herb that teaches balance through wholeness and by embracing seeming contradictions, for it is both rigid and flexible, soft and hard, cuddly and prickly, weedy and elegant.

Medicinally, this is an infinitely multi-purpose plant and Tommie Bass himself said

“Mullein is an old-timer. I don’t think there is any ailment that Mullein wouldn’t give some relief. Everyone should have dried mullein leaves or roots in their medicine cabinet at all times.”

Additionally,  it has essentially no toxicity and is both powerful and gentle in action, making it an ideal herb for children to work with.

Because of the multi-faceted nature of Mullein, I’ve divided this monograph into sections applicable to the various body systems for easier reference and comprehension.

Respiratory System

MulleinBacklit1Many people think of Mullein as primarily a respiratory, and while its use is really much wider than that, it certainly does excel in its healing and protection of this part of the body. For respiratory issues I primarily use the leaf, and consider it to be indicated wherever there’s a tight yet wheezy hacking cough, especially where the cough tends to come and go, indicating constriction beginning to go chronic. It is doubly indicated where there is respiratory dryness leading to difficulty with productive expectoration, and I often combine it with Mallow root for this particular difficulty. Jim McDonald elaborates a bit on Mullein’s usefulness in dry coughs:

“The leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant, and among the first remedies to be thought of in treating congestion and dry coughs, as they are an excellent expectorant. An expectorant aids the lungs in expelling mucous and phlegm by loosening it from the walls of the lungs and allowing it to be coughed up; thus, Mullein will stimulate coughing, even though that’s the symptom being treated. What Mullein is really doing is assisting the body’s natural response to congestion – coughing – to be more effective.”

Not only soothing and expectorant, it also helps prevent infections from settling into the delicate respiratory tissue. This makes it suitable in a great array of respiratory distress, wherever there is dryness or constriction, including many cases of asthma and other chronic respiratory disease or distress. Matthew Wood notes that in many cases where this remedy is appropriate, there will be concurrent lung and kidney weakness.

For acute episodes of respiratory constriction, utilizing Mullein leaf as a smoke inhalation can be very useful and provide near immediate results. For many people, the most practical way to do this is to take a couple of medium sized dried leaves and rub them between the hands until they’re broken down and fluffy. Then set the leaves into a brazier or incense holder, light on fire and then allow to smolder. Breathing in the distributed smoke often helps to calm respiratory spasms without requiring direct inhalation from a pipe or herbal cigarette, and is preferable for children and those with delicate lungs.

I include Mullein leaf and root in most of my lung tonic formulas and have made especial use of it in this year’s batch of Elderberry Elixir for added respiratory tonification and protection. It’s gentle and neutral enough in nature that its presence will never do harm and will most often help a great deal.

The leaves and flowers are also useful in many chest salves, and while it doesn’t have the penetrating volatile oils of the typically used mint, eucalyptus and so on, the aromatics of those herbs combine well with Mullein and seem to carry its lung healing effect much further into the body.

If there’s one thing Mullein is famous for, it’s as an oil for ear infections. The warm oil is useful where wax is causing a blockage and/or pooling of moisture but in general, I prefer the flower tincture for most infections, as it adds the drying action that helps to speed healing form most bacterial infections. Additionally, I find Mullein flower to be much more effective in the treatment of chronic ear infections when combined with Elderberry tincture. Be aware that if there is any chance of a ruptured ear drum, nothing at all should be placed in the ear and immediate medical attention should be sought. Also, if chronic ear infections persist with herbal treatment, a dairy intolerance should be considered and/or probiotic therapy in the form of fermented foods or supplementation.

Lymphatic and Immune System

Mullein-fl1Mullein (any part) can be used internally or externally as a poultice for lymphatic stagnation, especially where there are hard, impacted feeling glands or a sense of having rocks rather than glands. The leaves can be simply dipped in boiling water and, when cool enough, placed upon the afflicted area. Or the fresh leaf can be pounded and applied to the area as needed.

For acute cases, or sudden onset of severe lymphatic backup, I like to combine Mullein with Alder and something diffusive such as Beebalm or Ginger to get it moving quickly. In more longterm or chronic situations, I am more likely to pair with a less cooling lymphatic such as Redroot.

Along the same lines, Mullein can be very useful in the correction of long term sore throat caused by hypoimmunity and lymphatic stagnation, especially as an infusion with a small amount of Sage. Rose should be added where there is a specific sense of rawness or burning.

Musco-Skeletal System

While ethnobotany and old herbals make it clear that Mullein is a very traditional remedy for troubles of this body system, it is only recently that Midwestern herbalists Matt Wood and Jim McDonald have brought it back to a well deserved popularity for these uses. Both Jim and Matt are both well known for their experiences with Mullein as an assistant to structural alignment of all kinds, from unset bones to slipped discs, and particularly where there is notable swelling. This use has been proven over and over by many herbalists including myself, in both animals and in humans. For a good understanding of where it might be appropriate, think about the odd structural deformities that can occur in the Verbascum’s flower stalk, the way it can look kinked and bent radically out of shape. If your spine feels like that, this is probably the remedy you need, and if the problem is neck specific, consider combining it with a bit of Vervain for addition alignment assistance.

It is also indicated where there is significant pain in the hips, especially upon rotating the hips inwards or outwards, and it feels like you have a corkscrew rather than a lower back. This sort of issue is often especially painful at night when attempting to sleep. Flower or root tincture before bed, and sleeping with a firm pillow between you legs will often great lessen or altogether resolve the issue.

Mullein reduces inflammation and pain, making it a perfect herb for use where delicate, complex bones such as in the hand or feet have been broken and cannot be set, or where there are complicated alignment issues in the spine (even in the lower spine and hips). I have noticed that it is often doubly effective in difficult slow healing injuries when combined with Horsetail tincture.

In addition to these specific indications, Mullein leaf, root or flower is an appropriate and gentle herb for almost any ailment related to the alignment of joint, bone or tissue. I use the salve, poultice, infusion or tincture in any case of broken bones, sprained joints, arthritis, and chronic joint pain. While Mullein itself may not always be able to fundamentally correct such difficult issues as chronic pain, it can often offer great healing, pain relief and ongoing assistance in the re-alignment process.

I have many times over now seen very small doses (3-5 drops) of Mullein root tincture greatly lessen chronic, achy arthritis of the hands, hips and other achy areas. I also find that a salve or liniment made of the same is very helpful symptomatically.

Nervous System

MulleinMandala1I find the flower best for acute pain from a recent injury or a severe flareup of a chronic injury. It’s often most appropriate where there’s overwhelming, usually sharp or burning pain, especially in the joints, spine (including neck) and locations of old breaks in the bone. The flower provides a sense of calm, peaceful well-being and is particularly indicated where severe pain is causing a sense of darkness, depression or hopelessness.

The root seems better for chronic pain, especially in relation to joint problems, old injuries and arthritis that feels achy and bone deep. Hard swellings with pain in either acute or chronic cases are a specific indication for Mullein. It also provides grounding where the pain threatens to unglue us or send us spiraling out of our bodies to retreat from the incessant pressure of constant pain.

Both flower and root can be useful in the treatment of nerve damage or pain that directly stem from or relate to a broken bone or misaligned joint, such as many cases of sciatica. I usually combine it with a more directly nerve associated herb like Skullcap or Vervain for such an application.

The flower is the strongest relaxant nervine, but both the root and leaf also have noticeable relaxant qualities, although they effect different people to varying degrees. For some, the leaf infusion, with it’s slightly odd but nutty flavor, is quite enough to send them for a long nap, while others feel only a vague calming impression from the draft.

I learned from Michael Moore to use Mullein flower tea and/or tincture as a treatment for the Herpes Simplex virus, especially for women where triggered by hormonal fluctuations combined with stress. I usually combine it with Elderberry Elixir, Linden infusion, topical Mugwort application and the appropriate supplements and dietary measures, and have had great success with this particular regimen as long as stress levels are kept under control.

Urinary System

Verbascum root will be found useful for incontinence due to chronic cystitis, especially when combined with an appropriate mucus membrane tonic. It is very specific to cases adult incontinence childhood bedwetting as a result of a weak trigone muscle. In fact, I consider it worth trying in any bedwetting situation not clearly related to emotional trauma and/or sexual abuse. Michael Moore says that:

“The root is also a diuretic and urinary tract astringent. One-half teaspoon in one-fourth cup of water drunk before retiring will increase the tone of the triangular base of the bladder (the trigone) and aid in preventing bed-wetting or incontinence, and is frequently useful for prostate inflammation or simple urethral irrititation in both sexes following sexual calisthenics.”

I have not yet had the chance to utilize it in a case of prostate inflammation but I can certainly vouch for the fact that it works very well for bedwetting in children as well as general urethral irritation from infection or irritation.

Additionally, it should be thought of wherever there are both kidney and lung weakness together especially with water retention, and if there is great fatigue and difficulty urinating, Goldenrod should also be thought of. However, kidney disease can be a very serious thing, so please be careful and see a health care practitioner if there is any chance of infection or organic disease.

External Applications

Mullein is an ancient wound herb and soothes inflammation and pain while preventing infection, reducing swelling and aligning tissue for the best possible healing. It is specifically indicated where is a hard swelling of some kind and/or where there is a jagged wound unlikely to knit back together without significant scarring. Salve can be made from just leaves, just flower or some combination of root, flower or leaf depending on the need.

Tinctured plant can also be included in liniments for chronic or acute pain related to muscular stress or damage in addition to its use as a liniment for broken bones, misalignment or joint damage and pain. For use on slipped or bulging discs where there is sharp pain or burning, consider combining Mullein flower tincture with Chokecherry and Rose tincture for a more effective blend.

The Resin

The black resin exuded by the scored flower stalk, is somewhat more strongly vanilla like in flavor than the rest of the plant. It is also mildly mind altering, and when collected and concentrated into a tincture, can definitely provide some perspective shifting experiences, and can be a worthy psychotropic ally for some individuals. More about this in future posts.

In Conclusion

MulleinPatternsTo whatever system and in whatever way Mullein is applied, it brings illumination and guidance and alignment to those who ally with it. Hold a leaf up to the sun and look at the light is refracted liked stain glass. Spend some time with the dew-kissed flowers and notice the intense golden mood they invoke. Dig the root, brush away the sand and dirt and run your fingers over its earthy firmness. Whenever all your other herbal allies allude your understanding and the subtleties of your craft escape your understanding, come back to the Mullein. Sit with the plant, drink the tea, carry the root in your pocket, do whatever you need to do to get up close and personal with this plant, and most likely, you’ll find your way lit by one of our species most persistent, gentle and dependable guardians and guiding lights.

Preparations & Dosage: Tincture, oil or infusion of all or any parts is useful depending on the situation. Mullein tends to be a fairly low dose herb, it is safe in nearly any quantity, but is strong enough that most adults only require a dose of 3-7 drops a few times a day of the tincture.

Cautions & Contradictions: None, except the chance of contact dermatitis caused by those fuzzy little hairs. The name Quaker’s Rouge is an allusion to the use of the leaves by young girls to make their cheeks rosy, which worked because of the irritating hairs. This is also why I don’t recommend using Mullein leaf as toilet paper, because for some sensitive individuals, a rash and certain discomfort can result.

References and Further Resources

A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve

Personal correspondence with and Mullein monograph by jim mcdonald.

Personal correspondence with Susan Hess

Mullein Monograph by Ryan Drum

The Book of Herbal Wisdom, The Earthwise Herbal: Old World and unpublished writings by Matthew Wood

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West Michael Moore

Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions by Charles Kane

Mountain Medicine by Darryl Patton

Oct 172009

Common Names: Goldenrod, Blue Mountain Tea, Liberty Tea

Botanical Name: Solidago spp.

Taste & Impression: Bitter, Aromatic, Astringent, sl. diffusive

Energetics: Warm, Dry

Parts Used: Flowers & Flower Buds, Leaves, Roots

Actions: digestive bitter, alterative, stimulant and relaxant nervine, diaphoretic, astringent, digestive aromatic (and carminative), diuretic, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, bacteria-balancing (often termed anti-infective)

Specific Indications: Red, inflamed eyes, “bad skin” related to suppressed urine or underactive kidneys, atonicity of mucus membranes accompanied by copious dripping and fluid loss and possible low-grade infection, cat dander allergies

goldenrodEvery year, I anticipate the golden glory of late summer and early autumn in the Gila. The hills blaze with a thousand shades of yellow, from buttery layers of lemon to brilliant displays of bronze. From Snakeweed to Senecio to Verbasina to Lemonscent to Gumweed, the Canyon is bathed in a breath-taking display of sun-colored beauty. Of all of these, one of the blooms I most anticipate is the ubiquitous yet precious Solidago in all her many manifestations and subspecies!

Here in New Mexico, Goldenrod is especially fond of growing on shady hillsides and in rocky yet moist arroyos in the middle mountain range. It will often be found intermixed with the by now dried stalks of Beebalm and the last ragged blooms of the Evening Primrose. It is likely to be surrounded by the wild rays of aromatic Purple Sticky Aster, white flowered Fleabane and the ever prolific autumn blooming Senecio.

I love creating Goldenrod flower oil, tincture, honey, elixir and even dry a bit for tea as well if the harvest is plentiful enough. This gorgeous wildflower is both common and incredibly multipurpose. Before I begin my exploration of Goldenrod’s medicinal talents, let me assure you that it is not responsible for the massive pollen allergies it’s accused of. In fact, it’s not even wind pollinated, but rather insect pollinated and as such, its pollen is heavy and sticky rather than buoyant enough to float on the late summer winds right into your nose. You’ll have to get down on your hands and knees and snort some Solidago pollen straight from the flower to get a reaction in most cases. Usually, it’s actually Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) that’s causing the allergic affliction, which frequently grows alongside Goldenrod.

Perhaps one of this wildflower’s best known medicinal uses is as an astringent and anti-inflammatory, specifically for copious discharges of the mucus membranes. The tincture is great for drying up sinus drippiness and allergy induced nose running and also addressing sinus headaches and general congestion, especially if there’s overall coldness.

David Hoffmann says:

“Golden Rod is perhaps the first plant to think of for upper respiratory catarrh, whether acute or chronic, It may be used in combination with other herbs in the treatment of influenza.”

It is useful for achy, sore throats later in the later stages of many influenza type viruses, and a teaspoon of the flower infused honey soothes a raw throat as well as calming congestion and insistent drippiness.

Matthew Wood has greatly popularized Solidago in the treatment of allergies, especially animal dander related allergies and says:

“I know of no better remedy for cat allergy.  Boericke describes the characteristic eye symptoms: ‘red, injected, watery, stinging, burning.’  The eyes of the Solidago patient look like a person who has just gotten out of a swimming pool.  There is a generalized redness of the conjunctiva.  There are not the bright red blotches of Euphrasia, or the bloodshot appearance of Ambrosia.  With this there is congestion, sneezing and running of the nose, redness and irritation of the skin.  Solidago often has welts from allergy, a fact not mentioned in the literature I have seen.”

goldenrod2Additionally, Goldenrod flower tincture or tea makes an excellent primary or secondary therapeutic approach to thrush or vaginal yeast infections triggered by pollen, dander or other allergies, especially when combined with Beebalm (Monarda spp.). For non-allergy related chronic yeast infections I have found it of moderate use, and its effect is greatly enhanced by Beebalm and/or Alder (Alnus spp.). It also has a long history by indigenous North American people as a douche or vaginal soak in the treatment of infections, for general discomfort and preventative hygiene. While I am not a proponent of douches, I do think that herbal sitz baths can be extremely helpful in persistent, low-grade yeast infections.

It’s also a fabulous kidney medicine, and is specific where urine is scant, dark and strong-smelling from kidney sluggishness in nearly anyone, from children to the elderly. It is also known to prevent the formation of kidney stones where there is a long history of such, and I like to combine it with Chamomile in many preventative blends. It also has a long history of use in the treatment of current stones and/or infection, but kidney infections can be very dangerous and in most cases, should be handled by a health care practitioner. If used in the breaking down or passing of stones, and there is any duct pain it should probably be combined with a smooth muscle relaxant such as Silk Tassel (Garrya) or something similar.

Goldenrod is very useful in many cases of chronic urine suppression and general exhaustion of the kidneys. This is especially true where there is a tendency towards symptoms we usually associate with liver stress, such as “bad skin”, acne, inflamed yet deep pimples, dry and bloodshot eyes, which Matthew Wood indicates is due to the buildup of uric acid and the added stress placed on the liver by the long-term sub-functioning of the kidneys. It is so multi-purpose within this organ system that the late herbalist Maria Treben recommended it in all cases of kidney and bladder issues.

I also like Goldenrod in a variety of UTI type situations in which there’s a chronic, boggy and usually low-grade infection that won’t clear up, usually combined with an appropriate mucus membrane tonic. I tend to think Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) and Goldenrod tend to make an excellent pair in such cases, and because of Goldenrod’s beneficial diuretic action I prefer it as a tea with tincture of Yerba Mansa added to it or taken on the side.

Ananda Wilson, Medicine Woman student and fabulous herbalist, first told me of her discovery that Goldenrod elixir is really wonderful for SAD and general cold, gloomy blues. In the couple of years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Goldenrod many times in this capacity, and it never fails to work small but significant miracles where clearly indicated.  It works very well in many cases of mild to moderate depression, especially where there is seasonal sensitivity and general feelings of coldness, frustration and a feeling of being paralyzed by cold weather or more specifically, lack of sunlight (and don’t forget the Vit D too in such cases). I am also very fond of it in where digestive stagnation is causing feelings of sadness, stuckness and potential despair, and in such situations often team it up with Rose and Ginger.

The leaf tea has long been utilized among Appalachian grannywomen as a tonic for chronic fatigue and nervous exhaustion. I have noticed that it works best in this capacity if the individual is exhausted in part because they are so eager to please others and are constantly running on nervous energy and the desire to not “rock the boat”. These people often are at least partially aware of what they are doing and deeply dislike it, which causes them further anxiety and exhaustion, but they feel powerless to change their patters for fear of the interpersonal repercussions.

In a more general  nervine sense, Maria Treben said that:

“Golden Rod proves its worth as a medicinal plant which influences the human emotions most favourably. It should therefore be drunk without delay in cases of disappointments and emotional stress. We feel the soothing effect of this plant almost like a calming and caressing hand in severe emotional stress. Even the sight of the Golden Rod in nature has a quieting effect on us. We should be thankful that there grows a plant around us which can bring us such comfort.”

Indeed, Goldenrod brings cheery and comfort both from its simple beauty and presence in the fields and meadows, and also as a profoundly effective medicine and essential remedy.

Goldenrod is certainly a wonderful aromatic digestive bitter and carminative, and works very nicely to free stuck energy from the gut and strengthen overall digestion and absorption. Bitterness varies a great deal from species to species, so if you’re very interested in this aspect of the plant you’d be well advised to take the time taste the different spp. of Solidago that live near you, as there are almost certain to be many varieties with a multitude of taste balances between astringent, aromatic and bitter. I am especially prone to use Goldenrod for those who consistently feel cold and have gut stagnation where food just wants to sit in the belly like a lump, and where there is concurrent feelings of sadness and the blues that accompanies digestive upset and chilly weather. In acute flu and cold situations, Goldenrod tea or the elixir or tincture added to a hot diffusive tea of some kind, especially Ginger, is wonderful for nausea, stomach cramping and general malaise of the digestive tract. Being diaphoretic in action, it can also increase peripheral circulation, open the pores and help to equalize temperature in cases of fever.

If you have a very astringent spp on hand, it can also be quite helpful in general diarrhea, both in drying up secretions (if it becomes chronic or dangerously acute, it’s not necessarily a good idea to stop diarrhea right away, since the body is likely trying to get rid of something, better to just stay hydrated and deal with the underlying problem) as well as calming the inevitable belly turbulence that accompanies the primary complaint.

goldenrod4The oil or liniment makes a fabulous and very effective topical treatment for any sort of hurt, strained or damaged muscles. It works better than Arnica in many cases for this specific application and I always keep it on hand and include it in my pain liniments. I have even used it externally in many cases of severe uterine or ovarian cramping and it works very well, especially when the pain and cramping is exacerbated by cold and exhaustion, and feels better with pressure and warmth. I love combining it with Evening Primrose and Cottonwood for this application. Barbara Hall over at Lady Barbara’s Garden has also popularized it for all sorts of achy pains, including arthritis in the hands and many people swear by the oil for their painful, stiff fingers come winter.

Additionally, any part of the plant is a wonderful wound remedy, particularly on old, slow-healing wounds that ooze and refuse to heal completely. It’s also useful in the treatment of sore, sensitive bruises and contusions.

Special consideration should be given to the variability of the flavors and scents within the great many spp. of Solidago. If you have multiple species near you (and you probably do) take the time to taste the leaf and flower of each kind, and get to know the subtle differences. The most aromatic tend to be more helpful for mood elevation, kidney problems and external use, while the more bitter or bitter/aromatic spp. are especially nice for digestive issues and the astringent/aromatic types are great for upper respiratory issues and general mucus membrane over-secretion. These type of subtleties apply to all herbs, but Goldenrod tends to be a great example of it because of the many spp. and sensory variances even within a single species or subspecies.

Preferred Preparations:
Fresh flower or flowering tops tincture, flower infused honey, root tincture, infusion or strong tea of dried leaves or flowering tops, flower or flowering tops infused oil, flower elixir

Cautions & Contradictions:
Almost none known, although Aster family plant sensitivity is possible. Some sources recommend avoiding during pregnancy, but I don’t know of a specific reason why. And please, do not use Goldenrod as a substitute for medical care in cases of serious kidney disease or infection.

Resources & References:
The Book of Herbal Wisdom and other writings by Matthew Wood
Herbs for the Urinary Tract by Michael Moore
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande by L.S.M. Curtin
King’s American Dispensatory


All Photos (c)2009 Kiva Rose

Oct 012009


As the colder weather begins to move into the northerly reaches and higher eleveations of the Western hemisphere, there’s been much talk of this year’s especially virulent strains of cold and flu. The most important action you can take this is preventative in nature, including ingesting plenty of fermented foods and bone broth, getting your Vitamin D, being sure to make time for rest and keeping a good stock of immune tonic herbs on hand.

For this post though, I’ll be speaking specifically of bioregional herbs that can be allied with in the actual treatment of already present cold or flu. I have striven to create a simple, accessible, energetics-based materia medica based in your backyard rather than an expensive herb catalog. I’ll be dividing up my selections by action, to help give you an idea of not only what specific herbs to keep on hand, but what ~type~ of herbs to be on the lookout for in your bioregion. There’s some overlap, and that’s to be expected considering how multi-faceted most herbs are, and it means you’ll have less herbs to find and gather that way.

Keep in mind I’m not talking about all herbs available in commerce, I’m specifically speaking of SW bioregional herbs. However, I have primarily chosen weedy species common to most of N. America and even much of Europe. In fact, many of these herbs are so ubiquitous as to be nearly forgettable upon sight, but there are several here you can’t buy from any large herb manufacturer, so if you want them you’ll need to gather your own or buy from a small independent wildcrafter or grower who can cater to you weird taste in plants.

Demulcent Herbs

Demulcents are incredibly useful in cases where there is copious mucus, but instead of flowing freely, it cakes up into a hard crust inside the resp. tract causing congestion and feelings of constriction and can’t be expectorated regardless of how much effort is put into the task, often resulting in feelings of heat, oppression and exhaustion. They are also invaluable in situations in which there is little to no mucus but systemic dryness, resulting in withered and/or inflamed tissues. Feelings of heat, and a particular kind of “dustyness” in the lungs along with tongue with no tongue coating, are common symptoms of this.

  • Mallow (Malva and allied spp.). – Mallow is cooling and very moistening. It soothes a raw, abraded throat with amazing speed, even as a tincture (yes, I know that’s not supposed to work, but it does) and especially as a mucilaginous tea or gooey pastille. Taken as a tea or as a powder added to food, it excels at moistening dry, inflamed resp. tract tissue. Not only does it greatly reduce the discomfort and pain of such a situation, it all contributes enough moisture to allow dry, hardened mucus to loosen and then helps to efficiently expectorate it out of the body. I have seen many seemingly intractable, spasmodic coughs accompanied by feelings of heat and dryness almost immediately cured by a simple spoonful of mallow honey, a cup of slippery tea or a small bowl of mallow root gruel. It also works great preventatively if you’re prone to this sort of affliction and can help keep any infection from settling into the lungs. If you don’t like that much goo on a regular basis, using the leaves and flowers of the plant provides a good dose of mucilage but isn’t quite as intense as the roots.
  • Elm (Ulmus pumila and allied spp.) – Elm is also very moistening but more neutral in temperature, making it more appropriate for dry, oppressive coughs accompanied by a sense of cold. In addition, it shares Mallow’s gentle expectorating abilities, although if the person is very cold or has overall tissue depression, a warming, stimulating diaphoretic like Ginger or a Hot Pepper (Chile Piquen or Cayenne will work)  may be needed to get the mucus moving enough to be fully expectorated. It can be prepared exactly as Mallow, the dried bark can be cut in strips and made into infusion/tea, powdered and turned into pastilles or infused into a good honey.

Immune Tonic or Modulating Herbs

  • Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) – Yes, yes, you’ve all heard me go on and on about Elderberry. You’re probably nearly sick of it by now, but I can’t possibly leave it out of this post, now can I? First, Elderberry is a fabulous immunomodulator, that means it doesn’t just stimulate the immune system into overdrive, it actually assists the body in adjusting to whatever level of immunity is needed. It has also been shown to be anti-viral in some cases, effectively disarming the virus and then flushing it out of the system before it can continue replicating itself in your body. I prefer to use it to prevent the actual onset of a virus, but it is also quite wonderful for lessening the severity and decreasing the length of the illness, once you actually contract it. I like to make my Elder Mother Elixir with both berries and flowers, but good berry tincture, honey, tea or homemade wine all work well. Elder’s applicability is very broad, useful in nearly every case of viral illness, and its copious bioflavonoids only add to that. Some people warn against its use in the treatment of H1N1, but in the dozen or so cases I have advised in, Elder seems to be of great benefit, even in people with autoimmune disease, where you might think the chance of cytokine storm would be larger. Also, I have yet to see any cytokine storm with H1N1 and have not heard from other practitioners that it is a common occurrence with this strain of flu. I won’t dictate how to treat H1N1 one way or the other, but I do know I would certainly be very likely to use it if my own family was dealing with this flu.
  • Vit D – Well yeah, Vit D isn’t an herb but I can’t stress it’s importance in the prevention and treatment of flu and cold enough. Most suggested doses on the bottle are very low, 5,000-7,000 IU/day of D3 seems to work very well. Keep in mind that MOST people in North America are at least moderately Vit D deficient, including babies and children.


Lymphatic Herbs

Lymphatics are essential components of any herbal medicine chest, especially those aimed at treating the viral onslaught that is Winter in many places. These herbs are usually alteratives, with a specific emphasis on the lymphatic system. They increase and initiate movement of the lymph and specifically called with there is immune depression, swollen or painful glands or a history of lymphatic stagnation.

  • Alder (Alnus spp.) – Alder is my all-purpose lymphatic of choice in nearly any situation. Cooling and drying, it has a profound affinity with liver, skin and lymph. It is most specific in cases where there are swollen, sensitive glands, especially at the onset of a virus but equally applicable if the glands and immune depression persists even after the virus itself is gone, resulting in a chronic sore throat, feelings of fatigue, lethargy and sometimes unexpected or intermittent flushes of heat or fever. If there is any sign of secondary infection during illness, it is doubly indicated, and is incredibly useful in almost any bacterial involvement in any part of the body (more about this in the heat clearing herbs section). Although, I’ve worked with a large number of well known lymphatics in my practice, it is Alder that has proved most consistent and dependable up to this point. I prefer a tincture of the freshly dried bark, cones and catkins.
  • Redroot (Ceanothus spp.) – The wintergreen scented, scarlet red root of this aptly named herb is an excellent and classic remedy (revived with much thanks due to Michael Moore) for nearly any sort of glandular ailment. More warming in nature than Alder, it tends to be more suited for many chronic disorders or where Alder’s heat-clearing skills are not needed. I tend to think of Alder for acute conditions (even if longstanding) that involve heat, whereas Redroot is better for chronic, boggy or cool situations. It is xcellent for longstanding sore throats (especially with Sage), lymphatic stagnation as well as any spleen enlargement or non-fibrous cysts, inflamed tonsils and similar maladies. Decoction or tincture are both quite useful.
  • Mullein (Verbascum spp.) – This fuzzy leafed weed is one of the most multi-purpose herbs I know, and to top most known generalists, it excels at everything it does. Specific to our purposes as a cold/flu herb, Mullein is a wonderful yet gentle lymphatic, especially useful in cases where the glands seem especially nodular and hard. The plant can be taken internally as well as a leaf (smushed up to get rid of those irritating hairs, thank you) poultice placed externally over area. Root, leaf and flower will all work but I prefer flower for acute, painful situations and the root for the most chronic with leaf usually working best for glandular stasis specifically related to respiratory distress or infection. It is especially effective for hot, dry conditions but is very broadly active. If there is notable coldness in the individual, then stick to the leaves or roots.

Diaphoretic Herbs

These are herbs that can increase diaphoresis by increasing peripheral circulation. The real key here though, is not in the sweating (although that can be very useful) but in the improved circulation that allows the body to properly modulate temperature and humidity. This may sound less than exciting in words, but really, it’s extremely vital to the treatment of almost any virus, especially if there is fever or signs of restricted circulation. Fever itself is a healthy response by the anima (the vital force) and the body can often eliminate unwanted viral activity simply by raising it’s own temperature. The problem comes when the circulation is impeded by overly constricted or overly lax tissues that prevent the body from properly responding and adapting to the raised temperature, potentially resulting in prolonged and unnecessary fever or in a low-grade but ineffective fever. Diaphoretics need to be taken as hot teas or infusion, and the person needs to be kept warm and bundled up so that the circulation can focus on its healing work rather than just working as a thermostat. Note that diaphoretics, while often initially seeming to increase fluids in the body by moistening the skin, are actually drying in nature.

Relaxant Diaphoretic Herbs – These are called for in situations where there is great tension causing circulatory constriction. The person will often be tense, with little to no sweating, and a hard, hot fever that won’t let go. There is often obvious inflammation as can be seen through a crimson red tongue, a flushed face and a feeling of being very oppressed, irritated and restless.

  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)- A very consistent and powerful relaxant diaphoretic, indicated by flushed, red skin with racing heartbeat, feelings of oppression in the chest and a high, dry fever. It’s action is longstanding and very thorough but being of a fairly permanent nature (vs diffusive, read my terms of the trade posts if you don’t know what I”m talking about) and can take a while to kick in to an effective degree. For this reason, if I need quick action, I will combine Butterfly Weed with a more diffusive herbs, depending on the person, Beebalm or Ginger or Rosemary could all work well to speed action and deliver it more fully to all parts of the body.
  • Elderflower (Sambucus spp.) – One of the most accessible and easy to use relaxant diaphoretics in North America. Especially valuable in in the treatment childhood fevers, including those with febrile seizures. Susun Weed has discussed Elderflower’s ability to “reset” the fever mechanism when it is no longer functioning properly, and the body is habitually holding onto fevers rather than the fever following the healthy pattern of rising and then breaking. Even the tincture will work well for this, especially if there is fear that even the hot tea will raise the temperature of the child’s body temperature. However, in most cases, the tea is most appropriate and will also aid in bodyaches and sinus congestion as well as assist in modulating the immune system and help to prevent infection in the mucus membranes. Similar to Butterfly Weed, it is most called for where there is tension, lack of circulation due to tissue constriction, a red tongue and red, hot to the touch skin.
  • Vervain (Verbena and Glandularia spp.) – This bitter herb is one of the most broadly useful cold/flu remedies I know of. It sure doesn’t taste good, but  it does excel at treating constriction throughout the tissues, especially in the typically acute conditions of cold and flu. It predictably relaxes tension to allow for increased peripheral circulation while simultaneously acting as a wonderful calming nervine to promote much needed rest and relaxation. It does double duty where there’s an upset belly or any liver tension happening. It is indicated where there is plenty of surface heat, possibly accompanied by deep chills, and bone-deep aches. This discomfort tends to trigger a kind of restless irritability that manifests as very grouchy people who refuse to rest and can’t settle in to being sick long enough to recover. Vervain will help with all this and probably put them to sleep too. Very appropriate for many sick children, mothers, take note! However, very large doses will cause nausea and potential vomiting, so stick to standard tea doses.

Stimulant Diaphoretic Herbs – These are called for when the tissues are too lax to allow for proper circulation. There is often significant coldness, a feeling of weakness or lethargy, a pale tongue, and a cold, even clammy quality to the skin. There may be a lowgrade fever happening but it is usually non-productive and intermittent. Dampness and overall congestions may also be present. Be careful with these when it’s cold out, because while they can initially make you feel very warm indeed, they actually lower body temperature through opening their ventilations of the body (which is part of why they work well for fevers, eh?) and are traditionally used in hot weather in hot climates to cool the body down, not warm it up. So, even if you feel all full of warm, tingly goodness, guard your body heat well. In addition to my two examples (both of which are common in gardens in the SW), many kitchen spices and tea herbs are stimulating diaphoretics. Most are generally warming, but some like Sassafras, are much more cooling in nature and those should be used where there are signs of both tissue laxity and heat.

  • Hot Peppers (Capsicum spp.) – Specifically helpful in cases where weakness or longterm debility is preventing the body from completing the fever cycle. The fever usually stays low and dry, and there are feelings of exhaustion and being slowly drained by the process. There is also typically impaired digestion, achy joints and an overall sense of structural weakness, especially in the muscles. There may be inflammation but it will be of the low-grade, consumptive sort. I don’t recommend its use in excess or active inflammation, especially that related to excitement or constriction, as it can sometimes exacerbate these conditions.
  • Mustard (Brassica spp.) – Traditionally, the ground seeds are used but the fresh or tinctured greens made into a hot, strong tea can also serve as a very useful stimulant diaphoretic. This herb is felt strongly in the respiratory and digestive tracts, creating a feeling of central heat and moving outwards in a feeling very much like a mild hot flash. It has similar indications to Capsicum but is more broadly applicable and can be used in cases where there may be some active inflammation, but still, the most common indications are cold, lax tissues without productive fever.

Mixed Relaxant/Stimulant Diaphoretic Herbs
– As the name indicates, these are herbs with noticeably mixed stimulating and relaxing properties. This is true of most diaphoretics to some degree, but is more notable and usable in some. The most adaptable of these herbs tend also be variable in temperature, working as warm or cool as needed. These are called for when there is a clear mix of tissue states involved, which can happen because of a blockage in the body, that causes the tissues to behave in a fragmented way, because the virus has a certain constitutional effect that contrasts with the individual’s native temperament or various reasons. Many mint family plants fall under this heading.

  • Beebalm (Monarda spp.) – This herb is generally experienced as relaxing, especially to the nervous system and muscles, but it’s diffusive nature contributes in revealing that it also has stimulating properties. It is useful in almost any diaphoretic blend, and I much prefer it Mint in most situations. It relaxes any constriction that prohibits free movement of the circulation while also strengthening the heartbeat and speeding the effects other other herbs through the body. It’s significant volatile oil content contributes to its strength as an infection allaying remedy, especially those that settle in the respiratory tract, multiplying its usefulness in the treatment of influenza. In addition, it soothes muscular spasms, allows for deepened breath and will comfort an upset belly of nearly any sort and is useful in relieving nausea. It is widely applicable and can be used where there are signs of either heat or cold, laxity or excitement. I consider the most specific indication for its use to be the presence of “stuckness”, whether resulting in active inflammation or in cold dampness. The flowers are the most strongly diaphoretic part of the plant, but the leaves are also very useful.
  • Yarrow (Achillea spp.) – Bitter and aromatic, Yarrow is a well known herb and deserves its reputation as a heal-all in most cases. Like Beebalm, it excels at removing barriers to free circulation in the body, although its skills tends to be more focused, and work best where there is heat running rampant through the blood but a cool, blue-toned feel and look to the skin (M. Wood), which will usually be dry. The tongue tends towards red to carmine, and may be dry without coating or have slick trails of moisture across it. These are specific indications but Yarrow does very well at addressing general fever symptoms of almost any kind and I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to almost any diaphoretic blend. It’s also wonderful preventing infections and can be used as a gargle or spray (B. Hall) at the first signs of viral onset.


Heat-Clearing and Anti-Infective Herbs

This class of herbs are useful where there are signs of acute heat and possible secondary infection, especially in the respiratory tract. These are usually cooling and drying, and work quickly to lessen inflammation, ease discomfort and restore equilibrium to the body’s bacterial population.

  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) – A classic part of many Traditional Chinese Medicine cold/flu formulas along with Forsythia. Cool and dry, this sweet-smelling herb is wonderful for bringing down hot, high fevers in children or adults, especially if the fever is unnaturally aggravated due to secondary infection. Perfect for any kind of hot, damn infection in the lungs. Honeysuckle is also relaxing and very calming, and will help restless children settle down long enough for them to recover. I often make an elixir or honey with the flower specifically for children with sore, hot, raw throats, and heat and pain that extends down into the chest, especially if they have a tendency to hot, tense bronchitis.
  • Usnea (Usnea spp.) – This gorgeous green lichen is cooling and drying, and has a special affinity for dealing with all sorts of respiratory infections, even boggy, seemingly intractable pneumonia (although, I’d recommend combining with something more aromatic and diffusive in cold, swampy cases) or chronic bronchitis. If it is chronic though, be sure to combine it with a lymphatic herb for quicker results.
  • Alder (Alnus spp,) – Spoken of in the lymphatics section in more detail, Alder excels at clearing heat and infection from anywhere in the body. From acute ear infections to bronchitis, I have seen it clear severe, antibiotic-resistant respiratory infections in less than 48 hours. I have recently begun adding dried Alder bark to my Elder Mother Elixir because of its strong lymphatic and heat-clearing actions (not to mention it actually adds really nice flavor to the Elixir and deepens the color, contributing a very aesthetically pleasing deep red to the mix).


Expectorant Herbs

These remedies help move move mucus when it is stuck, overly copious or dried out. Mucus is actually a very beneficial substance, and a vital part of our immune response to bacterial or viral proliferation. As such, it’s not necessarily a good idea to pop those allergy pills and dry it all up before it has a chance to properly do its job. Suppressing fever or mucus has the inevitable result of reducing the efficiency and effect of our immune systems. Use expectorants to move mucus rather than prematurely drying it up. Expectorants come in two primary flavors, relaxant and stimulant, just like the diaphoretics, depending on whether you need to relax constriction to move the mucus or to compensate for laxity or depression in the tissues. They can, like any other type of herb, be either moistening or drying, warming or cooling.

Relaxant Expectorant Herbs – These herbs help relax constriction and tension in the chest and nervous system enough for the mucus to move. If there is also significant dryness, moistening herbs should be used, if there’s too much moisture, drying herbs should be selected. It is quite common for this kind of constriction or tension to cause spasms, even to the point of making expectoration impossible because the constriction is so extensive that coughing only results in gagging rather than anything productive. In such cases, it is often useful to combine a relaxant expectorant such as Chokecherry with a strong relaxant such as Lobelia to allow the lungs enough freedom to properly remove the buildup of mucus. Lonstanding or chronic buildup will usually either result in dried, up crusty walls of mucus or a gurgly swamp, both are breeding grounds for infections. The former should be addressed with moistening expectorants such as Mallow or Elm, the latter with drying, usually aromatic expectorants such as Cottonwood or Pine. Many, if not most, aromatic, diffusive herbs are by their very nature expectorant, so the choices are very broad.

  • Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana spp.) – The famous cough syrup herb is actually a much broader tonic herb of wide applicability by the herbalist, but does indeed succeed admirably at fulfilling its reputation as a cough remedy. Chokecherry is variable in temperature and may be either cool or warm, it is drying and has a pronounced relaxant action. It’s one of my favorite and first herbs for treating HOT, tight coughs where the mucus is dried up and crusty, often with a green or yellow tinge to it. There is usually significant tension and constriction, resulting in an inability to breathe deeply. Oftentimes, we will see red, flushed skin that is almost cherry red (M. Wood) in color and hot to the touch. There may well be dryness, and in this case, Chokecherry should be combined with Mallow or something similar. The individual will have a general hyperimmune response, probably some history of allergic reactions and a tendency to acute infections with active inflammation.
  • Mallow (Malva and allied spp.) – This gentle, gooey herbs can provide seeming miracles for those who tend towards the dry and hot. While the plant never actually comes in contact with the lungs, its moistening reflex action provides soothing, slippery relief to bronchial and lung tissue when eaten or taken as a tea, and to some degree, even from a tincture of the roots. It is clearly indicated where there is systemic dryness and heat, with hardened, condensed mucus that refuses to budge. If the person has less heat, it can be helpful to use a warming diffusive such as Ginger to get things moving more quickly.

Stimulating Expectorant Herbs – These are called for where there are boggy, lax or depressed tissues. This is especially common where a condition has become chronic or the individual has suffered for asthma or related lung weakness for much of their life. In these cases, there will often be coldness, even there is also a tendency to infection and low-grade inflammation. These situations can become dangerous, as a boggy lung ecosystem can easily turn into pneumonia or become a very welcoming habitat for virulent bacteria. In these cases, I will often recommend the use of an appropriate mucus membrane tonic for a period of time to help restore tone and flexibility to the tissue, which will lessen the chances for future infections or issues.

  • Cottonwood (resinous Populus spp.) – Sticky, aromatic and spicy, this common tree bears amber resin coated buds in later winter to early spring. These buds make an excellent medicine for boggy, copious mucus that just won’t go away. Instead, it sits in the lungs and seems to procreate, and you can often actually hear the bog growing when the person breathes. These people are usually cold, with signs of excessive dampness clear in overly lax skin and water-logged membranes. The tongue will often be pale unless there’s underlying infection, often with a thick white coating (yellow if there’s infection). The tincture, chewed resin (it will stick to your teeth and burn your tongue by the way) or even tea, will efficiently dry out and MOVE the wetlands trying to take over the respiratory system.
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) – An incredibly bitter, stinky little invasive alien and persistent weed that has completely invaded the Southwest. Despite all this, I really like Horehound. A powerful and dependable expectorant, it is especially useful where is a great sense of heaviness upon attempting to breath, as if your lungs were straining under a great puddle of stagnant water. There is sometimes slowed heartbeat and weakened pulse accompanied by general deficiency, a pale tongue and a look of listless weariness about the person. It is also of great use in the treatment child-onset asthma.
Aug 192009

Through the dry heat of this long Summer with very little rain, I have been drawn time and time again to the sweet cooling presence of the Onagraceae tribe. From the golden glow of the Suncups to the delicate white blossoms of the Evening Primrose to the feathery silk of the Willowherbs, I find myself entirely enamored of their medicine, that of their presence as well as their power as herbal remedies.


Of course, with flowers like these, it’s easy to fall in love, isn’t it? While some members of this family have very tiny flowers, as far as I can tell they are all exquisitely detailed and utterly gorgeous. Above, you can see a Gaura coccinea (sometimes classified as Oenothera suffrutescens) from earlier in the Summer. Only about a foot tall, these wildflowers have an amazingly enticing scent when they first open, reminiscent of both Honeysuckle and Roses, but really completely unique to the Onagraceae family. Its common name is Scarlet Gaura or Yerba de la Virgen (Herb of the Virgin).

All of the Gauras, Epilobiums, Oenotheras and other closely allied Onagraceae family members are both cooling and moistening. They tend to be astringent, mucilaginous and relaxing, with a taste that is usually bland and sweet, although some Oenothera spp. have a peppery bite to them. They also tend to be high in oils, especially in the flowers and copious seedpods. All of this makes them an excellent overall nourishing Summer tonic where signs of heat, dryness and tension are present.

 Above is seen Gaura mollis (otherwise known as Gaura parviflora or Oenothera curtiflora), more commonly called Velvetweed. It’s leaves are soft and, true to their name, velvety soft and very cool to the touch. The abundant herbs can be found from riversides to grasslands to vacant lots in New Mexico and beyond, often growing up to six or seven feet tall. They bloom all Summer long and are a wonderful and plentiful weedy ally.

This is Epilobium ciliatum, otherwise known as Fringed Willowherb or by the Navajo as Feather-top, named as such for the delicate feathers so resembled by the mature seeds. The flowers vary from vivd magenta to nearly white in color, and the stems are often streaked with scarlet red. It loves to grow on rocky riversides and gravelly islands. This sweet little herb is wonderful in nourishing infusions, especially since it lacks the tiny hairs that many of the other members of this family are known for.


I’ll be doing much more writing on the individual members of this family but for now it is useful to understand that they have much in common and can be used very similarly. That is to say that they all serve as very effective relaxant nervines, gut healers, gut flora modulators, anti-inflammatories, mildly to strongly spasmolytic (that part of that relaxant bit), mildly anodyne and vulnerary. If you understand the meaning of herbal actions, you’ll be able to see the great flexibility and usefulness of these plants in the everyday practice.

They all seem to have an affinity for the gut, mucus membranes, kidneys and  urinary tract. They are also dependable but usually mild nervines while remaining very uplifting in nature. Worthy of noting is their specific relaxant effect upon the liver, and their ability to clear up many cases of eczema related to liver heat and tension. I use one of these spp. in nearly every gut healing formula I make, especially if there is clear flora imbalance or a tendency to gut-related mood imbalance.

They have essentially no contradictions, and are mild enough for very small children as well as elders and those debilitated by exhaustion or long illness. They are very nutritive, serving as both oil and water tonics (in the sense of being deeply restorative) in the body and very nutritive in nature. They are essentially a food-like herb with great long-term healing potential.

Lastly, we have a gorgeous Evening Primrose, likely Oenothera caespitosa, shown in the evening’s last rays among Alders, Beebalm, Moonwort and Cottonwoods of the riparian forest. The large flowered white and yellow species of the Evening Primroses can often be seen to glow under moon or starlight.  These are plants of both nourishment and enchantment, providing gentle guidance into the mystery of healing, wholeness and the primal magic of the living earth.


All Pics (c)2009 Kiva Rose Hardin

Jul 132009

~Please share with friends and post wherever you can! Thank you!~

This year I am so excited to be offering two very special Medicine Woman Herbal Intensives! Each one is appr. one week in length and highly recommended to those of you who have been waiting for an in-depth opportunity to study herbal medicine and the Medicine Woman Tradition with me in person. For those of you who have been considering a Student Internship at Animá, we are now instead offering these shorter, but just as intense series of workshops geared towards women who learn best through hands-on experience and personal interaction! New topics and longer intensives may be available in the future based on demand and interest.

  • The first, offered August 7th-13th, is the Medicine Woman Tradition Intensive, focused on the core principles of healing as wholeness, herbal energetics, the wounded healer archetype, wild medicine, totems, constitutional herbalism and more. A celebratory learning experience for all those who feel called to follow the path of the Medicine Woman!
  • Then, from September 9th-15th we’re offering the new Walking the Medicine Wheel  Intensive, an in-depth and detailed look at learning, integrating and utilizing herbal energetics in practical, sensory and hands-on way. I’ve had many requests for this series of workshops and I’m extremely pleased to finally be able to offer them this year!

Please register as soon as you can for these intensives, as space is limited in order to keep the workshops focused and intimate. Both intensives are available on a per donation basis. Please contact me with any questions you might have, or if you have trouble downloading the registration forms.

Full descriptions and lists of workshop topics are included below, as well as registration form downloads.

The Medicine Woman Tradition Intensive August 7th-13th

Register Now!

You are invited for an exquisite week long intensive at the Animá Botanical Sanctuary in beautiful southwestern New Mexico. This powerful series of workshops and classes lass for one magical week and are specifically designed to encourage, inspire and inform both aspiring and practicing Medicine Women. We will be focusing on both foundational and advanced aspects of the Medicine Woman Tradition, including herbal energetics, the wounded healer archetype, medicine making, defining and recognizing constitutional types in the human body, animal totems, plant allies and so much more! Core principles of healing and herbalism are covered in depth and experiential workshops are emphasized. Wonderful, nourishing feasts including many wild and local foods will take place twice daily. Each day will be themed around a specific wild Canyon herb and the lessons they hold for us. A joyful immersion in wild plants, authentic being and earthen wisdom!

Appropriate for beginners and experienced practitioners alike.

Schedule and Workshop Topics

Arrival Day
Opening Circle and Practices for Presence

Day 1 (Alder)
AM Workshop: The Medicine Woman’s Approach: Healing as Wholeness
PM Workshop: Talking With Plants: Learning a Forgotten Language

Day 2 (Yarrow)
AM: Canyon Plant Walk and Wild Food Harvesting
PM The Wounded Healer: Illness and Wounds as Allies

Day 3 (Evening Primrose)
AM A Primer to Herbal Energetics and Actions
PM Totem: Plant & Animal Allies of the Medicine Woman

Day 4 (Moonwort)
AM – Herbs on the Animá Medicine Wheel
PM – Humans on the Animá Medicine Wheel

Day 5 (Juniper)
AM – Medicine Making: Traditional Methods and New Approaches
PM – The Creed: A Medicine Woman’s Code of Honor
Evening Celebration: The Medicine Woman’s Flower Festival

Departure Day
Closing Circle, Commitments and Giftings

 Register Now!


Week-long Intensive Sep 9th-16th, 2009

Walking the Medicine Wheel Intensive: A Medicine Woman’s Experiential Guide to Sensory Wisdom, Hands-On Herbal Energetics and Human Constitutions

Register Now

Join us in learning to speak with the plants through the primal language of sensory awareness!  For herbalists whose work is primarily based in Western (of the Americas, Europe etc) traditions of botanical-based healing, a bone-deep understanding and integration of herbal actions and energetics is essential for an effective and holistic practice. Recognition of patterns of imbalance or constitutional tendencies in the body can provide the practitioner with incredible insight that allows for deeper healing of the whole person. Open the book of leaves and immerse yourself in the infinitely complex yet profoundly common-sense world of energetic herbalism.

The Walking the Medicine Wheel Intensive is a comprehensive series of workshops taught over the span of a week and designed to provide an organoleptic understanding of herbal and human energetics. The participant will learn to discern the basic nature and action of an herb simply through sensory input, bodily wisdom and recognition of natural patterns. Additionally, we will explore the energetic nature of the human body and use our senses to understand which herbs would be most appropriate to each unique situation. Emphasis is placed on providing each individual with the necessary tools to practice energetic herbalism independent of charts or reference texts. Walk the spiral way of the medicine wheel and remember what our bodies have known all alone: the plants are speaking to us!

Appropriate for beginners and experienced practitioners alike.

Schedule and Workshop Topics:

Arrival Day
Opening Circle and a Celebration of the Senses

Day 1: Original Speech
AM Workshop – Engaging the Anima: Working with the Animating Spirit/Vital Force in a Healing Practice
PM Workshop – The Primal Language: Practicing Sensory Awareness & Focus

Day 2: Learning to Listen
AM Talking with Plants: Communicating with and Learning from Herbs through Sensory Language
PM At the Root: Core Nature and Tendencies of Medicinal Plants

Day 3: Speaking in the Green Tongue
AM A Book of Leaves: Herbal Actions and the Healing Intelligence of the Plants
PM: Reading the Body: Tissue States & Other Sensory Diagnostic Tools

Day 4: The Medicine Wheels: Elemental Guides to Energetic Patterns
AM Walking the Medicine Wheel I: An Herbal Cartography
PM Walking Medicine Wheel II: A Human Cartography

Day 5: Increasing Fluency: Application and Integration
AM Earthen Alchemy: Energetic Formulation and Medicine Making
PM In the Tradition: Creating a Cohesive, Common Sense Practice

Departure Day
Closing Circle & Goodbyes

Register Now


We look forward to seeing you there!!

~~Please share with friends and post wherever you can! Thank you!!~~

Jun 272009

Monsoon season is a magical time in the Southwest. The air grows heavy, the clouds roll in and the thunder rumbles across the mountains. Within days of the arrival of the first storms, the golds and sages of the semi-arid woodlands, grasslands and meadows erupt into a riot of vibrant wildflowers and lush green growth. Although Summer is our busiest guest season, and I can’t keep caught up even with 13 hour work days, I simply can’t resist the siren call of the Canyon to come out and play.



One of the most alluring of all the Canyon’s Summer plants, is the gorgeous Beebalm, known locally as Wild Oregano or Oregano de la Sierra, named for its strong, spicy flavor. Matthew Wood also notes that it has also been called Rose Balm by some authors, which of course is a name I like a great deal! While there are many varieties, both wild and ornamental, of Beebalm in North America, the most common spp. here is Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia, although we are also blessed with the presence of M. pectinata and M. punctata.


Any of the spp. make a wonderful spice to use anywhere you would usually add Oregano, with which it has much in common. Our Beebalm tends to be spicier than Oregano, with a slightly buttery taste and an extra layer of lemon-tanged pungency that makes it excellent in beans, marinades, stews, chile, tomato sauces and many other dishes. The fresh flowers with their sweeter but still very spicy taste are wonderful in salsas, chutneys, many sauces and certainly as an infused honey!



Each year, to gather our annual harvest of Beebalm for both medicine  and food, we head up a long winding arroyo that runs next to the mesa into the higher, moister mountains. Halfway up is a special place we call the FaeryGrounds, a rippling staircase of crystal-studded black and red rock. It’s here where the Beebalm grows the richest and thickest, bursting from crevices and and cliff-sides in a vivid display of pink and purple flower fireworks.


There’s no doubt that Beebalm is a magical flower, and one that specifically helps us to see the enchantment of the everyday. Its spicy-sweet taste and extraordinary blossoms bring us back to the present and urges us to notice the beauty and sweetness of life. This is a plant of movement, and excels at shifting circulation and energy outward and up in the body while clearing stagnation and heat.



As a nervine, Beebalm is lightening and opening, and promotes a strong sense of euphoria, joy and calm. It’s a wonderful remedy for those with depression, sadness or anxiety based in stagnant or old emotions and situations. Combine with Rose for feelings of self-doubt, nagging depression and a feeling of not being able to move on from deeply sustained pain.

It does have the potential to be too diffusive and upward moving for some individuals, especially those with a tendency to be ungrounded, spacey and are already too diffused and uncentered. I have seen more than one vata/airy type person nearly float away on butterfly wings upon simply breathing deeply of Beebalm’s scent. Perfect for those people who have forgotten we can fly but sometimes uncomfortable for those who have trouble staying rooted.


Further up the wash, past the FaeryGrounds, above the Butterfly Pool and among higher elevation plants such as Mountainspray, Wild Valerian, Gooseberry and Oregon Grape Root are the gorgeous Castle Rocks (as seen as above). Yet no matter how high you climb, there’s even more Beebalm gracing the mountain sides.

Beebalm is prolific but it doesn’t give the impression of working hard to keep its foothold in this rugged terrain, it simply seems to explode out of rock ledges and gravel with the immense ease and grace of someone well acquainted with their power and abilities. Even after the most ferocious floods and during long term droughts, this wildflower insists upon expression and fruition, predictably bursting into bloom every June.




The culmination of Beebalm’s profound moving powers and it’s spicy oils results in it being one of the most effective herbs I’ve ever used in nearly any case of infection. My years of alliance with this plant have resulted in literally dozens of case studies illustrating its effectiveness in the treatment of MRSA and many other antibiotic resistant infections in myriad manifestations. This all began with reading Matt Wood’s original reference to the plant’s use for UTIs and chronic yeast infections in his classic Book of Herbal Wisdom. Experience and extrapolation has taught me that Beebalm’s usefulness extends to almost any infection, whether chronic or acute. I especially like it combined with Alder for the additional lymphatic and metabolic support.


This gorgeous flower is also an effective and multifaceted diaphoretic, the spicy tea works wonderfully in many cold/flu/fever blends. Likewise, it’s a prime digestive herb in many cases of stagnation, fermentation and general gut inflammation.

Keep in mind as well, that Beebalm also make a great poultice, especially for for burns. Tincture, fomentation, infused honey and vinegar also make a great burn soother, especially when combined with Rose and/or Evening Primrose.  I adore Beebalm flower honey just for its incredible taste, but it is phenomenal as a burn dressing (including burned tongues!), cough syrup or sweet addition to a hot diaphoretic tea.


In the middle of the arroyo, very near the Faerygrounds grows a beautiful old Velvet Ash tree whose roots were left partially exposed by our last large flood. In the gnarled fingers of the tree have collected stones, crystals, leaves and bits of wood and plants. The result is a bit of enchantment bound together by the elements and certainly a gift to us humans who happen upon it.


Back home again, fresh from the river where the arroyo finally empties out, with my arms full of the bounty of wild land.  To read even more about this special indigenous American herb, you can also read my monograph on the Medicine Woman site.

All pics (c) 2009 Kiva Rose, except the portrait of me at the end which is (c)2009 Jesse Wolf Hardin



Additional Reading:

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

The Earthwise Herbal (New World Plants) by Matthew Wood

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood

The Practice of Traditional Herbal Medicine by Matthew Wood

Personal correspondence with jim mcdonald


Jun 072009

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.

– Mary Oliver

Nature was my first mother.
I memorized the forest floor as I would
my mother’s body. This forest skin
smelled like pine sap and sweet rot, and
it stained my diapers green and
perfumed my hair, which was always
tangled with bits of leaves, small sticks,
and moss…

– Brenda Peterson, Nature and Other Mothers

Botanical Name: Salvia spp. (Most commonly Salvia officinalis, but nearly any aromatic Sage will work, including Salvia apiana, Salvia subincisa, Salvia lemmoni, Salvia carnosa and many others )

Taste: Aromatic, acrid, sl. bitter to very bitter (depending on spp.), oily (in the more aromatic species usually), slightly to moderately astringent

Energetics: Cool-warm (variable temperature herb), dry
Actions: relaxant/stimulating diaphoretic, nervous system trophorestorative and relaxant/stimulating nervine, aromatic digestive (carminative and spasmolytic), cognitive tonic (nootropic), vulnerary, mild astringent, blood tonic, oily tonic

Specific Indications: Poor circulation with cold extremities, skin soft and relaxed, concurrent anxiety and depression, tremors or shaking, excessive fluid loss or lack of body fluids, low specific gravity urine, blood stasis or loss, overall weakness with myalgia and chronic headache, chronic sore throat

The scent of Sage has always had comforting connotations for me. Even as a child, I was well known for my tendency to use ridiculous amounts of the aromatic herb in almost everything I cooked, from spaghetti to stew to salad dressing. To me, the plant tasted and smelled like something so soothing I couldn’t get enough of it — like the strong, sweet arms of a smiling mother whose hair holds the scent of spices, rich soil and summer. In retrospect, I can see how that sensitive little girl was already stressed and in need of the nourishment and centering Sage offers to both body and mind. When I began my herb garden in my parent’s back yard, Sage was among my very first plants, and I eventually grew many different varieties of Salvia, both culinary and ornamental, simply because I was so enamored of the calming spirit of this generous species. I would often kneel in the middle of the garden with my face buried in the Sage bed, just breathing in all its concentrated store of herbed sunlight and heady warmth that grounded me back into my body and the earth.

Sage is a member of the mint family, a fact easily ascertained by its square stems, generally strong aromatics and provocative flowers. The appearance of the plant varies a great deal depending on spp. from the silver-grey pebbly leaves of Salvia officinalis to the dark blue-green and sharp-edged foliage of S. subincisa. The flowers range from all shades of blue to red to lavender, purple or pink, creating a fascinating and sensual display in any garden or wild area. We tend to think of Sage as strictly a garden plant, yet in reality, various wild species thrive throughout the world, including much of North America. Being a common culinary herb, it often brings to mind domestic scenes  such as cozy kitchens and warm hearths but a closer look at the nature of this plant quickly reveals the wild spirit within. While certainly a traditionally important woman’s and cooking herb, Sage is also a denizen of wilderness and an ally of shamans.  This herb is respected wherever it grows, across many continents and cultures, as an important healing plant. It is also known almost universally for its ability to clear negative energy, bad vibes or even evil spirits when its smoke or steam is allowed to permeate an affected area, it was even used traditionally by the indigenous Cahuilla peoples to clean hunting tools touched by a menstruating woman. However we interpret this, it’s simple enough to see that Sage has a calming and cleansing effect on both people and environs it is used for. The smoke of several of the most aromatic Salvias were also considered specific for fumigating areas contaminated by sick or dead people, indicating its usefulness in warding off viruses and bacteria and perhaps stimulating innate immunity.


Sage is a classic tonic in the sense of deep nourishment and foundational restoration, especially for the nervous system, digestive tract and cognitive organs. While there are many well known quotes along these lines from the herbal literature of antiquity, this primary trait does not seem to be well utilized in modern American herbal practice. In fact, Sage’s very name derives from the latin word Salveo or Salvare which means “to heal” or “to save” and according to Grieve’s A Modern Herbal was even sometimes known as Salvia Salvatrix (Sage the Savior).  Traditional Western Herbalism, including European, Appalachian, Hispanic, Indigenous and other sub-groups, have made extensive use of its considerable range of healing attributes.

The Bottom Line

When reading some of the seemingly contradictory actions and indication in the description of Sage, it will be helpful to keep in mind that the herb seems to act primarily as a balancer of fluids in the body, whether there is too much or not enough. It also serves as an oily tonic, making it doubly useful in many cases of moisture imbalance. Its balancing effects include the blood, which Sage both moves and tonifies with astonishing intelligence. It also restores much needed minerals to the body, being rich in calcium, magnesium and other nutrients.

Whatever this herb does, it does it reliably, efficiently and without fanfare. Sage is a remedy filled with common sense, down-home wisdom and practicality — it gracefully does what needs be done and gets on with life, all while tasting good and filling the kitchen with its savory scent. Being a variable temperature herb and both stimulating and relaxing, it is adaptable to many circumstances and bodies, making it extremely useful in variety of situations.

Indications & Actions

Sage effectively clears both dampness and heat and is a perfect choice as a constitutional tonic in cases where there are signs of dampness (especially excessive phlegm, a wet or slick tongue, moist and/or relaxed skin or flesh and copious sweating) and heat (flushed face, a chronically sore throat, hot flashes, night sweats and a general sense of being chronically overheated.) In line with its variable temperature nature, it can also address systemic coldness (esp. in cases of poor circulation) or cases where there is general coldness but with flashes or waves of heat, usually from deep-seated constitutional dryness.

It is equally useful in acute cases where a virus has manifested in the body with symptoms of dampness and heat. This aromatic herb has a special affinity with the upper respiratory tract in situations where there is congestion, drippiness and a general feeling of having one’s head filled with soggy cement. It helps to dry up excessive secretions and soothe the inflammation of sinusitis, either taken internally or as a nasal wash. Steam inhalations made with Sage, especially in conjunction with Monarda, are excellent at breaking up congestion, loosening constriction, decreasing overall inflammation and preventing or treating any respiratory infection that might occur.

It is well known in the treatment of chronic or acute sore throats, especially if accompanied by swollen or tender glands. A favorite formula of mine for painful, scratchy throats is a tincture or elixir (with honey or glycerine added to the tincture when making it) made with equal parts Rose, Sage and Mallow. An infused honey of these ingredients is also very soothing and healing to the throat. Where there are also chronically swollen glands, it works wonderfully when formulated with Alder.

Sage is markedly helpful in relaxation and stasis of the digestive tract with bloating, gas, cramping and general atony. If the tongue is flabby and damp with teeth marks on the sides, especially in the back it is doubly indicated. Because of its variable temperature nature, Sage can be of help whether the tongue is pale or red, in cases of either heat or coldness.

As a hot tea, the herb stimulates sweating in a dry fever and can speed recovery from a virus. Taken as a cool tea instead it often lessens excessive sweating, menstruation, urination and other fluid loss, especially where there are cool extremities and a relaxed tissue state.

Sage can be of great use in systemic dryness, specifically where the flesh looks limp or somewhat withered, with a distinct lack of oil in the skin. Dryness is not only caused by a shortage of moisture but sometimes by lack of oils. Different herbs and foods will be needed in each case. Often if there is a significant lack of oil in the body, the tissues will be unable to retain proper fluids as well. Matt Wood explains it thus:

“Sage helps in the digestion and utilization of fats and oils. By building up the lipids of the body it helps the nutrition and hydration of the cells. It “plumps” up the tissues, retains water and provides a medium for the movement of hormones. ”

In the same vein, it  has the ability to greatly lessen or completely dry up breast milk, so is not advisable for lactating mothers who with to continue to nurse but can be great for assisting the weaning process.

Sage is considered to be what is commonly termed a nootropic (sometimes dubiously referred to as “smart drugs”), which simply indicates that it works well to improve clear thinking, memory, concentration and other cognitive functions. It can even boost functional intelligence if the thinking process stems from weakness, debility or poor circulation. It is indicated in many cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other expressions of cognitive decline, especially where specific constitutional factors are also present. I have found that Sage often teams up remarkably well with a good adaptogen/tonic herb such as Ashwagandha or American Ginseng to help bring renewed vitality and sparkle to many older people or those weakened by a long illness, trauma or grief, especially if incorporated into a constitutionally appropriate formula or regimen.

I consider Sage a primary remedy in the treatment of tremors, irritability, insomnia, sensory hypersensitivity and brittleness in either acute or chronic form. I have had excellent results from small doses of the tincture (especially the tincture of S. subincisa) in the treatment of adrenal fatigue with exhaustion with chronic anxiety (esp. if accompanied by tremors and poor circulation) as well as possible depression. Both stimulating and relaxing in nature, Sage is a nervous system trophorestorative that helps modulate moods and works amazingly well for people who have concurrent or cycling depression and anxiety.

My own experiences using Sage as a nervous system trophorestorative came about quite by accident. Several years ago, I was actually looking for a patch of Scutellaria and came about our native Salvia subincisa, which is a very small Sage with dark blue flowers and a skunky smell. I didn’t find the Skullcap that trip but decided to tincture the Salvia and see how much it resembled Garden Sage in action. Back in those days, my nervous system was extremely worn down and I had chronic tremors in my hands and the feeling of constant shaking from the inside out, accompanied by intense anxiety and exhaustion. After trying every native and commonly available herbal nervine, I found that the S. subincisa was the only remedy that calmed the shaking (both visibly and internally), as well as the insistent nervousness that plagued me. A few drops would completely mellow me without sedating me or affecting my ability to think or function. I have now had the opportunity to use the herb in more than half a dozen clinical cases with similar indications and it has worked remarkably well, calming and soothing when other, much stronger herbs have had little effect. I have found that it is one of those herbs that can perform miracles when specifically indicated but may have little more than a slight calming effect on more general cases.

The smudge, tincture, tea, steam, infused oil or other aromatic preparations are excellent at helping to bring a panicked or traumatized person back into their body. There are few scents in the plant world as calming as White Sage (S. apiana) and many of its indigenous American relatives. Use specifically where there is rapid breathing or hyperventilation, a feeling of disassociation and bone deep fear.

Sage is similar in action to Lavender as a vulnerary, although somewhat more cooling in nature. Excellent for burns, swellings, sprains, rashes and other red, irritated wounds. It reliably takes down inflammation and swelling while speeding healing and protecting from or resolving infection. Additional, it works nicely externally when included in pain liniments and salves.

Also like Lavender, it can be a very effective in the treatment of many different kinds of headaches, especially those originating from tension but helpful in nearly any kind of head pain. It is also useful internally and externally for all kinds of muscle achiness from nervous tension. In fact, TCM herbalist Jeremy Ross considers it specific for “patients with recurring muscle aches or pains” especially when concurrent with “anemia and debility, and are easily chilled by exposure to cold and winds, resulting in recurrent myalgia… they have recurring headache, muscle aches, irritability and depression.” Exhaustion, depression and headache either post- or pre-menstrually are very common in these cases as well.

The picture of Sage that comes together when we look at all of its diverse actions together show it as an ideal herb for many of the discomforts common to menopause, especially if there are night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, irregular menstruation. Matt Wood specifically says:

“…it is suited to older women, in menopause and afterwards. It is helpful with making the transition from ‘fertility estrogen’ made in the ovaries to ‘post-fertility estrogen’ made in the adrenal cortex, as Phyllis Light explains it.”

A more unusual use of the plant is as an excellent blood mover where there is chronic pain as a result of stagnant blood or even problematic blood clots. This is better known in connection with Chinese Red Sage root (S. militiorrhizae), but the Sages of the Americas and Europe seem to act in a nearly identical way. Even some of the less aromatic Salvias, such as S. coccinea, have been traditionally used to move blood and thus relieve pain (and also calm anxiety, in this case).

Sage also make a wonderful flavoring for all kinds of foods and drinks, aiding in digestion of rich meals, calming the mind and aiding in focus on whatever is at hand, even if that happens to be a delicious dinner we need to be present to enjoy and celebrate. Its warm, classically herby taste brings extra depth and richness to many dishes, from simple scrambled eggs to nut-crusted flax bread to the fanciest cream sauce. It’s also a great addition to many homemade ales and wines, or to pestos and vinaigrettes.

Even now, whenever stress or worry becomes too intense for me to deal with, I head for a cup of Sage tea to drink and my beloved bottle of White Sage infused oil to rub into my arms and pulse points. Nothing brings me back to my center as quickly and sweetly as this plant. Sage and Rose remain my own personal rescue remedy in any time of acute anxiety, with Milky Oats added in during extended periods of stress. And I still think of Sage as a strong yet soft mother figure with wide open arms, a ready smile and wise eyes. Human projection though it is, this image has allowed me to see deeper into the nourishing, deeply restorative core of the herb I have loved since childhood, and that continues to heal and nurture me so many years later.


Sage is very amendable to many different preparations, from the sweet spiciness of the infused honey to the savory warmth of the slow-sipped tea. A stronger infusion can be made for acute needs and taken in doses of 6-8 ounces up to three times a day. The tincture is also very effective and especially useful for the small doses generally used as a nerve tonic. A mineral rich and very tasty vinegar can be made with freshly dried Sage, and of course it is a wonderful and popular spice in a variety of dishes. Externally, the infused oil or salves is very useful and warm fomentations work well. White Sage is less extractable in just water than Garden Sage, and I was taught by Michael Moore to soak the leaves in a light coating of grain alcohol before infusing in water. Don’t ever boil the herb, as the intensity of the heat will destroy the delicate aromatics so essential to the medicine. Steam inhalations are a great way to work with respiratory ailments and pastilles (especially when combined with Rose and Mallow or Elm) are great for sore or irritated throats.

Cautions & Contradictions: Not recommended during pregnancy or lactation.

References & Resources:
Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study using Salvia officinalis in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions by Charles Kane
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charles Kane
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Personal correspondence and unpublished writings of Matthew Wood
Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Thomas Avery Garran
Combining Western Herbs and Chinese Medicine by Jeremy Ross
A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve

Jun 012009

If I were a plant, I would be this particular plant. Not just a general Rose, but wild New Mexico Rose growing on the lush banks of the Gila’s riparian forest. Not only because the flower is exquisitely, delicately beautiful but because the Wild Rose is tough and tenacious, living through flash floods, long droughts and even cattle grazing. She smells sweet from a mile away but as soon as you get close she tries to shred your clothes and tangle in your hair. There’s something to be said for beauty with attitude.


I’ve written an extensive monograph on the medicinal uses of Rose here, be sure to check it out if this amazingly multifaceted herb appeals to you!


Here, the Wild Rose grows in hedges along the water, usually in the company of Alders, Wild Grapes, Evening Primrose, Blue Elder and Nettles, which is fine company indeed! The deep red of the Roses’ curving stems make it easy to pick out from other greenery even when they’re not flowering.


Many domesticated strains of Rose are thornless or nearly so, which I think takes away from the fierce beauty and feisty personality of the original wild varieties. If you get tangled up enough in a Sweetbriar hedge, you’re likely to think the plant is a bit on the aggravated side, or even downright mean — but with fruit and flowers as sweet as they have, they certainly need to have some protective defenses.


Most people use only the petals of Roses for medicine, but I’ve found that the leaves are also very calming and healing and use them extensively. They also have their own strong musky scent which balances out the sweeter aroma of the blooms. I find that the strongest smelling leaves are also sometimes much more calming than the flowers. Studies also show that the leaves of Roses contain the same anti-inflammatory and vasculature strengthening antioxidants as the flowers and fruit.


Unruly, delicate, fierce, armed to the teeth, ungainly and incredibly vulnerable all describe this plant. Not so much a bundle of contradictions as a fine balance of complementary attributes. Well integrated, if you will.


Wild Rose flowers change shape and form constantly throughout their blooming process. From the tightly furled bud to the shy unfolding to the brazen bloom to the slightly misshapen and oddly wrinkled, they are a delight to watch. And a lesson in the authenticity that real beauty is.


The lifespan of the Wild Rose flower is a short and tumultous one – it begins a brilliant magenta and fades to nearly white when it falls from the plant. The shifting textures and colors of the petals only add to its appeal, rather than detracting from it. Every wrinkle and curl and subtle variation begets personality and character. The sweet aroma of the petal and musky scent of the leaf combined with the plants myriad, transforming shapes compound the herb’s heart opening effect.


The medicine of the Wild Rose is in its cool touch, the way it soothes burns and infections and pain with a quick yet firm touch –  in the calm nourishment that goes right to the heart and womb, unfolding into vitality.  And in the way those thorns grab you and pull you in, bringing you face to face with magic and the present moment, even if you have to bleed a little to get the point. That’s a Rose for you – equal parts sweetness and in your face attitude.


Wild Rose Elixir

  • 1 canning jar (or other sealable glass jar)
  • Wild Rose petals (and some leaves and buds if desired)
  • Raw honey (preferably a lighter wildflower variety since darker honeys will tend to muffle the Rose taste more. Vegetable glycerine can also be used, especially for diabetic or people who can’t have any sugar at all.)
  • Brandy (although vodka or everclear can work. If using everclear, dilute to about somewhere between 40-50% alcohol with water)

Fill jar with petals, then fill about 2/3 of the jar with alcohol, then fill the rest of the way with honey (less or more to taste). Cover and let steep in a cool, dark place for about a month.

A note on straining your elixir: You can strain the petals out and eat them separately if you like, they taste very yummy and have lots of medicine in them… you could candy them or put them on a berry flax cake or any number of other yummy things.

Use your elixir as a substitute for Rescue Remedy or whenever a calming, mood-enhancing, heart opening influence is needed. It’s also great externally for burns, bug bites, infections and wounds, along with MANY many other uses.


All pics (c) 2009 Kiva Rose

Mar 152009

My sweet friend, fellow herbalist, sister wild woman and student, Ananda Wilson, just did a lovely post over on her blog that’s inspired me to do something similar. I don’t have any cool little tincture wraps like she does, but I definitely have a set of my top 7 backpack remedies (that’s 6 tinctures plus a salve). I really did try to match Ananda’s wonderfully efficient number of five, but dammit, I just couldn’t do it.

Now, any first aid kit is going to adapt to a given situation, grow according to need and vary wildly depending on the bioregion of the person creating it. With that in mind, this post isn’t an attempt at prescribing a perfect med kit. Instead, it’s just a description of the 7 herbal preparations I’m most likely to throw in my backpack when hiking, taking a city trip or just heading into the village for a grocery trip (you’d be surprised how often I need them) or to visit a client. Luckily, in NM, even in the biggest city there’s wild land (and thus herbs) very nearby, but you just can’t beat the convenience of tinctures and salve in a pinch (like when someone’s swelling up from a bee sting or bleeding all over the carpet).

You’ll notice that most of my favorite first aid remedies are distinctly cooling in nature. That’s partially because I live in a warm climate with lots of heat type problems and partially because the majority of acute issues requiring first aid are hot by nature.

All of the herbs listed here are safe and gentle enough to be used by children (in the appropriate dosage) but strong enough to be very effective in any adult.

1 – Peach (Prunus persica)cool, dry

Peach is the queen supreme for treating acute reactions to venomous bites and stings. I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost my mind and confused Peach with Plantain, but no, I really do find Peach to be a superior remedy in many cases.  I make a brandy tincture of fresh twigs (and flowers, when I can get them) and after much trial and error, ALWAYS use it as my first recourse against wasp, bee and scorpion stings, spider, ant or cone nosed kissing beetle bites, and for many rashes that look irritated and red. If however, the bite/sting is old and festering, I’m much more likely to go for a combo of fresh Plantain and Alder.

It’s also phenomenal for many hot type acute issues (ever so common in the SW Summer heat) including heat sickness with nausea, sun poisoning (internally and externally, with Rose), agitation and hyperactivity in children (with signs of heat),

 2 – Moonwort (Artemisia ludoviciana and allied spp.)cool, dry

My favorite frangrant bitter, this aromatic little plant kicks the digestive system into high gear and helps eradicate anything from food poisoning to travel-induced constipation. It’s also super useful for any wound, bite, bruise, sting, contusion and anything other red external thing that hurts. It’s also my favorite treatment (with Rose) for poison ivy/oak, just dilute the tincture with water and apply as a compress.

It’s broadly antimicrobial (read: bacteria, fungi, virus) when used externally so very useful for any potential infection as well as a treatment for that cold sore that’s about to happen. Internally, it’s also ver

3 – Blisswort (Scutellaria resinosa) cool, dry

A strong multipurpose antispasmodic, relaxant nervine and digestive bitter. I don’t think most Skullcaps work as efficient bitters, but the sticky little plants native to the canyon are as bitter as can be. Cooling, relaxing and quick acting, I use Blisswort for everything from muscle cramps (externally and internally, including charlie horses, menstrual cramps and similar afflictions), acute injuries, nerve pain (externally and internally), anxiety, emotional trauma, tremors, insomnia, certain kinds of stomach upset (with heat, stagnation and a feelings of stuckness).

4 – Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii and allied spp.) cool, dry

Yeah, we all know just how much I love this plant, don’t we? The perfect, gentle nervine for all kinds of trauma, stress, grief, fear and other strong emotions that threaten to debilitate the person. I use it like most people use Rescue Remedy (with the added benefit that Wild Rose tincture is harvested from my land, by me and made by me, no extra companies and machines needed).  Combine with Blisswort when a stronger nervine or anti-spasmodic effect is needed. It’s also perfect for heat sickness, sore throat, heat headache, mosquito and other itchy bites, sunburn (dilute with water and apply as compress), and can work some serious miracles on screwed up flora in the belly (making it really nice combined with Moonwort when dealing with foreign water, recovering from a course of antibiotics or similar issues), as well as all manners of hot inflammation manifesting as painful joints, rashes, wounds, venomous insect bites/stings (with Peach), menstrual cramps (internally and externally, and with Blisswort).

I said sunburn already, didn’t I? But seriously, this is the PREMIERE sunburn remedy (even better with Beebalm), it works nearly instantly to stop pain and heat, and usually completely prevents blistering, peeling and scarring. That also makes it great combined with Beebalm for any kind of burn (from campfires, hot metal, fire place etc), just apply the tincture directly to the burn as long as the skin isn’t broken. If the skin is broken, be sure to dilute the tincture in water first.

5 – Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) cool/warm, dry

My favorite and first treatment for most acute (and many chronic) yeast infections and UTIs. When traveling, it’s especially important to have on hand because all you women know how much likely an infection or UTI is to come on when you’re eating unusual food, not drinking enough water and stressed from airports or long drives with irate children. It’s also fabulous for any burn from any source (use neat on unbroken skin, dilute for broken skin). A cold forehead compress made with tinctlure diluted in vinegar or water is wonderful for heat or stress headaches.

It’s also just what you want to have on hand if you contract any kind of systemic infection, as frequent doses of the tincture can knock out anything from your run of the mill sinus infection to a serious case of MRSA (with the help of an experienced health care provider, please). In serious cases, I usually combine it with Alder and possibly some Yerba Mansa.

6 – Elderberry (Sambucus neomexicana and allied spp.) – cool, dry

Usually in the form of Elderberry Elixir, combining berries and flowers with brandy and honey/glycerine for a preparation that seems to draw out the best of Elder’s many gifts. This is, of course, one of THE best remedies for eliminating cold/flu bugs that you are exposed to, that seem to want to settle in to your system and even those that are already comfortably at home and making your miserable. If it doesn’t prevent it (and it usually does), it’ll certainly speed the bug’s departure. With Elder’s strong affinity for the lungs, this elixir especially excels at preventing a virus from taking root in the respiratory system.  The elixir, if made with glycerine instead of honey, makes a great treatment for minor ear infections and swimmer’s ear as well (as long as there’s no signs of eardrum perforation). It can also be used on many wounds and burns if necessary, but it’s kind of sticky for that.

& a Salve

Usually my beloved Canyon salve, made up of a combo of Cottonwood, Alder, Moonwort and Pine. It’s great for any wound, scrape, splinters, bruise or injury and doubles up admirably well as a pain salve when needed for sore muscles, broken bones, blunt trauma, that kind of thing.

A Note: If you want more information or specifics on any of the plants I’ve mentioned here just use the search bar to the left to look them up by name (botanical name works especially well) or head over to the Medicine Woman’s Allies page and look for them there.

What’s missing from this list is any very strong astringent in case of profuse bleeding or diarrhea, but astringents are common and easy to come by so I don’t usually carry them on me. In the wild, there’s tons of plants (like Oak or Currant or Sumach or Geranium or Blackberry or or or) and in the city there’s lots of lovely kitchen spices and common foods (cinnamon, black tea and so on) that can be used. Besides, they’re usually much better taken as a tea or chewed plant than as a tincture when it comes to belly troubles or even most cases of bleeding.


I just posted the first instalment of a new version of my Talking With Plants essay on the Animá blog. These undertandings form an important part of the foundation of the Medicine Woman Tradition and the way I teach herbalism. You’ll likely recognize a few paragraphs from my orginal posts by the same name on this blog, but the latter half of the first installment as well as most of the second installment is all new. The new version is much more concise, to the point and blunt (I do so hate being misunderstood), and just generally improved. A vastly expanded version will be in the upcoming book and this shorter version will appear in its entirety on the Medicine Woman site in the near future as well as in the upcoming issue of Gaian Voices. Here’s a short excerpt:

Plants are not humans, but they are no less sentient and complex beings for their differences from us. While not human or even animals, they are people in the sense that they are intelligent, adaptable, vibrantly living and deeply feeling. In our attempts to relate to them, we would be wise to acknowledge and respect their profound otherness. Our natural tendency in nature is to attempt to understand through the similarities between them and us, and indeed, we are all connected and related through an amazing variety of traits. And yet, each species has its own special gifts to contribute to the whole. We honor those gifts by noticing and appreciating the ways in which we are different as well as the similarities.
-Kiva Rose

Mar 152009

The days have been fairly cool, and we’ve been blessed with gentle showers of both rain and snow recently. Despite the colder temperatures (and the fact that the mountaintops directly above us are still white capped), the plants have still been proliferating like there’s no tomorrow. It’s that time of year where soon I’ll barely be able to keep up with the changes and growth from day to day, but that doesn’t stop me from trying! We’re still about two weeks ahead of the normally scheduled bloom (as if there was such a thing) and the Mountain Candytufts are in full explosion, and ever so tasty. I know some of you are still buried under many feet of snow but maybe you’ll get some vicarious enjoyment from the greenness of the Canyon.



I adore this amazing fallen tree and the Nettle Patch that loves it. The shapes in the roots and bark endlessly fascinate me. There’s also lots of baby Beebalms (Monarda pectinata) coming up here, but are still too tiny to photograph.


This is going to be an exceptional Nettle year here in the Canyon. They’re coming up places I’ve never seen them and are growing thick and vibrant in all their chosen homes. Last year there was hardly any, so I’m excited to harvest enough for both medicine and food this year. Our native species is the Mountain Nettle (Urtica gracilenta), a feisty annual that grows faster than you can blink this time of year.



The buds of the red-barked Pointleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens) are swelling every day, and will soon bloom into pink tinged faery bells. By late Summer, the bushes will bear (excuse the pun) fat rusty red-brown berries very much loved by those of the Ursine persuasion. This close relative to Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and allied species) has identical medicinal uses but is much more common in the Southwest than the diminuative Bearberry.




Unlike most trees, our evergreen and shrub Oaks lose their leaves in Spring rather Fall. For the next few weeks, all our shrub Oaks will be turning brown and dropping their leaves, only to immediately sprout the brilliant pink and purple leaflets that will mellow to a leathery green in coming months.



The Wax Currants (Ribes cereum) are in full bloom right now. They’re the first shrub to leaf out in the Spring here in the Canyon and also one of the first large-scale flower shows. The leaves are aromatic, slightly bitter and astringent while the flowers are sweeter and milder, but they taste great together as a small pinch of each. The closely related Gooseberries aren’t far behind and will soon be flowering as well.



The Willow (Salix spp.) blooms are full-fledged as of this week. Their gorgous pollen-laden flowers wave from every river bank, and have caused me to stop dead in my tracks to take a closer look more than once in the last couple of days.



In the rocky arroyo that runs beside the mesa, the Beebalms (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) are sprouting damn near everywhere. Their leaves are many shades of purple, magenta, scarlet, green and blue and their taste is already intensely butter and hot-spicy with the high concentration of volatile oils they possess (much more so than most varieties of Monarda, it seems). Being one of my greatest plant loves, I watch every inch they grow and count the days until they flower in a riotous explosion of pink, lavender and purple.


I found the first Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea) just yesterday evening (which explains the slightly out of focus picture, it was really too dark to be taking photographs). This cousin of the Western Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) has similar uses and is a wonderful element in many chronic pain formulas (where constitutionally appropriate and with consideration for the many odd alkaloids that live in this plant). The little Poppy family plants tend to grow near Nettles and Alders here in the Canyon, although they can also be found in shady Oak groves along the river.


Our Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) have just begun to leaf out, and the first tiny buds are appearing as well. Rhiannon and I are waiting in excited anticipation for the fragrant white flowers so that we can drink in their sweet scent and harvest them for medicine.



The cliffs as seen from the fifth river crossing (there’s seven river crossings into the Canyon) just before the leaves burst from the Cottonwoods, Alders and Willows.


All Photos (c)2009 Kiva Rose


Feb 202009

That’s 8 yr. old Rhiannon sitting on a rock ledge looking out at the budding Cottonwood trees, one of my favorite pain salve ingredients.


Pain salves are used for a wide variety of purposes, but are most commonly applied to sore and often inflamed joints and muscles. This pain and inflammation can stem from many sources, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, old injuries, myriad chronic diseases that result in systemic inflammation (including many auto-immune diseases and some viruses such as Hep C) as well as acute trauma to some part of the body. With the exception of an acute injury, most of these disorders are symptoms of other underlying issues. With this in mind, realize that using a pain salve as a bandaid for your discomfort rather than addressing the source is not a very effective method of healing. On the other hand, if you ARE working with your body and making appropriate changes while taking care of yourself, pain salves can help provide significant relief from chronic discomfort.

If you’ve ever used herbal pain salve or liniment (or even looked at a recipe for them) you’ve likely noticed that most of them contain a large variety of essential oils from mostly exotic plants. Now, essential oil are ok, and they certainly do  the job in most cases but you know, it would be difficult for me to make them (not to mention the insane amount of plant matter needed) and many people have reactions or sensitivities to them. I also don’t see them as a sustainable (and thus, ethical) healing resource for the general public. Thus, I don’t use them unless I happen to have a really great product made with them (like Ananda’s amazing Salve). In my own formulations though, I work strictly with infused oils and tinctures to make my salves and liniments. I’ve found them to be exceptionally effective, and to work just as well as most essential oil based pain compounds.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of local plants made as infused oils and liniments as a treatment for general muscle and joint pain. I started out using simples of each plant to see which herbs were most effective in a given situation and then began slowly combining them in order to get a sense of what complimented what in the blends. What I’ve come up with has proven to be extremely versatile and useful in a wide variety of situations on many different kinds of people.

Some Notes on Preparation

You’ll see below that most of my top choices are strongly aromatic plants, which means they’re primarily herbs that have the capability to move stagnant energy in the body which is one of the main cause of pain, especially the chronic sort. It also means your salves and liniments have the capacity to smell really really nice! It’s not necessary that it have a heavenly scent, but the pleasantness can add to relaxation and speed up healing (somebody should mention that to the people who make those nasty sports rubs, blech).

My suggestions here assume you know how to make a salve (either infused directly into animal fat or by doing the infused oil plus beeswax thing) and liniment (usually a blend of infused oil and tincture to be used externally). For liniments I tend  to do about half and half oil and alcohol but that’s not any kind of rule, I just find that it penetrated deeply that way but still stays on the skin for a while. Vary as you like, but keep in mind that most Pain salves will often be applied to a fairly large area so it’s helpful to keep it a fairly soft ointment for ease of application.

And yes, I was just telling you beginners not to use recipes in a recent post. I would suggest using each of the herbs separately as simples to see how they work for yourself before combining them. You will end up understanding the effects and the personality of the plants MUCH (MUCH) better this way.

The Foundational Element

Budding Cottonwood trees on the river.


One of the things I’ve learned is that there are a thousand ways to make an effective pain salve or liniment but that my base ingredient will always be Cottonwood (or Aspen, depending on what’s available).

In his excellent book, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Michael Moore says of the Populus spp.:

“Topically both the tincture and steeped oil is useful as a counterirritant analgesic for joint and muscle pain, similar to methyl salicylate (Oil of Wintergreen) but without the potential for absorption toxicity of the latter.”

And you know, he’s really not kidding. This stuff kicks ass. It works better than any other single plant I know of to reduce general swelling, pain, bruising and speed healing. It’s also very broadly applicable, meaning that unlike some plants (like Golden for example, with its specific affinity for just the muscles), it’ll work on just about anything where there’s pain and inflammation, and it’s also great for burns, wounds, infections, broken bones and pretty much any other painful external affliction you might run up against. Don’t take this lightly, a great generalist can be damn hard to find and is so incredibly multi-faceted as to be invaluable. Also, take note that the Populus spp. is extremely widespread  and abundant across the world, either as native trees or as introduced landscape/decorative species.

Supplementary Elements

Baby Moonworts just outside the den.


Alder and Moonwort (Artemisia spp) are two other broadly applicable (and extremely common) plants. They’re not as strong as Cottonwood on their own for pain, but both have excellent synergy with it. Also great general treatments for wounds and potential infections. While I’m grouping them together here, they’re actually very different herbs and if possible, use both rather than one of the other. Larrea is another great choice here, and works very well for inflammation, especially when combined with something more stimulating and blood moving.


Native Goldenrod in bloom.


Sweet Clover – My favorite for many kinds of nerve pain or where there’s pain associated with vascular stasis or weakness.

Goldenrod – The expert on muscle trauma, pain and injuries, even very old injuries that refuse to heal. A great remedy for every dancer, rock climber, rodeo star wannabe and cowboy (and other people who frequently inflict serious muscle strain and pain on their bodies on a regular basis) to take note of.

Rose & Cherry – For that burning, screaming kind of pain that often accompanies inflammation or dislocation of discs.

Comfrey – Lovely for any kind of swelling, bruising, blunt trauma kind of thing as well as broken bones.

Warming Circulatory Stimulants

Blooming Rosemary in the Kitchen Garden


These plants are especially valuable for old, chronic injuries (often typified by stiffness and aggravation by cold weather) because they help stimulate local blood circulation and thus assist the body in bringing the vital energy of healing back to the neglected (and usually quite painful) area.



Cayenne (Watch out for your mucus membranes with this though, it can cause a whole different kind of pain).

Black Pepper

A Few Sample Formulas

  • 3 Parts Cottonwood
  • 2 Parts Moonwort
  • 2 Parts Alder
  • 2 Parts Goldenrod
  • 1 Part Rosemary


  • 3 Parts Cottonwood
  • 2 Parts Moonwort
  • 1 Part Pine


  • 2 Parts Cottonwood
  • 1 Part Sweet Clover
  • 1 Part Ginger


  • 3 Parts Cottonwood
  • 3 Parts Comfrey
  • 1 Part Ginger

These formulas can of course be varied in innumerable ways depending on what plants grow near you. Arnica, St. John’s Wort, Lavender, Birch, Wintergreen and Meadowsweet are other common botanicals included in Pain salves and liniments for various reasons.

My student Rosalee recently sent me a Pain Salve containing Cottonwood buds, Artemisia leaves and Rue leaves that works extremely well and presents another wonderful (and so simple) option.


All Photos (c) 2009 Kiva Rose