Michael and Lesley Tierra's Blogs
Herbal, health and inspired life ramblings
Most herbalists have learned that preparing several herbs in a formula which are extracted together or brewed into a tea causes the infinite number of biochemical constituents to interact and to some extent alter so that a formula has the potential of becoming more than the sum of its parts. In particular, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is largely based on the use of time-honored complex herbal formulations.Underscoring this practice is the understanding that the most effective treatment is when both the “root and branch,” that is, the presenting symptoms and underlying constitutional imbalances that give rise to them, are attended to with the various components of any of thousands of different TCM formulas. This is only true to a simpler or lesser extent with the practice of Western herbal medicine.
Western Simpling versus Eastern Formulating
The great late 19th century North American Eclectic herbalist Dr. John Raymond Scudder wrote an important book entitled “Specific Medicines” where such renowned North American herbs such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) and black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), to name only three, are described in terms of their specific uses and doses. In turn, the great herbal pharmacist John Uri Lloyd of Lloyd Bros. Pharmaceuticals produced outstanding alcohol-based extracts of these herbs, and these were widely used and sold throughout the country. Extracts of single herbs like those created by Lloyd supported the mono-herb therapeutic practice called “simpling.” Modern herbal product lines continue to make extacts of single herbs, easily found in health food stores around the country, and thus the practice of simpling is still common today. Because rows and rows of such single herb extracts are so visible on store shelves, the general public has yet to develop an understanding of the superior therapeutic results a well-crafted herbal formula can produce.
One herb taken repeatedly (unless it is a tonic such as ginseng) is limited in its scope of action and unable to attend to the principle of ‘root and branch’ described above. There is also a greater risk of adverse reaction in the event that some latent toxic reaction to an herb becomes apparent. Western herbalists, including myself, are still dismayed by the liver toxicity, genuine or not, reported when people take herbs such as comfrey, kava or ephedra (often for non-traditional reasons), ultimately resulting in these herbs being banned from commerce. TCM and Ayurvedic formulators neutralize or lessen the toxicity of some herbs either by prior preparation or by carefully combining them with sweet herbs and substances such as licorice, jujube dates, honey or ghee.
This is not to say that professional Western herbalists do not prescribe complex formulations, but with very few exceptions, these are strictly according to individual need and do not achieve the longevity and durability that similar TCM formulas have. As examples of classic formula building blocks that have stood the test of time, any Chinese herbalist knows that Four-Substance Decoction (Si Wu Tang) consisting of the roots of dang gui (Angelica sinensis), peony (Paeonia lactiflora, bai shao), rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa, shu di huang) and ligusticum (Ligusticum chuanxiong, chuan xiong) is for Blood deficiency and can be modified in numerous ways to treat any condition associated with Blood and circulation. Similarly, Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang) consisting of ginseng (Panax ginseng, ren shen), atractylodes (Atractylodes macrocephela, bai zhu), poria (Poria cocos, fu ling) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis, zhi gan cao) is for Qi deficiency and is also subject to countless variations and permutations. These are some of the most famous, and but there are many more like them in Chinese herbal medicine. In Ayurveda, the formula Triphala, consisting of three myrobalan fruits each addressing the excesses of each of the three Ayurvedic humours, is perhaps, in my estimation, the single greatest formula of all time and finds itself embedded in most Ayurvedic formulations as well as prescribed separately as part of a healing program for all patients. No such formulas can be found in Western herbal practice.
Dui yao formulation
Many of the therapeutic goals of an entire TCM formula can come down to the use of two herbs, or dui yao (dui means “two” and yao means “herbs”). In this way large complex formulations can be created based on individual root imbalances and branch symptoms by incorporating specific herb pairs. The increased scope of efficacy of two herbs, rather than one, for a particular condition or symptoms promises a better, more wholistic, healing result. There are many reasons and ways two herbs are mated to interact with each other. One is pure synergy where both have a similar purpose. Another is complementary where one herb has a primary function, while the other either facilitates that function or counterbalances any possible negative reaction.
Western herbal medicine does have a few such ‘unofficial’ combinations such as echinacea and goldenseal for infections. Dr. Christopher, an exponent of the cayenne (Capsicum spp.) metabolic warming school of Western herbal medicine, recommended combining cayenne, an irritating stimulant, with olive oil to lessen its burning qualities. His 19th century predecessor, the iconoclastic Dr. Samuel Thompson, frequently combined cayenne with bayberry bark (Myrica cerifera) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) in the famous Composition Powder Formula to achieve a synergistic internal metabolic heating effect which often turned the tide of many acute upper respiratory diseases.
Following are a number of simple Western dui yao or two-herb possibilities that can be considered for effective and efficient formulation:
- Parsley root (Petroselinum crispum) and gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum) for urinary stones
- Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) for colds and flu
- Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.) and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) for liver and gall bladder complaints
- Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) and burdock (Arctium lappa) for detoxification and blood purification; cancer
- Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) and cherry stems (Prunus avium) for cystitis
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and motherwort (Leonurus cardiac) for cardiovascular disease
- Gravel root and marshmallow root (Althaea officinale) for urinary stones
- Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus) for upper respiratory congestion
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and California poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) for coughs
- Red clover (Trifolium praetense) and burdock root for cancer
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and hops (Humulus lupulus) for insomnia
- California poppy and valerian for insomnia
- Angelica root (Angelica archangelica) and gentian (Gentiana lutea) for digestive disorders
- Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) and Marshmallow root for gi tract ulcers
- Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) and rhubarb (Rheum spp.) for constipation
- Sassafras (Sassafras spp) and sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.) for joint pains
- Black cohosh and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) for menstrual irregularities
- False unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum) and cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) or black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) for infertility and threatened miscarriage.
Following are some classic TCM dui yao combinations:
- Ginseng and atractylodes for deficient Qi
- Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus, huang qi) and dang gui for anemia
- Licorice and peony for gastric pains
- Poria and Alisma (Alismatis orientalis, ze xie), for dampness and fluid retention
- Fermented herbs (shen chiu) and hawthorn fruit (shan zha) for digestive weakness
- Ophiopogon (Ophiopogon japonica, mai men dong) and prepared rehmannia for yin deficiency
- Bupleurum (Bupleurum falcatum, chai hu) and white peony for anxiety and mood disorders
- Boswellia and myrrh (Commiphora spp., mo yao) for rheumatic and arthritic pains
In Ayurveda, the principle of herb pairs is illustrated in the many different guggul formulations. Guggul is a special preparation of Commiphora mukul, which is very closely related to and possibly interchangeable with myrrh. Guggul is deeply detoxifying and is commonly combined with the Triphala. The all-purpose guggul variety is Yogaraj guggul, and it is effective for circulatory conditions, joint pain and stiffness, high cholesterol, thyroid and low metabolism. Other herbs may be added to create various guggul preparations specific for the urinary tract, respiratory conditions, and others. (To my knowledge, the only company carrying an excellent specialty line of various guggul preparations is Banyan Botanicals.) In the western world, guggul is primarily sold because of its ability to lower blood lipids. In my opinion, while guggul is effective for this, only using it for this purpose sells it far short of its potential. It has a much wider application as an anti-inflammatory for a variety of rheumatic aches, pains and strains for which it is a virtual panacea. Sometimes it will show a benefit after one or two doses, but for best results take the indicated dose two or three times daily for at least two weeks.
Extending the dui yao concept to whole formula blending
A practice made possible by the advent of whole formula herb extracts as well as the Plum Flower line of traditional herbal formulas is the expansion of the principle of dui yao further to include the combination of multiple entire or near entire herbal formulas. Like herb pairs, formula pairs are dosed according to the root-branch principle where the branch or primary complaint and symptoms is allotted no less than 30 percent of a formula, while the various underlying deficiencies and excesses are assigned a correspondingly lesser percentage based on the patient’s unique presentation.
In my clinical experience, seldom do I see a patient whose symptoms so neatly correspond to the description of a traditional formulation as described in a book. People present very complex and often what seem like contradictory symptoms, where for example both heat and cold, or yin and yang are imbalanced. In such conditions one can combine formulas with opposite atmospheric (hot or cold) properties so long as the herbs or formulas target different symptoms. For example, a drying formula for the lungs and respiratory tract may be combined with a lubricating or Yin-nourishing formula for the Kidney-adrenals. Here the sovereign rule of prescribing heating or stimulating herbs for cold diseases and cooling, detoxifying herbs for hot or inflammatory diseases is limited to specific organ systems. This is where herb or herbal formula combining really makes the difference over giving one herb for one symptom.
The above touches on higher principles of herbal formulation and practice. Perhaps it is a bit too esoteric for the average consumer, but it is time that the public who looks to herbs for their health needs understand that herbal formulations are often more effective than single herbs. While it may take a bit more work to understand, the art of herbal formulation has been at the heart of herbal medicine for thousands of years and in all ancient cultures.
Once upon a time, when people got sick they knew that that they must “drink their bitter brew” to get well. Presumably this meant some sort of herbal tea or other liquid potion. While native and traditional cultures barely bat an eye as they wash down sometimes large doses of nasty-tasting stuff, taking herbs in this way becomes less appealing as we grow more accustomed to the conveniences and comforts of modern times. Thankfully, we have several options for getting the medicine down, as outlined below.
Teas, Tinctures and other Liquid Preparations
Liquid herbal medications are best for the intestines, stimulating blood circulation and restoring the balance of homeostasis. Liquid options are especially useful for severe, intractable diseases.
Infusions are made by steeping herbs in a covered vessel of hot freshly boiled water. This prevents the dissipation and evaporation of volatile elements that are considered vital to the therapeutic effect, particularly for diaphoretics. By such a method one does not get all of the deeper minerals found in popularly infused aromatic herbs such as mint, chamomile, or lemon balm.
A decoction is made by a prolonged cooking method resulting in what the Chinese call a tang or “soup.” Heavier substances, including hard roots, branches and minerals are boiled (decocted) specifically to extract their deeper constituents. As a result, the more volatile elements are lost during the process of evaporation. Decoctions take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes; the dregs are strained out and the resulting tea is taken at room temperature.
Extra long boiling is necessary to transform and neutralize toxic elements of certain herbs. This is most important for one of Chinese medicine’s most poisonous but commonly used herbs, fu zi or aconite (Aconitum napellus) also known as “monkshood.” Most of the time a processed and detoxified version is used, but this too requires about an hour of decocting before it is safe to ingest. Western herbalists never learned or utilized a way to neutralize the poisonous properties of aconite. In fact it was commonly used in ancient times up through the European renaissance as a poison to get rid of someone you didn’t like. Medicinally, only single drop doses diluted in water are used.
Minerals or shells such as crushed gypsum to lower fevers, iron for the blood or oyster shell for calcium, also require extra long boiling. Traditional Chinese Medicines require that these are boiled first and separately for up to 45 minutes before the rest of the formula is introduced.
Ever since the 12th century the Chinese, who invented the pill, have been prescribing them much as we do today. Ancient formulas were often prepared as pills made from milled herbs bound with water, honey, ginger juice, or other substances. In villages in India and China local herbalists still roll pills by hand. Smaller sized pills are favored because they are easier to swallow. Therapeutic dosages of powders or pills range between 3-10 grams daily. That's usually a small handful of pills, taken two or three times a day. Though it may seem like a lot of pills, it's really only a few grams of medicine.
Pills, especially the small teapills manufactured by Chinese pharmacies is most effective for relieving stagnation and congestion and treating wind-cold conditions such as colds and flu. Pills have the advantage of being able to be taken over a prolonged period of time and are therefore best for chronic disease.
Powders consist of small particles of herbs with multiple surfaces that are particularly beneficial for stomach and intestinal problems. Powders are also best for suddenly erupting diseases such as a skin rash.
In fact, most traditional cultures would not take herbs as a tea but as raw powders. So long as the powder is either freshly ground or no older than three to six months, this method may be the most efficacious way to ingest medicinal herbs. Taking an herb ground into a powder means that all of it is consumed and nothing is lost through the process of evaporation and volatilization, nor through the extractive process where the extract is siphoned from the “mark” which may still contain some minerals and constituents.
Powders are also cost effective. This is because there is no selective extraction that occurs when we use alcohol or some other extractive to make herbal tinctures, to have the properties evaporate and dissipate as a result of making a hot tea decoction. Therefore, one is actually ingesting the whole herb in powder form.
Indian villagers take herbal powder by smearing it on the palm of the right hand with honey and perhaps a little ghee (clarified butter) and licking it off. Besides the fact that honey and butter tend to make anything tastier, these serve as “carriers” (called anupans in Ayurveda) and are thought to enhance an herb’s therapeutic properties by carrying them into the deeper tissue layers of the body.
Extracts (Tinctures, Glycerites, Aceta)
The constituents of herbs can be extracted by water, alcohol, vinegar, glycerine, or chemical solvents. Most herbalists prefer to use low temperature water extractions rather than the standardized extractions used by “herbaceutical” pill manufacturers. Simply soaking an herb in alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine yields extracts and this method is called “simpling.” They're easy to make and to take.
Strategic timing for taking herbal medicine
Many ask the best time to take herbs. The following is a rough guideline:
Timing around meals
Herbs can be taken before meals to stimulate digestion or when a person’s symptoms occur before eating.
Herbal extract and tinctures can be taken while eating if there is a problem while ingesting food.
Generally speaking “herbal bitters” can be taken in small amount before eating to stimulate the body’s digestive secretions and one’s appetite or after meals to relieve bloating. A teaspoon or tablespoon should be a sufficient dose.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a very common complaint, answered by the huge market of antacids and pharmaceuticals with long-term negative side effects. But one of the simplest treatments is to simply go to your spice cabinet, mix together a pinch of every spice and take a teaspoon of the powder washed down with room temperature water.
Herbs that are intended to go to the liver, Kidneys, intestines or reproductive organs are taken after meals.
Often this can be too complicated for people who are on the go to follow so my basic thought is to take herbs regularly before meals. If there is any discomfort, try switching to taking them after meals.
Another simple and basic approach is to take tonic formulas before meals (when you body is most ready to digest food) and the more eliminating and detoxifying formulas after meals.
Other considerations for enhancing the effects of herbal medicines
Conditions caused or aggravated by cold should be treated with hot medicines (i.e., teas and decoctions). This would include the early stages of colds as well as respiratory allergies.
If the condition is caused or aggravated by heat, or to provoke urination, give room temperature herbal preparations.
When treating low energy, the addition of a little honey or some sweet flavored substances such as jujube or other dates and a small amount of licorice will serve as a carrier for herbs like ginseng.
When treating Kidney adrenals with symptoms of lower back, knee, joint pains, low libido and urinary problems taking the appropriate formula with a pinch of salt or soya sauce will help focus and direct the action of the herbs to the intended Kidney-Adrenals.
When someone is nutritionally compromised and weak, tonic herbs are best taken in soups.
One should never brew herbal teas in certain types of metal containers. This especially applies to iron or aluminum pots where the soluble metallic ions can alter the chemistry of the medicinal herbs. The ideal medium for preparing herb teas is a clay or glass receptacle. Good quality stainless steel is neutral and does not leach metallic and is therefore also all right to use.
Michael Tierra in the Sierra, August 2012
"I'm gathering pulsatilla which is all around me. There are also stands of mule's ears (Wyethia species) at my feet and scattered around is California osha (Oschala), green gentian, sitka valerian, monardella (coyote mint) and arnica."
“Michael, you want to go with us tomorrow morning to the Sierras?”
“Gee, Ben, sounds awfully tempting,” says I. “Let me check my schedule… Hey, I’m free!”
It didn’t take me long to emphatically say, “Yes, I think I would like – ah, er – no, I’m going!” Thus, with an unexpected clear August weekend, I finally acceded after 20 years’ worth of invitations from my outstanding former student (and now master) herbalist-acupuncturist Ben Zappin to join him for an herb class and wildcrafting expedition to the pristine California Sierra mountains. Two other herbalists, Darren Huckle and Brian Weissbuch, would also be there. I met up with Darren in Santa Cruz and we picked up Los Gatos herbalist and acupuncturist Abby Rappaport, stuffed our respective gear along with ourselves in Darren’s already crowded car, and rode into the sunrise to meet Ben, whose Sylvan Institute of Botanical Medicine in Berkeley sponsored the excursion.
The drive to the Mokelumne wilderness seemed to breeze by as we enthusiastically chatted and entertained ourselves to near exhaustion for the entire 5½-hour journey. In that car was a pretty high level, seminar-worthy discussion. And just think, we could look forward to even more on our return drive the following Sunday evening.
Weather temperatures hovered around 90 degrees in my Santa Cruz County mountain town of Ben Lomond, but the forecast for the Sierras was between 40 and 70 degrees and a promise of overcast skies and sudden showers. This was exactly what we got when we arrived on Friday afternoon and most of the day on Saturday.
Despite the threat of showers, we obeyed the need to stretch our legs and let the excitement of discovering what medicinal herbs were nearby pull us jauntily up the alpine slopes. The hills approaching the tree line indeed were alive with a wealth of botanical treasures. I think the others shared my feeling that it was like meeting beloved friends and relatives.
What we encountered over the span of 40 minutes was Valeriana sitchenensis (wild sitka valerian); Anemone drummondi (windflower or pulsatilla); Angelica brewerii which some compare rightly or wrongly to the properties of Chinese dang gui; Osmorhiza occidentalis (commonly known as sweet cicely), Arnica longifolia; numerous fragrant small stands of monardella (coyote mint); Ligusticum greyii (called “oschala” because it is similarly used as an upper respiratory antiviral similar to its better known Southwestern relative “osha” – Ligusticum porteri). The following day, in the same area, we found numerous distinctive specimens of Gentiana swertia (green gentian).
Then the heavens opened up. As Abby and I futilely tried to scramble back down for shelter, heavy raindrops soon turned into huge pellets from which our feeble raingear was no match. We were pretty well drenched, but probably not as much as Ben and Darren who elected to keep climbing in spite of the rain.
By nightfall we were pretty well set up with tents, sleeping bags and such, and the others slated to arrive began trickling in from around 5 pm. Personally, I thought it was a minor miracle that everyone found the spot. I guess Ben’s directions were pretty good. In any case I think he already had the money, so it was on them to find the location.
The first to arrive was the third of the three instructors, Brian Weissbuch, an herbalist, acupuncturist, wildcrafter and medicine-maker extraordinaire. I was a tag-along guest and despite my near constant teaching during the weekend I really enjoyed being a student of these three who apparently know these Sierra alpine herbs well. With Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by the great late herbalist, Michael Moore, Jepson Manual of Vascular Plants of California and Thomas Avery Garran’s Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (Thomas is the co-owner along with Ben Zappin of Sylvan Institute, both former students of mine) – well, you really don’t need any other texts to seriously identify and learn some uses for the plants of the Sierras.
Brian Weissbuch(far left) and Michael Tierra (far right) with students
The next day, because of a rainy night and morning, we had a late start, around 11 am. That was when we instructors took charge and shared our knowledge, wisdom and insight with the group of about 15 students, mostly acupuncturists who liked the idea of combining their need for CEU credits for license renewal with a short wilderness adventure.
I must say that an added feature whenever Ben Zappin is in charge of an event is his spectacular cooking. He is one of the highlights of our annual week-long East West Herb School seminar that happens each spring and he showed some of his culinary magic with a spinach egg scramble and in the evening with a delicious lamb tagine. Part of Ben’s unique talent is to integrate some of the local herbs and other medicinal herbs in his cuisine. One could hardly imagine that leaves of oschala, osmorhiza or Angelica brewerii were even present in the food, but I’m assured they were and it was delicious as only a good camp-out meal can be.
Sunday we had a review of the plants we learned the day before with attendees finding the plants instead of the instructors. We also picked up some others including the potent hemostat, potentilla (probably Potentilla diversifolia better known as cinquefoil) and solidago (possibly S. californica better known as goldenrod).
Walking across the lake to a trail up a steep hill we learned some different herbs, gooseberry (Ribes roezlii), Pedicularis densiflora (Indian warrior), the poisonous, Veratrum virides and another beautiful gentian species (probably Gentiana calycosa).
These were the primary herbs we found on our two-day Sierra herbal wildcrafter herb adventure. Of course the entire event was accompanied by light-hearted banter, good food, campfire, and some medicine singing on Sunday morning. In short, the place was spectacular, the people were great and the instruction was deep and profound.
One thing the students repeatedly said they appreciated was the sharing of different ideas, experiences and knowledge about plants and healing. Somehow, rather than being confusing, most found this to be personally empowering.
Following are some highlights from the discussion of the different plants:
Gentian is a digestive used in bitters and detoxifies damp heat. The picric acid in gentian is more explosive than actual explosives! It selectively destroys viruses and bacteria. Gentian root and calamus extract with other herbs in formula is good for wasting associated with cancer.
Ligusticum greyii or oschala, along with its near relative L. porteri (osha) is antiviral and so is used for upper respiratory infections, colds, and flu. It was used effectively for prevention and treatment during the 1918 flu epidemic. It also relieves menstrual irregularity. One of us (not me) said they used it in formula for Bell’s palsy. Ligusticum species, including the local ‘oschala’ (L. greyii) is comparable in properties and use to Chinese lovage (gao ben). This and all angelicas should not be taken during pregnancy.
Angelica brewerii is regarded by some as the Western counterpart of the popular Chinese blood tonic, dang qui (Angelica sinensis). The four of us did not all agree with this assessment, finding that it was a little too bitter to serve as an alternative to Chinese dang gui. However, it definitely shares dang gui’s blood moving properties. Brian warned against the use of the more common Pacific coast Angelica hendersonii, which is toxic.
Solidago or goldenrod, along with the herb ambrosia (ragweed) are two of the most effective herbal remedies for upper respiratory allergies. Ragweed together with yerba santa as a liquid extract will stop allergy attacks within minutes and is more effective than the popular OTC drug, Claritin. Contrary to popular belief, the pollen of goldenrod does not cause allergies. Brian told the most astounding stories of using goldenrod extract (the aerial portions) to get a number of patients off of dialysis, rescuing them from certain death.
Gooseberry leaves are antiviral.
The bright chartreuse lichen called “wolf lichen” (Letharia vulpina) is a deadly poison and was used by the Achomawi natives as arrow poison. This was presented by Brian at the beginning of our trek as a warning against ingesting wild plants indiscriminately.
Not seen on the trip was a species of the common honey mushroom, Armillaria melea, sold as tian ma mi huan su, found in stretches not in the Sierras but in Marin and other specific coastal areas. Brian said this mushroom is used as a direct and ecologically sounder substitute for the endangered orchid Gastrodia elata, both having powerful antispasmodic properties.
Monardella aerial portions are used for stomach headaches probably caused by digestive problems.
Anemone, mostly the root but the aerial portions as well, is one of the most effective anti-anxiety herbs on the planet. Ben extolled at length on its virtues and one need only take two or three drops of the liquid extract to immediately feel its effects. I was particularly excited by this herb. In TCM it is used for diarrhea and dysentery and is called bai tou weng. Brian and Ben generally regard a fresh preparation of the herb to be more effective than the dried herb of most species. Supposedly dried anemone loses its anxiolytic properties.
Pedicularis or Indian warrior was not abundant where we were, but we found one live plant. This plant is one of the most powerful smooth muscle relaxants known. The average dose is 10 to 15 drops or more but one should adjust dosage according to the degree of muscle relaxation required. It was compared to kava, but unlike kava is cooling rather than heating. Its effects are nearly instant. This herb can be applied to many of the uses of medical marijuana, but without the disorienting mental state. I took about 30 drops and found myself very quiet and laid back with nothing that I wanted to say for the last couple of hours of the final herb walk.
Sitka valerian has similar sedative properties but perhaps less dulling than Valerian officinalis. Brian, who is a wealth of information on the biochemistry and uses of plants, said that the valepotriates in dried valerian are stimulant rather than sedative, which accounts for the paradoxical opposite effect of valerian on some people. I’d never heard this before. He also said that both black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) and Viburnum opulis (snowball plant or cramp bark) contain similar sedative valepotriates as valerian. Brian also described an unusual use for sitka valerian: gout.
These were only some of the highlights from what was one of the most wonderful wilderness herb classes I’ve ever attended.
The East West Herb School is going to feature at our 2013 herbal seminar (as we do each year to critical acclaim) Ben Zappin manifesting his culinary magic always with a hint of wild, medicinal herbs.
I also strongly encourage those of you who are interested to visit Sylvan Botanical Institute’s website. Don't miss the fine classes and especially field trips they offer for herbalists, practitioners and throughout the year to the Mokelumne wilderness that borders the northern, southern and eastern parts of the California Sierra mountains. They also do similar botanical excursions earlier in the year to the dessert region of Southern California and to areas near the Big Sur mountain areas.
The nondescript appearance of herbs in their dried or powdered form, coupled with their high commercial value, has historically made them subject to adulteration, falsification and substitution to increase profits. In fact, adulteration in the herbal industry has been so widespread that at various times regulatory agencies have had to accept a percentage of adulteration of certain herbs as being within legal limits.
All countries since ancient times have indulged in herbal adulteration. Greek, Roman and Muslim traders would engage a special official to oversee herbal quality at the various ports of entry. The most traditional and common test for herbal quality is ‘organoleptic,’ meaning to verify an herb based on appearance, smell and taste. Today, scientific testing is employed. Questions of purity, however, still remain relative. This could be relative to how much of a non-useful part such as stem fragments as well as other extraneous material including foreign plant fragments and soil are allowed and still meet the market standard. (For a more thorough exposition on the topic of herbal adulteration, read “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices and Botanical Drugs” by Steven Foster published in HerbalGram, 2011.)
Obviously, the best of all possible worlds would have unadulterated herbs and honest and accurate labeling. Failing that, anyone manufacturing herbal products or engaged with their pharmaceutical or clinical use must implement their own method of determining the quality of an herb or herb product. This can involve employing expensive laboratory equipment or contracting other personal supportive sources and references.
Adulteration of Herbal Products in China
China, heir to the world’s richest body of herbal wisdom, is the largest user and proponent of herbal medicine globally (if for no other reason than worldwide scope and population). For this reason, China would more likely be vulnerable to issues of adulteration than any other country.
Chinese herbal medicine is so powerful because the knowledge of herbs, their use and cultivation has been continuously distilled over the course of millennia, and continues to be actively developed today. East Indian Ayurveda’s tradition is also very long-lived, but there seems to be greater consistency and organization of information about herbs and their application in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
This distinction is no secret. On a visit to Thailand, I asked someone on the street about traditional Thai medicine and they candidly recommended me to a local Traditional Chinese Medical doctor, saying that Chinese herbal medicine is the most effective. Further, they pointed out how throughout Africa, Chinese herbal doctors were similarly regarded with the highest esteem.
But every so often, some hack media reporter, a well-meaning but uninformed medical doctor, or even an herbalist publishes reasons why the public should avoid and even completely boycott all Chinese herbal products. One of my students directed me to “The Truth about Chinese Herbal Medicine” where respected herbalist Dr. Richard Schulze lists the most shocking examples of Chinese adulteration and misdeeds as reason to boycott the use of any type of Chinese herbal product. I do not challenge the undocumented claims in his blog, many if not all of which may be true, but I do say it is gravely misleading to the extent that it may dissuade individuals from seeking the benefits that only traditional Chinese herbal medicine can achieve for their health issues.
It’s nowhere near as shocking as the examples given in Schulze’s blog, but even the herb he (as a former fellow student of Dr. Christopher) holds as sovereign among all, cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens) in the form of African bird pepper, has been known in the past to have been adulterated with red lead or salt to help it retain its red color, or in more recent times, sawdust.
I highly recommend that you read an article by herbalist Eric Brand entitled “Organic Herbs in China” for a more balanced view regarding the harvesting, growing and evolution of good manufacturing practices (GMP) and the organic movement in China. Millions of Chinese both in China and throughout the world rely on herbs harvested and cultivated in China for their health needs, so these must meet a minimum Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standard based on thousands of years of information about the cultivation and harvesting of Chinese herbs. While the organic movement in 2010 at the time of Brand’s writing was in its infancy, it can only be assumed given the tremendous amount of attention focused on the quality of Chinese herbs and products over recent years, the movement has substantially grown.
Reputable Sources for Unadulterated Chinese Herbs
The following is not intended as a complete list of sources of quality Chinese herbs and products but offers a starting point.
As chief formulator and developer of the line, knowing that they are one of the few companies who have taken it upon themselves to conform to the most stringent guidelines based on California’s draconian Proposition 65 (Clean Air and Clean Water Bill of 1986), I can personally vouch for the safety and quality of the Chinese herbs used in Planetary Herbals http://www.planetaryherbals.com/
Internationally based Mayway Herb Company has become one of the most popular and largest importers and manufacturers of Chinese herbs and herb products. With the creation of their Plum Flower line of traditional Chinese Herbal formulas, they are making it possible for increasing numbers of the public and herbal practitioners from a wide cultural base to learn the application and benefits of Chinese herbal medicine. The fact of the existence of this line of products manufactured under strict GMP standards makes it possible for me and others to teach Chinese herbal medicine to non-Chinese herbalists and have the formulas available. I also increasingly see natural food stores carrying a selection of Plum Flower products.
In addition, I have no hesitation to recommend or use herbs from the following companies.
Asia Naturals http://www.drkangformulas.com/orderlist/contact/contact.htm
Bio Essence http://bioessence.com/
Blue Poppy http://bluepoppy.com/cfwebstore/
Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm http://www.chinesemedicinalherbfarm.com/
Evergreen Herbs https://www.evherbs.com/evshop/
Golden Flower Chinese Herbs http://www.gfcherbs.com/about/manufacturing.php
Herbalists and Alchemist http://www.herbalist-alchemist.com/
Herbs Etc. http://www.herbsetc.com/
Herb Pharm http://www.herb-pharm.com/
Kan Herbs http://www.kanherb.com/
Mountain Rose Herbs http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/
Nu Herbs http://www.nuherbs.com/
Spring Wind Herbs https://springwind.com/
Directly from China: Lanzhou Foci Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and the Guangzhou Qixing Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. are companies ranked among the top 1% of medicine manufacturers in all of China.
Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face
Rather than boycotting Chinese herbs, use products from the above-mentioned list of reputable companies and continue to seek out higher quality organic herbal products. Because of the market, these are becoming easier and easier to find. The Chinese herbal tradition is too vastly useful to boycott, and the companies and farmers who are working hard to preserve the quality and purity of Chinese herbs deserve our support.
Many of my readers will have heard that holy basil (also known as tulsi, Ocimum sanctum/tenuiflorum) is the most sacred herb in India.
But did you know that the second most sacred Indian herb is so widespread throughout the world as a noxious weed that even the most dedicated organic gardener might, in a moment of amnesia, look longingly to Monsanto's infamous Roundup for relief?
It is Cynodon dactylon, called durva in Sanskrit and better known as Bermuda grass. According to Hindu belief, while tulsi is sacred to Krishna, durva is sacred to Ganesha. Ganesha is depicted as an elephant and represents the oversoul or "Atman" and is considered "the remover of all obstacles."
Few may have noticed the recent news report of a herd of cows suddenly dying after eating genetically modified (or could we say now, "violated"?) Bermuda grass, specifically Monsanto product "Tifton 85 Bermudagrass." This grass bore an aberrant mutation that emitted cyanide, poisoning the herd it was meant to nourish. If you needed yet another reason to stand up against genetically modified foods based on the very real threat of seriously dangerous genetic mutations, count this report as one.
Besides durva, this herb is also commonly known in Hindi and Urdu as dub, dubra, durba, and budla. Some English names besides Bermuda grass include bahama or kweek grass, couch grass, quack grass, twitchgrass, star grass, and doob grass.
Western herbalists know and use couch grass, Elymus repens, (also known as "dog grass" because when dogs are sick they tend to chew on the leaves). Couch grass is not the same herb as Bermuda grass, but can be used interchangeably with Bermuda grass, and has been in continual usage since ancient Greco-Roman times. Medieval herbalists used it to treat inflamed bladders, painful urination, water retention and for its antiseptic properties. Like its Ayurvedic counterpart, couch grass is used for chronic skin conditions, urinary tract disorders, as well as diabetes, bronchial irritation, mucus, gout and rheumatic conditions. The recommended dose (provided of course it is not tainted with the GMO Tifton 85 Bermudagrass mutation) is 6 to 10 grams of the rhizome and whole herb once or twice daily.
Durva grows wild throughout India and is commonly cultivated as decorative lawns. But here it is regarded as a first-class weed. I'm not sure this article will make many western gardeners or herbalists feel more kindly to this most aggressive and tenacious invasive perennial, but perhaps there is some intellectual satisfaction in recognizing that it evidently has some potent healing properties -- enough to rank it number two in a culture with a rich 3000 year-old botanical tradition. However, just because it is popularly regarded in India as sacred and medicinally potent doesn't mean that it has prominent use in Ayurvedic herbal practice. Perhaps, as we go over what is known scientifically, historically and traditionally about its medicinal properties, as well as its obvious abundance, we will find that it is an herb we should consider more seriously; or maybe it will inspire a renewed healthy respect for the similar healing properties of its relative, couch grass.
Durva contains the hormone precursor sitosterol as well as carotene. In addition, it contains Vitamin C, carotene, palmitic acid, triterpenoides, arundoin, friedelin, selenium vanilinin, alkaloids, ergonovine and ergonovinine. It is high in mucilage. Agropyrene, a volatile oil, contributes to durva's therapeutic antiviral and antibacterial properties, and also caused it to be burned as incense during the middle ages. An alcoholic extract of the whole plant has shown both broad-spectrum antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Properties: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, hypoglycemic, diuretic, antilithic, hypotensive, coagulant antidiabetic, antibiotic, anticancer.
Ayurvedic properties: heavy, cool; astringent and sweet; post-digestive flavor is sweet. Prabhava or special property is to prevent miscarriage.
The whole plant can be used both internally and externally. It is anti-pitta meaning that it is anti-inflammatory. As such, it is classified as being refrigerant, detoxifying, relieves burning, is applied externally for wounds, stops bleeding including nosebleeds, relieves itching, relieves burning hemorrhoids, clears the skin; is used to treat erysipelas, shingles, and urticaria taken internally and applied as a wash, ointment, or poultice externally. A paste of the herb can be mashed with a little hot water and when cool enough applied to the forehead. Durva is also used as an anxiolytic.
Internally the whole plant can be taken as a powder, tincture or tea for dysentery, irritable bowel and Crohn's disease, diarrhea, menorrhagia, uterine bleeding, to prevent abortion and even to promote fetal development. Yes, this is one herb that can and maybe should be taken during pregnancy! After childbirth it is used as a galactagogue stimulating the production of mother's milk.
Overall durva is a good detoxifier but I don't expect that it will become one of the top commercial herbs nor is it likely that a pharmaceutical company will invest the millions of dollars in research to prove its efficacy with the possibility of a new drug, say, for shingles, psoriasis or IBS. It's the same with most medicinal herbs, but for durva up that in spades -- the chance of capitalizing on such a common weed, especially when it has such a wide and diverse range of uses, is like threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.
Being an extremely safe herb, comparable to wheat grass, wheat and other grasses, the therapeutic dose of the alcoholic liquid extract is 2 to 4 teaspoons two or three times daily. One can also powder the dried herb and take is with water or mixed with honey.
Still, doesn't it make you feel a little better about getting your bum off the seat in front of your computer and going out to the garden and hand weeding for the umpteenth time that darned persistent devil grass -- ah, Bermuda grass – oh no, it is durva, the second most sacred herb of India.
Making alcohol from plants is the origin of pharmacy. As such, it became closely associated with ancient doctor-shamans who made herbal medicines preserved in their own self-generated alcohol. In fact, the character yi, meaning "doctor," is often written in a simplified (variant character) form with the addition of the character for “wine.” This not only refers to the potency of the herbs used in making the alcoholic brew, but also the effect of the alcohol itself in creating an altered mental state.
Since ancient times, one of the major cultural achievements of humankind has been the making of alcohol from plants and malted grains. Historically, a wide variety of herbs were used both for their bitter flavor that offset the nasty taste of brews made only with malted barley or other grains, as well as for the intrinsic medicinal effect of the herbs themselves. The use of hops as a flavoring agent for beer began in Germany and only dates back about a 1,000 years spreading throughout beer-brewing regions of Europe over the following 700-800 years.
A little known fact about the use of hops (Humulus lupulus) in beer is that they are picked from the female flower of the vine and they contain a substantial amount of estrogenic compounds that have a sedative effect on both the mind and male libido. Considering the custom of rolling out the barrel for a barrel of fun – sometimes in the form of wild fraternity or sorority shindigs or macho motor cycle club parties, it is truly ironic that what everyone is choosing to get blotto with is an herbal brew that dampens sensuality and induces sleep. Now doesn’t that put a different slant on the significance of having a ‘beer belly?’
But here’s some good news for all you home-brew fanatics looking for an alternative to hops in beer making: a wonderful, concise new book entitled Brew Your Medicine by herbalist and East West student Kristi Shapla is now available. It tells you exactly how to make oftentimes surprisingly delicious non-hop beers from a wide variety of herbs including a variety of commonly available medicinal herbs as well as complex Chinese formulas to relieve depression, increase energy and vitality, including brews that can actually stimulate libido rather than sedate it – if that is what you are looking for. As to the exquisite flavor and consistency of the brews, I and many others who have sampled Kristi’s herbal beer creations, can enthusiastically attest.
The book is only 70 pages in length and yet offers up a short history of beer, good reasons why you might want to try using herbal combinations other than hops, and short chapters outlining everything you need, including the easily obtained equipment, yeast, barley malt extract, and even a recipe for gluten-free beer. With a degree in microbiology, Kristi dedicates an entire chapter entitled “Keeping it Clean” to prevent foreign yeast and microbes insinuating themselves and ruining all of your efforts at making the superior beer.
Really very little is needed to begin brewing herbs such as hawthorn, ginseng, dang gui, burdock, dandelion, cinnamon, ashwagandha and licorice into a tasty, mildly alcoholic beverage. For those who don’t know or have any interest in obtaining a hydrometer used to determine when fermentation is complete, Kristi describes how to use a balloon with a pinhole affixed to the opening of a gallon jug of fermented brew. While it is still fermenting the balloon remains inflated; as soon as fermentation is finished it goes flat and that is when it is time to bottle and cap your finished herbal brew.
Home herbal medicine-makers, this is a bit of a switch: Instead of putting herbs in alcohol (as when making an herbal tincture), you allow the herbs to extract and preserve themselves with the lowest possible ratio of alcohol. This is how ancient doctors mentioned above preserved and made medicine, and it is also how Chinese shamans called Wu Li masters made herbal brews from yarrow, the same herb they used for divination.
Brew Your Medicine by Kristi Shapla is available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Dandelion root and burdock root are my two most commonly prescribed herbs when chronic conditions require anti-inflammatory, blood purifying alteratives for gentle detoxification. This includes conditions such as arthritis and cancer. I’ve studied literally hundreds of herbs from around the world, and considering cost, availability, palatability (no small matter, as people with chronic disease like cancer need to be able to take their herbs at least three times a day for months) – there are probably no two more simple and powerful anticancer herbs on the planet than dandelion and burdock.*
After prescribing both of these in strong dose clinically for years with great results (patients feel better, or experience slowing or even complete remission of some cancers), I learned that many professional British medical herbalists also use the same two-herb combination for conditions requiring blood, lymphatic and liver detoxification.
This does not mean that burdock, dandelion or any single herb is guaranteed to successfully treat all cancers. The same, in fact cannot be said for any conventional medical cancer treatment intervention. It simply means that these herbs are able to enhance organic physiological function optimizing the body’s ability to destroy cancer cells and prevent mutagenic proliferation.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
I routinely prescribe dandelion root along with burdock root, pau d’arco, red clover, barberry root and perhaps some fennel seed for flavor for patients with serious diseases requiring detoxification which would include cancer and other inflammatory-based disease.
Ask any mother who drinks dandelion tea to increase breast milk and you will find that as a galactogogue, dandelion root has a particular affinity for women’s breasts making it useful for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
As a matter of practice, unless a patient is declared terminal and given up on by oncologists, I make it a practice generally to not treat cancer patients unless they are under the direct supervision of an oncologist. So my treatments would be considered ‘complementary.’ This doesn’t prevent patients, on their own, from refusing conventional cancer therapy in favor of herbs. I have had a few clients who have experienced remission from pancreatic and liver cancer that have included dandelion root as part of their protocol.
It’s about time that this ubiquitous herb, the bane of gardeners, is researched. Researchers headed by biochemist Siyaram Pandey at the University of Windsor, Ontario, recently received a total grant of $217,000 to study the effective use of dandelion root extract for the treatment of cancer.
In fact, Pandey’s team has been studying dandelion root extract for nearly two years and has found it to be effective against drug-resistant type blood cancer cells known as chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia, causing them to go into apoptosis – that is, to commit suicide.
Pandey began to study dandelion root after he was approached by oncologist Dr. Caroline Hamm, whose interest was piqued when a number of cancer patients who had been drinking dandelion tea seemed to be getting better.
“To be honest I was very pessimistic,” Pandey said. “She said it could be coincidental but it couldn’t hurt to see if there is anything.”
With all kinds of wild ‘cure’ claims flying around the alternative health industry, I certainly respect Pandey’s initial skepticism regarding dandelion and cancer.
Hamm was convinced that the weed contains an active ingredient, but warned earlier this year that "it can harm as well as benefit."
We all know what healthy skepticism means but maintaining an open mind while remaining skeptical may be more difficult for some to practice than others. The fact is, our knowledge of herbs (and, for that matter, off-label drugs) comes about as a result of someone trying something (guided by faith or science) and finding that it is effective.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Burdock has a long history of use both as a food with the highest level of antimutagenicity and as an herb for a wide range of conditions requiring blood, lymph and liver detoxification. In medieval Germany, Hildegard of Bingen used burdock to treat cancerous tumors. Its use for the treatment of cancer was widespread throughout Europe and China.
Burdock is another herb that warrants scientific research for its anticancer properties. Thus far there are no animal or human studies substantiating its value as an anticancer herb. There is, however, a considerable body of empirical and anecdotal evidence for its value in the treatment of cancer. In vitro studies of burdock have found it to have antineoplastic, antimutagenic and antitumor properties.
For instance it is one of the primary herbs in “Essiac” tea formula used by thousands of cancer patients around the world as an herbal treatment for cancer. It was also one of the herbs in the famous Hoxsey anti-cancer tea formula.
One study conducted in Japan where researchers were screening pharmacologically active substances from extracts of crude drugs for the treatment of cancer found burdock to have ‘antiproliferative and apoptotic’ effects of the lignans from burdock on leukemic cells.
Inulin, a naturally occurring, indigestible and non-absorbable oligosaccharide found in abundance in burdock root has prebiotic and potential anticancer activity. This is based on the ability of inulin to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. By so doing it protects against pathogens, toxins and carcinogens that cause inflammation and cancer. What this means is that burdock root enhances the value of probiotics.
Dandelion and Burdock as Food
Both dandelion leaves and root are food grade herbs. The leaves are used throughout the world as a steamed spring green. The root is dried, lightly toasted, and ground into a powder and can be brewed as an alternative to coffee. You can make your own roasted dandelion root tea by simply purchasing dried cut and sifted dandelion root and lightly toasting it in an open pan on the stove. The same can be done with burdock root.
A wonderful health beverage some might appreciate instead of coffee is a product called “Dandy Blend.” I have no proprietary interest in this product except as a consumer who has used and recommended to others for years. The amount of roasted dandelion in Dandy Blend is probably not enough to treat cancer but it certainly helps in maintaining the blood and liver in a healthier state.
From an herbalist’s perspective these would constitute as pleasantly tasting “bitters.” We need the bitter flavor in our diet for health and the major herb that most people get their ‘bitters’ from is coffee. It is good to include a number of possible mildly bitter but pleasant tasting foods such dandelion root and burdock root as an alternative.
Burdock root is rated at the top of foods comparing them for their antimutagenecity. It is eaten as a popular root vegetable called “gobo” by Japanese people and the fresh root is sometimes found in organic produce markets. For ideas on how to prepare burdock, click here.
To enjoy burdock and dandelion together in a single treat, try Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock Root Soda naturally sweetened with pear juice.
*Dandelion and burdock root are not the only herbs I use. My own personal “Essiac-like” tea combination has these two herbs along with pau d’arco, Oregon grape, and red clover as the basic alterative tea I recommend to most cancer patients. Other than these an important component is the use of medicinal mushrooms and Chinese tonics such a reishi mushroom, coriolus and astragalus root.
According to a medical researcher on the Dr. Oz show, because of the early Spring and prolonged proliferation of windborne pollens, 2012 is supposed to be on track for being one of the worst allergy seasons in recorded history.
Pollen must be sticky in order to adhere to the ovaries of flowers to affect pollination. Unfortunately, this also means that they can adhere to many other things, including the sensitive mucous membranes of the nose, throat and eyes. Whether we react to these as local irritants with symptoms of sneezing, tearing, itchy eyes, and/or scratchy throat depends on a couple of factors. First, our innate constitutional sensitivity based on the Ayurvedic three humours (Kapha, or dampness; Pitta, or heat; and Vata, or dryness) plays a role in how we react to external environmental factors such as pollen. Secondly, the integrity of our immune systems reflects our individual tolerance in terms of how much exposure we can tolerate before we develop any number of allergic reactions.
In this blog, we confine ourselves to the effect of seasonal airborne pollens affecting the upper respiratory system.
Sometimes even experienced medical doctors have trouble distinguishing allergies from colds and flu. The following may help in making the distinction.
Symptoms appear in succession: sneezing, runny nose, congestion
Symptoms occur all at once.
Generally lasts from 7 to 10 days.
Continues for as long as one is exposed to the allergy-causing agent (allergen).
Can be thick yellowish as a result of infection.
Usually clear, thin and watery discharge.
Less common than with allergies.
More common than with colds and usually occurs in cycles of 2 or 3 times in succession.
Time of year:
More often in the winter.
Common in Spring through Fall while plants are pollinating.
May have a fever.
Not usually associated with a fever.
One you’ve made the determination that your symptoms are not due to the common cold or flu you may want to try the following:
Local Bee Pollen
If at all possible try to locate a source of local bee pollen and take one-half to a full teaspoon once a day. This is a very effective way to prevent seasonal allergies by immunizing yourself against local airborne pollens. Very few people have demonstrated a severe adverse reaction and anaphylactic shock to pollen generally and bee pollen in particular. If you know or suspect that you may be allergic, do not ingest bee pollen.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent and treat allergies is the regular morning nasal wash using diluted warm salted water traditionally administered with a neti pot. This clears the accumulated burden of pollens adhering to the nasal mucous membranes that results in paroxysmal sneezing during allergy season. It also washes away germs and viruses that might cause colds and flu.
Mix ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized table salt into a cup of warm water, stirring until it dissolves. Approximately a half cup of the solution is placed into the neti pot which is usually enough to irrigate one nostril. Be sure to dissolve all the salt as any undissolved grains can cause minor irritation.
Begin with one nostril. Tilt your head slightly over the sink or a basin and insert the neti pot spout into the raised nostril. Slowly pour the water into the nostril, allowing it to filter out the opposite lower nostril and into the sink.
After completed, gently blow out the excess water.
Now refilling the neti pot, repeat this same procedure using the other nostril.
Finally, the addition of a pinch of finely powdered herbs to the saline solution for their additional healing benefit can also be employed. For acute sinusitis, one of the best herbs to use is ¼ teaspoon of goldenseal in the neti solution. Goldenseal is a specific tonic and detoxifying agent for the mucous membranes.
In Ayurveda, nasya therapy is the application of oils directly into the nose.
If the nostrils are dry, you can add a few drops of sesame or herbal oil to the neti pot solution to help lubricate the mucus membranes. Or you can first administer the oils directly using an eye dropper before rinsing the nostrils with the neti pot. Anywhere from one to several drops can be placed into each nostril individually and sniffed.
Calamus root powder is commonly used either directly in the neti pot solution or as calamus root oil. This can be purchased or easily made by macerating a teaspoon or two of calamus root powder in warm sesame oil. Heat gently with a low flame for about 45 minutes being sure not to burn the calamus. Allow it to cool and strain through a cloth. Allow this to stand in a small covered container until the clear calamus oil is separated from the settlings at the bottom of the jar. Pour only the clearest oil for us and discard the bottom darker portion. Place into a clean dropper bottle and label.
This does not need to be refrigerated and will last for months. Calamus is one of the best herbs for cleansing and opening the sinuses. It also stimulates the senses, promotes awareness and perception. It is indicated for recovery from stroke to bring back the power of speech and awareness and revive the central nervous system.
For allergies I recommend the regular morning use of calamus oil together with the neti wash.
Triphala and Honey for Irritated Eyes
Itchy, red and irritated eyes is another symptom of allergies. Many over-the-counter and expensive prescription products are on the market for this condition. The herbal world offers just as effective remedies made from triphala and honey.
From ancient times, honey had a special reputation for curing eye disorders. In 350 B.C. Aristotle wrote in section 627a 3 of Historia Animalium that: "White honey . . . is as good as a salve for sore eyes." Honey is also an effective treatment for infected and inflamed eyes.
Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic formula that combines three medicinal fruits that serve as an all around detoxifying agent and tonic. It is taken internally as safe and effective detoxifying formula. Each of the three fruits of triphala balance each of the three Ayurvedic humours respectively and it is one of the oldest and best of all herbal formulas. Triphala has powerful antioxidant properties.
In India from ancient times to the present triphala and honey were considered a virtual panacea for all eye diseases. On one of several trips to Bangalore in southern India, I visited an Ayurvedic hospital located in the middle of the city. People lined up outside special room with doors that opened onto the street to take the few minutes for a honey and triphala eyewash, administered free of charge.
One of the most effective remedies for eyes irritated by allergies is a simple eyewash made by steeping a teaspoon of powdered triphala in a cup of hot water overnight. In the morning, strain this through a cloth and place in a jar near your sink. Fill a small eyecup (easily purchased at a drugstore) with the filtered triphala tea. Fasten it securely over one eye and tilt your head back allowing the solution to fully bathe the eyeball. This could take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Be sure to roll your eye around in the solution. Repeat this same procedure with the opposite eye. Gently wipe away the excess fluid with a soft towel afterward. This treatment cleans out the accumulation of irritating pollens that cause the myriad symptoms of eye allergies.
Honey has many beneficial health uses, but is also a very effective remedy for itchy eyes. Wash your hands thoroughly. Lightly dip your little finger onto the top of a jar of honey. Holding your lid open with the opposite hand, lightly tap a drop of honey directly onto the eyeball. At first it will sting slightly and may even cause your eyes to temporarily appear more inflamed. The stinging in this case is powerfully stimulating blood circulation to the eye. Follow with a plain warm water eyewash or the triphala eyewash previously described.
You will find as others who have worked this into their morning routine that all of the allergic sneezing, itchy eyes will be gone and stay gone throughout the entire day.
Performing this triphala bath and honey treatment regularly once to three times daily strengthens your eyesight, prevents and treats a wide number of eye diseases including cataracts, glaucoma and retina diseases.
Making Your Own Honey Solution for the Eyes
Boil some water or make triphala tea using a teaspoon of triphala powder per cup of water. Allow it to cool to a moderately warm temperature. If making triphala tea, strain through a clean cloth to remove as much particulate matter from the solution as possible. Dissolve one part of honey to 10 parts of the solution (water or tea). The diluted honey water will work alone without the triphala tea but this is added if it is available.
Honey may sting some people’s eyes but this seems to be an individual matter. Whether it briefly stings or not, however, it will cause no harm. In fact, in some countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and India, commercial honey drops for the eyes are available.
Healing Secrets of Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley (Lotus Press)
In its February-April 2012 issue, HerbalGram, one of the most reputable and distinguished journals in the world on all things herbal, published a definitive article: "The Regulated Dietary Supplement Industry: Myths of an Unregulated Industry Dispelled" by R. William Soller, PhD, Holly J. Bayne, Esq. and Christopher Shaheen. It is intended, and I think aptly succeeds, to dispel as myth the frequent accusations by respected medical pundits that the dietary and herbal supplement industry is unregulated.
To reinforce the thesis of this article I offer my own summary and views on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) and how this industry is regulated, including the effects of California's Proposition 65 on the regulation of herbs sold in California based on state law, distinct from federal requirements. Finally I offer my own view that what most critics really mean when they say "unregulated" is that the dietary and herbal supplement industry is not regulated like drugs.
On the face of it, it is absurd to say that an expanding $61 billion per year dietary supplement industry would have no regulatory standards.
(While there were regulations of the health supplement industry before the passing of DSHEA in 1994 by the 103rd session of Congress, and some of these are still relevant, for all practical purposes this blog refers to post-DSHEA regulations.)
DSHEA marked a turning point in the U.S. of a prolonged period of repression of dietary supplements and herbs by federal authorities under the aegis of the FDA. It is important when assessing the present state to appreciate that DSHEA passed as a result of the greatest write-in campaign in history. It represented a major defeat of the increasingly repressive policies of the FDA and its director at that time, David Kessler.
It didn't make any difference what party one belonged to, the vast majority of people of all political parties, class and demographic allegiance wanted more open access to health supplements.
To pass a bill into law is one thing, but it can take years before enforcement policies and procedures are in place. In this case we were dealing with a federal agency that had just suffered a major political referendum in the polls. So by circumstance or design, during the first few years it appeared that the FDA was not doing its job or was in the process of regearing to execute their new enforcement responsibilities.
Instead of appeasing critics' complaints that dietary supplements are an unregulated industry, they modified their complaint from "no regulation" to the FDA lacking sufficient enforcement powers. The fact is that for the first several years after the passage of DSHEA it appeared that the stunned FDA did seem to abrogate its enforcement obligations which further fanned the derogatory criticisms of an unregulated industry. The Herbalgram article points out a suspicion of many that "the FDA chose a regulatory posture of studied inertia, hoping that wildcat fringe marketers would cause an implosion of the industry as a whole."
The Ma Huang Ephedra Debacle
Some believe that the FDA was lax in the early years of DSHEA to allow the natural supplements industry to hang itself. This almost happened with the following scandal that occurred soon after the bill passed.
Ma huang (Ephedra sinica) is a medicinal herb known to contain pseudoephedrine alkaloids that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. There are many species of ephedra throughout the world but only the Asian and Chinese species contain enough of the ephedrine alkaloid that is a sympathetic nervous system stimulant (speed). The American species, E. nevadensis et al., also known as "Mormon tea" either contains none or only minute amounts.
In 1997, the serious side effects from the abuse of ma huang prompted the FDA to propose a ban under DSHEA's "significant or unreasonable" risk safety standard to propose a ban on products containing 8 mg or more of ma huang. It further mandated that companies selling products containing ma huang state the possible health risks such as heart attack, stroke or death on the labels of their goods.
Because of the amount of money already coming from the sales of these diet products, the companies banded together to create the Ephedra Education Council. Metabolife alone spent more than $4 million between 1998 and 2000 lobbying against state regulation of ma huang in Texas. Business Week reported that efforts to regulate ma huang and other potentially harmful supplements had been "beaten down by deep-pocketed industry lobbying."
The legal wrangling between the supplement industry and the FDA took place over a three-year period. This further served to fan the flame of criticism and complaints by opponents who saw industry tie up the FDA in legal battles while ongoing reports of injuries and adverse events from the use of their products were registered. Metabolife alone received 14,000 complaints of adverse reactions which resulted in the co-founder of Metabolife being sentenced to six months in federal prison for failure to submit these reports to the FDA as mandated by DSHEA.
Thus, a multimillion-dollar legal resistance coupled with a weakened and lax FDA prevented the enforcement of any regulations set in place by DSHEA.
The final nail in the ma huang abuse coffin was when Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died of complications from heatstroke in 2003. The medical examiner deduced that ephedra toxicity played a "significant role" in Bechler's sudden death. As a result, Congress dropped all of its objections to an ephedra ban and demanded action from FDA.*
Notably absent was any comment from the community of U.S. herbalists, either individually or through the then fledgling professional organization, the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), regarding the dangerous abuse of ma huang by the supplement industry.
In short, the FDA initially recommended a reasonable solution by limiting the amount of ma huang in a product to 8 mg. Failure of cooperation by the dietary supplement industry united under their professional organization, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), led Congress to demand that the FDA intervene. The result is that neither ma huang nor any ephedrine alkaloids are allowed to be added to dietary supplements.
At present, ma huang seems to be available only in crude whole form and only to licensed Chinese herbalists. The FDA also will not allow the herb to enter through U.S. docks directly from China, though the importing relationship with Taiwan may be different. Other botanicals also containing ephedrine alkaloids, such as bitter citrus peel, are being closely watched by the FDA.
Brief Overview of DSHEA Regulations
The purpose of DSHEA was to create a class for dietary supplements that was neither food nor drug.
The claims that can be made on the labels of dietary supplements and drugs are different. Drug manufacturers may claim that their product can diagnose, cure, relieve, treat or prevent a disease. Dietary supplements or food products cannot claim to cure a specific named disease and may only contain three types of claims: a health claim, nutrient content claim, or structure and function claim. A health claim is based on the relationship between a food, food component, or dietary supplement ingredient and a possible reduction in risk of a disease or health-related condition. All ingredients must be specified on the label with nutrient content describing the relative amount of a nutrient or dietary substance in a product. All structure and function claims are statements that describe how a product may affect the organs or systems of the body without mentioning any specific disease.
Structure and function claims do not require FDA approval but the manufacturer must provide FDA with the text of the claim within 30 days of putting the product on the market. Product labels containing such claims must also include a disclaimer that reads, "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."
Under DSHEA, the FDA has the power to withdraw any product based on whether it is illegally adulterated or poses a "significant or unreasonable" risk.
The bill includes provisions for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to be gradually phased in. This has been occurring over the last five years.
If the political events of recent years have shown us anything they have shown that 1. No one who is succeeding in the market wants to be regulated; and 2. Regulations are needed to protect the consumer from the excesses of the marketplace as well as to uphold the integrity of the companies and individuals who are being regulated. So in a word, recent years have been a period of reassessment of the value of regulations in all areas including the dietary supplement and herb industry. The most counterproductive thing that we can do now is to continue to energize the "us against them" stance that could slow down any progress toward benefits for all.
California's Proposition 65
Besides federal regulations, state regulations play an important role in the commerce of herbs.
Ever wonder what the little sticker on an herbal product that says "this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm" means? Does it really mean that if you knowingly take this product intended for your health, you a placing yourself at risk of getting cancer or giving birth to a two-headed baby? The short answer is, absolutely not. The controversial bill became law in 1986 as "the clean air and water bill." It was originally intended to protect consumers from exposure to chemical and industrial contaminants.
Opportunistically, a San Francisco legal consortium has made it their mission to test herbal products sold in the state of California to see if they are compliant mostly in terms of heavy metal content, with the provisions of Proposition 65. Some heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic and lead are toxic and serve no health function. Others such as zinc and iron are essential for health. Heavy metals are ubiquitous. Some are naturally occurring, while others are toxic byproducts from industrial waste. Plants have the ability to take these and other minerals up from the soil and in some cases transmute them into less toxic forms.
This is very different from the presence of heavy metals in water and air from which no one can escape. Conventional foods and municipal aters were exempted from Prop 65 based on municipalities setting their own limits and the FDA establishing limits for foods prior to Prop 65. While herbal supplements are tested in parts per million (GMP, USDA standards for heavy metals), Prop 65 standards as it applies to water and air is in parts per billion. Organic produce, including infant foods would also fail to meet these standards. Yet, the food and produce lobbyists founds ways around putting stickers on all of our apples, oranges and carrots. In short, foods and products that may contain high amounts of heavy metals and contaminants may not have these stickers on them, leading the consumer to assume that they are relatively safe, while other companies who were probably sued into adding these stickers to their labeling may actually contain much less heavy metal contamination in their products than stickerless ones.
Prop 65 also included a clause that if a company has fewer than a certain amount of employees (around 10), they are not required to comply with this privately regulated sticker warning campaign.
In order for an herbal company to be compliant with Proposition 65 it has the following options: 1. Actually seek out herbs that have heavy metals within the allowable range; 2. Be able to prove that the metals contained in the herbs are not from industrial waste but are naturally occurring; 3. Place the embarrassing Proposition 65 warning sticker on the label; or 4. Not sell their products in the state of California.
The last option poses a dilemma because California has by far the largest consumer base for dietary and herbal supplements in the country. To choose to not distribute products in California risks a company losing significant market share.
What this means for the manufacturer is that they must be able to invest in expensive in-house testing equipment, hire and train employees, and test every new batch of herbs that comes into the company.
Even California's Attorney General has expressed disapproval with how this law is being abused but so far attempts to change it have failed. Imagine trying to pass a bill that would either exempt herbal companies from Proposition 65 or that would somehow raise the allowed percentage of heavy metals in herbs intended to be used in products.
The only positive thing this demonstrates is the quality based on the low content of heavy metals of compliant herbal products sold in California.
Why Supplements and Herbs Are Not Regulated Like Drugs
When some accuse the dietary and herbal supplement industry of being unregulated, what they really mean is that they are not regulated like drugs. Because this would be costly and impractical and ultimate mean that these products might no longer be available is the raison d'etre of DSHEA.
Following are five reasons herbs and dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are regulated:
1. Herbs exist in the public domain. To subject them to mandatory pharmaceutical-type regulations would remove the majority of herbal ingredients from the market. It is inconceivable to think of the hundreds, even thousands, of medicinal herbs and the decades it would take to subject each of these to the seven years of research and clinical trials on average that it takes before each of them could achieve legal drug status. During this time, these herbs presumably would not be available for use. It's a huge, unnecessary undertaking.
2. Herbs have a long history of safe use in contrast to pharmaceuticals, which are made from scratch in a lab, never existed before, and have no history of public use. Approximately a third of all pharmaceuticals are still derived or synthesized from plants. Pharmaceutical drugs seek to extract or synthesize only a single biochemical molecule out of thousands to create a drug. The concentration of a single extracted or synthesized chemical derived from a plant and given without the presence of the others has a different effect. Therefore these concentrated and isolated chemicals should be treated as a drug.
3. There is a large degree of safety with the majority of common herbal ingredients that are on the market relative to pharmaceuticals. There are only a very small number of herbs that are poisonous or toxic and these are infrequently used by herbalists these days.
4. No one will pay $750 million to prove chamomile is a good digestive aid.
5. Herbs do not pose the same risk as artificial hearts and should not be regulated in the same way.
The often-heard claim that the dietary and herbal supplement industry is unregulated is untrue. The more relevant claim that it is not regulated the same way as pharmaceutical drugs is true, the implications of imposing the same standards of regulation of drugs on dietary and herbal supplements seems unreasonable to say the least.
Finally, all people have the right to pursue whatever any avenue of healing they choose. The fundamental reason that there is a need for more than one approach to health and healing is because each has inherent limitations.
*Review of Ephedra and Heatstroke in Athletes
Bailes J, Cantu R, Day A. The neurosurgeon in sport: awareness of the risks of heatstroke and dietary supplements Neurosurgery. 2002;51(2):283-288. "The authors of this report blame the supposed 'deregulation' of dietary supplements under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) for the increasing heat-related injuries among athletes. While acknowledging that '(m)ost recent heatstroke deaths have been in very large athletes who were starting their conditioning in very hot, humid conditions, sometimes in an attempt to lose weight,' they place much of the responsibility on 'a multibillion dollar industry that is subject to little or no government control or oversight with regard to the purity, consistency, potency, drug interaction, and potential side effects of its products.' The ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban products or ingredients which it finds hazardous and the history of FDA attempts to ban or limit sales of ephedra-containing products are not mentioned, and it is left to some of the professional and university level sports trainers and doctors who comment on this article to point out the responsibility of individual athletes to use reasonable caution in selecting dietary supplements."
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the added health benefits of fiber, vitamins and minerals of whole grains, most traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic doctors recommend eating white rather than whole brown rice. This is not just a consequence of centuries of European colonialism in Asia favoring all things white -- white skin, white flour and white rice. It's generally understood that despite the superior nutrition of brown rice, white rice is the easiest to digest.
Nineteenth-century industrialism in the West brought significant advances in milling rice and flour, but even centuries before that, people had the ability to make white flour and partially polished rice. In fact, in medieval Europe white flour was preferred over brown, if for no other reason than the fact that a dishonest miller could more easily adulterate brown flour with sawdust.
Personally, I have always favored whole grains over refined. Undoubtedly this was based on the years of my being a proponent of the macrobiotic diet, featuring the 10-day brown rice diet that was advocated as a virtual panacea for all physical, mental and spiritual ills by George Ohsawa, Michio Kushi, Hermann Aihara and the late Japanese herbalist Naboro Muromoto.
Like many, I found myself conflicted with my respected teachers, Dr. Miriam Lee in traditional Chinese medicine, and Baba Hari Das in Ayurveda and yoga. Like all other traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic doctors, they mentioned repeatedly that it is not what we eat but what we are able to digest that counts and they felt that compared with brown rice, white rice was far easier to digest and assimilate.
When told how rich in nutrients brown rice was compared to white, Dr. Lee used to say, "Just add a little meat to (the white rice)." In fact, the amount of nutrients in either brown or white rice is generally low. Pellagra or beri beri, a nutritional deficiency disease seen in people who primarily depended on rice for their sustenance, rose when advanced industrial milling in the 1800s brought about an exclusive diet of white rice. The wealthy who ate white rice along with animal proteins and other foods remained unaffected from this disease, but the poor suffered and died from it.
The only traditional folk preference based on the use of brown rice I've heard of was shared by a former long-time Japanese shiatsu therapist, Shinzo Fujimaki who related how when growing up in a village in Japan, whenever there was any sickness in his family his mother would automatically make brown rice and miso soup.
Digestibility Problems with Brown Rice and Other Grains
So what is it about rice along with other whole grains, seeds and nuts that makes them difficult to digest? They contain a number of compounds in their bran called phytins and phytic acid collectively described as antinutrient factors (ANF). This is especially true of whole wheat, which has considerably more ANF than the bran of brown rice, corn, oats or buckwheat. Apart from the tendency of the coarse bran of whole grains tending to wear down the teeth, phytins are also known to prevent the absorption of important minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.
Phytins in brown rice include trypsin, a pancreatic proteolitic enzyme that is needed to break down protein in grains; oryzacstatin, another protease inhibitor that interferes with the breakdown of protein in rice; and haemagglutinin, which prevents the absorption of carbohydrates through the walls of the intestines. In nature, these serve as protection from insect and animal predators, and in some instances by blocking digestive assimilation so that some of the seeds are defecated whole, able to germinate and take root elsewhere.
Some people with markedly strong digestion and metabolism may not notice any digestive problems caused by rice or other foods. However, the aging process includes a gradual cooling of metabolism leading to increased food sensitivities, allergies and other diseases that can be attributed to progressive digestive decline. Considering all of this, it's no wonder that all traditional healing systems claim that disease begins in the stomach.
A paper published in Japan comparing the differences and effects between milled and brown rice described the following: "Digestibility and balance studies in Japanese adults on brown rice and milled rice diets at low (0.5 g/kg) and standard (1.2 g/kg) protein intakes showed a higher energy, protein and fat digestibility for milled rice (Miyoshi et al., 1986), (Table 38). Neutral detergent fibre intake was at least twice as high in the brown rice diet."
Neutralizing the effect of phytins
The following are ways to utilize the superior nutritional benefits of whole grains while lessening or eliminating the harmful phytins.
Michio Kushi and macrobiotics suggest chewing each mouthful of brown rice 50 times.
The simplest method is to presoak all grains, seeds and nuts up to 24 hours, replacing the water before cooking.
Pressure cooking can break down the indigestible elements in whole grains and legumes.
Herbalist Todd Caldecott, author of Food as Medicine, favors fermented rice and grains. He writes that rice in India was traditionally soaked and fermented before cooking. This seems to agree with Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, who claims that "Our ancestors, and virtually all pre-industrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes, and casseroles." She then cites specific dishes in India, namely idlis and dosas, as valid examples.
Todd describes a process of neutralizing most of the antinutrient factors (ANFs) by fermenting cereals and legumes to enhance their digestion and assimilation. His description is as follows: "Soak the nut, seed, grain or legume in water for 24 hours at approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside 10% of the soaking water after draining. Repeat this the next day with fresh ingredients, adding the reserved soaking water." Repeat each time you make rice. The fourth round results, according to him, in a culture that can reduce ANFs such as phytic acid by 96% within 24 hours of soaking. He cautions that while the ANFs are radically reduced, other components such as lectins still require cooking for optimal digestion.
For a longer explanation, visit here.
Hatsuga genmai is a germinated unpolished brown rice. Besides neutralizing the antinutrients in the form of phytic acid, it increases the levels of certain nutrients such as y-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The process of germination creates a softer texture than brown rice and a wonderful fragrance. It retains all the benefits of brown rice and is presently gaining in popularity in Japan as a health food. (If you're interested in germinating at home, here is a link to a brown rice germinator you can buy.)
Anyone who is an ardent fan of whole grains and brown rice but also enjoys eating sushi is likely to have had to "˜suck up' any reservations they may have when their favorite sushi rolls are served with pasty, sticky sushi rice. I recently learned that instead of the nutritionally denuded sushi rice you can opt for a compromise and even show a bit of Japanese sophistication by asking for half milled rice called Haigamai or incompletely milled rice called Kinemai. These forms of rice have had the bran removed but not the highly nutritious germ or embryo.
The Virtues of Brown Rice
Properly prepared brown rice is one of the most biochemically-balanced foods. Its slight acidity is easily neutralized by the addition of a small pinch of salt in the cooking water. There is great therapeutic value to the 10-day brown rice fast so long as it combines legumes in the form of presoaked beans to make a more complete protein.
I have found brown rice to be the most useful food for practically every disease. It is generally antiallergenic, antihyper- and hypoglycemic, making it one of the best foods for regulating blood sugar which is one of the reasons one can feel a sense of peace and centeredness after consuming a bowl of brown rice. It also has potent anti-arthritic and anticancer properties. Because of its diuretic properties, only those who have a tendency toward frequent urination might want to determine how much and when to consume brown rice.
Rice prepared as congee (a slow-cooked watery rice porridge), alone or with the addition of vegetables, herbs or small amount of meat, is the basic therapeutic diet used by traditional Chinese doctors, and is suitable for those with weak digestion. In India a similar dish called kichari is routinely recommended by Ayurvedic doctors and in my own clinic for nearly all diseases. Like congee, kichari admits of an infinite number of variations including the addition of vegetables to form a kind of stew.
In the end, I consider the admonitions against brown rice to be appropriate for those with weak digestion or recuperating from serious illness. Presoaked or fermented brown rice, with most of the phytins neutralized is the most wholesome for regular consumption.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, pages 428 "“ 430.
Genmai: Brown Rice for Better Health, Eiwan Ishida
Rice and the Ten Day Rice Diet by Lennie Richards and Al Bauman
The Book of Jook by Bob Flaws, Blue Poppy Press