Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Lemon Balm-Melissa Officinalis

Also known as:  balm, bee balm, Melissa, garden balm, honey plant

Parts used:  leaves

Meridians/Organs affected:  lungs, liver

Properties:  diaphoretic, calmative, antispasmodic, emmenogogue, carminative, stomachic, sedative, antidepressant, antiviral

This plant is a member of the mint family.  Lemon balm has been used by several cultures for over 2000 years.  It can be traced back to Arab physicians in the 10th century who commonly used balm to encourage longevity and good spirits.  Paracelsus (Swiss physician from the 16th century) referred to it as the 'elixir of life'.  The distinguishing name for lemon balm is Melissa officinalis, any other name is a fake and should be regarded with suspicion.  Melissa in greek is the word for 'honey bee' designating lemon balm's long history with bees.  It is a great source of nectar and was rubbed on hives to encourage bees to return or to hope a new queen might take up residence.  Lemon balm is a lemon scented perennial that can get almost 3 feet tall.  It has square stems with toothed leaves and small white flowers that appear as the plant ages in the summer.  The leaves are best picked before the plant flowers.  It does best in fertile soil and partial shade.  It should also be dried in the shade and within a two day period as it turns black otherwise.

This herb is so named as it smells like lemons when crushed.  It was mentioned by Shakespeare in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" as a strewing herb (a plant used on the floor, table, rafters around the home to make the area more welcoming to guests).  Dioscoredes 'Materia Medica' describes using balm for dog bites, insect bites and scorpion stings.  Pliny said of balm that, 'though it be tied to a sword that giveth wound, it stauncheth the blood'. It is a native of southern Europe, north Africa and western Asia but can easily be cultivated anywhere.  Dioscoredes suggested drinking an infusion of wine to help with 'mad dog' bites, fevers, anxiety and to calm the nerves.  Gerard also followed this belief and said the wine infusion is 'good against the bitings of venomous beasts, comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadnesse.'  Francatelli's Cook's Guide has a recipe for the wine infusion as follows:
          'One bottle of claret wine, one pint bottle of seltzer water, a small bunch of balm, a small bunch of borage, one orange cut in slices, half a cucumber sliced thick, a liqueur glass of Cognac and 1-2 ounces of sugar.  Place in a covered jug well immersed in rough ice, stir well.  After 1 hour, strain and rebottle.'

The plant is named after the greek nymph, Melissa, who was the protector of bees.  It is also used to make the Melissa officinalis essential oil.  It has a rather low yield of oil (it takes 7 tons of balm leaves to make 2 1/4 pounds of oil) and as such it is very expensive.  Be aware of cheap imitations often adulterated with lemongrass or other citrus oils.  It is also often mistaken for citronella.

Lemon balm has been appreciated by cultures since the time of the ancients.  Both Theophrastus and Dioscoredes spoke of balm as being vulnerary, emmenogogic and a sedative.  A popular Arab physician, Avicenna, used it specifically for heart conditions and depression.  The French use it as a part of their Carmelite water made since 1611 by monks in Paris.  This water was used mainly for digestive issues and as an antispasmodic.  In fact, in France the essential oil of Melissa is considered a narcotic and used with great care.

Lemon balm seems to have an affinity for iron and can usually be found growing wild near scrap iron heaps or around homes with a lot of metal on the exterior.  The same could also be said of iron inside our bodies and lemon balm is one of the main oils used for the heart chakra (along with rose and neroli).  The tea has been found beneficial for depression, coughing, anemia, anorexia, nervous tension, stress, cramps, stings and bites, colic, etc.  Clinical studies have also shown this plant to be effective for hyperthyroidism in larger amounts and applied topically as a cream it is very helpful for cold sores, bites, stings and shingles.  In fact, in regards to cold sores in particular, the trial participants using the cream with lemon balm rarely ever developed another cold sore.  It seems that Melissa has the ability to stop the herpes virus in its tracks and lessen the frequency of re-occurance.  The oil has also been found to have an antihistamine effect making it useful for those who suffer with chronic allergies.  It has also been found beneficial in regards to mumps.  Gerard said, 'it glueth together greene wounds' and that seems to be supported by the fact that the hydrocarbons the oil contains starves the germs of the oxygen they need to grow.  Extracts of balm have also been found to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's in its early stages, and to help with bipolar disorder.  Extracts have also shown positive effects against HIV.  It is one of the best herbs to use on children as it is mild and has a pleasant flavor.  Its best application is usually in the treatment of fevers.

Due to its pleasant taste, balm is also a wonderful culinary herb used I cool summer beverages, added to stuffings, fruit salads, sauces, soups, omelettes and with poultry, fish and game.  It is also great for desserts and in jams and jellies.

A general word of caution with this plant, do not use it if you are on antihistamines, motion sickness drugs or with other sedative type herbs such as kava, gotu kola, calendula, valerian, sage, hops, ashwagandha, chamomile, eleuthero and passion flower.

As is customary with my posts I have included some links below for your benefit.  ENJOY!  :)












DANDELION-Taraxacum Officinalis

Also known as:  priest's crown, lion's tooth, blowball, swine's snout, fortune teller, doonhead-clock, cankerwort, puffball, pissenlit and wild endive.

Parts used:  leaves, roots, flowers, sap

Meridians/Organs affected:  liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, stomach

Properties:  alterative, stomachic, aperient, diuretic, cholagogue, tonic, hepatic, depurative

Dandelion is perhaps the most well known and most hated plant by man.  At least by landscapers, gardeners and those who want a nice uniform lawn.  Most people spend a lot of time and money trying to eradicate this herb from their yard or garden.  As it is a tap-rooted herb it takes a lot of effort to dig one up and even then pieces of the root are usually left behind for it to reseed itself and the process to begin once again the following year.  It would be best if people embraced the plant and forgot the beautification of said yard as this plant is worth far more than the simple grass it is found in.

Dandelion is a member of the Sunflower family.  There are many varieties and it can be very hard to distinguish dandelion from other species.  Some of the unique qualities of dandelion that make it easier to distinguish from other look-a-likes are that it has no central stem as dandelion leaves branch out into a rosette and stalks of dandelion will emerge from it. Dandelion also has smooth, hairless leaves (other species have hair either on the underside of the leaves or all over the leaves).  Dandelion is a perennial and self fertilizing.  Its tap roots go deep into the earth making it labor intensive to dig up.  They can be found in lawns, fields, roadsides, vacant lots, cracks in the sidewalk, rubble dumps, stone walls, median strips, cliffs, open woodlands, drainage ditches, etc.  They bloom throughout the summer and close up at night only to reopen in the sunlight.  The leaves are best collected early in the spring before they become bitter or to only pick the young new growth of the plant as the year progresses.  All in all, dandelions (roots, leaves and flowers) can be harvested from June to November and is at its most medicinal between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Usage of dandelion has been recorded as early as 659 AD.  It was used by the Roman empire as something of a cure all.  In Arab medicine it is spoken of as early as the 11th century, in Europe around the 13th century and in the 15th century in France where it is known as 'dent-de-lion' or teeth of the lion.  The French also call it pissenlit due to its diuretic capabilities.  In fact, in this regard it works well helping to relieve fluid retention associated with high blood pressure, kidney problems and PMS.  Unlike most diuretics, dandelion has the unique ability to feed the body vital nutrients as it flushes the system.  It is an excellent source of potassium, calcium, iron and vitamins E, C,A, D and B complex.  The roots have more of an affinity for the liver and gallbladder, working to improve their function of elimination and digestion-assisting the body in such conditions as gout and arthritis.  The leaf and/or root tea has been used by many cultures not just as a diuretic but as a mild laxative.  It helps to promote the secretion of bile and gastric juices, to improve one's appetite, to treat liver and digestive issues as well as urinary tract infections (this has been found to work exceptionally well in this regard when combined with uva ursi).  The roots are said to lower the blood sugar, cholesterol levels, to reduce inflammation and to lower one's blood pressure.  The roots are also said to be antimicrobial and have been used in formulas for Candida.  The roots contain a sugar called inulin which is an immune stimulant.  Dandelion flowers have been used for jaundice and cirrhosis.  The flowers also produce a yellow dye and the roots a magenta colored one.

Dandelion root has some interesting recent studies done with it in regards to breast cancer and breast tumors.  In these studies they found that those women who took dandelion root tea every day rarely developed breast cancer or breast lesions of any kind.  It is thought now that dandelion acts as a preventative agent, nourishing and enhancing the body's own ability to fight off disease.  The root has been used successfully for all types of liver conditions including hepatitis, constipation, boils, abscesses, etc.  It was listed in the United States Pharmacopea from 1831-1926 and stayed in the National Formulary until 1965.

Dandelion is a native of Europe and Asia but can be found in temperate climates the world over.  Children used to play with it saying that however many times it took to blow the 'puff ball' clean was the time of day (4 blows=4 p.m. and so forth, don't ask me where they come up with this stuff...) and young women would blow on them to see if their romantic interest would remain true.  Each flower has between 100-150 florets that form something of a parachute when blown which allows the seed to be carried great distances to re-plant itself elsewhere.

The Italians have a special place in their hearts for dandelion as it is a cousin to endive, lettuce and chicory (although chicory is slightly more blood building and has a bit more calming ability).  They pick the leaves when very young so there is no bitterness and add them to salads, saute' them like spinach with oil and lemon, or stir fry them with eggs and vegetables.  They even eat the young unopened buds of the flower in much the same way plus add them to soups and stews or batter the flower heads (less the green parts) in tempura and deep fry them.  There is no doubt about its nutrient content or its ability to help the body heal.  We should admire and use this plant instead of spending our time trying to get rid of it.

As is customary with my posts I am including some links below you might find helpful.  Use them as you see fit.  Happy and healthy living!









Monday, September 9, 2013


Usnea-Usnea Barbata

Also known as:  beard lichen, old man's beard, witch's hair, tree's dandruff, woman's long hair, tree moss

Parts Used:  whole plant

Meridians/Organs affected:  lungs, skin, immune system

Properties:  antibiotic, antifungal, antimicrobial, tuberculostatic

Usnea is a member of the lichen family (no not the werewold lycan, but the plant lichen).  It is a symbol of the relationship between fungus and algae and is quite a powerful moss-like plant.  There are four species of usnea in the western united states and they all look a lot alike.  They are usually found on the bark of trees, whether the tree is alive or not.  It is a grayish green color and stays that way throughout its lifespan.  It can be easily identified simply by pulling apart the main stem, as there will be a white thread at its center.  It is found all over the forests of temperate north America.  It ranges in size as well, from small bunches to large hanging clumps and when it is wet that inner thread acts much like a rubber band (it stretches).  This inner cord is an amazing immuno-stimulant while the outer shell has strong antibiotic capabilities.

Usnea has been used medicinally since 1600 BC.  At that time it was used by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Chinese.  The Chinese still use it today for tuberculosis.  Modern technology has actually proven this herb to be effective against a host of viruses and bacteria-such as pneumonia, strep, staph, candida, trichomonas, etc.  It is thought to be effective against gram positive bacteria only, however, recent studies have shown it to be effective against some gram negative bacteria as well such as salmonella and E. Coli.  More studies are being conducted to see how far its healing abilities branch out.  In 52 species of lichen that were tested, all of them were shown to be effective against bacterial growth.  It has also been shown to be more effective than penicillin against some bacterias.  Usnea (all varieties) contains usnic acid, protlichesterinic acid and several other components that make it a force to be reckoned with. 

During the middle ages it was used to treat lung diseases and scalp maladies.  Interesting how much this plant resembles a lung whish would explain some of its uses according to the Doctrine of Signatures.  In Scandanavian countries it has been used as a wash for bathing infants chapped skin.  It seems to be very helpful for an array of skin conditions as its main component-usnic acid-is used in a variety of commercial ointments for skin issues.  It has also shown the ability to shrink or dissolve tumors in animal studies.  It has been used for inflamed mucous membranes, whooping cough, water retention, abscesses, vaginal and fungal infections, etc.  One of the oldest traditional uses for this plant is soaking it in garlic juice and applying it to large open wounds.  It has also been used for making dyes (yellow, blue, green, orange and purple dyes) and in cosmetics as a deodorant and a preservative.

Usnea has also been used as an edible but it is extremely bitter so that is not the best use for this plant.  Usnea is only partially water soluble so it need to go through a process before adding water to it to help free up its most medicinal capabilities.  As it is a very powerful plant it can irritate the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth and so it should be diluted in water or juice (if using the tincture) before consuming.  Usnea has shown sensitivity to pollution especially heavy metals (it will absorb heavy metals from pollution, exhaust, etc.) so if gathering this herb it should be done away from populated areas and heavily traveled thoroughfares.

As is custom with my posts, I am including some links below regarding this herb.  Use them as you deem appropriate. 











Fireweed-Chamerion Augustifolium, Epilobium Augustifolium, Epilobium Parviflorum

Also known as:  Roseburg Willowherb, Great Bay Willowherb, Bombweed, Pilewort, Various leaved Fleabane, Wickup, American Burnweed

Parts used:  Entire plant

Meridians/Organs affected:  urinary, renal, prostate, mucous linings

Properties:  astringent, tonic, emetic, alterative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, laxative

This plant is a member of the Evening Primrose family.  In Britain around the 18th century, this herb was considered to be rare, found only in damp, gravelly soil.  It managed to find its way across the ocean and colonize here about the same time as the railroad began to expand.  It got its name fromt he fact that it grows wherever fire or disturbed earth has been-it is what is termed as a 'pioneer' species.  This means that it seems to appear out of nowhere after fires or war (also called bombweed as it seemed to grow in bombed locations in England after WWII).  It can also lay dormant for years and then spring to life after the earth has been charred.

Fireweed is a perennial with reddish stems, lance like narrow leaves and magenta colored flowers.  The seed capsules from the flowers open up to be dispersed (kind of like a spider web so they can be caught by the wind) and there are approximately 80,000 seeds per plant.  The leaves of fireweed are very distinctive which make it easier to identify.  Instead of the veins of the leaf going all the way to the edge of the leaf, they stop along the outer rim in a distinctive scalloping.  It can get up to 8 feet tall and on rare occasion you might find a white flowered variety.  It blooms from April to August and can be found in burned, recently timbered, disturbed areas, open fields, pastures and areas with wet, slightly acidic soils.  The root is gathered before flowering in the early spring.

The young shoots were often gathered by the Native Americans and eaten with other greens.  (The plant gets tough and bitter as it ages so is best gathered young for this purpose).  They would peel the stems and eat them raw or roasted.  The Dena'Ina Indians would use fireweed to treat boils and cuts and to draw out infection.  In Russia the leaves have been used for years as a tea substitute and in Austria they have used the tea from this plant to treat kidney, prostate and urinary maladies.  The stem pith has been used to thicken soups and boiled and fermented to make fireweed ale.  The pink flowers have been added to salads.  The entire plant is rich in vitamins C, A and beta-carotene.  Some indian tribes have used the stems to make fish nets and cords.  The pith from the stems has also been dried and powdered to rub on the skin in winter to keep the skin from freezing.  The flowers were used to rub on rawhide to waterproof it and the fluff from the seed pods was used as padding for blankets and clothing and as tinder for fires.  Despite its many culinary and practical uses has also been widely valued for its medicinal capabilities.  The leaf extracts are anti-inflammatory and have been used for diarrhea, hemorrhoids, cramps, inflammation of the stomach, mouth and intestines and to treat yeast infections.  The leaf and flower teas have been used for whooping cough and asthma and used as enemas and douches for internal complaints.  The peeled roots have been used as poultices for boils, burns, sores and rashes.  The leaves have been used effectively for mouth ulcers as well.  Jethro Kloss (author of Back to Eden) said fireweed is an excellent remedy for fevers and as a blood purifier, when taken hot.  In Alaska, where fireweed is the state flower, it is used to make honey, syrup, jam, jellies and everything else one can possibly imagine.

The King's American Dispensatory (1898) records that fireweed was a favorite of some early physicians for cholera, diarrhea, enteritis and dysentery related to typhoid.  The eclectics would use an infusion of the leaves for uterine bleeding and heavy periods.  It also states, "That it has not attained prominence as a remedy is not the fault of the plant, for in certain cases of summer bowel troubles it is without equal."

We have lovely patches of fireweed growing where I am located.  They bring a smile to my face whenever I pass them as I know how wonderful they are as a plant.  Both a food and a medicine and a practical textural herb makes fireweed an amazing thing to have around. 

As is customary with all of my posts I am including links regarding fireweed below for your benefit.  Use them as you see fit to.  Healthy and happy living!