Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Materia Medica

So I've narrowed my materia medica on hand to about 50 plants, either in dry bulk form or tincture form, or both for some. Here's the list, and a little about each one and why I want it around.

alfalfa- This is probably one of my first and favorite nourishing tonic weeds I discovered as a kid. Full of good mineral nutrition, and widely available. I also prefer it to nettles myself , as nettles gives me a raging, pounding headache.

althea- supreme moistening "yin' tonic, for dry and hot conditions or constitutions, hydrating and soothing, healing and antiinflammatory for wounds, topically and internally. See Kiva Rose's wonderful post on demulcents and the mallows here. THere are other useful demulcents on my list, but this one is the gooiest, and strongest. I usually add this to most of my daily infusions.

anemone- This is one of my carry over's from the Sonoran Desert, where I blossomed as an herbalist. Desert anemone, or windflower(a. tuberosa), is closely related to the pulsatilla anemone of the Rocky Mountains, but this is the one I've used, for hysterics, anxiety, PMS, and depression. Very STRONG, and I only use it in drop doses, either added to a bottle of formula or very carefully by itself.

angelica-a very nice warming bitter, aromatic digestive stimulant that works well in formulas. I'm still learning about this one, but it feels very protective and motherly to me, and also useful for women's reproductive issues, and respiratory stuff.

astragalus- astragalus is just one of my favorite all around tonics, for winter, for the immune system, for general day to day stress. Warming, and slightly stimulating, but still gentle enough for kids and extended periods of time, unlike ginsengs.

black cohosh- this herb has turned out to be one of my most useful allies in formulas for people, men and women. Antispasmodic, nervine, cooling...i've found it excellent for PMS, cramps, depression, headaches, general doom and gloom.

blackberry-This is my best remedy for diarrhea, hands down. Obviously root causes need to be addressed, but when the symptoms need addressing right NOW, it does the job well. Of course there are a lot of other astringents that might do the job, but this is the one I have on hand, and have used, and plan to continue until I run out of blackberry root tincture. I'd probably go to rose next if blackberry wasn't available.

boneset- supreme relaxant diaphoretic, and probably nothing better when dealing the aches of influenza. I haven't used it extensively, but there have been times I had WISHED I had some boneset. I'm learning its ins and outs currently. It's a strong one, and fairly bitter, so I'll keep tincture on hand for now.

burdock- another one of my first weedy allies as an herbalist, burdock tea is good for the liver, the kidneys, the blood, the skin, and full of inulin is an excellent support for the digestive system and beneficial flora. Rich in nutrition, bittersweet and easily available, I'll keep this one on hand for its multifaceted applications.

calendula- One of my favorite flowers to grow. Calendula is primarily used as an oil topically for wounds and rashes, but it is also wonderfully healing internally to the digestive tract, a gentle lymphatic, warming, and antiinflammatory. It's like a burst of sunshine.

california poppy- another holdover from my Sonoran Desert days, but easily grown just about anywhere. This is one of my best strong sedatives, for pain, anxiety and severe insomnia, but it is also gentle enough to use for the discomfort babies experience with teething, directly applied to the gums. It's horrible tasting, and I've tried tea, but it just is too hard to gag down, so fresh plant tincture of the whole flowering tops is my method of administration.

catnip-Such a useful little mint, soothes and eases digestive troubles, a relaxing nervine, diaphoretic and all purpose tea herb for babies, children, and adults alike. As a side note, catnip tincture is the only thing I've found helpful for hiccups that just won't quit. It blends well with just about anything, and our basic nighttime tea is catnip, chamomile and mint. Relaxing and soothing for the whole family.

chamomile- another extremely multi faceted all applications herb. Pretty much anything you have going on can be addressed, at least in part by chamomile:stress, insomnia, digestive troubles, menstrual cramps, inflammation, skin rashes, general yummy tea....I've only grown it once, and it wasn't enough for saving for tea, but it made a most delicious fresh chamomile brandy that is sooo sooothing to the tummy. It's also a primary ingredient with my general digestive tract healing/supporting tea when working with leaky gut, IBS or any other general digestive tract troubles.

cherry- wild cherry is such a powerful cough remedy, I couldn't be without it. Especially for those coughs that keep you up at night, prevent you from sleeping, or even resting when lying down because laying down makes you cough even more. I usually give this in a tea with ginger and licorice, but in the middle of the night a few drops of wild cherry bark and lobelia tincture calms the spasms. Not to be abused and used to suppress every cough, as sometimes the cough is productive, but it is palliative when you are doing nothing BUT coughing, your face is red, you can't sleep and can't get well.

cramp bark- one of my favorite antispasmodics for menstrual issues. I need to explore the finer details of this plant more, but it helps any sort of spasmodic pain immensely, and is important in most pain formulas. I wouldn't hesitate to use it in other spasmodic conditions (tension headache, siezures, cough, or even asthma, though I might choose lobelia first if it was available.)

dandelion rt- liver and digestive system ally supreme, full of inulin, bitter, chologouge, nutritive, diuretic and such a common weedy wonder, it's impossible to pass this one up. Plus I was deprived of dandelions for so long living in the Arizona desert, that I'm going to spend as much time as I can employing the virtues of dandelion in every imaginable way. Medicine, food, and teacher. ( Dandelion leaf pickles and pesto are way up there in the wonders of dandelion goodness!) Dandelions are cooling and draining, especially for hot conditions, and liver heat rising causing headaches, explosive anger and stuck chi.

dong quai- This turned out to be one of my favorite chinese herbs to add to my materia medica, because of its deep nurturing properties for the blood. It's a women's reproductive tonic, stimulating circulation, freeing stuck liver chi and building the "blood" for weak and deficient constitutions. It is hot and increases menstrual flow, and so isn't appropriate for those with heavy bleeding or heat, but it is often mixed in balancing formulas by the chinese, and I find best used that way as well. I rarely give it alone, and find it works best over time, rather than as an acute remedy, but it is antispasmodic and can be useful for menstrual pain in that regard.

echinacea- Echinacea has a strange relationship to the world of herbal medicine today. grossly overharvested and inappropriately used by the commerical herbal industry, for staving off "colds and flus," usually mixed with the also completely overharvested and inappropriately used goldenseal. I despise the way echinacea is usually sold and used today. But it CAN be of some benefit when dealing with winter illnesses, but it's uses are far more complex and varied. It IS a supreme remedy for infections of all kinds, UTI's, respiratory, dental problems, gastrointestinal bugs, staph and probably more. Once touted as a "remedy' for snake bites, both internally and externally. Echinacea is fabulous used topically for infected wounds and bites/stings. (Though I won't vouch for it's benefit in snakebite, I'd certainly TRY it in an emergency until I could get further medical assistance.) I've spent several years using a fresh root tincture, which worked, but then I tried the long, slow cooked decoction reccomended by Paul Bergner, ( this was the traditional method of administration for hundreds of years before tinctures exisisted). I found this worked 100 times better for my bouts with infections. It's worked a charm for inflammed hot mouth infections for me. Echinacea is also a good alterative and lymphatic herb for dealing with general sluggishness and poor elimination causing that "toxic" feeling so many people feel the need to cleanse from. I dont believe in cleansing, but I do believe in supporting the body's natural processes of elimination, which includes the lymph flow and immune system. I'll keep some echiancea tincture on hand, but my next batch will probably be a double extraction, about 70% decoction mixed with 30% fresh tincture. But for the majority of cases, I'll go to echinacea decoction.

elder berry- this is my go to for cold and flu season, both as a general health supporting tonic, and as a potent ally in dealing with active infections. I've used the syrup extensively, taking it by the tablespoonful dose every hour or so when dealing with an impending cold or flu, but I've come to dislike the large amounts of sugar this requires, so often include the berries in infusions/decoctions, and am this year experimenting with Kiva Rose's elderberry elixir recipie as the primary elderberry medicine. Perhaps elderberry syrup made with molasses might be more to my liking in the future as well....oh...yes...must try that...what a stroke of genius!

elder flower-my other elder remedy, elderflower tea is an amazing relaxant diaphoretic when dealing with any hot fever. It gently relaxes the tension in the body to allow for diaphoresis, and soothes the irritation and tension in the mind when dealing with illness. I love to drink elderflower tea as a general relaxant tonic as well. Elderflower brandy is delicious too, and both methods of administration work. Elder is also a perfect children's remedy, gentle and soothing.

elecampane- another multipurpose herb for the respiratory and digestive system. Elecampane, Inula helenium, is rich in inulin and an aromatic, warming bitter for the digestive tract. Helpful for cold and sluggish digestion with dysbiosis. It's also an excellent stimulating expectorant for cold and stuck respiratory infections. It can tend to be drying overtime, so mostly useful for mucousy cough. I'll often give this with marshmallow an/or elder, to moisten the mucus and respiratory apparatus, and relax any tension preventing the productive flow of mucus or expectoration.

fennel- this is one of my old standby's from my early explorations as an herbalist. Fennel tastes good in pretty much any tea, warming and carminative, but gentler than ginger or angelica. Safe for kids, tasty and generally soothing to the digestive tract. I think I just really like the flavor, and often add it to formulas just for that reason.

ginger- the other go to for tummy trouble, warming and carminative and excellent for nausea, gas, digestive pain of many kinds. Delicious, and stimulating to circulation and the vital force in general. I like ginger added to a LOT of formulas, especially in the winter. Plus it is so easy to use, in cooking, or tea. Ginger is a great antispasmodic mover for stuck menstrual cramps, and also beneficial as a stimulating diaphoretic in fevers. Sometimes I'll make a quart of ginger infusion and add it to my bath water for menstrual cramps, fever, and sore muscles, or for general warming up in the winter. multi multi purpose ginger is one I'll always keep around.

hyssop- another new ally for me this year. I was fortunate to be able to grow hyssop this year, and so far have found it much like catnip in energy. I like the way it tastes, and is perhaps more aromatic and excellent as an aromatic disinfectant, topically and internally. Plus it is a bit of a forgotten herb in modern herbalism, and I want to explore it more.

So, my battery is about to run out on the laptop, so I'll continue this list in subsequent posts.

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