According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are 361 charted acupuncture points on the body. Acupuncturists generally recognize any active point on the body that is particularly sensitive as an acupuncture point, so understood in this way, the number of actual points are limitless.
Within the medical tradition of Indian Ayurvedic medicine, there is a comparable number of points on the body that can be treated called marmas. Like Chinese acupuncture the science of marmani developed in India about 5,000 years ago in Vedic times. Ayurvedic texts describe 117 major marma points. Located at anatomical sites where veins, arteries, tendons, bones or joints intersect, they are similar to the more numerous Chinese acupoints as today they are also stimulated by palpation for both diagnosis and healing. Interestingly, about 75 of the 117 principal marma points exactly correspond to principle acupoints used in Chinese medicine.
Many of the points on the Chinese Gall Bladder meridian, especially on the head and shoulders, treat the condition known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “Wind.” There are broadly two types of wind: “External Wind,” which includes inflammations on the surface layers of the body including allergic reactions affecting the skin, eyes, ears and nasal sinuses as well as viral and bacterial conditions such as colds, flu, headaches and other common afflictions. “Internal Wind” is completely different and includes more chronic diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. In both cases, the description “Wind” denotes diseases that represent some fundamental instability.
While not exactly corresponding in location, the Chinese acupoint called feng chi or “Wind Palace,” also less poetically known as Gall Bladder 20 (GB 20), seems closely related in action to the Ayurvedic point Krikatika Marma. These points are located within an inch of each other at the occipital base of the skull can be stimulated to treat allergies, itchy eyes and all kinds of headaches. With effective 4- to 5-second stimulation, one can experience a feeling of immediate clearing in the head which caused one of my acupoint students to dub the point/s a “brain cooler.”
Feng Chi (GB20) is in a natural groove located behind the ear at the base of the posterior mastoid (ear) bone where the muscles of the neck attach to the skull. Krikatika marma is on both sides of the central axis leading into the skull at the juncture of the 2nd cervical vertebra.
Fortunately both these points are easy to find and easy to massage even on oneself. To locate GB 20, simply interlock the fingers of both hands palms facing inward and cradle the occiput on the back of the skull. Both your thumbs should naturally fall to the grove connecting the neck and the skull on your neck. Krikatika marma is one inch towards the center on either side of the cervical spine.
These both connect to the brain and are very powerful. Until you become more familiar with their effect you should stimulate them deeply but probably not more than 4 to 5 seconds each.
They can be used to immediately relieve allergy symptoms especially of the eyes, ears and nasal passages. Neck pain and stiffness with a decrease in range of motion, stress-related emotional disturbance, middle ear infections, tinnitus, Meniere’s syndrome, and asthma.
I sometimes think of GB 20 as a “lobelia” point because like the herb Lobelia inflata, it has such powerful antispasmodic (Wind-relieving) properties. Similarly, stimulating Krikatika affects the upper lobes of the lung, stimulating bronchodilation and the relief of asthma.
GB 20 and Krikatika marma offer instant relief of Meniere's disease which is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes of spinning vertigo, feeling of fullness in the ear and fluctuating hearing loss which is progressive, ultimately leading to permanent loss of hearing and ringing in the ear (tinnitus).
Meniere's disease affects only one ear and can occur at any age but usually starts between the ages of 20 and 50. It's considered a chronic condition, but various treatments can help relieve symptoms and minimize the long-term impact on your life. There is no known cure for Meniere’s disease and there are a variety of Western drugs usually with varying degrees of undesirable side effects, ranging from anti-nausea drugs and valium to steroids and even surgical intervention to cut off neurological response. Certainly for this disease alone, GB 20 and krikatika marma, with no side effects, are worth trying.
GB 20 and Krikatika marma are also useful for those who may experience brain fog and eyestrain from study or working with a computer for long hours. It seems quite natural that one might raise their finger-clasped hands above and behind their head occasionally not only to stretch and take in more oxygen but also to drop down as they take a deep inhale and maintaining a brief inhaled breath allow their thumbs to stimulate these two acupoints points for the price of one. One can easily extend the benefit of these points by massaging back and forth between these two points.
Note: this can be a very powerful experiential treatment. Start out cautiously massaging no more the 4 or 5 seconds on each side and wait an hour or so before repeating.
One of the common problems associated with aging is dry eyes. This can be complicated with an increased allergic sensitivity to airborne allergens. One randomized, placebo-controlled study showed that stimulation of GB 20 in dry-eye patients was significantly improved after 4-weeks of treatment.
I recently had a patient with a severe eye inflammation exhibiting symptoms of severe itchiness, redness, and swelling which caused him to go to his ophthalmologist for a remedy.
The ophthalmologist diagnosed it as inflammation caused by allergy and prescribed some exorbitantly expensive cortisone-based eye drops for relief. It was at this point that my patient sought alternative treatment. Because he would be traveling and it would not be convenient to make an herbal eyewash, I showed him how to massage GB 20.
This point worked like a charm, making it unfortunate that he had already spent nearly $200 for a tiny container of no more than a tablespoon of cortisone eyedrops which he never used. (Believe it or not, it was a cheaper brand from the original prescription which with even Medicare would have cost over $600!)
The first treatment priority was to allay the itching. Each time he felt an urge to rub his eyes he would massage GB 20 for 4 to 5 seconds as described. The itching completely stopped, lasting at first for an hour and after a few times, each time longer until the itching was completely gone.
In my previous blog, I discussed the little-known use of ragweed for allergies. Another herb that can give over-the-counter antihistamines a run for their money is butterbur (Petasites hybridus). About 20 percent of Americans complain of allergies each year, often interfering with normal work and recreational activities. Butterbur, like ragweed, is a member of the Asteraceae family whose abundant pollen wreaks annual havoc on those who are sensitive to them.
A study published in August 2005 in Phytotherapy Research looked at 330 patients who suffered from sporadic hay fever. The study divided the participants into three groups: the first took 8 mg of butterbur extract three times a day; the second took 180 mg of fexofenadine (Allegra), a common antihistamine, each morning, and the last took a placebo.
At the end of the study, both groups receiving active treatment reported a significant reduction in the nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes most commonly experienced with hay fever. Most strikingly, there was almost no difference between taking an antihistamine or the butterbur extract, except that some taking the antihistamine complained of drowsiness.
Since antihistamines and butterbur work in different ways, study author Dr. Andreas Schapowal of the Allergy Clinic in Landquart, Switzerland, feels that combining the two drugs would be effective. However, no study has investigated how butterbur works in combination with any other drug.
Butterbur: Antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties find use in migraines, allergies
The active ingredients in butterbur extracts are petasin and isopetasin. Petasin reduces spasms in smooth muscle and vascular walls, while isopetasin acts on the system that reduces inflammation. Together, the two act as an effective anti-inflammatory drug with potential in treating many ailments. These anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties have been demonstrated in pharmacological and experimental systems. Butterbur regulates calcium channels and inhibits the synthesis of the enzymes lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase. Efficacy and tolerability of butterbur was demonstrated in two randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trials with more than 300 adult patients and in one open trial in 108 children and adolescents.
Petasin also provides an inhibitory action on the leukotriene and histamine. The former is responsible for the allergic reactions in human body, when the blood vessels are dilated and get permeable causing such symptoms as rhinitis and sneezing. The latter causes inflammation and provokes the symptoms of asthma and hay fever. Therapeutic effects of petasin are applicable for such conditions as kidney stones, menstrual cramps, urinary disorders, and gastrointestinal problems (ulcers in particular) associated with muscle spasms and inflammation. In addition, petasin is known to provide hypotensive actions and strenghthen cardiac tissue.
Medical studies have proved that butterbur extract helps both in prevention and treatment of migraine, especially in severe cases and with fewer side effects (e.g. sedative) than in typical headache preparations. This action is supposedly achieved by relieving pressure on blood vessels and affecting calcium channels. An important feature of the herb's anti-migraine action is that it can be used in adolescents and even children. A study published in January 2005 showed that butterbur extract could help to prevent and reduce migraine symptoms better than placebo.
A few studies have implied that the extract may also be useful in treating asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory disorders. "Three randomized, placebo-controlled studies of the butterbur extract, Ze 339, in peer-reviewed journals should convince anybody of the efficacy and safety of the medication in allergic rhinitis," said Schapowal.
Astralagin and isoquercitrin are flavonoid glycosides found among the other important chemicals in the herb. They provide anti-depressant properties for the human central nervous system.
Also, anti-oxidant and properties associated with butterbur have been noted in several studies.
The most common pharmaceutical form butterbur is being released in is the supplement called Petadolex. These are the butterbur gelcaps produced for relieving migraine symptoms. There are no recorded adverse reactions to the use of butterbur. However, older studies that have not been duplicated showed that butterbur leaf extract may have caused cancer in animals. Therefore it has gradually faded from human use. The compound responsible for this toxic effect, the pyrrolizidine alkaloid, has since been identified, and newer butterbur supplements are made from only the leaves of a plant (roots contain higher levels of the alkaloid) specially developed to be low in the compound. Now experts say that the herb is safe for use. Due to the risk of PA toxicity, butterbur should only be consumed processed and purchased from the authorized dealers. The raw extract should be avoided.
Historical use of butterbur
Butterbur has a long history of use, possibly dating back to ancient times. Related to comfrey and coltsfoot, it was used to treat asthma and sinus infections. In the 16th century it was described as a "plague flower," presumably because it may have been found effective in treating this disease. Native Americans used butterbur root for inflammation, hay fever and headaches, much as it is used today.
The size of the leaves made it useful as a head cover, which gave the butterbur its derived generic name. Petasus is a Greek word for a broad felt hat worn by shepherds, hence Petasites is the name of the genus. The plant's common name "butterbur" refers to another function of the leaves: they were used to wrap butter for preserving it and keeping it cool. In some cultures seeds of butterbur are believed to have love divination properties and are used for rituals by young women.
Butterbur is native to Europe as far north as Scandinavia, and is also naturally found in some parts of Asia and North America. It is considered invasive and due to its space and light-consuming habits, butterbur grows with no other plants around its leaves. Favoring clay and sandy loam, it is found in meadows, shades by the waterways, flood plains, marshes, and other damp areas.
The rhizome of the plant is considered to possess most of the beneficial properties associated with butterbur. It contains bitter resinous juice and has an unpleasant taste. Leaves are used for herbal extracts intended to manage allergies.
Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1482
Spring conjures images of life renewed, flowery blooms, love and mating. But for one in five people, it means shutting the windows, missed days at work, and the annual pilgrimage to the local pharmacy to pick up allergy medications, antihistamines, decongestants, combination allergy medicines, and anti-inflammatory medications all with a list of possible adverse reactions, precautions and contraindications. The fact that none offers a cure but only relief is of no matter, because when allergies strike it is relief that is so desperately sought.
If it is relief that you are after, there is an herb that, for many, effectively relieves hay fever-like allergy symptoms within 15 minutes after ingesting. Believe it or not, it happens to be the highly invasive weed, ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia et spp.). Ragweed is ubiquitous in most parts of the country and ironically is itself responsible for 90% of pollen-induced allergies in the United States. Ragweed is also commonly known as ambrosia or bursage. Ragweed is a member of the Asteraceae family, noted for plants that cause allergic reactions in many. Ragweed is the probably the worst and most notorious of all pollen-caused allergies. In fact, with global warming, there is an increase of pollen generated and a concomitant increase in the prevalence and severity of respiratory allergies.
The great founder of 18th century homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), would love ragweed because it lends proof to a fundamental homeopathic principle, which is "like cures like." While inhaling ragweed pollen causes mild to severe reactions in those who are sensitive, ingesting 5 to 15 drops of a 5:1 strength herbal extract made from the pre-flowering dried leaves relieves hay fever-like symptoms, not only to ragweed pollen but to all tree pollens, cat and dog dander, mites and mold.
The "like treats like" principle has some possible scientific support. In an attempt to find an easier, more efficient and hopefully cheaper alternative to weekly allergy shots, Dr David Skoner of Allegheny General Hospital discovered that putting liquid drops or a rapidly dissolving tablet of an allergen under the tongue controlled Ragweed allergies enough to negate the need for weekly appointments for allergy shots. He posits that the allergens under the tongue travel directly to lymph nodes where the immune system makes the anti-allergen response to lessen sensitivity, "just like the shots did." Said Dr. Skoner. This was recently reported in Pittsburgh based WTAE Action News on February 28, 2013.
Santa Cruz County, Calif., happens to be rife with a number of allergy causing pollens, chief of which is from the invasive Acacia tree species. As we age, our immune system eventually wears down; in my case, I notice more that my eyes are more frequently itchy, attested to by the number of OTC eye drops I’ve collected. My friend and colleague Ben Zappin introduced me to some of his ambrosia tincture. He said it is also extremely effective against cat dander. Having two cats and two members of my family who don’t feel it is safe to visit because of cat allergies, I decided to give ambrosia a try. It only took 30 drops of the extract to provide within 15 minutes, complete symptomatic relief for an entire day. I now use it on an as needed basis.
How do we know about ragweed's actions on allergies? In fact very little is known either scientifically or by herbalists about the use of Ragweed for hay fever. It is not mentioned in any of the many herbal texts that I have dating back to the 19th century with the exception of William Cooke’s Physio-Medical Dispensatory where it is described as a stimulating astringent for dysentery, leucorrhea, periodic fevers, and other abnormal discharges with no mention of its use for hay fever symptoms.
In his book Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, the late herbalist Michael Moore, who personally was close to the traditional Central American native uses of medicinal herbs, describes a standard one- to two-ounce infusion of the flowering herb used for head colds, allergies and moderate histamine reactions.
A more extensive discussion is in herbalist Mathew Wood’s Earthwise Herbal. Wood makes the distinction between allergic symptoms to goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and ragweed and describes how a "nip of the leaf, taken at the time of the allergy, will almost always abort such an (allergic) attack," with characteristic symptoms of "sneezing, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, swollen capillaries in the eyes, itching of nose and eyes, and in long-term reactions of bronchial congestion." He offers an energetic description: bitter, pungent and slightly astringent. Wood recommends that the fresh leaves fresh be tinctured 1:2 in 95% alcohol watered down to 70%. He recommends giving only one drop initially to determine sensitivity. If there is no adverse reaction or an improvement in symptoms, five to 10 drops be given every two to three hours as recommended by the early 20th-century Eclectic herbalist John William Fyfe or 15-20 drops by the contemporary herbalist 7Song.
Herbalist Susun Weed writes in her blog post on ragweed: "The (H)ungarian author (Weixl-Várhegyi László) claims that the he harvests the young plants early, while they are small and eats the plant leaves raw and also dries the rest and makes a powder from it to preserve it for later use for culinary purposes." This author claimed to receive this information from a pastor in 1973. Weed also mentions an online discussion where participants shared their personal experiences consuming ragweed tincture and tea with promising results.
I found an interesting reference to it on the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine’s Clinical Tidbits page. There it is stated how it is "well known to herbalists, both mainstream and Californian Native/Hispanic." The article describes how it slows "copious fluid discharge from the eyes and nose usually within fifteen minutes."
Why is this herb, generally considered noxious and invasive, given the name "Ambrosia," a name whose Greco-roman origins means "food of the gods?" No one seems to know for sure, but a little known fact offers a clue. It seems that giant ragweed (A. trifida) is a highly nutritious and edible plant suitable for human consumption. The seeds of giant ragweed are 47% crude protein, much higher than any cultivated grain. Furthermore, the plants produce a prodigious amount of seed. According to Roger Wells, a certified wildlife biologist and national habitat coordinator for Quails Unlimited, the seeds contain "the highest amount of metabolizable calories, more even than corn, soybeans, wheat, or any other grain that we know." Giant ragweed is native to America and has excellent soil-binding qualities. Based on studies in Kentucky of archeological sites, it was cultivated and nurtured some 2,000 years ago for its nutritional seeds by Native American people living in the Mississippi Valley. Perhaps the name "Ambrosia" may refer to these highly nutritious properties of giant ragweed.
With spring being just a few weeks away, many of you may want to make your own Ambrosia tincture. Following is a recipe I found and intend to follow with my initial explorations using this herb:
The above is adapted from Making a Ragweed Tincture.