Search Results : violets

Oct 292007

I found my first wild Violets in the Canyon today! I’ve been looking for them all along, and was befuddled by the pronounced shortage. This morning, after finishing up planting the Berry Babies, I was walking slowly through the cold river, and gathering Watercress on my way. And there, among a tangled mat of Cress was a twist of heart shaped leaves! Violets, I thought? I plucked a single leaf to nibble on and yes, they are Violets. There’s only a few small plants in that spot but it leads me to believe their might be more somewhere around here! Evidently, they’re just very hard to see among all the other tangled green things on the river banks. Yes, I know, SHY Violets LOL.

I still have plans to propagate them further, and add a few different native varieties to see who’s happiest where. Monkeyflowers, Watercress, Violets and Bluebells, oh how I love our sweet river plants!

Something I adore about Violets is their gentle, but thorough nature. For cooling, calming, lymph moving, pain relieving kind of action this flower is a master. I am personally very sensitive to most “sedatives” and can be seen conked out on the floor after two drops of Valerian, one drop of Lobelia or a mere sniff of a Kava root. And yet, I’m prone to anxiety and palpitations, so I really appreciate GENTLE, non-sedating calmatives. Violet, Wild Rose and Motherwort are a top triplet for hot flashes or stress in nearly any situation. Not enough to knock you over but enought to bring you down a degree or two away from certifiable. Add some Monkeyflower if there’s extreme fear or phobia involved. But even all by itself, I find Violet to be just the thing for those too hot, aggravated, PMS, bad mood, stuck kind of New Mexico pre-menstrual days! Being the Kapha-Pitta that I am, I have a tendency towards stuck, stopped up heat and so a sweet plant that’s all about fluidity and grace, can be a lifesaver for me. If I feel extra stuck or lymphatically clogged up, I’ll combine with equal amounts of Cleavers.

Violet also has a relaxing, opening effect on the liver. It’s great combined with Lavender and Rose for a backed up, overheated liver with associated symptoms of sharp hepatic pain, general irritability and an unusually bad temper. It helps to get things flowing and smooth again. Very important for an organ that has a tendency to get crimped up, tense and blocked when not happy.

Energetically, I’ve been using this plant along with other water aligned river plants to increase fluidity, adaptability and grace under pressure. I like to eat Violet flowers and Rose petals when I’m in a funk I just can’t shake. Chemically, I have no idea how effective that is. Practically, I can tell you it’s great. ūüėČ

Jul 032014

St. John’s Wort has long been one of those herbs that I have great respect for and love as medicine, but have used it minimally simply because it’s not plentiful in my bioregion. Native species of Hypericum don’t always seem to contain much in the way of the red purple juice that herbalists so value, and just as importantly, they tend to be too sparse to ethically gather. So instead, I usually buy or trade for a small amount of the tincture and infused oil each year from friends for personal use and otherwise do without. Until now…

Hypericum scouleri

Hypericum scouleri

I was recently on a hike high in the White Mountains of Arizona on the Little Colorado River in a sheltered subalpine canyon where the plants are lush and green, even this time of year when most things are dormant or dying back while waiting for our summer rains. There were so many gorgeous herbs in flower it was actually difficult to focus, I just kept turning in circles to gaze at the Elderflowers and Wild Roses and Aconite and Violets and Horsetail and Owl’s Claws (Hymenoxys hoopesii) and Checker Mallow (Sidalcea neomexicana) and False Solomon’s Seal and Fernleaf Betony (Pedicularis procera) until I was downright dizzy! But then, under a clump of Red Osier Dogwood, there was a huge patch of one of our native medicinal Saint John Worts, Hypericum scouleri, in wild golden bloom spreading back through the woods to the river.


Like the completely plant obsessed madwoman that I am, I nearly hyperventilated from joy over the unexpected gift of just seeing so much of this somewhat rare herb. Not only that, I could see from the size of the patch and the patches beyond that there was clearly enough to harvest a small amount for medicine. Elka and I immediately knelt down and began carefully picking the flowering tops, accompanied by quite a lot of excited chatter from me. But seriously, people, look at this plant! Is it possible to not be incredibly happy in its presence?


St John’s Wort is one of those exceedingly well known plants that is so popular that it becomes difficult to describe its properties without being redundant. It’s probably most famous for its use in treating mild to moderate “depression” and for its sometimes problematic interactions with pharmaceuticals because of its effect on liver metabolism. I personally find a depression a problematic terms that tends to be a catchall for anyone who is not currently happy and may or may not also be manic. In other words, another generic psych term that can result from a plethora of roots and requires some critical thinking to best understand what may help and by what mechanism. Anything the normal processes of grief to side effects of hormonal birth control to chronic pain to symptoms of a food intolerance can be diagnosed as depression, and yet, they all need to be addressed differently… so let’s just forget that whole “St John’s Wort is for depression” thing for a minute.


Hypericum scouleri elixir


P1030732St John’s Wort is a fantastic relaxant nervine, and I think it best enhance mood when there’s a component of tension and/or anxiety. Henriette Kress says in her book, Practical Herbs, that it’s most indicated for depression stemming from¬†frustration, and I find that to be very true. This is basically the only kind of depression I’m personally susceptible thus far in my life, so beyond treating clients, I have some experience of my own with St. John’s Wort. I find that the herb taken internally in such a situation is very helpful at not only getting a sense of humor about the situation, but also in helping to find the proper perspective for sorting out whatever is causing the frustration and changing it.

As is common with herbs that are relaxant nervines, Hypericum is also helpful in cases of insomnia, especially if anxiety, gloomy thoughts, or a busy head is preventing sleep in the first place. I also find it useful in preventing and treating night terrors and nightmares, especially in children. Once again, elements of anxiety and tension are the key here.

Externally, SJW liniment can be a lifesaver for crunched back muscles resulting in sciatica, especially when combine with Cottonwood (resinous Populus spp.) buds and Alder (Alnus spp.) bark or leaf. The oil, salve, poultice, or compress is¬†wonderful for healing almost any skin inflammation, and for reducing the swelling, pain, and overall inflammation of many injuries, including pulled muscles, sprained ankles, and can be useful post ACL surgery when combined with Comfrey, Solomon’s Seal, and Mullein.

P1030730Hypericum is also very helpful in all sorts of back pain characterized by a burning pain, including nerve pain, especially pain that is worse with pressure. It is commonly present in a great many general wound salves, pain liniments, and oils for sore muscles. It can be helpful in all of these situations, being rather multipurpose when it comes to hot, burning inflammation. This also applies to topical use in the treatment of herpetic lesions and shingles, especially if used as a preventative (concurrent with internal use) at the first sign of an occurrence, but most effective in this situation if combined with other helpful antivirals and supportive herbs.

When St. John’s Wort is truly indicated, it tends to work notably in a rapid manner, whether internally or externally. It’s not one of those herbs you have to wait to six weeks to see results from. If it doesn’t show any results from the first few times of taking it, try something else.


I prefer infused oil made with the fresh flowers, and tincture or elixir from the fresh or freshly dried flowering tops. Tisanes and infusions can be made with the dried plant. It is sometimes said that the dried plant is ineffective but I have not found this to be the case as long as I am using high quality, recently dried herb.


Internal: Endless combinations come to mind, but for alleviating anxiety, tension, and general gloominess, particularly¬†if accompanied by exhaustion, weakness, and gut inflammation, I’m especially fond of a formula made up of 5 parts Hypericum, 3 parts Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.) flowering tops, 2 parts Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.) flowering tops, and 1 part Rose (especially Wild Roses, but any aromatic species will do) in honey and alcohol to make an elixir. Take as needed, .5¬†ml 3x/day.

For general sadness and apathy, it combines well with a more moving herb, such as Lavender or Tulsi to lift the spirits and help clear stuck depression or grief. I especially like a formula of 3 parts Albizzia flower or bark, 2 parts Hypericum, and 1 part Tulsi as a tincture or elixir, .5 ml up to 3x/day or smaller doses as needed.

It also makes a wonderful infusion, in equal parts with the flowering tops of Evening Primrose, for chronic coughs, especially that lingering cough after a long struggle with bronchitis in those who are already worn down by the virus and then the secondary infection and having difficulty recovering on the respiratory front.

External: For healing damaged ligaments I like an oil or liniment of 4 parts Solomon’s Seal root, 3 parts Saint John’s Wort, 2 parts Comfrey leaf/root, 2 parts Cottonwood bud, and 1 part Mullein leaf and root. This can also work well for almost any damaged joint that is suffering slow healing, aching pain, and inflammation.


Please note that this article speaks only to preparations made from the whole plant, NOT hypericin or any other isolated component.

Hypericum effects liver metabolism and caution should be utilized when using large amounts of St. John’s Wort concurrently with other medications, including birth control pills, and especially anti-depressants and blood thinners. High doses of Hypericum can also cause photosensitivity in some sensitive individuals.

Also, some people seem to feel absolutely nothing from St. John’s Wort, and some people are practically knocked out by it, so proceed slowly when dosing. I once saw a very perky young woman take a couple dropperfuls of the tincture at the HerbFolk Gathering, and ten minutes later proceed to stagger out of the Healer’s Market to take an impromptu nap on the nearest patch of shady grass. Such a strong reaction seems uncommon, but seems more likely to happen to vata types, especially if they’re anxious or wound up.

Ethical Concerns:

While H. perforatum is an invasive weed in parts of the United States, here in NM and AZ our native species such as H. scouleri are far from weedy and tend to prefer relatively untouched forests high in the mountains, almost always by a water source. They are not necessarily abundant or flourishing, given the habitat degradation, drought, and severe fires of late. If you harvest here, PLEASE (as in do so or I will hunt you down and personally harm you) do so with due consideration for the plant and a great deal of common sense.

Commercial Sources:

Dried Hypericum perforatum can be purchased from most herb suppliers, including Mountain Rose Herbs, fresh flowers can be purchased from select suppliers, including Pacific Botanicals and Zack Woods Herb Farm. Many suppliers also carry the infused oil or tincture, including Fawn Lily Botanicals.

Resources & References:

Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
Combining Western Herbs and Chinese Medicine: A Clinical Materia Medica, 120 Herbs in Western Use by Jeremy Ross
Hedgerow Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett
Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific & Traditional Approach by Merrily A. Kuhn and David Winston
Warding Off Evil in the 21st Century: St John’s Wort As Xenosensory Activator? by Jonathan Treasure
Herbal Pharmacokinetics: A Pratitioner’s Update With Reference to St John’s Wort Herb Drug Interactions by Jonathan Treasure

All images ©2014 Kiva Rose



Jul 172012

Intro: The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2012 issue Plant Healer, herbalist Matthew Wood‚Äôs excellent explanation of the basics of Greek Herbal Medicine, a predecessor to subsequent Western herbal healing traditions.¬† This never before published work is an example of the contributions Matt has been making to Plant Healer Magazine through his regular column, and to our contemporary herbal community. Matthew is also teaching on related subject matter at this year’s Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in the lakes region of northern Arizona!

‚ÄďKiva Rose and Jesse Wolf Hardin

Greek Herbal Medicine: The Four Qualities and the Four Degrees

by Matthew Wood

Excerpted From the Summer Issue of Plant Healer Magazine

To Read the entire piece, subscribe at:

Wild Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, ©Kiva Rose

The Galenic system of herbalism is based on the energetics of the four qualities (hot and cold, damp and dry) and their subdivision into four  degrees or grades. Over the centuries the original meanings of the qualities and degrees have been forgotten so that today it is almost impossible to understand the Greek system at first glance.

How could this be the case?  Remember that the Greeks didn’t have thermometers they couldn’t measure temperature or humidity in an objective way.  They had no idea what  heat  or  damp,  therefore they understood them by what they did.  Thus, example, heat is that which  purifies  a substance so that impurities are driven away (this is how we might think of fever), or which mixes substances so that they become one substance in nature (like cooking ingredients together in a soup).  This may not seem like a very important distinction at first, but it becomes much more important as the properties of heat are divided into  degrees.

We also don t understand degrees as the Greeks did.  We look upon degrees as a system of measurement of intensity or space or time, like numbers on a thermometer or around a circle.  For the Greeks, on the other hand, degrees were divisions and each division was completely different in nature.  Thus, for example, heat in the first degree opens pores, heat in the second degree thins fluids, in the third degree it warms and in the fourth it burns.  Furthermore, the second degree includes the first and fourth includes them all.  Thus, the degrees are really more like what we would call  grades.   Like grades in a school one is either in one grade or another and the fourth grade builds on and includes the properties or lessons of the third, second, and first grades.

We would tend to think of heat in the third degree as slightly warmer than heat in the second degree, but this is not what the Greeks meant. Warmth was only one of four major qualities or grades of heat.  How were they to discuss the smelting of iron ore versus the burning of wood if they didn’t have a system of measurement?  Melting ore to purify out the metal seemed to them to be a type of thinning.  The ancients could not measure the difference on a thermometer so instead they observed the actions of heat: opening, thinning, warming, and burning, and arranged them in ascending intensity.  The grades of the qualities therefore refer to actions, not measurements.

And yes, these  actions  are more or less the origins of what we call  actions  in herbalism today.  Thus, remedies cooling in the first degree are  refreshments  (this is now a food, not a medicine), coolants in the second degree are  refrigerants,  those of the third degree are  sedatives  (they not only reduce fever but sedate the mind).  Those of you who learned your medical lessons from Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies will know that  vapors  are caused by excessive heat agitating the nervous system and are treated by cooling medicines.  Herbs cold in the fourth degree so benumb consciousness that they are anodynes like opium.

If we multiple each of the four qualities by the four grades we will arrive at a total of sixteen actions, some of which are still used by herbalists today, some not.

We herbalists are the heirs of magnificent traditions.  We have the dozen or so great American Indian female remedies from the Natives of this continent (black and blue cohosh, wild yam, trillium, raspberry, true and false unicorn root, etc.)  We also preserve the ancient Greek system of energetics in our herbal actions, though we have lost the thread leading back to the energetic system that spawned them.

This change took place in the second half of the seventeenth century, at least in Anglo-American medicine.  In 1654, Nicholas Culpeper still understood the meaning of the four grades of the qualities, even though he used astrology instead of Galenic medicine.  Without doubt, he had been trained in them as an apothecary s apprentice.  Yet in 1689, in his terrific analysis of tastes, actions, properties, and pulses, John Floyer understood the degrees as we would today, as intensifications in taste, sensation, and degree on the thermometer, not as different actions.

The Four Qualities

The four qualities trace back to Aristotle and here is what he said about them:

Hot is that which associates things of the same kind. . .  while cold. . . associates homogeneous and heterogeneous things alike.  Fluid is that which, being readily adaptable in shape, is not determinable by any limit of its own, while dry is that which is readily determinable by its own limit, but readily adaptable in shape (Aristotle, quoted by Mure, 1964, 73).

In Aristotelian philosophy and Greek Medicine hot and cold are considered  active  because they have the power to act, while damp and dry are  passive  because they are acted upon.  This takes some thought to appreciate.  To get water to move takes an outside force.  The same is true for a stone.  Thus, damp and dry are  passive.   Heat, on the other hand, can move objects.  For this reason, treating the temperature was more important than the humidity.

Descriptions of the four qualities are based on William Salmon (1709, v), and include some quotations from him.  For a list of the symptoms of the four qualities refer to The Traditional Healer by Hakim Chishti (1980).



The positive property of heat is to remove inessential and foreign material in order to purify and restore the essence or constitutional type.  Heat does this by opening up channels and pores to remove impurities, thinning stagnant humors and fluids to allow them to run off through the opened channels, burning up (metabolizing) impurities and toxins, and increasing the internal fire of digestion and metabolism to drive waste materials out of the body, at the same time providing life forces, nutriment, air, and water to feed the tissues.

Warming Medicine: The ancients considered the living body to be warm in the first degree when it was in health.¬† Thus, such remedies ‚Äúare hot in the first degree, are of equal heath with our bodies, and they only add a natural heat thereto, if it be cooled by nature or by accident, thereby cherishing the natural heat when weak, and restoring it when it is wanting‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Culpeper, 1989, 207).

The layout of the first three degrees of heating medicines teaches us that there is an inner fire in the body, constantly driving out impurities towards the periphery (the channels of elimination), and that this fire keeps the fluids thin and moving and the pores and channels open.  Thus, there are three stages in which cold overwhelms the body: first blocking the external pores, second thickening the fluids to obstruct the internal pathways, and third lowering the inner flame of life.  Note that when a body is cold in the third degree, or needs remedies warm in the third degree, heat symptoms or putrefaction can appear due to accumulation of waste products.

Agents hot in the fourth degree combat foreign growth processes that have overwhelmed the self-governing mechanism of the body, or the basic essence or type.  This includes primarily cancer and growths.

First Grade. These remedies ‚Äúabate inflammations and fevers by opening the pores of the skin‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Culpeper, 1981, 207), to let out chill and blockage that has invaded the body, returning it to its normal temperature.¬† These remedies are primarily relaxing diaphoretics such as chamomile, agrimony, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, calendula, peony, and lobelia.

Second Grade. These agents not only open the pores, but dissolve   rough humors  and  obstructions,  so that the fluids can be allowed to flow out through the open pores.  These remedies are primarily warming bitters: fennel, elecampane, frankincense, galangal, calendula, and nutmeg.

Third Degree. These medicines open the pores, liquify fluids, and raise the inner heat to drive obstructions and chills to the surface and out through the pores.¬† They ‚Äúhelp concoction,‚ÄĚ¬Ě that is, cooking in the stomach, warm and comfort the viscera, and ‚Äúkeep the blood in its just temperature‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Culpeper, 1989, 207).¬† Thus, they fight putrefaction and plague, and can induce fever in order to cleanse the body.¬† These remedies are primarily¬† antiseptics¬† and¬† stimulants. ¬† Asarum, cumin, ginger, hyssop, pennyroyal, black pepper, rue, cayenne, savin, southernwood, calendula, elecampane, wild marjoram.

Fourth Degree. Medicines that raise blisters, corrode, and burn the skin.  The more gentle ones (rubifacients) are used to stimulate blood flow to areas that are emaciated, paralyzed, understimulated, or undernourished, while the more severe ones (esxharotics) are used to burn away and remove foreign growth processes that have overwhelmed the self-protective agencies of the body ““ warts and cancers.  Nettle, black mustard, garlic, onion, savory, and chelidonium.



As a positive force in the body, cold keeps different parts, tissues, organs, spirits, and mental faculties integrated into a functional whole.  Remember that cold, according to Aristotle, binds together things compatible or incompatible.  Thus, when cold is lost the different parts of the body start to go their separate ways.

Cooling Remedies: ‚ÄúObserve, that those medicines that are called cold, are not so called because that they are really cold in themselves, but because the degree of their heat falls below the heat of our bodies, and so only in respect of our temperature are said to be cold‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Culpeper, 1981, 207).

Cooling medicines were once very important since there was no refrigeration in ancient times.¬† At the very minimum, they were used simply to cool people off on hot summer days.¬† However, cooling medicines do much more than this.¬† They are not only refrigerant¬† (cold in the second degree), but sedative.¬† They settle the spirits and nerves, like when boiling water is settled by turning the heat down.¬† In fact, cold medicines were used to settle ‚Äúvapors,‚ÄĚ¬Ě which were an old way of describing hysteria, nervousness, convulsions, and other conditions where the energy seemed to be rising up out of control.¬† Very much the same concept is found in Chinese medicine, were stones, shells, and heavy medicines are used to weigh down the spirit, so that it doesn t fly up and create problems.¬† Note that¬† hysteria¬† (from the Latin word for uterus) refers both to feelings out of control and uterine spasms.

First Grade. Agents cold in the first degree are suited to heat that has not yet settled.¬† The person only feels stuffy and bothered, as on a hot summer day.¬† Thus, medicines cold in the first degree ‚Äúqualify the heat of the stomach, cause digestion‚ÄĚ¬Ě and ‚Äúrefresh the spirits‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Culpeper, 1981, 208).¬† This is the origin of salads, which are found in European and Middle Eastern cooking, but not traditional in India and China.¬† Fresh vegetables and fruits are considering cooling enough to refresh on a hot day.¬† This is also the origin of soda pops.¬† Even today one can still obtain rose water and orange petal drinks in the Middle East which are used to cool on a hot day.¬† The Anglo-American version of this drink was¬† switchel,¬† made from vinegar, sometimes with ginger and molasses.¬† Most fruits qualify here.¬† Rose hips and petals, peach fruit and leaf, lemon, lime, orange petals (not the fruit), strawberry, blueberry, elderberry rob, lemon balm, cherry juice, domestic lettuce, cucumber, parsley, tomato, etc.

Second Grade. In this degree the heat has become inflammatory, so that agents cold in the second grade ‚Äúabate inflammation‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Salmon, 1709, v).¬† These are what we would today call¬† anti-inflammatory. ¬† The old herbalists termed these agents¬† refrigerant. ¬† Examples include lemon, commonly used in¬† fever drinks,¬† elder flower and berry, lemon balm, rose hips and petals, peach leaf, wild cherry bark, strawberry, yarrow, etc.

Third Degree. These agents bring down excessive sweating caused by heat out of coontrol, hold back matter from discharge, bring the blood back down from the head, and keep the vapors from rising, which reduces mental restlessness, vertigo, and fainting.  Thus, they are suited to conditions in which heat is driving the fluids actively out of the body and raising vapors upwards to agitate the mind and brain.   Examples include lemon balm, yarrow, lavender, poppy flowers, and rosehips.

Fourth Degree. These medicines cause unconsciousness or diminish consciousness; hence they are used in extreme pain, morbid vigilance, ravings, and violent delirium.  These are mild to powerful sedatives or poisons such as wild lettuce, opium, and hemlock.



The dry quality, for Aristotle, does not just dry out and desiccate substances, but hardens them and gives them the structure necessary to have boundaries and separation from the rest of the world.  The ability to hold anything inside the body is due to the dry faculty.  Thus, in the first degree dryness protects the exterior from outside influences, while in the fourth it hardens.

Drying Remedies: ‚ÄúDrying medicaments are such as make dry the parts overflowing with moisture,‚ÄĚ¬Ě writes Salmon (1709, v).¬† ‚ÄúDrying medicines consume the humours, stop fluxes, stiffen the parts, and strengthen nature,‚ÄĚ¬Ě writes Culpeper (1989, 208).¬† These remedies are primarily astringents that contain fluids and restore prolapse, or alkaline remedies that remineralize the electrolytes in water.

First Grade. Medicines dry in the first degree are said to ‚Äúcomfort and strengthen nature‚ÄĚ¬Ě (Salmon, 1709, v).¬† This means they close the pores and keep the body from being attacked by cold during the winter.¬† I only know the American Indian remedies used in this way: sumach, witch hazel, comptonia, and ledum. Note that remedies warm in the first degree open pores while those dry in the first grade close them or keep them closed.

Second Grade. Agents in this degree not only strengthen nature but astringe tissues to increase the tone, so that they do not collapse.  These would be astringents such as sumach, witch hazel, oak, raspberry leaf, blackberry leaf, lady s mantle, and horse chestnut.

Third Grade. In this degree medicines not only strengthen nature and increase the tone of the tissue but stop the discharge of fluids.  These are astringents such as yarrow, water lily, blueberry leaf, and sumach. Care should be taken to use astringents that have an affinity to stopping blood flow rather than powerful astringents that merely pucker the tissues closed.

Fourth Grade. Agents dry in the fourth degree not only strengthen nature, bind the tissues, and stop discharges, but¬† harden¬† the tissue to resist consumptions ‚Äúwhere great fluxes of the bowels have‚ÄĚ¬Ě occurred, or where the lungs are subject to unstoppable catarrhs and bleedings.¬† They ‚Äústop catarrhs, and all fluxes of blood and humors, are highly stiptick, and dry up a super-abundancy of moisture.‚Ä̬̬† Examples include rose petal and yarrow. The famous¬† rose petal conserve¬† of Avicenna was used for tubercular bleeding and expectoration.



The damp quality is that which allows substances to move through one another without friction, it is the lubricating substance.¬† As a substance is thinned it becomes more ‚Äúdamp.‚Ä̬̬† Moistening agents not only increase fluid but are nourishing because food has to travel through fluids (water and oil) to get to the tissues and feed them.

Moistening remedies: These moisten the surfaces, add dampness to the internal organs, move water into dried out, hardened tissues, bring nourishment into the body, dilute or thin fluids to move out stuck deposits of water, and make  slippery.

First Grade. Agents damp in the first degree act on the mucosa of the respiratory tract to  smooth the roughness of the windpipe,  and reduce coughing.  These remedies are  demulcents  or  mucilages.   Here we would place violets, water lily, marshmallow root, slippery elm, comfrey, and fenugreek.

Second Grade. Medicines damp in the second degree act on the mucosa of the digestive tract to loosen the belly, lubricate the passages, and promote elimination.  They do not purge by catharsis but by moistening the stool.  They also make the womb  slippery  to promote fertility and passage of the baby.  I would extend this category from mucilages to fixed oils or nutritive oils and nutritive tonics and foods.  Slippery elm, fenugreek, burdock, American ginseng, and some of the Chinese sweet tonics.

Third Grade. Agents damp in the third degree moisten the body and ‚Äúrelax parts contracted or hardned.‚Ä̬̬† These are the¬† emollients.¬† Many of the mucilages are emollient.¬† Examples include marshmallow root, comfrey, and fenugreek, but we would also think of mullein.

Fourth Grade. These agents move the stool when it is stuck or remove water through the bowels when the kidneys are deficient.  They are purgatives, hydrogogues, and cathartics.  Examples include yellow dock root, rhubarb root, cascara sagrada, senna, and poke root.



‚ÄúTemperate medicines are such which work no change at all, in respect to heat, coldness, dryness, or moisture.¬† And these may be temperate in some respect‚ÄĚ¬Ě and not in another.¬† For example: ‚Äú1. As being neither hot nor cold, and yet may be moist or dry.¬† 2. As being neither moist nor dry, and yet may be hot or cold.¬† Their use is, where there are no apparent excesses of the four other qualities; to preserve the body temperate, conserve Strength, and restore decayed Nature‚ÄĚ¬Ě (William Salmon, 1709, v).

Aug 292009

~Snakeweed In Bloom~

The mountains are turning gold with Escoba de la Vibora (Gutierrezia spp), Limoncillo (Pectis angustafolia), Anil de muerto (Verbesina spp), Wild Sunflowers, Coneflowers and Goldenrod. It’s a been a long dry summer but the flowers are still wild and prolific, with purple Asters, white and pink Wild Buckwheat, lavender Beebalm and ivory tinted Datura flowers sprawling across mesa and meadow.

Down by the river the Willowherb and Smartweed are turning a brilliant scarlet and Sunset Hyssop is blooming a deep crimson from the cliff walls. From the beginning of August to the end of September marks my favorite time of year, full of ripe berries, deep purple prickly pear fruits, crisp red and gold apples along with a great many herbs just coming into their prime. In less than a week we’ll be making our annual pilgrimage up into the mountains to gather blackberries, yarrow, motherwort, cleavers, chickweed, violets and many other medicinal plants that can be difficult to find in the middle mountain range the canyon lies in.

~Sticky Aster flower~

A friend just transported a large load of fruit from the city for us, so Loba and I will soon be busy transforming fruit into sauce, pies, syrup, tinctures, elixirs, mead and wine! I have a fancy for hawthorn/cherry/plum mead this year and can’t wait to give it a try. I also have in mind to press some pears and apples to make a spiced hard cider for the cold winter nights to come.

~Wild Buckwheat~

I’m also experimenting with a new Immune Elixir that includes Gooseberry, Raspberry, Rose and Saskatoon and I think has great potential, especially when combined with my standard Elder Mother Elixir. In fact, I’ve been working a great deal with our wild Gooseberry and can’t praise it enough for its mood elevating effects and wonderful boost to the immune system.

I apologize for my recent lack of posts, mostly due to an incredible influx of clients and guests in the last week that has temporarily blown me off schedule. I will be working back up to speed in the near future though and look forward to writing the many future posts I have planned.

~Sacred Datura green seedpod~

In the meantime, check out Wolf’s amazing piece on Awareness. This is an incredibly important subject for any healer and perhaps especially herbalists, we who are so intimately involved in reconnecting humans not only to their awareness of their own bodies but also to the plants, and in turn the earth. For in essence, we are often most truly teachers and facilitators of awareness for our students and clients.

Of special note to the student or practicing healer is the definition and explanation of ego, a much maligned word in recent ‚Äúnew age‚ÄĚ thought that desperately needed to be shown in its original and true context, and Wolf does just that. We so often worship some ideal of ‚Äúselflessness‚ÄĚ in the enlightened and caring, and yet, the very term is both frightening and contradictory. Wolf gracefully and meaningfully addresses this from an angle especially valuable for those of us involved in caring for others on a daily basis. Even if you don’t normally read the Anim√° blog, head over there and check this great post out!

~Velvetweed flowers at dusk~


All photos (c)2009 Kiva Rose Hardin

Feb 072008

Ok, I just have to point this out…. I do not live in the desert. Just because I’m in New Mexico, one part of the American Southwest, does not make my home the desert. Don’t get me wrong, I love the desert, in fact I go out of my way to visit the nearby deserts. I just don’t live there. Now, up North a bit, towards Taos, we have what’s called high desert and I don’t know too much about that, but it’s very pretty. I think they have a lot of Sagebrush and Juniper…

Some textbooks define a desert as an area that gets ten or fewer inches of rain annually. We (the Gila bioregion, including the Blue Wilderness Area) get at least twice that, appr. twenty one inches of rain annually. To be more specific, I believe the Gila qualifies as semi-arid woodland for the most part, especially at the middle elevations. This is a very diverse area, as my readers have probably noted from my extensive descriptions of local flora. We really have more in common with the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madres than the nearby deserts.

For example, some of the most common flora of the canyon include Skullcap, Wild Rose, Potentilla, Wild Mint, Western Mugwort, American Pennyroyal, Mountain Mahogany, Gooseberry, White Mulberry, Mountain Lover, Alum Root, Wild Geranium, Speedwell, Monkeyflower, Ponderosa Pine, Utah Juniper, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Pi√Īon Pine, Chokecherry, Elder, Watercress, Cottonwood, Willow, Alder, Serviceberry (the world’s single best berry), Usnea, Puffball mushrooms, Bolete mushrooms, Earthstars, Redroot, Western Virgin’s Bower, Woodbine, Wild Grape, Catnip, Silk Tassel, Wild Honeysuckle, Motherwort, Prickly Pear, Lupine, Yarrow and Beebalm. And that’s just in my backyard, if you walk a bit further you can even find a few Aspen.

If you were to visit me with two field guides, one made for a “Southwestern” or “desert” bioregion and another for the Rocky Mountain, you’d be much better off with the latter, and downright frustrated with the former. But drive two hours towards Lordsburg and you’ll find yourself some Creosote Bush and Mormon Tea, now there’s a desert! If you decide to instead drive for forty five minutes up into the mountains in any direction though you’ll find high mountain, sub alpine and alpine ecologies instead. These are more defined by Fir, Spruce, more Yarrow, more Wild Roses, Chiming Bells, False Solomon’s Seal, Baneberry, maybe some Osha, lots of Elderberries, Black Hawthorn, Spikenard, a little bit of Pulsatilla in some places if you look hard enough and carpets of Violets and Wild Strawberries. The Southwest is a diverse place, and the Gila bioregion is arguably the most diverse area therein.

Yeah, it gets damn hot and dry here come June. And the intensity of dry season forest fires can be scary. But come on, we spend three to six months out of every year not being able to drive in and out of the canyon due to floods, mud and other rain/snow caused miscellanea. I’d post pictures of our jeep sunk in the river from earlier this winter, but it’s not very pretty, so I’ll settle for the loveliness of the above monsoon season rain picture. You can judge for yourself.

Nov 162007

Down by the river, the mud is skimmed with ice — crisp spectral lace that forms, transforms and disappears in the midday sun. We’ve had a few hard frosts in the past week, yet the green things on the riverbank keep on growing. There’s Yellowdock, Watercress, Violets (just a few), Sweet Clover, Horsetail, Landcress and even a few vibrant Lobelias. These reliable green patches keep me sane and happy til the Spring explosion many months from now. Snow is threatening on the horizon but I’ll believe it when I see it. Rhiannon has a little sign outside the kitchen door that says, “Let it snow!” so that Mama Nature will know we’re good and ready.

Yesterday Loba and I tore down a great big beaver dam that was flooding the road. I’d really like to have kept the dam, but the road was underwater and there was no other way around it. Hopefully they’ll take the hint and move a little downriver, where they can raise the water level all they like, at least until Spring rains come along and break down the dam with the floods.

If you’ve never closely examined or broken down a dam, you won’t know just how clever these creatures are. They should have honorary engineering degrees, their handiwork is made of mud, rocks, trees, leaves and whatever else is handy. And boy is it tough. It’s carefully woven, twined and wrapped together to make taking it apart one giant pain the butt. Or in this case, a pain in the neck, hands, back and butt. As soon as we got back to the cabin, we slathered our hands and banged bits with Comfrey and Larrea, which greatly reduced the bruising, swelling and soreness. It also stopped the bleeding on my poor lacerated fingers. And after working in cold water for several hours, all our muscles and joints with a bit stiff and cold.

Unsurprisingly, today I had neck muscle spasms from yesterday’s not so wise maneuvers with overly large logs. Rather than being pissed about the pain I was excited to take this moment to re-prove my favorite liniment for dislocated discs and other inflamed, screaming neck pains. Rose petals and Wild Cherry bark. This may seem a bit strange at first, but really makes perfect sense when you think about the Rose family anti-inflammatory and sedative properties. They stop spasms, reduce heat locally, increase circulation and promote healing. Very nice, and two hours later, my neck feels better than it has in a while. It seems as if the liniment has resolved some other issues that were festering in there, since I can now turn my head without causing a stabbing headache. Too bad it took an injury to get my attention enough to treat myself.
Rose and Cherry are best used where there’s pain, heat and local irritation. They’re cooling and soothing, great for acute situations but less so for chronic issues that have gotten colder and stiffer. Now that the sharp pains have passed, I’d probably be wise to use a more warming oil blend of Ginger, Rose, Cottonwood and Sage to keep the neck loose and healing. And maybe some Vervain and Peony Root internally for added anti-spasmodic, nervine and potentially pain relieving effects.

I’ve primarily used this simple formula specifically for neck problems, but I think it will also be effective for similar situations in other parts of the body.

Wild Rose & Chokecherry Liniment

1 part Rose petal tincture (Wild or other fragrant species)
1 part Chokecherry bark tincture

Combine, and apply liberally to affected area. That was easy, eh?  You could also macerate equal parts of both plants in rubbing alcohol for a cheaper but stinkier solution. I like a fresh plant tincture of the Roses but strong dried petals will work too. Combine with whole Rose hips for even greater effect.

Sep 202007

I found it! High Mountain Herb Heaven is very nearby! Yesterday, Loba and I were on a mission to find local Apples, mostly because they taste better but also because the cardboard Apples in the store are something like $1.50/lb. We asked around and all the usual suspects had lost their Apple flowers to late frost this Spring, which is fairly typical of this mountainous area where temperatures are erratic and seasons unpredictable. Finally, we heard a rumor that their might be some Apple AND some ripe Blackberries up past this tiny mountain village about an hour away. Now this particular village is an old mining outfit long gone defunct. It’s only about five or ten miles from the Canyon, as the crow flies. But you have to take the Saliz Pass to drive there, and brave a REALLY curvy, incredibly narrow, halfway washed out road with no guard rails to get there, there’s even a sign on the road that says “Night Travel Discouraged”. The village has about 15 Winter residents most years, and a bit more than that during the snowless warm seasons.

If you go through the village you find yourself on National Forest land, on a dirt track that leads up to one of my favorite and highest peaks in this region, up past Aspens, up to Osha, and up to the black cliffs where the Bear Fire nearly burned the whole damn mountain down last year. I’ve spent time up on this peak and the surrounding area, and the land there remains one of my two favorite mountains to gather high elevation plants and to spend time with the sub-alpine and alpine Gila. Did you know there’s Ptarmigan in New Mexico? Well there surely is, hard to get to, but there nonetheless. But I hadn’t spent hardly any time with the lower (about 7,000 feet) but narrow and cold canyon that lies just above the village and just below the peaks.

So, off we went. Through the twisty, rapidfire curves of the Saliz Pass, and then up that switchback spurred track into the mountains. Something I love about the Southwestern montane ecology is just how quickly everything can change. At the Pass, the land is defined by Ponderosa Pine, Alligator Juniper and Evergreen Oaks. At the bottom of the road leading to the village, it’s grasslands with a thousand wildflowers ranging from Evening Primrose to Sweet Clover to Mexican Poppy, further up the road it turns Prickly Pear, Evergreen Oak, Juniper and Acacia. All along this stretch, fat purple Prickly Pear fruits beckoned to us. Pressed for time, we could only gaze longingly at them as we sped around another curve. Seven miles up, we could see the whole damn Gila, with its golden grasslands and its towering green ridges, its sparkling rivers and its rolling woodland hills that stretched out before us in shades of purple, green, mauve and cream. Pressed against the sheer cliffs in our little gray truck, the landscape was like a vast embrace, an incredibly lucid dream, or perhaps, like waking up from some b&w dream to see all the actual colors of the world.

Nine miles in, right near the village, the land suddenly shifted again, all Goldenrod, Yarrow, Spruces and Periwinkle. The village itself is amazing, and I don’t say that very often about any place where more than a dozen people live at one time. It’s some strange time warp back to the late 1800’s with a bit of the 1960’s thrown in. Big gardens, a little cafe, fruit trees and genuine Old West storefronts line the one road that leads through town. That lasts for about two minutes and then we’re in the woods again, hugged by the narrow canyon walls laced with lichen and moss. Sure enough, there were literally miles of berry crowded creek. First, there were blackberries, well past their prime but still holding a good amount of fruit. Then Raspberries, with only a few tender berries remaining. Wild Motherwort, Plantain, Red Osier Dogwood, Figwort, Alum Root, Violets, Wild Roses, Yarrow, Mint, and many other plants I only vaguely recognized. To top it off there was a whole colony of False Solomon’s Seal erupting from the rock walls, with happy fat roots just below the rich soil surface.

Loba and I spent an hour and a half standing in the creek gathering berries before we had to head back so as to find the apples before dark. Along the way I harvested some Blackberry and Raspberry leaves, a huge handful of Plantain, a bunch of Motherwort and few choice chunks of False Solomon’s Seal root. And on the way home we found the Apple orchard or our dreams, free access to several dozen trees with their branched weighed nearly to the ground with fruit. We have about a hundred pounds of Apples to still haul up the hill to the mesa in packs tonight.

And we’re going back tomorrow. And we’re getting some Prickly Pears this time!
It’s amazing to have such a range of herbs to work with, from the desert to the sub-alpine mountains, it’s all within an hour of my doorstep. And while nothing can compare to the innate magic of the Canyon herself, the whole Gila feels like home and I’m so grateful to intimately know a portion of this place’s spirit.

 note: For the Local Herb Blog Challenge I meant October 3rd not November 3rd, so sorry about the slip. 

Sep 152007

Early yesterday morning we journeyed from the Canyon towards the Arizona border, up into the Aspen forests that lie less than an hour from our tiny mountain village. It’s a swift rise from Pi√Īon/Juniper and Ponderosa to Mixed Conifer woods, going from the 6,000 feet we normally reside at to almost 9,000 feet in the White Mountains. A few villages away, we found a dirt turnoff and headed into Fern-thick forest.

When we got out to explore, we were greeted my the smiling white faces of hundreds of Canadian Violets (V. canadensis) peeking through the duff and Ferns. Nearby, Wild Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) bloomed, while Wild Strawberry (Fragaria spp.) and baby False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina spp.) nearly covered the ground in places. Rhiannon was in awe, as she rarely travels far from home and was fascinated by the lush mossy growth and abundant mushrooms.

Up into the mountains we climbed, searching for the Osh√° that we never did come across (too low in elevation really), but no matter, the adventure was reward enough in itself. And besides, I still have a bit of Osh√° left until I go searching again. I have my own little digging spot on a nearby peak, but I like to keep an eye on nearby populations.

High in the forest we were grieved deeply by the obvious presence of ongoing logging, with ripped out Juniper, Fir and Pine everywhere around us and the sound of a chainsaw far in the distance. But the Aspens here were the hugest I’d ever seen, thick and scarred with age, a graceful and ghostly presence among the red barked conifers and blue berried Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). Animate as the tassel eared squirrels that ran among them, the Aspens seemed to sing a soothing lullaby to a wounded mountain.

Nearby, a freezing spring burst from the mountain’s face, creating a small meandering stream that ran through fallen logs and smooth boulders. It’s slow moving surface was trellised by the brilliant green of Watercress and Water Parsnip, Loba stopped to gather greens as Rhiannon and I wandered up and down the stream to scout out other likely flora. Rhiannon disappeared into a meadow for a while, only to resurface with her hands full of Lupine of all colors -blue, violet, pink, purple, cream and nearly red. Being familiar with the many poisonous “Locoweeds” of the Southwest, she was excited to a few new species back to her Papa. In the meadow was also a cornucopia of Silverweed, Potentillas, River Mint, Hooker’s Evening Primrose, Purple Asters, Larkspur and a delightful but scattered population of gorgeous purple Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia).

Back along the grassy stream bank, a single large Yellow Monkeyflower bloomed, the last testament to Summer in the mountains. A few steps away, to my great delight, bloomed dozens of Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia ciliata), a long-time favorite wildflower of mine that I hadn’t seen in several years. A favored foraging food of Rocky Mountain Elk and a traditional medicine of many peoples. Being a member of the Borage family, there’s a chance these cucumber/salt flavored plants contain PLAs, though I haven’t found much in the literature to indicate one way or the other. The flowers are magical purple to pink drooping bells on a curved stem of vibrant green, the leaves are soft and slightly hairy, vein-mapped in a way similar to its relative Borage but far less prickly. The texture of the plant is crispy and moist, and very tasty eaten with a few Violet leaves and flowers. Also known as Lungworts, the Bluebells (like their relatives Comfrey, Borage and Coltsfoot) have a time tested reputation for soothing hot, inflamed lung conditions, increasing breast milk, healing wounds and cooling fevers. And I couldn’t shake the distinct impression that I deeply needed to partake in this lovely and mineral rich plant as a medicine. The same sense of adrenal soothing and building that’s present in Borage seemed multiplied in the Bluebells, so I harvested a bundle of flowering tops and wrapped them carefully in a purple sarong. And indeed, upon eating several flowers, my nerves relaxed in a manner similar to the way they after a few drops of Borage tincture. Back home, I made a pint of tincture and a smidgen of infused oil. I can’t wait to see how it will work out!

After we’d spent the afternoon gathering and snacking on wild greens, we decided to take a walk down the road. On down the trail, we happened to spot about a dozen Elderberry trees, most of whom had already given their fruit to the birds, but we did manage to scrounge a few umbels of perfectly ripe, purple-black berries. We also collected an armful of sticky Grindelia and a few handfuls of prime Yarrow. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but the man with the camera was conspicuously missing for much of the afternoon. Next time, I promise.

We got home late, and feasted on salad and salmon, while I sorted plants and roughly chopped a few bunches of the Violets to tincture and arranged the rest to dry for infusions, along with the Potenttilla, Mint and Silverweed. The Watercress was dunked into some cold water to rehydrate, and the Evening Primroses wrapped up in moist cloth for the night.

After a long day away, it was good to be back in the Canyon, greeted by glowing white Daturas, and the pink tongues of incredibly fragrant Ribbon Four O’Clocks. And this morning I heard two Thrushes singing, a sure sign of Autumn, as they only come around during the transitional seasons. Their sweet liquid voices are perhaps my favorite bird songs besides the love croaks of the resident tribe of Ravens.

May 082007

This weekend, at the far edge of the Gila proper, near Socorro, I was blessed to find a thriving community of Mormon Tea and beautifully blooming Creosote Bush! I’ve been looking for a local source of Creosote bush since I first came to this region, so was thrilled to be able gather a very large supply of leaves and flowers for drying, tincture and oil. I also harvested a good amount of Mormon Tea to dry for tea. And I’ll be sure to stop by and visit this lovely miniature ecosystem whenever passing through the Socorro area.

Then, while teaching in the desert outside of Albuquerque, I came across many bloom laden bushes of Desert Wolfberry (Lycium pallidum), a native relative of the ever popular Goji berry. I was sadly unable to take pictures but Michael Moore has a very nice picture here. And Tucson herbalist, Charlie Kane, has a very nice account of its medicinal properties of it here. It’s very similar in many ways to its close relatives, Tobacco and Datura, but milder in effect and lighter in spirit. Nevertheless, it shares the intensity of all of the Nightshade family plants and should be respected as such. The fruits of the plant were considered to be very sacred by some SWestern indigenous tribes and were/are used in ceremony. Less tasty than their Chinese counterparts, the berries are still a good medicine (nutritive blood tonic), especially when cooked.

Other plants found at the workshop site included Mormon Tea (picture), Fourwing Saltbush (picture), Artemisia, Spectacle Pod (yummy flowers and seeds for salads, picture), Puccoon/Stoneseed (picture), Scorpionweed (picture), One-seeded Juniper, Tufted Indian Paintbrush, Evening Primrose and Banana Yucca. Many of these same plants grow right here in the Gila as well, so I was pleased to be able to give a fairly comprehensive plant walk for the other women attending the retreat. It was also wonderful to have the chance to give a workshop on Healing as Wholeness with my partner Loba.

And here at last are a few lovely pictures of the Anemones I found while traveling through Estes Park, Colorado. These Anemones are synonymous with the Pulstatillas of herbal commerce. Michael Moore has a very nice PDF monograph of the Anemones here. I was very charmed by this delicate and somewhat hypnotic little flower, and look forward to working with her on a deeper level. This plant has very specific indications, and are best used by individuals with deficient (cold, wan, weak and weepy in this case) conditions rather than excess, it’s effect is primarily on the nervous and reproductive systems and can work wonders for those with painful cramps, deep sadness, anxiety, insomnia and migraines . It is effective in very small doses (1-5 drops) and should not be used in larger amounts as its effect on the body can lead to unpleasant nervous systems symptoms such as increased coldness and dizziness. I’ve only worked with Pulsatilla a little bit as of now, so will return with deeper insights when more personally experienced.