Wednesday, August 3, 2016


MILKWEED:  Asclepias Syriaca, Asclepias Speciosa, Asclepias Incarnata, Asclepias Tuberosa, Asclepias Curassavica, etc.

Also known as:  Butterfly weed, pleurisy root, blood flower, swamp milkweed, common milkweed, showy milkweed, whorled milkweed, etc.

Parts Used:  young shoots, leaves, flower buds, seed pods, roots

Systems/Organs affected:  skin, respiratory, intestinal, lymph, blood, kidneys, gallbladder, liver

Properties:  diaphoretic, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, alterative, diuretic, stomachic, escharotic (salves produce a thick scab to rid the body of toxins), expectorant, astringent, carminative, laxative, anti-pleuritic, anti-syphilitic, emetic, tonic, lithotriptic, detoxifying, sudorific, cathartic

Milkweed is a member of the Asclepiadaceae family.  There are over 100 species of milkweed mainly found in North America and Southern Africa.  Some grow like a shrub and some can get up to 12 feet tall while others are straight-stemmed perennials.  The leaves vary per species, some are smooth while others have a wooly texture and some are broad while others are more threadlike.  The leaf location on the stem also varies per species.  Some will be opposite, some in whorls and some alternate.  There are even some desert varieties that have few, if any, leaves at all.  The flowers are rather showy and borne in clusters referred to as cymes.  They are generally found at the end of the stem or in the leaf axils depending on the type.  At the top of each flower are a bunch of pockets or pouches-each full of nectar.  This attracts a number of insects who alight on the flower and let their legs dip down into the grooves catching a mass of pollen.  The insects then fly off to another flower and another, thus pollinating the entire group as they fly along their path.  The flowers that get pollinated will produce spindle shaped seed pods.  These pods will vary according to the variety.  Some will be spiny, some silky smooth and yet others will be rather warty looking.  Inside the pods are seeds that have long silky hair.  When the pods finally open the hairs on these seeds act like parachutes, carrying the seeds to some new region to start anew.  Milkweed also has a milky sap it bleeds when broken or wounded and can be irritating to the skin for some people.

Milkweed is a term given to a few plants so the Latin is IMPORTANT to know.  The milkweed we speak of here will always have asclepias in front of the latin variety.  Do not mistake it for dogbane (a somewhat poisonous plant also referred to as milkweed) or petty spurge (a medicinal plant that is NOT related to milkweed but it too is referred to as milkweed).

Milkweed is named after Asklepios who was the Greek god of Medicine.  It is highly prized by many native cultures both as a food and as a medicine.  There is some debate of whether milkweed should be consumed after two boilings or more, as it is rather bitter.  However, the common milkweed is said to be sweet and doesn't require all that processing.  Perhaps the most well known of the milkweeds is asclepias tuberosa, also known as pleurisy root.  It has been used for a number of health issues including respiratory problems, fevers, lymph issues, bone and joint complaints, digestive disorders and sexually transmitted diseases to name a few.  The sap of asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed) and common milkweed (asclepias syriaca) has been used for skin issues, ringworm and warts.  The root extracts of swamp milkweed (a. incarnata) and common milkweed have been used for intestinal parasites.  Apparently it is so effective that the USDA has been looking into using it to fight nematodes. (Would be nice to have something other than RoundUP for a change).

The Native Americans would use chaparral leaf tea and milkweed juice to draw out poison.  The Shoshones would roll the milky sap into balls and chew it (which I hear isn't recommended).  The Mohawk would make an infusion of the root with Jack-in-the-Pulpit and consume it as a contraceptive (also said to be dangerous by various sources).  Jethro Kloss used it to help soften kidney and gall stones so they could be removed more easily by the body.  He also said that it was great for stomach issues, asthma, female complaints, bowel issues and can be used in the place of lobelia.  Alma Hogan Snell wrote of milkweed in her book, 'A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines' concerning its use for swollen, arthritic joints.  She stated,
          " One man's knee was so bad he couldn't walk.  He was trying to get around on crutches when her ran into a very old Indian lady.  She asked what was wrong.  He showed her the knee that was so swollen and red and hurting.  She went and picked some milkweed and brought back the milky part of it.  She mixed it with a little water so that it would be easy to take down.  He took it.  He took it for four days, about one-half cup per day.  Now he's walking about.  There's nothing wrong with his knees." (Clearly this could be something to consider for arthritics).

The powdered root has been used in teas for stomach aches, as a sedative and for asthma.  The fresh roots were boiled for an infusion used in the treatment of edema, bowel disorders, parasite infections, venereal disease, rheumatism and more.  The seeds were boiled to make a liquid used to draw poison from snake bites or they were pulverized and put into salves for sores and wounds.  The sap was applied to burns, moles, poison ivy, rash, corns, measles, etc.

In WWII the Japanese threatened to control the world's supply of rubber trees so milkweed was actually considered at that time as a possible substitute. (The sap when dried is quite rubbery).

The plant was also used by a number of native tribes to make nets, baskets, cords, etc.  They used the silky hairs to line cradles and beds.  The Europeans wove the silk into fabric and in WWII school children gathered bags of the silk to stuff into life jackets, pillow and comforters as it was found to be a better insulator than feathers.  It is often combined with flax and cotton to make thread.  Mixed with other plants it also makes an assortment of dyes.

Milkweed has been used as an edible as well.  The flower heads have been fried in batter or boiled with the buds to make a thick syrup (said to be sweet).  They have also been used to make jam and/or preserves.  (The flower buds come in early summer, resemble immature heads of broccoli and can be harvested for roughly seven weeks).  The flower buds are also used in casseroles (mostly rice based), stir fry, soup, etc.  The seedpods can be boiled like vegetables and added to stews or mixed with other vegetables when cooking.  The young shoots are said to taste similar to okra or asparagus when cooked.  The silk is also edible and has a cheesy flavor and consistency when cooked so can be added to rice, potatoes, eggs and more.

Milkweed contains beta-carotene and vitamin C as well as several beneficial acids (linoleic, oleic, palmitic, linolenic,etc.).  It is the only food for the famed Monarch butterfly whose numbers are dying out due to the killing off of the plants with herbicides. This has also affected the bee populace.  Jim Robbins (journalist) made mention of this in his writings,

          "On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly into the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day.  They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.  This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn't come, at least not on the Day of the Dead.  They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record low numbers.  Last year's low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year.  Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse."  (One study in Iowa showed up to 90% loss of milkweed in the region due to RoundUp).

Milkweed also contains small amounts of cardioactive glycosides (things that mimic digitalis) so it should not be used by those with heart conditions, high blood pressure or those on MAO inhibitors (anti-depressants) or are on other heart medications.  It shouldn't be used by the elderly, children under three or pregnant or nursing women.  Always consult a physician before starting any herbal supplement or regimen.

As is customary with my posts you will find links below for your perusal.  Stay strong and healthy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


PASSION FLOWER:  Passiflora Incarnata, Passiflora Edulis, Passiflora Caerulea, Passiflora Foetida, Passiflora Lutea, Passiflora Tenuiloba, Passiflora Mexicana, Passiflora Quadrangulans, Passiflora Maliformis, etc.

Also known as:  Maypop, Apricot Vine, Passion Vine, Granadilla, Manacoc, etc.

Parts Used:  aerial portions

Systems/Organs affected:  nervous system, brain, digestive, muscles, structural, heart, liver

Properties:  sedative, athelmintic, anti-inflammatory, nerve tonic, expectorant, emmenogogue, narcotic, anti-venomous, tranquilizer, antispasmodic, antidepressant, analgesic, bitter, hypotensive, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anodyne

Passion flower is a member of the Passifloraceae family.  It has a very unique structure making it easy for hummingbirds, bees, bats and the like to pollinate.  It is a perennial vining plant with three lobed, palmate leaves (generally) and very striking 5 petaled and 5 sepaled flowers that have 5 stamens and 3 stigmas.  There is a lovely collar like display of filaments protruding from it as well.  It also produces an elongated fruit that can get up to 8" long and is delectable.  Once you have seen a passion flower you never forget it.  There are around 530 species of passion flower, most of which are found in East Asia, South America, New Guinea and South Asia.  There are around nine different species found in the united states, four in Australia and one in New Zealand.  There continue to be new species being identified as years pass-the last one as recent as 2006.  Some species have found their way past their natives ranges and have naturalized elsewhere such as the blue passion flower that now grows wild in Spain.  Certain varieties even have built in preservation mechanisms.  The leaves are often food for a number of insects.  Butterflies will lay eggs on them so some passion flowers produce small colored nobs that resemble butterfly eggs, keeping the butterflies from laying TOO many eggs on the plant.  Some other species produce a sweet nectar on their leaves that attract ants that will kill and eat other insects feeding on the plant.  The stinking passion flower is covered in hairs that produce a sticky substance that attracts small insects which get stuck to the plant and are hence-forth digested.  

The history behind passion flower is steeped in religion.  In the 15th century Spanish missionaries used the flower as a symbol of Christianity.  They taught that the ten petals and sepals represented the 10 true apostles (those who remained faithful to Christ), the filaments surrounding the flower are representative of the crown of thorns and the pointed tips of the leaves were representative of the lance that Christ was stabbed with.  The three stigmas and five stamens represented Christ's wounds (4 nails and one lance) and the tendrils were representative of the whips used to beat Christ before the cruxifiction, etc.  This symbolism was taught for a few centuries and as such has given the flower several names in various countries such as the German, Christus Krone (Christ's crown), Spain's Espina de Cristo (Christ's thorn) and Jesus-Lijden (German for Jesus Passion) to name a few.  Outside of Christianity many countries refer to it as clock plant as it reminds one of a clock face.  

Aside from its spiritual roots it has been widely used as a medicinal plant.  The Native Americans used the roots and leaves for hysteria, insomnia, epilepsy and as a painkiller.  In 2001 a study was done on the maypop(p. incarnata) variety (the same used by the indians) as a possible treatment for anxiety.  It was found that the plant worked just as well as the medication oxazepam with much less side effects.  (Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 26(5):363-367, Oct. 2001)

K.J. Gremillion found in her studies with Native American sites that passion flower was cultivated by early tribes dating back thousands of years.  The fruits were a regular part of their diet.  Ripe fruits are said to be delicious but over ripe fruits are said to taste foul.  In Schoepf's 'Materia Medica Americana' (1787), it was said that passion flower was useful for treating epilepsy in the elderly.  Even though there are references to it being used as a medicine in the early to mid 1800's, it wasn't until the late 19th century that it was reintroduced as a medicine by Professor I.J.M. Goss.  Dr. E.D. Stapleton used a tincture of passion flower for insomnia and wrote of his experience with it in the 1904 issue of 'Detroit Medical Journal'.  He stated that, "...It relieves irritation of the nerve-centers and improves sympathetic innervation, thus improving circulation and nutrition, and is, as a rule, sure in its results-no bad after-effects, no habits formed."

In 1898, John Uri Lloyd and Harvey Wickes Felter also found it to work chiefly on the nervous system and found it especially useful for insomnia in infants and the elderly.  It was listed in the National Formulary from 1916-1936 and approved as a sedative and sold over the counter as a sleep aid.  However, in 1978 the FDA received no new information from companies as to its safety so it was not really spoken of after that point.  To date this plant is used far more in other countries than it is here for that very reason.  Other countries continue to study it.  In 1988 the Italians published a study on passiflora incarnata.  They found that rats that had been given either an oral dose or an injection of the plant had decreased brain stimuli, prolonged sleeping time and were protected from the convulsive effects of chemical tests.  Their locomotor activity was also reduced by the plant in extract form.  They are unsure as to which chemical components within the plant create these effects, they just know the plant works.  Many European countries including France and Germany, use it for anxiety.  It is also used throughout Europe in combination with other herbs (such as hawthorn and valerian) for gastritis, digestive spasms and colitis among other things.

The Cherokee Indians used a poultice of the root (incarnata) for boils and skin wounds, to help wean babies and as a blood tonic.  The fruit was made into beverages and the leaves and tendrils were fried or boiled and consumed.  The Mayans used the foetida variety for skin abscesses.  P. quadrangularis, which is a native to Jamaica and South America, produces a lovely edible purple fruit but the root is said to be poisonous (it doesn't stop the locals from still using it in minute amounts as an athelmintic).  It is used in Mauritius to induce vomiting and as a diuretic.  P. melliformis and p. pallida leaf juice is used by the West Indies natives and the Brazilians for intermittent fevers.  P. foetida is used for female issues, skin inflammation, hysteria and as an expectorant.  The roots of p. normalis and p. contrayerva are said to counter poison and p. capsularia is said to stimulate menstruation.

Passion flower contains a number of flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, apigenin, isovitexin as well as some indole alkaloids such as harman, harmalol and harmaline.  Some of the harmala alkaloids are known to be MAO inhibitors (monoamine oxidase..medications used for depression) and are found mostly in the roots and leaves.  The plant also contains coumarins, organic acids, enzymes, aminos and in some cases, cyanogenic glycosides making some varieties rather poisonous (p. adenopoda).

There are studies that have shown it to be effective for menopause, anxiety, depression, Parkinson's, shingles, high blood pressure, insomnia, pain management and drug withdrawal symptoms from opiates.  There have also been some side effects for certain conditions as well such as drowsiness or bleeding as passion flower can inhibit the body's blood clotting elements.  It can also aggravate conditions caused by too much testosterone (baldness, hair growth, skin issues, prostate issues, aggression,etc.).  It should also NOT be used by pregnant women as it can stimulate uterine contractions.  Do not use if taking sedatives or CNS depressants.  Stop taking at least 2 weeks before any surgical procedure.  Always consult a physician before starting any herbal product or regimen.

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


CORNFLOWER:  Centaurea Cyanus, Centaurea Segetum, Centaurea Montana, etc.

Also known as:  Bachelor's buttons, Blue Centaury, Blue cap, Bluebonnet, Hurtsickle, Cyani flower, etc.

Parts Used:  flowers, leaves, seeds

Systems/Organs affected:  eyes, immune, liver, gallbladder, female reproductive, digestive, kidneys, urinary tract, skin, oral

Properties:  bitter tonic, stimulant, emmenogogue, antibacterial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, digestive, mild apreient, astringent, antipruritic (prevents or lessens itching), ophthalmic, antitussive, diuretic, antivenin, sedative, splenic, hepatic, nephritic, anti-fungal, antispasmodic

Cornflower is a member of the Compositae family.   It is a pretty annual (although it seems to propagate in the wild easily enough) with grayish green stems and lance-like leaves that are between 1-4 cm. long.  The flowers are an intense blue color and form atop the downy stem.  The leaves are also kind of downy and alternate on the stem.  The plants can get up to three feet tall and prefer well drained soil and full sun although they seem to pop up everywhere.  They do better in cooler climates as the heat causes them to wilt.  This plant blooms from June to August and is best harvested when the weather is dry-between July and August.  There are several colors of cornflower as it is a popular dried flower used by many gardeners and floral shops.  However, the blue cornflower is the most used for food and/or medicine.

As with most herbs, cornflower has an interesting history.  The Latin word 'centaured' speaks of how the plant was named.  The Greeks worshiped a mythical centaur named Chiron who was a teacher of medicine and a tutor to Achilles.  The name Cyanus is Greek and literally means, 'dark blue'.  It is believed to be named after Cyanus, who loved the flower and was a faithful devotee to the Goddess Flora.

Cornflower is a native to Turkey and Greece but now grows wild throughout Europe and North America.  It is the national flower of Estonia, Germany and the Swedish province of Ostergotland.  It is also a political symbol associated with social liberalism parties in Estonia, Sweden and Finland.

The Egyptians thought that this plant could revive the dead and as such would place wrreaths of cornflowers near King Tut's tomb in hopes he would return from his slumber.  'Hatfield's Herbal' (2007) makes reference to a publication in the 17th century called 'Household Books' that spoke of making 'break spectacles water'.  Supposedly this recipe would alleviate one's need to wear glasses.  There are many references to it being used as an eyewash for sore or inflamed eyes so maybe there is something to that thought.  Culpeper and Gerard both spoke of it as an effective herb for eyes as well as a general wound healer.  Culpeper goes on to say that:

         "As they are naturally cold, dry, and binding, so they are under the dominion of Saturn.  The powder or dried leaves of the blue-bottle or corn-flower, is given with good success to those that are bruised by a fall, or have broken a vein inwardly, and void much blood at the mouth; being taking in the water of Plantain, Horsetail or the greater Comfrey, it is a remedy against the poison of the Scorpion, and resists all venoms and poisons.  The seed or leaves taken in wine, is very good against the plague, and all infectious diseases, and is very good in pestilential fevers.  The jioces put into fresh or green wounds, doth quickly solder up the lips of them together, and is very effectual to heal all ulcers and sores in the mouth.  The juice dropped into the eyes takes away the heat and inflammation in them.  The distilled water of this herb, has the same properties, and may be used for the effects adoresaid."  

Traditionally, a decoction of the dried flowers was used for eye inflammation.  The French still use it for eye conditions today.  An infusion has been used for facial muscles, to prevent dark rings under the eyes and to get rid of wrinkles.  Cornflower oil also is used for wrinkles and dark circles.  The oil is extracted from the flower via steam distillation.  It has been employed as a topical aid for eczema and skin ulcers.  It is believed that soaking in a tub filled with cornflowers will ease muscles and joint stiffness helping such conditions as arthritis and rheumatism.  The bitter components found in the plant have been found to be useful for indigestion, constipation, gas, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.  As it stimulates the appetite it becomes useful for eating disorders such as anorexia.  The flowers have a stimulating effect on the liver and gallbladder as well-helping them to function more optimally.  They also regulate and support kidney function.

Cornflower has been used in the past for women's issues as it can stimulate menstruation.  One of the references even spoke of women with endometriosis using this herb to ease menstrual cramping.  It also has been used in many cosmetics due to its antibacterial and anti-fungal effects.  It's been used in many topical agents for skin maladies and in hair rinses and shampoos for scalp eczema.

Cornflower contains a number of beneficial elements, one of which is anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins give many fruits and vegetables their color as well as their antioxidant nature. A lot of studies on anthocyanins in the past were in regards to how they affect vision.  Anthocyanins are also strong anti-inflammatories which makes sense as to the use of cornflower as an eyewash.  Cornflower also contains biotin, which helps to strengthen hair and nails (hence its use in cosmetics and mouthwashes).  The flowers are rich in potassium salts, pectin and tannins.  This makes them wonderfully astringent which tightens and tones tissues, skin and organs.  It also is rich in folic acid, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, etc.  The minerals in this plant make it a good one to use to assist in balancing one's pH levels.

Cornflower has a calming effect on the nervous system which can be beneficial for those with depression, anxiety and stress.  The seeds have been used as a laxative for children and a decoction of the leaves has been used for rheumatic conditions.  It also has been used for urinary infections, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, candida, sore muscles, to boost immunity to infections, for bleeding gums, colds, whooping cough, headaches, fevers, rapid heartbeat and nervous disorders.

It is a plant beloved by bees, butterflies and moths but seldom disturbed by deer so it is used as an ornamental hedge by many a gardener.

WebMD says that this herb is generally safe for herbal teas but they aren't sure about any medicinal uses (when are they EVER sure about any herb used medicinally in a good way).  They caution women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid the plant as it can stimulate uterine contractions.  They also advise those who are allergic to the ragweed family (daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, etc.) to avoid this plant as it may cause allergic reactions.  As always, consult a physician before ever starting any herbal product or regimen. 

As is customary with any of my posts, I am including some links herein for your perusal.  Enjoy, stay strong and healthy!