Sunday, May 7, 2017


IRISH MOSS –Chondrous Crispus

Also known as: Sea Moss, Carrageen

Parts used: the whole plant

Systems/organs affected: stomach, lungs, gastrointestinal

Properties: yin tonic, alterative, demulcent, emollient, mild laxative, antiviral, antibacterial, nutritive, anti-tussive, anticoagulant

          IRISH MOSS is a member of the Gigartinales family. It is a red algae that lives on intertidal or subtidal rocks.  The fronds are fan shaped, cartilaginous and vary in color from green, red, yellow and dark purple or brownish.  The branches are around half and inch broad and the fronds can get up to a foot long.  It grows mostly along the Atlantic Coast although it can also be found along the Pacific.  It grows off the coast of European countries as well as the United States.  The most prized is that which grows near Ireland-hence the name.  Irish moss is actually a nutritious seaweed with an amazing history.

Irish moss is perhaps most well known because of the potato famine in Ireland during the early 19th century.  It was gathered by them and sustained them through the great famine and became a staple in the culture.  It was also used as mattress stuffing, to cure leather, in paper marbling, soap making, as a thickening agent for inks used in printing, to help in the manufacture of paper and linens and to give a softer feel to material.  Occasionally it was also used to brew beer.  It was used in cattle feed and cosmetics as well as medicinals.  Irish folklore tells us that it was often carried by those traveling as they believed it would offer protection and safety.  It was also put under rugs to bring prosperity and wealth to the home.

The first mention of irish moss was in 1810 in regards to it being used for respiratory issues such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.  It is also referred to as carrageen, which is an irish word meaning ‘little rock’, no doubt given to the fact that it grows atop rocks.  It is harvested in the spring when the tides are furthest from shore.  The harvesters would go out into the shallow water and rake the seaweed off the rocks.  It was then laid out in the sun and dried for about two weeks time.

It should be mentioned that carrageen is something that has been added to a great many products over the years and come under heavy fire for being toxic.  This is because the carrageen being used by companies is a synthetic copy of the original.  Irish moss does NOT have the same toxic effects in its natural form.  Chemically processed carrageen has little nutrition and is an isolated compound extracted using harsh alkalis that can degrade in the stomach.  When that takes place the composition changes to a substance called poligeenan which is a potential carcinogen.  This chemical is known to cause inflammation and other diseases and yet it has FDA backing as ‘safe for consumption’.  GRRRR.  Natural carrageen found in irish moss has been used for centuries with little to no ill effects.

Irish moss is used by many countries.  In Jamaica, Tobago and Trinidad it is used as an aphrodisiac beverage made with milk and cinnamon believed to increase sperm count.  The Scots and Venezuelans boil it with milk and honey for sore throats and chest congestion.  It has been used for diarrhea, dysentery, scrofula, bronchitis, gastritis, rickets, tumors, goiter, kidney and bladder irritation, ulcers, joint complaints, enlarged mesenteric glands (folds of tissue that attach organs to the body wall-usually referring to the small bowel in the intestines), urinary system issues and as a nourishing food for invalids and those recovering from serious illnesses.

Irish moss is rich in nutrients.  It contains 15 of the 18 elements that are necessary for human survival.  Some of these are sulfur, iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, zinc, manganese and the vitamins A, C, B, K, D and E.  WOWZA!  It also contains beta-carotene, pectin and bromine.  Perhaps its high nutritive content is what makes it so effective against things like radiation poisoning.  It has been found to help prevent cholesterol buildup, help anemic conditions, improve cognitive functions, enhance one’s immune defenses, boost energy levels, increase recovery time from illnesses, surgeries and injuries, promote beautiful skin, helps with weight loss, increases the elimination of toxins from the system, found to be very useful against the mumps virus and influenza B strains. (Just to name a few..)  It is an important edible that can be used as a thickening agent for soups, desserts, dressings, dips, jellies, ice creams and more.  It is also used as an emulsifier and moisturizing agent in lotions, creams, toothpastes and a host of other cosmetics.

Irish moss comes in many forms-flakes, powders and as a whole plant.  Each have a number of different applications.  For instance, the flakes have a bit of a fishy flavor to them so aren’t typically used for food recipes even though they are higher in nutrition than the other forms.  There are two companies that supply the flakes that are dried properly without excess heat so as to maintain nutritional value.  (Main Coast Sea Vegetables and Mountain Rose Herbs).  The whole seaweed is best used to make gels and can be used for cooking or cosmetics.  It is mildly scented and more neutral in flavor.  There are only a few companies that sell it in its naturally dried state instead of being heat treated.  (Some of those are Traditional Nutritional Divine Organics and Natural Zing).  The powdered form is also commonly used to thicken foods but use much less of it as it does absorb more moisture than other varieties.  It should be a fine grey color (U.S. versions are often bleached so make sure it is from Ireland).  It also has a strong fish flavor so don’t use it for sweets or beverages. 

Some precautions to make note of-it has been known to irritate the eyes if you happen to get any in them.  As it does have blood thinning ability it is best not taken by those on blood thinning medications.  Those on thyroid medication should avoid it as well as it contains a high amount of iodine. (Interestingly enough, this plant is the only known source of the naturally occurring thyroid substances making it effective for thyroid conditions but if you are already on medication….perhaps best avoided).  Pregnant and/or nursing women are encouraged to consult a physician before using as is anyone starting a new herb or dietary regimen.

As is customary with my posts I am including some links here for your perusal.  Stay strong and healthy!


MISTLETOE –Viscum Album, Viscum Articulatum, Viscum Coloratum, Taxillus Parasiticus, Loranthus Amplexifolius, Viscum Capense, Phoradendron Leucarpum, etc.

Also known as:  Bian Zhi Hu Ji Sheng, Mulberry Mistletoe, Birdlime Mistletoe, Golden Bough, All Heal, Devil’s Fugue, American Mistletoe, European Mistletoe, etc.

Parts used: bark, leaves, twigs

Systems/organs affected: immune, female reproductive, nervous, cardiac

Properties:  antiviral, anticarcingogenic, nervine, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenogogue, tonic, emetic, narcotic, sedative, anodyne, emollient
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that derives all of its nutrients from the live trees it is found growing upon.  It has symmetrically branched stems with narrow yellowish green leaves that grow in pairs.  In the spring small yellow flowers appear followed by globe shaped, sticky, white berries that can get up to ½ inch across.  Mistletoe hails from a few different families-Loranthaceae and Viscaceae.  There are about 900-1000 species of mistletoe found all over the world but the European variety (viscum album) is the most used and preferred for medicine.  Mistletoe is most commonly found on maple, ash, apple, hawthorn, oak and other fruit bearing trees.

This plant has quite an interesting history steeped in several cultures.  The first mention of it would be with the Druids actually.  Records of Posidonius the Apamean, a Greek mathematician, speak of them interacting with the Romans.  Pliny the Elder describes some Druid rituals in ‘Natural History’- a work he penned in 77 AD.  In it he tells of how the Druids would gather mistletoe from oak trees (they considered oak to be the most sacred tree).  They believed that mistletoe was given to them by God because it grew upon their most holy tree.  White robed priests would climb the oak trees and harvest the mistletoe with golden sickles and catch it in white cloth so that it would never touch the earth.  It was thought that if it touched the soil that all of its magical healing properties would be lost.  Two white bulls were also sacrificed during the ‘sixth day of the moon ’ or the time of fertility.  The mistletoe was then given to animals that had problems conceiving to increase their fertility.  The Druids were not the only people to use it for reproductive issues.  The Chinese used it to stop uterine bleeding as a topical agent , to ease fetal restlessness and to treat threatened abortions.  It was also used in South Africa to ease painful menstruation, irregular and excessive menses and endometriosis.  The Cherokee Indians used it as an abortifacient.  A paper was published in ‘Fertility and Sterility ‘ in 2002 that spoke of using injections of mistletoe extract to decrease the pain associated with endometriosis with measurable success.  (With so many women suffering with this condition today this should be looked into as an alternative option by the medical establishment..)

Mistletoes was also used by the Druids to ward off evil spirits and to celebrate winter solstice.  The idea of kissing under mistletoes actually came from the Scandanavians who believed that the Norse God of Peace known as Balder, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.  The arrow was given to the Goddess of Love who restored his life and decreed that mistletoe should henceforth be known as a plant of love and that those who passed under it should receive a kiss.  The tradition has carried through the centuries.

Mistletoe has a number of applications that few know about.  There have been a number of studies conducted on this plant due to its past use by the Druids and also by the Greek and Roman cultures as well as the Asians.  Mistletoe contains lectins-at least three kinds that they know of at this time.  It is believed that these lectins are partially responsible for its success in herbal remedies.  The University Hospital of Hamburg found that mistletoe had a strong effect on the immune system.  They were able to obtain the DNA sequence of one of the lectins and create a recombinant lectin that would mimic the effects of natural mistletoe.  They thought this would make it easier to produce vaccines for injection but the synthetic lectins proved to be too toxic and were never used.  (You all know how I feel about the medical industry stealing components from plants to make synthesized versions that don’t work near as well as the natural plant form.)  The natural lectins in mistletoe were found to increase the natural killer cells in the blood (T cells).  One case study on a patient with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas was given injections of a commercial mistletoe extract over 5 weeks.  It was made from mistletoe that had been grown on oak.  After the third injection the patient had an increase in phagocytic cells around the carcinoma.  (Meaning the cancer killing cells increased around the cancer itself).  A few other similar studies had the same results and it was concluded that mistletoe has the ability to stimulate the body’s natural immune responses.  This let the German E Commission to declare it as a non-specific immune system stimulator.  This has led to its used by AIDS and HIV patients around the globe.  Studies conducted on some of its lectins found that it does indeed have the ability to inhibit HIV replication. One study in particular found that it could inhibit HIV replication by as much as 68%.

In Korea, mistletoe is used to alleviate colds.  In India it has been used for consumption and in Taiwan it is used for tuberculosis.  In Indo-China it is used to treat fevers in children.  In Bulgaria it is mixed with other herbs for bronchitis and the flu.  Perhaps the most interesting use of mistletoe though has been with cancer.  One in vitro study was found to kill three different kinds of colon cancer cell lines, one of which was known to be resistant to a multitude of pharmaceutical drugs.  These lectins within mistletoe were found to have an even higher activity against the resistant cancer than against the regular one which makes one think that perhaps mistletoe can tell which cancers are more aggressive and target them.  Hmmmm. (‘Toxicology ‘ 2002; 171(2-3):187-199)

The Roman naturalist, Celsus, wrote ‘De Medicina ‘ and spoke of using mistletoe for growths and suppurations (pus producing tumors).  Celsus described its use as an emollient and applied topically to soothe wounds and produce heat. (Cancer was referred to as an inflammation of black bile and considered a ‘cold-humor’ so it makes sense they would use heat producing agents to treat it).  One such emollient was called the Composition of Apollophanes.  It was actually a combination of ingredients that included mistletoe juice, frankincense soot, iris root, turpentine resin and more.  It was used to soften hard areas.  Similarly the emollient of Andreas was used to draw out the pus and soften the chest when hard and swollen.  Celsus also mentioned that another emollient using mistletoes juice was found to be quite successful for scrofulous tumors (lymphatic).  Dioscorides said that mistletoe could soften and draw out tumors and other lesions.

Modern studies confirm its use for cancer.  In 1920, Rudolf Steiner, a well known German philosopher, made an extract of mistletoe called Iscador, for cancer.  Today that extract is still sold under the same name and is used as a complementary therapy to be used with conventional treatments.  In fact, mistletoe therapy is used by 60% of all cancer patients in Germany. (Obviously a nod to how well it works).  There are several extracts of mistletoe now available in European countries (Eurixor, Vysorel, Helixor, etc).  These extracts differ in how they are made, the trees they are grown on and the time of year in which they are harvested so each have their strengths.  (This is another reason why it is important to pay attention to harvesting details).  Mistletoe extract was also found to be effective for cancer of the larynx and lungs.  More studies should be conducted to see just how far its benefits go in regards to cancer in particular.

Mistletoe has also long been used for nervous system disorders.  The Greek and Roman cultures used it for epilepsy.  Pliny was one of the first to mention its use for that condition.  In 1720, Sir John Colbatch actually used it for epilepsy but also for St. Vitus’ Dance (uncontrollable movements believed to be similar to Parkinson’s).  Colbatch penned a paper entitled ‘A Dissertation Concerning Mistletoe: A Most Wonderful Specifick Remedy for the Cure of Convulsive Distempers ‘ in which he recounts using mistletoe for his patients suffering from those conditions.  He experimented with several forms of the plant all with varied success, including healing a young boy of convulsive asthma and another of epileptic fits

Dr. Edward Sieveking also spoke of using it successfully for epilepsy and convulsions.  A. Dawes, author of ‘Ellingwood’s Therapeutist, stated that mistletoe was the best therapy for epilepsy as it could tone the nervous system at the same time it was easing the seizures.  The South Africans still use it for asthma and epilepsy.  It is also used to treat asthma in India.  In Asia they use it for neuralgia, low back pain and weakness.  Part of its ability to calm epilepsy is believed to be due to its ability to block GABA receptors.  GABA is a neurotransmitter that can over-excite the nerves and has been implicated in some forms of epilepsy. (GABA is also a very good thing for people but in this case it isn’t).
       Other uses of mistletoe have been for menopause, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory issues, arthritis, snoring, leucorrhea, gout, sciatica, dizziness, headaches, irritability, anxiety, loss of energy, as a sleep aid, a heart tonic and for typhoid fever. 
        The European variety is used most as American mistletoe is considered toxic and unsafe.  Mistletoe berries should never be consumed as they are poisonous, nor should they be used in preparations of any kind.  There is no doubt that mistletoe is an amazing plant with a lot of possibilities but it should be used with extreme caution by those that are familiar with its effects.  DO NOT USE if pregnant or nursing (obviously because of it ability to contract the pelvic muscles), are scheduled for surgery or are on blood pressure, blood sugar, immune or epileptic medications as it may interfere with their use.  Unfortunately the United States currently does not offer mistletoe therapy injections like other countries do so it is perhaps best utilized here in tincture and/or tea form.  Always consult with a qualified physician before starting any herbal regimen or program.
As is customary for my posts I am including some links herein for your benefit.  Enjoy and use wisely!  Stay strong and healthy!


PEONY –Paeonia Brownii, Paeonia Lactiflora, Paeonia Veitchii, Paeonia Suffruticosa, Paeonia Officinalis, etc.

Also known as:  White Peony, Red Peony, Bai Shao, Coral Peony, Mou-tan

Parts used: root, flowers

Systems/organs affected: liver, spleen, lungs, nervous system, female reproductive, blood, cardiovascular, kidneys

Properties:  antispasmodic, astringent, emmenogogue, blood tonic, yin tonic, analgesic, anodyne, sedative, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, febrifuge, depurative
          Peony is a member of the Rununculaceae family.  It is a perennial with dark green leaves that are divided into lobed leaflets.  It has red stems and several different color variations of flowers.  The roots are fleshy and either red or white (referring to white or red peony-unlike most assumptions it refers to the root color here rather than the flower color).  While the root is most commonly used for medicine, the flowers also have found a home in herbal kits with European cultures.  The tree peony is also included in this class and rather than be a tree flower, it is in fact a bush with very woody stems.  The peony can get up to 28 inches tall and grows wild throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia and eastern Siberia.  As it is a very popular flower it can now be found throughout the globe. 

Peony is perhaps one of the oldest flowering herbs to be used as medicine dating back some 4000 plus years in ancient Chinese texts.  Peony was actually named for the Greek physician Paion, who was reputedly the physician or caretaker to the Gods.  He used peony quite often for maladies of all kinds.  The healing properties were later recorded by the Roman scientist Pliny who used it for at least 20 different illnesses.  Buddhist monks took it to Japan where they developed a smaller, more delicate version in the 8th century.  In China it is known as the ‘king of flowers’ and has been grown there since 900 BC.   The tree peony was believed to bring riches and honor and was symbolic of spring’s arrival.  The Chinese used both the tree peony and the common peony for medicinal purposes.  They found within their studies that  peonies (Paeonia Lactiflora) yielded two separate kinds of medicine which is commonly known today as Bai Shao (white peony) and Chi Shao (red peony).  The white peony was used for circulation issues, menopause, as a liver tonic, for abdominal pain, menstrual cramping and more while the red peony was used to relieve hot conditions (fevers, sores, inflammation, etc.), to control bleeding and for eczema.  In fact, it was used to treat eczema by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, England.  Tree peonies (Paeonia Suffruticosa) were commonly used for gastro-intestinal issues, bleeding, as an antibacterial and for pain management.

The early Europeans used the common peony to ward off epilepsy (often used as a charm in that respect) although it isn’t used much in that regard today.  Herbalists do recognize a difference between male and female peonies according to the plants appearance though.  Female peonies have smaller, darker flowers that are more divided and contain black seeds.  The female peony is also far more fragrant than its male counterparts.  There are around 30 different species of peony and it is widely prized for weddings and as an ornamental plant aside from its medicinal uses.
Peony has been used by Asian cultures for centuries as a medicinal.  They have used it extensively for childhood convulsions, epilepsy, whopping cough, chorea (abnormal involuntary body movements) and as a blood tonic.  Peony contains a glycoside called paeoniflorin that has been found to act as an antispasmodic and a calming agent.  One study conducted on a combination of licorice root and peony was found to relieve muscle cramping due to diabetes, cirrhosis and dialysis.  Another one conducted on a formula containing peony root, dong quai and a few other herbs, was found to reduce painful menstruation and cramping.  Paeoniflorin was also found to improve mental function in animals-possibly making it a promising aid for mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Red peony root has been found in Asian studies to have antioxidant activity.  It was also found to contain proanthocyanidins, flavonoids and of course, paeoniflorin.  The root and bark also contain polysaccharides that have been found to stimulate immune cells in lab tests.  Red peony root was found to prevent liver damage from chemical toxins-whether by itself OR in combination with other herbs.  An extract of the root was used in a small study to reduce fibrosis in some patients with chronic viral hepatitis.  The Chinese use a combination of peony extracts to help with thrombosis and excessive clotting.  In one study done on rabbits it was found to lower cholesterol.  A small human study confirmed this but more testing is required.  One study done on Mou-tan bark found it had a remarkable effect on lowering one’s blood pressure.  Peony may also hold some promise for women with PCOS as it was found to improve fertility in women suffering with this condition.  Peony was found to also contain paeonol, a compound found to have anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory capabilities and used for skin complaints and wound care.  As a tonic it has been used for gastrointestinal issues and as an antidote for poisoning.  An extract of the flowers is said to be a skin regenerative and hair conditioner.
          White peony has a number of studies under its belt as well.  In June of 2010 a study was published on the antioxidant effects of peony on the liver.  The study published in the ‘Archives of Pharmacol Research’ found that peony extract protects the liver from oxidative stress.  A study published in ‘Die Pharmazie’ in August of the same year found that peony inhibits blood coagulation.  They found 18 different constituents that are active in the blood protecting the cardiovascular system from excessive clotting.  In March of 2010 the results of a study done on rats was published in ‘Phytomedicine’.  The study found that an extract of peony root reduced the urinary albumin in diabetics thus reducing the stress on the kidneys.  (This could help many a diabetic escape dialysis-using other nutrient based options as well of course).

          Peony has also been used for fevers, gout, respiratory issues, upset stomach, neuralgia, migraines, whopping cough, chronic fatigue, osteoarthritis and as an abortifacient to name a few.
          Of special note:  peony should NOT be used by pregnant or nursing for the aforementioned reasons (uterine contractions, etc).  It should not be used by those taking blood thinners or blood pressure medications.  Do not use if scheduled for surgery as it may increase the chance of bleeding-stop using at least 2 weeks before scheduled surgery.  Peony should be taken in short spurts for most people-take up to 4 weeks and then let the body rest for a few weeks before starting again as needed.  As always, consult a qualified physician before ever starting a new regimen. 
          As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your perusal.  Use them wisely.  Stay strong and healthy!