Michaels Blog

Michaels Blog

Herbal, health and inspired life ramblings

 

Christopher Hobbs Christopher Hobbs needs no introduction to the herb world. If you have even the faintest spark of interest in herbs, you should know of him. I can’t even begin to count his many achievements, the number of books he’s written on herbal healing, yet he remains one of the humblest, most likable people I know and I’m proud to say, one of my closest and dearest friends. It seems like we have shadowed, competed, shared and walked this wondrous way of herbs with each other for decades. He is one of only a few colleagues I turn to when I have a question about a plant, founding the American Herbalists Guild, sharing our love of Mahler, art music, jazz, or life. I count the two or three years that I spent working with him side by side in my clinic, on patients together, as one of the happiest…
The most widely used Chinese herbal formula comes with the boastful name, “Curing Pills.” In North America and Europe any herbal preparation with such a name would be viewed with the same humorous disdain as “”snake oil” was during the 19th century in North America. (Though if the real “snake oil” might have been an echinacea root preparation, also popularly called “snakeroot,” used by the Sioux Indians and early settlers to treat cold, flu, infection, inflammation, and even venomous bites and stings, one would be justified in considering it a virtual “cure-all.”) “Curing Pills”! Such a name is bound to tickle any Western rationalist’s mind as incredulous. Still, the name “Curing Pills” could only arise in a population that culturally had or has a deep respect for the healing power for herbs, something people in the West have lost or are in the process of regaining. “Cures what?” you might…
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a little spot on our head that we could tap to clear our mind of troublesome thoughts, fears, anxieties or mental garbage whenever we needed? Or how about another spot to foster higher consciousness? In fact, such spots do exist. These used to be part of a ritual that enlightened masters performed with and on their disciples as part of “opening the third eye.” The third eye is located on your forehead directly between your eyes. In yoga it is known as Ajna chakra, one of the most important points for concentration, and corresponds to the pineal gland. In Chinese medicine it is an extra, non-meridian point called Yin Tang which translates as “Hall of Impression.” Acupuncturists commonly needle this point for calming the mind, allaying anxiety, nervous agitation, insomnia as well as treating sinus congestion and frontal headache. Taoist priests regard…
One of my favorite movies, Where the Wild Lilies Bloom (1974), tells the story of a family of five Appalachian children who use herbal folk healing they learned from their widower father who recently passed away. Not wanting to be separated and adopted out, they developed a reputation of healers by relieving a neighbor’s bad case of pneumonia by immersing him in a tub of filled with hot water and chopped raw onions until the desperate fellow broke a sweat. After that, his fever passed and he got well. The principle behind this depiction of true Appalachian folk medicine, to break a sweat, happens to be the best way to cure a cold or flu. The method was certainly espoused by the famous iconoclastic 19th-century doctor Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), whose popularity at the time earned him the title, ‘the father of American herbalism.’ He learned of the value of sweating…
Michael Tierra applies cups to a patient with severe back pain at the East West Free Clinic in Santa Cruz. We have encountered many extreme acute chronic conditions among the homeless population that we’ve treated. The most common involve pain due to trauma or metabolic imbalance. Naturally enough, other common conditions perhaps just as prevalent are depression, anxiety and manic, bipolar disturbance. Rheumatic and arthritic conditions are described in Traditional Chinese Medicine as Bi Zheng disease which includes a wide variety of back and joint pains. While diet and herbal therapy provide nutrients and healing at a deep level and ultimately provide the most lasting results, various physical therapies such as needling, bleeding, scraping, cupping, moxibustion and medicated oil massage offer the most immediate relief. This case was that of a homeless man, who had several laminectomies and possibly a disk fusion over a portion of his lower back in…
As we continue this blog series on Yin Deficiency (with Heat), I want to make clear that the description of Heat hereby discussed is confined to the organic pattern of Heat and not the description of the external contraction of Heat in terms of communicable bacterial and viral diseases. This was developed by Ye Tian Xi (17th century) with the Four Levels of warm disease. There is a similarity between the two types of Heat but the greatest difference is that warm disease (Wen Bing) occurs as a result of an externally contracted pathogen while the category of Heat described here is one that develops from diet, stress and lifestyle. Linear or goal-oriented thought processes are usually the basis of Western thought and medical science, but Traditional Chinese Medicine is much more complex. It is based on a circular understanding of the universe where everything returns to its source before…
Heat is an extremely common condition in Traditional Chinese Medical Diagnosis. In Ayurveda Heat can be described as pitta and there are two broad classifications: Pitta prakriti describes a constitutional predisposition of a normal pitta condition from birth. This is distinguished from Heat or inflammatory disease described as pitta vikruti which is an abnormal inflammatory or pitta condition. Western herbalism doesn’t differentiate individuals from a constitutional predisposed state and describes only inflammation with little differentiation in terms of treatment, unless one delves into the older texts which describe excess heat as sthenic and deficient heat as asthenic. In a personal correspondence with Giovanni Maciocia about this, he wanted to be sure that I emphasize that Heat is not the same as what is currently described as ‘inflammation.’ Inflammation is a kind of Heat, but the distinction is that while TCM “Heat” is caused by Qi Stagnation, it is broader in…
In desperation, a family with strong ‘old world’ roots brought to my office their beloved father, a humble Italian man who was diagnosed at Stanford hospital with late stage pancreatic cancer. He only spoke Italian and thus required one of his relatives to be present with the doctors and subsequently with me over the course of the following year of my weekly treatments with him. Needless to say, this was an inconvenience, but perhaps a small blessing in disguise — because it forced him to rely more on his faith rather than on intellect. He was given three months to live The Stanford doctors strongly recommended a bile duct resection as standard palliative care protocol for lessening pain. After hearing about the operation the Stanford doctors wanted to perform on him, he politely responded in broken English, “Thank you but no thank you.” The next day his family, many of…
Can the claims of traditional herbal medicine be substantiated scientifically? Because trials are expensive and because there is no profit in sight for researching and bringing to market anything that anyone can find or grow in nature, scant studies are available. However, papers do exist that in many instances demonstrate a medically scientific basis to support ancient theories and claims. Recently, a research paper popped up on Medline addressing the validity of the fundamental ways Chinese herbs are classified. It is my belief that whatever can be applied to Chinese herbs should be extrapolated to herbs from other cultures and traditions such as European and North American herbalism. It is nearly universal that herbs are classified according to their heating and cooling properties, meaning their basic ability to stimulate or sedate metabolism. If someone is in a low state, cold, tired, weak and regardless of the named disease they may…
Mention “noni” (Morinda citrifolia) to anyone who has tasted the fermented fruit, and the conversation is over. Some people would rather die than have to ingest fermented -- a polite word for ‘rotten’ -- noni juice, regardless of the well-supported claims of miraculous healing attributed to this humble fruit. After visiting the island of Kauai once or twice a year for over 30 years where noni trees grow wild everywhere, I know too well the rotten smell of its fruit lying around the base of the trees. Hawaiian people put noni fruit in a jar, where they let it liquefy and ferment in the sun for a few days. They sip the resulting juice and even bring it to their loved ones battling serious diseases in the hospital. Despite knowing this, after experiencing the disgusting smell and taste I completely rejected it. So what if noni was one of the…
East West Free Clinic herbalists Maureen Flash, Erin Massengale, Michael McEvoy, Beverly Jennings. I have always had the desire to be of service to the poor and indigent in our community, but was never quite sure how to incorporate that into my life, given all my other commitments as both an herbalist, acupuncturist, author, teacher, formulator, gardener, and musician. I was afraid of beginning something that I might not be willing, or able, to follow through with. Then, at the American Herbalists Guild annual herbal symposium, I met some friends and colleagues who I respect; 7Song and Lorna Mauney-Brodek of www.herbalista.org, who inspired me to try to create such an offering with my students in our local community. In July 2014, Lesley and I began providing free monthly herb classes for local East West students. Most of these students were at the foundation or intermediate level when we started. We…
It is well known that oils of aromatic herbs which include all the mints, lemon balm and sage serve the function of putting up a protective barrier to plants against infective agents such as bacteria and viruses. In recent years research has given scientific credence to the possibility that this effect can be imparted to lessening the severity and frequency of viral infective diseases in humans. Recently I've come across of couple of herb news headlines regarding the use of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and other lamiaceae (mint) family herbs to treat herpes. Many herbalists already know that virucidal extracts of lemon balm have been repeatedly reported to effectively treat herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) which are common ulcerative cold sores and type 2 (HSV-2) which is classified as the most common sexually transmitted disease affecting human male and female genitalia. In one study of 116 people with HSV1,…
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…
A much-touted recent investigation by the New York State Attorney general’s office claimed national store brand herbal supplements sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart in fact did not contain the herbs shown on their labels. Instead they found such things as mustard, wheat, radish and other substances. All four stores were given cease-and-desist letters demanding that they stop selling a number of these supplements. It was claimed that few of the products investigated were found to contain the herbs on the labels and many may have contained potential allergens that were not identified on the list. According to the New York Times, the letters stated that “contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers.” The American Botanical Council (ABC) quickly issued a rejoinder to the action of the NY AG in a press release “ABC Says New…
When the little bluebird Who has never said a word Starts to sing Spring When the little bluebell At the bottom of the dell Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong When the little blue clerk In the middle of his work Starts a tune to the moon up above It is nature that is all Simply telling us to fall in love. And that's why birds do it, bees do it Even educated fleas do it Let's do it, let's fall in love! -- from "Let's Do It" by Cole Porter The lyrics above and sprinkled throughout this text are from the wonderful collection of tastefully uninhibited Cole Porter songs performed by some of the greatest artists of bygone years, entitled "The Cole Porter Songbook." If love and romance were meant only for Valentine's Day, all our babies would be born in November. Luckily, amore is in season all…
My last two blog posts attempted to answer two questions: 1. Is it really necessary for all or even the majority of the 18 million people who are eliminating all wheat and gluten from their diet to do so? 2. Are the adverse reactions to certain foods including those containing gluten that people are claiming to have really due to an old condition scientifically recognized in the early 20th century and known as dysbiosis – bacterial gut imbalance? The questions were spurred on by my personal feelings of “another condition that is supposed to be the cause of all or at least most of the ills and afflictions of mostly members of the middle-to-upper class who can afford to embark on another cure-all diet craze.” Given that all the focus is on gluten sensitivity, one good thing is that it likely is uncovering more of the large numbers of people…
An old method my mother used to prevent my catching airborne colds and flus was to go to the pharmacy and purchase a camphor cube, which she would wrap in a thin muslin cloth and pin inconspicuously to the upper part of my undergarment. As a preschool and lower school kid, I was sent off to school wearing this and I only barely understood what it was for. I do remember that whenever I was wearing it, I never caught a cold or flu. Asafetida was also similarly used. Bruised garlic can be used as well, but then your child would be immensely unpopular! But you don't have to use these old odoriferous methods of cold and flu prevention on your own family. The herbs described in my last post do a much better job. Seasonal dietary additions like the ones below also go a long way to warding off…
12/1/2014 In my 40 years of involvement as an herbalist in the natural health movement, I’ve seen a panoply of questionable diets, wonder-cures and pseudo-diseases (what herbalist, David Winston calls “disease du jour”) for which there are always ready and willing numbers of experts to vent their theories and assumptions for the many hapless people who think they’ve “got it.” The most recent condition to hit the news is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) responsible for the ‘gluten-free’ diet craze, the bane of chefs and cooks everywhere, which has swept the nation. True celiac disease, which affects anywhere from 1 to 6 percent of the population (depending on the source), is an incurable disease that can only be managed with total abstinence from all glutinous grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) lies in a grey area depending only on individual subjective complaints, with no reliable medical…
Gluten sensitivity and the TCM Spleen The unique concept of the ‘Spleen’ in TCM encompasses far more than the standard Western physiological organ. The TCM Spleen is a Yin organ whose function is described as “transformation and transportation.” What is transformed is food, air and water and these are transported via the blood stream to all the cells of the body. The Spleen represents the innate metabolic potential enabling deep level transformation of food and assimilation of energy. The Stomach, the Spleen’s Yang counterpart, is responsible for “ripening and rotting” or the initial stages of digestion. Spleen Yang is similar to the Ayurvedic concept of “agni” in that it is metabolic fire that is responsible for digestion and blood circulation. Spleen Qi is responsible for the production of daily functional energy, the result of healthy digestion. Spleen function extends to the production of ATP by mitochondria in the cells –…
Like garlic, cayenne pepper (Capsicum annum) is one of those rude, crude herbs that has staunch friends and enemies. Regarded as a virtual panacea by many, others find themselves irritated and annoyed by its hot spiciness. Among herbalists there are “cayenne doctors” who extol its benefits for just about every disease known to man and still others who turn their irritated noses up at it, deeming it unworthy for serious consideration as a healing agent. I became aware of the healing power of cayenne pepper when attending my first ever lecture on herbal medicine in 1970, given by the late great herbalist John Raymond Christopher. In those days, Dr. Christopher was like the lone voice for herbal medicine on the North American continent that had all but completely abandoned its deep herbal medicine roots. It was the first of a weekend series of classes that Dr. Christopher happened to be…
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