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by Holly Hutton, 2014

Graduate, East West School of Planetary Herbology



Cannabis is considered under Federal law as a class I Controlled Substance, although in many states it is legal under medical marijuana laws.   This monograph will concentrate on cannabis’s topical efficacy citing both historical and contemporary uses.  I have only recently begun working with cannabis topically and am pleased at its analgesic properties.  Anecdotal reports from users indicate that it helps alleviate mild to sever muscle spasms.  Due to issues of legality, its medicinal attributes have only recently begun to be studied in depth. Prior studies were based largely upon its negative characteristics with recent research focusing its potential medicinal value. 

As herbalists, our materia medica encompasses many different plants. Cannabis sativa L. is just that, a plant that has chemical constituents and actions, like the hundreds of other plants that we use in our clinical practices.  As laws change and there is greater acceptance of its medicinal value, I believe that it will return to a place in our materia medica.  Recently the American Herbal Guild (AHG) surveyed its professional members on the medical use of cannabis.  Seventy-nine percent of AHG members reported that if there were not a legal moratorium on cannabis they would use it clinically.[1]  Twenty states now have medical marijuana available to residents and in two other states it is considered legal, this is an opportune time to increase our knowledge of its positive and negative traits.

Botany and Taxonomy:

The historical and contemporary botany and taxonomic history of cannabis is as convoluted as is its legal status.  Modern botany holds the view that there is only one species-Cannabis sativa L.[2] 

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Rosales
Family: Cannabaceae
Genus: Cannabis

Cannabis -- Cannabis sativa L.
C. sativa subsp. sativa --
C. sativa subsp. sativa var. sativa
C. sativa subsp. sativa var. spontanea

C. sativa subsp. indica
C. sativa subsp. indica var. indica
C. sativa subsp. indica var. kafiristanica

Common names:  marijuana, weed, grass, pot, ganga, hemp, sinsemellia, skunkweed, herb, as well as, many other names through out the world

Chemical Constituents:

The Cannabis plant and its products consist of an enormous variety of chemicals. 483 compounds identified are unique to cannabis.  For example, there are more than 100 cannabinoids[3], a group of C 21 terpenophenolic compounds. [4] Cannabinoids are highly lipophilic, permeate cell membranes and have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier when inhaled and ingested.  Cannabinoids are metabolized in the liver.  The major metabolite is 11-hydroxy-δ9THC, which is more potent than δ-9THC and may be responsible for some of the psychological and physiological effects of cannabis.[5]  The following is a summary of activity of primary phytocannabinoids [6], [7]




Pharmacological Characteristics

Cannabigerolic Acid









GABA uptake inhibitor,

Reduces keratinocytes proliferation in psoriasis,

Effective against MRSA,






Analgesic (weak),

Cannabidolic Acid















Antagonizes effects of THC,

Decreases sebum/sebocytes proliferation, effective against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, pro-apoptotic against breast cancer cell lines








Decreases breast cancer resistant protein, effective against MRSA,

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol









Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabivarin




Anticonvulsant in vitro


The human body produces endocannabinoids, its own natural version of cannabinoids.  Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, especially in the nervous and immune systems. The endocannabinoid system is involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, sleep, mood and memory. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors respond to biological events—for example, endocannabinoid levels will rise in response to brain injury, strokes, nerve injuries and associated pain. Both plant cannabinoids and endocannabinoids bind to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. When this binding occurs, effects such as pain relief and the suppression of stress result. 

Non-cannabinoid type constituents:  The scent of Cannabis results from about 200 different terpenoids. Terpenoids share a precursor with phytocannabinoids, and are the flavor and fragrance components common to human diets. Terpenoids are potent and affect animal and even human behavior when inhaled from ambient air.  Terpenoids display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute to the effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts. There have been recent studies on the phytocannabinoid-terpenoid interaction, which could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).[8] 

Other constituents of the cannabis plant include: nitrogenous compounds (27 known), amino acids (18), proteins (3), glycoproteins (6), enzymes (2), sugars and related compounds (34), hydrocarbons (50), simple alcohols (7), aldehydes (13), ketones (13), simple acids (21), fatty acids (22), simple esters (12), lactones (1), steroids (11), non-cannabinoid phenols (25), flavonoids (29), vitamins (1) [Vitamin A], pigments (2), and elements (9).[9] [10]

Identifying characteristics of the plant:

Cannabis is an annual, dioecious, flowering herb. The leaves are palmate, with serrate leaf edges and have a peculiar and diagnostic venation pattern.  Each serrated leaf has a central vein extending to its tip. Staminate (male) plants are usually taller but less robust than pistillate (female) plants. Mature height ranges from 1 to 5 meters. The flowers have five tepals, and five anthers that hang at maturity, dispersing their pollen to the wind. The female plant has shorter branches and dense growth of leaves and flower-associated bracts. A single achene is produced per flower.  The life cycle of the male is completed soon after anthesis; the female survives until full seed ripeness if pollination happens. Cannabinoids and terpenoids are secreted by glandular trichomes that occur on the floral calyxes and bracts of female plants. 

Historical Uses:

For more than 6,000 years cannabis and humans have crossed paths.  The oldest archeological record of cannabis was in central Europe in the Bylony Culture.[11]   Archeological evidence points to shamanic use.  Cannabis may have been the first cultivated plant.  Cannabis sativa seeds were recovered in Neolithic band ceramic in Thüringen, Germany. [12]  In addition to shamanic use, it was used for paper, textiles, food and medicine throughout human history.  

The ancient emperor, Shen-Nung (c.2700 B.C.), is known as the Father of Chinese Medicine. He was concerned about the suffering of his subjects; and looked to plants for cures. According to legend, Shen-Nung tried poisons and their antidotes to experience their effect and then compiled the medical encyclopedia called, Pen Ts'ao. The Pen Ts'ao lists hundreds of drugs derived from vegetable, animal and mineral sources. Among these drugs is the plant cannabis know as MaMa was a unique plant because it was consider both feminine, or yin, and masculine, or yang. Realizing that the female plant produced more medicine, the Chinese cultivated it instead of the male plant. Ma was used to treat female weaknesses (menstruation), gout, rheumatism, malaria, beriberi, constipation, and absentmindedness.[13]  A famous physician, Hua T’o (110-207) A.D.), was known to use ma-fei-san (hemp boiling compound), with wine to anesthetize his patients during surgical operations on the abdominal organs. [14]

Many other cultures have a history of cannabis use.  The Scythians, an Iranian tribe inhabiting large areas in the central Eurasian steppes from the 7th century BC up until the 4th century AD used cannabis for fiber and oil.  According to Herodotus, a Greek historian, there was evidence that they used it as a narcotic in their steam baths.  In India, historical medical literature has some of the earliest accounts of its medicinal utilization.  It was used in combination with henbane as an anesthetic for surgery.  They also used cannabis preparations externally as antiseptics and analgesics. 

In Hellenic and Arabic medicine [15] cannabis extracts were used for irrigation of diseases of the anus and as compresses for sore toenails. Arabic medical traditions used cannabis both externally and internally for a variety of conditions for example an ointment combined with fat was applied antiseptically.   In Egypt, according to Rhamses' papyrus, cannabis was used for the washing of sore eyes. [16] Cannabis shoots were well known to Galen and to Dioscorides.[17]

The medicinal properties of cannabis became part of Western medicine in the mid-19 century when, cannabis strains from Egypt and India were imported by the French and British.  Between 1840 and 1940, English, Irish, French and North American physicians and pharmacists used various cannabis preparations for pain relief and other conditions including malaria, rheumatism, migraine headaches, gout and glaucoma. Cannabis was in the Canadian pharmacopeia until it was added to a list of restricted drugs in 1923 with its possession, cultivation and distribution becoming illegal.  Michael Moore a western herbalist, listed it in his materia medica stating the following as specific uses, marked nervous depression, irritation of the genito-urinary tract, frequent micturition, painful micturition with tenesmus, scalding urine, wakefulness in fevers, insomnia with brief periods of sleep disturbed by unpleasant dreams, spasmodic and painful conditions, depression, mental illusions, hallucinations, cerebral anemia from spasm of cerebral vessels, palpitation of the heart, with sharp stitching pain and menstrual headache with great nervous depression.[18]

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cannabis:

In TCM, marijuana is known as Da Ma.  According to TCM theory, it restrains the functions of brain marrow and fluids.[19]   It has very strong Qi dispersing action and also clouds the Shen, thus dulls a person’s spirit. [20]  Some Chinese medicine practitioners describe marijuana’s properties as hot and dry, suggesting an overall Yang nature.  Other experts describe marijuana as Yin, citing its historical use for release of anxiety and treatment of pain. [21] 

Long-term use of Cannabis due to its hot and dry nature can impact Lung Yin, Qi and dry up body fluids.  This can have a detrimental effect on the smooth flow of Wei Qi, or our ability to fight off evil or pathogenic influences.  A rise in blood pressure has been associated with smoking cannabis that can disturb both Heart  (impairing the Heart Qi) and Lung functions (Lung’s role as the controller of the vessels). It can damage Yin, due to its drying nature leading to deficiency and signs of false heat.

Cannabis is metabolized in the liver and long-term use can be over stimulating to the liver leading to red eyes and a rise in blood pressure (Liver Yang Rising).  This stimulation can lead to Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver Heat, and Liver Wind.  Furthermore due to its hot and dry nature it can lead to a deficiency in Liver Yin and Blood producing symptoms such as dry eyes, dry throat and mouth, and night sweats. Long term Liver Qi Stagnation reverse course and also harm the digestive system, causing Spleen Qi Deficiency. 

The Heart houses the Shen, and a disturbance of the Heart can result in impairment of sensory input related to long-term cannabis smoking. Disturbance of the Heart and Blood can result in short and long term memory loss.  Cannabis increases the levels of melatonin temporarily drawing heavily upon the kidney and adrenals resulting in adrenal stress. In TCM repeated melatonin stimulation can result in deficiency of Kidney Yin, Kidney Yang and Jing Essence. As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine it is necessary to ameliorate these effects, ensuring that patterns be addressed and modulated through the addition of herbal and holistic therapies. 

Contraindications:  From a TCM perspective Cannabis taken internally has a hot energy and in conditions with heat or “fire” the use of Cannabis needs to be either avoided or mitigated.  This is a short list of Western conditions where the use of Cannabis would best be avoided:  stroke, pregnancy, breastfeeding, ulcers, any hyper conditions, i.e., hyperthyroidism, etc, menopause, acne or other hot skin conditions (taken internally), diabetes, menstruation*, schizophrenia and other shen disturbances, herpes and shingles (internally)[22]

Medical Cannabis: 

Medical cannabis (or medical marijuana) refers to the use of cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), as medical therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms. Medical cannabis can be administered using a variety of methods, including inhalation, oral digestion of extracts, edibles, capsules and topical treatments. Synthetic cannabinoids are available as prescription drugs in some countries; examples include: dronabinol (available in the United States (US) and Canada) and nabilone (available in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom (UK), and the US).

Topical Use of Cannabis:

Historically there are many examples of Cannabis’s use topically.  When used topically Cannabis does not have the psychoactive effects that are felt when it is smoked or ingested.  There is some new and promising research into its topical application especially in the area of skin cancer, inflammation, and for its antimicrobial, antifungal properties.[23]  Many of the products on the market are combined with other herbs or essential oils making it hard to extrapolate and isolate the direct benefit of Cannabis’s effects.  Topical use is mainly through alcohol-based liniments, salves and cannabis oil.  According to the web site of the national group American for Safe Access topical use of cannabis may have the following uses: [24]

Tropical products may produce anti-inflammatory and analgesic or pain relieving effects. Anecdotal reports on topical treatment efficacy include:

  • Certain types of dermatitis (including atopic) and psoriasis
  • Balm for lips, fever blisters, herpes
  • Superficial wounds, cuts, acne pimples, furuncles, corns, certain nail fungus
  • Rheumatism and arthritic pains (up to the 2nd degree of arthritis)
  • Torticollis, back pains, muscular pains and cramps, sprains and other contusions
  • Phlebitis, venous ulcerations
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Menstruation pains
  • Cold and sore throat, bronchitis
  • Asthmatic problems with breathing
  • Chronic inflammation of larynx (application in the form of a Priessnitz compress)
  • Migraine, head pains, tension headaches

There is a historical record of cannabis’s topical uses.  In Tibetan medicine cannabis has its roots in the original shamanic religion of Tiber, Bon and in early Tantric teaching.  Cannabis has been an enduring component of Tibetan pharmacopoeias since ancient times.  A topical treatment was made using Embelia ribes, Allium sativum, Butea frondosa, Cannabis sativa, Iris ensata, and Artemisia nestita, along with musk for treating itchy skin.

In Thailand, Cannabis was combined with Artemisia vulgaris, Myristica sp., Piper nigrum, Zingiber officinale, Cinnamomum, Salacca flavescens, along with alcohol and made into a tincture that was used to treat hemorrhoids, laryngeal polyps and ulcers in the intestinal and genital areas.  

In Malaysia, Hydnocarpus anthelmintica and Cannabis were macerated in alcohol and used topically for treatment of leprosy.  In Cambodia, Cannabis, Tepiru bark, Mitagyna, Cinnamomum, Walsura villosa and Aegle marmelos, was macerated for several days and used to treat stiffness following childbirth. [25]  In Western herbal tradition rheumatism oil (1856) was made from Cannabis, poppy and henbane to relieve pain. 

In Arabic medicine Cannabis has a long and vast history of topical use.  It was used to treat pityriasis rosea and lichen planus, by using the fresh juice as a wash or oil from the seeds.   There was also mention of cannabis oil being used for treating vitiligo and leprosy. The leaves of the cannabis was also used as a hair rinse to stimulate hair growth.  Between the 11th and 12th centuries there is documentation that the juice of the hemp leaves were used to cure abscesses and an “oily wax” made from hemp seed oil was applied to tumors.  The oil was used as a painkiller for earaches, for soothing neurological pain and the boiled leaves was used to wash the body to kill lice, nits and other parasites.[26]

Recent exploration by medical researchers and practitioners have pointed to topical administration of selective cannabinoid receptor agents to have analgesic effects in animal models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain especially for the control of breakthrough pain. [27] A 50/50 mixture of CBN and CBD in the form of transmucosal spray were reported to assist pain in multiple sclerosis.  The topical administration of selective cannabinoid receptor agents has been demonstrated to have analgesic effects in animal models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain (formalin, carrageenan hyperalgesia, and partial nerve injury), especially for the control of breakthrough pain.[28]

Cannabis sativa subspecies Indica tends to have a higher concentration of CBD than Cannabis sativa subspecies sativa.  There has been a resurgence of interest in high CBD containing strains recognizing that these are preferable for many medicinal uses.  Now there are several strains available that have much higher percentage of CBD vs. TCH. [29]  A recent study reported that topically administered cannabinoid agonists may reduce pain without the dysphoric side effects and abuse potential of centrally acting cannabimimetic drugs.[30]

It has been suggested that cannabis is effective for psoriasis and eczema, yet on the flip side it can also cause contact dermatitis.  A 1983 article in the Western Journal of Medicine noted that many people who have a sensitivity or an allergic reaction to airborne plant pollens, including some in similar botanical families, may develop contact dermatitis or urticaria (hives) as a result of prolonged exposure to cannabis (such as trimming, or other work in the industry that requires handling.

Preparation of Cannabis salve and Cannabis Liniment:

This section will cover the making of salve (fat based) and liniment (alcohol based) topical products.  I have presented two methods for making salve.  The first uses a process called decarboxylization.  There is some debate about the destruction of terpenes and other cannabinoids during the heating process, which might enhance cannabis’s pharmaceutical benefits.  The second method of salve making is done through a gentle heating process.  The process of making liniment is also presented with two options; one based on decarboxylization and the other involves no heat. 

Cannabis salve using decarboxylization:  There are 2 steps in making cannabis salve.  The first step is the process of heating the cannabis in the oven and the second step involves gently cooking the cannabis in a fat to extract the chemical constituents.  The use of decarboxylization is based on the rational that cannabinoids like THC and CBD are inactive in the plant material, and in order to make them active you have to convert the inactive form to the active form, a process call decarboxylization. THCA is converted to THC and CBDA to CBD when the dried plant material is heated. Several authors have suggested that an oven temperature for maximizing CBD’s is 340° F for 5 minutes. A ratio of ¾ leaf to ¼ bud can be used, but many products are made from leaf alone. 

The traditional method of making salve is base on the following proportions-1 oz herb to 1 cup of fat (coconut oil, ghee, tallow, or other vegetable based oil). 

  1. Grind the cannabis in a blender to a powder. 
  2. Spread the cannabis in a shallow ovenproof pan.
  3. Bake the cannabis at 340 F for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  4. When properly decarboxylated, the cannabis will be darker, dry, and crumble easily. Your kitchen will smell strongly, so good ventilation is a must. 
  5. Combine the decarburized cannabis with the slightly heated oil. 
  6. Maintain temperature on low for up to 24 hours. 
  7. Once finished strain the cannabis from the fat using a fine mesh, a yogurt cheese maker works well.   
  8. When done return the fat to the pan. 
  9. Heat slightly -adding 1 oz of beeswax per cup of fat. 
  10. Heat until beeswax is melted.
  11. Remove from heat and let cool slightly; at this point you can add essential oils that reinforce the medicinal action of the salve. 
  12. Pour into finish container and let cool to become solid.

The second method does not involve heating the cannabis separately.  Using the same proportions as above, 1 oz of herb to 1 cup of fat, grind the cannabis and combine with fat in a container that can withstand heat, in this case you need to use a solid fat, such as coconut oil, ghee or tallow.  Add 6 cups of water, and cook at slow temperature, keeping under 120-140 degrees for 24 to 48 hours, or longer. Once finished strain the cannabis from the fat and water mixture, using a fine mesh, a yogurt cheese maker works well.   Then put the fat and water mixture in the refrigerator, until fat solidifies.  Remove the solidified fat and add to a pan.  Heat slightly adding 1 oz of beeswax per cup of fat.  Heat until beeswax is melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly; at this point you can add essential oils.  Pour into finish container and let cool down to become solid.

The use of liniment made from an alcohol based cannabis tincture can be used for relief of muscle spasms and pain.   According to Michael Moore’s Materia Medica; a tincture alcohol rate of [Fresh Herb, 1:2, Dry Herb, 1:5, 95% alcohol] is the preferred. [31]  Two methods are described for making an alcohol-based tincture.  There is some debate as to the whether the cold or hot methodology leads to more effective medicine, particularly if the presences of cannabinoids is important in its ultimate efficacy.

Liniment made using the cold method:

  1. Using a combination of 75% leaf to 25% shake or bud as potential ratio. 
  2. Grind 100 milligrams of cannabis and add to a mason jar.  Depending upon whether you are using fresh or dried Cannabis, you will need to fill the jar with 190 ml (fresh) or 475 ml (dried) of grain alcohol, then top it off with either 10 ml (fresh) or 25 (dried) ml of filtered water. 
  3. Shake jar [vigorously] one or two times a day for 2 weeks [or leave it until there is no green color left in the plant matter]
  4. Strain through metal tea strainer or silkscreen.

Liniment made using heat:

In this case use only dried plant material.

  1. Grind 100 milligrams of cannabis, using suggested leaf and bud ratios.
  2. Place Cannabis in a shallow pan or aluminum foil - bake at 325°F for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and place cannabis in a mason jar, adding 500 ml of alcohol.
  4. Place jar in pan filled with water.  Simmer in a water bath for 20 minutes. Maintain temperature of 110 to 140, using a thermometer.  Do not boil just maintain a slow simmer. 
  5. Strain the mixture and store.  You will lose volume due to evaporation.

Examples of recipes for topical uses:

Cannabis Salve-an analgesic topical treatment for pain relief, muscles spasms,

 rheumatism, arthritis, menstrual cramps and migraines


1 oz of cannabis leaf and shake

1 cup of Coconut oil, wound healing

1 oz of beeswax,

1 oz of Arnica oil*, soothes muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds

1 oz of St. Johns Wort oil*, wound healing and reduces inflammation

Suggested essential Oils:

Eucalyptus, analgesic

Wintergreen, analgesic

Cinnamon increases blood circulation

  1. Grind the cannabis in a blender to a powder. 
  2. Spread the cannabis in a shallow ovenproof pan.
  3. Bake the cannabis at 340 F for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  4. When properly decarboxylated, the cannabis will be darker, dry, and crumble easily. Your kitchen will smell strongly, so good ventilation is a must. 
  5. Combine the decarburized cannabis with the slightly heated coconut oil. 
  6. Maintain temperature on low for up to 24 hours.  Coffee warmers work well. 
  7. Once finished strain the cannabis from the fat using a fine mesh, a yogurt cheese maker works well.  
  8. When done return the fat to the pan, adding one oz of Arnica and St. Johns Wort oil. 
  9. Heat slightly -adding 1 oz of beeswax. 
  10. Heat until beeswax is melted.
  11. Remove from heat and let cool slightly; at this point you can add essential oils that reinforce the medicinal action of the salve. 
  12. Pour into finish container and let cool to become solid.

Cannabis Liniment is an alcohol based topical-used to stop pain, reduces swelling and inflammation. 

4 oz. Cannabis Tincture

2 oz. Arnica tincture-soothes muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds

2 oz. St. Johns Wort tincture-relives nerve pain

Suggested essential Oils:

Eucalyptus, analgesic

Wintergreen, analgesic

Cinnamon increases blood circulation

Liniment made using the cold method:

  1. Using a combination of 75% leaf to 25% shake or bud. 
  1. Grind 100 milligrams of cannabis and add to a mason jar.  Depending upon whether you are using fresh or dried Cannabis, you will need to fill the jar with 190 ml (fresh) or 475 ml (dried) of grain alcohol, then top it off with either 10 ml (fresh) or 25 (dried) ml of filtered water. 
  2. Shake jar [vigorously] one or two times a day for 2 weeks [or leave it until there is no green color left in the plant matter]
  3. Strain through metal tea strainer or silkscreen.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well.  Put into spray bottle.

[1] Romm, A., Romm, T.  (2010) AHG Professional Member Survey:  Medical use of Cannabis.  Journal of the American Herbalists Guild.  Volume 9, Number 2.

[2] Cannabis Inflorescence.  (2013).   American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.

[3] Cannabis Inflorescence.  Ibid.

[4] Brenneisen, Rudolf. (2012/2011). Chemistry and Analysis of Phytocannabinoids and other Cannabis Constituents. Forensic Science and Medicine: Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Totowa, New Jersey. Humana Press.  Retrieved from http://www.medicinalgenomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Chemical-constituents-of-cannabis.pdf

[5]  Kumar, R., Chambers, W. and Pertwee, R.  (2008, July).  Pharmacological actions and therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids.  Journal of the association of Anaesthesia of Great Britain and Ireland.  Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2044.2001.02269.x/full

[6] Brenneisen, Rudolf. Ibid.

[7] Cannabis Inflorescence.  Ibid.

[8] Russo, Ethan. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology. The British Pharmacological Society. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/

[9] Russo, Ethan. Ibid.

[10] Cannabis Inflorescence.  Ibid.

[11] Kebelik, Jan Kabelik. (1955). Hemp as Medicament: History of the medicinal use of hemp. Retrieved from http://www.bushka.cz/KabelikEN/history.html

[12] Ratsch, Christian. (1998). Marijuana Medicine. Healing Arts Press.

[13] Abel, E.L. (1980). Marijuana, The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York: Plenum Press.

[14] Hui-Lin Li. (1975).  The Origin and Use of Cannabis in Eastern Asia:  Their Linguistic-Cultural Implications.  Rubin, Vera (Ed). Cannabis and Culture (pp 51-52). World Anthropology.

[15] Lozano, Indalecio. (2001) The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis sativa (L.) in Arabic Medicine.  Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, Vol. 1 (1).  Retrieved from www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/2001-01-4_0.pdf

[16] Lozano, Indalecio. Ibid.

[17]  Abel, E. L. Ibid.

[18] Moore, Michael.  Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Retrieved from


[19] Tseng, Master Yun Xiang, Yong, Dr. Li Gong.  Artesian Spring Oriental Medicine, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.artesianspringom.com/medical-marijuana-and-traditional-chinese-medicine/

[20]  Tseng, Master Yun Xiang, Yong, Dr. Li Gong. Ibid.

[21] Calhoun, Cat.  (2008)  Treatment of Long Term Marijuana Usage with Dietary Therapy.  Retrieved from http://www.catstcmnotes.com/downloads/Nutrition/Nutrition%20-%20Treating%20Long%20Term%20Marijuana%20Usage%20with%20Dietary%20Therapy.pdf

[23]  Americans for Safe Access, Data Base of Clinical Research and Case Reports.  http://www.cannabis-med.org/studies/study.php

[24] Americans for Safe Access.  Ibid.

[25] Ratsch, Christian.  Ibid.

[26] Ratsch, Christian.  Ibid.

[27]  Jorge, L., Feres, C., Teles, V.  (2011). Topical preparations for pain relief:  efficacy and patient adherence. Journal of Pain Research.  Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048583/#b72-jpr-4-011

[28]  Jorge, L, Feres, C. and Teles, V.  Ibid.

[29] Topical uses of Cannabis. Retrieved from http://www.cannabiscure.info/pdf/Topical%20Cannabis.pdf

[30]Dogrul A1, Gul H, Akar A, Yildiz O, Bilgin F, Guzeldemir ETopical cannabinoid antinociception: synergy with spinal sites. 2003.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14499415

[31] Moore, Michael.  Herbal Materia Medica, 5th edition.



by Mara Ribbin

Lemon balmLemon Balm is in the Labiatae, or mint, family, and has the classic square stem of that family, two leaves opposite one another on stem, oval leaves with slightly scalloped edges and crinkly surface that, when rubbed, has a strong citronella odor (an oil my grandmother used when we were young to repel mosquitos).

The buds are tiny, tight, yellow and round, opening to tiny lipped white flowers on one side of stem. The color of the leaves is bright clear green (slightly yellow-green). Lemon balm apparently looks much like white horehound, though the flowers on that plant go all around the plant stem and the leaves are supposedly more gray-green. Grows 1 - 3 feet in height. Those where I am are one foot where they receive no water and 2-1/2 feet where they do.

When I saw the long list of uses for the herbs that Release the Exterior in the East West Herb Course materia medica, and being clueless as to the possible mechanism for those uses, I think I wrote off much of these herbs. Generally, I tend to tough out colds/flus, bites and rashes, rather than doing anything for them.

With the appearance of dengue fever in the U.S. now and the possibility of bird flu (both of which make me VERY interested in boneset) and another student's recent case study of a bad spider bite, PLUS what I learned in lessons 13 and 14, especially following the Organ Meridians, I am much more respectful and understanding of these plants.

Lemon Balm has several old names (which are interesting in case one reads ancient herbals and other names are used). In Greece it was called Meliosophyllon; in the Roman Empire, it was known as Apiastrum, Citraria, Turego, Herba muscata, Pigmentaris. The English called it Balm or Sweet Balm. The French, Melisse, Herbe au citron, Celine. In Germany, it has several names including Melisse, Mutterkraut (apparently because of all the uses it has for children's ailments), and Konigsblume (provided to kings to provide longevity and probably relaxation from the stresses of being king).

It used to be considered THE premier herb for heart medicinal drinks called cordials in the past. It was the main ingredient in these heart-calming nerve-stabilizing medicinal drinks.

It is sour, spicy/aromatic and cooling. It affects the Lung and Liver meridians. By extension of Lung, it affects the following: mucous membranes, skin, sinuses, nasopharynx, nose, and its Yang organ Large Intestine. By extension of Liver, it affects the following: sinews (ligaments, tendons, tiny muscles that move joints), peripheral nerves, external genitals, finger- and toenails, eyes (iris), and eyebrows and the Liver's Yang organ, the Gallbladder.

Lemon Balm has many properties including diaphoretic (by relaxing pores in skin), antispasmodic, calmative, sedative, carminative, emmenagogue, stomachic, antipyretic. It is used for: fever, flu, chronic bronchial mucus, nervousness, hysteria, insomnia, tension, depression, melancholy, irritability,anxiety, restlessness, colic, cramps, gas, for wound healing, for insect and dog bites.

Michael Tierra's The Way of Herbs says it is very good externally in salve for herpes simplex. Lesley Tierra's book, Healing With The Herbs of Life, says it was a very popular summer drink in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is also very useful for hyperthyroidism and/or Graves disease.

CAUTION: With exterior deficiency, Yin deficiency with heat, and HYPOthyroidism.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy, a widely traveled 20th-century herbalist who learned about herbs from the many cultures with whom she spent time, recommends it for the following: Safeguard against early senility; for dysentery or griping pains in bowels; for nervous disorders including nightmares; for painful or late menses, to expel retained placenta, for all uterine disorders; take as a tea for those bitten by a venomous insect, dog or other animal. Placed in among linen, it deters moths. Arabs used the rare oil in perfumes; and monks and nuns used it for healing salves.

Juliette also recommended 1 Tbsp of chopped leaves twice daily, added raw to salads or as a tea. It can also be infused in white wine with raisins and honey added.

After my experience, I concur that it should not be used when there is Yin deficiency with heat signs (maybe even with Yin deficiency without heat signs) and so all the calming/sedating qualities are probably best for true heat and/or tension and mood issues related to Liver Qi stagnation and NOT for Heart Yin deficiency.

I made a 20-minute infusion of one ounce of the flowering stems and leaves in about 2-1/4 cups of water.

The flavor is very mild, maybe a titch sour as there was a distinct lemony taste. There was no mistaking the pungency or the fact that it goes to Lung meridian, as there was a strong rush up the back of my throat and up my nose that was quite pungent and really opened my sinuses. This was almost immediately after taking first sip.

Other effects I noted included a temporary increase in very slight discomfort in my right temple area, after which was a sense of ease and openness, as if muscles (in arteries?) in that area were relaxed and I was free of a subtle tension that was a background for me. I did become more relaxed in a very subtle way. Some many minutes later, I was looking out the window, and my vision became brighter and clearer. It was so noticeable, it amazed me actually. I am very nearsighted. When I tried to tune in and analyze the change, it felt like there was both: a relaxation of tension in eyes, and sharper focus of lens in eyes.

I was not aware of any diaphoresis. I did have a small patch of poison oak by one wrist that bloomed more, but was not at all itchy, whereas it had been very itchy before. Two days later, it has continued blooming - all crowded vesicles, but still does not itch. I also had two mosquito bites, which bloomed more red, but did not itch either. Both are almost gone at the time of this writing. There was a very noticeable astringent after effect in my mouth from drinking the tea, an aspect of its sour flavor.

I stopped my proving after only one day, because of two things. I actually had some return of Yin deficiency symptoms I had gotten rid of: lusterless fingernails, tinnitus, somewhat dry skin. Also, the astringent effect really exacerbated my dampness so that at work next day my limbs felt very heavy and weak and I had a lot of fatigue. This heaviness cleared during the night, but the fatigue is still here.

Raises the question if we should only prove herbs that are also going to address our particular pattern, rather than satisfying any and all curiosity.. I loved this way of experiencing an herb, and pleased that so many things came together for me from these lessons.

by Dr. Michael Tierra, O.M.D.
October 2008

Guggul image by Martin Wall

Guggul or guggulu (commiphora mukul, also commiphora wightii), more popularly known as Bdellium, is derived from the gummy resinous exudate of a plant closely related to myrrh that is found in arid to semi-arid areas of Northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

When used for medicinal purposes, the resin, harvested from the stems in the winter, is traditionally processed to purify and render it bioassimilable by placing the gum into a bag of thick, coarse cloth and then boiling it in an aqueous medium such as pure water or a decoction of Triphala until it is soft. This is then spread out and on a wooden board where it is smeared with ghee (clarified butter) and allowed to air dry. The dried gum is again fried in ghee and finely powdered for medicinal use.

Medicinal and Energetic Properties of Guggul

Similar to another important Ayurvedic preparation called triphala, guggul is considered tridoshic, or balancing to all three doshas in the body. The three doshas or bodily humours of the body represent the foundation of traditional Ayurveda. These are: kapha or the anabolic humour, watery humour; pitta or the catabolic, fiery humour; and vata, the air or nervous system humour. When all three humours are in balance, the result is health and wellness. When one or more are excess or deficient this represents imbalance or disease. Guggul stimulates pitta and thus enhances warmth, digestion, circulatory and reproductive processes. It also regulates vata (nerve force) and kapha (fluidic aspects).

The Sanskrit definition of the term "guggul" is "one that protects against diseases." This attests to the wide respect and therapeutic Ayurvedic applications for this botanical, considered the most important for the removal of "ama," toxic substances which accumulate as a result of sluggish digestion and circulation associated with a slowing of metabolism.

As an "ama"-resolving herb, guggul has a wide range of applications beginning with rheumatic and arthritic pains and obesity. In addition it treats sluggish liver, malaria, stimulates libido, nervous diseases, bronchial congestion, cardiac and circulatory problems, weak digestion, fractures, gynecological problems, leucorrhea, sterility, impotence, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and various skin diseases including acne and psoriasis.

Guggul has been used for over 3,000 years and is described in all of the classical Ayurvedic texts including the Sushruta Samhita (3rd to 4th centuries) where it is especially recommended for the treatment of rheumatic pains and obesity, as mentioned above. It is one of the most important rasayanas (herbal tonics) of Ayurveda where it is described as warm, dry, pungent-flavored, and aromatic with nutritive, lubricant, stimulant and digestion-enhancing properties. The Sushruta recommends guggul for a condition called medoroga (obesity). Current research substantiates its benefit for the treatment of elevated blood lipids and coronary and arterial plaque known as atherosclerosis.1 As a result, today standardized guggul extracts are being approved for lowering elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels in India.

The traditional properties of guggul are demulcent, aperient, carminative, antispasmodic and emmenagogue. On the mucus membranes, it serves as an astringent and antiseptic. Internally, its bitter principles stimulate appetite and relieve bloating and gas. Its oleo-resins are excreted through the skin, mucus membranes, and the urinary system, stimulating and disinfecting their secretions. It is also a uterine stimulant, making it useful for regulating menstruation but contraindicated during pregnancy. The warming, circulatory properties of guggul also serve as a potent aphrodisiac.

Guggul is warming and stimulates metabolism that is why it is one of the few botanicals that has been shown to treat hypothyroid conditions.

Guggul also serves as an antipyretic in reducing fever and reduces secretions from diseased surfaces of the body. As such it is excellent when used synergistically with other anti-inflammatory herbs such as tinospora (guduchi), echinacea and goldenseal (hydrastis).

Guggul can be given in large doses several times daily for laryngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and whooping cough. The fumes of burning guggul can be inhaled for hay fever, acute and chronic nasal congestion, chronic laryngitis, chronic bronchitis and tuberculosis. A plaster of the powder applied to the pit of the stomach stops hiccough instantly.

Guggul, as with other resins, is excreted through the skin, mucus membranes and the kidneys. This makes it particularly useful for the urinary tract and for a wide number of skin diseases including acne2 and psoriasis.

Types of Guggul Preparations

Traditionally, guggul is used as a combination combined with several herbs to enhance its effects. Two of the most popular forms are yogaraj guggul and kaishore guggul. Yogaraj guggul is used to treat enlargement of the abdomen, peritonitis, rheumatism, neurasthenia, sciatica, and, most importantly, degenerative nervous system diseases (Vata derangements). It also has significant anti-inflammatory properties. 3 Kaishore guggul is used to treat weak digestion, constipation, arthritis, boils, diabetic ulcers, abdominal tumors, leprosy, leukemia, cancer, psoriasis, and most inflammatory conditions associated with an imbalance of pitta or fire humour.

Guggul and Myrrh

Like myrrh, a closely related species, one of its first and continued uses today is as a fumigant for sacred rites and fires. Myrrh is a much more scarce plant so that guggul is sometimes called '˜cheap myrrh.' However, it is considered that myrrh adulterated with guggul is a superior medicinal product.

All the recommendations for the use of guggul would apply to the use of myrrh except that myrrh is more expensive, and guggul is safer because of how it is processed.

Therefore, like myrrh, guggul is used as a gargle for dental care, weak spongy gums, pyorrhea, chronic tonsillitis, pharyngitis and ulcerated throat. A teaspoon of the tincture (extracted with 90% alcohol), is added to 10 ounces of water to make a useful gargle and liniment for indolent sores. It is also used for chronic catarrh of the bowels and diarrhea.

Guggul: a safe and effective alternative to NSAIDs

As a pain relieving analgesic, guggul 4,5 is an excellent alternative to non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in its ability to relieve pain, skin and other inflammations as well as promoting healing of the underlying cause.

Pharmaceutical NSAIDs are sold without prescription to millions of people throughout the world daily for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This includes a wide number of drugs ranging from aspirin to acetaminophen. Most educated consumers are already aware of the dangerous side-effects of NSAIDs, a few of which are outlined below.

A British study in the journal Pain reviewed 49 randomized, controlled trials with data on gastric or duodenal ulcer, ulcer hemorrhage or perforation, and death attributable to NSAID (aspirin) use. The authors estimated that one in 1,200 patients taking NSAIDs for at least two months died from gastroduodenal complications. They also estimated that 2,000 people in the United Kingdom die each year from gastroduodenal lesions who would not have died if they were not taking NSAIDs.

Acetaminophen, which is the basis of the NSAID drugs Tylenol, Vicodin® or Percocet® classified as Cox-2 inhibitors commonly used for chronic pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute short-term pain, and for the treatment of severe menstrual pain, is known to cause liver damage, liver failure and death. Each year, these drugs are responsible for 100,000 calls to poison control centers, 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths only from liver failure.

Other serious health problems associated with their use include bleeding stomach ulcers, intestinal bleeding, heart problems, and damage to the liver and kidneys. These complications can occur with or without warning symptoms and if severe can lead to hospitalization or death.

Stronger NSAID medications are Vioxx and Celebrex. These do require a prescription, are more expensive and are not available as generics. Sales of these NSAIDs in the United States have been estimated to exceed $4 billion each year.

Because of its safe, quick-acting and highly effective anti-inflammatory properties that also enhance circulation, guggul offers a safe and effective pain relieving alternative to NSAIDs. It is ideal for those whose work involves a lot of back bending followed by stiffness and pain. For the zealous gardener, the yoga practitioner or after a strenuous gym workout, guggul will effectively relieve the stiffness and pain usually within an hour or two that would usually can take anywhere from one to several days to resolve.

Who should take guggul?

Guggul may be taken by anyone suffering from pain, including arthritic and rheumatic pains, back pain, headaches, body stiffness, and fracture recovery. It can be used for anyone who suffers a painful stiff back after bending a lot or from stretching and bending exercises.

People with a tendency toward obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive weakness, low libido, sterility, impotence, skin diseases, coldness, low immune system, cancer, low thyroid and low energy may also benefit from guggul.

It is a specific formula for the elderly that can be taken regularly to offset the negative effects of slower metabolic functions.

It absolutely should not be taken during pregnancy.

Active constituents

Guggul contains resin, volatile oils, and gum.

Guggulsterones which are mentioned in the marketing of guggul products are the extract isolates of ketonic steroid compounds. Based on research, these compounds are considered to be responsible for guggul's cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering actions. Guggul significantly lowers serum triglycerides and cholesterol as well as LDL and VLDL cholesterols (the "bad" cholesterols) by approximately 25%. At the same time, it raises levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol).

Guggul has also been shown to reduce the stickiness of platelets - another effect that lowers the risk of coronary artery disease. One double-blind trial found guggul extract similar to the drug Clofibrate which is used not only for lowering cholesterol and blood lipid levels generally, but for treating angina pectoris, blood sludging and diabetic neuropathy.

The anti-inflammatory properties of guggul, like all oleoresins, are due at least in part to their ability to increase leucocytes in the blood and to stimulate phagocytosis.6


The therapeutic dose of guggul ranges from 75 to 150 mg daily. Commercial daily recommendations for the purified guggul extract are typically based on the amount of guggulsterones in the extract. A common intake of guggulsterones is 25 mg three times per day. Most extracts contain 2.5-5% guggulsterones and can be taken daily for 12 to 24 weeks for lowering high cholesterol and/or triglycerides.

Side effects and contraindications

The early studies of guggul used the crude oleoresin and despite its far higher benefits, there were also some minor side effects. These included diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, and skin rash. Some users experienced mild gastrointestinal discomfort which did not necessitate discontinuation. High doses have been used without the incidence of ill effects. Modern purified extracts, however, have exhibited far fewer side effects even with reported with long-term use.

For some, guggul may be too warming and stimulating; one of the side effects that has been reported is a mild rash which disappears as soon as the dose is either discontinued or lowered. For those with a warm, fiery constitution, Kaishore guggul, which is combined with anti-inflammatory herbs, is better tolerated.

People with liver disease or inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea should use Guggul with caution.

Finally, as mentioned guggul is strictly contraindicated for use during pregnancy.

Guggul may compete with some cholesterol reducing medications, so those on such medications you should consult a doctor before taking guggul. Likewise, those taking thyroid supplementation should tell their doctor and be sure to monitor free T4 and T3 hormone levels.

I have used widely used guggul clinically over 15 years with no reported incidence of any of the above mentioned adverse reactions. I recommend daily use with weekly or periodic breaks from taking it of approximately one day a week. If results are not clear, one can safely try to increase the dose, by doubling if necessary. Taken prudently on a regular or occasional basis, guggul should be considered very safe.

Guggul Supplements

Planetary Guggul Cholesterol CompoundThe best way to use guggul is in traditional complex formulations where it is combined with other herbs and formulas such as Triphala. The recommended minimum daily dose, two 325 mg tablets daily, provides 75 mg of guggulsterones, enough to lower cholesterol, relieve pain and body stiffness, and all of the other uses for guggul mentioned above. However, for quicker results, one can take four tablets daily (two tablets twice a day). For acute conditions I recommend starting out with as much as four tablets all at once and gradually taper down as symptoms subside. In most cases one will notice relief usually within the first hour or two after ingesting.

Planetary's Guggul Cholesterol Compound is most similar to yogaraj guggul which is the one most commonly used for most of the indicated conditions. Planetary's Guggul Cholesterol combines the three fruits of triphala with the three spicy herbs of trikatu (black pepper, long pepper and ginger root) as well as dill seed and asafetida '“ all of which are meant to serve as catalysts aiding the primary properties of guggul.

Check out Planetary Herbals' Ayurvedic formulas, including our Guggul Compound, here.


1 Nityanand S, Kapoor NK. Hypocholesterolemic effect of Commiphora mukul resin (Guggal). Indian J Exp Biol 1971;9:367-77.

2 Thappa DM, Dogra J. Nodulocystic acne: oral gugulipid versus tetracycline. J Dermatol. 1994;21:729-731.

3 Pandley et al., 1996

4 Kimura I, Yoshikawa M, Kobayashi S, Sugihara Y, Suzuki M, Oominami H, Murakami T, Matsuda H, Doiphode VV. New triterpenes, myrrhanol A and myrrhanone A, from guggul-gum resins, and their potent anti-inflammatory effect on adjuvant-induced air-pouch granuloma of mice. Bioorg Med Chem Lett 2001 Apr 23;11(8):985-9

5 Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, Khiyani R. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee--a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine 2003 Jan;10(1):3-7 [abstract]

6 Nadkarnia, Indian Materia Medica, pub by Bombay Popular Prakashan, 1976



Clinical Studies

Cholesterol - Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that the guggulsterone, the active ingredient in guggul extract, blocks the activity of a receptor in the liver's cells called Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR). Later, Dr. David Mangelsdorf at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas confirmed that the guggul blocked the receptor and affected how cholesterol is metabolized.

Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis - A double-blind placebo-controlled study of guggul for reducing cholesterol studied 61 individuals for 24 weeks. After following a healthy diet for 12 weeks the participants were divided into two groups with half of the participants receiving placebo and the other half receiving guggul (100 mg of guggulsterones daily). At 24 weeks the results showed that the treated group had a 11.7% decrease in total cholesterol. Those on guggul also had a 12.7% decrease in LDL ("bad" cholesterol), a 12% decrease in triglycerides, and an 11.1% decrease in the total cholesterol ratio.

Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis - Forty heart disease patients participating in a 16-week study were given twice daily divided doses of 4.5 grams of guggul lipid. They experienced a 21.75% decrease in blood fats (including LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides) and a 35% increase in "good cholesterol." Guggul lipid also reduced platelet stickiness.

Cholesterol - Another study conducted at Kerala University in India established that "guggul given to laboratory animals reduced their blood lipid levels quickly and effectively without side effects"..They found that improved liver enzyme activity was one of the ways guggul reduced the blood cholesterol. Kerala Univ., Indian J. Exp. Biol. 33, 1995

Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis - A study of 228 patients showed similar results from guggul as were obtained from the standard drug Clofibrate.

Impotence - South Carolina scientists conducted a study of more than 3,200 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 83. The men with total cholesterol over 240 mg/dl had close to double the risk of penile dysfunction as men with readings of 180 mg/dl. Also those with HDL readings of 60 mg/dl or greater were less likely to develop penile dysfunction than the men with less than 30 mg/dl HDL.

Obesity - In one double-blind study, a combination of guggul, phosphate salts, hydroxycitrate, and tyrosine (along with healthy exercise) improved the mood of overweight patients with a slight tendency to improve weight loss. However, there appeared to be no effect on thyroid gland function in the people studied.

Acne - In a 1994 study at the Department of Dermatology, in Bajaj Nagar, Jaipur, India, 20 patients with nodulocystic acne were randomly given either 500 mg of Tetracycline or doses of gugulipid with 25 mg guggulsterone. Both groups produced a progressive reduction in lesions. Those on tetracycline showed a 65.2% reduction compared with a 68% reduction with the guggulipid. The three-month follow-up showed relapses in 4 cases of Tetracycline and two cases of the guggulipid patients.


Herbal Proving:

Scutellaria antirrhinoides, 'snapdragon skullcap,' Lamiaceae (Mint family)

by Holly Nielsen

June 2008

Snapdragon skullcap by T Kuhn

The species can be found throughout Northern California (N of Bay Area), throughout Oregon and most of Idaho. This proving was conducted to test its use in formulas as a possible local substitute for the traditionally-used skullcap species, lateriflora.

It has axillary blue/purple snapdragon-like flowers in less than 1 cm in length and a rhizomatous growth habit with short upright stems. One stem will have flowers in all stages of development from bud to developing seed. It grows in the cold Northern Intermountain deserts and dry coniferous forest of California within mesic microclimates of exposed rocky outcrops at all elevations. Its preferred soil retains moisture longer due to the rocky "mulch." Occasionally the plants grow upon barren gravels along a creek, having their feet near the water table. The plants dry up and become dormant mid-summer, greening up quickly with the advent of more rain.

I experienced this plant to be primarily bitter, also slightly acrid, and cool in nature. After drinking a strong infusion in the evening, it wasn't long before I went to bed even though it was still early. When drinking these strong infusions throughout the day, I noticeably felt more patient and easy-going. While eating the raw plant, I would sneeze several times. I experience this with many bitter-flavored things, like dark chocolate. As Michael Tierra points out, in Ayurveda, sneezing is a Vata phenomenon and the bitter flavor aggravates Vata. Thus in prescribing this herb, the bitter flavor needs to be balanced with sweet and demulcent herbs to soothe those with vata or yin-deficient constitutions.

From a traditional Chinese medicine standpoint, snapdragon skullcap affects the Heart meridian with its strongly bitter flavor. More specifically, the blue-purple color is associated with calming the Shen aspect of the Heart. Drinking this infusion definitely helped with the minor insomnia I had been experiencing that I attributed to a restless spirit/mind, or Shen.

Scutella is Latin for "shield." The calyces enlarge and look like little green shields when developing seed. The clue this may give to the herb's use, as suggested by the Doctrine of Signatures, may be a protective mechanism. Perhaps against too much stimulation, or input, aggravating the Shen. This species also apparently influences the Liver meridian through its action of decreasing irritability and increasing patience, perhaps relieving stress on the Wood element/Liver. This action may occur through the engendering cycle of the Five Elements. The calming of Heart/Mind may have the effect of calming the Liver, as the unruly child (Fire element/Heart) can be draining/ stressful to its parent (Wood element/Liver), when this is resolved, there can be a reduction of stress in Wood, the parent element.

Scutellaria antirrhinoides is demonstrated to be a very effective sedative, nervine, and spirit/mind-calming herb. It works better for me than the common skullcap, S. lateriflora. I attribute this difference to the ability of S. antirrhinoides to thrive within a harsh yang climate of intense high elevation, sun and extreme temperatures, on rocks. I thought this could be a metaphor for the ability of the herb's sedative, nervine effects to take root and benefit even a very yang-type of individual, which I am. I find this is often the case with herbs that grow in a very moist, shaded, yin type of environment; they do not seem to 'take root' in me as well as those that have the ability to thrive in a harsher, yang type of climate. This may be a factor to take into account when deriving a formula for a specific individual.

Proving English Ivy:
Hedera helix (Araliaceae'”Ginseng family)

by Holly Nielsen
June 2008

English Ivy photo by Tom Forney Oregon Department of AgricultureHaving recently spent several winter months in the dark and dripping Pacific Northwest in Oregon, I couldn't help but ruminate on the English Ivy seemingly taking over everywhere and that this profuse plant must be intended for some herbal use. It is easy to observe that English Ivy especially loves this climate and wherever it grows it seems to have unlimited potential to use the cold and damp to make its bright, crinkly, dry, evergreen foliage. To me, it seemed to 'air the damp''” these thickets of ivy are always layered, woody and DRY where all else is dank and wet. It climbs by tendrils that have the ability to turn into true roots wherever along the stem they encounter deep crevices and sources of nourishment. The vine never flowers until it reaches the apex of its support. At this time, the heart-shaped or palmately lobed leaves become ovate and entire-margined and every terminal shoot produces a cluster of flowers. It can live to be hundreds of years old with a very thick trunk.

It is very interesting to me that this plant is in the Ginseng family'”the Araliaceae. Every member of this family that I know is adaptogenic and tonic. Surely this widespread weed must hold some potential!

In artistic depictions of Bacchus/Dionysos, we often see the notorious Greek god wearing a crown of ivy. This is attributed to ivy's traditional medicinal use of warding off the negative effects of drunkenness. Some old taverns in England still have this plant depicted above the door as a symbol of the quality of the establishment. It was also worn by Greek statesmen and newlyweds because it stands for fidelity and propriety. (Adapted from A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve)

I prepared a strong decoction of two cups crushed leaves in liter and a half water. It was mild and pleasant tasting. Energetically, it seemed sour, bitter sweet, slightly acrid and slightly warming/stimulating. It seems this plant has a huge ability to dry dampness. In terms of traditiional Chinese medicine, the sour flavor benefits the Liver, which helps to explain its use to ward off a hangover. The bitter flavor enters the Heart: To me this suggests an explanation for the traditional use of the plant as worn by Greek statesmen and newlyweds with the Heart connection of right-action and right-speech and propriety/fidelity. This, in combination with the herb's obvious property of drying dampness, seems to possibly indicate its use for symptoms of Phlegm misting the Heart with symptoms of inappropriate words and actions. I think this thesis is worth some experimentation. The sweet flavor is nourishing and benefits the Spleen. The acrid and warming energy would seem to benefit the Spleen and improve digestion by dispersing and breaking up obstructions.The acrid/pungent flavor also enters the Lungs, so it would be worth trying this herb for conditions of Lung Dampness and probably Damp conditions or infections of the skin because of the metal element's correlation with the skin as a sort of 'third lung.'

The herb's energetics seem to be very light and drying. It seems like this herb may be of benefit to damp, excess kapha conditions and perhaps contraindicated for excess vata or yin deficiency, although the sweet flavor may balance the drying energetics. Interesting energetics, and it is in the Ginseng family, so I hope there will be more experimentation regarding its use as an herb. Experiment with caution, or limit to external use, as there are some sources that indicate toxicity of large doses of this herb.

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