Pokeweed – Phytolacca americana

These magnificent roots were harvested, rinsed and displayed side by side to show the developmental differences one year can make. The darker root on the left is two years old. Importantly, it has overwintered sucessfully and is now much more powerful than the tender yearling on the right. All precautions should be taken when handling or working with either root, but from personal experience, and I am not one to over exaggerate warnings of any type, I suggest an abundance of caution with this plant. I ingested a 1gm dose of the fresh two year old root on the left and and suffered for three days.

For starters this a good source of general information on Pokeweed https://www.naturalremedies.org/pokeweed/

Passionflower 

Passiflora incarnata “Maypop”. One of the most useful herbs in the apothecary. Calming and sedative. A long used staple of herbalists, doctors and pharmacists until Big Business started seriously promoting their addictive synthetic compounds around 1910. Included in the US and British Pharmacopeia until that time and then POOF! like Keyser Söze – it disappeared.

Passionflower - Passiflora incarnata flower
our first Passionflower for 2017

Here you will find no side effects. A homemade necessity safe for the entire family. We have found Passionflower useful for tension headaches and those produced by eye-strain and loud or incessant noise.

Easy to grow and a delight to behold. Perennial here in zone 7, New York City, USA.

Look for directions on how to prepare a tincture from the leaf and vine at the Herbarium. There’s a link at the top of this page.

Datura Germination Tip

Following suggestions from a Dutchman, I soaked seed collected from an open thornapple I found in November in a dilute solution of rainwater and FPJ or fermented plant juice for several days. My FPJ is made of Comfrey.

The Dutchman recommended “G3” – which is a similar commercial compound. I set the seeds potted in fine sphagnum on a germination mat with a 12h on/ 12h off timer. That was on New Years Day 2017.

I waited over one and half months to see the first arise. Some of the others popped up two months later after I had given them up for dead. Everything about this plant is highly peculiar.

Bitterness Scale of Herbs

A bitter scale? If there is such a thing. Taste, well… IS a matter of taste isn’t it? I eat hot peppers like candy but others avoid even the mildest peppers for their entire lifetime. What I really avoid is sour. The important thing that no one really says is that there is not, nor can there be any truly accurate way, to scale taste.

We can only strive to make general indicators for wide groups of people. Connoisseurs of beer, wine, coffee and chocolate have their own scales but are limited to the ingredients or preparations of those products. Genetic research will no doubt figure out the specifics as they have done already with the Cilantro gene. Then we’ll know why people have different reactions to the same stimulus.

So here goes my simple list of plants you could easily access, perhaps in your own garden, from the mildest bitter down to strongest:

  1. Sage
  2. Melissa (Lemon Balm)
  3. Willow
  4. Mugwort (Cronewort) – a VERY common “weed”
  5. Hops
  6. Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor) – a VERY common ground cover
  7. White Oak
  8. Motherwort
  9. Yarrow (flower buds)
  10. Wormwood
  11. Barberry – a VERY common ornamental shrub
  12. Quinine

The easiest way to make sure you have your daily bitters is a simple tincture, Herb Pharm has already thought of that including their cool new spray. Perhaps some one will suggest other bitter nibbles. It’s worth noting that all these herbs are good anti-bacterials and great for your teeth and gums as well as your digestion.

Bitters are Better

A bitter truth. I know quite a few people who have had their gall bladder surgically removed. Why is that? Some of them talk about their excised organ as if it was just worn out and they are better off without it since afterall “you can live without it”. Of course the real reasons are different. Excruciating pain being the prime factor for the patient but then there’s the curiously high, even staggering rates of gall bladder surgeries promoted by the medical profession.

Evaluate your options.

“I have seen many hundreds of patients who have had their gallbladders removed and I don’t recall anyone ever telling me that their surgeon advised them to do something to compensate for removing this important organ. Just about every one of them was told they didn’t need their gallbladder and that it was perfectly fine to have it removed. This is reprehensible ignorance as it condemns the patient to a lifelong deficiency of essential fatty acids.” Dr. Joseph Mercola

Not everyone finds this acceptable or necessary. For those not ready to accept the notion of disposable body parts, herbal solutions are often possible.

I believe it is nearly criminal what traditional medicine is doing to the public when it comes to managing this problem. It is RARELY ever necessary to remove someone’s gallbladder. If one ignores warning symptoms and does not address the reasons why their gallbladder is not functioning properly, than the disease can progress to the point where the pancreas is inflamed or the gallbladder is seriously infected and may have to be removed to save a person’s life.

However, it is important to have a proper perspective here. Nearly ONE MILLION gallbladders are removed every year in this country and it is my estimate that only several thousand need to come out.

So, not only are surgeons removing these organs unnecessarily, but also in their nutritional ignorance they are telling patients that their gallbladders do not serve any purpose and they can live perfectly well without them. Dr. Joseph Mercola

Thing is – it’s bitter! Can you handle that?

my bitter wild friend
Wild Lettuce – Lactuca virosa

I’m told bitterness is the least favorite taste. I suspect, bitterness has become the least favored to the modern western palette and not too long ago either. Most industrially farmed crops have been bred relatively recently to taste less bitter. Iceberg lettuce the most commonly used salad green in the USA is nutritionally worthless and bears little resemblance, in any way, to wild lettuce. People eat gadzillions of megatons of it. Many actually consider it a vegetable!

Ask yourself how big of a role do advertisers and marketers have in making you want what they have to sell. Then peek into the world of agricultural research and read with your own eyes how through “recombinant inbreeding” bitterness has been deliberately removed from lettuce due to “consumer choice”.

Salads should contain bitter greens and be served before the main course of a meal for optimal digestion. Alanna Kellogg of A Veggie Venture has a good list of bitter greens. Modern dietary “innovations” all have the same thing in common: they’re blander, sweeter, softer and whiter than what was eaten years ago and never ever bitter. We have evolved baby mouths.

slightly bitter companion
Russian Red Kale

There are so many naysayers who deride vitamin supplements with the now standard claim that “if you eat a wholesome diet, supplements are unnecessary and wasteful”. This might be true if what was sold in supermarkets was only truly wholesome foods and we actually bought and consumed them within the correct ratios. Naw, that’s not happening anytime soon. Free choice is a bitch. Example: with the rise of consumer capitalism in China came rising obesity rates and worsening nutrition. So much for the free market diet. I am guessing there will be fewer bitter greens for the Chinese too.

Bitters do remain in the apéritifs, like Vermouth, Absinthe or Chartreuse all made with Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), and the bitter greens like Kale, Chicory, Endive or Dandelion. Without going into the chemistry involved suffice it to say our ancestors were much smarter then we realize today. The bitter taste is the critical thing. The thing we avoid. The thing we need. We need bitters because of the fascinating connection between our taste buds and our liver, gall bladder, pancreas, stomach, etc… to, forgive me, the bitter end of the alimentary canal. No, de-bittering a bitter doesn’t do the same thing. If you love your friends and family, make it a bitter love.

The short story is, if you don’t “like” bitterness, you probably really need to eat more of them. The even shorter story is, if you eat more bitter foods, your digestion will improve and so will your immune system and oddly enough, the more bitters you eat – the less bitter they taste. Bitter taste triggers hormones and nerves which direct the the release of bile by the gall bladder, acid by the stomach and several enzymes by the pancreas. All this from a bite of the bitter thing many people avoid with unreasonable dread.

I emphatically recommend Carmen Lynde Medical Herbalist’s presentation. It is perhaps the most important thing you can do to understand the role of bitter herbs in your diet.

Insufficient release of any of these juices causes all kinds of problems. Instead of suppressing stomach acid with chemicals or surgery many more people should be eating their bitters. Alternatively you could chew a pinch of bitter herbs. How about a sprig of Mugwort? or Sage? not so bitter. Or a squirt of Barberry or a drop of Wormwood tincture in a shot of water before a meal?

Liver and Lyme Herbs

Herbs: Chronic Liver Disease and Neurological Lyme Disease

If you have read some of my praise of Burdock, you might have a good idea of how effective this herb can be. What may be more significant is my own personal history with what my doctors called “chronic liver disease“. As a result of industrial metals poisoning (copper, chromium, nickel), alcohol and aspirin abuse and Lyme disease (neurological phase 3) I found myself laying before a surgeon hearing the “liver transplant” speech after draining six liters of fluid from my abdomen.

Although the gory details which preceded the speech might be useful to some, I still don’t like to talk about those dark days. What I believe is more important, is to carry the message that it may be possible for others to recover from such a condition just like I did.

First, I am very fortunate and grateful to have had wonderful doctors. With advisement and precautions they followed my herbal journey and encouraged me to continue my regimen as long as I was examined and tested regularly. So it went and within two years I received the liver panel blood test results which made my gastroenterologist laugh out loud, pat me on my back and with a warning like Cinderella’s fairy godmother tell me “make sure you CONTINUE to do what you’re doing”.

So what did I do? I began by dietary changes. The doctors suggested “simple” proteins as they are more easily digested, so I eat very little red meat, only a little white meat and a lot more fish, nuts, seeds, particularly hemp and yogurt. Whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables make up the majority of my diet. Afterall, Hippocrates himself said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”.

I became a serious organic gardener of herbs, a careful student and avid researcher of nutrition. I read “Alpha Lipoic Acid” by Dr. Burton Berkson, July 2000, Better Nutrition. I immediately began taking Alpha Lipoic Acid, Milk Thistle, CoQ10 and vitamin C. All of which are included in doTERRA’S Life Long Vitality supplements. Then instead of planting more tomatoes and lettuce I began planting the herbs suggested as beneficial for my condition. At that point I just wanted to see what these live herbs looked like. They fascinated me at the time but now I can understand how generations of people came to revere them as sacred. The language herbalists used to describe their actions and their “signatures” pulled me deeper.

Once I realized how rare the turnaround of my liver condition was I thankfully credited these brilliant doctors and generations of herbalists who accumulated this knowledge. If they could work so dramatically on my liver, what could they do for my Lyme disease? One good thing led to another. My gardening passion turned into hardcore herbalism which brought me to Permies and Paul Wheaton who asked us to help herbalist Deb Soule of Avena Botanicals to get a new dishwasher for her business through a kickstarter campaign. My small donation was acknowledged with an unexpected gift, a book called Healing Lyme Naturally by Wolf D. Storl. The foreword was written by herbalist Matthew Wood who has since become my favorite herbalist and who’s wisdom I abide.

Teasel is an herb which is the foundation of my Lyme disease success. Had not I had been open to new ideas and become willing to try alternative treatments I might have become yet another medical ping pong ball or worse, have my original body parts hacked off. The horror stories about Lyme are as bad as liver disease. The hair on the back of my neck crawled when I heard The People’s Pharmacy podcast What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease.

The takeaway from this post I hope will be, not to despair, not to give up, stay positive and find your path. In my present liver regimen I now include the herbs Burdock, Dandelion, Yellow Dock and Agrimony, each of which is worthy of separate discussions.

Burdock why?

If, after you read Dr Axe’s run down of the many substantial benefits of Burdock you’re not impressed, there’s more personal reasons to consider experimenting with this powerful herb. These are my personal observations and experiences:

  • tastes kinda like roasted potatoes to me
  • it’s a tonic and a medicine, meaning:
    • tonic you can and should take every day for continuous nutritive value and preventative care, especially for digestive health
    • medicine, usually in higher doses in tincture form for brief periods of time when ill
  • prevents many toxic chemicals, particularly metals from causing tissue damage, this is especially important for the liver and/or if you have been over exposed to metals, compounds in Burdock chelate metals
  • I noticed the first, most obvious effect on my skin within the first week and in my scalp and hair during the following week from eczema and it’s good for acne and psoriasis too
  • modulates blood sugar levels and once my digestive system healed, eliminated cravings and thus poor eating habits
  • many Burdock products including fresh root are available in good Asian markets
  • so easy to grow your own and just as good for your garden’s soil as it is for your gut and works in much the same way, deep in the soil as it does – deep in your gut, providing a suitable environment for good bacteria to thrive