I once had to introduce myself as a teacher at an American Herbalists Guild conference by identifying my favorite herb. Now, I have to say that I hate this type of public pop quiz where I have to make a split decision, but even more, how could I name just one favorite herb?
I finally settled on three herbs.
"Really good," I thought before I took to the podium, "to name only three."
Originally dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was my favorite herb. In my youth I just couldn't resist those beautiful seed blossoms. For me, dandelion is an herb of transformation: the yellow flower shifting to a white puff of seeds that blow to other places and plant anew. It's such a wonderful metaphor for how each of us changes and grows and how our choices, decisions and actions spread afar to influence others (whether we know it or not).
I even made dandelion wine – twice - inspired in my early twenties by the book Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. (Surprisingly, the Ohio blossoms made a better wine than the Tahoe ones, but that could just have been me.) Then during my early herbal days when I subscribed to the Western idea of cleanse, cleanse, cleanse, I used dandelion often – too often.
So after that, dang gui (Angelica sinensis) became my favorite herb. After all that over-cleansing with dry, bitter dandelion, my blood had become deficient (even if dandelion root is high in iron, it still 'dries' the blood unless combined with something moistening and high in iron, like molasses, which I didn't know at that time).
Besides, I needed dang gui's warming energy to counteract the cooling vegetarian diet I had eaten for almost 20 years. I had finally learned that rigid and righteous mental beliefs don't usually serve our bodies and can dry out our thoughts and perspectives, too.
But later in life, Salvia miltiorriza became my favorite herb. Also known as dan shen, Chinese sage or red sage root, this herb is one incredible plant!
It's a fabulous blood-moving herb, one with a cool energy versus so many of those with a warm energy. This cooling energy makes Chinese sage more widely applicable, even in conditions of Blood and Yin deficiency.
Among S. miltiorrhiza's indications are the following:
- It supports cardiovascular system health.
- It promotes healthy circulation.
- It helps maintain skin health.
- It provides comfort for various menstrual issues.
- It calms the spirit.
- Furthermore, it is a neuroprotective, hepatoprotective and antioxidant.
Wow! What more could be asked of one herb?
Perhaps Salvia miltiorrhiza's most celebrated use is for the support of cardiovascular health. In fact, it is such a supreme cardiovascular herb that it is one of the most relevant and useful herbs for people aged 40 and up. I once gave red sage root to an older woman with severe chest pains. They cleared immediately. She continued to use it for chest pain after that and received the same results every time.
Another time I gave it to a woman with such intense, fixed, stabbing menstrual pain that she nearly passed out. When she took a tablespoon of the tincture every 15 minutes, the pain quickly subsided and then disappeared.
Another woman had sudden red skin spots, insomnia and felt hot. After she took red sage root, all three symptoms cleared.
In today's drug-ridden world there is one major caution to using S. miltiorrhiza, though: those on Coumadin (or any other blood-thinner) should have their doctors monitor and regulate that medication when starting on red sage root since it strongly moves the blood and may potentiate the effects of any blood-thinning medications. (As Michael once said: "Rather than using meds and being cautious about herbs, use herbs and be cautious about meds.") For the same reason, it is best not to use red sage root during menses as it may cause excessive bleeding.
With all these marvelous gifts, it's no wonder that salvia (this includes all sages, but of course I mean red sage in particular) was given its name, for it comes from the Latin word salus, meaning "healthy" for its healing or preserving qualities, and "safe" since it protects from harm, injury or damage.
Chinese sage has certainly bestowed many of its blessings on me and for that, I give ongoing thanks. It may not save me from further public pop herbal quizzes, yet I do expect Salvia miltiorrhiza's multiple gifts and salus properties to help more and more people in the future.