Search Results : goldenrod

Mar 272007

So yesterday I had this nice long walk from the mesa to the road where we park. We normally have a big four wheel drive truck for going in an out through the usually shallow seven river crossings. However, with all the lovely Spring rain we had last week, the river’s been too high to drive through. So I was walking, and carrying a few things while I walked (a backpack, and a heavy object in each arm). Now, I’m quite used to carrying heavy things up and down mountains, in and out of the river. Occasionally I’ll get sore muscles or tweak my neck a bit from carrying a heavier load than I should but nothing more than that. Imagine my surprise then, when I got home, took of my pack full of groceries and found that I suddenly was unable to move my right shoulder without excruciating pain shooting through my neck and down my arm. Interesting, I thought, and sat down very quickly. My shoulder continued to tighten until I was completely unable to lift the pound bag of sugar with that hand, and my head was screaming with a tension headache. Not good, I thought, and went fumbling to my little wooden medicine box. I promptly dug out the Goldenrod oil, eying it with some doubt. While Goldenrod has worked wonderfully on sore or pulled muscles, I hadn’t yet tried it something truly acute. So I applied it liberally to my right shoulder and neck and waited a while. Nothing. So I did it again, more liberally, and then went on my one handed way. An hour later the pain was significantly lessened, by bedtime two hours later, it only hurt when I reached up and out, directly engaging the hurt muscles. By this morning, the headache was gone and there’s a minute amount of pain and stiffness in the shoulder.

We have a friend visiting who has had more than his share of horse wrecks and other kinds of accidents that are common on Wyoming ranches. This includes a badly separated deltoid with lots of chronic pain and stiffness with little alleviation from standard alopathic or alternative procedures. One application of Goldenrod oil last night significantly reduced the symptoms. He’ll be trying it out more today to see if he can regain more movement and perhaps initiate some long term healing. He also has some badly damaged muscles in his thigh I’m hoping to help with the Goldenrod.

I think I’ve said it elsewhere but I want to reemphasize how well I think Goldenrod oil externally works with Peony root internally for overtightened, stressed out muscles. Peony is rather cooling, so if you’re already the cool type you might try it with something a bit more warming, like Ginger, which is also anti-inflammatory and soothing to riled up musculature. Vervain would be complementary if the muscle problem originates in the neck. And so on…

The benefits of my long walk is that I found just huge amounts of Corydalis growing among the Nettles I stopped to harvest. I was very pleased to see how well it’s spreading and thriving. I harvested a bit more, enough to make a little more tincture and to dry some for tea.

Feb 222007

Goldenrod works great on neck troubles, generally loosening up the neck muscles and relieving the tension, but this is primarily symptomatic and won’t cure a popped out disc etc., but it’ll help take the swelling down and speed the healing process once you’ve addressed the root of the problem.

It’s also helped arthritis for a lot of folks, taking down the swelling and pain. Once again, this is a symptomatic application, not anything like a cure. It seems similar to the regional use of Snakeweed/Escoba de la Vibora in the Southwest. I’ve noticed Snakeweed tends to be better for arthritis and Goldenrod tends to be better for muscular problems. Funny how they’ve both got those beautiful golden blooms. As does St John’s Wort, who I’ve used very little but also seems to have lots of similar applications.

Goldenrod’s most profound use in my experience tends to be directly on the muscles, healing pulled muscles in amazing time periods with repeated application (every three hours or so), and often soothing strained or spasming muscles with only a single application.

For muscle spasms, I recommend combining Goldenrod oil/liniment with Peony root tincture internally, although Scullcap, Black Cohosh or Betony may be more appropriate depending on the situation and individual’s constitution. It might also be worth trying Goldenrod internally for muscular problems, though I haven’t personally noted any antispasmodic or similar action. Please let me know what your findings are in this area, I’d love to know.

As a side note to Peony, you can use the common available Chinese White Peony root, or your garden Peony root (make sure it’s the old fashioned kind though, and it works better if its run a bit wild rather than being pampered and overwatered) or you can use the native Brown’s or California Peony root, all are similar but with their own variations.

I’ve been getting tons of questions about Goldenrod oil and how to make it, where to get it etc., so here’s the info I have.

First off, if you want to buy it, the best Goldenrod oil I’ve ever tried was created by Ananda Wilson of Amrita Apothecary, I regularly trade herbs and medicines with her, and she makes marvelous, yummy smelling magic. I think she’s selling Goldenrod oil right now, though I expect she has a limited quantity.

The way I make Goldenrod oil is using Extra Virgin Olive Oil (as does Ananda), preferably organic first pressing, of course. I fill a pint jar with freshly picked Goldenrod flowering tops, then I fill it again with olive oil, I poke around to get the air bubbles out, put a lid on the jar, and set in the sun for a while, usually about a month. Sometimes I add a shot of Chapparel (Larrea) oil to help preserve it, sometimes not. Store in a dark, cool place. Very simple, old fashioned simpler style.

Tincture seems to work fine as a liniment as well, though I haven’t had a chance to really compare results just yet.

It’s important to remember that while every herb has its specialty where it really excels, NO plant is the be all end all of herbal medicine. Every plant has its place, and we each have individual connections to the plants. The indigenous people of nearly every land have recognized that some plants do certain things for certain peoples, having an intimate relationship to the individual.

So go out and get to know the Goldenrod living in your backyard and the fields near where you live. It’s always amazing to get to know a new side to an old friend.

Jan 122018


Classes for Herbalists, Healers, & Culture Shifters – at the upcoming 2018 Good Medicine Confluence

For the first many years of Plant Healer’s annual international gatherings, our characteristically beautiful rural event sites had too few buildings of us to expand the number of classes to accommodate topics beyond essential foundational folk herbalism. Fortunately, since moving our Good Medicine Confluence to its new mountain-top site in Durango, Colorado, we have been able to procure sufficient spaces to expand our topics to include additional modalities, and means for a wildly healthy and deeply meaningful life.

In May, 2018, we will be presenting 5 days and nights of classes and entertainment for the same prices as most conferences charge for only 3: over 70 inspiring teachers presenting over 140 unique classes that have never been taught anywhere before, exploring the depths and frontiers of empowered healing in all its many forms from botanical medicine to healthy foods, nature therapy, cannabis and entheogens, and the radical remaking of the current cultural paradigm!



There is no credible way to completely separate mental wellbeing from physical health, and carefully selected herbs are often one of the most helpful and least harmful means of addressing both.  There have always been traumatic experiences in everyday life, but never has there been such “radioactive times” (as teacher Angie True describes them), a deadly cartoonish epoch of science denial, marginalization, increasing classism, systems of oppression, and yes – downright depressing polarization and violence – like never before.

Herbalists and other natural, self empowered herbalists have a role to play in helping individuals and the community at large manage the effects of the ever more intense and daunting trauma, chronic pain, and depression intruding on our lives and distracting us from the good work. To help inform and equip you, we are pleased to present in May, 2018:

A minimum of 9 purposed classes on these subjects, 18 hours of presentations, taught by 8 or more deep feeling herbalists ceremonialists, and therapists including:
Alanna Whitney, CoreyPine Shane, Rae Swersey, Angie True, Jenny Mansell, Sheri Hupfer, Sarah Baldwin, and Anja Robinson.

For More Information about this event and its teachers, or to purchase Advance Discount Tickets, click on:
Good Medicine Confluence Website:


Goldenrod & Gloom: A Personal Journey With Depression
Jenny Mansell (1.5 hrs)

The inspiration for this class began with a dream, a dream of glowing plant material in a jar with golden light radiating from it which would ultimately pierce the gloom of my depression in everyday life. I have walked with depression and anxiety since I was 11 years old. Over the years I’ve tried many herbs and practices to help me find peace, joy, and functionality. Some experiments have failed dismally and others have filled me with awe and gratitude for their healing. At this point in my life I manage depression and anxiety with herbs, diet, and practices such as meditation and nature connection. I have come to appreciate the teaching which depression has brought to my life, harsh instructor though it is at times. In this class I strip down to the raw essence of my deepest struggles and share both my vulnerability and triumph. I offer to you what has worked for me and what hasn’t, in the hope you will take something away which may help you in your own struggles or to assist your loved ones or clients. After I share my story, I will offer tips on preparation and dosage for specific herbs. We will try several preparations from flower essences to elixirs. The class will close with a group meditation. To quote my mentor, Jackie Dill, “A gift isn’t a gift unless it’s shared.” The plants and the good earth have given me so much and I offer it to you from an open heart.

Trauma Awareness For The Herbal Clinician
CoreyPine Shane (1.5 hrs)

As a culture, we are only just realizing the extent of unresolved trauma. These experiences are far more common than is usually acknowledged, and are minimized by society and often even by the one who has experienced it. It is vital to our clients’ health and well-being for us to be able to recognize, understand, and respond to the effects of trauma. This understanding can also help us see how emotional, mental, and physical trauma can get stored in our body and cause physical problems.

Hungry With Leaf Scars:
A Radical Community Herbalist’s Approach to Chronic Pain
Rae Swersey (1.5 hrs)

People who live with pain are hungry. We are searching. We are invisible survivors. We are starkly seen. We are resilient. We are ghosts of our former selves. Our hearts ache to know relief. We are owl screeches at midnight. The plants in your garden know. They bend towards our bedroom windows. It is our job as herbalists to direct the call.

In this class we will use a disability justice framework when working with chronic pain. We will address this from a radical clinical community herbalist perspective. As a facilitator, I am both a practitioner and a person living with chronic pain. I come to you from a merged perspective. We will cover a radical clinical community herbalist perspective on chronic pain. We will go over a multi-faceted approach and disability justice framework including topical, internal, nutritional, and supplemental changes. We will go over how using plant medicine is essential in the dismantling of larger systems of oppression and their hold on our mind/body/souls. By looking at how the herbal medicine community has internalized ideas of what “healthy bodies” are from mainstream culture, we can begin to unravel the threads that keep ourselves and our clients from sustaining pain relief.

There will be a strong focus on what I have learned in my personal practice and from getting to know the plants. I am not including the multitude of fabulous information already out there, but rather tips that have informed my practice that are less talked about in books and schooling. Included in this thorough talk, will be herb differentiation, flower essence formulation, anecdotal experience from clinical practice, common obstacles, and specific plants as allies in the fight for our lives.

Botanicals & Other Strategies For Stability During Radioactive Times
Angie True (1.5 hrs)

Feeling traumatized and/or numb by trying to normalize this age of constant threat and stress?

We have always lived on top of a literal nuclear reactor. A core of elemental instability powers both planet and – metaphorically – the inner core of the self. Chaos, disruption and decay drive every facet of our lives, yet we experience our time on the earth’s surface as somewhat stable. Is there anything in this contradiction that holds medicine for times of increased intensity? Might there also be ways to subtly shape the enormous energy being released during this radioactive epoch? Join us for an ecopsychological depth tour to sharpen and expand upon soul-level stability-creation skills, including meaningful self-care techniques, suggestions for perspective-shifting, emergency psychic strategies, using specific, lesser-known plants and direct action that can increase a sense of empowerment and even joy. We will engage in a warrior divination ritual and leave with samples of powerful wildcrafted elixirs formulated especially for overwhelming cultural fluctuations.After all, these are the moments we have been training for all our lives.

On Survival & Showing Up: Vulnerability, Empathy, & Trauma in Clinical Work
Alanna Whitney (1.5 hrs)

The world we occupy as herbalists – whether clinicians or folk herbalists – is an in-between space. As clinicians, we are confidantes, investigators, guides, cheerleaders, and teachers. While we undergo training in pathophysiology, anatomy, herbal actions, extraction methods, medicine making and plant constituents, not many of us have training in how to show up and be present with those among us who have survived trauma. As herbalists, we practice as ungoverned ministers naturae (that is, ministers to the vital force), occupying a liminal space somewhere between the licensed and regulated fields of medicine and psychotherapy.

As more and more research shows the interconnectedness of our heart wounds, our spiritual wellness, and the relative resilience and strength of our bodies (facts long obvious to we herbalists), we have an unprecedented opportunity to support the wellness journeys of survivors. Some of the most powerful healing for survivors comes simply from being able to attune to other people in a safe, contained, and connected way, so even just the process of intake & bearing witness to someone’s story can be a powerful step in their healing journey We can support our clients and communities not only through herbal medicine, which is of course a powerful tool in working with many aspects of trauma. We also have this incredible opportunity to practice connection – to show up with empathy and authenticity by cultivating our own vulnerability. How we sit with clients, what language we use, and how we attune to them can either encourage safety or perpetuate feelings of disempowerment. But how do we show up for survivors? How do we be vulnerable and professional? What if big feelings come up in a session? How do we manage our own feelings and trauma histories while holding space for others? How do we prioritize our treatment and protocols? What can herbs really do? How do we define our role as guides through the in-between places?

We will talk about the neurology of trauma, which is crucial for understanding and unpacking the lived experience of trauma, as well as working with any of our own judgment that may arise. This class will delve into some herbal & nutritional therapeutics for survivors and acute traumatic recall, with a special eye to accessibility and resources for those folks without many financial resources. We will also talk about the special magic of herbal medicine that makes it so well suited to supporting the hearts and bodies of survivors – the way that simple aromatics can support nervous system function and increase HRV, the way that herbs can be used to support vagal tone, and the role of relaxants and adaptogens.

What The Hell is The HPA Axis?: Holistically Managing Stress in These Crazy Times
Anja Robinson (1.5 hrs)

In this class we will take a deep dive into the mechanisms of the stress response system and the mismatch occurring in our modern environment. We will break down the components of the nervous system that make up our stress response such as the adrenals, neurotransmitters, hormones as well as something known as the HPA Axis. We will explore healthy cortisol rhythms and how our modern world is playing a role in disrupting our bodies natural flow. We will discuss signs and symptoms of adrenal dysregulation as well as many common health concerns we are seeing in our current culture as a result. As a class we will explore creative solutions for dietary, herbal, lifestyle shifts as well as body/mind techniques to help us come back into balance, support our nervous systems and holistically manage our stress in our modern world.

Surviving A World That Doesn’t Want You:
A Radical Community Herbalist’s Approach to Suicide & Suicidal Ideation
Rae Swersey (1.5 hrs)

If we are to be community healers, we will see life and death in our practices. We will also see people with suicidal ideation and those effected by losing someone to suicide. There is a deep silence around working with this struggle. It is crucial that we do, and as herbalists we have the tools. Plant medicine has so much to offer mental health relief. In this class, we are going to begin to dismantle shame, silence, systemic oppression, and grief. We will talk about using herbal medicine in our path of resilience and the fight for our lives. This workshop will contain useful skills and tools, with the goal to empower participants to use this knowledge in a practical way. There will be a focus on respect and cultural competency when approaching friends, loved ones, communities and clients. We will touch what is underneath trauma and oppression to the core of who we are and what our mind/body/soul is fighting for. We will talk about how I approach my formulas in my personal practice and take an in depth at social justice herbalism frameworks. You can expect case studies, clinical skills including intakes and safe suicide assessment tools, a handful of herbs-mainly going into their mental health uses and differentiation, and how to address accessibility and practicality. There will be a strong clinical practice focus. It is imperative, during this time, we build up our resources and armory against hopelessness and tyranny. Through exploring resilience and where it lives in the body we can address mental health and it’s stigmas from a deep perspective. In deep gratitude for the plants and humble respect for those who survive daily. Let’s talk about plant medicine and what it means to be alive.

Herbs For Heartache & Breakups
Sarah Baldwin (1.5 hrs)

Throughout the ages, romantic love has been a bearer of both soaring joy and bottomless sorrow, exquisite pleasure and unbearable pain. When the sweetness of love turns sour or is cut short, we often experience heartache, heartbreak, grief, sadness, anger, and perhaps even a dark night of the soul. This class will focus on herbal allies that can help us navigate the complicated web of breakups, separations, and troubling relationship scenarios. Of course, there is no cure for a broken heart, but there are plants that can help us get through the experience with greater ease. We’ll explore plant allies that can help ease the acute grief we feel in the emotional and physical heart, as well as plants that assist in releasing chronic or stagnant grief in the lungs. We will also look at plants that can help us attain the strength to cut energetic cords, reclaim our own identity, and gain emotional distance from relationships that are toxic, unhealthy, or simply no longer serve our highest good. We’ll also explore plants that support conflict resolution and ease emotional turmoil for times when we have to deal with external things like dividing possessions and changing our place of residence. We will also spend some time covering deep issues that relationships stir up within us, like guilt, resentment, and crisis of identity. Above all, this class will honor and celebrate the strength and tenacity of the human spirit when going through experiences that cut us to the core and challenge us deeply.

The Underworld Above: Black Cohosh, Ocotillo, & Sacred Datura
Sheri Hupfer (1.5 hrs)

In this class, we will explore the unraveling of all that we have been carrying in the precious place of the pelvic trap door so that we may begin to re-write old stories, remove stagnancy, and surrender to the healing potential of allowing life to flow through areas that have been blocked, guarded, or wounded, with the support of three very powerful plant allies.


For More Information about this event and its teachers, or to purchase Advance Discount Tickets, click on:
Good Medicine Confluence Website:

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Sep 252017

Autumn has surely arrived here in our Canyon, the Snakeweed blooming all golden-glinted and honey-scented across the mesa, while the Epazote slowly but surely turns from lime green to shades of crimson and scarlet as the nights grow cooler. While I would like to devote all my attention to the final harvest, from acorns to elderberries, there is much work to be done to ready for the oncoming Winter and the birth of Ælfyn. Wolf, Rhiannon, and I spent 12 hours this past weekend struggling to update our dying solar battery setup for the kitchen cabin. Hours that needed to be devoted to the Good Medicine Confluence, Plant Healer Magazine, medicine making, and baby preparations, but had to be diverted in order to keep our tiny household going.

Likewise, the coming weekend will be given to installing a small wood stove into our bedroom so that Ælfyn will be toasty warm when born into our coldest season come December. Being nearly 30 weeks pregnant doesn’t lend itself well to hauling cast iron stoves around, but it has been beyond difficult to obtain any local help when we live so far from the village in such a remote area. Nevertheless, I’m in full nesting mode, and I WILL have everything suitably arranged by the time of the birth!

In spite of all this busy-ness, I was able to spend part of last evening gathering the aromatic inflorescences of one of my favorite herbs, Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), from our weedy little garden. A common ornamental here in New Mexico, this native plant of the steppes of Central Asia is easily grown even with our short growing season, semi-arid woodland ecology, and dramatic temperature shifts. It also happens to be one of Wolf’s favorite flowers, so while we grow very few domestic cultivars, this is one given priority.

Additionally, it’s a very useful medicinal herb, sharing much in common with the true Salvias of the American Southwest, but being much hardier and easier to grow in a variety of environments than most of our low elevation aromatic Sages. The flowers are a sweet, resinous combination of Sage and Lavender, lending themselves to all manner of edible and medicinal combinations. While the leaves are both bitter and aromatic (and make a fantastic base for many warming bitter formulae), the flowers lack almost any bitterness and I love to grind them with salt or sugar as an abundant flavoring source. Russian Sage and various Firs (Abies and Pseudotsuga spp.) combine exceptionally well in many dishes, but Rosemary, Juniper berries, and Epazote are other well-suited elements to keep in mind.

However, this particular batch of flowers is intended for a seasonal muscle warming salve, and so will be infused into oil with Alder leaves, Snakeweed (aromatic Gutierrezia spp.) flowers, Goldenrod flowering tops, and Piñon resin. This sweet smelling salve is a wonderful treatment for the cold, achy joints and muscles that often plague folks through the Winter.

Given our short growing season, especially this year with a very late hard frost, it’s amazing that I’m able to harvest much of anything besides our tenacious wild plants, but it looks like there will be just enough time to gather up the Borage flowers that are beginning to bloom in the garden. The Comfrey hasn’t had enough time to flower this year, but the leaves will work just fine anyhow. The Lovage, though it struggled mightily through our dry Spring, is flourishing once again, and I might even be able to harvest a few seeds from it before the growing season is fully over.

There’s nothing like the bittersweet beauty of Autumn to remind me of my lifelong love of heartbreaking ballads. From my deep Appalachian roots to the once wild moors of Scotland, where so many of my ancestors hailed from, I can feel the dirt, darkness, and dissonance of my origins… and being the tree hollow loving creature that I am, I can only see that as a good thing. In the drone and shimmer of the banjo, I feel at home, and feel the pull of both my African and European forbearers. And so I share with you a favorite traditional ballad, Yarrow, as interpreted by Red Tail Ring, with Laurel Premo’s beautiful clawhammer style banjo playing.



Dec 212016

On this longest night of the year here in the wild of New Mexico, I wanted to share my writings on La Guadalupe’s Torch, my much beloved Ocotillo, whose medicine has provided me so much light over the years. I hope that each of you are warm and loved, and that the darkness brings you both rest and regeneration. – Kiva

La Guadalupe’s Torch:

Mythos, Medicine, and Ecology of Ocotillo

(First published in Plant Healer Magazine)

by Kiva Rose

Botanical Name: Fouquieria splendens

Botanical Family: Fouquieriaceae

Common Names: Ocotillo, Coachwhip, Candlewood, Apache Whipping Stick, Vine Cactus, Wolf’s Candles,

Actions: Expectorant, lymphatic, pelvic decongestant, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory

Taste: Sour, sweet, bitter

Energetics: Mildly warm and moistening

A Candle In The Desert: The Healing Heart of Ocotillo

The desert has a raw poetry that peels back the visitor’s skin, exposing shimmering bone and raw sinew until, finally, there is nothing else. Veins of turquoise and chrysocolla thread through stone and stun me into silence. My hands still smell like Larrea resin and red clay while the mesas, buttes, and crumbling redrock spires surround me and remind me what home is.

This place where the mountains and deserts of Arizona and New Mexico meet, where the Ocotillo flowers stand scarlet against the rising moon and Oshá coils its roots down into the stony soil of the Mogollon Rim, is a landscape fallen from a storybook or carved from an ancient myth. While many use the word “barren” when describing or imagining the American Southwest, nothing could be further from the truth. The deserts and forests of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico are actually one of the most biodiverse landscapes in North America.

Even in the Sonoran Desert, set ablaze with wildflowers after a rain, there are few sights as striking as the Ocotillo in flower. Its scarlet blossoms bursting from twelve foot wands adorned with multi-colored thorns and small waxy leaves. Growing on rocky bajadas at the base of mountains jutting out of the wild deserts of the American Southwest and Mexico, La Guadalupe’s Torch is a sign of healing and heart in even the most extreme of landscapes.

The common name of Ocotillo stems from the Náhuatl word ocotl, meaning “torch”, an apt name considering its brilliant flowers and towering stature. Whenever I see this plant in flower, I think of Guadalupe striding through the desert, her torch held high to show the way to the profound medicine found at the heart of this land. Prickly as it may be, the healing power of the Southwest is intense and undeniable.

Appearing to be a haphazard array of thorny, crooked sticks for much of the year, Ocotillo only unfurls its leaves once the rains come. These flame flowered plants are amazingly well adapted to their arid surroundings, and leaf growth can be initiated a scant 24 hours after a rainfall. Their leaves are semi-succulent and waxy.  Their sour-sweet flavor and slightly bitter aftertaste is so intriguing, that when I’m processing the plant’s branches for medicine, I often get distracted eating them.  The plants often grow in colonies, creating compact and thorny forests illuminated by Spring blossoms, and adorned year round with claw-like thorns. Baby Ocotillos are especially beautiful, often possessing nearly iridescent bark and still soft thorns demonstrating a rainbow of violet, purple, blue, green, brown, and black. A number of birds and insects, including several species of hummingbird, are attracted to the sweet nectar of Fouquieria’s blossoms.

Ocotillo is found in the desert, canyon, and foothill regions, generally below 5,000 feet in the deserts of the U.S, but occasionally up to 9,500 feet. In my area, it tends to prefer rocky slopes, and especially favors bajadas. Its range extends from southeastern California to southern Arizona, souther Nevada, New Mexico, western Texas in the US and from Baja California to Chihuahua, Sonora to Coahuila and Nuevo León, south to Durango, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. I have personally experienced the plant primarily in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and speak from my experience rooted in those ecosystems.

Blossom, Root, and Thorn: Plant Parts Used

While the bark seems to be the only part of the plant in common use in mainstream American herbalism by Anglos, all parts of the plant have been utilized traditionally and have value as medicine, fiber, and food. In fact, when I have been taught about this plant by local New Mexico and Arizona Hispanics, they have almost invariably referenced the flower rather than the bark. I have also known several Apache grandmothers to prefer the root over any other part, which speaks both to the versatility of the plants and the diversity of cultural traditions and habits. I work with all parts of the plant, including the curved thorn, preferring to integrate all possible facets of the plant and its medicine into my healing work.

Coughs & Colds

The flowers as well as the bark have long been used for treat spasmodic coughs, and while their action is fairly mild, it is consistent and widely applicable. I frequently use an elixir made of flowers, leaf, and bark extracted into honey and alcohol to treat the dry, hacking coughs common in my mountain village each Winter. Since the plant is also a lymphatic decongestant, it’s especially helpful in seasonal colds accompanied by persistent, spasmodic cough and hypoimmunity indicated by swollen glands, chronic sore throat, and the tendency to catch every bug that comes around.

Pelvic Congestion

The bark is best known as a pelvic decongestant, and this indeed where it tends to shine in clinical practice.  Southwest herbalist Michael Moore said of Ocotillo:

“It is useful for those symptoms that arise from pelvic fluid congestion, both lymphatic and veinous…. Most hemorrhoids are helped by Ocotillo, as are cervical varicosities and benign prostate enlargements.”

I have also found it useful in some cases of what is commonly diagnosed as interstitial cystitis, a frequent urge to urinate and accompanying discomfort, but with little actual fluid in the bladder. In the cases where Ocotillo will be most effective, it will be accompanied by at least some of the typical signs of of pelvic congestion, including varicosities, constipation with hemorrhoids, a feeling of fullness in the abdomen and/or groin, and an inability to efficiently digest fats. Along these same lines, local Hispanics sometimes recommend the use of Ocotillo bark in the treatment of bladder infections. It can certainly help alleviate the symptom of feeling unable to urinate even when the bladder is full.

Ocotillo frequently finds its way into my fomulae for prostatitis and similar, and I find that it tends to increase the effectiveness of other commonly recommended herbs for this ailment, especially Nettle root and Saw Palmetto. Again, look for the signs of pelvic congestion common to benign prostate inflammation and enlargement, including a feeling of fullness in the groin and difficulty urinating. Alder bark, another lymphatic native to the Southwest (and beyond), can also combine well with Ocotillo for this purpose.

I have also heard the flower being suggested for delayed menstruation by a Sonoran yerbera, and while I have never used it this way in my own practice, it does make sense that its blood moving actions could stimulate late menses.

Las Manos de la Guadalupe: Woundcare & External Use

The leaves make an excellent poultice for wounds, abrasions, bruises, and contusions by reducing inflammation and pain, while speeding healing and lessening the chance of infection where there is broken skin. The bark and flowers can also be used in the same way, and I make a salve that includes all three parts of the plant for general first aid uses, often in combination with Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), another common plant of the desert southwest. A liniment made from any part of the plant can also be useful in treating chronic injuries that present with a dull, aching pain and refuse to fully heal. In this use, I often like to formulate it with Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and find they often work better together than on their own.

Case Study – Interstitial Cystitis with Pelvic Stagnation

28 year old woman presenting with a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis, including symptoms of burning and stabbing pain as well as intermittent spasms in the urethra and bladder area, as well as frequent feeling of urgency, even when no urine could actually be excreted. No issues of incontinence, and no sign of microbial infection was present upon testing. She said that the pain and discomfort was severe enough that she had trouble remaining focused on her job as a psychologist, and made sexual intercourse uncomfortable to painful.

The client had a history of chronic urinary tract infections during her early 20s, that had been primarily treated with antibiotics. She also suffered from intermittent digestive troubles, chronic body pain, tension headaches, and premenstrual bloating, cramps, and headaches, but the interstitial cystitis was her primary complaint that she wanted addressed during the consultation. Since interstitial cystitis is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, and certainly reflects an issue of systemic inflammation, I find it important to address the metabolic and immune systems in addition to more symptomatic approaches.

Interstitial cystitis often (but not always) accompanies pelvic stagnation, and I’ve found that using general blood moving herbs as well as more specific lymphatics is often an effective initial approach to treating the symptoms of interstitial cystitis.

I first spoke to the client about nutrition, and stressed the important of eliminating any food triggers, and suggested trying an elimination diet to see if gluten may be triggering or exacerbating the condition. She wasn’t interested in pursuing that route at the time, so we proceeded with an herbal approach. I will stress here that it is often impossible to entirely clear the symptoms of IC without incorporating such dietary measures.

I also suggested sitz baths, but the client knew she wouldn’t follow through on them. I also recommended she looked into Cannabis tincture specifically for flareups with severe spasms, but there was no medical marijuana available in her state and she was hesitant to obtain the medicine through non legal means. Therefore, this regimen is strictly internal utilizing widely available herbs.

Blood and Lymph Moving Tincture

This formula is anti-inflammatory, astringent, blood moving, and lymphatic in nature. The Fouquieria, Ceanothus, and Paeonia very specifically act on the pelvic area, increasing blood flow and decreasing overall inflammation and congestion.

1 part Ceanothus greggii

2 parts Fouquieria splendens

1 part Galium aparine

2 parts Stellaria media

2 parts Paeonia brownii

Dosage: 30 ml 4x/day

Immune Decoction

This is a moistening, anti-inflammatory, and immune supporting formula to assist in addressing the foundational causes of the disorder. I often count on mushroom decoctions as the first tier in treatment for most autoimmune disorders.

3 parts Ganoderma spp. (Reishi)

2 parts Inonotus obliquus (Chaga)

1 part Fomitopsis pinicola (Red Belted Polypore)

3 parts Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus root)

1 part Sambucus nigra (Elderberry)

2 parts Althaea officinalis (Marshmallow root)

Dosage: Standard decoction, simmered for appr. 20 minutes. 1 Cup 3x/day.

At the six week followup, client reported the symptoms being approximately seventy percent better, and was very pleased with the results and increase in quality of living. She opted to continue strictly herbal treatment rather than trying any nutritional approaches. Eight weeks later, she felt she was about eighty five per cent improved and wanted to stay on the same regimen, so I replaced the Galium with the same proportion of Withania somnifera in the tincture formula and had her halve the dose for maintenance.

At last checkin, about a year after the initial consultation, she said she only had occasional flareups, usually associated with increased stress or intake of wine, and otherwise had no symptoms. The client also reported great reduction in all premenstrual symptoms as well as the tension headaches.

Ecological Status, Cultivation, & Harvesting Ethics

Ocotillo is usually abundant in the areas it is native to, and is easily propagated by cutting, but is protected in some states, so take care to know local regulations when harvesting. It’s often best to harvest from private land, or where it’s being dug up anyway for development purposes. If you plan to have a long term alliance with this herb, you may wish to cultivate it from a harvested branch. This is also a great way to be sure the plant continues to thrive and proliferate.

This is a long lived perennial, and adult plants can easily be over a hundred years old, so treat Ocotillo with respect and care when gathering from it. Please note that harvesting branches, flowers, or leaves from the plant in a sensible manner doesn’t harm the plant at all, but be sure to make a clean cut and do the least damage to the surrounding tissue possible. Also remember that this plant, while common in its range, is only native to a small portion of the United States.


The medicine of Ocotillo bark tends to be considered best extracted via alcohol, although decoctions are a traditional preparation throughout the American Southwest. The flowers may be prepared as an alcohol tincture, an infused honey, an elixir (alcohol and honey), or as a tart and tasty beverage tea.

Consideration and Contraindications

There is no known toxicity in reasonable amounts as a food or medicine, but due to its blood moving nature, this is not an appropriate herb during pregnancy.

Resources and References

Austin, Daniel – Baboquivari Mountain Plants: Identification, Ecology, and Ethnobotany

Garcia, Cecilia – Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West

Hodgson, Wendy C. – Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert

Moerman, Daniel – Native American Ethnobotany

Moore, Michael – Los Remedios

Moore, Michael – Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West

Jul 132015

July Herbaria – Special Free Edition for Herbalists

A Sneak Peek:

The free July issue of the Plant Healer’s Herbaria Newsletter will be mailed out Monday, July 20th.  To be certain of receiving a download link, be certain to subscribe before then.  Simply go to our website and fill in your name and email address in the appropriate location on the far left side of the page:

This month’s special issue is overgrown – nearly 70 color pages in length – and includes the following:

Dara Saville72dpi

Dara Saville: Connecting With Our Heritage Through Herbal Practice

Our friend Dara of Albuquerque Herbalism writes about how working with herbs increases our connection to all those healers who came before, with an intimate look at Early American healing practices prior to the rise of pharmaceuticals and the first onerous laws harming medicine sellers.  As Dara concluded:

“While herbal medicine in post-industrialized America is usually lumped into the category known as ‘alternative medicine’, many of us know that it is actually traditional medicine, and the original ‘Medicine of the People'”

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Juliet Blankespoor: Plant Photography for Herbalists

The ever-awesome Julietta of Chestnut Herbal School explains here how to take great photographs of the herbs we use, in advance of her Plant Photography class this September at our 6th Annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  Subjects in this great article include aperture, shutter speed, composition, and background:

“Choosing a beautiful background is almost as important as choosing your subject. I will often look for contrasting colored flowers as a backdrop to my subject. Bright green light is also pleasing. Dappled light in the background can create an airy or painterly feeling. As mentioned earlier, shade in the background will often translate as a black backdrop in a photo if the image is illuminated with sunlight. Your background should add interest or contrast, but take care that is doesn’t distract from the story you are telling.”


7Song & Students-72dpi

Plant Healer Event Reminisces

To start getting in the mood for the upcoming event, we’ve included both stories of the past five years of TWHC & Herbal Resurgence, and a bunch of fun pictures of you folks who attended.  One of the many contributors is Heather Luna of Nevada City Herbs & Tea, who wrote among other things this encouraging reminder:

“Saying good-byes were both sweet and challenging.  As herbalists, it is our job to inspire and awaken vitality in those who come to us, and here my own were re-animated and rekindled.  The good work in the world may now continue!”

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Robin Rose Bennett: Herbal Magic

Robin Rose shares with us here a piece on herbs for magical intention and ceremony, presenting an excerpt from her classic book “Healing Magic: A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living – 10th Anniversary Edition,” with sections on Plants for Burning, the uses of specific herbs (and trees!), Here is a tempting quote from it by Robin:

“Plants are conscious beings of feeling and spirit, and they are blessed with an abundance of gifts to share. I have found that all plants are consciousness-altering. In this sense, plants grow us. They are wonderful allies to human beings, filled with love for us. Like birds and animals, plants don’t have to remember that they are part of nature; they simply are who and what they are. This inevitably helps us resonate with who we are as part of nature. Each specific plant also brings its own particular essence to a meditation, spell, or ritual.  Much of my time with plants is spent working with them as physical medicine for our bodies. I have discovered that there is a correlation—sometimes subtle, often obvious—between the physical medicine a plant offers and the spiritual/magical energy it imparts.”

You can find out more about her work at Wise Woman Healing Ways.

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Interview #1: Emily Han – Herbal Cocktails for Pleasure & Health

For the past several issues of Herbaria we’ve been including 2 interviews with compelling herbalists, whose plant medicine knowledge we are pleased to share, and whose personal stories help us navigate our own individual healing paths.  Emily literally “wrote the book” on herbal cocktails (see her site Roots & Marvel).  She will be teaching us about bitters, elixirs, cocktails, and how to ferment and blend at TWHC in a couple of months, do we’re glad we got to pick her brain a bit in advance!

“My intention for the class is to be accessible and fun as well as educational. We’ll talk about the art and science of crafting balanced cocktails; I’ll share some classic formulas and ratios as a foundation, and then encourage folks to put their own creative and healing spin on these. I’m coming out to New Mexico with a bunch of cocktail-making tools and ingredients and we’ll put them to good use in the hands-on part of the class. We’ll taste each other’s creations, and all go home with new skills and inspiration. …I envision a culture in which everyone practices herbalism to some degree, taking care of themselves, their families and friends, and the natural world around them. Thus, I believe my role – and the role of many herbalists – is to (re-)introduce people to herbs and empower them to integrate herbal practices into their daily lives through medicine-making, cooking, wildcrafting, gardening, having a sense of wonder, caring for the earth. If we can spark an interest in herbalism in various ways (such as cocktails or cookbooks), I think we can ultimately help create a healthier world.”


Interview #2: Guido Masé

Guido is an exceptionally gifted and perceptive herbalist teacher from northern Italy, a co-director of the unique Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, and valued columnist for Plant Healer Magazine.  We think you will find his words here fascinating and enlightening, a carefully selected excerpt from the much longer conversation undertaken for the future Volume 2 of Plant Healer’s “21 Century Herbalists” books of interviews.  For now, here’s a sneak peek for you:

“What I appreciate most about bioregional herbalism is the idea that the medicinal plants that grow really, really close (same watershed you drink from) are having an experience very similar to yours, they elaborate different chemicals than the same species four hundred miles away, and in so doing link you up to your local environment in a really profound way. Without eating wild medicinals that grow right outside your door, you are really just a guest, a transient in the environment. Folks who get all their food processed from the grocery store aren’t really as much of a part of the ecology-as-being as those who eat weeds. Taking bioregional herbs means you’re actually a part of the world around you, not just a guest. It doesn’t matter what herbs exactly – to a certain extent, just snacking on lambs quarters with a side of goldenrod tea allows you to be a functional, contributing part of the ecological organism.”


A New Herbal Networking Site

We want to help network the exciting new “Herb Rally” website created by Mason Hutchinson.  Mason’s caring vision is of a one-stop online hub, offering a comprehensive list of currently available herbal courses, media, workshops, and conferences nationwide… provided free as a service to all students, enthusiasts, and practitioners of herbal medicine.  If any income is generated through affiliating with organizations like Plant Healer, that money will go to fund herbal scholarships given out to those in need!  You can submit the details and dates of your classes, events, etc., and/or browse current herbal educational opportunities but clicking on:

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Spreading Like Weeds

 Herbaria subscriptions have more than doubled since this time last year, now reaching many thousands readers with its absolutely free content.  Unlike with Plant Healer Magazine, which goes out primarily to committed herbal students and practicing herbalists, subscribers to the newsletter and blog include crossover folks just getting into herbalism, or with natural healing as a side interest.  It feels like one way to spread and grow this mission of healing and love – this weedy revolution!

Advertise Inexpensively

Display ads in Herbaria Newsletter are priced low enough to be affordable to folks launching new herbal related projects.  Space in our pages is intended for the common folk, small operations and family businesses… large corporations would need to explain why they deserve to be an exception. 🙂 You can download the combined magazine and newsletter advertising pdf here:

Advertising Info

Share Your Knowledge, Submit Your Stories

You don’t have to be a professional writer in order to have something worthwhile to share with others.  And unlike with PH Magazine, it’s ok f your writings have been printed or posted before, so long as they haven’t been too widely distributed before.  Therapeutics, herb profiles, medicine making recipes, tips for practicing, clinical skills, conservation and gardening.   If you’d be interested, please download the:

Submission Guidelines



 Wild green blessings to you allKiva & Wolf

(Thank you for sharing this post)

Herbaria Newsletter Banner 72dpi

Jan 262014

Muscle Aches and Tension:

Materia Medica, Part II

by Kiva Rose


(This is part two of three in the Muscle Aches and Tension series, you can part one on internal therapeutics right here)

The most effective and nuanced external treatment of muscle aches and tension requires a basic knowledge of energetics and differential diagnostics. Don’t be intimidated though, all you need is a simple understanding of a few basic patterns and you’ll be to apply your herbal knowledge with a great deal more subtlety and precision.

I have omitted potentially toxic or mind altering herbs from this list post, and hope to cover low dose external botanicals at some point in the future.

Please don’t allow the pain relief of herbs to fool you into thinking you’re totally healed right away. Proceed with caution, listen to your body, and rest as needed.



Abies spp.

Warming Herbs

Warming herbs for muscle aches and tension tend to be stimulating, diffusive, and often counter-irritant, and thus initiate healing partially be bringing blood to the affected area in order to initiate healing by the immune system.

These herbs are generally most appropriate on injuries or issues that are cold in nature. Meaning dull, stiff, achy, and better with heat and movement. They are often, but not always, chronic or old issues.


Arnica spp.

Overview: One of the most well known herbs in mainstream commerce, making it also one of the mosts widely misused herbs known. It is indeed a wonderful plant for healing any injury that needs increased blood flow to the affected area when used appropriately.  I learned from my teacher, Michael Moore that Arnica is specific to pain on movement, and to use Arnica immediately after an injury happens, and if that’s not possible, use something more cooling initially and go back to Arnica once heat is desirable and active inflammation with heat excess has diminished. If heat does NOT feel good, don’t use Arnica.

Hint: I tend to prefer Arnica in cold, chronic situations rather than acute, or in formula with cooler herbs to help moderate it’s heating tendencies.

Preparation: Flowers or all aerial parts can be extracted in alcohol, oil, or water to varying degrees. Works great as salve, massage oil, or liniment.

Note: This is a very warming herb and I have seen it aggravate acute inflammation with heat excess.


Goldenrod – Solidago spp. 

Overview: Goldenrod is a warming and stimulating herb with many uses, but externally it is phenomenal at healing damaged muscles, even old or chronic injuries. I have repeatedly seen it alleviate the pain and stiffness of old muscular injuries in dancers and other athletes. It can be helpful in some joint pain as well, but my experience indicates it is most helpful at healing the actual muscles.

Hint: Try Goldenrod even on severe muscular issues like separated muscles for pain relief and possible long term healing.

Preparation: The fresh flowering tops extract well into water, alcohol, and oil based preparations. Use as needed.

Note: I find that the most aromatic species tend to be the most helpful in this context, but otherwise, any species of Solidago may be used.


Cottonwood – resinous Populus spp.

Overview: A gentle but effective herb that is warming and stimulating, but mild enough to be used directly after an injury, especially in an individual with a constitution that tends toward coldness or has impaired circulation. Cottonwood infused oil is one of my most used external remedies, especially after straining a muscle, for an overall achy body, or working old tension out of cold, tired muscles. It is warming and stimulating enough to apply to cold extremities in the winter to help avoid aching in the small joints and cracking of skin.

Hint: It’s difficult to go wrong with Cottonwood bud preparations, and it’s also very valuable as an anti-microbial in general salves.

Preparation: Resinous buds in oil or high proof alcohol. Resin is not water soluble, meaning that water based preparations or low proof alcohol will not efficiently extract the resin that is desirable for therapeutic use. In fact, I prefer to always use 95% alcohol when tincturing resinous plants as it’s the most efficient method way to extract the medicine. Very useful as liniment, massage oil, or salve.

Note: Please don’t strip all the buds off of a branch, as the tree needs its leaves. Take small amounts from numerous trees. Also, be sure to harvest before the buds split open and reveal green leaves inside… by that time you run the risk of your buds spoiling from excess moisture and bacteria, especially in oil based preparations.


Conifers  – Pinus spp.,  Abies spp., Tsuga spp., and allied non-toxic genera. 

Overview: Conifer leaves, resin, and bark are warming and drying with a notable counterirritant effect. They bring blood to the surface of the skin, increasing circulation and immune response in cold/chronic injuries so that the body can better heal itself, while also warming the area and causing cold, achy muscles to release tension.

Hint: Add small portions of Conifer leaves to massage oil formulas for the amazing aroma and muscle warming effect.

Preparation: Conifers are resinous and generally most efficiently extracted in alcohol or oil, but can also impart mild warming properties via hot water, as in a hot bath. Pleasantly aromatic, they bring a little extra warming zing to many pain relieving formulas, whether salve, massage oil, liniment, or soaks. The leaves are the mildest part of the plant with the resin being the most heating and intense.

Note: Conifer resin is not water soluble and would make an extremely messy bath, and it’s also much more warming than the other parts of the trees, so I recommend sticking primarily to leaves for water based preparations, and using much smaller amounts of the resin in formulas.



Alnus spp.

Cooling Herbs

Cooling herbs for muscle aches and tension tend to be relaxing, permanent (non-diffusive), and anti-inflammatory, and thus relieve pain and tension through directly relaxing and cooling the area.  These herbs are generally most appropriate on injuries or issues that are hot in nature. Meaning sharp, stabbing, tense, sometimes red, and better with rest and worse from heat.

Please note that I do not advise using ice on musco-skeletal injuries, cool water can be appropriate but in general the overt cooling of an injury will just slow the healing process and possibly lead to an acute issue becoming a chronic one.


Lobelia – Lobelia inflata

Overview: An acrid antispasmodic, Lobelia is excellent for acute injuries accompanied by muscle spasms and notable tension. It can be helpful applied to areas where joint/skeletal issues are causing muscular spasms, and also to recent injuries with signs of heat and tension. Additionally, Lobelia can be useful in cases where overt emotional tension is manifesting as cramping or spasming in any part of the body.

Hint: Lobelia is specific to significant tension with muscles spasms, especially those that move around or vary widely in intensity.

Preparation: Liniment (alcoholic or acetic tincture) or infused oil of seeding plant.

Note: Excessive external application of Lobelia liniment can cause some sensitive individuals to feel nauseous. Apply with moderation and build from there based on tolerance.


Comfrey – Symphytum spp. 

Overview: Comfrey is a rather infamous herb that I also consider invaluable for external application in tissue healing where there is acute trauma, including post surgery recuperation.

Hint: Comfrey excels at cooling inflammation and knitting damaged tissues back together. It is most specific to acute injuries or post surgery conditions where heat and dryness are preventing full healing.

Preparation: Comfrey is soluble in water, oil, and alcohol, and can be prepared in many ways, including liniment, massage oil, salve, poultice, foment, soaks, and more.

Note: Comfrey can initiate very quick healing so make sure that there is no infection, dislocations, unset fractures etc., so that Comfrey doesn’t knit together something not yet ready for healing.


Alder – Alnus spp.

Overview: Alder is a cooling anti-inflammatory with some pain relieving properties, and a general affinity for tissue healing. It is widely applicable in musco-skeletal injuries and inflammation, and can be used wherever there are signs of heat excess with pain, tenderness, and tissue trauma.

Hint: Alder is blood (part of the mechanism for pain relief) and lymph moving while still being cooling, therefore being an excellent herb for almost any hot/acute muscular injury.

Preparation: Leaves and bark an be extracted in alcohol, oil, or water. A great addition to almost any liniment, salve, or massage oil. Also makes a wonderful soak for sore muscles.

Note: Alder is gentle and generally without negative side effects, but it’s still cooling, so please combine with more warming herbs for chronic injuries or cold signs.


Credit, References, and Resources

7Song – personal correspondence

Jim McDonald – personal correspondence and

Michael Moore – Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West

Matthew Wood – Book of Herbal Wisdom

Darcy Williamson – Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains

Nov 212012

Creek Indian Medicine

by Phyllis D. Light

Intro: Phyllis is one of the more naturally insightful herbalists we know, as well as one of the few in our community blessed to have grown up in a place-based healing tradition.  Southern Appalachian Herbalism is informed not only by African, Celtic and other European strands, but by the perspectives and practices of the indigenous peoples of the region.  We are pleased to share with you the following excerpt from Phyllis’ column in the upcoming issue of Plant Healer Magazine, an introduction to Creek Indian medicine and materia medica in particular.  To read the twice-as-long version with more history and plants included, subscribe to:

A Bit of History

My traditional herbal training included large doses of Creek Indian medicine learned from my grandmother in north Alabama. Not a well-known form of Native training but one indigenous to the lower Southeast, Creek Indian medicine. The Creeks were one of the first Native groups to be swamped by contact with Europeans, particularly the Spanish, and were also the first of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were known for their hot temper and warring ways, hence the expression, “Good Lord willing and the Creeks don’t rise.” They were willing to fight with almost anyone over almost anything.

After the disease holocaust brought by the Spaniard, DeSoto’s expedition, the descendants of the Creeks and remnants of several other tribes banded together to form the Creek Confederacy or the Muscogee, the People of One Fire. Since the Trail of Tears, Creek Indians can be found on the reservation land in Oklahoma, with the Seminole in Florida, with the Poarch Creek Band in Alabama, in various state recognized bands, and scattered in small pockets throughout the original lands.

My maternal great-grandmother was a descendant of Creeks who chose to hide in the coves and hollows around Cotaco Valley and in this way avoided the Trail. I grew up in the same area that my Creek ancestors had lived for many generations. My great-grandmother, a full-blooded Creek, was the second daughter in a family with three sisters. According to Creek law, if a woman’s husband dies and she becomes a widow, then her sister’s husband takes her for a wife. And if a wife dies, her unmarried sister must step forward and take her place. My great-grandfather eventually married all three sisters and family reunions are really unique.

Medicine Ways

Because of their eclecticism, Creek medicine ways were always evolving. Training usually began at an early age and the positions were often hereditary, but not necessarily so if a talented person was born outside of the traditional families.

The first category, the main medicine person, was the Knower which the whites called the Prophet. This person was especially gifted and could see into the future and could also see into the past. The Knower had the visions for new cures and was able to diagnose diseases. This person was also in charge of all the mystical and magical energies which could either be used for healing or used during battle against enemies. The next category was the Carrier, also known as the Assistant, persons who were drawn to learn about the medicines and carry the information into the future. Their knowledge, acquired through rigorous training, was very practical. These were the teachings which required no initiation, were based on experience and were passed from generation to generation. The Carriers were taught only the good use of the medicines, not the bad, and were considered a force for healing and light. They were good solid herbalists.

The Specialist was responsible for the caretaking of the ceremonial grounds. This person had to know all the rituals, songs, dances and needs of a particular ground. A lot of back-breaking hard work and earth tending were required of the Specialist and for this reason, it was considered a male only position.

The Creeks used a system based upon four elements: fire, earth, air and water. For example, a decoction or infusion was considered to carry all four elements; plants from the earth, water to make the tea, fire to heat the water, and, as the steam rises, air to instill breath into the tea. Sometimes the herbalist would blow into the tea with a hollow tube, such as cane, to instill air (breath) into the tea if needed. This strong emphasis on the four elements is still apparent in Southern Folk Medicine today, as the mixing of the different cultures in the South created a regional medicine. The four elements form the basis of the Southern Blood Types (bitter, sweet, sour, and salty) and is also inherent, to a lesser extent, in the Greek medicine which also influenced Southern Folk Medicine.

A Few of The Plants

Plants are used for physical illnesses, for emotional illnesses, and for spiritual illnesses and practices. In the true tradition, a song would accompany the remedy for a particular situation or illness but much of that has been lost in time.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), white medicine, is used for many illnesses including shortness of breath, heart problems, cough, pneumonia, to stop bleeding, for endurance, to stave away hunger, and for sore throat. It is used to build the body after illness or injury and to drive away ghosts. It also used in a formula for a man to attract a woman. Ginseng is much more than an adaptogen and was often mixed with other herbs to facilitate, potentiate and carry the remedy to its needed location. As a white medicine, it is used to bring peace and balance to the body or to rebuild what has been lost. If you will notice, these are not the common uses of ginseng touted in modern herbal literature.

My father used American ginseng almost exclusively because he knew how much to use for a particular situation. I had to find, harvest,  prepare, and use ginseng in all its power before I could seriously study another herb. That took me seven years. Most people use too much ginseng as a tonic. A capsule is too much. I generally recommend three drops daily of tincture of wildcrafted ginseng. While this low dose may not seem like a very potent amount, it’s perfect for a tonic. Let it build up in the body and over time, a difference can be noticed.

Red root (Salix humilis), red medicine, is called red root because it turns the water bright red when decocted. It grows throughout the prairie regions including the Black Belt prairie of Alabama. Unfortunately, this herb is getting harder and harder to find. Like many other members of the willow family, red root is useful for fevers, malaria, headaches, and to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. It is also used for liver conditions, general aches and pains, and for sunstroke. Red root helps to remove poisons from the body and was part of a spring tonic. This herb was also used for cleansing before ceremony and to drive away witches.

I never knew red root. It was already very scarce when I was learning my herbs. However, spicebush roots (Lindera benzoin) are often used as a substitute.

Rattlesnake master (Erynigium yuccifolium), a red medicine, grows in well-drained land. It helps reduce inflammation and pain and has a marked effect on the nerves, making it useful for neuralgia. Rattlesnake master supports the kidneys, adrenal glands and the spleen. It was used for malaria and other high fevers and for venereal disease. As a red medicine, it could also be used for cleansing and purifying the blood and played an important part in ceremony. As its name suggests, the plant was used in rattlesnake bite.

I still use rattlesnake master, though it is getting harder to find. It is diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, and stimulant. Rattlesnake master is excellent for pelvic inflammation and is useful in many women’s urinary tract and reproductive complaints.

Lobelia, or tobacco bloom (Lobelia inflata), was one of the seven sacred herbs to the Creeks. It is used in many formulas and for many different illnesses, offering a broad range of actions and as a potentiator for certain formulas. A potentiator is an herb that makes the formula work better and faster. Lobelia is excellent for any type of respiratory illness, including cough, colds, pneumonia and asthma. It is also used to ward off ghosts. Lobelia’s oldest form of use is smoking and legend says that smoking lobelia predates smoking tobacco. It may also cause vomiting in large doses.

I often use lobelia, just a few drops, in formulas as a potentiator. Other potentiators include cayenne, wild ginger and smartweed. Lobelia is also useful as a stop smoking aid due to the presence of lobeline which attaches at nicotine receptor sites. I caution clients using lobelia for stopping smoking that after a couple of days of use, smoking may cause nausea.

These are just a sample few of the sacred herbs of the Creek Indians, and you will find many others listed in the full length version of this article (appearing in the Winter issue Plant Healer Magazine). In future columns I will also be discussing sweet bay magnolia, tulip poplar, pine, spicebush, yaupon holly, grape vine, oak, river birch, wormseed, mistletoe, buckeye, slippery elm, sycamore, wild cherry, baptisia, devil’s shoestring, honey locust, pipsissewa, sarsaparilla or green briar, prickly ash, callicarpa, tick trefoil, goldenrod, wild ginger, blueberry, black berries, Solomon’s seal, poke, redbud, milkweed, pink root, boneset, sumac, mulberry, wild plum, wild crab apple, wild rose, dogwood, New Jersey tea, stillingia, impatiens, rabbit tobacco, dandelion, yarrow, elderberry, and mullein.

(you are welcome to repost with credit and links)

Oct 282012

Botanical Names: Dieteria bigelovii (formerly Aster bigelovii), but also Aster tataricus, Symphyotrichum (formerly Aster) novae-angliae, Aster subspicatus, and probably many others.

Common Names: Purple Sticky Aster, Bigelow’s Spine Aster, also Douglas Aster, New England Aster, etc.,

Taste: Bitter, sweet, aromatic

Impression: Oily, aromatic

Energetics: Slightly warm, Moistening in the oily sense

Actions: Aromatic (and thus, Carminative), Relaxant Diaphoretic, Expectorant

Specific Indications: Lung deficiency, Cough with cold signs, Asthma with tension and spasmodic coughing/wheezing, Cough initiated by cold/flu onset with tension

I first learned of this beautiful medicine from Jim McDonald through his work with the very similar New England Aster, which in turn led me to look for a local plant with similar qualities. Many SW herbalists just shrugged their shoulders at me and pointed to the nearest Grindelia patch, but as much as I love Gumweed, these fragrant purple asters are their own special bit of magic.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico, the Purple Sticky Aster creates a sweet smelling lavender flower mist across the mesas, especially beneath the blue-green boughs of the Juniper trees. It’s well named and sticky enough that the flowers or flower buds can stick firmly to one’s clothing or leave an oily yet glue-like coating on the fingers after petting a flower or leaf.

In the Gila bioregion of southwest New Mexico, this is a plant of middle to upper elevations, and I have not seen it outside of the mountains. It tends to flower primarily from mid-September to the first frost in my area, and sometimes even persisting through light frosts for some weeks. A working knowledge of field botany is very helpful here, as the Asteraceae are abundant as well as abundantly confusing, especially given the taxonomy changes made within the last decade. I’ve watched many people repeatedly confuse the different species, and sometimes even begin to harvest the wrong plant because they weren’t being sensorily aware, and didn’t notice they were picking a similar looking but much less resinous Machaeranthera species. A visual characteristic that makes this plant somewhat easier to identify are its distrinctive glandular phyllaries, seen on the underside of the flower. In general though, the stick resin the plant exudates through its glands are the easiest way to distinguish it from other purple rayed, aster-like flowers in this region.

While the most commonly used, and well notated, species used medicinally among Western herbalists in North America is the New England Aster, our local Dieteria bigelovii is resinous, aromatic, and also well suited to the job. I haven’t experimented much outside these two species, especially since I haven’t found any other local species that exhibit anywhere near the same amount of sticky resin as the Dieteria.

Finding the Breath: Aster as Respiratory Remedy

Clinically, I have observed a simple of Aster flower tincture both reduce and eliminate the need for inhalers during allergy and fire season. I’ve also seen it dramatically reduce chest tension, wheezing and shortness of breath in those with mild to moderate asthma during exposure to wildfire smoke. This often works well both symptomatically and long term.

Thus far, I have seen this remedy be most specific to respiratory tension with a feeling of pressure and constriction, sometimes accompanied by spasmodic coughing and a tickly throat. It can dramatically relax that claustrophobic tightening sensation in the chest that’s about to turn into an asthma attack or full on coughing/wheezing fit. I find it an exceptionally important medicine in the treatment of mild to moderate asthma, especially childhood onset asthma where there is a tendency to tension and attacks triggered by emotional stress.

As Jim McDonald says of New England Aster:

“A tincture of the fresh flowering tops of new england aster seemed clearly indicated as a respiratory remedy, being uniquely clearing, relaxing & decongesting to the head & lungs.  This effect is readily apparent when taking a bit of the tincture; the effects aren’t subtle and can be easily perceived.  It seems to act very effectively to break up stuffy lung and (to as lesser extent)sinus congestion, though as it’s not especially astringent, it doesn’t stop a drippy nose as well as, say, goldenrod.  It is, however, uniquely antispasmodic for the lung tissue; it relaxes and dilates the respiratory passages.”

This seems equally true of our local Purple Sticky Aster, which smells like a cross between Lavender and some sort of sticky baby shampoo. This has been a primary remedy of mine in many respiratory cases with symptoms of tension and congestion both in the cold season’s bronchitis and related respiratory distress as well as the annual fire season.

I have used it in combination with Elecampane and Grindelia in strep throat, and while the other two herbs are probably more active in reducing microbial overproliferation, the Aster is definitely soothing and relaxing, especially if there is a concurrent cough, fever, or respiratory tension. It is most useful if used in the early stages of the infection, rather than waiting until the affliction is at its worst.

Aster is also considered a fundamental respiratory medicine that has been used for over two millennia in China.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the roots/rhizomes of Aster tataricus (Purple Aster/Zi Wan) are specifically used to resolve excess phlegm and stop coughs,. This is more specifically true where there is a cough related to viral onset (usually cold/flu) associated with lung deficiency. In such cases, I find the herb to be especially helpful when formulated with Western Spikenard (Aralia racemosa, although it’s likely other species in the same genus would work as well) berries and rhizomes. I consider the combination of Aralia and Aster to be one of our most important native herb combinations for treating almost almost any case of lung deficiency, particularly in preparations that include honey, such as in elixirs or honey frying.

Fever Tea: Aster as  Relaxant Diaphoretic

Sticky Aster and New England Aster are gentle relaxant diaphoretics, particularly indicated where there’s irritability, tension, and the inability to relax. This means that a hot tea/infusion of Aster will relax the circulatory system in such a way that it allows for enhanced peripheral circulation. In turn, this will increase the ability of the immune system to prevent or deal with microbial overproliferation in cold/flu (or other viral crud).

The Alutiiq people of Alaska have worked with a similar species, Aster subspicatus (Purple Daisy/Douglas Aster), for all manner of fevers, especially when occurring alongside cold, flu, or childhood eruptive diseases such as measles, as well as in the treatment of coughs and sinus congestion. In this case the root is generally decocted or chewed directly.

I like a strong infusion of Yarrow, Sticky Aster, Elderflower, and just a pinch of Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia in this case) as a general diaphoretic formula. These plants are all local to me and easily gathered and kept on hand for Winter viral episodes. If the individual has a tendency toward to bronchitis, or has ongoing asthmatic issues, then I find the Aster to be an especially important addition, as it is especially good at helping to prevent lung crud from settling in before the fact.

The Purple Haze: Aster as Relaxant Nervine

In addition to Aster’s phenomenal action on the respiratory and circulatory systems, it also earns this blog post’s title with its ability as a relaxant nervine. While its primary affinity does seem to be on respiratory tension, Aster does have the ability to relax tension in the nervous system as well. I rarely use this plant as just a general nervine, but do frequently utilize it where folks have anxiety associated with chest/lung tension. So, if you’re someone who manifests nervousness as an inability to get a deep breath or a feeling of tightness in the chest, this plant could be very helpful as a nervine on its own or in an appropriate formula.

Parts Used & Preparations:

Parts: Traditionally, the root has been the part used in both European and Chinese medicine. However, I (and Jim) find the flowers just as useful, if not more so. However, when treating chronic coughs with distinct immune and lung weakness/deficiency, I especially like the rhizomes fried in honey to help create a more moistening and strengthening preparation.

Fresh Plant Tincture: I primarily use tincture in order to most efficiently extract the resin and aromatics.

Infused Oil: My attempts at infused oil have been useful in healing mild wounds or as a chest rub but not super strong. I tend to use it more in formulae than on its own.

Water-Based Preps: Tea and infusion are usable, but again, much more mild, and the flowers tend to turn fluff immediately upon drying. The fluff and leaves (and roots) do work medicinally though, and in years where the plant is especially abundant, I do gather enough for infusions as well. A great preparation I picked up from Jim McDonald:

“I generally add a bit of fresh flower tincture to a hot infusion of the dried flowering tops, and use this for fevers with respiratory tension combined with an agitated disposition… it’s a relaxing diaphoretic..”

Also, fresh plant works well in infusions, and I prefer it to the dried when its practical and possible.

Infused honey and elixir:  I find that Aster lends its medicinal properties very well to honey, whether the fresh flowers or the dried rhizomes. As previously mentioned, I tend to stick to the flower overall, and find that the flowering tops make a lovely elixir with alcohol (I like whiskey with Aster, but whatever you prefer) and a good honey. Infused honey is also lovely, but I’ve only ever used the fresh flowers for that so far.


Aster formulates exceptionally well with Grindelia and Elecampane for respiratory infections of many sorts, especially where there’s tension and a dryness associated with lack of oils. This is also a great combo for strep, if used at the very first sign of onset or relapse.

Aster and Lobelia are a fantastic team for addressing the early stages of many asthma attacks, most specifically if emotional upset is triggering the attack.

As I mentioned above, I love Aralia spp. and Aster together for chronic lung deficiency where the person tends to get a respiratory infection from every bug that comes around. Another lovely addition here is Fir (Abies spp.) if there’s a chronic low-grade cough associated with cold signs.

Hawthorn, Rose, and Cherry all have some amount of lung/nerve affinity and work well with Aster, especially where distinct tissue inflammation is a factor. Cherry being most specific to acute spasmodic issues, but all three helpful for longer term issues.

Considerations: I tend to agree with Chinese medicine that Aster is less suited as a single herb remedy for treating excess heat associated with a cough or fever. However, it can still be useful in this circumstance in the right formula. In general, a mild and gentle medicine appropriate even for small children. No overt contradictions that I know of.


New England Aster – Jim McDonald:

Personal correspondence and classes with Jim McDonald

King’s American Dispensatory

Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories (Hulten)

Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen & Chen)

~Photos & Text ©2012 Kiva Rose~

Jun 052012

This monograph was previously published by Plant Healer Magazine

River Medicine: Alder’s Transformation of Lymph, Blood, and The Human Ecology

by Kiva Rose

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

– Norman MacLean

Common Names: Alder, Mountain Alder, Canyon Alder, Red Alder, River Alder, Thinleaf Alder etc.,

Botanical Name: Alnus spp. specifically the A. oblongifolia and A. incana that grow in my local area, other species commonly used in medicine include A. rubra and A. serrulata

Botanical Family: Betulaceae

My affection for this elegant and common tree is second to none. One of the key species in wetland areas on the canyon and mountain Southwest recovering from overgrazing, its curved branches shade the waterways all through the Gila bioregion I call home. I cannot imagine my home or practice without the silver- barked grace of the Alders that intermingle with the Wild Roses and Coyote Willow all along the canyon walls and rocky sandbars of the San Francisco River. Of our local Canyon Alder, A. oblongifolia, naturalist and tree lover Donald Peattie writes:

“Like almost all of the other Alders it loves a rushing stream to cool its roots, and the head of the cool canyons whre the shadows lie long. But this species, which thrusts farther south in the desert states tha any other Alder (going right over the Border into Mexico), is especially delightful when you come upon it after a long trip across the burning desert and a long climb through the arid lower slopes of mountains like those around Tucson. As slim as young Birches, as cool as broad Beeshes, as tall, sometimes 60 or even 80 feet high, the Alders form delicious groves, wit hthe tingling of the streams forever making music.”

Indeed, the complex knotwork of the Alders’ silver roots thrust into the sweet rushing water of the mountains rivers makes a song of which there is no match in any forest I have yet wander. I can think of almost nothing as sweet as walking by the swollen river during the monsoon season when the canyon is lush and green and the Alder trees curve out from the banks and over the water, creating a verdant and shaded tunnel. The sweet and delicate spice scent of the trees mingles with the richer fragrance of Narrowleaf Cottonwoods and provides an intoxicating experience.

Habitat & Ecology:

Widespread and abundant throughout much of the temperate world, Alder is even considered weedy in many moister climates. In truth, it is a pioneer species with nitrogen fixing roots that nourishes and improves previously disturbed or depleted soils. Here in the Southwest, its appearance almost always signifies recovering wetland habitat and is a sight I always welcome. The nitrogen it provides helps to feed the other species that follow it in the riparian forest succession. Overall, Alder seems to prefer riverside or swampy habitat where it usually grows in great intertwined thickets. Our local Alder, Alnus oblongifolia, is something of an exception to this, growing into colonies of medium to large sized individual trees alongside rivers and streams. They are a fairly short- lived genus, with the average lifespan being approximately 100 years, but grow rapidly and provide shade, soil nutrients and forage for wildlife, including a number of butterfly species.

Identification & Botanical Description:

Alder trees vary in stature from small shrubs to large trees, growing as tall as 120 feet tall. Their bark is usually smooth with darker lenticels as well as some furrows in older trees, usually from scarring. The outer bark tends toward brownish-red in color but may also be gray or silver in color with red to rust colored inner bark. Donald Peattie remarks of Alnus rubra:

“The bark is the loveliest feature of the tree. It is, in youth, a soft and grayish white, quite as pleasing as any Aspen’s or Beech’s bark… And the very rainy or foggy climate of this Alder’s range induces long lines of dark green moss to grow, especially on the north and west. The resultant mottling of colors is exquisitely subtle and harmonious. One could not ask for a lovelier sylvan presence than this…. Lumbermen prefer to call this the Red Alder – a most misleading name to the student of the field, for not Alder has so white a bark. But scratch the bark with your penknife and you will find that inside it is a rich red.”

Alders are almost always deciduous and their serrated, straight-veined leaves are simple and alternate. Those unfamiliar with the genus may easily mistake an Alnus for its close cousin Betula (Birch). While there are other, more dependable ways ways of definitively identifying the tree (see the information below on differentiating flowers), one of the easiest features is the scent. Some Betula spp. are virtually scentless, but many have a distinct Wintergreen like scent while Alnus spp. tend to have a sweet, spicy scent. They flower in the form of unisexual (separate male and female) catkins, the male flowers are elongated while the female are cone-like and woody. They greatly resemble Betula species except for the fact that the female flowers of Alder are woody and persist after maturity, bearing much resemblance to the cones of many coniferous trees. After fertilization, these conelets ripen and release tiny winged seed-like nuts.

Parts, Use, & Harvesting

Twigs, leaf buds, leaves and catkins (both male and female) are all medicinal. Some people harvest the bark of the body of the tree, but it seems more astringent and less useful for the primary purposes I discuss in this article. The young twigs are sweeter and more aromatic and less astringent as well as easier to harvest. Different subgenera of Alnus flower at different times, and I tend to harvest twigs and catkins just when they begin to flower. Research your local species for when that time will be in your area. I harvest leaves as needed for poultice use, and when most sticky (usually the first half of July) for infusing into oil or tincturing.

Taste & Impression

Taste of bark tends to vary across Alnus species and habitat to some degree but some level of sweet, astringent, aromatic and slightly bitter seems to be fairly standard. Some species of Alder possess very resinous, sticky leaves with asweet taste where others are more straightforwardly astringent.


Generally mildly cooling and moderately drying.

Vital Actions:

Alterative, lymphatic, blood moving, astringent, anodyne, vulnerary

Used As:

Anti-inflammatory, anti- infective,immunostimulant,

Specific Indications:

Systemic or local microbial infections, chronic or acute. Hypoimmunity with swollen lymph glands, poor digestion of fats and proteins and slow healing wounds/injuries.

Lore & Story

Our Canyon Alder (Alnus oblongifolia) has beautiful silver bark with an underlying skin of blood red revealed by the scratching of bear claws (who are inordinately fond of this tree). It lives right on the river bank with its roots dangling in a silver web in and just above the water,. And indeed the Alder is a bear medicine. In a literal sense, the bears love this tree — they climb it, mark it and nibble on it. On another level, Alder (and bears) belongs to the water element, to the deep within where primal transformation takes place. This tree has always spoken to me of the balance of fire and water, of rebirth and change. My partner Jesse Wolf Hardin wrote eloquently of Alder’s mythological and spiritual aspects in his novel, The Medicine Bear:

The alder would have felt special to Omen even if she had never learned any of its story, or learned to read by studying its myths. She loved that it had been long known as the King Of The Fairies, that the faces of the Sacred Kings during the Midsummer rituals were painted with the red dye of its inner bark. That the fairies were said to use the Alder catkins to dye their clothes, thereby making themselves invisible to human eyes. That while its wood burned slow, it nevertheless made the best and hottest charcoal, and had once been the choice of medieval warriors for forging their magically imbued swords. That woodsmen would sometimes strike the silvery barked trees with an axe, and then upon seeing the bright red flesh beneath, be reminded of blood and made too sympathetic to continue an assault. For these reasons and more, the alder was considered to embody the power of fire. And because of the way it turned water into steam, it was called the Tree Of Resurrection by Homer. The alder was the botanical Phoenix, Omen had decided… the leaf-feathered firebird of rebirth.

River Medicine: A Therapeutic Overview

Alder is river medicine, a remedy deeply aligned with the flow and transformation of fluids in the waterways of the wetland ecologies it grows within as well as the blood and lymph of the human body. Even in its role as an “anti-microbial” in herbal medicine, its primary action seems to be in supporting the inherent immune ecology rather than as a ruthless bacteria assassin.

Its place in the recovery of damaged wetland habitat also speaks to its relationship with the metabolic processes of our bodies. Just as it heals stripped soil by assisting in the microbial balance, it also supports our innate ecology and microbial balance. Through its work as pioneering colonies on overgrazed or logged waterways, thereby transforming the quality of the water, so too it acts on the body’s ability to transform food into nourishment and supports the eliminatory organs’ role in moving and removing waste.

Alder is a staple of my clinical work and one of my most beloved herbal allies. Its consistent and powerful ability to act as a profound alterative and lymphatic while addressing even the most severe microbial infections makes it truly invaluable to almost any practitioner, and especially those focused on working with locally available and common weedy plants.

The actions discussed here are based on my direct clinical experience. While I certainly learned a great deal about this herb from others (especially Darcy Williamson), any assertion made about Alder’s properties stem directly from my clinical experience with the plant and not from hearsay, literature or extrapolation.

Alterative & Lymphatic: Directing the Flow & Strengthening the Inner Ecology

“This agent combines both alterative and tonic astringent properties. It removes waste products, improves the tone of mucous structures and increases the secretory action of the glands of these structures. At the same time it prevents the flow of an excessive quantity of mucus into the stomach, and stimulates the flow of gastric juice and aids the digestion. It cures various forms of ulcerations in the mouth, or in the gastro-intestinal canal. It is advised in rhus poisoning. It has accomplished satisfactory cures in pustular and eczematous disease of the skin.” – Finley Ellingwood

Having a range of actions extending from alterative to lymphatic to pain reliever/blood mover to astringent to powerful anti-bacterial agent, there’s a reason this tree has been considered an overall tonic by many indigenous tribes. When it comes down it though, the medicine is all about the transformation and nourishment of the body’s vital fluids, whether through lymph, blood, bile, digestive fluids, urine etc It’s not a yin tonic, it doesn’t add to the fluids, nor does it simply move or contain them; rather, it improves/transforms the quality of the fluids. I believe it has something in common with Redroot (Ceanothus spp.) in this regard but with broader application. It teams up very well with Oregon Grape Root for constipation (or constipation rotating with diarrhea) with poor protein/fat digestion and accompanying skin disorders. This is usually a pattern of sluggish liver and deficient kidneys that cause the body to fall into in overall sluggish state where the fluids are NOT being transformed and waste is not being removed properly from the body. Alder and Oregon Grape Root will help. If there’s significant adrenal involvement, add some Nettles to the picture. Tommie Bass said:

“If you got any kind of skin condition like eczema or scale, the [alder] tea will help your body heal itself. It cleanses the liver and you know, the liver controls everything else.”

This same pattern of sluggishness leading to inflammation and buildup of waste products also has a tendency to result in chronic infections in the body. The tissues get boggy and soft and can’t move wastes out of themselves any more. Time for some Alder! Often Spanish Needles (Bidens spp) is a nice combo here, especially for chronic infections of the mucus membranes. I want to talk a bit more about Alder’s very efficient ability to effect the lymphatic system as well as other systems that enhance elimination. I expect it is this strong alterative capacity that makes it so effective against infections as well. I’ve found that a small amount of Alder tincture to be a powerful yet gentle way to move sluggish lymph indicated by swollen glands, slow healing wounds, chronic sore throat and other typical symptoms. It also has a remarkably quick action on all kinds of skin conditions, from PMS related outbreaks to scaly patches and red rashes. It works especially well with Dandelion for any hot, inflamed skin condition. Despite the fact that I work closely with several other well known Alterative/Lymphatic herbs such as Violet, Mullein, Burdock and Cleavers I find myself consistently choosing Alder for most situations, especially when I need something to get things moving very quickly. I am of the opinion that it often works even quicker than Redroot (Ceonothus spp) and that they make a superb pair for severe lymphatic congestion.

“This much neglected, but very important, remedy is a valuable agent in scrofulosis, especially in those cases marked by glandular enlargements and suppuration. Prof. Scudder speaks of it as one of the most valuable of our indigenous remedies, and points to its use in “superficial diseases of the skin and mucous membranes, taking the form of eczema or pustular eruption.” Administered internally and applied locally in these conditions, we may expect from alnus the best of results. Impetigo, prurigo, herpes, and scorbutus, are diseases in which alnus will be of great utility…. The happiest results are obtained from its use in successive crops of boils.” – King’s American Dispensatory

I have also seen protracted durations of flu/cold with immune sluggishness and swollen glands clear up in a matter of a few days with persistent doses of Alder, usually accompanied by a warming circulatory stimulant like Ginger or Monarda, with or without the addition of the immune modulating Elderberry. Sources which directly list Alnus species as a glandular or lymphatic remedy include Lyle, Boericke (homeopathic), Ellingwood, King’s American Dispensatory, and is also inferred by Cook and Felter. TJ Lyle said that:

“The bark is a mildly stimulating and gently astringing tonic alterative, influencing mainly the cutaneous and renal secretions, glands and lymphatics; and is therefore valuable in scrofula, glandular swellings, skin diseases and mercurial cachexia. It is also valuable in chronic diarrhoea, sore mouth, sore throat, especially when arising from some impurity in the blood. In the treatment of dyspepsia it influences the flow of gastric juice and invigorates the appetite. Its action is excellent on the mucous membrane in catarrh of the stomach or bowels. Acting as it does on the circulation it is valuable in rheumatism, and in the treatment of syphilis and in chronic and acute inflammation of the stomach and bowels and in cases of hemorrhages. It is a gentle stimulant of the kidneys and absorbents. ”

and John Scudder stated:

“It is an agent that has not been much employed by the majority of the profession, and yet those who have used it consider it one of our most efficient alterative agents.”

And he specifically recommends it for scrofula with glandular enlargement. Alder is historically associated with the treatment of scrofula and syphilis, both diseases that deeply affect and eventually derange the lymphatic system. Alder was considered by many of the older herbalists to be a very effective treatment for the these diseases as well as for glandular swellings and disorder in general. Many more general references to this kind of treatment can also be found in various ethnobotanical texts. Both the ethnobotanical literature and my personal conversations with indigenous people of the American West indicate its popularity when treating almost any acute viral affliction, including not only cold and flu but also childhood eruptive diseases and TB. While the term immunostimulant can be nebulous at best when it comes to experiential work with the human body, Alder has several more obvious actions that allow us to see its effect on the immune system. Most notably is the effect on lymphatic stagnation, which is often obvious and quick where there’s swollen and/or painful glands. It also appears to increase non-specific resistance to infection of many kinds, including bacterial, fungal and viral. It does not, however, seem to elicit any negative reaction in those with autoimmune disorders and I have used it frequently to clear up infections in clients with Lupus, Type II Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Anti-Infective: Balancing Microbial Proliferation

Occasionally other herbalists will look at me as if I’m quite mad when I mention my frequent use of Alder, especially for microbial infections. However, my experience with this plant is nothing new and many of the uses are well recorded in ethnobotany and older herbal/medical literature from North America and Europe, especially those relating to lymphatic stagnation and pain.

An herb so widely applicable to microbial infections will inevitably provoke comparisons to Echinacea. I certainly don’t find the two plants analogous based on their tastes and overall profile but I do use Alder in many situations where other would choose Echinacea. If Alder can effectively be used in some of these situations it would create less pressure in the market for wildcrafted Echinacea. Certainly there’s an organic market for Echinacea, but Alder is an incredibly widespread plant and could provide cheap (and often free), accessible medicine for many people.

My experience is that Alder tends to work best for microbial (including gram negative and positive bacteria and many fungi and viruses) infections of the gut, gums/mouth, urinary apparatus, vagina, skin and systemic infections and less well for those of the respiratory tract. However, given its lymphatic, immune enhancing and other actions it is well suited to many respiratory formulae when combined with more directly respiratory anti- microbial herbs such as Elecampane, Cottonwood and Osha.

I have repeatedly seen cases of staph (including several confirmed cases of MRSA) infection manifesting as repeated outbreaks of boils clear up with the consistent use of Alder tincture. It works similarly on cellulitis and even on cases of sepsis when treated quickly and aggressively enough. Vaginal and urinary tract infections also respond very favorably to Alder, and I have seen it clear up even several year long and seemingly intractable combined Vaginal/UTI type situations.

Alder appears to act both topically and internally on microbial infections, and local application of leaf poultice, salve or infused honey is often enough to clear up a mild infection. Dealing with more serious or systemic infections however, it is best to use the plant internally as well. Specifically, I use the recently dried twigs, cones and catkins in a 1:5 tincture made with 50% alcohol. Frequency and dosage in systemic infections is critical and for an average sized adult, I usually recommend 1/2-2/4 ml every 3 hours for a progressing, acute infection.

In the treatment of infections, I find that Alder works even more efficiently and rapidly when combined with a diffusive, circulatory stimulating herb such as Monarda. Formulating the herb in this way speeds its impact on the body and seems to add to overall effect on the infection.

Anti-Inflammatory: Cooling, Tonifying and Soothing

Alder can act as an anti-inflammatory both internally and externally and is excellent for relieving acute inflammation from microbial infection, waste product buildup from poor metabolism and even seems to initiate an overall cooling action in many cases of acute hepatitis. Combined with its blood moving action, Alder is ideal in many cases of excess heat with pain. Alnus spp., like their Betula relatives, contain salicin, a constituent that acts as an anti-inflammatory in the human body. I have been unable to track down solid research citing the amount of salicin found in Alnus bark, but its presence seems worth mentioning in this monograph, as it likely has some bearing on the overall anti-inflammatory and anodyne effects of the herb.

Anodyne: Remediating Pain

Alder can provide significant pain relief, both externally and internally. It seems specifically suited for head/tooth/gum pain when used internally and general topical pain relief. It is especially ideal for the headache and radiating facial pain of toothaches. Not only does the Alder help with the pain, but it also directly addresses any occurrence of infection and inflammation. The bark and leaf of this remarkable tree are nearly always present in my pain liniment and salve formulations and I find that the addition of Alder to these blends significantly improves their ability to lessen swelling and pain in both chronic and acute injuries. I find that it blends especially well with resinous Populus spp., as well as Solidago spp., and Artemisia spp., in the treatment of injured or strained muscles.

Drawing Agent: Poultice Plant Extraordinaire

I often use Alder leaves in place of where many would reach for Plantain leaves when treating venomous stings and bites as well as simple wounds, splinters and scrapes. This began simply because Plantain isn’t very common where I live while Alder grows all along the rivers, streams and seeps with leaves aplenty. It works well to alleviate pain, lessen inflammation, draw out venom or splinters, stop or prevent infections and I have even seen it address festering sores that were refusing to heal even with the standard antibiotic and steroid treatment. It combines especially well with Peach leaf/twig when treating inflamed insect bites/stings where it is unclear whether there is a histamine reaction or bacterial infection or a bit of both. Applying a poultice or compress of both herbs covers both bases, with Peach working to allay excessive histamine and Alder addressing infection and overall inflammation.

Vulnerary: Wound Healing, Injury Soothing, Burn Cooling & Pain Relieving

Alder has a place in almost every salve recipe I use. Its overall healing effects make it broadly useful for almost any abrasion, wound, bruise or musco-skeletal injury. This in combination with its complete lack of toxicity makes it a great salve to have on hand for little ones, including babies. Baths, compresses or liniment made of the twigs and leaves are all effective for treating muscular and joint pain. Indigenous tribes such as the Mohegans used it in this and Culpeper recommended similar treatment. In my practice I’ve found Alder to be an invaluable addition to my pain salves and liniments. It’s not an analogue for the similarly useful Birch, but complements it very nicely in formulae and can provide a reasonable substitute in recipes calling for Birch. It’s my impression and experience that Alder tends to treat surface inflammation most effectively when used alone and works well with other herbs that help to drive it deeper, especially with warming counterirritants such as Arnica, Goldenrod and Cottonwood. It’s also excellent when combined with pain relieving herbs with an affinity for nerve pain such as St. John’s Wort and Vervain.

Case Studies

1. Confirmed MRSA with boils – 28 year old woman who works as an RN presenting with reoccurring sores and boils, diagnosed as MRSA. Previously treated by primary care doctor with 3 rounds of undisclosed antibiotics which gave mild temporary relief but each time the boils/sores would reappear within days after antibiotics were completed. Client also has mild Type II Diabetes following standard American diet and a history of poor healing wounds. Glands in neck found to be swollen and mildly tender to the touch. Treatment consisted of a tincture formula made with 3 parts Alnus oblongifolia (freshly dried twigs, catkins and cones, 1:5, 50%) and 1 part Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia (fresh flowering tops, 1:2, 95%), 1/2 ml every 3-4 hours. Boils/sores resolved completely within 1 week, formula was continued for another week after that. 6 week followup indicated no return of symptoms, as did 1 year followup.

2. Lymphatic stagnation with hypoimmunity – 5 year old girl with extremely swollen glands, too sore to touch and so swollen she was unable to turn her head without crying from the pain. Other complaints included fatigue, listlessness, inability to sleep from glandular discomfort and frequent influenza onset as well as slow-healing wounds and injuries. Extensive examination and testing by primary care doctor, ER doctors and oncologists were inconclusive. Multiple rounds of antibiotics and steroids were given over a period of several months with no perceivable results. Treatment was a tincture formula of 1 part Elderberry (Sambucus neomexicana, dried berries, 1:5 40%), 1 part Alnus oblongifolia (freshly dried twigs, catkins and cones, 1:5, 50%) and 1/4 part Ginger root (fresh rhizome, 1:2, 95%), 1/3 ml 4x/day. Glandular swelling and soreness resolved entirely within 1.5 weeks, with no reoccurrence at 10 month followup. Vulnerability to viral onset was at least temporarily abated, and wounds were healing more normally at the 10 month followup.

3. Tooth/Gum Infection with acute pain – 54 year old male with extensive dental issues, including advanced periodontal disease and several severely infected areas in the gums where teeth were rotting and needed to be extracted. Due to financial limitations and unavailability of oral surgeon, client came to me for help with pain relief. Treatment was a tincture formula of 3 parts Alnus oblongifolia (freshly dried twigs, catkins and cones, 1:5, 50%) and 1 part Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia (fresh flowering tops, 1:2, 95%), 1/2 ml every 3-4 hours. Pain abated by 50% within 24 hours, all swelling and 85% of total pain relieved within one week. Dropped dosage to 1 ml 2x/day at one week as maintenance dose until able to see surgeon. Pain, infection and swelling kept at bay until the teeth were extracted a month later. Surgeon noted no active infection or acute inflammation, only prolonged decay and previous tissue damage.

4. Insect bites with infection – 32 year old female was bitten 6 times on right hip while in bed by unidentified insect, likely a spider. Client ignored bites for 4 days until each bite was a purple-red mark the size of a half dollar and rapidly widening. Bites were hard and swollen, itching and painful enough that client was unable to lay on the side or wear jeans or other restrictive/tight clothing on the area. After examination and noting rapid spreading of inflammation, I told the client that if there wasn’t significant improvement within 24 hours of beginning herbal treatment that I would recommend she see her primary care doctor for further treatment. Treatment was a tincture formula of 1 part Alnus oblongifolia (freshly dried twigs, catkins and cones, 1:5, 50%) and 1 part Peach (Prunus persica, fresh leaves, twigs and flowers, 1:2, 40%), 1/2 ml every 3-4 hours internally, and applied externally diluted 1:2 with distilled water as a compress every four hours. Inflammation, pain and itching receded 50% within 24 hours, and cleared entirely within 4 days.

Favored Preparations

Tincture – The preparation I most commonly work with for internal use is the lovely red tincture made from the freshly dried twigs, cones and catkins. It takes a few days to dry and then only requires about 40-50% alcohol for optimal extraction.

Infused Honey – The infused honey made with fresh twigs and/or leaves is also a very effective medicine and quite tasty as well. I use this externally for wounds and burns and internally for immune support, some infections, lymphatic stagnation and even just for the lovely flavor it adds to tea.

Salve – Infused into oil or tallow/lard, Alder makes a wonderful and widely applicable salve. It formulates well but is also quite lovely all on its own.

Liniment – A combination of alcohol tincture, vinegar tincture (optional) and infused oil, Alder liniment is a multi-purpose medicine for muscular pain, inflammation and infections.

Considerations & Contraindications

Alder is one of the safest and most effective herbs I know of, with very few contraindications. While not a food-like medicine, it’s only real side effects seems to have to do with its inherent astringency which, in water-based preparations, can prevent nutrient absorption and will cause nausea, vomiting and other digestive upset when used in large doses or over a long period of time. This consideration does not seem to apply to the tincture which apparently does not sufficiently exact enough tannins into the maceration to be an issue. Fresh Alder is sometimes called an emetic, but this definitely doesn’t seem to apply to fresh plant tincture, and this attribution may be simply due to the astringent nature of fresh bark preparations. Otherwise, simply keep in mind that this is a cooling, drying remedy and use in the appropriate constitutional context and/or formulate it with balancing herbs.

My Ukrainian ancestors also used Alder for slow healing wounds & infections ©2012 Kiva Rose


William Cook – The Physiomedical Dispensatory

Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd – King’s American Dispensatory

Jesse Wolf Hardin – The Medicine Bear Shawna Hubbarth – Plantain and Alder http://

Jim McDonald – Correspondence and classes

Daniel Moerman – Native American Ethnobotany

Donald Culross Peattie – A Natural History of Western Trees

Darcy Williamson – Healing Herbs of the Rocky Mountains

Ananda Wilson – Writings and correspondence.

Oct 072011

2012 Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference
New Dates & Location

Search & Criteria

It seemed we would never find the “right” place, and yet we just couldn’t give up!  Weeks we spent on our site search in 2010, to no avail.  And weeks again since we got home from the 2011 conference, filled with long days that stretched late into our river canyon nights.  Like plant minded and rewilded Goldilockses, we kept coming upon places that were too small or too large, too hippie-dippy New Age or else fancy-pants conservative, too urban or too remote, too short on facilities or way too damn many buildings.  Sedona was too prissy, the Chiracahua Mountains too hot and sparse.  Some too high of elevation, others too dry.  Some possible venues would clearly be too noisy and distracting, others like Oak Creek wouldn’t let us have live music over a certain decibel.  The way cool town of Telluride kept bringing their prices down until we actually could have afforded it there, but the your flights to Montrose would have made it cost prohibitive for many of you. The attractive Shambhala Center, too, proved to be almost affordable for us, but they wanted a guarantee that 80% of our attendees would rent pricey lodging from them… when, in fact, close to 50% of those attracted to this decidedly folk herbalism conference need free or inexpensive camping, often being either impoverished students, poorly paid community practitioners or free clinic volunteers who struggle to get enough money together to come.

And folk herbalists are nature lovers, even if you happen to live and work in a city, so any celebration of plants and practice would surely have to be in a natural location, not in a hotel with potted ferns being the only green.  Indeed, it would have to be within walking distance of nature trails or national forest swelling with plant life, and also have 5 or more classrooms clustered close to one another.  Sufficient tables and chairs would be needed, and this time there would have to be food tons better than the pitiful Ghost Ranch fare.  As kind as the responses were that we were getting from various entities, nothing seemed to meet all our needs.  And as much as anything, we were distressed to think about hosting TWHC anywhere besides the wild and magical Southwest.  Unfortunately, there just wasn’t anything.  Our teachers have long needed to know where and when, so they can schedule their year of classes and appearances.  Others are pleading to know, because their jobs require they put in for vacation time a year in advance.  The stress of indecision and numerous dead ends begins to effect our sleep and health, and for Kiva’s sake, if not my own, I reluctantly ask that she stop the incessant googling and help me pick from among the best of the known alternatives.

But that Kiva, she just wouldn’t give up.  And at last, an ideal place came into sight!  A 2 day trip with the rest of the family to see it, and it’s settled.  only a couple hundred miles over the hill from our Anima School and Sanctuary, the incredibly beautiful…

Our New Site: Coconino, Arizona

Our new site nests amidst the vast Coconino conifer forest, with absolutely incredible local plant diversity and forested mountains reflected in the surface of what’s called Mormon Lake, an alternately spreading and retracting marsh we found fairly ablaze with wildflower color.

A short walk away, the leaves of white barked Aspen clap like tiny castanets in what tastes like the freshest of breezes, and not too many miles distant are protected wilderness areas, Oak Creek’s natural rock-slide, dramatic volcanic formations, lush meadows inhabited by countless grazing elk, and hiking trails leading both higher or lower to the adjacent desert and alpine ecosystems.

And yet for all that, our site in the Coconino is still only a 3 hour drive from the Phoenix airport, the very cheapest of our regional airports to fly into, and serviced by shuttles!  Only 12 hours from Denver, for those choosing to drive from there.  And just 30 minutes south of the old fashioned town of Flagstaff.

It includes  every building we need for classes, without feeling either too Hyatt Regency or too bingo hall.  Clean and comfortable log cabins, with lower prices that nearly everyone can afford!  Both inexpensive camping with electrical outlets, and totally free camping sites!  A giant outdoor festival tent that we’ll use as a group dining area in the day, and as a dance hall when its time for our 2 exciting evening concerts.  And voluminous Town Hall built in the 1920’s, that will hold our Registration area and Healer’s Market tables, with a section of benches or couches for folks to use as a meeting and greeting area.

Believe it or not, unlike our last conference location, this new base for TWHC has a fully stocked country store right there, selling supplies and even fair-trade coffee.  It’s handicapped accessible.  Pets are allowed in its campgrounds and RV sites.  In addition, there are canoe rentals there, active land restoration projects, roaming buffalo, pony rides and even a petting zoo for the kids!

Kiva and Loba took Rhiannon with them on this search trip and she got to have her very first ever horse ride.

As if that’s not enough, on your way there you’ll go right past the world class Arboretum that we’re considering arranging a field trip to, abundant with examples of native and medicinal plant species.

All this, mind you, at prices that help keep TWHC – the signature folk herbalism event – potentially affordable to the majority of our diverse folk community.

The gentle lapping of the lake whispers, but in an enchanting voice we can’t help but hear.

A Natural Wonder

The Coconino is a 1.856-million acre (7,511 km2) national forest located in northern Arizona in the vicinity of Flagstaff. Originally established in 1898 as the “San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve”, the Coconino features diverse landscapes including deserts, pine forests, flatlands, mesas, alpine tundra and ancient volcanic fields and peaks. The forest contains all or parts of 10 designated Wilderness Areas. Its elevation ranges from 2,600’ (800 m) in the southern part of the forest near the Verde River, to 12,633’ (3,851 m) at the summit of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state of Arizona. Much of the forest is a high altitude plateau located in the midst of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in North America. The southern border of this plateau is the volcanically created Mogollon Rim, a nearly 400 mile (640 km) long escarpment running across central Arizona to the Anima Sanctuary in New Mexico, and also marks the southern boundary of what’s known as the Colorado Plateau.

The Coconino encompasses the largest portion of a great volcanic field, and in places is dotted with tree-covered cinder cones, lava flows, and underground lava tubes such as Lava River Cave. The Flagstaff District surrounds two national monuments, Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument the latter of which preserves the youngest cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Sunset Crater. Located in the southern portion of the Flagstaff District is Mormon Lake at 7,000’ elevation, the new site for the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference.

Mormon Lake itself is a shallow, intermittent lake with an average depth of only 10 ft (3.0 m), the surface area of the lake is extremely volatile and fluctuates seasonally. When full, the lake has a surface area of about 12 square miles (31 million square meters), making it the largest natural lake in Arizona.  The name of the lake commemorates Mormon settlers who arrived here in the 1870s and founded several dairy farms in the area, before eventually picking up stakes and moving on. (With thanks to Wikipedia)

Old West Heritage

You can almost hear the soundtrack as you step closer to the Mormon Lake Lodge and its scattering of old log and clapboard buildings tucked against the trees, perhaps a minor chord instrumental with sparse but powerful guitar lines, a whistling of wind punctuated by a horse’s whinny or the distant crack of a wagon master’s whip a’la Rawhide, in what could be a psychedelic spaghetti western composition by the tweaked Spindrift or Ry Cooder.

Here you find authentic Wild West flavor, oddly tinged with evident ecological emphasis and an earthy tone befitting the working class more than the world traveler.  Antique fishing rods and frontiersman’s accouterments decorate walls branded by the very cowboys who built it, and once fiercely alive creatures stand mounted and stuffed with reflections of a transformed land in their glass eyes.  These animals, like so much of the main Lodge decor, are a legacy of man who loved these mountains, the writer who most helped establish the Western novel as what was then a new literary genre: Zane Grey, 1875-1935.

In his 60+ books, he presented the West as a moral battle ground featuring game changing choices, with characters facing great personal and regional changes.  A bundle of contradictions like the West itself, Grey was not only the killer of the inglorious mounts but also a proponent of animal and habitat conservation.  His outlawish heroes not only bucked convention, but the notion of civilization itself.  From his 1918 novel  The Roaring U.P. Trail, 1918:

“Slingerland hated the railroad, and he could not see as any of the engineers or builders did.  This old trapper had the vision of the Indian – that far-seeing eye cleared by distance and silence, and the force of the great, lonely hills. Progress was great, but nature unspoiled was greater.  If a race could not breed all stronger men, through its great movements, it might better not breed any, for the bad over-multiplied the good, and so their needs magnified into greed.  Slingerland saw many shining bands of steel across the plains and mountains, many stations and hamlets and cities, a growing and marvelous prosperity from timber, mines, farms, and in the distant end – a gutted West.”

To champion and perpetuate that West and its wild nature, was Grey’s personal as well as literary aim.  And the owners of the Lodge at Mormon Lake – Grey’s all time favorite hangout – make an effort to honor that legacy with ongoing conservation efforts.

An Ecological Ethos

Ecological work at the Lodge property include environmental education programs and hikes, and a regular community effort to clean up around the lake and improve Osprey habitat.  The parent company of Mormon Lake Lodge, Forever Resorts, runs Forever Earth which sends donations to environmental groups, engages in community partnership, land restoration projects, environmental education, and proactive initiatives to make their various operations more compatible with the local ecologies.  They’ve won literally hundreds of environmental stewardship awards across the country, as well as being a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Environmental Performance Track Program, the Green Hotel and Green Restaurant Associations and on and on.

It’s interesting to note that the Coconino, back when it was called the San Francisco Forest Preserve, was the first posting for the forester who would later become known as the father of the modern land ethic, Aldo Leopold.

Coconino Plant Diversity

Examples you might encounter include Wild Rose, Redroot, Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, Dandelion, Mallow, Goldenrod, Evening Primrose, Geranium, Plantain, Usnea, Yarrow, Wild Buckwheat, Iris, Blackberry, Douglas Fir, Arnica, Yellow Dock, False Solomon’s Seal, Wild Oats, Butterflyweed/Pleurisy Root, Gumweed, Wild Tarragon, Sagebrush, Seepwillow, and Yerba del Lobo/Owl’s Claws to name a few!

TWHC guests are encouraged to hike one of the many picturesque trails such as the Lyle/Mormon Lakes Trail, a 3.3 mile rise from 10,700’ to a full 12,000’winding through multiple kinds of habitat, esteemed by botanists and plant lovers far and wide.

300 of even the most sensitive herbalists could have a major impact on local populations of sensitive plants, so we ask that you do little or no harvesting in the region of the event.

Before coming, check out the annotated list of Northern Arizona Vascular Plants.

2012 TWHC Dates!: September 13th-16th

…are the dates for the next Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference, late enough to beat the heat and avoid overlapping other events, early enough to still boast a plethora or blossoming plants, after when the monsoons have usually stopped and prior to the usual first frost.

Spread The Word

Early-Sprout Discount Registration will open December 1st.  Posters will shortly be available free for distribution and hanging in your schools and stores, and it is hugely helpful when you forward the announcements, blog about the conference and tell encourage your friends.

The Tribe’s Alive!

(Please do re-post, forward and share this announcement)

Jun 292011

Smoke from the Wallow Fire

While I have previously dealt with the side effects of smoke inhalation from wildfires in my practice, never in the volume, length or intensity of this year with the smoke from Wallow fire (as well as that from the Horseshoe and other surrounding fires this year). The issues experienced as a result of or triggered by the smoke were exacerbated by both the incredible dryness (1-5% humidity many days this Spring) as well as a hard, cold winter during which there was a higher incidence of bronchitis, pneumonia and related respiratory dysfunction than I’ve seen in my seven year practice here.

This post applies generally to any situation in which there is exposure to smoke, especially from a wildfire. You’ll notice an emphasis hot, dry respiratory diagnostic patterns which is due to my climate and the conditions I see in clients most regularly here.

Overview & Etiology

Fire in the Jemez seen from Placitas, NM

Smoke is considered a noxious stimulant to the human respiratory system and can potentially trigger allergic type reactions especially in those with a existing respiratory or immune system vulnerabilities. Wildfire smoke is a combination of particles and gases, both of which can cause irritation and damage to sensitive mucosa.

One of the primary concerns when dealing with prolonged exposure to smoke is pulmonary irritation. This irritation can result in injury to the tissues and bronchial spasms as well as triggering inflammation as an immune response that can lead to a wide range of other symptoms. Joint pain, skin disorders and any autoimmune conditions (among myriad other issues) can flare up during exposure to smoke because of the immune response. Yes, that immune response can be an appropriate measure when the body is faced with such an irritant but those with chronic disease, weakened health and the very young or old may have difficulty adapting and thus fare better with herbal support and nourishment as well as appropriate nudges in the direction of health.

Those with preexisting conditions such as asthma, pulmonary obstructive disease, emphysema, heart disease, chronic sinusitis or even seasonal allergies will be extra susceptible to respiratory distress, as will the very old and very young.

Coughing, bronchial spasms, overall inflammation of the respiratory tract and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms seen in situations of either short term or long term exposure to smoke.

Irritation and injury from smoke inhalation can easily become chronic if not addressed immediately or better yet, prevented wherever possible. Here are a few of the common symptoms seen in this situation:

  • Coughing or wheezing
  • A scratchy throat
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Stinging, burning, watering eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Headaches

Preventative Measures

Full moon seen through the haze of smoke

  • Remain indoors. Yeah, you won’t hear me say that very often but especially if there is a preexisting vulnerability, it can be very important to avoid unnecessary exposure to more smoke. I’ve also noticed that the air quality by the river among the trees seems significantly higher than in other areas. There is likely still some amount of particulate matter in the air, but it certainly seems lessened.
  • Don’t increase particulate matter in the air – This includes not lighting candles, woodstoves, fireplaces, cooking food at high temperatures on the stovetop and not vacuuming. All of these activities either increase or create particulate density and circulation in the air.
  • HEPA filters or even air conditioners with filters and recirculating air can help cut down on particulate matter in the air indoors. Do NOT use an air conditioner or swamp cooler if it doesn’t have air filters or it will only suck in smoke and make breathing conditions worse.
  • Dust masks – these help with larger particular matter in the air but not with the gases and finer particulate matter. Firefighters give dust masks mixed reviews but in general I don’t think they provide enough protection to justify exposing yourself to more smoke.
  • Stay hydrated. Instead of sports drinks or energy drinks, try a nourishing infusion or a cooling infused vinegar (berry and/or mint vinegars are great this way) diluted in cool water with or without a bit of honey. Lemon kvass is also a great choice.
  • Avoid unnecessarily exerting yourself. Heavy breathing means you’re going to suck in more smoke. Avoid it if possible.
  • Take extra precautions to avoid cigarette smoke. This seems obvious but when I mention it to clients they often tell me “but it’s a different kind of smoke” which is somewhat true but the cigarette smoke still serves to exacerbate the symptoms of wildfire smoke inhalation.
  • Be especially conscious of breathing conditions for children and pregnant women.
  • Leave the area. No one wants to leave their home, especially if it’s in danger from the fire but some health conditions may require you take a temporary leave of absence in order to prevent greater risk to your respiratory/immune/cardiovascular systems.

Nutritional Considerations

Eat Well – I can’t stress how important it is to be eating high quality whole foods such as bone broth whenever the body is under stress, especially any long term type of stress. The body will be in extra need of nutrients and minerals and as helpful as some supplements can be, they’re no replacement for real food. I also think that daily nourishing infusions of herbs such as Oatstraw or Linden are exceedingly helpful here as well.

Anti-oxidants – Smoke causes inflammation via oxidative damage so anti-oxidants seem like an excellent choice here. In addition to your standard supplements, many herbs and plants foods contain copious amounts of Vit C and other anti-oxidants. Rose (leaf, petal, fruit), Elderberries and Stinging Nettles  are all great choices that can be used as food, beverage and medicine.

Vit D3 – Supporting the immune system is especially important when dealing with smoke inhalation. 10,000 iu/day is a good daily dose for most adults, especially those who have been diagnosed with a deficiency.

There are many other options here, and you can figure anything that supports cardiovascular, immune and respiratory health will be helpful here.

Herbal Therapeutics

Mullein Blossoms (Verbascum thapsus)

There are of course many more plants than those listed here that can be helpful in similar situations, my choices are made based on availability, sustainability and clinical experience. I’m also attempting to keep the list short and straight forward, primarily referencing common weedy plants or those that are widely available.

As per usual, I choose to share what I have personal experience with, and there are certainly more resources available with many great ideas. I love hearing new suggestions and ideas but I don’t actually use them in my writings/teachings until I have firsthand experience with them.

Respiratory Demulcents

Elm – Ulmus rubra, Ulmus pumila and allied species – The mucilaginous bark of this amazing genera of trees is one of the most useful overall constitutional moistening tonics I’ve ever worked with. I harvest my own and find it fairly impossible to grind to a powder so primarily work with it as a cold infusion to extract the most mucilage possible. It’s slimy and gooey but also mild and sweet tasting and wonderful as a daily nourishing infusion during fire season (and beyond). I especially like it mixed with Mulberry leaves for this purpose.

Mallows – Althaea/Malva and allied genera – Similar in many regards in this context to Elm but more cooling overall and easier to grind up. I use the dried leaves and flowers in infusions and the powdered root in honey pastes and as a gruel to help moisten the lungs and relax tense, dry tissues.

Respiratory Relaxants

Purple Sticky Aster/New England Aster – Dieteria bigelovii, Symphyotrichum (formerly Aster) novae-angliae – I’m not sure what other genera and species this action might apply to as my experience is limited to these two specific plants. In both cases, the plants are resinous, aromatic and sticky and it is at least partly this resin that seems to be responsible for their medicinal actions.

I first learned about Aster from jim mcdonald and he has a great writeup on Aster novae-angliae here

He specifically says:

“The tincture seemed clearly indicated as a respiratory remedy, being uniquely clearing, relaxing & decongesting to the head & lungs.  This effect is clearly apparent when taking a bit of the tincture.  It seems to act very effectively to break up stuffy lung and sinus congestion, though as it’s not especially astringent, it doesn’t stop a drippy nose as well as, say, Goldenrod. It is, however, uniquely antispasmodic for the lung tissue; it relaxes and dilates the respiratory passages.”

This seems equally true of our local Purple Sticky Aster, which smells like a cross between Lavender and some sort of sticky baby shampoo. This has been primary remedy in many respiratory cases with symptoms of respiratory tension and congestion both in this past cold season’s bronchitis and related resp. distress as well as this year’s fire season.

Clinically, I have seen a simple of Aster flower tincture both reduce and eliminate the need for inhalers during allergy and fire season. I’ve also seen it dramatically reduce chest tension, wheezing and shortness of breath in those with mild to moderate asthma during exposure to wildfire smoke. This often works well both symptomatically and long term. More on this plant soon, as I’m in the process of writing an entire monograph about it.

Lobelia inflata – Lobelia inflata isn’t local to me but it’s such an incredible respiratory relaxant/anti-spasmodic that I always keep it on hand. I use the seeding aerial tops in a great many respiratory tincture formulae but also as a straightforward simple for treating symptoms of respiratory tension, spasming and the inability to take a deep breath. Just a few drops can work its magic. Despite its lingering bad rep in some circles, Lobelia in a normal dose (2-7 drops) can be safe and effective in children. This fire season I’ve carried a bottle with me at all times which I often end up dispensing while in the village.

Mulberry – Morus alba – I first learned about the incredible usefulness of Mulberry leaves for smoke induced respiratory distress from herbalist Cory Trusty and have been grateful to her for it ever since. The dried leaves as a tea or the fresh leaves as an elixir or tincture are cooling and relaxing, helping to drain heat and relax tension from the whole respiratory tract. This is an herb used in TCM for the treatment of asthma with lung heat and I can’t emphasize enough how useful it is during (or as a preventative measure before) exposure to wildfire smoke. Additionally, I find this to be a great (but gentle) diuretic for those who suffer from heat related edema in their extremities, especially that exacerbated by respiratory issues as well as systemic inflammation with heat signs. Other parts of the plant also make amazing medicine but I’ll save that for another time, as this common plant certainly deserves a post all its own.

Peach – Prunus persica – Cool, sweet and moistening, Peach leaf is broadly applicable for all sorts of respiratory tension and heat as well as the immune hyperfunction that can occur in response to wildfire smoke. The tincture, elixir or even just the tea made with the dried leaves all serve admirably.

Respiratory Stimulants

Note: I tend to use respiratory stimulants such as Osha in formula rather than as simples during fire season since they’re often somewhat warming and drying and can exacerbate symptoms if not used carefully and specifically.

Elecampane – Inula helenium – Many people consider Elecampane a general lung cure all and in deed its range of use is broad, deep and time-honored. Although most people tend to be dry and wheezy rather than wet and wheezy during fire season there are certainly cases where folks are having a hard time expectorating mucus and there’s a sense of oppression and dampness in the lungs. This is a symptom pattern indicating Inula and here it can be used as a simple or in formula.

Ragweed – Ambrosia spp. – Ragweed is more neutral energetically and the aerial tops harvested pre-flowering can be a lifesaver for those with asthma accompanied by lax tissues and free-flowing secretions. Being an astringent as well as stimulating, it tends to be very effective in promoting expectoration while simultaneously lessening the overall volume of secretions.

Osha – Ligusticum spp. – Warming, drying, aromatic, bitter and diffusive, Osha is something of a magical plant (actually, I haven’t met any non-magical plants yet) in many ways. In this context, it’s excellent at preventing infection or chronic congestion during and after exposure to smoke. It’s a strong herb and I tend to blend it with something moistening and cooling like Mallow during fire season.

Mucus Membrane Tonics

Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa)

Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa)

Spanish Needles/Beggar’s Ticks – Bidens spp. – A common and often cursed weed, the cooling Bidens are called for where the mucuso has become dry, lost its pliability and elasticity and has become prone to infection and inflammation. Bidens, especially when taken consistently over time, has the ability to restore both “juiciness” (to quote Henriette Kress) and tone to the mucus membranes and thereby reduce discomfort, irritation, hypereactivity to allergens, excessive fluid loss and chance of infection. Mucus membrane tonics can also help reduce the occurence of nosebleeds (as can demulcents).

Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis – Not being local to me, I use Goldenseal very (as in extremely) rarely. When I do, it’s because I need a cooling remedy that works as a mucus membrane trophorestorative, which is truly Goldenseal’s greatest medicinal application as far as I have seen. Like Bidens, it helps to restore tone and function to the mucosa:

“The whole drug… appears to stimulate the respiratory and circulatory apparatus, imparting increased tone and power.”
– King’s American Dispensatory

Yerba Mansa – Anemopsis californica – Unlike the two previous herbs in this category, Yerba Mansa is warming and aromatic and I find it more appropriate to cases where long term mucosa infection or inflammation has caused the tissues to become boggy, drippy and achy. Where there are existing heat signs I’m apt to blend it with Bidens or some Mallow.

Immune System Tonics with Lung Affinities

American Spikenard – Aralia racemosa – This plant, especially roots or berries, seems to act as a mild adaptogen with a particular affinity for the mucosa and respiratory tract. It works best when given long term, especially where there are signs of fatigue, chronic inflammation and overall deficiency. I’ve used as a tincture, elixir, infused honey and decoction and all preparations work well, the key is consistency over time.

Reishi – Ganoderma lucidum – A strong decoction of Reishi is excellent for lessening inflammation and nervous system reactivity while increasing lung capacity, endurance and energy. Like Aralia, Reishi is an adaptogen with an affinity for the respiratory system. As such, it is best used consistently over time. Reishi has a huge arrange of application but is phenomenal in the context of wildfire smoke exposure because of the way it increases energy, decreases inflammation, calms the nervous system and serves to protect and heal the lungs.

Tissue Healing Herbs

There are a great many herbs that work as general tissue healers through various actions, any of these that suit you would be beneficial added to a nourishing infusion, here are a few to consider: Plantain, Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.), Oatstraw, Nettle, Mullein, Elderflower, Rose petal/leaf, Alder leaf and so many more.

Aralia racemosa ssp. bicrenata

All photos ©2011 Kiva Rose

Apr 132010

At long last! –– the release of the greatly anticipated


of a 5 course program for the village herbalist:

From the Ground Up: Grassroots Training in Traditional Western Herbalism


Written & Taught by Kiva Rose Hardin

After years of preparation, the essential first course in Kiva Rose’s comprehensive 5 course program has just been released, with openings for a select number of committed students.  Foundations in Traditional Western Herbalism provides information and tools that are important for understanding and getting the most from the 4 other courses in this groundbreaking series.  Kiva’s attention to the basics makes the practice of herbalism comprehensible for a beginner, while her unconventional perspective and innovative approach ensure that even experienced herbalists will find themselves learning new concepts, in lessons that not only inform but stretch and challenge, inspire and delight.

Lessons arrive as PDF files, with beautiful, illustrative color photos scattered throughout.

To register, go to the bottom of this post and click on the Application link.

The Course Work

Each lesson consists of a core topic, accompanying definitions and terms, a section on Materia Medica with an in-depth profile of a single herbal ally, and another featuring a description and complete directions for foundational medicine making techniques, with questions and assignments for every section. Course 1 includes 4 lessons:

  • Lesson 1: The Roots of Traditional Western Herbalism
    Materia Medica: Nettles (Urtica spp.)
    Medicine Making: Tisanes, Infusions & Nourishing Infusions
  • Lesson 2: Healing as Wholeness & The Tonic Approach
    Materia Medica: Mullein (Verbascum spp.)
    Medicine Making: Infused Oil
  • Lesson 3: Vitalist Herbalism & The Anima
    Materia Medica: Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp)
    Medicine Making: Decoctions
  • Lesson 4: The Matrix – Healing & the Material World
    Materia Medica: Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
    Medicine Making: Herbal Baths & Hydrotherapy

Students can take as long as needed to complete work, which includes studies and readings, the answering of questions and the fulfillment of assignments.  It is these assignments that are in some ways the most crucial of all, placing the focus on the immediate, practical utilization of each idea and skill that we learn here.  “This is not so much about memorizing information,” she explains, “but about experiencing the plants and their effects, and learning to understand and integrate those effects in a practical and effective way.”  Once the coursework is completed and emailed back, Kiva reviews it and then writes a single detailed, personal response providing any helpful clarification or correction, further suggested assignments and advice where needed.

Once your Foundations in Traditional Western Herbalism questions and assignments are complete, you may then want to enroll in each of the following, soon to available courses:

  • Course 2: Elements in Energetic Herbalism
  • Course 3: Human Ecology: Physiology & Organ System Energetics for the
    Traditional Herbalist
  • Course 4: Reading the Terrain: Practical Diagnostics for the Traditional Herbalist
  • Course 5: Restoration: Pathophysiology & Diagnostics for the Traditional Herbalist

Course 1 will provide the groundwork for beginning or furthering herbal healing practice, and anyone taking all 5 courses can be confidant of having been given the essential information, means and tools needed to be a highly effective herbalist… whether treating one’s self and family, or giving one’s life to helping heal others.

About Your Instructor

Kiva is the cofounder of the distinctive sense and common sense based Anima Tradition of Herbalism, author of the acclaimed Anima Healing Arts Blog (formerly the Medicine Woman’s Roots), and the village herbalist of the rural community near her lush botanical sanctuary in the wilderness of Southwest New Mexico.  She’s become known for her intuitive understanding of plants and their properties, leading her to discover – or in some cases rediscover – novel uses and treatments, as well as for her evocative, easily understood explanations of energetics, and she and her school’s bioregional emphasis.

Kiva writes: “My focus is firmly on accessible, grassroots herbalism that educates the individual and serves the community, both the human component as well as the larger earthen community. I strongly believe in restoring health at all levels and approach healing from the understanding that the body is a diverse and intelligent ecology, integrally connected to the planet as a whole.”

As her partner in this life and work, I couldn’t be more proud of her efforts, or more impressed with this life-empowering and life-enhancing course.


All courses are offered on a donations basis, with a $350 to $700 suggested sliding scale depending on your ability to contribute and how much you value what is offered.  Those unable to donate the complete amount at once, are invited to contribute over time as able.

Apply Now

To apply, click on the link below, then download, fill out and return the:

Foundations in Traditional Western Herbalism Home Study Course Application

Spread the Word

And please make the time to spread the word about this exciting series of courses, by pasting and forwarding this message to your mailing list, or reposting this announcement on your blog or in  appropriate forums you frequent.  Thank you for your patience in waiting for this course to be released, and for your commitment to healing, the plant world and this School.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways and Herbal School and

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