Sunday, March 24, 2013

Further 'Goldenseal Sanctuary' Adventures & Herbal Classes

Golden leafs of American Ginseng
in the fall

            Been dreaming about my internship at the non-profit United Plant Savers’ “Goldenseal Sanctuary”, especially recently because it’s the only place that has really “felt like home to me”. Being appropriately named after one of the most prolific herbs at the site, personally I didn’t learn a TON about it, I had already read loads of information regarding it’s powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial actions, especially in the form of Kloss’s liniment. This being said I’ll briefly tell you some of what I learned about American Ginseng while in the field. American Ginseng or Ginseng quinquefolium, appropriately named and translated to English as ‘five-leaved’, because it has groupings of five leaves on each stem. Also, This Ginseng’s leaves have five points each. Each stem, or part with this leaflet is known as a prong. 
Wild Ginger on a hike at the sanctuary
On a prong having five of these ‘leaves’ means it is around 2 years of age. Besides ‘five-leaved’, another Appalachian folk-name for this herb is sang, which helped to determine if a location had rich soil. Another plant which helped people find sang, is called sang-pointer, which is Rattlesnake fern which was believed to “point” to Ginseng to help find more! This fern along with Ginseng, Goldenseal and Spicebush, when prevalent actually does ‘show’ that you have found a moist, healthy and mineral rich area. *NOTE Virginia Creeper is often misidentified as American Ginseng, be sure of identification!!*
Virginia Creeper

        Another G-herb, being Wild Ginger, is an interesting one! It flowers early in the spring and pollinates with the assistance of beetles, which I had never heard of before. Wild Ginger is closely related to the Appalachian native Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria, though they look nothing alike. *WARNING: irritating and potentially toxic in high amounts*. Though used similarly to Ginger’s use, for promoting sweating, the menses, indigestion and other stomach ailments, and fevers, this is a very rare and as warned, pretty toxic herb. Now, back to Wild Ginger, you may think because it has ginger in it’s common name that you can use it for all of the same ailments, and in cooking, as you would cultivated ginger, but I am sorry to disappoint you—you can’t, or shouldn’t at least. No really, too much can cause what cultivated ginger can treat—vomiting. Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, is a creeping perennial, with heart-shaped leaves (see picture), was used historically for colds, coughs, ‘female’ troubles, relieving gas, and indigestion, and to promote sweating, and help with fevers and sore throats.
Though you must be careful IF you do ingest this wild herb, since too much of it’s acid can be toxic to the kidneys and liver. WARNING: Aristolochic acid, being prevalent in this plant, is considered highly toxic!!*

Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris
            Another plant that I came to know well throughout this internship was Lobelia. Lobelia, or Lobelia inflanta, is also commonly known as Indian Tobacco, THOUGH it wasn’t what native Americans traditionally used for tobacco at all, this is where botanical names come in handy. It’s folk-name is a good hint at Lobelia’s traditional use, was and currently is still used by some herbalists, for respiratory ailments, and has been said to help prevent and stop asthma attacks. Along the same line of one of my favorite colors, when it comes to flowers, is Self Heal, also known as ‘all-heal’ and ‘heal-all’, though other herbs are as well. Botanically known as Prunella vulgaris, it has been traditionally used throughout China for treating: kidnet ailments, scrofula, conjuncitivitis, boils, bruises, bad circulation and ‘heat in the liver’. Also was traditionally used for treating: diarrhea, fevers, sore throats and mouth sores, ulcers, wounds and bruises. Self-Heal is currently used for healing major wounds, especially due to its astringent properties, is excellent in cream, and is even a flower essence.
        Two other interesting herbs I had also never seen, but had read about previously, include: Vitex, and Wild Yam. The former, is also commonly referred to as Chaste Tree, is a major leading female-hormone regulating herb, and helps balance what may be out of balance in your menses. The latter, Wild Yam, Dioscorea villosa, is now a very rare endangered herb. Was historically used by the eclectics, but I am not sure for what. Commonly used by a handful of herbalists I know, as a GI antispasmodic, but not when you are vomiting though, and also to treat menstrual problems (only pre-menopausal), and regulates hormones, and ulcerative colotics, or chrons disease. **Harvest a plant just before flower, or just as flowering and after the morning dew has left (for aerial parts specifically).

One of our Intern-coordinators with a botanically inclined
intern, teacher her how to tell the age of  American Ginseng

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