Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pain From An Herbalist's Perspective

Some notes from a class I took last night, entitled "Pain from an Herbalist's Perspective", lecture by Lise Wolff, Registered Herbalist, M.Sc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I haven't really had time to process this, so I am just jotting down notes I'd like to highlight and adding a few thoughts of my own. This is part of my processing, but also a way to share these thoughts with others.

"Pain tells us something is wrong in the body and needs help."

"Herbs don't necessarily kill the pain but help the origin of the pain, by resuming flow in the system."

"Pain blockers (acetiminophen, ibuprofen, acid reducers, etc.) 'shut your body up' and that's not good." There is always an underlying cause that, if addressed, will bring you to better health.

Different people respond differently to pain. Pain always has an emotional component--indeed we FEEL pain. In a way, it is "all in your head", but unlike in conventional medicine that is not said with disrespect here. It is necessary to treat the emotions as well as the physical body when there is pain.

Whereas conventional medicine sees pain as a "malfunction of the nervous system", herbalists believe it's a good thing your body is showing symptoms.

Cancer is one of the only times when there is little or no pain to signal that something is wrong. Cancer is indeed a great scourge of our time. Have we not previously been listening to our bodies? Is cancer the end result of that? (Note: this in now way is said to place blame on any one person for their cancer, or another person's cancer. Cancer looked at in this way is a systemic problem, particular to our current culture. Placing blame, therefore increasing bad feelings and tension, is a terrible thing to do in this instance!)

We don't want pain to be chronic. Oftentimes herbalists give herbal remedies to "relax the body, so it can then repair itself more easily", doing its intended job and relieving the pain.

Paracelsus (1493-1541, whom many feel is the founder of modern medicine, herbal medicine and homeopathy) said "Where nature creates pain, toxic substances have accumulated and want to be eliminated." This is a call to restore flow to the body, to ease its job of ridding itself of toxins.

And get this! We have in our brain receptors for cannabis! That is, pot, marijuana. As Lise said, "what this means is that we (humans) have a long term relationship to pot." Cannabanoid receptors actually shut off our memory, so that we can release stress and our body can heal. For more info. on that, read Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.

But don't smoke pot! Use herbs and flower essences. They can do the same thing, without the harmful side effects.

Now, there are many herbs and flower essences that can help with pain. But in the style of herbal medicine that I practice, we look for specifics not generalizations. Because each person has a different response to pain, and because the physical symptoms are a result your entire lifetime of physical and emotional responses, there is no way to generalize the right herb for someone. So, I offer no specific herbs to this discussion. However, I will say that a big goal here is to relax the body. If you can find an herb that will help you relax, and don't overuse it, that will allow your body to start its process of repair.

And not just herbs and flower essences can be used here. As we know there are many ways to relax, from meditation and yoga to journaling to knitting and many more. Take naps more often. Take a walk and blow off steam. Find the best ways for you to relax.

And of course, seek medical attention if your pain is severe and/or chronic and you need help.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Award!

Thank you, Mon, for this award and your very kind words about me and my blog. I love this stuff! Every time I think of giving up blogging, I realize I love the community of bloggers that I've found too much to "throw in the towel" completely. I love Mon's blog, Hearth Herbalist, so much and it's cool to converse regularly with someone in the Balkans. The globalization of our world through the internet is truly one of the newest wonders of the world. It's awesome!

The rules of this award are:-

1. Put the award logo on your blog or post (right click on award, save as)
2. Nominate at least 1 blog that you consider to be Uber Amazing!
3. Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog
4. Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from

Mon, I'd choose you in a second but since you already won this award I'll pick another:

A blog I've recently discovered and fallen head over heels for is These Days in French Life. Riana is an American living in an historic village in France. Her photos are amazing. Her recipes are incredible (I made her chocolate tarte for my writer's group and they were impressed!). Her stories and insights into life are fascinating. And I so admire the things she's doing like butchering a wild boar that her neighbor brought over after he ran into it. And there's prettier stuff, too--like growing and making herbal remedies, which is of course right up my alley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Not To Make An Oil

Okay, so here's the reason you don't take your steeped herbal oil and let it sit on your dark kitchen counter for a couple of weeks before you decant it:
Since the mold didn't affect the oil except for on the top, I just scraped it off and strained the rest through cheesecloth (as usual), washed out the jar and put the "clean" oil back in there, to store in the fridge, possibly make a salve with beeswax someday, and use as needed.
This is calendula oil, good for lymphatic drainage, cat-scratch type wounds and muscle pain or wounds in areas with a lot of lymph nodes (i.e. the collarbone area). Read my post about it here. And Maude Grieve has a nice write-up on calendula here in her book A Complete Herbal on botanical.com . She calls it Marigold but it's different from the Marigold many of us are used to with the strong scent that repels bugs and bunnies from the garden.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Have An Intern!

Yes, me! It makes me feel so legitimate as an herbalist. (Why?, I wonder.) A young woman who's a student at our nearby state university found my business card at the local natural foods co-op and sent an email asking to meet me about a possible internship. I was kind of dumbfounded. Follow me? Doing what?

Being a fairly new herbalist I don't yet have a lot of clients (very few so far, in fact). I still have felt engaged in the herbal process, however, as I'm making medicines, attending classes, fielding questions and doing some teaching on a regular basis. But the getting clients to come see me thing, that's eluded me. To be honest, I haven't put much time into it, except for putting a few business cards around town. Part of it is I have a hard time asking people for money! I'm still not 100% sure of my skills and whether I can help people or not, and to charge money for visiting clients seems a bit of a stretch.

However, that perspective of mine needs to change. And I know it. It turns out that having an intern, a young student who wants to learn from me, may be the best thing that's happened to my herb business yet. She's helping me change my perspective.

To get more client time, I've sent out an email to friends and neighbors offering 10 free herbal consulatations with one follow-up each. I got a great response! I think I will end up seeing 15 people and my intern will be able to observe and get in as much as 30 hours for her 80-hour internship. (I just couldn't say no to anyone, so we'll do 15...;-))

So many of the respondees are so excited about coming to see me, and hopefully being helped herbally with any issues they have. That makes me excited! And I always love doing anything that has to do with herbs, a sure sign that this is what I'm meant to do. Also, I have had some good feedback recently from a client who came to see me this summer for symptoms around menopause. She got my free consult email offer and replied back that her problems had completely cleared up and she did believe it was the herbs that helped (for what it's worth, she got lemon balm and nettles based on the pulse testing I did to find the right remedies). I was thrilled! Here I had been worrying about this client because I hadn't had much feedback from her...For the most part I have gotten positive feedback now from everyone I've "treated". That is reassuring, as well.

The other things my intern and I will do together are decant some of the tinctures I have sitting on my kitchen counter from this past spring and summer; make one or two root tinctures since this is the season for that and we can use dried roots; and attend some herb classes together.

I am looking forward to getting to know Ashley, and to seeing many more clients with her learning at my side. And who knows, these "free" appointments may end up bringing many rewards back to me in the form of referrals, etc. It feels like we're on the right track.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hercules' Club

Hercules' Club (Aralia spinosa) can be mistaken for Elder (Sambucus). The flowers/berries grow in smaller clusters that are not umbrel-shaped, and the trunk is thorny--the clues that this similar-looking plant is not Elder.

While visiting my mother and father-in-law in Gloucester, Virginia last week, I was very excited to walk down the neighbor's road where I'd seen Elder trees growing the last time we were there in summer, thinking they'd still be blooming in Virginia and I could make some more tincture. Unfortunately, the sides of the road had been mowed! George and I walked the street, with me feeling sadder by the minute, until finally we found a shrub that looked like Elderberry. But alas, as we got closer I felt right away that it looked different.

The berries were ripe and black like elderberries and the stems were the same deep burgundy color, but they hung in smaller clusters that were not quite umbrel-shaped (think, umbrella here) like I'm used to. This right away got my "hackles up" as they say. I became skeptical, which is an extremely healthy thing in a wildcrafter!

Then George noticed that there were thorns on the trunk of the tree/shrub. That was also odd. I decided to taste a berry (something I feel comfortable doing because I know what I'm tasting for, and I know to spit it out as soon as it doesn't taste right, but I would NOT recommend many people do that!). The berry did not taste sweet, it was very "dry" on my tongue, and in short I knew right away that this was not elder.
A search on Google taught me that it was Hercules' Club, often mistaken for Elder. But one way you can always tell it's not: Elder trees/shrubs NEVER have thorns.

Wikipedia's article on Hercules' Club says that "the young leaves can be eaten if gathered before the prickles harden. They are chopped finely and cooked as a potherb." I don't know anything about that, but I also read that the berries are poisonous, and they are definitely not elderberries so I would leave the plant alone.

Anyone know about Hercules' Club? I guess it's also known as Southern Prickly Ash, though it is not the Zanthoxylum (prickly ash) I'm familiar with as a wonderful nerve and tootheache remedy. Maud Grieve's Modern Herbal on Botanical.com calls Hercules' Club "Angelica Tree" and gives some medicinal uses for it. I'm not familiar with Angelica so I will have to do some further research.

Mainly for this post I wanted readers to be aware of this plant that can resemble Elder. This example just brings home the message that it's good to check and double check and be really certain you have the correct plant when wildcrafting. I know it brought that lesson home to me!