Monday, February 6, 2012

The Beginnings of a New Herbal Adventure

This past fall I had the incredible, and I still believe once in a lifetime experience, to be an Intern at the United Plant Savers 'Goldenseal Sanctuary', in Rutland, Ohio! What an incerdible 6 week journey it was! I came from a gorgeous green summer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to this 'heaven on earth' for herbalists to the most diverse area in the country of medicinal plants, and some of the rarest ones still (American Ginseng, Black and Blue Cohosh, and Goldenseal to name a few). The first day was mostly getting settled in, along with still being in awe that this amazing place I read about, via the United Plant Savers Journal, I was at! (The picture below is  one main view outside of the back of the barn (ie-where we stayed). Though I'm from the Midwest, and have never been to Ohio except in the airport before, I was very proud of myself for knowing even a couple-dozen of the flora, native or not, of the Southeastern foothills of the Appalachias.
The first day of work and structured learning began soon enough! Sasha White, our 'intern coordinator' for the fall started our day with taking a nice hike along the main trail (see 1st picture above), she started showing us many common plants that have become naturalized in the Southeastern region of Ohio we were in. Some of these plants included: Spice Bush, Paw Paw, Sassafras, Yellowbuck- eye.  
      Spice Bush, is a very not-so-ironically also known as Appalachian Allspice, having a similar taste to the exotic Eastern herb. Spice Bush, botanically known as Lindera benzoin, also being in the Cinnamon family, makes this herb very intersting indeed. Locally, this herb, along with the ever-so-famous Goldenseal, for which is sanctuary was named after (having ALOT of it), is a very good indicator for high quality rich mesic (moist, rich, fertile) soil. Spicebush is a short-woody like shrub, with small oval alternate leaves. Medicinally, Spicebush is used to help with stomach problems, being aromatic in action, helps with dysentary, fevers, coughs, colds and anemia. It's leaves specifically are useful in treating menstrual symptoms, such as cramps, and heavy bleeding. And a fun, and historical, fact about Spicebush, is that if you rip off a leaf, the part left that looks like a small brush of sorts, is what a famous painter whose name I am totally not finding in my notes right now, used to paint delicate parts of his pieces with. (See right for a picture of Spicebush).
    Next is the infamous Paw-Paw (see lower right), which if anything you can identify it purely by smell if you crush the leaves. After I smelled a wiff for the first time of a crushed Paw-Paw leaf, which smells like gasoline, I knew I'd never think it was a different plant. The Paw-Paw is a non-native to Ohio, but has been very naturalized. With it's very strong, and gasoline-like distinctive odor, it is quite useful as a natural insecticide/repellant (which makes sense since many foul smelling herbs such as garlic, onion, and the Neem tree smell 'bad' depending on your taste-for smell- which than gets into your blood stream and makes you not attractive to blood sucking bugs known as mosquitos). The primary medicinal use I learned of for the Paw-Paw is to topically apply the leaves, crushed most likely, to abcesses. And if you don't like that idea, than you can always eat the fruit (NOT THE SEEDS-they're toxic) which tastes like some intersting exotic combination between an overripe bananna and a mango...and the Paw-Paw ice cream at the festival devoted to this Appalachian famous plant, is to die for!!! yummm
     The next prominent plant of the area we have is Sassafras, which I have only heard of this past year when reading other herbal gardening books. Sassafras, can be easily identified by having three different and promiment leaf shapes (closed hand, a mitten, and pinkie and thumb out from a hand--like the rock on sign). The leaves are mucilaginous (quenches thirst), bark looks like small hooves and are orange and green in color. The root bark is used as spring tonic to prevent ‘spring fever’ after traditional Appalachians’ ate meat and dried fruit all winter long, their bodies would literally get the feeling of having a fever from their bodies being ‘shocked’ with fresh vegetables again. Take this plant internally to cool blood, and externally is a warming herb—ironic.  

August 31st, 2011- Plant Parts

            Today we learned the names and locations of plant parts—yay!The petals of a flower we learn, are collectively called corolla, the sepals (the part outside of the petal holding it in) are called the sepals…and as a group they are called the calyx. The stamen the male reproductive part of the plant.  This is the ‘picture’ of a perfect flower, not all are ‘literally’ a perfect flower in science.

            To see if a plant is alternate or opposite, you must look at as much of the plant as possible first. Alternate is one-space than the other branch, where opposite are just opposite from each other—like a persons arms if they are put out perpendicular to their body. A simple leaf-looks like one leaf, a compound on the other hand has lots of small leaflets (or groupings of leaves). To know what ‘types of leaves’ a plant has you must look as low as possible on the plant, else you’ll confuse an alternative or opposite plant and start looking at the wrong stuff.
A flower is axillary when the leaves literally look like they are coming out of an axil. A really good image of this is the plant Boneset.
         Now we were taught about So the so a little saying to remember it by is: Kings Play Chess On Fat Gorilla Stomachs; which stands for: Kingdom Phylum Class Family Genus Specie.

      Today another amazing thing we did was dig up Goldenseal roots, which was quite an interesting and incredible experience—to say the least!! We did so to make our very own Kloss’s liniment, a famous doctor of the early 1900s. Before we actually got to the good patches of Goldenseal behind the yurt, we stumbled upon several American Ginsengs, or Panax quinquefolium, we were told by our primary intern coordinator and past intern, Sasha White, that we were allowed and strongly encouraged to take the red berries and replant them in other moist, shady areas to help spread the Ginseng! (she also later told us to start plucking off the fall gold-ginseng leaves so poachers –really there are Ginseng poachers— can’t find any).  Anyways so we planted each berry about ½ an inch into the ground and watered them.
            Soon we found a large, lush patch of Goldenseal (see right) along the ‘Medicine Trail’, all kneeled down and started digging a few roots each. Now Goldenseal isn’t a large thick root, like say the Rhizome Ginger, or even the American Ginseng, but it’s known as …. (?small thin roots close to the ground), and has very small bright yellow roots, spread out, close to the ground surface. When I approached the Goldenseal I was about to dig, I was actually struck with awe, I’m digging up this plant that is very prevalent to this area—hence the appropriate name for the sanctuary. Sure, Echinacea can do many things, and Ginseng is super powerful, but overall Goldenseal can do ‘anything’ in the herbal world—its an incredible plant! But with it’s ‘overnight’ fame, so-to-speak, in the herbal world as a good herb for treating infections such as colds and flus. I took the first root out, shook off the extra dirt, put the part I would use in the Kloss’s liniment in my backpack, than took the ‘new growth’ (like a new growth bud or part of a branch on a tree-but on a root), and replanted that in a different, undisturbed, Goldenseal patch.
            Today we transplanted Black Cohosh (see left) from in front of the barn to a shadier area, since the location it was in was too hot and sunny, to a moist microclimate of undisturbed wood on the way up to the yurt. We each dug up a Black Cohosh plant slowly, since their roots are pretty hard to tell where they spread out to, even though they had a small diameter of their trunk. Black Cohosh is useful in treating ‘female ailments’ such as really bad low, dull- feeling menstrual cramps, other cramps, hormonal problems, menopause, PMS, and weak contractions. It is esepcially said that pregnant women should take Black AND Blue Cohosh the last few weeks of their pregnancy, to 'prepare the utereus' for giving birth.Said to be one of the "best known American species because of it's medicinal properties" (Indian Herbology of North American, pg 45-46), it goes on to say that it's botanical name Cimicifuga racemosa means "to the bugbane" and named thus because this specie drives away bugs and other insects, and is also useful as an antidote against posinous bites and stings.
                   Heres a great old excerpt from another source, cited in the above book name..."The Americn Indian women knew of Blakc cohosh for relieving pain during menstrual period and used its properties extensively during childbirth. Dr Young introduced Cimicfuga racemosa to the medical world in 1831...was adapted as a cardiac tonic in fatty heart, chorea, acute and chronic bronchitis, rheumatism...dyspepsia...scarlet fever, measles and smallpox" (Hutchens, 46).
      This evening we also had a class with Diane Done Carlos, where she taught us primarily about her favorite plant, which ancient’s agreed with, “For nature is so excellent in its gifts that…it better benefit a man to know one herbs in the meadow, but to know it thoroughly, than to see the whole meadow without knowing what grows on it” ,said by Paracelsus. The main thing that struck me from the 3 hour class with her was her advice on working with plants, which rounded down to this: plants speak to you, you just need to be open to that level of awareness. After I heard this I was at awe, because on some level I knew this was possible, to have some deeper connection with say animals, and plants as well, than others, but I still wasn’t sure that it was true, since I didn’t have that ‘gift’ so to speak, and I still don’t seem to in tune with that, but then again, my introduction to herbal medicine was via science so. When I spoke to her about it though, she understood what I meant about my communication with the, she told that you just have to see how you have been communicating with them, since you’re different from me they’ll speak to you in a different way. After this, I realized that to some extent though I feel like I have ‘tuned-in’ with plants to a subconscious level, where I have normally had stress and sleeping problems, and since I started taking and making my own loose leaf herbal tea, about 8 years ago I have always made major relaxing nervines teas that includes: Lemon Balm, Catnip, Chamomile, Peppermint and Lavender, and if I need it add some mild sedatives, such as Kava Kava or Valerian root.

Anywho, back to Diane Don Carlos, she is originally from the Minneapolis, MN area yay! (and knew the herbalist I am currently taking my ‘Master Herbalist’ program from-small world). Her favorite herb is sweet leaf, Monarda fistulosa¸ also more commonly known as Bergamot or Bee Balm and also Oswego (traditional name for it by native Americans).