On our recent trip to China we went to Mr. Wei’s clinic in Hong Kong. There we learned of a new type of moxibustion – thunder moxa. It has many valuable uses and although it’s only available in China that I know of, you can still do it yourself.
But first, what is moxa?
Moxa is a shortened term for moxibustion, the method of burning herbs on or above the skin. This technique alleviates blockages and stimulates the flow of energy, blood and fluids. As well, it warms areas of coldness. Since pain usually results from some sort of blockage (stagnation) in the body such as the improper flow of energy, blood, or fluids, moxa is especially wonderful for sprains, traumas and injuries, although it treats other types of pain such as arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, menstrual pain, and muscle aches and pains. In addition, depending on where it is used, it can stimulate and supports immunity and promote better organ functioning.
Moxa is generally made from the mugwort plant (Artemisia vulgaris). This herb has a mild heat, burns easily and penetrates deeply. It is generally aged from 7 – 14 years and then processed into a variety of forms, either as loose wool, in cones, or as sticks (often called moxa “cigars”).
Thunder moxa is an exceedingly large stick of aged mugwort, equivalent to about 4-5 regular “cigars.” As such, it covers much larger areas of the body at one time and stimulates more heat.
Thunder moxa may be used like regular moxa by waving it over any site of pain. As well, a thin piece can be cut off the stick, lighted, placed on a slice of fresh ginger, and the unit set over the desired site. The moxa burns to ash, carrying not only the moxa heat deeply into the affected area but also the stimulating and warming energy of ginger.
How moxibustion works
Moxa provides a far-infrared ray heat that deeply penetrates the body. This heat relaxes muscles, dilates the vessels and stimulates the flow of blood, energy and fluids to break up blockages and bring in infection-fighting cell, thus speeding the healing process.
Heat instead of cold?
But why use heat instead of cold as is usually prescribed by western practitioners, you might ask? While ice alleviates pain in the moment, in the long run it causes blood and energy to stagnate, particularly in the deeper levels of the body. This can result in arthritic pain in that area later in life.
As well, ice and coldness decrease circulation and congeal blood and energy, (just as cold turns water to ice), overall slowing the healing process. Heat, on the other hand, stimulates fresh blood and energy circulation, alleviating pain and speeding healing.
Although other heat applications exacerbate inflamed conditions, moxa’s far-infrared ray heat is different and doesn’t aggravate most of these conditions. In fact, it often relieves inflammation because it stimulates circulation instead of blocking it the way ice does.
The only time moxa should not be used is either when the area is very red and swollen, or the application doesn’t feel good. If this occurs, switch back and forth between cold applications and moxa, using ice no more than 20 minutes at a time and ending the session with moxa.
The proof is in the pudding (moxa!)
Using moxa heat may sound doubtful to most Western ears but I suggest you try it to learn for yourself. I’ve personally seen many cases benefit from moxa where ice aggravated the condition. I’ve had people with three week-old knee injuries throw away their crutches after only one moxa session, sprains heal faster than most doctors admit possible and arthritic pain, frozen shoulder and areas of limited movement that even surgery didn’t improve disappear after regular moxa treatment. Next week I’ll describe how to use moxa so you can experiment yourself and see how amazingly effective it is.
A group of 24 East West students, graduates, teachers, and a few of their companions traveled to study herbs in China for 10 days in May. What we found there was most surprising and encouraging. Michael has written much about this in his blog on this topic, so I’ll mention other areas here.
Firstly, TCMZone, along with Michael and I, developed the specialized herbal training program we attended. They’ve worked with Shanghai University since 2008 bringing groups of acupuncturists, herbalists, and established practitioners to train there. But ours was their first herbal training group, not to mention their largest group as well as including their oldest and youngest students (12 year-old Faith and 88 year-old Madeline Kramer). It was so successful that TCMZone is offering another Chinese herbal studies only program for advanced herbal students again next May.
One of the aspects of this training that impressed me the most was the integration of Eastern Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with Western medicine. Many hospitals offer this in China. In Shanghai, we studied at the Longhua Hospital, associated with Shanghai University. The doctors first train for three years in Western medicine and then continue to 2-3 years of TCM followed by internship and residency. After, each doctor approaches the Western-Eastern medicine integration in their own way, some emphasizing Western medicine and others TCM herbalism or acupuncture.
We trained in gastrointestinal, respiratory, endocrine, gynecology, oncology, traumatology, cardiology, rheumatoid arthritis, dermatology, and mental disorders specialties. Additionally, we covered digestive disorders, auto-immune diseases and hypothyroidism. We observed doctors treating both in-patient and out-patients. We visited patient in the hospital and the doctors explained their cases and the herbs they were giving. Our group saw 3-5 patients with each doctor in this manner, although other groups may have seen more.
Doctors treating in-patients, however, treated 50-100 in a day. The doctors sat at a desk with a computer and often an assistant. The patients (along with 1 to 5 family members) walked in the door and sat at the doctor’s desk. Often the next patient with their families would be bulging through the doorway awaiting their turn at the same time. The doctors spent around 5 minutes per returning patient and perhaps 7-10 minutes with new patients.
Patients would walk in carrying their own charts in booklet form and handed them to the doctors. The doctor would look at their record and the patient, perform a quick tongue and pulse scan (perhaps 5 – 30 seconds for each), ask questions, and listen to whatever the patient contributed. At the same time they’d inspect the formulas already given on their computer screens (if a returning patient).
In terms of treatment, most doctors would first use Western medicine, typically by requesting lab tests. Then depending on the slant of a particular doctor, they’d either try medications first or go straight to herbs.
As information was assessed or given, the doctor would adjust the herbal formula accordingly, changing dosages of individual herbs or even the herbs themselves, taking some out and adding others in. When done, the doctor handed the patient’s record book back and the next patient (and family) quickly took the empty seat.
Behind the scenes, the new herbal formula was sent electronically to the pharmacy on the first floor of the hospital where the patient would next go after seeing the doctor. This is the second thing that impressed me there – the sophistication of their herbal pharmacy. Several pharmacists worked to fill the electronic doctor’s orders, typically using either bulk herbs, if the patient specifically requested teas, or else granulated extracts or actual teas packaged in daily dose bags.
I saw some patients with laundry carts that they’d fill to haul away the huge bags of bulk herbs given. At home the patient would either cook these herbs themselves, or take them to a local factory where they were granulated or made directly into teas.
The hospital also had decoction machines in the basement where they’d prepare patients’ teas to drink. Mainly these were produced for patients staying in hospital but others could take them home, too. Generally, the herbal formula was soaked for a half hour, then decocted for 45 minutes. These were then strained and vacuum-sealed in thick plastic bags. These could be kept refrigerated up to two weeks, although the doctors would typically prescribe formulas in weekly doses.
We also visited Shanghai University’s TCM department where we received our beautiful certificates of graduation in Advanced Chinese Herbal Medicine. This university is almost as big as a city with a fabulous herbal museum finished just 20 days before we arrived. This incredible museum displayed many historical herbal books and items along with an entire floor on herbs.
Samples of rare herbs (plants, animals and minerals) lined walls of cases. There was a room displaying a doctor examining a patient along with its pharmacy. One entire wall held tall glass jars, each filled with an herbal sample. Another display presented pressed herbs while one had dried herbs covered by a plate with holes so one could smell each of them individually. There were also several pulse machines where one could actually feel the varying quality of all the different pulses! That was an incredible teaching tool I wish we had here in the States. A different machine would take a photo of your tongue and give a fairly accurate diagnosis of your health imbalances. Likewise, there were machines for face and body diagnosis pictures and information.
All in all, it was an amazing learning event. I encourage anyone who understands Chinese herbs and theory to attend yourself as TCMZone is offering a similar herbal-training only program again, probably next May. Take advantage of this incredible opportunity!
The East West Herb Course and TCMZone organized a special training for our advanced and graduate East West Course students to receive advanced clinical training at Shanghai University of Traditional Medicine (SHUTCM). Based on the enthusiastic and grateful responses to all of us during and after the trip, everyone felt that this experience provided a quantum leap in their education and understanding of herbal healing especially from the TCM perspective, which is a core part of the curriculum of our course.
With a relationship dating back to 2008, herbal medicine supplier and continuing education provider TCMZone, LLC, has been collaborating with Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine to create a specialized clinical training. Along with Lesley and myself, TCMZone collaborated with Longhua hospital and Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine to design the ideal advanced training program for our advanced students and graduates.
The program allowed for maximum of preferences and individual flexibility. Some of us (“the gang of seven,” consisting of me and Lesley, Susan Kramer and her 87-years-young mother, Madeline, East West graduates and instructors Joshua Farahnik and Holly Hutton, along with her husband Paul Claeyssens, an archaeologist) were able to extend their trip for additional sightseeing a week before and after the scheduled tour and training. Kristi Shapla, also a graduate and instructor explored other parts of China with her husband, Roman.
The actual TCMZone scheduled tour began with two days of sightseeing trips in Beijing, followed by a nine-day Shanghai training with clinical rounds in the morning and special lectures in the afternoon. During the clinical rounds, students were divided into four- or five-person groups led by interpreters and following a senior doctor to observe clinical treatment with Chinese herbal medicine in different inpatient/outpatient departments. Lectures on advanced herbal medicine, on topics such as autoimmune diseases, rheumatology, gastroenterology, gynecology, cardiovascular diseases, Shen or neurological disorders, and oncology were scheduled each afternoon. These were taught by senior doctors and professors. Combined with observing the professors in in- and out-patient settings (the latter seeing on average 30 to 50 patients each morning at the hospital), this made for a memorable and profoundly enrichening experience.
What was immediately apparent was that only in China is traditional medicine and modern Western medicine so completely integrated. Each of the doctors and professors we saw had degrees in both fields.
This is something I had heard but seeing and experiencing both systems being used virtually side by side is a completely different thing. As with any change, there are both positive and negatives but in this case, since both approaches have so much to offer, it is mostly a positive for health care.
The fact is that in China today the most successful TCM doctors have a dual degree in traditional as well as Western medicine. Those who are critical of such a merger feel that the wholistic body-mind-spirit aspect of TCM has been edited so that it had already become “Maoist Communist Traditional Chinese Medicine” because it veered to a more ‘sanitized’ approach without its deep rooted spiritual underpinnings.
Undoubtedly this is true to an extent but most fail to recognize how individual spiritual beliefs that accumulate around a core of pragmatic truth can eventually cloud that essential universal truth which is the source of its power.
Even in the West today, we see how people tend to make up for their deficiencies of skill and understanding by resorting quasi, unprovable methods such as flower essence therapy, kinesiology, aroma therapy and other methods that are more properly the domain of shamanism than a reliable mainstream system of healing.
TCM views the emotions as an expression of body-mind rooted in organic imbalances which at least in theory, can be treated with herbs, acupuncture and other physiological methods. So if a particular emotional imbalance presents itself in a consultation, herbs are added to the formula to balance the corresponding organ imbalance, such as herbs for the liver when there are symptoms of anger and depression, herbs for the Heart when there are psychotic and delusional symptoms, for the Kidney-adrenals when there are pronounced symptoms of fear and paranoia – and so forth.
As a whole, the TCM department alone sees about 8,000 patients a week.
As we observed new patients in an outpatient setting, it took only 10 to 15 minutes, especially on a follow up consultation for a TCM doctor to assess the patient and send down via computer his or her formula to the huge herbal pharmacy on the ground floor. This could result in a patient receiving a shopping cart full of his or hers individually packaged herbal formula when the herbs we intended to be brewed as a tea – or perhaps they would be giving their formula as a granulated dried extract. Herbal pills and patents medicines were also available if the condition was milder or warranted that delivery system.
We did not see the tendency found among western herbalists and less experienced TCM practitioners for extended hour or longer intake sessions to delve too deeply into minute dietary, emotional or lifestyle considerations. Certainly the doctor might give suggestions and point out such changes but it was not something that either the doctor or the patient felt needed to occupy a lot of time. However, it was somewhat amusing to some of us to find that there was at least one specially designated space in the hospital called “emotions treatment room.”
We were able to ask questions and observe pulses and tongues as well. Patient compliance was expected and reportedly excellent. After examining each patient either on a first-time or follow-up basis, the doctors entered the information on a computer and the formula was sent to the hospital pharmacy where it was put together as teas, concentrated granules, pills and even individually bagged prepared liquids. The patient then went to the large dispensary on the first floor of the hospital and we could see how some of them received large plastic bags with numerous individual bags of their formula. Unlike practice in the US, when acupuncture was prescribed it was usually three days a week with rounds of 12 or more treatments.
Because both western and traditional methods were combined (usually administered by different physicians), it did not mean that the more natural traditional methods were less favored. Younger people, who have less time due to work, generally sought quicker symptomatic relief from Western medicine. While there were many younger patients who visited the traditional doctors, the majority were older patients above the age of 55 (retirement age in China).
So many of contraindications we in the West have been taught, such as the combination of Blood-moving herbs such as dang shen (Salvia milthiorrhiza) for angina and cardiovascular disease with blood-thinning pharmaceuticals, was not a concern shared by our far more experienced colleagues. This would also be true for the use of immune-tonic herbs with autoimmune diseases.
In fact, as in the case of treating cancer and other serious and otherwise incurable diseases, natural methods such as herbal medicine and western therapies and pharmaceuticals were prescribed together. The strategy of traditional Chinese medicine oncologists was to relieve pain, side effects of Western interventionist therapies and most importantly prevent recurrence. The most common type of herbal formula prescribed by TCM oncologists was called “fu zheng” or “make normal” formulas. (By the way, Planetary Herbals carries a fu zheng-styled formula created by Roy Upton called “Reishi Mushroom Supreme.” As a cancer specialist, I prescribe this formula to every cancer patient to be continued throughout treatment and recovery for up to two years after one has been declared cancer-free.)
All our concerns about whether patients were getting good results were appeased as many of them in the various departments we visited (oncology, rheumatology, dermatology, respiratory, gynecology, gastrointestinal, trauma, mental and neurological) would return to us happily exclaiming how much benefit they were receiving from the herbal formulas they were given.
To describe all that we learned from our herbal study tour in China, would be too long. We are still assimilating and sorting through our notes and photographs.
Some have criticized the ‘disease’-oriented approach used in China as well as by prominent TCM proponents in the West such as Giovanni Maciocia as opposed to the strict pattern approach as not traditional. Both have their roots in tradition and both involve pattern differentiation which is the heart and soul of TCM. It is mostly a matter of orientation but if practiced properly, both will lead to a similar treatment approach; however, the disease approach has several advantages, including that it connects with modern scientific medicine.
Many thanks to TCMZone and its manager, Jennifer Knapp, and president Dr. Dan Wen, for making such a fabulous experience available to advanced and graduate students of the East West Course. While students and graduates from our school number into the thousands and among their number some of the most accomplished and leading herbalists in the country, it was particularly gratifying to see how the level of the 22 who were able to go on this ‘journey of a lifetime’ were able to attend courses in advanced herbal medicine and earn the respect of the extraordinary professors and mentors in China. For more photographs from the tour, see our Facebook page.
Upon completion, we each received a beautiful certificate in Advanced Herbal Training signed by Dr. Dan Wen and Professor Yan Xiao-Tian, Director of International Education College of SHUTCM who said, "We are glad to see TCMZone's continuing education program has grown so successfully. The large group recently led by TCMZone from the USA represents a growing interest from practitioners for this kind of clinical training in TCM hospitals in China."
I know that there are hundreds of other students who might want to go to China to study. I heartily recommend it, as you will never see anything like that level of herbal practice anywhere in the US. Our school is organizing a similar tour next year, dates to be announced! It can be tailored to include not only herbal medicine, but acupuncture, body work, and Qi Gong. Space is always limited so if you have any intention to go on next year’s trip, be sure to contact Jennifer Knapp at TCMZone to get yourself on the list. http://tcmzone.com 888-788-8086.
This year after one of our best seminars ever (per many students and teachers), a large group of East West students and graduates traveled to China together! The bulk of our time was spent training with the TCM branch of Shanghai University, both at Longhua Hospital and in a local university classroom. It was an incredible opportunity and many of us are still getting on our feet after a recent return from this fascinating experience.
TCMZone set up the training as their first herbal-only study group. As well, we were their largest group ever with 28 of us, including their oldest student, 88 year-old Madeline Kramer (Susan’s mother), and the youngest student, 12-year old Faith, the daughter of acupuncturist Bahia Ohlsen, who joined our East West tribe along with two other acupuncturists.
Our mornings were spent in Longhua Hospital in split groups of 4 – 6 each under various specialty doctors, doing either hospital rounds or witnessing in-patient services. Afternoons found us in lecture with different doctors who shared their expertise on a variety of intriguing topics. All told we spent 7 full days in study. At the end, each of us was awarded a beautiful certificate in Advanced Chinese Herbal Medicine Training with Shanghai University.
Along with learning new material and confirming old ones, Michael and I were most impressed with our students and graduates, many of whom are now wonderful teachers and successful practitioners with their own clinics. They shared such wise insights and engaged with the doctors on an advanced level so that many of the doctors expressed how impressed they were with our group.
There is much more to share about this, and I’ll include more detailed information in future blogs. Stay tuned!
The most widely used Chinese herbal formula comes with the boastful name, “Curing Pills.” In North America and Europe any herbal preparation with such a name would be viewed with the same humorous disdain as “”snake oil” was during the 19th century in North America. (Though if the real “snake oil” might have been an echinacea root preparation, also popularly called “snakeroot,” used by the Sioux Indians and early settlers to treat cold, flu, infection, inflammation, and even venomous bites and stings, one would be justified in considering it a virtual “cure-all.”) “Curing Pills”! Such a name is bound to tickle any Western rationalist’s mind as incredulous.
Still, the name “Curing Pills” could only arise in a population that culturally had or has a deep respect for the healing power for herbs, something people in the West have lost or are in the process of regaining.
“Cures what?” you might ask. Or, when are you most likely to be desperate enough to reach for a box or bottle of something called “Curing Pills”?
How about when you’re on vacation in an area where change of diet, water, hygiene and other factors leads to a sudden and most inconvenient bad case of the “runs,” or other gastrointestinal upset?
How about if you’re trapped on a boat with seasickness, nausea and vomiting?
Or how about during those agonizing hangover hours after a night of over-indulging?
In any of these scenarios you might be inclined to reach for anything for relief, and in such contexts the name “Curing Pills” takes on useful significance.
Curing Pills, also known in Chinese as Kang Ning Wan, meaning “Healthy Peaceful Pills,” has a time-earned respect for treating most acute gastrointestinal diseases. Chinese people who over centuries have traveled through the widely diverse climates and cultures throughout China have learned to bring their “Kang Ning Wan” pills with them; thus they came to be known as “Curing Pills.”
The herbs in this energetically balanced formula have many properties, including antibiotic, antiviral, digestive, antispasmodic, and carminative. You can use them for treating food- and water-borne pathogens, food poisoning, dietary sensitivities, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, motion sickness, alcohol and drug hangovers, fevers and even common cold and flu complaints.
Digestion and the stomach is considered the center, the place where health and disease emanates and is regulated. Curing Pills work to reestablish a “healthy and peaceful” GI tract.
Considering their wide range of efficacious action Curing Pills are inexpensive. They are also light and easy to carry. I always keep a box of them in my luggage, making one less thing to think about when packing.
Consider them anytime you find yourself uncomfortable from overeating. To prevent or lessen the severity from a potential hangover, try taking them before imbibing and then the morning after.
If you are traveling to Central or South America or some parts of Asia or Africa where standards of hygiene are not always to be counted on, be sure have Curing Pills on hand to prevent what has come to be known as the dreaded “Montezuma’s Revenge.”
Many people are concerned about expiration dates and indeed for food items and other things such as pharmaceuticals expiration dates are important to consider. The consideration regarding packaged and sealed herbal products is not so strict however. I have found Curing Pills and other herbal products viable and effective long past the expiration date on the label.
A group of us are planning a month-long excursion to study herbal medicine and tour in China. While I expect Curing Pills will be widely available there, fortunately they are also available in the US. I will be gone for a month. I already have two boxes of Curing pills stashed in my luggage. Often when we come down with acute gastrointestinal distress we don’t have time and are certainly not in the mood to be looking for a place to buy Curing Pills.
So to paraphrase the old American Express Card ad in relation to herbal Curing Pills, “Don’t Leave Home Without Them!”
For those who may have questions regarding the quality of imported Chinese herbal products, Planetary Formulas manufactures Kang Ning Wan or Curing Pills in a product known as “Digestive Comfort.” It consists of Poria sclerotium, magnolia bark, Chinese giant hyssop leaf, Job's tears seed, bai-zhu Atractylodes rhizome, fragrant angelica root, kudzu root, leavened wheat, germinated rice, Trichosanthes root, chrysanthemum flower, Gastrodia tuber, and Chinese mint leaf and stem. Soon it will also be available in a convenient small tincture bottle.
Mention “noni” (Morinda citrifolia) to anyone who has tasted the fermented fruit, and the conversation is over. Some people would rather die than have to ingest fermented -- a polite word for ‘rotten’ -- noni juice, regardless of the well-supported claims of miraculous healing attributed to this humble fruit.
After visiting the island of Kauai once or twice a year for over 30 years where noni trees grow wild everywhere, I know too well the rotten smell of its fruit lying around the base of the trees. Hawaiian people put noni fruit in a jar, where they let it liquefy and ferment in the sun for a few days. They sip the resulting juice and even bring it to their loved ones battling serious diseases in the hospital. Despite knowing this, after experiencing the disgusting smell and taste I completely rejected it.
So what if noni was one of the 24 original ‘canoe’ plants that the Polynesians regarded highly enough to bring with them in their 2000 mile-long open sea voyage from the Marquesas’ islands around 400 A.D., which led to their discovery of the Hawaiian islands, the most remote land mass on the planet? So what if it is the most highly revered healing plant of the Kahunas (healing priests of Hawaii), truly the greatest ‘superfood’ in the world? It still tastes terrible!
Some people, appreciating the healing virtues of certain herbs, are inclined to disregard the often nasty taste of them when in need of healing. As an herbalist, I’ve also ‘bit the bullet’ of bad taste but even I had to accede that the revolting ‘dirty-sock-cheesy-smell-and taste’ of noni was too much for my ‘haole’ (non-Hawaiian) sensibilities.
Noni juice has been touted and sold throughout the health supplement market in North America but this has been subjected to high pasteurization, killing off many of its live enzymes and is so highly diluted with fruit juice to be of negligible value, despite the claims.
But there is one way you can take bioactive noni and not have to stomach the vile taste and flavor: in the form of a fruit leather made from fresh unfermented tree ripened, deseeded, noni fruit.
After taking a wonderful free tour of Steve Frailey’s “Real-Noni” noni tree farm, which by the way, I highly recommend if you are ever visiting the island, Lesley and I have become an enthusiastic supporters of noni taken in this form and have given it to many friends and patients since. While it’s too soon to report any astonishing cancer cures in the short two or three months since we’ve been recommending and giving noni fruit leathers, from what I’ve read in numerous PubMed citations extolling the virtues of this botanical for promoting the healing of literally hundreds of diseases including type two diabetes and cancer, along with the mandatory healing anti-cancer mushrooms such as reishi mushroom, I consider noni fruit leather as an important botanical for patients to take battling cancer as well as diabetes and for that matter, any inflammatory disease.
Dispelling the prevailing myth that noni must be taken in this fermented form, Steve Frailey researched how the original Hawaiians ingested noni: fresh right off the tree before it falls to the ground and begins to rot in the tropic heat a mere three to four hours later. I learned that it was Chinese migrant workers on the old sugar plantations who first took fermented noni juice in a jar. Well, considering the great herbal healing tradition of the Chinese people, there’s probably more to fermented noni than meets the eye. But the fact is that fresh noni not only tastes better, it’s far better for you.
At least part of the secret of noni’s remarkable healing properties lies in its rich source of enzymes which causes it to rot so quickly after it ripens. But another part of its healing reputation can be attributed to an alkaloid precursor known as xeronine. I don’t know very much about this aspect of the plant but according to Dr. Ralf Heinicke, without xeronine, life would ceas, and noni fruit provides a safe way to increase our innate xeronine levels, which exert a crucial influence on cell health and protection. Xeronine’s enzyme precursors is evidently in abundance in fresh noni fruit, which seems to allow the body to retain as much as its endogenous xeronine levels it needs to deal with any of a wide number of diseases be they caused by pathogens, fungi, all inflammatory diseases, diseases caused by stress, trauma and injury. Yes, it seems that noni has the potential as the royal kahunas believe, to do it all.
Dr. Heinicke says that xeronine is a substance that our body needs to activate enzymes to promote most normal bodily functions. However, and this is perplexing, xeronine has never been found because as soon as the body manufactures it, it breaks down as soon as it is used. So no appreciable amount of xeronine has ever been detected in the blood. Nevertheless, knowing of noni’s remarkable healing properties and in need of some sort of explanation and scientific vindication, I can only take the respected Dr. Heinicke at his word when he says that without xeronine, we would die and further that normally we make pre-xeronine when we sleep so Dr. Heinicke posits that if we find other sources of it, we actually may not require as much sleep.
In our own limited use of noni fruit leather on ourselves and some of our patients we’ve been able to attest to the remarkable anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of noni, which is about 75% to 81% compared to morphine – and with absolutely none of the side effects, drowsiness or addiction.
Inflammation is a component of most if not all diseases, especially those associated with pain. Inflammation occurs as a result of injuries, trauma, dietary and environmental stress, and many other causes. It is also now considered a major aspect of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In so far as inflammation is a component of all of these and so many other diseases including viral and bacterial infection, noni can be of immediate benefit.
I recently prescribed it to a woman who tearfully and desperately called me at home on one of my days off, saying how she was suffering from the most excruciating pain from medically diagnosed pancreatitis which had not been relieved after several visits to the ER. I gave her a packet of noni fruit leather and told her to up the dose from the daily recommendation of two, two inch slices taken twice daily to 4. Within three days, she was virtually pain free and her pancreatitis was nearly completely cured. She is now a believer and continues to purchase her own noni fruit leather from online sources.
As to the treatment of cancer, noni stimulates the immune system directly and increases both B and T lymphocytes, our own endogenous defense, in battling cancer. Noni appears to inhibit tumor development. “Drs. Hirazumi and Furasawa at the Department of Pharmacology in the University of Hawaii showed conclusively that the high polysaccharide content of noni inhibits tumors in mice. Bromelain, an alkaloid and enzyme also found in pineapples and used in some dietary cancer therapies, is found in high levels in noni and it is known to weaken the walls of cancer cells. The undoubted strength of noni lies in this multi-polysaccharide, alkaloid and high phytochemical content. Dr DL. Davis, the senior science advisor to the US Public Health Service, is very clear that these "phytochemicals can take tumors and diffuse them." Noni helps regulate cell function and cell regeneration. Dr. Neil Solomon MD, PhD, conducted research with mice and showed that those fed noni live 123% longer than normal.”
Steve Frailey told us of one especially remarkable cancer case of a man diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. After ingesting a 4-inch slice of noni fruit leather, more than the recommended dose, four times daily, his cancer went into full remission based on ‘before and after’ medical exams by his oncologists. This man is now cancer-free but continues to purchase noni fruit leather.
Steve Frailey has a book full of anecdotal reports of patients suffering from type II diabetes and after taking noni for a month or two had their condition significantly benefitted or completely reversed and there appears to be a considerable number of research articles substantiating these claims as well (see references at the end of this article).
Noni is a phenomenal antioxidant! Without knowing anything about xeronine, which frankly, I’ve never heard of before, we can certainly appreciate how the anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-diabetic, antibiotic, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties of noni as a superfood ‘par excellence,’ can be attributed to its high antioxidant content.
This alone would make it worth taking it on a daily basis. According to scientists at the Natural Institutes of Health (NIH) they rate the antioxidant properties of noni according to its ‘oxygen radical absorptive capacities’ (ORAC). This refers to the process of decay that cells undergo as a result of environment, dietary stresses and age.
Following is their comparison of the ORAC values of noni fruit leather compared to others foods considered high in antioxidants including noni juice per 100 grams.
340,000 ---- noni fruit leather
3,082 –- apples
2,400 --- blueberries
1,506 --- noni juice
This far exceeds other purported superfoods known to have high ORAC values including cinnamon, oregano, raspberries, and pomegranate.
This is important for anyone of us concerned with offsetting the ravages of aging, which has been largely attributed to oxidation.
Noni is a phenomenal pain reliever while eliminating the underlying inflammatory cause of most pain. Published research has equated noni’s pain relieving properties as comparable to hydrocortisone except but without the side effects [(January 2010 issue of Phytotherapy Research (24:38-42)]. Still, as mentioned, another study found that noni exhibited a highly effective dose-related analgesic effect comparable to about 75 percent as strong as that of morphine, again, without any side effects [(Acta Pharmocologica Sinica 923(12): 1127-114].
Oftentimes natural healing agents such as noni become popular as veterinary medicines even before doing so with humans. This is because vets have a certain unofficial license to try new products to relieve comparable diseases on animals. The fact that noni has widespread effective use in the world of veterinarians attests that the healing properties of noni are certainly not all due to a placebo effect.
In recent years, a special Icy-Heat Noni lotion made by Real-Noni is what the University of Hawaii’s sports teams used when their basketball team played Michigan State University in a highly competitive match. The Michigan state coach wondered why the UH’s players did not suffer from the common cramping complaints of highly competitive basketball. Learning that it was due to Steve Frailey’s noni lotion, the Michigan State players used this same lotions with similar pain-free results as the UH players experienced.
I want to be clear that I have absolutely no vested interest in the sale and distribution of noni in any form whatsoever. I’m writing this as an herbalist who is particularly happy at finding a way I could prescribe and recommend an effective noni product to my patients, students and other herbalists who, like myself, may have been ‘turned off’ by the hype surrounding the marketing of what I consider an inferior noni product.
I could go on with many similar positive reports of the use of noni to a variety of other diseases, including recalcitrant diseases such as psoriasis, eczema and acne for instance but for the sake of brevity, I hope I’ve conveyed my enthusiasm for noni fruit, especially in the form of fresh noni fruit leather. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the beautiful ‘garden isle’ of Kauai, be sure to call Steve Frailey and register for a free tour of his noni orchard which is listed as a 5 star tour of “things to do in Kauai” by Trip Advisor. To learn more about noni visit Rea-Noni website, read their documented uses of noni and listen to an interview with Steve Frailey (http://www.real-noni.com/Interview-with-Steve-Frailey-About-Noni-Fruit/).
Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Consumption of guava (Psidium guajava L) and noni (Morinda citrifolia L) may protect betel quid-chewing Papua New Guineans against diabetes.” 2008;17(4):635-43
Food Chemistry. “Study on antioxidant activity of certain plants in Thailand: Mechanism of antioxidant action of guava leaf extract” Volume 103, Issue 2. 2007, Pages 381-388
Med Chem. “Antioxidative activity, polyphenolic content and anti-glycation effect of some Thai medicinal plants traditionally used in diabetic patients.” 2009 Mar;5(2):139-47.
Med Chem. “Antioxidative activity, polyphenolic content and anti-glycation effect of some Thai medicinal plants traditionally used in diabetic patients.” 2009 Mar;5(2):139-47
Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin. “Chemical Constituents of Morinda citrifolia Roots Exhibit Hypoglycemic Effects in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Mice(Pharmacognosy)” 31(5), 935-938, 2008-05-01. The Pharmaceutical Society of Japan. http://ci.nii.ac.jp/els/110006663956.pdf?id=ART0008687185&type=pdf〈=en&host=
It’s that season of the year again and so time to share some of my favorite herbs and therapies. The following I’ve found extremely useful over the last year. Some are herbs, others formulas, while still more are important therapies. All of these I have found to be healing clinically and helpful for many people. A few are new to my tool kit while others I have shared in some way or another in the past but are still primary in my current use. Most can be made at home or inexpensively purchased. These make great gifts for yourself or others and they’ll truly improve one’s health and life. May they help you and yours through the holiday season and beyond!
If you want to give a useful homemade gift, this is the one to make. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) treats lower back pain, joint pain, low adrenal function, stiffness in the joints, weak legs, arthritis and rheumatism, all due to coldness (feels better with heat and worse with cold and doesn’t look red). Teasel is also used for pains associated with Lyme disease. It probably works for joint pains associated with other conditions, too, although I have yet to try it.
The Chinese use Dipsacus asperi (xu duan) for these same purposes as well as to stop white vaginal discharge and bleeding, especially uterine, bleeding during pregnancy, to calm a restless fetus and to treat threatened miscarriage. Because teasel moves blood, alleviates pain and promotes growth of flesh, it is used for traumatic injuries, healing of bones (as its name implies) and skin sores when it may be applied externally and taken internally.
If you use the tincture, you only need from 3-10 drops and can experience relief within minutes. Once I gave it to a woman who woke every morning in excruciating back and hip pain. She took 5 drops of teasel tincture and not only did she feel tremendous and quick relief, but her ankle swelling reduced so she could eliminate medication she was taking for that condition.
Moxibustion is one of my favorite therapies. A powerful technique of burning herbs, typically mugwort (which creates a far infrared ray penetrating heat), on or above the skin, it alleviates blockages, stimulates Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warms cold areas. It is especially effective for sprains, traumas and injuries, although it treats other types of pain, such as arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, menstrual pain and muscle aches and pains. In addition, it stimulates and supports immunity and eliminates cold and damp, thus promoting normal organ functioning.
I recently learned about a new moxa-type tool called Therapik. It also uses far infrared ray energy but is conveniently battery operated. Sold as a device to treat non-venomous bites and stings, I’ve found it a wonderful smokeless moxa substitute. Not only is there no smoke but also no odor, fuss, or muss, and can be used anywhere, anytime, plus it travels well AND is very inexpensive. What could be better than that?!
Of course Therapik is great for clinical use, yet it’s terrific for home use as it increases client compliance for doing moxa on themselves ten-fold. I used it myself on a bruise after running my hand into a door. Normally I would have immediately applied moxa but I decided to try this instead. After several moments, the pain dispersed and the next day I had no bruising or marks of any kind, which would have occurred if I had not used moxa or this tool. I also have a client who has been using it on a long abdominal scar from surgery four months prior and the scar is disappearing. Therapik has passed the test!
To use, touch the Therapik tool directly on the skin and press the button. Hold in place until it feels too hot, and then remove. It may be used exactly where and how moxa is used.
For more on moxibustion and how to use it, see chapter 11 in my book Healing With the Herbs of Life.
To find Therapik, use Google (Amazon.com carries it of course!).
Noni leather/Noni lotion
The most recent addition to my herbal medicine kit, these products quickly belie the myth that noni smells and tastes too bad to enjoy its enormous benefits. Noni leather (by Real-Noni) tastes great, is convenient to use, easy to take, and has multiple uses. It’s also extremely high in antioxidants.
Made from pure fresh noni in the valley where traditional Hawaiians grew and lived on it, this noni leather is made of 100% pure organic noni. It is processed at very low heat for a long time, which increases its antioxidant content tremendously so it’s 14 times stronger than the juice. In fact, fresh noni is where the fruit’s healthful properties lie and not in the tincture, juice, or fermentation since these latter forms destroy most of its properties. That means you only have a small window to enjoy its fresh sour, astringent and slightly sweet flavor because if it’s exposed to heat or pasteurization, then its properties are lost
You can suck on it, eat, it, roll it into a little ball and swallow it like a pill, or dissolve it in water and drink as a tea. You can take it internally, wet and apply it as a bandage, or dissolve it in water and rub on as a lotion. This product is incredibly versatile.
But why risk trying the flavor of this noni? Because it has amazing healing properties and in fact, could be called a medicine chest in one herb:
I know a lot of herbalists may be rolling their eyes by now – is there really something to all the claims made about noni? Or is this just the latest hyped herb that cures everything? All I can say is that my limited experience so far validates certain uses. Michael and I are about to try it clinically and we’ll let you know in a future blog!
In the meanwhile, I’ve already use noni lotion successfully on those annoying chiggers, and recently ‘had’ to give it the acid test of course. While writing this I waded barefoot through a muddy stream and cut my foot on a rock. I found it had gouged a chunk of my skin from the edge of my heel. Red, raw, and sore underneath, I immediately ate some noni leather and then applied it externally as a small bandage (by licking it and sticking it on while holding its edges in place until sealed).
Within a minute, the pain and redness were gone. After 4 hours, the bandage was still in place and I could walk normally. After showering, I found the cut almost healed and no pain ever returned! If I hadn’t used the noni, I would have had pain and walking limitation for at least a day, in not more, even with using my favorite healing salve.
This superfood comes in 1 and 2 oz. sizes. One 2-oz packet lasts one month when you take the 2” X 2” sized piece dose two times daily.
You can purchase Real Noni leather, lotions and salve at: www.real-noni.com.
(Note: I do NOT get a kickback from this! I just think it’s fabulous stuff everyone should know about!)
Based on the famous Chinese formula, Liu Wei di Huang Wan, Planetary Formulas’ Schisandra Adrenal nourishes the kidneys and adrenals and yet simultaneously helps filter and retain fluids. It is basically Rehmannia Six Combination (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) with several astringents added – schisandra, plantain, and rubus – along with the blood and yin tonic, lycii, and the yang tonic, cuscuta.
The result is a formula that binds essence in the kidneys and astringes and holds yin and fluids. The overall effect is to boost kidney and adrenal function, alleviate low back and hip pain, and stop frequent urination, all due to poor kidney function and weak adrenals. Since it is now winter and we are in the kidney/adrenal time of year, it is a perfect formula to take now for these purposes.
Schisandra Adrenal is also fabulous for helping the kidneys to filter and hold their energy better. At the same time it eliminates back pain when nothing else works. This means the kidneys no longer hurt and weakness and pain disappear, no matter where it was felt – the sacrum, hips, and knees. I give this formula to my back pain patients and their pain releases. In a few cases I increase the normal dose, which is usually important to do short-term in acute conditions to get results. As well, women in menopause and men in andropause will find this formula very useful for leaking urine or frequent urination.
Schisandra Adrenal works well for both kidneys, but especially for left-sided pain since that is the Kidney Yin side. If the pain is more right-sided, then Kidney Yang needs to be tonified. This is easily done by adding in a small handful of walnuts daily and/or ¼ - ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder – or take 1 Planetary Formula cinnamon tablet with the Schisandra Adrenal.
This underrated spice has a very powerful healing property – it clears the stomach, resolves phlegm and dampness and subdues reflux. As an aromatic damp-drying herb, it is powerful for treating GERD, acid reflux, nausea and indigestion in those with coldness and white phlegm. It is the main ingredient in the Ayurvedic formula, Avipattakar, which is hands-down the best remedy I’ve found for GERD, especially when nothing else works.
Use after eating heavy holiday or other big meals with symptoms of fullness and distention of the abdomen, vomiting, nausea, foul breath, belching, heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. Take directly, mix with a little honey, or put in capsules.
For a holiday treat, make cookies or biscotti with it, cinnamon, nutmeg and dried ginger to help your holiday meal digestion!
Facial suction cups
Cupping is a fabulous technique that treats disease by suction. It is done by creating a vacuum in small jars and attaching them to the body surface. The vacuum draws the underlying tissues into the cups, pulling inner congestion and heat out of the body. Cupping is done over areas of swelling, pain or congestion, edema, asthma, bronchitis, dull aches and pains, arthritis, abdominal pain, stomach-ache, indigestion, headache, low back or menstrual pain and places where bodily movement is limited and painful. I have also seen cupping relieve depression, anger and moodiness.
While most cupping techniques use either fire or a plunger to produce the vacuum suction so the cups stay on and work their magic, I’ve discovered a new type of cup that has an attached rubber ball on top. All you do is place the cup on its desired location and squeeze the ball. Voila! Instant suction! Easy to use and convenient for travel, they come in many sizes. I especially love the tiny cupping set as these can be used places that normal cups won’t fit or hold, plus they come in shapes other than round.
The set of very small cups is particularly useful for the face and neck. Of the four small cups in the set, the largest one (which is still smaller than the smallest cup in a standard cupping set) works brilliantly over the cheeks and neck. Use by applying the cup and sliding it in a circular motion upward and outward. No lotion or oil is needed, although you may apply some if desired. This technique stimulates blood and energy circulation, which removes dark spots and firms skin. These cups may also be used on the face for headaches, sinus congestion, and more.
For more on cupping and how to use it read chapter 11 in my book, Healing With the Herbs of Life.
You can find facial (and other sizes) cups at: http://www.cuppingtherapy.org
Salt does many important things – explodes bacteria, kills bugs and softens hardness. I use it on my carpets to kill fleas. It does the same on the skin for unwanted pests, although not the burrowing kind. It is also great for making the skin smooth and soft. Salt not only exfoliates skin, but it “kills” any bacteria by absorbing their fluids so they “blow up.”
After rubbing salt on my skin and rinsing it off, my skin feels silky smooth and lustrous. Adding olive or coconut oil and a drop of your favorite essential oil will turn anyone into a Tahitian God or Goddess within minutes, another reason why it is sometimes called a salt “glow!”
I also use salt alone, mixing it with water, spreading all over the body, letting it sit 15-20 minutes and then rinsing off. You won’t believe how soft and smooth your skin feels afterward.
A salt rub makes a wonderful gift, is very simple to make and quite inexpensive. You can get quite expressive and creative, including the jars and labels you choose. The following is one simple recipe. Keep in mind that the amount of salt used will vary according to the grind and type chosen.
Mix all together and put in jar.
To use, rub or massage salt mixture into desired skin area. Rinse off.
Travel Neti Pot
Neti, also called nasal wash, is a procedure of rinsing the entire nasal track with a salt-water solution to clear sinus congestion and infections, and treats allergies, stuffy nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, and sore throats. Because bacteria linger in the passage between the bridge of the nose and the throat, neti is especially useful to treat recurring sinus and throat infections as the salt water accesses these areas. Nasal wash may be done on a preventative basis once a day, or several times daily for infections.
This travel neti pot works brilliantly for all of these purposes. Normally neti pots are large, heavy, ceramic pots. While beautiful and functional, they are heavy, can spill and don’t travel well. This small neti pot is plastic, compact, and lightweight. It is great for travel as well as home use, and even comes with packets of a perfectly proportioned salt mix. It also has a lid so you can tilt it farther without splashing water everywhere.
You can find this neti pot at drug stores (I’ve seen it at CVS and Walgreens).
Cnidium and Tea Combination /Fresh Ginger
The fabulous formula, Cnidium and Tea Combination, is not known and used as much as it should be. We all know about colds and flu from heat (high fever, mild chills, sweating, thirst, yellow mucus, throws covers off, severe sore throat) but we don’t always distinguish colds and flu due to coldness (symptoms of chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, and achiness), which takes a different treatment approach. Great Western herbs for this include fresh ginger and osha. However, none of these herbs is as effective in treating wind as Cnidium and Tea Combination.
The Chinese patent version of this formulas is Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan, or in the Plum Flower brand, Ligusticum Teapills. The formula is composed of mint, ligusticum (chuan xiong), schizonepeta (jing jie), notopterygium (qiang huo), angelica (bai zhi), licorice, siler (ledebouriella), Chinese wild ginger (xi xin) and is taken with green tea.
This formula treats colds and flu from coldness with chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, fear of cold, and chills at the back of the neck and top of the shoulders. It also staves off early onset of colds and flu. It warms and treats pain due to coldness, specifically dull headaches that move around and have a tightening or tingling sensation on the scalp.
This last summer while traveling I was exposed to constant external wind cold. It began after sitting in a room with extremely cold air conditioning. After, I contracted a chill that was hard to clear while traveling. Regularly taking this formula (in teapill form) helped me dramatically to both recover from a light cold and to prevent its recurrence. When I ran out of my stash, I switched to fresh ginger. While not as effective nor long-lasting in effects, it was still a fabulous help when I was exposed to unavoidable wind such as on boats, or in the Tube (Underground), air conditioning, and colder climates. I’d bite off a hunk of fresh ginger root, chew it, and quickly disperse the chill.
Note that dried ginger is not the same as the fresh; it has a hot energy and goes to the spleen rather than fresh ginger’s warming, dispersing energy that mainly goes to the lungs. It is best used to revive the digestion in those with coldness.
Recently, Michael and I taught in England, and as we generally do when teaching there we also traveled to other countries. And of course we just had to investigate the herbal scene wherever we went, too. This month we are both blogging about different aspects of what we found about the general state of herbal medicine in Europe.
Older generations of most cultures have long complained how their youth detach from traditional ways in favor of modern Western living. The same can be said of herbalism. In Russia, we learned that herbalism is alive and well, although mainly with the elderly population. Unfortunately, this is also the case in Mexico (as we learned while there earlier this year) as well as in other countries.
Ever since Western conventional medicine came to the forefront in the early 20th century, it has swept the world as the only medicine to use. The herbal renaissance in America that began during the 1970’s (well, 1960’s if you count marijuana!) created an impression that herbs are alive and well and growing. They are in the United States, but the European Common Union (EU) is crushing herbalism in most parts of Europe (particularly in the UK; see Michael’s blog). This is especially true in the UK, which used to be the last bastion of freedom for herbs and natural healing. While there are still many people using and teaching herbs there, they do so under increasingly stringent regulations and smothered resources. while the UK matches the EU’s regulation of only medical doctors prescribing herbs.
Given this sad state of herbal affairs, imagine Michael’s and my surprise when we strolled through the stone-paved ancient Gothic district in Barcelona (near La Rambla) only to stumble across the Herbolari (or Herboristeria) del Rei, self-proclaimed oldest herb shop in all of Spain. Established in 1818 (and moved to this location in 1823), is still fully stocked and operational. It immediately took me back in time to the "olde-time shoppes" in England and the States. Imagine standing in an herbal Ollivander's Wand Shop in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and you've got the idea!
To give you an idea of the almost 200-year history of this place, supposedly, Queen Isabel II shopped there for lavender for her baths! Thankfully, many more customers have come and gone so the store has stayed in full operation these last two centuries, recognized by a pavement plaque in 1999 when it was declared a site of culture and interest for tourists.
When we entered the store and breathed in its history, we met one of the proprietors along with his English-speaking nephew. They happily gave us a tour and we gazed upon cabinets of wooden drawers, much like those found in traditional Chinese herb stores, and a store room stuffed with sturdy cardboard boxes, all holding hundreds of plants (I believe he told me 263?).
Other shelves held bottles of syrups, elixirs, tinctures, wines, olive oils, beauty products, candies and to Michael’s delight, chunks of pure licorice extract, which is very hard to find. The shop itself is exquisite with its Elizabethan style decorations, statues, oil and watercolor paintings, wooden panels, hand-painted tiles, glass cabinets, and central marble fountain.
Since Aunt Trinidad Sabates, honored as a master of medicinal plants by the Generalitat de Catalunya, was not in, we didn’t get to ask specific questions. She offered to come down but as we had another engagement right then, we settled on returning two days later. Unfortunately, when I did come back it was raining and the shop was closed. I understand that although there are normal Tues-Fri hours (4-8 pm), it’s not unusual for them to close like this, similar to other stores in fun-loving Barcelona. As we had to fly to England the next day, we never did get to meet Trinidad, so someday we’ll have to return.
I did learn, however, that the shop is much visited and people still request herbal solutions for their health conditions, a rarity in the EU these days. Unlike other countries in the EU, Spain doesn't suffer the same restrictions such as Germany and France where herbs can only be prescribed by licensed medical doctors. So if any of you plan to visit Barcelona, be sure to stop by this incredible landmark that is keeping herbalism alive and well for Catalonia, Spain!
Herboristeria del Rei (Herbolari del Rei): located through a side passage near the Royal Square/Plaza Real in the Street of Glass # 1, or Carrer del Vidre, 1, 08002, or through the street Carrer de Ferran.
Michael Tierra in the Sierra, August 2012
"I'm gathering pulsatilla which is all around me. There are also stands of mule's ears (Wyethia species) at my feet and scattered around is California osha (Oschala), green gentian, sitka valerian, monardella (coyote mint) and arnica."
"Michael, you want to go with us tomorrow morning to the Sierras?"
"Gee, Ben, sounds awfully tempting," says I. "Let me check my schedule… Hey, I’m free!"
It didn’t take me long to emphatically say, "Yes, I think I would like – ah, er – no, I’m going!" Thus, with an unexpected clear August weekend, I finally acceded after 20 years’ worth of invitations from my outstanding former student (and now master) herbalist-acupuncturist Ben Zappin to join him for an herb class and wildcrafting expedition to the pristine California Sierra mountains. Two other herbalists, Darren Huckle and Brian Weissbuch, would also be there. I met up with Darren in Santa Cruz and we picked up Los Gatos herbalist and acupuncturist Abby Rappaport, stuffed our respective gear along with ourselves in Darren’s already crowded car, and rode into the sunrise to meet Ben, whose Sylvan Institute of Botanical Medicine in Berkeley sponsored the excursion.
The drive to the Mokelumne wilderness seemed to breeze by as we enthusiastically chatted and entertained ourselves to near exhaustion for the entire 5½-hour journey. In that car was a pretty high level, seminar-worthy discussion. And just think, we could look forward to even more on our return drive the following Sunday evening.
Weather temperatures hovered around 90 degrees in my Santa Cruz County mountain town of Ben Lomond, but the forecast for the Sierras was between 40 and 70 degrees and a promise of overcast skies and sudden showers. This was exactly what we got when we arrived on Friday afternoon and most of the day on Saturday.
Despite the threat of showers, we obeyed the need to stretch our legs and let the excitement of discovering what medicinal herbs were nearby pull us jauntily up the alpine slopes. The hills approaching the tree line indeed were alive with a wealth of botanical treasures. I think the others shared my feeling that it was like meeting beloved friends and relatives.
What we encountered over the span of 40 minutes was Valeriana sitchenensis (wild sitka valerian); Anemone drummondi (windflower or pulsatilla); Angelica brewerii which some compare rightly or wrongly to the properties of Chinese dang gui; Osmorhiza occidentalis (commonly known as sweet cicely), Arnica longifolia; numerous fragrant small stands of monardella (coyote mint); Ligusticum greyii (called "oschala" because it is similarly used as an upper respiratory antiviral similar to its better known Southwestern relative "osha" – Ligusticum porteri). The following day, in the same area, we found numerous distinctive specimens of Gentiana swertia (green gentian).
Then the heavens opened up. As Abby and I futilely tried to scramble back down for shelter, heavy raindrops soon turned into huge pellets from which our feeble raingear was no match. We were pretty well drenched, but probably not as much as Ben and Darren who elected to keep climbing in spite of the rain.
By nightfall we were pretty well set up with tents, sleeping bags and such, and the others slated to arrive began trickling in from around 5 pm. Personally, I thought it was a minor miracle that everyone found the spot. I guess Ben’s directions were pretty good. In any case I think he already had the money, so it was on them to find the location.
The first to arrive was the third of the three instructors, Brian Weissbuch, an herbalist, acupuncturist, wildcrafter and medicine-maker extraordinaire. I was a tag-along guest and despite my near constant teaching during the weekend I really enjoyed being a student of these three who apparently know these Sierra alpine herbs well. With Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by the great late herbalist, Michael Moore, Jepson Manual of Vascular Plants of California and Thomas Avery Garran’s Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (Thomas is the co-owner along with Ben Zappin of Sylvan Institute, both former students of mine) – well, you really don’t need any other texts to seriously identify and learn some uses for the plants of the Sierras.
Brian Weissbuch(far left) and Michael Tierra (far right) with students
The next day, because of a rainy night and morning, we had a late start, around 11 am. That was when we instructors took charge and shared our knowledge, wisdom and insight with the group of about 15 students, mostly acupuncturists who liked the idea of combining their need for CEU credits for license renewal with a short wilderness adventure.
I must say that an added feature whenever Ben Zappin is in charge of an event is his spectacular cooking. He is one of the highlights of our annual week-long East West Herb School seminar that happens each spring and he showed some of his culinary magic with a spinach egg scramble and in the evening with a delicious lamb tagine. Part of Ben’s unique talent is to integrate some of the local herbs and other medicinal herbs in his cuisine. One could hardly imagine that leaves of oschala, osmorhiza or Angelica brewerii were even present in the food, but I’m assured they were and it was delicious as only a good camp-out meal can be.
Sunday we had a review of the plants we learned the day before with attendees finding the plants instead of the instructors. We also picked up some others including the potent hemostat, potentilla (probably Potentilla diversifolia better known as cinquefoil) and solidago (possibly S. californica better known as goldenrod).
Walking across the lake to a trail up a steep hill we learned some different herbs, gooseberry (Ribes roezlii), Pedicularis densiflora (Indian warrior), the poisonous, Veratrum virides and another beautiful gentian species (probably Gentiana calycosa).
These were the primary herbs we found on our two-day Sierra herbal wildcrafter herb adventure. Of course the entire event was accompanied by light-hearted banter, good food, campfire, and some medicine singing on Sunday morning. In short, the place was spectacular, the people were great and the instruction was deep and profound.
One thing the students repeatedly said they appreciated was the sharing of different ideas, experiences and knowledge about plants and healing. Somehow, rather than being confusing, most found this to be personally empowering.
Following are some highlights from the discussion of the different plants:
Gentian is a digestive used in bitters and detoxifies damp heat. The picric acid in gentian is more explosive than actual explosives! It selectively destroys viruses and bacteria. Gentian root and calamus extract with other herbs in formula is good for wasting associated with cancer.
Ligusticum greyii or oschala, along with its near relative L. porteri (osha) is antiviral and so is used for upper respiratory infections, colds, and flu. It was used effectively for prevention and treatment during the 1918 flu epidemic. It also relieves menstrual irregularity. One of us (not me) said they used it in formula for Bell’s palsy. Ligusticum species, including the local ‘oschala’ (L. greyii) is comparable in properties and use to Chinese lovage (gao ben). This and all angelicas should not be taken during pregnancy.
Angelica brewerii is regarded by some as the Western counterpart of the popular Chinese blood tonic, dang qui (Angelica sinensis). The four of us did not all agree with this assessment, finding that it was a little too bitter to serve as an alternative to Chinese dang gui. However, it definitely shares dang gui’s blood moving properties. Brian warned against the use of the more common Pacific coast Angelica hendersonii, which is toxic.
Solidago or goldenrod, along with the herb ambrosia (ragweed) are two of the most effective herbal remedies for upper respiratory allergies. Ragweed together with yerba santa as a liquid extract will stop allergy attacks within minutes and is more effective than the popular OTC drug, Claritin. Contrary to popular belief, the pollen of goldenrod does not cause allergies. Brian told the most astounding stories of using goldenrod extract (the aerial portions) to get a number of patients off of dialysis, rescuing them from certain death.
Gooseberry leaves are antiviral.
The bright chartreuse lichen called "wolf lichen" (Letharia vulpina) is a deadly poison and was used by the Achomawi natives as arrow poison. This was presented by Brian at the beginning of our trek as a warning against ingesting wild plants indiscriminately.
Not seen on the trip was a species of the common honey mushroom, Armillaria melea, sold as tian ma mi huan su, found in stretches not in the Sierras but in Marin and other specific coastal areas. Brian said this mushroom is used as a direct and ecologically sounder substitute for the endangered orchid Gastrodia elata, both having powerful antispasmodic properties.
Monardella aerial portions are used for stomach headaches probably caused by digestive problems.
Anemone, mostly the root but the aerial portions as well, is one of the most effective anti-anxiety herbs on the planet. Ben extolled at length on its virtues and one need only take two or three drops of the liquid extract to immediately feel its effects. I was particularly excited by this herb. In TCM it is used for diarrhea and dysentery and is called bai tou weng. Brian and Ben generally regard a fresh preparation of the herb to be more effective than the dried herb of most species. Supposedly dried anemone loses its anxiolytic properties.
Pedicularis or Indian warrior was not abundant where we were, but we found one live plant. This plant is one of the most powerful smooth muscle relaxants known. The average dose is 10 to 15 drops or more but one should adjust dosage according to the degree of muscle relaxation required. It was compared to kava, but unlike kava is cooling rather than heating. Its effects are nearly instant. This herb can be applied to many of the uses of medical marijuana, but without the disorienting mental state. I took about 30 drops and found myself very quiet and laid back with nothing that I wanted to say for the last couple of hours of the final herb walk.
Sitka valerian has similar sedative properties but perhaps less dulling than Valerian officinalis. Brian, who is a wealth of information on the biochemistry and uses of plants, said that the valepotriates in dried valerian are stimulant rather than sedative, which accounts for the paradoxical opposite effect of valerian on some people. I’d never heard this before. He also said that both black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) and Viburnum opulis (snowball plant or cramp bark) contain similar sedative valepotriates as valerian. Brian also described an unusual use for sitka valerian: gout.
These were only some of the highlights from what was one of the most wonderful wilderness herb classes I’ve ever attended.
The East West Herb School is going to feature at our 2013 herbal seminar (as we do each year to critical acclaim) Ben Zappin manifesting his culinary magic always with a hint of wild, medicinal herbs.
I also strongly encourage those of you who are interested to visit Sylvan Botanical Institute’s website. Don't miss the fine classes and especially field trips they offer for herbalists, practitioners and throughout the year to the Mokelumne wilderness that borders the northern, southern and eastern parts of the California Sierra mountains. They also do similar botanical excursions earlier in the year to the dessert region of Southern California and to areas near the Big Sur mountain areas.
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 prospect of eating Longan berries in their fresh, unadulterated form.
Eyes of the Dragon
Commonly known in Chinese as long yan rou, literally meaning "dragon eyes," the Longan berry is the fruit of a tropical tree found throughout Southeast Asia, including southern China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. For the first time, I was able see and taste the syrupy sweet opalescent fruit which is like an iris with the hard lacquered black dark pit faintly showing in the center. When fully ripened, the freshly harvested outer shell is rough and bark-like and is easily cracked allowing one to squeeze out the inner fruit. The Chinese woman minding the fruit stand described how if the fruit is too ripe, the shell is soft and dark and the flavor is not so appealing.
The Vietnamese riddle aptly describes the experience of Longan fruit: Da cóc mà bọc bột lọc, bột lọc mà bọc hòn than (literally: Toad's skin covers tapioca flour, tapioca flour covers coal stone). Toad's skin is the skin, tapioca flour is the clear white flesh and coal stone is the black seed.
As a botanical, Longan berries are sold pitted and dried and they have a golden brown iridescent color. In order to more easily extract the seed from the rough outer skin and the pit from the fruit, they are lightly heated and smoked.
The Medicinal Properties of Longan
Longan berries are one of the three or more "super fruits" used as tonics in Chinese medicine. Two others would be jujube date (Zizyphus jujube) and goji berries (Lycium chinensis). Sometimes in my clinic I"d make a kind of Chinese herbal trail mix with Longan berries, lycii berries, fennel seeds, almonds and hemp seed. Apart from being a tasty snack, this works beautifully for diabetics and individuals suffering from chronic constipation.
The third generation Chinese woman tending the fruit stand was surprised that I apparently knew so much about the fruit she was selling. She confessed how she had even forgotten the Chinese name for Longan berries; I couldn't resist reminding her. I also told her and a woman deliberating whether to buy some or not about their use in traditional Chinese medicine as a blood tonic and as a tonic for Spleen and Heart, for low energy and with special benefit for the mind and improving memory. The Chinese fruit seller, who apparently had suppressed most of this to the general public out of embarrassment because of fear that they would not believe her, simply chimed in at the end something that most Chinese will revert to as a description for non-Chinese customers about a Chinese food herb: that they clean the blood.
While my fellow customer purchased her small bag of longans, I was given several samples to eat on the spot which I consumed with relish. These fruit are closely related to the more common lychee fruit and like that fruit, they are canned in syrup, made into a liqueur, confection, desserts and added as a natural sweetening ingredient in soups. I could easily imagine making a jelly or jam with them.
My personal sense of this herb is that it is indeed a powerful brain-nourishing food. It is high in glucose, and the brain relies on a steady supply of glucose for thought energy. The skull and brain usually contain about a third of the blood of the entire body. So it is easy to understand how glucose-rich Longan berries are used to counteract brain fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and poor memory. It is an essential herb to give to anyone but especially the aged who are prone to memory lapses, dementia and possibly Alzheimer's as well. In this regard it is useful for anyone who thinks a lot and may experience occasional brain fog. Despite their high sugar content I have prescribed both Longan berries and lycii berries to diabetics who found that they both actually helped regulate blood sugar.
However it is not only the glucose of Longan berries that make them a superior blood tonic. Apparently, they are high in blood-enriching iron content, reportedly 20 times that of grapes and 15 times that of spinach! Iron is an important blood nutrient which carries oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body. This is obviously important for maintaining youthfulness and vitality (both being therapeutic claims for Longan berries). However they have a special benefit for women in that they add luster and beauty to the skin and their iron-rich "red-blooded" properties enhance female attractiveness and serve as a special tonic for sexual vitality. Those individuals who have iron sensitivity need not worry because the iron is organically present and the body will be better able to regulate its usage.
Longan berries have a generally calming effect, which apart from relieving symptoms of anxiety and sleeplessness, contributes to an overall feeling of calm.
Finally, Longan berries are very beneficial for the skin, hair and eyes.
Longan berries are a longevity power food and one needn"t wait until developing symptoms of anemia, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and memory problems before having them prescribed by a medical herbalist. You can purchase them in bulk (they are reasonably priced) and keep, them on hand as occasion demands. You can even look into growing them if you live in an area where the temperature does not drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or purchase them fresh from various online sources or Chinese markets.
It was a good moment encountering a beloved Chinese herb there on the highway in Kauai. I bought a $10 bag of fresh longan berries and managed to experience the one contraindication from eating too many of them, described as a "damp Spleen" which in Chinese diagnostics means a swollen and bloated fruit belly. (I also got to experience how taking a couple tablets of Planetary's Digestive Comfort, which I always have on hand when I travel, relieved this condition within 15 minutes!)