Sunday, June 26, 2016


PIPSISSEWA:  Chimaphila Umbellata, Chimaphila Maculata, Chimaphila Corymbosa

Also known as:  Ground Holly, King's Cure, Prince's Pine, Butter Winter, Rheumatism Weed, Love in Winter, Spotted Wintergreen, Rat Vein

Parts Used:  leaves gathered when the plant is in bloom.

Systems/Organs affected:  kidneys, bladder, skin, lymphatic, spleen, prostate, pancreas, respiratory, heart, liver, eyes, small intestine

Properties:  astringent, antiseptic, vulnerary, tonic, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, antipyretic, anodyne, analgesic, lithotriptic, antispasmodic, laxative, alterative, antioxidant, bitter

Pipsissewa is a member of the Heath family.  It has dark green, shiny, leather-like leaves that grow in whorls.  The flowers are white to a light pink or purple and are higher up the stems rather than at the base with the leaves.  The fruit appears in a cluster.  It is usually found growing amongst the evergreens.  It is found mostly in northern regions and prefers acidic soil rich in leaf mold.  The maculata variety of this species has variegated leaves which distinguish it from other types.  It gets between 4-12 inches tall and blooms between June and August.  The leaves typically are gathered throughout the summer.  It is native to North America, Asia and Europe but can now also be found in Siberia, Germany and South America.

Chimophila comes from the Greek words 'cheima' and 'phileo' meaning 'winter' and 'to love' respectively.  It has an interesting mix of history.  Several Native American tribes used it to induce sweating, for fevers, regulating menstruation, kidney and  bladder issues, venereal diseases, respiratory problems, constipation, cardiac issues, rheumatic complaints, stomach cancer, complications during childbirth; externally it was used to treat skin diseases such as smallpox.  Quite a range of uses for such an obscure plant.  The Indians would also use it for edema, colds, sore throats and backaches. 

The European settlers used this variety of pipsissewa for all kinds of urinary problems which is probably what it is most well known for today.  Similar to uva ursi in its use, pipsissewa is far softer in its effects and causes less discomfort than other diuretics.  It contains quinine (similar to other herbs in this spectrum) which makes it quite effective as an antiseptic for urinary tract infections.  It also seems to have been useful for kidney and bladder stones in past eras.  The Native Americans would boil the roots in order to produce a rich tonic high in vitamin C.  The tea was often used by many cultures for sores and rashes and as an eyewash.  The fresh leaves were sometimes crushed and applied to the skin to cause blistering as part of a treatment for rheumatism, tuberculosis or heart disease.  (Reminds me of sado-botany where people beat themselves with stinging nettle to ease the pains associated with arthritis and rheumatism).  Oddly enough, an infusion of the soaked leaves in warm water was used to heal blisters.  (I am forever amazed at the multiplicity of plant uses....).  Some tribes also dried the leaves for smoking.  They would eat the berries as well to aid in digestion.

Tom Bass, an old time herbalist (the subject of 'Mountain Medicine:  The Herbal Remedies of Tommie Bass' and 'Tommie Bass:  Herb Doctor of Shinbone Ridge' etc.), told stories of how horses would become hide-bound from being overworked.  Apparently this condition causes a loss of appetite, listlessness and hair loss.  He told of how the Appalachian farmers would go out and collect pipsissewa and dry it.  Once dried it was added to the horse feed.  Before long the once listless horses would be out frolicking in the fields, ready to work once more.  Bass would add minute amounts of pipsissewa to his concoctions as a rejuvenating element for humans.  He said that it was such an old plant that Adam and Eve probably used it in the garden.

Homeopathic medicine has used this plant for chronic inflammation of the prostate, urinary tract and mammary glands.

Pipsissewa has some components that explain much about why the plant is so useful for inflammation, especially in regards to the urinary system.  These particular elements are sitosterols, namely arbutin and ursolic acid, amongst a host of antioxidants.  Sitosterols are known to reduce urinary symptoms (one of the reasons you find saw palmetto and pipsissewa in formulas for prostate and urinary issues is that they are high in sitosterols).  Sitosterols are often found in hair loss remedies as well, as they promote new growth.

Arbutin (also found in uva ursi) acts as an antiseptic, easing the symptoms of urinary tract infections.  Plants containing arbutin are generally used for two weeks and then discontinued.

Ursolic acid acts as a pain reliever, blocking on of the enzymes that promote inflammation.

Matthew Wood, author of 'The Earthwise Herbal:  A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants' stated that pipsissewa was important for kapha (water) conditions.  He said that it, "....warms and activates the lymphatics and kidneys, the carriers and the persers of water in the body.  It is indicated when the tongue is swollen and coated in the middle.  This might be an indication of a spleen yang deficiency in traditional Chinese medicine."  He went on to say that this plant helps to warm and dissolve congealed fluids and waste in the system, helping people to return to a healthier state of being.

The Cree Indians refer to it as 'pipsisikweu' which means 'breaks into small pieces' referring to its lithotriptic qualities.  The Algonquins used the tea for PMS, to regulate menstruation and both before and after childbirth.

Animal studies have shown that this plant also has the ability to lower one's blood sugar.

Pipsissewa was once harvested to flavor candy and soft drinks (especially Pepsi and root beer) which has lef to it becoming somewhat of an endangered species.  I urge you to leave the plants as they are if you come upon them.  Snip a few leaves (using gloves of course) if you like but otherwise leave the plant intact so that it can reproduce and become prolific once more.

Pipsissewa contains a number of nutritive elements including chlorophyll, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur and pectin.  It also contains a number of tannins (hence its astringency).  The tannin content can reduce the effectiveness of some medications so if choosing to use this plant take it a few hours before or after you take your medications.  People who have issues absorbing nutrients or are iron deficient should AVOID this plant.

An excess of pipsissewa can cause diarrhea, vomiting, seizures and ringing in the ears.  Also be mindful that this plant will make one's urine a green color so don't be alarmed when it happens.  

Pipsissewa should NOT be used by pregnant and/or nursing women as it can stimulate menstruation.  ALWAYS consult a qualified physician before beginning any herbal supplement. 

As is customary with all of my posts I am including some links herein for your benefit.  Use them wisely.  Stay strong and healthy!

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