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Michaels Blog

Michaels Blog

Herbal, health and inspired life ramblings

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe the traditional Ayurvedic formula called Triphala is the greatest single herbal formula the world has ever known. That’s quite a statement, coming from an herbalist of 40 years experience, author of nine books on herbal medicine, and who knows and has regularly used hundreds of herbs and formulas in clinical practice. An old Indian adage goes, "No mother? No worry, so long as you have Triphala." For all intents and purposes, I agree. A recent randomized clinically controlled study which included 90 subjects between 25-40 years old with chronic, generalized gingivitis years found Triphala mouthwash to be effective for the treatment of gingivitis. The study was sponsored by the Government Dental College and Research Institute, Bangalore, India and published in Clinical Trials.gov, which is part of the U.S. National Institute of Health. The study found that the efficacy of triphala for the…
Driving on Highway 50, the only highway on the island of Kauai, during morning traffic, a sign advertising fresh Longan berries next to an improvised roadside fruit stand (Euphoria longana) caught my eye. I simply couldn't resist the opportunity to stop and see if these were the very same as the dried long yan rou I stock and use in my clinical prescriptions and formulas for decades. Happily, they were. Many wonder about the discovery of the medicinal properties of herbs: "How did they figure out that such-and-such herb has medicinal value?" In the case of Longan berries, and many other herbs, their first use was as a food, and the road of discovery began there. Having only known this as a botanical medicine that I would frequently nibble on in my clinic and offer to patients as a pleasant introduction to Chinese herb tonics, I was excited about the…
Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina, P. virginiana) also known as choke cherry, is one of several herbal remedies that contain amygdalin, also called prunasin, a toxic glycoside found in the seeds of many species of Rosaceae including bitter almonds, peaches, apricots and loquat, an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to assuage coughing. It is also found in blackberry leaves. The unique property of prunasin is its ability to inhibit the cough reflex, especially for dry coughs, which in recent years has been one of the more serious long-term complications in the aftermath of influenza. A tea of wild cherry bark and coltsfoot is one of the most effective treatments for asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough, which has swept throughout sectors of the US in recent months. Cyanogenic Glycoside Risks and Toxicity An enzymatic reaction changes the non-toxic cyanogenic glycosides in wild cherry and other herbs containing this component…
The FDA’s recent report on "Pathogens and Filth in Spices" finding salmonella in imported spices, especially from India and Mexico, has raised questions of how to prevent or treat food poisoning generally. Ironically, many of the herbs such as coriander seed, which is supposed to be effective in the treatment of salmonella, are among those that have been shown to particularly carry the pathogen. Quite simply, herbs are a dirty business fraught with the same sanitary dangers as any organic product harvested and stored on a large commercial scale. A New York Times article illustrates how contamination can occur: "Not so long ago, pepper farmers almost universally dried the seeds on bamboo mats or dirt floors and then gathered them for manual threshing. Dirt, dung and salmonella were simply part of the harvest, so much so that in 1987, the F.D.A. blocked shipments of black pepper from India. The ban…
I always think it's a good idea to learn to derive your special nutrients from foods rather than pills and nutritional supplements. Certain foods, like garlic and onions for example, are so potent that they are included in the Chinese materia medica. Walnuts, or he tao ren in Mandarin Chinese, are classified as sweet, warm, and have a special benefit to the Kidney-adrenals, Large Intestine and Lungs. The recommended daily dose of 9-30 grams can be eaten or added to herbal formulas to relieve lower back pain, chronic knee weakness, calm wheezing and promote bowel movement by lubricating the large intestine. Walnuts for Back Pain About 65 million Americans suffer from back pain each year, (the second most common reason for medical visits. These people should include a small handful of walnuts in their diet every day. Walnuts for Constipation Constipation caused by intestinal dryness in the elderly (the Metamucil…
During the 1970s on one of my trips to Bangalore in southern India, I made it a point to seek teachers, schools and hospitals that were exponents of Ayurvedic medicine, which at that time was still barely known in the western world (particularly the United States). One Ayurvedic hospital I visited was a multi-story building with many departments dedicated to specialty treatments. Doctors in the leech therapy ward showed me how a patient with severe psoriasis lesions was nearly completely cured after an application of a single leech in the center of the lesion. They explained how the leech selectively drew out the 'bad blood' causing psoriasis and allowed for fresh new healing blood to circulate. With its entrance situated on a busy street, the eye treatment ward was open to walk-in traffic and the usual session took only a few minutes to complete. It consisted of walking in through…
Besides the ancient traditions of Traditional Chinese Medicine based on the Huangdi Neijing and the Nan Jing, there have been subsequent important schools of thought based on the practice of great masters that further defined TCM principles in unique ways. Each of these tends to deal with conditions that are complex and characteristic of the various kinds of problems that are seen in the modern clinic. These schools have added to the richness of the tradition. One great master who came from the Jin/Yuan dynasties (1115-1368 ACE) was Li Dong Yuan. In his Pi Wei Lun (Treatise on the Spleen and Stomach), Li Dong Yuan based all diseases and imbalances, including Yin Deficiency, on deficiency of the Righteous Qi of the Spleen and Stomach, represented by the Earth element. His work offers a unique explanation for the nagging question of how to treat a combination of Spleen and Stomach Qi…
Recently a friend of mine called to say that she had a terrible bladder infection. Her doctor prescribed an antibiotic, but it had no effect; in fact, the infection worsened. She also said she tried drinking cranberry juice, but that had no effect on the condition either. Women's bladder infections are one of the most common complaints in the health world, and they probably account for the brisk sales for cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, pictured above) supplements. An article that described 10 randomized controlled trials published by Cochrane Collaboration in January of 2008 concluded that cranberry products may prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women. I'm sure this helped boost cranberry sales as well as the belief that it can help a woman with a UTI. I wouldn't disparage the proven value of unsweetened cranberry juice, but I remember the study only seemed to indicate that it prevented recurrent urinary tract…
Chinese medicine divides diseases into two broad categories: 1. Diseases of "external contraction" (Wei Guan), which are relatively simple conditions that are acute in nature. 2. Diseases of "internal damage" (Nei Shang), which are usually chronic and complex involving simultaneous contradictory symptoms, such as a combination of hot and cold, dry and wet, acute and chronic. Diseases contracted by external influences These conditions are caused by external factors known as the Six Pernicious Influences corresponding to weather and seasons, as follows: 1. Wind involves exposure to drafts that cause chills, fever, headache, spasms and diseases caused by airborne pathogens. Symptoms tend to alternate, move and spread. Wind is considered a Yang condition. 2. Cold is a Yin condition and includes conditions characterized or caused by coldness including low metabolism. 3. Heat is a Yang condition and includes diseases caused by hot climates, exposure to heat, or that are aggravated by…
Your child is sick and you'd like to try administering herbs rather than drugs. The reason is obvious: you correctly ascribe to the notion that most medicinal herbs are safer and have less potential side effects than drugs. One problem: your child, like most, is resistant to taking anything unfamiliar and has already taken a firm stand against a variety of foods most adults consider tasty, such as mushrooms, fish, tomatoes, vegetables, etc. Getting children to take herbs with strange flavors and textures is no small feat. Unfortunately there's not a one-size-fits-all resolution to this problem but the following is offered to provide a number of approaches. With a little luck, one may just work. Teaching young children to swallow pills Most kids under the age of 6 have difficulty swallowing pills (in fact, I've encountered several adult patients who are unable to swallow pills). If they are willing to…
Steven Horne is one of the leaders the herbal renaissance which began with only a few of us during the mid 20th century. He has had a distinguished career and powerful impact on the course of herbal medicine for the last 45 years, and is a past president of the American Herbalists Guild. Thomas Easley is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and has been in full-time clinical practice for the last 12 years. Their monumental new book Modern Herbal Medicine has taken over four years to bring to publication and is an important contribution for any and all who are interested in herbs as medicine. The book should be a welcome contribution to the herb consumer, herbal retailer, or professional herbalist. Unlike other books that may on the surface seem similar, this book was written by herbalists with decades of clinical experience. That in itself should be…
To feel healthy, strong, vibrant, and vital each day sets the stage for all the other virtues, hope and interest. We will all eventually pass away sooner or later, but we owe it to ourselves to feel as good as we can each day we are alive. Since I happen to believe that good (non-fanatical) nutrition is the basis of health and well-being, and I’ve made it thus far to a pretty youthful and vibrant three quarters of a century by May of this year, I’d like to think I can discuss a thing or two about preserving wellness in the long haul. Gratitude Find something to be thankful for. I actually have a large printed sheet stuck to the ceiling over my bed that says "Gratitude" to remind me of this virtue. Accentuate the positive In the morning and at night before bed, take a moment to offer at…
We are pleased to welcome to the East West family Áine Amanita Rose McCormack, born to East West graduate Anne de Courtenay and her husband, the musician Martin McCormack. Áine came into the world on a snowy Tuesday, January 14, in Anne’s home town of Chicago. (She is three weeks old in the photo at right.) Áine is the Gaelic form of "Anne." The name of a famous Irish goddess, it also means "splendor" or "radiance." "It’s pronounced AHN-yeh, or OHN-yeh, if you're really Irish," Anne says. "But mostly we call her Amanita." Yes, there is a sacred magic mushroom with the same name. When I found out the baby’s name, naturally as an herbalist I asked Anne why she would name her daughter after a poisonous mushroom! "We named her for the magic of the mushroom, not the poison," Anne said. She explained to me that they named her…
It’s hard to believe that only about 25 years ago computers became the thing and I and a few of my friends purchased our first new Eagle computer. At the time it seemed state-of-the-art but alas, Eagle computers seem to have flown the coop and hardly compare with what’s available today. Starting with that, I became a self-confessed sucker for the latest gadget, and I’ve hardly missed a step since. Only a small few have proven to be more trouble than they’re worth. Despite my weakness for newfangled tech gadgetry, I’m also a traditional herbalist – making me Janus-faced, with half (actually more than half) rooted thousands of years in the past and the other half looking for the latest tools that can enhance my dedication to healing. If you’ve read some of my latest blogs on acupuncture you will know of my enthusiasm for the TCM technique of moxibustion.…
Numen: The Nature of Plants A film about the healing power of plants http://www.numenfilm.com This is the most beautiful film yet produced on what we herbalists are all about. It runs 75 minutes long and features many of our herbal teachers as spokespersons. I especially appreciate the extended eloquent presentations of Dr. William Mitchell, naturopath of Bastyr College, and one of the finest herbalists of our generation. This film is a real feast for the eye and soul and the only regret I have is that somehow I was not one of the numerous herbalists featured. I echo Dr. Tieraona Lowdog MD’s description of the film: "From the use of plants as medicine to the impact of environmental toxins on human reproduction—Numen is a beautiful and thought-provoking film that explores the deep relationship that exists between nature and human health. Weaving history, ecology, and modern pharmacy with the very essence…
I recently gave a free in-depth introductory webinar on pulse diagnosis. We have since published it on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6WTq0GhnyQ Pulse diagnosis is a signature diagnostic method used in a number of traditional healing systems, notably Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda and Unani Greek medicine. In all of these traditional healing systems, mastery of pulse diagnosis is considered the pinnacle of diagnostic achievement. This is so much so that it is not uncommon for Chinese people, especially of the older generation, to hold their arm out for the physician to "read" their pulse before telling the physician anything about their complaints and symptoms. The pulse may indicate current disease patterns but also serves as a reading of the overall vitality of a patient, and as such is considered a "root" analysis of underlying causes rather than a "branch" indication of current symptoms. Some expert pulsologists claim to be able to identify…
A close member of my family recently went on a weight loss diet and happily dropped 25 pounds within two or three months. Suddenly encouragement changed to despair as she found that try as hard as she must, sticking close to her diet, she could hardly lose even another 5 poundss over the following two months. Discouraged, she fell off the wagon and gained back 10 pounds of what she originally lost. So what happened? One thing is that she was going to the gym regularly, getting healthier and the fat she accumulated was being replaced by muscle, which is denser and heavier. If she had stayed on the diet longer, eventually she would have begun to lose weight again at even an even faster rate because her muscle growth due to exercise would have increased the body’s fat-burning ability. A common mistake for many who go on a diet…
The word is finally getting out. Approximately one third of Americans are overweight. As a result, they suffer from a number of metabolic diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The health problems arising from this condition result in literally billions of dollars in additional health care costs. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, beginning at 5:30 PM PST I will offer a free 1½ hour webinar on safe, balanced weight loss. Please register in advance for participation. In advance of that webinar, I would like to offer a few ideas that you might find useful and that we will talk further about during the webinar. Even incorporating a few of these into your daily routine can make a big difference in your ability to shed those unwanted pounds over time. Foods and food quality Eat whole, pure foods. Before you reach for that extra fatty, sugary, starchy something ask yourself…
Albizia is one of my favorite herbs because of its real and unique ability to nourish the spirit in a way no other herb (or chemical substance, for that matter) can. Better known as the beautiful mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin), both the bark and the flowers are used to help one cope with feelings of profound loss and grief. Mostly we think of these emotions associated with the death of a loved one, but albizia has a much wider application such as emotional trauma and stress associated with financial loss, bankruptcy, unemployment, divorce, children moving out to college or on their own, break up of a relationship. All of these are common occurrences that swirl around us and effect all of us in profound ways. Taken properly, albizia extract works very fast to help dispel the anguish brought about by loss and grief, usually within a day. Just yesterday, a…
Have you seen those PSAs for MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that have made their way onto primetime television lately? 'Staph' infections are among the most common type of skin and soft tissue infections and may appear as a small infected pimple, boil under the skin, sore or insect or spider bite. Initially they generally cause swelling and redness with or without pain. The MRSA variety is one that is particularly difficult to eradicate even with the use of strong pharmaceutical antibiotics, and an infection can be fatal. Carvacrol, a phenolic compound found at a level approaching over 93% in Mediterranean oregano oil, may be effective against MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant "superbug" that is appearing in hospitals throughout the country. This news has been making the rounds of the mainstream press throughout the UK since November of 2008 and is based on the research of scientists at the University of the…

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